Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ritual Magic

I've been thinking quite a bit about ritual magic systems for DnD style gaming. I think it could be something that could be tacked on to the magic systems that are currently in use.

First the player would have to learn a ritual. This could be via training, ancient texts, or even god given (a DM could "give" a ritualistic caster one free ritual per level - automatically learned, or let the player develop them with DM approval).

After learning the ritual - the spell caster would have to perform the ritual. This could involve special components, a lengthy invocation with lots of chanting and such, and it could employ sacrifices (gold, oils, food, living creatures, etc...) to the Gods, demons, spirits, etc... Certain rituals may only be valid if performed on a certain day, or time of day, or during one season only, etc.. You may also have to perform the ritual at a certain spot, or in a holy church or location, etc...

The ritual would create a magical effect that lasts for a specified amount of time. It could be permanent, or it could last for a specific amount of time. Or it could end upon a specific circumstance being achieved. For example if the character is seen, or is touched by light, or by moonlight, or if the character eats or drinks anything, etc... the effect is gone.

I've heard about ritual magic systems being used for the Carcosa game. I didn't order a copy of this game though because none of my players are into the sword and planet thing. I wonder if they are similar to this idea or completely different.

Although I really like clerics in ODD and 2nd edition. I've always thought that the vancian magic system for clerics is a bit strange - considering you are petitioning the god for very defined effects that you can then cast later just like a wizard. Maybe an alternate cleric class could be developed that utilizes rituals along side traditional cleric type abilities. I guess this style of cleric could pray to one god only or to a host of gods. I think each setting would have to adapt the system around their cosmology.

Cleric (alt)
HD, experience progression, and attack table identical to your favorite ruleset.
Turn Undead (unchanged)
Ritual Magic

Next up: a list of possible rituals and ideas on how many rituals you could have "active" at a time. Maybe some thoughts on whether there would be Levels of rituals or if they would all be the same level.

Stuck in the Middle with You!

And nobody is going to lose an ear :)

In terms of my gaming era - I consider myself a mid-skooler, but what does that mean. My friends and I found this game the year that 2nd ed ADD came out. We started out with a hodge-podge of 1st edition and 2nd edition texts and for the first year my DM wouldn’t let me read the players handbook. I couldn’t convince my parents to purchase the book for me. We played THAC0 completely wrong but we had lots of fun. I finally convinced the guy to let me borrow the book for a night. I read it twice and memorized most of it in a single day. The spells!!!! My first character had been a ranger, my second was a cleric. I was hooked on clerics - you got to fight but you also got spells! Eventually we figured the THAC0 thing out....

In a couple of years my GM had purchased all of the Greyhawk materials, and he was running Greyhawk. My other friend had purchased some forgotten realms books and was running those. I wanted to run my own game... so I purchased Dragonlance. I remember I couldn’t figure out how to run a game in which all my friends wouldn’t know as much as I did about the world. I really wasn't happy having to run Dragonlance, since the game seemed to be set up to replay out adventures that were first presented in books - how silly is that? Everybody I was gaming with had read dragonlance so they would know everything about the adventures I was trying to run. The plot-line of the books left little of the continent free for expansion....

However - at the bottom of the Krynn map there was a huge Glacier. I invented a small city that sat in the middle of the glacier and I ran the campaign as a winter world. Somehow there were a bunch of boats that had been stranded in on the glacier (I don’t know I was young) and the city was built out of these huge ships that had been turned into buildings by miners. There were mines that went down under the glacier and found rich minerals/gold/iron/etc... So all the people in this city were miners and adventurers looking to find treasures under the ice. This part of the world could be untouched by the "CORE" rules that were being set out for dragonlance, the only way my players new that they were on Krynn is because the moons affected their magic...

We had a lot of fun in that game. Eventually the DM that was running forgotten realms didn’t want to play anymore so I bought all of his gaming materials from him in 1994. I ran FR from 1994 until 2001 using second edition rules. In 1995, I remember some of my friends and I played my campaign almost everyday!!! For most of that time I kept throwing all the characters into the Undermountain Megadungeon and City based adventures in Waterdeep. I had a Huge zippered binder that I had unloaded the Waterdeep boxed set and the Undermountain boxed set into - along with Volo’s Guide to the North & to the sword coast. I added ~10 extra levels to Undermountain and at least 30-40 sub-levels accessed by gates, sliding doors, pit traps, etc... I made a huge number of tables for random effects using d100’s for traps, magical effects, gate quirks, wandering monsters, treasures, etc... Everything that I needed to play a huge campaign was in that zippered binder! In 2001 a house fire took out all of my DnD resources along with all my stuff. After that we used Fudge, Gurps, and Risus only for all of our gaming. We started playing less and less, and eventually my gaming group disintegrated due to job placement, dis-interest, etc...

