Monday, March 26, 2018

Houserules and my Beef With Them

As a life-long gamer (in my case – table-top RPG and wargames for those that don’t know me) I’ve always heard this “Just house rule it… “ when it comes to the question of whether a rule sounds like it’s not working out. I’ve been hearing that since 198-something, it’s become a trope, and it aggravates me. When I hear it as an answer to a rules-question now it just seems condescending and trite.

The latest 2 triggers to my aggravation were:

Did a big pike and shotte era wargame last weekend using the Pikeman’s Lament rules by Mersey. A derivative of his X Rampant, they are mostly well-thought out, elegant, and I like them save a few bits that are dice-dependent and, if the dice go against you, will turn the game immediately. A lot of the Grognards I play with love the rule-set so I play it too. Suffice to say, I like to play and it was a fun game regardless of my teeth getting kicked in.

A rule, an ability of a specific unit, was played wrong but we went with it. Later the host of the game brought up the rule in question on a Facebook fanpage for the rule-set and, via the magic of modern social-media, the co-author of the game himself chimed in. It was not as nice as one would think.

To wrap it up the exchange on the FB page:
1) We played the rule incorrectly.
2) A question was asked to clarify what the book said (which indeed showed us we did it wrong).
3) Many had opinions and evoked historical context (my newest pet-peeve BTW).
4) The writer of the rules chimed in, said what the book says is what it says, then states it is mis-printed thus not the intent of the writers of the rules. Further, how we played it wrong is closer to said intent.

The conversation went back and forth a bit and some feathers got ruffled. Finally, “You guys should house-rule it and play it how you like.” Was the final answer … which is funny because we want to play it as it’s written in the book but the way the conversation flowed many came from the perspective that it was not Rules As Written; house-rule to play the game by what the book says? Weird when you witness that.

The whole exchange showed me that when a mistake was found we were told to “house rule it” and that was that. Mother-Fucker… I spent money on your rule book, why do I need to house rule it? You’re just trying to shut me up and save face hunh? Sounds like a cheap and easy way out.

Next – post Dungeons and Dragons game this weekend I was doing some research for the party re crafting items. Like they got some down time and want to make horse shoes and arrows and stuff and what the rules are for that. I fell down a rabbit hole and found many Reddit, forum, and blog post conversations that all fell into the “just house rule it…” trap. In one of those conversations, date stamped in 2015, someone called out the “just house rule it…” guy and asked him (I assume gender via the forum name) “Why are you being dismissive about another’s concern?” the reply opened with. House Rule It Guy answered that the original situation was not a big deal and easy to house rule and the responder came back with:

“The original poster thought it was Big Deal enough to post a question here about it. It is a big deal to them. You say it’s not a big deal but then you went through over a dozen posts here until you finally replied it was not a big deal. Why did you do that?” … and I love that tact!

My main problems with house rules are a few:

1) Lack of consistency amongst groups or tables. When I buy rules for a game I expect those rules to be followed everywhere I go. For me gaming is a social activity (amongst others) and it is hard to enjoy myself when I go to a game not knowing what is going on and not being able to take care of my own.  Fun is a very important aspect of games but I am not having fun if I am standing at a table not knowing what is going on AND I have the rule book.

There is a full spectrum, in my opinion on the reason this happens. A prevalent one is Host/Game Master power of adjudication. I’ve been involved in “home-brew” role playing games where no one had a copy of the rules other than the GM. I did not like that. Every single one of those games the GM was the over-bearing omnipotent god that, in the end, decided all the player’s fates regardless of any rule that was played before hand and I hate that.

On the other end of the stick were some historical wargames I’ve been in where the modified rules were pretty dang modified and not even close to the rule set they were “modified” from – nor consistent in rulings. One game the cannon does 3d6 damage. The next game it’s doing 4d6. No consistency.

The above two instances are more of the upper-level and I feel most house rules are just there to keep things going. The issue is they seem to fail, Like throwing on a Band-Aid when you actually could use a stitch or two.

Granted, there are degrees to this. In my game daggers only cost 2 gold pieces but per the RAW daggers are 4 gold pieces. That is not a big deal. It is not a house rule that would trip up a new person if they came to the game not knowing the house rule. Critical attacks happening on natural rolls of 19 or 20 house rule? That’s a big deal because that may usurp a whole character concept if they did not know about the house rule.

