Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Frazetta

While Barak didn't relish his sales trips to Lemuria, he had to admit the taxi service there was fast and reliable.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lazy Blog Post - The Girls of Oktoberfest

Look at those huge... mugs of marzen!

This is why adventures always start in taverns.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Frazetta

Always carry a pointy stick when you venture into Bigass Spider Swamp.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The original "Adventure Path"

Reminiscing some more on those high school gaming days, I was struck by how often we repeated our own sort of "Adventure Path", or string of connected adventures.

Typically, this "Path" consisted of:
T1 The Village of Hommlett
T2-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth
D2 Shrine of the Kuo Toa
D3 Vault of the Drow

Then, after D3, there would be some sort of foray into the Abyss or Hell, and big showdown between the party and every single damn Demon Lord or whatever in the MM.

Occasionally, there were variants of this sequence, such as running through the Saltmarsh triligy, followed by the Slavers quartet, but these would still lead back to the "holy" Giant and Drow modules.

In a way, I guess it was like playing a tough video game over and over - we never got particularly tired of playing those adventures, and it was fun to test new ideas and new characters on these challenging scenarios.

I've lamented before the lack of a "flagship" adventure for the OSR - with so many great retro-clones of D&D's various iterations out there, it's surprising that there has yet to emerge that universal adventure (or series of adventures) that everyone has played, with multiple characters.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What is a "Character"?

Last weekend's reunion got me thinking a lot about how we used to play back then, in high school. In some ways, we played in a very "archaic" fashion - long on hack & slash, short on character background development - and yet, somehow, all those characters are still very memorable today. Before high school, I lived in a different part of Florida and played with a group in middle school.

That group played things very differently. I can barely remember one character (an elf, I think), though I played dozens. We used the Moldvay/Cook sets back then, and games were basically a meat grinder. I don't remember for sure whether it was because our DM was out to get us, or because we thought getting killed in dungeons in spectacular and gory ways was simply part of the game. I suspect it was both. A character in those days was little more than a Parcheesi pawn - I, me, was the one exploring dungeons, playing a game, not my character. To continue with the Parcheesi pawn comparison, I had a set of Grenadier "hero" miniatures I had clumsily painted, and I'm pretty sure I cycled through the entire set at least three times!

All that changed when I met the new group in high school. These guys had been playing (AD&D) together for years before I met them, and they often played the same character for months or even years at a time. They knew these characters so well, they could play them anywhere, at the drop of a hat. Books, dice, and table were preferred of course, but occasionally around a campfire or during a roadtrip sufficed just as well.

When I joined up, I plunged into to the fray with the reckless abandon (and Monty Haulish list of magic items) from my original group. And died. And died. And died again. It wasn't long before I noticed no one else was (well, at least not every session). I started to pay attention. These guys were cautious. They were crafty. They planned, and planned well. They were meticulous, knowledgeable, and brutally efficient. I started to learn.

As I learned, I noticed something peculiar: these guys were not playing a game (with Parcheesi pawns), they were playing characters in a game. During "game time", they stayed "in character". Whatever they said aloud was considered to be what their characters said aloud. If they picked up something I thought was obviously a wand of fireballs or a laser pistol, they still experimented with it, refusing steadfastly to fall back on their "out of game" knowledge, preferring instead to take on the challenge of figuring it out on their character's terms.

Slowly but surely, my own characters began to survive! I was meticulous, knowledgeable, and brutally efficient. I planned, and planned well. Characters like The Ravyn, The Nameless Bard of Nehwon, and Adron the Desert Druid are still fresh in my mind after all these years, as are their exploits. Their backgrounds aren't something I wrote down on a piece of looseleaf paper before rolling up the character - their backgrounds are what happened from 1st level to 10th level, or even higher. Their exploits became the stuff of legend, shared across campfires and open beers for decades after their character sheets had long since moldered into dust in the corners of mothers' attics.

Of course, all things change.

Soon, Dragonlance would rear its head in the world of D&D gaming, and characters would become part of a story, rather than the center or catalyst of a story. Shortly after that, 2nd edition would arrive, and what a character could do would slowly become based more in static rules like non-weapon proficiencies and class kits, and less rooted in meticulous planning and brutal efficiency. That's not to say gaming was tremendously less enjoyable, but it would rarely ever be as engrossing or engaging again.

Which leads us back to our question: what, exactly, is a "character"? After so many different styles of play, editions, and groups, what a character is, really, is pretty amorphous. In the end, I guess, characters are, simply, what we make of them.

And for a while there, we made them pretty damn good.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Renunion 2012 - the Shrine

Last weekend I had the pleasure of jetting back to Florida for a reunion with a lot of the folks from my high school D&D group. I hadn't seen a lot of these guys in 20 years, and it was a kick to catch up with everyone, and swap old game stories. To make it even better, we met at the garage where most of those game sessions were held, so long ago!

Here's a couple of pics of the "Shrine" we set up on a table in the garage, with lots of the early D&D stuff we used (and even some newer stuff people have used since). I don't have a picture of it, but we also had our "original" game table, with many of our names carved into, hung nearby on a wall. Hung, because I'm pretty sure we burned the table's legs after they broke off. Yeah, stuff got burned back then.

Some of the goodies you'll spot: an original D&D "white" boxed set, an original Moldvay set, a copy of "Bored of the Rings" that got passed around about 400 times and was regularly quoted at the table, and a laser-disk version of "Basket Case", one of our favorite bad movies.


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