Thursday, May 25, 2023

Writing Adventures

I got back into Seattle on Tuesday. My grandmother passed away yesterday (Wednesday); I got the call at the same time I was placing flowers on my mother's gravestone, one week after her burial.

Life goes on.


In addition to all the "real world" stuff I've got on my plate at the moment, I'm currently engaged in a crap-ton of adventure writing. I mean, a LOT.

The re-write/re-purposing of the I3-I5 Desert of Desolation series has been temporarily suspended. Not because it's not a great idea (I mean...I love it), that it's really not suitable (even as an open region of my campaign world) for exploration by characters under 3rd level or so.  And all my players are about to start over (Friday afternoon) with brand-spanking new 1st level characters.

TPKs have a way of resetting things.

SO, I need some low-level stuff to get them up to snuff. Because I've been busy, and because I needed a breath of fresh air, I took the time to comb through the racks and a game shop near my grandmother's house in Missoula. Shout out to Retrofit Games, which had an absolutely beautiful store and friendly/helpful staff, who were able to get me something sufficient for my needs (as well as great recommendation for a cheeseburger in town: Frugal's. Get "the Classic Fix"). 

What I got, was a 20 page DCC Lankhmar adventure module written by Michael Curtis called Grave Matters. I am on record as a "non-fan" of the DCC system (which I've played before, multiple times), but it's close enough to B/X...which is close enough to AD&D...that I can make it function with minimal work.

And I mean minimal. Curtis knows his stuff ("Duh," says all the people who own Stonehell Dungeon, etc. However, this is my first product of his so far as I know). For a measly $10, I got a book with TWO adventures (Grave Matters and Madhouse Meet), neither of which suck, and perfectly suitable for PCs of 1st and 2nd level. The treasure counts are even (well, almost) correct, which is the usual thing you find lacking in OSR games.

SO...yeah, Lankhmar-esque adventure is perfectly fine for my Bandit Kingdom Boise. And with a little x.p. under their belts, it should be a simple matter of slipping the group a treasure map to get them out into the desert...probably a nice way to leave behind past shenanigans.

But campaign stuff isn't the only thing for which I'm writing. Turns out I'm going to a game convention this first since the pandemic...and even though it's not till October, I plan to be well-prepped for the three game slots I'm slated for. The con is called Cauldron, "the OSR EuroCon" and it's supposed to be a celebration of 1st edition AD&D that will play out over three days in Hessen, Germany. Fortunately, it is an international affair and so games will be run in English (the international language of tourists). 

Room and board...and beer...appears to all be included in the ticket price, but you have to bring your own books and dice, and I'm cognizant of my responsibility to represent the USA well (currently, I'm the only Ugly American on the docket). Because I am old and lazy, and because it is one of my most beloved adventure modules, I am re-writing I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City into something suitable for a three-part, con-style adventure series't suck(?) too much (??). 

Con games are tricky: you have a few hours to get down to business, and (hopefully) provide a fair amount of game play, with a satisfying (or conclusive) end. Cauldron also has the additional challenge of being run with ADDKON rules (Germany's version of the FLAILSNAILS conventions)...which for me means that I'm not running these as one-offs but as adventures that will impact the PCs even after I've left their schönes Land (und bier) behind. No apocalyptic party-nuking scenarios, just good clean AD&D.

ANYway. It should be great, but I want to play-test those, too. And ideally, that will mean getting my current group up to 5th & 6th level by the end of the summer. Doable...but a tall order nevertheless.

Especially considering Prince of Nothing just announced his (third) annual NoArt-Punk contest. And, of course, I want to enter (again). And, of course, I want to put forth a good showing and build on what I learned in the last two NAP events. And THIS year, the theme is "high level" D&D, something that holds a special place in my heart. My last two entries (one of which was a finalist and got a place in the book) were both written for parties of 10th-14th level. I'm thinking this year's will be more in the 9th-12th level range, but I already have an idea for it and it's a little on the ambitious side: something on the scale of 60-some encounters instead of my normal 30ish. Which (to give you some perspective) would be around 50% larger than all three scenarios I'm writing for Cauldron combined. No small feat, especially considering I need to draw the maps and I suck at maps.

