Posts Tagged ‘blogging


Rumors of Dwimmermount

Here is the rumor chart I made to bring events from the inaugural G+ session of the Dwimmermount Kickstarter campaign into the continuity of the game I subsequently ran at the Brooklyn Strategist. The idea is that Locfir having gotten busy with other projects, Locfir’s Man (formerly known as the candlemaker Ungril Ungfarm) escaped from being charmed. Scuttlebutt is now echoing from the tales he brought back from the dungeon expedition he participated in with Pigfoot the Hog (human fighter), Burgoth the Mage (human you-guessed-it), and Locfir the Astrologer (elf). These are a little Locfir-centric because Locfir’s Man is making out like a bandit on his association with the elf and in fact refuses to answer to the name Ungril any more.

Photos by David Ewalt, aka Old Axehandle, from the last Brooklyn Strategist session

  1. Pigfoot discovered material components that make the ventriloquism spell lethal AND merchants are buying up all the fortress-town’s supplies of chain, caltrops, oil, and torches.
  2. Locfir made Burgoth lick a Thulian pillar of submission AND Burgoth is now hemiplegic and enslaved in Locfir’s sanctum.
  3. The party all cast charm person on one another to protect themselves from outside influences AND when they returned from the dungeon one of them had been turned into a gnome nonetheless.
  4. The bearded face of a Man spoke to Locfir AND taught him how to initiate himself and others into Thulian wisdom.
  5. Locfir filled a wineskin with a fluid he found very interesting AND pouring it on Burgoth brought him back to life.
  6. The party was attacked by metal skeletons AND Burgoth controlled them using a lever.
  7. The party found the petrified body of Turms Turmax’s courtesan AND she revealed to them the secrets of the Thulian doors.
  8. The party found a renegade Dwarf AND the others of his kind are searching for a cemetary of their kind that is being desecrated.

All of these are potentially knowable to characters in the Fortress of Muntsburg. I had the players roll a d8 apiece to see which rumor they had heard just because I didn’t want to read them all out at the start of the session, but I don’t think any of these are spoilers at least for my own approach to embracing meta-knowledge. If you read this post and then play in my game that’s awesome you saved some reading rumors aloud time. We’ll work together to imagine the reason that your character is particularly well versed on what’s being talked about in Muntsburg’s taphouses.

Step one of my approach involves acknowledging meta-information the players might have – some of the stuff above you can guess at if you’ve read Zak’s post. The reason the the map of the first level can be seen in the picture to the right is that I placed it in the dungeon as treasure, knowing at least one of those present had seen it in the Dwimmermount teaser in the Adventurer Conqueror King rules we were using.

Step two is then using this to screw with the players. James beautifully set the stage for this by changing the dungeon since the ’09 PbP game, so that the first time Locfir entered after three years away he freaked out that none of his maps were quite right. Part of the reason these aren’t spoilers is that each has two parts, separated by AND. Either part could be true or false. The idea is to give players some ideas about things that might be interesting about the dungeon – in this case, things that our group of players actually was interested in (well OK maybe just me, Locfir was always either running away or having to be dragged away from things only he cared about). Then if and when they do encounter something that might relate to the rumor, their dread and paranoia is entertainingly multiplied by the bad things they’ve heard or the likelihood that I made a false good rumor to trick them into doing something foolish.

The way I figure this works for the Judge is that if the players want to try to investigate the rumors further, they can spend some time (I recommend a week) in town rolling against an ability score or however you like to do this kind of thing. The results are, using an assumption that you’ll wind up with a range like the Apocalypse World-type system where a total failure is a modified 6- on 2d6, total success is 10+, partial success anything in between:

  • Total success: you learn whether both parts of the rumor are true. (If you like to be more stingy with information, decide which part you want to pursue and you confirm or deny that half.)
  • Partial success: you learn one false part of the rumor, Judge’s choice, or that no part is false. (Or maybe you learn it all at a cost or complication.)
  • Total failure: the Judge gets to invent and spread a rumor about the investigating PC. (Or trigger a town adventure, rival party attack, etc. if your group is in the mood, or impose a penalty on the PC’s die rolls due to too much buying of drinks in town means bad hangover but no info.)

