Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Bout That Time Again....Drama!

Ah, it's been awhile since the latest dust up that lets gamers get all indignant and go on about suppression of freedom, oppression of free choice, and dire conspiracy theories....but enough about whether Edition 5.0 is reality or not....

The publication of the module "Insidious" by Die Cast Press has finally penetrated the blogger consciousness and the result is the typical S-storm such events bring. The main point of contention seems to be the use (front and center) of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover, while availing themselves of the OGL at the same time. Reactions at Grognardia and The Underdark Gazette from the common folk seem to be full of doom and gloom that this gives "THEM" the ammo they need to finally awaken the ghost of Lorraine Williams and come at the OSR, retro-clone movement, and anyone with even a thought about publishing a D&D compatible item with both guns blazing (Yes, there have actually been comments about C&Ds, carpet bombing, IP and's 1994 and T$R all over again!!!).

Unless the WOTC police are coming to my house to pry my 1E and 2E books out of my hands (ok, they can have the Wilderness Survival Guide, but that's it), it shouldn't affect me one bit...nor should it affect the die-hards who have been slogging through these dramas for the last 30 years. We have been creating, self-publishing and sharing material before the Lorraine Williams driven internet purges of the '90s (btw, how did that work out for them? Sure shut down those ruffians for good!!!) and will continue until they pry our solar powered cognition memory boards out of our cold, dead hands sometime in 2050 or so....

Some observations:

1. This is a genius marketing move by Die Cast. Either nothing happens to them and they sell tons of modules due to the publicity of marketing a (gasp) ILLEGAL module, or they get a C&D letter and promptly stop publishing after having sold tons of modules due to the publicity...while holding back a handful of copies for collectible purposes (think a 2010 version of an Orange B3). Props.

2. Maybe Rob Kuntz was right when he said (during the Kask/Raggi flap) one didn't even need the OGL to publish compatible material...

3. Didn't Kenzer just publish a "compatible with 4E" box set awhile back? Anything happen to them?

4. If Hasbro was going to go after "everyone" as the result of this, even those legally abiding by the OGL, wouldn't they start with Paizo? Aren't they the only ones really making any money off this stuff? You know, Paizo, the guys who just won a dozen Ennies....yeh that'll happen.

5. And why all the sad faces and wringing hands from the guys who are diligently following the rules? The one guy that steps outside the lines is going to finish you all off? Sounds like a pretty precarious deal you got there....should have kept publishing under the table stuff using Microsoft Publisher on the home computer. Oh, wait, you could STILL do that even if tomorrow WOTC told everyone in the world to stop writing your own stuff, we really mean it....

6. Reminds me of the time way back when, I admitted on an online forum that I used to photocopy Dragon magazines back in the 80s and give them to friends....which prompted lots of "seruz biznez" posts about what an awful pig I was by breaking the law like that. While our hobby attracts some of the most intelligent, creative and imaginative guys in the world, it also seems to be a magnet to the most overly anal retentive, finger pointing, tattle taling, hyperbole spouting conspiracy theorists ever.

7. As I understand it, the OGL is for perpetuity. As in forever. Right? So when the Negative Nellies drone on how this will make things more "difficult" for publishers using the OGL, what are they talking about exactly?

8. Just THINK of all the good will WOTC would engender to gamers should they come down on the OSR like a ton of bricks. Why, look at the reverence and respect gamers even today hold a figure like Lorraine Williams after her actions of the 1990s. One can only imagine, with the preponderance of blogs, internet forums, and you tube personalities of today, how such a well-intentioned public relations move such as this would endear the failing 4E even MORE to gamer nation!

9. Man, the OSR sure has gone respectible. I remember when the OSR was a bunch of scruffy dudes with hand drawn maps, photocopied rules sets, and badly drawn artwork trying to set the world on fire. Now they are the "suits" with the haircuts and ties and pinstripes driving 55 in their Volvos. Hey, I understand, I know a lot of guys who stood in line with me for Clash tickets back in 82 that love a good Dave Matthews Band hoedown these days....

10. Everyone is just mad because they didn't think of it first (See Post #1)......

Sandbox fun in The Lost Frontier

In prior posts I've talked briefly about a sandbox campaign I've set up for play when everyone can't show up for my "regular" campaign. The Lost Frontier has seen four sessions since then, and while I have been remiss at getting up the play by play, it's been going along exactly as planned. So far, there has been a different mix of players each time, with last week's session having the most players (four, with five PCs)and things being suitably, well, sandboxy.

