Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And now for something green and kewt...

..and no..it's not a LOL... well..not in so many words.

Friday, December 26, 2008


In spite of it being the holiday season and all that entails, Garish's play-by-post RPG jumped off to a start this past Monday and is moving along at a nice pace.

For those of you just tuning in, the game is taking place on the Reaper Miniatures message board and can be seen here. The RPG system in use is Mythmere Games' Swords & Wizardry with a sprinkling of his own house rules. It only took a few days to gather up a cast of players, and I know at least one or two also follow my blog..so I won't be giving up any spoilers here.

Think of me as a bard... or a chronicler... or Kermit the Frog with a Sesame Street News Flash. :D


The story is beginning in Espanola (where the rain falls mainly in the plain) in the city of Augustine, and there is a bit of a noisy gathering at the Blade And Tankard, a tavern frequented by people looking to hire or be hired for high adventure. At this moment, the man doing the hiring is a rather portly man called Orizon, who seems to personally prefer the tankard to the blade. He hopes to hire a party to retrieve for him a valuable artifact, a brass bowl of some great importance.

A man steps right up almost immediately. He is a man of slight build, his robes a bit thin of thread and his head thin of hair. He has a large walking stick, and a deductive person might guess he is a mage. Besides, all mages have names meant to baffle the dyslexic. He introduces himself as Amarixes Rythykia, and demonstrates his abilities by making a coin disappear from his fingers and reappear elsewhere without rational explanation.

The reader may note that such a talent can be handy in an adventure, but even more handy in Illinois politics.

Anyway, as Amarixes and Orizon finish discussing details of the quest and payment, a tough but scruffy man with dark hair armed with a sword which the man says is his preferred means of negotiation. He introduces himself as Dukkor and offers to "stand toe to toe with whatever be blockin' the path to yer bowl."

Next to enter the tavern is Turleus Ba'dor, a tall wiry man in black desert garb carrying a longbow. Following right on his heels is Gwynned, an elf of tall stature (for an elf, that is) with blue eyes, brown hair, and sporting side-whiskers. The human immediately asks about the job, whereas the elf first spares a smile for the ladies in the tavern. Gwynned carries a bow as well as an axe, and tells Orizon that "Spirits told me to come there, so I did. Perhaps were they mischievous or mad spirits, but who knows?". Being that elves are permitted in this style of game to behave like college freshmen who cannot decide upon a degree, Gwynned is, at least for today, a mage.

Even as Orizon is inviting Turleus and Gwynned to join him in what seems to be a slippery path toward eventual drunkenness, a large tattooed man with braided beard and a pipe clenched between his teeth approaches the gathering. His name is Drake, and he is an old sailor who now seeks adventure away from the sea.

By now, everybody is busy getting to know one another better, though Orizon seems to think the party is still one short. (These things sometimes happen to PCs in online games during holidays, but our tardy cleric never strays too far on his sabbaticals.)


So, that is where we are. Sometimes I think the most fun as well as most important part of the adventure is the beginning-- the carousing around some inn or other in hopes of finding some new opportunity to earn wealth (or get killed) and getting to know the other characters. An article I read recently suggested that PCs in old-school style games ought not invest too much time in character backstory at first or second level because the character may very well not make it to third, but on the other hand, first impressions are so powerful in setting the tone of the game and how the party interacts with one another, I find it hard to imagine getting past the first round of in-game drinks without knowing more or less how one wants to be thought of by the others. One cannot keep being the stand-offish one in the darkened corner thinking how much cooler his character would be if the GM let him use the name Strider.

Yes, we had a PC like that once. You couldn't pry three words of character interaction out of him with a tire tool. Suffice to say, he don't game around here no more.

Anyway, I am really having fun watching this game afoot. Having played the adventure myself, I know where things eventually go, but like my Mom always said, "Getting there is half the fun."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Die with STYLE!

Recently I got a look at a video on YouTube featuring Lou Zocchi's GameScience dice and quite a convincing argument for buying his product. As a matter of fact my spouse has a few Zocchi dice including the coveted Zocchihedron, and I cannot find a bad thing to say about them except this.

They don't come in pretty swirly girlie colours like mine.


I started collecting those about six years ago. The original seven RPG dice came in a clear plastic tube with a black hook-top cap. Six were hot pink and the seventh, the alternate d10, was yellow. I am fairly sure the style was called "Ice Cream" or "Cream Swirl" or something of the like, and whenever I saw more of that style in my game store's loose assorted dice bins, I would buy them. Of course, being like most other things I like, they went the way of the Jolt Cola and the solid white Nikes and now are next to impossible to find except for the rare overpriced swirl pink d6 on eBay.

