Archive for May, 2011

My Campaign Goes High-Tech

Now that I’m commuting over an hour to Providence, while my darling wife commutes half an hour in the opposite directions, we decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and purchase cell phones.  Yes, some of you may be shocked to learn that we had been cell-phone-less all the way up to the year 2011.  I’ve seen reactions go over the years from understanding, to curiosity, to out-right disbelief.

Anyway, I figured since I had held out so long that if I was going to make the shift I had better do so in a big way.  So I bought myself an HTC Thunderbolt, and Jenn an iPhone 4.  That’s right, we went from no cell phones to the fanciest damn phones we could find.  Funny thing is, I really have no concept which features are new and exciting, and which are pretty much standard these days, as I have no frame of reference.  However, I have noticed the damn thing seems to creep into every day life quite a lot, even including my D&D games.

I bought the silly 3D dice rolling app, which has come in useful once or twice, but is mostly a novelty.  Nothing really comes close to solid chunks of plastic rattling in your hands.  No, the real benefit is quick and easy access to PDFs.  I’ve downloaded quite a few onto the phone, and while for the most part I still prefer physical books, it’s pretty handy to have the more esoteric ones in digital form rather than have to have a huge stack of stuff sitting at the table.  However, the screen is pretty small, and I’ve come to realize that the PDF reader software makes a huge difference.  If you have an Android phone and also use it for gaming PDF reading, I highly suggest you fork over the 99 cents for ezPDF Reader.

Sure, you can get the official Adobe reader for free, but ezPDF Reader is far superior.  First off, it has a nice file browser interface at the top level.  Not only will it let you search for pdfs on your device, but it has a kind of customizable bookmark/favorites list that’s easy to edit.  Once you open a PDF, it gives you a nice full screen view with a very satisfyingly book-like page flip animation when you flick your finger across it to turn the page.  Of course, the print is too tiny in this view to really read, but it’s good for quick flipping around to find the right page.  There’s also a good interface for using bookmarks and a thubnail view to jump quickly from section to section.  Once you’re on the right page though, that’s when the best feature comes to play: fit-to-text column view.

With just a double tap on the screen the view will zoom into a single column of text.  This is great for old school gaming PDFs, which by and large tend to be in two column format.  The zoom is enough for easy legibility, and then as you scroll the thing actually automatically jumps from one column to the next as you reach the end, and across pages as necessary.

Honestly, at a quarter of the price of the silly 3D dice app, this thing is a steal.  Truly it is the most useful phone app for gaming, and I highly recommend you get it.  And in combination with the silly dice app, it tickles me to know that I have absolutely everything I need to run an impromptu D&D game in my pocket at all times.  Welcome to the 21st century indeed.

Rebirth of my Campaign

I had something interesting to post today, but then realized I haven’t posted anything in weeks and perhaps that warranted some explanation.  I am moving, or will be soon.  Much of my free time is taken up with all the efforts involved in buying and selling a house.  I won’t bore you with the details, suffice it to say that my posting is going to be pretty spotty for the next couple of months.  I expect by the time GenCon rolls around though you’ll see me regularly posting again.

Good news though, my home campaign has started up again.  I call it my home campaign, though it’s no longer held at home.  As the group consists now entirely of co-workers, we play right here in the office.  It’s really an excellent place for it.  Actually, in general I’d say your average office is an excellent place for gaming, as they’re usually equipped with meeting rooms containing long tables, plenty of chairs, and a white board if you’re lucky.  Our office is particularly well suited though.  Not only has Curt bought us some lovely dwarven forge to play with, but recently his latest gift to the gamers in the company arrived — an Emissary table from Geek Chic.  I’m not yet allowed to post pictures of the interior of the office, but you can bet that when we are you will see some shots of the really sweetset-up they’ve made for us here.

Back to the campaign though.  As the company moved down to Providence so too did several of my players.  We became so spread out that several people had to drop out.  We were down to just three players left.  Fortunately, working for a large company creating a fantasy based MMO means access to lots of gamers.  I never even had to go so far as to put out a general call, I simply started emailing coworkers I knew might be interested and slowly got the group back up to 6 players.  As the group is now 50% new players and the last session had ended right in the middle of things, we decided to start fresh.  New characters have been rolled up and we’ve picked a new spot on the map far away from where the old group was to start playing.

