Monday, October 29, 2012

Session 56: Visiting Grumbledook and Boating into Blint

"We're at war with the legions of hell!" -- Dak the Younger 

Date: 4/22/2012
PCs: Innominus (Clr. 7), Dak (Dwf. 6), Yor (Dwf. 6), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 5), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 5)
NPCs: Nic Cage (Ftr. 2, follows Yor), Claude (Ranger 3, follows Uncle Junkal), and Rodrick (Thf. 4, follows Viv). Brother Lawrence of the Brothers of Carcoon (Clr. 3) was also along as an observer.

This session started in the wee hours of morning on Day 179 of the party's Arandish adventures; the PCs were standing over the slain body of their longtime associate Gorgo, who perished in an unexpected hill giant attack the night before. After displaying the giants' heads on poles in a circle around the headless corpse of the red dragon they also recently slew, they set off to locate the latter's lair, which they surmised (a) must be nearby, and (b) must contain shitloads of treasure.

Both Greystone Mountain and the village of Wellspring lie in hex 1816.

Since the village of Wellspring lay less than a day's travel to the north, the group decided to head there first to see if any of the locals knew of the red dragon's dwelling place. They trudged for a few hours through very light snowfall, descending Greystone Mountain, crossing the icy but not yet frozen-over River Farn, and entering the village from the south. They visited the village's main lodging-house, the Inn of the Snow Leopard, met its proprietor, Bob, and partook of some excellent mutton stew. Bob told them of a local wise man named Grumbledook who lived in the woods at the eastern edge of the village -- he suggested that Grumbledook would know much more about the comings and goings of local monsters than anyone else in the area. He also told the party that the council of village elders would be honored to throw a feast on behalf of Yor, the new Baron of Rogaland, that evening. Yor and company graciously accepted this offer.

The party left the Inn and headed to the northwest corner of the village to the Church of Rogaland. There, Innominus requested that Gorgo's body be placed on ice, to preserve it until such time that it could be raised from the dead. The local clergymen complied.

Then the group headed eastward out of the village, to the wooded copse where the reclusive Grumbledook was known to dwell. A rabbit guided them back to a clearing deep in the snowy woods, where sat a huge bearded fellow wearing layers of furs and a dirty brown cloak. This was Grumbledook.

Grumbledook looks a lot like Brian Blessed.

Grumbledook led the party to a smallish hut deep in the copse, and bid them enter. The place was much larger-seeming on the inside than it had appeared to be on the outside. 

After lighting a fire, Grumbledook told the party that the female red dragon they killed was Harak, known to most locals as "Zelda." Her mate was an ancient red named Boris, who dwelt atop a craggy mountain far southwest of here, on the Blintian frontier [in hex 1617].

Grumbledook also carried on his own private conversation (in a tongue no PC could comprehend) with Beastarr the Bobcat, telling Innominus afterward that the feline familiar would become an important player in regional events yet to come.

The PCs returned to the village proper and reclaimed their riverboat, the Queen's Pride, from the boathouse in which they left it five weeks earlier (at the end of Session 38). The group spent the afternoon readying the boat and acquiring new oars and poles. 

That night, a feast in their honor. Yor, Baron of Rogaland, told the village elders to prepare an evacuation plan for the village in case of imminent balrog attack. The group spent the night in the Inn of the Snow Leopard, though they did not pay a fee for their lodging given Yor's status as Baron. 

The next morning, Day 180 of the party's Arandish adventures, the group loaded up the Queen's Pride and, leaving two archers and all their horses behind in Wellspring, set off downriver to the west under moderate snowfall. They anticipated a three day journey to the Blintian town of Marshton [hex 1517], where they would re-supply and prepare to approach Slag Mountain, home of Boris the Red Dragon.

Marshton is actually in hex 1517, north of the Blintsflow River; the city erroneously listed as "Marshton" on the above map is Blintsport.

After their first day on the river, the group decided to travel by night as well, having the dwarves keep watch with their infravision.  Thus, by midday on Day 181, the group had reached the confluence of the Rivers Farn and Kaladar into the Blintsflow [hex 1616]. Shortly after passing this fork, the party was attacked by a vicious band of six hill giants, who approached from the south and waded into the icy river to attack the party with clubs and spears. The party eventually vanquished these foes, but not before significant damage was inflicted to their boat. They held up and camped and repaired the Queen's Pride using parts from the War Wagon, which they had been towing behind them since Wellspring. After this brief hiatus, they set off downriver for Marshton on the morning of Day 182. 

However, a huge snowstorm rolled in that day, and within a couple of hours, the Blintsflow had completely iced over and the party was completely buried in snow. They decided to build a shelter using the sail of the Queen's Pride and yet more parts from the War Wagon, and ended the session at the bend in the river in hex 1517, mere hours away from Marshton but unable to get there.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Non-Linear Dungeon Design Resources

While I am not actively working on a megadungeon project at present, I am still a big fan of dungeon design theory, and have been reading some great posts on the subject of late. Here are just a few of the great resources I've been enjoying:

Was Module B1 a Good Design? This is a post that Spawn of Endra mentioned to me during a recent conversation, then I backtracked and found it on Delta's D&D Hotspot. I think many of Delta's basic assumptions are spot-on, and I would also urge folks to read the comments to the post, especially this one by Justin Alexander, in which he provocatively suggests a new approach to "old-school," minimalistic dungeon location descriptions, saying that:

Minimal keys are great. Minimal keys that primarily focus on creatures and treasure? IMO, you're doing it wrong. [. . .]

I don't think DMs should prep the multi-paragraph litanies of B1, but I'd much rather have a key that said: 

27. A floor of smooth slate and two thrones of white marble. Purple and yellow draperies on the wall.


127. ORC SERGEANT. The leader of the outpost (8 h.p.) with longsword and heavy crossbow.

What an interesting idea! I don't know how extensively I agree with it, but it has me thinking.

Of course, Mr. Alexander has a great deal of credibility, in large part because he is the author of another classic dungeon design post. . .

(Image from Melan's dungeon mapping post.)

Jaquaying the Dungeon. I actually must again thank Delta for reminding me of this great series of posts, though I am a fan of The Alexandrian and have read them before. In them, JA discusses how to "open up" a dungeon (and increase it re-playability value) by providing multiple entrances and exits from each level and locale. An excerpt:

In a jaquayed dungeon, the choices the PCs make will have a meaningful impact on how the adventure plays out, but the actual running of the adventure isn’t more complex as a result. 

On the other hand, the railroad-like quality of the linear dungeon is not its only flaw. It eliminates true exploration (for the same reason that Lewis and Clark were explorers; whereas when I head down I-94 I am merely a driver). It can significantly inhibit the players’ ability to make meaningful strategic choices. It is, frankly speaking, less interesting and less fun.

I always follow these principles when designing modules and highly recommend these posts.

Node-Based Megadungeon Design. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the blogosphere, I bumped into Keith Davies' fascinating posts about Node-based dungeon design, which he may well carry out to a level of complexity beyond my own interests, yet I confess I find the basic idea of Nodes as a dungeon-design starting point compelling. (I also plan to look further into Keith's broader series on Campaign and Scenario Design).

And lastly, it so happens that Justin Alexander has his own series on the Node-based design topic, which I have yet to read. . . .