I suppose for myself and most other gamers, dice are like runes or Tarot cards. It is said that people who use such talismans eventually form a psychic bond with those items and therefore do not let others use them or even touch them in some cases. Mind you I'm not that kind of superstitious about my dice, but I still prefer to game with my own instead of somebody elses, even when my own seem to be playing against me.

On the other hand, I have known gamers who have a relationship with their dice that can only be described as fickle. Oh they fall in love with them at first site, but as soon as old Snake-Eyes shows his face, the pretty dice go into the trash or worse yet into some other player's dice bag. I have an estranged iridescent d4 in my collection to attest to that anecdote... but in all honesty it does not compliment my own collection very well so I just keep it around for others to use if they need a d4 and came to game-night without one.

Then there are the players who like to throw their dice when the dice do not obey their will. I have seen this happen not only in my house, but at a convention tournament, at which the act was perpetrated by an otherwise quiet-spoken and meek individual. He later apologized to the offended party, but I do not recall seeing him go crawling under the table across the room to retrieve his recalcitrant die.

That sort of thing makes me wonder what would the world be like if everybody made their dice as precisely as Lou Zocchi. What would gamers have left to blame all their missed shots, failed saves, lost spells, fumbled skill checks and low character intelligence scores on?

Pppthhhh...I suppose they'd have to blame some vast right-wing conspiracy..or the beans they ate for lunch..or the post office. Who knows!

Meanwhile, if anybody out there knows where I can score more pretty swirly dice, please drop me a message. I like having a second-string waiting on the bench for when my starter dice run out of natural 20s.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Skeleton of a muse in my closet

Several years ago, Garish and I were working on a rather large HirstArts dungeon layout, and after weeks of casting plaster, gluing and painting, we assembled our wee dungeon in the livingroom floor.

Of course we wanted to try it out and see how it looked with a few miniatures in, and that is when my X chromosome took over. Next thing you know, the dungeon-o-horrors had become Barbie's Dreamhouse. I went and got his iconic wizard character mini and my favourite half-orc and decided to have some fun with the camera and Photoshop.

unconventional marriage

Oddly enough, it would be another two years before Garish and Janara would actually participate in the same RPG together..and as it often seems to go with half-orc girls, she and Garish ended up "best friends" and nothing more.

Still....it's fun to pretend.

And now...the long-awaited point.

It's no real surprise that there are not that many girls hanging around the game shop. Most games involve math and logic and a high degree of male macho conquest mentality. Girls just generally don't go for that. It's just our nature. We prefer more freeform creative touchy-feely empathic illogical mushy girly things such as Nano-pets, Barbie dolls, scrapbooking and reality television shows.

WHICH IS PRECISELY why roleplaying should have been targeted more toward girls from the start. It's nothing but pretending..making art imitate life, getting into another person's head, and I'll even go so far as to say it's about drama, even at the risk of you, the Reader, throwing a brick at my head. We as a gender are hard-wired for that sort of thing, but most of us cease to indulge it as soon as we think we are too cool to play with dolls or our toy kitchens. It appears that somebody at TSR or WoTC later figured this out and so the later core rules of D&D are filled with examples which involve female characters and their players (which in most but not all cases are also female..but that's another rant altogether).

But of course there is that perception out there that a girl in the game group automatically means that at least one of the guys in the adventuring party will "get some action" or at the very least there will be some soap-opera interaction. Again, it's just one of those human-nature things that has to be either overcame or embraced. I suppose it all really depends on what sort of game group you are in and whether or not your spouse or your friend's spouse is a jealous person with homicidal tendancies.

It would seem, however, that having a half-orcish physique generally stems the tide of unwelcomed advances from males on game-night. Having a character who happens to be half-orcish helps in that regard too.


The comic strip, by the way, was the genesis of a long series of comics I made about miniatures in general and orcs specifically. The series was called 28mm Theatre. I may be uploading a few of the more relevant ones to Flickr soon, and now that I am gaming again, am feeling compelled to start the comic back up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dungeon Ecology?

I suppose it is just another one of those things that most GMs never think about, but have you ever wondered exactly WHY it is that for the last three hours, your adventuring party has been hacking its way through this subterranean maze of wandering horrors in which countless other parties have delved and died... and yet in your tedious exploration and mapping of the catacombs, not ONCE have you happened across any of the bones or gory remains of those who last dared to steal the dungeon's treasures?

Then there's those wandering monsters. Just HOW is it that at no time in the dungeon's history that the scores of traps meant for unwary adventurers never accidentally ensnared some poor unfortunate goblin that was not paying attention while looking for a place to go potty.

