Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holmes for the Holidays

No, not this Holmes...
This one.

I am far from an authority on Dr. John Eric Holmes' blue rulebook, and in the face of such authorities, perhaps I should keep any thoughts about it to myself.  However, I have been re-reading it lately and struck by various thoughts.  Add to that today's mail: a friend and fellow Rambler -- Capecodmonkey, thanks! -- sent me a copy of Holmes' novel, Maze of Peril.  So perhaps foolhardily, I have decided to adopt the reading of Holmes for this Advent and on this basis offer some occasional Holmesian posts in appreciation.  Be on the lookout!

My Orientation
Just as a reminder, I am a Moldvay kid that quickly went on to AD&D.  (Hey, I was always in the A class at school, so clearly I should be playing Advanced!)  Most of the guys I played with were a little older than me and they were introduced to the game by Holmes, even though we never played his rule-set together.  I remember seeing their box with the red dragon on it and its unfamiliar blue rulebook.  I had to account for yet another D&D book that I wasn't familiar with, and I remember looking it over until I figured out to my satisfaction that it was an earlier version of what I had in my red Basic D&D book.  Ever since then, Holmes' book represented an Ur-D&D to me: somewhat similar, somewhat strangely different and unknown.  And so it has remained, attractive to me in a way the little brown booklets have never quite equaled.  Of my game purchases in the past year, the one I count as the greatest steal was finding the copy above, in good condition, at Half-Price Books, and getting it (Third Edition, Dec. 1979) with my educator's discount for under two bucks.

Hey, in Sarum, blue is the color for Advent.  See how I tied all that together?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Much Better than Ground Steak Covered in Gravy

As Tomeful Tuesday draws to a close, I have to accept that my review of the latest Pathfinder Tales novel is not going to be finished.  So, I will trot out an oldy but goody to recommend to anyone who has yet to read it.  Salisbury is one of my favorite medieval cathedrals that I've never been to (yet).  Sarum is my favorite book about (among other things) one of my favorite cathedrals that I've never been to -- by one of my favorite historical novelists.  Rutherford, like Michener and Frank Herbert, covers large periods of time and helps develop the historical imagination.  Great historical color and detail, and a great learning tool for people who want to think about how to run extended or inter-related plots or campaigns across time.

Medusa's Kitty Prowls New Bestiary

Kamadan Illustration by Eric Belisle

I love monsters books -- have ever since I was a kid-- especially if they are big and beautiful and packed with monsters. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Dirty, Poorly Lighted Place

By: wallyir

Location, location, location.  As it is in real estate, so it is in narrative, and ever will be in gaming.  Amen.

Recently, Noisms reflected on the tensions between story logic and logistics in role-play gaming and he touched on the weakness of the GNS typology as a theoretical framework for understanding gaming.  In the past when I have entered into such discussions on messageboards, I have advocated the superiority of what we learned about analyzing fictional elements in our school days over GNS went it comes to understanding the RPG.  Noisms' dichotomy brought to my mind a perfect example of why this is so: logistics, or the resources and goods available to the PCs, should be determined by the location.  It's not so much against story logic as it should be a part of story logic.

But, a voice cries, a game is about having fun.  What's fun about tying logistics to location?  First, as C. Kutalik has recently reminded us, "The deepest and most satisfying fantasy worlds are often rooted in a profound sense of place."  This is a truth worthy of regular reminders.  The more captivating and seemingly real the setting in which the characters enact the action, the more enjoyable is one of the key elements that our understanding of story tells us is essential.  It matters that we are much more likely to find the rare sun orchid elixir in a desert city of Thuvia, whence it originates, than in a stone giant lair in the Iron Peaks.  The more players know what they can predict to find in a place, the more they can inhabit their characters and direct them to look for certain things, and be surprised when they do find something unlikely.  Verisimilitude enables them to imagine the place in their minds is a real place, distinct from other places, and to manipulate the imaginary environment as if it were a real place subject to real characters.

For an example of an inspiring location, see /Matt of Asshat Paladins' recent post about the Majlis al-Jinn.  Following the links he gives to nourish the imagination on the images and descriptions of the place should inspire a place that is as different in the logistics as it is in feel or flavor from another imaginary location inspired by alpine villages.  If the jinn are worshiped by nomadic, superstitious halflings who call their land Ma-sheret and whose most valuable resource is water that springs in the caves controlled by the jinn and the alpine villages are built by dwarven herders, woodsmen, and mountaineers who pursue the PCs for killing a mountain ram, their totemic animal for whom the Big Horns mountain range is named, then the players will never mistake Ma-sheret for the Big Horns, even though their characters adventured in both areas and hired local short humanoids to be their guides in both.

Because of the way we relate to location and how location determines logistics, questions such as, "Why do dungeons look the way they look?" matter.  Again, in my own case, when people say, "mega-dungeon," the first thing that comes to my mind is a place almost none of you have heard of: The Maze Zorg, built by the Mag Cabal in an area of natural caverns below jungles in the world of my college DM, Orbregg.    The fact that the natural caverns were expanded by extensive mining and mechanical expertise by githzerai working for the cabal of evil wizards for specific purposes (cowing the drugged members of a cult they ran on one side and giving them a protected hiding place from the protagonists on the other) gives it a different shape and feel in my imagination than the futuristic underworld of H. G. Wells' morlocks.  It would matter which underworld I were in as a character when it came to what I would look for in terms of tools, machines, or traps.

