Thursday, April 25, 2024

When to Hang Up the Hat

One of the best play-by-post DMs I've played under, old school forum-goers will know him as "Jeffery St. Clair" (DMJSC), announced yesterday that he's got to shut down his games. He's been running his AD&D game over 17 years now, and I've been playing in it for exactly 13 years (my request to join was April 26, 2011, and today is April 25th, 2024). 

He's also shutting down a much shorter lived Mazes & Minotaurs game that I was in, that never quite found its footing. He also, over the years, ran a great Star Frontiers game until we ran out of his prepared adventures, and for a short time he ran a high level AD&D game. 

His main game, called Mines of Nemrac, was actually two campaigns, as he ran an Oriental Adventures game on the other side of his campaign world (there were connections/portals between the two game zones, but they were rare to stumble upon). This is the one I was in for 13 years, and I had four characters in it, two in each zone. 

Wehostan, Son of Bardolph (Halfling Fighter 4/Thief 6) was my main and longest running PC. He had some great adventures over the years and got to do many of the things players dream of when playing D&D. He helped slay a dragon, battled an evil wizard while his party was paralyzed, got the snot knocked out of him by an ogre-sized bullywug, and lots of other fun stuff. 

Gwire (Human Cleric 7) was my attempt to run a cleric not as a holy crusader but as a Van Helsing/Solomon Kane/Simon Belmont type monster hunter (which was the original impetus of the class in Arneson's campaign), and he also had a lot of great adventures over the years. Starting out penniless, his first two forays earned him no treasure, but in the end, he was slaying demons and whatnot. He amassed a huge pile of treasure and magic items. 

Chie Enokido (Human Kensei 5) was my main character in Pingbo Lake. She was the daughter of a disgraced landholding family, and specialized in naginata. She was racking up fame and honor in the campaign, and was trying to avenge her honor on an ogre-mage (or full oni?) who pretended to be a kensei but wasn't. She was very upset about that. 

Five Dragons Xiong (Human Sohei) was a fairly new addition, still first level. He managed to help his party overcome some bandits, and that was his career. 

I'm actually sad that I won't be able to continue the careers of these characters. Well, not so much Xiong, who I was just starting to get a feel for. But the other three were well developed and fun to play. And sure, I could maybe take these characters to another campaign if there's an opening, or remake then in a new campaign some day, but it won't be the same. A lot of the fun of the characters were the way they interacted with their parties. Especially for Wehostan, as his group, known as Gang Green after the green dragon they slew, were just the most rowdy, scruffy-looking scoundrels you could ever find, and a blast to game with. Especially in the OOC, when certain other players would get seemingly very offended that we were pretending to run a protection racket for new players in the game. 

Nemrac players, if any of you read this blog, feel free to memorialize your PCs in the comments!

And to get back to DMJSC, he's had some family issues, and some health problems recently, but he says he's actually in a good place these days. In fact, he's just too busy to keep the game up. And I don't blame him. Nemrac has 75 PCs (yes, 4 of those are mine, and other players also run multiple PCs, but not all!). I'm not sure how many players, exactly, there are. It's a lot to manage. It's impressive that he kept it going for so long and managed to grow the game as large as he did. Most of my attempts at PbP have ended abruptly in failure. [Fingers crossed, my current Gamma World game will keep going.]

To thanks to Jeffery St. Clair/DMJSC, for all the years of gaming. And to all the players in the game as well!

Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: Rebel Moon (Part 2)

Yeah, I said I probably wasn't going to watch this after watching Part 1, but I did. So how was it? 

First of all, there was a bit of swearing, but not much. PG-13 level. 1 f-bomb, a few other swears. Not a lot. So parents searching for "curse" words, you've been warned, but it's not bad. 

This was more of the same. 

There were some cool visuals and action sequences, but not as many as in Part 1. 

