Archive for March, 2011

HelgaCon, Here We Come

This weekend is HelgaCon, and I’m starting to get pretty excited about it. It seems a lot of things have been conspiring against the con this year. Losing prep time to house related stuff, Jenn’s not feeling very well (hoping that’s allergies and not a cold coming), and now apparently a freak snow storm might be coming.  My hope for the storm is that it really is just limited to central MA, that the Cape will just get some rain, and that we’ll escape central MA before it gets too nasty.  Or maybe the whole thing will just blow out to sea and it’s a false alarm, you never know (nor do the weathermen it seems).

All those worries aside, I’m pretty excited about my schedule this year:

Friday Night: G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl -- Delta
Saturday Morning: Book of War Round Robin -- Delta
Saturday Afternoon: Steal-Steal the Machine -- Me
Saturday Night: The Fallen Obelisk -- BigFella
Sunday Morning: Into the Forgotten Realms -- Me

Sounds like I’ll get a nice spread of games to play.  The two games I’m running are nicely placed apart from each other on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  My Friday night and Saturday morning games are both with Delta, so I should be able to match his crazy night-owl schedule without worrying about not getting any sleep at all.  (Not really, I’m sure I’ll pass out hours before Delta pack it in.)

I’m sure after the con I’ll have some interesting things to report about my own two games.  Into the Forgotten Realms is an old AD&D tournament game run originally back at GenCon ’84, and is written by Ed Greenwood.  I think it’s pretty cool to see how light and easy the Realms were back then, before all the product development got in the way.  AD&D usually isn’t my thing, but given the tournament style I thought I’d like to try and stay as true to the original written material as possible.  I actually ran this very tournament once already at TotalCon, but avoided writing too much detail about it for fear of spoiling the HelgaCon run for any of my readers that might be attending.  I’ll definitely drop some more detailed thoughts on that next week.

Steal-Steal the Machine is my second attempt at running a Warhammer FRPG game with all skaven characters.  The idea of another similar game was the most popular of all the ideas I floated to the group for stuff I might run, so I figured I couldn’t disappoint.  I’ll be running this as straight by-the-book Warhammer FRPG, but I’m sure there will be some old school influences in how I run it.  Heck, I already wrote it up using the one-page dungeon template that I really favor now for my written material.  I’ll share that after the con and report on how it went.

I guess once this con is over I should take a look at what I signed myself up to run at GenCon.  I hate how early they do it, I really have no clue what I’ve promised to run.

DungeonMorph Dice

DungeonMorph Dice

I’m pretty enamored with the idea of geomorph printed dice, which I found out recently from Grognardia and Dyson Logos’ blog.  Apparently they’re trying to drum up funding for the project, and as of right now they’re pretty close to the half-way mark of their $6500 goal.  I love both the concept behind the system for drumming up enough money to actually make a batch of these (anyone whose ever tried to manufacture anything in small quantities knows how cost-prohibitive it can be), as well as the actual product they’re trying to make.  So I couldn’t help but drop some money into their hat.

Best part is, you only have to pledge $20 to the cause to get a full set of the dice when they’re produced, which I think is a pretty reasonable price for what they’re creating.  So why not head over there and drop some cash on this project?

Happy Birthday Eric

Today is Eric Idle’s birthday.  Happy birthday Mr. Idle.  Can anyone imagine a D&D game without Monty Python quotes?  I surely can’t.

Getting Ready to Sell

My posting has again lagged, mostly due to preparing to sell our house and buy a new one.  It’s amazing how much work went into staging our house for sale.  I felt like I needed to document all that hard work, so I went around and took some pictures.  A professional is coming tomorrow to take some real pictures of the house for the listing, but these I thought would do to show what we’ve done.

In addition to all the stuff described in the photos, we also packed up an entire cargo van’s worth of stuff from the basement to put into storage.  We then used the newly empty storage space in the basement to hold all the things we packed up while “de-cluttering” the house.  We also painted the stairs going down to the basement, which were still bare wood from when the previous owner installed them.

Anyway, here are the pictures of what it looks like now.  It doesn’t even feel like our house anymore.

