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Not GenCon
This year, Jenn and I decided to skip GenCon and instead spend our vacation time and money on a different trip. Originally it was going to be a big trip to another country, and eventually it scaled all the way down to just a week in Maine. Ah well, still I'm looking forward to the vacation. The choice about not going to GenCon though, well six months ago it made perfect sense, but now I'm pretty sure it's the dumbest choice we've made. Both of us constantly moan taht we can't believe we're not going this year. I suppose if nothing else, it certainly has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for going next year.

In the mean time, I figured since I won't get to go to GenCon, maybe it was time I checked out one of the smaller local conventions. I went to VeriCon once a long while back, though remember little of it. I've been aware of TempleCon for the past couple years, but never made the effort. Of course, both of those are in the winter, and I was hoping for a little more immediate gratification. Then, yesterday I discovered Open Gaming Con. It's happening, well, right now as I write this not a 40 minute drive from my house.

So yeah, Jenn and I drove up there today. Mostly it was idle curiosity. I knew it was unlikely I'd actually get into a game, and honestly I wasn't really interested in getting into a game. I mostly just wanted to see what a small local convention looked like. The pictures pretty much show the entire thing. It was both larger and smaller than I expected.

The site says they get 200-300 attendees. That's about exactly 1/100th the size of GenCon, which gets around 20-30k attendees. The convention is in a pretty nice hotel up in NH, taking up two large ballrooms and a couple smaller meeting rooms. The larges ballroom holds all the roleplaying/board games, and the somewhat smaller one all the miniature games. There was one major game store present in the vendor's area, and a couple smaller tables devoted to ancellory gaming related vendors.

The con looked empty though. Only a few of the tables in either room actually had games running. I think though this was because of our timing. We arrived around 1:30, and the first gaming slot was scheduled 9am to 1pm, and the second from 2pm to 6pm. There we were, right between slots, and I suspect a lot of people probably took off to grab some grub.

I guess that's the major difference between the small local con and the big con. The local con is much more about playing actual games. It has to be, as there really isn't much else. The $25 reg fee surely didn't seem worth the 15 minutes or so we were there to browse the couple of vendors and look at the pair of rooms. Though I certainly don't begrudge them the money, I knew that I was likely to pay a lot and not see or do much, and I like the idea that perhaps my money will help encourage this little con to continue and maybe even grow.

So other than gaming, what is it about GenCon that draws me in? What the heck do I do in all those hours I'm not gaming? I suppose a big part of it is the giant dealers room. It's not so much that I couldn't buy anything in there elsewhere, but simply the fact that it's drawn together in one physical space. It's fantastic in how overwhelming it is, and I'm sure I'm exposed to a lot of things I wouldn't go looking for on my own.

And that hints at another thing that I love about GenCon - the pure spectacle of it. So many gamers playing so many games all in one spot is just freaking cool to see. When else will you be in a huge crowd with tens of thousands of people and not feel intimidated by it? It's not just the numbers, but the knowledge that everyone there shares my interest, and the confidence that I could probably spark up an interesting conversation with just about anyone I bump into.

Perhaps in future, if I find a local con that isn't happening the very day I stumble into it, I will make a bigger effort of going. Maybe register ahead of time, perhaps even run a game or two myself. It seems like it could be fun.

But you can also bet your pants I'll be GenCon next year. What the hell was I thinking?
July 25th, 2009 - 04:52 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Save vs. Spells?
Perhaps this is obvious, perhaps this is an old question that's been argued over and over again already. But it's come up at my lunchtime game: do spells like Sleep and Magic Missile allow saves?

I was quite surprised to see that neither BX nor LL specify an answer. They both state that saves are allowed against 'special attacks', and the ramifications of successful save against any kind of special attack. I certainly know how to adjudicate a successful save against these spells (Magic Missile would clearly be save for 1/2 damage, while Sleep would be save for no effect). But do they even allow a save?

Many spells specify that a save is allowed, including Charm Person, Fireball, heck even Light when used to blind your opponent. Sleep and Magic Missile are mum. No comment on saves at all.

