Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interview with the Troll

Let's just say I can't think of a good way to start this...

So how about a little Q&A with the Blogspot Troll (Otus drawn, natch) so you can take a peek at what I'm all about?

OtusTroll: So good to have you with us today.....

Badmike: God this is stupid, let's just do it....

OT: When and where did you start playing D&D?

BM: That would be spring of 1978, here in Texas (I'm a life long Texan) in a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth were I went to high school. I was introduced at the end of my first year in high school. A new neighbor (who I am still friends with, btw) moved into the area and kept raving about this new game they all played in his hometown of Maryland. We both went out and found the Holmes boxed set at a local hobby store, brought it home, and the rest is history. I've been playing RPGs ever since.

OT: Did you continue playing Holmes style?

BM: No, we switched to AD&D almost immediately, even if we did have to wait for the DMG to be published. Having no access to the original white box (I seem to remember having a Greyhawk supplement) we had to wing a bunch of it at the time, including most of the magic items.

OT: Do you still play 1st edition AD&D?

BM: No, we switched to 2E when it came out and have stayed there since. I have a lot of fond memories of the original AD&D game, but we had houseruled it so much that when 2E was released, it was pretty darn close to the game we were already playing. It was a pretty seamless switch, and I've never went back. I do play the occasional 1E or Holmes version D&D game at conventions or for special occasions.

OT: What about 3E?

BM: Uh, no.

OT: 4E?

BM: I'm pretty comfortable playing what we play now. Over the past couple of decades our house rules have been adjusted and codified enough that I'm perfectly satisfied with them; new editions are just more rules to learn. Often we'll have sessions where I never glance at the rule book once.

OT: Do you regularly play any other RPGs?

BM: Unfortunately, I don't at this time. There is just a finite amount of free time you have when you get older and have more responsibilities. I have, however, played a lot of Call of Cthulhu (my second favorite RPG after D&D), and have run a long going campaign of Villains and Vigilantes back in the 80s. My group also dabbled in Gamma World, Top Secret, Champions, and a few others. I actually haven't played a lot of RPGs outside of the ones I mentioned, although I've collected almost every system put out before the 90s.

OT: Do you play any boardgames?

BM: I am really not a "boardgame" type person; one of the reasons I enjoy RPGs so much is that I hate to lose with a passion, and always have, as far back as I can remember. I remember getting furious losing a game of Monopoly when I was maybe 12, and pretty much giving up on boardgames at that point. When I discovered RPGs, I realized the abstract system was perfect for me, with no real "winner" or "loser" to gum things up. The result is nowadays I'll only play a boardgame I have a better than average chance of winning. Games of pure chance are straight out. I enjoy a game of Trivial Pursuit every once in awhile, along with Dungeon, Search for the Emperor's Treasure, Arkham Horror, and Talisman. Divine Right is one boardgame I still love to this day, even if it takes all day to play.

OT: So you mostly concentrated on RPGs, specifically AD&D. And it seems that most of your formative gaming years were spent in the "Golden Age" of RPGs, specifically 1974-1982 or thereabouts. Can you tell us a little about that?

BM: It was really a great time to start gaming. I was the DM probably 90% of the time simply because no one else wanted to, and I was fine with that. I always loved peering "behind the curtain" and knowing what was behind the next doorway. I wasn't much of a "creator", more of an "adaptor", so I would run all the TSR modules as they were released, but changed up considerably over what was on the page. I think I've run pretty much every published adventure that came out before 1986, some more than once (some many more; I've run B1 several dozen times). At any one time I would have at least two campaigns going, one was my original group (which gamed from 1978 through 1986) that ran through most of the classic TSR modules of the period including the GDQ series. The other group started later, about 1981 or so when I started college, and ran through a lot of the lower level classic modules like the U series, A series, and most of the I-Series, and later on the S-series. I'd throw in the occasional Judges Guild or Dragon magazine adventure for good measure. The trick wasn't writing them, it was taking a finished product and adapting it to whatever level the party was and changing it up enough so that it felt like "mine". I never understood how anyone ever had the time to write an adventure from scratch! I was pretty busy with school and work during those years, and played RPGs every chance I got,

What was great back in those days was the lack of familiarity with RPGs was actually a plus when you were trying to recruit people to play. That along with the fact that EVERYONE just played ONE sort of D&D....the question wasn't "Do you play ODD/1E/2E/3E/4E", but "Do you want to learn this really cool new game?". The plethora of worlds that would come with 2E, as well as the different editions and styles of play, hurt the hobby more than anything else I can think of....particularly the divisiveness that is now worn as a badge of honor by a lot of gamers. Back in the day, you sat down and played, and didn't particularly cared if it was white box, 1E, Moldvay, Mentzer, etc. You were just playing "D&D" and sometimes you would mix it up; I played in Howardian games, Lovcraftian games, Vancian games, Burroughsian games, whatever. To this day I can't even remember what edition or rules set most of them were. The fact that now people will "only" play Type X D&D but never Types Y & Z is really quite an odd mindset to me after almost 40 years of our hobby.

