Thursday, June 21, 2018

I'm Doing Science™ and I'm Still Alive!

Hey, how about that.  I finally got into an MS program, so my study of physics shall continue in the fall.  I'm pretty stoked.

Also, the missus and I have our fifth anniversary tomorrow.  That's pretty great too.

Aujourd'hui, la vie est belle.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

At Last! A Solution to the Wet Erase/Dry Erase Conundrum!

It involves carrying an extra piece of kit to my weekend games, but it works so well that I really can't bring myself to care.

As I've run my Barrowmaze campaign these last few months, I've waffled between different methods for playing out battles on the tabletop.  Chessex Megamat and wet erase markers?  But I hate wet erase anything: it's messy, and one doesn't always have water and paper towels handy.  D&D Adventure Grid and dry erase markers?  Well, it's a step up from the Pathfinder flip-mats that will never, ever lay flat no matter how many times you flatten them, but even WotC's nice and thick new folding grid doesn't quiet lay perfectly flat, making it close to perfect but still just off-kilter enough to be annoying.  Plus, it only comes in 1" squares.  Not very flexible, even if the dry erase is super convenient.

Monday, June 11, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The First Five Months

Last Christmas, I treated myself to a copy of Barrowmaze Complete.  Along with it, I managed to rekindle my interest in running D&D, reassemble the larger part of my old gaming group, and resuming gaming after a hiatus of several months!

Barrowmaze Complete is really quite a beautiful book.  The orange spine immediately evokes memories of the later-period AD&D 1st edition books (Unearthed Arcana, the core books with the Easley covers, and so forth).

And tonally, Barrowmaze is very AD&D in style, funky Erol Otus cover notwithstanding.  The region (the Duchy of Aerik), the villages of Helix and Bogtown, and the dungeon itself are all just dripping with Gygaxian flavor.  Bogtown, especially, is so reminiscent of Nulb that you half expect to see priests of Elemental Evil traipsing through the streets.  It's all very gritty and low-fantasy, very swords-and-sorcery.

In fact, Barrowmaze draws quite a bit on AD&D and even (to a certain extent) expects DMs to use it with Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion.  The campaign includes advanced spells, items, and monsters; and more than a few NPCs are multi-classed or dual-classed or have a sub-class like paladin or ranger.  I worried, at first, that there would be a certain tonal mismatch between Barrowmaze (and its very Gygaxian implied setting) and the straight-up basic D&D that I intended to run.

A Quick Post on Ghosts and Gold

Much of the nonsense that's kept me busy this past month is at last starting to dissipate.  I've applied to another grad program (here's hoping I get in), mostly finished cleaning my apartment after many months of neglect, and I just gave Engines & Empires another once-over for typos.  Probably didn't catch 'em all, but there are always a few every time I go over it.

Between doing that minor revision (which should, hopefully, segue me back into working on Retro Phaze VI again) and continuing to run my Barrowmaze campaign, I've noticed two interesting things about (A) treasure and experience points and (B) the undead, as I've implemented their life-drain ability.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Pontificatory Miscellany

In an effort to kick myself out of "panicky student" mode and back into "regular writer and blogger" mode, I've decided that I need to do a bit of catching up and cleaning up.  Thus, I shall now endeavor to wrangle together a list of all the topics and projects I've either recently addressed, had no chance to address in the last four months, or mean to focus on shortly.

Let's get started.

Dice: Last post, I talked about the possibility of the DM rolling all the dice as I run my Barrowmaze campaign.  I got the chance to try that out last night.  I liked it; I don't think it bothered my players too much; but in the end, I'd have to say that it didn't actually have any measurable impact on the speed of play.  So things will almost certainly go back to normal next week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I have time to write again! (Yay!) But first, let's look at the dice again.

So after a harrowing final semester of exams and applications and long papers and much nail biting, barring some unforeseen bureaucratic hiccup, I should have my MA degree in English at long, long last.  (I've also been roundly rejected by physics PhD programs everywhere, but that just means that I have to finish an MS in physics before moving on in that field.  Guess I'll be sticking around Omaha for another couple of years after all!  At least that means my D&D players might actually finish exploring the Barrowmaze…)

Anyway, summer is here and for the first time in precisely ever, I don't have anything school-related hanging over my head.  No theses, no comprehensive exams, no graduate qualifying exams, no applications, and not a bare jot of homework.  Feels good, man.

Just a job search, but that's nothing new.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

No time to write, so have a picture of dice

First week of the semester is over and I'm already swamped.  I wanted to finish writing up that series of campaign creation posts from November.  I wanted to start reviewing 90s "Challenger Series" D&D products.  (Still do.)  I have a half-finished review of Barrowmaze that I started on the day it came in the mail—I need to find the time to finish that.  But I'm also in two masters-level English classes and General Relativity right now; I've got applications to PhD programs going out, I have to take a couple of GREs, one of them very soon; and I have a comprehensive exam coming up that I have to pass to finish my MA.  (Oy vey.)

And on top of that, my gaming group is back together and I'm running Barrowmaze for them using the Rules Cyclopedia and GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos.  It's a full plate!

So anyway—when I get the time, I'll talk at length about Barrowmaze and about the campaign that I'm running with it, and how I've fit everything together (it does work when set in Mystara!), but in the meanwhile, I've also decided to try and run this campaign with the minimum possible amount of "kit" to schlep between home and the game-shop.  I'm still on that minimalism kick apparently: I have the two hardcover books, my DM screen, a folder with the character sheets and other papers, a small pencil-case, and these dice:


I can't recall the last time I tried to run D&D with so few dice, but something about it feels primal.  Like I'm recapturing the days when polyhedral dice weren't plentiful and we gamers didn't all have tackle-boxes overflowing with the damned things.  Just a close approximation of the five dice that would have come in the Basic Set box (but I find a second d6 to be more useful than a d4: it actually rolls; it's not as dangerous an implement; a DM has to roll 2d6 all the time for reactions, morale, and initiative; and a d4 is effortlessly emulated by halving a d8 roll).

Ordinarily, I'd have a large Crown Royal bag filled with many d6s and d8s, a couple of d2s, d3s, d4s, d5s, d10s, d12s, d16s, at least 3d20, and a percentile die, a d24, and a d30.  All carefully selected so that no two dice of the same type are ever the same color.  And… well, that's kind of a pain to manage.  And I also want to try and get away from fetishizing (as we gamers so often do) what are really nothing more than some simple random-number-generators.

I've found that the five dice shown in the picture above are all I really need to referee a campaign with all due efficiency and simplicity; and so I'm going to try and carry through a whole campaign this way.  We'll see how it goes.