Tag Archives: role playing games

D&D R.I.P.

Way back in the early (really early) 1980s I began playing Dungeons and Dragons (1st edition, baby!).  It was fun and I played for a number of years (just graduating to 2nd edition) until life intervened and I stopped playing when I joined the Army.

Book cover, Dungeon Masters Guide by Gary Gyga...

If you weren't born in the 1960s, you're a n00b

That ended my involvement in the game until a few years ago when a nearby friend invited me to give the game a second look just as the 4th edition rules came out.  Our little group played for awhile but maintaining a long campaign is a little more difficult with six adults who have jobs, wives and lawns to mow.

My impressions with 4th edition left me a bit cold.  Original D&D had a small number of character races (human, dwarf, elf, half-elf, half-orc, halfling and gnome) and classes (fighter, thief, magic user, cleric, ranger, paladin, illusionist, druid and assassin, monk – bard optional!).  That was it.  Each class and race had distinct advantages and disadvantages and were clearly distinguishable.

4th edition, on the other hand, had dozens of races, classes, ‘builds’, and paths all of which allowed for hyper-individualization but also meant that there were a billion ways to end up with characters that were essentially the same even if superficially they appeared very different.

And this was a problem.

Tabletop gaming today focuses very much on storytelling.  The reason, I suspect, has something to do with the rise of good computer based gaming.  Back in my day, if you wanted to fight a dragon, D&D or similar role playing games were your only options.  Now, you have your pick of computer games which give you not only the ability to fight the dragon but look amazing and take care of the bookkeeping for you.

Take your #2 pencil and 20 sided die and suck it!

D&D just isn’t designed to be a storytelling game.  It has it’s origins in miniature war-gaming and it’s core as a roleplaying game was almost exclusively wrapped up in combat and loot.  Combat and loot are things that computer games can do much, much better than you can with sheets of paper and a dozen rule books (all at $20-$40 a pop).  I’d argue that 4th edition did a bit of slight of hand by covering up this shortcoming by offering players a dizzying array of supplemental books filled with new races, classes, spells, loot and monsters.  In short, a ton of additional ways to do combat and loot but precious little to do good storytelling.

Now, we hear that D&D is going to release a 5th edition.  Details are few but I can’t imagine we’ll see much different in terms of the key focus of the game.  I suspect it’ll remain a combat and loot centered game.  As a result it’ll continue to lose relevance and, like a once beloved TV series, become increasingly irrelevant and even pathetic.

I’m not sure (apart from the ability to generate cash for Wizards of the Coast) that D&D should continue to exist.  The game has had an almost 40 year run, which is pretty good, and for those who want a combat and loot game it’s just fine as it is.  Perhaps it’s time we all acknowledge it’s importance and move on to games which are relevant and interesting to today’s culture.

So, what could D&D do to stay relevant (kinda sorta)? Here are some ideas

  1. Let go.  Back when 3rd edition went out they released the game system and allowed anyone to produce content for the game .  Expanded rules or new adventures could be published (and sold) by anyone.  This meant less revenue for Wizards of the Coast but a better chance for user generated products to keep the game relevant.  I’m not expert in the field but I have to think the timing was off (3rd edition came out in 2000) to really take advantage of the culture of user generated content that the web has allowed over the past six or so years.  D&D should, therefore focus on creating fertile ground for users to build worlds, rules and supplemental material.
  2. Embrace technology.  If computer games are relieving players of the need to focus on record keeping (encumbrance! spells! rules!) why not use that?  Use D&D insider to allow players (and the DM) to use computers (particularly tablets) to track a lot of this stuff.  Die rolls, equipment, damage, etc. can all be tracked and done with a computer and you don’t need much imagination to think about how much easier it would be if you could use a touchscreen.
  3. Decide what you want to be.  If you want to be a combat and loot vehicle, own it.  If you want to be a game about roleplaying and storytelling, develop mechanics that can give a group of players a reasonable chance of having a fun session without one combat encounter.

