Friday, July 6, 2012

Take my Zagyg...Please!

Sad to say, I just moved and I need money for new furniture and other boring things. That means selling my precious Castle Zagyg Upper Works boxed set.

A true tragedy for me, but an opportunity if anyone out there is looking to snag this gem.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My first stab at superheroism!

I've played a lot of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror sessions over the years, but last night was my first foray into the realm of costumed superheroes.

It was quite interesting and very enjoyable. You can read all about it here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Playtesting with Blackrazor!

After an unfortunate real life-driven hiatus, it's nice to be getting my game on again, and with none other than J.B. of OSR blog and "B/X Companion" fame!

Met up last night at the Baranof in Greenwood to try out his new rules-light fantasy/cyberpunk game (mysterious codename "CDF").

Playing a game session at the Baranof was crazy enough. It's a glorious dive that positively oozes history. All you have to do is mentally replace the flat screen tv with an ancient b&w model and it's uncanny how easily you can picture Charles Bukowski perched on the barstool at the end.

The game itself was a blast. My elf sorcerer fireballed six goblins and a rental car. Four were incinerated instantly. Thankfully, the car was among the survivors, otherwise I don't know how we would have made it back in one piece from Goblintown (aka 2050's version of Renton). I didn't get as much chance to get play done as I would have likes, due to character creation, setup, etc, but that's pretty much a given at a first session, is it not?

Finally, this was my first real world meeting with a member of the online OSR community. It's crazy being able to discuss things like my latest Labyrinth Lord purchases and the works of James Raggi using my actual voice instead of my keyboard!

Definitely looking forward to next week. Should be even more awesome. I can't wait to see where this game goes, both at the table and in the larger community once it drops to the public!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A5 OSRIC rocks my ass off!

I've previously owned the OSRIC hardcover, but I just recently invested in the A5 (8.3 x 11 inch) "mini" edition and I can't really remember another case where a game book's form has so improved its function.

Fact is, the hardcover is right about the size and weight of an AD&D PHB and MM combined. The miniature edition is half that size and even less than half that weight. Being able to hold all this gaing goodness in the palm of my hand is heady. And the text is still easy to make out, unlike in those novelty 2 x 3 inch AD&D collectibles that came out around 1999.

Plus, reading something the dimensions and heft of a paperback novel on the bus is much easier than lugging around a full-size "gaming textbook."

I wish more RPG sellers would offer options like this. This new presentation's portability and ease of handling alone has sold me on actually using OSRIC for gaming purposes as opposed to just owning it as a conversation piece. Plus, it's cheeeeap.

Are you listening, Proctor and Finch?

"Click me, fools!"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Film Review: Game of the Year

That's right, it's my first ever film review!

You guys have Kevin Lehnert to thank for this one. He's Director of Marketing over at 88mm Productions and was recently kind enough to send me a complimentary DVD copy of their 2009 movie Game of the Year. So full disclosure: A freebie is what prompted this review. I'm still going to try to be as fair as I can manage, though, as I have in similar reviews for complimentary rulebooks and such both on this blog and at former haunt RPG.Net.

I feel the most useful place to start is by explaining that Game of the Year (GotY, hereafter) is, in essence, a "mockumentary" in the style of Rob Reiner's 1984 classic This Is Spinal Tap, as well as that film's own star Christopher Guest's subsequent similar series of works (Waiting for Guffman, Best of Show, etc). This means that GotY is meant to depict real people being followed around and recorded by a documentary film crew. These sorts of films are actually scripted, of course, but the "raw" seeming camera work and heavy use of improvised dialog encourages the audience to suspend their disbelief on that score.

GotY story centers around DM Richard and his motley crew of D&D gamers as they prepare themselves for a do-or-die audition at a local gaming convention. The audition is for a group spot on the titular "Game of the Year", a reality television show where rival gaming groups compete for the singular prize of running a (fictional) established game company for an entire year.

