Saturday, December 24, 2016

Child's Play

About a year ago, I read little bits of this fantasy Choose Your Own Adventure book to my eldest daughter, Briella.  Though we both found it mildly intriguing, that particular book - though it came highly recommended - didn't really trip our triggers.

Over the last few weeks, I dropped hints that I was thinking about ordering another CYOA book.  One that I remember fondly from my youth - Zork.  I also was able to talk Briella and her sister into watching The Hobbit (animated version) - which they both enjoyed.

Briella is 5 and 1/2 now and really wanted me to find the CYOA book we already have.  I couldn't find it, but I told her that we could still make characters and play Dungeons & Dragons.  We looked over a few entries in the AD&D Monster Manual to get things going.

Eventually, Briella said yes and a bit later, so did her sister, Illyria, who is 4.  Hey, if I could teach them to play poker - which I did last week - then I could guide their imaginations to a sword & sorcery dungeoncrawl!

While the twin boys slept, our 18 month old, Trinity, needed to be watched (very closely).  So, we enlisted her help, too.

It seemed obvious to me that I'd have to simplify the rules.  More on that later...

Briella's character was named Nyla.  She's a human who can turn into a mermaid or fairy.  A magic-user wielding a wand named Lyra; the wand can turn into a sword with a poison blade.  Nyla can also become invisible and be very fast when she wants (I talked her down from "every power in the galaxy").  She wears a rainbow sparkly dress and her familiar is a pet ghost bunny who wears a little bell named Skippy.

Trinity played a pixie-fairy thief named Madison who carried a dagger.

Illyria's character was named Starry, a mermaid princess with diamond wings.  She had the magical power of transformation, and wore a short pink dress decorated with snow flakes.

Briella wanted me to explore the dungeon with her, so I not only DMed but played a human fighter named Jorr.  He wore all black and wielded a two-handed sword.

I told Briella that our characters were traveling through the forest.  I asked her why we might be traveling and she said to kill monsters.  Fair enough.

Just then we noticed a steel door barely noticeable through all the branches.  The door had ancient writing upon it - runes.  Jorr suggested we have the thief check the door for traps.  I rolled for Trinity and got a 1.  She didn't detect any traps, which was a pity because I had already decided that the door's runes were trapped.

Nyla volunteered Madison to open the door.  The pixie-fairy was blasted back 10' and took a point of damage.  Ok, time to share some rules...

Anytime a PC wants to do something within his power, he rolls a d6.  If the result is a 3 or higher, he succeeds.  If the result is a 1 or 2, he fails.  Enemies, NPCs, and monsters usually require a 5 or 6 to succeed - unless they are quite powerful.  Each successful hit is a point of damage and most low-level monsters and such only have a single hit point.  The PCs each have 3.

Jorr attempted to open the door and luckily the steel door was no longer full of juice.  Before our adventuring party lay the dungeon!

To the east and then south, there was a triangular room containing a green slime blocking the way to three alcoves in the far wall.  Perched upon the middle alcove was a demonic idol with ruby eyes.

Nyla used her wand / magic poisonous blade to destroy the green slime, and then we took the idol.  There was some talk of not taking it, just in case it was cursed.  But our party's greed won out.

Further to the east was a grand, hexagonal chamber where 6 priests in robes stood in front of a tremendous black hole in the far wall.  One of the priests blew into a horn.  I used the cardboard paper-towel roll to make the sound... and it was impressive.

Not knowing what was going on, Nyla asked one of the priests what they were doing.  Summoning Demogorgon, of course!  Since Demogorgon was one of the things we read about in the Monster Manual, Briella realized he was bad news - especially when the cultists (!) went on about using him to destroy the world.

Jorr and Starry missed the first round.  With 6 opponents and a few lucky rolls, it didn't take long for them to whittle Nyla's hit points down to zero.  She died, and the cultists soon followed.  It looked like Briella might cry, but she didn't.

The survivors looted their bodies, finding 32 gold pieces and that magical horn of demon summoning.

The adventurers decided to leave the dungeon and go back to town in order to find a temple so that Nyla could be revived.  It only cost us 32 gold.

Upon our return to the dungeon, we explored west.  Unfortunately, Briella suddenly decided that she didn't want to continue.  Nyla's leaving was a sad loss to our band of adventurers, but we wished her farewell.

Our party came upon a circular room with a pool in its center.  The pool was filled with an iridescent water which Starry decided to fill in a glass container and take with us.

Walking south, we encountered a square room with 3 goblins guarding a treasure chest.  They were easily dispatched.  Our thief checked for traps on the chest and found it to be trapped indeed.  She disarmed it and we pocketed 930 pieces of gold.

A door to the east led to a long, rectangular room containing 4 skeletons with swords.  Jorr and Starry each took a point of damage before dispatching the undead.

The room seemed to be a dead-end... until our thief checked for secret doors and discovered a triangular room to the north.  It contained a marble statue of a beautiful woman - possibly Athena.

Starry wanted a closer look.  Examining the statue, she found a button at the statue's base.  She pushed it and the statue slid across the floor, revealing a spiral staircase leading downward.

We walked down and entered an octagonal chamber with a door at each cardinal direction.  Starry opened the door to the south only to discover the hallway led to a dead-end, and tripped a trap as she did. A red laser blast shot down the hall, striking Starry.  She was now down to 1 hit point.

