Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This isn't the post you're looking for. Move along.

Yesterday, when I was adding your comments, some of the already existing ones disappeared. They came back today, but it made me think that the whole comment moderation is utterly useless.

The blockade is off, but play nicely... or daddy will have to punish you!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Music Monday: Scary Monster (A Super Creep)

I really like David Bowie, but he gives me the creeps. Maybe it's in the differently colored eyes, his ageless androgyny, his aloofness? For some reason, he always seemed like a being from a different plane of existence (planet?), who came among us for reasons inconceivable by our primitive brains.

And what's with those alter egos? Perhaps Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke were just means of concealing the fact that David Bowie himself is just "an alter ego" for something more than just David Robert Jones?
Still, the past decade or two, seem to pose he is a human after all. The last couple albums are by no means a match for his canonical works. Time seems to have finally caught up with him, but even as his looks start matching his age, a strange grin of satisfaction becomes more and more visible.
What I am aiming at is that David Bowie is a perfect elf. Or at least he suits my vision of elves perfectly.They are beautiful, intelligent and talented in magic, yet they seem to be cold, unemphatic, inhuman. They are respected as much as feared. They can produce wonderful works of art for which many would, and indeed - do kill, even though those objects seem deprived of passion and are rumored to push their human owners into depression and bipolar states.

Bowie's career seems to form an arch parallel with the history of elves in my game world. From the unknown and obscure beginnings, through the rise to power and a plunge into decadence. As you might remember, my elves lost their immortality and age, here are some pics illustrating the process.

Finally, rumors circulate about The Sons Of The Silent Age. A powerful organization of elves, who haven't abandoned the cause of The Supreme Being.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I hit it with his axe

In this post, Zak Smith asked us not to judge I hit it with my axe until episode 5 airs.

It just did.

And I liked it. I liked all episodes except for the first one.

I think that the biggest strength of Zak's show the fact, that it's a documentation of D&D is played. While any session report is a (more or less literary) retelling of the game, so in fact - a re-narration of a past narration, the show is a straight up account of how actual game play looks.

And I must admit that, the first time I watched it, I was amazed at how similar his and mine games are. It was very uplifting to see, that even with all his insight and superb writing skills, he still plays the game in the same way.

Finally, I think that the DIY, chaotic way the show is put together only adds to it's appeal and adds to the feeling of observing real game play, instead of watching some prearranged, polished tv theater.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Monday: The Green Manalishi

It's one of my favorite Melvins tunes. It has awesome dynamics and tension, feels kinda claustrophobic and dusty, yet remains catchy. And most of all - it fits in perfectly with the rest of the album (The Maggot, 1999).

Yeah. So apparently it's a cover of a song by Fleetwood Mac. It even has a nice, psyched story behind it.

Peter Green claims that he wrote the song after experiencing a drug-induced dream, in which he was visited by a green dog. He understood that the dog represented money and the devil.
"It scared me because I knew the dog had been dead a long time. It was a stray and I was looking after it. But I was dead and had to fight to get back into my body, which I eventually did. When I woke up, the room was really black and I found myself writing the song."

Still, to me, the only Green Manalishi is the Melvins one. And, as much as I like Green's story, for me the song brings more otherworldly and dark imagery.

Perhaps it's just the green in the title, but in my head this song got irreplaceably bound with this page from Mike Mignola's Hellboy (click to enlarge):

It's a whole pulp adventure right here!

A new sect becomes popular among the nobles. It leader is a traveler from distant land, known as the Green Manalishi. He claims to have unlocked the secrets of an ancient civilization. When a heir to one of the biggest fortunes in the state starts suffering from an unknown desease, the Green Manalishi is called.

He claims he has to take the boy on a pilgrimage to a secluded abode in the Horn Mountains. "Only through this holy journey will the boy conquer his illness" he says and the two set out.

After several months, the boy is found in front of his father's mansion. Dirty, dressed like a beggar, changed.

"We tried to talk to him sire, but he keeps repeating one thing over and over again" says the chief of the guards to the boy's father.

"What is it?!"

"The God! The God with the Two Pronged Crown is here!"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter NEStalgia

I dunno how you are spending Easter, but I will be eating loads of fat, traditional food and listening to my grandfather lying to me about how he helped conquer communism.

I can't even play D&D because Julia went away to do the same thing as I am, just at different geographical coordinates.

