Archive for January, 2012

31
Jan
12

What’s New with Games that Can’t Be Named

This Wednesday we have a double-top-secret, as in we’ll make you sign a NDA before even giving you the second NDA, session of Games that Can’t be Named. Our location for this week, 333 Court Street, is in keeping with the “you get to see it before it’s publicly available” theme. The Brooklyn Strategist is still under construction, but they’re opening their doors early for this event. Owner Jon Freeman says:

What's New with Phil and Dixie. Did you know there were new (as in 'created this millennium') ones of these, and they're all online? Click the picture to check 'em out!

Just so I can set everyone’s expectations at a realistic level, it’s still a construction zone.  It won’t have the amazing and cool vibe we’re hoping to achieve in the final product and it’s possible that the place will be a little dusty (plus I won’t have any shelving or counters up – they won’t go in until end of the week).  That said, I’m a big proponent of “if you bring good people together with games, food and drink, it usually doesn’t matter where they are…”

Hopefully it doesn’t matter too much what the games are either, because those are also under construction! Only those adventurous souls prepared to trip over an as-yet-unfixed mechanic, an uneven seam in the thinset concrete, or proud nails both literal and figurative need apply.

This Wednesday will be the third installment in the Games that Can’t Be Named series. The next two, 2/8 and 2/15, will be back at the Soho Gallery for Digital Arts at 138 Sullivan St. On those nights we’ll continue to have folks ready to run and play the games from earlier in the series (including the one we’re busting out tomorrow), and will continue to introduce a new not-widely-available game each night.

Here are some things that players in the sessions so far have ventured past the veil of silence to report!

Co-organizer Alex Guzman writes at RPG.net:

We had OSR gamers playing alongside 4e players playing alongside indie gamers all having a good time. It was great validation for my belief that people aren’t looking for the perfect game they are looking for a good time. What our hobby needs isn’t more products its more people to play with. That’s my opinion – but what the hell do I know right? lol

nerdNYC has lots of people daring the fiery wrath of disclosure to talk about the experience. The quotes below from cawshis leave out some great stuff, including more of the saga of his mom playing tabletop games again after 20 years (also referenced at RPG.net):

Happy to have been there for the first one. Hope to make one the next time I’m in town! I should say, despite the logistical considerations, I had a great time and so did my mom, who talked about it all the way home. I was mainly interested in the full “stranger” to the scene experience and that’s what I got! From where I sat, I thought you guys pulled it off. Everyone appeared to be having a fun time and that’s what’s important to me. The format needs only a few tweaks in logistics.

I encourage everyone to go! These kinds of experiments in ad-hoc gaming should be supported and encouraged! It can only improve the more folks go and try it out. And it’s fun gaming with strangers since, as Eppy taught me, it’s all about going out on dates with lots of gamers to find those perfect matches.

The logistics he mentioned were:

  • Big groups: we had a larger turnout than expected and wound up with a table that, while not exceptional by White Sandbox standards, had more players in one group than most are used to. Tomorrow we’ll have at least four people ready to GM, with likely group sizes thus in the standard 4-8 range.
  • Setting expectations: This is a tough one. The format means there are things that can’t be said; the games are so new that it can be hard to know what they’ll be like; and what part of the experience comes from the GM rather than the material is hard to assess. However, to answer some of jenskot‘s questions for tomorrow’s game, I expect it will be skewed toward combat rather than role-playing (although being player-driven means it could go either way) and a system-matters playtest.

Blogger Tenkar reported on the second session, where we did much better with logistics and solved at least some people’s expectation issues by describing the game as “inspired by OD&D and Burning Wheel and old-school video games”:

It was a blast! I met some really cool gamers, had some excellent Tunnels & Trolls conversations (last thing I expected to find), saw some amazing Old School D&D art from the likes of Peter Mullen (rendered on digital screens) and got some gaming in. I wish I could talk about the RPG I played a session of, but I can’t (NDA and all that). I will say it was a lot of fun and a blast to play.

Lessons learned? I should bring an old notebook, more then 2 sets of dice, gem dice don’t read so well depending on the light at my semi-advanced age and gamers are gamers no matter the age.

Most important lesson? My wife is awesome! Thanks for encouraging me to attend ;)

One game that happened at last week’s session can’t be named only because, when Michael Mornard learned to play it, various people called what they were doing “Blackmoor” or “Greyhawk”. Now that we’ve settled on “original Dungeons & Dragons” as a name, however, both myself and Paul Hughes (here and here) have been eagerly sharing the lore Mike is helping bring out from behind an undesired veil of secrecy.

I’m sad to report that Mike won’t be at tomorrow’s session – seminary school starts this week, making weeknights tough for him although I hope we’ll find another time. However, if you’re in range of Brooklyn, please do come by and help us make some new gaming history!