I know Delta allows saves against all spells. I figured it was a house rule. Now I'm thinking it's a ruling he had to make because there was no rule one way or the other. I wish I had realized, I would have thought it through and made a decision ahead of time. Now I've got to sit through debates with my players, and I'm sure at least someone will be unhappy with the outcome.

I'm starting to think that while it's not very important for a DM to know all the rules, it is important for him to appear to know them all. Even when the rule in question doesn't exist.
July 24th, 2009 - 02:24 pm | Comments (2) | PERMALINK

Overheard at the Office
Coworker #1: 'I won't be in next Friday, I have to go to a wake.'
Coworker #2: 'Oh my god, what happened?'
Coworker #1: 'Someone died!'
Coworker #2: 'Yeah, but I mean, is it serious?'
Coworker #1: 'He's dead!'
July 24th, 2009 - 08:49 am | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

How Long Should A Session Be?
My first real regular gaming sessions probably started in high school. We'd gather once a week after school and play until we had to go home. We were probably playing from around 3:00 or so until almost 10. With time for eating pizza and goofing around, I'd still think we had 5-6 hour sessions going.

At college, gaming was usually on the weekend. Maybe a Sunday afternoon from 12-5 or so? A little shorter, but not much. We were probably more focused on getting things rolling, plus there usually wasn't pizza involved since we all ate at the dining hall.

Now in the real world, gaming happens on the weeknight after work. We get together around 7:00 and play until 10. Food, if it's going to happen, usually occurs prior to the game, though sometimes we haven't really gotten going until 7:30. That's 2.5-3 hour sessions once a week.

And now I'm trying to play a lunch-time game. 1 hour per session, no more, no less.

Each time I started playing a shorter session I was skeptical how well it would work. We've made it work, I suppose, and perhaps the total lack of an end point and the assumption that there's always next week helps. Still, I wonder how long is really the ideal amount of time.

Man, I wonder what weekly sessions of 5+ hours would be like. Was it only fun because I was so young and had nothing better to do? I don't know, it still sounds pretty fun.
July 23rd, 2009 - 04:11 pm | Comments (6) | PERMALINK

What Up, Holmes?
I mentioned a while back that I ordered a copy of Holmes edition D&D, and wound up with just the box and some other odd items. Well, I was able to purchase the missing books individually on eBay and yesterday the last part arrived, so now my Holmes edition box is complete (except for dice).

The Holmes rulebook is a very interesting read, and clearly the missing link between the Little Brown Books (LBBs) of OD&D and BX edition. There are a few oddities unique to the edition, including a 5 part alignment system (LE, LG, N, CE, CG) and a stance on race as class vs. race and class that seems to sit on the fence. The book hints at race and class being separate, but then only provides one class option for each of the non human races, referring the reader to AD&D for more options. In fact, it seems this edition refers to AD&D quite a lot, and is a much more obvious attempt at an introduction to AD&D than a separate game unto itself like BX.

Recently I've been keeping my 1st edition DMG at my desk at work, originally brought in to get a rough idea for how much to charge my lunchtime players for the services of an alchemist to identify the potions they've found. (An idea they've talked about, but not implemented yet.) I've since found it useful for esoteric items like that, where I have really no idea where to start with a ruling. I don't always go with the DMG's rule, but it at least gives me a launching off point.

This combined with reading Holmes I think has given me a little more appreciation for how these various editions really interrelate. As I've re-acquired these old editions, I've tried to consider each in a bubble as it's own game. I think BX holds up pretty well in this case, but I never was able to read through the entirety of the DMG and as such 1st edition still has an odd vagary about it for me. Between the PHB and DMG, I just couldn't seem to nail down the basics of how to run a 1st edition game.

I now think it's a mistake to consider 1st edition all on its own like that. The DMG has become much more valuable to me now that I treat it like a reference book rather than trying to read it cover to cover. I think that's likely the way it was intended. I suspect that the intended audience for AD&D was people who already knew the basics on how to play, whether from OD&D, Holmes, or Moldvay.

In fact, if you take basic gameplay knowledge for granted, each of the core 1st edition books has a clear role. The PHB isn't a manual for how to play the game, it's a player's reference geared mostly at creation and maintenance of player characters, with a few odd core mechanics rules added for quick reference. The monster manual is clearly a reference book, it's a dictionary of monsters. The DMG, as I've said, seems to work much better when used to look up rules when you don't know where to start, and otherwise ignored.