But NAP III isn't due till November 30th. Prince suggested I write it on the long flight back from Germany to Seattle. We'll see.

Yeah: a lot of adventure cobbling going on at the moment, some of it fairly ambitious. But working with monsters and traps and treasures and fantasy scenarios is a welcome respite from dealing with all the other "stuff" that's going on in my life at the moment. And these respites help keep Not sure the word I'm looking for ("grounded" ain't it). D&D helps let the pressure off; it's the valve that keeps the steam from blowing the kettle. I'm not sure if my life would function better (or differently) without it, but for right now I'm glad to have it.

Later, Gators.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Life And Death

Montana. 4:30am (local time).

Last Friday, after the kids got out of school, we drove out from Seattle to Missoula, arriving Saturday morning (we stopped for the night in Spokane). Monday night we set out back to Seattle, arriving by noon on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we had the funeral Mass for my mother and interred her ashes at Holy Rood Catholic Cemetery. On Thursday afternoon, I boarded a plane back to Missoula.

I'm sure I've mentioned my grandmother before, but I probably haven't conveyed just how much she means to me. If I loved (love) my mother a little more (and I love(d) my mother quite a lot) it is mainly due to the fact that she is my mother...the person who gave me life and, thus, gave me everything.

But Jeanne, whose name I gave to my daughter (Sofia Jeanne is named for my wife's only living grandparent AND my grandmother) is/was almost a second mother to me. When I broke my leg at the age of three, and was bedridden for weeks, she came out to Seattle to care for my infant brother and aid my mom while my father worked. Every Thanksgiving, we travelled back to Montana (where we stayed in my grandmother's house); every summer we spent weeks, or months here...often, just my brother and I. Often she came out to Seattle to be with us (usually at Easter time). 

I started dating the woman who would be my wife in March of 1998. In June of the same year, we drove to Montana so that she could meet Jeanne. The immediately hit it off (of course...they are both extremely lovable), and ever since we've made the effort to travel here in the summer for Jeanne's birthday (June 27th), often staying through the 4th of July. My wife has remarked, more than once, that she married me because of Jeanne. Truth be told, she loves my grandmother a bit more than my mother. And she loved my mother quite a bit.

In the Montana fashion, my grandmother taught me to play cards: cribbage and rummy and hearts. She was a competitive bridge player and tried to teach me bridge on more than one occasion. She is the reason my wife and children know how to play cribbage and rummy and we often play while traveling or waiting in restaurants, instead of staring at phones and tablets like so many families (unfortunately) do these days.

My grandmother never played Dungeons & Dragons. However, many of the D&D books and supplements I own were purchased here in Missoula, at a used book store called The Book Exchange (it is still here, just a 5 minute walk from my grandmother's house, since 1979). My grandmother (like my mother, like myself) is a great reader of books: one wall of her bedroom is entirely taken up by a book shelves filled with books on Missoula, on Montana, on the native peoples of the region. Going to that bookstore with my grandmother, and poring through the treasures it offered, was one of the highlights of every trip to Montana in my youth. I purchased many comic books and Steven King novels there. I purchased my copies of White Plume Mountain and Against the Giants there, as well as boxed sets of the Stormbringer RPG (1st ed.) and Frank Mentzer's Companion set.

Today, sitting by my grandmother's bedside, I saw a copy of my own book, The Complete B/X Adventurer, on her shelf. I don't remember giving her that...perhaps my mother did? Regardless, I was surprised (though pleased) to see it there.

I will be here through Sunday (at least). Skipping the school auction. Missing a basketball game and a piano recital (the latter, at least, I can watch via the zoom link). I am here to help my aunt, to lend my strength to my uncles. I am here to be with my grandmother during her last days. It has been a rough 2023 for the family what with the deaths of my aunt Linda and my mother. I am here in my mother's stead, as her representative. 