Last week's session was remarkable in that as a DM I had to engage in not one, not two, but three complete focus shifts until the "real" adventure happened, which just highlights how non-scripted and seat of the pants such a campaign can become. The session started with the group meeting in the favorite inn/tavern of the town of Barnacus, and me presenting them with several (randomly rolled up) rumors from a rumor sheet of about 20+ adventure seeds. Some had been heard before, and dismissed (for the second time, a certain PC decided there was NO WAY he was going to try to find out why intelligent white apes were attacking caravans going to and from the city). Finally settling on a tried and true cliche ("A village at the foot of the mountains has had several young ladies kidnapped for an unknown fate")the party hired three NPC fighters, bought a pack mule, and headed off.

On the way to the adventure, the party passed through an area where undead were said to be attacking people. The party clerics decided it would be a good idea to look into this while they were in the neighborhood, so convinced the party to just stop and take a look-see. This led to a battle with ghasts and a delve into a underground crypt, and a room with four doorways, all with cryptic clues to which sort of undead lay within. The first room they choose was a skeletal figure on a throne, and after disturbing it, it waved it's finger at them....and teleported them all far away. To a completely different adventure!

They ended up spending the afternoon battling a small orc army (over 200 strong) protecting a freehold on the edge of civilized lands,and getting a better view of the wider campaign area (and the subtle idea that orcs are once again building up to another invasion of civilized lands, something that happens every decade or so with alarming regularity in The Lost Frontier).

For my part, I enjoyed the fact that the adventuring focus changed three times: from rescuing village lasses, to cleaning out a tomb of undead, to defending a fortress against orcs, and it was more or less all player driven. Had different decisions been made at approximately any point (choosing a different initial rumor, not investigating the undead, certainly not choosing the tomb of the Crypt Thing over the other three tombs) we would have had a totally different experience. It definitely kept me on my toes, even if I experienced the mental whiplash of three entirely different DM foci in the period of an hour! Typical adventuring behavior seems to have players focus in on one goal (which happened the 2nd and 3rd sessions, as two different groups decided to clean out one dungeon due to the rapidly escalating reward for such an endeavor) and move on from there. I'm interested in seeing where the more scattered sandbox approach will leave the landscape (half-finished dungeons? Rumors never followed up on? Threats ignored that will have to be dealt with "off stage"?)

Interestingly, hex crawling is a perfectly viable endeavor in my sandbox, yet the players have yet to go about adventuring in that way, although I hope they do at some point; simply because I've taken the ridiculous amount of time to plant over 1000 adventure seeds, treasures, NPCs, ruins, dungeons and what-not in the campaign area.

Probably my only "disappointment" so far has been no character deaths. NPCs have not been so lucky, and the different groups have been smart in hiring cannon fodder every time out (once losing four NPCs in a single session in a dungeon delve near town). If this keeps up the group may develop a reputation in town (although the NPCs that do survive are very comfortably compensated, so this might mitigate the criticism somewhat among possible hirelings). These are all experienced players, however, who know the value of caution, retreating, and can recognize a threat that is too dangerous for their low level group (an entreaty from the priests of the Temple of Elemental Fire hiring adventurers to clean out their temple invaded by rogue fire creatures met with nothing more than a chuckle or two). Now that the two longest lived characters are 2nd and 3rd level, I'm interested in seeing the player's reactions if/when these characters bite the dust, and they are forced to begin again from scratch. In the other campaign I run, characters that die are raised by their companions; I'm wondering if this same dynamic will hold in the much looser confederation of "game as you go" sandbox playing style. Certainly in the case of the lost NPCs no consideration beyond running away was taken in their unfortunate deaths....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Three Castles Design Award

One of the joys of creating and running a convention like the NTRPG Con is the ability to actually influence people's gaming habits. Whether it's the fact you've managed to convince gamers from all around the US (and some from out of the country) to attend your little shindig, or the fact they sit around meeting and gaming with old school gaming luminaries like Rob Kuntz, Tim Kask, Paul Jaquays, Steve Winter, Dennis Sustare and others, or maybe they will be introduced to a RPG they would have never thought about picking up like The World of Urutsk or Swords & Wizardry...well you get the idea. It's a little like being a DM, setting up the convention (dungeon), giving people choices and watching them decide what to do with those choices....except unlike a dungeon adventure there is no chance for a TPK.

Besides the fun of bringing old school gaming to a bunch of really great gamers, through our association with Rob Kuntz the NTRPG Con was able to begin a tradition that I hope will go many, many years (well, at least ten years, as this is as long as we have guaranteed to run the NTRPG Con). The Three Castles award was created by Rob Kuntz and Doug Rhea, and it's purpose is to recognize excellence in gaming design. The three castles in question---Greyhawk, Blackmoor and El Raja Key---were the three original megadungeons, and their legacy has influenced fantasy roleplaying to this day.

