Monday, March 28, 2011

The Thin Man

When I travel for pleasure I usually carve out time to do some reading.  In my latest travel adventure, one of the books I took with me was The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  If you have never heard of Dashiell Hammett, he wrote The Maltese Falcon, which was turned into what is now the more famous movie.

If you like detective noir, if you like a good story with interesting but not too deep characters, if you like a fast read and witty banter, you may like The Thin Man.

Nick Charles is a middle aged ex private detective with a rich and pretty young wife.  In a gritty manner, the book walks through a short period of their lives as they are drawn into the seedy troubles of an old work associate of Nick's.  The couple cheerfully drink their way from posh hotel rooms to speakeasies on the journey to solving the mystery of The Thin Man.

This book is not revelations about the depth of mankind's soul, is not an expose of hidden knowledge about New York City during prohibition, and it is not treatise on great moral problems of our day.  It is a fine read, and an interesting view of what real life detective Hammett thought about life in the 1930s.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We adventure and grow characters

I started following Christian over at Christian links to another blog (I'll let you follow the trail and leave credit for tweaking me with Christian) which discusses the following quote:

We don't explore characters--we explore dungeons.

I did a little Google-fu and the quote seems to originate with someone whose screen name was evreaux and posted on some of the old edition boards, like Dragonsfoot, a few years back.  As with any good provocative quote, it could be interpreted a number of ways.  I found discussion of this quote had gone on in a number of blogs and a couple of view points in particular also struck me, in an uncomfortable way. 

Before I continue let me reveal my bias.  I am an old school sympathizer.  We played 1E for 15 years and enjoyed every minute of it.  Sure we house ruled the heck out of it, who didn't.  There are certain elements of older D&D that I cherish and we attempt to keep those elements in the core of how we play - regardless of edition. However I am not OSR proponent, nor am I an old school purist.  I kind of like how Christian put it on his blog a couple of posts ago - I am a masher. 
So back to the quote.  Some folks said this sums up old school gaming perfectly.  Since I don't claim to be a purist, my first reaction was not - No, you are wrong!  It was more - if that is true, does that make me more or less old school?  Judging by how uncomfortable the quote makes me feel in regards to describing our gaming, the answer would be it makes me less old school.  But that also makes me feel uncomfortable by suggesting I have pulled far from my roots. 

Do we explore characters?  In some sense we do.  To outwardly deny it would be untruthful.  In the adventure exploring characters is not the primary goal, the primary goal is the adventure.  However, as part of that we do explore our characters to some degree.  However, exploring characters is not neurotic angst, nor navel gazing, nor whining, nor characters paralyzed with inaction until some internal conflict is resolved, and nor characters so dysfunctional that is derails adventuring, and nor neurotic angst.  (You said neurotic angst twice.  I hate neurotic angst).  Perhaps it is more accurate to say we grow characters.  So if we grow are characters is that somehow anathema to the spirit of old school?

Another thread suggested that old school must be roll your six stats in order with no mods and play it as rolled.  OK, we all know that was the starting method and I'll grant if you are a purist there is no other true character generation method.  Again, I am no purist. In some of those threads the devil is 3E with its pick your own stats method of play.  But I say wait a minute....  Long before that edition was a twinkle in someones eye we were rolling 4d6 and arranging as desired for some of our games in 1E.  Did that make us heathens, unclean players of AD&D, an abomination in the eyes of the old school gods?  Then I must ask, why couldn't you run a 3E game and roll 3d6 in order?  Well of course you can but is that old school?  I will choose to not attempt an answer.  Whether it is old school or not is less important than is it fun or not.

I prefer to describe how we play as - We adventure and grow characters.  I do not desire static characters but character growth happens as part of adventuring not as an independent item.  So we adventure first, and characters grow during adventures.  You make beer out of water and grain products.  Which is more important?  You can spend loads of time arguing about it, but try to make beer without either one and see how far you get.  You can tell me that beer is a poor analogy to my D&D game, but in my thirty plus years of gaming the two are inextricably woven together as dear friends.

So - no bad/wrong fun argument here.  Just some introspection against some old school definition discussion.  Why do I bother?  Mostly because I want to continue to have our game evolve but stay true to the have fun part, and continue to make sure the ratio of time spent in the game to the amount of fun we have remains high.  

