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[ profile] paka posted some thoughts on LotR Elves vs. D&D Elves, in which he noted that Unca Gary wasn't that much of a Tolkien fan, since the Professor's work "wasn't pulpy enough for his tastes".

I responded:
I have long felt that the reason Dungeon Fantasy mutated into its own peculiar, inbred subgenre that, frankly, doesn't really WORK that well was because players tried to graft the tropes of Heroic Quest Fantasy onto a system whose initial assumptions were rooted in the very different tropes of picaresque Sword & Sorcery.

I may be the only person who thinks so anymore, but to me, D&D's haphazard combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery isn't so much a matter of "you got peanut butter in my chocolate" as "you're wearing plaid and paisley together."

athelind: (Default)
Your Obedient Serpent has no idea what he's gonna do to relax in the near future, because all the things he's frittered away his spare-and-not-so-spare time on over the years actively piss him off right now.

This is, in part, because he's frittered away so much of his life on them, and in part because, well, Busman's Holiday. One of his sources of stress is his low-paying retail job, selling all those time-consuming distractions.

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The Star Wars Saga game run by [ profile] rikoshi and [ profile] tealfox has really hit its stride. Tonight -- well, last night, now -- was the third session, and everything just clicked. All our sub-plots are coming together, Rikki and Teal have a developed a terrific synergy, and splitting an eight-person party into two four-person groups for combat lets us accomplish twice as much in half the time.

This is not, however, why I am immortalizing this session in my LiveJournal.

No, I'm making a record of this night's game because, in thirty-one years of gaming, and I have never rolled like I did tonight.

Six natural 20s.

The run started with the first two times my character -- a medical droid whose obligate pacifism is literally hardwired -- ever made an attack roll in combat.

Then they just started popping up.

It was insane.

And worth remembering.

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Old leezard is old.

I talk about RPGs with a lot of people, most notably, [ profile] normanrafferty.

The Rat has been gaming almost as long as I have, but that "almost" is significant -- never more so than when he'll contradict me about "how things were in the early days".1 I notice similar disconnects when reading LiveJournals, blogs... even the Designer Notes inside published RPGs.

What Rafferty and most other gamers don't realize is those few short years between 1978, when Your Obedient Serpent started gaming, and 1983-84, when The Rat started gaming, are a lot like the first three minutes after the Big Bang.2

Science Fiction Fans refer to "First Fandom" as those who were actively involved in fannish activity before 1 January 1938. The role-playing equivalent, IMNSHO, would be those already playing D&D when Dallas Egbert went missing on 16 August 1979 (yep, exactly 30 years ago this Sunday).3

Git offa my hex paper lawn, you whippersnappers! )

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I announced today, to my FurryMUCK clique, that I didn't want to see any more trailers for Monster Hunter 3. The game doesn't just annoy me: it actively pisses me off, and worse, it makes me think badly not only of gamers in general but of Japanese culture, in wide, bigoted swaths.

The game is beautifully animated, and the eponymous monsters of the title are magnificently designed. Every trailer looks like a wonderful Discovery Channel nature documentary of a world that never was, full of dinosaurs and dragons and even more exotic creatures -- right up until you get to the gameplay, which involves killing things and dismembering them for their body parts to make cheesy, tawdry consumer goods kewl weapons and armor and magic items.

It's jarring.

The generation that grew up on Cute And Fuzzy Cockfighting Seizure Monsters has graduated to Heroic Head-Bashing Harp Seal Hunters. Look at these marvelous creatures! The loving detail that went into their creation! The magnificent, balletic fluidity of their motion! LET'S HIT THEM WITH CLUBS!

This is a game that comes from one of the last whaling nations on Earth. I'm sorry -- this is that "wide, bigoted swath" I mentioned -- but I can't help but see a connection.

This doesn't piss me off as a guy who pretends to be a dragon online. This pisses me off as an Environmental Scientist, and a human being raised with some semblance of decency and empathy toward the natural world.

I don't put much credence into combat games as "murder simulators", but I do think the prevalent attitude these games have that animals serve no purpose other than to exploit, enslave or slaughter provides a bad example.

