Thursday, February 28, 2013

These d20 Dark Ages and "The Auld Alliance," by Arthur Collins (Part 2)

"They [players who view the rules as primary] cannot see the legendary being the monster stats represent, but only more and more stats."
--Arthur Collins, "The Auld Alliance," Dragon Magazine #216, page 72


Yesterday, I examined Collins's article, arguing that he (along with others) were witnessing a shift in gaming where more people were being exposed to the hobby before they'd had read the literature that inspired the hobby itself. Collins said that the palates of this gamers "have been trained in some strange ways." I'm inclined to agree. Whereas before the "Old School" approach basically used the rules as supplements, but by the 1990s "New School" viewed the rules as the primary reality for the game.

As Collins's quote above indicates, the RPGs became more about the rules and the statistics rather than representing mythical worlds of adventure.

If this trend hadn't come to fruition by AD&D Second Edition, it did by D&D 3rd Edition. Why? Just take a look at the stat blocks both characters and non-player characters (monsters, so to speak). In 3rd Edition, both were given the same treatment. Everybody was basically a PC, and this required more stats on the monster's part.

Before, unless the monster had a high score in say, Strength, giving it an additional bonus in combat, nobody really needed to know its ability scores.

If you upgraded a creature, if you wanted to keep a semblance of balance, you had do to the math. The experience you awarded depended on the creature's Challenge Level. Creatures, both monsters and characters, became distinctly defined by their attributes. Their attributes determined their abilities and powers, and the amount of XP and treasure the DM should award.

Character creation and building became more about distinguishing one's character via stats--abilities and powers, than through roleplaying (i.e. "my fighter took Iron Will,""Oh yeah, my fighter has Whirlwind Attack, why would you take Iron Will when you could have Whirlwind Attack?").

At times, DMing for 3e/3.5e was just a chore for me. I often resorted to just buying and modifying published adventures to supplement what I'd create on my own. I just got tired of creating my own NPCs and monsters. I even resorted to creating my own monster cards--photocopying stat block out of the backs of adventure, cutting them up, and gluing them to 3x5 index cards.

All of this just demonstrates that the rules and stats in 3e/3.5e became the primarily reality. I didn't want it to happen that way, but it did. But by gum and by golly we still played it. When I tried to run a 1e/2e campaign my players all but rebelled. I'd constricted them with a lack of options. Gah!

As an extreme example of how stats became the primary reality over a legendary being, have you seen the stat block for Kyuss in Dungeon #135?

It goes for two-and-half pages!

Kyuss is supposed to be this ultra-powerful quasi-diety at the end of the Age of Worms Adventure Path. But how can a DM see the  "awe" and convey it to his players when he's sitting there trying to coordinate all of Kyuss's skills and powers.

Even the mightiest gods and goddesses in Dieties and Demigods didn't have stat blocks this huge. (The DM often had to chose their spells, but still...)





Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing and Stephen King: What I've learned...

I used to be a big fan of Stephen King. Yes, used to be. That's not to say that I don't admire the guy for being a great writer: he's woven many, many tales. And I could do worse than emulate him in my own writing.

Just like with Micheal Moorcock, these are the top five things I've learned about writing from Stephen King. Be Prolific should also be on this list, but I already covered that with Michael Moorcock. Most these come from King's book On Writing, but just by reading King's works you can pick up on them.

1. Resonance...Resonance...Resonance...
King wrote about this in On Writing, page 215:

"something that will linger for a little while in the Constant Reader's mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf."

This is all tied up with description, theme, plot, characterization, and all that, with all of those elements adding up to resonance, your message "resounding" in the reader's mind. Great writing will keep your reader turning pages until the end and then thinking about your book afterward.

It King's case, it's why readers of The Stand cringe when somebody nearby sneezes. Carrie captures how teenage girls can be so damn mean to each other. I don't like walking near storm drains because of It. And then there's that one short story by King (I think), where the guy starts having headaches. Somewhere along the way they do an operation and start pulling hair and eyeballs out of the guy's brain. It turned out the guy "ate" his brother when they were fetuses. I don't remember the name of that short story or even if it was by King, but it has stuck with me all of these years, now that's resonance.


2. No "angry lesbian breasts."
Write and speak with authority with you're own voice. King has a distinct voice and style. He manages the details well and speaks with a certain realism even though he is writing horror/fantasy. He doesn't dance around issues. He does his research and it shows in his writing. 

Bad writers often dance around the issues in their writing, whether by copious amounts of passive voice or mumbling into the mic at a poetry slam. 

Good writers "somehow understand that although a lesbian may be angry, her breasts will remain breasts." --From On Writing, page 136.


3. Don't do drugs. Yes, King admitted in On Writing that all those drugs helped fire his synapses and crank out those tales. He also admitted to never remembering writing large parts of Cujo and putting his family through hell. Fortunately his family intervened and he got better.

Yes, some of the best works of art come from screwed up artists addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both. Yet plenty come from artists who aren't.


4. Keep the monster/killer hidden as long as possible to maintain suspense. 
This comes from reading King's fiction and his book Danse Macabre. You want to keep the reader fearing the unknown, imagining the worst. We know its only a matter of time before Carrie goes crazy and becomes the killer, but when--what will set her off? We never really see the true form of It... just Its polymorphed forms and "dead lights." The Overlook Hotel in the Shining is, indeed, haunted. But really the true villain is Jack and his own violent temper. Even in The Stand, King waits awhile before introducing the antichrist-like figure of Randall Flagg.

Revealing the monster/killer, according to King, always brings about a sense of disappointment, especially if its done too soon, especially in movies. Think Hitchcock. Think M. Night Shyamalan.


5. Don't chide the reader for wanting to read the ending. 
If you've ever finished The Dark Tower series you know exactly what I'm talking about.
(Spoiler Alert)

Whenever you start a story, a novel, or seven-book cycle like The Dark Tower you make a promise to the reader that your tale will be worthwhile, there would be a point to it all. Otherwise, why bother taking the time to read it?

Yes, the journey is more important than the ending, as King tells you near the end of The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower,  as the great Joseph C. Campbell would tell you. Sure, we learned that from say, The Wizard of Oz (which King borrowed extensively from in Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass). And yes, I understand that King writing himself into the story Dark Tower VI: The Song of Susannah was a form of therapy for both King and his readership. I could even forgive King when he was trying to get around writing himself into a corner, such as the whole Walter/Randall Flagg thing, and somehow Mordred being the product of two fathers (Roland and Flagg?), a succubus/incubus/elemental thing that had sex with Roland and later impregnating Susanna. Yeah, got it.
Writing the whole series was a journey, I get that.

I also understand that Roland, The Last Gunslinger, is part of the Campbell's monomyth, the Eternal Champion, along with Elric, Frodo, Conan, Gilgamesh, Jesus, and the thousand other faces of the hero who set out to restore balance and the divine waters of life to the world.

It's a great concept that has worked since time immemorial. 