There were ham-fisted attempts at characterization. Sorry, this is a bit spoilery, but it's at the beginning so I'm not spoiling much. They literally go around the table with each "hero" telling their sad tragic backstory with flashback. And no, they don't actually make me feel more invested in each hero. Except Kora, the main character. She had an additional flashback during a love scene (didn't they do that in part 1 as well? I think so...). During the group therapy session, she clams up. 

King Kong had better character development in Godzilla x Kong (which I saw just before leaving for the USA, and enjoyed, I should write about it). 

The villains are cartoonishly bad. They should be menacing, but they're just kind of pathetic. Why isn't the Resistance mopping them up across the galaxy?

So many plot holes. 

So many predictable developments. I was literally thinking, "Oh, this should happen next" and it does, quite a few times. 

They took the basic framework of 7 Samurai, but other adaptations ranging from The Magnificent Seven to Battle Beyond the Stars have made you at least feel invested in the seven heroes. I don't need to know what it was that Robert Vaughn's character did to feel an attachment to a guy trying to redeem himself. I just need to know that he did some shit and now this is his last chance to make up for it. 

Part 1 at least had some interesting visuals and action scenes to just sit back and enjoy the eye candy. Part 2 felt pretty flat, although the conclusion was done in a way that makes you feel the triumph of their victory (yeah, spoiler, but you knew they were gonna win)...until something happens that seems like it should be a reversal...and then predictable deus ex machina saves the day after all. 

And of course, there's set-up for a sequel. 

I really wouldn't waste your time on this. I had two hours to kill Saturday morning, but even if you are in a similar position, find something else to watch. It's disappointing.

Friday, April 19, 2024

OD&D As a DM Instruction Manual

I've never really read through the OD&D books thoroughly. I only have them in PDF, and I've mostly just looked at sections here or there as a reference. I've referenced Men & Magic and Monsters & Treasure a lot more than I have The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. So today, I went through that fabled 3rd volume and took some notes on what it covers, and how. This is in regard to my previous post, suggesting that I take a look at how well each edition acts as an instructional guide for new DMs. 


Dungeon Design -- notes on how to create your megadungeon, including lots of examples of ways to screw over players and make it a true labyrinth. 

Distributing Monsters & Treasure -- fairly similar to later editions, with notes on how to restock/expand/modify your megadungeon to keep things fresh.

Movement -- The exploration rules: movement and resting, finding secret doors, dealing with regular doors, traps, listening, and vision/light. 

Underworld Monsters -- rules for encounters: distance, surprise, wandering monsters, avoiding encounters (most monsters usually attack, but reaction rolls for intelligent ones).

Example of Dungeon Play

Wilderness -- the map needs castles, ruins, the Dungeon, a home town. Town adventures briefly mentioned.

Outdoor Survival -- explanation of how to use that map for unplanned/impromptu wilderness adventures, Castle Encounters explained in much more detail than in BX/BECMI/RC.

Referee's Map -- explanation that you can make your own map (but no advice on how), which can be useful for domain game play, and rules for hex-crawling and filling in a blank player map while exploring.

Movement -- all movement rates by hex (later listed as assumed 5 miles vertex to vertex!) per day, terrain penalties from Outdoor Survival. 

Wilderness Monsters -- rules for encounter distance, surprise, getting lost (a bit out of place), wandering monsters. Name level NPC wandering monsters are given more detail than in BX/BECMI. 

Evasion -- pretty similar to what's in BX/BECMI

Castle Construction -- not so different from BX/BECMI, but there is a note suggesting adventures defending a stronghold from incursions by monsters/enemies. 

Specialist NPCs -- what you'd expect, types, job descriptions, prices

Rumors, Information, Legends -- suggestions for developing rumors, and rules for players paying to find more information

PC Upkeep -- 1% of XP (per month I assume) needs to be spent on daily living. 

Baronies -- No more upkeep, now you get income. It suggests 2-8 villages within 20 mile radius of stronghold. There are notes on making improvements that may bring in more income/population, but no rules on how to manage that. 

Angry Villagers Rule -- because torches and pitchforks are fun!

