Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gygax Magazine, by TSR

EDIT: Please see my latest review of the magazine here.

Here's a special thanks to Tenkar's Tavern for doing a two-part part review of Gygax Magazine, issue #1, published by the newly created (reincarnated?) TSR. You can find both parts of the review here and here. Tenkar's review solidified my previous thoughts on the magazine, which can be summed up in its own two parts:

1. That's neat, but I'm going to pass because I'm not part of the target demographic and...

2. This is solid proof that we're in the d20 Dark Ages.

Just judging by the cover, I know that I'm not one of the magazine's target audience. It looks like Dragon Magazine from the early to mid-1980s. Maybe future issues will be different. Still, this first issue is packed with articles where the authors share their "old school cred" (as Tenkar puts it). While I'm familiar with many of these names, they don't hold the same nostalgia factor for me, since I grew up in the AD&D Second Edition era.

This magazine is meant to appeal to those who grew with D&D from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Sure, others can read it, but I doubt they'd get the same feeling of nostalgia.

Yet this magazine, which has been touted as a great triumph of the Old School Renaissance, has little material compatible with "Golden Age" editions of D&D. There's a lot of articles reminiscing about the past and how great things were back in the early to mid-1980s. But then magazine turns around and features gameable content for Pathfinder and Dragon Age RPG. 

Published Nov. 1982
The cover, however, resembles issues of Dragon published from just before 1983 until 1987 or so. 1983, of course, being the height of the Golden Age (as shown on the right).

This all fits into my definition of a Dark Age. Here we have an emulation of the "Golden Age" alongside the fragmentation of the present. The folks at Gygax Magazine are trying to bring back the memories of achievements thirty years gone, before Gygax got ousted from the old TSR, before Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms changed the hobby (Greenwood, Weis, and Hickman aren't often considered old school in the OSR). Before the hobby fragmented.

Don't believe me? Fine, I'll go ahead and put out a Lorraine Williams Magazine, by T$R, emulating Dragon in the 1990s featuring material about Buck Rogers, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Planescape, Dark Sun, Mystara (both Hollow World and Savage Coast), Birthright, and Greyhawk (maybe). Furthermore, make sure all of this is blended with reviews on miniatures and computer games.
The first issue without
the border.
Published Dec. 1982

Issue #1 will have authors establishing their "Second Edition Cred," with "Elminster and Me" by Ed Greenwood; "The Death of Greyhawk" by Carl Sargent; "'Amazing Stories' from TSR in the 1990s" by Kim Mohan, "Ravenloft: Module to Domain of Dread," by Bruce Nesmith, and "From d6 to d20: Freelancing with TSR," by Bill Slavicsek.

Yes, I'm being facetious. And I hope none of the authors mentioned above or in Gygax Magazine take offense. But I think my point is clear: nobody would want to read a gaming magazine emulating TSR from the 1990s, the d20 Dark Ages--online or in print. Heck, I wonder if somebody could even pull off publishing a magazine for the early days of D&D 3e or later. Kobold Quarterly, however, did have good run.

Don't get me wrong, the publishing of Gygax Magazine is a big deal. It shows that the OSR might be thriving enough to have a print magazine, even if its quarterly. Yet, it is also part of a pattern that I've witnessed since I started gaming back in 1989, the pattern of looking back and trying to emulate the Golden Age of D&D. We'll see how successful this iteration will be.

Although I won't be subscribing, I do wish the folks at Gygax Magazine the best.

This layout ran from Dec. 1987
until the early 1990s.

EDIT: All right, I did some more digging. Tim Kask wrote, "Gygax Magazine will cover a wide variety of RPGs and strategy games, focusing on preserving the traditions of the industry."

So the mag isn't (or intended to be) part of the OSR, but given how they've marketed it I have no doubt that they are trying to appeal to the OSR. Not like that's a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Smiling Spock and the Davening Flowers

The other night I watched the "The Cage," the original pilot episode of Star Trek. 

It was surreal. It had the standard plot of many Star Trek episodes. The Enterprise receives a distress call. The crew beams down to a strange planet. Then they encounter hostile aliens. The show wraps up with some sort of moral about the human condition. But the only familiar character was Spock, played by the one and only Leonard Nimoy. The first officer was a woman, played by Majel Barret ("The First Lady" of Star Trek) And the ship's doctor wasn't Bones. Even Captain Christopher Pike (not Kirk) lamented to the doctor that he was tired of being a captain!  Aside from Spock, no other character from this pilot made it into the regular series, as far as I can tell. And even Spock acted funny, smiling or even getting scared. 

The pacing of the show moved at a snail's pace. When they finally got down to the planet they took their time exploring. (Notice there's no red shirts!) I was gonna about to fall asleep when they came upon these flowers(?) as seen above. The flowers got their attention by wobbling/davening back and forth. Spock looked at  Pike and then gave that goofy grin.

Soon after Captain Pike got taken by the aliens. I won't spoil the rest of it for you, though there isn't much to spoil really. The network actually shot down this pilot episode back in the mid-1960s. Yeah, the plot was that slow. And apparently, the episode didn't air until 1988. You can watch it on Netflix.
And now, to make this post gaming related for Swords & Wizardry and other old school games...

Davening Flowers (hazard)
Patches of these wiry stemmed blue flowers grow both above and below ground, often near monster lairs.  When any living creature approaches within 30 feet, these flowers start to sway and rock slightly, while emitting a low hum, attracting the attention of the the creature for 1d6 rounds. During this time, while the creature (or creatures) is looking at the pretty flowers, it can be surprised on a 5 in 6, on a 1d6, rather than the usual 2 in 6 chance. 

Nearby monsters, who have become immune to the davening effect, like to use these flowers to attract victims near their lair. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Retrospect: Return to the Tomb of Horrors

There is a monster at the end of this book, and his name is Acererak!

Looking back to the late 1990s, I wish I had run Return to the Tomb of Horrors, by Bruce R. Cordell.  I tried to run it. Believe me, I did. Yet it was published in 1998, during the real Dark Age of my gaming career when Magic: The Gathering had lured everybody around me away from D&D. And, soon, of course, 3e would be on the horizon.

Still, this adventure/campaign remains my favorite written for AD&D 2e.

Like other boxed sets in the 1990s, this one came with lots of goodies:
--a 16 page book of maps and new monsters which includes a map of Moil "The City that Waits" which was mentioned in the Planescape module Dead Gods. And the Winter Wight, well... your players will remember its touch should they live.
--An illustration book, filled with creepy drawings by Arnie Swenkel and Glen Michael Angus.
--handouts, including a diary filled with clues.
--a facsimile of the original Tomb of Horrors module.
--and finally the 160 page adventure book.