30
Jan
12

Dungeon Notoriety and the 15-minute Workday

Recently over at the Greyhawk Grognard, there was a discussion of how to deal with “the 15-minute workday.” This is a situation in which PCs become so risk averse that they immediately retreat to a safe haven after expending any resources at all in the dungeon, nickel-and-diming their way through the even the shallowest dungeon levels.

In the comments, Talysman responded:

*Discourage* the players from returning to town every time they run a little low on resources? I’m trying to *encourage* them to do that! It doesn’t have to be easy, and things can certainly change between visits, but I think there should be a series of short expeditions instead of “hanging on until the last hp”.

I agree with Talysman that this behavior is precisely the kind of careful management the lethality of an old-school dungeon requires, but I’m sympathetic to Joseph’s concerns that the necessary risk of a dungeon expedition can be eroded if the PCs are risk-averse in the extreme. The solution I would suggest is to make the dungeon itself a resource to be managed: If the PCs appear to be hauling loot up risk-free, others will be emboldened to try their luck in the dungeon’s depths.

Flora's mallewagen, by Hendrik Pot

Download Dungeon Notoriety and Interloper Tables (PDF)

The linked document details what it is essentially a random encounter roll when treasure is brought up from the dungeon; the likelihood of encounter is modified by the secrecy of the dungeon’s location, the party’s health on returning, and the amount of treasure retrieved.  The latter is variable by market class (ACKS’s I-VI reckoning of market size, with I being global metropolises and VI being tiny hamlets), and based on the monthly wage of three heavy infantry and the number of said infantry on the market.  The translation of other ACKS-isms to B/X-like games should be fairly transparent.

Since returning to town from the dungeon is typically a call for a short break in the games I’m in, it should also afford me the opportunity to roll some dice and replace a defeated group of orcs with a NPC party eager to get in while the getting is good.

28
Jan
12

Celebrity Charity D&D Livestream Today!

Artist and do-gooder Satine Phoenix and Meltdown Comics are doing a very cool D&D fundraiser from 1 to 6 today (Pacific time)  which you don’t need to live in LA to enjoy. For a minimum donation of $1, you get live video access to one of four tables all playing the same adventure, written by Keith Baker (creator of Eberron, originator of the Tower of Gygax concept). If this sounds interesting, RSVP to the Facebook event page and let the many squamous tentacles of your social network spread the word: proceeds from the event go to support the LA branch of REACH OUT AND READ, an organization whose mission – getting books and support to help kids in need develop a love of reading – all gamers should be able to get behind, Stonepunks notwithstanding.

Flyer from meltcomics.com; click to visit the site's post about the event

Here is why this event should be interesting:

  • Zak S. has a great post, which I am too lazy to search for as it is hidden among a hundred thousand similarly great posts, in which he talks about how watching or listening to recorded games (in which you aren’t present to exert an observer effect) can teach you how little the rules matter by seeing how much groups using the same rules differ. Today’s event carries the experiment even further by having four groups use not only the same rules but the same adventure; the fact that they’re simultaneous can also (assuming you make separate donations to get the live feed from each table) let you learn about timing by switching back and forth between groups to see how far they’re progressing, which points they’re spending time on and which they’re breezing past, etc.
  • The setup is likewise good for revealing personality: how do different players handle the same challenge? Viewers of I Hit It With My Axe are already familiar with Connie and Satine’s respective problem-solving styles; likewise Dan Milano from the Robot Chicken D&D videos. I also recognize John Zurr-Platten from the list of confirmed guests, who I’ve greatly enjoyed talking to at Gary Con but haven’t played with; your list of celebrities is likely different than mine, check it out and see whose roleplaying style you’d like to witness!
  • Keith Baker is one of the DMs as well as the writer of the adventure, so those interested in the “designer in a box” problem will likely find it instructive to see how the scenario in his hands differs from the way the other DMs run it.

Players and GMs from a previous D&D charity organized by Satine at meltcomics.com, who I ought to identify but need to prep for today's session so let's play spot the celeb instead

Plus, as mentioned, the event supports a good cause. It’s by no means the first charity event Satine has put together with Meltdown and some of the same suspects- here’s a description of a previous iteration:

Keith Baker a designer of the Eberron setting from D&D Satine Phoenix, connie and Zak Smith from from I Hit It With My Axe, Dan Milano from Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken and John Zurr Platten who is the writer of the The Chronicles of Riddick games and a load more all met at Meltdown Comics in downtown Los Angeles and played Dungeons and Dragons to raise money for charity. There were a lot of great artists and photographers who also played and not only that but they documented the event and created representations of the events of the story in each of the games. Wizards of the Coast were happy to supply a load of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons materials. Food as also provided by Mars Hot Dogs, Jersey Mikes in West Hollywood and Shipyard Beer. This event was trying to encourage attendees to donate to the JVS Literacy Network, which is a charity established to help and support people who are down on luck. All the proceeds from this event went towards this charity including any sales of photographs and artwork.

Renae Geerlings also has a play report here.

