Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What you need is a good night's sleep.

Much concerned with the arcane science of prophetic dream and soporic augury, Somnour the Dossarde had constructed for his own use, this bedstead of the finest craftsmanship and materials. He then laid upon it many subtle charms and magniks whereby he increased both the power of his dream magic, and the clarity of his nocturnal vagaries.

The greater part of Somnour's magic, including his book, the Incunabulum Noctum of dream spells and the Phantastic Bedclothes, as well as the Comforting Blankets, and the Abjurative Sheet, were all lost in the unexplained planar disjunction which rolled across the Bleak March forty years in the past.

Only the Restful Bed is known for certain to have survived that woeful occurrence. It had been disassembled and packed for it's relocation to Somnour's new summer tower, and was three leagues to the south on the Borlem road when the Disjunction transfigured the pine barrens of the Bleak March.

Magic-users and Clerics who cast divinitory magic just before falling asleep in the Restful Bed will have the power and clarity of their magic augmented by the enchantments of the bed.

Spells such as Augury, Divination,and Commune, will act as though cast by a cleric of three levels of experience higher. Locate Object and Find the Path will result in the asked for knowledge coming to the caster in a dream. Range limits are disregarded.

Magic-user spells are similarly enhanced by the magic of the Restful Bed. Comprehend Languages will be made permanent by the bed. Message will send the magic-users thoughts to any other sleeping person. A magic-user who casts Sleep on himself while lying in the Restful Bed will arise after eight hours with no further need of sleep for three days per level. Esp will allow the caster to witness the dreams of others who sleep within one mile of the bed. Clairaudiance and Clairvoyance convey their information in a dream state and without range limits.

The Dungeon Master may rule on in what way similar magics will be affected by the power of the Restful Bed.

Those who have been wounded will heal at thrice the normal rate so long as they sleep in the bed.

Characters of any class who have been confounded by a conundrum of any sort, may "sleep on it", upon the Restful Bed. Those who roll equal to, or below their Wisdom score on a d20, will awake with new insight into the problem. The Dungeon Master is free to offer however much of the solution to the PC's problem that he sees fit.

When the Restful Bed is found, it may have either been reassembled in a new location, or else, it remains disassembled in it's traveling crate. The bed must be complete and correctly assembled to function. It consists of a foot board, head board, side rails, rope netting, mattress, canopy, and shroud. No part of the bed may be missing or damaged for it to work it's dream magic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How I learned to stop worrying and love the dice.

Some little while ago, there was a thread on Dragonsfoot started by a gamer who came from Wotc D&D, but wanted very desperately to like AD&D. The flavor and feeling of Old School gaming was very appealing to him, but he was having difficultly getting a handle on the rules eccentricities and the differing gaming philosophy at the heart of early TSR D&D. The thread was about how to address his frustrations with the facets of AD&D that seemed irrational and counter-intuitive to his 3E senses.
It was a very interesting thread, and the stalwarts of Dragonsfoot were mostly helpful and generous, counter to the image that I often see bandied about the web concerning Old School Grogs.
I'm going to quote my own response in that thread here. It seemed to me that most of the problems the opening poster was having in adjusting to AD&D had to do with the different expectations that the two schools of gaming thought bring to the table. Old School's acceptance of free-wheeling, and loose game mechanisms vs New School's desire for tight, and precise rules that are capable of standing on their own without the hand of the DM to hold them together.

Don't take this as 3E bashing, I don't really care enough to attack the game. AD&D is my baby, and I just look to other games to help me define and discover by contrast, just what it is that brings me joy about it.

This is what I said on Dragonsfoot about how to come at AD&D vs 3E.

"AD&D, and OD&D, I see as something like a suit of armor. Many different pieces that must be worn together and guided by the DM to function as a complete system. Each sub-system of the game ties loosely to the others, but depends on the DM to keep the whole thing together and moving.
This bothered me as a kid player, I wanted that unified mechanic phantom that everybody chases after. I wanted it to always, "make sense". The thing is, this is not possible, there is no way to cover all possible contingencies in a set of rules that neatly tie together and don't cover 10,000 pages.
Unified mechanical resolution of every possible scenario is a perpetual motion machine. It is not achievable. AD&D, and OD&D can cover all possibilities because they do not attempt to define them.
You, the DM, are the "unified mechanic" , you inhabit the rules, you wear them, and pick and choose which ones to employ and at which times in a way that is most congenial to the shape of the game you run. I think this is the core of the disconnect between old and new schools of thought.
New school appears to see the rules of the game as the game itself. It wants the game to be a self contained thing that stands on it's own without guidance and can be picked up and turned on and played and always turns out a perfect game.
Old school, as I perceive it, considers the game rules as a set of tools. The rules are hammers and wrenches, paint and brushes, chisels and saws. I use the rules to make the game as I go along. The game is created as it is played, by the choices the DM makes in how to use the rules, and the choices the players make in reacting to them.