Warhammer RPGs

At this coming HelgaCon I will be running a Warhammer FRPG (2nd edition) game.  Originally meant to be a concession to Jenn as this is her favorite system and about the only one she will actually play anymore, it actually also turned out to be the most popular choice when I sent a list of games I was considering running to all the HelgaCon attendees.  This might have something to do with the fact that the game will feature skaven PCs, which is something I’ve only ever done once before (at last HelgaCon), but could also be just a general desire for some variety at the convention.  Or maybe everyone secretly loves Warhammer, I don’t know.

I have some problems with Warhammer FRPG, and though at the convention I’ll likely run it as by the book as possible, I can’t help but sometimes contemplate how I’d modify the system to my liking if I were to ever run another campaign of it.  Warhammer FRPG really strongly relies on a skill system, and as I’m sure my readers are aware, I dislike skill systems.  This is further complicated by talents, of which some are very cool, others simply apply bonuses into skills, and some act as gateways into actions that nobody can do without the talent, such as knocking someone unconscious, which I think is a terrible idea.  It’s such a mixed bag I don’t know how to glean the good from it without also taking along the awful.  Finally, I think the combat system is too complex.  There’s too much rolling, and too much opportunity for all that rolling to come to nothing.  This is especially true at higher power levels, when both combatants have multiple attacks with huge weapon skill and parry/dodge percentages.

I was contemplating this problem in the shower this morning (where I do all my best thinking), and the number of house rules required to get 2nd edition to a place I really liked was a bit staggering.  I thought about 1st edition briefly, but it not only has all the same issues, it has them in a more confused and jumbled presentation, such that it didn’t seem worth bothering.  Then it struck me: what about Warhammer Quest?

Warhammer Quest is a board game.  It’s probably the best co-op dungeon crawl board game I know of, but still a board game.  It does come with a “roleplay book” though, which I’ve always looked at as a collection of optional rules that can be tacked onto the board game to add complexity (it includes city trips between dungeon crawls, advancement rules for the characters, tougher monster charts, etc.)  The last few chapters introduce the concept of a GM and start to really push the thing into the realm of RPGs, an idea I always skoffed.  Why wouldn’t I just play a “real” RPG at that point?

Well, now that I look at it, Warhammer Quest as an RPG actually presents a lot of the simplifications I would want.  It has no skill system.  Combat is quick and easy.  Advancement simply grants better core stats and “skills” which really aren’t skills at all, but more like talents.  You generally gain them at a rate of one per level, and a couple examples include (from the Elf skills): Rapid Fire (+1 attack with missile weapons) and Sureshot (Re-roll one missed missile attack).  The skill list for each class is unique, and Wizards don’t get them at all, instead they get more spells.  While most of these skills simply add combat abilities, it would probably be pretty easy to cherry-pick the cool talents out of 2nd edition WFRPG and drop them into various class skill lists.

OK, so what’s missing from WQ that I would want to bring over from WFRPG?  Well, first there are two core stats I’d want to carry over: Agility and Fellowship.  This gives you a nice range of general stats to test against for pretty much any action a player wants to take.  I’d have to somehow adapt these to the d6 oriented type of stats present in WQ as opposed to the percentile stuff from WFRPG.  Also as stat granularity is pretty course in WQ, there’s no random generation of stats.  Do I want to do anything about that?  I’m not sure.

Finally, there’s the career system.  This is one of the biggest charms of WFRPG, for me at least.  Ultimately it’s really just a class system, each player has one career and it dictates what stats, skills, advances, etc. to which you have access.  The interesting thing is that it does set up a system for changing class as you progress: once you fill out one career you jump to the next one.  WQ definitely also has a class system, though it’s not called such in the game.  In the core book there are only 4: dwarf, elf, wizard, and barabarian.  There are several expansions that add new classes like imperial noble, elf ranger, etc.  I suppose it might be possible to just go through the WFRPG list of careers and adapt each one to a WQ class.  You might even make a system for jumping careers, though I’m not convinced that would be easy or even desirable.

Hmm, an interesting thought experiment.  I’m not sure I’d pursue this though without hearing a fair amount of player buy-in.  Which is to say, Jenn would have to think this is a pretty fantastic idea before I bothered tinkering with it more.  And I’m not sure that would really happen, as she likes skill systems.