If Tolkien is right in picking out the sub-creation of a secondary world as being the essence of mythopoesis, then we should not be surprised that location would be preeminent among elements that we must give attention in the playing of a fantasy RPG.  This is true on the meta, world level, and it is true as one begins in a clean, well-lighted tavern called The Green Dragon and ends in a dark, dirty dungeon below the ruins of the Tower of Zenopus.  As you ramble on your mythopoeic wanderings, I bid you godspeed this Monday.  And when you find a place worth marking, I hope you will raise a cairn or write a traveler's note to guide the rest of us and let us know what it was that made that site real, compelling, magical.

Friday, November 25, 2011

An Innovation of Pathfinder Battles

Today, Paizo blogged about a cool new innovation in their miniatures line.  The frost giant mini's hand can be switched between axe and sword.   Handy, adding that level of customization to a plastic, pre-painted mini.  This is a feature that I would like to see more of in future releases.

No images today, but two puns for the price of one.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

By: nanette
For those outside the U.S.A., this Thursday is our Thanksgiving holiday.  Though I will feast upon turkey and other traditional fare this day, I am especially giving thanks for you, my readers.  For all of you who have commented, followed, referred, linked, or otherwise encouraged, inspired, or informed me: Thank you.  May you share in the plenty.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New MMORPG Announced

Paizo had warned that a big announcement was coming, and it was just released.  I am surprised, but curious: They have started, with Ryan Dancey, a new company called Goblinworks to make Pathfinder Online, an MMORPG.  I've never really gotten into them, as so many have, but they promise it will be different, so I will continue to watch what develops.  I wish them all the best on it, whether I get into it or not.  It is big news for them as a company and for those who love to do their gaming online.  One thing is for sure, this continues to signal the trend of a rising, dominant Paizo.

Fairy Tales Dark, Dangerous, and Perhaps Not

I am back home, but I don't have anything in particular to share from my trip to San Francisco, I am sorry to say.  It was good for me professionally and personally, but while there I was not able to do anything touristy to feed the inner mythopoet.  (I was reminded my ongoing interest I had as a boy in Alcatraz and the old U.S. Mint, but I'd have to stew about these places for a while for them to produce anything.)  I will proclaim and reaffirm what I already believed to be true based on my 4th grade memories: If I had to live in California, SF would be my town of choice.  I don't plan on waiting another 30 years to get back there, and when I do, the touring mythopoet (and epicure!) will be unleashed! 

In the absence of any souvenirs to share, I believe I will observe this Tuesday homing with another installment of Tomeful Tuesday.  I've finished Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (1993).  I owe this hard-working, long active duo for the many anthologies and collections they have done, for thereby introducing me to authors I might have never discovered on my own, and for their patronage of Thomas Canty (see linked image above).  I believe this was the first in their fairy tales collections (of short stories and poems like this one -- there was a series of novels that had an earlier start), and from those I have read so far, this first is not my favorite.  The stories are not only dark, but many move towards the tragic, the nihilistic, and even the sick.  While I enjoy the former, it is difficult to enjoy the latter.  Further, I question whether stories with fairy tale elements actually qualify as a fairy tale proper when they lack the eucatastrophe.  There are some pretty good stories in the collection, however, and three clear stand-outs for me: "The Glass Casket" by Jack Dann, "The Snow Queen" by Patricia A. McKillip, and "Breadcrumbs and Stones" by Lisa Goldstein.  These three I can wholeheartedly recommend to all in this season of fairy tales, if you want to add some reading to your viewing.  (By the way, I wish they had gotten Nick Owchar to write that piece for The Siren's Call.  Are we only seeing pieces out of him once a week, L. A. Times?  What the hell!?)  Until next time, I bid you a good Tuesday, and a tomeful week of happy reading.

Friday, November 18, 2011

To My City By the Bay...

By: kconnors

I haven't been there since 4th grade, but today I head for San Francisco for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion.  Any suggestions of things a mythopoet shouldn't miss?  Any idea where to find the phylactery known as the Heart of Bennett?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pathfinder Beginner Box Miniatures

This week, I received delivery of the first-fruits of Paizo's partnership with Wizkids: the four iconic characters used in the Beginner Box.  These are the best paint jobs I've ever seen on pre-painted minis: I know the pictures aren't great, but hopefully you get some feel for how well-detailed and well done these are.  I had complained about the little black plastic pads (for lack of a better term) that are at the points were the mini attaches to the base, previously.  I still don't like them, but they seem less noticeable to me when you are handling the minis than they are while looking at the pictures.  Based on what I'm seeing, users of plastic, pre-painted miniatures are about to enter a golden age in which they will not look back on Wizards' canceled line with regret.  Kudos to Paizo and Wizkids!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Maybe I'm the Only Who Was Surprised that

I am a Lawful Good Human Cleric (6th Level)

Ability Scores:







Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

I'll be working on raising my wisdom as I level up.  A little strength training wouldn't be bad.