Still, I don't understand the need for the chiding. Did King know it was going to be a terrible ending and knew people would howl? Shame on you, he wrote, for only reading for the ending.

I thought it was a terrible ending. King resorted to time travel with a dash of "and then I woke up." I consider both literary cop-outs reserved for beginning writers and Star Trek. Maybe I shouldn't be so criticising (after all, where's my magnum opus of literary awesomeness?)

But what else can I say?

I finished the Dark Tower series sometime in 2007, and because of that ending I haven't read any of Stephen King's fiction since. In my mind he'd lost a lot of his authority.

How's that for resonance?








These d20 Dark Ages and "The Auld Alliance," by Arthur Collins


"...I see kids today read the rule books before they read the stories that inspired the games. That means their palates have been trained in some strange ways."

--Arthur Collins, "The Auld Alliance," Dragon #216, April 1995

If you haven't already, download Dragon #216 and read "The Auld Alliance." It's a great article about keeping a gaming group together. http://archive.org/details/DragonMagazine216

Collins's points of advice have stuck with me over the years. When I follow them, gaming groups usually stay together.

Yet for our purposes the article mentions something key that I think sheds some of light on ideas such a Old School, New School, or the Golden or Dark Ages of gaming. The quote above is just a small part of the passage I've pasted below. If you have the issue, you can find it under the sub-heading "Remember why you're there."

So, does being exposed to the game before the reading the history and fiction that inspired the game lead to "strange palates?" I think it does. And I theorize it is linked with what many Old School gamers call the end of the "Golden Age" of RPGs. While this trend probably had been going on for years, I think by the mid-1990s more people were being brought into the hobby who hadn't read the material that inspired it.

As I've said before, I'd been well-read for a 10 year old, but I hadn't read hardly any of Appendix N--let alone Greek Mythology, History, or any of the other "classics" of literature (I'd read The Hobbit and a couple of my brother's Conan books, but that's about it). And many of my gaming friends at the time probably hadn't either. Remember that at one time D&D was labeled as a "Game of Adult Fantasy." By my time it was for ages 10 and up.

From Dragon #216

By the mid-to-late 1980s, I'm sure many new gamers had been exposed to the hobby before they'd been exposed literature that inspired these games. By the 1990s, I'm sure this was even more so.

Feed me, we said. Hence the rise of splat books, entire world settings. Adventure modules that were no longer, well, modular. Yes, I know Dragonlance pioneered this trend, but by AD&D Second Edition all of this was in full swing and people like Collins began to notice.


I think my older brother, who introduced me to D&D, noticed too. He would ask me: "What's the deal with kits? Why should I play a barbarian from the The Complete Fighter's Handbook when I could roleplay a fighter who just happens to come from a barbarian tribe?" or "Isn't anybody who tries to sneak contraband past authorities considered a smuggler? Why would I need to have a "smuggler" kit, when I could play any class that just so happens to "smuggle"

Because the kits give your character skills and powers that the regular classes don't have, duh! (Well, back then I actually didn't know how to respond).

When I read "The Auld Alliance" for the first time, I remember agreeing with Collins. But certainly I wasn't one of those boring people who'd only talk about D&D, right? I'd encountered some of those gamers at the book store or gaming store. They'd regale me tales about their favorite character (usually a Drizzt clone or "Elminster's Nephew") while holding a small bundle of RPG books they were going to buy. I'm sure they expected me to be impressed. But I wasn't. I learned at an early age that nobody really wants to hear about your favorite D&D character, nobody. 

So surely I wasn't one of these boring gamers Collins talks about, right?

Most of my D&D/RPG collection comes from the AD&D Second Edition era. Even after I had read Collins's article I kept buying D&D stuff. "Well, at least I'm not buying Forgotten Realms stuff," I'd rationalize. The cycle pretty much ended by my mid-twenties when real world finances took priority over gaming purchases. 4e killed the cycle.

Still, looking back, I just want to ask to all of the gamers who've bought shelf-loads of D&D/RPG material from 2e onward--especially if you'd been introduce to RPGs as a teen or younger:

What were we looking for? 

Or were we (or are) just eating and eating and never sated? 

How many D&D/RPG gaming books does it take to make a gamer "complete?"








Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Johnny Cash!

The Man in Black would have been 81 today.

In my case, I really didn't listen to his music after he died. I wish I'd gotten to know him better like others had for many years, so I could really experience his decades of influence on American music and culture.

As for my two cents, I think Cash's version of "Hurt" is better than the original by Trent Reznor. I don't if its because of Cash's voice and background or the fact that he sang it just before he died.

Though I believe we all will feel this way and one time or another in our lives.





In Retrospect: Night of the Walking Dead



I believe this is the first module I bought for AD&D 2e. If I recall correctly, I was in eighth grade and on my Ravenloft kick. I really liked Ravenloft. Still do. Just the idea of scaring my players just filled me with dark excitement. My players kinda got railroaded into the Ravenloft from my Greyhawk campaign because I wanted them in Ravenloft so bad. Night of the Walking Dead was the perfect way to introduce my players and their characters to the Realm of Dread.

Looking back, Ravenloft itself was one huge railroad. Uh oh! The Mists have got us! Crap!

The player-characters went into the Mistmarch, just south of Cairn Hills near the City of Greyhawk. I can't remember how I lured them there. Something about pursuing bandits? Or was it finding the statue of a wizard turned to stone by a basilisk? Who knows? Either way they ended up on a raft going through the swamp and the strange Mists rose and took them away.

They ventured into a mysterious land where everybody spoke a Cajun-French dialect. They met some gypsies in the swamp and a lone crazy man whispering fragments of a prophecy. I'm not going to ruin the rest. You've probably guessed the zombies are are involved, and they are, to a certain degree. But not all is at it seems.

My players at the time remarked that the module, especially the combat at the end, had been one of the most difficult scenarios they'd played. Before that, they were used to dungeon expeditions or strictly linear adventures. Here they had to do some investigation.

This adventure is perfect for an evening or two of play.

Jack Shear, over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, ran the module last summer for Labyrinth Lord. You can see how he ran the adventure here: 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mini Monday: 52 Weeks, 52 Miniatures 2013

For those who aren't familiar, I've been assembling and painting at least 52 miniatures a year since I discovered this blog: 52 weeks, 52 miniatures

The goal is to paint 52 miniatures a year, about one a week. Last year I knocked it out of the ballpark by painting 69 miniatures, all 25/28mm. (hey, no snickering in the back)

I wish the folks at 52 weeks, 52 miniatures would get back to posting more. They've inspired me to just stop worrying about painting the perfect miniature, just get painting. Miniatures are meant to be painted and enjoyed. And the best way to get better at painting miniatures is (surprise, surprise) to paint miniatures. Get'em done so people can enjoy them.

This year, my 52wks/52minis posts will be more instructional for the newbies out there (and old pros), describe the painting methods I used. (Though there is plenty advice on painting miniatures out there).