2) The Big Brush-Off: Sometimes it just seems like people say it to show you they don’t care.
*Long, well researched, honest question about rules as written*
House rule it.” << the answer you get.
It’s like being a player that house-rules everything is somehow a mark of skill or experience. Very rarely is that so in my own experience but stating it marks you as someone that has “imagination” and is in it for the fun!

I’ve been at this long enough to be able to tell when it’s an honest and earnest “house rule it” or not. I find most replies like that are just a person brushing people off. It’s kind of rude and trite.

I know, I was all negative and stuff and some may feel put off by all this. Just remember that part of “fun” is consistency and fairness. We play games with codified rules so that we can play with each other with said consistency and fairness. Further, for some of us, rules are hard to learn and memorize (me) and when we do get them memorized it’s nice to be able to use that. It is very uncomfortable, and slightly embarrassing, to be standing at a table not knowing what is going on or what to do.

I know of many people who do not “game” as they feel not adequate enough to stand at a table. Many “bad experience” horror stories I have heard revolve around a misunderstanding of what is a house rule.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

End of Year 2017 List

I have spent the last two weeks typing away into a doc that was to be a "2017 best of..." post and it evolved into so many different things it got ridiculous and I got overwhelmed and gave up on it.

I played a lot of games, mostly Saga but plenty of X Rampant variations and some "bigger" games most of which are from Warlord sets of rules like Hail Caesar and Pike and Shotte, in 2017. Some of these games I painted pretty large amounts of models for. I cannot accurately tell you the number of games as I did not keep track in a log or some such and I'd have to check my blog, my Google calendar, a few Facebook pages, and a few other blogs to come up with that number.

So, one of my reasonable resolutions for 2018 is to keep an actual log and/or journal of my games. Nothing too insightful - date, game, era, rule-set. If something extraordinary happens I'll jot it down.

Suffice to say I've a few focused plans for 2018.

Enfilade this year will be my fourth and I plan to be 100% "customer" at this one. I will not run one game of any kind. My plan is to play games and maybe volunteer some time at the Bring and Buy either while it's open or, if need be, as security after hours. That's my big 2018 Enfilade Plan.

I want to host a big Battle of Lechfeld 955 game at Ambuscade III in December. That means a lot of Normans and Magyars. I've already got a lot of Normans. I have until December to paint up about 70 or so Magyars. I also plan to paint up more Normans than I have now as I have three different (and distinct) painting styles in my Norman collection as my style has evolved the more I did in the craft.

If Battle of Lechfeld is well-received at Ambuscade III than I plan to run it at Enfilade in 2019.

Also in the pipe for me are some plans for a modern era game using Black Ops rules. I've got bikers and SWAT miniatures in various degrees of not done to done. I'm also interested in some post-apocalyptic gaming.

Even further up the pipe is my interest in some tricorn era models and game. Leaning towards American Colonial times and some mix of French and Indian to American Revolution. As of yet no solid plans there.

Something that, if I applied myself, I could table soon would be my interest in the Winter War - Finland vs. Soviet Union. I've a good Finnish collection of models for some Bolt-Action that never took off. Just need some Soviet masses in winter coats to put on the table and be mowed down by skiing commandos and white smock clad snipers.

2018 is also the year I've decided to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the first time in 3-4 years... maybe longer?? I am running one of my old groups, The Blue Ribbon Company (all the original players from 2003 too!), on the infamous Curse of Strahd adventure. I hope to run it for a full year. This, too, will involve some minis painting. Right now I've trying my hand at some "scare crows", my idea being based off jack-o-lanterns. A blog entry will follow soon.

So, a year from now, let's see what happened!

I hope your 2017 was enjoyable for you and may 2018 be better.

Edit 1: some spelling and grammatical errors - I have no doubt there is more.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Favorite Movies of 2017

What I saw this year that really impressed me, I liked a lot, or are significant in some way. As I like to do, some qualifiers I ask you consider while you read this and maybe think about before you judge me.

First – my two favorite genres of movies are war movies and horror movies. Even then I have preference to specific sub-genres that are better discussed face to face. Let’s just say I don’t like ALL horror or war movies… some are dumb as shit-covered hammers but a good non-American-centric-based historical war movie or a horror movie that usurps tropes? I’m down with those like a cat likes cat nip. Mix the two and you’ve got my money!