I know she would be here if she could. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

What High Level D&D Looks Like

I can already tell I'm going to get in trouble for this post. Ah, well. No one reads blogs on Fridays, right?
; )

As my group gears up for another campaign start (the players need to generate PCs after our last TPK, and I need to find yet more low-level scenarios for 1st level characters...*sigh*), some questions arise in Ye Ol' Brain. Questions like: What's the aim here? What's the direction? Where do I hope to see the campaign go? What do I hope to accomplish with this thing? Why do I want to run a game at all?

To which the answer almost always comes back the same: I just want to play D&D.

What's the aim? Direction? Um...I don't really care. Where do I want to see the campaign go? I have no destination in mind. Accomplishments? It's just D&D.  My joy is in playing...and as a DM, "play" for me means creating a world and various scenarios/challenges for my players and then running those and seeing how they pan out. I am a mad god, with no ultimate divine plan...because, of course, I am not a TRUE God, and my life is as finite as any other human and will some day end. So I play to play. Because I enjoy it.  My players seem to enjoy my game (and why would they not when it is D&D, a magical realm of fantastic possibility, perilous danger, amazing rewards/loot). And so I run the game, hoping to see it last and last and last.

The world building is, thus, of paramount importance. Why? Because for a game to last it must have far more possibility and potential than what can be explored and consumed within the lifetime of the DM. Fortunately, our own world is a wonderful example of just how big a world can be. How many "adventures" (and misadventures) of large and small variety have you had in your own town? Or in towns that you've visited? Or wilderness areas outside of towns? And how many THOUSANDS or TENS OF THOUSANDS of towns and cities and wilderness areas have you NOT visited in your lifetime? Heck, I've been to Europe four or five times, visited three times that many cities (at least) on the continent and had amazing experiences, and that has barely scratched the surface of the possibilities...and all without a single combat encounter or larcenous incident.

This is why I can take an area as small as the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and British Columbia) and know that this TINY CORNER of planet Earth can provide all the "world" I need for the rest of my days. Throw in western Montana, parts of the California coastline, extraplanar adventures, and (possibly) some sort of "Underdark" like what you find in the classic "D" module series? There's far more than I could ever "finish;" far more than I'll ever probably need. My world map is set. Everything else is just keeping track of population points, resources, political factions (only if/as needed!) and "adventure sites" (i.e. dungeons). 

"Um...JB? You mentioned 'high level play' in your post title?"

Right, sorry...getting to that. My current world...the one I've been using since I started playing AD&D again (a couple years back), has yet to see high level characters as I define them. The players I've been working with are, after all, kids who are still learning the ropes of the game...but mainly it's just that 1E isn't a cakewalk game to play. Characters die...and with SMALL parties (less than six or seven characters), any single loss can lead to cascade failure and disaster. Eventually, some combination of skill and luck will enable a number of player characters to reach the higher levels, and once they do the "PC EcoSystem" will become much more stable and secure. They just haven't got there yet.

But I have seen high level campaign play in the past...both as a DM and a player. And with much talk about high level play being bandied about in recent months (both here and elsewhere), I thought I'd share my experiences, so that people can understand my perspective on this somewhat mythical level of play. 

BECAUSE...IF you share my joy of the game, and ARE committed to the long haul, and have a robust world that will LAST for the long haul, THEN with committed, determined players, you WILL eventually have high level PCs to deal with.

SO...there are two ways to end up with high level characters in your game: players "work them up" in standard fashion (aka The Hard Way), or they are "gifted" to players in the form of pre-gens or scenario specifics characters (which might be just one-offs or they might be allowed to linger in campaigns). I've run...and played...both types in past campaigns.