Update on My Reading

Top: Just Finished, Bottom: Currently Reading
Hecate's Cauldron looked promising, and there were some good stories in it, but overall it disappointed.  I took a little too long to finish it, so my memory got a little fuzzy, but "The Sage of Theare," "The Harmonious Battle," and "Ishigbi" stand out.  Now I'm reading Snow White, Blood Red.  I love fairy tale re-tellings, but the more I think about some of them, the more disturbed I am. Yeesh!  I really look forward to the new Pathfinder Tales installment, which came this week.  Planar adventure, here I come!

This is what I'm reading next.
Yeah, I know I need to update the bottom of the page.  I'll try to get to it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

PF Beginner Box Play Report I

Last night, I watched my nephews, who are in fifth and sixth grade.  (Sadly, I forgot to take pictures at the table.)  It's been months since we got together, and the last time we played it was a B/X (1981) game.  I showed them the new Pathfinder Beginner Box.  At first, the fifth grader wanted to play and had to pry the sixth grader off of the Xbox.  Once he got to the table, the sixth grader was very excited to play a game that used ascending AC (when we play old style D&D in the future, I will convert everything to AAC.  Traditional AC twisted his mind in painful ways).

Ezren, Zordlon the elven fighter, Rogar the dwarven cleric, and Merisiel

Character Generation
I tried to convince them to play pre-generated characters, but they were stubborn, so we went through character generation.  They went through the pawns, chose ones they liked, and then generated characters based on them: an elf fighter named Zordlan (with great stats!  6th grader was rolling HOT!) and a dwarven cleric of Gorum named Rogar.  They teemed up with Ezren and Merisiel and headed out.  By the way: thank you whoever put the suggested names in the race section.  I was in no mood to deal with the difficulty in naming last night.  (The 5th grader wants to come up with stupid and annoying names, the 6th grader wants me to list a bunch of great names off the top of my head so he can choose one, and I was in the mood for neither last night.)

Sadly, by the time we got to actual play, the fifth grader was undergoing a massive attack of ADHD and NFLitis. Even sadder, this one views any reading as work, and even the greatly reduced load and highly visually organized, step-by-step process of character building wore him out on this particular evening.  (This was the same kid who lost his focus part way through our last B/X fairy mound game.  Is it possible to lose the gift somewhere between 1st grade and 5th?  I blame the Xbox and them getting cell phones too young.) The sixth grader, however, got progressively more excited.  He enjoyed the character building process, and was able to follow through the Hero's Guide with his character sheet with minimal help.  Both of them working sharing one book and doing making their characters simultaneous took somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. 

Play moved quickly, in spite of the fact that the Obscure GM had done no preparation.  We made it through the two rooms of the dungeon before 5th grader was replaced by the 9th grader who came home early and took over Rogar.  He over the Hero's Guide and character sheet and was quite enthused -- the most frustrating thing for him in 3.5 was not being able to find everything in the books on his own.  From first glance, he found Pathfinder's new organization in the Box much less overwhelming.  The two of them polished the goblins off.  No negotiations for them: knowing how goblins have been portrayed by me in other games, they asked me about what there characters new about goblins in Golarion.  Hearing about the little pyros and their history in Sandpoint, they were out for goblin blood.  Well, okay... goblin treasure, too.

The Proof is in the Pudding
While I was writing this report, I got a text message from the 6th grader, bemoaning the fact that we couldn't get together to play this week.  "Zordlon's scimitar is thirsty for blood!"  You can't ask for better than that.

Note: This is pretty late for Mythopoeic Monday.  Last week and next week are pretty crazy, so posting this week and next will probably be somewhat erratic.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Array of Atomic Horror

By: mconnors
After tormenting me for three months by its absence, the Atomic Array podcast is back!  Maybe Ed was lost in a bleak, post-holocaust wasteland, fighting off ravenous packs of zombies.  Or maybe Rone's hibernation cycle was triggered by the early snows.  Or perhaps they just forgot to plug that "thingie" in every time they sat down to record.  But whatever the explanation, Episode 57 is out.  If you feel like it still should be Halloween, you will definitely want to tune in.  If you were just recovering from wracking withdrawal, you, like me, are probably already listening to it.  If you are a gamer and have never listened to the Array, stop depriving yourself!

by Dave Mallon

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Immortals

I saw Immortals last night with my stepson and my opposite-taste-continuum wife, and we all liked Immortals, so that bodes well for its reception by a general audience.  The main thing I can see going against it in this context is violence, and since I think most people these days seem to be pretty comfortable with their blood-thirsty side, I doubt that will hold it back.  If human-on-human violence bothers you, then I bet you'd already know not to go see Immortals, anyway.  I may come back to the issue of violence, but let me also note that if 300's thin storyline bothered you, there's a little more to 300. 

Now for the grousing.  The premise and the plot are still pretty thin in some places.  Why are the Heraklions such jerks?  Why do they want to follow a psychopath to wipe out the Hellenes?  Why would they put up with the stuff Hyperion does to them?  Who made him the boss of us?!

