19 May 2015

Everyone Is Somebody's Moron

Society at large is quick to label persons with the worst possible spin they can put on their actions. Somebody making a very public mistake is called a moron. Someone running a stop sign in front of a police car is labelled an idiot. Someone who tells two different versions of a story on different occasions, sometimes years apart, is obviously a liar.

Can't it be those folks made foolish decision on the spur of the moment; made a careless mistake; or were mistaken in their recollection of an event? Why does it always have to be worst thing we can think of to call them? I'm not saying you automatically dismiss things that don't add up from people. By all means, keep it in mind. There is a great deal of difference, however, between mental reservations and public shaming.

This was inspired by a fellow who called into a well-known radio show dealing with ... err ... fringe belief systems. You know, folks who claim to have evidence of bigfoot, alien landings, visitations from billion year old spirits with detailed information about prehistory, etc.? Everything about this fellow spoke of his lack of education and refinement: his speech patterns, his inability to frame a cogent argument, his inappropriate word usage and grammar in general. And yet, he felt perfectly comfortable calling folks disagreeing with his viewpoint as morons. 

Well? Everyone is somebody's moron. We've all done something causing us to look around while thinking I hope nobody saw that.  Take a breath. Even better, take a minute or at least count to 10. Remind yourself we all make mistakes and don't be so quick to give the other person both barrels.

17 May 2015

Burning Crosses

Religion and D&D is a touchy subject and I certainly don't mean to inflame anyone with this post. However, strong religious beliefs did play negatively into my gaming life and my social life in general in the 1970's. I would therefore be remiss if I didn't speak on the subject, however briefly.

A couple of caveats before I begin:

I'm a "live and let live" kind of fellow. I've no issue with your personal beliefs or lack thereof. If you want to play the game and are able to interact with other adults of the same interest in a wholesome way? You're welcome at any game I run.

Second, don't be a dick. If this post, in spite of the fact I'm not naming or slamming any particular faith, pushes your buttons? Stop reading and move on to something else. Don't "call me out" or take me to task. I'm merely reporting actual events and avoiding value judgment on some of the actors in this little play.

Still here? Read on ...

As I've stated, I grew up on a small Texas town. Never mind which one, that's personal and frankly it's information you really don't need. It's enough to know the folks of that town, indeed the entire region of this rather large state, were god-fearing folk.

The first omen was a simple one. I was at a friend's house and we were puttering around the backyard (garden to you UK folks). We were moving some debris caused by a recent storm from the fence-line to a compost heap when I saw something odd and passingly familiar sticking out. Curious, I poked at it to learn it was half a Ouija Board, the other half presumably buried somewhere within the midden heap. My friend saw my puzzled expression and related how his mom had learned the Ouija Board was a "tool of the devil" and had destroyed his before he could succumb to its power.

Okay. Well, as I've said I'm a big believer in folks doing what they wish so long as they don't break the law. I filed it under "curiosities" in my brain and mostly forgot about it.

So D&D comes along and when folks learned I played it I started getting stories about that, too. Like how the rules were based upon the Satanic Bible. Or, the magic spells in the game were real and I could lose my eternal soul to the demons those spells conjured up. One woman burst into tears as she told me about a boy who had "a real curse" put on him by another player ... and he died a few days later don't you know. My favorite, however, was the well-intentioned but rather scary woman who held her hands high and loudly rebuked the power of Satan within me for playing "that devil game" as onlookers gawked. My reply to these sorts of gambits was to either laugh out loud when folks brought them up, or reply along the lines "playing D&D makes you a real Wizard much like playing Monopoly makes you a real slum lord. It's a game!"

Now, don't get me wrong. I was never in fear of my physical safety over my participation in what I feel was a harmless hobby. However I was insulted, talked down to, dismissed, made fun of, and had folks go out of their way to frighten what they believed was an impressionable young man (I was anything but that) on the road to ruin. So I could say my mental health was threatened. And I did lose a few friends over it, though mostly relationships with certain ones cooled a lot rather than just stopped altogether. The whole episode taught me a lot about folks who may mean well but still leave harm in their wake.