The pictures on the left show some of my projects I've been working on. The most important, of course, are the two completed figures in the front. The miniature on the right is a skeleton with a bow from Reaper miniatures. On the left is an Old Games Workshop Mordheim priest of Sigmar. (Yes... yes, I know might come off as a hypocrite for bashing GW and Warhammer and then turning around using GW figures and paints, deal with it.)

For the skeleton archer, I used the "two-color" and "inside-out" methods. I primed the miniature black. Then I painted all of the main parts a darker shade of the colors shown, starting with the face and exposed areas of bone, going outward. For example, I painted the skeleton face Necrotic Flesh from The Army Painter and then the armor Boltgun Metal from GW. Then I did the details. Afterwards, I washed the entire miniature with Walnut from Reaper. Then I dry brushed a lighter shade of the colors shown. Boltgun Metal --> Chainmail. Necrotic Flesh --> Skeleton Bone. Finally, I sealed the miniature with Krylon Matte Finish, clear coat. 

For the Mordheim priest, I did the "one-color" and inside-out methods. I primed the miniature black, painted on the main colors and details (including the base). Then I dipped the miniature in Army Painter Strong tone. Then I waited 24 hours for the varnish to try before flocking the base with colored saw dust (from Woodland Scenics?), and sealing it with Krylon Matte Finish.
My only mistake with the priest I should have wiped off the excess varnish in certain places. 

So why did I dip one miniature and not the other? I wanted to experiment, test how the Army Painter varnish would work on a non-historical miniature.

As for the minis in the background, those are other projects. I've discovered that it's okay to have multiple projects going on at once. While I had the Necrotic Flesh and Skeleton Bone out for the skeleton archer, I was like "hmm, why don't I start painting up those Reaper ghouls I've had for a while, and part of the Styx Boatman?" So I did. 

You can also see a sorceress from Reaper next to the boat. I've been working on getting her blonde hair to look right.

On those screws in the back are 6 Hundred Years War knights by Black Tree Design, getting prepped to become part of a unit of 12 knights to be painted to look like John Hawkwood's White Company. They'll form the core unit of my Italian Condottieri forces for my Hundred Years War figures.

That is all for now.

My score is 2/52.

It should be 5/52--I painted 3 Reaper Mouselings for my girlfriend for Valentine's Day, but since I don't have picture, they don't count. If you don't have a pic, it didn't happen.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gustave Dore engraving -- Peter the Hermit


If don't know about Gustave Dore, you really need to read up on him and check out his engravings--especially if you're a self-publisher in need of artwork. Most, if not all, are in public domain now.

Above is Dore's rendition of Peter the Hermit preaching to the pilgrims on the first expedition to Palestine.

Wait? Don't I mean "Crusaders?"

Yeah, I guess you could call them that. But they actually considered themselves pilgrims, armed pilgrims. The poor and the sick and women especially weren't supposed to go. But, given what we know of the rhetoric of the period, Pope Urban II sold the first crusade as a pilgrimage. And, since pilgrimages are supposed to be open to all, guys like Peter the Hermit came along to rally the masses.

Oh yeah, I'm also reluctant to call Peter the Hermit a "hermit," given his unhermit like behavior.

I'd go into my reasons why, but this was meant to be a lazy blog post for a Saturday.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, February 22, 2013

10,000 Pageviews!

Sometime last night d20 Dark Ages crept over the 10,000 pageviews mark. Yes, I know 10,000 pageviews is tiny potatoes in the grand scheme of things. And perhaps it might be amateurish to celebrate such a number. Still, I count it as a milestone, along with my 100th post.  I've had just over 4,500 pageviews in the last month.

(And, most importantly, I do remember to make sure I toggle "Don't track your own pageviews"!)

My previous blog, Domikka, reached only 6,500 pageviews in its roughly three years of me posting on it. d20 Dark Ages started on September 20, 2012. So in less than five months it surpassed Domikka's old count.

So thank you, all who read this blog--and especially those who leave their comments. I enjoy feedback. It makes me want to write and share even more.

I especially want to thank Timothy Brannan over at The Other Side for naming d20 Dark Ages one of TBBYANR (the best blogs you are not reading) back in late November. That gave me a much needed boost. He said my blog had an "old school vibe." Well, this week I've finally conceeded to being Old School. 

By the way, if you haven't checked out my review of Timothy Brannan's "The Witch", you should.

Thanks to all of you again and have a great day!

"Middle School"?

Sometimes I feel a generalized anxiety
when I watch "The Wonder Years."
Carl Pinder over on the G+ group OSR came up with a new category: "Middle School" (look under the comments) to describe 4e. Moe Tousignant also had some interesting points that made sense.

So let's go with the argument that 4e isn't Old School and it isn't New School, but Middle School. That is, a combination between Old School and New School philosophies.

I know, perhaps the first thing that comes mind is early teen angst, nightmares of going to the wrong classroom, obnoxious school rules, and teachers that just won't leave you alone. (If you want to learn more about my D&D adventures and minor acts of rebellion in Middle School, read this post.)

Still, I think Pinder has a point.

Upon closer look, 4e tried to appeal to a broad audience, both old and new. If it weren't for WotC screwball marketing scheme that basically said you were a moron for even playing older editions, 4e might have been more accepted. Then again, maybe not. For some reason, I went into 4e thinking it would be more like 2e--and I was very disappointed because I was expecting something more rules lite.

Yet 4e is more rules lite when compared to 3.5e, leaning more toward Old School. Many defenders of 4e often site p.42 of the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide, where basically it says you can "Rule 0" anything.

Still, 4e continues the 3.5e focus on New School character building and optimization but... not to the extend of 3.5e. Once you're on path,"skill tree", or "role," you're pretty much stuck there.

4e also has a weird balance between the abstract and realism. Spells and powers can knock characters around on the battlefield, much like what would happen in a "real" fight. Yet many of these powers work "just because."

Also, 4e is old school because many of these powers have no saving throw. Sort of. Saving throws have been converted into "Defenses". That's "New School."

4e is old school because your low level characters can take on multiple opponents at once. Yet, its new school because your character has more hit points and your opponents are called "minions" with 1 hp. You can take them on by yourself, because you're superman. That's definitely new school.

I still say 4e is "New School," given that the philosophy behind is about balance and focus on character building. Everybody gets something for just showing up and completing "milestones." Nobody gets any drawbacks, and if you just push through it, you'll succeed and complete the story.

It reminds me of playing Final Fantasy all those years ago (not FF1), where if you would just walk through the game, fighting every monster you came upon, you would stand a great chance of winning. Oh yeah, and if you die, you start back at the last save point.

Just like Final Fantasy and real Middle School, once you got the formula down 4e became boring, constrictive, linear. And the game expected everybody to be in the same boat, at the same level of play, balance, balance, balance.