My first "campaign" lasted from circa 1982-1985 and mostly consisted of my friends and I learning to play the game (for the interested, I documented a rough history of my gaming history last June). I hesitate to even call it a proper campaign: much of it was dissociative, like a series of con-games...or FLAILSNAILS type adventures...with no common thread aside from the characters being used. Because our game started with B/X it was deadly but not punitive: resurrections didn't reduce CON for example, wishes did not age individuals and the DM (me) was fairly lenient with giving PCs means to reverse failures. However, there was NO world building to speak of, no real "town play" (just dungeons and wilderness), nothing for PCs to spend treasure on besides castles and specialist hirelings (B/X doesn't have upkeep and training costs).  Towards the end of this period, we began incorporating AD&D books into our game: high level spells, artifacts and relics, demon princes and arch-devils, etc. But the game was generally a one might expect from a bunch of pre-teen kids with little knowledge of the "real world" (history, geography, politics, economics, etc.). Just low-level D&D with bigger, fancier toys.

Still.  There were some beefy dungeons back then. And even uber-high level characters fear black puddings and rust monsters. No nerfing required.

In the fall of 1985, we decided to blow up the entire thing and start over from scratch using By The Book AD& best we could. Characters started at 1st level and had to "work their way up." But, again, we didn't do much in the way of world building: a lot of "town adventures," but the towns were (mostly) nameless and unconnected other than by nameless roads. Mostly we were learning the AD&D rules, including the incorporation of the Unearthed Arcana. The campaign was short-lived...I would guesstimate my character earned a maximum of 300,000 x.p. over the course of the entire thing (and my PC was the most consistently played of all our group, now that we were sharing DM duties). That's only "mid-level" in my book...the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth was one of the last adventure modules we ran, and the party ended up abandoning the quest sometime in the upper caves. 

Sometime circa 1986ish (I'm guessing the summer, maybe fall), we started over a final time, and this time went hard. We used the World of Greyhawk map, but far less of its background/history, and our pantheon of gods were strictly Grecian (as had been the case since moving to AD&D). Characters initially had to be started at level one, although replacement PCs, brought in to fill out decimated parties, were allowed to start at higher levels as per Gygax's stipulations on page 12 of the DMG. Over the course of the next two+ years, these PCs DID reach high own character, started as a first level fighter, eventually became a bard in at least the high teens (16th+) range. That's well over a million x.p. earned, and while some of that was certainly acquired magically, he definitely lost levels to level drain as well. 

In all honesty, it is my experience in that final, grand campaign that provided most of my concept of what "proper" AD&D adventuring should look like. This was not a sit-down, weekly session with the same six friends kind of thing: the campaign was always "on," always being played. Whenever the DM was with one or more players...and had his/her books, dice, etc....and an idea, the game was run. Records were tracked (time and location) to ensure continuity, but this was not otherwise an 'organized' affair. Hell, a lot of our games were conducted over (landline) telephone, and we had party lines and three-way calling to enable this kind of activity.

Sure: the campaign started off with 3-4 players and a DM with some introductory scenario, in some small town. After a few small successes, the characters would move onto the next adventure "lead" to another town. Many of the characters in the campaign were reiterations of past characters...I played the same half-elf bard in all three of these campaigns (I don't believe he even reached bard status in the second campaign)...and thus many had established "backgrounds" and personality quirks even if we did minor tweaks (alignment was OFTEN changed) between re-boots. Anyway, with "known" characters...and being experienced players...many of us had ideas and ambitions of what we wanted to accomplish in the game world, and set out to achieve those ambitions. First, of course, there was always the need to make a little coin and get some levels under the belt, then we'd move on to grander schemes...often causing the party to drift apart.

However, since the game was always "on," this separation allowed all of us to adventure independently while still maintaining the same world. Players would have secondary (or tertiary) characters that could join a group when their "main" PC was doing magical research or building their fortress or whatever. We would eventually have a total of eight players participate at one time or another, four of whom were "regulars," and two of whom acted as co-DMs of the world.  That's EIGHT players...but the number of PLAYER CHARACTERS that showed up was more like three-four times (?) that. "Main PCs" (for lack of a better term), like my bard, were the major characters by dint of their high levels, which gave them access to considerable resources (hirelings and henchmen, magic items and money, hit points and spells, etc.)...of these, my PC was the closest thing to a high level "murder hobo" since, being a bard, he never settled down, never had henchmen, and was fairly self-sufficient with a wide range of abilities. But I was still DMing, too...usually with modules (I ran a pair of 12th level PCs through D1: Descent Yadda-Yadda, though they never made it to the Grand Cavern before chickening out).

