Friday, January 28, 2011

Lack of A Better Term...

An RP...S?
The current stage show I'm involved in has got me thinking about role-playing and it's status as a game. I'm currently in a production of a play called Good N' Plenty by Jeffery Hatcher. It's a comedy/reminiscence/shaggy dog story about what happened to one new Civics and Government teacher circa 1976 when he wanted to do "something different" in his class instead of a "game" about writing the Constitution. He decided that the "game" the students get involved in would involve drug trafficking, enforcement and prosecution (the drugs being represented by Good N' Plenty candies). It starts out okay, but through mishaps, misunderstandings and outright treachery, the game falls apart and lands most of the faculty and student body in jail. The real one.

There are many good corollaries/commentaries of our Constitution/law enforcement/school system but for my money, the biggest point it makes is what the teacher character (Richard Miller) summarizes at the end. He says that any constitution or law-governing body has to take into account character because we all have a little crime in our hearts. When our own personal constitution fails, we have to resort to a higher one.

Good point, but what hit me (and to me this is the most subtle point the play makes) is that it was a mistake to call this exercise a game. This is underscored many times in the show. It's not obvious, but it's there. Games imply that there are winners and losers. After a while, it didn't matter to anyone that there was a lesson to be learned, they just wanted to win the game. This became so pervasive in the participants it even overwhelmed out narrator in the end.

Here is where I see a relationship with role-playing. We call it a game, but we (the creators/writers all the way down to the smallest DM) de-emphasize the aspect of winning and losing. No one loses the game, not the DM or the players (even though there will be PC deaths) and to win means to get better and rise in level/abilities to live and fight another day. Game means an adversarial relationship and, while there may be enemies and obstacles to overcome in the session, there should be (according to the hobby) no "us vs. them" mentality.

This, I feel, is a big part of the reason the hobby has a hard time reconciling itself with the public at large. Yes, the anti-D&D Christian feelings didn't help but most of the populace see games as a win/lose affair. Without those concepts, while I'm not going to say it'll be hard for Joe Average to understand them, it sure as heck be harder for him to care or invest any time or interest in it. Sports? No problem. Role-Playing? What's the point? That's why there's more Fantasy Baseball/Football players than RP gamers.

Once again, I think it boils down to calling it a game. But, on the other side of the coin, what do you call it (without sounding pretentious)? Event? Happening? Simulation? Damned if I can figure out another name.

To make a long point short, I don't think there is a better word for it. You use paper and pencils (like keeping score in Yahtzee), you sometimes play on a mat (kinda like Monopoly) and a lot of times you have pieces to represent your character (like Sorry!). To the public that equals "game." So be it. Game it is and game it will be.

It doesn't help that the producer of the most recognizable RPG in the world is made by a board game company. But that's just me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Return With Us Now...

You can almost see the dice 
roll in your head!
This may not be news to most old skoolers but as I was skimming through my Rules Cyclopedia I found a little gem of a description.

As a gamer I, as most of us have, ran across the old "What Is Role-Playing?" blurb at the beginning of a core book. I know it's somewhat necessary since folks new to the hobby need some kind of explanation (my first instance coming across it was in the Holmes Blue Book my friend purchased at Waldenbooks in the day). This little blurb, which can go from a couple paragraphs to most of a page can be humorous at best, tedious and stupid at worst.

I've also had to try my hand at explaining role-playing to someone unfamiliar with the game. Let's just say those moments have not been my best.

So when I cracked open my RC, my eyes fell on this section. I was amazed. It was the best description of a role-playing game I've come across. Now I may be a bit biased as I am also an OTR fan but even if I was not, it's still great:

Before television, there was radio. Audiences earlier in this century sat in front of their radios and thrilled to the exploits of bigger-than-life radio heroes. Since it was radio, they couldn't see what was going on, but they didn't need to—all the action was described by dialogue, narration, and sound effects, and was translated by the imaginations of the listeners into scenes they could see, experience, and remember.

Role-playing games are much like radio adventures, except for one important detail: they're interactive. One player provides the narrative and some of the dialogue, but the other players, instead of just sitting and envisioning what's going on, actually participate. Each player controls the actions of a character in the story, decides on his actions, supplies his character's dialogue, and makes decisions based on the character's personality and his current game options.


