Today is Gary Gygax Day, celebrating the life and legacy of the “Father of Role-Playing Games” Gary Gygax. He was born on this day in 1938 and passed on March 4, 2008 (a different holiday altogether: GM’s Day).
Anyone reading this blog who plays almost any kind of game with their friends around a table (even if that table is on the internet) where they pretend, even for a moment, that they are someone else owes the ability to do that to Mr. Gygax.
Earlier this year, I got to attend GaryCon and meet many of his family members and sit around some amazing tables with his friends, co-workers and other fellow devotees like myself. It’s probably no surprise that tickets for next year’s GaryCon go on sale in the next couple days. It’s also probably no surprise that his son, E. Gary Gygax, will be launching a Kickstarter for a truly “old school” project today as well: The Hobby Shop Dungeon.
Thanks, Gary, your imagination lives on!
It’s been a few years since my last summer reading book report, but then it’s been a few years since Ernest Cline came out with a new book. I recently finished reading Armada, his latest novel, and it makes for a great summer read. For fans of his first book, Ready Player One, Armada follows a similar formula. Perhaps too familiar? There are a ton of pop culture references that seem… unlikely given the timeline of the book. Set in the modern day, Zack Lightman grows up in dead father’s shadow, and is searching for a way to connect with him. He goes through his old stuff in the attic, which includes a retro video game collection, D&D books, mix tapes and journals about a conspiracy that video games and sci-fi and space movies since Star Wars have actually been funded by the government to train the next generation of soldiers to repel an alien invasion.
It’s a fun book, and definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. In the first act, the barrage of pop culture references seemed a bit much, but it mellows out in the second and third act, and will make one heck of a movie. Cline does well to right from a high school senior’s point of view, all the while having him look back at his dad’s retro games and music to appeal to a larger target audience. I can’t tell if the retro mix tape (including track listing at the back) is a huge nod to Guardians of the Galaxy, or a rip off, but either way, for some reason futuristic combat set to classic tunes just *works*. The inside of the dust jacket is also the blueprints for the main space fighter used throughout the book. If there is one thing that will get me to buy a book its an awesome map, or possibly blueprints.
Next up, I’ve been reading some retro books of my own! I bought these used through Amazon’s various resellers in anticipation of the release of the 3rd edition of Mutant Chronicles: In Lunacy, Frenzy, and Dementia, sometimes referred to as The Apostle of Insanity trilogy. Interestingly, these were all written by different authors. Much like the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms D&D novels of about the same era, they were published to give more context and material for role players to explore the game with a rich backdrop. I read all of these when they originally came out in the mid 90s. Re-reading the first one (so far) has been a fun and quick summer read. For those unfamiliar with the Mutant Chronicles world, it is set about 500 years in the future. Countries and Corporations have blended to the point that they are inseparable and humanity has colonized the solar system, led by the 5 megacorporations. In the quest for exploration and more territory, humanity made contact with the Dark Legion, a malevolent force that seeks to corrupt and twist technology in their conquest of the universe. The plot of In Lunacy revolves around Luna (the moon) which serves as a galactic Switzerland for the megacorporations. Each megacorp has a presence in Luna, and there are lots of ex-military freelancers who engage in industrial espionage, sabotage, and other odd-jobs for the highest bidder. A group of these freelancers are brought together by rumors the Dark Legion has a presence in the city, and are after a mystic from the Brotherhood, that may be able to see the future. It reads much like a classic RPG adventure. The main characters all come from different megacorp backgrounds, and come together to battle an alien threat. All this in anticipation of the 3rd edition of the Mutant Chronicles RPG, and source books by Modiphius. I always enjoyed the setting, growing up, and am eager to dive back in, now that I have a lot more RPG experience. If you are looking for some fun sci-fi summer reads, these will certainly fit the bill.
Almost six months ago Paizo released a new ‘mode’ for players in its Organized Play program. This Core Campaign, as it was called, only allowed the resources of the Core Rulebook of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This new mode of play did a couple of things for Paizo’s Organized Play program.
First, it allowed new players to join and not be overwhelmed and needing all of the options of the Classic Campaign. New players keep Organized Play fresh with new perspectives and, of course, money. As some veteran players leave because they are bored or for greener pastures with other RPG systems, new players inevitably make the switch to the Classic Campaign and buy new source materials (books, PDFs, etc.) to use for their characters.
Secondly, it allows veteran players to replay scenarios and modules that they have already completed for credit once more. With the Core Campaign’s limitations on player options, veteran players seem to also use this opportunity for a challenge. Since many of the more recent scenarios are created to challenge those playing in the Classic Campaign (who have options galore), Core characters are challenged even more.
