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Below are the 7 most recent journal entries recorded in finarvyn's LiveJournal:

Saturday, June 7th, 2008
8:45 pm
D&D: Where it came from and where it's going
As a person who got into RPGs from almost the beginning, I began as a wargamer. To me, the whole "wargaming roots" thing is simply a fact of evolution and it seems perfectly natural since I got to witness this happening first hand.

My teenage son plays Warhammer and he sees a big connection between miniatures battles and role playing. My teenage daughter has no interest in miniatures gaming and only has interest in role playing. These two similar yet different cases certainly show that, while wargame/miniatures can be a part of role playing, the two may have no connection whatsoever. I think that the big interest in this topic stems from the desire to figure out how the game got to be the way it is today -- it's an exercise in academics.

Not to go too much into 4E D&D (becasue that edition is somewhat outside of the scope of these boards) you can see where the newest version of the game came from and it's a direct evolution as well. And not as much of a surprise as everyone wants to pretend. Consider this sequence:
1. Wargames and miniatures games originate decades ago.
2. Chainmail introduces a "fantasy supplement" rather than pure history.
3. Dave Arneson applies fantasy creatures to a dungeon complex.
4. Miniatures rules evolve into "one figure = one man" (OD&D)
5. Supplements are written to expand OD&D. Articles are written in Dragon.
6. AD&D is written to standardize the game and put all materials into core books.
7. Supplements are written for AD&D. More articles are written in Dragon.
8. 2E is created to pull all materials into core books and re-organize the rules.
9. Supplements are written for 2E. Even more people contribute through Dragon.
10. 2E expands to include comprehensive skill system. Kits offer many options. Player's Option books offer a "build yer own" system for character creation.
11. 3E is created to pull all materials into core books and re-organize the rules.
12. Supplements are written for 3E. Continued expansion occurs through Dragon.
13. Somewhere along the line, miniatures are re-introduced to make the game more visual.
14. 3.5 is created to revise old core rules and include expansion materials.
15. Supplements are written for 3.5. Continued expansion occurs through magazines and internet.
16. Miniatures are pushed harder to make the game more visual.
17. 4E is created to pull all materials into core books and re-organize the rules. 4E is heavily miniatures-based.
18. Looking to the future, I would anticipate further expansion and revision.

My point is that as much as I dislike the most recent few editions of D&D, none of the contents should come as a big surprise. As each group of authors (both in the official books and writing for magazines and the internet) adds new ideas, the game becomes more complex. Eventually the weight of the game system becomes a burden and a revision is needed to lighten the load.

Part of what we find frustrating is the fact that the information age makes this revision process so quick. New editions every couple of years. Faster and faster.

The other frustration is that of change. The new rules aren’t like the old rules so we are suspicious of them. On the other hand, as soon as a group like Troll Lord puts together a more simple “roll back the clock” Castles & Crusades game, the first thing that some gamers want to do is to complicate it again with more classes, with skills, with feats, and many of the same things that we dislike in the newer iterations. Heck, just taking Armor Class and inverting it (so that more armor equals bigger numbers) is enough to get many old-timers hyperventilating and shouting “you can’t do that!”

For many of us, the appeal of OD&D is the lack of complexity. The lack of heavy rules telling me how to run my game, or telling players what they might or might not attempt. And frankly I hate learning new rules, especially when the old ones work just fine and have worked well for several decades. Although the game evolved from a wargame genesis, it’s not there anymore. OD&D has been a constant, unchanging for more than 30 years.

But going back to see where it all started is still fascinating to me. I love OD&D more than any other edition. I love hearing about the “old days” of Arneson’s Blackmoor and Gygax’ Greyhawk and how the game was played back in the days when no one tried to be a rules lawyer.

They just wanted to play and have some fun!

[Sorry for the soapbox. It just sort of erupted.] :-P
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
2:41 pm
The Passing of Gary Gygax
March 4, 2008. Less than two weeks ago and still a date that hurts as the world lost Gary Gygax, best known as the co-author of the Dungeons and Dragons RPG in 1974.

In some ways this reminds me of the day I heard about the passing of Roger Zelazny, and the feeling that he had moved on while leaving his stories unfinished.

