Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pen and Paper... Who Uses Pens???

This is not a pet peeve of mine, but every time a I see a reference to table top role-playing as a 'pen and paper game', it makes me chuckle and I wonder if I've had some abnormal/alternate earth gaming experience. When I got into role-playing, everything was written in pencil. The volatile nature of character statistics made this a necessity if not a convenience. I remember when we would get a new player to the group, if they had never played before; no big deal, we would just inform them a pencil was a better idea for keeping track of characters. If the person said they had played before and used a pen, we would ride the player about not being a 'real' player. The game master might go out of his way to force the player to change values more often than other players. That character would be the odd man out and chosen for any ill-fated tasks until the player saw the errors of his way.

As I switched from group to group in my errant travels across the land, and yes as far away as the far east, this seemed pretty normal. I know the next question; "What about erasable pens?" My group at the time went through this phase too. I do not know which era of the erasable pen you are referring to, but when they came out... they were crap. The ink was spotty, not the smooth ball points or felt tips you have now. And they did not really erase. They partially erased and partially smeared the ink on the paper. The user generally created 'eraser holes' a lot faster than a pencil user.

I do not use erasable pens now, but a year or so ago, I was checking out of an office supply store that had a display at the register for an erasable pen. There was a little pad of paper and and cup of pens to try out. Since I wasn't doing anything but waiting to pay for my purchase, I figured 'why not?'. I must admit, they got me. The pen wrote beautifully, and erasing was easy and left no trace of the writing. I thought it was so good, I bought two on the spot. Well, I started using them and although I couldn't bring myself to desecrate my character sheet with it, I did use it to take notes. What I came to found out, was the reason it erased so well was that the ink was heat sensitive. The friction from the eraser was enough to counter the ink and make it turn invisible. How did I learn this? Well, on one particular game day, I decided to leave my backpack in the car when I went it to work. On this particular warm summer day, the natural oven like temperature in the car was enough to make four pages of notes disappear from sight. To exemplify the cosmic "gotcha" for using a pen in gaming, both pens 'burned' out in the hot car and no longer wrote. I probably could have done something to get my notes back, but it wasn't worth the effort to find out. I merely chalked up as another reason why you should not use a pen for table top RPGs.

I am curious as to how regular 'pens' are in other gamer's group. Is this an erroneous term or did I just happenstance on hard core pencil users.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hammerfast Review

For my first review of the new year I chose the D&D 4th Edition supplement, Hammerfast. This is significant for three reasons:

First, I loath D&D fourth edition. I will not go into my reasons for disliking fourth edition as that is not the point of this review. Just know that I chose the word for my feelings for the new edition with great care.

Second, I don't buy retail. As a family man, there are usually a number of better reasons for spending my money. I am not only a more persnickety purveyor of pasttime products (don't ask, it just came out), but I have other obligations I must consider.

Third, this was a supplement book. I have so much gaming material, it is difficult to justify another 'source book'. I have many that I have never used, and probably never will, but I'm always on the look out for something good; that is also reasonably priced.

The goal of my quest was to support my local hobby shop as per my New Year's Resolution. There I was trying to find what I should spend my hard earned cash on, and there was a lot of selection. I actually came to the item 3 times before deciding to go with it. Since the item was shrink wrapped, I could only judge the book by its cover. The cover art didn't really inspire me, so I based the whole purchase on one thing; "a full-color, double-sided battle map".

Once I got home, I opened up the supplement and read through the entire supplement almost in one sitting. I was pleasantly surprised by the supplement and the map. The map consists of one side being the main tavern in the town, suitable for a nice bar room throw down, and the other side consisting of the entire town of Hammerfast. The map is a little small to use with miniatures, but it works well to give players a feeling of the entire town.

So the history of Hammerfast is... different. Hammerfast was once a dwarf graveyard that was overrun by orcs that were slain by the ghosts of the dwarves 'resting' there. This turned the whole area into huge hallowed area for both dwarves and orcs alike. Instead of constant fighting over the land, Moradin and Gruumsh came to an agreement that it is neutral land and no orc or dwarf will take action against the other race. Who keeps these two mortal enemies in check? Why the ghosts of the fallen dwarves and orcs who live beside them (groan).

The town of Hammerfast is sorrounded by walls and there is a river that cuts through the a quarter of the town. The town is divided into four quarters called the gate ward, trade ward, lore ward, and craft ward. The layout of the town is well down and the supplement provides a lot of color for the town.

