Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Faith without Works

Over the last year, there's been a dearth of posts here about my roleplaying. That's because, for the most part, I haven't been roleplaying with my regular group as much I had in the previous years. There are a lot of reasons for this, most of them quite banal (schedules, players moving, etc.), but that doesn't change the fact that my roleplaying has been much more limited since last summer. Now, I've still been gaming -- mostly boardgaming -- but that's not now and never has been the focus of this blog. And, as I said here long ago, simply talking about RPGs when you're not playing them is pointless.

Fortunately, the 21st century affords us multiple ways to roleplay, one of which is through the magic of the Internet, specifically Google+. I gave G+ gaming a whirl for the first time during the Dwimmermont Kickstarter and I enjoyed it a lot -- so much so that I've been doing it ever since, often as a player. The Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game I'm playing in each week is run via Google+ and it's been a blast.  I haven't this much fun playing any RPG in a long time and I look forward to each new session. It's also taught me, I think, that there's not a whole lot of difference between gaming face to face and gaming via video chat. There are differences, of course, but, so far, they're just that, differences, rather than things I'd call better or worse than playing in the traditional way.

I bring this up because, in addition to playing, I've also been refereeing on Google+. I run two campaigns, one set in my Dwimmermount megadungeon and one in M.A.R. Barker's world of Tékumel. Until now, I'd been a little hesitant to talk about these campaigns, because I wasn't sure they'd "take," which is to say, I wasn't sure they'd last. I know enough people are already skeptical of the idea of gaming via video chat as it is that I didn't want to add more fuel for that fire. But things have gone well enough in both campaigns that I'm quite confident that they're going to last. Consequently, I'm going to start sharing the goings-on in these campaigns via session write-ups, like I used to do with my original Dwimmermount campaign. If my players agree, I might even post a video transcript of one or more of our sessions for others to see.

I won't begin regaling you with session details just yet; I'll save that for another post. Instead, I wanted to talk briefly about my Tékumel game, which is using the Empire of the Petal Throne rules published in 1975. I've run a Tékumel game before, back in the mid-90s, but that was using a different rules set (Gardásiyal, if anyone care) and I had a somewhat different mindset toward the setting. For that reason, I was more than a little nervous about starting a new campaign. I was out of practice, had never used EPT before, and was taking on a large number of players, almost all of whom were Tékumel neophytes. What was I thinking?

I was thinking two things, actually. First, I wanted to honor the memory of the recently deceased Professor Barker. I have become ever more convinced that the man was an unheralded genius of our hobby, a founding father deserving of accolades to rival those of any of the hobby's more widely acknowledged leaders. Second, I wanted to show that, far from being "inaccessible" or "too weird," Tékumel isn't any more difficult to get into than Dungeons & Dragons, despite all the unfamiliar names. This is a topic about which Victor Raymond has written at some length elsewhere, but I felt it was time to put my money where my mouth was and that meant running a game for a bunch of people for whom Tsolyáni was not a second language.

You know what? It's succeeded brilliantly, far moreso than I'd ever hoped. Most campaigns in which I've played usually take several sessions before they find their feet. With EPT, it happened almost immediately, much to everyone's pleasure. I opted for the default barbarians-off-the-boat-from-the-southern-continent approach. Thus, there's good reason for the characters to be largely ignorant about the intricacies of Tsolyáni society and culture. This gives me the opportunity to slowly initiate the players -- and myself -- into these complexities bit by bit. No one is expected from the get-go to know much of anything really, which has made our sessions both revelatory and fun. Far from confirming the absurd caricature that the uninformed make about Tékumel gaming, we've shown it for the fraud it is.

So, in the days and weeks to come, expect both session recaps and new gaming material spawned by these two campaigns. I've missed being able to write posts of those sorts; to me, they're the fruits of what this hobby is all about: playing.


  1. Re: Google+

    I just today found this promising virtual tabletop http://roll20.net/
    G+ somehow integrates to it and what little I've tried it, I seems very useful.

  2. My first exposure to D&D was an impromptu EPT game. I look forward to your reports and am wondering where one might locate the EPT rules?

  3. They're available via RPGNow.com and DriveThruRPG.com.

  4. Yes, Roll20 seems still rough, but it shows promises and integration with G+ seems interesting.
    I am also discovering the pleasure of playing through the net. Until now, only by forum and only with my regular players, as a way to speed off some sidetreks or specific characters business between sessions. But I am quite interested to expand on the experiment.

  5. There's also Tabletop Forge, developed with G+ hangouts in mind. I've used it and it works brilliantly, without hogging your bandwidth too badly.