It's here, in the basic premise, that GotY makes its first and gravest misstep for me. Here, in literally the first minute or two of the movie, the idea of a big budget, televised reality show in the vein of Survivor or The Amazing Race centered around D&D is a huge blow to the realistic atmosphere that the filmmakers spend the entire rest of the production laboring, largely with great success, to achieve. Maybe if reality television existed in the D&D fad days of the early 1980s, sure. But in the 21st century? I swallowed the conceit and pressed on, but it went down hard indeed.

This is a pity, because by the time the credits rolled, I really was quite taken with GotY. Why? Well, one thing that I was on the lookout for before I even pressed play was the lazy overuse of cliche. And my heart did sink a bit when the main characters are introduced playing in...a dingy basement. Are basements really that popular for gaming? Over twenty years now, and I've never rolled dice in one.

Anyway, I digress. Despite that disconcerting start, the cliche beast is kept on a mercifully short leash throughout. There is a bit midway where a (gasp!) girl at the table causes some predictable awkward lust and inter-group strife, but that's really about it. In fact, most of the cliches on display in GotY have more to do with gamers' stereotypes about each other rather than anything outsiders would recognize: John is the solid, man's man military enthusiast into 1970s chit wargames and kicking ass while taking names. Billy is the ADD-afflicted goofball loony who just wants to have fun. "Good" DM Richard's pompous foil Gary Elmore (tee hee!) is an archetypal all talk, no action frustrated novelist/thespian, more interested in telling his epic stories as floridly as possible than in getting any actual gaming done.

In fact, GotY is at its funniest when it's operating in this mode. The scene where no-nonsense John and comic relief Billy find themselves sitting in on a new game where the anal-retentive tyrant DM has elaborate rules governing time limits for combat actions, out-of-character speech, etc, had me practically rolling on the floor. Although I imagine that non-gamers might not have been down there with me. This is definitely a film with a very specific target audience that it homes in on rather single-mindedly.

Thankfully, writer/director/cast member Chris Grega also took care to give the main characters depth beyond their stock types. John also has a troubled marriage, for example, and Gary blames Richard for ruining his life by stealing both his girlfriend and his game ideas in the past. This prevents the characterization and humor from being stunted at a corny "live action Knights of the Dinner Table" level.

How's the actual gaming in GotY? The mechanics are what I like to call "pleasantly vague." Other than a few things like initiative and clerics, there's not much to indicate what flavor of D&D rules are being used at the table. Some 3E rulebooks are glimpsed, but at the same time the referees seem to freely alternate between using DM screens from AD&D 1E, AD&D 2E, Basic D&D, and WotC editions. This is really for the best, I feel. Excessive jargon would be a pointless way to pander to the audience that would detract from the story. And while the game mechanics and such are never the focus specifically, the filmmakers still found plenty of more subtle ways to demonstrate to the target audience that they know their stuff. Characters cleverly sport surnames like Dee, Mohan, Otus, and Martek. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and Steve Jackson are referenced outright, but overall these are restrained, classy tips of the hat to the grognards out there.

Do Richard and company actually win a spot on the television show? I'm not about to spoil things here, folks, but I will say that the ending is what really made GotY a winner for me. Bittersweet, heartfelt, and fundamentally true-to-life are not terms I thought I'd wind up associating with a film that started off with a premise as dodgy as this one's, but there you go. The aforementioned above-average amount of effort put into the characterization (given the often lazily-handled subject matter) really does pay off when it counts most.

Is GotY really the best gaming movie ever made? By the end, I was convinced. Joke all you want about the bar being set low, but this is an indie comedy that has solid writing, believable acting, real heart, and also happens to be about tabletop RPG gamers. That combination is pretty unprecedented and, frankly, impressive.

If you need numbers, have a 4/5. See this one if you can.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Catching up on my OSR reading!

