Posted tagged ‘Old school’

Wednesday September 7, 2011-Share the World, Share you Character

September 8, 2011

Over the last month, I have been working on a Dresden Files campaign for my older brother.  I have to admit that I am finding many of my GMing habits need to change with this indie game.  Although I have played several different RPGs; today, I realized that all of them have been one-shots.  I have never run a campaign with an indie system.  Despite all the little changes, which I might address later; I feel that there is one large encompassing abstract issue that I am struggling with; the illusion of control.  Control over what, you might ask? Well, everything. 

Being one of the disgruntled old-school gamers from the early 80’s, I have always been looking for new innovative games that went beyond the dungeon crawl.  Matter of fact, part of the reason I started GMing was to figure out a way to play something more than just hack n’ slash.  Being an unhappy product of the old-school, I advocated player control and anti-railroading by the GM.  I wanted players to contribute more to the adventure; because as a player, I felt that I was not allowed to contribute much.  Back then, I had to figure out what the GM thought was the right answer, instead of having any other options. 

As I delve deeper into the Fate System, I am beginning to realize that the GM has much more control over the Player’s character.  True, players have their own systems to create elements within the world; however, with the way Fate slings aspects around, I am noticing that a GM has a direct way to tweak characters.  A GM for D&D only had to throw monsters and traps at characters, GMs that had heavy-handed and extreme consequences where considered dicks-Never touch a golden duck you just know something bad is going to happen.   With the Fate system I can inflict several different aspects onto a character; like “Afraid of Colonel Mustard” or “Miss Scarlett Always Sounds Right.”  The amazing thing is that it is completely okay within the system.  I feel a slight conflict of motives here. 

I guess it is a little ironic that the first real indie campaign I am running allows the players to share the story with the GM, but also allows the GM to share the character with the players. 



May 16, 2011-The Adam West style of gaming.

May 16, 2011

I am a creative guy.  There are some really good benefits to being creative; but like all things, every strength has their weakness.  Having lived a full creative life with some self-reflection, I can say I have experience and recognized many weakness from living with a creative impulse.  One of these drawbacks is the desire to “make things your own” or “put your own stamp on it.”  Basically, you take something that has nothing wrong and change it, so you feel more connected and a part of it.  I am not going to debate the positive aspects; I am here to talk about the negative aspects.  So, try not to start singing about the virtues in your head, because I already know them.  Instead, take a moment to think about; how difficult it would be to work for someone who behaves like this.

In my early years of gaming, I gave into this desire all the time; however, I was playing AD&D and that system is so open, I did not suffer badly.  Matter of fact, it was a bit of a strength; because everyone was playing typical AD&D, what I did was considered fresh.  Like having an adventure mimic Jack and the Beanstalk, the players loved it.  When I moved to other systems, this strength became a weakness, one that took several years for me to notice.  You see, after playing AD&D and 2nd edition for so long, my expectations of game systems were really low.  I expected game systems to “not make sense” and let me tell ya, many games met those expectations (which did not help.)  These games needed me to fix them before we played, allowing “my own stamp.”  In retrospect, even those stories did not work for me or my players.  About twelve years ago, I had the realization that the game’s system is fine.  That by tweaking with the system you just might be ruining the system and more importantly, the game for the players.  My worst tweaking was probably when I took Star Frontiers and tried to make it into “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” without the players knowing it. 

What I have learned, is that it is best to take the game system at face value.  Play the game as written.  Fix the system as problems come up, chances are, those problems are something you have done; rather than the system.  Once you have experience the game, add to it.  Don’t try to make the game something that it is not, because it would be that if the design wanted it to be that way.  Why would you change the Sanity System in Call of Cthulhu?  Why add on a layer of martial arts to Paranoia?  Less is more.

Less is always more, because it gives so much to the players and the game.


May 11, 2011- One rule to role-play them all, One rule to find them, One rule to bring them all and in the darkness fights them

May 11, 2011

One of the greatest strengths of D&D is that it only has one rule for role-playing: pick an alignment from the following nine types.  There is some description of the nine types, but they vague and purposely left open to interpretation.  That is all there is.  This means how you role-play is up to you, the player, and the GM.   The rules do not interfere in any role-playing choice; your hero’s chance to hit somebody is not affected by if you are good or evil.  The system never addresses “why you are swinging a sword at someone.”  This is the genius of D&D, why it became popular and remains popular; an unregulated system for role-playing attracts the widest range of players who role-play.   Nobody is turned away.  If you want to role-play motivations and passions, then just do it during actual play-there is no rule against it.  If you want to compete with the other players, treat them as rivals, work with the GM to make a story, or just explore a setting, then just do it during actual play-there is no rule against it.  That is really cool.