What’s unique about this event is the livestream aspect that lets people all over the world watch these games. As someone who’s interested in gaming fundraisers, but no longer lives in LA where Satine is cooking up some of the most exciting ones, this is something that I want to support.

If you can’t watch the event live, I feel your pain – my White Sandbox session today means I’ll miss it too. Fortunately, a the adventure Keith wrote is available for $5 donation, so if folks talk about what they got out watching the webcast (as I hope they will) I can use that to kind of follow along at home. And perhaps in future Satine & crew will record as well as stream the events.

27
Jan
12

kirbsday: the paranoid pill!

It’s still Thursday somewhere, right?

Mister Miracle #3 is a bit like last time: an eerie challenger from Apokolips dares Scott Free to face an inescapable trap.  Doctor Bedlam isn’t as frightfully archetypal as Granny Goodness, but he ain’t bad.

Here’s the deal with Doctor Bedlam:

He takes interior decoration very seriously…


He can project his consciousness into those silver furniture-mover robots…

And he has the super power to know Scott Free’s phone number without dialing directory assistance.

“And now to my task!–To subjugate and break the spirit of that young rebel who dared to reject the powers that rule his world–and the master I serve!  The great Darkseid himself!”

That “and” makes it sound like the powers that rule Scott’s world also rule Darkseid.  I don’t know if that’s the intention.  Reading too much into Kirby’s grammar–is probably a mistake!!

radio bedlam animates the anti-life follower

Let me blither for a quick second about the Doctor Bedlam concept.

I love it that this super villain is basically a state of mind: anybody can become Doctor Bedlam if they’re thinking the wrong thoughts.  (Doctor Doom has a similar power.)

Check out the themes going on with Apokolips, though.  In Forever People #3, “Life vs. Anti-Life,” Glorious Godfrey is using a supersonic pipe organ to obliterate critical thinking skills and lull people into becoming perfectly obedient Justifiers.  We’ve seen in New Gods #2 and Forever People #2 that Darkseid hopes to discover the Anti-Life Equation, the infallible method of destroying free will, by terrorizing the citizenry.  It’s your standard Rise-of-Totalitarian-Dictatorship-by-First-Inducing-Societal-Breakdown stuff, and as we’ve seen repeatedly Kirby endorses that theory in very strong terms.

And now as a direct progression along that axis, you’ve got Doctor Bedlam projecting his brainwaves into the mindless, robotic “animates,” who only exist as extensions of his bodiless will.  For my money, the Doctor Bedlam/animate relationship is the perfect demonstration of what the Anti-Life Equation would actually look like, except starting with a regular human instead of an empty robotic shell.

So here’s a little clue about Scott Free’s origin, too.  He’s been tight-lipped about where he comes from so far, though of course long-time Kirby fans know the deal.  But a hint is that last issue, Scott was messing around with a robot, “my people refer to it as a follower,” which appears to operate on the same principles as the animate-robot here, blindly obeying his psychic impressions.  If this was a deliberate hint, it’s delivered with uncharacteristic subtlety, but I dig it all the same.

(By the way, that expression on Bedlam’s face during the possession sequence reminds me of a similar Kirby character, Psycho-Man.)

shut up and summarize

So dig that.  First, there are formal dueling rules on Apokolips.  When Mister Miracle first sees the paranoid pill, he thinks that Doctor Bedlam is going to sedate him, and is outraged.  “You know the code of combat!  You cannot tranquilize an adversary!  He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!”

While I’m a bit puzzled that a dog-eat-dog world like Apokolips has governing rules for bloodsports, it’s nevertheless a good touch for Mister Miracle as a series.  The deal with Mister Miracle is that he’s a super escape artist.  But that gig requires him to constantly subject himself to super-traps.  Which sort of obliges him to let himself get captured all the time, just like he did with Steel Hand in Mister Miracle #1 by making a bet.  I found it a little strange that a Earthly mobster like Steel Hand would consent to a gentleman’s agreement rather than just hauling him out into the woods and shooting him, but at least with super villains from Apokolips there’s apparently a formal process for these sorts of battles which helps to justify Mister Miracle’s affectations.

Second, it’s simply a cool idea for a trap.  As Doctor Bedlam says, “no metal, no gimmickry, no medieval chan or link for you, my boy!  My world is of the mind!”  The super hero has to fight his way past an army of ordinary people driven berserk.  It kind of reminds me of the whole “we want Barrabas!” bit, where the common people torment and destroy their would-be savior.

Yet even though Doctor Bedlam has forsworn any crude physical restraints, somehow Mister Miracle winds up inside a trunk…

Wrapped up in chains and ropes…

And then thrown down a stairwell straight out of Vertigo.  Cool shot, though–you don’t often get a sense of depth in comic books.  TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE!!!

what else is there to say?

Not  whole lot more about this particular issue.  But let’s take small step backward.