Judges, if you haven’t read the adventure yet just decide “true or false” depending on what sounds good to you. Discreetly make a note on the rumor table to help you figure out what you said later when the party finds that thing in the dungeon (if it even exists at all). Likewise if you are about to prep the dungeon, thinking about these rumors as you read should help you keep your eye out for cool stuff (even though James has hit on what is for me just the right level of evocative detail vs. easy to read). And if you think your players know too much about the dungeon, these rumors are meant to be a good guide to which switches to flip to change things up.

Finally, you don’t have to pay any attention to this continuity in your version of Dwimmermount. Pigfoot and Burgoth and Locfir don’t have to be in the setting at all, they are non-canon for sure and I am pretty sure it will make James frown thoughtfully if you start tossing canon around so don’t do it. If the party goes to investigate what’s going on with Burgoth and he exists he can be whatever you want, I recommend secretly a polymorphed dragon living in some kind of polyhedral melting pocket-plane.

Empty Kingdom if you are a home for media artists make it easy for me to credit this painting to Ryan Browning with name and year and stuff the way galleries do.

The one thing you should be sure to respect in your campaign is that if it has a Locfir he is fantastically wealthy but no PC will ever find where it is hidden, and he has like a million hit dice and just started that one HP rumor to tempt fools to disrespect him so he can do weird elf things with your still-beating heart.

I liked the way this worked and will be doing it for the Keep on the Borderlands events we’re doing with ACKS at Gary Con IV.


the Citadel of Defenseless Babies

That'll teach you to try to escape from the Citadel of Defenseless Babies!

Readers of the Mule may wish to check out a series of posts I’m doing at the Adventurer Conqueror King blog. These mini-essays appear over there because they grow directly out of my experience wrestling with revamping legacy D&D procedural generation systems like wandering monsters and treasure types for the ACKS system, but I often find myself linking back here because they also continue conversations we’ve had like

  • why the Citadel of Defenseless Babies – the fabled goal of all adventurers seeking profit with no risk, which is to our murder-hobos what the Big Rock Candy Mountain is to ordinary hobos – is specifically comprised of dwarven babies
  • why giving XP for gold is important (see also: murder-hobos)
  • how unintended consequences, like fetishizing balance, arose out of decisions made by WotC designers in the course of overhauling legacy systems – something constantly on our minds as we work on ACKS
  • wonky analysis of the mathematical underpinnings of Basic/Expert D&D, or at least reporting on what happens when you get actual mathematicians like Delta on the scent of these problems
  • how to fill in the gaps left in older editions of D&D without reducing their flexibility for individual takes on the material

Also there are many excellent posts by people successfully overcoming the disadvantage of not being me, including insightful analysis by ACKS lead designer Alex Macris and art by Ryan Browning like the awesome griffon above. If you read the Mule via Google Reader or similar subscription service and you haven’t added the Autarch blog’s RSS feed, what are you waiting for?


Constantcon Leads to Madness, New Bonus Goal

 So: Constantcon 2011 puts it into my head that Google+ hangouts might be good for running games for far-flung folks. And those who’ve backed Adventurer Conqueror King on Kickstarter are nothing if not far-flung. It’s hard to keep people’s real names and online handles and Kickstarter logins straight, but just from the blogs I can connect I know we’ve got people in Australia and England and Southern California and Florida. It’s cool that fantasy gaming has spread so far from its Midwestern cradle, but it makes it hard to throw our supporters the big party they deserve.