In reading the old writings of Mr. Gygax, I’ve started to suspect that back in the day the term “campaign” referred not to a specific group of players meeting regularly, but merely a consistent GM and setting.  I suspect Gygax’s own campaign ran more like the West Marches than what we’re used to these days.  Quotes like the following from the DMG seem to support this:

You pack it in for the night. Four actual days later (and it is best to use 1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening), on Day 55, player characters B, C, and D enter the dungeon and find that the area they selected has already been cleaned out by player characters E and F. Had they come the day after the previous game session, game Day 52, and done the same thing, they would have found the monster and possibly gotten the goodies! What to do about that? and what about old A and his pointy-eared chum off to see the oracle? … Being aware of time differences between groups of player characters will enable you to prevent the BIG problems.

Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 37

This may be indicative of old school play, where character death is more frequent and the persistence of the campaign lies more in the world than any one character or group of characters.  However, I think it also has the side benefit of being more conducive to a shifting player base.  I’ve had some players drop out and replaced them with other players over the past year.  I also experimented a bit with running an odd one-shot adventure for a totally different group in the same campaign setting, and allowing their actions to be reflected in the world as experienced by the regular group.  At least one of those one-shots had one of my regular players in it, and I think he can attest to the fact that it was a pretty satisfying experience on both ends.

However, this is my first real attempt at keeping the campaign world consistent for an entirely new group.  I am very curious to see how it goes, especially for the players that have remained consistent and will remember details about the world that are unknown to the newer players.  I actually would love to see that played out in character, with the three old players perhaps playing more well traveled characters who know a bit about the world, and the new guys playing young fresh-faced characters, or foreigners to whom everything in the local region is strange and new.

And of course my long term dream is that many years down the road, perhaps with an entirely new group of players, my world will be detailed and full of interesting and unusual features, each molded by actual play rather than preconceived and plotted out specifically for their enjoyment.  I’m excited to see that world, I just hope I have the staying power to create it for my future self.

On Themes of Exploration

James M. posted an old ad from Dragon Magazine in a recent post, and in discussing it said:

There were all these ads for games I never saw in the stores … which suggested to me that the hobby really was much bigger and more diverse than the small part of it I knew in suburban Baltimore.

Now, James entered the hobby a good 5 years earlier than I did, and by the time I was really getting into it (late 80’s, into the early 90’s) my only recourse for gaming related material was the couple sad shelves in the back of a comic book shop.  There were plenty such shops, they all had the same couple of shelves, and it was pretty random what you might find there.  I wasn’t very discerning though — if had a D&D logo on it, I bought it.  This led me to owning an odd collection of Dragon Magazine issues myself, and despite their dates being a few years old, I still felt the exact same thing James did.  I was sure there must be some huge group of roleplayers out there somewhere, if only I could find them!  I didn’t, and in fact, at that age I spent more time reading about D&D than actually playing it.  Players were very hard for me to find, at least until 2nd edition hit the shelves, and even then it took a couple years before I had a really solid regular group to play with.

I noticed an odd connection too — that this sense of wonder at the existence of a larger realm that was completely foreign to me, this is basically the theme of D&D itself.  A lot of the old school folks like to point that out as being especially indicative of the old school, a focus on exploration rather than on combat and character advancement.  I agree with this basic sentiment, and I’d say the shift from graph paper mapping to battle-mat and miniatures is the most clear indicator of the move away from this focus.

In my comment on James’ blog, I mentioned that it seemed to me that this sense of wonder at the size of the hobby itself was surely lost for current generations due to the advent of the internet.  I think this applies not just to the gaming hobby, but really any subject matter.  In this day and age complete knowledge of any topic is quickly accessible right at your computer, heck maybe even on the phone you carry around in your pocket.  I think this is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, it connects people interested in more obscure hobbies.  Where they were once a loner with a peculiar interest, now it’s easy for them to connect and discuss their interest with like-minded people.  On the other hand, that sense of wonder that can drive us to new and unusual experiences (like driving halfway across the country to Milwaukee to seek out a gathering of like-minded enthusiasts) is gone.  Is it any surprise that the game has moved away from this theme of exploration when it’s so much rarer to find in the real world?

It’s a different world, I guess.  I’d better walk away from this before I drown in the waves of nostalgia.  Still, I think there’s an interesting lesson in here somewhere.  I think it behooves us to pass this lesson on to anyone that will listen, lest we revert back to where we started: a loner with a peculiar interest.  It’s especially hard when that interest basically requires a group of like-minded folks to share it.  Sometimes I wonder what will happen in another thirty years — will I still be able to find a group to play D&D with when I’m retired?  I hope I will.  And if not, I think I’ll just have to get out there and make new players.