More Polls

I know I resolved not to do this, but I went back and visited Mike Mearls’ site to read his follow up to last week’s article.  Suffice it to say that it seems to me that he just went even further off the deep-end on this one.  My opinion at this point is that from an Old School vantage, he basically misses the point.

It seems to me that what these questions really show is a very player-biased view.  I guess this isn’t surprising from a commercial vantage.  If you want more sales, then of course you’d focus on players rather than DMs.  Players out-number DMs anywhere from 4:1 to 10:1, depending on the DM.  The problem is that by focusing on the player, you’ve got to assume that only that which is codified will be present in a game.  For a cohesive player experience, all games must play the same, thus the DM must not be allowed to improvise.

Of course, this is utterly contrary to my preferences in D&D.  I want the DM to have ultimate power to improvise, whether I’m DMing or playing.  Mearls asks his audience if the lack of feats, skills, powers, etc. would make a player feel “bored doing the same thing over and over again.”  But the only real reason to do the same thing over and over again is because you can’t do anything outside the rules and expect the DM to improvise the outcome.

Rather than dwell on the direction Mearls goes and how much I disagree with it, let’s spin this another way.  Let’s assume that like me, you agree that repetitive action is countered by player creativity in doing things outside the rules.  Given this assumption, then any DM worth his salt had better be prepared to improvise outcomes in a way that is enjoyable for the players.  How do we do that?  Well, we can’t really answer the question from the DM’s perspective, that’s pretty contrary to the nature of improvisation.  How about from the players’ perspective?  What is most enjoyable for the players?

Do they want a DM to completely encapsulate what he’s doing, quickly coming up with chances, rolling the dice, and narrating an outcome?  This is certainly the fastest and most narrative appearing system, allowing the game to take on a more story-telling like feel.  The flow of the game would glide effortlessly from a player’s description of his actions to the DM’s description of the outcome.

On the other hand, this method could also give the appearance of an arbitrary DM, especially if the player and DM have different opinions on the probability of success.  If a player thinks his action warrants a 75% success rate and the DM rates it at just 10%, then the player might get upset when everything he tries keeps failing.  In that case, perhaps it’s better that after the player describes his action the DM states the probability and the likely result from failure.  Then the player can weigh the ruling and decide if it’s really worth going through with his plan.  This perhaps breaks the flow of the game a bit, but gives the player a bit more power of his own fate.

What do you think?  Let’s take Mearls’ own methods and end this with a poll:

You come up with something outside the rules you want your character to do. The DM makes a ruling on how to adjudicate it. How much of the method should he share?

View Results

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Polls from WotC

This article is being dissected over at Dragon’s Foot, where-in Mike Mearls calculates the complexity increase over editions of D&D.  While I find his means of counting complexity a little odd, I do agree with the conclusion that complexity is most certainly increasing.  And like the posters at DF, I also wonder at his motivations for posting this info and then delaying any real conclusions for a week.  Is 5e on the way?  Will the outcome of his poll actually impact the direction of a new edition?

What I find really disturbing though, is the results at the bottom from previous polls:

Legends & Lore: Poll #2 Results

How much player content would you feel comfortable reading and incorporating into your campaign each year?

  • 97 to 128 pages per month (about 1,200 pages per year): 20.0%
  • 33 to 64 pages per month (about 600 pages per year): 16.4%
  • 241 to 320 pages per month (about 3,600 pages per year): 15.9%
  • 65 to 96 pages per month (about 960 pages per year): 13.4%
  • 129 to 192 pages per month (about 1,800 pages per year): 11.8%
  • 1 to 32 pages per month (about 300 pages per year): 11.8%
  • 193 to 240 pages per month (about 2,400 pages per year): 6.6%
  • Nothing new; all I want and need are the core rules: 4.0%

What kind of stuff do you want the most?

  • More character options (spells, classes, weapons, armor, gear): 24.8%
  • More adventures: 24.3%
  • More info for existing settings: 17.5%
  • More DM options (NPCs, monsters, treasures): 13.4%
  • New settings: 11.4%
  • More optional rules for DMs (variant critical hits, alternate XP rules): 8.6%

Are these numbers for real?  The majority of players want more character options and at a rate of about 1200 pages per year?  Good golly, am I ever out of sync with the average Wizard’s blog reader.  My D&D books are 64 pages each, for a whopping total of 128 pages, and that’s plenty for me.  The only item in the second list that is at all appealing to me is more adventures, every other option is something I’d flip past quickly and ignore.

