Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A short one shot

So it's "fest" time. A buddy of mine that I regularly game with is heading to Japan in November and we're trying to give him a send off. Truth be told, he's a great guy and it's a shame to see him leave. But hey, real life. We all know something about that.

A "fest"? you ask... Yes, this is an extended gaming experience. We started it in University. Actually that's not completely true. When I was playing way back in Jr. high and High school we used to have sleep overs and play nearly all night, wake up the next day and play some more.

In University though we'd officially named it "fest". We'd gather a great big group of guys together (sometimes up to a dozen) and play all Friday night into Saturday, take a small break and play into Sunday. Then we'd pass out. Ohmanohmanohman...It was BIG fun. I was young, had the time and energy and we ALL had the passion. This was back in the 80's.

Now I'm older, have a family, commitments and all sorts of other things. Truth be told, my old group (most of the guys I'd gamed with in University) continued on with this crazy tradition for quite some time. But it's been years since that group has done this. It's a shame really.

But I have been gaming with another group of guys in the last few years and we've actually revived the tradition. So I'm back in the saddle per-se. 

The coming weekend is a fest. It's Ben's send off party. We'll be converging on a friend's house up in the mountains (neutral ground works well for these events, no interruptions.) and bringing lots of food, beer, games and just general good will. Our game of choice is going to be the current campaign we're playing in; A 4E game. We're all having fun in it even though it wouldn't be my rule set of choice. (But that's fodder for another post.)

Years ago we used to set up the fest as either an introduction or finale to a campaign. OR we'd create power monger characters for a one-shot. Big fun... But not this time, we'll be continuing in a campaign we've been playing in for the last few months. It's all good. It's a send-off so it'll be fun no matter what we do.

On to the title of this blog, "A short one shot". As mentioned above, we have a fairly large group of guys descending on a remote location in the mountains in order to play a game over a weekend. We'll be gaming from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. One of the logistical issues with something like this is getting everyone to the same place at roughly the same time. And to be honest, I think our DM might be having issues with his car.

So, in lieu, I've decided (all by my lonesome...i.e. no input from my comrades.) to throw something "old school" together, just in case. The question is "What do I throw together"?

I mentioned "old school" for a reason. That type of rule set is conducive to quick character generation and a light hearted romp through some kind of encounter. It's what OD&D was created to do. Am I going to use OD&D? In all honesty, I doubt it. I'm just not familiar enough with it to run a smooth, fast, enjoyable scenario. I'll quite likely be using my Castles and Crusades rules. They're fast. Not quite as fast as OD&D, but I know them better.

This type of game (very short, maybe a couple of hours max) lends itself well to the swords and sorcery pastiche. And that's what I'm going to try and leverage for this particular game. Now, I don't even know if this is going to come about, like I said, I've entered into this w/ no one else's knowledge. It's all my own doing. But it's fun. I'm enjoying the little exercise and I can re-purpose whatever I create for my sandbox game I plan on running one of these days.

Here's where we get to the gist of the post, what do I run? I've been looking at a few things, and here are some of the ideas:
  1. Gabor Lux's fantastic "The Tomb-Complex of Ymmu M’Kursa" in issue one of FightOn magazine.
  2. Thulsa's rendition of the timeless Conan classic "Tower of the Elephant" (from Footprints magazine number 13)
  3. Gabor Lux's "Isle of the Water Sprites" for the JG Wilderlands setting.
  4. Davis Chenault's "The Slag Heap"
  5. And truly any number of older things from my JG collection. (I've even thought that maybe I'd use a small portion of "Caverns of Thracia")
Anyway, I'd have to do a bit of converting on most of those things listed but I could honestly do much of it on the fly. I'd like to have something that's very focused and short to run the guys through. I'd have a set of characters premade for them and a list of magic items from which to choose. I think that I'm going to run something anywhere from 3rd level through maybe 9th or so. I'll have to see.

As an aside, I had my daughters rolling up pregen characters last night. The old 3d6 in order method of course! LOL

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why NOT 4e?

I'm a self professed fan of what many have come to call "old school" gaming. I LOVE the older versions of some games. They were amazingly well suited for the type of gaming that I fell in love with.