I wish I could believe that this was meant ironically, or as a commentary on the exploitation of the natural world. The unambitious modeling and jerky animation of the player avatars certainly suggests that; they're raw, brutish intrusions on the elegantly savage ballet of the "monsters". A decade of Happy Cartoony Cockfighting Games For Little Children makes that hard, though.

And after all that self-righteous ranting to my homies about how terrible it is to brainwash kiddies into seeing the slaughter and exploitation of magnificent animals as something fun and exciting, I announced that I was gonna go grab a burger before work.
And then, at work, I was chatting with two of my regular customers, and one of them said, "you really need to get a PSP. Do you have any consoles at all? There's this game..."
"Funny thing, that", said I...

athelind: (Default)

...but, hooray! After a couple of years of not being able to get a gaming group together or sustain a game for more than three sessions, I am now in about as many games as my not-quite grown-up schedule can handle.

athelind: (Default)
Back in 1993, I ran a GURPS Space game for my local gaming group. A local BBS -- remember those? -- was the organizing center of our social activities in those days, and it was common practice to use it to schedule games and distribute material.

I came up with a simple premise for a setting, wrote up a quick history to give everyone the basics, and set it up so that the players themselves could create the planet and the culture from which their characters hailed.

When we sat down to play, I found that most of the players hadn't bothered to read the background post.

These are people who would memorize setting information in stacks of published material.

[ profile] normanrafferty calls this "Complete Stranger Theory": players are more willing to accept the work of a complete stranger than they are that of the person sitting in the same room.

(Since Rafferty designs tabletop games and uses his local group as playtesters, you can imagine how frustrating this must get for him.)

This came to mind because, yesterday evening, I leafed through the Russian Doll file structure of my hard drive and found, nested in Archive folders two or three deep, the files from that time-lost game.

Both [ profile] normanrafferty and [ profile] rodant_kapoor asserted that they would have read it -- so let's test that, shall we?

tl;dr )

I've said "four pages" in relating this story over the years; it actually comes out to less than a page and a half, as originally formatted.

It's evident what I was reading at the time; there are bits in there obviously cribbed from Phil Foglio's Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, and some obvious influence from David Brin's work, especially Earth.

The general framework, however, is pretty good: Humanity colonizes worlds using "slow FTL", develops dozens of cultures in comparative isolation, and then, poof, the discovery of "fast FTL" drops everyone in each other's back yard -- and First Contact.

There, okay, I just summed it up in one run-on sentence. But really, was a page and a half that onerous?

athelind: (Default)
Posting this so I don't lose the link: d20 Modern, The Full Monte

They have a zipped, downloadable version right there on the front page.

For those baffled by this, geeky prattle follows. )
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Amongst various other loot which I will quite enjoy, I received the entire seven-book Dark Horse release of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series -- a seminal sword-and-sorcery saga that contributed much more to the heart and soul of Dungeons & Dragons than Tolkien's more superficial influence.

Combine this with my recent ruminations re: Gamma World, and Your Obedient Serpent may be hankerin' to run a good, old-skool, High Adventure campaign in the near future....

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[ profile] paka posted a "D&D Meme" last night. I'm not going to answer the whole thing; regular readers have probably deduced that I haven't played enough D&D in recent decades to be able to answer them. One question, however, pushed one of my buttons:

8) Halfling or Gnome?

I've been saying this since AD&D1: Why does D&D even HAVE Gnomes? They're REDUNDANT. The ecological niches that Gnomes traditionally fill in folklore get filled by either Dwarves or Halflings. In TV Tropes lingo, they're not "Stouts" and they're not "Cutes".

Really, there's nothing for Gnomes to DO except fill up an unused folklore name; that's why every single edition and sub-edition and variant setting gives'em an entirely different gimmick and identity. If you look at the First Edition version, it was really a half-assed, gamery attempt to cash in on adapt the Gnomes from the Huygen & Poortvliet coffee-table book that was so popular in '78.