The evolution is now really starting to gel for me. Once you had BX and the core 1st edition books, there was clearly still a book missing: an intro to AD&D. Of course, with all the above material an intelligent person can (and I'm sure did) extrapolate that information. However, I think we can see how in 2e the PHB starts to take on that role as well, becoming both the introduction and the player's rules reference, leaving the DMG and MM to remain as reference books. By 3e, the PHB is starting to take over the DMG's role as a complete rules reference, and the information in the DMG is becoming so esoteric it's almost completely unused.

I wonder what the game would have been like if the Basic/Advanced divide never happened. What if BX had gone the route of really being just like AD&D but stripped down to solely levels 1-3 and dungeon environments. What if they had stripped the word 'Advanced' from their branding, and there was simply an 'Intro to D&D' box set, plus the PHB, MM, and DMG. Would this extra cohesiveness improved the game? Would the game still have evolved into the board-game/MMO wannabe it is today?

I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have changed anything. Though at least I would've been slightly less confused about what the hell to spend my allowance on when I was 8.
July 22nd, 2009 - 11:14 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

LL vs BX Update
I have updated my post on the differences between Labyrinth Lord and D&D BX to include the attack charts and saving throw charts. I realized I forgot to check those and it seemed better to keep the differences in one place rather than spreading updates out around several posts.

I continue to waffle about LL. At Friday's game we had both BX books and LL books at the table, which is how I realized I forgot to compare those tables. It strikes me that it would be preferrable to pick one book, and then house rule in the changes from the other books that you like. I'm not sure which would be easier to do, though I'm tempted to side with LL here simply because the book is easier to get a copy of and better laid out. On the other hand, the nostalgic feel of the old books really is something special.

Bah, clearly I still can't make up my mind on this.
July 19th, 2009 - 11:22 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Friday Night's D&D Game
Friday night I finally got to run my sit-con D&D game. I think it actually went very well. Here's some quick high level thoughts on the game in port-mort style. I may likely expand on a couple of these in future posts.

What Went Right

PC Backgrounds
I tried to strike a balance between having completely disconnected PCs and ones with elaborate backgrounds that tied them into the setting. What I came up with was a pile of index cards each with three facts that I handed out to the players and asked them to incorporate into their characters. I think this worked pretty well, giving most players a direct connection to at least one other player and some adventure hooks to explore, while still allowing each player to personalize his character. I think pretty much right away every player had a very amusing character to roleplay which they did right from the get-go.

Adaptive Plot
The plot was a basic rescue, though I was trying to incorporate a sand-box feel to the game. I created several locations, any one of which could be where the missing girl was, and I had not one but two girls go missing. Thus I was able to invent what had really happened as we played. The players started by seeking out a group of slavers, so I decided the slavers had in fact kidnapped the girls and already sold one (the one the players were searching for) to an evil necromancer (necromancer's tower was one of my other locations) but still had the other girl. This decision was based pretty much solely on the actual clock, which showed we still had a couple hours to play, so having the main rescue target here would have ended the game too early.

Turn Counting
I used my turn counter, but only when the players were exploring a location. When they were interacting with NPCs or travelling I ditched in, in favor of a looser means of tracking game time. But when they were exploring a location, I found the turn counter very useful for determining when to roll wandering monstesr, and for tracking spell durations. It was pretty handy to be able to look up at the turn counter showing a big 12 and tell the player who just cast a spell that it would end when the counter hit 20. I think the players also enjoyed seeing the real times on the counter, hitting on the fact that by the time they left the slaver's den it was very early in the morning and giving them a good excuse to go home and sleep rather than going directly on to the necromancer's tower.

I love the Morale rules. I don't use them as rigidly as they are detailed in teh book, deciding on a case by case when to roll morale. But I love the fact that many enemies will run or surrender rather than fighting to the last man, and I love even more that it's not entirely up to me how they make that choice. In this case, it led to the introduction of a very funny NPC who would be promoted from enemy to hireling to player character.