Well, that's how I do it, anyway. Heh... "

Now, I don't think I'd change any of what I said in that post, but I think that what I was really thinking about was the difference in accepting the idea of abstract conflict resolution rules vs the idea of defined conflict resolution rules.
I'm pro TSR D&D because of the abstract nature of the rules. I think this is the very heart of the disconnect in approaches between the schools. As I said above, as a kid I wanted the strict yes or no approach to every situation in the game. I thought there was a problem if the rules didn't cover something.
But you can't cover everything in an RPG. We're simulating life and death in a fantasy world, not moving counters on a board. You just can't ever write a complete set of rules to deal with all possibilities, because the possibilities are infinite.
Abstraction in the rules is absolutely necessary to allow the Game Master to address unexpected and unplanned for situations, and those situations are exactly what give the game life.
This is what allows The Game to be the fantastic mind trip that it is at it's best. When you hammer down every last play option by hard wiring the rules to dictate that you must make the optimal choice or fail, you're not enhancing play, you're ensuring that it will be less than it can be.

At least, that's what I think. I'm going to go have some cake now. Buh-bye.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stargate SG-1 as latter day Sword & Planet.

Here is the cast shot for the first season of Stargate SG-1. SG-1 has become one of my top favorite Science Fiction tv shows of all time. At first, I didn't pay it any attention when it came on.
I saw the original Stargate movie in the theater, and though I thought it was a solid, B sci-fi movie, I didn't think it was great.
It was built of standard science fiction themes and ideas. An ancient alien transportation device, aliens built the pyramids, secret military base hiding alien technology, grim and troubled military man, eager and innocent young scholarly type, etc...
The movie didn't break any new ground, or surprise me in any way, but it was enjoyable, and it had a visual style and cinematography that was attractive.

I liked it, but I didn't give it much though after it was over. When the tv series was announced, and I heard they picked Richard Dean Anderson, of MacGyver fame, I wasn't thrilled.
I gave up on MacGyver when the guys and I never could get any of his little jerry-rigged devices to work the way they did on the show. I also didn't like the character himself, that may just have been the 80's though.

I started watching Stargate SG-1 during it's third season, because my wife was a MacGyver fan and she insisted. I thought it was only fair, since I had managed to turn her into a fan of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine.

Anderson surprised me. His take on Jack O'Neill was subtle and nuanced and showed a much greater depth of talent than I had given him credit for. We went out and bought the first three seasons on DVD, and then each succeeding season as soon as it was available.

The point of this post is that I see many themes in common between SG-1 and the Sword & Planet style of science fantasy exemplified by Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars series, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and many others.
Since this sort of fiction is a part of the pulp and fantasy fiction that colors the origins of The Game, I want to draw it to your attention.
SG-1 can be a mine of good ideas that you can apply to your own Sword & Planet campaign, as well as being a fun and imagination inspiring show in and of itself.

Sword & Planet almost always has a displaced Earth man, somehow transported to, and lost on, an alien world, confronted by alien monsters and strange cultures. The hero must face weird dangers and struggle to understand alien technology while fighting to survive in an unknown world.
Usually, the hero first fights, and then befriends a warlike alien fighter, who becomes his boon companion. There is often an academic, or scholar who provides technical assistance and knowledge, and a beautiful alien princess who fights by his side and provides the love interest for the story.

SG-1 gives this a contemporary treatment.
The hero, Jack O'neill, is part of a team instead of a lone figure. Teal'c, the Jaffa warrior and former First Prime of the System Lord Apophis fills the role of the boon companion. Samantha Carter is both the scientist and the beautiful princess at the same time. She is both Dr Zarchov and Dejah Thoris at once. Daniel Jackson is a combination of the scholar, and the kid side kick who often precipitates events with his rash actions.

Instead of being stuck on a single alien world, SG-1 visits many different worlds. Each one can present different threats and adventures, with the ultimate threat of the System Lords hanging over all.
SG-1 goes home after each adventure, resetting the show for the next one. It's nearly a serialized approach, like Buck Rogers, and also similar to the original Star Trek.

You can see this as similar to the many different cultures Flash Gordon encounters on Mongo, with the Goa'uld taking the place of Ming the Merciless. Or the various peoples of Barsoom that John Carter has to face.