However, there are weaknesses with this type of free range; a bad taste that grows in one’s mouth after playing a few times.  Good games work only because you are with a group of players that mostly agrees with your way to game.  Bad games happen when you play with others who do not share your way.  Since there are no rules regulating a difference in style/interpretation; the conflict is resolved solely on players’ personalities.  This could make a game horrible.  Additionally, players can only fully recognized these differences through actual play.  After all, how many people say they believe in one thing, and act in another?  The only way to truly know there is a conflict is when the conflict happens.


April 28, 2011- And then there were three.

April 28, 2011

You know, gaming groups are a lot like garage bands; if everyone joins just to play, then everything goes great.  If people show up with their own agendas, then it turns into a soap opera of drama.  Personal hopes and dreams are really big distraction to a group who are trying to do one single collective task.  Most failed garage bands had one person who wanted to be the next big hit, wanted to find their own voice, or simply hook-up with another member.  The band fails when those members realize that they are not going to be able to get what they want by using the band.  That is the real sin of the whole thing, a person trying to exploit the group to get what they solely want. 

I think my Star Wars Campaign was destined to be just as much as a failure around the dinner table than if I we tried to rock out in the garage.  After all, half of us had our own hidden agendas and now we cannot exploit the group to get them, so we want to leave the band.  My son has already left the group, so now there were three.  I had my own agenda involving my son, which now makes me question if we should continue.

The thing is I suddenly understand how I was messing up the whole band with my own agenda.  What I need to do is choose an instrument and just play.  Not try to do anything beyond what the group is trying to do.  Unfortunately, we have not been just playing; so, the question is whether the rest of the band wants to continue playing?   

4/13/2011-The Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game Review

April 14, 2011

Take a knife to 4th Edition D&D and cut down anything that hints at role-playing; leaving just the bone of having to work together.  This includes the Dungeon Master because he would add too much flavor to the game.  Then boil down all the rules to make it simple, because you have to add an additional layer of random meat to compensate the loss of the GM.  Pepper in some artwork, but not too much, and you will have Wizards of the Coast’s basic D&D board game mechanic; making The Wrath of Ashardalon, a fairly bland game. 

This is the second Dungeon Crawl board game produce by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro with the same basic system using D&D as its inspiration.  WotC obviously has the outside goals of, introducing more people to the D&D Brand and getting a piece of the Dungeon Crawl board game market by using the brand.  Unfortunately, the game does not raise interest in RPG because it is really just a tactical game.  True, my nine-year old enjoys playing it, but he admits he doesn’t want to try the RPG.  I guess there is a chance for his palate to grow.  However, there is a good chance that WotC might get enough of the board game market and make a profit to keep adding supplements. 

The Crunchy Bits

Players can choose a dwarven warrior, half-orc rouge, dragonborn wizard, half-elf paladin, or human cleric to be their hero for the game.  From there, the players can choose their heroes’ special powers, mimicking 4th edition’s mechanic of “At Will,” “Daily Power” and “Utility Power.” The “at will” powers can be used throughout the game, but all others are a one-time use.  Not all heroes or powers are created equal; the wizard is very useful while the rogue is almost pointless.  Each hero has basic stats for the game; hit points, speed, AC, and such.  Your hero can advance a level during gameplay, which gives you bonuses to your stats.  Gameplay for the heroes is a simple “move-attack” phase during your turn, with your hero rolling a D20 adding combat modifiers vs. a monster’s AC. 

There is no Dungeon Master with this board game; therefore the players have to take some additional responsibilities and there are a few minor random systems.  The players are in charge of the monsters that they draw from the deck, however, each monster have a set priories in which they act.  This surprisingly works really well; even if you mega-game the monsters to the heroes’ advantage.  The random systems involve drawing dungeon tiles and cards (monster, encounters, treasure, adventure cards and a few more). These systems might be optional add more complexity to the game.  They work well in adding more flavor and tactics to the game; however, some rules are not distinct or clear, requiring some house rules or group agreement on how to apply them.   

The game includes an adventure book that, in theory, contains over twenty different quests, but that is based on drawing cards.  The first few quests get players acquainted with the game while the others provide enough different flavors and tactics to avoid game repetition.  Oddly, there are campaign’s rules which allow players buy magical items and bring them from one quest to another.  If you are going to have a campaign, why not play a RPG?  Old dogs…

The Soft Chew

There is not much fluff to this game, yet for some reason I feel transported back to sixth grade going through the module B-1 “Search of the Unknown.”  You go down a hall and get hit by a fungal plume and when you open the door it releases a lava trap; impractical and very old school.  Players argue about tactics not motivations and the setting is defined just enough to explain why you want to play.  There is a nostalgic feeling to playing this game.  True, some people will miss the competition and strategy in playing against a human opponent (Game Master), but the random element maintains a mystery and tension for everyone playing.   