Please leave a note in the comments if you have other recommendations for good reading on this or related subjects.

"Don't Prep Plots, Prep Situations" -- Justin Alexander

Monday, October 22, 2012

Admission of Minor Weak Sauce with DUNGEON! Review

Qualifieth and clarifieth doth thine Spawn doeth:
We have as an editorial policy here -- unspoken, unwritten, unresolved, unrequested, unrequited, unrealized (up to the present moment, perchance) -- that we each must be able to call ourselves on our own bullshit.

We are never full-on bullshit, but even so we strive towards a lessening of our own bullshit and the general bullshit we all take part in.

Right. So anyway, I never read the Setup pages of the DUNGEON! rules closely before running the last post. Seemed like a waste of time. THERE is where the equations of race and class are made. I missed this. Here we go:

Rogue (Halfling)

Cleric (Dwarf)

Fighter (Human)

Wizard (Elf)

Race as Class turns to orthogonal Race or Class. More Agency with the latter. Not.

Weird. No. Dumb. Plain old dumb.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

WotC's DUNGEON! is Flattest Non-Euclidean Game Ever

Revieweth thine Spawn:

I picked up the new revised DUNGEON! board game the other day. Back in early 80s me and my sister and a bunch of neighborhood kids played it for hours when the Fresno summers made sitting in air conditioned homes more fun than running around outside. I figured maybe this would be a cool Xmas present for my niece and nephew, but I wanted to make sure WotC hadn't altered it so much as to irk me so I checked it out first. This is the only WotC purchase I've made aside from a pack of Magic cards I bought back in 1994. Not that I hate them, I just didn't buy their stuff.  And I assumed whatever cosmetic changes they made, I'd be able to see past them and have a good time. After laying out the board with its sort-of-isometric perspective, the whole thing started to shift around like a big old Necker illusion and now I can't see it right anymore. I'm serious.

All of the passages look like narrow bridges of blocks above a blue-black pool, and the rooms all look like Jell-O shots whose contents are subject to oblique gravity. Some doors look like they're in the side of the block pathway I'm walking on top of, and others seem to go directly into a floating Jell-O shot.

This is admittedly worse towards the edges of the board than the center, but my brain doesn't really sort that out. The oddest chamber is The Hole, which looks like a cylindrical ring with a bottomless pit ... going down at a 45 degree angle ... that's not the most bottomless thing I can imagine, but of course I'm not feeling the oblique gravity vectors

The least awkward section is in Level 5. Here it mostly looks like a set of chambers and passages sunk into a blue-black surface.

The overall effect when you look at the whole board is that the elevated walkway surfaces appear to be curving up at the edges, as if the blocks are stuck to the inside of a large bowl. Weird. I'm ambivalent about this art design. It's technically executed well, with neat details, etc, but there's something wrong with all the drop-shadow effects and the visually conflicting textures.

To the game itself, for now I'll just point out that they changed around the characters -- Heros -- you can be. Now it's Rogue, Cleric, Fighter and Magic-user (Elf). Elf is in parentheses because that's how it is in the rules, and their little markers below look like elves. The Rogue and Fighter are more or less self-explanatory, but the Cleric? Described as "Holy Warriors", they can't use spells but can use magic swords. Not very Clericky. They are in the photo below in blue, take a look at them. 
Tell me those two aren't dwarves. Yeah, no beard on the female, but compare her to the other characters. They're dwarves. Why not have dwarves instead of clerics since there's no clericness to be had in the game?

Dumb. But whatever, I can just call them dwarves if I want. I'm a grown up. Not sure if I'll buy another copy for my niece and nephew yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Spawn Launches Food Blog

As regular readers know, when he's not doing radiocarbon measurement or kicking ass in Ara, Spawn of Endra is quite the food aficionado -- see his culinary arts-related posts here, here, and here, including this review. In this same vein, he has now launched a new food blog utterly dedicated to his culinary pursuits! The blog is called Coup de Gras and is worth checking out!

From Spawn of Endra's discussion of Gravy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2000 cp? Lazy Stupid Jerk! Radiocarbon will Make You Less Lazy and Stupid!

From Spawn at Lunch:

I read a bunch of important stuff over on RPGNet about how 2000cp is anti-imagination and the sign of a lazy DM and it stole your grandma's car and crashed it into a pet store killing dozens of fuzzy little kittens and bunnies. God Damn that 2000cp! A couple of folks mentioned that in fact, you might use 2000cp in a module as a guideline for determining the treasure, in which case you might roll dice to figure a specific and random amount. I was really thrown for a loop by that idea -- so mind-shattering was it -- but I gradually recovered. Basically you're using 2000 as a mean of the distribution and you figure out some die combo to vary it around the mean (or assume the 2000 is the product of a similar operation, e.g., d4x1000, and then add some other probability distribution to that). Now obviously this is just as lazy, but more sinister because it cloaks its laziness in action and "randomness". Ideally you'd want to trace the history of each copper piece from when it was minted to when it arrived in the ratshit pile to explain why there are exactly 598cp in the pile. Of course we all want this from D&D, but we won't get it, not from JMal and not from nobody.

(There should be a Kickstarter for a supplement that describes the unique history of each one of 598cp in a box. Volume 2: The Saga of 3912ep in a Sack. Written by George R.R. Martin.)

The problem with the randomizing business is that the mechanic behind it can often be guessed at because of certain a priori knowledge: the 6 standard dice have discrete known ranges, typically are not mixed, and have symmetrical distributions (if not Gaussian ones). As more and more piles of treasure are found, eventually the shape of the overall distribution will emerge, showing the DM's random mechanic, and then everyone will see what a lazy sack of shit he or she is. This is essentially a form of Monte Carlo sampling that the players are doing. In fact players use a version of this during, e.g., combat to figure out a monster's HD, damage die for unconventional attacks, and so forth.

What you want is to draw the underlying distribution from a non-normal, non-symmetrical set of probabilities so that no matter how long they spend in your megadungeon, players will never be able to intuit the underlying random mechanics for laying copper pieces around. "How do I do that?", you ask? Fuck, you Lazy Stupid DM! Do I have to explain everything to you? Ugh!

A relatively easy way is to treat your value like a radiocarbon measurement (conventional age, BP), assign some sort of uncertainty to it (+/- 40 is common, but whatever), and then calibrate it against the atmospheric 14C curve (IntCal09, for example). The relationship of actual years to radiocarbon years is not one-to-one, so the measurement is transformed by the curve into a typically non-normal distribution. Here's an example using OxCal:

Now taking the weighted mean of that distribution following Telford et al. 2004 (always a dangerous shorthand) we can now say there are 1953 ratshit befouled copper pieces in the room, and everyone's lovin' your megadungeon all of a sudden. Of course, this only gets you so far, since the curve transforms the data the same way each time.