The dice never lie.  Cheers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Caves of Chaos Redux

Last year I posted about my own little Caves of Chaos, just as the group was starting to explore it.  I don't believe that most folk's games can be described fairly in just one the game tropes.  I suppose mine is story/plot driven which routes through mini sandbox to mini sandbox.  I have an over arching story, or more accurately, a series of parallel and over lapping plots, which have stop over points where the party can make some choices and go off in whatever direction they wish for a time.  After a while, one of the over arching story elements entices them back on the plot driven train.  My own little caves section is one of those sandboxes.

As noted last time, they came here with a mission, but had the latitude for a short time to be themselves.  I purposefully made the area a complicated web of relationships.  Every action, for good or ill, changes the balance and could have unpredictable results. The party correctly perceived the situation and has been somewhat cautious in taking actions.  Of course, they could have ignored the potential complications and just plowed head first into whatever took their fancy.  I am happy to have the world respond in kind, and the adventure continues.

They were successful in finding and retrieving the artifact, a two hand sword named Gray Razor.  The plot train calls, and they are carefully calculating the time they have left to 'make some things right' before boarding the plot train.  Since no plan survives contact with the enemy it is interesting to watch them balance contingencies against the 'oh, hell we are heroic let us just do this'.  Without saying too much (and my players read the blog), I do find it fascinating they are leaning towards saving one fairly anonymous NPC of which they know almost nothing of his background, though granted it is one of the few with which they had any personal contact.  It is quite typical though, it is a good party and this is an obvious and personal affront to their sensibilities and ethics.  I am quite looking forward to the rescue encounter.

The characters will leave Spireholm, the plot train will move on, and the adventure will continue.  The memory of the place will linger and grow, and at the proper time the plot train will pass this way again and they will have another chance to 'make things right'.  Or, when I give them free time between plot driven adventures, they may choose to come back and 'save' Spireholm.  Either way, I am please how it all worked out, and though outwardly Spireholm bears little resemblance to the Caves of Chaos, those caves were the seed that long ago sparked my imagination to create this sandbox.

The dice never lie.  Cheers!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How the divination worked out

In a number of rambling posts on divination (starting way back here) I stopped at the point where the party acted on the advice provided.  It turned out between the divination, some old diary entries, the group's analysis of the situation, and some blind luck they were able to enter the tomb of the barbarian princess.

Some ancient text in the tomb warning of dire consequences further worried them about touching any of the vast amounts of wealth arrayed around the sarcophagus.  The two large statues they suspected to be golems played a part in creating worry too.  This group, being mostly good and somewhat lawful, decided not to rob this tomb and only took the artifact weapon as was allowed by all the history they had found.  One character stated, "We are not grave robbers!" to the general amusement of the entire group.  We are left to wonder if the warnings had been less dire, or the protections less impressive looking, had their alignment held - or would they have taken the treasure for the 'greater good'?  The might be good fodder for an alignment post some time.

In the end, it seems the divinations proved useful and I do not feel it gave away the game or made the outings less fun.  In fact, since they perceived themselves to be stuck, I think it made the game more fun by helping them move along without DM deus ex machina.  It was the gods help for sure, but the players asked for it on their terms and that makes all the difference.

The dice never lie.  Cheers.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why can't we all get along?

Mike Mearls the Group Manager for the D&D Research and Development team made a blog post at the WotC web page which was essentially why we should all get along. 

A few clips from his post include: "These days, when we think about D&D’s past and present, we all too often think of it in adversarial tones....  Whether you play the original game published in 1974, AD&D in any of its forms, 3rd Edition and its descendants, or 4th Edition, at the end of the day you’re playing D&D....  Don’t let that details drive us apart when the big picture says we should be joined together."

Now a number of folks at ENWorld, and I am sure on other venues, responded with vitriol (I love that word, don't you?).  In essence they declare that he is a mouth piece for WotC and they are primarily motivated to convince those of us who are not buying 4th Edition to all make nice and buy stuff from them.

I have spent some time deeply analyzing that and have come to a remarkable conclusion.  Duh! Of course they want us to believe that.  What idiot out there thinks otherwise?  However, that does not make the statement untrue. 

What binds us together in this hobby of D&D is greater than the differences of the game versions, house rules, or home brew campaigns all of us nut cases can possibly put together.  Furthermore, I believe those who are divisive are in fact a vocal minority.  I don't care what version of the game you play or why.  I love hearing about your clever ideas, interesting campaign moments, idle musings and random rants.  To me, it is all relevant because no matter what version of the game, or its spin offs, you are playing I find common ground with you all.

Here, I will say it.  Why can't we all get along?  Well, some folks don't want to get along.  The rest of us are getting along just fine.

The dice never lie.
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