Of course, what do I know.  I’m probably not the target demographic for D&D as I’m (at best) a casual player and don’t buy much (read: any) of the materials.  Hmmm…so maybe nertz to me.

The Demolished Ones

Brian from Gamecrafters’ Guild is the lead designer on a new role playing game called The Demolished Ones.  I’ve been fortunate enough to get a peek at Brian’s initial plotting ideas and the game looks like a cross between film-noir and Lovcraftian horror.  There’s some great ideas in there and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.

The project is being financed through donations via Kickstarter.  Interested people can donate whatever they want and different levels of contributions entitle the donor to various ‘rewards’.  They’re seeking to raise $3,000 over the next 57 days and are slightly over 20% of their goal as I write this.  Here’s their pitch video:

So, check it out and become a 21st century Medici by patronizing the arts!  Who knows, maybe you’ll kick off a new Renaissance.

Rats to the left of me…rats to the right

The International Business Times (?) has a story about the African Crested Rat.

No…he doesn’t work for Goldman Sachs, it’s a real rat.  Check it out.

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[As an aside, I don’t know why but I love the line ‘Do you have a copy of East African Mammals?’]

Well, this rat has a habit of killing or incapacitating predators or anyone who tries to fuck with it and scientists just figured out how.

After chewing the “poison-arrow plant,” the oversized rodent stores its poison-laced spit in special hollow hairs in its mohawk. Then, when a predator grabs the rat, the animal gets stung with the poison and spit-tipped hairs that can sicken and kill.

The biggest mystery remains: Why don’t these rats die from chewing the poison?

I, for one, welcome our new poisonous rat overlords.

On semi-related rat news…(the rest of this post is gamer related and only for the strong of heart and geek of brain.  You’ve been warned.)

Brian over at 2D6 Cents ran a gaming session with something called Old School Hack.  It was a really fun system that had a couple of great traits going for it.  Namely:

  • not many rules to learn
  • easy and quick character generation

This means you could (and I did) go from taking off my rain coat to playing in something like five minutes.

So, what’s the rat connection?  Our nemesis (who we finally bested) was the ‘Ur-Rat’.

Now , I don’t know what an Ur-Rat is or why we wanted to kill it but details like that don’t really bother me.  It was a rat…it didn’t have any poison mohawks…it was dead meat.

Kvick Tänkare

There’s some hypothesizing that one reason dolphins have such big brains is because they have to keep track of a large number of really complex relationships.  More complex than any animal other than humans.

Male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) form tight bonds with friends and allies that are as intricate and devious as those of humans. Researchers already know, for example, that males team up as duos or trios—known as first-level alliances—so that they can mate with a female without her swimming away… But rival males will often try to steal the female, causing the duo or trio to join forces with other duos and trios in what’s known as a second-level alliance.

Now Connor and colleagues have found an even higher level of alliance. In the biggest fights, the team found, the second-level alliance may receive help from another group of male dolphins, forming what the researchers call a “third-level” alliance. Even among chimpanzees, scientists have not witnessed such sophisticated partnerships, where one group of animals receives help from another group in a fight.

Brian over at Gamecrafter’s Guild has taken the legend of the tomte and adapted it for 4th edition D&D rules.  First rule to remember…don’t piss off the tomte.

Great story from Sweden:

Swedish porn mogul Berth Milton has come up with an unusual business proposition for his next project: five-star hotels where guests can stay for free in exchange for having their indiscretions filmed and broadcast over the internet.

But hey, Mr. Milton wants you to know that if he builds one of these in your neighborhood, you needn’t worry about your property values falling.

“It has to be a hotel for non-swingers as well — not super-explicit where everybody’s running around naked. That takes the style and class out of it,” he said.

Oh…as long as they keep the style and class.