No problem. Instead of using the R_Date command (for a radiocarbon date), use R _Simulate. This is an interesting exercise in both phenomenology and probability. You have it simulate a radiocarbon age for a sample of calendar age X (which will be your number of copper pieces) assuming a certain measurement error (again, we'll say 40) depending on what type of AMS device you've got. This then incorporates both the gaussian measurement error and the weirdness of the curve, and does it differently every time you run it. Your laziness, stupidity, lack of imagination, and absence of any reason to live are all now well shrouded in the swirling mists of the carbon cycle:

There you go. Now you'll have who-knows-how-many unique piles of coins: 2038cp, 2080cp, 2042cp... the possibilities are endless. If you change the measurement error, a new world of treasure opens up. Try the Marine curve or the Southern Hemisphere curve! Rejoice, for you have now added real flavor and texture to your megadungeon. Next time we'll sample from deeper within the mass of data to ensure the DM's logic is so far abstracted from the shitpile as to be impossible to guess at.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

OSRCon 2012 - Why I Love This Photo

At the end of last year's OSRCon, I wrote a post about a specific photo that really summed up for me all the wonder, adventure, and camaraderie I felt during my first OSRCon experience. I would like to continue the tradition by sharing my single favorite photo from this year's Con and telling you the story behind why I love it so.

Here's the photo:

Chris and me at OSRCon 2012. (Photo by Garfield Noyahr.)

For one, look at the smiles on those two guys' faces. They are having a great time. The guy on the left is named Chris and the guy on the right is me. The shot was taken right at the end of the last session of the Con, mere minutes before we would all disperse and say farewell for another year. Chris and I are sitting at Ken St. Andre's game table, having just played a rollickingly good session of Tunnels and Trolls with the Trollgod himself, and are proudly displaying our T&T 5.5 rulebooks for the camera. Minutes after this photo was snapped, I would ask Ken to sign my copy. He did.

Ken St. Andre with the other Chris - Chris Cunnington, OSRCon coordinator. (Photo by Garfield Noyahr.)

So that's number two: I met Ken St. Andre this year. In addition to playing two different T&T sessions with him, I also got to hang around with him after the Con activities were through -- in fact, we breakfasted together the morning after this shot was taken, and then Spawn and I had the pleasure of driving him back to the airport on our way out of town. Ken is a witty, warm, interesting man and it was a true delight to get to pal around with him for the weekend. Back when I started playing T&T in the early eighties, I would never have believed that now, thirty some-odd years later, I would be gaming and eating breakfast with the game's creator. My weekend with Ken at OSRCon 2012 will always stand as a major highlight of my entire RPG'ing career. 

Thirdly and finally, while this photo at least partially captures these two lads' glee at playing T&T with the Trollgod, it does not fully explain why Chris and I were so enthused. You see, during the session, Chris played an orc who got involved in a shipboard rivalry with another orcish crew member on the riverboat we worked aboard. At one point, Chris decided to teach the other orc a lesson by "accidentally" shoving him overboard and drowning him, and he asked my character -- a human warrior named Hobart the Brave -- to back him up in case he got into trouble. (As I recall, the target of Chris's orc's vengeance had a big orc brother who swore to avenge any foul play visited upon his sibling.) While a bit dubious of Chris' character's motives, Hobart agreed to help his fellow party member, and, when the orc PC's attempt to knock his rival into the river failed -- Chris' character plunged into the water instead -- Hobart leaped into action, faking a stumble and knocking the NPC orc into the river to be killed by Chris' PC. It was awesome, if a little immoral; Chris and I conspired to do something "naughty," i.e., murder an NPC ally, and through teamwork (plus some insanely good die rolling on my part -- best of the session for me) we pulled it off. We laughed quite gleefully after the deed of vengeance was done. I think Ken thought we were bad people after that, but we sure as hell had a great time together.

And that, for me, is what OSRCon is all about: making new allies at the game table with whom to commit somewhat unnecessary acts of violent revenge. Who could ask for more? THANKS CHRIS AND THANKS KEN!

 T&T 7.5 boxed set. (Photo by Chris Cunnington.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

PK Dick's Indictment of D&D

Does Transcribe the Spawn:

From The Divine Invasion (1981) we have the following for DMs to ponder --

What will become of them now? he asked himself. The people whom he wished to be free. What kind of prison will Belial contrive for them with his endless ability to contrive prisons? Subtle ones and gross ones, prisons within prisons; prisons for the body, and, worse by far, prisons for the mind.

The Cave of Treasures under the Garden: dark and small, without air and without light, without real time and real space -- walls that shrink and, caught tight, minds that shrink. And we have allowed this, Zina and I; we have colluded with the goat-thing to bring this about.

Its release is their constraint, he realized. A paradox; we have given freedom to the builder of dungeons. In our desire to emancipate we have crushed the souls of all the living.

Philip K. Dick

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Starting Campaigns in Established Settings

As my contribution to Dice Monkey's September blog carnival, I want to speak briefly about my repeated use of Tim Shorts' excellent  "Starter Adventure" Knowledge Illuminates (published by GM Games) as an inception point for a larger campaign. I have run the adventure twice now, and have found it to be a superb campaign-starter, in part because it avoids the four pitfalls mitigating against good (mega-)dungeon design recently noted by Peter D at Dungeon Fantastic:

1) too much useless backstory
2) slow starts
3) random encounters
4) too many encounters

As I noted in my review of the adventure, "it is the balance the module achieves between keeping it simple -- the scenario itself is quite straightforward -- and offering exciting possibilities for further adventures and/or campaigns" that make it such a valuable and worthwhile gaming product. Since that review was written, I have run the adventure twice, and have found that, just as I predicted, it does indeed give just enough enticing detail to hang custom adventure hooks upon without overburdening the scenario with "useless" or excessive backstory elements. Hence, while KI is NOT a full-blown "campaign setting" in the literal sense of that term, it provides enough of a thumbnail sketch of one to count as an implied setting, especially for an old-school DIY'er. One key feature of the scenario that I do not want to Spoilerize here absolutely sets the world of KI apart (in my mind) from many other settings and implies a great deal about how arcane energies can or might function in any campaign emanating therefrom.

Knowledge Illuminates also avoids the "slow start" problem because it is, on one level, intended as a simple, stand-alone adventure, hence it does not waste time with tons of setting details I would rather fill in myself or in collaboration with my players. The number and types of encounters in the module are pitched very well -- it is well-balanced IMO. I have really enjoyed running it and have found it to be as good a campaign "setting" as any I have ever used.*

* To be fair, I must confess that I have never actually used any pre-published "Campaign Setting" unless you count the one sketched and/or implied by what Al Krombach calls "the original adventure path" of TSR modules G1-2-3 and D1-2-3. As I have written before, and similarly to Al, I started out in this hobby playing mostly TSR modules, then moved on to playing exclusively in my own Lands of Ara setting in the 1990s. Hence, maybe I cheated my way around the intent of the Blog Carnival theme -- but isn't that awfully old-school of me?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reflections on the Lift Bridge Game and Younger Gamers

In the past I have briefly discussed what it was like to play with younger gamers -- fun! -- and subsequently confessed that despite my interest in playing with members of younger generations, my main mission in reaching out to them as a gamer is to introduce them to the Old Ways, i.e., Labyrinth Lord. Well, I am happy to report that via my Lift Bridge Old-School D&D Group, I am getting my opportunity to do just that.

However, with that mission comes certain responsibilities and special considerations.

My LL Referee's Screen is seeing a lot of good use these days.

Young gamers are fun for me to referee because they really get into the role-playing and the "imagine the hell out of it" spirit that I like to see from players in my games. I always favor players who come up with inventive and entertaining solutions to problems -- like Rolland the cleric assaulting skeletons with his backpack to avoid using a bladed weapon -- rather than the power gamers who just want to "win" at all costs.