That's all for now, I feel that if say anything more, I'll use 4e as a platform to further criticize this country's public school system. (But I kinda did already, didn't I... )






Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dragon & Polyhedron Magazines, Available at the Internet Archive!

EDIT #2: Just because this seems like a popular post, if you don't know already, Archive.org took the magazines down. WotC and Paizo didn't like them being up.

Thanks to EN World for this awesome news.

"The Internet Archive has added scans of all print Dragon Magazines and nearly all issues of Polyhedron Newszine to their archive. Every print issue of Dragon and nearly every print issue of Polyhedron available for free download in PDF, Kindle, and DjVu formats! (Thanks to Echohawk for the scoop, via RPG Geek)."

EDIT: I would add that not all issues of Dragon are up. I just tried searching for #359, the last print issue. It's not there. They're also not listed in order by number, but in the order they were scanned and entered into archive.

Edit 2: Corrected the weird formatting of the quote.

Still, this is fantastic. I have the old Dragon Magazine Archive, but that only covers up to issue #250. I don't have any Polyhedrons.

(Apparently they've been doing this for awhile, but this is first time I've heard of it).

This is perfect timing, actually. Because I'll be discussing Dragon Magazine #216 in the next few days, specifically the article "The Auld Alliance" by Arthur Collins, as part of comparing "New School" and "Old School."

You can read up on it here:
http://archive.org/details/DragonMagazine216

So what's "New School?"

I confess:

D&D 4th Edition is weird and scary to me. 

Okay, maybe that's just a hyperbole.

Still, 4e was such a radical break from 3.5e. If it didn't represent the "new school" approach to gaming then why did the Old School Renaissance flourish in the wake of it?

I tried 4e, both as a player and a DM and I found it far too constraining for my tastes. I also felt like I was no longer part of WotC's target demographic. And you've probably heard the rest: It's just World of Warcraft on the tabletop, has too much concern about balance, encounters/combats take too long to play, etc...

(I've also developed similar ideas about Warhammer, but don't get me started on that again).

So what is "new school?" Is it the opposite of old school? Are they mutually exclusive? If they are opposites when compared to the definition established by Steve's Random Musings on Wargaming and my last post, then we have two different philosophies/mindsets on gaming.

I've checked out both Grognardia's and Lamentations of the Flame Princess's definitions of Old School. LotFP defined New School vs. Old School, but only to RPGs. I'm applying the definitions to both wargaming and roleplaying, because I do both and have noticed similar patterns between the two over the decades.

Below, I've compared the seven points of the Old School definition with what could be considered "New School," applying it both to wargaming and roleplaying. I've used the first person singular to help illustrate the possible differences.

1. Research
Old School: I do my own research for the genres/historical periods I game in.
New School: Research? Isn't that why I paid for the game in the first place. I want a complete game.

2. What is the game?
Old School: I understand that the game is a representation of what happens on the battlefield/ in the world. (Emphasis on abstraction)
New School: I understand that what happens on the battlefield/in the world represents what happens in the game. (Emphasis on realism)

3. Tournaments and Rules Lawyers
Old School: I don't play in tournaments often. The rules are there for my  convenience and can be changed.
New School: Tournaments are fun. The rules are there to ensure fairness and balance.

4. Winning
Old School: I don't mind taking the weaker character/army. I want to see what I can do relying on my own skill. Perhaps I can win. Perhaps not.
New School: I've built my character/army the best it can be, giving it the best attributes and powers so I can win.

5. Ethos
Old School: If the material ain't there, or if I don't like it, I make my own. Do it yourself.
New School: I can't wait until WotC/Games Workshop releases the new book/codex. Maybe they'll fix the rules then.

6. Behavior
Old School: Just roll a d6 and let's keep the game moving.
New School: No, you're wrong, see on pages 112-115 it says this. And on page 54 it says this...

7. Defining themselves and the games they play
Old School: I'm a wargamer/roleplayer. I used to play a lot of Napoleonics/D&D but I'm willing to try other things.
New School: Why would anybody play anything besides Warhammer/D&D (in whatever edition)?


I don't think I'm not too far off my assessment to what "New School" is. Though I suspect "New School" has been around for a long time. It seems that "New School" is more about dependence on the rules and winning. But I could be wrong.

How would you define "New School" gaming? More importantly, why does this matter?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Damn... I'm Old School.

But... but... I'm only a thirty-something! ;)

Thanks to Joseph Bloch for pointing out Steve's Random Musings on Wargaming and other stuff's post  titled "Definition of old School."

It can be summarized as follows:
Old School Wargamers...
1. Enjoy doing their own research on the historical periods they like wargaming in,
2. Understand that the game is just a representation of what happened on the historical battlefield,
3. Are often not tournament players or rules lawyers,
4. Do not mind taking weaker side to see if they can get a different result than what historically happened.
5. Have a "practical, do it yourself, ethos."
6. Behave like gentlemen (or ladies) at the table while enjoying libations and resolving disagreements with a d6.
7. Aren't defined by the games the play or who they've gamed with. It's how they approach the game.

So according to this definition, I am old school as both a wargamer and a roleplayer. Up until now I liked to avoid labeling myself as Old School because I was afraid it'd make me sound... old. But there's a lot of wisdom in Old School, wisdom I've been touting for years since my earliest days as a roleplayer.

My philosophy on gaming is this: Wargaming and Roleplaying aren't really the hobbies themselves, but a product of people enjoying the history and literature that inspired both. Participants will often spend more time in "preparation," doing their research, than actually playing the game--this is especially true in wargaming (all those miniatures to paint!). Thus, they should enjoy these aspects along with playing the games themselves. 

Anything else is gaming in a vacuum.

And when you game in vacuum, without outside inspiration, you start eating through any material you can get your hands on--new modules, rules, supplements...the egos of other players. You become dogmatic because of your percieved sense of scarcity, putting the rules first before the game, before the other players. In other words, you become an annoying bore. 

I believe people should be well-read in literature and history before taking up either wargaming or roleplaying, or at least have an appreciation for it. Sorry, movies, TV, videogames, and stuff on YouTube don't count. These are but distillations of history and literature. Many of the best movies out their have been inspired by books, which often why those who've read the books will say, "The movie was good, but not as good as the book." 

Playing these games can inspire people to read more history and literature. D&D did so for me. I wanted to learn more about the Middle Ages and general history so I could add more versimilitude to my games. The same is true for wargaming. I wanted to read more fantasy and general fiction, and not just the TSR novels (Dragonlance, et al).

But I'm glad my brother waited until I was ten before letting me play D&D. While I hadn't read the "classics" from Appendix N, I was fairly well-read for that age. This gave me a better appreciation for the game itself ("Wait? You mean I get to fight goblins like those in The Hobbit? Awesome!").

I also believe that the relationships you develop at the tabletop are more important than the rules, more important than winning. This is why I've never played in a wargaming tournament. Don't get me wrong, I like to win--but what's the point if my opponent resents me because I quoted a bunch of rules to him? (And someday I will win with the French in HYW!)