Anyway it was a great time for could always find a group, and there was always a game going on somewhere. I remember at one time playing a pickup game at my college while at the other tables there were games of Runequest, Traveller and Boot Hill going on. So you could table hop and play medieval fantasy, SF and western RPGS all in one day! For all I know that kind of stuff is still going on, but I doubt it....with all the other attention stoppers like minis and CCGs I doubt you could find that sort of variety in your average gameshop or college campus. But maybe I'm wrong, I'm starting to fall into the role of an old fogy these days....

OT: Back to D&D, do you consider yourself "Old School?"

BM: I think it's getting harder to define Old School. Is it a system? A philosophy? A way of playing? I enjoy nostalgia but I think a lot of those who call themselves "Old School" get really caged in by a set of tropes that stagnate rather than expand the possibilities. I come from the school of "If you're having fun, it's all good". Unfortunately a lot of old schoolers seem to come from the school of "If you're not doing it my way (or the old way), you aren't doing it right." I understand a lot of people don't want to use any set of rules that was released post-Gygax when it comes to D&D, it's a "thing" with them and I respect that. There are groups that can't wait to roll through the Caves of Chaos for the 99th time, and more power to them (I just ran B2 myself last year). It does get a bit ridiculous IMO when someone is really proud about the fact they haven't picked up anything published after 1986, or haven't given a look to any adventure published by Necromancer games, or think that anything that makes the game easier (say, the CD rom core rules for 2E) is the tool of the devil, etc. They are missing a lot of good stuff. It's like saying all fantasy writing stopped with Tolkien, or with Howard, or Lovecraft. Which come to think of it, there are those out there also.

So obviously I dislike when the "Old School" starts becoming the equivalent of the old man shouting "Get off my lawn, you young punks!" and instead of trying to become inclusive, revels in their ability to put up roadblocks. Value judgements based on minor changes in the rules really get my dander up. I appreciate that people still enjoy the "old way" of doing things; I think it's against the heart and soul of the games to tell others they are doing it wrong.

But yeh, sure, give me a 16 level megadungeon and a party with a elven mage, dwarven fighter, halfling thief and human cleric and I'm happy as a clam.

OT: Do you support the Simulacrum gaming renaissance?

BM: Actually yes. I think it's very cool. I've read through most of these (Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords and Wizardry) and really appreciate the feeling behind them. I'm a big supporter!

OT: Ok, this is turning into a short novel. I'm just going to run through a few quick thoughts having to do with D&D. Just give a short comment, these should pigeonhole you for the masses.....

BM: Me, a short answer?

OT: Favorite Authors?

BM: Howard, CAS, Lovecraft, Saki, Karl Wagner, David Gemmell, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon. I am a huge pulp fiction fan and enjoy a lot of the crime stuff from the 30s-50s.

OT: Favorite TSR modules?

BM: B1 In Search of the Unknown (it may be the "perfect" beginning adventure); I1 Forbidden City; Ruins of Undermountain; L1 Bone Hill; the entire GDQ cycle.

OT: Favorite non-TSR modules?

BM: Anything by The Companions; Midkemia city supplements like Carse or Tulan; Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia by Judges Guild; Starstone.

OT: Favorite gaming world?

BM: Actually, my own. I've DM'd in both Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, but in the past 15 years I've come to realize that your campaign is not truly your own until you create your own campaign world. It truly re-energizes you, and keeps your players guessing.

OT: Some of your house rules?

BM: No level draining undead (STR and CON pts are drained instead); no level limits for Demi-humans; very limited alignment choices; all priests are specialty priests; demi-humans aren't abnormally long lived (200 yrs at most); ability rolls to decide some actions; probably a lot more I can't think of off the top of my head.

OT: If the dice told you to TPK a 1st level party in the 1st room of B1, would you do it?

BM: Hmm, interesting question. If they had done something unforgivably stupid maybe. Otherwise probably not...I'd work it into the story somehow (maybe they would be captured by their foes to be sold into slavery, so I'd give them a chance to work up an escape plan). I'm not a big believer in the TPK even if the dice dictate it. The dice aren't my boss.

OT: Would you let a player roll up an assassin character?

BM: Nope. Been there, done that, have the scars to show for it.

OT: Blunt weapons only for Clerics?

BM: Unless their God says otherwise, and in my campaign many do say otherwise. I have clerics that use daggers, spears and swords in my games.

OT: You randomly roll up +5 platemail as a treasure in a low level dungeon. Do you let your players keep it?

BM: I don't randomly roll up treasure....

OT: Backgrounds for PCs, or just roll 'em up and play 'em?

BM: I like backgrounds, but nothing more than a couple of sentences, I like to avoid the "Dragonlance" syndrome where everyone has a gut wrenching back story. OTOH, I don't like throw away characters either, because if players know you don't care then they will show you how little they care themselves in their style of play. The player that will rush the red dragon with a dagger because "he can just roll up another one in a couple minutes". There has to be some small attachment to that piece of paper with numbers on it, otherwise there is chaos.

OT: Anything controversial you want to add?

BM: Let's see; I use a laptop and the core rules cd Rom when I DM instead of a screen; psionics have no place in D&D, and I consider gamers who play strictly "by the book" imagination-less bores. Nothing else right now.

OT: Thanks, and happy to join you on your blogspot!

BM: Anything Otus is fine by me...!

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