31 August 2011

The Pathfinder Character

Inspired by the recent, forgettable, Conan film, I'd like to play a fighter type in this Pathfinder game.  I want to punch and hack things.  I also don't want to worry about spell-managment, nor am I really feeling very roguish.

Barbarian?  Ranger?  Or straight-up fighter?  The party will likely need a wilderness-type, so if no one else is feeling it, I can play a ranger.  I think my preference, however, lies with a straight-up fighter.

Except there's no such thing!  This is the blessing and curse of systems like Pathfinder.  So many choices, so many ways to customize, which can often create option-paralysis.  In an old school game, you could just make a fighter.  If he wanted to bash things with a shield, cool.  If she wanted to use a net and trident, cool.  Minimal mechanical difference between the two, if any.  But now I'll have to think about feats and the interplay of mechanics, flavor, and concept.  There's a bit of stress there.

30 August 2011

So, Pathfinder

Gaming had been on the rocks for me since June, with vacations and the beginning of the semester getting in the way of the group getting together.  There were also some communication issues (as always); I'd put out an email or Facebook post saying "let's schedule some games" and would not hear anything.  Meanwhile, so and so would tell me that someone else "really wanted to play again."  I was frustrated.  So two Fridays ago I managed to gather the core members of the group at my house.  We played some Ticket to Ride and talked about what we wanted to do.  The result of that conversation was a Pathfinder game -- specifically an Adventure Path.  Very specifically, The Serpent's Skull.

I know there are some old schoolers who sneer at Adventure Paths, but this seems like a great solution to some problems with our group.  It reduces the amount of prep dramatically, which is always good for us busy folks.  It also has some built-in plot structure (though it's all fairly open ended and, in some instances sandbox-y), which satisfies the more story-oriented in our group.  The chapters of the path give us logical break points and, more importantly, accomplishment milestones to serve as nice positive reinforcement.  Our goal is to complete one book per semester and play out the whole thing.  We're also going to try rotating DM's, with at least one other person and myself switching up with each book in the path.

While Pathfinder would not have been my first choice (even though I like it), it fits well with a few group members who really came of gaming age with 3.0.  They like feats.  Really, I like the system well enough and the setting a lot.

All in all, I am looking forward to rolling the dice again.  Character creation is this Thursday.

25 August 2011

Still here!

It's been ten very hectic days since my last post.  The semester has begun!  I'm teaching one more class than I was originally scheduled for, due to a last minute faculty vacancy.  While the extra work isn't fun, this group of students seems to be really great -- they are honors kids, so they at least do all the reading.  I'm also the guy who gives overrides and makes schedule changes for two different classes, so a lot of my time this week has been spent saying things like "I'm sorry, wanting to go home every Friday isn't a legitimate reason for me to change your schedule" and "No, you really will graduate on time even though you cannot get into this class.  How do I know?  Because you are a freshman and have four more years to take this class."

Haven't had much time or space to think about gaming, much less write about it.  But I did have the core element of the gaming group over to the house last Friday for some board gaming (Ticket to Ride, with the wife and daughter) and we discussed the future.  Looks like we're going to try and play through one of the Pathfinder adventure paths.  More on which one and the thought process behind that decidedly not Old School decision later.

Hope everyone is doing well!  I haven't really read any blogs in the past two weeks either, as the 594 items in Google Reader will attest.

15 August 2011

Chaos at the beginning

Classes start Saturday here.  Given my own teaching load and administrative duties, that means these next two weeks are going to be nuts.  That means not a lot of posting on the blog.  It also means not any gaming, or even thinking about gaming, as I try to get off to as strong of an academic-year start as possible.

Pretty much decided on using A Game of You and Persepopolis in class this semester.  Thought hard about Maus, but just not as familiar with it as I am the other two.


11 August 2011

Comics in Class?