My wife couldn't understand the grousing.  Here I was having seen the kind of movie that I like, it was a good movie, and she was there with me and actually enjoyed it.  Beyond some complaints about story-telling, I think it is all goes back to our current zeitgeist, which prefers radical reinterpretations that have little to no relationship to traditional material beyond a bare minimum. I understand the desire to put your own spin on old material, and this become more important when material has gotten tired and overly familiar, but when it comes to anything demanding Classical knowledge, folks today are hyper-ignorant.  When you look a the picture of Poseidon from the movie above, you know (or guess) it is him from the trident (and this puts you in the top percentile of the population in terms of classical knowledge).  However, I chose to use the only Greek god in the entire film that is indicated by traditional symbology: Zeus has a fiery whip, Athena has either curved daggers or those Japanese one-handed scythes (I know, I'm not in the mood to look up the real name), Ares has a war hammer.  What the Tartarus?  Meanwhile {¡SPOILER ALERT!} the famous Greek hero Theseus, second only to Hercules, has one adventure and then dies?  {Here endeth the spoiler.}  Pffft.  I counter that the contemporary audience is so classics-poor that most of it will seem new to them anyway.  Reinterpretation should happen for reasons, not just for postmodern masturbatory buzz.  The radicalness of it in Immortals and cases like it goes beyond any real reason.  Why not just make up an original fantasy story?  It will be impossible to keep out some points of classical inspiration, anyway.

In addition to complaints about discontinuity with the source material for no particular reason, there is the extremities of its portrayal of combat.  Now, I know complaints about realism are going to be met with rejoinders about cinema and the style of this certain film, which is fair enough, but I still have some issues here.  I note that on the whole, we are moving to grander and grander spectacle with less realism, and my own counter-current desire for an increase in realism.  Sure, I want to be entertained and blown away, but I have two concerns: eroding our ability to visually and mentally detect the realistic and the threatening of suspension of belief for those of us who retain some measure of verisimil-detection.  Do I hope in vain that we would see more films that strike this balance a bit more satisfactorily?  Or is the zeitgeist so strong in the other direction?  I guess the one glaring example is when outnumbered idiots give up the advantage of standing spread out in the open to fight huge numbers constricted by a narrow tunnel.  No amount of style can excuse that for me.  (Hey, didn't you guys make 300?  What was the tactical point of that film again?)

Some of the blends are interesting.  Christian ideas and Byzantine iconography influence this recasting of Greek myth, which has a certain honesty about it, since Christianity has forever changed the way we think about divine matters.  And I loved that fact that they actually used Greek in the movie, and didn't use a pretend Germanic pronunciation of Greek.  But what alphabet is that used throughout the film?  Certainly not Greek.  Was it designed to look cool?  Why not just invent a new Greek script instead of what is obviously a modern typeface?  And using rebar in the film?  Surely that was another look choice and not a cost-cutting measure, but will people really not recognize rebar?  That with the architectural demands the sets would put on an ancient culture, I found myself fantasizing that this was a post-catastrophic Earth of the future that was replaying religious and mythological scripts of the past.

When it comes to ultimate questions, this movie reminded me more of the Clash of the Titans remake than of 300.  And here is where the real post-Christian nature of the film is evident: Exploration of the idea that the divine needs us. From my theological perspective, this is the ultimate in self-flattery from and for folks who have a terrible crisis in identity and worth.  Is the idea that the divine loves us and doesn't need us at all in any inherent way just way beyond the popular capacity to entertain?

To close, I turn to the miscellaneous: Freida Pinto is drop dead gorgeous.  I demand that she play the iconic oracle in any future Pathfinder film.  Mikey Rourke, I don't know if it is you or Hyperion or both equally, but it is hard not to enjoy seeing you beat up.  For pleasures of grand spectacle, genre, and venal indulgence, I recommend Immortals.  It's enough that these days I'm getting some of the kind of movies that I enjoy made and made well, even if they give me a lot to complain about.  And if anybody can find me more information on that typeface/alphabet used in the film, I would really appreciate it.  Yeah, sometimes I go for the eye-candy, too, Phaedra.

EDITED: For clarity.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Members of Caven

Iron Chef Adventure Challenge: Members of Caven

Well, one accepts one's limitations and does what one can.  At least, I'm pretty sure I was told that at some point in the hopes that maturation might occur.

I finished Mike Monaco's Iron Chef Adventure Challenge, or at least, I made myself accept that I had gotten done what I was going to get done.  The cards that I got in my pack clearly clustered in groups that fit together and gave direction to my imagination.  In some ways, I was quiet lucky in them, and in others, they created a framework much bigger than what I could get done in a month in my spare time.  Mike's generosity and the luck of my draw fired my imagination, and continues to fire it -- so much so that I've got lots of ideas I want to return to in the future.

I used all my cards, though names were changed and non-OGL monsters were replaced with OGL equivalents.  The premise of the adventure centers around a dead demi-god or deity, a patron of secret knowledge, who is killed yet some of his body parts subsistence as undead magical items.  Oh yeah, the being is also named after Jack Vance.  Wink!