Inventing NPCs
In a couple cases I had to invent some NPCs on the fly. I had the slaver's den mapped and stocked, but never put much thought to who their leader was. When the players wanted to arrange a meeting with the fellow, I scanned my sheet of random names for something dark and thief like, and saw one that actually had the first name 'Mongoose'. I warped this to just 'The Mongoose' and suddenly we had a realy interesting NPC villian. When the players met with him, it was trivial to take the group's stats and up the HP and AC of one to make an appropriate boss for the group.

The very same group also generated the player's hireling, Frederick the Bastard, another awesome name off my random name list. The playes took him prisoner after defeating the other slavers and forced him to lead the way through the rest of the slaver's den. During this the character started taking on a pretty funny personality, invented by the group at large as I and the other players took turns speaking for him. The players decided to intice him into their group as a hireling, and when one of the player characters died towards the end, the player was more than happy to take on the role of Frederick the Bastard. If I had planned ahead of time for a backup PC should one die, there's no way it would have been nearly as satisfying.

What Went Wrong

Before I pick a couple specific things, I'll point out it's been pretty hard to come up with anything really bad from this game. If subsequent games I run go as well as this one did, I'd be exstatic. But there's always room for improvement, so...

Needed More Character Hooks/Relationships
Some of the characters didn't have a direct adventure hook in their own list of facts, but relied on a relationship with another character to draw them in to the plot. Other characters had plot hooks but their relationship with the other characters was tenuous or even non-existant on one case. All characters had no more than one pre-existing relationship with another PC, and for the most part they tended to pair up.

I think it would be better to try and give out potential adventure hooks to every player, even if some of the hooks are the same hook just coming at it from a different angle. I'd definitely like to make the group have more intertwined relationships with each other, at least so if player A is going to follow a lead he perhaps knows player B well enough to ask him to come along, who in turn knows player C very well, etc. As it was, the players did eventually form a cohesive group, but it felt just a little forced.

Needed Less Pre-written Plot
While I was trying to leave the plot adaptive, I still ended up writing more than I really should have. I had a timeline indicating who had the girl when to start, and had written in detail how her abduction had gone. Fortunately, during play I had the good sense to chuck some of it. I think it would have been better if I simply hadn't even plotted it out to begin with. If I had known only that two girls were abducted, and that the location included a corrupt guard, a lecherous priest, and a band of slavers, that would have been enough to adapt into background as we played.

Perhaps if I do feel the need to have more background to go on, it would be best to create several alternatives each plotted out only very loosely. Then I could choose during play which best fit the direction the players were taking it and run with it during play.

Low Engergy
I was pretty tired when we started playing, as it had been an extremely busy week. Also, I didn't realize it, but I was on the verge of getting sick. (My apologies to anyone I may have unwittingly infected at the table.) There's no way to plan for the latter, but for the former it perhaps would have been wise to skip some of the other activities earlier in the week to ensure I was well rested and ready to play this game on Friday. Ultimately though, life happens, and it seems unlikely I could have done anything to avoid this, but I do lament the fact that I was lower energy for this game than usual.
July 19th, 2009 - 09:40 am | Comments (2) | PERMALINK

Labyrinth Lord vs. Basic D&D BX
I really want to like Labyrinth Lord, and I've thought on occasion about trying to use it for a game. However, whenever I compare the two I always seem to find some reason to stick with the original. The really nice bit of LL though, is that it's a well organized single book, both freely available as PDF and for sale in print. There are certain things that are easier to find in it than paging through the two volumes of BX, but the last thing I want is to carry around all three books.

So I finally sat down and did a close comparison of the two to find the real differences. While most are minor, I'm still left with the feeling that BX wins out. For those interested, here's the list I came up with of the actual differences:

Prime Requisites -- Bonus/Penalty XP
LL is more lenient than BX here, with -5% and -10% at the low end where BX has -10% and -20%. To be honest, I didn't even realize that BX had more severe XP penalties than bonuses until looking at the ability charts for differences. In practice, I don't think I've ever seen a player choose a class that would leave him with a low enough prime requisite to get an XP penalty. So while there is a difference here, I personally feel it's kind of moot.