There are only two possible conclusions for the numbers above.  The pessimistic view might think the numbers are cooked to justify the direction D&D is already taking.  The pragmatic view might point out that most people going to Wizard’s site and posting on polls have already drunk the kool-aid, and like the direction recent editions have gone, while those of us who disagree avoid that site entirely.

Whatever conclusions you want to draw, I can at least say this for certain: I continue to have no interest at all in what Wizards does to a game that happens to have the same name as an old game I love.  As sad as it makes me, I am clearly no longer their demographic, and I might as well stop reading any news they publish as it’s likely to just make me grumpy.

Spells Through the Ages: Neutralize Poison

If you take a look at the death toll from my campaign over the last year, you may notice that about 25% of the deaths were due to a failed save vs. poison. The save or die mechanic is in fact viewed by many as a hallmark of an old school game. How does a party deal with this kind of problem? Well, let’s take a look at what magical recourse they have. I’ll be looking both at Neutralize Poison, which exists in every edition, as well as the lesser versions (Slow Poison, Delay Poison, etc.) that have existed in various editions at various times. And as a matter of course, we’ll have to look at the poison rules themselves. Let’s start with OD&D, the easiest and most vague.  It includes the following 4th level cleric spell:

Neutralize Poison: A spell to counter the harmful effects of poison. Note that it
will not aid a character killed by poison, however. It will affect only one object.
Duration: 1 turn.

Poison is mentioned in other places besides this spell throughout the LBBs, mostly in regards to the attacks of various monsters.  Its effects are never actually spelled out.  There is a brief hint in the description of saving throws that mentions a successful save vs poison results in “scoring one-half of the total possible hit damage”.  This implies that poison causes hit point damage, but how much?  No indication exists.

Holmes does not have any anti-poison spell, but given it’s previous incarnation as a 4th level spell this is not surprising, as Holmes does not reach that high of a level.  The next we see the spell is in Cook’s expert book, again as a 4th level cleric spell:

Neutralize Poison (Range: 0′, Duration: permanent)

This spell will cancel the effects of poison and revive a poisoned character if cast within ten rounds.  It can also be cast on a poison or poisoned item to make it harmless.  It acts only on poison present at the time it is cast.

Now, in the basic book poison is specifically addressed, telling us that “if a character is hit with a poisoned attack and misses his or her saving throw vs. Poison, the character will usually die.” (B 29).  Presumably the word ‘usually’ is in there as some monsters may dictate a special kind of poison other than standard death-dealing poison (eg. the spitting cobra’s blinding poison).  In addition to this general description, most monsters with a poison attack tell us the victim must “save vs. Poison or die”.

Item of note here is the rule that the spell may be cast within 10 rounds of being poisoned.  Presumably in B/X this is how long it takes for poison to set in and actually kill the victim, though it’s never described anywhere but in this spell.  We’ll see this duration extended in 1st edition AD&D, but more so we’ll see a lot more time spent on the final statement of the spell only effecting “poison present at the time of cast”.  It seems there may have been some debate about whether this spell when cast on say a poisonous viper, would permanently detoxify the animal.  AD&D tells us it certainly won’t:

Neutralize Poison (Alteration) Reversible

Level: 4, Components: V, S, Range: Touch, Casting Time: 7 segments, Duration: Permanent, Saving Throw: None, Area of Effect: Creature touched or 1 cubic foot of substance/2 levels

Explanation/Description: By means of a neutralize poison spell, the cleric detoxifies any sort of venom in the creature or substance touched.  Note that an opponent, such as a poisonous reptile or snake (or even an envenomed weapon of an opponent) unwilling to be so touched requires the cleric to score a hit in melee combat.  Effects of the spell are permanent only with respect to poison existing in the touched creature at the time of teh touch, ie. creatures (or objects) which generate new poison will not be permanent detoxified.  The reverse spell, poison, likewise requires an attack (a “to hit” touch which succeeds), and the victim is allowed a saving throw vs. poison.  If the latter is unsuccessful, the victim is killed by the poison.