There are a number of personalities that you can pull from as well as a nice story arc that players can come back to and various levels. This helps make the town feel 'alive' as there are things constantly happening while the players are out adventuring. The only problems I have with this supplement are the orcs and the ghosts. I do not particularly like my towns to have such a strong supernatural aspect to them so I just take the ghost portion out. I also do not have 'gods' hover around any location making sure their followers obey their every command. I prefer to have my gods work in the background and hard to prove they exist. So without the ghost and godly intervention, I think the orcs and dwarves would degenerate into fighting.

For the most part, I think this is a good supplement, there is a lot of good information if you are trying to flesh out a town for your players to base out of. I found it easy to modify for my campaign. I think the map of the town and the dwarven personalities in the supplement are its strongest features and I would rate this supplement as a solid spit to my left. For those unfamiliar with ork customs, a spit to the left is a sign of respect, while a spit to the right is a sign of disrespect. If you would like a rating between one and ten, I would probably give it a seven.

Birds of a Feather

As I perused the internet today haphazardly clicking on links, I came across some gaming related 'motivational' posters. I read through them, I realized that on this one, I have that same picture on the wall.

It is an old Lord of the Rings poster from 25 to 30 years ago. I do not know if the owner of the poster in this picture has any sentimental attachment to his poster, but mine was purchased by my wife from a garage sale when we first got married.

The poster itself has been mounted on large piece of wood and shellacked to provide a smooth glossy finish. I'm not one for posters, but this one has always been a treasure of mine. I have it hung in our reading nook and there is a light that shines on it. The most humorous aspect of the story is that the man who sold it to my wife, sold it for a dollar and a promise not to sell it on ebay.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dice, Rulebooks, Actions?

Deliberating on what to discuss on the blog is sometimes baffling as I have chosen not to follow D&D, the game the introduced me to the world of role-playing. As such, some of my issues with gaming are not standard, and possibly unrelated to problems of other gamers. Trying to sanitize data for others to find useful causes the original issue to become obscure and unrelated on all accounts. Instead of worrying about that, I am just going to jump in.

I'm currently playing the most recent edition of Earthdawn from the good folks over at Redbrick. I was updating one of the player's on-line character sheet when I realized I had to change all the action types for their skills. To put this in context, you will probably note that there are multiple types of action in a RPG.
Shadowrun uses the 'Free', 'Simple', 'Complex' actions.

D&D 3.X uses 'Move', 'Free', 'Standard', and 'Full Round' actions.
Earthdawn originally had a boolean variable for actions. 'Action: yes' and 'Action: No'. If action was set to yes, you could only perform that skill/talent once per round. All others you could do multiple times. This actually sped up gaming as it was pretty easy to remember which actions you could only do once per round. Since ED3, the actions have graduated to a more popular style and Earthdawn now hosts 'Standard', 'Simple', 'free' and 'sustained' actions.

I am now discovering the difficulty to determine which character action falls into which category. To make matter worse, some skills, like speak languages, state it uses a standard action, but in combat, a character can speak while doing other things. This makes it more like a simple action. Since you can only do one standard action per round, you could not speak and swing a sword at the same time, I think Inigo Montoya would disagree with this.

This would not normally bother me, but since I am trying to look at things from a simpler perspective. I find that simpler 'yes or no' worked fine and any disagreements were left to the GM (and the players had less ammunition to argue).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Harrowed Halls of Duhn Korinth Prologue

“Typical, a dwarf scholar seeks some lost kaer that holds untold treasure. Yet all the dwarf has to its location is a footnote is some ‘other’ dwarf’s journal.”
—Captain Kaegan of the Icefalcon

The adventuring band known as' The Last Circle' had disbanded. Fear and petty squabbles eroded at group’s cohesiveness; as each companion fell so did the threads that bound them together. Dakuwan’s death severed the final thread. The surviving members parted ways to pursue their own goals. Remy had left the group first, the draw of treasure being much stronger than his ties to the group. Rok headed north for Dwegarheim, looking for the ex-blood Warder Takarsis. Netherwind traveled to Bartertown seeking the nethermancer Illyanna. Galea traveled towards Jerris, drawn by a legend she found in a book. Thovar and Tianna headed towards Urupa for reasons only a dwarf could fathom. Braxis traveled to Travar to compete in a tournament. And Klaz disappeared into the Servos, looking for a trail he did not know if it still existed. Some left on amiable terms, others left in heated passion, and others simply slipped off in the dark. A year has passed since the troupe braved the wilds of Barsaive together. Their memories of each other fading into the recesses of their minds. The companions that they once fought beside were flickering memories of a dying candle. But threads that bind us together are not easily cut, and Fate pulls those strings once again.