Cleric - Spells
The cleric seems to be the most altered class in LL. First off, the spell progression table matches that of the Magic User, with 1 first level spell at first level. BX doesn't start spell progression for clerics until second level, and its spell progression chart then remains one level behind the LL chart throughout. Clearly LL clerics are a little more powerful in terms of spell power. I'm conflicted on this one, as BX is sort of the outlier here in the original editions, as I'm pretty sure 1e gives clerics spells right away at first level. I could go either way on this item.

Cleric - Turning
The BX turning chart names specific monsters on the monster axis (skeleton, zombie, ghoul, etc.) while the LL chart just goes by monster HD. I can see where the LL system scales better when new undead types are introduced to the game. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of telling my player how many HD the undead he's trying to turn have. I sort of like the idea that the player knows just by me telling him what kind of monster it is what his chance of turning it may be, and I also like the fact that by analyzing this chart the player gets a little bit of monster lore: he now knows the power hierarchy of the undead.

One other difference in turning, in BX the progression is 11, 9, 7, T, D. The player jumps straight from having a 50/50 chance to turn to auto-turn. LL progression goes 11,9,7,5,3,T,D. A bit finer grain, also means a reduction in power for the cleric as a LL cleric must be 4th level to auto-turn as skeleton, which a BX cleric can do at 2nd level. Perhaps this is the trade-off for the extra spell power.

Elves -- Bonus XP
A BX elf gains +5% XP if one of his prime reqs is over 13, and +10% if both are above 13. The LL elf requires a STR of 13 and an INT of 16 to get that +10%. Again, a minor change, but I kind of prefer the BX rule here. It's at least the same as the only other class with multiple prime reqs -- the Halfling.

Thief Skills
Thieves in LL get a slight boost at lower levels to Pick Locks and Find/Remove Traps. Pick Locks evens out by level 5, but Find/Remove Traps remains higher in LL (by about 3%) all the way up to level 12. Even so, the 1st level LL thief has a 14% Find/Remove Traps, which still isn't as good as everyone else's 1 in 6 chance to find a trap, so I think I'd continue to ditch the Find portion in my own games. Otherwise, this change seems pretty trivial.

XP Charts -- All Classes
The XP charts for all classes is slightly different, sometimes by as much as 65 XP but more often only off by 1 XP. I assume this is because the XP charts in BX are copyright, so the LL version had to alter them slightly. It doesn't seem like a huge change, but I wonder why LL didn't just stick with being consistently off by 1.

XP for Monsters Defeated
These charts are somewhat different between BX and LL, probably for the same reason as the class level XP charts above. I don't think there different enough to be of any real significance.

Level Cap
The demi-human level caps are the same in both versions, but LL takes the human classes up to 20th level where BX ends at 14th. The largest impact this has is on the spell progression charts, which I'll go over later. As it is, I'm not sure this matters much, as I believe both books provide a formula for human levels past their cap.

Starting Money and Equipment Cost
Starting money is much inflated in LL, giving 3d8x10 gp over BX's 2d6x10 gp. However, this is counter-balanced by the equipment prices. Weapon prices are mostly equal or very slightly altered, though LL has a wider variety (splitting Crossbow to light and heavy, adding dart, flails, lance, morning star, picks, quarter staff, scimitar, triden, and bastard sword). Armor is also expanded in LL, and this is where the real price difference comes in. LL adds banded, padded, scale, splint, and studded to BX's leather, chain, and plate. The prices have been spread out considerably, with chain increasing in cost from 40 to 150, and plate going from 60 to 600.

What this means to the starting character is, that in BX a reasonably good roll on money (8+) would be enough for a starting fighter to have plate and a weapon, possibly a shield as well giving a starting AC of 3 or even 2. A starting out LL character could never afford plate, and would be extremely luck to afford split (AC 4). In fact, he has to roll above average to even get chain (AC 5), and more likely is stuck wearing scale (AC 6). This is a major power hit to the fighting classes.

Honestly, I think I prefer BX here. I like that none of the equipment is really inaccessible to a starting character, and it's more a trade-off of figuring out just how much I'm willing to give up in exchange for the heavy armor. In LL, heavy armor is clearly an advanced option only to experienced adventurers who have made a good amount of money already. This is the beginning of the path down itemization as advancement, and I don't like it. I could live with it, but I wouldn't be terribly happy about it.