Second - Gretchen and I are members at the Hollywood Theater. Obviously we are also movie fans. She is a bigger one than me but as a couple we are known to be at movies a lot. We see a movie there at least once a month, more than likely 2-3 times a month.

Third – I belong to a movie club. Cinema Babylon is not serious or anything but the core of the club is comprised of people I find to be smart and whose opinions I respect. We get together about two times a month and watch, mostly horror, many movies in various levels of bad-good. To get more details there you can go to Peter’s blog Universal Dork.

Due to modern technology and my ability to view so many movie in so many formats I did break it down into 3 different categories.

My Favorite New Releases 2017:

1) Dunkirk – An epic movie (PG-13) that had an interesting story-telling arc. It also did away with the modern war movie tropes that Saving Private Ryan ushered in – detailed shots of the horror of battle field wounds and carnage. Not every guy that gets near an explosion gets blown in half and lives long enough to be cognizant his legs are “over there”. That trope was effective in it’s time but now every war movie is like that. Also, not a whole lot mentioned about “Jenny” waiting for some soldier back at home.*

*Not all of us had a significant other back at home to give emotional weight to our horrific loss when we get blowed in half and live long enough to see our legs are 10 yards “over there”.

In Dunkirk you just get what’s going on in the moment – British troops got stuck and weren’t sure how they were getting home. Then you get the non-linear flow of the story that I really love when done right. You only see Nazis at the end for about 30 seconds too. In my opinion I think WW2 Nazis get way too much attention (in all aspects of WW2).

2) The Void – Fuggin straight-up Lovecraftian horror without the official Lovecraft name; just like The Thing. You’ve got creepy cultists, protagonists in siege-mode in a rural hospital, creepy 5 leg tentacle human faces monster that changes shape after getting summoned in some fell ritual… all that good stuff. I Loved The Void.

3) Get Out – Evolved my view of race-relations in America. Horror with a perfect amount of humor thrown in to lighten it up some. Big plot twist – it ‘aint slave-wanting-to-own right-wing nuts being the racists in this one!

…and the hot white girl is the worst one!!

Cinema Babylon Movie Nights:

1) The Wild Hunt – LARPers go nuts and get real. The majority of the movie was decent and interesting, mainly because of my own connection to SCA and re-enactment and some of the themes in the movie I witnessed in real life. The last 5 minutes hit a home run though – like I was all “this movie is good” to “Holy Shit!! This movie is now AWESOME!!”

Amazon/Netflix Exclusives:

1) Bone Tomahawk – came out last year but I caught it twice in 2017. I was thoroughly impressed with this western horror movie about a lost Neolithic cannibal tribe. Good but basic story and some truly cringe-worthy gore. The script touched on “Deadwood” style language, not the cussing but the prose. Kurt Russel is always good to me.

2) Siege of Jadotville – a fictional film depiction of a modern historical event. I never heard of this before and afterwards I looked it up and was, once again, reminded how stupid things like this can get. Irish peacekeepers are sent to the Congo in 1961 via UN. They get attacked by secessionist locals, Dutch settlers, and Rhodesian mercenaries and receive no aid as said aid (Swedes, more Irish, and Gurkhas) got caught up in some other shit.

I’m actually thinking about wargaming this one if I can find 1961-era miniatures befitting this scenario.

3) Babysitter – just caught this one last month. Fuck, that was good and funny.

BTW - I just re-watched Rogue One last night after watching it in theaters last year. That is one damn fine Star Wars movie. It might be my favorite one so far.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Player’s Job in Role Playing Games

A follow up to my last blog post about being a GM. First, some quantifications:
Player is a person playing a role playing game (RPG). Many RPGs have a distinction between “player” and “game master” and I will use that.

I cannot quantify the time I’ve spent GMing and being a player. For sake of argument let’s say it’s pretty even 50/50. Consider that when you read what I type. This will also be typed from a Dungeons and Dragons perspective but fits into all of the RPGs I have played (though I can assume not all … but I have not played all RPGs so I don’t know).

A player’s job is a little simpler than a GM’s job but it is, in my opinion, MORE important than the GM’s job. The player is the impetus to the game existing. Ultimately it is the player’s story being told. The players have true control over the game and I think that’s how it should be.

