Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Yeah, it’s another one of these. Like several of you (137 is a number I see a lot), I’ve been lurking about the Old School Renaissance1 corners of this blogosphere 2 thingy for a while now, stealing shit like a madman for my own nefarious purposes and chuckling at the comment wars. Along the way, I’ve come to appreciate the blog format as a way to organize cluttered thoughts (and as a way to brainstorm with other clutter-brained folks and share materials). That, combined with the fact that I need to brush-up on some software stuff (woo-hoo, back in the job market!) have, tragically, led to this. Apologies in advance. (Edit: Apologies number two – apparently I really like footnotes.)

A bit about me, to give you some frame of reference (and pump up the word count): I’m just the other side of 30 as of this writing, and besides rolling dice and playing make-believe I waste my time in music 3 and IT 4. I picked up the RPG bug in the early 90s, just on the cusp of 2nd Edition AD&D. Coming on the scene when I did, we used a mish-mash of 1e and 2e stuff (mixing in some of the Rules Cyclopedia-era Classic D&D material when it made its appearance) – this may have contributed to a certain “system agnosticism” that’s stayed with me to this day. We (“we,” here consisting of myself, my younger brother, and two diaper school buddies) would branch out somewhat into games like Cyberpunk 2020, MERP, Rogue Trader (i.e., 40K 1e), and a few others, but the D&D bug held on pretty tight. My folks are old-school SCA nerds 5, golden age sci-fi readers and Tolkien appreciators, so no surprise there. Eventually, however, the mid-90s rolled around. Magic blew up, Vampire hit it big, and the trenchcoat-and-katana crew took over the gaming scene. I responded by dropped gaming like a hot potato – girls and hardcore bands suddenly seemed a lot more appealing then emoting about my sanguine nyghttyme ayynygst with even pastier and pathetic-er dorks, and there’s only so many hours in a day when you’re in high school.

Some years later (2002 or so, IIRC), I stumbled across a box of Space Hulk minis while helping a friend move. I called him out on his closet nerd status (literally, they were in the closet), we started talking gamer on the way to the liquor store, and by the end of the night I was calling around trying to track down who had all my books and figs – I was hooked. Trolling around for the new 40K rules landed me in a gaming store for the first time in a long minute, where I would encounter something called “3rd Edition D&D.” Incredulous that such a thing existed (last I knew in high school, “that Magic company” had bought TSR, and I had just assumed they would put it in their back pocket and let the license die), I picked it up and had a look. Like a lot of folks, on that first read I was attracted by a number of things that seemed (at the time) like brilliant fixes to some perceived weaknesses of the AD&D engine, some of which I’d been doing for years anyway. Some of it was a little worrying already (dwarf wizards?), but I grabbed a copy, got in a game as a player for a few months to get un-rusty and learn the system, and dived back into the GM pool with a new campaign. Haven’t stopped rolling the dice, since.

The rulesets, on the other hand, have been zooming backwards in time at an alarming, almost Doc Brownian rate. Refereeing two year-long-plus 3e campaigns, I was running into places where the rules didn’t fit the world I was running 6, or where this or that subsystem I remembered from AD&D wasn’t present 7, or where the assumed power curve and “balance-above-all” design philosophy clashed with my ideas of player challenge 8 and campaign longevity. 9 Before I realized it, I had houseruled the d20 interpretation of D&D into what was, at its core, a super-crunchy AD&D. Finally, when the second campaign in a row degenerated into game-paralyzing bloat around level 5 or 6 (and GM prep became a part-time job), I’d had enough. Perhaps, instead of trying to reverse-engineer D&D out of a generic system (something I feel that the WotC designers weren’t all that successful at, and that was frustrating the hell out of me), just playing real, actual AD&D and applying the changes I liked from d20 would be closer to what I was looking for?