Other Worlds -- go crazy with the campaign world

Land Combat -- AKA mass combat, use Chainmail

Aerial Combat -- use counters/minis on map, modified Chainmail rules, pretty extensive!

Naval Combat -- while this also has Chainmail suggested for man-to-man action, the ship combat rules in BX/BECMI derived from this, but this is more extensive. Includes swimming/drowning rules, water monsters, etc.

Healing Wounds -- natural healing at 1 hp per day, but not on the 1st day of rest!

Time -- keeping time for the campaign: assume 1 week per dungeon delve (including prep/recovery time), 1 day per turn wilderness exploring, 1 week real time is 1 week game time for 'downtime activities' or inactive PCs. 

Instructional Value: 

While I did learn a few things, and get some ideas for incorporating a bit more complexity to TS&R by reading through this (something I should have done years ago!), I don't know how well this booklet does at explaining how to run a game. It does give plenty of details for preparing the dungeon (less so for preparing the wilderness or town/city adventures, and even less for high level domain play). It explains some systems in detail, others are just glossed over or hinted as possible. 

There isn't much philosophy or explanation of the Why of game play, just a focus on the How. There is also zero guidance on actually putting together a group to play, dealing with problem players, etc. Maybe Gygax assumed experienced wargamers didn't need this sort of advice. 

My take is that if I had been given this box set as a kid, with the preparation to game I'd gotten from things like Choose Your Own Adventure books and things like the D&D cartoon, I could have made some decent dungeon adventures. But without Chainmail and Outdoor Survival, much of the rest would have been fairly useless to me. 

Still, it's not as obtuse as many people claim it to be. Most of the rules confusion I think comes from various vagaries in Men & Magic, or incomplete notes in Monsters & Treasure that again assume you have Chainmail. I found The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures to cover most of what's needed, if explanation is a bit short in many areas, and the organization is pretty good overall. 

I can definitely see why TSR thought that the various Classic D&D box sets and AD&D were needed to help explain the game better, though. The rules as written assume experienced wargamers, not newbies. As such, it's a decent rule reference but not a great instructional text.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Game Mastering: Theory and Practice

I am back from my trip to the U.S. My son is really happy to be attending an American high school rather than a Korean one. I had a good visit with my parents and got to meet some old family friends, and just get a little refresher of Midwest life. But I'm happy to be back in Korea. And without further ado, on to gaming discussion. 

Recently, discussion on BX Blackrazor and The Tao of D&D has focused on how to teach someone to be a good Dungeon Master. I've been to busy with non-gaming stuff to get in on the conversation, but I'm definitely interested, since I'm nearing completion of the first draft of my TS&R GM book. 

Before I left for the states, I was thinking that it might be a good idea to do a comparison of several different editions/games, including what I'm doing with my TS&R book. I had started to look through the advice in the 5E book, and in my opinion, it may be fine for experienced DMs moving to 5E from another edition or other RPG, but for a novice, it's got the organization of the information all wrong. It starts off with all of these big picture campaign setting discussions, like what sorts of deities exist in the world. Definitely NOT where a new DM should begin. 

The writers obviously expect that the "game play mechanics" should be obvious from the PHB, so all the DM needs to do is create a campaign world. But even then, I wouldn't start with that sort of stuff. I think it's better to teach the new DM about how to run the game, why certain things are done the way they are, and how to manage the group. 

Back in grad school, one of my professors titled every single class she taught as [Insert Course Content Here]: Theory into Practice. While I found it amusing at the time, it's not a bad strategy for teaching. Start by explaining the basic theory of how the game (ideally) works and why certain mechanics are the way they are. Then move on to the concrete details of how to craft interesting encounters, dungeons, game worlds, multiverses, etc. and solid advice about how to run the table and manage the game group. After that, if necessary, deeper theory could be discussed. 

If I have some free time, I'll maybe take a closer look at how different DMGs are organized and the information presented, from the lens of an instructional manual for the game. I expect Mentzer and 2E AD&D likely are better at this than others, but that's just my gut instinct.