Cleric Spells by Level
First off, LL takes cleric spells up to level 7, while BX in contrast only goes up to level 5. The spell lists are identical at the first two levels. LL then seems to make the effort to have 8 spells for every level there-after, where BX scales down to only 6. The added spells in LL are:

3rd level: Animate Dead, Dispel Magic
4th level: Detect Lie, Lower Water
5th level: Cure Critical Wounds, Flame Strike, True Seeing

You'll note the 5th level list has three spells. This is because in LL Create Food and Create Water are joined into a single 4th level spell, while in BX they are separate 4th and 5th level spells respectively.

I don't mind extended the spell levels, and for the most part the additions in LL are OK. I'm not terribly pleased though to see the direct damage spells show up like Flame Strike and Blade Barrier.

Magic User and Elf Spells by Level
LL expands this spell list even further, taking it from BX's level 6 all the way to level 9. Interestingly though, the spell lists are identical for the first six levels, and LL only adds the higher level spells. Also, LL oddly renames a couple spells, eg. Wizard Lock becomes Arcane Lock. I wonder if this is a copyright issue. Anyway, in this case I have no problem with the expansion.

Spell Effects
I didn't want to compare every single spell, so I chose a few that I felt were staples of D&D. For clerics, I looked at Cure Light Wounds and Hold Person. For Magic-Users, I looked at Magic Missile, Sleep, Fly, and Fireball. All six spells were pretty much identical, though LL did specify a bit more detail about collateral damage for Fireball, where BX was a bit less detailed. All in all though, from this sampling it looks like we should expect most if not all spells in LL to be unchanged from their ancestor.

Saving Throw Charts
The saving throw charts in LL follow the same level progressions as BX, but here and there a number is off by 1. Also, the LL tables go to higher levels than BX. Ultimately I'd say the difference is a trivial one, except that it means the two books can't be used side by side. You'll have to choose whether to use the BX or LL tables for saving throws.

Attack Charts
The LL attack tables for players smooths out the level progression. Where BX has fighter levels 1-3 all needing a 19 to hit AC 0 and levels 4-6 requiring 17 to hit AC 0, LL spreads this out requiring a 19 at fighter levels 1-2, 18 at level 3, 17 at level 4, etc. LL appears to make the effort to follow the original charts at key points, and then extrapolate the numbers to be a linear progression over the levels between them. The monster attack charts are identical between versions.

Actually, this is one case where I kind of like the LL rules a little better. It doles out the bonuses more slowly over time, giving the player a little benefit more frequently rather than having to wait to a specific level where you get a big jump. I also like that it makes the advantages of the fighter much more obvious, as he gains a further bonus to hit at almost every level.

July 17th, 2009 - 09:10 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Yesterday's lunchtime game saw the first use of the Calamity tables, and it was a calamity indeed. It almost broke the game. I don't want to blame the calamity table entirely, though it perhaps is a shade too deadly, as I think it's really a case of the straw that broke the camel's back. However, more than one player has considered leaving the game due to it, and now the game hangs on a dangerous precipice, it's fate relying on whether we can fix the meta-game issues or not.

Basically it comes down to this: the method of allowing for a shifting player base (the whole return to the roads and minimum passage of game-time per session) is at direct logger-heads with the problem of limited play time (1 hour sessions). Each session begins in town with a week having passed since last session and upkeep costs due (rations or gold must be spent). The players then spend some time in town with one chore or another (pay upkeep, buy/sell equipment, recruit hirelings, etc.) and spend some time roleplaying with the NPCs. Next thing you know half the session is gone, and with half an hour left the party tries to make it out to a dungeon or similar to make some money. They are hit with random encounters along the way, which suck up some time but much less than dallying in town, and finally make it to the dungeon. They then explore maybe one more room than last time, and have to book it to allow time to get back to town and hopefully not get hit with random encounters along the way.

