Saturday, February 19, 2011

Welcome!

Greetings reader. This blog is something I've been contemplating for a long time, and I've finally decided to take action and get it up and running. Figuring it somewhat like having your first child, if you wait until you're "ready", it will just never happen. The most difficult part was coming up with a name. There are so many great blogs out there with so many clever names, every time I thought I had come up with something clever, someone else either already had it, or had something close enough that I shied away. In the end, it was a good exercise, because I discovered a number of blogs I was unaware of. In the end, I came to "People them with monsters", a snippet from one of my favorite sentences from any RPG book ever.

Gary Gygax wrote in Men & Magic:
First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his "underworld", people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level.
That is one hell of a sentence!

This blog will be about Dungeons & Dragons (mostly in it's earlier forms), and it's modern heir apparent, the Pathfinder RPG. I anticipate it will contain a little of everything, including philosophical discussion about RPGs, related media, some product reviews, game session reports (if I ever get the gumption to type those up), and hopefully some original material you can drop into your own games.

Just so you know a bit about my RPG background and where my roots lie, here is the summary:

My first memories of anything RPG-related was when I was very young, perhaps 6 or 7. I found a funny-looking die in my grandma's "junk drawer" that was numbered 1 to 20. I later found out it belonged to my older cousins. When I asked them what it was for, they gently explained it was for a big kids' game called "Dungeons & Dragons". They showed me the books, and I remember being very intrigued and confused by it all. I peppered them with questions, but I don't remember a whole lot else. I don't recall which books they had either, but I'm pretty sure it was Holmes and/or AD&D.

Fast-forward several years to find my good friend from the neighborhood  - Jeff - teaching me how to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. This was in 1994 or thereabouts. At the same time, he let me borrow a D&D novel (The Tainted Sword). I hated reading up until that point, but once I cracked that novel, I couldn't stop, and I devoured the whole thing in a day or two. To this day it's the only novel I've ever read that mentions blink dogs, a creature that holds a special place in my heart. I got the next two books from the library and read those as well.

Soon after, I bought a 2nd Edition Player's Handbook. It was one of the black reprints from the mid-90's. I read that thing over and over. Jeff moved away, so I never had anyone to play with, but I read the rulebook and a lot of Forgotten Realms novels from the library. I also spent a great deal of time at the hobby shop looking at all the D&D stuff, but never really buying anything. I was 14 or 15 at the time, so my wallet was a bit thin.

Then I met two guys in my sophomore gym class (Ryan and Steve) that happened to also be into D&D, video games, and all sorts of other stuff. We quickly became friends and remain so to this day. We played a bit of D&D, but never with the same characters for more than one session. And they seemed to prefer to play Necromunda, which I never tried myself and just wasn't interested in for some unknown reason. I guess I just thought nothing could hold a candle to D&D...

Time passes, and my focus shifts to girls and beers and the myriad other forms of tomfoolery that one takes interest in high school and the few years immediately following. However, when 3rd edition came out, it did catch my attention, and I bought the core books. We may have tried to play once, but if we did, I don't really remember it. Ryan says we did though, so I'll take his word for it.

Skip forward yet again to 2008, and I caught wind of 4th edition. I thought it would be cool to try it out, so I bought the core books and a Chessex pound-o-dice from amazon and convinced my longtime friend and now brother-in-law Greg to run a game for some of us. We played maybe twice, but it never really got much traction, and the books sat on my shelf.

In spring of 2010, I happened upon something in my internet browsing that had to do with D&D. I have no idea what it was, but it was the catalyst. I decided we needed to get together and game and do it regularly. It became important to me to get it off the ground and maintain it. I decided I couldn't leave it up to anyone else, so I figured I'd have to learn to DM. This is also how I got into blogs. There are a ton of D&D blogs out there, and I devoured their content. I got everyone together, and we set out to play The Keep on the Shadowfell under the 4th Edition rules, as my first time DMing any game ever.

A lot of ex-4th edition players' stories start out with "we played Keep on the Shadowfell" it turns out. It would be completely unfair to say that fun wasn't had, but there were a number of things that came up that showed us that D&D 4E wasn't for us.

First of all, we had 8 players. The game is optimized for 5, and they recommend not to go outside the 4-6 range. Any time we got into combat (which was every time the party went into the next room) a single round could take 45+ minutes. We resorted to using one of those little hourglass timers from a board game in an attempt to keep things moving, but even that didn't seem to help. On top of that, I had to spend hours re-designing encounters to be more challenging because the party of 8 just stomped on everything. And I couldn't just add monsters because it would cause combat encounters to take even longer. In the end, after spending hours using the monster builder app, they still just stomped on everything, albeit perhaps the stomping was a bit softer.

Some of the players were brand new, and thus had nothing to compare the game to, so they pretty much just accepted most things as being the way of things. But those of us that played past editions didn't like a lot of things about it. The short of it is, it wasn't the game for us, but I'm glad we found that out through play, rather than conjecture.

We finished the module after 5 sessions of 10-13 hours each and the characters at level 5. At the end, I was amazed to find out that it was the farthest anyone in the group had ever leveled a single character! I knew I was on to something, and a lot of fun was being had, despite the challenges of the system we were using.

It was around this time that I "found" a pdf of the Pathfinder RPG rules, and we decided to give that a shot. I read over the rules, and my sister and her husband helped me by testing it out. We liked it, so we decided to make the change. We split the group of 8 into two groups of 4, and I am running each group through a separate adventure path (Rise of the Runelords and Council of Thieves). Each group meets roughly monthly, with sessions generally lasting the same 10-13 hours we were doing before. Both groups seem happy with their respective campaigns. Prep is still more work than I'd like it to be, but it's far better than the hoops I had to jump through with 4E. It should also be noted that I now hold 5 subscriptions with Paizo, so although my initial exposure to the game may have been less than legit, they have landed a loyal customer.

Last weekend I ran a group through a session of OD&D, using the little brown books and a few house rules. I began them with the Keep on the Borderlands, so I could see what all the rage is about. We only played for 3 hours, so the group didn't get a great deal done, but I had an awesome time. I hope the players did as well, because I would love to have this be the beginning of a new campaign. I really enjoyed the use of random tables, being able to run monsters without having to study them beforehand, and the chance to flex my improvisational muscles without fear of breaking some carefully-balanced game. I'm still a fledgling DM, and I still have a lot to learn, but if this past year was any indication, it's going to be a lot of fun!

If you've made it this far, I'm flattered. I thought it important for any potential readers to have the opportunity to take my gaming history into consideration. There are a lot of people out there with blogs that have been gaming 30+ years, played with chits, have had dinner with Gary Gygax, and many other experiences various and sundry (see what I did there?) that give them their street cred. I am not one of them. My gaming experience is comparatively limited. I would not claim to be any sort of authoritative voice on the subject of RPGs. I just wish to share my experiences and have discussions with other like-minded individuals.

That being said, you have my solemn vow that future posts will be much more interesting. Game on!