Archive for January, 2011

Change

A lot of change going on for me over here, which is unfortunately why you’re seeing so few posts from me.  Hopefully as the conventions start rolling out (TotalCon in February, HelgaCon in April) I’ll have more gaming stuff to post about.  For the time being though, the big move is pretty much front and center on my mind.

There’s a painter at my house right now prepping the house for sale.  I have a brand new car I’m trying to find any excuse to drive — I don’t want it to suffer from driving less than a mile a day to get me to and from work.  However, once the move happens, I’m looking at over 30 miles to work and the old car wasn’t going to make it.  The thing that’s really hitting me right now though is the empty desk across the way.

My coworker and friend Mike decided he did not want to go to Providence, and instead took a job with Google.  Friday was his last day, and Saturday night we took him out for a big going away party.  I’ll see him a couple times more before he gets on the plane to CA, but I think today is the day I’ll most notice him gone, being the first day I’m at work and he won’t be coming in.

I feel pretty down about it, actually.  My company is losing the brightest engineer I’ve ever worked with.  We have a lot of smart people here, but Mike was the guy I always felt I could go to when I was stuck and he’d have the answer.  I’m sure I’ll muddle through without him, but it does kind of feel like it’ll be sink or swim time for me going forward.

Worse than losing an excellent coworker though is that my friend is moving 3000 miles away.  Just like my best friend from high-school.  And my brother.  And several good friends from college.  Damn it, why does CA steal all the good ones?  And no, I’m not going to move out there, so I don’t want to hear it.  I just want to sulk about it and hope that part of the country sinks into the Pacific already so they’ll all come home.

OK, I know, I’m getting a bit maudlin about all this.  I apologize to my readers for having to sit through this.  Hopefully this gets it out of my system and I can move on.  Well, maybe I deserve at least one solid day of sulking.  Bah.

Two Bits of News

I will be moving soon, and I realized that my miniature collection has really expanded quite a lot in the last five years.  How the heck am I going to pack and transport all these miniatures?  That’s when I discovered the EconoBox available at the Warstore for $11 a piece, or 5 for $50.  I ordered the bundle of 5, and so far have filed two and half of them.  They’re fantastic, and fill that much needed niche for longer term storage or larger quantity moves for which fancier miniature storage devices are simply not cost effective.  I highly recommend them.

Secondly, I’ve just heard that there will be an official OSR booth at GenCon 2011.  Awesome!

I don’t scratch my ear like this

I have a coworker, let’s call him Pete, that does things in what appears to me to be a completely backwards and bizarre way.  When discussing Pete, another coworker once said to me “I don’t scratch my ear like this…” and reached his left hand up over his head to scratch his right ear.  After a few weeks of working with Pete, I was growing concerned that one day I was going to have to talk to management about why Pete shouldn’t be here.

I’ve come to realize though that working with Pete is a lot like co-DMing with Delta.  Delta and I once ran a D&D game together as co-DMs, and it was a very strange experience.  Going into it all we knew was that we both liked to DM, both enjoyed playing in each others’ games, and were curious what it would be like to run a game with two DMs.  It was, well, a bit contentious.  It turns out we have pretty radically different DMing styles.  I won’t say we argued, I mean it is just a D&D game after all, and we both respected each other enough not to ever really get angry.  More than that though, I think when one of us did something that startled the other, the reaction was more of “that’s bizarre, I would never do something like that, let’s sit back and see where this goes.”

I would co-DM another game with Delta in a heartbeat.  The fact is, though our styles may have been different, our goals were the same: run an awesome game.  We respected and trusted each other to reach that goal, even though our methods confused the heck out of each other.  If anything, having two completely different approaches may have been a boon.  If something wasn’t working for one DM the other could jump in and take it in a totally different direction.

I realize now that Pete is one of the handful of coworkers that I would actually be devastated to see leave the company.  I don’t understand how he goes about things, but in the end he hits the same targets I’m shooting for.  It may be difficult to work together, but it’s also educational.  I don’t scratch my ear like Pete scratches his ear, but neither of us have itchy ears.

I Search for…

I was re-reading Matt Finch’s A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, and something in the Tips for Players caught my eye.  Hidden at number 5 of 9, the following I think is the single most important thing for any old school player to learn (emphasis is mine):

5) Ask lots of questions about what you see. Look up.  Ask about unusual stonework.  Test floors before stepping.