These ideas, and a few beers plus, are kicking around my head this Friday at like 11:30 New York time/8:30 LA time when Zak S. posts on Google+ to start a game. On the Autarch developer forums, Adam who I know from Anonycon is talking about playing via G+ too. Thus at 1 am my time do I find myself running Borshak’s Lair using ACKS for these guys plus two others I hadn’t met before but hope to see again, most likely online because one of them lives in Australia. And lo, it is fun!

That’s not revelatory – when is gaming not fun? – but the G+ hangout works really well. It prioritizes audio over picture, so you keep continuity of what people are saying even if the connection weakens. It handles multiple inputs well, although Zak pointed out it’s best to have an “initiative order” to reduce folks talking over each other. There’s a chat window you can use to post stuff like character stats or multi-task; I was sometimes talking to answer one question and typing for another. And there’s an endearingly analog aspect to drawing a map with a Sharpie and holding it in front of your webcam, or picking it up off the monitor to point at the dice you just rolled on the desktop.

Shortly after, our Kickstarter effort hits its previous bonus goal, and we need to set a new one. It shouldn’t be a new product, because Ryan’s illustrating time is already a bottleneck. But it should be something cool, worth striving for. The result?

If we triple our initial funding target, we’ll set up a game of Adventurer Conqueror King via Google+ for each and every one of our backers. Given that there are currently 150 of our Kickstarter donors, this is a massive undertaking. You might call it insane. But I think it can be done – both the part where we raise the difference between $8,292 in four days, and the part where we then fulfill the promise of getting the requisite number of hangouts together.

Why do I think this is possible? Partly because our stunning success to date has left me, well, stunned. Partly because we live in the future, where the gap between Adjua on the left (seen here with a proof of the book) and the box of books on the right can be navigated by that photocopier/computer/steampunkish glass box (clearly the product of cross-breeding by a mad wizard) seen behind her in just a few days. And partly because I like gaming so much that any amount of time spent making it happen seems reasonable.


4E, OD&D, and Cheap Urine Gags

Back in ’09, when the OSR and blogging were yet kinda young, I played in a Swords and Wizardry game that Michael aka chgowiz ran at Gen Con to showcase old-school play for a bunch of folks who were mostly recent-edition gamers: Phil (The Chatty DM, no longer a stranger to S&W), Dave and Danny of Critical Hits, and Greg who was neither yet working at the Escapist nor one of my co-authors on Adventurer Conqueror King (although we had worked together on Goodman’s Forgotten Heroes books, and one of the seeds of ACKS was a conversation we had later in the con about how the 4E idea of tiers of play relates to old-school campaigns). Although even the current holder of the D&D name is no longer all that shiny and new these days, I thought that Mule readers might be interested in the reflection on the experience I wrote in an email to these guys afterward:

I’m pleased to be able to say that my 100 percent old-school player death rate is intact, and that it was very satisfying to die with all my pockets, sacks, and backpacks stuffed with treasure!

Given the unique (to put it mildly) characterizations and hilarious & inventive improv skills on display all around the table, I don’t doubt for a second that I would have had a great time with whatever game we played, or none at all. I do think, though, that the stark & elegant simplicity of the OD&D system makes it especially easy to both give in to every wacky impulse and opportunity for a cheap urine gag and also still get in adventuring, exploration, and pulp drama. The 4E group I play with has lots of laughs & also likes to kick ass, but the process of having to add up your initiative bonus, choose powers, etc., etc. makes it harder for me to switch between the two modes.

I think that the lethality and hilarity of OD&D go hand in hand, which is why Leiber is for me the truest inspiration – the situation comedy of Fafhrd as Issek of the Jug is the bright obverse of the doomed pulp grimness of Thieves’ House. For me, the original rules do this best both by letting you switch from one face to the other more quickly, and also by reinforcing the feeling that luck and wits may stave off Death for a little while, but quickly rolling up a new contender is part of the essence of the game.