The balance of this post is NSFW

Even better story from West Virginia.  Police reports tend to be pretty dry and boring affairs.  Still, when there’s a good story it can shine through even the most boring official lingo.  And anytime a police report includes a quote like this you know there’s a doozy of a story attached:

“Somebody is going to eat my pussy or I’m going to cut your fucking throat.”

Oh, and it gets even better.  This story has everything…a marriage on the rocks, a motor lodge, two half naked buddies, and a crazy lady with a knife.  (h/t Balko)

Kvick Tänkare

Michael Roberto thinks about the BP oil spill and talks about the characteristics of catastrophic failure in organizations.

If soccer (uh..football) was actually like this you couldn’t rip me away from the TV screen

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Ah…nothing like a little xenophobia to demonstrate to the world that we’re the bestest, greatest, most perfect nation god ever gave the earth…(h/t Balko)

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

“Go home,” several shouted from the crowd.

“Get out,” others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called “The Way.” Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

“I’m a Christian,” Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

(uh…for normal people – well, as much as normal people would be part of an angry mob – this would be a big OOOPS moment with shamed faces to spare.  Not this group of winners, though…twshiloh)

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

“I flew nine hours in an airplane to come here,” a frustrated Nassralla said afterward.

(Because it’s not really about religion, is it?  It’s about THEM.  They’re coming to get you Barbara.  What a bunch of douches.  Of course, you could say that since the Egyptians were there to protest the very same thing they were just getting their karmic rewards…)

This past weekend I just about got my ass kicked by a beholder.  If that sentence makes any sense to you at you, you can read the session report here.

Here’s a poster for that IT geek in your life…

Cruel and unusual punishment

Apparently the Wisconsin prison system has enacted a regulation preventing inmates from playing Dungeons and Dragons.  According to the Oakland Tribune:

Prison officials instigated the Dungeons & Dragons ban among concerns that playing the game promoted gang-related activity and was a threat to security.

Uh, I thought we dispensed with this sort of goofy thinking back in the mid-80s.  If the biggest gang threat in your prison is guys sitting around a table arguing about the blast radius of a fireball (c’mon, don’t you pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about) then you really should just sit back and count your lucky stars.

Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,” according to the ruling.

Yes, we need less of this sort of behavior, let’s get inmates involved in more wholesome activity like metal working (best shanks in town!), learning how to bribe prison guards for cell phones, drugs and other contraband, and real hostility.

It seems to me that since we’ve essentially decided to forgo rehabilitation in favor of warehousing prisoners we could do worse than allow prisoners to self-organize to participate in activities which promote cooperative behavior, following rules, suppressing impulsive behavior, etc. (all of which D&D does if you know anything about it).

h/t boingboing

Add a little realism to your game

Since I’ve taken the plunge back into the world of D&D, I’ve decided to start constructing a campaign for the group I game with.  Figuring that I’d take advantage of this opportunity to brush up on some history, I’ve decided to use as my inspiration the 2nd Punic War and the story of Beowulf in a (hopefully) entertaining mashup. I’ll explain the campaign in more detail over the coming weeks but I wanted to share a cool resource that may have a wider applicability.

From the BBC:

The detailed service records of 250,000 medieval soldiers – including archers who served with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt – have gone online.

You can find the database here.  And the people running the project are doing something even cooler in something they call ‘soldier profiles‘.

This section will feature sketches of the careers in arms of interesting soldiers, drawing on the evidence provided by the online database.

This is a great tool for fleshing out NPCs in your game or even giving your players some inspiration for developing their characters.

Even if you aren’t a huge gamer, these profiles are wicked interesting if you’re interested in history.


Note:  This post is about D&D and so you should only consider reading it if you have a passing interest in that subject and are in a place your co-workers, spouse(s)?, and others won’t mock you for reading it.  You’ve been warned.