However, I faced a tricky situation two sessions ago that, in retrospect, I did not handle very well. Two younger gamers -- not even quite teenagers -- showed up for the public LL game at the bookstore with characters already generated. In fact, their characters were ones they had been campaigning with for some time in a 2e campaign. I was so excited to have them on board, especially given their familiarity (via 2e) with old-school-style play, that I permitted them to use their current characters without vetting said characters very rigorously. Sure, I scaled their PCs down a few experience levels to bring them closer to the party average of about Level 4, but I failed -- until too late -- to realize how many magical items and special abilities they had been granted in their "home" campaign. Not only did these two guys end up having characters who were WAY too overpowered for the party, but I continually had to haggle with them over what powers and items they could and could not use in my campaign. THIS WAS NOT THEIR FAULT -- it was mine. They brought in their PCs and I did not look them over closely enough; otherwise, I could have nipped this in the bud. But I didn't. And after the game, there was some chatter between the older players on the Old-School D&D Group's Facebook page that went a little like this:

PLAYER 1: Should there be an age limit to our group? I've got no prob's with ppl being comfy and having fun. I just feel if there's children in the groups we have to second guess most the game

PLAYER 2: I'm fine with whatever... it only becomes a problem for me when we have to hold back [our adult-themed talk] because of certain people being present who may find it inappropriate. That and when their characters outclass ours. Maybe they should create new characters that fit into our game

PLAYER 3: It's not fun to have to censor yourself. I will say though, I'm totally fine with getting 5k EXP this session.

PLAYER 4: The real tricky part is how do we enforce this now that two kids have joined and we never had any such rule in place before? Anyone know if they're planning on returning?

PLAYER 2: The kids said they wanted to come back but that lady [their mom] seemed hesitant I think.. if they do come back we could just make them create new characters within our game.

PLAYER 4: I was thinking of just not censoring ourselves in hope of turning them away with our matoor language but then I thought about what a monster I was at age 13. Won't work.

PLAYER 2: haha we should anyways

ME: That's the ticket!

PLAYER 1: :) Carter's words should be anuf :p

The two young lads did not return for last weekend's session, though I would not be surprised if they come back sometime in the future. I welcome them but I am attuned to my other players' concerns, especially the power gaming issue. I absolutely plan to make those two re-roll fresh LL characters next time they show up.

As for the blue language issue, that is a quandary. Sure, it is a public game in any case, so I do try to somewhat limit how much I use terms like "the goblin violently sodomizes a corpse" and "you sever his testicles and they roll across the floor, trailing semen" in any case. But gamers will be gamers, and since the majority of the group is in its 20s or older, it may be difficult for us to censor ourselves down to a PG-13 level. We may be able to hit a "soft" R rather than a "hard" R, but that's the most I can hope for I think, at least with this particular crowd. But I know I have a responsibility to set the tone and make all feel welcome.

To our credit, we had a different youngster named Alex show up to the most recent game, and he was a big contributor -- his fighter, Joe, was a heavy hitter in melee and was instrumental in bringing down those skeletal spidergoats -- and I think we were able to say some of our raunchy stuff (I know I used the word "buttocks" a couple of times) without offending his young sensibilities. There is probably a balance to be struck here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Quick Note on Shoving Scrimshaw Dice

Doth Computeth Spawn:

I'm in the lab this morning and will be focusing on all sorts of important science stuff shortly, but Roger's good-humoredly cranky post about dice caught my attention. He points to a Forbes article that points to a test of 2 d20s (Chessex and Game Science) rolled 10k times each by the folks at Awesome Dice Blog. They show that the Chessex die is less random than the Game Science die, but neither are perfect; in fact the little nubbin on the 14 of the GS die severely affects that die. Now I didn't read all the comments on the post, so maybe this has already been said, but the Chessex data indicates that it can't be considered a "lucky" or "unlucky" die in the sense of always rolling high or low. The problem with that die is that it's slightly ovoid rather than spherical, and the 1-20 axis is relatively long. Neither crits nor fumbles are likely with that die. You can see this by comparing the data they present on the blog.

The red line is the expected outcome of 500 rolls per face. It's obviously not random. In fact there's some interesting structure in the data: opposite faces tend to be equally likely to appear. Combining these frequencies we see this:

How do you like that? I don't have a d20 in front of me and the distribution of the faces on d20s vary by manufacturer, but my guess it that overall the die is a bit longer across the 1/20, 2/19, 7/14, 8/13 axis. So that reduces the likelihood of rolling at the extremes of the range and a couple chunks in the middle as we see above. The dip at 5 in this die may be from the little nubbin not being filed off. But I wonder if this ovoid shape has anything to do with rounding off the edges per se, as opposed to the problems with the shape of the mold or uneven shrinkage in the plastic as it sets (or whatever, I'm not a dice manufacturer).

So to Roger's point about lucky dice being loaded, if the pattern above is common, it seems unlikely that players are really holding dice that give them better chance to roll high or low. Even if you have the 20 on the short axis, the 1 will be there too, and so you'll have a die equally likely to crit and fumble more often than expected. With a squashed die, switching roll-high or roll-low mechanics to keep players on their toes may not mitigate the lucky/loaded die superstition. Well, if I remember I'll take some digital calipers home tonight and see if I can detect squashedness in my Chessex d20s.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lift Bridge Game Updates

Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport, NY.

As I have previously reported, I am currently running an ongoing Labyrinth Lord game at Lift Bridge Books in downtown Brockport. The open-to-the-public group is really gaining momentum, with four or five regular players at this point. Yesterday's game saw record attendance -- seven players plus myself! -- including two new players who hadn't attended before. Word seems to be getting around.

Given how lazy I have been at keeping up with play reports in general,* it should come as no surprise that I haven't reported the details of that group's adventures. However, Cid, one of the regular players, has done a fine job of chronicling the first three Lift Bridge sessions here, here and here. Thanks Cid!

However, since (real-life bard) Cid has missed the past two Lost City Campaign sessions due to work obligations, allow me to briefly bring you up to date on the party's latest exploits:

7/29 Session
After the encounter with the "corpse-eating ghouls" in the dwarven graveyard between Lupner and Darkoul mentioned by Don Ximen, the group traveled further westward, stopping at the small outpost of Blart for the "night." As they rested, the outpost was attacked by a raiding party of several large fish-men, a regional menace whose lair was known to lie along the northern road leading away from an intersection of four significant underground roadways known to locals as "the Crossroads." After helping the Blartians fight off the fish-men raiders, and looting the bodies, the party set off the next day for "the Crossroads," only a mile away. The group was now within about twelve miles of the sizeable underground dwarven city of Khaz Dargur, yet chose to turn immediately southward, toward the rumored demesne of Zappo the Obscure, a local wizard of some renown.

"Our arcanist, Crimnox, sought to take a diversion from our trog-hunting endeavors in order to find allies amongst the wizards of the deep." -- Don Ximen Fernandez de la Vega

The party made its way southward for several miles, and soon came to where the tunnel opened up into a VAST underground cavern, through which their road progressed along a 12' wide, raised ridge sticking up out of the darkness. They tightened their formation and tied themselves together with long ropes -- all except Jarl the dwarf, who took point and remained unsecured.