When the Tolkien Estate groused about them using "Hobbit" in the first printing of Greyhawk, they should have just dubbed THEM "Gnomes" instead of "Halflings", and been done with it.
athelind: (Default)
Last week, I went through the RPG section at work, sorted everything out, and stuck almost anything published before 2004 on the Half Price Rack. One reason I did that was because there was some really intriguing stuff for d20 that had gotten buried amidst the piles of Cheap-Ass Third-Party Powergaming Supplements, and I wanted to get it out and visible. D&D 4th Edition has come along, and disenfranchised a bunch of hard-core 3d-edition players who could make good use of the off-beat material.

Today, after debating it for the last week, I purchased a big bag o' half-price Gamma World d20 stuff. Yes, that's a lot better than my employee discount.

Is there a conflict of interest involved in convincing the manager to let me put the old game stuff on sale, picking out what gets put on the sale rack, and then buying the stuff I really want myself? Maybe, but after speaking to a customer who had owned and played every edition of Gamma World since the first, and spoke highly of the d20 version, I decided to go for it.

First Impressions:
I am a happy serpent indeed.

It's been a long time since I've sat down and read a game book pretty much cover to cover, but I did just that this evening.

The "Sword & Sorcery" team over at White Wolf really had a feel for Gamma World. Sure, they could have thrown in a lot more weird and wild mutations, but a little Tim Truman art goes a long way. Too bad they didn't get Bigfella Machine, as well.

The high point of the book: the Community Development rules. In thirty years, I've only seen two or three other RPGs that even attempted to devise mechanics for social change, and to integrate it as an essential part of gameplay. D&D long ago abandoned the idea that player characters would eventually (and inveitably) build strongholds, gather followers, and gain political as well as personal power, and each subsequent edition has moved further and further from that idea.

Sure, when I was 16, that kind of thing seemed like a nuisance and a burden to my PC's adventuring lifestyle, but, um, I haven't been 16 in a very long time.

The Community rules were, I believe, new to Gamma World, and it's well-suited to the setting. While this is a post-apocalyptic setting, the emphasis has never been on destruction and despair, but on rebuilding from the ashes.

While I rant and grumble about how disconnected Dungeons & Dragons has become from its sword-and-sorcery roots, and how it has, over the years, become its own, inbred genre of Dungeon Fantasy... I didn't read much fantasy at all until after I started playing D&D.

On the contrary: I grew up watching the Planet of the Apes movies, and reading Kamandi: Last Boy On Earth. Thundarr the Barbarian debuted just a couple of years after I got sucked into the role-playing hobby.

The first D&D game that I ran, in fact, was set on a post-apocalyptic Earth -- as was the first one in which I regularly played.

The resurgence of Dungeon Fantasy that accompanied D&D 3.0/3.5 left me cold -- especially when I saw that first wave of offbeat fantasy settings for d20 getting pushed off the market by that flood of poorly-written compilations of cheesy spells, imbalanced prestige classes, and Monty Haul magic items.

I thought that it was because I'd "used up" the Dungeon Fantasy genre, wrung every possible note of interest from the Heroic Fantasy paradigm. I mean, as my major PC, I'd played out the Hero's Journey that Joseph Campbell so lovingly described without my DM or myself really realizing it until years later, when I finally got around to reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Maybe that's not it at all, though.

Maybe it's that my personal paradigm for over-the-top High Adventure doesn't have much at all to do with Elves and Dwarves and Orcs, and everything to do with ancient ruins, bizarre creatures, and (surprise, surprise) anthropomorphic animals.

Who wants to play?

One of my earliest LiveJournal entries, made almost exactly six years ago, was an anecdote about my favorite Gamma World character.
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A call for assistance to the DC comics fans out there in the audience: I need your ideas!

As many of you know, I'm currently running a superhero RPG set in an alternate DC universe, where Superman and other characters started their careers at about the times they made their comic book debuts, and time passed normally. Heroes aged, had children, passed on their names, powers, and/or missions, and, in many cases, passed on.

It's the year 2020, and the generation of heroes that were teenagers in the 1990s and at the dawn of the Millennium are now the stalwart core of the Justice League: Starwoman, Static, and the Blue Beetle fight along the grandchildren of Superman and Wonder Woman.

The sole player-character in the campaign is a teenaged girl who's adopted the nom de guerre of Robin, protecting the innocent in a Gotham City that has been without a Batman or any other costumed hero for 15 years.