After a 23 year hiatus, about a year ago I started playing D&D again (fate conspired to move a gamer cousin within about 15 minutes of me and that sealed the deal).  The game in its current 4th edition incarnation is a long, long way from when I played it originally and I have to say the changes are all for the better.  The game adds structure to the administrative parts and allows much more freedom for the fun (roleplaying) parts.  Of course, it could just be that I enjoy it more now that I’m older and so have some real world experiences to add to my imagination (really, is negotiating with an ogre that different from dealing with that pinhead from headquarters who may not have much in the way of brains but could crush your career with a flick of his wrist (either by club or evaluation report)?

If there’s a fault with the new game system is that there are too many options for any player to fully explore.  Gaming (at least for those of us with jobs, spouses and other interests) is an occasional pastime at best requiring calendar synching with 5 or 6 others and yet Wizards of the Coast seems intent on publishing new material so fast you barely have a chance to digest it before you see another heaping plate coming towards you.

So, I was thinking it might be interesting to change to focus of a campaign away from characters and instead, put the focus on an item and have the players interact with it over time in various guises.  Perhaps an example would make things a bit clearer.

Imagine a group of characters starting out at 1st level.  They’re given a quest (defeat an enemy, make a treaty, protect a caravan, etc) and given a magical item to start them off.  The whole campaign will focus around this item so if the party is killed by a band of raiders, no problem.  If it’s stolen by some pesky kobolds, ok.  As soon as the item is out of the hands of the party the players will generate new characters to represent the new owners of the magic item.  Maybe they have a reason for having the item and maybe they don’t but the central theme of the campaign remains with the item.

As characters increase in level (perhaps each change of owners would be reflected in a higher level) a new aspect of the item could be revealed (maybe uncovering enchantments would become quests in themselves).  At some point it becomes clear that this isn’t a regular magical item but some sort of all artifact (with innate intelligence driving the characters to some end?).  By the time the characters reach the end of the campaign the full powers of the artifact could be revealed or maybe the item is actually a bound demon/demi-god which is finally released (for good or ill) upon the earth.

Thing about the Lord of the Rings but not focusing on the trilogy but rather taking a longer view of the history of the ring and allowing players to play the various owners of the ring throughout generations.

Players would have to change characters with much more regularity than normally occurs which might be a bit dissapointing but, on the other hand, they get to play an incredible amount of races, classes and even occasionally monsters.  It might be a great introductory campaign after which players would have a better idea of what kind of characters they’d like to play.

And now that you’ve made it this far, here’s a movie clip…if you get the references and think it’s funny (or suspect someone stole your character notes from when you were a kid, check out the whole movie, it’s quite good.

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A brief political rant

Courtesy of the McCain campaign.

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

Ok…well Mr. McCain (or whichever one of your flunkies is responsible for the comment above) please don’t take the following as a comment from one of those gamers who lives in his ‘mom’s basement’ (which, by the way, is way to crowded with assorted bric a brac as well as a creepy furnace for anyone to even consider living in) but rather from a combat veteran with 17 years of military experience.

Kiss my D&D playing ass.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to see my mom and have her tell me how special I am…

Once a geek, always a geek

Well, after a hiatus of about 23 years I’ve returned to my roots and began playing Dungeons and Dragons again.  Now, before you become overcome in guffaws and begin angling to give me an atomic wedgie, let me just say that the nature of roleplaying games such as these encourages imagination and therefore stimulates critical thinking which sharpens analytical skills.  Sharp analytical skills have been cited numerous times as essential in preventing future terrorist attacks.

Therefore, my playing D&D helps to defeat Bin Laden.

And sitting around drinking Coors Light and watching the game does what to keep America safe exactly?

Oh…and it gives me practise with new technology.  The guy running the campaign has set up a wiki for the game which will let us flesh out our characters and details that wouldn’t otherwise have a place in the game.

I was trying to find a good graphic to go along with this post but found this instead.  It totally contradicts my argument but it’s funny as hell, so enjoy.

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