Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Shields in OSR Games

Frequent readers know of my recent explorations in Old School Renaissance gaming (OSR) through my solitaire B/X Dungeons & Dragons exploits (my preferred old-school system). These activities help me examine what I like about various elements and how to improve those that don’t work for me. So I come to the shield conundrum: they seem underpowered. In looking at alternative shield mechanics I found myself questioning the very core rationale behind armor and shields in D&D combat.

(Throughout this post I refer to various bonuses to armor class as +1, etc., as I’m using ascending armor class; for the traditional descending armor class read that as -1. Either way, “bonus” means a benefit to armor class in the context of whatever system you’re using.)

I prefer a more heroic style of play rather than the deadly “grinder” style (as I’ve discussed before), so I look to provide my characters with every possible advantage within the bounds of the rules...and then house-rule some mechanics to offer some minor benefits. Of the three characters I’m running through various solitaire scenarios, two have shields and one has eschewed a shield in favor of two-handed weapons (the underpowered battle axe...a topic Jonathan Becker has discussed before at his B/X Blackrazor blog). While one of the shield-bearers has no ranged weapon, the other must set aside her shield if she chooses to use her long bow, temporarily shedding its armor class bonus. I’m examining the shield rules with an eye to making my low-level characters less monster-fodder and slightly more heroic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Engaging Youth in History (& Games)

Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

Getting young adults interested in anything these days seems difficult. They’re distracted by a sometimes-overwhelming amount of schoolwork focused more on scoring well on standardized tests than actually developing learning skills. They’re immersed in the complex social intrigues of school and friends. They’re plugged in to smart phones and tablets (much like a rapidly growing segment of the adult population...). How do parents and teachers tempt them to explore and possibly engage with new experiences? It’s easier when parent gently share and nurture their own interests with their kids – adventure games, comic books, sports, reading, hobbies – but children reach an age where they want to head off on their own...a journey that doesn’t always result in the discovery of some engaging academic or extracurricular interest. I recently explored two resources to help inspire an interest in history (and perhaps even games with historical themes): interactive fiction and speculative fiction

Both forms of fiction inspired many gamers; they certainly informed my own youthful exploration of adventure gaming. Fantasy and science fiction inspired many players to investigate roleplaying games that in turn encouraged further exploration of these genres. The infamous “Appendix N” in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide provided a wealth of such resources to investigate...or even a validation of past works read. Since the earliest emergence of roleplaying games fantasy fiction genres have evolved (much as those games have). Where once readers had only a few flavors of science fiction and fantasy they now can indulge in numerous sub-genre like steampunk, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, and alternate history (among many others).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Evolving RPG Collection Habits

Right now I have this urge to tidy and organize everything. Maybe it’s that “spring cleaning” bug that bites people this time of year. Amid all the other household and parental organization projects tugging at my attention, I want want to re-organize my vast collection of roleplaying game materials acquired during more than 35 years of gaming. Recently I’ve seen many gamers I know trying to pare down their collections, especially given the great accessibility of new and classic materials through electronic publishing or print on demand. Yet I’m of an age where reading or referencing too much on a screen reduces my comprehension levels; I’d much rather page through a physical book and retain more information from the printed page. (Perhaps the physical act of turning a page slows me down, whereas scrolling through pages encourages me to mindlessly skim the material.) Sure, I’ve sold or traded many roleplaying game books that no longer interest me, won’t ever see actual play, or don’t cater to my latest role as a gaming parent; but I still have a large collection of materials I plan on keeping.

How did I acquire all these roleplaying games? All 23+ linear shelf feet of them? Kept through several arduous moves? Throughout my gaming life I passed through several stages as a player and consumer. Where I stood often influenced what and how much I bought.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Screen or No Screen?

The gamemaster screen remains a stereotypical part of roleplaying games. Even members of the general, non-gaming public with popularized impression of the hobby view the gamemaster as a guy hunched behind a screen secretly rolling dice and consulting esoteric charts.* The screen became popularized as a seemingly required accessory by early editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Numerous other roleplaying games issued gamemaster screens; traditional ones still publish screens even today, when some might view the accessory as outdated. In today’s varied landscape of games new and nostalgic, are gamemaster screens still an essential part of gaming? Using a screen remains one of those choices individual gamemasters make; it’s sometimes helpful but certainly never required.

In my early days of roleplaying a gamemaster screen of some kind was essential. Goodness, how else would a gamemaster keep all the scenario information and die rolls absolutely secret from the players? Although I never owned the AD&D screen, I did acquire one for B/X D&D, AC2 Combat Shield and Mini-Adventure, more because I could find it a the local hobby shop when the stock of AD&D screens had already been bought up by die-hard players. It was nice to have various reference tables from the B/X rulebooks in one handy place. Besides, having a screen between the players and gamemaster was just how the game was played; obviously if I didn’t have a screen I just wasn’t playing the game right.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Equipping the Party Off List

Paging through Kabuki Kaiser’s Ruins of the Undercity for a recent post I realized how much I liked this approach to buying equipment in Dungeons & Dragons or other Old School Renaissance (OSR) games. Rather than simply purchasing items off a few lists in a rulebook, readers can wander tables for aptly named shops filled with wares both conventional and extraordinary. I prefer the characters shopping in a setting than players buying stuff off a rulebook’s limited list. Yet from its earliest days D&D focused more on the dungeon delve than down time at the nearby base of operations; certainly this aspect of character creation and maintenance could form the basis of some adventurer base interactions that enhance both characters and setting.

Equipping characters remains an essential step in character creation. For OSR games and B/X D&D this step sometimes seems like one more bit of record-keeping on the character sheet, though choices like armor and weapons affect armor class and weapon damage. More recent entries into the fantasy roleplaying game stage have handled this differently, offering starting characters a choice of pre-determined kits based on race, class, or background. But after the initial adventure players can spend their characters’ gold as they please, often by perusing equipment lists like some medieval mail-order catalog, choosing the items they want, paying for them, and jotting them down on a character sheet.