However, I need interesting NPCs to flesh out the setting. In the interests of Harvesting Good Ideas, I pose this question to the LiveJournal Hive Mind:

If you were going to play in this setting, who would you want to play?

Guidelines )

Have fun with this; think of it as another LJ Meme. I know that a good chunk of the fun we've had has been from banging out the timelines, and laughing about the ways things just fall together -- often more sensibly than they did in the "canon" source material.

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Back in the early 1990s, I ran a GURPS Supers game down in the Oceanside area. The premise was that the players were all playing versions of themselves, who got too close to a UFO crash site and wound up with Amazing Philadelphia Experiment-Based Powers when the thing exploded.

Really, I just planned to have a completely conventional spandex-and-secret-IDs superhero game.

Three things thwarted that goal, however:

  1. I've always had a "pick up on player input and run with it" style of hosting games.
  2. This was the heyday of the World of Darkness and The X-Files.
  3. One member of the group was a Marine MP, active duty at the time, whose previous assignments had included working with FEMA.

When we got to the point where the UFO crashed, our MP friend said something to the effect of, "I can't really say if FEMA has plans for this. But, if they did...."

And for the next few minutes, I just kicked back and let him do my job for me.

This turned the game into a classic Fugitives Hunted By The Government exercise, which I soon compounded by adding an unhealthy dose of Dean R. Koontz Sociopath-With-Powers.*

Well, it turns out that he wasn't making things up.

*Have I mentioned that sooner or later, every game I run that lasts more than a session or two turns into a horror game? I don't particularly like horror games, but I do have a knack for them.
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Odd. I've made light NaNoWriMo in years past -- honestly, I've outright mocked it. However, it just occurred to me that this year, in my own peculiar way, I actually participated.

I've had a mental block as a GM for several YEARS now, in no small part because of poor preparation skills. For last part of of November, however, I've been busily writing away, hammering out the background for a one-player superhero game I'll be starting tomorrow.

I'm sure I haven't gotten anywhere near 50 kwords, and it's more a series of timelines and outlines than prose -- but that's what one needs for a game setting. I've come up with interesting characters, long-term plot twists, and dramatic scenes, both as backstory and to be played out as the game progresses. In the last three days, I had a surge of inspiration, tying together three or four disparate elements and themes and bringing them together into one grand, intricate scheme.

And the oddest thing?

This is all building on notes and ideas I worked on last November... only to set them aside at the end of the month as other ideas took center stage.
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I was perusing some text files I wrote up at the end of last year, sketching out the initial outlines for a game setting, and got inspired again. I wanna run a game in this setting -- preferably a round-robin type game with rotating GMs, because, frankly, I'd have a blast playing in it myself.

This would be a Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition game set in an alternate DC Universe -- one where the major characters are introduced in the years they debuted in our world, and then age normally from there, interacting, marrying, having families and legacies.

It would steal heavily from "Elseworlds", especially Generations, The Golden Age, and The New Frontier.

I've put together tentative timelines for the Superman and Batman legacies, and I have ideas for the Marvel Family that I haven't typed up yet, but after that, I just... petered out. There are major legacies I need to timeline, and hten I need to go back, figure out how they intertwine, and revise accordingly.

So, I need a GEEKTANK! A thinktank of geeks to brainstorm ideas based on this premise -- largely just for the fun of it.

I may set up an LJ community for it -- if I could find some kind of Q&D Wiki, that would be ideal, since we could all brainstorm on timelines.

I know I've got fanfic writers and comics fans in my flist who could come up with good stuff here. Who wants in?
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Snark's Law of Attention Spans:
Players who will read and memorize two dozen volumes of background material for a published setting won't read a three-page background summary that you wrote for your own world.

Also known as "The Second 3W Rule".
athelind: (Default)
It has come to my attention that many D&D players spend a great deal of time, energy and effort complaining about core concepts in the system: Alignment, Class, Level, the Magic System, incompatibility between optional rules sets, and even things that exist at the setting level rather than the mechanical level, such as the perponderance of monsters that make no damned sense. Rather than just discarding or modifying those aspects of the game to tailor it more to their preferences, they instead apply torturous rationalizations to make sense of inherently arbitrary, irrational rules.