The Fourth World Saga lasted about two years of bi-monthly publication–11 issues in each of the three main series.  A couple more of the monthly Jimmy Olsen title, and a few haphazard Mister Miracles once the other titles had been cancelled.  So we’re now about a quarter of the way into the aborted epic.

What we’ve got, basically, is a trio of titles with extremely strong thematic links, and some looser links via some shared setting elements like Darkseid, Mother Box, and Inter-Gang.  The Jimmy Olsen issues don’t feel quite as strongly connected thematically, but then it’s an on-going series with Kirby jumping on late in the game.  Main themes so far revolve around non-conformity, mass craziness, totalitarianism, and (very lightly so far) parenthood.

We’re also deep enough in that the series are beginning to look and feel different.  A Mister Miracle story begins with a stunt rehearsal, interrupted by the arrival of a super villain out of Scott’s past who challenges him to a match; Mister Miracle cheats death, sometimes literally, with the aid of Mother Box.  New Gods opens with cosmic portents, before downshifting to Orion seething for battle before he launches the Astro-Force to protect his simpering Earthlings.  The Forever People features the title characters reacting to quaint Earth customs, sometimes oblivious to our resentment, heartbreak, or danger, but when they deduce that Darkseid’s around they tag in the Infinity Man.  And Jimmy Olsen these days seems to involve Superman showing Jimmy yet another gee-willikers unsettling aspect of the DNA Project, when Simyan and Mokkari try to wreck everything via rampaging mutants.

I’m being very reductionist here, which isn’t fair to the broader ambitions of Kirby’s project, but I’m highlighting these plot formulas for a reason: things will change up pretty soon.  I don’t know whether that’s due to editorial insistence, reader reaction, Kirby’s long-time intent, or just his restlessness taking the series into new directions.  But we’re at the end of the first act, and all of the major characters and their agendas are known to us.

26
Jan
12

Pledge Allegiance

This morning on the bus, I tested my son’s knowledge of Tarzan to check Charlie Jane Anders’ assertion that the character is unknown to people under 30. It turns out that nine-year-olds have enough familiarity to nickname you “Tarzan” if you wear a lion-print Halloween costume that started as one year’s Charles Atlas and was re-used as Hercules the next. What Javi knows about Tarzan is that he swings on vines and drowns enemies in quicksand who are not hip to the vine trick. Tarzan’s origin story is news to him, which is probably not good for the long-term survival of what makes the character unique; apparently we are no longer much interested in people being raised by apes, but still need an iconic image of a guy who runs around hollering while half-dressed.

Cover from Doc Savage Magazine, July 1935

Anyway, Javi wanted to know why I was grilling him about Tarzan so I explained that I’d read an article about what new pulp characters have come along to replace old ones that are forgotten, like Doc Savage. Then he wanted to know who that was. Being a fan of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life I was able to do a credible run-down on the Man of Bronze, but a nine-year-old’s thirst for knowledge makes it very handy to have a hivemind in your pocket. The Wikipedia entry brings us to the thing I want to talk about, Doc Savage’s credo:

Let me strive, every moment of my life, to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it.

Let me think of the right, and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice.

Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage.

Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do.

Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

Since Green Lantern was Javi’s first heroic fascination, he and I are no strangers to oaths. Our conversation about why the Guardians of Oa require that their agents to recite a daily oath to receive their powers, and what benefits Doc Savage might receive from having a code to guide his conduct, got me thinking about creating a credo for characters in a role-playing game.

I am at the stage of unpaid taxes where I guiltily suspect that a commenter like NUNYA who likes all caps and creative spelling might be Joesky in disguise sending me a warning, just as an unrepentant Scrooge might flinch at the sight of passers-by who just happen to be androgynous and candle-headed, robed and torch-bearing, or gaunt and spectral. So instead of just waxing theoretical, I will try to offer actual game-useful content. (Before the gassiness ban takes effect, let me note that Doc Savage is awesome because his myth is the unfamiliar archetype that sheds light on elements of our culture so familiar that they’re hard to perceive directly; doesn’t “strive to make myself better and better that all may profit” and “take what comes with a smile” sound like a perfect encapsulation of the ethos that makes original D&D appealing?)

And I won’t just say “hey you should make up your character’s code of behavior” because I haven’t done this and have no reason to suspect it would be a good idea. When I suggested to Javi that he and I should make up oaths for ourselves, he was clearly embarrassed by the notion and I suspect your average player, or even me when I’m not wearing my enthusiastic Dad hat, would feel the same.

But I really like the idea of striving, every moment of our lives, to make ourselves better and better, to the best of our abilities, that all may profit by it.  Since the Joesky tax fund is full of stuff that’s useful to DMs, I’ll start a series of posts aimed at being better players.

Michael Mornard's dice are not older than me only because I am really old. The twisty white thing at left was not a joint, but I don't know what it was.