So all my DnD experiences in the hey day of my gaming were with 2nd edition! 2nd edition is totally the red-headed step child of DnD and plants me firmly into the mid-skooler pile. I didn’t empathize with any of the new 3.0, 3.5, and 4.0 editions - instead, when looking for a new edition of DnD to play I wanted something even lighter than 2nd ed. I looked back to the roots of this hobby and found a new wellspring of ideas and games to play that remind me of my first experiences with this hobby. You only have a small subset of core rules and then you add and subtract what you want to make it your own. The new rules sets just keep piling on the extra features until you can barely recognize that what you are playing is DnD. I’m making a connection in my mind as I type between my interests in music and my interests in gaming.

When I was in high school, the music that was coming out was grunge rock (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage, Smashing Pumpkins, NIN, etc...) and I loved the hell out of it. It was new, musically interesting, simplistic, raw, powerful, etc... Over time though, grunge faded away, and through the first decade of the 2000’s I found very little music interesting. Everything that was on the radio reminded me of Nashville music - it might be catchy, but it wasn’t interesting. There was no life, no raw energy - instead it was cookie cutter rock. The bands were just a collection of people with tatoo’s screaming on a stage, with no message. In order to find music that was interesting I had to go backward and find the inspirations of grunge rock to find music that I liked - this introduced me to Bob Dylan, CSNY, Jimi, King Crimson, The Who, Led Zep, The Beatles, etc... I had always been aware of this music but it took the loss of my identification with new music to force me to dig into the past to find what I was searching for.

So that is what being a mid-skooler today is all about - when the middle began to evaporate, you have to make a choice - turn forward into the new way, or look backward into the history of the hobby. Sometimes that can be a truly new experience in itself.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Playing by Post-It Note

Now that I covered at a high level the PBEM campaign that I am running I wanted to get into a few of the gritty details about how it is being run...

I'm using the Yahoo forums for my newest game which allows for play by post, or response via group email. It also allows me to post up my sketches, pictures, dungeon maps, and has a nice integrated table feature that I populated with combat and treasure and exp and anything else that needs to be referenced by the GM and the players frequently. After I started this game, I found another very similar game based on a dark age barbaric home-brewed world similar to the Conan books. For that game the GM is using the LL ruleset with some changes like: class based weapon damage and other mods that allow demihumans to pick a class (instead of Race = Class).

It's not as much immediate fun as playing on the tabletop. You don't get the fast pace, the dice rolls, and the bs'ing with buddies time that is always associated with tabletop RPG'ing. However, playing by email does have a few advantages:

1. The game never stops. Each of my players tends to post ~2-4 times/week, so I usually have ~3-4 posts per day. That is almost 1000 posts a year.

2. Playing by email gives the GM tons of time to "think on his feet" and make rulings. If a player does something that forces me to make a ruling, I have plenty of time to look up important rulebooks, think about the consequences of a ruling, and then type in my response. This avoids 90% of the take-back rulings where you may say something in "the heat of battle" that then leads to player abuse in the future and then you have to erase that one from the home-brew ruleset annals.

3. I'm running a sandbox style campaign and I haven't had to do any pre-work at all! There is always plenty of time for me to allow my ideas about an area stew in my brain for days/weeks before the players will stumble into an area. If the players say, lets head to that Haunted Graveyard to the west of the village, I probably have 2-3 real days of time to construct what they will find, while they... finish up roleplaying their flirting with the tavern wenches, gather the important gear, discuss the order, travel the distance, possibly encounter some randomly rolled creatures along the trip, and then finally show up at the rusty gates at the edge of the graveyard. In a tabletop game, the same GM may only have 30 minutes to think about the same encounter and finish all the above tasks.

4. If characters want to do something "in-secret" that they don't want to let the other players know, they can email what they want to directly to my email address. I've tried many ways of doing this in table-top games, but if the other players at the table know that your character has a shady past and suddenly you leave the room with the GM to discuss something in private, or hand the GM a tiny scrap of paper with something written on it - they know something is up. Even though they are supposed to keep Player Knowledge separate from Character Knowledge - suddenly I have players asking me, "why didn't I get a perception check or a saving throw or something to notice what he is up to".