Interestingly, there’s little here about using the spell to save a poisoned comrade.  B/X tells me I have 10 rounds in which to cast Neutralize Poison on my friend, but this spell mentions no such thing.  For that, we have to look at the new 2nd level cleric spell, Slow Poison:

Slow Poison (Necromantic)

Level: 2, Components: V, S, M, Range: Touch, Casting Time: 1 segment, Duration: 1 hour/level, Saving Throw: None, Area of Effect: Creature Touched

Explanation/Description: When this spell is placed upon a poisoned individual it greatly slows the effect of any venom, even causing a supposedly dead individual to have life restored if it is cast upon the victim within a number of turns less than or equal to the level of experience of the cleric after the poisoning was suffered, i.e. a victim poisoned up to 10 turns previously could be temporarily saved by a 10th or higher level cleric who cast slow poison upon the victim.  While this spell does not neutralize the venom, it does prevent it from substantially harming the individual for the duration of its magic, but each turn the poisoned creature will lose 1 hit point from the effect of the venom (although the victim will never go below 1 hit point while the slow poison spell’s duration lasts).  Thus, in the example above, the victim remains with 1 hit point until the spell duration expires and hopefully during that period a full cure can be accomplished.  The material components of this spell are the cleric’s holy/unholy symbol and a bud of garlic which must be crushed and smeared on the victim’s bare feet.

Wow, that’s quite a lot of text.  And ultimately for a solution I find highly unsatisfying.  I mean, I do like the idea of having a less powerful spell for delaying the effects of poison that might allow a group of 3rd level characters or so make it out of the dungeon in time to find a priest and pay for a full Neutralize Poison.  I really dislike the lose 1 hp but never go below 1 hp though, as it smacks of game design-ism.  That is, I’m sure the designer felt very clever writing this, but it feels like it has so many edge cases that it causes more problems than it solves.  What if the victim is poisoned again, does he lose 2 hp per turn?  Once he reaches 1 hp, is he now impervious to all poison effects, at least until the spell runs out?  Can he be healed back up, and if he is, will he lose hp from the poison again?  Yuck, why not just give the poor bastard a break and say that the death by that particular poisoning is delayed by the duration of the spell?

This is further confused by the addition of more kinds of poisons in the DMG.  Not only do we have death causing poisons, but also hp damage causing poisons, and damage amounts for poison you fail to save against (eg. type E ingested causes death, or 30 hp damage if you save).  What does this mean for Slow Poison?  If a character fails his save vs. damage causing poison and gets a Slow Poison cast on him, what does that do?  Is it different depending on whether the amount of damage was greater or less than the victim’s remaining hp?

Finally, questions arise when the players get high enough level for their cleric to start packing Neutralize Poison.  Can Neutralize Poison be cast on someone that failed to save vs. a death dealing poison?  If so, how quickly must it be cast?

I was going to go into later editions as well here, but this is getting long so let me sum up.  The rules in 2nd edition are not much different from 1st, Neutralize and Slow Poison pretty much do the same things.  By 3rd and 3.5 poison has been greatly reduced.  There’s no more save or die, the strongest poison causes 3d6 points of Constitution loss, with a 0 Con equating to death, but on average this isn’t going to be enough to kill a character who rolled 4d6 drop the lowest for his Con.  Slow Poison becomes Delay Poison (still 2nd level), and grants complete temporary immunity to poison, Neutralize Poison prevents ongoing effects but does not undo any immediate damage caused by the initial poisoning.

Sigh.  It’s all so convoluted, and could have been fixed so easily.  I think B/X gets closest to what I’d want, though I’d be tempted to take the 10 rounds out of the spell description and make it a general rule for poison.  Poison attacks require you to save vs. poison or become comatose for 10 rounds and then die.  Neutralize Poison is then simple – it removes poison and wakes the comatose victim.  I have no problem with it being used as an attack against a poisonous creature, well done I say.  I’d also say that a Dispel Magic might return the creature to its naturally venomous state (the poison is still there, it’s just been magically neutralized).  Finally, the addition of a 2nd level spell that increases the duration of the comatose state sounds pretty cool to me, but I don’t need it.  Might make for an interesting potion for low level treasure though.