They had progressed about a half-mile along the narrow ridge when they were attacked from above by three huge pteranodons! The party made fairly quick work of dispatching these foes. . .

8/5 Session
. . . only to be beset moments later by several amber golems, who moved with uncanny silence and were far harder to destroy than the pteranodons.** But prevail the party did, and then traveled another few miles along the ridge until the road entered an enclosed tunnel enveloped in an arcane darkness their torches and infravision could barely penetrate. Some arcane-looking runes were etched outside the tunnel mouth; Crimnox the Sorcerer was able to read them: You have reached the realm of Zappo. Do not enter here lightly. Of course, the party entered, Jarl, as always, in the lead.

After sneaking around a bit and scouting a couple of different empty chambers, the group made their way south then west into Zappo's cave complex proper, only to be viciously attacked by some skeletal spidergoats at a four-way intersection. This battle raged for some time, and came with great cost: Rolland the fighter was killed during the battle, then reincarnated (via a scroll Crimnox pinched from the dead fish-men in Blart) as a fourth-level cleric!

9/16 Session
The four undead spidergoat skeletons were eventually defeated, in an exciting ongoing melee that included recently reincarnated cleric Rolland doing everything in his power -- attacking with a flaming 10' pole, a lasso, and even a backpack! -- to avoid using his two-handed sword, his former (bladed) weapon. After dispatching the abominations, the group proceeded west then north then west again, into another stretch of passage cloaked in spooky arcane darkness. Entering the dark patch, most of the party (except Jarl and Rolland) fell instantly unconscious, and had to be dragged into the next chamber by their two awake fellows.

That next chamber contained a statue of a wizard, holding a wand aloft. Jarl and Rolland made offerings of gold and psychedelic mushrooms to the statue, and the statue's wand tip glowed and then the statue receded to reveal a downbound spiral staircase hidden underneath. Jarl dragged his companions down these stairs, then he and Rolland waited twenty more minutes for the others to wake up. All awake, they opened a well-polished wooden door with brass fittings at the foot of the staircase and proceeded into the chamber beyond . . .

More to come!

An expert Lift Bridge Books staffer -- also the player of Bobandy the Dwarf.

I want to take the time to thank Lift Bridge Books (especially co-owners Pat and Archie Kutz and store manager Joe Hoffman) for hosting the D&D group and getting the word out really effectively. One of my new players at yesterday's session said his dad saw an announcement of the Lift Bridge Old-School D&D Group in the paper. Way to work the publicity machine!

Thanks Lift Bridge Books!

* I am still behind by about five session reports for my "home" Labyrinth Lord group.
** We had some new players that session who helped me, through no real fault of their own, to unbalance the party a bit too extremely, thus the amber golem battle was not quite as thrilling as it could have been; more to come on that issue in a separate, forthcoming post.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Still Kind of Out of It

Hi faithful readers, it has been awhile since I have shown The Lands of Ara much love. The blog, that is. I am happy to report that I am still gaming in the Lands a fair amount, both with my "home" (Skype-based) campaign group as well as in the public Labyrinth Lord game I am running on the first and third Sundays of each month at Lift Bridge Books in Brockport, NY. That group has really gotten off the ground and is heading into some interesting adventures in an underground cave system near the Lost City of Cynidicea.

All this to say that actual gaming at the table is eating most of my RPG-hobby time these days, which I suppose is as it should be, but I miss blogging.  In the name of full disclosure, I should add that two other real-life happenings have started to cut into my available time and resources lately:

(1) My job responsibilities are intensifying. I am entering my second year on the tenure track, and that means increased service responsibilities in my department as well as a complex and time-eating contract renewal process I am engaged with this year.


(2) After a divorce at the end of last year and much psychotherapy since then, I am happy to share that I have recently started into a new romantic relationship.

Despite these substantive distractions, I will do my best to stay on task here at the blog, yet don't be surprised if my posts are a bit fewer and farther between for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, thank the gods for Spawn of Endra's superb contributions which are really keeping this thing alive at present.

Game on!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Dose of Verisimilitude: Fun to Read, Not Fun to Play

Ahoy, says Spawn:

In reading a great history of Christian missionization in Europe, Richard Fletcher's The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, I came across a passage that briefly lays out the logistical realities of a (presumably name-level) Cleric's retinue in the early medieval period, and then an outline of bookmaking. For our beloved readers I quote at length:

"Riches were necessary for furnishing and maintaining the infrastructure of a bishopric. We tend to think of episcopal accoutrements in terms of the few treasures that have survived, such as Cuthbert's pectoral cross and portable altar or the book at Fulda with which Boniface vainly tried to defend himself. We must not forget the less exotic but absolutely essential underpinning of an episcopal establishment. The large retinues, like those about which Alcuin complained, had to be clothed, fed, mounted and armed. How revealing that when Otto of Bamburg entered his chosen mission field in 1128 with thirty wagons in his train the Pomeranians took this for an enemy army. Retainers were not menials; so we must make allowance for  servants, grooms, cooks, laundrymaids. Already a lot of people, and somehow they must eat and drink and sleep. We may think of the carts as groaning under the weight of canvas and rope, poles and pegs, sheepskins and cooking pots and emergency fuel and candles, flour and bacon and beer. Axles break, tack frays, weapons rust. So there must be craftsmen who can exercise various skills as wheelwrights, saddlers, armourers and smiths; and they will need tools and anvils and horseshoes and nails and grease and leather and packthread. And this is but to consider the absolutely basic equipment of an itinerant episcopal household. If in turn we consider the more exotic activities of a cathedral establishment we can appreciate the need for resources on an ample scale. For example, the production of books was inseparable from the work of Christian evangelization. It was a long and complex series of operations from the slaughter of a calf and the messy and smelly business of turning its skin into vellum that could be written upon, to the final outcome in such masterpieces as the Codex Amiatinus or the Book of Kells. Neither should we forget the associated crafts (ink-making, mixing of pigments, bookbinding), nor the laborious training with quill and brush, nor the false starts, nor the sudden shower that ruined a day's work hung out to dry on the scriptorium's washing line. Amiatinus and Kells were of course luxury productions, among the very finest books which human skill has ever produced. But even everyday texts designed for use rather than ostentation or devotion - such as, say, the Weissenburg catechism alluded to in Chapter 8 - would have required precious resources of materials, training and skills in their making."

Fletcher, pp.459-60.

The passage appears fairly late in the book in Chapter 13 of 15 (Mission to Church) where Fletcher sort of steps back a bit and collects himself and the reader for a moment before heading into the home stretch. His history and analysis are not specifically economically focused before that point, and with this passage and much of the following material, he does treat the economic realities of the European church more directly. In a way, for most of the narrative (and I don't know if the above passage gets this across, but the guy has a great conversational writing style) those sorts of details are hand-waived in the interest of keeping the flow of the story moving.

I.e., basically the same way most of this stuff is treated in D&D except by the most pedantic simulationists. Or I should say precocious, uniquely-genius world-building DMs, for a more positive connotation. I admit, a part of me wants to worry and fret over all these details and play in a game world where all of these matters impinge on what PCs can do or can not.