If you're reading this, then I'm probably preaching to the choir. Yet I've encounter folks who've describe themselves as "old school" halt games for a half-hour (or more) so they could look up and argue over rules. The d6 method works well in both roleplaying and wargaming (1-3: the argument goes in your favor; 4-6: the argument goes in mine; now let's keep playing).

If, however, I'm not preaching to the choir, then take a look again at the definition of Old School. You might learn something that will make your games a lot less stressful and far more enjoyable, and even young at heart.





Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Obligatory OMG WotC is Reprinting OD&D!!!


http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/45390000

Yeah, my blogger feed is full of the news.

Back to the Dungeon! says the price point is a bad decision.
Commentors at Tenkar's Tavern have noted that the original Chainmail booklet is missing.
Tim Brannon at the Other Side Blog wants WotC to shut up and take his money.

I have to admit, this is genius on WotC's part.

Behold, the final capstone to end the Edition Wars and get the OSR to shut up, thus paving the way for 5e.

They can say its a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of D&D. Fine. But it certainly isn't meant to be a revival of OD&D.

Ryan Dancey once said that the biggest competition to D&D was a previous edition of D&D. What better way to placate OSR grognards than to reprint previous editions of D&D, but make the reprints too nice and pricey to want to bring to the tabletop? The price tag for this boxed set is $150. I even argue that the "premium" edition reprints aren't really meant to be used. They're collector's items.

Thus, WotC gets some money from nostalgic players for its D&D line to make it to 5e.






Monday, February 18, 2013

Mini Monday: More Warhammer Psychosis

I'm so glad that I'm selling off my Warhammer Empire army figures. The latest batch sold on Ebay last night. Of course, they always go for cheaper than I what I bought them for. Which is fine by me, I rather see them go; I'm no longer wasting anymore of my time with miniatures that are a pain in the ass to assemble, paint, and game with.

But they're not giving up without a fight.

After Ebay notified me that my miniatures had sold, I sent emails to either of the buyers, thanking them for their business and then I'd send the miniatures out today.

This afternoon I spent packing the miniatures. As time wore on, I started worrying that I wouldn't make it to the Post Office in time. While I tried to keep calm and steadily pack the miniatures, the almost inevitable last minute hang-ups occurred: I missed one miniature in one order and had to re-open the box to put it in, I ran low of bubble wrap and had to find some newspaper for extra padding, the damn packing tape kept tearing down the middle and along the edge. Yes, fun times.

4pm rolls around and I'm done packing. I get in my car with my packages, hoping to make it before 4:30, when the Post Office closes.

I drive by the local high school near where I live, wondering where all the police are, because its a huge speed trap of a school zone.

Finally, I get to the Post Office and rush inside with my arm load of boxes. I see that the Post Office is actually open until 5:00. Great!

But it was dark inside the waiting room.

"Honey, you forgot it was a holiday, didn't you?" a woman checking her P.O. Box said to me.

"Oh," I said. "That's right..."

I had seen advertisements online, and signs elsewhere. I should have realized something was up when I when I went by the high school. But I was so bent on getting rid of these figures I had somehow ignored or forgotten the obvious:

It's President's Day.

----

You can read more about my earlier thoughts on the Psychosis of Warhammer here:
http://d20darkages.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-psychology-of-warhammer-or-i-shall.html



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Not Done Yet

So much for self-imposed deadlines created on a whim.

"Murder on the Hot Flats" will not be completed and put up by tonight. There's too many other things getting in the way (i.e. "life"--the bane of writing and gaming). Still, when it does get finished, probably by mid-week, it'll be much better than it is right now.

In the meantime, enjoy randomly creating your own custom character class for Labyrinth Lord:

http://www.apolitical.info/webgame/class/becmi.php

Here's what I got:
It's a fairly potent class, until you discover that it saves as a Normal Man, regardless of level.

Requirements: none
Prime Requisites: INT, STR
Members of this class must have at least 13 in one or the other prime requisite to get the 5% bonus to experience.
If both prime requisites are at least 13, members of this class will gain a 10% bonus to experience.
 
Hit Points
LevelHit Points
11d6
22d6
33d6
44d6
55d6
66d6
77d6
88d6
99d6
1010d6
1111d6
1211d6
 
Armour
Members of this class may not wear any armour.
 
Weapons
Members of this class may only use bows and axes.
 
Attacking
Members of this class roll to attack as a dwarf, elf, fighter or halfling.
 
Magic Items
Members of this class have no restrictions on the use of magic items.
Note that, for magic armour, weapons and shields, characters can only use a magic item if they could use the normal version of that item.
 
Turning the Undead
Members of this class can attempt to turn the undead as if they were a cleric of 70% of their actual level. That is:
Character
Level
Turn Undead
As Cleric
11
21
32
43
54
64
75
86
96
107
118
128
 
Flying
At level 5, members of this class gain the ability to fly.
 
Breathe Underwater
Members of this class can breathe underwater.
 
Saves
Members of this class save as a Normal Man, regardless of their level.
 
Special Abilities
At level 8, members of this class gain the special abilities of an elf (60 foot infravision, detect hidden and secret doors, immune to paralysis as from ghouls).
 
Advancement
LevelXP required
10
21800
33600
47200
515200
630400
760800
8126250
9252500
10378750
11505000
12568750

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Murder on the Hot Flats" -- An Excerpt

From an 1548 etching of the Battle of Kappel


The Hazahdian pikemen moved forward, piercing the wavering line of zweihandermen. Till fought on as more of his fellow mercenaries died around him. The grassy ground became thick with bodies and blood. 

"Where's our captain?" Arn said to Till. Till saw the panic in the boy's eyes. "He'd know what to do! Where's Captain Kurshner?" 

"Dead," Till said, as he deflected a pike point with his zweihander. 

Out of the corner of his eye Till saw the boy fall to his knees in disbelief, even in the wake of the Hazahdian onslaught. 

What more was there to say? Till thought. We'll all be dead and judged by Virtoaa soon. Why bother telling Arn that his hero of a captain was strangled in my tent? 

--From "Murder on the Hot Flats: A Tale in the War for the City of Peace."

A short story coming this Sunday night to d20 Dark Ages.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ja. Ich höre deutschen Musikgruppen...

...and sometimes I play their music during my D&D sessions.

Something magical happened to me back in 1997 as I rode in the backseat of my friend's car to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The car speakers started singing a deep and robust German. I became enthralled.

"What is this?" I asked my friends. "This is awesome."

"Du Hast," my friends told me. "By Rammstein."

 I knew, at that point, a new age of my music-listening had dawned.

Rammstein!

