Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Overreaction Wednesday - Empty Rooms, Styles, and Substances

There was some discussion on a megadungeon-in-development last week. I mostly missed it because I don't spend much time on OSR sites or blogs anymore (other than Grognardia and Jeff's place) because though I feel a kinship with most of the people who write about it, I don't feel like I'm really a part of it - so, no OSR logo on the blog, no reviews of OSR products - you get the picture. Anyway, I was a latecomer to the hubbub so I got to page thru the full discussion and it's a little funny. Now I don't know Joe or any of the other players in the discussion but I may quote some of them below. Some thoughts:

One, I don't think anyone should be surprised at the nature of an old-school megadungeon, especially one written by someone who has a very popular OSR-themed blog and especially especially one that has been written about on that blog pretty extensively. I haven't read it but it sounds exactly like the kind of thing discussed in the AD&D DMG - for those of us who were playing and reading Dragon back then I don't think there was anything described that sounded out of place. Maybe Joe wasn't playing back then, or maybe he's just not interested in playing the game as-it-was-back-then today. There's nothing wrong with that.

Two, the debate expanded into other megadungeons, DM creativity, and the role of published adventures. The OSR has a weird relationship with published adventures: so many of the people touting the old-school are big on the do-it-yourself nature of the early rules that I'm surprised there is so much interest in someone else's work (Gygax/Arneson excepted), especially at a price, when it could easily be done for free with random tables and some borrowed maps. The free exchange of adventures and rules ideas is clearly accepted but I'm still surprised that so many people were willing to pony up for it. Similarly, I often get a sense that there is a disdain for published adventures among much of the OSR, but for some reason megadungeons have escaped this - at least until now. It's a weird thing, as in my opinion the older adventures serve as a touchstone for a lot of us whether it's the Caves of Chaos or the Giants - you can bet if two old D&D players meet up sooner or later the mad hermit or the big green mouth or the giant crab in the bubble are going to come up. They are part of a big shared experience, but there's a weird thing there with some people who just don't like published adventure material and it makes me think that this would be the least profitable or popular kind of product among old-schoolers - but apparently not. Notably, Joe mentions that he was not a backer in the kickstarter - that sounds to me like the system worked as intended, so everyone should be happy.

Three, the conversation also went into styles of play, and I think that's the biggest thing I wanted to note. It's been assumed to some degree (and I know I have done it before) that there is a set style of play that is Old School - resource management, exploration, and somewhat fragile characters, often in a sandbox, and typically in a lower level or grittier style than in newer RPG's. That may not be the case as much anymore. There may be a fair number of people that have been introduced or re-introduced to D&D style gaming via the OSR that have not been playing truly old school adventures - it's hard for an experienced DM to completely wash away the last 20 years of game time if they've been playing a variety of games over the years. Maybe a by-the-book old school dungeon just is not their thing, even if they've been using old school rules. Here's a quote from Joe:

Here's the thing--as a player, I want my character to kick some ass, be awesome, and have a tale to tell back at the tavern so he can get some action with the serving wenches.  You know, Conan, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser style.  That to me is the motivation to play an adventurer.

See that sounds a lot like the kind of thing that people complained about with 4th edition - that it caters to the "I want action now" crowd etc. who don't get what old school adventuring is all about. Now I'm not making the complete jump that people who dislike Dwimmermount should go buy a 4th edition PHB, but I'm leaning towards the idea that style of play may be more important than the rules for most people. Maybe, just maybe, some people have tried old-school dungeoneering and decided that it wasn't their cup of tea, leading to new approaches in new editions of D&D and other D&D-like games. For a lot of players, they will have a lot of fun with the same DM and group of fellow players regardless of the rules system in use, and they will happily change games multiple times over the years while staying with the same group and enjoying almost all of it. The exceptions may largely be driven by when something tries to enforce a style of play that the group does not like - like an old-school megadungeon. It's hard to be awesome when there's not that much to react against, whether you're an ace-kicker or a talker. If you're an explorer-type though, I suspect it would be right up your alley.