Last night in the OD&D game Michael Mornard ran (here I make an exception to  Games That Can’t Be Named‘s name-no-names policy), I rolled up Boboric the Huscarl and did not want him to get killed. Being a first-level fighting man, I decided that having plate-mail would go a long way to supporting this ambition, but I only rolled 60 gp and needed cash for flaming oil and door spikes and all the other things that would let me contribute to the welfare of the party without needlessly exposing myself to death in the front lines.

So I approached Roger de Coverley, who had emerged from the previous adventure with all kinds of wealth and second-level-ness, and announced “Sir, I will pledge myself as your guard and servant if you will equip me with a full suit of steel armor!”

After making sure that this pledge included standing in front of Roger in the marching order, Paul agreed to equip Boboric. Seeing the success of this tactic, the player of Melbar the Lesser got in on the action. “Hey, is there a Melbar the Greater?” I asked. Upon learning that he was indeed, M. the Lesser was of unspecified relation to Melbar the Greater, Lord of Toast, I said “Cool, will you accept me as your vassal so that I may wear his coat of arms?”

Paul cut himself into this action too: “Hey, Roger has a garter that you can wear.” Being quicker on the draw, Boboric  got to wear the right garter, Melbar was stuck with the left. (He also wound up in the first rank of the marching order; sucker!)

What started out as a simple exercise in advantage-seeking (with overtones of greed and paranoia) became my key to roleplaying Boboric. When I challenged a bandit leader to single combat, after defeating him I went over and laid down my spear (which cost me 1/60th of my wealth, and had a valuable spider stuck on it for safe-keeping!) at Roger’s feet, establishing to the surviving brigands that he was the big man here; Boboric had proven himself to be tough and fierce, but how much more to be feared was the guy who commanded him!

Gronan, Roger, and Melbar (background, from L to R); The Mauler (foreground)

The decision to play a character who was eager to pledge allegiance and see what he could get in return unlocked a lot of fun for me during the session. Here’s what I think can be generalized as advice on being a better player:

  • Want something. D&D is a great and compelling game because, in every edition, it gives me ways to “strive to make myself better and better.” As we’ve said at the Mule before, one of the great things about XP for GP in TSR editions is that it gives characters a specific, concrete thing to pursue with monomaniacal zeal in pursuit of that goal. Both gold and XP are so fundamental that the advice to want these things is unlikely to lead to better D&D play, although it may be useful to note that a character concept that involves not wanting wealth and power will probably be no fun to play. Odyssey has written about how a party full of characters who are addicted to things other than gold would provide not only motivation but also a reason for everyone to know one another. Maybe the greatest benefit of wanting something is that it helps you understand other people who might want that too. Boboric’s drive to get a suit of armor out of pledging allegiance to the highest-level dude around set the stage for the party to embrace the idea that the bandits would sign on to our party once they learned that, under Roger’s leadership, we ate three times a day.
  • Look up and down the ladder. One of the biggest things I learned from Adventurer Conqueror King is that low-level guys want to wear the insignia of a higher-up on their shield for the extra protection it affords: mess with me and you’ll answer to Melbar the Greater. And name-level characters want to find competent people to wear their coat of arms because they want someone to go around showing the flag and doing the scutwork that’s beneath their notice. You don’t need ACKS for this (although the PDF will be available for sale real soon now!) – you could have learned it from Jeff’s posts about to-do lists for BX characters, or just from the basic assumptions of D&D. Last night’s session began when, as we were working out our marching order in a tavern, Lord Gronan sought us out because Roger’s success in the kobold mines meant we might make useful vassals, and we were delighted when taking over from the deceased bandit leader meant we emerged with nine new henchmen of our own. This stuff is as old as RPGs, but like much of the original D&D lore it risks being forgotten.
  • Set up connections within the party. You never know whether the situation in a session will provide whatever externals are necessary for you to pursue the thing you decide your character wants. The one thing you can be sure of is that you’ll always be around your adventuring companions. Linking them into whatever striving you have in mind for your character means you’ll never lack for a roleplaying hook. Boboric got lucky (or plugged into an omnipresent D&D current) in that we did meet NPCs who wanted to play allegiances with him; but since Gronan of Simmerya was Michael’s character from the original Greyhawk campaign, even this was an example of making PC-to-PC connections.
  • Be considerate of fellow citizens. Allegiances within the party shouldn’t obscure the fact that everyone’s first loyalty should be to one another. Boboric was Neutral; he kept his word but was careful about what he pledged, and although he gave his loyalty for keeps he didn’t commit until a quid pro quo was established. The player to my right, Maurice, rolled up another fighting man, The Mauler, who (as Mike pointed out at the end of the night) was definitely Good. The Mauler never hesitated to risk his life by stepping up in battle, and when one of our magic-users was killed by a poison chest trap, the rest of us were like “oh yeah, old-school play is lethal, what can you do?” The Mauler didn’t accept that answer, even when the player of the magic-user in question was like “hey no big deal”. He took the body to Gronan and demanded that something be done for his fallen comrade, and the next thing we knew we were in the Temple of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel witnessing a miracle (and receiving a geas in return). Wanting to do the right thing is a powerful motivation, and I think we were all inspired by the dedication with which Maurice lent his assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice.
25
Jan
12

The Real DIY Deal: Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord

This “recent and amazing donation to the Play Generated Map and Document Archive (PlaGMaDA) project: A beautiful, hand-made homebrew addition to the classic TSR Against the Giants series” is not news to Boing Boing readers, but it bears repeating.

