Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mulligans, Bennies, and Do-Overs.

I'm about to get hardcore golfer lingo all up in here, so try and follow if you can.  Mulligan... means "do-over".

Re-rolling was the most audacious of moves when I was a teenager.  You don't even ask for that, you might get laughed out of the room or hit with a mountain dew can(actually we had high powered Ginseng pills from GMC).  Even back then though, I was a "relax, go with the flow and trust your GM" kind of GM.  Random failures were not going to be a death sentence(unless it was dramatic, but I tried to convey those situations to build drama), and most of the time failures ended in awesomely funny stories.  Many failures are still part of our "remember the good old days" conversations among my long time friends.

Then I found Savage Worlds.  I first read about Bennies and though "nevermind, screw this", but then I kept reading.  Savage Worlds flies off the handle very easy.  Their dice "explode" or "Ace", which means if you roll the highest number on a dice, you can re-roll that dice and add the result.  Randomly you could get 3 aces in a row and do insane amounts of damage.  Bennies figure into that, if things just swing wildly out of proportion, you have some "do overs" you can play.

The do over was built INTO the system, not tacked on.  That is an IMPORTANT aspect.

Tagging on do-overs in a game makes the game heavily favored on the players.  I would never do that to Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder because it would stack things in favor of the players an obscenely strong amount... and besides, D&D with do-overs just "feels" all icky.

I know D&D Next is still in testing, but the head guy there has revealed they are completely aping every popular thing in modern gaming to try and save their sinking ship.  This includes "Inspiration" which is really just another name for Bennies.  I'm hoping they do not make this into the game itself, because frankly with "Wild Dice" already figured in from the start, adding Bennies just makes it feel like a Savage Worlds home brew.

Bennies are not the sole providence of Savage Worlds though.  I do not believe the D&D Next designers said "Savage World's bennies are huge, let's do that".  The "new new Hotness" is FATE.  It is blowing up the kickstarters.  FATE's mulligans are slightly different and must be tied to role play aspects of your character.  While FATE and Savage Worlds was first published the same year, the precursor to Savage Worlds, the game known as Deadlands, had Bennies way back in 1996.

A lot of the games based on FATE have them and have gotten tons of awards.  The Dresden Files game is based on FATE directly.  BULLDOGs is another.  FATE kickstarters are blowing up all over the place with FATECORE being the sort of "everything" FATE book getting lots of funding.

The big winner of the awards this year was Marvel Super Heroic Role Playing Game.  It had bennies built into it too, and were much more like FATE than anything else, but it had its own quirks and intricacies.

All this, and so why am I feeling kind of icky about D&D Next getting it?  Well... its the old man trying to be young when we love the old man thing all over again.  Examples.  Hulk Hogan decided to become an anti-hero because Stone Cold Steve Austin was tearing it up in ratings.  Final Fantasy goes for action combo combat, open world free form questing, and MMORPG like crafting... when the best Final Fantasy games sell and are praised for being innovative, not being a follower, being... Final Fantasy.  Lost Odyssey was made to be a Final Fantasy and stuck with traditional gameplay, and its widely regarded as the best JRPG of its generation, while FF13 is lambasted(despite the fact I loved it).

D&D needs to be D&D again.  A game that feels like an evolution of 1st-3rd.  Maybe take a couple of good parts of 4, and bring some new stuff for 5, but make it feel like D&D again.  1st-3rd got a lot of things right, you do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The true response to "The Dungeon Masters"

In 2008 there was a documentary filmed called 'The Dungeon Masters" which was marketed and sold under the disguise of being something positive for the hobby of Role Playing Games.  It was shoveled out at Dragon-con, Comi-con and any other number of places.  It was even promoted(before they saw it) at reputable hobby websites.

This movie was utter garbage.

This documentary does just as much harm to the hobby as Jack Chick comics.  It "portrayed" 3 socially damaged people in a way that made the hobby look poor.  I say "portray" because I do not know these people, and like any reality TV(because this so called documentary was one step away from Honey Boo Boo), much of it is made in the cutting room.  I suspect this because I can easily see the director saying "hey, let us dress you like an elf for a regular day and just see how people react" and then portray that as what the girl does every day.  The guy that is so obsessed with getting his home brew published that he neglects his family and actually knows nothing about publishing or how much these poor "authors" of dungeon adventures actually make... maybe that guy really does not spend all his time doing that.  Maybe this guy's children are well taken care of, and the stress between them is because there's a fucking film crew in the room.


Lots of people of our hobby saw this trash and said "I can do better."  And that is what this post really is about.  People doing better than "The Dungeon Masters"

Today I have 2 examples.

First up is a small one with a good message.  Role Players are your mailman, your waitress, your boss at work, your lawyer.  They come from many different backgrounds and that it is about getting together with your friends and playing a free form, thought provoking story together.  It is called:  Heroes of the Tabletop.