As a proponent of the Core Campaign, we have been building a consistent player base in town that consists of both veteran and new players. Before the Core Campaign came along, it seemed harder to get players to come but ever since the release of Core, the growth that we have had at our FLGS has been consistent. It has been good to our players as it has allowed organizers to form cohesive story lines from modules and scenarios instead of the popular question asked every week “Have you played this yet?” The smattering of scenarios fractures the multiple story lines into tiny bits and the majority of the time players do not recognize them. The Core Campaign takes care of that.
With Core being new (sort of), we wanted to know what players were thinking and doing. We wanted to know what classes and races players preferred, what attributes, skills and feats were most important to them and what piece of equipment is a must-have. With almost sixty responses and an eighty-percent completion rate, we found out what players were trying to do; survive and adapt.
Before we listed the survey, we thought that players, as in the Classic Campaign, would want to have the highest damage capabilities to finish off any threats as quickly as possible. While that is somewhat true, players have seemed to gravitate towards surviving since the potential for ending encounters quickly is much lower and versatility because you do not know what other characters will be at your table while adventuring. Here is the key data that we culled from our survey:
- Classes Played: 33% Clerics (25% Wizards)
- Races Played: 50% Humans (Equal Mixture of Other Races, except Half-Elf)
- Most Important Attribute: 25% Constitution (Intelligence, Dexterity)
- Most Important Feat: Toughness (Power Attack)
- Most Important Skill: Perception (Diplomacy and Spellcraft)
- Most Important Equipment: Cloak of Resistance (Wand of Cure Light Wounds and Alchemist’s Fire)
Judging from this data, we found that players are definitely trying to survive as long as they can, which makes sense because Organized Play does not operate like home games where you can usually swap out characters due to death. Clerics heal with spells and channeled energy while providing, most times, versatility within the party, depending on their deity’s domains. Wizards were close behind due to the versatility provided by their spell books. Players want more hit points, denoted by their choice of higher constitution scores and the Toughness feat. Perception was, by far, the most important skill, keeping enemies from getting the drop on players. Humans were the most popular choice for race. This is most likely due to their bonus feat and extra skill points, giving something extra over and beyond regular class abilities. The market for cloaks of resistance is strong as they provide the only real boost to a character’s saves, while wands of cure light wounds provide an extra healing element easily available to parties and alchemist’s fire is an effective tool to deal with those dreadful swarms. Survivability and versatility is the name of this game.
So what kind of character are players shying away from? A half-elf monk with a higher wisdom score! All three of those elements of a character like this were at the bottom of their respective categories. Half-elves are versatile with some of the abilities of elves and humans, but their bonus feat is Skill Focus, thus limiting the versatility otherwise enjoyed by humans. Monks need help from feats and archetypes which are not available in the Core Campaign. They lack several key components best left for discussion elsewhere (like here – Pathfinder Unchained: Monk). And players just thought that wisdom was not as important, comparatively, as the other attributes.
We have looked at what the Core Campaign is, what it is accomplishing and what players think is important in the campaign. So, in conclusion, we offer two pre-generated characters on the opposite ends of the spectrum; one made to be the perfect character to play and the other taking the least desirable traits and making something happen. Here they are:
- Annastias the Beloved – Seemingly loved by everyone she meets, the tough, raven-haired beauty Annastias joined the clergy of Sarenrae and then the Pathfinder Society under the tutelage of her cousin. Driven by her thirst for knowledge and the preservation of ancient history, she routinely travels Golarion in hopes to find some obscure lore that the Sapphire Sage, Amenopheus, hinted at finding.
- Grilayne Ashenoak – An outsider of sorts, Grilayne tries to rally others to his causes. Whether the cause may be calling for the town to present its taxes to the nearby temple of Abadar or for the local magistrate to end a bloody feud, it seems as though he is never welcomed in any civilized stronghold. Practicing a rigorous and unforgiving set of daily disciplines, he uses the ideals of Abadar as a basis for his beliefs. Now, as a member of the Pathfinder Society, he has decided to bring civilization to the heathens of the world, wherever they may be.
First, let me say that unlike a lot of the blogs I post, this is not informative, but cathartic. You’re not going to become a better gamer from reading this post. It’s not a review of something cool coming out. This is something I need to write down, and I want to see what other people have to say about it.
I’m going to be real here, for a minute. Gaming as a kid was a source of fun, certainly, but also a source of great stress for me growing up.
I started gaming with some neighborhood friend’s when I was eight years old. I was hooked when my assassin won the friendship of a pet cat that changed into a panther three times a day (from Palace of the Silver Princess). I was excited to climb into my parent’s car to tell them about it. I was shocked when they frowned and said, “That game is satanic.”
It was 1985. This was both the height of gaming’s popularity, but also the height of the various Dungeons and Dragons Controversies which centered largely around the belief that it was intrinsically involved with devil-worship. Jack Chick published “Dark Dungeons” (viewable here,) which captures what many people though at the time. Most probably didn’t give it any thought at all, but just accepted it because their neighbor or minister said it was satanic, or they saw something on 60 Minutes about it.