Here is Rob's original post explaining the award; below is the criteria for the award, which can also be found on the NTRPG Con website.

Needless to say I'm very proud to be part of this award and of the process itself. I hope everyone reading this who has published something since October of last year throws their hat in the ring. The award is absolutely beautiful and an incredible item to have upon your shelf looking down on you....don't miss this chance to be part of the first ever Three Castles Award.

1) This is an RPG award. Qualified works must be printed and bound (*) and
include the following categories: RPG rules, settings, adventures, sourcebooks
and/or combinations of these. No fiction, board games, miniatures, electronic
media, magazines or loose game aids (cards, screens, etc). Where the design is
unique and might make use of a board or other unique components, please
query with a detailed synopsis and sample copy of the work. Enclose an SASE if
you want the sample returned.
(*) Only the following binding types are acceptable: hard bound, perfect bound, saddle-stitched
(at least 2 staples), spiral bound and comb.
2) This is a DESIGNERS award. Companies may submit titles from their author
base, however, if a win occurs the award will be sent to the lead designer. The
plate attached to the trophy will be inscribed with up to two (2) designer names in
the cases of co-authorship. The press release regarding the win will specifically
mention the company name with address that the product was published
through. An entry is automatically disqualified when no designer name appears
in the submitted printed work.
3) No more than two (2) titles may be submitted by any one company or
independent designer in a year.
4) Submissions open October 1st and close December 31st. All published works
from the current year and those published in the last three (3) months of the past
year can be entered for consideration. Final Publication Date Range: Oct 1st
(previous year) to Oct 1st (current year).
5) This is a multi-stage qualification process. Each entrant must initially submit
two (2) copies of each work that they wish considered. Submissions will be
reviewed by the Steering Committee for the final round. If the entry(ies) makes it
to the final round starting January 31st you will be informed to submit an
additional four (4) copies of each work that qualified for final adjudication (note
the 3C Award Judges below). You will be informed by email and mail that one or
more of the entries made it to the final round. The cut-off date for us to receive
your additional copies is February 15th. The Judges’ final decision will be
received no later than May 1st. The winner will be announced at NTRPGCON in
June. All dates are final and if not met will unfortunately disqualify entries from
further consideration. Unless otherwise noted submitted materials are not
returned to the entrants. We strongly suggest that you purchase tracking
services for parcels you send to the 3C Award Steering Committee.
6) There can be only one (1) award awarded per year. This is an award for true
excellence in RPG design. As such the guidelines for adjudication are detailed
and stringent. The 3C Award Judges may rule that no entry qualifies to be
awarded and thus no award would be issued that year.
7) Complete the following entry form in full once or each title submitted and
enclose it with the mailing(s). This form is not required for the final round
(additional) submissions.

The 3C Award Judges for 2011 are:
Dennis Sustare
Paul Jaquays
Steven J. Winter
Tim Kask
Robert J. Kuntz

The full info on the award can be found here at the NTRPGCON website.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tim Kask Adventures At NTRPG Con

First post in a month and I'm pimping the con; hopefully I can put out some game related stuff in the next few days or I'll have to admit this blog is nothing but a fancy promo instrument for NTRPG Con!

The NTRPG Con is proud to announce we will be selling limited edition booklet copies of Tim Kask's adventures "High in the Hellgate Mountains" and "Temple of the Weaver Queen" at the con. ONLY AVAILABLE at the con, in limited quantities of 50 copies each, these adventures were presented (respectively) at the 2009 Gencon Acaeum Game and 2009 NTRPG Con, and have never been available before except in extremely rare DM copies auctioned or given away at the Gen Con Acaeum dinner or NTRPG Con #1.

The adventures will be in small booklet form, limited to one per attendee, with only 50 copies available of each adventure. Tim plans in the future to present these and other specially written adventures in a more traditional format, but for right now this is the ONLY way to get a look at two great old school OD&D adventures in their original form!

I've read both of Tim's adventures, and they don't come more old school. Tim Kask, 1st editor for Dragon magazine and one of the first TSR employees, stopped taking in D&D rules and other innovations about 1979 or so, thus his stuff is firmly rooted in the OD&D/White Box tradition. Some day these and other adventures from Tim''s marvelous imagination will see more wide-spread appreciation when he has them printed up in a more proper format. Until then, they will only be available at NTRPG Con.

As an item of interest, "Temple of the Weaver Queen" produced the con's first TPK last year at the Friday night game. Something about a lich riding a nightmare......!

Each year we hope to present some of these booklet sized, con only collectibles so NTRPG Con can be on the map as a "Must attend" for old school players, writers, designers and collectors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trust Me....Again

Following a recent theme, and after reading some of Lord Kilgore's musings on the critical hit, I myself have some follow ups to my notion of "trust" being one of the more important DM/PC factors in a successful game.