It looks like I'll be teaching a section of our Human Experience class this semester (a general liberal arts/critical thinking class for first year students).  I really want to assign a graphic novel.  I'm thinking about "A Game of You" (the Sandman series) to spark discussions about gender, stories, growing up, and identity.  But I'm also open to suggestions.  Anyone read anything that would fit in my class?

10 August 2011

Trail of Cthulhu and Clue Finding


I've been rereading Trail of Cthulhu lately.  I think I want to use it as the system for the 1930's pulp/Weird War 2 game I can't get out of my head.  As I've been rereading it, I've been reminded that I owe this game a debt for making me realize something that now seems obvious but, at the time, blew me away.

Trail of Cthulhu (ToC) is based on the Gumshoe system.  I honestly don't know much about the system outside of ToC, but it's built for investigative/mystery solving sorts of games and revolves around a simple premise: PC's are meant to find clues in these games, so they auotmatically find them.  No role needed.

That was the revelatory part, embarrasingly enough.  But it blew me away because it struck at the heart of a significant issue I had with D&D since 3.0 came out.  With such a robust skill system in place, D&D 3.0 and it's spawn (3.5, Pathfinder, and on into 4.0) invites us to make skills an integral part of the game, especially to give skill focused characters like the thief, er rogue,  some spotlight time.  That, in turn, poses a problem for adventure design.  On one hand, if skills, skill checks, and those who rely on them as class lynchpins are to be meaningful, there needs to be some game heft beind them -- there needs to be consequences for failure and rewards for success.  Yet, often the reward for success is "continue with the adventure" or "find something really important."  Which brings me to the other side of the problem.  If there are to be stakes at all, there needs to be a chance for failure.  If failure occurrs, then the reward for success doesn't happen.  If that reward doesn't happen, often the adventure grinds to a halt.  At the very least, significant frustration results.

I saw this all the time, as the party needed a skill check to open a door/remove a trap/sneak around some bad guys and would botch the roll.  This would not be such a bad thing in certain cases.  Maybe they would just have to fight the monster instead of sneaking by it, or maybe they would just hack down the door instead of picking the lock. But in other cases, especially when they needed a bit of info to make the adventure continue (or at least be more meaningful and/or more fun), this really sucked.

Hence, the genuis of ToC.  It's a game built for solving mysteries and confronting the nastiness that made the mystery in the first place.  Clues are needed to solve mysteries.  Hence, these clues get found.  Otherwise, there's no adventure.  Players know this and, ideally, buy into the idea.  The accept the fact that the why and how of getting the clues is just as important as the brute fact of getting them.

Like I said, this seems obvious now.  But it took a new system to point out to me an issue with most of the other games I was playing and running.

09 August 2011

Geek Dad Column

Today's Geek Dad column is less of a Gen-Con report, and more of a happy meditation on the positive aspects of face to face, tabletop gaming in all it's forms.  It also mentions Old School Hack.

Good stuff, Ethan.

08 August 2011

The ruined church

File:Prince William's Parish Church (Ruins), Sheldon vicinity (Beaufort County, South Carolina).jpg
Who knows what takes place in this ruin, situated just off the Old Swamp Road, in the inky darkness?

A quick, but heartfelt, congrats to Old School Hack!

Big, big congratulations to Kirin and Old School Hack.  This past weekend at GenCon, OSH won a Gold Ennie for Best Free Product.

I love Old School Hack.  It looks good.  It's innovative while still invoking old school flavor.  And, most importantly it's fun as hell.  Oh, it's also free.  So there's no reason whatsoever you shouldn't download a copy and play a game or seven.

Congrats Kirin!

04 August 2011

Enough whining. Now, a question about small-town Nazi Cthulhu Cultists.

I've been kicking around this 1930's Weird War II game for months and months now, in which fine art and Nazis feature prominently.  I don't know when or if it will ever get off the ground, but thoughts have returned to it lately.  Prompted by such things as Christian's Pathfinder "game in a city block" setting in Lovitar, and Michael Curtis' Haunted House adventure, I've started to think small.  As in small town.  As in, "if this game ever gets started, where will it start?"