If you are interested, here is a link to the pdf.  If you have no interest in fantasy setting equivalents of Translyvania and of Tibet, don't click.  I should say, however, that it became every bit as much character driven as it was place or magic item driven.

A big thanks to Mike Monaco, the folks who donated prizes, the Fawlties for their support when I stressed, Jack Vance, and Roger the GS (for his Original Standard notes, which I didn't use as much as I had hoped or as much as I would if I had time to sort through my insane desire to not only produce something somewhat system neutral, but that could be played by S&W, LL, and Pathfinder with minimum repetition.)

Before I forget, a big thank you and best wishes to all the vets who served and to families who sacrificed on this Veterans Day.  Oh yeah, and WWI: European friends, let's not do that again.  Peace!

It was in and about the Martinmas time...

Barbara Allen Kneeling in Sorrow by Edwin Austin Abbey

A happy Martinmas to you all.  That is, today is Saint Martin of Tours' feast day. This day always brings to mind a traditional Scottish ballad I learned in high school (text below courtesy of  the useful

Bonny Barbara Allan
IT was in and about the Martinmas time,
  When the green leaves were a falling,
That Sir John Græme, in the West Country,
  Fell in love with Barbara Allan.
He sent his man down through the town,        5
  To the place where she was dwelling:
“O haste and come to my master dear,
  Gin ye be Barbara Allan.”
O hooly, hooly rose she up,
  To the place where he was lying,        10
And when she drew the curtain by,
  “Young man, I think you’re dying.”
“O it’s I’m sick, and very, very sick,
  And ’tis a’ for Barbara Allan:”
“O the better for me ye’s never be,        15
  Tho your heart’s blood were a spilling.
“O dinna ye mind, young man,” said she,
  “When ye was in the tavern a drinking,
That ye made the healths gae round and round,
  And slighted Barbara Allan?”        20
He turned his face unto the wall,
  And death was with him dealing:
“Adieu, adieu, my dear friends all,
  And be kind to Barbara Allan.”
And slowly, slowly raise she up,        25
  And slowly, slowly left him,
And sighing said, she coud not stay,
  Since death of life had reft him.
She had not gane a mile but twa,
  When she heard the dead-bell ringing,        30
And every jow that the dead-bell gied,
  It cry’d, Woe to Barbara Allan!
“O mother, mother, make my bed!
  O make it saft and narrow!
Since my love died for me to-day,        35
  I’ll die for him to-morrow.”

Of course, there are different versions of the ballad, with different lovers in different times of the year, such as in this video. (And it inspired even more, such as this song by Johnny Cash, with blog-relevant lyrics!) 

I'll close today with the first picture I ever saw of Martin of Tours.  (Thanks, Mrs. Lewis and the DMA!)  In this depiction, one can easily imagine him as lover before he became a churchman.

St. Martin and the Beggar, El Greco, 1597/9

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hungry for More Maggoty Goodness?

For all the Pathfinder and Labyrinth Lord players whose interest was piqued by Clockwork Gnome's upcoming Morithal: Lord of Unceasing Hunger, check out this latest preview.  (If you missed the MR exclusive last month, see it here.)

Hollow Longing Ghoul by Dave Allsop

In Which His Obscureness Attains Mavenhood

Last night, after long hovering upon the brink, 80 good folk and true assembled for Rambling.  Thus I ascended unto Mythopoeic Mavenhood.  Sixth level in 190 posts and 9 months of blogging, baby!  Thanks to everyone who clicked, "Follow!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gygax on Game Design, Part II

Part II

For today's Tomeful Tuesday, I'm finishing part II of the post on chapter 8 ( part I from a couple of weeks back) in Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery (1987).  

Chapter 8

Non-player character generation
While observing that NPC generation will basically follow PC generation, he notes the need for shortcuts or pre-made parcels of information to keep the GM from being overwhelmed.

[Other] Opponents
In other words, monsters.  Gary proclaims what we already know: one of the charms (his word) of a fantasy RPG like D&D is the plethora of monsters.

Reward system for progression
"[O]ne factor is critical: The size or value of the reward must always be tailored to the scope of the accomplishment for which the reward is given" (147).

"When we move backward in time, forward in to imaginary time, or into a world of fantasy, we have less and less hard information to draw upon... Thus, the further removed from reality the RPG is, the larger must be the information base that provides the GM and players with specifics of unknown or unreal weapons and powers" (148).  "A well-designed RPG will include a lot of specific information, so that various campaigns utilizing the same set of rules will have much in common..., and to avoid the unpleasant situations that occur when a GM is forced to do game-design work in addition to campaign design work" (149).

The Do-It-Yourself Ethos
"Modify the advice given here according to your tastes" (149).

Vancian Advocate
On pages 149-150, there is a passage related to Gary's famous opposition to the use of spell points in AD&D.