The book itself marked a turning point in my mind. WotC was trying to make some amends for the grievances caused by TSR. Gary Gygax himself wrote the forward to the adventure, telling the tale of the conception of The Tomb of Horrors to thwart expert players in his own Greyhawk campaign and dash the hopes of boastful players at conventions who possessed characters with unearned levels and experience. Gygax was at least welcomed enough to write an occasional forward or a column in Dragon Magazine.

As for the rest of the adventure book, it makes for a good read. Here, even the reader is taken down a dark path of secrets within secrets. Some might not like the linear or investigative aspects of the adventure (this is, as far as I know, the only module I've read for 2e where the PCs actually have to consult a sage). Still, right from the start, Cordell weaves a tale of intrigue, mixed with both combat and problem solving, with always a hint of menace resonating in the background.

Illustrations treat the reader with a large group of adventurers, whose members get killed by monsters and traps throughout. At the end, only three survive.

The player-characters start off not knowing that they are entangling themselves in Acererak's web. Up to a certain point, the PCs can walk away, even after they discover that Acererak is behind it all. But then the players will never know the answers to the questions they encounter at the beginning of the adventure.

Return of the Tomb of Horrors is a tale about the quest to conquer death the and consequences for those who seek it. Even those who attempt to thwart the dark powers seeking immortality at the expense of others, may soon find their own lives cut short. An underlying theme is how power corrupts those who do not deserve it, often leading to an inhuman end.

Someday I'll run this adventure, and may my players forgive me afterwards...

Enhancing the Adventure
All published modules deserve some some tweaking to make them compatible with an individual DM's campaign. Here's what I would do:

1. DO. NOT. LET. THE. PLAYERS. SEE. THIS. MODULE.  Sequester the box in a different place, make sure to keep the Adventure Book hidden behind your screen. Don't even tell them you're running this adventure. It'd ruin it. The Tomb of Horrors is infamous enough as it is. You don't want to frighten the players away... or worse, tempt them to look it up on the Internet.

2. Give the PCs another reason to seek out the Black Academy/Skull city. Perhaps in a previous adventure one of their hated villains made a reference to it before he got away. Perhaps that's why their in Kalstrand to begin with. The undead encounters and the investigations at the beginning of the adventure might seem too railroady. But a third reason dealing with a known villain should bait them further into the adventure.

3. Skull City shouldn't just consist of a bunch of necromancers hiding out in a swamp. Add NPCs of other classes there. In fact, add some well-known rulers, powers behind thrones. And, they all were masks (if you've seen Eyes Wide Shut, you probably can guess where I'm going with this).

4. Recommended soundtracks: The Ninth Gate and "Masked Ball" from Eyes Wide Shut. 

"Opening Credits"

"Masked Ball" -- to be played in the Auditorium of the Black Academy (the music suddenly cuts off at 6:08, however).

And, what the heck, "Lux Aeterna" from 2001: A Space Odyssey for when the players come across the "Music of the Spheres" in the City that Waits, or for all those trapped souls at the end of the module...

Yeah, I'm a Stanley Kubrick fan...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Some Expeditions in the Blogosphere...

91st published post. The countdown to the 100th post has begun. I plan on doing something special--just not sure what, perhaps posting an adventure from my early days as a DM. Until then...

Here's a look at some interesting items I've seen in the blogosphere.

1. Of course, the big thing in the OSR is the launch of Gygax Magazine.

Joseph Bloch attended the launch party:

Tenkar's Tavern posted a picture of the first issue's table of contents here--lots of articles packed in there.

The official site is here:

It looks almost just like Dragon from the old days. The article titles, of course, show the age of D&D (and its participants): "DMing for your toddler," "Still playing after all these years," etc.

I'm not sure what to think about Gygax Magazine. I think its great that Dragon Magazine seems to have been reincarnated. Yet in back of my mind I feel like I'm not really part of its intended audience. I'll post my thoughts later, once I sort them out.

2. Looks like 52 weeks, 52 miniatures got at little life breathed back into it by Mike Mearls himself about a week ago. The site has been dormant since last August. He posted a half-orc assassin from the old metal D&D Miniatures line released for 3e, along with some old Ral Partha orcs. I hope they keep them coming, because they've inspired me to get my own miniatures finished.

3. I've been reading up on FrDave's Blood of Prokopius, who openly muses on combining orthodox Christianity and D&D, despite criticisms to the contrary. I particularly like his world-building series. How does one build a new fantasy world that is based on scripture?

4. You know about beast men, the ones from Games Workshop? Guess what? Games Workshop originally didn't create them. I did not know this. They were originally called Broo.

5. John over at the Land of Nod used Wikimedia's "random file" feature to create the skeleton outline of an adventure. That's something I might try for myself. Why bang your head trying to come up with original ideas for an adventure when Internet can supply all of these ideas for you?

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Relic from the Dark Ages: Wild Coast Map

From 1989 until 1992, this was the map of Greyhawk I got to use. My brother didn't trust my pre-adolescent self with his 1983 Greyhawk boxed set, so he photocopied parts of Darlene's map for me. I had two other maps: one showing the Yeomanry, Sterich, and Keoland; and the other depicting Furyondy, the Vesve, and Iuz. These other two maps were lost during a move, I think. These were the only "official" Greyhawk material I owned. So, until Greyhawk: From the Ashes came out in 1992, I had to improvise, using these maps, and building on the information found in my brother's handwritten adventures. 

Greyhawk scholars will probably notice that Seaton is out of place in correlation to Saltmarsh. Hommlet also isn't in its proper hex in the Kron Hills. There are reasons for this, most of which comes from the brief alternate history my brother developed for the region, and my interpretations of where things should be placed, given this history (more on that in an upcoming post). 

A few other things of note include:

--the line running from Saltmarsh, around the Pomarj, and up the Wild Coast to Hardby was the Old Coast Road, as indicated on my brother's map of Saltmarsh. The road is mentioned in module U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, but not capitalized. I had envisioned the road as the means for the players to get from Saltmarsh to the Wild Coast, (but I settled upon them meeting the King of Keoland and flying their on gryphons instead--which is another story).

--If you look closely, just below Eldredd, you might be able to make out "The Black Eagle Barony." Yes. It is the same barony from Mystara, featured in the D&D module The Eye of Traldar. 

--Calari? It was my creation. I know threw that adventure away, unfortunately. I've said this before: never throw away the stuff you write, ever, even if you think its lousy. 
--The town of Dukna, about half-way between Narwell and Safeton, was my brother's creation. He marked it on the original map. My only knowledge of it comes from the beginning of an adventure he wrote, Decent into the Dungeons of Authoria:

"You have met in the town of Dukna (this depends on if the PCs have met before) because of rumours of adventures nearby. This town seems very small & has no gates or walls around it. It is about 3:00pm (The general alignment here is neutral to good so the people here are pretty much nice. It consists mainly of humans, elves, & a few half-elves)."

