Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Great Purge

Lo, as was promised in days of yore, it has begun!

If you'll look at my blog list, you'll see it's noticeably shorter. It's not as short as I expected it to be, but some blogs got whacked. Most got whacked because they're not even there anymore, which is annoying, but what can you do? Others because they haven't updated in over a month or...

Well, to be blunt, this is my blog list and represents blogs I find interesting. So with some, they changed their formats or topics. The Nerdy Girl's Game Blog is now Amber By Design. It's a neat crafts & cooking website, but not really the sort of thing I associate with Trollsmyth. With others, I drifted away from them.

Others haven't been updated in years, but they're still here because I still find them useful (like the wonderful Hamsterish Hoard and How to Start a Revolution), or I've linked to them a lot or I find them of historical interest and value (like Grognardia). Such blogs will likely always have a spot on my blog list for so long as they remain up.

Next step: adding new blogs. I'm still soliciting suggestions, so if you don't see one you think you should, let me know!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"He'll Save Every One of Us!"

The RPGPundit, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen to save the OSR from unmitigated disaster. In order to prevent “the enemies” of the OSR from defining it, he has chosen to define it for us, thus locking the OSR in amber, preserving it for all time. His definition is as follows:

OSR: a design philosophy of creating systems, settings and adventures that fit within the boundaries of old-school mechanics and concepts; that is, either directly utilizing features that were in existence in the period before the advent of 2nd edition AD&D; or features that, in spite of not having historically existed at that time, could have existed in that period without the addition of material or design concepts that are clearly the product of subsequent ideas or later theories.


So try this experiment yourself: get up from your computer and walk to your kitchen/office breakroom/coffee shop counter. Get yourself a drink. Now, before you return to your computer, recite RPGPundit's definition.

How much were you able to remember?

How many of you were unable to actually finish reading it before it turned into the mwah-mwah-mwah noises of an adult in a Peanuts cartoon?

I understand what RPGPundit is trying to do here. For the lists and tourneys of the message boards he adores so much, I suppose that definition would serve fairly well. (Looks a touch too broad in concept to me, while also assuming there’s a significant mechanical difference between 1e and 2e that I don’t think he’ll get much support on. But meh…)

You want an actually useful definition of the OSR? Here’s one:
Rulings, not rules.

Now, RPGPundit is going to hate this definition with a purple passion. It’s absolutely useless in a joust with the likes of Ron Edwards. It does nothing to fence “the swine” from the OSR or prevent them from claiming bits of it as their own. And it easily supports a meme of the OSR as a system in which DMs abuse their players.

But you know what? At a quarter-after-midnight, after a grueling but triumphant 4+ hour DMing session, when you’re talking to someone in the parking lot of your favorite gaming store, you’ll remember it.

And when you lay it down, it’ll actually mean something to the person you told it to. And they’ll be able to tell, instantly, whether or not your game is the sort of game they’d like to join in on.

Because that, ladies and gents, is what it’s all about. That’s how the OSR rose to the victorious heights it enjoys today.

And don’t make any mistake about it, folks. The triumph of the OSR is all around you. You can see it in the re-release of the 1e core books in collectable hardbacks (with a portion of the proceeds going to a Gygax memorial fund). You can see it in WotC using The Caves of Chaos in their public playtesting materials. You can see it in the boxed sets of the Dragon Age and Doctor Who RPGs. You can see it in Monte Cook’s Numenera core book, where he writes:

Numenera is a game about ideas, not rules. The rules are meant to be a framework upon which to hang the tapestry of the story you and the players create.

You can see it in the latest adventure path for the Pathfinder Game (a true rival if the OSR has one) being a loving homage to Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. And most of all, you can see it in the games people are actually playing.

And how did the OSR achieve this triumph? As much respect as I have for the research and historical perspective offered by folks like Maliszewski, the truth is, we did it by doing fun things and getting excited about them. We built our megadungeons and published them on our blogs and shared death-counts (both those of monsters and PCs) as they were explored. We went through every monster in the 2e Monstrous Manual and brainstormed hundreds of awesome, crazy, and silly ideas. We applauded Jeff Reints when he described our style as Retro-stupid and thrilled to the zany joys of Encounter Critical and spidergoats. We started magazines because magazines are cool and we published boxed sets because boxed sets are cool and we hold contests of all sorts and do blind Christmas exchanges and share our settings and get excited about new adventures and kick-starters because these things make our games more fun. We read about the open-table, nomadic PC play styles of the ‘70s and said, “That looks like fun!” and started Flailsnails. We embraced the “lawn crapper” heavy-metal trappings of Raggi. We have no shits to give about Zak and his face-to-face group’s nine-to-five, or what it says about women in gaming or blah-blah-blah because what they do at the table is freaking amazing and cool and is fun.

We are frikken’ gamers who frikken’ game and have a great time doing it.

And that is incredibly contagious.

People want a piece of our action because our action is a great way to spend three to nine hours. We don’t gaze at our navels, fretting about 30 minutes of fun, brain damage, or what our games say about society. We fill our time with fun things, hang out with cool people, and create amazing memories.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And, having that, who’d want to waste time worrying about what Ron Edwards thinks?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Dragon Age: Origins First Impressions

Yeah, I’m really that behind in the world of computer RPGs. >.<

That’s mostly because I was spoiled by Ultimas IV and V in my youth. I got to play a game where the NPCs had lives of their own that didn’t revolve around me and my quest. I played a game that didn’t constantly lie to me about how “urgent” a quest was, and then punish me if I avoided side-quests in order to complete the main quest as quickly as possible. I played a game where you actually had real multiple paths to success and taking everything that wasn’t nailed down was recognized as theft.