Because AD&D scales so well, the game never devolved into cartoony, superhero D&D. Any character can fail a poison save. Any character can fall off a cliff or be assassinated or get hit with an arrow of slaying. BTB wizards (who should ALL have INT 18) are still extremely limited in the spells they know, unless they are actively pursuing spell books/scrolls OR spending a tremendous amount of treasure on research...and all the best spells have serious restrictions (expensive components or side effects like aging/system shock). Because it's a bit of a grey area we only reduced CON for raise dead and resurrection, but PCs wished back to life had no such loss...even so, that knocked out a lot of wishing rings and luck swords and we still had characters with CON drain (my PC must have been brought back to life seven or eight times). 

Even at high level, you STILL didn't traipse lightly into the Abyss to see what kind of treasure Jubilex (or whoever) had in his hoard...nether planar creatures will F you up in a Very Bad Way very quickly.  Adventures tended to be less "wahoo" gonzo and more grounded: rival baron with army is causing problems in your domain, or an unsullied Really Bad Dungeon so dangerous that any explorer under 10th level gets vaporized looking at it. You don't really need to nerf PCs when a dragon can strafe everyone in the party for 88 points of damage...that's a deterrent for dumb-dumb play right there.  So is grappling by hordes of 2HD humanoids (bullywugs are a good choice). So is energy drain. Hit points (and spells) always run out eventually. Yes, the fighter's armor class may be so low as to be un-hittable in melee...but there's no to hit roll needed for falling damage. And traps saved for half-damage will still whittle you down.

What you DO get with high level characters is the ability of PCs to operate far more independently of one another. No longer do you NEED to huddle together in groups of five to seven, pooling your resources and abilities. One high level PC...solo or accompanied by a pair of trusted henchmen...can make their own forays into forbidden cairns and tombs. And often they'll WANT to go solo: acting first to acquire some rare magic item or coveted spell scroll before another PC can acquire the same. As PCs become high level movers and shakers, it's not unusual to see more inter-player conflict as rivalries develop...which can work, sometimes, but isn't conducive for the long-term health of one's campaign.

[which is why I play with a strict, no-PVP policy these days]

But even with the ability to operate as independent agents, high level PCs can do MORE working together than apart. Yeah, invading the Demonweb Pits is probably a bad idea anyway, but it's a lot easier when you've got five or six stalwarts and as many lieutenants at your back. I've never run megadungeons myself, but I'd imagine you want as many spell batteries as possible when your group is pushing into the 6th (and deeper) levels below ground.

Regardless, in running a campaign that includes high level characters, it is important for the DM to provide carrots for the players to keep them engaged. GENERALLY SPEAKING, the world building by itself is the most important thing, because for long-term satisfaction, players must feel like they are having substantive impact on the imaginary environment and that is ONLY possible with a solid foundational setting

"Can I start a thieves guild?" Sure. "Can I run a tavern/brothel?" Yep. "Can I marry the prince, have him secretly killed and become Queen of the country?" Why not? All these things and more should be on the table for the enterprising player...and how they accomplish these goals IS the thing that becomes the adventure. High level characters have more grandiose dreams: my character, for example, wanted to become a deity and usurp Hades spot as the God of Death and the Underworld. It never happened for him (duh), but it was fun trying to figure out how one might go about doing it. As a DM of a long-running campaign with players who have put in the time and effort and earned their high levels you should expect...and be prepared!...for players to want to do more than look for the next 20-chamber labyrinth.

Because they'll want more. They always do. 