It was 1976 (I was 12 or 13 at the time) and I had been painting Napoleonic miniatures for a guy named Jim, a work-mate of my mom's. This guy played wargames...and I was entranced. He knew I was a big fantasy fan, we had spoken many times of the Hobbit and how I adored that book. One day he lent me his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I returned it soon afterwards and just gushed about it to him. He laughed, knowing that I'd be drawn in. About a week or so later he delivered my next box of minis to paint via my mother. I opened it and "What?!?"... I was staring at 4 lizard men. I had NO idea what they were at the time, and I couldn't for the life of me, imagine what they could be for.

But man, they were soooooo cool! I can remember them as if they were lying in front of me today: Each was carrying a round shield and curved scimitar, standing splayed-legged with their swords over their heads, long tails trailing out behind. I immediately phoned Jim to ask what they were. He told me that they were miniatures to a new game he was trying out with his buddies called Chainmail. He invited me to come over and check it out the next weekend.

Well I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but I do remember that I started playing after being introduced to a super brainy group of guys in 7th grade; Fish, Dave and Wayne. We hit it off immediately.

Now, this all took place in a pretty small cow-town, I knew Wayne via his father, who was a basketball referee and baseball coach. I had played against Wayne in baseball for years. You have to remember that back in the 70's there wasn't really a stigma attached to Dungeons and Dragons yet. EVERYONE played...Or at least wanted to play. It was a "cool" thing to do.

We four (Fish, Dave, Wayne and I) played every chance we could get. We even played in the stairwell at school once during a fire drill. We were very much entranced by the game.

Initially we played with the Holmes set with a bunch of rules thrown in out of the LBB's, which Fish owned. In fact, the game was introduced to Fish via a girl he was infatuated with who had family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She had heard of this game during her summer break and she brought it home, to Loveland. Where she showed Fish. And then viola! Viral marketing at its best.

So anyway, we played and played and played. Most of my Jr. High and Highschool experiences were with AD&D, we had left Holmes behind because of the level restrictions. On into university we played this crazy game.

It's now the 80's and our group of friends in Boulder is ALL about Dungeons and Dragons. We often had 10 to 12 people at the table. It is with great fondness that I remember those insane nights and weekends, playing AD&D until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. We even went so far as to take the game with us on Spring Break.

So there you have a brief history. I started with an amalgamation of Holmes and the LBB version of the game and very soon afterwards moved naturally into AD&D. We completely skipped the Mentzer editions...and I sometimes regret that. I'd be willing to bet that we would have loved that version. But in all honesty, Fish, our DM, was a very detail and rules oriented kind of guy. Not that he was a rules lawyer, what he said was law. And we all knew that sometimes you couldn't find those "laws" in the book. That's just the way it went.

Flash foward to modern times. I've played nearly every version of the game (Not Mentzer), and have had fun with each and every one. But one of the things that I noticed over the years is that the game had somehow changed. Now of course the long tread of years have also left their indellible mark on me as well. I've changed too.

But the game, it seemed to bog. And the DM just wasn't a DM any longer. How can I explain this? The rules had been codified to the point where there was an entry in the books for nearly anything you could think of doing. And unfortunately I wasn't playing with my best friends anymore. I had moved on to play with different people. And some of them were REALLY into the rules as written.

Turns out that since there was a rule for nearly everything, the DM wasn't really needed. He / she was there strictly to read out of the module and roll for the monsters. And even then, the players dictated nearly everything. That fine balance that was responsible for so much of the experience of yesteryear was completely missing.  It was all player driven now.

Don't get me wrong, I undersand what part the players take in a game. But the game was now all "plot" driven, rules spelled out, souless muckery. 3.0 and 3.5, while initially shiny and pretty, soon lost their lustre. I played them the entire time, I didn't really have much choice in the matter due to my compatriots, but the game grew boring. This was a first.

I had played the game for over 20 years and I don't ever recall growing bored with the game. What was going on? Had I just grown jaded? Enter my daughters.

My two little girls were just getting to the age that they were asking to play "Dungeons and Dragons". My eldest had read nearly all of the fantasy (appropriate for her age of 9) that she could get her hands on, and the youngest always wanted to play as long as it was a game.