They failed at the last item this time, got hit with a random encounter on the road on their way back, and rolled horribly on the calamity table. Three of four PCs died (or were good as dead), and one of two hirelings as well. The table wasn't really meant to be that deadly, but when several characters only have 1 hp left (or only had 1 hp to begin with), it meant even a little damage on their way out lead to death.

One player in particular was really upset. We're all mature adults, it's not like he stormed off or made a scene, but he did say that he was pretty sure he had to bow out of the game, at least for a little while. Another player wrote a very long email of how dissatisfied he was. Basically, they saw it as very disappointing to die as a result of 'an arbitrary die roll'.

I could point out that it really was their own fault for not leaving enough time to deal with the trip back to town at the end. However, I do think the meta-game system is kind of forcing them into it, so I sympathize.

At this point, it seems to me the best idea to just ditch the real world to game time correlation. We need to support the ability for the players to end one session in the middle of the dungeon and pick right back up where they left off in the next. I think this will ease the tension of having to do everything in every session. Some sessions will become pure dungeon crawls. Others will be spent entirely in town talking to NPCs and performing other tasks. With only 1 hour to play, trying to do some of each is never going to work. I think alternating the focus is fine, provided everyone can deal with the fact that some sessions will not focus on their favorite part of the game.

The only real problem is, how then do we deal with the shifting player base? Perhaps I went overboard in trying to be adaptable here. I had images of different players sitting in randomly, never being entirely sure of who might show up one session to the next. Fact is, I really do have only 6 regular players, of which 3-4 show up any given day. I probably should have learned this lesson from seeing what's happened in BJ's sandbox.

I think probably the correct course of action is just have all the characters present all the time, like any regular recurring game, and deal with player absence like we always have. Right now, in my Warhammer game, if you're absent you just have to designate another player to take care of your character. It's up to that other player to make use of your character or side-line him, but there's always the chance the character will die when you're not present. So far every player I've had in this system has been OK with that, and in general they try their best to protect the characters whose players are absent.

If we do get new players sitting in, I guess we can just cross that bridge when we get to it. Trying to set up a system to allow for an eventuality that never arises means we suffer all the costs without ever seeing the benefit. In all likelihood, we'll easily find some excuse to bring the new player into the game in some traditional way. Either he's tied up in the next room, or the player just plays one of the hirelings.

Right now I've got some emails out there to the players outlining a lot of these thoughts. Hopefully we can fix the game and breathe new life into it. Or maybe we'll find that 1 hour sessions are just too damn short, no matter how we handle it. I suppose only time will tell.
July 15th, 2009 - 08:13 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

DM's Choice
I've been looking at a lot of random tables recently, and am eager to start incorporating some into my game. I got a copy of Kellri's CDD#4 - Encounters printed at Kinkos. It's a free PDF with tables for just about everything. Weighing in at almost 160 pages, it almost made me want to have a laptop at the gaming table, but a hard copy from Kinko's wasn't too pricey.

I also personally printed out a copy of The Miscellaneum of Cinder. This pdf costs a dollar and only comes to 36 pages printable in booklet format, but I think is still well worth the cost. It's also a bit more generic, where Kellri's pdf is clearly geared towards AD&D and OSRIC.

One thing I was sad to see in both products is a problem I see in similar tables throughout gaming - the tendency to put as the final item 'DM's Choice' or similar. This strikes me as a cop out. The author couldn't come up with one more entry? Come on.

And in fact, I think it's a useless entry. First of all, if I wanted to choose my result, I wouldn't be rolling on a random chart. Secondly, I think random tables like this should be used as a spark to the imagination, and not slavishly followed. If the result isn't something that sparks my interest I should feel free to just roll again. Or if I see an entry that does spark my interest before I roll, I should feel free to just use that without rolling. 'DM's Choice' should be a constant possibility, not gated by an entry in the table itself.

One last item on random tables. A little while back I posted the metagame rules for my lunchtime game, which reference two random tables: The Tables of Calamity and the Tables of Want and Neglect. Up until now those have just been empty threats, but I thought it was high time I wrote them. So here they are. If any players in my lunchtime game are reading this, I would request you not read these tables, as you'll only be spoiling the surprise for yourself at the table.

The Tables of Calamity, Want, and Neglect
July 12th, 2009 - 05:39 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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