Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Happy Birthday to Douglas Cole!

Okay, y’all. It’s a special day: Douglas Cole’s birthday. And that means you need an excuse to buy yourself a present!

For old school tabletop fantasy roleplayers, let me suggest The Manor Issue #8 for its really cool article on grappling. If you are a GURPS gamer and haven’t gotten it, yet… let me point you to GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. Because, gosh darn it… at some point you want to be able to “distinguish between between bear and lion attacks.” (Admit it… you have to want to know that even if you don’t play GURPS!!!)

Who is Douglas Cole, you ask? Only the guy that wrote the Violent Resolution series, the best set of articles you’ll find from this year on the topic of game design and trends in role-playing games. I declared Doug to be the top gaming blogger of 2014 last year. Now he’s on my shortlist for best fan writer for 2015.

Go check out his stuff already!

Here’s what I said about his Pyramid articles ages ago:

Armor Revisted — “This is a fascinating article.  On the one hand, it is a concise set of designer’s notes that explains the foundational premise of the GURPS firearms rules.  On the other… it provides two additional dials that can be applied the the weapons and armor stats in the game.  As a bonus, these are explained in such a way that it is clear when and why to do things in the alternate way.  A big part of running a game depends on being able to visualize what is happening before the players begin to interact with it.  This article explains what the core combat rules actually mean in such a way that a GM that understands this can better improvise his rulings on the fly.  This is surprisingly interesting given the technical nature of the ideas.”

The Deadly Spring — “This will probably be the most infamous Pyramid article of all time.  Good grief!  You choose the materials and specifications… plug in to a variety of equations… and maybe you’ll have a bow at the end.  I majored in math and I don’t understand half this stuff.  (Physics departments produce an entirely different strain of nerdiness, I suppose.)  This article makes the unplayable Striker look like a chump’s game.  It includes some sample bows, but… for me… a generic bow is sufficient for most of what I want to do.”

The Last Gasp — “These rules are really, really neat. It’s kind of mind blowing that a game that has been developed for as long as GURPS has can be improved like this. Wow! Groups that can handle the extra bookkeeping will be richly repaid. (The one adventure that I designed myself for convention play would have benefited greatly from these rules. I didn’t want to kill the player characters within the allotted time, but some sort of penalty for wasting time and energy could have greatly increased the dramatic tension of the session. The long-term fatigue rules here are exactly the sort of thing I was struggling to improvise for myself.)”

“Po-Faced”: What’s it Mean?

You know, I first picked this word up from Sarah Newton. Judging from the context, it appears to mean “completely ignorant of Jack Vance and science fantasy in general; not only post-Christian and anti-Western in tone and application but also devoid of any connection to history, whimsy, or the weird.”

Let’s check google image search to see if we can tap into the collective consciousness on this one:

Good golly… that look! So smug… so contemptuous… so concerned and judgmental and snide all at once! One thing’s sure: you wouldn’t ever want to see that kind of attitude from any participant in a role-playing game. Ugh!

I think I just lost some San points looking at that…!

The horror… the horror!

Three 12-Year-Olds Play G.E.V.’s “Breakthrough” Scenario

The boys were really keen on playing Ogre, but I steered them towards this classic G.E.V. scenario instead. One of them was especially excited about playing the defense, so we let him. The other two split the twelve G.E.V.’s between them.

The defense chose three mobile howitzers to go along with his twenty points of infantry. We had one false start because I’d forgotten that the city hexes were all rubble in this one, but it wasn’t long until we got some nice violent action. (Pre-teen boys tend not to suffer from analysis paralysis near as much as their forty year old counterparts!)
My son took what I thought was a risky move and got right up on the defense. His teammate subsequently chose to hang back rather than jump into the fray. (Doh!) The defense easily picked off two of my son’s G.E.V.’s which were in the water, Things weren’t looking good for the attackers…!
But then my son ended up taking out both mobile howitzers, though. He even had a shot left over and got a “D” result on an infantry unit, knocking out one squad there.
His teammate then came up, concentrated his firepower, and took a 2-to-1 shot against each of the infantry units. This left a single squad, which he chose to overrun in his second movement phase. This cost him one of his G.E.V.’s! (Thanks to their doubled combat power in overruns, infantry make for fairly nasty speed bumps!)
Then… things got weird. My son chose to enter the forest. His teammate followed his lead. (I have no idea why they didn’t think to go around the forest and through the water to escape.) Several G.E.V.’s got disabled. Others got shot. A stack of three disabled G.E.V.’s got a very impressive demonstration of spillover fire, too. It was a massacre! The attacking G.E.V.’s were only able to move four of their units off the board.