In regards to criticals, I don't use them, but we did dabble in the past (leading to one of the most amusing tales in my D&D career when my father tried to sit down and play with us long ago, a story for another time). Criticals are fun (when they happen to the other guy, natch), giving an unexpected bonus to that 5% chance of rolling a natural 20 when attacking in D&D. Likewise when you roll a "1" and the other guy's sword breaks or he hits the guy next to him (again, not as much fun when it happens to you). Who knows where the idea of criticals first originated...people that weren't satisfied by getting a sure thing hit wanted more? Sure sounds like a generation of entitled gamers to me! But I kid, I kid...

Sidestepping entirely the idea of criticals (which is a long bit of potential subject matter in itself), is the way I approach the die rolls of "20" and "1" in my own campaigns. I tend to wait for particularly dramatic moments, and if either is rolled, it will affect game play in a way that I come with completely off the fly, apropos to the dramatic potential. While not absolutely consistent, I feel like it flows with the style of old school gaming I enjoy, and I've rarely had complaints from my players because (as in most cases) the results usually even out over the course of a campaign.

There are only two absolutes: First, if battling an opponent with only a handful of hit points left (say, 2-3), and a 20 is rolled, I don't even require a roll for damage....whatever rolled, the bad guy is brought down in a particularly explosive way (decapitation, sword through the body, arm whacked off, etc)....basically a nat 20 against someone on the ropes is an instant kill. Likewise, if firing into melee, a roll of "1" guarantees you will strike one of your buddies in the back of the head (ouch). Those are probably the only two guaranteed good/bad results of rolling a "20" or a "1" in my campaigns.

That rule in and of itself isn't particularly noteworthy or controversial. However, in particularly dramatic situations, a nat 20 can lead to interesting results. In a recent battle, a low level party was battling a foe far above their experience level (a fire lizard) who had just torched (literally) half the party and was chasing fleeing characters all over it's cavern lair. The party was making missile attacks work well against the menace, as in a stand up fight any of them would die easily under the lizard's claws, bite or breath weapon. Truthfully the party was inches away from a TPK, and when one character attempted a hit and run attack against the lizard and then turned to run for the safety of a nearby rock formation, the lizard scurried after him. Another character stated he was firing his bow at the giant lizard, trying to distract it. He rolled a natural 20, and so adding to the drama of the situation, I had the arrow miraculously strike the fire lizard in the eye! The now half-blinded, pain maddened lizard forgot about the retreating character, and was eventually brought down by the party's fired arrows (now emboldened by the fighter's lucky arrow hit, they rallyed for the win). It added to the touch and go aspect of the situation, by giving excitement and an entirely unexpected result, and the players were talking about the lucky arrow strike for hours afterwards.

That's what a crit should do, give players a bonus in a dicey situation, but even more, that's what trust can do in a game situation....there is no "rolled missile chart for crits" in my game....I made up the result on the fly to conform to the game situation, and it worked well. Now, for the opposite side, you ask what would happen if the fighter had rolled a "1" instead of a "20" in that tense situation. Well, I don't rightly know, being separated by the event by several weeks, but any number of dramatic situations....perhaps his bow would break, or the arrow would strike his fleeing friend in the back, or maybe even nothing except for a particularly bad miss....I would have decided on the spur of the moment based on what I thought was the best and most dramatic application of the bad roll.

Can every group have this dynamic? Of course not. Rules lawyers and BTB nuts would scream and howl bloody murder at such seat of the pants decision making. Where is the chart? The mechanic? The exploding dice? The rules, dammit! Such a method requires trust between a DM and his players....a willingness for players to accept the results such as this as it was...a lucky break, and likewise, a bad result as just one of those days when nothing goes right.

Now, this same character later on was battling a foe in a slippery, dark and muddy area, got to experience the other side of the coin. In battle against a minotaur (another tough foe for a low level party), they rolled a "1", which led to my ruling the character had done a total pratfall and landed on his butt. They had to spend a round gathering themselves and their weapon, but luckily nothing worse happened (the opponent randomly elected to attack a different party member that round). The player accepted it without asking to consult the rulebook to see if he really should have fallen in that situation...they had rolled a "1", the conditions were rough, and they fully expected in another dramatic situation that "something" was going to happen. I could have had the sword fly out of their hands, had it break, had them hit a nearby friend, or just make it a particularly bad swing. Once again, the decision was all with me.