So how to keep boredom at bay!?

Answer #1:

Yes! The ultimate gaming console of all, the one and almighty NES!

I must confess I have never seen it live, not to mention owning one. However I am very well acquainted with it's "polish equivalent" the infamous Pegasus Family Computer:

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this wonderful and obscure device:

In the early 1990s, the Pegasus system gained massive popularity in Poland, probably due to the fact that until late 1990s there was no official distributor of Nintendo products in Poland. The Pegasus consoles were mass-marketed by most of the major and smaller electronic stores, where buyers even received warranty cards for the product. Numerous VHS rentals offered an option to rent or exchange Pegasus cartridges, as well as entire systems. Pegasus and its revisions received a wide coverage in Polish video game press. This, along with the system's surprisingly high reliability led to a false claim that Pegasus was an "official" video game system manufactured by a "major" company, and as such was considered by many to be an official Nitendo product. To meet its growing popularity a number of obviously pirated NES games were reviewed on regular basis by, Top Secret a major Polish video games magazine. Pegasus was even officially advertised in press and on TV Nintendo took legal actions against system's importer and distributor, right after officially establishing sales of licensed Nintendo products on Polish market in 1996.
So basically it's a NES but with an eye patch and a hook for a hand. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, I never owned one. Thus I had to relay on my friends, which, from today's perspective, might have been even more fun.

Right now you're probably asking yourselves: "why the fuck are you taking us on that sentimental journey!?"

The answer is simple: because I am bored and I found this site. It's basically a portal which let's you play all the 8 bit classics (even old gameboy and dos games) in your browser window. How awesome is that? And those aren't some crappy flash conversions, it's the real thing!

Answer #2:

Listen to the Advantage

The Advantage (yes, they're named after this) is a band founded by Spencer Seim, an awesome dude who usually plays syncopated, angular guitar riffs in Hella (here he plays drums). As you might might have noticed by now, they play covers of old NES tunes and they're pretty good at it.

Apparently there are more bands playing this type of stuff. Perhaps it's due to hipster and nerd culture mingling together over the last decade. There is even some Japanese heavy metal band which plays solely Final Fantasy tunes, but I never checked them out (for obvious reasons).

But let's not go so far. The Advantage is much more than just a band covering Nintendo music. They are really skilled and have a unique approach to interpreting those seemingly simple melodies. I recommend checking their second album - "Elf Titled". It might be hard to buy, but should be easily downloadable from the net.

How's that for Old School!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Transparency Question

Evaluating my playing style and the way I tend to DM has brought my attention to one topic, that was not covered in my last post.

Let's call it The Question (or Problem) of Transparency.

The issue is quite simple and I'm sure that many of you already suspect what I have in mind. It's the question of how transparent should the gaming system be to the players? In other words: should the GM conceal the game mechanics, or should he expose the game structure and exploit it?

Before I provide some examples, I'd just like to say that I am not concerned with the very old argument of "storytelling games" (like WoD and Cthulhu) vs. "rolling games" (D&D, WFRP). This quarrel has and still is taken too seriously in Poland and to me it is based around stereotypes and completely artificial divisions.

Ah, yes! So what I am concerned with is: how transparent (concealed) should the game mechanics be at a D&D table?

I must say this question came to my head only recently, mostly because of this post and due to some confusion at my own kitchen table.

Sow how do the two models actually differ?

1. An example for the concealed mechanics DMing would look like this:

DM: A troll walks out from the cave, it looks like this and...
DM: Ok, ok, roll your dice.
P: 18
DM: You score a hit, roll damage.

2. This is how the same situation would look, if the DM decided to expose mechanics:

DM: A troll walks out from the cave, it looks like this and...
DM: He's AC is 17
P: WHAT?! In that case you all see Turg grab his axe and prepare to charge, but after a brief moment of hesitation lowers his weapon and pretends like nothing happened.

I must confess that I used to think that method one is better (perhaps because of my WFRP background, since there are no target numbers and all players roll against their % abilities). It might have been due to being constantly exposed to the more dice means less atmosphere rant?

Whatever the cause might be, I'm starting to think that it's all bull shit and that in fact (as is said in the Year of the Dungeon post linked earlier) the exposed mechanics approach is more fair to the players. Especially to less experienced ones, like mine.

