Thursday 31 January 2019

Having fun storming the castle. Or: "Stop describing deathtraps with popcorn in your mouth!"

I've been looking through my draft folder. This 'draft' was something that I'd left as just a title in 2013! Over 5 years ago. So I'm not sure what I was planning to write here, but it sounds like the gaming was good - we were in the middle of the Crown of Kings adventure for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e, so I'm guessing I was planning to write about the Heroes' exploration of the fortress of Mampang. 

It does, however, give me an excuse to recommend a couple of posts on adventure design and communicating information to players through the games master

The first is actually a series of posts by Courtney Campbell of Hack and Slash on 'Gygax Design'. Actually, it doesn't hurt to start with 'On Gygax Design IV' which discusses the concision of early modules and compares this to the increasingly wordy adventures that came after. I'll let Courtney speak for himself - go and read his blog:

As I was saying the other day, one of the things that the OSR has done well is recover the idea that the purpose of RPG books is that they are useful

The second post I'd like to recommend is on David McGrogan's Monsters and Manuals, and discusses the infodump, the fourth wall, and immersion in story and setting. It is related to Courtney's post, of course, in that it implies that as GMs (and, as adventure designers, even if only for ourselves) we need to think properly about the way in which we communicate. McGrogan is, of course, the creator of Yoon-Suin, an OSR setting which I think is a good example of a way in which information can be presented in a gameable way.

Monday 28 January 2019

OSR: Other Systems Required

One of the things that got me so excited when I returned to playing RPGs was that there was - and still is - so much creativity in the OSR-space. What the OSR has been very good at is producing material that can be used directly at the table. That creativity spans adventures (for example, the Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures, the Hill Cantons stuff), settings (the Midderlands, a Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, etc.) and tools such as the Sine Nomine sandbox 'machinery'. And that last 'name-drop' is so important - the foregrounding of the player-directed exploration game - the sandbox - over the GM-directed plotted game is one of the strengths of the OSR, to my mind. Of course, the OSR isn't immune to Sturgeon's Law -  there is a lot of dross - but there is so much absolutely excellent stuff that made use of the *common language* of class, level, HP, AC, etc.

But that doesn't mean that OSR stuff need be played using a TSR-D&D inspired 'class and level' system, does it? Now, I am a MASSIVE fan of the TSR-D&D game engine, so why might I want to use a different system? Depends on the mood and circumstances. Perhaps I want a crunchier, grittier game - in my stable of RPGs that'd involve using a BRP-based game or WFRP. Perhaps I have fewer players and want a game that can sidestep the expectation that the adventuring unit is a party with a spread a classes - in which case, as well as the above, my shelves might suggest Advanced Fighting Fantasy or perhaps even Barbarians of Lemuria. Perhaps the nature of our gaming group means that the slow level progression of TSR-D&D, or conversely, issues of substantial power increases as PCs move through the levels means that we need something with a flatter 'power curve'. Or perhaps, as GM, I just want to try out some nifty game system that isn't particularly new, but is new to me - such as Fate, PDQ, or Heroquest.

But I want to have my cake and eat it, obviously.

Now, I've run TSR-D&D/OSR material with only light adaptation using BRP (Magic World, in particular) and AFF. I know that people run 'Expert' tier (levels 4-12) D&D modules using Barbarians of Lemuria. I know that there is an amazingly thorough adaptation of Night's Dark Terror to WFRP1e over at Awesome Lies. So I know using OSR material with other systems can be done successfully: I've done this with some success, I know that you've done it with some success. But I would love to hear what people have done in this vein - what systems have you used, how did this change the game at the table, what worked, what failed, and how successful have been your attempts to use systems that diverge from the 'trad' assumptions within which I have almost exclusively gamed?

Friday 25 January 2019

The Grog Pod

Found in my 'Draft' folder - this is probably about two years old:

"For the past few months I've been 'commuting' by train or car between my new home in Yorkshire and Cardiff, where I work. Until next week, at least...

Anyway, the long drives have given me the opportunity to listen to a few podcasts, something that I hadn't really done before. One that I've found particularly fun has been The Grognard Files,"

And that is where I left it. At that comma. I obviously wanted to say something more, something about how much I have enjoyed listening to The Grognard Files. And the instinct is just as true now. In fact, it is more true - while early Grog Pods were a nostalgic exploration of the UK gaming scene of the 1980s, of late the Grogs have been exploring newer games, including some with quite different design philosophies to (A)D&D, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller etc. from 'back in the day'. I really need to get round to listening to their take on Heroquest (the RPG rather than the MB/GW boardgame), as it is just the kind of more narrative-y (that's not exactly what *I* mean, but it is the best word I can come up with right now) game that I'd like to wrap my head around - alongside games such as Fate and PDQ - especially as I went out and bought myself Heroquest: Glorantha and the 2-part Red Cow campaign. Hearing old grogs like Dirk getting to grips with a system like Heroquest might help me, just a little bit.

So I recommend a listen. But you've probably all already subscribed - when I started the draft I've just found The Grognard Files was a few podcasts old. I might have known about something before you did! But now, with 26 episodes (assuming this doesn't linger in my 'Draft' folder for another year or two), a successful convention, a 'zine, they hardly need a boost from a slowly re-animating blog.

Nevertheless - I raise my hat in appreciation.   

Thursday 24 January 2019

Roll for System Shock!

[A wizard did it]

In AD&D, you'd have to roll for 'System Shock' when resurrecting a character. I don't feel like I've lost a point of CON though...

This blog has been, if not dead, then very nearly dead for some time now. One measly post in 2018! And that was mostly to say you could watch me play rugby on live TV! 

Obviously I haven't been playing much. And, until recently, not all that much had changed since that post way back in spring 2018. Well, I am playing now - and as a player no less! - in an online game of Scum and Villainy. 

Playing in a game, rather than running a game, has allowed me to realise a few things. First is that any complaints that I might have about my players not learning the rules are a little hypocritical. I have the rulebook, I skim the pdf on my tablet, but without the responsibility for running the game looming on the horizon I have been able to get by thinking more about my character in the game world (Finn 'Vapour' Dyson, pilot of the Lazy Susan) than how the rules work. I wouldn't say that Scum and Villainy is a game that 'leans invisible', to borrow from S John Ross, but our GM Orlanth Rex has at the very least done the heavy lifting that allows me to concentrate my 'tactical play' on the decisions in the game world rather than on decisions in the game system

I other words, I have been allowed o enjoy roleplaying without the responsibility to do anything other than 'play well'. But scratching an itch rarely gets rid of the itch - often you just need to scratch more- and it has led me to wanting to jump back into DMing, GMing, Refereeing, Directing, whatever term you might prefer. So I think I'll have to start my own online game (or games), with people who have the patience for an out-of-practice games master with a preference for games from the lighter end of the crunch spectrum.  

So, consider me resurrected.