There must be a level of trust between DM and player to have this happen, and it seems to be a particularly old school sensibility in that regard. I've noticed "newer" players (aka post-2000) tend to not enjoy my spur of the moment statements as to the result of a "20" or "1" in critical situations. Often they will ask for a saving throw, or a roll against their ability (DEX seems to be the most stated ability, aka "My DEX is 18, how did I fall down on the ice when my DEX is that high?"), or just grumble under their breath. Interestingly, this happens EVEN IF they have benefited in the past from a rolled crit, or the bad guy rolling an unexpected "1" and having their asses handed to them as a result. It's not about "fairness" or "balance" as much as it is about "What do the rules say?". Now I must say I rarely play with newer gamers so my experience in this regard is limited. One hard core 3E player I had for awhile hated my application of crits and misses; she kept bugging me to create a "chart" so that "some players" (aka herself) wouldn't think I was just picking on them. I told her the entire point of my method was that it was unpredictable and based on dramatic potential in the situation, something a chart or list could never quantify. I (and my regulars) explained I was very fair and would never DIRECTLY kill a character because of a bad roll (although the result could make their life difficult). She was still unconvinced and I think the idea there wasn't a official system in place made her nervous.

I do know that this method would not work with most groups, including a lot of old school players. Even back in the "good old days" a huge segment of RPG gaming was "Us vs Them", or "DM vs Player", I know because I experienced some of these games (and hated them). A competitive DM would look to the dice to screw you six ways to Sunday, and a savvy player would NEVER surrender such a spot decision to DM whim (based on the fact that this sort of DM would use a bad dice roll to nail you to the floor while conveniently "forgetting" to reward you for a crit). So perhaps this isn't necessary a old school or new school attitude; instead it seems to be situational based on the maturity of players and DM, experience, and how comfortable a group is with everyone else in the group. I've been very lucky the last few decades or so to play with mostly old schoolers, and except for my brother (who deep in his heart STILL feels after 30 years of gaming with me I'm out to get him!) they accept my decisions with a shrug of the shoulders and "hand me the dice, let's roll again" attitude. I wonder how many DMs out there are at this sort of comfort level with players, and if it's more palatable to old schoolers than the post-2000 crowd?

However lucky I am now I've had two groups the last two decades that I had to drop the practice with; one was a large group consisting of a LOT of schemers and a few players did not trust the other characters enough to wonder if I was somehow unconsciously influencing the application of crits and misses (one guy was so paranoid he was actually keeping his own scratch sheet detailing how often a rolled crit or "1" went for or against him or his rival in the party); another was the aforementioned 3E player who was so rattled by the entire thing we dropped it rather than completely freak her out (she ended up leaving after a few months anyway).

Next I'll talk about the most gigantic application of DM/Player trust I ever had to administer in game and the result...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

D&D and Dopamine

I just finished Jonah Lehrer’s excellent book on memory and the decision making process, “How We Decide”. The book is highly recommended if you want a little inner peek at how and why we make the decisions we do in our day to day lives.

One thing that Lehrer focuses on is the presence of dopamine neurons and their effect on our decision making processes. The nucleus accubens (NAcc), the part of the brain that makes you feel happy and generates pleasurable feelings, is what produces dopamine. Dopamine regulates not only the pleasure centers but all our emotions, the molecule in ourselves that literally controls us. Dopamine neurons are working all the time, constantly generating emotions, feelings and “patterns” that lead to pleasurable impulses (they can lead to negative emotions also if something not-as-expected turns up, such as expecting a desert of chocolate cake and getting lima beans instead might induce)

To make a long story short (and I heartily advise reading the book to learn more about how dopamine controls our lives), our decision making is often controlled by the pleasure we will receive when we get a dopamine “hit” to the brain after making a “good” choice. Now, I’ve known for years (ever since reading about how junkies, gamblers and sex addicts are afflicted with excess dopamine surges) that the pleasurable “high” I experience when, say, walking into a game store or opening a new D&D module is dopamine related. However, after reading this book, it amazed me how many activities related to D&D (and sometimes not even directly related) trigger the pleasure neurons and leave me with a happy feeling akin to a drug high. I made a list of D&D related activities that I am absolutely convinced cause dopamine surges in my brain and wash away any negative or bad feelings I might have at the time:

Looking at any classic “blue-white” map;

Looking at an unpainted lead miniature;

Looking at or drawing on graph or hex paper;

Rolling 3 or 4 six sided dice six times;

Flipping through a book of D&D monsters (any, but the 1E Monster Manual seems to have the best effect);

Seeing the cover of a classic pre-#100 Dragon magazine;

Opening D&D PDFs on my computer;

Seeing the names “Gygax, “Kuntz”, “Mentzer” or “Kask” almost anywhere;

Seeing, holding or rolling polyhedral dice;

Booting up the Core Rules Expansion CD on my computer;