Image from PlaGMaDA, courtesy of Tim Hutchings and The Scribe.

I had the pleasure of seeing the original (thanks Tim!) and it is indeed a thing of beauty! You can download the whole module thanks to Rended Press, whose awesomeness (like that of retro-clone creators) is in no way diminished by depending on the earlier contributions of the as-yet-untracked-down GJC Modules, The Scribe who donated it to PlaGMaDA, and Tim who thus made it what to our wondering eyes should appear.

Some things that have newsiness:

The first rule of Games that Can’t Be Named is that we don’t talk about Games that Can’t Be Named. No, wait, that’s clearly not true. Maybe it’s that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Anyway astute readers of the comments to that Boing Boing piece will note that Tim mentions that tonight’s Games that Can’t Be Named will be happening in partnership with PlaGMaDA. What does that mean? Will Tim be there and will he have the original “G2-squared” module with him?

Sometimes the veil of secrecy conceals the fact that even I don’t know for sure! What I can say is that we will be at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art on 137 Sullivan St. tonight; next Wednesday, February 1st, we’ll be inaugurating the Brooklyn Strategist‘s new location at 333 Court Street and another game that can’t be named.

Also newsworthy: PlaGMaDA needs your help to bid on an auction of awesome DIY adventures and character sheets from the distant past. Having recently and very entertainingly been schooled in the ways of collectors, I won’t link to the auction itself, lest that drive up the price. However, below is a picture of the goodness in which we will all share if your donation allows PlaGMaDA to make the winning bid.

Tim says the donations page is mostly for people wanting to contribute their gaming maps and documents to the archive, but it does have an email where you can contact him and pledge the financial support that PlaGMaDA needs to make acquisitions like this.

23
Jan
12

Standard Pack Comes Filled With Fresh Monster Gore

Be prepared! Preparedness begins with knowledge, to whit:

Edible items will have a small likelihood (10%) of distracting intelligent monsters from pursuit. Semi-intelligent monsters will be distracted 50% of the time. Non-intelligent monsters will be distracted 90% of the time by food. Treasure will have the opposite reaction as food, being more likely to stop intelligent monsters. (Gygax & Arneson, 1974)

This is all well and good, but how do you make sure to have both edible items and treasure always ready to provide a distraction? The New York Red Box has a solution!

Infographic by Scott LeMien, credited to an idea of Thaddeus's.

In the forum thread from whence I have ripped off this bit of practical advice, Ridiculossus further notes:

The jars are filled with fresh monster gore when you start, or other animal kill.

Pack cost (backpack) = 5g
Mini-loot drop = <20g
5 vials of oil: 10 gold
Clay jars (and padding) = 1g

It is to my great shame that I didn’t think to include this in my section on mundane gear and adventuring kits for Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium. I blame Scott, who should leave these ideas lying around ready to be swiped when I need them, not months later.

20
Jan
12

Q&A with the 2nd Dungeon Master in Champaign-Urbana, 1974

Folks whose memories span several ages of creation may recall that my friend Nat Sims was a co-founder of Behemoth3, my first venture into RPG publishing. Nat went on to found the successful iPhone app developer Night & Day Studios, and although being its CEO keeps him pretty busy, over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of playing the card-based diplomatic wargame Here I Stand online with him and some members of his extended family.

The first cRPG, "The Dungeon" aka PEDIT5, may also be from Champaign-Urbana, written by Reginald "Rusty" Rutherford on a PLATO terminal at the University of Illinois. Click pic to learn more.

One of my first experiences on the road to the old-school renaissance was hearing Nat’s stories about playing D&D in the 70s with his parents. His mom was the DM for a group of players mostly made up of his dad’s graduate students in a drama program. What Nat remembered most clearly was impatiently waiting for the “grown-ups” to finish drinking wine and describing what their characters were wearing, hoping that at some point during the night they could kick down another door and kill something.

On one visit home, Nat picked up his old D&D stuff including a mimeographed set of rules and one of the dungeons that his mom used. At the time, I thought that the ruleset might have been some draft of proto-D&D; with the wisdom of hindsight I bet it was actually one of the re-typings that were popular at the time as a way to integrate houserules (and avoid buying multiple copies of the expensive D&D “white box”).

