A few years back, I toyed briefly with the idea of the Forest as Mystic Otherworld as a variant on the “Dungeon as Mythic Underworld” trope beloved of many in the OSR (myself included.)  Real life (and an unfortunately-timed bout of gamer-ADD) made short work of my project, and the idea languished.

Fortunately for me, other, more creative folks have nourished similar ideas.  I recently acquired the first three issues of Wormskin, the official ‘zine of DOLMENWOOD, a mythical forest sandbox setting created by Greg Gorgonmilk & Gavin Norman.  I’m mostly through the second issue, and I’m thoroughly enjoying these glimpses into the strange wood and its weird and wondrous flora and fauna.  Very inspiring stuff…

Now to get it onto my table!


Wilderlands Campaign #2!

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had two separate groups/campaigns going at once.  The lunchtime game is still going strong (sorry for no recent updates — busy busy!), and I recently added an OD&D game for some local friends from church.  We had been talking about D&D off-and-on for nearly a year, and we finally managed to schedule some table time.  None of the players except my wife had played tabletop RPGs (although most of them have experience with MMOs and CRPGs), but everyone took to the game pretty fast and now they’re hooked!  I’ve run two sessions for them in the past two weeks (reports of which are here), and by all accounts the players are hankering for more.  They really like the open-ended nature of the game and the ability to really get creative in exploring and problem-solving.

When prepping for the new group, I knew I wanted to use the Wilderlands setting, but it took me a while to decide on a location.  After studying a few maps (Tarantis and Barbarian Altanis in particular), I ultimately chose to start the action in Greenwax, the same place where the other group started.  There were a few reasons for this:

  1. Time.  I didn’t have much free prep time even before this group started, so I need to maximize what I have.
  2. Player group. As with my last two campaigns (Ink Spell and my current library game), I don’t know yet how stable the group will remain or how frequently players will come and go;  with “cloud” games like this, it’s definitely best to have a stable base of operations with a variety of options for episodic adventure.
  3. Adventure options.  Greenwax has plenty of options for episodic adventures.  Just from the map and box set description, there’s the Old City of Satur right next door, the field of barrow mounds just to the north (perfect place for the Barrowmaze), the Ancient Tree, Mad Devil Jungle, and so on.
  4. Overlap.  I’m curious to see how the two PC groups operating in the same region will affect each others’ adventure options, as rumors are determined to be true or false, tales of the other group’s exploits filter through the taverns, and so on.

Looking forward to seeing how this all develops!

a new 1st-level human has joined my party

A month and a half ago my son “Milk Beast” was born.  I confess I haven’t spent much time daydreaming about the day he’s old enough to play RPGs with his dad, but the thought has crossed my mind…  I also haven’t gotten him a “Level 1 Human” onesie either (yet):


This design is cute, but how does a DEX 3 infant have AC 6? 

Now that MB has had his 2-month shots (and rolled a successful saving throw vs. side effects) and we don’t have to be quite as paranoid about socializing with him, I’m definitely looking forward to inviting my gaming friends over to roll some dice —  I haven’t tried DMing with a baby carrier on, but I’m sure that somewhere, someone has done so!

hangin with billy dee

“My dad showed me this neat game where you roll funny dice and pretend to be wizards and heroes.  Wanna play?”

thoughtful guy

“Hmm… What character should I play?”

I’ve had a great time introducing my nephew and niece to role-playing games — we’ve played Lego Heroica and Hero Kids so far — and when the time is right, it will be MB’s turn.  Whether he takes to tabletop RPGs or not, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time playing with MB and encouraging his imagination and creative impulses.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #18: First convention

First gaming convention?

I’ll probably lose a lot of gamer-geek cred by saying this: I have never attended a gaming convention.  On one hand, I can see the draw: try out unfamiliar games, find some cool bargains or new games, maybe even participate in a session with one of the game’s elder statesmen (not so much anymore, sadly) or leading designers.  For these very reasons I’ve considered going to DunDraCon a few times now that I live in the SF Bay Area (and won’t have to pay for travel or lodging), but never actually made it.  For me, FRP gaming has always been first and foremost about having fun with friends in an intimate setting, and I’ve never really felt the desire to spend money on travel/lodging/con fees so I can game in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.  When it comes to future cons though, I’ll never say “never” — maybe one of these years I’ll actually make it to DunDraCon…

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #16: First Edition war

I didn’t read Dragon or other gaming mags very often growing up, so I didn’t get to experience the slowly-unfolding debates and flame wars about the supremacy of OD&D vs. AD&D, 1e vs. 2e, etc.  I did, however, experience the 80s editions wars on a very small, local scale.  Certain AD&D 1e-playing friends and I turned our noses up at B/X D&D, based on the (commonly held?) misperception that Basic D&D was somehow the “beginners” version and Advanced D&D was for “serious” players.  This foolishness made sense at the time to my 5th-grade mind, but the irony in all this was that we didn’t play 1e by the book, but basically treated it as B/X on steroids — race/class separation, more classes, more spells, more monsters, and bigger equipment lists.  We never used weapon speeds, weapons vs. armor, grappling, and many of the other, more complicated subsystems that were unique to AD&D.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #15: First D&D you didn’t enjoy

What was the first edition of D&D you didn’t enjoy?  Why?