Damn kids these days need to stay offa my lawn…

Anyway, I’ve heard tons of good stuff about BioWare’s CRPGs and EA is offering DA: Origins for free, so I figured out check it out. I’ve enjoyed BioWare’s other offerings in the past, most especially Neverwinter Nights. But I’ve cooled on the whole genre over the years.

The big issue, honestly, is that combat-as-puzzle doesn’t really hold my interest, especially when it’s real-time. And most especially when…

Ok, so I choose a mage and I do their Harrowing tutorial, which was a neat way to do a tutorial, even if I did have to ask a lot of questions like I’d slept through every class at the Tower. But after that? My next big quest is pest-control: clearing the storage caves of spiders. Ok, they’re giant spiders, but still…

And just to make it worse, I’m also looting the place. In a real, living world, this would be theft, or possibly even embezzlement. In a computer RPG, stealing everything that’s not nailed down, no matter where it is, is Tuesday.

And then there’s the interface. The things I need to know about my characters are far away from them, way off in the corners. I’m not watching the cool combat animations because my eyes are glued to the spell cool-down timers. Even with one character I’m hitting the space-bar multiple times in combat; once I’ve got a large party I’m really going to be wondering why this thing isn’t turn-based.

There’s supposed to be a “tactics” system that’s supposed to jump in when certain conditions are met, but so far it doesn’t appear to be working. I imagine there’s some sort of box I haven’t checked somewhere to do that. Or it does less than I think it does or only works randomly?

So yeah, so far, not terribly impressed. I’m mildly intrigued by the story. Part of that is because I suspect I’m coming at it from a place that’s very different from where I think most players default. Sure, yes, the magi are being treated poorly and oppressed. But neighbor, I’ve walked the streets of Mordheim and I know what happens when the horrors in the universe next door get their pseudopods on a juicy mage to use as a gateway. No, I’m not helping you abscond with your priestess girlfriend, and the reason you’ve not been tapped to experience the Harrowing is because you’ve already failed!

(If you help that guy and don’t end up fighting him as a demon-possessed horror later in the game, the writers should have their knuckles rapped by a fire giant. Seriously!)

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Oldest War

Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.
- Agent Smith

The Manual, however, has a schtick which suggests being unable to breath air is just a disease transmitted as a side effect of being near the aboleth-- which I like very much. I also decided that it drains color out of nearby fish.
- Zak Smith

There are those, learned and respected scholars all, who will tell you that the first Great War was fought between the lizard folk and the serpent folk who were the gods of the Yuan-ti. They spend much of their time combating their minority colleagues who insist, no, the first Great War was fought between the aarakocra and the thri-kreen. Neither side does much more than emit scoffing laughs (laced with a disturbing sense of directionless embarrassment) when the wild-eyed and unkempt seers speak of even older things.

In the mind’s eye of poets and madmen dance a race of children. These children dwell in the happy spring of our world, cavorting and making as they dance and sing. Since this world is all they know, they name their mother the All-mother, and they name our world All Creation. And they shape the beginnings of our world with all the love, curiosity, enthusiasm, and vicious tyranny of children in the nursery.

And then something from Outside came. To say it invaded is to imply agency and choice. To say it tumbled implies it was pushed or tripped. So lets just say it came.

It was utterly inimical to the games and songs and dances of the Children. Their voices quavered in its presence, their gardens wilted, their games went all sideways. They couldn’t even speak with it, and its utterly alien ways went beyond uncouth, beyond creepy. It was utterly abominable.

And, by its very presence, it warped things. It didn’t so much spawn as twist things already in the nursery world and remake them in its image, to fit its idea of what nursery ought to be. It was, to the minds of the Children, the ultimate theft of their toys.

And this they could not stand. They made war against it. They tried to burn it with fire and freeze it with ice. They sang at it and they threw stones at it. But everything that touched it warped and became part if its corruption of the world.

Even worse, its corruption was infectious. The Children built an army, a massive collection of soldiers, all unified in purpose and of one single mind. At the first touch of it, a wave of instability passed through the entire army. The Children were forced to destroy their soldiers before they became a tool of their enemy.

Their next army was far more clever. Each was not just a unique individual, but misanthropic as well. Each individual specimen was a singular army in itself, armed with every clever weapon the Children could devise, it eschewed the company of all others, and most especially those like itself. Thus, should one fall to corruption, the others would be unmoved.

We call the by-blows of these warriors of the Children beholders. And, in the end, they murdered their creators, whom they considered just as repellent and horrible as the enemy they were created to destroy.

The beholders also won the war against it. They created an army of their own, an army of raw chemical hunger that sought only to dissolve everything, rendering it into fuel to grow itself. We know the remnants of this army as the various slimes, oozes, puddings, and gelatins that still lurk in the dark places.

So it was defeated, but the corruption it left behind was not undone. For, you see, the Children were right about their mother. She was also the mother of it. And it was a daydream, a fantasy of children-that-might-have-been, and its very presence implied into being the nursery-that-could-have-been-if-only…

And you can still find those echoes of its existence in the aboleth, and in the twistings of our own mortal shells that we call the illithid, and in similar horrors that do not belong and are not right. And we rightly recoil in horror and destroy to the utmost these terrible children of the Mother Of Us All. For their continued existence whispers in our heart-of-hearts that Mother loves them more than us.