Another one is this wonderful documentary for PBS, yes, it was actually shown on TV.  Its about what RPG games are, what they entail, and their influence on modern life.

These are the real responses to "The Dungeon Masters".  Far more constructive and better for our hobby than any rant I could do about how shitty "The Dungeon Masters" is.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Beginning(of the blog, of my RPG life, of modern geekdom)

(this is a reprint of mine from an older blog with more detailed history of the game added at the end, I figured this was as good a place as any to start)

Some people get a kick reading about how people come into a hobby, and some people get a kick writing about how they get into a hobby.  I was not going to do a post like this, but Wil Wheaton changed my mind.  Well not fully Wil, the new hip "old school revival" trend had something to do with it too.

I'll start with Wil.

If you do not know Wil Wheaton, he played the young kid on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He's also somewhat of a geek celebrity now, and has thrown in his geek celebrity with Penny Arcade to make an even bigger geek celebrity and he's also "evil Wil Wheaton" on The Big Bang Theory.  Here is his personal blog, check it out: Wil Wheaton dot Net

He has been on vacation apparently(the blog told me.. I do not stalk Wil Wheaton), and in his absence he has been auto-re-posting some old stories of his.  One of them was about the death of Gary Gygax because he died on March 4th, ironically DM's day(it was DM's day 7 years before his death, they are not celebrating him on his death date as I once though and have a pet peeve of).  Anyways he says that his aunt gave him the red box Dungeons and Dragons Basic set.  The set printed in 1982(the year I was born).  He never got to play with anyone, so he made characters for himself and played through dungeons on his own, by himself, in his room.

My own story about how I got into Dungeons and Dragons begins at a yard sale.  Yard sale finds of D&D are the classic method of being introduced to the game.  Several people on podcasts I listen to, and a few on blogs I've visted retell this same beginning.  My own yard sale seems almost magical in my mind now.  I am not writing that to be all mystical and stuff, I did not think of the place all that much before this.  I mainly thought of the car ride home where I read through the book.  The house that we went to was not a place we frequently went to yard sales at.  I do not remember ever going there again.  It was at this house I found it.  The house was brick, with a huge flat front yard of grass.  You could barely see the brick though because hedges covered the walls up to the windows.  It was a sunny day, but you would not be able to tell at the sale table because two MASSIVE trees sprout up near it, shading the entire huge yard underneath.

*only accurate in my mind

Anyway, I got the book, I do not remember how much but it was probably fifty cents.  I was into reading lots of Greek myth and King Arthur was like the coolest thing I had ever read about.  Also I had played through the original Dragon Warrior as well.  This book blew my mind, and I know it took me a long time to read and actually understand what it was saying.  It was the player's book, and it would be years later that I would find a DM's guide.

Anyway, I do have one thing in common with Wil Wheaton's story: I never played Basic Dungeons and Dragons.  By the time I had friends to play with me, I had a Advanced Dungeons and Dragon's book.  Being kids, we saw "Basic" and was all "well we aren't kids anymore, we need to be playing Advanced.  It is more REAL"

Wil's story inspired me to read up about our Basic set that we never played.  It all started with a man named J. Eric Holmes.  He created a book(which I actually have a copy of from the 25th Anniversary Box) that is literally the original Dungeons and Dragons paired down a bit.  It was released at a time when AD&D was out, and is thought to hearken back to the "old days" of 1977(this was around 1980... so.. yea).  Its combat was more like the old Chainmail game and did not reflect the new changes to the game that Gygax had made.

This is why Tom Moldvay came in to do his version.  Moldvay made his "basic" version much more like AD&D, and reflected how the game had grown.  Fighting-men were renamed Fighters and different weapons did different damage, just to name a few.  By now, D&D Basic was its own separate game, and to reflect that there was a sequel called D&D Expert.  Now instead of just being a beginner's game, it was a graduated set of rules that reflected not the player's skill, but the character's skill.

Big changes came between Moldvay and Mentzer's eras.  Big changes in TSR management, the ridiculously stupid Satanic Scare of the 80's, and a re-dedication to quality of product.  No longer would D&D look like something put together in a basement.  Mentzer's editions lasted through to the 90's and it "feels" like that era's AD&D books.  The layout was done with thought and care.  The artwork was done by the famous Larry Elmore and friends.  Mentzer also took the last bit of "basic is for beginners" out of the game, and wrote the game to cater to Adults rather than a child audience.

Mentzer went past Expert and brought the characters even into the "Immortal" era of traveling planes and shaking hands with gods.  There were rules for such things as governing lands that AD&D did not even cover, and people used his books to help them GM such occurrences.

So that's the story of this funny thing, Dungeons and Dragons Basic.  What started as a small intro to rules(similar to the free starter rule PDF's of today) and evolved into its own game that is remembered by famous and no-names alike.