Some of my college gaming buddies and I were among the gaming masses eagerly awaiting the arrival of 3rd edition, eating up the Dragon magazine preview features and pretty much any other tidbits we could uncover.  After acquiring the books and running a few sessions, we ended up going back to 1e AD&D.  There were certainly things I liked about the game, particularly ascending armor class; the d20-based skill system was pretty nice too.  However, I felt that the new fiddly bits — feats, attacks of opportunity, etc. — didn’t really add enough to the experience to warrant having to constantly reference the rule books during play in order to use them.  We never came out and said “this system sucks” when we left 3e behind, we just decided that we wanted to stick with the game we already knew and enjoyed.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #9:

First campaign setting (homebrew or published) you played in?

My buddies and I didn’t really think of our early D&D adventures as taking place in a broader campaign setting.  Ours was a nameless homebrew setting with dungeons, towns, and wilderness.  No one talked about the gods, religions, trade, or stuff like that.  I don’t recall there being any kind of “continuity” to the adventures; in retrospect, it was much more “short story” format in the sense that one adventure might end in a jungle and the next begin in the snow.  When one of my friends brought home the Forgotten Realms “grey box,” I was a little perplexed at first — this is cool, but what are you supposed to do with it?  — but eventually I figured it out…

I’ve been enamored of a few published RPG settings since then — Planescape, Glorantha, Tekumel, the Wilderlands, the Known Universe of Fading Suns, to name a few — but any time I spent in those locations was only a temporary vacation from my own homebrewed settings.

[The Grey Coast] My players are getting soft

When I started my Grey Coast game at Ink Spell, the players were more or less completely new to the old-school style of dungeoneering.  The Barrowmaze imparted valuable early lessons: cautious exploration, careful searching, using equipment effectively, and the all-important tactic of running away when things got too hairy.  Somewhere along the line, things changed.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been around enough the past few months.  The last few sessions, I’ve noticed that the players have gotten real sloppy.  No one checks for traps or listens at doors.  No one searches for secret doors or hidden features.  No one guards the rear.  What’s the deal?

I think it boils down to this: Since we’ve shifted to the Barbarians of Lemuria rules, the players no longer seem to fear character death.  When you have a large group of PCs, each of whom has 1-4 Hero Points (i.e. chances to avoid being killed, only knocked out) and the ability to slay multiple Rabble with a Mighty or Legendary Success, the challenge level has to be adjusted accordingly to keep the spirit of danger alive.  Adding to this, the games DMed by other Ink Spell players of which I have been part have been almost exclusively combat-oriented, often with a very low challenge level.  With all this relatively low-risk fighting, it’s no surprise that the players aren’t being the paranoid delvers I initially thought they would become.

Hopefully this last session, for which I shifted back to Labyrinth Lord for ease of encounter planning, helped repair this deficiency a bit.  Despite some early player stumbles in the dungeon beneath the ruined monastery — blundering into traps, not searching for hidden stuff, etc. — the players got back into rhythm a bit.  Some clever spellcasting (and timely dice results) narrowly averted what would have been a hugely disastrous encounter with four ghouls.  I’m really looking forward to the next session…

happy gaming (and everything else) in 2013!

I have a pretty poor track record when it comes to keeping new year’s resolutions, but that never keeps me from setting goals for the days and months ahead….

Here are a few gaming-related goals for 2013, in no particular order:

1. Play more with the gaming friends I already have!

2. Expand my gaming circle. I can think of at least six people in my limited social circles — work, church, neighbors, etc. — with whom I’ve had reciprocally enthusiastic conversations about RPGs, but haven’t actually sat down and played.

3. Follow through on RPG writing/research projects. I’m involved in two right now: Carpathia, a Hammer Horror-inspired Victorian monster hunting expansion for Barbarians of Lemuria, and a library research/resource guide for D&D (for folks interested in RPG history, ludology, etc.)

4. Revive the Library Game, whether it’s as an occasional volunteer thing at a local public library branch or getting a lunchtime dungeon crawl going at work. This probably won’t happen until summer due to other schedule commitments, but it’s something that’s been lurking in the corner of my mind for a while.

That’s all for now. Happy new year everyone!

too little time

Last week I received in the mail two RPG books I’ve been eagerly awaiting: the Mongoose-published hardcover edition of Stars Without Number and Darkness Visible, the espionage supplement for SWN. I’ve leafed through them, they look great… Now I just have to find enough time to read them!