Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Thoughts on the “War” on D&D

I’m not sure why a lot of “War on D&D” blips were flitting over my internet radar the past week or two, but they’ve shown up for some reason and attracted my interest. From my earliest days playing roleplaying games D&D has had controversy surrounding it, though for me it was thankfully playing out in the distant background and hardly affected me directly. Certainly it was unlike any other game the general public had ever seen, let alone understood. When combined with fear-driven sensationalist associations with suicide and Satanic rituals, D&D passed beyond mere curiosity and became a controversy. The reaction in public communities and private families varied from zealous opposition to quiet acceptance. Whether one might call it a “war” on D&D or simply society’s growing pains in understanding and accepting this creative phenomenon remains open for debate.

I never would have considered my experience in the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (the early 1980s) anything like a war, though I was aware of a certain degree of controversy about D&D and kept my head down for the most part. I was fortunate to have parents who – though they might have had concerns about the effects of the game on young minds – encouraged my various interests, including roleplaying games. After my initial exposure to some neighborhood kids playing D&D I devised my own game, what later became the extremely basic Creatures & Caverns. After observing this interest my parents bought me the Moldvay edition Basic D&D boxed set...as an Easter gift in 1982. I played with neighborhood kids and school friends frequently throughout that year and into high school. Through these activities I made a few close, lifelong gaming friends who continued their enthusiasm for roleplaying games well into adulthood.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Makes A Good Adventurer Base?

I recently indulged a nostalgic urge to check out some old beginner-level materials in my collection. My occasional foray into Old School Renaissance gaming (OSR) and my preference for Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons started me thinking about the towns new adventurers use as bases for their explorations of nearby dungeons. Recent solo gaming in this regard exposed me to the city-state of Cryptopolis in Kabuki Kaiser’s Ruins of the Undercity, which provides a diverse base of operations. I also pulled out the second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons boxed starter set, First Quest, since I recalled it included a town characters could use, and, of course, one of the classic B/X D&D modules, Gary Gygax’s B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. While investigating these three examples I came to a few conclusions on what essential elements make a satisfying adventurer base.

Adventurer bases cater to “downtime” character maintenance instead of core activities of exploration and combat. Certainly such an environment can take on a life of its own, but for some it’s a matter of finding a place to simply buy provisions, heal wounds, cash in treasure, level up, and tend to other technicalities marked on a character sheet. Providing the necessities to recover from the last dungeon delve and prepare characters for the next one stands as the bare-bones foundation of a base; yet it can, if artfully crafted, offer elements that interlock with and enhance other setting components. A good base fulfills three criteria: it provides a place where characters can find support, offers potential for future adventures, and reinforces the setting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dictionary of Adventure Gaming Biography

Way back in my high school days I frequently took refuge in the library. During the occasional free period each week (after suffering through mandatory “study hall” as a freshman) I’d hang out in the library using the now-extinct card catalog to research interesting subjects (mostly geared toward my Dungeons & Dragons hobby), browsing for science fiction to read (not much at the time), and even trying out new game designs with friends in the group study area (until a British librarian kicked us out for “gambling” because we were using six-sided dice...).

The school library had a full set of the Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB) which, as part of various English class projects, we occasionally consulted. I was delighted to find a volume covering fantasy and science fiction authors, many of whom had captured my imagination. While the articles didn’t help my academic pursuits, they showed me how various authors got their start and the scope of their literary accomplishments. My college library also had a set of the DLB which I occasionally consulted when seeking refuge among the labyrinthine stacks. The DLB still exists today, possibly as a relic in some libraries, but more prominently as a website accessible through paid subscription. While one might consult Wikipedia and other online repositories of group-contributed knowledge, the old DLB still holds authority (at least for me) with edited, well-researched materials under a tried-and-true brand.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Challenge of “Anything Can Be Attempted”

Role-playing games, however, aspire to an ideal where anything can be attempted, where the player can direct that a character attempt any action that one can plausibly contend a person in that situation might undertake – the referee...decides the results.”
– Jon Peterson, Playing at the World

I’ve done my fair share of writing across the various fields in the adventure gaming hobby: lots of roleplaying game material, some miniature wargaming rules, even dabbling in board game design. Each requires its own set of skills, a particular approach to organization and execution, and a great deal of work. By far writing roleplaying games, and particularly scenarios for them, remains the most difficult. Even the most fantastical wargames and board games have established rules, ordered turn sequences, limited, clear, yet meaningful player choices, and a relatively predictable set of outcomes. But, as Jon Peterson noted in Playing at the World, in roleplaying games “anything can be attempted.” And therein lies the challenge.

Board and wargames follow fairly rigid structures, both in general game presentation and in actual gameplay processes. Some have elaborate rules and numerous player choices, but overall these strive to establish patterns of action and steer players away from the concept that “anything can be attempted.” For instance, a board game usually has an outline of the player turn, often summarized on a card or reference sheet. A wargame follows predictable steps of movement, combat, and resolution (including casualties, morale, and reinforcements). Players try to achieve their goals within the scope of the actions the game allows them to choose.