I am interested to see that this idea perfectly prepared me to be blown away by Swords without Master‘s emulation of pulp adventure via a dice mechanic devoted entirely to whether you narrate things in a glum or jovial way; when Eppy broke Conan’s melancholy and mirth down this way and quoted Leiber from memory at the start of that session to back up his thesis, I’d entirely forgotten having once reached a similar conclusion via that source myself.


Roll a d6

Posting’s been slow at the Mule for a variety of reasons. We’ve got ambitious plans in other areas of gaming: Eric has been doing mind-blowing work for Exalted,  including posts for the Ink Monkeys blog which sadly is not currently accessible at the White Wolf site. James is working on formalizing the system & curriculum we use in our D&D afterschool program,  and also setting up an Underdark campaign with psionics using the Cook Expert guidelines for sandboxes. (James would say he’s procrastinating on those things rather than working on them, but for me at least procrastination accounts for the bulk of the effort I put in before it gets done.) And I’ve been volunteering some time to the Gygax Memorial Fund, and starting some other projects that may or may not have something to do with George’s colossal announcement. (That’s not a tease; I genuinely don’t know yet if this will be the case.)

But another reason that’s kept the post count low is ambitious plans for what we’ll write about here. I know I feel the urge to say something big and deep every time, and the number of fascinating but unfinished posts by fellow Mules visible on our WordPress dashboard suggest I’m not the only one who bites off chunks that prove hard to chew – often led astray by guys like Zak who make big, deep, and prolific seem easy.

Anyway, as an antidote to this paralysis & on the idea that easy posts are better than none, I give you Connor Anderson’s Roll a D6.

For non-grognardlings who may not recognize the song being parodied, I recommend the Popular tab on Grooveshark, where “Like a G6” is currently at #29 after spending much of the past year at #1. Following what Grooveshark users are into provides essential pop-culture vitamins for those who don’t play D&D in a public cafe with constant top-10 radio, and is a nice dietary supplement even for those who do; I don’t think we’ve heard any Far East Movement on the soundtrack there yet, more’s the pity.


Blogosphere Explorations: Playing D&D with Porn Stars

I’m going to assume that, like a cursed scroll, the mere act of reading the words Playing D&D with Porn Stars triggered the title of inexorable eyeball attraction spell that Zak S. so cunningly crafted. Since then you certainly will have been a regular reader of his blog, held there long after the initial geas has worn off by the range and erudition of his thought, his effortless humor, and the contemplation of what looks from this side of the magic mirror like some awesome actual play. Many of us might have wished for an old-school blogger who combined the theoretical insight of a James Maliszewski, the drive towards awesome, gonzo, and funny of a Jeff Rients, and the how-to impulses & artistic skills of a Rob Conley -but if you were the one to tell the genie you wanted porn stars in the mix my hat’s off to you.

Making that assumption will excuse the following self-centeredness, which experienced blogosphere explorers probably already have a ring of resistance against anyway. But just as in thinking about Grognardia I wind up talking about my personal introduction to blogs, the old-school renaissance, and the standard to which I aspire, in thinking about Playing D&D with Porn Stars I wind up contemplating the question how can my blogging be as cool as that. Here are some tips for me and my fellow Mules, which by reading between the lines may perhaps help the gentle reader figure out why they should be reading Zak’s blog if they’re somehow not already, or identify why they like it so much when they do.

1) A post called “A Picture is Worth 1,000 XP” should have a picture in it.  Maldoor’s analysis there is classic and insightful, except that it’s actually a chart! I don’t think that the Mule is going to challenge Zak S. when it comes to eyeball kicks like the first image here unless, perhaps, we get Greengoat to post more often. That’s cool; we’ve got our own analytic turf (with stats-happy mathematical and Talmudic textual sub-divisions) that he’s unlikely to invade unless his circle of professional acquaintances changes to involve people who spend more time looking at spreadsheets and document version-change lists than at attractive unclothed human beings. (As James M.’s Grognardia bio used to say before its current diabolical leader of the Old School Taliban incarnation: “Oh, the pain.”)