Looking at any Trampier, Otus or Sutherland artwork;

Hearing certain albums like Led Zepplin IV, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, or The Who’s Who’s Next (all albums we were listening to intently while running our first campaign back in 1978-79 with G1-3; to this day hearing Zepplin’s Misty Mountain Hop makes me instantly remember G2 Glacier of the Frost Giant Jarl);

By extension, the word “Giant”, especially preceded by "Hill", "Frost", "Fire", "Stone" or "Cloud";

Looking at the underground hex map of the classic D "Descent" series;

Seeing the word “Greyhawk” almost anywhere;

Seeing the large first level poster map of Undermountain;

Sharpening a fistful of pencils with the same electric pencil sharpener I’ve had since high school;

Touching the smoothness of a Chessex battlemat;

Seeing any sort of “random generation” chart, whether it be for names, weapons, skills, locations, etc as long as you have to use a d12, d20 or d100;

What D&D related activities/word associations trigger dopamine surges of pleasure in your brain?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing

Michael on the Old Guy RPG Blog had a really insightful post about DM failure. I thought the entire post was quite illuminating and this is one of my favorite blogs simply because Chgowiz allows us very intimate looks at his thought processes, as well as both his successes and failures while running a sandbox type campaign in his unique setting.

I had a lot to say about this, but didn't want to entirely monopolize the comments section (although my two long posts probably did just that). After thinking about it some more last night, I think there are a lot of reasons this sort of thing happens. It happened back in 1979 when I started playing, and it happens to this day, which says as gamers (and humans) we haven't advanced much in the past three decades when it comes to trust issues. Because, when it all boils down to it, the DM/Player relationship, and really the entire gaming experience, comes down to trust.

Michael has a quote that really summed up (to me at least) the entire DM experience:

"I was hurt... hurt that after a year of playing together, after a tough game my players would think I would permanently fuck someone over with a no-win scenario."

I have been there, and I feel for him. Since we first started playing, being a DM to me seemed like a natural calling. I get my kicks out of creating the NPCs, the plots, the bad guys, the monsters, the settings, the worlds, that others adventure in....the lure of actually playing paled next to actually being the guy who pulled all the strings. So, my DM to Player ratio is surely something like 9 to 1, as I rarely enjoy sitting on the other side of the screen saving the princess...I want to be the one who locked her up to begin with! I think a lot of DMs are authors (frustrated or not) and DMing is a very cheap "fix" for us.

As a DM, I pride myself as being an impartial arbiter, although not always perfect (I think it's foolish to assume a DM can divorce all emotion from his game), I have trained myself over the years to be someone who REACTS to his players instead of GUIDES his players. Instead of deriving pleasure out of a by the book dungeon crawl, I've learned to find enjoyment at the differing ways players can confound expectations and sometimes accomplish a goal by a non-linear or unexpected route.

Now at this point I have to mention my middle brother, Rob. I've been DMing since 1979 or so, and my middle brother has been with me that entire time. And to this day, he STILL doesn't completely trust me as a DM not to screw him (or by extension the group) over!!!! Even when he KNOWS I've NEVER screwed him around "In play", EVER! I think a lot of it still comes down to the old "player vs DM" mentality that a lot of old-timers have fostered over the years, and the general nature of competitiveness the game brings out in us....especially since gaming so long with my brother, some battle scenarios literally come down to each of us trying to out-strategize the other (knowing each other's quirks quite well by now) and we sometimes accusing the other of using "out of game" knowledge to give the other an edge. If two people (related to each other!) who have gamed together over 30 years still have trust issues, it's no wonder they have cropped up in your game. Needless to say, we've grudgingly reached an impasse to where we trust the other, but are always ready to yell "Bullshit!" if something unkosher comes up on either side.

All these issues came together in one of my face to face campaign sessions (with my brother running a character). In a recent game, what I thought was going to be a really tough battle for a McGuffin that had a chance of falling into evil hands instead turned into a really tough battle....with the baddies having no chance of getting the McGuffin. For, you see, my intelligent players thought of a way to get the McGuffin (which in this case was an extremely powerful and evil sword) out of the dungeon and to a safehouse using teleportation, giving the ambushing baddies absolutely no chance to "win" even if they defeated the player characters. You see, I had been quite sure the players wouldn't give up their magical advantage by having the party mage leave the field of battle permanently (the teleport was one way with no method for return) just to make sure the baddies didn't have a chance to score the weapon. They did, surprising me, and in the battle that followed the party could rest assured that win or lose the baddies had NO CHANCE to come away with total victory (the PCs did win without the mage, btw, so the gamble paid off).