At that point we had to call it a day and get on with our Christmas Eve activities.  It was a fun-filled hour of D&D (though, more like Crimson Dragon Slayer for children).

Though Briella frequently gets discouraged when things get hard, I find that she eventually gathers her willpower to fight another day, struggling against opposition until she's successful.  I'm confident that she'll be interested in playing again soon.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Remembering Grognardia

I try to remember that ideas are cheap, but player interest is often priceless.  For some, it can be a hard lesson to learn, but once understood, it more than repays the time and effort spent acquiring it.

~ James Maliszewski

I was going to title this blog post, "Looking Back," but it's really going to focus on the OSR blog of OSR blogs, back when the OSR was just becoming a thing - Grognardia!

I was tuning in a little later than most of the original OSR folks - early 2013.  That's just after Grognardia "went dark."  I probably read about a dozen of +James Maliszewski's posts.  They were good, but by then James was mostly reviewing products or talking about the Gygax foundation / memorial / statue or whatever it is (was).

Grognardia was a bit intimidating and maybe it was my assumption that James and similar folks into the old school ways were "fundamentalists" when it came to D&D.  Perhaps I had heard some negative things about the Dwimmermount Kickstarter or "OSR Taliban" from +Kasimir Urbanski (RPGpundit).

I'm not sure what it was exactly, but I never went that deep into Grognardia... until recently.  Everything from his unsure trials with old school mechanics, DM style, and campaign setting (a megadungeon) to his love of "pulp fantasy" to theorizing about what made D&D so awesome back in the day.  Some of our experiences are eerily similar, others are just really interesting (like his assumptions about 4th edition D&D based on pre-release announcements).  But there's real knowledge, experience, and understanding in many of those older posts.

Here are just a few favorites of mine:  Pulp FantasyGary Gygax 1979, Dice as Oracle, Rough Edges,  Old School Culture, and My Megadungeon: Dwimmermount.

Speaking of Dwimmermount, I'm very interested in buying / reading / running this campaign in the near future... when I start GMing again, of course.

Dwimmermount was James' rejection of "modern" D&D for some kind of primordial version - to see if he could implement the old ways and capture that nostalgic vibe from the 70s and early 80s.  Not merely because he wanted to re-create the past, but he was seeking a return to the much-more-satisfying roots of our beloved hobby.

I started blogging about old school gaming stuff shortly after James stopped.  Here's my first post from March 14th, 2013.  It was shortly after that that I self-published my own crash course in old school fantasy roleplaying experimentation with Liberation of the Demon Slayer.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Possible Pivot

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, and what this blog post contains is just that - thoughts.  I'm thinking out loud, except that it's actually silent and in writing.  Nothing set in stone.

The Idea:  Instead of placing the vast majority of my attention on designing, writing, and publishing, I'd rather Game Master.

There are several good reasons for a change of focus.  Originally, I made Liberation of the Demon Slayer just to say that I had done it.  A small self-challenge before I turned 40.

The adventure was a way for me to prove to myself that D&D, and roleplaying games in general, were still worth pursuing.  After 3rd edition, 4th edition, and Pathfinder, I was pretty much ready to quit the hobby.

That's when I found the OSR and everything seemed to fall into place.  But I also made that adventure and the ones to follow because I thought it would be neat to see my creations in a professional-looking book, hold them in my hands and run them properly - instead of two dozen scraps of lore spread out over several notebooks, the back of envelopes, and post-its.

Even in those early days, the act of publishing and getting a manuscript ready for publication, was in aid of running a great game.  I haven't forgotten that.  Game Mastering is the key.  If there's no GM, it doesn't matter how many thousands of RPG books one has on the shelves - or how many one has produced - they are practically worthless until actually used; played.

I'd like to GM more because it's fun and I'm good at it.  But there's more to it than that.  The Game Master has a calling.  He answers the call.  He's needed to run the game.  I wrote How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss because there was a sense of urgency.  The art of GMing is essential to creation born out of shared imagination.

Assuming one is on the right track, the more you GM, the better GM you'll be.  I want to improve and keep improving - to the point where I can make some small living running games.  Yes, I'm talking about the ever-elusive dream of becoming a GM for hire.  You get paid (in one form or another) for running games.  But it's not just about the money... I'm in it for the glory, too, of course!

As I type this, I'm wondering something about myself.  Would I rather be known as a fantastic author or GM.  Both, obviously.  But if I had to choose one over the other... I don't know.  GMing is where the action is.  When you're at the table and behind the screen (so to speak, I usually don't use a GM screen), you're on the front lines.  That's where the war is being fought.  Our collective imagination versus reality.

As a side benefit, I'll be able to run all kinds of adventures and campaigns that I've been neglecting the last few years.  When you're writing and self-publishing your own RPG stuff, most of the time you're either play-testing stuff before it comes out or running the stuff you already published.  After all, those scenarios and game aids are like your children and if you have the chance to take your kid to Disney World or some other kid named Dwimmermount, Stonehell, Dark Albion, Maze of the Blue Medusa, and Anomalous Subsurface Environment, who are you going to choose?

Pivoting to professional Game Mastering (or even regular old GMing for fun, should the pro thng not turn out) will allow me to focus on presenting an awesome experience.  Making that a priority over showcasing stuff I came up with all on my own.