You want to copy a scroll, Mr. Magic? Okay, well there's no vellum at the local VornMart. You've got to go find someone who will sell you a calf, then someone to slaughter it, then make vellum, mix ink, blah blah blah. Ah. But after Mr. Magic searches for a week, my random calf-birthing table (indexed to random tables of realistic daily weather conditions, history of grazing and pasturage, foddering regime, fodder quality, cattle pedigree, and so on) indicates that there are no surplus calves available in the area, nor have there been any for the last 15 years. This also explains why everyone in the town is extraordinarily poor and unfriendly to outsiders such as your party. You keep asking for veal when everyone is starving, you asshole.

The item that sticks out in the passage for me starts with "Axles break". Back when I used to be able to tolerate the abuse associated with reading the Tao of D&D (let alone posting a comment, for Christ's sake) I saw a post there about exactly this circumstance. Maybe it was a session recap or something, but for some reason an wagon axle broke, and the players wanted to say they replaced it with a tree branch they cut to size, or something like that, just good enough to get them back to town. And of course the impossibilities associated with this task were magnified in the telling (given the author, partly for rhetorical effect: to clearly explain how his players were the stupidest fucking people ever shat out upon the face of the Earth): none of you know how to make an axle; you don't have the tools; you don't have seasoned lumber, of the right part of the right tree; and you're obviously a bunch of total morons with your own feces smeared across your foreheads; etc.

At any rate, this has all been said before about verisimilitude in D&D (though I contend the forehead-feces tack is an original development, a true innovation). Should anything go? No. Maybe the PCs have to abandon the goddamned wagon, it can't be repaired in the field, and the other consequences of that have to play out. But the DM can hand-waive the details that may be important to her conception of how the world works by not mechanicalizing everything, or at least not subjecting the players to the mechanics themselves except as existing conditions and outcomes in the game world. That is, the intricacies of your own byzantine calf-birthing index may give you the most profound boner or luxuriantly swollen labia (or whatever genital configuration you might possess) but the players do not find themselves equally engorged by their encounter with the index, usually.

Here lies a bit of a split in the argument about attention to 'realistic' details bringing the game world to life. Since the mechanics of mustard-farming (or whatever) are basically a game for the DM who develops it and interacts directly with it, and not for the players, these sorts of mechanics, inflicted on players, don't bring the world to life for them. The distinction is subtle: the consequences of the DM playing his/her personal game of mechanics to determine the precise color of the sunset as perceived by each in turn the elf, the dwarf, the human and the dog in the party on day 249 are important. PCs can't agree on the qualities of the sunset, can't fix the wagon, and so on. That sucks, or is an opportunity for role-playing, or whatever. The players typically interact with the outcomes of these sorts of mechanics, not the mechanics themselves. This suggests that a form of hand-waiving resides in keeping the mechanics behind the screen, and thereby foregoing the occasion to share your awesomely detailed Faberge egg of a system with your friends. DMing is a hard, lonely and unheralded career, it would seem.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ken St. Andre arrives at TIFF

Reporteth Spawn:

Ken St. Andre returned to Toronto for the premiere of his new Tunnels and Trolls movie, a joint production of Film Canada, Canal+ and Flying Buffalo, at the Toronto International Film Festival. Sporting a new hat and buoyed by recent appearances at OSRCon and GenCon, St. Andre was heard to say that his film was way better than films about That Other Game, that Gygax couldn't screen-write his way out of a paper bag, and that no one around here seemed to be able to take a joke. The film is scheduled for limited release in time for Christmas 2012.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Some OSRCon Impressions

Says Spawn:

OSRCon last weekend was the first gaming con I've attended, and I was surprised at how intense of an experience it was. This might have been turned up a notch by a lot of driving from central PA to Toronto, being part of the Ken St. Andre envoy, and the exotic setting in the frozen wastes of Canada, but the reality is that gaming draws upon energies that other activities do not. It is a rarefied social interaction. So I was pretty punchy the whole time.

I had a good time. I played Tunnels and Trolls for the first time under the TrollLordship of Ken St.Andre himself, which started off Friday morning with a fairly in-depth explanation of the rules -- but also the logic and rationale behind those rules, often critiquing short-comings of That Other Game -- to a group of 8 to 10 players. There were some digressions there, but I was happy to hear Ken's exegesis. Then we all spend about 2 hours TRYING TO GET INTO THE FIRST ROOM OF THE DUNGEON. Seriously. All these seasoned gamers and folks are falling off a bridge, drowning, saving the drowning, not saving the drowning, flying into the ceiling, breaking ankles, cutting hands up, looking for sticks, splitting the party, getting it back together .... It was fun, but Ken St. Andre is a clever guy that lets the party kill itself, as he said several times over the weekend.

Later I played LL that Carter was running. He may elaborate on that. I will note that it was by that time I noticed that of the ~8 players, I was surprised to find about half to be in their 20s or so. That wasn't representative of the attendees overall, but there was a strong (local) contingent of people born well after Moldvay/Cook or Mentzer Basic were popular. And they were cool folks to play with and talk to, as well, lots of enthusiasm.

Saturday I got to play in a LL Barrowmaze session run by its author, Greg Gillespie. He is a very cool guy, a stern but fair DM. I was intrigued by the turning mechanics for clerics in Barrowmaze, as well as the great art by Stefan Poag, Jim Holloway, and an "Irish guy". I will buy this thing now. The play itself was ... well, I'll be honest: it was some of the stupidest play I've been involved in for a long time, but I was as much a part of that stupid play as anyone. I walk up to the altar. "A trap door opens in front of the altar. You fall into the pit. It's bottomless. You can play this NPC now." After that it was variations on "Make as much noise as possible in the dungeon", shouting for lost retainers, hammering iron spikes into everything, chiseling away at the cursed obelisk ... fucking DUMB, my friends. But that's how we were doing it and it was a good time. Lots of death.

That afternoon I was weary, after getting lunch with Greg and his compatriot (Mr. Gillespie is not fond of spicy food and we ended up at a really great Pho place; he took it in stride), I was really exhausted. After the panel discussion I wondered if I'd actually play in the Call of Cthulhu game I was signed up for. In the event, I decided to go for it, and announced to the Keeper, Blain, that I had never played the game before and don't know the rules at all. "That's probably better, actually," he said, and the other players nodded. We played a scenario that is apparently Ghost Light, from this Terrors from Beyond collection, about a mysteriously abandoned Scottish lighthouse. Lawrence Whitaker and another player conducted most of the play in dubious Scottish accents (which I couldn't muster for myself) and there was a lot of good play, plenty of joking but not to the point of derailing the tension and pace of the game. I don't have other Keepers to compare Mr. Blain to, but he had the game so well organized and narrated the events in such keen fashion -- and though he referred to his screen occasionally for some mechanical bits, it never intruded on the play. A very fluid style that indicates he really knows the game inside and out and really loves to run it. So I had fun. I went temporarily insane for a period, but managed not to get turned into a pile of goo by a weird being. Not bad for a newbie.

The next day before we drove Ken back to the airport on our way out of town we stopped in at the modernist Robarts Library at UT, where I was trying to identify places that Cronenberg shot parts of his student films Stereo and Crimes of the Future, and allegedly inspired some elements of the library in The Name of the Rose. More on that another time

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

OSRCon Rocked!!