I had some cases in game recently where the players would come up to a door and search it for traps before going through.  I dutifully rolled the appropriate number of d6’s, regardless of whether there was a trap or not, and looked for the magic one in six chance to find a trap when there was one.  Sometimes I modified their chances based on how obvious the trap was.  If they didn’t find the trap, the players assumed it was safe to go on through the door.  Sometimes they were fine, sometimes not.  Either way, I think relying on this roll is a mistake.

Look at it this way: most starting characters also have around a 25% chance to save vs. poison (usually it’s around 15+ on a d20).  Does this mean that when encountering a strange bottle of liquid, players should just swallow it down and rely on their poison saving throw in case it’s poison?  Certainly not!  Why then would you rely on a 17% chance to find a trap?

In fact, the classic counter example that Finch himself uses is that prodding the floor with a 10′ pole is 100% effective at finding most hidden pit traps.  Any GM worth his salt though would pretty quickly find a way to either remove the pole or make pits that are pole-proof.  The point is not to find an alternative quick cheat around the problem, the idea is to really interact with your surroundings.  As Finch himself says later on in “The Mysterious Moose Head”:

In other words, die rolls don’t provide a short cut or a crutch to discover and solve all those interesting puzzles and clues scattered throughout a dungeon.  The same goes for handling traps (unless there’s a thief class), and the same goes for

Personally, I’m a bit disappointed by the exception for thief classes, and really this brings me right back to my dislike of the class at large.  I’ll skip that for a moment.  I’m not sure where the last part was going (in his PDF it does just cut off like that), but I suspect he was probably going to say “the same goes for secret doors.”  That’s what I’d say anyway.

If you don’t trust a door, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to give the old “I search for traps” and see if the GM gives you anything.  I wouldn’t take it as proof either way though.  Next I’d start looking for ways to avoid the trap you may have missed, and that brings us right back to the old advice: ask questions.  What’s the door made of?  Are the hinges on this side or the other?  What kind of knob or latch does it have?  Is there a key-hole?  Can I look through it?

You can get a wealth of info here, and hopefully enough to formulate a plan for either revealing or circumventing any possible trap.  If the door opens out and uses a standard latch, well I bet you could rig a piece of rope to open the door safely from a distance.  The door is made of wood and is covered in tiny holes you say?  Hmm, perhaps you’d better cover those holes with your shield while you open the door to block the barrage of darts or arrows that are likely coming your way.

And yeah, the same goes for secret doors.  The tunnel that dead ends for no good reason and points to a dead area in the map you’ve been keeping probably has a secret door, even if your keen elven eyes couldn’t find it.  Try asking more questions about the wall.  If that fails to reveal anything, it’s time to start experimenting.  Push, pull, prod, or if all else fails get out a mining pick and take a few swings.

Don’t be discouraged when 95% of your questions don’t reveal anything.  That’s just going to happen.  In this case it’s simple to beat the odds, as there’s no limit to the number of questions you can ask.  Eventually you’ll hit the 5%, and you’ll feel pretty clever when you do.  And best of all, it may start to feel like you’re really there.

Conventions in 2011

This year I’ll be participating in three gaming conventions.  Despite all three being spread out through the year, the varied size of the conventions make it such that January is the intersection of planning activities for all three.  Crazy.

TotalCon, the largest local convention where I’ll be joining Mr. Mentzer and Mr. Kask in the old school GMing ring, is the most immediate being held in late February.  I’ve already got my hotel reservation in and my events registered.  The event list is supposed to open any day now, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to be run.  There was a bit of an effort this year to gather all the old schoolers together, and thus we have our own little corner of the convention for our games.  I’m hoping there will be enough interesting stuff that I’ll have plenty to choose from for the slots I’m not GMing myself.

HelgaCon, the smallest convention in the world, is in April.  Really it’s just a handful of friends gathered together in a house for a weekend to play some games, but I am the one organizer so there’s plenty for me to do to get ready.  Two years ago there was a mix-up on the date due to trying to avoid conflicts with Easter.  Last year the convention ran on the same weekend GenCon event registration opened, and we found the internet connection rather lacking at the house much to our dismay.  This year I’m trying very hard to pick the right date to avoid both of those problems.  Once I have the date lined up with the owner of the house we rent, I’ll start the emails going to gather events and attendees.

And of course, there’s GenCon, furthest out in August but due to its enormous size planning starts rather early.  This month badge registration will open up, and that’s usually when we start looking at flights.  I have a suspicion that we may get a somewhat larger group this year than we have in the past.  I’m trying to be as smart as possible about picking a hotel this year.  Usually we stay in the Hilton as we know the place well and are comfortable there.  I’m thinking I may try to be more clever this year and pick a hotel closer to where our games are likely to be.  Unfortunately that requires me to actually be able to predict where our games are going to be held, which may be difficult with the convention hall renovations and new hotels opening up this year.  Still, it would be pretty cool if some of the games I played in were actually in the same hotel where I stay.