I discovered wargames somewhere in the early 1970's and D&D in particular in 1975, so D&D has been a huge part of my life for a long time. For over three decades I have spent time reading RPGs, tinkering with rules, playtesting other people's RPGs, and generally enjoying a fantastic hobby which would possibly never have existed if it weren't for the efforts of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and others of the era. To say that such a loss is "significant" nowhere covers the extent of how this man affected my life and, since I have been teaching my own children all about D&D, continues to affect the lives of the next generation of gamers.

I think that many modern RPG designers took Gary for granted, assuming that he was bitter that others were making money off of his idea or that he was "out of touch" with the RPG industry. Now that he's gone it seems like everyone wants to say how sorry they are, even though many of them scoffed at his ideas when he was posting on message boards. They don't seem to realize how hard it can be to create that original idea, and how tough it must have been on Gary to spend years trying to capture lighting in a bottle a second time. I met Gary several times, exchanged e-mails, and communicated with him on message boards and I can attest to the fact that every contact I had with him was both cordial and informative. He had a genuine love for games and wanted others to enjoy what he had helped to start three decades ago.

The fact that his games are still around, still played, and still loved is probably the best tribute we can give to this man.

Long live OD&D!
Sunday, January 13th, 2008
12:02 pm
How to teach
I saw a question asked online: “How do you teach your games? What advice would you give differently styled teachers on how to teach a game to others?”

I've been a high school science teacher for 20 years and what you've asked is certainly a tough question. There are many styles of teaching, and often they must be adapted according to subject matter and the level of the course.

A history teacher might simply give lots of information (names, dates, events) to memorize. At a later time, students might be asked to take this memorized information and process it to look for cause-effect. As a physics teacher, I stress a few key ideas but have students figure out the details by experimentation and exposure to various situations. Hopefully by the end the students have come to realize the cause-effect nature of the universe. Same evenutal outcome, different process to get there.

Apply this to role playing. The "history" approach might be to give players lots of inforation about the various aspects of a game system. (This could be setting information, character generation, spell lists, skill lists, or whatever.) Players would process these piles of data and eventually determine what they want to do based on the options provided. The "physics" approach might be to see what big things a player wants to do and then see if there are any mechanics that will get them there. The players have to trust that there are behind-the-scenes rules but may have to attempt things in order to find out how this particular gaming universe works.

AD&D might be an example of a “history” game. The mechanics are laid out clearly for a player to see. He or she can read the rulebook in order to gain piles of information which can be used in order to decide how to work the system. Advantages and disadvantages are clearly spelled out in the rules, and anyone with time and patience can figure them out well ahead of when they are needed in the game.

Amber Diceless might be an example of a “physics” game. The mechanics are hidden behind a veil of secrecy, with only the most general guidelines given to the players. Players have to experiment with things to see what they can and cannot accomplish, who they are better than and who they are weaker than.

AD&D is an easy game to teach. Amber Diceless not so easy.

Just a few thoughts on the matter.
Friday, August 17th, 2007
9:49 pm
4E D&D Prediction
In searching through my hard drive, I found an interesting prediction on what D&D 4E would be like. My Word file tells me that it was written on May 8, 2005. This is particularly interesting in light of this week's real annoucement that WotC was launching 4E next year. I think that the reality is so much worse than my guesses....


The upcoming 4E edition of D&D (“4E Player’s Handbook” to be released at GenCon in 2007) will be more flash-bang power oriented, with higher levels explained and more powers bestowed, faster. 4E characters with stats less than an 18 will be seen as having a clearly exploitable weakness, and will be laughed at by their peers. The 4E standard “roll 4, keep 4” method of stat generation will create “more realistic heroes” even though the range for normal humans will be kept at 3-18. (For real fast-track campaigns, an alternate “roll 5, keep 4” method will be allowed at GM discretion but for those campaigns the range should be considered 4-19 instead of 3-18 for game balance purposes.) One of the better Feats currently being playtested is the “Focused Center” ability to sum up all attribute bonuses on the character sheet and add them together, then apply this super-bonus to any and all dice rolls. The players really like this because it streamlines the entire 4E dice mechanic; having different modifiers for different situations has been perceived as being both limiting and confusing to 4E players.