Huh, yet again I find the B/X solution the best.  I hope I’m not starting to appear biased.

Co-opting Player Ideas

I highly recommend you read this excellent post by Tavis Allison:

http://muleabides.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/illusionism-and-wandering-monsters/

In it, Tavis discusses the illusion of GM control when co-opting player ideas and/or being driven by random elements.  He mentions a specific case where he rolled a random encounter, the players jumped a conclusion about the motives of the creatures encountered, and he decided to “make it so.”  This leads to some excellent and exciting roleplay, both for the DM because he’s been handed an interesting idea to run with that he hadn’t previously thought of, and for the Players as they feel empowered by successfully figuring out the DM’s secret plans.  Of course the player’s success is all an illusion.  As Tavis says:

As a DM, I don’t want to dispel the illusion that I have a secret plan, because that would take away the pleasure that players get when they feel they’ve figured it out.  But is this deception wrong? Should I work to make explicit what I see as the implicit advantage of wandering monsters: that I get to be just another participant in figuring out the story, not its all-knowing mastermind?

This just happened to me last week, though it wasn’t a wandering monster, it was a hireling.  I keep a deck of hireling cards behind the screen for when the players decide they need a little extra help.  On these cards is simply a stat block, some random equipment, and a funny name pulled from an online generator.  I interpret the cards as I pull them for personality.  This time we got a well equipped dwarven fighter, a human magic-user with an odd selection of spells (ventriloquism and shield), and human thief.  The magic-user had an amusing Germanic name, which quickly turned him into the butt of some jokes about stage magicians.  After a lot of chuckles, they went with the dwarf.

Then something in my brain clicked.  One other thing I do in my game is write myself little one-line notes about things that may or may not be true.  Like time-traveling tweets, they contain nuggets of ideas for future-me to do with as I please.  Sometimes they come true, sometimes I cross them out, and many of them just sit unused.  I had written one a while back based on a random encounter.  The party had passed a group of dwarves on the road from the city they were currently in, and I had decided they might be on their way to a nearby mountain to try and rediscover their lost homeland.  This was a long time ago, the party never asked the dwarves many details, and then promptly forgot all about them.  I would have too if I hadn’t written myself that note.

I decided that the new hireling was searching for his lost comrades.  I had him mention it, and suddenly the party seized on the idea of finding this lost dwarven homeland.  I honestly never expected them to get so excited about it.  I was starting to panic that they would actually reach the location early in the night, and I had absolutely no idea what was there.  Why did I point them in this direction without a plan?  Why didn’t I plan out what would be there when the idea first hit me?

I know the answer to the latter: because it would be way too much work.  I toss crap like this at the players all the time.  The majority of it never goes anywhere, and they probably think I’m crazy for dropping random encounters with NPCs unimportant to the main plot.  Creating content for every wild idea I have would take so much energy that I’d quickly get annoyed at this campaign, or start looking for ways to railroad my players onto a specific trail so I could narrow how much I had to invent.  If I’m crazy it’s not because I drop things into the game that have nothing to do with the main plot, it’s because there is no main plot.

I think though that being reactive to the players’ whims is what has made this game so enjoyable for me, and hopefully for my players as well.  Like Tavis though, I worry that letting the players know this secret may ruin everything.  Some of my players read this blog.  Honestly, the whole time I’ve been writing this I’ve been wondering whether or not to really post it.  I think this is what Tavis is wrestling with too, and I’m not sure if he really comes to a conclusion or not.  Perhaps though, it’s all tied into his final statement:

As a DM my strength comes from recognizing the players’ good ideas when I hear them, and mixing them in with just enough of my own that they can never be sure what’s true until their characters have roleplayed the process of discovery.

I think the players can handle the truth of the situation, and it’s because of the notes.  Sure, not every note I write to myself actually impacts the game, but some do, and my players have no idea how many exist or what they say.  There will always be enough of my own invention mixed in their with their ideas and random generated stuff that even if the players know I steal stuff from them they won’t know for sure how much.  It’s not like I’ll dogmatically push every idea they come up with into the game either.  Let’s face it, they come up with some pretty stupid crap some times.  I’ll just take the gems, and sometimes I’ll add a little of my own polish to them.