Anyway, this brings us back to trust. The players had to trust me as a DM (was I going to let their scheme to get the weapon out of evil's hands succeed, or would I screw them over by saying "Your teleport spell doesn't function here" or any number of ways to confound them?) and I had to trust them as players (down a powerful mage, were they going to accept the results of the battle if I stomped them dead, secure in the knowledge they had at least died to keep the weapon out of evil's hands, or would they cry and moan and accuse me of taking it out on them in revenge for them outthinking me?). Both sides had to have trust, and to our credit, it worked out quite dramatically, even if it was totally off the rails concerning every eventuality I had planned for (even down a mage, the characters triumphed over a white dragon and frost giant sorceress and her minions, with only one PC death).

It all came down to trust. I trusted they would take the results like men, since they had made the choice to be down a mage in the combat that followed; they trusted me not to dick them by either preventing their scheme from happening through some extraordinary DM bullshit, or take it out on them by proving "who was boss" in the combat that came after (oh, it would have been so easy to add another two white dragons to the combat....!). It worked out in their favor, but I have no doubt that had things turned nasty for them, they would have accepted the results and rolled up new characters.

The advantage our group had was that all the players are old school, experienced gamers. In Chgowiz's West Marches style campaign, there are no guarantees of that as anyone can show up for any session (I don't presume to know the experience of Michael's players, but the entire sandbox style is predicated on a hodgepodge of different player levels adventuring together). Part of the sandbox charm is the "anything can happen" vibe; however, this can also lead to lots of frustration, as the DM is not creating a railroad as much as he is just the conductor letting players get on their own train. If DM and Players are not on the same page in these sorts of situations, a lot of bad feelings can result.

The #1 thing to remember is communication. We've gone way past the days of "I'm the DM, you're the players, if I hit you with a 50 ton rock and kill you with no warning you just accept it and shut the hell up". That style was big back when you had a lot of really, really crap-ass DMs running around who were using this brand new game to feed their power mad egos; such DMs (at least BITD) ended up with bad reps and soon were only DMing groups of 13 year olds at the Rec Center once word got out. I love the ability to use the internet to post blogs and message boards about campaign history and doings; it is a great mechanism for addressing out of game concerns, and perhaps gently nudging players in the right direction, or giving them choices about what aspect of your campaign world interests them, and about what kind of game they are looking for (for example, if you are a fanatic about puzzle dungeons and your players are hack and slash fiends, someone isn't going to be having a very good time, it's nice to know that beforehand and plan around it).

Particularly in the case of a sandbox, which can contain numerous players with different levels of experience and attitudes about what constitutes a "fun" or "successful" adventure, communication is key. I thought Michael asked some really good questions about how he could improve his game, and gave some really good advice to his players in the aftermath of his game. Sometimes just unfamiliarity with a DM's style can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings...if you are used to a real DM vs PC type game, you might feel you have to constantly argue and pull out all the stops instead of trusting that certain DMs won't screw you over without giving you a fighting chance. If you are used to DMs who are a bit more lenient, it might be a total shock to be told "roll or die!" by a DM after being bitten by a poisonous snake (but, like, my last DM's snakes only had poison that made us dizzy!!!).

When I start a new campaign, using the power of blogspot, I try to set up a page dedicated to that campaign and lay out some of the ground it deadlier than most? More light hearted and heroic? Grim and gritty? If you choose to play a certain class or race will it impede your ability to succeed? I think this is one way to head off a lot of DM failure problems to begin with. If you are thinking "Dark Sun with even more attitude" and the player is thinking "D&D cartoon I wanna have a pet like Uni" before they even roll up a character, something's gotta give....

To be Continued....

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More NTRPG Con Hints...

"Behind-the-Scenes Cooperative Project: I can finally hint at this... This has been in the works for the last 6 months and is finally coming forward. It went from my desktop, to Andy Taylor, back to me, and then on to Journalizer (Lauren Hawkins). I cannot say much about it for now other than this is being worked on in concert with NTRPGCon's host and co-founder, Douglas Rhea and with further involvement at the primary level by a prominent ex-TSR artist. There will be an official announcement on this soon. I will tell you that it does involve a dragon and some castles... Much more in a couple of months. "

---From Rob Kuntz's "Lord of the Green Dragons" blog (

Sometimes I wish I was attending NTRPG Con instead of helping to run it...sigh.....

BTW Joseph Browning of Expeditious Retreat Press is now running a Saturday morning session at NTRPG Con.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

NTRPG Con Crashing Facebook

Well, I gave in and created a Facebook page for the Con. Lord forgive me....but so far it hasn't been too much of an ass-whipping.