What should the player bring to the metaphorical and literal table?
1) The character(s) they are playing on paper.
2) The rulebook that covers the mechanics of the character being played.
3) Dice for the rule-system being played.
4) Pencil/pens.
** modern technology is in account – 1-3 could be covered by a laptop or pad and render 4 obsolete.

On the side there is the whole miniature equation. Many systems use miniatures as an enhancement and D&D 5e says they are not required but I find they really are but it still could be run without. I’m also very miniature-centric. If miniatures are being used than I strongly suggest the player provide the mini and make sure it is suitable for the game being played – proper scale and aesthetic and et al.

I’d also like to note that if a player plays a character that has abilities that allow them to bring in other playable entities like henchmen and summoned creatures they should be responsible for those also. Luckily there are affordable pre-painted and 2D (tokens) options available.

As I state in the GM-Job blog post the host (it may be a player) has a duty to provide a comfortable space. The player should also not rely on that and provide themselves some basics – snacks and drinks of their liking, dressed properly, other comfort items they may need. Basic social etiquette; I ask that the players I invite to my table provide for themselves things they want. If there is to be a communal meal of some kind than that should be communicated prior to the event.

“Software” aka Things the Player Should Know:
First, know the rules governing your character. Know how to play your character, that’s on you. Also be willing to actually run your character. It is under your control and part of doing this is also knowing the parameters you are allowed to control your character in game. Hence “know the rules”.

I’ve been in many games where players did not know how to run a wizard and they’d ask the GM if their character can do the thing. I’ve never played a game, and that’s a few dozen of them, where a character had to get permission from the GM to act on their turn. Pretty much every iteration of Dungeons and Dragons says “on your turn you can move and take an action”. It confounds me when I see this:
DM – “Player, it’s your turn!”
Player – “OK, can I cast a spell?”

Then you get pure lack of basic rules like:
Player – “Whoo I hit with my sword! How much damage does that do?”

If you are playing, for the very first time, a 1st level character in a new rule set? Sure. If you’ve got 2-3 sessions under your belt those answers should be known by now. I’m not saying memorized, you just need to write it down on the character sheet – most having spaces for that. People saying they are experienced have no excuse.

Just know the rules, or have easy access to the rules, governing the one character you play. No one else knows, or should know, what your character can do. You run it, it’s your responsibility… frankly it is your only responsibility.

By the way, when I’m GMing, I love rules lawyers. They know more than I do and I often pick the player with the most rules knowledge and ask them to be the Player Advocate – they can call me on any ruling I make and we will discuss it using the books and the rules as written. Also, as I state in GM Job, when in doubt just say “yes” and rule on the side of the players. In the future, if it fits into the style of game, I plan to even hand out yellow flags like in the NFL that players can throw down if they want a review of a ruling.

Other than Knowing the Rules a player must Know the Table; in other words have a conversation with the GM or the group about the game that’s planning to get played. Do you want to play in a relaxed Monte Hall-ish Keep on the Borderlands? Do you want to be in an epic three year campaign that goes from 1st to 15th level? Serious and gritty game or something kind of funny? Consider what compromises you are willing to make just to play. Can you add something other than just playing in said campaign? Paint some minis? Help run other table functions like mapping, combat tracking, etc? Do other players want these things?

What is your party going to be like? A team or a bunch of chaotic neutral buddy-fuckers? Do they know each other and does the campaign support this? Maybe the players all want to play wizards from different schools and the GM needs to know this to adjust to keep it fun.

Communication is the jist. Communicate with the table; this is all under the umbrella of social contract.

Furthermore don’t blur the line between player and character. Don’t do things “in character” to other “characters” against their will. That’s not cool. Unless you are playing in a buddy-fucker campaign it is never cool, without the other player’s consent, to steal the paladin’s sword and sell it in game. Being a chaotic neutral rogue is not an excuse and no GM should award that in any way unless it was agreed upon by the players to happen.

This, obviously, delves into some deeper stuff and experiences I’ve had that boils down to shitty players and the whole:
Chaotic Stupid…
Lawful Nazi …
Stick In The Mud…
… trope that is very common.  Bottom line, like in real life, be a decent person and only do things to other people with consent. Play any alignment all you want but there is no “Lawful Ruin Other People’s Fun” in any ruleset I’ve seen. Even if mechanically you are a stupid and evil character there are other things you can do to portray this other than sell your fellow players out.