--Under the "L", there's some illegible scribbles. There seems to be trails or roads leading to them, but I really don't know what they are.

--At the headwaters of the Jewel River, you can see an X, nearby is the word "Aleene" above a dot. Aleene served as a base camp for the dungeon marked at the X, the ruins of Fortress Resolution (yeah, lovely name).  Fortress Resolution played a key purpose at the end of the Elemental Wars.

"Oh," you might be thinking. "He's talking about the Battle of Emirdy Meadows, the Temple of Elemental Evil, and all that."

Yeah, sort of.

My brother, from what I can tell, interpreted the "Horde of Elemental Evil" as mentioned on page 9 of "A Guide to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy setting, as an actual horde of evil elementals, consisting of all four elemental types--yikes! Furthermore, the war against this horde took place not in recent memory, but centuries ago.

Fortress Resolution was my creation, and it, just like many other parts early on in my Greyhawk campaign, built in part on the backstory of my brother's campaign, which he ran for his buddies in the early to mid-1980s. Together this created an alternate history of the Wild Coast.

I was flying by the seat of my pants at times, making stuff up, pulling together ideas from books, adventures in Dungeon Magazine, or whatever. I will further explain this alternate history in an upcoming post. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to destroy the Realms...

FADE IN: Dozens of gigantic black starships appoach an Earth-like world in the darkness of space. They look like floating monoliths, gothic cathedrals of metal and stone. As we watch, smaller ships detach and decend to the surface.

Narrator: "We never though we'd be hunting Elminster. Yet he is the cause of all of Toril's problems. His might and magic was like a beacon, lighting the darkness between the stars. Too bright. Too prideful. They said if we found and killed him, we would be free..."

Cue Music:

Fade To: Scenes of spaceships landing in various parts of the world-- in a market square in a gigantic city, in a small idyllic dale with a twisted tower, atop a hill surrounded by wizards in red.

Narrator: "They didn't come in peace. That was never their intent. Their fires shall cleanse this world of evil. I know that now. That is why we fight for them."

Cut To: Squads of soldiers dressed in gothic-looking battle armor emerge from the ships and start blasting anybody who doesn't look human, and anybody who resists. 

Cut To: Scenes of the massive city burning, people running about; the idyllic dale a flame, the twisted tower broken; the soldiers blasting away the red wizards with bolt guns and flamers. Groups of giants being slaughtered by a mechanized Titan/Battlemech.

Fade To: The narrator himself. He stands before a large unit of fellow soldiers in a blasted forest. They wear medieval-style armor and clothing, but carry las-rifles. We even see somebody wearing a futuristic-looking army helmet with a built in radio. Nearby, a sweaty commissar looks on, approving.

Narrator (to his men): "Until all the xenos are purged from this world, and until Elminster is killed, there can be only darkness, there CAN BE ONLY WAR! But we shall prevail for WE ARE THE HAMMER OF THE EMPEROR!"

They raise their weapons and cheer, before the narrator leads his men into combat against a band of elves defending their treetop village. Suddenly, a dark elf wielding two scimitars jumps into the midst of them and starts slashing.

Fade To: Further scenes of death and destruction, ending with a bearded old man stripped naked and bound in chains inside a gulag of spikes and metal. We pull back, passing through bulkheads until we're outside the black ship, looking on as it enters the orbit of... planet Earth. 

Voice-Over: "Coming soon, in a Forgotten world, magic once brought great weal. Now it brings only woe. Brought to you by Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop, leaders in the fantasy role-playing and wargaming industries, the TWILIGHT OF THE REALMS is a seven book, seven movie series meant to merge two of the greatest settings fans have ever known.

"Part One--Elminster: the Unmaking of a Mage
Part Two--Battle: Waterdeep
Part Three--The Burning of Shadowdale
Part Four--Red Treachery
Part Five--Angels of Blood, Angels of Mercy
Part Six--Remember the Forgotten Realms
Part Seven--The Absolute Final Death of Elminster

In the Grim Darkness of the Forgotten Realms there can be only War!"

Fade Out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Retrospect: AD&D Player Screens

"At last, gaming screens for players, too!"

I wouldn't be surprised if very few people remember these things. TSR only made three of them as far as I know, publishing them in 1994. One for priests, one for thieves, and one for wizards. I guess the fighter wasn't important enough or they realized these products were a dud.

Around that time I was annoyed with players looking at each other's character sheets. Specifically, they were looking for the character's alignment. For some reason, they started to think that I was trying to slip evil characters into the group. One over-zealous player liked to look at other character sheets to find out their combat abilities and what magic items they had.

I thought a character screen might be a solution. I was wrong. In fact, I felt ripped off, even though the one I bought, the Priest's Screen, was only $6.95.

I was expecting something more like the DM's screen, but smaller. Perhaps, in retrospect, I was foolish to think this would work. Had I not considered that if players had their own screens they could conceal their die-rolls? Duh. Moreover, imagine the absurdity of a DM with 4-5 players, at a kitchen table all with screens, hiding stuff from each other.

So here's what you got with the pack:
1 player screen, and
4 front and back reference sheets.

The 8.5" x 11" cardstock screen folded roughly into thirds (as shown on the left).

One side of the screen had the cleric abilities by level. On the other, the cleric's Thac0 and saving throws by level. Which is fine, but a player should have these things listed on his character sheet, or know how to find them in the Player's Handbook.

The reference sheets had spell lists mixed with the occasional combat or non-weapon proficiency chart. The big deal here was that the lists included spells from the Tome of Magic. But the spells only contained basic information like components and casting time, you still had to look up  the spell description  (a page number was provided, however).

The wizard's and thief's screens had a similar layout.

I had few problems with the priest screen, though I never used it. It would add unnecessary clutter to the table top. All of the information was redundant--it could be found in the PHB or the Tome of Magic. Players could still look at each other's character sheet. But most of all...

I felt like TSR ripped me off. This was the first product, like ever, where I felt like the fine folks at TSR really didn't give enough effort. Yeah, the Monstrous Compendium annoyed me. But they eventually replaced that with the Monstrous Manual. 

Yet with these Player Screens I kept imagining TSR game designers in a meeting room, trying to desperately think up new ideas from products. Finally, somebody says, "Hey! How about player screens? DMs have a screen? Why not players?" "Oh okay!"

For many, many, years the Priest Screen remained the only "official" D&D product that I got rid off because I felt ripped off. Rule books and supplements have since then come and gone, depending on my gaming and financial needs.

The next time I felt ripped off was with D&D 4e.