This is why the vast majority of the (very few) "high level" adventure modules fall into the range of fairly bad to nigh unplayable. High level characters are not only defined by their increased abilities and extraordinary gear, but by the relationship they've built over time with the campaign world. The constant interactions...necessary to achieve a high character level...over time embeds the character and builds them a place in the world's structure. I'm not just talking about strongholds and hideouts, but the relationships they build with the fantasy people (NPCs) of the world.

For example: the characters, mid-level (5th - 7th or thereabouts) get beat up pretty badly in some poorly thought-out venture. They have at least one or two beloved characters in need of resurrection, but they are far from the nearest city that might have a fundable patriarch (too far to arrive within the time limit of a raise dead spell). However, it just so happens that there is a rather seriously powerful druid (L13+ nearby) who is friendly to adventurers that are "forest helpers" (or non-orcs or whatever) who can give 'em some healing. 

And so they build a relationship with the archdruid (or whatever) and this EXTENDS their operating range as they can now push deeper into the wilderness, and...

Damn. Just got a call from my aunt. My 93 year old grandmother appears to be on her way to joining my mother in the Great Beyond. Ugh.

Sorry to cut the post short. The family and I are driving to Montana. I'll check in later.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

En Español

As I wrote, I've been doing far less "D&Ding" of late. Probably doesn't help that the last game session I ran (April 5th, per my records) resulted in a Total Party Kill, including three PCs and at least as many henchmen and hangers on (I believe the total was eight, mostly seasoned characters). Damn harpies.

However, even though I haven't been playing D&D, it feels like I keep getting called upon to evangelize the Dungeons & Dragons game...especially concerning the way I play and the reasons inherent in...well, in doing what I do. Running into folks who I haven't seen or talked to in decades, the subject just continues to...strangely...come up. Some examples:
  • One of my mom's best friends (and past supervisor or mine) ended up having an extensive conversation pertaining to the history of the game, detailing the entire history of the game its various editions and the state of the hobby. Her son-in-law is, apparently a rabid D&D fan who is teaching his own children (her grandkids) how to play.
  • A woman who was one of my mother's oldest and most beloved friends (they were maids-of-honor at each others' weddings), told me how my authorship of D&D books has made me something of a minor celebrity (or at least "impressive figure of lore") in their family as her adult grandchildren are now big D&D fans, like their mother (whom I grew up with and introduced to the game...waaaay back in the day).
  • A local attorney and old family friend who I contacted about my mom's will and testament (and for whom I used to run games: he was in my brother's class)...the first words out of his mouth were "Have they put you in the Dungeon Masters' Hall of Fame yet?" He had no idea I wrote a blog (or books) or was still gaming; he was just remembering the games of our youth. His own daughters, now in high school, play D&D, but it's a different game from what he remembers (duh) and after long discussion, there was some thought that I might run a game or two for his family to show them what it was like.
  • Had lunch with my old college buddy, Joel, who I NEVER played D&D with (we were balls deep in the White Wolf back in the 90s), but who is now playing Pathfinder 2 on a weekly basis. Ended up having an incredible 3-4 hour discussion about the fantasy gaming hobby, its evolution the last 20 years, and why I'm playing AD&D these days (hint: it's not nostalgia). I think I might have even convinced him to come over to my side of the fence, though he's one of those types that stubbornly maintains it's all about the quality of GM, not system (and perhaps it is, but system certainly helps). At least he remembers my GMing in a positive light.
But here's the real kicker: the last week-and-a-half we've hosted some friends from Mexico in our home. These are very old, very beloved friends: the woman, Heidi, grew up with my wife (they were neighbors as kids) and both she and her husband, Carlos, hosted us in their apartment in Mexico City the first time I visited Mexico (in 1998). They were at our wedding (Heidi was maid-of-honor) and we've watched their kids grow up (their youngest is 21 or 22 now??!). We all get along quite famously, Carlos and I especially (he is fluent in English and we share a passion for beer, music, Star Wars, and American football), despite him being a couple years my senior.