This is also a part of Know the Table as you may find out in the conversation that some people just don’t like having players at the table that do things like this… so might be a good time to switch up your character concept of find a table that you and your dick character will mesh.

Anyways, this seems a bit simple but it is soooo important. Actually it’s really common to be at a table and see none of these concepts come to fruition.

In light of my last two posts I’ve decide to go into a fall hiatus in playing D&D and to concentrate on some historical minis I’d like ot add to my collection, namely some Norman Knights and crossbowmen so as to fill in gaps of my “skirmish” level Norman collection and bring it up to “battle” level – the difference between Saga and Hail Caesar basically. During this short RPG hiatus I will be planning a Blue Ribbon Company campaign to be set in a 5e adventure like Curse of Strahd or something. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Importance of the Game Master In Running the Game

I have a distinctive taste in my role-playing games. After years of playing (since 1979) in good games, bad games, and mediocre games I have defined what I am looking for in a game and in that time I kind of only want to play in a game I will like. One thing is true throughout all the games I have played (not just Dungeons and Dragons) and that is the Game Master is highly important.

Parallel, I’ve recently discovered what will make me an old grouchy man and empathize with old grouchy men worldwide. Basically, I’ve been around long enough to have a solid knowledge base. Couple that with experience and wisdom regarding a subject. Some of us, when we get into our 40s and 50s get this solid knowledge base, wisdom, and experience but we have no outlet for it and it gets frustrating. Not being able to communicate said frustration correctly sometimes we look like old grouchy assholes. I just did this exact thing in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

Another note I’d like to highlight is that even a bad rule-set can be fun and a great experience if the Game Master (GM) is doing their job. Not even “well”, just doing it competently. So, in regards to “edition wars” I’ve found the answer to be “It’s the GM!”

Without getting into details, the impetus of me quitting a recent game was due to the Dungeon Master (DM) poorly running the game. The group was a new group for me. I was exploring the idea of expanding my horizons of a peer group of RPGers and got into this group knowing the DM was new. I thought that I could maybe lend a hand and offer advice and experience to the group and the DM. After the first month the DM kicked out the only other guy in the group that I was friends with prior to the group forming and that was my second red flag, the first being just seeing the lack of knowledge and ineptness the first few games displayed by the DM.

The game dragged but I kept at it. Many more red flags popped and I bottled my frustration. I even ran a one-shot to give the DM time to “prep” but he never did any prep.

This game finally ended for me this week when my pent-up frustrations came out and I said some things that came out like I was picking on him. I tend to do that. I, basically, called him out on his lack of ability to run a D&D game.

All that said it really high-lighted a few things:

1) D&D Next aka 5e was marketed as making things simpler for the DM and it did do so. That said the DM still has a job and needs to do it. Some people took that marketing ploy a bit too seriously I guess.

2) Ultimately the DM’s job is to keep things somewhat on track. They need to know a lot of meta things like make sure some basic things in and out of story make sense… especially if they are running a game that is above the Monte Hall style of adventure – kick down door, kill monster, steal loot.

Now to the meat of this blog post – things I have found that work for me when I run a game.

Know the Rules:
A fundamental understanding of the rule-set you are using is very important. Many will disagree and I have played in their games and they were poor games. Yes there is the old adages of “we’re having fun…” and “it’s a game of imagination…” but it’s still a game and rules are part of it. 

Rules are the interface we use to contact the imaginary world we are playing in. It is your tool set. Analogy time – right now I am typing this using many tools (computer, keyboard, software, English) but I am speaking freely and using my imagination. The tools are not restricting me, only my own abilities are.

A good rule-set breaks things down in the game into sections that show you how players interact with the imaginary world. Normally you have your social aspects, combat aspects, and special aspects. A GM will need to know the basic concepts of player interaction in that world. Not ALL the rules, just a good foundation of basics. When a player tries to find out where the thing is there is a basic rule for that. When a player wants to stab a baddy there is a rule for that. You should be able to get creative and deviate from the basic “roll the dice, add your skill…” if you know that the basic procedure is to roll the dice and add the skill. You have that fundamental to work off of.