(ba-ba-bum! yeah, I just went there.)


Do you ever own a character screen? Did you use it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fatal Fluffies

These are adapted from the G.I. Joe cartoon episode "The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe" from the "Pyramid of Darkness" mini-series.

Fatal Fluffy
Hit Dice: 1d4 hp, or 5+1
Armor Class: 4 [15]
Attacks: Fists (1d10+1) or by weapon
Saving Throw: 12
Special: Breath Weapon (2d6 fire, Range 30ft)
Electricity Weakness
Move: 9
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: A/5 or 6/400

Fatal Fluffies will always be encountered in groups of 1d8+4 individuals. At first they appear to be pudgy hominids about a foot and half tall with short gray hair, pink ears, hands, and paws. They have huge eyes which allow them to see in the dark up to 60 feet. Although they can speak Common/Low Imperik, they only emit cutsy little murmurs and sounds to make themselves look helpless to observers.

If a whistle is blown, the turn nature of a Fatal Fluffy becomes apparent. Within seconds it grows horns and transforms into the size of an ogre and attacks, breathing fire and punching with its steel-like fists. Unless otherwise ordered by a Snakeman, they will attack until they kill and eat the ashes of their victims.

They can use nearly any type of weapon, often preferring whips and laser pistols (if in a sci-fi game).

If a whistle is blown a second time, a Fatal Fluffy reverts back to its original, non-combatant form.

Electrcity Weakness: If struck by electricity, a Fatal Fluffy takes an extra hit die (1d8) of damage as is stunned for 1d4 rounds.

The Snakemen of the Abu continent magically created by combining ogres with some kind of Demon of the Earth. Fatal Fluffies to infiltrate tribes who refused to submit to their power. When the tribes played their woodwind instruments, the Fatal Fluffies would attack and kill them all. A few Fatal Fluffies escaped into the wild. It is unknown how long they live.

Man, WotC is really piling on the Goodwill...

1. PDFs are back!

2. Reprints from previous editions have or will arrive, even 2e.

3. They're actually listening to customers with the playtest of D&D Next.

If they keeping doing things like this, I might have to rename my blog d20 Superhappyfuntime...

WotC really wants to bring all those angry gamers back into the fold. So far it seems to be working. The edition wars appear to be over. But, in all honesty, I haven't gone to many messageboards lately to find out. En World continues to have problems as it rebuilds.

I just wonder what this means for Paizo. Pathfinder, after all, was pretty much based on the demographic of gamers who didn't want to play 4e.

Monday, January 21, 2013

In Search of... The Unknown!

As DMed by Leonard Nimoy...

[cue creepy synthesizer music]

A curious ruined tower stands on a hill in the forested wilderness. Below the crumbling structure, a tunnel leads into darkness. Whatever became of the people who built this mysterious place?  

Many years ago, Rogahn the Fearless (a fighter of renown), and Zelligar the Unknown (a magic-user of mystery and power) pooled their resources to build the tower and the tunnel. The named this stronghold Quasqueton. 

No one knows for sure why they built Quasqueton so far from civilization. Some whisper that their motives were based on greed and some kind of vague (or chaotic) evil. Yet neither of the two have been seen for almost a generation. Supposedly they ventured into the barbarian wilderness, never to return. 

Rumors say they've left behind fantastic treasures within the labyrinthine corridors and rooms beneath the tower. Secret doors lead to chambers filled with magical pools of water. Rogahn himself may have possessed a gem the size of a man's fist.  Zelligar's workshop might possess magic and enchanted items stronger than any known to man. Who knows what other riches are there for the taking? 

Gathering a few of your fellows, you share a secret treasure map and embark on an adventure in search of... the Unknown!

[Cue dramatic synthesizer music]

Since I bought this module for $3 back in 1992 or so, I've always envisioned Leonard Nimoy somehow narrating this module as he did the In Search of TV series. I don't know about you, but I think its a creepy-looking module.The monochrome cover itself is an oddity. It's kinda lemony-yellow and the fungus room doesn't help much either. And the title, man, what the heck does searching for the "unknown" mean?

I've ran the module for a one shot. The players had a good time, but one player asked: "Is there anything down here?"

Yeah, even when you stock the dungeon with the monsters and treasure suggested by the module, there's still a lot of just "empty" space.

If you're not familiar the "In Search of" TV show, check out the video below. At 2:50 you'll hear the dramatic systhesizer music I'm talking about. The show is a classic, tackling issues like UFOs, Atlantis, and other strange phenomena other TV documentaries wouldn't go near at the time.

It turns out you can get the entire series on Amazon. If had $120 to spare I just might get it, since I used to watch it when it got re-broadcast on A&E in the 1990s. Some of the episodes had some influence on my early D&D games.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Handling a Total Party Kill

In response to my TPK, Rod Thompson over at Alemiter asked me:

"If you have an ongoing story arc in your campaign, how do you handle the continuity break?"

My answer became as long as a blog post, so here it is--

Perhaps it is just best to start a new campaign. (If others have suggestions, feel free to comment).

I have had maybe three TPKs that threatened to disrupt a campaign story arc.

1. The first was back in my old Greyhawk Campaign in the mid-1990s. The player-characters encountered a lake-monster, and I quote: "It exhales a highly toxic cloud of sickly yellow vapor, about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide on all of you."  I hadn't really read the description of Cloudkill beforehand, thinking it was like stinking cloud but a just little worse. The characters were all about 5th level and they all failed their saving throws (at a -4 penalty). They all died.

Whoops. I just reset the encounter. They all ran away. It wasn't worth basically ending a campaign just over a random side-trek to a lake.

2. The second time the players were being idiots anyway, attacking a tax collector (who hadn't threatened or asked them to pay taxes) with the town guards nearby. I just folded the campaign.

3. The last time was more tricky. I had spent considerable time building the story arc. Each character had a kind of role to play, and had invested a lot of time into their characters. Once the TPK ended, we thought about how to continue. But instead we started a new campaign. The continuity disruption was just too great.

For now, I'm done running campaigns with massive and convoluted story arcs. I finished my last one on December 11, 2011. Because all that work hung in the balance whenever it looked like a TPK. Or became a little messed up whenever a key character's player didn't show up that night.

That's why my Expeditions in the Northlands campaign is patterned in part after the West Marches sandbox campaign. Thus, when 9 characters die, it isn't that big of a deal for them to roll up new characters when they can play again.

I guess my answer sort of dodges the question. It just depends on a number variables, such as how your players would respond. 

Like I said, if anybody else has any insights, feel free to respond. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Total Party Kill

9 characters died in my Expeditions in the Northlands campaign tonight (Saturday). Total Party Kill.

I haven't had a death count that high since I ran the Tomb of Horrors over twelve years ago. 