And on the subject of pottying, there is a whole other horror aspect that most GMs neglect to include in their complex dungeon designs. I am sure that kobolds, like mice, pick a favourite place to leave their little calling cards.

Little things like this may not seem like much, but even in fantasy gaming there has to be some credibility, else there ceases to be any point in the players using any common sense or logic when solving problems in the GM's "silly" game setting.

Below is an example of bad dungeon ecology run amuck. This map came in a red-box set of D&D that my mother-in-law picked up at a garage sale for two bucks. My guess is that the kid who owned the set before was age 10 or 12, and that at least two of his players were much younger. I can almost imagine big-brother convincing little-sis that if she plays and plays nice-like, he'll let her character have a pony.

One day I'll have to scan and upload some of the character sheets. Those kids may have been doing it "wrong", but I guarantee you they were having fun.

old dungeon map

Note the gold dragon in the closet there just above and to the right of centre. Also note the fact that this section of dungeon has a serious problem with bees. My guess is that the kid who owned the game had an allergy to bee stings.

"Never mind that horde of bugbears with axes, if that bee stings me, I have to go to the hospital!"

But you really have to wonder what's kept the dragons from eating all the lesser lifeforms in the dungeon first and then turning on one another so they don't have to share all the pretty coins and gems and Swords Of Good.

"Sword Of Good?"

Yeah..the ubiquitous dungeon artifact, the Noun Of Adjective, the reason you've been plodding through this silly dungeon for the past three hours. Legend says it was forged eons ago in the fires of Real Bad Place by the evil Sorcerer DarkSomething, who poured the very essence of his evil into its creation, but couldn't be arsed to come up with a more imaginative name.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Character Attributes

At what point did the Powers That Be decide that one's ability to make adversaries pee their collective pants from fear had anything to do with one's lack of friends on Facebook?


The beginnings of a play-by-post RPG

For those of you who are wondering "What in heck is play-by-post?", it is simply a roleplay game done on the internet, usually on a webforum or blog, and with a deeper emphasis on narrative as opposed to simply rolling dice and smashing things up. What makes me so excited about the forthcoming PbP RPG this blog will be tracking is that it is to be an Original Edition (henceforth to be known as Oe or old-school) styled fantasy heroes-versus-monsters roleplaying game.

"So, why's that so special?", you may ask if you are not yet enlightened and have not yet joined the Oe flock.

Unlike later versions of the game we all know by name, specifically the newest version, Oe gaming emphasizes that the game referee for the most part and the players to a lesser part have more freedom to find out what is and is not possible for the characters to do. A player cannot simply look at his character sheet, calculate the odds on whether or not he can succeed at a particular task or stunt. If you see a wall and want to climb it, you don't roll dice and let Lady LUck decide everything for you. In Oe, you better know at least a little bit about wall climbing. You can throw that d20 all you want, but it won't get your feet off the ground. You're going to have to actually describe how you plan to go about it. This sort of thing makes for excellent face-to-face gaming, but when the players have time to set their thoughts and actions down in words, it can evolve the game into a rather gripping story for others to read as you play.

And before you ask..NO you do not have to be an actual sorcerer to play one old-school style, but if you want my advice, get a copy of Excalibur and watch everything Merlin does. A good game referees will likely look favourably upon a nicely done bit ot theatre on the player's behalf. This sort of mindset can greatly enhance a PbP game for the players as well as anybody else who is reading along.

But I digress (as I often do)

The PbP this blog will be tracking is a Swords & Wizardry module called Tomb of the Iron God. Follow the link in my sidebar to the swords and Wizardry site if you have not already and download the free core rules. The S&W site has several other free downloads too as well as a few "cheaper than food" modules for sale.

The game will actually be running on Reaper Miniatures' webforum. There is an out-of-character topic here, in which the forum members are invited to join the game and, once the game is underway, players and referee handle all out-of-game questions and announcements so that the game topic will be less cluttered and more easily read and enjoyed.

So far, we have four players, one veteran from the Reaper roleplaying forums, and three others who have come over from other old-school RPG forums to join in. I'm excited about the chance to meet new people in and out of game, and to let others have the chance to see what Oe old-school gaming is about.

I'd join in myself, but I've played the module already..BUT I still get to be involved. I'll be providing the visual aides. With a houseful of miniatures, boxloads of HirstArts blocks, and my camera, I'll try my best to provide some good combat maps as the game goes along.

So..watch this space for more on the PbP as well as the usual musings and randomness.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Ere we go -- 'ere we go --'ere we go!!"

After some adjusting of look and layout, a test-post or two, and a bit of fine-tuning this blog, I think I'm ready to show it to the world.