September, 2007, will see publication of the new “4E Monster Manual” which is pretty much the same as older versions except for different cover and artwork.

Most of our old favorite monsters can be found in the “4E Enhanced Monster Manual” (October, 2007) but at clearly ramped-up power levels. For example, the Enhanced Orc has a 2d12 great-axe cleave which becomes 4d12 against elves and dwarves because of their “favored enemy” status, but Enhances to 7d12 if the Orc is in a battle-rage (or 9d12 against favored enemies). Once classic monsters like Dragons will either become slaughter-fodder or will become Enhanced themselves with uber-attacks and such to keep up with level inflation. (4E Enhanced Dragons will have attacks like “Chain-Lighting Breath” and “Meteor Swarm Breath”, for example. The proposed Nuclear Dragon may or may not make it into the new “4E Enhanced Monster Manual” but it is really neat and really doesn’t seem to need to be Enhanced at all, it’s so good!)

Careful research has shown that the term “Dungeon Master” is viewed a being too limiting for a new hip version of D&D, and this will become official with the release of the “4E Game Master Guide” (November, 2007). The GMG will contain chapters devoted to the craft of being the GM, how to deal with high-level characters, and how certain combinations of Feats can actually anti-stack bonuses to make them significantly smaller against certain foes. An example of this would be a fighter with Lighting Assault and Mighty Sunder fighting the Enhanced Orc mentioned above; if the Enhanced Orc is in battle-rage then the fighter has over-extended his reach and suffers a both a negative BAB and negative Armor Class adjustment due to his fighting style. (I guess a clever GM is supposed to encourage his or her players to pick those particular combinations, then surprise them with a module full of those special monsters. I’m a bit unclear on that part.)

The “Forgotten Realms” will actually be forgotten as “Greyhawk” once more becomes the flagship campaign setting of the 4E universe, in an attempt to placate old timers and get them to convert to the new edition. A “trade-up” program will be established whereby older rulebooks can be traded in for a discount on the newer rulebooks, and the older rulebooks will be burned so as to keep them out of the hands of impressionable younger gamers who might be seduced by their simplicity.

Reaching "Epic" levels inside of a year of gaming will become the norm, and the new "4E Mythic Level Handbook" (January, 2008) will allow characters to advance through levels 31-50. (Actually, the current “Epic” levels will be absorbed into the new “4E Player’s Handbook”, but the term “Epic” will be maintained so as to not confuse 3E players and to make the game easier to convert.) This is important for the growth of the game, because having to retire characters is traumatic and it is important for characters to have expansion room at the top. A chapter on levels above 50 will explain how to extrapolate power levels as high as the GM wants to take his campaign, so that no further expansion books will be needed unless there is enough demand to warrant additional Post-Mythic sourcebooks.

Clearly, nine spell levels will not be enough, and the "4E Mythic Level Spellbook" (February, 2008) will allow wizards to cast spells of levels 10-15. Some revision of current spell levels will be needed, as some spells like “Wish” are clearly better than other 9th level spells. (Note that this will make the spell lists in both the “4E Player’s Handbook” and “4E Mythic Level Handbook” slightly obsolete.), so WotC will (winter 2007) release their new "4E Mythic Godbuster Realms" campaign set (to replace “Greyhawk”, which will be allowed to fade away again in neglect) where Mythic Level characters are supposed to challenge godlike avatars on a regular basis. The campaign is like Ravenloft, where players get pulled into planes which are various realms of the gods and the characters can wander the halls of Olympus then cross over to the land of the Egyptian gods, Norse gods, and the like. Scenarios will revolve around gods battling each other in the ultimate struggle between Law and Chaos, and characters get to step in to tip the balance the way they like. One “4E Mythic Godbuster Realms” supplement will be written along the lines of “Birthright” where players can assume the roles of a nation of gods (or demons) and battle other nations of gods (or demons). The biggest hold-up at this point is negotiation with the Lovecraft estate for use of “Cthulhu” and “Elder Gods”, as well as negotiation with the Tolkien estate for use of the word “Balrog”. (These extra nations may need to be published as supplements if negotiations run behind schedule.) Also, I understand that the Catholic Church is willing to allow use of the words “Demon” and “Devil” for an undisclosed amount of cash, and these should be part of the “Go to Hell” series of modules.