They again, those were character of 12th and over. Those who died where zero-level characters. 

Even wikipedia has a list of TPK situations. 

Let's take a look at that list and compare to what happened:

  • The players refuse to consider surrender or flight as an option against a clearly superior foe, and fight to the death.  No. They ran when they need to. And the foe wasn't clearly superior. It wasn't really superior at all. 

  • The composition of the party makes it unable to deal with some specific foe, even though the challenge rating is correct. For instance, a low-level D&D party may have no magic weapons and simply be unable to hit an otherwise weak incorporeal monster. The foe didn't require magic weapons to hit, nor was it incorporeal. The characters, as mentioned, were all 0-level. 

  • The players have a string of unlucky dice rolls or the game master has a string of lucky rolls, causing the combat results to shift against the players. Yeah. That did it. 

  • The game master fails to properly balance an encounter against the party's abilities. Balance? This is an old school game. How can I fail to provide balance when I didn't attempt to provide balance in the first place?

  • A single player in the party makes an extremely unlucky roll, resulting in his character's death and triggering a domino effect that results in the deaths of other members of the adventuring party. If this doesn't kill the whole party immediately, it may make the rest of the encounter impossible for the survivors. No. That didn't happen either.

  • One of the players in the party talks the rest of the group into attempting a reckless or dangerous course of action. This may occur when a player is bored with his character or with the campaign as a whole and turns to reckless behavior to add excitement. Nope. 
  • One or more of the players undermines the party's ability to fight an otherwise non-fatal foe. Not really. 

  • The GM intentionally slaughters the party for some perceived personal slight (for example, a meteorite falling on the party, ending the campaign abruptly), sometimes accompanied by the words "Rocks fall! Everyone dies!" It wasn't intentional. 

  • A TPK can be scripted and fit within the game's unusual milieu, as they are in Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia. In the latter, TPKs are to be expected and the players are compensated by having extra clones, which enter play whenever a previous player character is killed. Well, sort of. They can roll up three more 0-level characters...

  • A TPK can also be a scripted element of the adventure in which the deaths of the party are not intended to be permanent, or is illusory (the party is resurrected by a powerful entity and is given new identities, the scene was "just a dream", or the players' characters read a diary kept by a party whose members were all killed, and the Game Master decides to make the players "play" the dead characters' adventures until the expected end whose exact nature may be unknown). Definitely not!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Psychosis of Warhammer (Part 3)

(or "I Shall Win at All Costs!)

"One way or another when you get into this hobby, you're going to make an investment. Its gonna cost something. So its either going to cost you time or its going to cost you money.... There are tons of games that require less of a model count, where twenty guys that's an army. And they're fantastic, but I gotta tell ya, I can't let go of Warhammer Fantasy. There is a pageantry to it. There is...ah! there is just something about all of these great figures on the board and they just look so striking when their done!"
--Sean, from Blue Table Painting, at approx 12:50 in the video above.

Yes, watched that video just last night, seeking answers as to why my Empire Army keeps losing. Apparently, I just don't have enough of the right kind of miniatures. I need a horde of halberdiers. Yeah! That's it! With all the pageantry that comes with it!

One definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again and expecting a different result.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so annoyed with Warhammer had I won more games. Yet I repeated a cycle over and over again: play Warhammer and lose, buy and paint more miniatures, reorganize army, play Warhammer and lose, buy and paint more miniatures, reorganize army... and so on.

And a long the way, I encountered some peeves that Games Workshop did with its marketing and distribution that really annoyed me. I must not be the only one given that Blue Table Painting's business is to assemble and paint Warhammer Armies for its customers. Putting up with Games Workshop is a love/hate relationship. I love the miniatures, but hate their business practices.

For example, take a look at this picture. It's the picture on the back of the current Empire battalion boxed set. Previous editions had something similar. Do you see what's a bit misleading?

At first glance it looks like you're getting 3 whole regiments and a great cannon. In a way you are. It is marketed this way and I quote straight from GW website: "It is the perfect way for a newly enlisted general to start an army." It costs $105. I know, on a previous post, I said "Their only in it for the money" is no excuse, but let's put things in perspective here. Have you spotted what's misleading (aside from the fact that you need lots more miniatures for a standard 2000 point army?) I guess its a bit unfair if you haven't played before. Look at the knights, four figures to a rank. The rules require five figures. If you don't have five ranks, your unit suffers significant penalties.

That's one of my nit picky little peeves. Yes, I know the box says eight knights. My problem is that you have to buy another set of eight knights to get a regiment of ten. Sure you could field fifteen, but then you have a figure left over, and that's expensive in the game points-wise. Worse, cavalry in 8th edition aren't as effective as they were in previous edition because everything is going to 30+ figure hordes. Which leads to another one of my peeves...

The miniatures have become a pain in the ass to assemble. This whole demand for customization has led to multi-part figures for even rank-and-file troops. Like these Empire State Troops: 

You can make spearmen, halberdiers, or swordsmen and a command group. Fine. Now look at the spears and the halberds. Oh yeah, you have to glue the tops of each to their respective poles. It is a pain. If you want to make swordsmen, you have to glue the tiny shield arm to the figure's shoulder before gluing the shield to the arm.

On top this, you absolutely have to make sure you assemble them properly on their little 20mm bases or otherwise they WILL NOT fit together as a regiment. I have a regiment of halberdiers, half painted, that won't fit together because two halberdiers have their weapons at an odd angle. Each box of 10 state troops cost $24.75. To get a remotely effective unit, a horde, in the 8th edition rules. You need at least 30 troops, that's $74.25 + tax.

The current line of handgunners/crossbowmen are worse. The right arm holding the gun is separate from the left arm. Both arms are separate from the body. You have to line them up to glue them together properly.  Oh, but wait, sometimes the head won't fit on properly because there isn't enough space.

How did I assemble and painted the handgunners on the right without tossing away the whole lot? I

don't know. Maybe that's where the psychosis comes into play. It tells me I'm going to win the next battle now that I have 10 more handgunners that cause strength 4 armor piercing hits and they also have sniper that can pluck off enemy heroes who can't benefit from the "Look Out Sir" rule.
Yeah! That's it! And look at the pageantry!

There's a lot more to the Warhammer Hobby that annoys me, such as how the paints dry up fast in those little flimsy plastic bottles. Or the annual price hikes. Or Citadel Failcast which lacks quality control and warps in the sun. Or that Games Workshop doesn't announce a release schedule (surprise! you're army is now outdated!)

You don't experience this kind of crap with other games and companies that produce miniatures. It does take time to assemble, paint, and base up an army. Yet I find that time enjoyable. I like putting the details on my Hundred Years' War figures and the miniatures I paint for D&D.