Rammstein would be the cure to America's heavy metal doldrums of the late 1990s, when hip hop and rap had dominated the airwaves and MTV pretty much abandoned rock (and music videos). Yeah, you had Nine Inch Nails, Tool, and even Metallica. Rob Zombie/White Zombie  And Marilyn Manson had some good hits--but sometimes it seemed like he was just trying to hard. I can't blame MTV and mainstream culture from abandoning rock. I think most us got pretty tired of the whiners from the grunge era. The Millennium was coming; we either wanted to drown ourselves with the "bling" that hip hop offered or get enraptured by the apocalyptic dark side of metal/industrial rock. Well, most of that wasn't "clean" enough for mainstream American culture. Rammstein was like a breathe of fresh air. As badass a Marilyn Manson, Tool, or whomever wanted to sound, there's nothing quite like Till Lindemann's voice booming German ("the language of anger", as Rammstein's bassist Oliver Reidel put it) over your speakers.

Even though I liked the album Sehnsucht better, songs from Herzeleid got quite bit of play at my gaming table, especially during fight scenes. Nothing quite spices up fighting an orc raid like "Wollt ihr das bett en flammen sehen" followed by "Der Meister". The beginning of "Heirate Mich" is perfect when your player-characters come across an evil ritual. I would play "Rammstein" just as the PCs would come upon something horrifying, like a wight emerging from a tomb, or discovering a body killed by a maniac.

Once, I came up with a Ravenloft scenario on the fly based on the music video for Du Riechst So Gut.

Then, of course, there's "Sonne." The visions I received from listening to this song formed the basis of an entire D&D Campaign: The War for the City of Peace.   You might see its influence in my upcoming short story: "Murder on the Hot Flats."



Rammstein is my favorite band, even after all of these years. Still, I have listened to other German bands like Eisebrecher. But one of my favorites is Corvus Corax. They've probably had more play-time at my gaming table than Rammstein (I know, this could be construed as sacrilege--sorry). If you, as a DM, haven't heard of them, you need to check them out, especially if you need some epic battle music. They sing in Latin.



Finally, how the heck did I miss out on Schwarzer Engel? Apparently they've been around since 2007 or so. But I just heard their music for the first time just yesterday. The lead singer, Dave Jason looks like a character out of an anime, or Final Fantasy. And, apparently, Jason founded the band after having a dream of an angel flying over a deserted battlefield (at least, according to the band's German Wikipedia page, translated by Google Translate. (Ich verstehe Deutsch, aber nur ein bisschen.)



I can see Rammstein's influence given the sinister content of their music and songs, but they have their own distinct sound. This is good, because I'd think it'd be tough for any German band to step out of Rammstein's shadow on the world stage. Yet, from what I've listened to, Schwarzer Engel has been successful in coming up with their own voice and image.




At this point, I'm not sure how I'm going to incorporate their music at the gaming table. A lot of it's epic and fast paced and might be distracting for the players. I could see using it for a Dark Heresy game or during a World-Ender D&D game like the Apocalypse Stone.

Finally, in case you are wondering:

No. I have not used pyrotechnics at the gaming table.







Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Multiverse.org, Moorcock, and Miscellany

d20 Dark Ages got a mention over at Moorcock's Miscellany, multiverse.org, for the post Writing and Michael Moorcock: What I've learned.... So I'm pretty happy about that.

I poke around on there a handful of times a month. It's great place to meet other Moorcock fans and speculate if there will ever be an Elric movie. And, if so, who will play Elric.

Moorcock often participates in the on-going Q&A. You can read the words from the master himself. I found the following quote of particular interest.

http://www.multiverse.org/fora/showthread.php?p=260587#post260587

-i'VE REFUSED MANY TIMES TO TEACH CREATIVE WRITING. IT'S OK FOR SOME AND I KNOW PEOPLE WHO HAVE BENEFITTED FROM CW COURSES BUT I'M INCLINED TO THINK THEY CAN WORK TO INHIBIT THE WOULD-BE WRITER BECAUSE SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS CAN BE THE DEATH OF ART. THAT SAID, THERE ARE STILL SOME PRACTICAL LESSONS YOU CAN PASS ON. AS AN EDITOR I WAS ABLE TO DO THIS AND THEN GIVE THE AUTHOR SOME MONEY AND PUBLISH A STORY IF I LIKED IT. YOU'RE STILL TEACHING, BUT YOU'RE TEACHING TO A WELL DEFINED EXPECTATION!

Yes, Moorcock wrote that in all caps. Go to the link above and see for yourself.

I've taken my fair share of Creative Writing courses over the years, so I see the wisdom in his words. Really, the only way you can become a good writer is to read a lot, write a lot, and then put your works out there for people to see... and judge.

Creative writing courses can be helpful if they are taught by a patient instructor. An instructor can pontificate all a student needs to know about creative writing in the first class. Then its up to the student to just get to work, have their work reviewed, and learn by the school of hard knocks via constructive criticism.

A writer is often his or her worst critic. Exposing yourself to others through your writing can be terrifying. It is terrifying, especially the first time before a group. Self-conscious can, indeed, be the death of art. The internal censor, the Ego, will always criticize your ideas. Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) called it the Monkey Mind. Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) called it Resistance. It gives you every reason imaginable to stop writing and doubt your own work. A writer, just starting off, often doesn't have the confidence to ignore the critic.

Now imagine said budding writer (or any other artist) in a room where half the students are just there to get an easy grade, and an instructor who's never published anything beyond a columns or letters in the local paper, or a few poems or short stories in a journal 20 years ago. I've been there. It is a waste of time on every body's part. Even worst of all, the budding writer gets his work torn apart by vague or harsh criticisms ("I have a problem with this..." "I like what you did here." "This sucks.").

Yet then again, I've been in a couple great creative writing classes where everybody is on board, committed. You can learn a lot about the art of creative writing and yourself. You don't want those classes to end, but they have to. And then suddenly you're on your own again, without deadlines, without a teacher or fellow classmates to push you forward. It's just you and the white space before you.

----

Speaking of which: I guess I should put my money where my mouth is.

I'll post a revision of Murder on the Hot Flats, a short story set in Domikka that I'm working on, by Sunday night. It'll go under the "Relics of the Dark Ages" for people to read.

Monday, February 11, 2013

100th Post! Free Adventure!

The Genesis of the Jewel River
(Map by Darlene)
Hooray!

d20 Dark Ages has made to its 100th post!

Over on the right, under "Relics from the Dark Ages" you can download your free adventure Death at the Genesis of the Jewel, which I wrote when I was twelve. The first file is the original manuscript, scanned. The second file is a typed up version, with maps included, in case you don't like my handwriting in the original. The third and final document is a work in progress as I update the original to AD&D 2e. It also provides the background history not found in the original manuscript.

The first two are large PDF files (21 MB, and 45 MB), please let me know if you have trouble downloading them.

I didn't write Death at the Genesis of the Jewel in a vacuum. It isn't "module" where you can just plug into your campaign; it was part of an ongoing story with the characters in my Greyhawk Campaign. It built off an alternate history of Greyhawk since I only had the photocopied maps and my brother's adventures for "Greyhawk" material. All together, this formed a Greyhawk "alternate history."