Enter HackMaster. It was 1e and 2e, mixed together like we used to do in the old days, with just enough 2.5-era crunch to make the combats comically brutal. It was a breath of fresh air, especially the mock “killer GM” stance (after the touchy-feely player empowerment I had seen in 3e, this was chicken soup for the GM soul). The High Gygaxian tone and heart-on-the-sleeve homages to the classics was completely infectious, inspiring me to re-explore the systems I grew up with. In no time I’d stumbled across the Dragonsfoot forums, and I’ve been wandering down the winding paths of our hobby’s golden and silver ages ever since. 1st Edition AD&D, 3 flavors of Classic, retroclones like OSRIC, LL and BFRPG, and the OD&D / Judges Guild stuff – pretty much everything except my native 2e (which I still haven’t found a real use for, besides the Montrous Manual and Worldbuilder’s Guidebook), I’ve been exploring it all, picking up ideas and influences along the way. (Having a hell of a time, too.)

Currently, I find myself attempting to catalog a burgeoning B/X (’81 Moldvay Basic / Expert) megadungeon, with a rapidly-filling city above and a pretty sparse wilderness area surrounding – that will, in theory, be the bulk of what I talk about here. The whole thing was initially put together as a means to introduce D&D tropes and concepts to the uninitiated, and to provide a framework for the B/X rules to be explored; that’s shaped its development so far, and those will continue to be my goals. However, it’s also becoming an experiment in sandbox play, organic setting generation, free-form world design, and in “world programming” (i.e., shaping the world via custom random generation charts, and the exercise of rationalizing those results into a coherent whole). I’m going to try and use this format to further those ends, hopefully making the whole process more fruitless (and less painful) for me. Maybe you get some mileage out of it too, who knows? (Yeah, me neither.)

Besides all that, you’ll hear about my other campaigns (past and present), other systems, general old-school gaming stuff, music, nerd culture, the occasional psychotic rant. Whatever comes to mind. I’ll also try to assemble a collection of links to old-school / sandbox resources (as much for my convenience as anything else), and host the ones I come up with myself. (I spend an alarming amount of time generating custom game aids.) There may be pretty pictures, I don’t know.

Anyway, here’s this. Check this space soon for more.


1 I love that somewhere along the way we’ve picked up proper noun status.
2 Worst. Word. Ever.
3 Black and folk/Viking metal in particular – you’ll probably see posts relating to that here and there.
4 As noted above, half of the purpose for this blog is to give me an excuse to bone up on applications I need a refresher in – MS Office, Photoshop, HTML, etc. – as well as give me a chance to get familiar with RPG-specific tools like Campaign Cartographer, Hexographer, Tablesmith, etc.)
5 Fun fact: My mom apparently won an archery contest while dressed in full renaissance noble dress, and while 6 months pregnant with me. She says she was never a better archer than when she was pregnant – it did something to her balance. Go figure.
6 An increasingly canon-lite Forgotten Realms based not so much on the 3e set as on the 1e/early 2e Realms I ran back in the day, with an assload of my own additions. First real frustrations with canon overload are HERE.
7 Terrain and weather generation, domain-management stuff, henchmen and hireling interactions, the freaking reaction and morale rules… and on and on and yeah. So. Yeah.
8 One of the weaknesses I see in the CR system is that a smart, cautious, AD&D-trained player group (which I was both blessed and cursed with) will steamroll over CR-appropriate encounters. (Seen it time and time again.) Challenging them effectively without resorting to a Tucker’s Kobolds-type situation every time means they fight way over their assumed EL, and the resulting XP glut completely breaks the level ramp.
9 Particularly the problems inherent in designing a large dungeon under 3e rules – the party levels so fast that it can’t clear (or tame) much of a largish dungeon level before it’s “powered up” to the point where they can’t be challenged by the other threats present on the level. Fucking with the power scaling was one of my earliest (and biggest) issues with 3e.



  2. Heh, heh. All sounds very familiar to me. One thing about these blogs is that they give you a new window to view individual posters through.