Classic module settings will be revisited and updated in the “4E Return Again (TM)” series because new ideas are hard to come by, and the first such will be the “4E Return Again (TM) to the Tomb of Horrors” (spring, 2008) nine-level module series having very little to do with S1 except for the title. Another module series to look for will be the “4E Return Again (TM) to Giants and Drow and Demonwebs, Oh My!” (summer, 2008) which is currently in development and should compose 666 levels of dungeon crawling fun, although only 19 of those will be standardized and the remaining 647 levels run through random charts.

The artwork will be revised for the 4E books as well, and has been described as “sort of like Elmore but darker and with more blood spatters and more bare-chested women” to attract more new gamer males in the 10-13 age demographic.

A tentative time-line of product release follows:
August, 2007 – 4E Player’s Handbook
September, 2007 – 4E Monster Manual
October, 2007 – 4E Enhanced Monster Manual
November, 2007 – 4E Game Master Guide
Winter, 2007 – 4E Godbuster Realms
January, 2008 – 4E Mythic Level Handbook
February, 2008 – 4E Mythic Level Spellbook
March, 2008 – 4E Mythic Godbuster Birthright
April, 2008 – 4E Mythic Lovecraft and Tolkien
April, 2008 – 4E Mythic Godbuster “Go To Hell” modules
Spring, 2008 – 4E Return Again (TM) to the Tomb of Horrors
Summer, 2008 – 4E Return Again (TM) to Giants and Drow and Demonwebs, Oh My!”
Saturday, May 20th, 2006
4:34 pm
Who am I?
The is a HARRY DRESDEN series quiz, where you can find out which character in the books best fits you. I did it and here are my results:

I am Michael Carpenter.

I am one of those honored by God to serve His Will as a Knight of the Cross. My faith is strong, unshakeable -- and deadly to the truly evil. It's my job to seek them out, to get them to change if I can, and to stop them if I must.

And I am not alone in this. Never alone. God watches over me and sees that I am sent where I am most needed. I carry the holy sword Amoracchius at my side -- that nail you see in the hilt came from the Cross. The other Knights stand by me. My wife and children are just as fierce as I am -- God help you should you try to find out if it's otherwise. And there are others.

Together we all stand, shoulder to shoulder, against the darkness. Our faith has been tried, tested, and proven resolute. No matter the cost, no matter how bloodied you might make us, we will not bow, and we cannot fail. God's Will be done -- on Earth, by our hands.

Monday, May 15th, 2006
9:50 pm
Thoughts on Diceless systems
I was thinking about game mechanics and how they pertain to a diceless game, and wondered what sorts of options I could generate that would be diceless.

1. The diceless system in ADRP is based on comparison of one character to another, with appropriate interpretation on the part of the GM.

The advantage here is simplicity, but the disadvantage is that the weaker party may have a really tough time beating a greater foe. This disadvantage may only be illusionary, however, in that it is the same disadvantage implicit to other RPG systems. For example, in OD&D it is possible for a first level character to beat a tenth level character in combat, but the odds are so remote it makes my brain hurt. What we see is that the "disadvantage" really is no greater than what we find in diced systems.

The hidden part of ADRP occurs when two characters are similar in stats, so that the intangible factors come into play. This is where a clever but weaker character can beat the slightly better but not-so-clever opponent. Choice of location, time, attack strategy or other similar factors by the clever player might be enough to tip the balance to one side.

2. A second method of diceless play is more along the "rock-paper-scissors" model. In this case, several offensive and defensive options could be offered and each character would select one prior to the combat. A matrix would cross-index these choices to determine the winner.

Such a system was done in the Avalon Hill wargame "1776" (if memory serves me correctly) where each general had to select a battle plan and these selections would determine the winner. A similar notion occurred in the Avalon Hill game "Football Strategy" where each coach would pick an option and a chart would determine the outcome of the play. It seems odd to think that the elements behind a diceless game trace back to at least the 1970's, but there they are.