[Or did I have access to another source? Greyhawk Trivia: Why would I call Narwell "Warwell?"]

Typing up the adventure word-for-word, with all of the editing marks included, brought back a lot of memories. Part of me wonders if my 12 year old self was just a hack. I mean, come'on, the "Eye of Traldar" came from the D&D module of the same name. Also, if you might notice  you'll see references to pop culture if you look close enough. Perhaps even more so, I didn't come up with the alternate back story about the Elemental Wars, my brother did for his Greyhawk Campaign a few years before mine.

I also couldn't come up with decent NPC names to save my life: Charley Blodgett, Larth Peacelot, Eben Bobst. I put these names in bold in the typed-up version.

Still, I shouldn't be critical on my 12 year old self. The adventure itself is about 3000 words long. I could have been playing video games. Perhaps I should have been doing homework. But no, I took the time to sit down to hand write an adventure. Most importantly, my players enjoyed going through it.

Even more surprising, I thought for many years that Death at the Genesis of the Jewel was for AD&D Second Edition; it isn't--I wrote it for AD&D!  The weapon damages listed use the AD&D format such as "Broadsword 2-8/2-7" as opposed to 2d4/1d6+1. Also, certain monsters like the ogrillon and the spectator came from the AD&D Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II. If I recall, these didn't appear in the Montrous Compendium at the time (but I could be wrong). I'm not sure where I got the half-ogre--one of my brother's Best of Dragon Magazine issues?

Here's a few more things interesting tidbits: 
--I was really stingy with handing out treasure. If you want to run this adventure, you should probably give out more treasure--especially if you're using treasure as XP.
--Speaking of XP--I think I just made up the XP totals, because I didn't feel like doing the calculations from the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.
--I never drew up the two parts of the treasure  map. I think I just told the players, "Yeah, the map just shows you how to get there." And that was that.

Enjoy reading Death at the Genesis of the Jewel. For me, its the first adventure I saved. The two or three before this are gone, either lost or thrown out because I thought they weren't up to snuff. As I've said before, I regret that now.

In a broader sense, Death at the Genesis of the Jewel represents a transition in the hobby, going as far back as 1983. I grew up and played D&D post-Dragonlance and during the rise of Final Fantasy. My brother's adventures featured dungeons, and usually a quest to get there. But my adventures had dungeons, quests, and a whole back story larger than the characters themselves.

Either way, I hope you enjoy it!



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing and Michael Moorcock: What I've learned...

Michael Moorcock (Photo by
White Wolf Publishing)
In the last couple of days I've spent considerable time on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Georgia.

To my delight, I discovered that their library has the most thorough collection of Michael Moorcock's books that I've ever seen in a public library. And these aren't the omnibuses that got published in the 1990s (I own and have read all 15); these are the smaller paperbacks. It's then I realized something--many of his stories were not meant to read all together. They were supposed to be episodic, linked with an overall story, but each could stand alone. Each book started with summary of what had happened before.

I've been a fan of Moorcock for over 20 years and yet I've learned something new.

No doubt Moorcock has influenced me as a writer and gamer. (Just take a look at this blog, for example. No happy little hobbits here, are there?)

At early age I knew I wanted to be a writer. During my teens I knew I wanted to write fantasy fiction. There is much to be learned by reading and studying works by a well-known author. So I turned to Moorcock. Here are the top five things I've learned from him:

1. Don't read and write only in one genre. Moorcock advised aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers to read broady, almost anything but science fiction and fantasy.

I read fantasy and science fiction, but only in moderate doses. There's so much to learned from other genres. Even more telling, my Master of Arts is in History, not English or Creative Writing. I feel that studying history gives a better grounding for creative writing.

If you stick to one genre, you eventually start writing in a vacuum. Even Stephen King, in On Writing, said that many fantasy authors are still trying to bring Bilbo back from the Grey Havens.

2. Be prolific. My goal is to someday write 15,000 words a day, for several days straight. Right now I average around 2,000 (not counting this blog). Part of Moorcock's success is that he wrote a lot. Some might argue that he might just be throwing stuff at the wall and hope it sticks. Sure, that could be. I thought some of the stories in those omnibuses were terrible, like Kane of Old Mars. And yet, there were many I enjoyed. You won't please all of your fans all of the time, so keep writing. Even more so, nobody likes a potential one-hit wonder. If they like the story they want more from the author. Give it to them by being prolific. If they don't like one book, well, here's another, and another.

3. Establish an archetype. Moorcock created Elric in direct contrast to Conan and the Hobbits. It worked, more or less. Yet unfortunately Elric isn't has wholesome as the hobbits nor as simplistic as Conan. Still, Elric has endured over the years. Though someday I hope to see Elric to become popular enough on the big screen so I can seem him shout "Arioch! Arioch! Blood and souls my lord Arioch!"

Establishing an archetype is hard. You do have know what has come before. And it also involves getting out of the shadow of previous archetypes (that's why you read outside of genres). It's best not to fall into it in the first place-- how many young adult Harry Potter knock-offs are there? Books about young women falling involve with monsters? And erotic-novels similar to Fifty Shades of Grey?


4. Master a formula, and then experiment. Critics of Moorcock have accused of Moorcock for being a hack for essentially sticking to master plot formulas. Yet Moorcock has broadened out from this with books like Mother London. Many stories cannot be told with just a simple plot formula. All writers have to begin somewhere, but must move on to grow and develop.

5. Plan before you write. This ties into #4. Many authors don't write notes about their novels before they write, they let their story grow organically. Stephen King is one of those writers, and this seems to work him. But there are times in his books when I swear he's just throwing out neat ideas and then has no idea how to resolve them without, say, a big explosion (The Stand, and Under the Dome).

Part of Moorcock's master plot formula and a high daily word count requires planning. Other authors advocate the same, have at a least a rough outline before you write. Ken Follet has said he spends on average six months to a year outlining a book.

While I don't advocate spending a year outlining a book, I know that preparation has helped me.

I'd been flailing with finishing the first draft of Anne Greyhawk and the Valkyrie's Vow since last August. I had gotten to a certain point and then just didn't know where to take the story. So I started outlining, planning where certain scene should go. I even wrote the ending before finishing the last half of the story. I finished the draft on December 11, 2012.

Maybe the ending will change with editing. Who knows. But what I should have done was start with end in mind.

Even Moorcock began the Elric Saga near its end.

----

If you've haven't been to Georgia Tech's campus, I suggest that you visit. It is a beautiful campus even though it is so close to the downtown area. The university bookstore doubles as a Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks. It, too, has collection of sci-fi and fantasy books that surpasses most other bookstores.

That is all for now. The countdown to the 100th post continues...





Monday, February 4, 2013

Countdown to the 100th Post...

This is the 98th published post for d20 Dark Ages. Just 2 more to go till 100!