Finally, one of the most interesting passages in this section of the chapter to me is this observation on the state of D&D rules in Gary's mind circa 1987 (or, arguably, 1986):
Now [sic: New] ground is no longer being broken in the D&D game rules; they are as complete and as comprehenisve as they need to be (151). 
This brings us to the end of the larger chapters of RPM.  The two final chapters (9 & 10) are short.  Thanks for checking in for this installment of Tomeful Tuesday.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dee's Deities & Demigods

Elric by Jeff Dee

I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating.  Among the great book losses of my youth, nay, my life, is that I no longer have the original Deities & Demigods, the one with all Cthulhu mythos etc.  One day I will shell out the money to redress that wrong, but for now, I live with my memories.  This must be a very dim reflection of what artist Jeff Dee feels about all that artwork he did for TSR, back in the day.

"Hey, our files are overflowing."
"No problem.  Just take all those old Dee illustrations and heave 'em in the dumpster."

Unbelievable.  Dee is dealing with this loss by offering a project to redraw these lost images (and possibly some new ones) on Kickstarter.  I'm happy to hear it, and I hope the project makes.  If you are just now hearing about this, I hope you will head over, take a look, and consider supporting it.

Thanks to Tim Brannan for passing the word on.  I hope my reblogging helps spread it.

In-Game/Out-of-Game: Winning

By: jcake41

This may be an unusual topic for Mythopoeic Monday, but it's what I've had on my mind and what I have in the greater state of readiness.  I have been thinking about my recently closed first poll. The outcomes were as below:

What are the win conditions for an RPG?

There are none by definition.
  18 (33%)
They are determined by the Players alone.
  5 (9%)
They are determined by the GM alone.
  2 (3%)
They are determined by the GM & Players together.
  16 (30%)
They are dictated by story logic.
  12 (22%)
Total Votes: 53 (including my vote)

The sampling wasn't as large as I had hoped, but it was interesting to watch it unfold.  For most of the week, Determined by GM & Players was ahead, but in the final hours, No Conditions by Definition pulled ahead.  Story Logic made a decent showing.  Very few went for Populism and even less went for GM Tyranny.  It may be that I needed to include two more options: 1) Having Fun and 2) Provided by Game Designers/Adventure Writers. I'll think about that some more in case I ever try to repeat it.  Here's my take on the controversy.

First, it seems clear to me that a distinction needs to be made between In-Game and Out-of-Game candidates for victory conditions.  Examples of Out-of-Game candidates are: having fun, filling a certain period of time, doing something with a certain group of people, or beating the referee/players.  Besides being OoG, they are all have something else in common: they have nothing to do with RPGs per se.  We could be playing golf, football, or chess and doing any of these.  For most of these,we might not even be playing a game.  This is my problem with the supposed goal of having fun.  It's not specific enough.  Why having fun playing an RPG?  What kind of fun is that?  It's like saying the purpose of life is to be happy and then trying to get a conversation going between Stalin, Steve Jobs, and Mother Teresa about it.  It's a broad truth that needs to be applied to the case at hand: What does choosing to have fun by playing a RPG mean?  What is achieved or enacted by a RPG that supplies the conditions for fun?  Once one has realized that OoG candidates are not helpful getting at the essence of what an RPG is, we move on to In-Game candidates.

We could try to give general candidates, or classes of candidates for RPG victory conditions: Defeat opponents, kill monsters, loot treasures, survive, explore dungeons or wilderness.  These broad classes bring to mind the fact that other games (and for that matter, other activities that are not games) that are not role-playing share these conditions of success.  Specific examples of In-Game candidates are successfully returning to Waterdeep, retrieving the three legendary weapons of White Plume Mountain, killing all the orcs in the caves outside of town and taking their treasure, saving the princess from political machinations in her court, or stopping the return of the evil Runelord.  These are specific to role-playing and could not be mistaken for anything else -- except for plot elements (because RPGs and narrative share the element of characters). They follow Gygax's insistence that role-playing is more than role assumption.

All of these examples indicate that playing an RPG is a way of having fun by doing something else, and this something else is related to goals.  When gamers talk about their games -- which they are known to do at length and with gusto -- they talk foremost about things attempted that either resulted in success or failure.  In other words, they have a conversation in relation to goals.  Are there any goals not covered by these examples?  Say a GM says, "This Halloween, I wanted a game that would scare my players."  Not specific enough, I counter -- somethings are left unstated here.  The GM is not going to scare the players by jumping out of the bushes at them while they wait for him to answer the door and thus consider his goal met.  The GM wants to scare the players through the imaginative situations that he creates for their characters.  The characters are scared to the extent that they identify with those character and play those roles.  Those situations are characterized by specifics that fit the pattern of examples above.

While you can talk about many if not all of those goals in external, OoG, terms, (say, killing 20 orcs and getting XP and GP, which could happen on a computer or game console, or could be special targets at the shooting range), they may also be discussed in terms that the character played would recognize: "We killed the band of orcs of the Black Tusk, saving the traders of Marketville from ruin and collecting the reward.  The combat practice seems to being paying off as well, so we are raring for our next heroic endeavors."  The game is fun because characters are played towards certain goals, and the specific goals comprise the game in question.  While fun is not strictly equivalent to the meeting of these goals, it is had in playing toward them.