  6. Glad to hear you've gotten to have fun on both sides of the screen. I just did my first DCC RPG via Google+ last night and also enjoyed playing for a change. Online play may not replace face-to-face, but it is a heck of a lot better than the alternative.

  7. So, I hate to sound like a complete Google noob... but I am when it comes to using the internet to run a gaming session. Our group is suffering the same "summer months slump," our real life schedules and activities are making it more difficult for us to get together. So when I read about your previous Google+ experience, I was really intrigued. But after doing some Web surfing, I'm still not sure I know exactly how it works. Could I press upon your patience (or anyone else's) to explain exactly how it works? Much appreciated!

  8. How many people can you have in a Google+ game? I've heard that if you get too many people it can get buggy, but can't remember how many.

    Also, what was the URL for the mapping site you mentioned before? I thought I had bookmarked it, but I failed.

    Thanks! Looking forward to hearing about the games.

  9. As another complete noob to video chat gaming, I also would appreciate someone doing an Idiot's Primer!

  10. This sounds completely awesome! Any suggestions for the files that we would need besides Google+? (I have seen a lot of different suggestions so the ones that work for you are the ones I'd like to hear about.) I have a group of gaming friends that I would love to get in contact with more and this sounds perfect!

  11. My group runs usung skype (voice only) and rpg tools. We have a blast and are able to work around 6 very complicated schedules. I do love face to face and was very skeptical, but find it works very well.

  12. My only problem with Tékumel: I can never remember the standard keyboard bindings for accents.

    Life as an illiterate barbarian unable to write Tsolyáni is soooo much easier. <grin>

  13. You don't need any extra software to run G+. You only need a webcam, or at the least, a microphone. The link below, though a little outdated, is still the best primer on G+ gaming.


    If anyone would like to dip their toes, I run an AD&D Old School
    Module Crawl every other Sat that is open to whoever shows up. The game starts at 3pm CDT/8pm GMT on 6/23, and runs for about two hours. Just show up with a 1st-4th level PC (we're in the middle of Castle Amber) and be ready to have some fun. Don't worry if you've already played Castle Amber, the next session is devoted to a group of PCs going in and rescuing several others who were captured during a fight with Claude D'Amberville and his lupin minions.

  14. I've seen people record their google+ game sessions before, I think there is an automatic way of doing this when you start the hangout (I'm still figuring this stuff out as well so I don't know). From what I've seen, they get automatically posted to youtube.
    Here's an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc0fzsIFEV0
    I'd really like to be able to watch one of your game sessions.

  15. The only caveat I'd make to your "Tékumel is _too_ approachable" conclusion is that I suspect a huge factor (with any detailed background setting) is having at least the GM at the table being conversant with the setting makes an order of magnitude difference. How that one person _gets_ conversant is a different matter, but if _no-one_ at the table has much exposure to the setting, I think it's probably more opaque than you imply. By contrast, I fully expect that _Call of Cthulhu_ had plenty of fans who had very little understanding of Lovecraft at their tables before playing.

  16. Roll20 is a new service specifically designed for roleplaying in cyberspace. It's in beta right now, but functional, and while I've yet to use it, it seems to be the right tool for the job.

  17. Glad to see EPT still being played! My new group plays every other Friday in MN. 3+ years now :-)

  18. That's one of the things I like about the standard EPT approach of having the initial party being barbarians visting Jakálla and knowing nothing about the land and it's people. The gamemaster can just treat the Tsolyáni as being strange people with weird customs who build magnificent temples and palaces. If it later develops that the gamemaster wants to develop the Tsolyáni culture in a different direction, any misunderstandings of the status quo by the players can simply be attributed to their characters misinterpreting what was going on - and not the fact that the gamemaster may have gotten it wrong. The subtleties of interaction can be ignored.

    Of course much of the beauty of Tékumel is in the richness and depth and complexity of the setting, as later versions of the game and setting (and supporting magazines and fanzines) delineate, so being able to bring this into play is indeed an advantage. But this approach allows the players to develop an understanding of the culture at the table, rather than being thrown in the deep end of the culture pool.

    But much of this depth is missing from the original EPT game.

  19. The official reproductions of TSR's classic version of the Professor's
    EPT are available through
    Tita's House of
    Games. This site also carries M. A. R. Barker's out of print
    novels, the Tékumel minis, the TSR EPT boardgame, the more modern EPT rules sets, and more!

  20. But that's true of any intricate background: running Vance's Dying Earth would not seem much like it if the referee hadn't read the stories of Cugel the Clever. The entire point of my thread (as mentioned by James) was that you have enough in Empire of the Petal Throne to run the game, if you just read what's there. To be sure, if you read Man of Gold, you might have a better sense, but it isn't necessary.