At some point I’ll tell the story of what Nat & I made of this ’70s dungeon, my first exposure to the wonderful improv challenge of trying to make sense of a funhouse on the fly – and doing it without any help. (It was the ’90s, so the Internet and OGL-based support system on which the old-school brain trust relies was just a glint in Mozilla and GNU’s respective eyes.) What I want to do now, however, is pass on some conversations I’ve had with the creator of that dungeon, Nat’s uncle Mike Metcalf.

My questions for Mike (presented henceforth in italics) began with:

I’ve been making a point of seeking out all the original D&Ders I can – most recently I met Michael Mornard, who was part of both Arneson’s gaming group in the Twin Cities and Gygax’s in Lake Geneva. I would love to pick your brain about those days! Do you still have any of your old maps and whatnot?

He replied:

I had the 2nd dungeon in Champaign-Urbana in 1974 and went on to be a dungeon master up at Gencon once. My Dungeon stuff is at Nat’s Moms (my sister) who borrowed the stuff once to copy etc.  Used that dungeon with the family once and ended up turning my Mother into a zucchini; great fun.  I think it is secreted away somewhere in their house.  But, I do have stories, experiences and ideas.

One of the things Gary Gygax did before Arneson introduced him to proto-D&D was to run a Diplomacy fanzine. It seems to me that part of why he latched onto roleplaying right away – it only took one session of Arneson DMing his Blackmoor game for Gary before he was ready to start DMing it himself (for his kids, the first Lake Geneva players!) using Dave’s fragmentary notes – was that the kind of writing as if you were a historical world leader that we do while playing Here I Stand and that people used to do in diplozines is much like pretending to be an elf.

 Does this ring true – did you have experience with Diplomacy zines or other correspondence-based kinds of writing-as-if-you-were-someone-else? Or were there “playing in character” aspects of board or wargames that you just brought over to D&D play?

The way I got into D&D was that a friend of mine had gone to GenCon and come back with a copy of the rules and a graph paper dungeon (#1 in the area).  Pretty basic stuff with a list of main character types and monster types etc.  Our group had played ‘Chain-mail’ miniatures and this was a partial take-off on that idea.  We just took to it.  Easy to get into character.  We had already done Diplomacy and, of course, had to play our character-states.  As we killed off character after character (never got to the points necessary for a level-2 – hard damned dungeon), we got into a flow.  I had the never-ending ‘Botnick’ brothers starting with Coors Botnick, Budweiser Botnick etc (down the list of bad beers).  I quickly made a dungeon (2nd in the area) and we played each dungeon in a revolving mode.  Didn’t have a ‘zine at the time – just those rules which were modified by each dungeon master as he saw fit.

I’ll tell you of my other Dungeon – where I tired of D&D being an open-ended game to one of fixed dimensions (meaning that it would end at some point – no possibility that it could continue).  After playing many a dungeon trip in many a dungeon and watching other people with more time (I was in veterinary school) make giant above ground (and below) fantasy realms etc., I realized that I was losing interest in the open-ended role playing genre. Yes, one’s character might eventually be killed off (though rarely after gaining a certain upper-levelness) but things just went on and on. I guess I was too much of a history-based gamer. So, years later, I concocted this idea of a Dungeon. I found 4 other D&D players who were interested. Each players tribe lived on an island having a causeway to the dungeon complex with no outside interaction with any other player/side. The dungeon was finite: geometrically 4-sided with a middle entrance level and one level above and below the middle. I stocked the dungeon with all the requisite treasures; once found and removed – no replacement. Monsters/traps were easier in the middle level and more diificult above/below.  As all 4 players and I were in the same room during the game session, I devised some fog-of-war.  Each player could enter the dungeon with 9 men (randomized characteristics but possible to improve).  Each player thought that their entrance into the dungeon was to their North.  In addition, I numbered each room with a color-number that was meaningless to them as to level etc.  Each player did a few moves, exploring, fighting, discovering then passing to the next player.  This was all being done game-time simultaneously so there was the chance that the parties within the dungeon might meet (and fight) each other was.  If one party got to a room previously sacked, they would see the results of the previous visit.  Since ‘North’ was different for each player, orientation of other players experiences was very difficult unless they could recognize the area of the dungeon being described.

A very enjoyable experience – everyone quite enjoyed it.

This evolution of play sounds like it’s coming from the sense of D&D as a “squadron-based war game, with a couple doses of light humor and the occasional funny accent” that James took away from Michael Mornard’s game. What’s interesting is that Nat’s memories suggest that, around the same time that Mike Metcalf was making D&D into a squad competition he found more compelling, his sister’s game was been moving in the direction of “the wacky imaginative, pretend to be a Cleric bullshitting drunk people to convert to your faith, stuff” that James thinks “wasn’t a strong part of the earliest playstyle; it seems to have been an opportunistic growth, like a lichen growing on a rock or something.” (Quoted from here.)

Got other questions for Champaign-Urbana’s second-ever DM? Let me know and I’ll pass them on!

19
Jan
12

kirbsday: the guardian fights again!

Well, somehow I got through the Black Racer; I can get through Jimmy Olsen #139 too.