Keep in mind, my parents and the people in funny hats of my particular sect of Christianity had no issue at all with me playing this or any other game. My folks saw me socially interacting in a positive manner with boys and girls of my age group and this was thought of as a good thing. The priest of our church reacted similarly to how I reacted when I approached him with the "devil game" stories I'd been getting from that other Christian denomination. He laughed then assured me I was in no danger of eternal damnation. 

So there you have it. I've no doubt others had no issues at all and I'm just as certain still others had far worse experiences than mine. I've always done as I pleased and hang anyone who didn't like it. That didn't make me popular with the "conform at all costs" types of persons out there, but that really wasn't an issue to me. I'll take a handful of friends who genuinely care about me over a crowd of folks whose interest is a fleeting, fickle thing.

04 May 2015

Too Picayune?

A stack of poker chips, pennies, an index card with tally marks, a simple hand-written note ... all ways to track expendable resources. Resource management is an integral part of the challenge of playing OD&D. My favorite method for tracking arrows was to hand the player a stack of poker chips, one for each arrow in his quiver. Each round he fired an arrow he had to hand a chip back to me. When the chips were gone, so were his arrows. A bow without arrows is called a stick. Parties who just watched their last torch sputter and go out are in a bad way if they haven't planned ahead.

In like manner, tracking and using encumbrance is a big part of adventuring. OD&D had a wonderfully simple way to track player-character encumbrance: assume players are carrying 80 coins or 8 pounds of gear (basically, a backpack full of stuff) in addition to weapons carried and the encumbrance of their armor if any is worn. Alternately, I'd allow players to itemize gear carried if they enjoyed that aspect of the game. Any treasure or items recovered during the course of the adventure counted against their encumbrance.

I'm always curious why both players and referees balk over a shield granting only +1 to armor class (for example) but have no issue at all with assuming players have unlimited numbers of arrows or iron rations. Along with this wonderful boon, they are able to easily transport treasures weighing a thousand pounds with no problem at all.

Encumbrance and resource management adds another challenging aspect to play. If your players find 100,000 gold pieces but can only carry a few hundred of them back to civilization, what happens to the rest of them while the party is away? Do they divide up, some of them taking what they can carry to safety while the others guard the remainder? Do they hide what they can't carry away? Leave it behind, sacrificing both XP and financial gain? Similarly, if the party opts to flee from an encounter they are faced with hard choices. Drop non-essential items to increase movement rate? Or, do faster moving members leave the over-burdened compatriots behind? Drop part of the treasure hoping it will deter pursuit?

I'll accept you telling me you simply don't like that aspect of the game. By all means change it if you don't like it, that's how you're supposed to approach OD&D. I'm a bit less inclined to accept all this is "too complicated" because I've been running games with resource management for 40 years.

03 May 2015

Order in the Court!

There are probably as many ways to go about character generation (chargen) as there are referees. I've always been a fan of "3d6 in order" chargen for several reasons. Chiefest among those reasons is the fact it's simple and fast, my main criteria for rulings in my campaign. I like to keep the action moving.

Almost as importantly, however, is my belief 3d6 in order removes the emphasis from generating the perfect character and gets the player to rolling dice. Ability scores in original edition Dungeons & Dragons are simply not as important as in later versions of the game, it is the player's skill that makes the difference. 

Still, there is often a need for a certain type of character in the game. If the party consists of four magic-users, a new player rolling up a fifth one might not be the best addition to the party. The dice are tools, not dictators and though it is fun to let random chance have a hand in all aspects of the campaign sometimes a bit a self-determination is in order. My solution? I offer two ways to alter rolled ability scores in my game.

The first method is "point sell" system (as I call it) in the rulebooks. Each class can "sell" points in 2 different ability scores to add to their prime requisite. I keep the same restriction as in the books, that is, no ability score can be reduced below 9. This is a good method if the dice have rolled a character similar to what the player already wants, but wants to "beef up" the prime requisite a bit.

The second method is much simpler but more useful for when the dice roll a complete miss for a certain needed (or desired) class. In this case I allow the player to swap any single ability score with the prime requisite of the desired class. For example, if the player rolled a perfect Cleric character with a 17 Wisdom and 5 Strength but he really wanted to player a Fighter? Under Method II he could swap the WIS and STR scores and wind up with a pretty strong Fighter who may be a bit lacking in common sense.

Naturally, a player may choose one or the other method as desired ...but not both!