5. Descriptions. While most of the time I keep my posts short and to-the-point, at times I can really go for it and write an epic description of a place that would be hard for me as a DM to roll off the cuff. I can describe the sights, smells, sounds of an area, go back through it, proof it, think about it again and completely re-write it, etc... This is fun when the players enter a new city for the first time and I want to give it a feel. I get to be as descriptive and creative as I can be and get it all down to the best of my writing ability.

6. Player to player roleplaying. While this is something that my oldest group of players (now disbanded) were really good at - for some folks it is hard for them to develop their characters personality and think of how she/he would respond to different situations and other characters. With this gaming format I have been blown away by the creativity and writing ability of some of my characters. One of my characters was an editor for an un-disclosed magazine in Scotland. He was so good at writing posts for his character that at times I felt I was reading a novel of the highest grade. He eventually left the game - since he was more interested in focusing on story-based freeform roleplaying without having the "game" aspects intrude - whereas the rest of our group wanted a balance between roleplaying banter and exploration, and dungeon crawling, and even a little hack-n-slash now and again.

Well, I can't think of anything else at the moment, if there are any readers of this blog out there, comment if you have any other ideas/suggestions/etc...

I think this is all I am going to post about PBEM gaming for now. Future posts will involve a couple of features about the games I am running and playing in that I am a little conflicted about and need to think more about before I post in depth on the subjects. Just to tickle the interests of my zero readers/followers :)... the topics will be: combat in PBEM, dice rolling (how to do this in a PBEM setting), player control/influence over how the game progresses, party consensus (or lack of it) and posters who don't seem to understand how to put action verbs into a post and how these problems seem to be the greatest entropic time-sucks on a PBEM campaign.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Current PBEM Campaign

I thought I might start by posting on my current PBEM campaign. What is working, what isn't, etc... here is the high level...

World: Greyhawk (my first time as a DM, although I played as a character for years). I'm only using the 1983 Boxed Set, and the fairly new Greyhawk Gazetteer as source material and I am currently incorporating elements from classic adventures (Castle Amber, The Isle of Dread, The Lost City, etc..), and also using material from the Gygax Yggsburgh text placed just south of Greyhawk.

Rules: Castles and Crusades. Pretty much un-modified.

Characters: Gnome Druid (player resides near Salt Lake City), Elven Ranger (player resides in Italy), Human Barbarian (player resides in florida), Dwarven Paladin (Plays out of upstate New York), and Wolf Nomad Wizard (player resides near Seattle).

Everybody is currently second level and broke. They spent all their money funding an expedition into the desert to find a mysterious artifact that was captured under their nose by a half orc assassin. The artifact was found in a vein of pyrite mined from the ground by gnomes, and where the artifact was lodged in the solid mineral cyst, only maggots were found. The assassin is bringing the artifact so some powerful entity under the desert and the players have taken on themselves to stop him.

Number of Time Zones: (4)

Duration of game (~1 year real time, ~2 months game time)

Why am I doing this?

Blame it on boredom, perhaps...

But maybe I just needed a place to rant about gaming. My tabletop gaming has trickled down to a handful of sessions a year now. Long gone are the days where I used to play dungeons and dragons EVERY DAY. The pulling responsibilities of my life, the scattering of my friends/players across the globe, and various failed attempts to get new gaming groups together have nearly spelled the end of my gaming career. In the last five to ten years I thought I was probably going to quit gaming at least once a year. Thus the title, Gaming on the Precipice....

Instead of quitting, in the last two years I've started using play be email (PBEM) gaming as a way to get some gaming back into my life. Initially, I started playing in Risus rules, or free-forms, or home-brew games. I played in sci-fi games, spy games, mutant apocalyptic fantasy games. But still the strings of my heart kept pulling me back to my first gaming love - dungeons and dragons.

I wanted to play "by the rules" but I found 2nd edition to be a bit too complicated for PBEM.... so I went looking for rules-light versions of DND. I found castles and crusades, and labyrinth lord, and swords and wizardry - I ended up using castles and crusades for my first dnd PBEM campaign. Though this search I found out about the OSR and started to dig into it like a miner searching for gold. I was impressed by this new-found wellspring of creative energy, thoughts and ideas, and a bunch of folks that like to play games the way that I do.

My plan for this blog is to discuss rules-light DND gaming. I'd like to discuss the OSR from the context of a player who is more of a mid-schooler who is/was stuck in between the new school (WOW based gaming) and the old school. I'd like to talk about other gaming systems and what I've learned by using them.

I have a lot of ideas so expect a lot of posting. Maybe I can draw in a couple of followers. Maybe I can get another tabletop game started... maybe it will use a retro-clone as its rules-base. God knows it won't be 3.0, 3.5, or 4.0!!!