Well, it looks like 2011 is shaping up to be a good year for gaming.  Here’s hoping the planning all goes smoothly (fat chance).

Collectorism

As a child I collected things — stickers, GI Joes, comic books.  While I was curious about collectiblity (I recall owning at least one comic book price guide) for the most part I only bought things I wanted for other reasons anyway.  There may have been some desire in the back of my brain to own a “complete set” of something, but usually I actually wanted to play with or read the things in addition to simply adding them to my collection.  The comic books stick out most in my head.  These days I don’t buy them anymore, but I do still have a box of them in the basement, and I seriously doubt any of them are worth more than the $1-2 dollars I originally paid for them.  I didn’t like the popular comics, my box is filled with things like Power Pack and Madballs.

I’ve tried to keep that mentality in my adulthood.  I usually only buy games or modules I know I will read or play.  I went through a bout of buying up old B/X box sets, first just to own a complete one, and later to own a “nice one” that I could set aside and thus not worry about beating up my “reading copy”.  Hmm, that sounds a bit like collecting for collectability’s sake, doesn’t it?  I started buying old modules too, and now have a decent sized box of them on top of my book case.  And while I did slowly shift from buying the cheapest copy that was still readable to actually buying copies that were in better condition, I don’t have any duplicates (except for B2) and I’ve read every one I bought.  I’ve even used some in my regular campaign, so I can still defend my claim of purchasing for use vs. collectability.

And then of course there was my copy of Palace of the Vampire Queen, the most expensive D&D item I’ve ever bought.  I won’t reiterate what’s in the linked post, suffice it to say that I’ve been wanting to read this module for a long time, and there were no digital copies available anywhere, legally or otherwise.  And I did run the thing since, so really I feel like I’ve gotten a fair bit of use out of it.

This holiday season though, I went off the deep end I’m afraid.  It started with a copy of the white box OD&D set.  I had a saved search for this on eBay and came up with a hit.  A box was selling for about $59, and only had a day or so left.  This is pretty unusual, so I jumped at it.  I originally created the search because I really did want to read the old books, but I had since obtained PDF copies (legal ones at that — from back when WotC actually sold them on RPG Now).  I printed them out and stapled them together, so they were actually pretty good facsimiles of the original books, certainly good enough for casual reading.  So why I was I suddenly bidding on an original copy?  Was it the bargain of it?  I did find the idea that I had found something rare that nobody else seemed to notice enticing.  It could also be the historical significance, like I know own a piece of gaming history.  When it showed up in the mail though, after the initial glee of gazing lovingly at the box, I was left with just one thought — what the heck am I going to do with this now?  I’m still not sure.

And then I found out via Grognardia that there was an auction of some items from Gygax’s personal game collection.  None of it was “the good stuff”, that is, there was little by way of actual D&D items.  It was mostly more obscure stuff, and most if it still in shrink wrap.  You could sort of tell it was stuff he had been given as comp copies simply by dint of working for the company that produced the thing, and he had stuck in a closet and forgotten about.  With over 200 items and it being fairly esoteric stuff, the prices weren’t that high.  I couldn’t resist, I placed a few bids.  I really figured I would get sniped at the last minute and the stuff would jump in price, simply because of the fact that Gygax had owned it.  Turns out not to be so, and I actually won two items.

The one I was most interested in is Tom Wham’s Metwig’s Maze, a self contained game that actually sounded like it might be fun to play.  The second is M.A.R. Barker’s first game War of Wizards, still in shrink wrap.  To be honest, the War of Wizards game I bought solely because I thought it was esoteric enough that I might actually win the thing.  I’m not a huge M.A.R. Barker buff, I know precious little about Empire of the Petal Thrown, but I figured I was likely to lose most of the other auctions and I just loved the idea of owning something of Gygax’s.  Sigh, I guess there’s no avoiding it now, I’m a collector.

Much like my copy of the white box, I have no idea what the heck to do with War of Wizards.  I am not so interested in playing it that it warrants breaking the shrink wrap.  It’ll probably just sit on a shelf collecting dust until my own estate auction.  Sigh.

Mertwig’s Maze though, that looks like fun.  I don’t care that it’s un-punched, I’m going to play the thing.  Thanks for the games Gary.