If the objections and rationalizations were isolated, one could justify simply "gaming around them"; however, at some point or another, the same people have brought every core concept of the game into question -- and yet, far too often, the questioners resist both the idea of actively changing the rules (which the OGL/d20 revolution has made more feasible than ever) or finding another system less heavily burdened with the ill-conceived baggage of '70s Miniatures Wargaming (which the OGL/d20 revolution has not yet managed to make impossible).

Granted, this has always been The Nature of the Beast. however, since the introduction of Third Edition and the "d20 Revolution", it often seems as though the players of that system simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of other game systems in any but the most offhand and academic manner ("Yeah, but nobody plays that").

Many D&D players also have a tendency to approach any discussion of game design in terms of whether or not it would work in D&D. Frequently, one person will bring up some aspect of mythology or folklore -- folk magics, for example, or the role of consecrated ritual tools in magickal practice -- and note that few existing game systems incorporate these ideas in their mechanics. Far too often, a D&D player will dismiss the question by saying something that boils down to "There's really no way to explain that in D&D terms."

This tendency to shoehorn every circumstance into an arbitrary and inappropriate frame of reference while at the same time discounting the validity of other frames of reference strikes me as being unwholesomely... Republican.

EDIT: I do apologize for this popping up again in everyone's Friends list. Semagic did something weird and reposted it, over-writing the time stamp on the original.
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If you're looking for a Government Organization to use as the basis for a modern-day Monster-Hunting/Weird Science/Exotic Phenomena RPG, have your PCs work for The Center For Disease Control. They've cropped up as the "go-to guys" in several recent movies of that nature, and it makes sense: weird pheonmena that threaten large segments of the population, requiring specialists to control and contain; a well-established infrastructure for such tasks; and, for the ever-popular "secret war against the supernatural" genre, a convenient cover story that will keep most people as far from an "infected" area as possible. After all, vampirism, zombie outbreaks, or alien parasites can be treated as an infectious disease in many ways. A sewer full of flesh-eating mutant cockroaches is a disease-vector problem.
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A post that [ profile] the_gneech made early this morning brought this to mind, and I thought I'd expand upon and share the thoughts in my earlier comment.

Some thoughts on the applied use of clichés and tropes: )
athelind: (Default)

Today's Project: B.J. Snark's Best Battleboard Ever!* )

*"Best [Item] Ever!" should bring to mind Richard Scarry, not Comic Book Guy, you Philistine.
athelind: (Default)
A year or so ago, [ profile] jordangreywolf and I pondered the necromantic implications of LifeGems: industrial diamonds made from the cremated remains of a human being as an "eternal memorial".

This is one of the most disturbing, morbid, freaky, and strangely cool concepts I have ever encountered. When I first stumbled across this company, my brain immediately came up with half a dozen Modern Fantasy/Modern Horror/High Fantasy/Sci Fi plot lines.

All things considered, you could visit the web site of a company that makes tombstones, and it would be *morbid*. There's just no avoiding it. But that's MERELY morbid. There's no Steal Your Soul resonance in there. No thoughts of Really Disturbing Ways to make Psychic Power Crystals. No thoughts of, gee, if they can make over a hundred LifeGems from one person, but you can only afford to buy one or two, how do you know that the rest aren't being channeled into some Infernal Device?

Since I often refer to good "adventure seeds" as "gems", this is especially appropriate. Consider this a Jewelry Store version of the Night Gallery, where frozen fragments of nightmare take on a tangible form...

Submitted for Your Approval... )

Feel free to contribute your own Creepy Ideas.
athelind: (Default)
Just days after my reminisence about Gamma World, someone sends me this:

athelind: (Default)
After spending a few minutes out front locking eyes with one of the local felines, I recalled a Classic Geek Moment:

From Gamma World, c. 1983 or so...

The party included a mutant panther played by "Doc", and Hood-Spreading-To-Catch-The-Dawn, a mutant cobra played by Your Obedient Serpent. At some point, the party found themselves in disagreement, leaving Doc and Hood glaring at each other, and our respective players RPing it by staring each other down at the table.

Doc: "Not many people can stare down a cat."

Moi: "Snakes... don't... have... eyelids."

I miss Brother Hood. Fun character.

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