I’m going to post this, and not worry that I’m ruining anything for the players.  If anything, I hope this post is empowering for them.  They can come up with crazy ideas about the world and pursue long reaching plans and there might actually be some chance that it will work.  And if it doesn’t work, it’ll be because along the way we discovered something even more awesome to pursue.  Either way we’ll have a great time going down that road together, and hopefully find some way of making it all make sense in the end.  If there is one.

Mr. Jokey and the Interesting Guy

As I said in a comment to one of my own posts, reading my posts from when I was at the convention is a bit like reading something you wrote while drunk.  I hope I wasn’t too overly critical of any of the games I played in.  I do like to critique what I play, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time playing.  All in all I had an excellent time at the con, enough that the crazy level of sleep deprivation is not enough to scare me away from going again next year.

What really makes this con is the people.  It’s just the right size — big enough that there’s always something interesting to play, and small enough that by the end of it you’ve seen the same faces enough times that you’re starting to feel like a member of unique little community.  I played and DMed for a lot of really great guys.  Tim, Frank, Travis, Bill, Ragnar, and pretty much everyone who played in my Sunday 8:00 AM game (sorry if I don’t remember everyone’s names), thanks for a great time!

Of course with the good comes the bad.  At one of Tim’s games there was a guy who obviously suffered from some kind of physical condition.  Tim said later that he was told as child to call someone like that an “interesting guy”.  He did all right, even when he spent several minutes holding up the game while digging through his bag for a d20; everyone was very patient and understanding.  The trouble was at the beginning of the game when he handed Tim a 3.5 character sheet and asked “Can you look over that?”  Tim’s response: “Why?”

The guy clearly just didn’t get that there was a difference between OD&D and 3.5, despite a couple attempts to explain it.  This same guy showed up at my 8:00 AM game, and though he said he was actually there to play Frank’s 10:00 AM, he attempted to sit in on my game anyway and gave me the same sad looking 3.5 character sheet.  I tried to explain it to him, but he clearly just didn’t get it.  Also it seems he had had enough of this treatment throughout the convention, as at this point he put his foot down and refused to play unless I allowed him to play his 3.5 character.  He even wrote me a synopses of the character on a piece of paper and handed it to me while I was in the middle of running my game to try and convince me.  I can’t say I was sad to see him go when Frank showed up at 10.  I feel bad for the guy.  I wish someone could sit down and explain to him that he was in the wrong room, and maybe lead him on over to the RPGA games where I’m sure they’d welcome his character.  I just didn’t have the energy to do it, nor the time, as like I said I was in the middle of running a game for 7 other people.

Less severe is Mr. Jokey, whose antics made me unhappy last year.  This year he seemed a bit more subdued.  He played in my AD&D tournament, and I was quite surprised to find that contrary to being annoyed by his presence, I actually think he added quite a bit to the game.  I suppose it could be that by DMing I was distracted more and thus didn’t have time to be annoyed by him.  I think though it might also have been due to the nature of the game.  Mr. Jokey seems to really dig the intricacies of AD&D minutiae.  He’s a puzzle solver, the guy who wants to succeeded based on his ability to memorize every detail of the monster manual.  The tournament I ran actually to some degree encourages this, or at least doesn’t look down on it.  There’s even some points that could only possibly be awarded by the players knowing their AD&D monsters.  Also we only had 5 people in my game, which I think meant that Mr. Jokey was more engaged, and thus didn’t have the idle time to make his awkward jokes.  And that may be the crux of it.  Mr. Jokey isn’t always Mr. Jokey, he just turns to that when bored and in a slightly socially awkward situation.  A good DM (I flatter myself) can make Mr. Jokey into asset at the table, rather than an annoyance.  So DMs, here’s the lesson: keep your players engaged.  Fight lapses and down time.  Keep your players on their toes all the time, and the social misfits will fall in line.

But I think I’m being overly critical.  Like I said, I had a great time, even better than last year I think.  I’m looking forward to next year already.  And hopefully by then I’ll have learned to craft my own schedule more carefully, and maybe catch a little more sleep between games.