However, I've never had a conversation with him about Dungeons & Dragons...until yesterday. Like, never ever. I think he knows I did the writing thing (??) but usually when we've hung out we've spent our time discussing family or sports or culture or food or beer (these days he is a master-brewer and owns/operates a good-sized micro-brewery in of the few). This trip we've spent a LOT of time talking about beer (he's been touring the local breweries) or the inconveniences of death (his father just died in December and he's faced many of the same estate issues as myself). I mean, he and I have plenty of non-gaming stuff to talk about: Carlos is one of those bright-eyed, intelligent folks who goes through life with curiosity and thoughtfulness and a mind open to discussion and dialogue.

But (perhaps prompted by my wife) yesterday he brought up that his niece "really wants to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons" and wanted to know what I recommended. Hoo-boy...what a can of worms!

What followed was an attempt to explain one of the world's stranger concepts (RPGs) to our friends in some combination of English and Spanish with a constant barrage of interruptions (er...helpful interjections) from my wife and kids. The strangest bit might have been my non-gamer wife enthusing over how much fun (?!!) the game is and how they (Carlos and Heidi) should try playing as well. Diego even offered to have me run a game for them while they're here (thanks, kid) though my wife told them we could always do it on-line (???!!!) when they returned to Mexico.

[you have to understand that my wife is fairly obstinate in her refusal to play RPGs; and, yes, she's tried them on more than a couple occasions]

Of course, there exists some significant challenges with the lack of Spanish language clones for my preferred edition(s) of the game. Even native English speakers get lost in the complications of a game like D&D (forgetting, missing, or misunderstanding rules)...throwing an English copy of B/X or Labyrinth Lord at a native Spanish speaker (even one fluent in English) and telling them to learn the game and teach it to their friends unassisted is a tall order. Never mind something as convoluted as Gygax's 1st edition manuals.

SO, despite many misgivings, and out of an altruistic desire to be helpful (and an ambassador for the game) I did pick up a copy of the D&D Essentials box set en Español for my friends at the local game shop (let's hear it for WotC inclusivity!). I own a copy of the Kit Esencial (as it's labeled) myself...though in English...and it's not a terrible way to introduce some of the basic D&D concepts. I mean...


Okay, I'll be honest: It actually IS a terrible way to introduce D&D concepts, but it is also the easiest way to do so, when you're talking about young teenagers from a different culture needing concepts (like class and race and hit points, etc.) in their own language. For a game taking place primarily in the imagination and constructed almost entirely from words, it IS "esencial" that the instructions be conveyed in a readily comprehended idioma

And it reminds me again of my own failure to produce a Spanish language retroclone, something I started working on back in Paraguay. Español isn't MY native language, of course, and translation is hard enough without needing to translate fantasy concepts (how do you say "halfling?"). Even doing a SMALL clone (I was using the 40-some page Holmes Basic as a foundation text) is grueling, thankless work...especially when considering the unlikeliness that I'd ever use it myself. Why would I? I already own all the instructions I need in my own (native) language. I am, exactly where I feared back in Paraguay (when my kids were young and I was surrounded by a culture of non-English-speaking, non-gamers): in a situation where I want to teach the game, and without the instructional text to do so. And so I am giving my beautiful friends WotC box sets that feature dragon fights with dragons that have no treasure. NO TREASURE. Does a hoard-less dragon scream "D&D" to you? Does that say "fun adventure?"

*sigh* (again)

SO. I got my friends the box set to give to their niece, which should tide her over till I have something more useful to provide her (at least the thing comes with dice). And I also purchased a copy of the Spanish language PHB (5E) which I will use alongside my son's dust-gathering English copy to reverse engineer RPG concepts and vocabulary for a better (Spanish) basic set. Just something I've put off for too long, considering the culture that shares my life and household.

OH: And to all my Spanish-speaking (and, sure, Portuguese-speaking) know who you are!...if you have suggestions for already-existing retroclones of "old edition D&D" that you prefer, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks in advance.
; )

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Don't Call It A Comeback

Let's see. Black coffee at hand? Laptop charged? Gray morning light streaming through the front window? Sixteen year old beagle snoring on the couch beside me?