Of course, 100 posts in nothing compared to the other long running blogs out there. In 2012, Tenkar's Tavern had 1115 total posts! Wow! Grognardia averages several hundred posts a year (and my thoughts and prayers go out to James Maliszewski at this time.) Still, even though d20 DarkAges is still an infant compared to these giants, I think 100 posts requires some celebration.

Next Monday, 2/11/2013, I'm posting a free adventure for your enjoyment, Death at the Genesis of the Jewel. I wrote this adventure over 20 years ago, back when I was in eighth grade and running my first Greyhawk Campaign. You'd be able to download scanned copies of the first couple pages of the original handwritten document along with a complete typed up edited version for AD&D Second Edition.

I thought about just scanning the original manuscript; but what good would that do since my handwriting was lousy and only my former players would understand the back story behind the module?

So, what's the adventure about?

The characters are hired by an eccentric gem collector to find the Eye of Traldar, which was sequestered within the ruins of Fortress Resolution at the end of the Elemental Wars. The fortress was built at the headwaters of the Jewel River. Along the way they encounter an other worldly threat, major flooding, NPCs with goofy names (I wasn't good at naming back then), and learn more about the history of the ruined fortress. The ruins themselves are full of monsters and traps, some of which hint that a darker power from the North which has taken an interest in the region. Will the characters discover the hidden Eye of Traldar? If so, will they return it to the gem collector once they learn its secret?


I won't claim that Death at the Genesis of the Jewel is a fantastic adventure. It's linear and actually fits into a larger story, an alternate history of Greyhawk that I'll get to in an upcoming post. But maybe the adventure will give you some ideas for your own games. For me, it represents a turning point in my DMing career. Somehow, despite the warts the adventure had, my campaign started coming together. This is the only adventure I kept from that time. This is a shame. Once again: Save everything your write!

(I still remember throwing away the precursor to Death at the Genesis of the Jewel. It was called The Tomb of Time's Past--yeah, pretty evocative language, eh? I threw it out because the players didn't like it. And I didn't like it. I'd been too stingy on monsters and treasure. But what could I do? The tome had undead and they had no cleric.)

Anyway, in one of the posts between now and then, I'll share with you the alternate history of Greyhawk that my brother and I developed which serves as the backstory for this adventure.

 Finally, thank you for reading d20 Dark Ages!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Elric Saga: Tragedy or Comedy?


"Tragedy is when something bad happens to you. Comedy is when you expected a different result."
--Lawrence McDonnell

"You will find little that's cuddly in these books and they probably fail to offer the consolations found in most heroic fantasy, since they're essentially tragedies and Elric is often described as an anti-hero." 
--Michael Moorcock, Introduction to Elric: The Song of the Black Sword. 

I just finished re-reading the two omnibuses, Elric: The Song of the Black Sword and Elric: The Stealer of Souls.  I first read these when I was a teenager. Back then I thought Elric was better than the Lord of the Rings, Conan, and even Drizzt DoUrden. Moorcock's writing style captured my imagination. It still does for the most part (though I found reading Revenge of the Rose a chore).

Yet time, and perhaps reading many other books, has tempered my enthusiasm. Back then I thought Elric was a tragic figure (but cool!) Now I view him as more comedic. The saga, at first read, does have all of the trappings of a tragedy. Elric is given plenty of opportunities to avert disaster, but then doesn't, often making the problem. All of this culminates in the end of the world and Elric's death.

Okay, maybe not "ha ha" funny. But comedies can often address serious matters. In Dante's Divine Comedy, for example, Hell is terrifying, but Purgatory is hilarious as Dante reluctantly gets purged of his sins. The best stand up comedians often address serious issues.

As for Elric: He's more of a comedic figure because often acts so stupid. I'd give him a wisdom of 5.

Did Elric really expect his cousin, Yyrkoon, who'd been trying to kill him since page 1, to just abdicate the throne when Elric returned from his year long quest to find his humanity? Come'on. Get real.

What did he expect when he abdicated the throne to his cousin Yyrkoon, who'd been trying to kill him since page one and then try to get it back? What was he thinking when he found Stormbringer and continued using it? "Oh, its okay, its just forged from Chaos and my family has been dealing with the Lords of Chaos for years, it won't harm me?"

Yes, I know that Elric of Melnibone and most of the Saga was written out of chronological order, beginning with the short story "The Dreaming City," where Elric leads an army to destroy Imrryr and save his lover, Cymoril. This story, among others, became compiled with the final tale, Stormbringer, back in 1965. So yes, after 1965, most readers of later Elric tales would know what to expect. Moorcock essentially was writing prequels. In D&D terms, I want to give Elric a wisdom of 5, because with all of his magical abilities, intelligence, and Stormbringer he is so overly trusting of the people and demons around him. Vengeance drives him at times to self-destruction--and the destruction of those around him.

Which begs me to question: after his reputation spread through the Young Kingdoms, why would anybody want to be associated with him? He destroyed his own kingdom sending his own people into exile, killed his cousin, and he wields a sword that steals souls. But no, time and again these card stock characters make a deal with Elric (usually out of vengeance) and then end up on his blade. Next!

Still, when I read the Saga straight through, taking all the existentialism in one dose, there were times when I could not help but laugh. In the first omnibus, I count at least three times where Elric just gives up and wants to die. But then some supernatural being comes to his aid and says: "Oh no! Not yet! There's a plan for you!" Deus ex machina baby! But the hero really doesn't want to be saved--that's funny!

In Stormbringer, the Dead God Darnizhaan reveals to Elric: "You, your ancestors, these men of the new races even, you are nothing but a prelude to history... There is nothing, Elric-- no past, present, or future. We do not exist, any of us!" He goes on to say that Stormbringer and his brother, Mournblade, are meant to destroy everybody. And Elric should have understood this meaning. Perhaps Darnizhaan should have been more diplomatic and not have stolen Elric's lover, Zarozinia. But Elric with all of his brooding philosophical prowess, just furrows his brow "in a vain attempt to understand the situation." (That quote is from the Simpsons, he actually just shakes his head). Wisdom 5.

In stories like "To Save Tanelorn," or "The Sailor on the Seas of Fate",  Elric encounters other incarnations of himself/the Eternal Champion. And every time, he's like: "How is this possible? What are you doing here?" And the answer is: "Well, there's a cosmic game at play and we don't know the rules, and its just supposed to happen. So just go with it." "But maybe I don't want to." "Well, too bad." And then Elric laments his fate.

He's always lamenting his fate. He's like a proto-Goth. At some point it just becomes laughable--but he's got Stormbringer, so I wouldn't laugh in his face. Speaking of which...

 Even Stormbringer itself understands the comedy as the Saga comes to a close:

The entity that was Stormbringer, last manifestation of Chaos which would remain with this new world as it grew, looked down on the corpse of Elric of Melnibone and smiled. 

"Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!" 

And then it leapt from the Earth and went spearing upwards, its wild voice laughing mockery at the Cosmic Balance; filling the universe with its unholy joy. 

Why is it crooked? It's the design
on the front of a T-shirt.



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