3. Another approach would be a blend of the two above, so that players could select an option that would cross-index with the opponent's option to modify an existing attribute. Otherwise, default to ADRP mechanics.

What this might do is to allow for characters to be more or less aggressive and tip the scales just a bit as desired. Attacking all-out can score a fast kill but leaves the character open for a fast death of his own, which might be to the advantage of a character with low Endurance. Two characters who both fight defensively may find that the battle lasts forever since neither is really trying to end it, and in this case Endurance may come into play in a hurry. The point is that a combination of strategy plus "high stat wins" could make for an interesting game.

4. How about some sort of auction process as a diceless mechanic? Perhaps at character creation each player obtains a certain number of bidding points, and during a conflict players could use those points to try to out-maneuver a foe.

I think that a system such as this would be designed so that players would have "energy" points or some such and place stones on various locations on their character sheet. Stones could be used for attack, defense, movement, or to utilize a special power of some sort. Each character has only a limited number of stones to place each round, and the strategy is in deciding how to allocate resources from moment to moment.

This is an interesting system because in many ways it can duplicate effects like Amber diceless. Perhaps a character gets a certain number of stones based on each PSEW attribute and can put them into various actions, only with the restriction that the character would have certain maximum values based on Psyche, Strength, or Warfare. (So, maybe a character might have 5 stones to "spend" but due to his Warfare attribute may be only able to place a maximum of three on Warfare in any turn. Exact numbers would have to be worked out.)

5. A clearly inferior model would include cards or spinners or other such randomizers. These violate the "spirit" of diceless games, as they are simply dice in different form. I mention this option just for the sake of completeness, because it really isn't diceless.

I'm sure I can come up with more ideas if I put my brain to it....

Current Mood: thoughtful
Saturday, May 13th, 2006
7:48 pm
A "Well, Duh" Moment
One of my many wanderings recently has involved the DRESDEN FILES role playing game, based on the "Harry Dresden" books by Jim Butcher. Harry is a modern-day wizard in Chicago, and he manages to battle all sorts of nasties. Having run a few paranormal RPG campaigns in my day, I have had a lot of interest in the books and now the RPG.

DRESDEN FILES, it turns out, is a new system but is based upon a game called FATE. FATE is a derivative of FUDGE (a game which uses +/- dice, lots of description, and is certainly not a game to be exploited by rules lawyers) and I have spent the better part of my free time lately reading and absorbing how the game works.

I created this Live Journal, in fact, in order to communicate with a game designer named Fred Hicks (who happens to be a co-creator of FATE and is working on DRESDEN FILES) because Fred's Live Journal would only accept messages from other members. Ergo, I joined and am now a member. The "Well, Duh" moment happened shortly after I sent him a message hoping to playtest his newest creation (more on this later perhaps) and while re-reading the other messages I noticed that his handle on the LJ was "Iago". I stared at that for a while and thought of two Iago names I have encountered: One the bird in Aladdin and the other a gamer who created "Amber FUDGE".

Suddenly, it hit me. Iago created Amber FUDGE. I dove into my hard drive and pulled up my Word doc of Amber FUDGE, only to realize that this Iago was that Iago.

"Well, Duh". Shoulda seen that coming.

Here's the story as best as I can figure it out: Iago (Fred) played Amber diceless but wanted to put dice into the game. He chose FUDGE because it has simple mechanics and is easy to run with dice. He ran a campaign using FUDGE rules, then ran a second with modified FUDGE rules (a hint of FATE here), then ran a third with FATE rules. It appears that FATE evolved from his own Amber campaigns! And DRESDEN FILES is an evolution of that!

The next part of the story is that the evolved FATE system will appear soon in a game called SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY, which is a pulp fiction style RPG. Then it will appear later in DRESDEN FILES. So ... to get a peek into DRESDEN FILES one can look at SPIRIT a few months early, but SPIRIT will be lacking DRESDEN's magic system. Argh.

As to the playtest...

Current Mood: excited
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