Guess it's time to blog again. 

Let's start with the basics: my blogging "hiatus" was, more-or-less, a miserable failure. At least in so far that it was meant to enable me "more time to write." Fact is, I've spent the last two plus months mostly avoiding any kind of game-related ANYthing...not just blogging/writing, but even gaming in general. At least gaming of the D&D (or role-playing) variety. Which is really the only gaming that matters much.

Instead, I've spent most of the time either A) working on myself, or B) being with my mother. The self-work has mainly been of the physical variety: a lot of nutritional adjustment, a lot of exercise. Got down to about 162ish, which is probably still about 5-7 pounds heavier than I'd like, but my flexibility and endurance is much improved (back in the yoga). Was off the sauce and mostly vegan+fish for a while...that helped a bit. Decided, I guess, that I wanted to pursue a higher quality of life going forward...I'm going to be 50 in November, after all. Hell, spent a few days swinging golf clubs in the sunshine of Coachella Valley last month...I see the appeal.

But, mainly, my time has been spent with my mom and dealing with her affairs. And on Saturday, April 22nd, she passed away, dead at the age of 75.

I don't want to eulogize too much. But my mother has been an immensely important figure in my life (mm...probably a gross understatement). It's perhaps a bit too profound to put into words: how do you describe the loss of someone who gave you life, who has supported you and loved you unconditionally for your entire life? She was always a rock and safe harbor to return to whenever I needed her. 

And now...well, now I undergo the final rite of adulthood. I must say goodbye to that foundational piece of my life, that emotional safety net that has always been. And it somehow feels (in many ways) that a new mantle of leadership has passed to me. My mother was more dowager empress than family matriarch, but for my Montanan relatives she was a lynch pin (the oldest sibling), a pillar amongst her friends (the godmother of many), and for me she has always been a crutch I could lean on if/when needed. Now it feels as if everyone is looking to me to be the stable rock in the storm. It's not a position I particularly wanted for myself, but oddly enough it has eased my grieving process. Being forced to action has that effect, I suppose.

For my blog readers...well, there's probably no blog without my mom. She purchased both my Moldvay Basic set and Cook/Marsh Expert set many decades ago, as well as my first Players Handbook (when I finally figured out the AD&D thing was a separate entity). She did not encourage me to play D&D obsessively, but she certainly enabled my passion and...more importantly...did not discourage me from my pursuits. She never played a game of D&D with me, but she never told me to stop, never took my books and dice from me, never told me to quit wasting my time with a silly game. 

Or perhaps she did and I just don't remember. What I remember instead is sitting around the dining room table with her and my younger brother playing the Dungeon! board game at the age of eight. What I remember is her acquiring copies of my newly printed books and placing them proudly on her shelf (my mother's home, even more than mine, is lined with over-flowing book shelves in most every room). 


Expect blogging to be a bit sporadic over the next few weeks as I'm very busy with a number of things, not least of which is my mother's funeral arrangements and managing her estate (she expected to live into her maternal grandmother is still going strong at age 93). We also have friends in town from Mexico for the next ten days, soccer tryouts for the kids, end of school stuff (auctions and whatnot), basketball season, blah-blah-blah. More yoga, of course, though I am back on the sauce (when your mom dies, you're allowed to tip a few), but that should be (mostly) ending about the time our friends leave town, i.e. by the 9th,

But, sporadic or not, I expect blogging to resume. I expect gaming to resume. The last month or so I've been realizing some...hmm..."interesting" stuff about my gaming, my writing, and my place in this funny little hobby of ours. And I've still got a few things (or more than a few) to blog about. And the blogging spurs my other writing...for whatever reason. So I need to be doing both.

Deep breaths. More coffee. Shoulder shrugs and apologies for being absent so long. 

Time to cook the kids breakfast. But I'll be back. I am back.