Really, why or how that came to be perceived that way is irrelevant. The fact was, my folks seemed to believe, even if halfheartedly, that it was true. Strangely, they didn’t entirely keep me from pursuing it. They just didn’t like it. I struggled with that as a kid. Being really into something, and knowing that my parents, who I loved very much, thoroughly disapproved of it left me with a bit of a pit in my stomach sometimes. I’m almost certain they thought it was just another phase; a passing interest that would come and go just like other interests had in the past. They investigated it a little bit, and nothing obviously harmful seemed to come from it. But even into college, they discouraged me. To this day, I hesitate mentioning gaming to them, despite the 30 years that have passed since that first game.
I have children of my own now. While I showed my daughter the game when she was younger, she didn’t embrace it, and I didn’t push her to. My son, however, asked about it and pursued it, and recently asked to play “my game” and so, a few weeks ago, I decided to let him give it a try.
Perhaps because of my history, I’ve felt strange about children playing games… Felt strange in a way that shocked me… gnawed at me. I went to SCARAB a few years ago, and saw a group of children (ages 8-11) playing a ‘kids track’ series of games based on the Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’m not sure if it was the time of the day (the kids would have been playing for probably 4-6 hours by then) or the windowless room they played in, or just my history, but I felt bad for them. Sick almost. It felt wrong to have kids inside rolling dice and imagining adventures rather than outside and acting them out, if not living them. I recalled, however, that as a kid, I would have killed to have the chance to go to a gaming convention, and probably would have loved something that spoke to fiction that I loved and was familiar with. I went again to SCARAB earlier this year, saw a similar table with similar kids, and despite the obvious joy I saw on their faces, I felt uneasy.
With that as a backdrop, I began making a character with you 5 year-old son, using pictures from the book and summaries of character roles to allow him to make his choices. We used 5th Edition D&D which is classic and streamlined enough not to overwhelm him with choices. He went with a rogue, based on a picture of strong but secretive agent of some sort in a tavern early in the book. I ran through some feats, summarizing them and he picked one I wouldn’t have, but which turned out to actually be very good. I pulled something out of my head and we started playing.
I put a single ally, a priest, in his party and described them as old friends that had grown up together in their small town, and had decided to go off to check the ruins of a castle nearby, chasing rumors of gold and jewels said to have been lost beneath the old keep.
We fought some goblins, which he was a little timid about, but when he saw he could gain the upper hand, attacked with gusto. He tended to enjoy the idea of being unseen more than anything else, and greedily captured as much gold as he could before a mob of goblins chased him and his friend out of the dungeon.
I have a vast collection of Dwarven Forge, and so we were able to do this right. The encounters were three dimensional and all details were present, including a swiveling secret door. When we wrapped up, he begged me to continue, obviously having fun.
As a young boy who grew up into a man with reservations about D&D, especially as it related to his children, I felt mixed emotions as he pressed me to continue. In many ways, when I first became a father, I hoped to create my own little gaming group and share with my children all the things I had done and still hope to do. This moment was a realization of something I had contemplated for decades. It was an indescribable feeling (I can’t put it into writing… but numerous emotions, not all positive, tugged at me).
We played on. I finally crafted a final confrontation with the evil wizard commanding the goblins, adding an NPC fighter to balance out the small party my son was guiding. As the wizard stood to challenge the party and call forth zombies to march against them, my son surprised me.
“What do you want, thief? Say, before I destroy you.”
“I’m here to join you.”
“Hubba-wha?! You want to join me?”
“Well, then your first task is to slay your friends! HAHAHAHA!”
“Okay, I kill them.”
“Yeah, I kill them.”
“Uh…. okay, you chase after them, and they curse you as they flee the dungeon.”
“And, uh… you become a menace to the surrounding countryside, raiding and pillaging with your goblin companions, building the power and influence of the wizard you now serve.”
So… My son appears to either be a sociopath, or has the makings of a great game master some day.
He has pressed to play again, and we have revisited it but sometimes it becomes more about the setting and figures than about the game itself. He remains young for the game. But I still feel that hesitation, and want to hear what other parents have felt or how they have acted in introducing their children to games.
Monte Cook has kickstarted No Thank You, Evil as a starter RPG for families, and maybe something like that would be better suited (though it sounds like my boy needs a game called, “More Evil, Please” from his last game). There are a variety of second and third generation gamers that are introducing the next generation to the hobby, and various products that support that goal. Maybe I need to just get over it and let him play.
In the end, I think that exposure is good, but moderation is essential. This will start as an occasional thing and we’ll see where it goes as he gets a little older. The only thing I know is that I won’t be passing on to him condemnation of his interests, whether they be this or something else that I don’t fully understand, but instead will seek understanding myself and encourage him to be who he wants to be.