I've played even Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and Dark Heresy. Those RPGs were fun. But the Warhammer hobby is a chore. Even the so-called game can be a chore to play: Roll to hit. Roll to Wound. Roll to Save. Did you know that the average troop type in that game only has a 25% to hit a damage any thing? And that's before armor saves and special abilities that mess with the dice. Missile using troops are almost useless--aw you moved that's a -1, aw its at long range that another -1, you need sixes to hit. But if you move them into close range then they often get charged.

One last gripe:
I've never experienced the "pageantry" that Sean in the video mentions. I've seen it in pictures. Blue Table Painting  puts out some fantastic armies you can see in videos. When I've played, and have watched other people play, usually the each army is half-painted. The models that received a paint job often are painted to a minimum standard. They've always, and this is just in my experience, never looked as great as the stuff put out by the 'Eavy Metal team or those that win miniature contests.

Oh, but maybe I should fork over $2000 to $4000 to Blue Table Painting so I can experience that pageantry without having to put up with all of the nit picky stuff that come with assembling and painting up a Warhammer army. Think on that. People are paying $2000 to $4000 per army to circumvent what the hobby is: assembling and painting miniatures. I don't have to let the money do the talking, just Sean in that video.

Is this somehow "wrong?" That's for you to decide. So what if Blue Table Painting is making money off Warhammer players? For me, its further evidence that players are lured by the game itself and not the hobby. They want to short circuit the process of assembling and painting miniatures and just get to the game. Instant gratification and all that.

I hate to admit all of this things, because then it means my earlier logic and conclusions toward the Warhammer were wrong, so very wrong. And I've invested hundreds of dollars into a game and hobby that I've come to despise. That's a tough cookie to swallow. It hurts the ego. I haven't won at all costs.

For awhile I've known that if I were to quit Warhammer, at least 90% of my Empire Army would have to go. I mean, I really like some of the miniatures I've painted up. But I know that if I just sell them piecemeal or only half, then I'd be tempted to buy more under the delusion that I'd get them all painted and have a chance at winning a game. Yet by then, if history tells anything, Games Workshop would crank out another edition and I'd have to constantly tweek my army.

Warhammer isn't a game. Its a form of psychosis.

My eyes are open.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Psychosis of Warhammer (Part 2)

(or "I shall Win at all Costs.")

The folks at Games Workshop deserve a lot of credit: they market their games well. Their miniatures are usually top of the line, well sculpted. Both the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k game lines have a massive back story rivaled in scope (probably) by the Forgotten Realms. Their games are collectible, but pretty damned expensive.

I knew all of this some twelve years ago when I bought two starter boxed sets for Warhammer 6th Edition at 50% each from a hobby store going out of business. The Empire miniatures looked like Hazahdians from my campaign world, Domikka. I sold both of the rules books and the the orcs. I just wasn't interested in playing Warhammer. I just wanted a small horde of Empire spearmen and handgunners for D&D. Then about six years ago, something happened: I started building an Empire Army and rationalizing my decision:

Games Workshop is like Coca-Cola: its everywhere, at least in the wargaming sense. At least in the United States, every city of a decent size has a hobby store that sells Warhammer. So you can find somebody to game with, unlike other wargames which might be fad in one area but gone in another.  Also, during the time I made the decision, I was in a state of transition. I wanted to go back to school, but where?  Also, I wanted to broaden my gaming horizons. I figured, well, historical wargaming is fun, but... Warhammer is everywhere.

I bought the old 7th edition Empire army codex, put together a 1000 point army, played my first game in years and lost. At that point, I know, is when the psychology really kicked in:

--Who plays Wargames the most? Boys and men. Both have egos to appease. In this day and age, overt violence is frowned upon, so we have to beat on each other in tamer ways. Even more so for the average nerd, who would have difficulty in a fight anyway (myself included). In sum, we like to WIN.

--What better way to win in this day and age than to commanded large armies in miniature?

--And check out this cool artwork? See the two massive armies converging in the core rule book? (You will never see artwork depicting one army or characters from said army slaughtering another army or characters. Soldiers charging into battle? Yes. Characters looking dramatic or facing off against a worthy opponent? Yes. But never getting beat. Why would anybody play an army that gets beat?)

--And look at all of those options from the Army Lists. Wow. Wouldn't it be great to have a bunch of unbreakable flagellants? Or a block of Empire knights charging down the tabletop? And a couple batteries of Cannon? Oooo... and the Steam Tank! That'll beat my opponent!

--Oh wait, that's too many points. And I have to have at least a unit or two be core units. All right, time to recalculate.

--What!?! I lost again! What do you mean your general gets that ability? It says so in your Army Book? Let me see?"

Now here's where it really gets addictive. Herein lies the genius behind Warhammer:

Unless you buy the corebook and every single Army Book, you will never know all the rules. And even then, you will always be tweaking your army so can adapt to your opponent's specific army.

See, the Warhammer rules are exception based. That is, while you have the core rules for combat at the beginning of the rulebook, these are followed by the advanced rules. Many of these advanced rules give exceptions (or break) the core rules. And this doesn't even cover all of the funky stuff you'd find in the army books. I have never played a game of Warhammer using only the core rules.

My next entry on Warhammer is going to be a nitpicky rant about the pitfall in collecting the miniatures. Because, well, GW puts out really cool miniatures. Even now, even though I've vowed to dump Games Workshop, the new Karl Franz on Deathclaw still calls to me.

It makes the old one look like a wimp.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Creeping Horac

Here's another monster taken from the cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

The Creeping Horac
Hit Dice: 4, 8, 12, or 16
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: 2d8 Pseudopods (1d6 + suffocation)
Saving Throw: 13, 8, or 3
Special: Can only be hit by magical weapons, Immune to Fire and Lightning
Move: 9
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800; 12/2,000; 16/3,200; or  20/5,000

The Creeping Horac resembles a black pudding but with hair, pseudopods, and random hairy strands protruding from his amoeba-like body. It can ooze through cracks and crevices one inch wide.

The Trea, an ancient Ethodian tribe that dwelled in the highlands of Erebehl, possessed control over the Creeping Horac. They used the the Creeping Horac to punish criminals by shutting them up in their cottages and letting the Creeping Horac engulf the house, suffocating those inside. Once the punishment was meted out, the shaman controlling the Creeping Horac would utter a magic word, sending the creature back into its special phylactery. Its phylactery is either a small wooden box or even a flask. Once opened, the Creeping Horac is set free, taking one round to appear out of the phylactery. Either defeat, or utterance of the command word will send the Horac back into its phylactery.