We are "North Texas RPG Con" on to us so we can spread the good word!!/group.php?gid=310434204630

Saturday, January 23, 2010

NTRPG Con 2010: First Update

Last year, defying all our own expectations, the first annual North Texas RPG Con was announced in February for that summer as a three day celebration of old school gaming. By June we had 60+ people signed up and a full fledged mini-con in session, with special guests including Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, Paul Jaquays, Rob Kuntz, Dennis Sustare and artist Jason Braun. The point of the con was to prove we could get several dozen fans of old school D&D at a con featuring just old school gaming, and it worked. Over 50 attendees showed up for 14 events including OD&D, AD&D 1st Edition, Basic D&D, and Matt Finch's Sword and Wizardry. Attendees came from all over the world (the US plus Canada and the UK) and all events were completely booked up! (I had earlier predicted we MIGHT see a couple dozen gamers there!) Some of the highlights included releases of NTRPG Con logo versions of Goodman Game's Tomb of the Blind God, and the 1E version of DCC9 The Secret of Smuggler's Cove NTRPG version by Black Blade Publishing, a giant BBQ at co-founder Doug Rhea's house (Fresh meat for 50 people!), a tour of the Reaper Miniature's factory (thanks Gus!), and unbelievable support from the entire OSR and gaming community with treasure chests full of donated items including minis, modules, gamebooks, and more (all put in the raffle to offset costs). We lost a ton of money, but we proved it could be done, and I can safely say it was the highlight of my decade.

Where did we go from there? Having realized a small but loyal group of old school gamers would support a mini-con if properly run and promoted, we almost immediately started planning a bigger and better con for 2010. We quickly confirmed most of last year's guests and added Jim Ward and Steve Winters, two veterans of game design from the old days of TSR. We found a much larger and nicer venue (Staybridge Suites, with FIVE gaming rooms instead of the ONE gaming room we had to cram everyone in last year!). We planned more games, with another day on the schedule (Thursday) for 30+ events total (in contrast to last year's 14 events). We will have seminars and discussions in a lecture room at the hotel (the first scheduled is a seminar on module design featuring The Megadungeon). We have prevailed upon several new faces in the retro-clone, simulacrum and old school gaming industry to show up and run games, including Matt Finch (Swords & Wizardry, Jon Hershberger and Allan Grohe (Black Blade Publishing, Michael "Chgowiz" Shorten (Three Headed Monster Games, Richard McBain (Castles and Crusades, Bill Barsh (Pacesetter Games, and many more. We basically pulled out all the stops to make this year's version of NTRPG Con even more like a "real" con and an essential stop for gaming grognards across the nation!

And we did this all before February of THIS year! Ahead of schedule, baby!

With registration for games opening February 1st this year, we are expecting double or triple the amount of attendees from last year, and look forward to once again spreading the word about classic RPGs to both the enlightened and the masses. On the first weekend in June 2010(the 3rd-6th) we hope to see anyone interested in old school gaming (particularly Dungeons and Dragons) in attendance at our hotel in Irving, Texas, reading to roll some polyhedral dice! This year not only includes the mixtures of old school games we had last year, many run by veterans of the scene, but other diversions:

Vendor Tables where OSR publishers will peddle their wares;

Open gaming room with lots of board games both donated and brought by attendees;

Tim Kask running two sessions of the chariot racing game "Circus Maximus";

Another raffle with some amazing prizes donated by the gaming community (including a Dragon Magazine #1, a copy of the hard to find Castle Zagyg, and a painted mini by renowned artist Angela Imrie);

An auction of several items both unusual and rare;

Several "themed" games, including Matt "Mythmere" Finch's SIX PART "Tower of Mythrus" Megadungeon scheduled to run once in every session, and Jon Hershberger's all-day Sunday (8 hour) game of Megadungeon exploration;

A surprise announcement that should take the old school publishing industry by storm;

And much more, etc etc. Besides Garycon, there exists few outlets for gamers who want to go to gaming conventions and not have to wade through many events involving cards, furries, Battletech minis, and the latest abomination from WOTC to get to a game they know and love. Here is a convention with ONLY the games you know and love! When a con is properly set up, each session you miss should drive you nuts, and this weekend surely delivers in this department.

The best part IMO is the low key atmosphere of the con, where you can suddenly find yourself sitting in a 3 hour conversation between game designers Paul Jaquays (Dark Tower, Caverns of Thracia) and Dennis Sustare (Bunnies and Burrows) in the hotel lobby, or having a 1 am meal at IHOP next to Frank Mentzer (TSR) and Tim Kask (Dragon magazine editor), both of which I was lucky enough to participate in last year. We did a great job of finding special guests with a historical overview of the hobby who are approachable, funny, and above all still interested in talking about their years in gaming with anyone interested.