There's a lot of rationale for beginning the game in a big city, especially given that fine art would be a big part of the game.  But I also like the idea of beginning small, in a smaller town.  It's more manageable for me as a GM.  And there's something to be said for knowing your neighbors, even if they turn out to be Nazis and/or Cthulhu cultists.

So, any suggestions?  Some scenic European (or American) hamlet chock full of 1930's weirdness?

A post that needs some cheese

Warning: This post may come across as whiny.  I am frustrated.

I had a nice little gaming group and a nice little Labyrinth Lord game going on.  We had a decent player pool of 4-7 people, had an every-other Wednesday night schedule, and had gone through an entire academic-year with some degree of consistency.  Characters had died, but others had gained levels.  Plot threads had started to develop from player actions and characteristics, which made me happy.

Then, we took a break.  It was as much my doing as anyone else's.  I was travelling a lot in July, as were others, so I proposed we take July off and pick things back up in August.

You see where this is going.

Not only have we not scheduled anything, but I can't even get folks to respond to my emails and other messages.  That's the really frustrating part -- the lack of communication.  I have talked to one of my core players and he's expressed enthusiasm for continuing or restarting, but I am not sure what else I can do to wrangle everyone/anyone else back into a game.

I have a lot of admiration (and more than a little jealousy) for all of you who are able to get consistent, long term games going.  Can I play?

Anyway, sorry to be so whiny.

02 August 2011

Game of Thrones, Pre-Dance With Dragons

Although I bought Dance with Dragons the day it came out (snagging the third-to-last copy in the store!), I just started it last night.  I had wanted to finish my re-read of the rest of the series before diving into the long-awaited next book.  I am glad I did.  The re-read certainly helped me become immersed in Martin's world again.  I noticed a few things this time around that I hadn't noticed before.  Perhaps most importantly, I liked Feast for Crows this time around, whereas before it left a bad taste in my mouth.  Here are a few more specific thoughts, mostly from Feast.  Spoilers for that below.


  • I liked the Brienne chapters in Feast a lot more this time.  I remember thinking before that her story just seemed so aimless and wandering.  I felt like I knew what Martin was trying to do there, but also didn't have a lot of patience for it.  This time, though, I dug it a lot more.  Her story wraps up some loose ends (with the Brave Companions), has some nice points of intersection with other parts of the series (returning to the Inn at the Crossroads, meeting the Septon on the road who becomes important in Kings Landing), and really shows Brienne as a character.
  • Cersi is nuts.  I think the disadvantage of giving her a POV in Feast is that she looses so much as a result. When I were viewing her thorough Jamie, Tyrion, Ned, and others, I certainly disliked her, but also admired her scheming and intellect as well as felt a little sympathy for her situation.  All that is blown away by the self-deception, ego, and general incompetence she displays in Feast.
  • Somewhere, there is serious academic work to be mined from the series' treatment of gender and/or parental issues.  Do you hear me, English Ph.D. students?!
  • There was actually a lot less Arya in Feast than I remember.
  • This book we see the distinct move from character driven POV's to "I need this person to narrate what's going on in this part of the world for the reader."  This is explicit and why we get chapters like "The Captain of Guards".  It's not like we're really meant to care that much about Hotah.  He's just giving us a slice of what's happening in Dorne.  I am not sure I like this move on Martin's part.
  • Speaking of Dorne, I am glad we get to see it, even though I think it's a big reason we've gotten so much book bloat and delay.  I like desert stuff.  I like Prince Doran and his gouty deliberateness.  And wasn't that the big reveal of Feast -- that Dorne was working with the exiled Targaryens (and, I guess, Varys and Illyrio) all along!  And now Quentyn is off to find Dany to woo her?
  • Final, small, semi-random note -- Tom o'Sevens is hanging out at Riverrun with the new Frey Lord of the castle.  This can't bode well for the Freys, can it?
I'm glad I can finally read Dance, now.  I am only a few pages in.  Tyrion has just passed out in Illiriyo's garden.