But, of the rest of the images in that post, only one other is Zak’s work; the rest are simply awesome images he’s found and shared for our enlightenment. Surely we could do so once in a while, with the result that the Mule’s labors would be more pleasing to the eye than our typical wall of text.

And while my DM notes aren’t as mystifyingly attractive as the sketches Zak drew to prep for this adventure (are those hit locations?) I too have found it useful to make little graphic aids for myself as I experiment with ways to digest the Caverns of Thracia text into topical chunks I can throw down as necessary. Now that the Patriarch of the Dark One is no more, I should post the one-page doodle on which I wrote out the infamous “will or won’t he express his wrath with an insect swarm” d6 table. Note: it’s probably the act of drawing these things that makes them useful for prep, not their intrinsic aesthetic qualities, but I would spend many a gaming dollar proving that to myself if a publisher were to conduct the experiment.

I’ve seen character sketches around our table that are as fun to look at as the doodles in “What My Players Are Doing When They’re Supposed To Be Listening To My Enthralling Descriptions Of 10′ x 10′ Rooms“. Let those be scanned and posted so that we can do exhaustive psychographic analysis of the effects of listening to Lady Gaga in a public space vs. being able to choose to play Roky Erikson in one’s own home. Which brings me to:

2) We should talk more about the social environment of play. Backstage at the Mule, James has a draft of a post in which he argues that the old-school collective has already figured out most of the things we set out to talk about. (Finish that one so we can talk about it!) To my mind, actual play and the issues around it are maybe the most important things left to discuss, especially as they relate to the old school. Is it true that rules-light games are easier to hook new players with? If so, how can we do that best? What can our West Marches-style campaigns offer to busy adults who don’t have the extended playing time we used to, and how do we adapt to rules that seem to expect we still do? How do we encourage new players to take the initiative necessary for sandbox freedom, and overcome the mal-adaptive assumptions about play that experienced players bring with them?

At the end of the day, the interesting things about Zak S.’s blog aren’t that he plays with porn stars, but that those are often people who are new to the game. My favorite posts of his share his practical insights about introducing new PCs, discuss the managing human beings aspect of DMing, or give glimpses of how they roll in the rest of the world, where people have big dining room tables.

Our situation here in NYC may not be as sexy, but it’s still unusual to most everyone else. We have literally millions of potential players in our thirty-mile hex, but a dire shortage of Mom’s basements. Circumstances force us to be out and proud; let’s share what we’ve learned from that and get ideas about how we can improve our outreach.

And also – more eye candy.


Blogosphere Explorations: Grognardia

I’d like to propose that the Mule undertake a semi-regular series of posts highlighting other blogs we find interesting. In part this is because I’m always looking for topics for blog posts that won’t run to thousands of words and hours of effort. In part it’s because I know other posters are attuned to blogs I’d like to learn more about, like James and World of Thool. Most importantly, though, it’s because the very notion of gaming blogs embodies the spirit of the Mule. They’re new-school tech that stays true to the old-school virtues of APAs like Alarums & Excursions and zines like The Dungeoneer, and they’re a great resource for actual play. The mere act of thinking about how you could run a kick-ass Red Box campaign using nothing but classes, races, spells, monsters, and magic items created by the blogosphere further burdens my list of gaming projects I lament not having time to pursue.

Despite the fact that not even a d1,000 would be adequate for dicing the probablility that Mule readers don’t already follow this blog, I’m going to start our exploration with James Maliszewski’s Grognardia. On a personal level, this makes sense because it’s the first blog of any kind that ever became a regular reading habit for me, and also because James’ gaming history parallels my own. We both learned to play D&D in the company of our peers’ big brothers, became professionally involved in RPG writing a couple of decades later, and began a process of re-engagement with the original D&D we never experienced as kids after Gygax got screwed by the DM in 2008. Oftener than not, I feel like his writing in Grognardia speaks for me and my generation.