If I first heard about this type of game, I would have got it instantly, even if I never listened to old time radio. For the younger among us, you could substitute "podcast" or "audio drama" and it'd still work. This is now my default explanation for "What Is Role-Playing?" Oh Gygax/Metzer/Allston, you've done it again!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Map Rehab

We don' need no stinking scale!
I was rummaging through some RPG boxes in the garage and came across a folder with my old AD&D 2nd Edition campaign world (Skye). Well, not so much a whole world as a bunch of background notes and a map. I seem to recall running some fun scenarios and thought that I could use it for a Basic D&D campaign in the near future. Here's what I found:

A partially-written overview of the world.
A table with the pantheon of the world with a few god write-ups.
A background on Canas, one of the main nations in the world
A few NPC's
A hand-drawn map (by Yours Truly) of Skye (here's the full-size version)

I also remember I worked on this with my then-roommate who Wrote some of the stuff based on what I came up with (which is why I didn't recognize a few things).

Anyway, I thought I'd start with reworking the map. I could see that it's a bit overcrowded (mainly too many towns). Plus I'll have to relocate and delete a few places (Puddleton is in the wrong place and I seem to have a town named Specularum - imagine my surprise when I found out that was the capitol city of Karamekios). Yet, all-in-all it's usable. I'll let you know if anything comes of this.

Pimpin' Out The RC

Levi Strauss's D&D.
Since I now have a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, I feel the need to protect this Jewel of My Collection. Well, that and I had about 3 pairs of old jeans I wanted to cut up. So I got a small sewing kit, a tube of Liquid Stitch and got to work.

Viola! A denim cover, decorated by Yours Truly. Was a challenge and it's a bit on the sloppy side but it gets the job done. The pocket's handy too. I was so pleased with the outcome I did the same for my 1E AD&D PHB and DMG (the MM will have to wait until I blow the crotch out of the current pair I have - yeah yeah, I know, TMI). Next project for old jeans: dice bags, soon as I find a pattern for the Crown Royal-type bags (no, I'm not tearing apart mine). For those I'll break down and actually SEW them!

Oh, and no Liz, I'm NOT using a Bedazzler!

Update:  I later outlined the words and such with white fabric paint and went ahead and sewed the edges.  Just to make sure.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Here Come Da Judge

Them DM dice rolls I may fudge
But that's the breaks when you got The Judge
On the Save or Die podcast I have been dubbed the "Judges Guild Expert." I find this an amusing title as I got it solely in virtue of the fact that I own a (as I refer to it) Big Box 'O Judges Guild. There's about 75 modules, supplements and back issues of JG's magazines in there. Now I've had this box for the better part of 20 years and I still have yet to delve very deep into it. Yet since I am in possession of this box that makes me the "expert."

How I acquired it is as follows: Flashback to the early 90's. I'm back home in Long Beach, CA, living in my mom's back room, having moved from San Jose after a bad breakup. I got myself a job and was trying to make some headway in getting back on my feet. I found out about a game store called The War House (one of the Last Great Old Game Stores, which is still operating in the same location as of this writing). I go in and the place is great - musty smell, thousands of minis hanging on the walls, games stuffed on shelves, a fatbeard behind the counter - everything a roleplayer could ask for, including a back room with two tables - one with a battlemat on it and one with wargame terrain set up on it. Nirvana.

I browse the shelves for a while and I end up in the back near the bathrooms. I see a tall wooden shelf, something like an old mail shelf with large slots, in which have stacks upon stacks of gaming material I hadn't seen for at least 20 years. I walk back up front and ask the fatbeard at the counter:

Me: What's with the Judges Guild stuff in the back?

FB: Oh, those are left over from when we used to be a Grenadier store.

Me: Oh. They for sale?

FB: Yeah, sure.

Me: How much?

FB: Half the cover price.

Over the next two days I came away with about three large piles of JG stuff. Thus the collection. I've added a few things over the years (like a copy of the CSIO Revised 3rd Printing I got off eBay) but it has pretty much remained intact through a myriad of moves. It's one of my most prized gaming possessions. I'll be rooting through this box in the weeks to come and reviewing selected items here. Stay tuned.