So..WELCOME, WORLD, to my new gaming blog.

In particular, welcome all ye folks at the Swords & Wizardry forum, the rest of you over at the Old School D&D forum, and those of you from the Reaper forum.

Also a big howdy-do to those of you who might have followed me here from my old blog at Vox.

I hope you find your visit pleasant or at least not terribly painful, and I also hope you might even return later when I have more actual content.

Thanks again for dropping by.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Got Evil?

What makes a good horror movie a great horror movie is not the monster itself, but the suspense leading up to the inevitable appearance of the monster.

The same can be said about a great session of roleplaying.

Example 1:
The players are just arriving at the house for Sunday night's session. While the lovely and talented hostess is clearing off space to play, the gamemaster is bringing forth a shoebox full of miniature creatures and arranging a huge pile of dice behind the gamemaster screen. He sometimes looks up, looks back at his game notes, and laughs like a maniac.
Example 2:
One of the players phones the gamemaster the night before game night and invites him and his lovely and talented wife to come over and watch a movie or two. The gamemaster declines, saying he still needs to finish painting three more demons.
Example 3:
The players have wised up to the gamemaster's antics. Nobody in their right mind would expect a party of second level adventurers to survive a fight with ten ghouls or a rooom full of giant spiders and a grey ooze. So, the party has made it through the dungeon, faught giant spiders, oozes, gelatinous cubes, zombies, and even a giant toad. They're nearly out of healing potions, and they come to the ubiquitous door at the end of the last unexplored corridor. The paladin tries to detect evil. The GM informs the paladin that he detects so much evil that his nose bleeds..... and the adventurers learn soon enough that the worst kind of bluff is the one that turns out to be true.

S&W skeletons

Don't bother counting. There's fifty skeletons. Luckily though, our party of 2nd level adventurers had a few hirelings and a dozen or so bottles of oil. All the player-characters made it out alive, though our hireling berserker went down.

Should not there be a sign at the entrance of the room posted by the fire marshal regarding maximum occupancy?

Imagination and gaming - my first of many more musings to come

It seems like there are psychologists and doctors clammouring to come up with inventive names for the various learning disorders and attention disorders that plague children and society in general these days, but of all the afflictions that deserve sympathy, there seems to be one out there that has yet to be given a name or its own special ribbon to raise awareness.

What I am talking about is Imagination Deficit Disorder.

Maybe it is just one of the advantages of growing up disadvantaged that I learned to make-believe and make do with sticks for swords and cardboard boxes for castles...and sometimes an imaginary player-character or two to flesh out the fairytale. I sometimes wonder if kids still did that sort of thing after I had grown up, or did virtual-reality games take the place of playing pretend? Have young people lost their ability to suspend disbelief and furthermore lost the ability to make it up as they go along?

Here is a sample of what I am talking about.

Our little party of adventurers have found themselves in a rather bustling little medieval trade village in a place very much like Sweden. They have sackfuls of looted gold and treasure, and are all in need of better weapons, armour repairs, and maybe a bit of entertainment. As chance would have it, and strictly by accident, we end up in the medieval equvilent of the red-light district. The game master throws out a plot hook and the players eventually take the bait and find themselves involved in a turf-war among three proprietors of three brothels. To make a long story short, our eventual plan involved sending one of the party to solicit a "lady" and make a reconnaisance of the questionable proprietor's establishment.

But first, a bit about the player. I've known him for nearly a third of my life and for most of his. He's a young adult now, but I still think of him as my kid brother. I'd never speak badly of him, but he's more random than any random nonplayer-character you've ever met. He joined this particular adventure campaign in progress and took over one of the NPC hirelings in the party.

So into the den of temptresses he goes..and is offered "exotic pleasures from the far corners of the world". He says nothing. The proprietor offers him several girls to pick from, and still he says nothing. Finally, a girl is chosen for him, and she leads him off to somewhere more private to talk..or something. Still, he says nothing.

"Is this your first time", she finally asks him after getting nowhere with her attempts to coax from her client any particular desires or inclinations.

The poor boy goes as red as a beet and makes the time-out sign. "What do I tell her?", he asks the GM.

I suppose in retrospect I should have had more sympathy for a kid who in reality is trying to act the part of a celtic archer having dialogue with a prostitute being played by a fifty-year-old man, but I could not help it.

"Imagine you are you.", I said. "A hot girl is asking you if it's your first time. You...say... YES!!". Then I remember to add "Unless you know something about you that we don't".

So, maybe we have a bit of work to do on his imagination therapy. I really hope that resorting to live-action roleplay and costumes will not be necessary. Some horrors are simply too inconceivable to contemplate.