Saturday, August 23, 2008


Taking the next couple of days off to get some work done. I'll be back on Monday with my regular postings.

See you then.


  1. Hey, have a good... working weekend?

    Meanwhile, I'm totally gonna take this opportunity to share something that I've been wanting to write about, but has always seemed kind of 'off topic' to comment on any other post. It's something that I had never really perceived before, but that you've given me the perspective to see and understand.

    Here it is. I think I've mentioned in the past that I got into role-playing through Star Wars in the '80s. Those adventures were definitely plot-based, but the events of the plot depended on moving to new locations - a bit like an old CRPG, I guess. When I picked up my first D&D set (the big black box released around the same time as the Cyclopedia, credited to Timothy B. Brown), it was an adjustment to be sure.

    The few low-level dungeon adventures I actually ran drew more on Zelda than anything else - I had yet to discover the pulp S&S that would later become my great love. But when I got copies of both the Cook and the Moldvay Expert books, my eyes were opened. I advanced all the PCs enough levels to start playing in this new wilderness environment, and that's when the magic happened.

    I didn't bother to plan adventures. I didn't even stock dungeons. I gave them hex paper, filled in various details of my own on my copy of the Known World map, and just let them wander around. They got lost, they got into trouble, and they had a wonderful time. Practically everything that happened was improvised, and I always felt free to change the results of a random encounter if I happened to think of something "way cooler" than whatever I'd rolled.

    I remember the characters stumbling onto a (formerly) hibernating white dragon while trying to climb a mountain because they couldn't find the pass I'd assured them was within a day's journey. I recall their players' first encounter with gnolls; having never heard of these creatures before, they just parlayed with what appeared to be an exciting new tribe of savages, and wound up hiring several henchmen and even getting a sidekick - an apprentice wokan (because by now I'd acquired the 1st edition AD&D DMG). I even remember introducing a half-orc PC by having him the sole survivor of a raiding party that the PCs fought off while guarding a caravan. And naturally there was always great fun (for me at least) when the players realized that the new town they'd added to their map was already there - a significant distance away - because they'd been wandering not in circles, but in vast rambling squiggles. Always a priceless moment.

    At some point I'd gotten the impression that there needed to be some kind of epic storyline here. I gave the cleric some Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat dreams, and wound up forgetting why before anyone tried to seriously investigate them. I planted rumors of an evil overlord who was foretold to be killed only by a blade carved from black pearl - but that was really just lure to make the players jump on the clues leading them to the Isle of Dread - which they never actually reached, as a series of random encounters left them adrift on the remains of their ship, eventually drifting to an island where an old ally from very early in the campaign had built what would prove to be a cozy place to retire. I let them go out with a bang though - they got to participate in a clash between the Lord of Law and Chaos (having finally read Elric by this point) and defend their new home.

    We ended the campaign there mostly because we were all ready to try other games now. But it was a grand time while it lasted.

    Here's the point: somewhere in the aftermath, I started accumulating 2nd Edition books and Dragon & Dungeon magazines, I started playing games like CoC and Vampire and whatever else was out there - and somehow "learned" that the way I'd run my D&D game was totally "wrong." That the pseudo-epic plot skeleton I'd superimposed over our sandbox wanderings was the "real" point of the game, and that I needed to learn a thing or two about story arcs and dramatic timing and whatnot. And I'll admit, I certainly had fun - there are a couple of CoC scenarios that I still run to this day, often adapting them to whatever system or setting I happen to be involved with at the time (I even started a superhero campaign with a variation on The Edge of Darkness), so I certainly don't want to knock any of these games. It's just that they took a lot more work to run, and I found running a game to be less fun and more of a chore.

    The thing is, wandering around and improvising was at least as much fun for us as any other style of play, and it was so easy that our games were almost daily events, rather than requiring some kind of schedule. They just happened when we got out of school and wanted something to do.

    In the years since, I've yearned for that simplicity and ease, the intuitive improvisational tone. I've studied the latest mass-market RPGs and delved into the small press, indie published games looking for that echo from the past. I've earned a reputation at my FLGS, to the point that I was actually used as a barometer for how soon they'd need to reorder 4e - the fact that I bought the books and was pleased with them was a signal that they would need a lot more copies. Still, the Perfect Game never seemed to appear (although I'm pretty sure that Savage Worlds is a reeeeaaaaally good stand-in).

    Having read through a good deal of the archives here ad Grognardia, and having kept up with the blog with reasonable regularity, I'm finally able to see exactly what's going on here. Even though my first gaming experience was decidedly new-school, the Basic rulebooks communicated what old school meant well enough that I was doing it naturally without ever realizing it was a whole different style of play. Now I can see what the missing element was and I think I can see how to recapture it. It's very freeing.

    So thank you, Jamie Mal. Whatever else this blog may accomplish for you and your much-looked-for renaissance, you've given me a doorway to reclaim something of the magic of my youth - something which I hope I can share with my current players - and that's invaluable.

    (That said, I'll argue to my last breath that your approach to clerics is anathema to a properly pulpy S&S atmosphere, but let's pick that up some other time, shall we?)

  2. (And for the record, I'm totally joshing you about the clerics thing. It's actually driving some musings of my own about what I have liked and disliked about the class since I first started.)