I might describe a monster all day and they will be scared (at least afraid of loosing their PCs), but will still attack it. The exposure of the beasts AC (once the players decide to kill it) doesn't reduce the strength of my description. In fact, if anything, it might force the players to rethink their strategy, or (if the fight is inevitable) make them really fear for their favorite characters.

A good example of using this device to DM's convinience has been posted by Zak in the early days of his blog. Here.

However, I see one case in which the exposed mechanics don't really cut it (at leas for me).

It's the traps!

Somehow, I can't see this conversation taking place:

DM: bla bla bla (describing a trapped floor segment).
Player: I see. I'm trying to block the floor tile with a piece of wood so it can't be pressed... (and so on.). What are my chances of disarming it if I do all that?
DM: about 30 %.
P: Ok. forget it. Guys, we have to find another way.

Yeeeaaah... Not very believable is it? My intuitions are, that with some traps, you've can never be sure whether you disarmed it properly until you try and walk on that fucking rigged floor tile.

I think it forces thief wielding players to role play and describe disarming attempts more thoroughly (in order to get some positive modifiers) And to me, makes playing a thief more thrilling.

Summing up: Exposing is oldschool and good, but let's keep those sappers in uncertainty.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Entschuldigen aber ich konnte leider nicht rechtzeitig kommen, weil ich keine Uhr habe*

I'm really ashamed about my posting rate. But as you will find out today, it's not the only thing I'm ashamed about.

This is the second part of the post promised a week ago.

The last Session Recap might seem like an interesting game, but it was not. And for some time now, I am asking myself the same question. Why?

I know that there are those sessions. The ones that don't work out because many, at first glimpse, insignificant things happen. I had them and I'm sure all of you had them. (Right?!)

In fact, many such "unfavorable occurrences" took place that day. Katja came tired straight from lectures, we ordered Vietnamese food and got stuffed with it before playing (again! quoth the Raven: nevermore!), finally Julia was sleepy throughout the game. Perhaps the air pressure was low? The fuck if I know.

One thing remains sure. All those things shouldn't have prevented us from having much more fun than we actually did. And for that, I blame myself. Cause I am the DM.

It follows from my strong belief that the DM, as the privileged participant of the game, is the Protector of Fun. He's not solely responsible for everyone having fun - that's a collective effort. However, I do feel that the DM is in a way the person who, due to his privilaged position, is able to max out the amount of fun at the table.

I feel that I have neglected this responsibility. That is why over the course of last few weeks I came up with a number of things that I think are lacking/faults of my DMing style:

  • The first issue that came to my mind is the fact, that we are playing in English. Somehow I felt compelled to run the game in English, since I knew it's the first language for both of my players and Julia would feel less vulnerable playing in English. Now I'm having second thoughts. Even though I consider myself to be a fluent speaker (after all I do study Philosophy in English) I feel that my vocabulary might be lacking in terms of providing rich descriptions and creating atmosphere.
  • The second issue are the aforementioned descriptions. I do feel I need to prepare and remember about them. The language barrier is not an excuse. I feel that the lack of detail has made the game 2 dimensional and boring.
  • This might be partially the fault of me being dependent on the materials scavenged from the net (especially the one page dungeons). Instead of using them as a guideline and making them my own or simply plundering for ideas, I just fell back on them. This has led to my initial setting losing flavor and reinforcing the bad D&D tropes. This has happened partially due to the fact that being unfamiliar with retro clones I was unsure of how to balance the game. Luckily this is no longer the case.
  • The last issue is the one which really lies in the heart of this whole clusterfuck. I didn't prepare enough. That's it. There are many reasons for it, but there is no excuse.

So yeah. How do I straighten myself up? Well I came with a number of ideas.

First of all: PREPARE! This also means exercising in the way Zak has described in his comment for this entry.

The second thing is: make up more of my own shit. I do need to get around to writing a good dungeon and generally exercising my creativity more. The pornstars blog is a great example of how you can reconstruct used up stereotypes and create something interesting and fresh.

Thirdly: play more. I had quite a long break from gaming and I do want to play a lot now. That is why I am fiddling around with running a game of Mutant Futures (a thing I wanted to do since I discovered Jeff's sessions) as well as running some solo sessions for Julia.

Well, we'll see how it goes.

*this is the sentence that my German teacher in jr. high made me say every time I came late to the lesson.