Me posing with my T&T 5.5 rulebook, with its author in the background left.

I returned from OSRCon 2012 on Sunday evening but have been too ecstatic to gather my thoughts about it; I've just been riding the high of meeting Ken St. Andre, hanging out with a bunch of awesome fellow old-school gamers, and playing a ton of old-school games including Labyrinth Lord and Tunnels and Trolls. In fact, I am still so awash in the glory of it all (and embroiled in a few other time-intensive projects this week to boot) that this will not constitute a comprehensive report on the Con. I just wanted to post a few photos and mention a couple highlights, with more detailed reports to follow by the weekend or early next week. So many tales to tell!

Chris Cunnington and Ken St. Andre - my heroes.

First, a shout out to Chris Cunnington, event organizer, who did a simply fabulous job of bringing everybody together, making sure we had what we needed (including lots of water) and ensuring that OSRCon ran smoothly. It did; mission accomplished, Chris! THANKS!!

 Me, the Trollgod, and Spawn of Endra at the airport Thursday night. (This photo courtesy Chris Cunnington.)

FYI, Chris also has some great OSRCon photos (from Day One and Day Two) posted over at his blog, including this one (pictured above) of me, Spawn, and trollgod Ken St. Andre looking punchy and quasi-exhausted yet quite chuffed at Toronto Pearson Airport terminal 3.

OSRCon 2012 panelists: James Maliszewski, Lawrence Whitaker, Ed Greenwood, and Ken St. Andre.

I ran two parties through my home-brewed LL adventure, Keep of the Zombie Master, which was a huge success that I can hardly wait to tell you about. When I wasn't running those games, I was playing T&T with the Trollgod himself, or attending this year's panel, which I think was even more entertaining and informative than last year's.

Lots more to come; but thanks to Ken, Chris, Spawn, and all the other lovely gamers who made the weekend so special and exciting for me. I can't wait to do it again next year; OSRCon III here we come!!

Photos courtesy Garfield Noyahr except as indicated.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

To OSRCon 2012!

I've been away from the blog of late, working hard on a non-gaming-related writing project that I have only just finished (yesterday). Now, the next big event that will keep me away from the blogosphere -- but into some serious, hard-core, old-school gaming -- is OSRCon 2012, taking place this Friday and Saturday in Toronto, Canada!

Spawn and I are driving up to the Con tomorrow afternoon, and will be sure to take some pictures while we're there. Hell, internet access permitting, maybe we'll post a couple reports for our loyal readership from the Con itself. But be sure to look for some post-Con reportage here next week, and maybe, just maybe, things will pick up steam around here again in the fall.

Talk soon!

On Friday morning we will descend this staircase, headed for ADVENTURE!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Flailceratops Comes to the PA Turnpike

Ahoy from Spawn:

Driving back to State College yesterday after flying back into Philly, I stopped for some beverage at a travel center (or whatever they call it) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I happened to be wearing my least smelly of shirts at the time, that being the famed Flailceratops T-shirt. After having worn it in three countries, I received the only comments on it at this place (except when I met up with Hazel's player in Dublin last week; she said she loved my shirt). At the check-out counter the following exchange occurred:

Guy: Is that a real dinosaur or what?

SoE: Uh, no. It's made up. I mean the body's real, it's like a triceratops.

Guy: Yeah, I know triceratops but this flay ... flail-ceratops .... What's a flail?

SoE [with travel-scrambled brain]: It's a ... spiked ball and chain on a stick. [Motioning] For beating people with.

Guy: Oh. So why's it on a shirt?

SoE: It's a thing by an artist guy. For a book he made. So I got the shirt.

(I wasn't in a headspace to start talking about D&D at that moment, dear readers.)

Guy: Well it's amazing the way they come up with these names for dinosaurs and things that have been dead forever, not just dinosaurs but everything.

SoE: Yeah, there's a group of folks that check the Latin names to make sure they follow the rules and everything.

Guy: Yeah but for things that are so old and we have no idea what they were. Like right now there are ten flavors of ice cream that are exactly the same as Ben and Jerry's out there ...

SoE: Yeah?

Guy: ... but there are no names for them because they are completely unknown flavors. They were made up out of nothing. Unknown flavors.

SoE: Wow. Well it just goes to show ....

And then I left and got back on the turnpike. I have yet to fathom the true depths of that man's words.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What's Going On (in NY)

Carter Soles, Real American.

Since Spawn of Endra is abroad right now, having all kinds of fantastic adventures, it falls to me to update the Lands of Ara readership about what is going on in my personal gaming milieu at present.

First, it should be noted that I have been working very laboriously upon an academic article for the past several weeks -- it is coming along well but is eating a lot of my time and concentration. Not only has this limited my contributions to the blog of late, it has also meant a slowing down of my personal RPG'ing schedule as well. I am now cut back to running my so-called "home" Lands of Ara campaign via Skype, and running the twice-monthly Lift Bridge "Lost City" campaign, which is chugging away quite nicely.

I am also "preparing" for OSRCon 2012, by which I mean eagerly awaiting Spawn's return to the U.S.A. so we can make our travel plans etc.  I also greatly look forward to running this adventure of mine, Keep of the Zombie Master, at the Con this year. And, of course, to meeting the legendary (and legendarily nice guy) Ken St. Andre in Toronto!  Tunnels and Trolls rules!!

Once I get back from that exciting event, I will get refocused on finishing up two modules up for pdf-style and/or POD publication: first The Tower of Death, the adventure I ran at OSRCon 2011, and then Keep of the Zombie Master, this year's Con module. Both are completely drafted, and The Tower of Death is playtested and merely awaits artwork, cartography, and layout. Keep of the Zombie Master is receiving its preliminary playtest at OSRCon 2012, and may get run again with the Lift Bridge Group if I can make that work. Then, following manuscript revisions in response to those playtests, Zombie Master will need artwork and cartography and layout before it is ready to "ship."

Stay tuned!

Let's pray Spawn of Endra returns safely from this place.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

CityCrawl Paris: Rock Down to Goblin Avenue

There but for the grace of Endra goes Spawn:

I was staying near the Place d'Italie until yesterday, and had until then shunned one road sloping disconcertingly downward from the circle called:
That's right. Goblin Avenue. But I figured, whatever, it's just a bunch of goblins, I have no shiny objects on my person, now's as a good a time as any to check this out. Just after taking that photo a detachment of the Armee Gobelin tore through the P. d'Italie circle lusting after the 14 Julliet fireworks extravanga on the Champs Elysees.
I started down the Goblin Ave., and it wasn't clear who the goblins were. But everyone was really short. I assume there was some sort of tricksy magic spell on the street.

Those 'trees' are actually tall shrubs by human standards. As I progressed down that mad infernum of a road, I saw this spectacle: The Goblin Cave.

Of course they try to trick you into entering their stupid cave by saying it's all about wine. But seriously goblin folks, I read through B2 back when I was 10 years old. I'm not falling for that beeswax. Further on there were more signs of not just wandering goblins or rag tag groups, but a working goblin society. When goblins need a prescription filled they go to the Goblin Pharmacy.
But only a total dumbshit buys any 'healing potion' from a goblin. You goblins may say your store is gated shut because it's a holiday, but I know better. Not even 1st level schmucks are falling for your tired old shenanigans these days, and you're going out of business. As we speak Mike Mearls is getting ready to flatten your shit like a crepe with his 5e steamroller, fools.