A good GM is also able to talk this out at the table in a clear manner. No need to go off the cuff. Just explain to the player what they need to do to accomplish the thing. The player should know this too (and being a good player is another subject I might blog about).

A GM must be able to speak clearly in front of people. Yes, this may sound like I’m being a dick but it is true. Basic verbal communication is very important. I’m not talking special voices or being an actor, I’m talking about basic ability to communicate ideas in front of 2-4 other people. For some people this is difficult and it does not make them lesser but running a game might be very difficult for them.

I’ve been at a few tables where I heard:
“You walk into a large cavern… it’s a small cavern with torches.”
“They have four arms. Actually it’s only two arms.”
“The cyclops looks at you with its two beady eyes…”

Mistakes can be made but all the times I’ve experienced this it was pretty consistent. GM fiat or hand-waving is noticeable, weak, and utter bullshit when covering mistakes and only leads to more inconsistencies down the road. Just say, “Whoops, did I say the cyclops had two eyes?”

A GM does not need to be an architect to describe architectural aspects of a pyramid nor a surgeon to describe a surgery. One can keep those things simple and concise. The key is clear communication. It also helps to focus on the important aspect, don’t waste time or energy on things that don’t matter.

Social Etiquette:
Again, I’m probably sounding like a dick here.

I’m a firm believer in The Havamal – a Viking poem lining out some philosophy. It is heavy on social etiquette and especially on being a guest or hosting guests. Not going to quote it here nor get into specifics but here are some basics:
Offer a comfortable place to your guests. A dry place to sit and a place at the table for stuff.
Have water available for drinking.
Stay on schedule. Stay on task.
Don’t waste the time of your guests who took time out of their lives to be your guest.

Players have a role there too but, again, another subject.

Be Prepared to Run a Game:
Being a GM will always have homework. How much is up to you and your players and the game but one thing is consistent – have a plan. Kind of like rules if a GM has a solid foundation of the adventure or story deviating from it and getting back on track if need be is not much of an issue.

This leads to…

Say Yes to Your Players:
Learn to say yes. Let go of your ego sometimes and let the players play. Stay within the guidelines of your rules and within reason but say yes more. Learn the parameters of that too. Give the players things they want.

“I really wish my character had a magic sword.”
“Well, the orc chieftain you just killed does have a shimmering sword in his hand…”
*that plain old sword just became a +1 magic sword.*

…but not thisL
“I want a flaming burst bow but only want to pay 30 gold pieces for it.”
*Player exploits and usurps the rules to get a 3000 gold piece magic bow for 30 in the name of creativity*

 I’ve been known to listen to the players talk about the future of their characters, needs and wants and level progression or whatever. I adjust my story (and the loot!) accordingly. After all it is their game to choose to play in. Ultimately it is a story about them they are interacting with. I’ve found that this makes players very happy so I promote doing so.

You Are a Game Master, not a God:
Yeah, that whole “GM is Law!” is bullshit. Sure, a GM does have the responsibility to make authoritative decisions but most people equate that to power over others. As I have learned from people wiser than me Whenever a Person Can Apply Their Will Over Another, They Will. It’s natural and something a good GM should watch for and avoid. A GM has responsibility not power.

This is America and we are responsible for our stuff. In this context I mean stuff you have for the game. Every player has a basic list of things they are responsible for and in the case of Dungeons and Dragons:
1) The book that covers the basic rules
2) Dice
3) Your physical character on paper
4) Pens and pencils

A GM has a bit more responsibility:
1) The above +
2) The book(s) with GM rules governing the imaginary world if not in the “basic” rulebook mentioned above
3) A tome of some kind containing the actual adventure – hand written notes, campaign book, etc.
4) Not required but I tend to lean towards games that do use these – miniatures and a mat or board to represent tactical values on the table while having encounters. If this is so I ask that players provide their miniatures representing their characters in the proper scale << I can help with this.

 Of course modern technological items can cover for these as well.

…aaaannnnd this here is page 5 on the word doc I’m typing this all out on and I have to add some pictures yet! Haha!!

As you can see a lot of this is basic social contract stuff (yes I used to read Forge Forums regularly as well as a few others and what I used to expand my abilities as a GM). I was also going to write more on resources like John Four’s DM newsletter and a few forum boards but that would’ve added a few more pages here.