So my son got 16 points for moving two G.E.V.’s off the map, 24 points for the two mobile howitzers, and 2 points for the infantry squad– a total 42 points.

His teammate got 16 points for moving two G.E.V.’s off the map… and 10 more for killing five infantry squads– a total of 26 points.

Finally, the defense player got 48 points for killing eight G.E.V.’s. With a 32 point lead, the attackers actually had a marginal victory.

Better yet, the game was short and violent enough, the kids were clamoring for another game.

You know… the kids thought they wanted to play their little group solitaire Firefly board game. They were wrong. As soon as the big Ogre box started coming out again, they didn’t want to do anything that didn’t include direct conflict and player humiliation. There is something primal about the war cries and gloating that a good game of G.E.V. entails. They can’t get enough.

Sure, they see the big box of units and overlays as a bunch of toys. But even at their age, they are capable of grasping the fact that Ogre is a much better game when played without the Ogres!

Appendix N: I’m Telling You, Something Happened!

Three more data points for your consideration here.

The first from Sarah Newton:

It’s recognisably the same game, with that very specific T&T fantasy vibe (very swords and sorcery, much more Fafhrd and Conan than D&D’s slightly more po-faced Tolkienery), yet with a rules set that was quite revolutionary even back in the 1970s, when, to be honest, we didn’t really realise quite how revolutionary it was.

T&T has retained its pulp fantasy flavor while D&D has been successively reinterpreted so many times it has very little in common with its own literary antecedents.

Something happened. OD&D and T&T were both the product of the same literary inspirations. They both, for instance, treat Jack Vance and de Camp & Pratt as authoritative in ways that do not come naturally to children of the eighties or to people whose views of fantasy are strongly colored by the Sword or Shanarra/Thomas Covenant/Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms/Wheel of Time school of thinking. But even playing the most recent edition of T&T, you get the same pulp fantasy flavor that Gary Gygax prized so highly.

And about Gary Gygax…. Was his taste in science fiction and fantasy all that offbeat? It is now, certainly. But check out these recordings of the Mind Webs radio segments that began in the seventies. They’ve got Appendix N authors Philip José Farmer, H. P. Lovecraft, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Fredric Brown, Poul Anderson, Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, and Fred Saberhagen right in there with all the other greats, giants, and grandmasters that are far more recognizable to present day fans.

Would those guys make it into a similar series begun in this century? Not likely. Because something happened. Maybe the publishers’ decision to drop Fritz Leiber’s back catalog in the mid-eighties explains his lapse into obscurity and maybe it doesn’t. My question is, who decided to retire/exclude/drop/exile/excommunicate Stanley Weinbaum from these sorts of things…? Is his work any more dated or any less original now than it was in the seventies…?

But now you’re like, “hey… calm down Jeff. You’re raising your voice over something trivial.” The maitre d’ is prepping his “excuse me, sir” speech. But I’m telling you something did happen in both science fiction and fantasy. And I’ll tell you how I know it happened, too: because it didn’t happen in the time travel subgenre. Check out the literary inspirations list to GURPS Time Travel. Look at how Poul Anderson and a whole raft of the usual suspects are still authoritative both there and in GURPS Infinite Worlds. Do you see what I’m talking about…? Do you?!

But excuse me for a moment, here. Someone’s come over to my table to speak to me…!

Blog Watch: Making 5e Old School, Traveller Advancement, Religious Magic, and Dragon Inflation

Movies (The Escapist) Inside the Lost Dragons Movie Gary Gygax Loved — “None of the main characters wields a weapon, casts a spell, picks a lock, uses a magic item, or indeed does much but flee danger. Aside from Tom taking the ruby, they resolve problems only by praying to the Onelord. You don’t feel like they are player characters, you feel like they are spectators, just watching powerful forces play out, which is exactly the opposite of playing Dungeons & Dragons. It reads like a children’s fantasy book where everyone depends on the grown-ups: more of a Narnia than, say, than a Lankhmar, but even Aslan makes you fight your own battles.”

D&D (Cirsova) 5e to OSR/Old School Conversion PDF — “I’ve seen some folks say that they haven’t seen any good simple supplements or 5e conversions for those looking for a more ‘Old School’ experience. So, I’ve put together a quick reference sheet for 5e players looking for a more Old School experience. I hope this helps.”

