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....