Unfortunately, the game loses the basic role-playing fundamentals that higher principles were built on; creative problem/solution and prevention actions.  Players cannot tap a 10-foot pole in front of them to set off pits before walking on them.  Heroes cannot take hours investigating a well of water or clump of mushrooms to figure out if and how they might be dangerous.  There are no GM tricks for them to out-wit.  The walls turn to magma because the card that was flipped over says so.  Without these basic role-playing options that were a given during the old school days, players are pigeon-hole into making only tactical and risk assessments for the game.  This means that they only see the hero that they are playing as a tactical tool instead of a character.  This is the one true irony of the game, D&D is the founding brand of role-playing and this game has nothing to do with playing a unique character. 

Tasty Bits

Miniatures Stuff!!!  You get 35 unpainted figures with this game, 40 interlocking dungeon tiles, and other gaming tiles with this game.  Even if you don’t like the game, you have the basic requirements to have a good fantasy RPG session.  They are not the cheap stuff that Milton Bradley produces but good solid Hasbro pieces.

Versatility!!!  I don’t know about other dungeon crawl games, but there is a wide range of stuff to apply some creativity too.  WotC has built into the game several categories and discrete intricacies into the game that a creative person could effortlessly start playing with.  For example, want a Dragonborn rogue? Then replace the Half-orc race card with the Dragonborn race card, now you have it.  Make your own powers, races or monsters.  I started house ruling during the 1st game that I played, talk about old school.  I am surprise that there is not an online presence adapting and adding to this game.

Solo Play!!!! If you do not like grinding to MMOs, then try playing this game solo. Solo play is the greatest aspect of this game.  You can get a deeper level of tactics and possible combinations of actions than any button pusher online.  Start off playing three heroes, then try two or if you want a real challenge, try just one.  If you get bored, start playing with the versatility of the game and see where that takes you. 

Bitter Bits

No role-playing-I identify more with Professor Plum more than Quinn the Cleric. 

Inheritance of D&D- Because this game is structured on D&D, it inherits some of the problems that come with playing D&D.  Most of the challenges and creativity is external; monsters, events, magic items and setting; not within the hero you are playing.  This will move many players to find new and creative external challenges, keeping the hero stagnate.  Okay, this is an abstract way to say: if you like this game, then you will want to buy supplements that give you more figures, tiles, monster and event cards. 


The Wrath of Ashardalon is a stew of good and bad things with nothing being exceptional.  It is bland; but none the less, filling.  It barely meets the two requirements of a game, it’s fun and you will want to play it again.  You are not going to beseechs others to play with the excitement that a typical RPG invokes.  Instead, it will be a good filler when you cannot play any real RPG. The game is like ranch flavored potato chips, it has some flavor and will satisfy your hunger, but it’s not a real meal. 

On a personal note; I would be tempted to buy supplements if they were priced right.  However, I don’t think I would spend another $65.00 for an additional and compatible game, like the soon to be released “legend of Drizzt.”  I certainly will not pay for additional adventures that are sold as PDFs. 


Content: 3 out of five-I like playing it instead of MMOs, but if I hope my friends bring a new game on gaming night.

Style: 2 out of five-The miniatures are good, but I wanted more pizzazz with the cards and tiles.

3/3/2011- the Pricelessness of Young and New

March 3, 2011

Back in the day, there was always a hall with a door within your sight.  It could be on your left or on your right, it would be about a 50/50 chance either way; but the door was always there.  Most people would open the door.  Makes sense, there’s a door and it needs to be opened.  Experience players, who had learned through the process of eliminating characters, would spend anywhere from 10-20 minutes checking out the door.  Once it was deemed “just a door” by every player, the group would open it and then quietly wait for the GM to read two minutes of box text before running in and slaughtering everything that could be dangerous.   Completing the butchery, the players would loot everything possible; followed by, dividing up any useful stuff between them.  Naturally, there was another door in the room, but that was an exit and there was no need to be concern about it.  To nobody’s surprise, beyond the exit was a hall with another door just within sight. 

You know, there are times when I look back and I am simply amazed that RPGs actually survived.  That stuff we use to do sound so boring.  Then too, I use to get excited about playing Space Invaders and that is really boring.  I guess I can use the excuse that I was young and it was new.