More generally, Grognardia is a necessary starting place because, more than anything in my experience except maybe Finarvyn’s OD&D boards, it established the way we all talk about old-school gaming. Maliszewski’s style plays with self-conscious intellectual pedantry for its own sake in a way that’s perfectly suited for a game firmly rooted in Jack Vance’s writing, just as his default mode of ardent investigation into the nearly-forgotten lore of the past evokes D&D’s eternal fascination with ancient artifacts of lost civilizations. If we’ve managed to preserve the lore that lets us keep the pipe organs in the basement of the Temple of the Frog in good repair, much of the credit must go to Grognardia.

Because Maliszewski is so prolific and far-ranging, it’s likely that each of his fans has a different favorite aspect of Grognardia. For me, it’s the Pulp Fantasy Library, if only because there didn’t used to be a place where I could find others who shared the experience of reading the stranger entries on Gygax’s Appendix N like Sign of the Labrys. It’s interesting to watch Grognardia exhaust that territory and expand beyond it, just as it’s been interesting to see more discussion of James’ actual play (and to experience the Dwimmermount campaign as a player in his PbP game). I’d say that you should read Grognardia (on the less-than-1-in-1,000 chance that you don’t already) to see how it’ll continue to define the boundaries of what old-school means as a subject matter, but that’s yielding to the temptation (common among Grognardia fans) to over-intellectualize things. Read it because it rocks, on a daily basis.

OK, now I’ve got dibs on Playing D&D with Porn Stars!


The Mule rolls for initiative

Welcome to The Mule Abides, our group blog devoted to Old School role-playing games.  We’re a party of low-level Bloggers who delve the New York City megadungeon and explore the wilderness sandbox of Internet gaming.  We’ve found shockingly little treasure in either venue, but then again casualties have been light.  So far.

Which is a cute way of saying we’re gamers in NYC starting a group blog to talk about Old-Timey role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, Tunnels & Trolls, and games of similar vintage.  Because we have different gaming histories and eclectic tastes, we’ll also talk about a wide variety of other games, but we’ll try to relate these back to the “first generation” role-playing games somehow.

Ideally most of our posts will touch on playing these games: the thing that makes The Mule Abides unique, or at least uncommon, is that we’re bloggers who role-play together.  This gives us common points of reference, and also serves as a launch point for group discussions.  Eventually we might get into theorizing for its own sake, but I think it’s important to keep these speculations grounded very solidly in actual experience at the table.

We gathered ’round our own gaming table – the huge hardwood conference table at Cafe 28 – a few weeks after Gary Gygax passed away in March 2008.  We wanted to roll some 3d6’s in order as a way of paying respects to a stranger who had enriched our childhoods.  We had a blast, and we’ve been playing some variation on Dungeons & Dragons regularly for the past eighteen months.  Someday I hope to make it to Level 2.   If you want to suffer relentless indignities yet die laughing, swing on by when you’re in the neighborhood.

Thanks, Gary.

The blog takes its name for our group’s gaming mascot, Bill the Mule.  Bill has survived something like thirteen dungeon expeditions as the poor adventurers around him die like flies.  He’d be our institutional memory if anyone survived long enough to research a speak with mule spell.  At this point, ensuring Bill’s continued survival as we’re desperately driven into more perilous parts of the dungeon is a major concern: he’s our lucky thirteenth member, and has even inspired our variant alignment system (about which more later).

But fundamentally The Mule Abides sounds a little more family-friendly than our runner-up choice, Strangling the Flesh Golem.

I’m starting this blogging adventure with some trepidation.  I’ve got enough 1980’s gamer baggage to still feel a little embarrassed about my pastime, and I’m in a profession that’s extremely conservative.  But the hell with that – I want to have fun with my friends, and I want to talk about it.  On the Internet.  With you.

My name is James, and I play Dungeons & Dragons.

Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2023

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