Plot: Jimmy Olsen, Superman, and the Guardian finally leave the DNA Project.  (The Newsboy Legion is quarantined for medical reasons, but slink out anyway.)  Olsen and Clark Kent confront media magnate Morgan Edge, but are diverted into an Inter-Gang trap: Clark gets shanghaied into outer space, while Jimmy and the Guardian only have 24 hours to live!

But you will forgive me if that is not the chief interest in this, the debut of . . . Goody Rickles!

Yes.  It is Don Rickles.  As a super hero.  But with a different first name.  The past is a foreign country!

tell me there is a world where this makes perfect sense

According to Kirby’s then-assistant, Mark Evanier, he and his fellow assistant Steve Sherman were kicking around ideas for subplots and incidental gags in the Fourth World books, and somebody suggested, “Hey, what if Don Rickles met Superman?” as a brief throw-away incident.  Apparently someone at DC marketing loved the idea and insisted that it become the focus of the story, for media tie-in’s.  (Rickles’s star in Hollywood had been rising throughout the late 60’s with numerous appearances on Johnny Carson, and about six months after this story was published had his own sit-com.)  Except DC didn’t do any cross-promotion and neither did Rickles’s people.  So you’ve just got this comic book sitting out there, all alone, like its creator was some kind of crazy person…

So it turns out that Goody Rickles is a Don Rickles look-a-like working at the Daily Planet‘s parent company who is apparently insane.

Morgan Edge, who was hoping to sign the real Don Rickles to some contracts, decides there’s no other option but to murder Goody so that he won’t muck up the contractual negotiations: “The solution is obvious!  This man must be killed!”  (Murder appears to be Morgan Edge’s answer to everything.)  So he sends Goody on a suicide mission to investigate an Inter-Gang UFO.  He sends Jimmy and Clark along too.

Except they get jumped by goons, and the UFO instead vanishes with Clark inside, to Goody’s total befuddlement…

And the others are taken prisoners by Inter-Gang underboss Ugly Mannheim…

Who feeds them a meal laced with “pyro-granulate,” a poison which will cause people to spontaneously combust in 24 hours.  (This is not meant to give Eric ideas about new poisons in the Glantri campaign.)

they do things differently there

Last issue, Superman saved Metropolis from nuclear annihilation by incinerating a litter of tragically mutated Four-Armed Terrors.  This issue, Goody Rickles.

There’s always been absurdity in Kirby’s work.  Sometimes it’s the crazy pulp adventure absurdity of the Savage Land in the midst of Antarctica.  Or the “it must have made sense in his mind, and I’ll go along with it” absurdity of the Black Racer or Flipper-Dipper.  But Kirby doesn’t usually try for slapstick guffaws.  I’m not sure it works 100%, but it’s funnier than most of the Newsboy Legion stuff, and it’s also nice to see some room for silliness in the middle of Kirby’s sturm und drang about the Twilight of the Gods.  Goody Rickles is the Tom Bombadil of the Fourth World Saga.

What’s interesting about Goody, of course, is that he’s a super hero parody by the guy who will be forever linked with grandiloquent super heroics.  Not the first parody either: Kirby and Simon had created a parody comic in the 1950’s, The Fighting American, which didn’t take off, and arguably the Fantastic Four and the Hulk in their earliest incarnations were, if not parodies, then pretty serious deconstructions of the super hero concept.

Anyway, here we’ve got Goody, a put-upon news reporter who is so bullied and misled that he’s evidently become deranged, and puts on a crazy costume not to fight injustice but to star in a movie that will never get made.  He’s a clueless, obsequious, abrasive schlemiel.  It’s not Watchmen, but it’s also not 1986, either.

jimmy, what happened to you?  you used to be cool (briefly)

Ha ha!  My teenage friends have been infected by microorganisms at the secret government biological warfare lab!  Also, they won’t be reporting this scandalous story!  And I stole their super-car!

The boys escape quarantine with the aid of one of the miniaturized “Scrapper troopers” from issue #136.

Darn right!  I don’t know enough DC continuity, but it would be awesome if the post-Crisis Flippa-Dippa became Black Manta.

18
Jan
12

cthulhu dark at recess

At NerdNYC’s Recess mini-convention, I played Cthulhu Dark,  a free, rules-light Lovecraftian horror game.  In which my very proper English vicar could not shake the delusion that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was actually a hithertofore unknown species of thunder lizard, whose sacred blood was a consubstantial spiritual gasoline powering the machinery of Western Civilization.  I drank a ghoul’s bile (“the quintessence of Lazarus!”), artificially induced stigmata with the aid of a hammer and nails, and thoroughly derided Gerard Limcraft’s Field Guide to Sheffield, Mimsey, and the Barrows District.

I also ran my D&D dungeon, “TPK Tower,” which I’m in the process of writing up for sharing, in order to pay back taxes.

 




Past Adventures of the Mule

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