It is probably clear by now that I regard the best answer to the poll as "Determined by the GM and Players together." When people insist that RPGs have no victory conditions by definition, I find such a blanket assertion to ring false.  Now, if they specify, "per se," then of course I agree with them.  That is exactly what makes RPGs special: they don't specify victory conditions, the players do.  Now, someone might bring up a game that I find interesting, like Kagematsu.  But as much as I'd like to give this game a try, by Gary's lights, this is a game of role assumption (wandering samurai or women of the village trying to get him to protect the village and the one who secures the samurai's services wins), and I agree.  The roles, actions, and victory conditions are all much more constricted.  In an RPG like D&D (at least, the versions of D&D I know anything about), there is much more freedom, and consequently, you more fully enter the character in play and you play that character towards the goals you decide.  Of course, you don't play by yourself, and so there are compromises between the players to work together and with the GM who is facilitating the players' fun but, naturally, has certain goals of his or her own to be considered.  The mutual achievement of these goals through play in ways that are surprising, and occasionally enjoying striving towards those goals even in the face of failure (which eliminates characters but does not, as in life, eliminate the players) is the stuff of RPGs. You might argue that you enjoy other games you play even when you lose, but there is a difference: you lose.  In an RPG, when a character loses its life or fails to achieve its goals, the player may have succeeded in playing that character towards those goals, and thereby you still win.

The only other candidates left are Story Logic and Game Designers/Adventure Writers.  Perhaps there is a certain amount of story logic that is emergent, but it emerges out of player and GM choices.  This may be true to a lesser extent if you are using published materials, but even then, the group chooses the material in question.  As long as the design or scenario does not circumscribe the gamers too tightly -- or perhaps it is better to say against their , they are still role-playing and not merely role-assuming.  The choices of the gamers together is the most significant characteristic of role-playing.  And thus, the best answer to the question of a RPG's win conditions is that the GM and players together determine the conditions and bring them into existence to greater and lesser degrees in-game.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remember, Remember...

Remember, remember, the fifth of November:
The gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Who all our there uses political coups (failed or successful) and conspiracy theories (true or false) in their story lines?  I've found them to be a great element in games and stories, bringing with them tension, suspense, and getting caught up in events and powers beyond one's control.  They also provide one with an opportunity to identify with causes or reflect on the problematic of political causes.

A Question About Forums

By: mzacha
I'm hoping my readers can help me with a little practical information.  With all the messageboards out there, which one has a forum with the lion's share of Labyrinth Lords and LL players?  Is it clearly that the forum for LL at Goblinoid Games is the one electronic watering hole where the crowd gathers?  Or are they split up at various places that are all rather active?  I'd really like some perspective on where the supporters of this retro-clone gather and what you feel the forums have to offer.  Comments very much appreciated.  (Or use email if you prefer.)  Thanks!

Awesome New Goblinoid Games' Logo.  Who's the artist?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Badges of Faith: Wear with Pride

I have felt for some time that magical items for clerics in fantasy RPGs springing from the stock of the world's first role-playing game were generally less than they could be -- not simply in number, but in terms of interest and creativity.  Moreover, the presumption that only clerics (and other religious classes or sub-classes) would have a use for holy items represents a failure to make the game world as rich and interesting as the real world when it should meet or exceed that thresh-hold. 

Mike Welham has addressed this dearth in Rite Publishing's new Thirty Badges of Faith.

Click through cover to purchase

For me, this product addresses what is above all a world-building issue: historically, ensigns proclaiming one's religious beliefs and allegiance have been not merely valued, but invested by believers with real power.  For instance, it is no accident that vampires cannot abide the sight of the cross, and in Bram Stoker's Dracula, they may be wielded by anyone, and not simply by clergy with a special turn ability.

Welham offers for the PFRPG a minor magical item that fills this need perfectly.  Badges of Faith are worn about the neck (Pathfinder magic items are limited by their "slot," that is, location on the body) and grant a passive power to the wearer once they perform what amounts an act appropriate to the religious nature of the badge to "actualize" the power.  A further act of piety -- the completion of a clerically imposed quest -- "invests" the bearer of the badge with the fullness of its power.  (Cleric also have further possible benefits from badges of faith.)  Finally, the benefits of the badge stands beholden to not transgress a specific prohibition which will result in the permanent loss of access to the badge's power and the bestowal of a curse as divine punishment.

The mechanical benefits of these badges makes them appropriate to many different domains and deities, thus offering the wearer with an interesting variety of magical assistance.  This deserves to be highlighted: The badges follow the design principle of making loot part of the game's plot. The GM who adopts badges into his or her game is not only giving players a new kind of magic to enjoy, but gaining a spur to future play, encouraging certain actions in play and discouraging others.  With 30 badges to chose from, chances are good that you will find a badge to fit the needs of your campaign and your characters, but even if the perfect badge is not here for you, these examples herein will provide the necessary guidance for you to design a custom badge.