When unleashed, it begins as a 4 HD creature. After 1d4 rounds, it grows into a 8 HD. This continues until it reaches 16 HD. At 16 HD it is capable of engulfing the smallest cottage to a large tower, coating it with a layer at least an inch thick, forming an airtight seal, suffocating those inside in  2d8 rounds.

In combat, it attacks with 2d8 pseudopods. If three or more psuedopods strike an opponent, the opponent must succeed on a saving throw or be drawn into the Creeping Horac and suffocate in 1d4 rounds. Victims may make another saving throw (with a -4 penalty) each round to slip free.

It is immune to fire and electricity. Cold spells cause it to be slowed for 1d6+1 rounds (no saving throw), reducing its attacks to 1d8 and moving at half speed. 

When the Imperiks subjugated the last of the Trea, their shamans fled and hid the Creeping Horac's phylactery in a special shrine or temple. They put no spell or curse upon the place, knowing that foolish Imperik plunders would find the Horac and not know the command word to put it back in its phylactery. The only way, according to legend, to completely destroy the Creeping Horac is to find and somehow use the long lost Spellstone. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Psychosis of Warhammer (or "I shall win at all costs!") Part One

About five years ago, I was in the game room of my old local gaming store chatting with a new acquaintance. Let's call him Max. Max had just bought the High Elf battalion boxed set. He was sitting there assembling them. We were talking Warhammer. He had just made the decision to invest in a High Elf army. And I had just made the decision to assemble my Empire Army--I had just bought the 7th Edition Empire Army Book.

We both discussed building an army. Let's start small, say 1000 points since he was just beginning to play and I had played only once, years before.
Fine, we exchanged contact information. Max and I agree we'd play once he'd gotten his High Elves assembled.

Suddenly, he got an urgent look on his face. He got up from the table and went over to the Warhammer merchandise, took down two more regiments of High Elves and bought them. When he got back, I told him: "Don't overwhelm yourself. You have enough miniatures to paint as it is."

"Oh, I'll be fine," he said. "I want to get all of this done by the end of the month."

I never saw or heard from him again.

Now, what happened to him? Who knows? Maybe he left the area. Maybe school bogged him down. Maybe we'd just keep missing each other. I emailed him, no response.

Either way, Games Workshop and the store got his money. His first foray into miniature painting began with at least a hundred miniatures. I tried to warn him.

See, the Warhammer hobby isn't really the game, its painting miniatures. The game is just an excuse to push the miniatures around. Let's face, the game itself has pretty rotten mechanics when compared to other systems available--heck, Warmaster runs smoother than Warhammer.

Yet why do hundreds of thousands of young boys and men get into the Warhammer hobby each year? What is the appeal? And, perhaps even most importantly, why do they continue to participate even after all the price hikes and screwball business tactics GW heaps upon its customers?

As I mentioned in my last post, there is a large amount of psychology and marketing at work here. And, looking back, its why, after I pretty much ignored Warhammer for so long, began collecting enough miniatures for a 4000+ point army.

See, if I was going to invest in and play Warhammer, I was going to win...

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Weekend of Gaming

No minis for this Monday, since I haven't painted anything this year...yet. Again, the goal is 52 weeks, 52 miniatures for this year.

Once again I spent my weekend down at Treefort Games. They've moved to a new location, which is almost twice the size of their old place. It's the best gaming store in Georgia I've encountered and the best gaming store I've been in. This is why I've been down there gaming quite a bit. I enjoy the people and the environment.

Last Saturday we played Warmaster, 15mm. I was part of a huge late medieval host battling a strange alliance of lizardmen, elves, and dwarves. The dwarves thwomped me pretty bad. And the game ended before my cavalry could get in a decent charge against the elven cavalry. Overall, I think the game was a draw.

Sunday I actually played Warhammer: Fantasy Battles with my Empire Army.  I spent three hours earlier a adding up a 3000 point army. I felt like I had a good army and sound tactics, yet I got stomped by the forces of Chaos. Eighteen Chaos Trolls in a horde along with assorted giants, ogres, along with Kholek the Suneater looked stunning on the tabletop. And boy was I stunned.

Still, as long as my miniatures get the occasional use, and since I'm gaming with new people (and really the people make the game worthwhile), I'll continue to play Warhammer.

 Yes, I know what I'm doing goes a little bit against my earlier principle of dumping Games Workshop. Yet, I'm not going to buy anymore figures or books or whatever from GW. I have enough miniatures as it is. Warhammer isn't my favorite game (hell, I'm not even sure if it is game), but since a lot of people play it, it can be an excuse to just push minaitures around the table.

But the day ended on a high note...

The Expeditions in the Northlands
So, on Saturday afternoon, I said: "I want to run my Expeditions in the Northlands game on Sunday night" to a couple people at Treefort games.

Sunday night, five players showed up and ran three 0-level characters each. Overall, it was a successful expedition for the players. 15 characters left Engelhadden, 11 returned. They found some treasure, explored part of a ruined town, fought some bloodhawks. But they didn't earn enough XP to gain a first level. Maybe next time.

Most importantly, the session fulfilled the campaign's seventh Maxim:
"New Players to the hobby are always Welcome."

As the group of four players started doing their a initial explorations, a fifth person started hovering. He said he'd just starting playing Magic: The Gathering just three weeks ago, but had never seen D&D in play. He watched for a few minutes and said, "I don't wanna get addicted to another game." And then walked away. Five minutes later he was back and played the rest of the session.

The other players already had experience with RPGs. They talked, interacted with the environment and each other (including one case of intraparty violence), but watching the new guy play made my night, especially when he realized that in a roleplaying game, you can do just about anything. At one point, when he realized he had only meager weapons, he said, "Since my character is a soldier, can he make a  bow?" I said, sure, you can try. It will take awhile. But you can try. He asked questions and became engaged with the game.

In other campaigns, I'd try to play a one-on-one session with players new to RPGs. Yet with The Expeditions in the Northlands, since everybody is, more or less, on the same level by playing 0-level characters in an OD&D retroclone, there's not a whole lot of rules and character skills to bog down a new person.


When the last time you've introduce a new player to the hobby? How did it go?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Growing Up in the d20 Dark Ages (Part 6)

Building upon the rise of WotC/Magic the Gathering/fall of TSR theme of this week..

Did Magic: The Gathering tear apart your RPG group in the 1990s?

For me, it didn't. Yet through Dragon Magazine and a couple sections in the Fantasy Role-playing Gamer's Bible (published in 1995), I knew things were amiss. Even the local gaming store, M&M Comics and Games, seemed more interested in stocking Magic: The Gathering than D&D stuff (at least until it burned down...)

Still, I didn't give M:tG much thought until the new guy came to my high school in my sophomore year.  Let's call him Jason. See, Jason liked M:tG. I mean really liked it. He kept talking about it, trying to get people to play. Apparently all the cool kids were now playing M:tG at the high school he'd just transferred from.