My new job means some actual spending money for once. Decided to treat myself to some stuff I've coveted for a while now:

OSRIC 2.2 (hardcover, the rest are soft)
ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
Knockspell #5 and #6

Can't wait to dig in!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Musings on the Pimp Slap of Doom...

"If he so much as slaps with his open hand the blow causes 1-4 hit
points of damage."

- AD&D Monster Manual

For whatever reason, the sheer unnecessary, positively florid detail of this passage has always held my attention ever since I first read it as a child.

I can't help but wonder, after all these years, if this has ever actually payed off. I mean, has Orcus, Prince of the Undead, ever actually slain a PC with his fabled ability to dish out a casual dagger bitchslap? In any campaign? Ever?

My God! Talk about bragging rights! I don't really expect a concrete answer to this question. At least not in my lifetime. But really, think about how fucking cool that would be!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

PvP D&D?

Sounds like a terrible idea. Everybody knows that smart, well-behaved players work together against the endless NPC hoards of the Dungeon Master. That's just common sense.

Apropos of nothing tonight, though, I started reminiscencing about a fun little scenario I played back in high school.

My character was hired to sail to the remote Isle of Dread. There, to capture and return with a prized man-sized dinosaur. Hey, Jurassic Park was new, so dinosaurs were sort of a thing.

The twist was the second player in our group of three that night was playing the dinosaur! All things considered, it went really well. Very tense, with lots of good-natured rivalry and tense hit-and-run action between the rivals (since the "monster" was also one player's sole game avatar, caution was key). Play took place in adjacent rooms, occasionally, to facilitate the sharing of secret information with the DM, but that did give one time to plot!

In the end, common sense got screwed and a great time was the result.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The OSR is spoiled rotten!

Just wanted to give you all a little heads-up regarding Roger's recent observations over at "Roles, Rules, and Rolls." Definitely some of the most pertinent reflections on the utter embarrassment of riches that the current classic D&D gaming renaissance has been blessed with...and how people can take absolutely anything for granted.

"The sight of the recently released 300 room Barrowmaze being docked points on Grognardia for not being big enough to be a true megadungeon - I guess that makes it more of a what? Macrodungeon? Kilodungeon? - reminds me that we didn't even know what the hell a megadungeon was in 1982...Really, what we're doing under the banner of the Old School Renaissance is much cooler than 99% of our actual old school experiences with D&D."

Amen! I was reminded of this principal yet again when I stumbled across a recent message board thread where a poster lamented that Michael Curtis' superb Stonehell dungeon is, as yet, "unfinished." There's only what, 700 or so rooms detailed so far? Geez.

Monday, February 13, 2012

D&D Next and "not getting it"

"For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback. Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better. System shock rolls. Racial level limits. Gender-based ability score maximums. Lots of bonus types. And so on."


I'll admit, this one paragraph I'm quoting from did a lot to make me feel discouraged at the future of this project, because it points, yet again, to the idea that WotC's design teams in general and Cook especially just don't understand what made the older editions tick.

More importantly, they don't understand that the rules shape a very specific sort of (A)D&D game world. This is where racial level limits and system shock rolls come into play.

a) Racial level limits establish the racial power balance of an archetypal game world. Using AD&D as an example, the best magic-users, fighters, and clerics in a given game world will always be humans, due entirely to the fact that only humans have unlimited level advancement in these three classes (and most of their subclasses). On the other hand, the world of thievery favors the demi-humans due to their combination of unlimited thief class advancement and special racial abilities like infravision. It's highly likely that this archetypal world's most legendary pilferer is a halfling or an elf. Further, half-orcs can rival humans as assassins and half-elves can be among the most powerful druids. Rules like this that set a strong baseline for how a D&D world works lead to shared assumptions among players, shared expectations, and a picture of D&D as something other than a "generic fantasy game" (which it's never been any good at all at being, anyway).

b) System shock rolls enforce the idea that magic is a double-edged sword that can sometimes be as dangerous to its wielders as to its targets, thus simulating a grittier sort of fantasy where magic is frightfully powerful but not fully reliable and understood. It also helps to put the brakes on consequence-free gameplay via unlimited, foolproof resurrection without eliminating all tolerance for the occasional failure. Dropping this aspect simply because "Dude, my spell didn't work like I wanted! Bummer! That, like, totally should never happen." is the perfect example of ignorantly throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'll cut this one short before I start in about how Fireballs that always fill a specified square footage and reflecting Lightning Bolts fulfill a similar function and make for less casual, "dumb" magic use....