I’d also like to add, and I have mentioned this before, all the above I know because I’ve NOT DONE IT before and really messed up some games. I’m planning on running a game next year and I am already planning on not being perfect. That said I also plan to minimize any impact of my mistakes on my players out of respect and gratitude, whoever they will be.

Thanks for reading and have some fun out there!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bias-Based-Hatred as a Mechanical Trait or Flaw In Role Playing Games

I play both historical wargames and role playing games. I’m, currently, more of a historical wargamer but I have a D&D game once per week now (5th Edition for those wondering).

One of the reasons why I never got into historical wargaming for years is the prevalence of nazis. Not WP skinheads goose-stepping the halls nazis but models and figures on the table getting pushed around nazis.

*note – when I type “nazi” both Word and Blogger apps correct it by capitalizing it for me. No. I will go through and give it the little “n” that the word deserves.

I go to a lot of historical wargaming fan pages on Facebook, that and military modeling. I also watch a lot of miniature painting tutorials on Youtube to learn the craft. On top of that I have gone to gun shows, collector shows, knife shows…. Places where militaria can be had. What do I find? Seems it’s 50% nazi.

Granted, nazis were a part of WWII. You go to the Bolt Action wargame Facebook page and what is posted up about half the time? nazis. You’ve got the US, Japan, Italy, Britain, Canada, USSR, and about 10 other countries that can be represented with models and figures in the game but Germany gets a good 50% share of it.

Even worse you go to the military history modelers pages and even out of the context of World War Two… so all of human history’s militaria … and half of the model jobs are WWII Germany.

I’m not typing this to judge, nor will I solve any issue here with this blog. I'm just pointing it out and noticing a thing. I was once told that if a historical game con I go to were to allow “cos-play” or people dressing up as a norm for the con, a good half of them would be in WWII German uniforms. To me that’s weird. Not edgy, not historically accurate, not accusatory but a pathological fetish of some kind.

I was regaling Gretchen with the story of my last D&D gaming session. Part of the anecdote consisted of a “street fight” our characters got into. One of the newer party members (and new player) saw some druegar chasing some deep gnomes down a street. The character, their “flaw” (a background trait in D&D 5e) was “hates all gnomes”. So, he yelled racial epithets at the deep gnomes like “Run you cowardly deepys!”

This resulted in getting the attention of the druegar that turned and attacked us and an encounter was had. Sure, D&D is all about the encounters and me relating it is not the point.

Gretchen asked, “Why did the player have his character yell racial epithets at the gnomes?”
I answered, “It was his character’s flaw, he has to role play it.”
She came back with, “Man… that’s so played out. Why do so many people role play flaws as racism?” and she high-lighted a point that I recognized in historical wargaming but not in RPG and my decades of exposure to them: When given the choice to pick a flaw, it’s a good chance “biased hatred for X” is the go to.

I thought back to my own experiences in RPGing over the years and who I’ve played with. There are quite a few instances of:
“Oh, my character hates all elves.”
“Since I hate all city-dwellers…”
“My character was assaulted by men, so she hates men.”
“Bah! Rich people suck and since I’m chaotic neutral…”
“Me and my dwarven family are superior to all elves, humans, and halflings because…”

Whether flaws as a mechanic are mandated or not, the above is extremely common. Rarely do you get a greed compulsion or partial deafness as a flaw.

Some would say it is good that when mandated to pick a flaw one picks a form of racism or biased hatred. I disagree. There are a lot of flaws available that is not racism. Many games that mandate flaws list them and the player will look at that list to ponder the choice. Check out Savage Worlds and the 50 or so disadvantages you have to choose from in the core rulebook. I’ve played Deadlands and Savage Worlds based systems about 4 times in my life and, invariably, there is a player or two that picked the “racism” or “hatred” disadvantage. Obviously it’s never “My character hates black people.” and the target is something softer or fitting to the world being played but still, there is that shade of racism in there and that was picked as a disadvantage over the other 38 choices.

I have my own theories on why this happens though none are “proof” of any kind and some have their own biases wrapped up in them. Some of the less troublesome of them are that bias-hatred is an easy way to play out a character flaw; racism is not constantly “on” like a missing hand would be in a game world; nazis have a lot of varying cool gear to model.