A couple of notes about the physical design of the pdf: there are a few places where line breaks or extra-spacing would make for easier reading: mostly a design issue, but at least in one spot an editorial one.  I find the font that is used for headings to be unclear and hard to read when used at the size found in individual badge names.  I am a fan of the use of old, public domain art in pdfs, and I think that most of the choices here in BoF are good, though a few probably could have been improved with more searching of old book archives.  A final picayune problem: putting a number sign in front of the title gives the impression that this is a number in a series (i.e., Number 30 in Rite Publishing's line of Awesome Artefacts!), when the series title is simply indicating that there are 30 badges.  The author is to be congratulated on the thought and imagination that went into the work.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seriously? Don't You People Care that Someone on the Internet is WRONG?

By: kakisky

Only thirty people out there have voted in the poll, and the hours are ticking down to midnight.  I'm surprised at the low turnout.  Cast your vote while there is still time!  Don't let THEM win!

See the top of the sidebar at the right.  One click: no registration or any such nonsense.

¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!

By: el_alf
¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!  This is the kind of holiday (All Souls Day in other cultures) that seems to those who are outsiders to Mexican culture to be a strange combination of the festive and the morbid.  If it wasn't real and you made it up, some people would not find it believable, I am sure.  If you are not familiar with the holiday and its imagery, do an image search or check out this site.  (Of course, you can get your discursive fix over on Wikipedia.)   Mythopoets should not be afraid to take inspiration from real life to develop the holidays appropriate to the cultuses of various religions, and some should be sufficiently over-the-top to stand out while fitting the figures or themes under consideration.

The Day of the Dead reminds me of my favorite scene in M. A. R. Barker's The Man of Gold.  Below are two pages from that scene to put you in a morbid mood.  If you haven't read or don't own a copy of this first Tékumel book, and this scene doesn't convince you to fix that, nothing will!  In the scene, the protagonist is taken to the temple of the god of the dead to behold the liturgy of his worshipers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thoughts on the Demonic from Halloween Reading

Well, I didn't finish the October reading schedule I set for myself.  I made it through book three before the month ended, due to general busy-ness.  I think I will save the other books for next October, rather than extend the reading into this month.  The last book I finished was A Mortal Glamour by Chelsea Quinn Yabro.  Set in a Southern France during the papal schism between Avignon and Rome.  It had a rather glowing blurb from Stephen King.  I'm not going to give it any prizes, but it did end up being something I didn't expect: an exploration of the idea that demons are powerless apart from human desires.  This is an interesting idea for various reasons I will explore.

I caught Stephen King on AMC last night, talking about horror movies.  One thing he touched on was his strong disagreement with Stanley Kubrick about one of my favorite horror movies, The Shining.  For King, the ghosts tied to the hotel was the problem.  For Kubrick, the character flaws of Jack Nicholson's character caused him to be haunted: he was the problem.  Kubrick believed ghost stories are ultimately optimistic, to which King objected that ghosts reflected a belief in Hell.  This calls to mind FrDave's recent post, and a conversation I had over coffee with a friend of mine who is an episcopal priest.  I had recently seen Drag Me to Hell, and was more excited about it than I had thought I would be.  For one thing, it is loosely based on a ghost story by M. R. James, "Casting the Runes" (also the basis of The Night of the Demon).  My friend objected that modern demon movies play into a theology popular in the US, that the demonic is a supernatural reality on a par with the divine: a kind of gnostic dualism in which humans are subject to demons despite God, and apart from their own morality and their own relationship to God.  I think this may go to the heart of what FrDave and King were also concerned about: one with theology, the other with what makes horror stories work.  If humans who do not deserve demonic persecution are subject to it, then we live in an world in which God fails to protect his own.  But if we live in a world where only those who deserve demons get them, then most of us (rightly are wrongly) are not scared.  {SPOILER} Who can watch Drag Me to Hell and believe that the protagonist, for all that she has some character flaws, deserves to be dragged to Hell?  If anyone deserves to be dragged to Hell, is it not the gypsy who curses her?

Surprisingly, this is where A Mortal Glamour, a not particularly sophisticated novel, steps in.  It plays on the power of desire, which has a long history of daemonic identification.  Questions of justice aside for a moment, what about our competing desires?  While we desire the good, we also have other desires that conflict with that.  What if we desired to be overcome?  Demons feeding on our desire (in Yabro's book, set in a convent, these center almost exclusively on the sexual) would have the strength to overcome our desire from the good and drag us to Hell.  There is a possibility for justice here: we get what we secretly desire.  At the same time, there is something to be afraid of.  While the initial focus of our fears is external -- the devil who can assume a pleasing shape -- we ourselves are what we should fear.  Our own conflicted, desire-ridden nature, full of secrets not only that others do not see but that we ourselves may be blind to, may be the true cause of our destruction.  There is a psychological sophistication here that I didn't expect and that I will give some thought, and from an author that I am pretty sure is very antagonistic to Christianity there is a theological anthropology that would fit with certain Christian visions.  Not that it will satisfy theological questions proper by itself, but it makes room for both fear and the optimistic view that there may be some basic justice in the story world.

Thanks for dropping by for this week's Tomeful Tuesday.  I will continue with part II of Gygax on Game Design.