In addition, I worry that the D&D Next team doesn't sufficiently understand how distinctive mechanics can be just flat-out cool.

Take descending AC, for example. I remember in the classic Nintendo 64 FPS game "GoldenEye 007", the player who took the least hits during the course of a multiplayer deathmatching session would often be gifted with the "AC -10" award. And you know what? That sounds so much cooler than the "AC 30" accolade! Why? Damned if I know, but it just does! And it's exactly the same sort of cool as a 6th level fighter being dubbed a Myrmidon or describing a thing as a "dweomer" when you could have just gone with "spell." The quirky mechanics and baroque nomenclature of classic D&D are a totally fucking awesome part of the hobby's heritage and worth preserving completely for their own sake alone.

So, yeah, I'm worried. It takes a real effort on my part to muster any kind of belief in the notion that people who fail to apprehend the game's greatness on such simple, fundamental levels can produce a product worthy of the D&D name and any classic D&D lover's money and time. Reserve final judgement I will, until there are actual products to review, but the outlook is grim indeed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

$400 Castle Zagyg!?

That seems to be what they're going for on eBay, anyway. Is this really a thing?

I've never owned any rare/collectable RPG products before, so this is all new to me. I'm definitely going to be holding on to my copy!

Hard to believe that the price could inflate so much in so short a period. You can get a boxed copy of the OD&D LBBs for less than that!

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Viva Passion?" or "The War on the 'Edition Warriors'"

When it comes to games, passion is good. Really, really good. The best.

In fact, I'd venture to say that if you're not really passionate about the game you're playing, no matter what game or what type of game it is, you'd be doing yourself, the game, and the world a favor by setting it aside the moment you realize this and heading off to find one that makes your blood boil and your heart sing.

Passion makes the gaming world go round.

At least that's how I used to feel. But if you believe some authorities, such as the venerable Steve Winter (and you should!) passion is the enemy.

Enter the gaming boogeyman de jour, the Edition Warriors! This legion of soulless, twisted monstrosities has the nerve, the sheer gall, to believe that Dungeons & Dragons is one of the great games of all time. Not only that, but that the storied D&D name itself actually means something and has some sort of precious but somehow non-monetary value (an obvious contradiction in terms!) and that products bearing the name can betray, subvert, or otherwise fail to be worthy of it. But what's worst of all, what really keeps these guys up at night, is that these Edition Warriors are also known for their aberrant belief that they should be wholly unashamed to admit this in public. The most unholy among them even feel they have a very real personal obligation to do so!

Clearly, Armageddon is at hand, for the Edition Warriors are not content with merely causing WotC's brilliant D&D 4E reinvention to fail through no fault of the company's own and despite being a peerless design copied directly from the pages of Leonardo da Vinci's fabled Lost Codex. Oh, no. They've already set their sights on WotC's next big project: "D&D Next." Yes, these heartless savages plan to nip this one in the bud, not caring one whit that the millions spent collaborating with Pepsi's ad agency on a name will then go completely to waste.

For the love of God, you degenerate monsters: Can't you just stop saying how you feel for once!? Can't you see that you're ruining everything with your stupid caring and self-expression!? Just sit down, shut up, open your wallet to WizBro and keep it open and everything will be fine. Gaming without passion isn't so bad. You'll see. After all, many of the "pros" have apparently been doing it for years and they must know better than you. I mean, they're pros!

Can't we all just not give a fuck get along?