But this was weary work, and I became edgier as I descended further down Goblin Street, not knowing who was human and who was goblin. So I stopped off at an ostensibly human brasserie and had a couple of beers. I was suspicious of the waiter, because when I asked what beer they had on tap (a presion, as they say in gobelinois), he told me they had Kronenbourg. Ha ha, Msr. Gobelin, how drole. I quaffed warily, as you can see:
My Flailceratops T-shirt probably protected me from the worst effects. In the middle of the second 50cL I developed a large vagina in my torso and lost my passport inside of it. I'm hoping that if I keep drinking Kronenbourg I'll be able to pull it out before I have to get on a plane again. I'll keep you dear readers posted on developments.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. There is a stop on the metro map labelled "Ourcq" on Ligne 7. I won't explore that without a better AC and a few NPCs. I guarantee hirelings a 10% share of the loot and 1/4 share of XP, but you have to pay your own way. (I'll pay for the metro tickets, but you have to get to Paris on your own.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

F'ing White Apes

Your Parisian correspondent, Le Spawn, doth say:

You've got to keep your eyes on those white apes. I was in the Paris Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Palaeontology this afternoon. As you wait in line to buy a ticket you are greeted with this sculpture called (more or less) "A Borneo Savage being Strangled by an Orangutan":

Dig the detail of the 'quadramanous' orang's right foot grasping the sauvage's left calf and the screaming baby orang on the right. Comparative anatomy was no laughing matter back in the day, to be sure. More to come on my Old School visit to the museum.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Geeking out at 14C CON

Transmitting from UNESCO HQ, Spawn sez:

I've never been to a gaming con before, but I arrived in Paris Sunday morning for what turns out to be my heaven-on-earth geek-a-thon conference: The International Radiocarbon Conference. I'm heading to OSRCon in August with Carter, and I expect there will be some parallels between the last couple of days and what I'll experience there. I mean like on a human-being social level.

To wit: There is a radiocarbon community. It's fair to call it a community since it's actually surprisingly small (or the group that can get to a conference is fairly small), and everyone is connected to everyone else at least tangentially through collaboration, training, lineages of technical expertise, and so on. Very much like the OSR blogosphere, I realized that I know folks and am known to others through scientific publications (analogous to blogs and maybe some especially noteworthy posts). You get a sense of people from their writing, analysis, and occasional email correspondence, and you build up an image and identity for that person without ever meeting them. But you don't really know them.

When I arrived yesterday I saw my session organizer, who I first learned of while she was doing her brilliant dissertation because she cited an early article of mine (which made me think she must be pretty solid, obviously), who was chatting with someone else whose article I reviewed last year ... both having been students of a hero of mine that I ran into again later in the day. And then we all started geeking out on radiocarbon stuff, freshwater reservoir corrections (the veritable 1e weapon speed tables of radiocarbon dating), marine offsets, carbon cycling ... and that was the most serious fucking geek-out I've had about that stuff I've ever had IN PERSON. And suddenly you realize you're not alone in whatever lonely little corner of the blogosphere lab you're doing your work in: There are others just like me! And it's the only the first 15 minutes of the conference!!!!! AARAGAGARAJHHH!

And they're happy to meet me! They've read my posts articles, and thought this one was great. And then some of the big old school names are here and all the old school radiocarbon people call each other out in the middle of their talks to joke or point to some useful unpublished data that one has (like a great d30 mechanic for resolving mass demon-summoning combat that they need to finally work up into a post), or remind each other of how the ion-source from LLNL ended up in Denmark. And chuckles abound. I chuckle too. These are world-class mother fuckers doing the best radiocarbon science there is, and they're the full range of surly, awkward, earnest, smelly, well-dressed, sharp, sarcastic, or polite geeks that you find in any such rarefied environment, and they're having fun. Happy to see each other again.

And there are subtle factional rivalries that ostensibly center on differences in technical protocols, but in fact probably can be traced to some difference over a sciencey or social thing that few people remember from the late 1980s. But the intellectual offspring are subtly influenced in their interactions because of that history. Can some of them overcome this and bridge the gap? Forget the past? Or is it time to mount an all out offensive to eradicate their ridiculous pretreatment protocols once and for all? And which side am I on, having just galloped in from the wastelands of North America, a veritable John Carter of radiocarbon, but now with a renewed sense of purpose and a wholly unknown and desirous magical protocol?

It's the chemistry version of the Edition Wars, basically. At any rate, that's enough obliquery.

So: I've wondered whether blogospherics and other distanced interactions aren't usually enough to make an effective community. They aren't on their own, I think. But as with close scientific collaboration at a distance, when you DO get to meet those folks, then you have laid some groundwork for starting to talk and joke, share stories, getting some serious work done, and for reinvigorating your joy and excitement about your own work/hobby/obsession. Camaraderie, essentially. There's no real substitute for the game (of Science, of D&D, or the D&D of Science or the Science of D&D) shared with other people.

So keep enjoying your cons, in whatever form they manifest, my friends.

Monday, July 9, 2012

OSRCon 2012 Approaches!

OSRCon 2012 Registration is still open! OSRCon only costs $25 CDN (about $26 US) and it is well worth every penny for what you get: two full days of old-school gaming, exciting celebrity panels, and general OSR camaraderie. I cannot wait to return to Toronto again this year to create some new OSRCon memories. And as an added bonus, my collaborator and friend Spawn of Endra will be attending the Con with me this year!

OSRCon 2012 takes place August 10-11 in Toronto; this years' guests of honor include Ed Greenwood (Elminster), James Maliszewski, Chris Huth, and a personal idol of mine, Tunnels and Trolls creator Ken St. Andre. In addition to running my own Labyrinth Lord games (see below), I will be fulfilling a lifelong dream by playing T&T with the Trollgod himself at the Con.

Last year's panel discussion featuring, among others, James Maliszewski and Ed Greenwood. I am sure many folks are eager to get a chance to play at both of these guys' gaming tables again this year.

Other games being run at the 2012 Con include James M.'s OD&D-based Dwimmermount campaign, Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze, a couple of Boot Hill sessions, a B/X game, and a very promising looking AD&D game featuring a run through G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief ("there shall be much slaughter").

This year I will be running two Labyrinth Lord games (straight LL, no AEC), playing a homebrewed adventure called Keep of the Zombie Master with my usual OSRCon House Rules:

(1) Multiple Round searching for secret doors allowed, and

(2) Shields Shall Be Splintered!

Like last year, I will provide Pre-Generated PCs to all participants.

My GM code on the linked schedule is #6421; I'm at Table 2 during Session Two (Friday 3:30pm to 7:30pm) and Table 1 during Session Three (Saturday 9:30am to 1:30pm). I hope you'll strongly consider attending OSRCon if you can, and that you might even join me at my Labyrinth Lord game one of those sessions.

I really cannot convey in words how special this Con is, though perhaps this post, this postthis post, this post, and this post can convey some sense of the excitement and fun to be had at this event.

Please keep your eye on the official OSRCon website and blog for updates about the Con, the schedule, and so on.

This guy is going to be there -- need I say more?