Jason seemed an all right guy, despite being a Freshman. He fit well into my little circle of friends. So invited him to play in my Greyhawk Campaign. He declined. D&D takes too long to play, he said. M:tG takes only 20 to 30 minutes to play, he said. It takes that long just to roll up a character in D&D, he said. And nobody played D&D anymore where he came from, he said.

Okay, fine. I'll try the game. I played it with him a few times during study hall or over the lunch hour using his cards. I thought it was okay. It was fun. I could see why people liked it. The artwork was cool. You could carry a deck in your pocket for quick games. And the rules were simple. I could understand its appeal, but I wasn't gonna go all evangelical for the game like Jason.

So I bought the starter boxed set and a handful of boosters, about a $35 investment, if I recall. And so I built my deck (I don't remember which color). I played against Jason several times and lost each time. Afterwards, he informed me of my problem:

I had too few good cards to chose from. I needed more of the uncommons and rares so I could develop hard to beat combos. This, of course, meant that I had to buy more cards.

But I didn't want to. 

Back then, $35 was about the cost of a D&D boxed set, and you got lots of goodies with it. I didn't want to spend more on cards, when almost three fourths of them I wouldn't use and each booster pack  seemed to contain more land and common cards than I needed. Oh yeah, and the randomization...

Overall, I thought the game was a bit of a rip off for what you got for your money.

(Later on, however, I bought a bunch of Spellfire cards at a deep discount just to see what the deal was with the card game TSR supposedly created in a weekend).

My Greyhawk Campaign players really weren't interested in playing these new collectible card games.

So Jason and I were the only ones in my school who I knew  played M:tG.  And later that year, he transferred back to the school he'd come from. That meant no more playing M:tG. My cards sat in a box until college. And my Greyhawk Campaign went on, unscathed, despite the rumblings in the RPG industry and the eventual demise of TSR.

In 1997, I graduated high school and went to college that fall. I was looking forward to gaming with new people,  playing D&D or trying out different systems.

That fall I quickly found the local college roleplaying and wargaming club. The only problem: nobody played RPGs anymore, let alone wargames. The M:TG club had taken over. Okay, fine. I'll play. Just let me go home and get my cards. So I did. At the first meeting I showed them my cards. "Sorry," the president said. "Your type I cards are not legal anymore. We only play with legal cards because were an official M:TG club."

Huh? I bought these only two years ago. 

I'll go into further detail of my gaming adventures (or lack thereof) in college at a later date. Suffice to say, I didn't have much fun at my first year at college. I was in Computer Programming (which I loathed by the second term I was there), and I nobody played my favorite game,  D&D, or even wanted to try it. M:tG and its Collectible Card Game clones were everywhere.

Even the local gaming store owner wanted to go back to just selling comics, RPGs, and Warhammer. He lamented to me once: "I don't like CCGs. Running the tournaments can be such a chore. And I hate Pokemon, hate it! But they pay the bills..."

If there was a Dark Age in my 22+ years of gaming, it was that first year or two in college. M:TG had trounced RPGs there and then to rub salt on the wound WotC bought out TSR. People kept trying to run RPGs, but Magic: The Gathering just dominated everything for awhile.

Fortunately, I still had my school buddies I could continue running my Greyhawk Campaign on weekends or the holidays when we'd be back home.

So, in the end, Magic: The Gathering didn't tear apart my D&D games. It just prevented me from playing or running them for about two years. Others, from what I've heard and what people have told me, and what I've read, weren't so lucky. I can only imagine how frustrating it'd be as DM, who'd just invested a lot of time, money, and work into a campaign, to have a campaign end because of a CCG.

What are your experiences?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

D&D Players Abandoned!

What is wrong with this picture?

So, while looking for items in Dragon Magazine about the rise of Magic: The Gathering, I stumbled upon this picture in an advertisement in issue #200.

As a Greyhawk fan, I find this almost heretical. What were the folks at TSR thinking, taking the artwork of the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set and slapping Mystara over it? Mystara fans weren't too happy either. In fact, about this time TSR decided to make Mystara into an AD&D setting.

I'd forgotten about this, since I'd never really played "basic" D&D. I bought the D&D Rule Cyclopedia in the late 1990s. I've got a lot of the old school modules (B1, B2, etc.) and a few modules for the Thunder Rift mini-campaign setting. So at the time this flew over my head.

I mean, I had my Greyhawk Campaign setting to run. The Greyhawk: From the Ashes boxed set gave me plenty of material to use, along with The Marklands and Iuz the Evil. I couldn't wait for the day I could run my players through The City of Skulls. Also, looking back, Dragon published an article about Greyhawk: From the Ashes in issue #195. Furthermore, Rick Swan gave the boxed set four stars in issue #198.

So why should I have been concerned about what was happening to Mystara?

Oh yeah... because TSR just axed Greyhawk!

And, in a certain sense, Mystara kind of replacing it... Sort of. Maybe?

Believe it or not, TSR had some logic behind these changes.
Kim Mohan, chief editor of Dragon at the time,  whom I believe responded to the letter on the left, went into far more detail than what I could feasibly post here.

As you see, Greyhawk sales had sagged. Spelljammer's too.

Furthermore, TSR had "revamped" its product lines to cater to novice gamers. The D&D line had been dropped. Mystara boosted into AD&D, and the Introduction to AD&D boxed set was supposed to be the gateway for new players. Dragonstrike!, believe or not, was also a part of this strategy.

"When players become familiar with the fundamentals of the AD&D game," Mohan wrote, "they can move on to the FORGOTTEN REALMS(R) and PLANESCAPE(tm) or other settings."

I'm not going to try to rationalize TSR's business model and strategies. Suffice to say it astounds me how quick they were to invest in these campaign settings and then drop them. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia had just been published in 1991. TSR publish lots of background material and modules for Mystara and the Hollow World inside it. Mystara lasted only a year as an AD&D world.

Back to my original research about the rise of Magic: The Gathering and Wizards of the Coast. Save for Spellfire, I've yet to find evidence of TSR's reaction to Magic: The Gathering in Dragon Magazine. But somewhere a long the way I remember reading an article about being a good Dungeon Master. Basically, the author warned that if you aren't a good DM, you will drive your players to play that "new card game everybody is taking about." But I've yet to find it.

It makes me wonder if Wizard of the Coast's rise had some influence on these decisions, or was TSR just too busy cannibalizing itself to notice? I don't know. I haven't even found any advertisements for M:tG in the several issues before and after #200.

Next time, I'll share my experiences with Magic: The Gathering in high school and early college.

Until then, feel free to share your insights (or criticisms) into the inner workings of TSR....
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