For example, I know my current group of players would never go for the Goodman Games RPG. Sure, rolling up a bunch of nobodies and seeing who survives to make it to 1st level could be fun once or twice but pretty soon it's going to get tedious. Similarly, old school AD&D would not be a sustainable campaign (even if I think it would be fun) because they don't want to spend their fun time on that kind of resource management and with that level of character fragility. They want action and interaction and a little exploration along the way. Now you can focus on that in any game, really, but it's easier to manage a group when there is mechanical support for it within the game. For us, 3rd & 4th edition D&D, Savage Worlds, and the boatload of Supers games I talk about on this blog do it right. Despite that mechanical preference and that style preference, I still see a lot of good material in  old adventures so I do a lot of conversion work in my campaigns, especially my D&D campaigns, because it's the best of both worlds - I get atmospheric descriptions (in some cases), a setting I am familiar with (in most cases), decades of supplemental material (internet!) and I get the benefit of the mechanics that support the way my players like to play now. 

Maybe Dwimmermount just needs some conversion notes to multiple editions and several different games. I think both 4E and Hero system and even Savage Worlds could benefit from a mega-dungeon option for a campaign. Think of the Traveller conversion - "Endless Tunnels of the Ancients". For Warhammer it wouldn't matter because everyone would be dead, mutated, or insane by level 3, but that doesn't mean that it's a concept unworthy of exploration!

That's probably enough on the topic. I just thought it was noteworthy that in this case the substance is the style - and I expect that it will come up again. Discussions on D&D Next are touching on a lot of similar ground though mainly regarding rules mechanics and not setting - yet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Old School Champions - Adventurers Club #4

Adventurers Club #4 - That's a strong cover, very much in the style of the era's Champions and comic book cover art. The artist is Mike Witherby, who I don't remember being a big player in Champions art but maybe I will discover that to be wrong as we continue with the series. He also did the cover to #2 but I like this piece a lot more.

The editorials and news mention that this issue is late, they've been finishing up Justice Inc. and Champions III, and they are working on Fantasy Hero - and still looking for another name for it, having just wrapped up a contest for fan suggestions on a name. Also, Aaron Allston is taking over as editor, so it will be interesting to see where things go after this issue. They're also working on Primus and Demon, the GM screen, and Enemies III,

I like that logo!

Other news includes the mention of the Superworld Companion, the release of Marvel Super Heroes, and the upcoming releases of Golden Heroes, Heroes Unlimited, and DC Heroes! You think we have a lot of Superhero games now? 1984 wasn't too bad either. Also: Maybe someone could have tried a name that didn't include "hero".

In the letters section, well, Foxbat was killed off in Champions III so there's a transition here, but no lack of trash talking him from before the news was out.

I thought this ad was interesting - I suppose this would be Cubicle 7 or Green Ronin now. Also, "Barbara Cartland"?  I don't think I've ever seen a copy of that one.

  • The crook this month is Volcano - he's pretty routine as far as a volcano-themed blaster type of character
  • Covert Action notes that Espionage is being changed to Danger International and has some notes on what happens when a mission fails and on enforcing disadvantages in play like distinctive looks and age - it's decent material even now
  • Mr. Allston has an article on horror in Champions and he has some good notes though some of them boil down to  "don't use a lot of your regular characters".
  • One very interesting article is "The Gilt Complex" which is a setup for overpowered combat monster characters with a villain team that looks tough but is easily killed by high powered attacks. Take a look:

Look, I've discovered 4th-edition-style minions in a 1984 Champions product! This is the best evidence for functional time travel yet! I suspect if something like this came out in a company publication today it would be quite controversial. In the example one of the players has a character with a 100 Strength and he does a haymaker on Goldmind - and pushes it. With 32 dice rolled for one good punch you can imagine the carnage. This team is a set-up designed to teach out-of-control characters a lesson, but it seems way too heavy-handed to me. There's a discussion on how players should show restraint and appropriate levels of power and damage, but I have to wonder about the kind of campaign that would have to be running to where this is an appropriate development. If a PC has been beating on super-bads with a 100 Str for a while with no consequences, why should they suddenly be punished for max-punching yet another costumed criminal? I'm not completely opposed to this kind of thing, I just think there are better ways to handle it.

Does anyone remember seeing this product? Did it exist? 
The big adventure this month is pictured on the cover and deals with a mysterious meteorite that falls to earth in Iceland. It's a pretty open scenario with some nice maps, some new stats for a few NPC's and a new organization. It's the best one since the first one and I think it would make for a good evening's play. Like all the best adventures it's easily modified and there is plenty of room for consequences for the future. One other note: If you're a DC fan it looks a lot like the DC Heroes adventure Fire and Ice. That one was published two years later but they do have similar themes. Some conversion work could lead to a nice campaign arc involving stuff from space crashing into arctic environments.

Next week: Number 5!