So I thought, I can't introduce them to Dungeons and Dragons in it's current incarnation. It's just not made for people of that age. So I went out and looked around. And I came up with Castles and Crusades, a game from Troll Lord Games. (Troll Lord) It was just what I was looking for. A game who's main guide included both player and DM rules, was hardbound and cost less than $20. Oh, and the serious selling point? It was compatible with ALL of my older stuff.

I sat down with the rules and had them basically down pat in the span of 2 hours. The girls and I rolled up characters and within an hour we were playing. It was honestly THAT simple. And guess what. That feeling of joy had returned. The game was fast, free-flowing, and simple. That was all it took.

Now, there was the problem of my regular group. We had invited a new guy into the fold (6 of us) and he was now DMing. He is in all honesty and EXCELLENT DM. Very creative and quick with rules adjucation. He was also a very big fan of WotC and the newest and greatest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons: 4th Edition.

We we tried it. And frankly, I liked it. Initially. It was, and continues to be (after roughly 10 or so sessions) a miniatures based tactical war game. There is a little bit of story and plot in there somewhere, but it's nearly all centered on encounters, powers and squad-based, coordinated combat.

I won't malign our DM. I think that he's still getting into the swing of things and the game has the potential of changing once we all have a decent grasp on the new rules. (They are NOT at all similar to the old rules. It's a different game completely.)

My enjoyment of the game now stems from playing with a group of contemporaries. But in all honesty, I really like the game with my daughters a little more....It's much more free-spirited and less "heavy". No huge plot lines. No constant battles that run on and on. I'm at a loss here, I don't know what to say. The game that I'm playing with my daughters seems to embody what "old school" means to me.

Why NOT 4E? Well, to be truthful, it's not nearly as fun as other systems out there. Mainly Castles and Crusades. I'd be willing to bet though that I could insert Mentzer or Holmes and we'd have just as much fun.

I wish I could get our group to try it out. But unfortunately I don't think that would be at all possible. Well, that's OK, my daughters are turning into fantastic little players...and their best years are still in front of them. ;-)

Top 30?!?

James Maliszewski over at Grognardia had a few interesting things to say regarding a list of the 30 all time greatest modules, published in Dungeon magazine issue 116 (http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/09/30-greatest-d-adventures-of-all-time.html). It got me to thinking.

There are an amazing number of ways in which to judge a body of written work. How does it make you feel? Is it well edited? Did it spark your imagination? Great cartography / illustrations? Fantasitc supporting material? Illuminating content on cannon? And on and on and on... 

How does one even begin on a task such as this? It's overwhelming. I sort of baited James and asked him for his list. Now that's cheating I suppose... In that James is very well entrenched in his niche and for a person like him to list "his" top 30 greatest modules would not be nearly the stretch that it would be for a guy like me. James has a well documented history of "what" he likes and why he likes it. His challenges are an excellent indicator of such.

Anyway, I suppose what I'm trying to say is that, if a guy like me were to construct such a list (and it wouldn't be all that difficult) it would be based on purely experiential credentials. It might start something like this:
  1. Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: Fantastic module based on the notion that a "dungeon" is other wordly. It is a "node" and to enter it is to enter a world unlike that which was left behind. That and the new material introduced in it set a gold standard for modules that followed; If you can't come up with a new adventure (i.e. Not a standard dungeon crawl), then you'd better surprise your players with some new material.
  2. Hall of the Fire Giant King: Location, location, location! This place dripped scene and setting. It was the penultimate WWX knockdown, drag-out battle of the titans. The personalities in this module were stupendous: Obmi, Fruppe, King Snure Iron Belly and lest we forget, the DROW were introduced to us here, Eclavdra anyone? Great stuff...
  3. Caverns of Thracia: When someone talks about a "dungeon" this is what springs to mind. Paul Jaquays was a master at constructing a whole out of apparently disparate parts. This place had it all, and for a piece put out in 1979, it did a pretty spectacular job of filling in the niches while still allowing the GM to freely improvise and create where he or she saw fit.
This could go on...but it would likely be an exercise in futility. You don't know me. I don't have a body of "work" out there that you can reliably base a response upon. James does. I'm eager to see his list. ;-)