Stargate went on to develop a mythos that's nearly as large and complex as that of Star Trek. It's a possible game universe that has endless possibilities. Nearly immortal aliens posing as gods spread humanity across the galaxy for thousands of years. Hundred of different human cultures from different times isolated and allowed to change to fit their new worlds. Incomprehensible and otherworldly technologies, inscrutable alien races, A DM could do just about anything with this.

The show runners and writers never really took this as far as they could have. I don't really know if they even realized the parallels between what they were doing and Sword & Planet fiction.
Once Anderson lost interest and pulled a Duchovny in season eight, SG- started to lose it's way quickly. Season eight was the first one we didn't run right out and buy, but when seasons nine and ten came along, they made eight look like Shakespeare in the park.

I liked Stargate Atlantis, but it never quite found it's feet. The whole thing just never quite seemed to gell. Once they started recycling and reimagining SG-1's old foes instead of breaking new ground, it got predictable fast.

The current show, Stargate Universe, is in a word, dreadful. They've taken all the worst elements of mainstream kiddy drama and combined them with the the most off-putting parts of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. It has that nauseating reality tv camera work, a constant dreary grimness, and a shipload of unsympathetic, disfunctional characters who just seem to wack up against each other in an unending orgy of selfishness and short sightedness.

I really like the Ancient ship itself though, and the Stargate on board is very nice. It looks like a first generation version of the SG-1 stargate.
That's about all that's good about Stargate Universe though. I will note that the standard issue kid genius isn't totally repugnant, as far as characters go. I don't remember his name.

I saw a few of the game books that where put out for the Stargate SG-1 rpg, but I never got to actually read them. They were priced at over 40 bucks a book at the time, and I didn't buy them. I'm not sure what sort of system they used, and I don't think that system is really as important as the idea and the feel in this case.
There really aren't any elements of the show that haven't appeared in other fiction or rpgs. A Stargate game would really be more a matter of theme and flavor than specific rules for the most part.

If any of you are fans of the show, what system would you use to run an SG-1 game?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Enough whining about DMs! What do you want from your Players?

There just sometimes seems to be no end of the carping and bitching and whining about DMs exercising their Gary-given powers. It's the Authoritarian DM, or the Adversarial DM, or the Viking-hat DM, or the Killer DM. DM fiat is abhorred as unbalanced and "deprotagonizing".
If you see someone actually use the term deprotagonize, grab your dice and run. Those people are black holes of gaming, from which no fun can escape.

I think that I can fairly assume that if you're reading a blog on the internet about out of print Dungeons & Dragons, that you're probably a DM

So, what is it that you want from your players?

It's great if you have players who'll bring snacks, or help set up, or clean up after. But that's just what you want from any guest. The thing I want most from players, in game, is for them to ask me questions.

Ask lots of questions, about the NPCs, about the buildings, about the horses, about the road, about the doors, about the walls, about the tavern keeper, about the moneylender, about the halfling hanging in an iron cage at the crossroads. If I don't have something written down, I'll make it up, right then.

It's not going to throw off my story, because I'm not fricken telling a story. I've got no idea what the heck's going to happen next. I'm not running an improvisational theater troupe. Dice come with the game for a reason.

Each question asked adds to the reality of the game world. Each one contributes some new, tiny bit of knowledge that reinforces the sense of immersion that I want to build.
Especially the inconsequential little things. The stuff that doesn't directly effect play is just as important as the things that do.

This is a Role Playing Game, and not just a combat simulator. The world has to have depth, it has to breath. And, if you can describe that breath as sour, and ragged, and drawn through stained snaggle teeth, it's ten times better than just counting the number per round.

I want to hear questions because it indicates a level of investment in the game. People who are just phoning it in, and just sit there waiting to be spoon fed warm, pre-chewed adventure piss me off. I expect engagement in my players.

I think the second thing I really want is for every player to be willing to play along with every other player.
There's lots of different play styles out there. Thespians, Strategists, Hackers, Game players, what have you. It's nearly arguing about pin-dancing angels to try and define them all, so I don't.

The thing I want is for each player at the table to recognize that they have a preferred style, and so do the others. I want them to make allowances for each other, and play like a team. Not necessarily an in-game team like a tactical assault squad, but like a group of experienced players of any sport who realize that everyone has something they're best at, and lets that player shine when the opportunity arises.

I will create at least the possibility of situations arising which play to the strong suites of the styles of everybody at the table. I want everyone to have a chance to get what they want out of the game, and I want the players to do their part to make sure this happens as well.

I think of this as the, "humor the Bard rule".

Do unto others, gentlemen. And let the good times roll.