* For those of you unfamiliar with Judges Guild, check out this history of the company here.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Get Back To Where You Once Belong

Do NOT collect 200 GP...
I've been out of pencil-and-paper tabletop role-playing gaming for about, oh, 5 years or so. With my increased involvement in stage shows, audio drama work, the rise of another edition of D&D I really didn't feel like shelling out the bucks for (plus the direction WOTC was taking the game - thank you no, I don't want to subscribe to to get content for a game that seems to be a bigger money black hole than all the other editions combined) and other odds and ends personal and otherwise, I just kinda drifted away from it. Did the RPGA thing for a while but with the changes at WOTC I left. Could never get a Champions game going (another game which has bloated out of proportion for my wallet) and with the apathy of Mutants and Masterminds around here, it just got to be more trouble than it was worth.

Until now.

I am now being led back to RPGs, specifically, D&D. Not the current trend, oh no. The Old Skool. You know, the one where you got five different saving throws. The one with descending Armor Class. Where the Dungeon Master makes stuff up on the fly and everyone is having a good time. You know, the fun one.

Two things conspired to get me into this state. A friend (hi Julie) got me in touch with a guy named Vince who hosts a couple of podcasts. He was looking for someone to write and produce short fantasy audio dramas for his 1st Edition AD&D show. I did and next thing I know I'm co-hosting a podcast for Basic D&D, the Save or Die Podcast. That got me interested in all things BD&D (when I started gaming, it was with 1st Edition AD&D so I had no knowledge of Basic). I found it close enough to AD&D to be understandable yet different enough to be a refreshing change. I also found out about the Retro-Clones: those RPGs who purposely mimic the Old D&D editions (through the OGL) so's others can play these (some long out-of-print) games. Not to mention the thriving community out there on the 'net in support of these games and this movement. I love it.

The other thing that got me back was the fact that my oldest grandson is 7 and he started to show an interest in what Grampa is doing with these games. I'd be tickled to get him started on a very satisfying hobby.

SO, I proceeded to seek out copies of these games. An uphill battle the best of times, I am unfortunately living in Oklahoma City, which seems to be not only game-dead but game-resource-poor. Fortunately, a couple of my co-hosts on SOD took pity on me and sent me a used copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (a jewel of a book - thanks, Mike and Liz). I did manage to find a couple of things (the D&D Creature Catalog and X1 - The Isle of Dread) but something tells me I'm going to be trolling eBay and other websites for books or relying on retro-clones for my reading/playing goodness. My next hunt is for some of the D&D Gazetteer supplements (mainly Karamekios for now, maybe a few more). Wish me luck.

Anyway, that's where I am, here at the start of 2011, as far as gaming goes. My dicebag is dusted off and I'm ready.

2011: That's Gonna Leave A Mark...

Hope everyone had a good Christmas/Hanukkah/etc. and a glorious New Year's.

Before we slam into 2011, let's reflect, shall we?

2010 was The Year of The Podcast. Julie, my good friend and producer/writer/actor for 19 Nocturne Boulevard, put me in touch with Vince, producer/host of the Roll For Initiative Podcast, a podcast about 1st Edition AD&D, who needed some voice work. I did it and got to talking to him. Turns out he needed a short audio drama for his show and asked if I could do that. I ended up doing The Lumpers, a 5 episode story that was very well-received. he also mentioned that he was looking for another host for the Save or Die Podcast which is about Basic D&D. That's how I ended up being DM Glen on the show. It's a lot of fun. Also, since The Lumpers finished up on RFI, it's being moved over to Save or Die as a regular feature. Oh the fun we have.

Also, stage work spiked up in the latter part of the year. I did Guys and Dolls over at the Poteet Theatre here in OKC and after the show opened, I was contacted by the director of a show called Good N' Plenty which was starting rehearsals at Carpenter's Square. She wanted to use me in that show so after G&D was over, I leaped into the new show. Now it looks like I'm going to be trying out for her next show at the Jewel Box Theatre. Haven't been this busy since college.

The DVD buying has slowed, almost to a stop, although there are some titles I want. The most I've added to the collection in a replacement or two (Crumb, which Criterion brought out on Blu-ray) and further completion of sets (Rocky & Bullwinkle and Friends Season 4 made it out, although it's unsure if the set will be complete since, as of this writing, they're getting ready to roll out The Complete Series with no sign of Season 5 in sight), although a good friend is getting me the complete Boris Karloff's Thriller, so that'll be fun.

One reason the DVD buying has slowed is an offshoot of the podcast hosting: I'm heading back into gaming. Old Skool Gaming. Yes, the OSR has hit me and I've been spending my $ scouring used book stores and game shops for Basic D&D material. I'll elaborate on this in my next post. Stay tuned...