The road to Kear Korinth is not an easy one. Nestled in the mountains, the road is an uphill battle only a dwarf would see the practicality in. For a day and a half the uphill trek has exhausted Remy to the point that his muscles quiver with each step. Any force attacking the town would be defeated before they even made it to his destination, a the kaer Korinth. An unexplored kaer that holds the wealth of a long dead nation. Remy heard that a small village has sprung up around the entrance and there has been much talk about the village in the northern hinterlands. The pain in Remy's legs snaps his attention back to the task at hand. While this arduous trail may protect Korinth from bandits and scorchers, Remy could see why merchants avoided it also. Remy eyes the cart, but thinks better of it. If Darron catches him stowing away on the cart again, he will probably leave him behind. The hinterlands is no place to be alone. Another hour of trudging up the path leads to a plateau and rest. Remy catches his first glance of Kear Korinth. The Fifteen foot walls crafted from clean granite stones stand in staunch defense of the small town. The stones are fitted together to appear seamless. Atop the walls stand Kahrne Silveraxe’s men, deserters of the Throalic army. Among them are dwarves in green robes wearing strange bronze breastplates and stranger bronze helmets. Every fifth dwarf is clad in similar attire with a full face helm that consists of a mask bearing a dwarven visage. Perhaps the dwarves’ envisioning of Thystonius, but Remy has never heard of such a practice.

As he approaches the main gate, a band of dwarven guards inspect those coming into Korinth before informing them to report to the tax office inside the Gate Quarter. The Gate Quarter buzzes with activity and Remy sees that the Gate Quarter is as packed as any bazaar in Bartertown, brightly colored stalls entice Name-givers into buying their wares. Darron, caught up in the moment, starts setting up his stall before being reminded by a dwarf guard that he must first register at the tax office. Deciding the line for the tax office was too long, Remmy scans the throng of people in the Gate Quarter for a possible mark. He almost decides on a particularly unpleasant human merchant when he notices a face; a face that he has not seen in over a year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Simple vs. Complex Games

Trying to keep up with the blog this new year and not let too much time go between posts. I was doing some work on my game for this Friday when I got this facebook update from a colleague.
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
--Albert Einstein
Which imediately got me thinking. I am the type of person that likes my games more complex. I am constantly think of 'house rules' than can be used in specific situations. Boil a game down to its simplest sense and your playing 'Chutes and Ladder' or 'Hi Ho Cherry-O'. Those are fine games, but in the end they don't stimulate my brain enough to keep me up until (checks the clock). Well, later than I should. So to that end I do like my games more complex, but I think I will try sit back and try to look at things from a simpler point of view.

on a scale of one to ten, where ten is very complex, how do you like your games?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolute Gaming

Happy New Year!!!

I'd like to start the new year with post on my gaming resolutions for this year. Shout out to Richard of Random Generation, who got me into this tradition last year with his re-post of gaming resolutions: New Years Resolutions.
  1. Buy something from a local game store - Support the businesses that support your hobby. You can probably get it cheaper on-line, or 'acquire' an electronic copy somewhere, but I decided to bite the bullet on this one and spend a few extra bucks to help keep the doors open of those establishments that propagate gaming in the community .
  2. Finish at least 3 submission - I've been half playing with a number of ideas for the last year and never finished anything.
  3. Redo the Earthdawn Publishing Trust site - I've been putting this off for a couple years. I figure if I have time to blog, I should direct some energy into the site.
  4. Read at least 4 recreation related books - Hopefully I can find something that wlil pique my interest. Unfortunately, I am not a fast reader and this will be hard to fill.
  5. Wiki-something - I have been looking at a lot of wiki's for ideas and inspirations, I hope to be able to contribute to some for the rest of the world.
  6. Try a new game system - I failed this last year. A whole year and didn't even try a single new system. I may have to be more convincing this year.
  7. Compile some gaming music - I have come to the understanding that a little ambiance music does add to the mood of the game, but only if it is the right type. To that end, I want to make some blanket tunes that I can use for a game on the fly.
  8. Organize my RPG collection - I have more gaming stuff than I have room for. I have decided to draw dawn on the number books I own to free up space.
  9. Go play at a convention – This is another one I failed to do. I even got permission to go to GenCon from my wife. Had the money, inquired into sharing a room with some others. Then life got in the way and I had to cancel. Maybe I should start smaller this year.
  10. Get more sleep - 'nuff said?
I welcome anyone else's ideas on gaming resolutions and may cause me to make some amendments to my list.

May the road carry you quickly to your next game and may lady luck smile on your dice rolls.