That said I do have more biased opinions of a darker nature that I’d rather not post here as I don’t want them misconstrued in some way as that has happened to me before because I lack an ability to word things right and make my statements clear. I do want to add that in no way am I saying that playing Germany in Bolt Action equates you to being a nazi. Nor does playing an elf-hating human ranger in Dungeons and Dragons equate to being a white power supporter. What I am saying is I think it’s weird how often that comes up in a game.

With this blog I'd like to start that conversation - why the WWII Germans? Why biased-based hatred as the go to flaw?

Also I would like to acknowledge my wife, Gretchen Martin, as the person to shine a light on this. Thanks baby, it's why we're good together.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons Books

Those things are EXPENSIVE now! Phew!!

I spent the 90s playing other systems like Ars Magica, Bushido, and Deadlands (these being my favorites). It was a great time to explore as TSR was kind of bloated and over-bearing with the AD&D / 2e version of the game.

Actually wish I still had my old PHB.
Ars Magica ... historical fantasy RPG. 

Deadlands, father of the Savage Worlds rule system.

3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons came about in 2000 and I bought back into it – the intro price for the three core books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual) was $20, later to be raised to $25. By 3.5 Edition the standard was $30. Being a guy of mediocre at best income I always found < $30 to be a good price point for rulebooks needed to enjoy a game you love.

I never bought a 4th Edition D&D book as I did not like the system. I did buy-in to Pathfinder in 2010 and the Core Book was $50. Expensive but it was also a combined Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide to parallel Dungeons and Dragons. Supplemental books were $30-$40 for hardcovers but soft-covers (like fluff books or all-important Adventure Paths) were around $20; though a complete AP was about 6 issues so that’s $120 but that is over time. All in all still quite affordable and I also saved money on PDFs I bought. A $20 was much easier to drop than a $50.

From 3.x through Pathfinder I also, extensively, used SRDs available for free on the net. My sense of honor made it so I was not comfortable doing this unless I bought a core rule book though. I still do this BTW – I’m uncomfortable with using “free” things from the internet unless I have bought the hard copy first. Within reason of course, I’ve got to like the system and want to support the company.

 Further, I want to support brick and mortar stores that sell these books. I like my Friendly Local Game Store… both of them as a matter of fact. I don’t play Magic so that cash stream is closed off from me. Historical miniature war-games are just not very feasible most of the time to stock on shelves. I know enough about business to know the nuances there regarding that and I don’t fault FLGSs not stocking historicals… thus another cash-stream cut off from me.

This year I got back into role playing games after a two year break. I decided to start playing Dungeons and Dragons Next aka 5th Edition*.

*I’ll expand on the actual product sometime later but here is a condensed version of my thoughts on 5e: It’s fine. It’s not the end-all-be-all of Dungeons and Dragons and not ground-breaking in any way. The only thing missing is the ability to tinker with and customize a character and that’s fine. It’s just another way to game.

After Xmas in 2016 I took some money and bought myself a Players Handbook from Guardian Games. It was $49.95 ! Whewww!! That’s some money. After a few months I felt compelled to buy the other two “core” books (Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide) and those, too, are $50 each. Definitely not an impulse buy anymore and, even with a grown-man’s salary, quite a bite into my gaming budget.

Wanting a DMG for months now but not willing to drop a $50 on it I waited for a used one to pop up at Guardian Games with no luck. I was saving it for later this year but I did have a coupon for 20% off a purchase at Red Castle Games as well as $8 in store credit there so I went there last weekend to get a DMG for $32.

Sure, I can find them regularly on Amazon for $36 and I am a huge fan of Amazon. My consumer ethics got in the way of that though and I buy off Amazon what is hard to search for in brick and mortars around me. Rustic iron nails? Amazon. Dungeons and Dragons books? I know of 5 places, without research, that sell them in my city. Still, $50 each is pretty steep for three core rule books. Unless I run across some deal it looks like the only “deal” I can make is Amazon for the Monster Manual though.

I’m glad I own dice and miniatures and tons of other stuff already. A lifetime in the hobby has given me a good collection of usable game aids. If I was a kid or young adult right now trying to get into the hobby? Sheesh… feel bad for you kid.

So, thanks for reading and get off my lawn.