Traveller (The Ongoing Campaign) A Traveller Misconception And Describing The Structure Of Play — “Despite there being a clearly-labeled section on the topic, there’s a misperception that CT doesn’t allow characters to become any better than they were at the end of character creation. The problem is actually that players have become so attached to the idea that characters advance due to their success (or fail to advance due to their lack of success) that they miss the simplicity of the CT system.”

RPG Design (Zak S) Old School Design and Room In the Margins — “This game has Margin. And it’s not like I had to write up things either, like I would with modern supposed-to-be-generic systems. Because the core of the game is simply ‘What describes things that exist in this place and time?’ rather than ‘What is genre-appropriate?’ Cthulhu characters exist in a world that still has a lot of things that, thematically, aren’t horror-specific like cars and botany. And it grasps that you’d like to be able to play lots of sessions–either lots of different kinds of games, or lots of the same campaign but with evolving roles and situations, so it needs to weigh things players can do close to equally. Other trad systems think the same way–D&D, Warhammer, even FASERIP can all drift away from their default modes with barely an effort.”

Censorship (Greyhawk Grognard) Thoughts on the OBS Offensive Content Policy — “The question becomes, as they already have a history of caving into political pressure on social media, what guarantee do publishers have that, even after a title has been ‘whitelisted’, there won’t be a continuing campaign to apply pressure to OBS, which eventually results in the title being re-evaluated and banned? The answer is that there is no guarantee at all. If Fred Hicks, or Cam Banks, or some other prominent SJW, decides he doesn’t like a title, or an author, or a publisher, or an artist, then he already knows all he needs to do is keep jumping up and down about it, and OBS will roll over and show him its jewels. They’ve done it twice do far. No reason to think they won’t do it again.”

D&D (Searching For Magic) Religious Magic in RPGs — “The idea of gods showing up, messing about with human affairs and having the odd affair of their own to create demigods has a certain quality to it, but it disrupts the idea of faith. Faith, by definition, is a belief in something without proof. There’s no faith involved with fantasy religions. They are more like corporations with clearly defined goals based on the godly portfolio coming down from head office.”

Movies (SuperversiveSF) Is Khan a Villain? — “Khan is a moral force. He is destructive, and willful, but he acts with a purpose in mind. Khan did far more to stop war than Kirk did. If Khan had not rebelled against Marcus, then Kirk and others may have loyally followed Marcus into war. In contrast to Khan, Kirk rarely understands what will be the consequences of his actions. I submit that this makes Kirk a poor hero, and Khan far less than a villain.”

Books (Black Gate) The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Tolkien’s Necklace of the Dwarves — “The Nauglamir is the stuff of an absorbing novel, with elves, dwarves, greed, treachery, romance, heroes and villains, combat: and this is just one little bit of The Silmarillion. And a part of it is just a fragment of Beren’s life (there’s a tale for another novel or two)! I’m not crazy about the creation aspect at the beginning of The Silmarillion, but if you like history, the rest of the book is a fascinating read on a grand scale.”

SE4X (Board Game Geek) Research Centers: Yay or Nay? — “For those who love advanced planning, facilities were meant as a starting point. In the second expansion, I originally planned on adding at least one additional facility – the supply facility. It generates supply points that are used to pay your maintenance. These points actually are generated and sit on the map. A Supply Tech would have been added to the research tree that limited how far ships could be from a supply source to draw supply. As you researched the tech, the distance would get farther. Scouts and Raiders would have been allowed to draw supply from an unlimited distance, befitting their purpose. Transports could also carry supply for distant fleets. A fourth facility was also under consideration.”

D&D (Semper Initiativus Unam) More Dragons in the Dungeons — “Dragon inflation has been a constant of D&D, and it has slowly pushed the dragon out of the game, except at high levels. Dragons went up in hit points significantly in the first edition PHB, and much further in second edition, firmly ensconcing them as upper-echelon enemies. They have stayed that way ever since; a party will pretty much have to be 5th level or higher before even thinking about slaying a dragon.”

D&D (Monsters & Manuals) The Hickman Revolution and the Frustrated Novelist — “There is a reason why Hickman’s approach chimed with many gamers, and why ultimately it came to dominate the hobby during the 80s, 90s and 00s before story/hipster/forge games and the OSR began to slay the beast: many, I would say perhaps the majority, of GMs are frustrated novelists, just like Tracy Hickman was. To them, there was an allure in the idea that they could create games which were not mere games (a frivolous pursuit) but which were also stories – it was an outlet for their desire to be writers, which they could not fulfil due to lack of talent, time, dedication or all three.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers