Friday, April 23, 2010

In Defense of the Humble Jot

(Fair warning: not a gaming post, but possibly geekier than one.)

You know what ticks me off more than anything else when I'm reading something in Latin? (You know, because we've all been there, am I right?) It's the fact that modern practice dispenses with the letter "j"... but for reasons that sit somewhere between historical accident and brazen hypocrisy.

To demonstrate, let's take a fairly common Latin sentence. Something that Cicero might've said to Julius Caesar. "Now I will throw his d20." Yeah, that sounds like something he probably said. In Latin, that sentence could be rendered, "Iam aleam cum viginti lateribus eius iaciam." Except, we live in a fallen and imperfect world, full of sin and evil and misery. If this were not the case, my very historically and linguistically accurate sentence would read, "Jam aleam cum viginti lateribus ejus jaciam."

Let's start with the hypocrisy. Okay, maybe I'm being harsh, but there's certainly a kind of inconsistency at work here. After all, the Romans didn't punctuate. They didn't use periods and commas, they didn't capitalize, they didn't have quotation marks, and they didn't even space out their words. So when we write Latin in modern times, we're already changing things quite a bit. There's no reason to try and imitate the Roman way of doing things; it would make the Latin all but unreadable. And yet, I've heard many classicists say that "j" shouldn't be used in Latin, because the Romans always used "i".

But, wait... what's that I see in a couple of those words up there? Words like "cum" and "ejus"? Why, it's a "u"! The Romans would've just written "v" of course, but modern orthographic practice distinguishes between the consonant and the vowel. Now, I tell you, why not do the same thing with "i" and "j", since the circumstances are all but identical? In both cases, the consonant ("v" or "j") is merely the liquid/semi-vocalic form of the vowel ("u" or "i"). Yes, okay, the "v" mutated all the way into a fricative [v] sound (from [w] in the classical period) in modern pronunciation, whereas the consonantal "i" is still pronounced [j] in nearly all idioms of Late, Neo, and Modern Latin (if it were a fricative, it would sound like [ʒ], as in French), except of course for English legal Latin where it takes our tongue's idiosyncratic [dʒ] pronunciation. The point is, the consonantal "i" in Latin is at least as distinct from its vowel as consonantal "u". If you dispense with the "j" on the practice that Romans didn't use it, you also have to toss out the "u" glyph, all the punctuation and lower-case letters, and spaces between the words.

•IAMALEAMCVMVIGINTILATERIBVSEIVSIACIAM•

See? What an improvement.

So why did the "j" disappear? Are the classicists really just that stuffy and myopic? Well, apparently "j" disappeared from Latin around the same time the Italians stopped using it (because the rules for using "j" in Italian, unlike in Latin, managed to become rather complex and arcane). But that doesn't seem like a very good reason to me. Sure, okay, Italian has a lot of influence on contemporary Latin usage. Many new Latin words (especially technology terms) get borrowed from modern Italian, and the Italian pronunciation (i.e. Catholic Church Latin) will always be my preferred idiom (since it's just so much prettier than the rather rigid and unimaginative classical pronunciation). Still, that's no good reason to ditch a perfectly good letter that serves a useful orthographic purpose.

So, I say, yay for "j"! Hell, I'll even concede to the classicists that the ash and oethel ligatures ("æ" and "œ") are too archaic to be of much use in writing modern-day Latin, just as they've fallen out of favor in today's English. (And just because I write out "ae" and "oe" in full, that doesn't mean I have to pronounce the [aj] and [oj] dipthongs that fell out of Late Latin! It's [e:] all the way, baby! w00t!)

...

...

...

God, I'm such a nerd.

Ah, well, might as well own it. Time for a line from Farscape:

JOHN: It's a happy face.
AERYN: They're food cubes.
JOHN: No, see, the pattern forms a... never mind.
—Episode 1.9, "DNA Mad Scientist"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

OSR != Dogma

Over at the RPG.net forums, there is a post currently floating around the top of the forum that asks whether gamers have heard of the OSR. Well and good, except that the majority of respondents seem to have chimed in to express their utter disinterest in or barely-restrained contempt for the OSR. Disinterest I can understand: not everybody wants to give up their shiny new d20 System, with all its empty bells and whistles, and go back to the really substantive sort of role-playing encouraged by, say, 2nd edition AD&D.

But contempt? This makes me... well, partly curious and partly cheesed off, but mainly curious. Why hate a group of role-players that you, by your own admission, want nothing to do with? (N.B., this naturally excludes Vampire players. It's always okay to hate Vampire players for pretty much no reason at all, except that they're Vampire players.) After all, we're all playing D&D here! There's plenty of room on all points along the spectrum, from crusty grognards to wide-eyed noobs; from munchkins and min-maxers and power-gamers (oh my!) to collaborative story-tellers with angst-ridden pacifist PCs; from hack-n-slash adrenaline junkies to world-building lore-masters who speak fluent Sindarin and Quenya.

So why hate the OSR? I've discerned three reasons. They go something like this:

1. Old-school "renaissance"? Where do you get off calling it a "renaissance"? Shut up and go play your stupid, outdated games in your mom's basement or something!

2. You old-school gamers are so stuffy and pretentious. You've got the nerve to tell us that (3rd/4th) edition is bad! You've got the nerve to tell us we're playing D&D wrong! I call "badwrongfun" shenanigans! Officer Barbrady, arrest that grognard!

3. The "old-school" movement is elitist and dogmatic. Clearly you're all marching in lockstep with Matthew Finch and Jim Maliszewski and that Philotomy Jurament guy. Dogmas are bad, elites are bad, so you're all bad too!

This isn't little, people. This isn't Gabe from Penny Arcade playing S&W "wrong". This is a major cross-section of web-savvy RPGers who hate us on account of a few misinformed stereotypes. And this frightens me enough that I think we ought to refute each point as publicly and as often as possible.

The first complaint is easy to argue against, because it questions the existence of the OSR on the twofold grounds of its purpose and popularity. The underlying idea is something to the effect of, if you're just a small group of people playing old games, you're not a renaissance, you're a small group of sad and self-delusional people. This idea, however, relies on the unfounded assumption that the OSR hasn't actually changed anything. "Whoo, you're calling yourselves a renaissance now, big whup." Except, things have changed. Are changing. The popularity of old games has grown, and people are now motivated to publish for old games under the OGL. I can waltz down to my FLGS and buy a copy of Labyrinth Lord or an OSRIC module. That was not the case only a few short years ago, where the only places to get old gaming materials were the "used games" bin in the back of the shop and Ebay, neither prospect being particularly reliable. That's key: the OSR has already succeeded in making retro games more popular, more visible, and more widely available in-print. So what if our little niche of the hobby always stays small compared to the legions playing the newest editions? At least there are more of us than there are [insert random indie heartbreaker game here, or better yet, anything written by the RPG Pundit] players.

The second and third points are more problematic. The OSR really has developed a bad reputation on these counts, and I'll be the first to admit that I've noticed a fair degree of, shall we say, narrow-mindedness among the more vocal elements of the OSR. But there's a fine line between formulating a dogma and simply stating an opinion in strong terms, and I think our intentions as retro-gamers really do fall under the latter heading. Are there people who hate 3rd and 4th edition? Of course. For crying out loud, there are people who hate 2nd edition for being too "new school". (As an aside, I personally like to call these people... what was the word again? Ah, yes. "Douchebags.") So how do we explain the perception of dogmatic elitism? I think it boils down to a combination of good old-fashioned nerd-rage and a classically vocal minority drowning out all the voices of reason.

Nerd Rage: Everybody knows that nerds love the things that they love. It doesn't matter what it is: RPG, video game, card game, comic book, TV show, movie, book. If you change it, expect the nerds to go nerd-berserk (+2 to Indignation score and "Be a Fucktard on the Internet" skill for 1d6 months). It doesn't matter whether you're ret-conning Spider-Man's marriage to M.J., canceling Firefly after half a season, or making AC go up instead of down. If you change something that nerds love, the rage inevitably ensues. Whatever results from that rage can be either destructive or constructive. Destructive examples include tribalist reactionism, insulting people with a different opinion, etc. Constructive examples include fan activities (futile campaigns to prevent a TV show's cancellation, the writing of fan fiction, the organization of conventions, the publication of retro RPG materials). The key is to recognize the difference and dismiss the not-so-constructive things for the puerile temper-tantrum that they are. Or maybe even call them out and stand against them.

The Vocal Minority. One of the reasons that I started this blog was so I could give a voice to my opinions about gaming, and especially about old-school gaming, and really especially about how "I do not think it means what you think it means." (Thanks, Inigo.) Take this p-o-s, for example: the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. I despise this thing. I can't condone a damned word of it. The tone really is elitist, and its caricature of the way 3rd edition D&D works borders on abject misrepresentation. Sure, I have my issues with 3rd edition, but railing against Search and Spot checks is pretty damned way-out in left field. In fact, I've got a freaking laundry list of points where I disagree with the received old-school orthodoxy (such as it is), and perhaps that will be the topic of my next post. (Since this one has lengthened into a full-blown rant.) For now, I'll just say this: if you want to put a good face on the OSR (and some of us may not want to, but I certainly do), maybe it's time to dispense with the attitude. Not all the attitude, by any means. Just the bad attitude, the whole shtick that says "skill checks are evil and dumb, miniatures are evil and dumb, anything even tangentially associated with 3e/4e is obviously evil and dumb."

Sigh. Farscape quote time.

"I don't know your customs for these situations—not that I care! So I'll give you the Hynerian Ceremony of Passage and be done with it! John Crichton, valued friend... no, wait a minute. Valued friend is a bit of a stretch. John Crichton, unwelcome shipmate, may you have safe transport to the Hallowed Realm. Actually, not our Hallowed Realm—no, that's for Hynerians! Go find your own Hallowed Realm! With the Ceremony of Passage complete, I declare you officially dead, and claim all your possessions for myself!"
—Dominar Rygel XVI, episode 1.8 "That Old Black Magic"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Official-Sounding Status Update

Work on E&E Supplement I goes well. I'm maybe a third of the way through drafting the text, which so far mostly consists of crunchy game-mechanical stuff. Some alternate game rules, a new playable character class (the sentient automaton), some monsters (also various stripes of automata). The rest of the book will be devoted to articles, mini-adventures, and singular descriptions of encounters, items, and NPCs. I'm shooting for a goal of at least eighty pages (mainly for technical reasons -- eighty pages is the minimum size for a perfect-bound book to have spine text, and I do loves me my spine text).

I've also been musing about low-powered gaming, and how the "Epic Six" idea for d20 could all too easily be adapted to the basic edition. It's a cool idea. A variant of this might work its way into my E&E supplement.

Wow, seventh blog post, time to quote Farscape again.

"Human. It’s kinda like Sebacean, but we haven’t conquered other worlds yet, so we just kick the crap out of each other."
—John Crichton, episode 1.7 "PK Tech Girl"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Miss Writing Fiction.

I really do. I've become so used to writing RPG rules that I seem to have forgotten how fiction works. I used to be pretty darned good at telling stories... but now I think I've lost my mojo. What happened?

Writing a rulebook for a game is all exposition and technicalities. The formula is something like this: Corny topic introduction. Delineation of game rule. Explanation of game rule, flavorful in-universe justification, crunchy game-balance justification. Laundry-list of exceptions to the rule. Lather, rinse, repeat until the book is written. Maybe shake things up with a table or an illustration. That's about it.

If you have a clear design in mind from a game-mechanical perspective, writing a rulebook is parsecs easier than writing fiction. All you have to do is describe the game the way you play it (or, if you're an armchair game-design type, tsk-tsk, just describe the way you imagine it being played). Describing game rules is easy. Gamers do it all the time, every time we teach a new player how to role-play or bring a new house rule to a table of old vets. Rulebooks are just collections of these little explanations and examples in written form.

Fiction, though... even when you have a clear idea of what happens, who does things, who says what to whom, and how it all fits together, the process of writing it is so much more involved. You have to agonize over word choice (in both the exposition and the dialogue) in ways that just never come up while writing game rules. And I'm so blastedly out of practice, because I've been giving all of my attention to games lately. Grr, what the crap happened to me?

I need to find a way to flip the switch. Take my deadened fiction-writing organ and turn it back on again. I need to get out of the habit of thinking like a game designer and start thinking like a story-teller. Act I, introduce the problem, Act II, complicate the problem, Act III, climax and dénouement. Only write scenes that advance the plot or alter characters/relationships. Make sure to increase tension and conflict wherever possible until the climax is over. If good fiction has a formula, surely that's it.

I'm missing just one thing: the inclination to start writing. It might have something to do with that whole inspiration/perspiration thing. Maybe I'm just lazy. Sigh.

Here's a Farscape quote.

Aeryn: She gives me a woody.
John: ...
Aeryn: 'Woody'. It's a Human saying. I've heard you say it often, when you don't trust someone, or they make you nervous, they give you—
John: 'Willies!' She gives you the willies!
—Episode 1.6, "Thank God It's Friday, Again"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm so excited...

I've started working on my RPG stuff again. After a months-long dry-spell, this is pretty damned momentous for me! I don't know how long it's going to take, but I've already made some progress on Engines & Empires Supplement I! Writing a supplement is a whole lot more engaging and inspiring than writing a module could've been, so I know I'm on the right track. Anyway, can't blog much now, since, y'know, I'm writing another book...

Guess I'll just leave off early tonight with another quick Farscape quote:

Crichton: I'm just gonna get some air.
Aeryn: We have air in here. What is the matter with him?
Zhaan: He is Crichton.
—Episode 1.5, "Back and Back and Back to the Future"

The Annoying Paradox

Are class and level systems utterly incompatible with heroic fantasy? One of the major "problems" with D&D, after all—"problem", that is, in the "bug/feature" sense—is that the player characters go from chumps who can be killed with a sneeze to deities who can raze the campaign world on a whim. The astonishing disparity between even 1st and 10th level characters was no doubt what prompted the creation of many other RPGs that lack any sort of advancement mechanic or power curve.

I don't care for those other games. I think I'm in good company here when I say that. I don't want a game where combat ability remains static and the characters perpetually can take about five wounds before dying, or where the whole notion of advancement is horizontal, i.e. all the characters progress from having a handful of skills to becoming über-bards, because the game doesn't offer much else. No, there's something ineffable and compelling about classes and levels that we really can't dispense with.

Sometimes there are house rules to flatten the power curve. Like, characters have a few hit dice rolled at 1st level, but then only +1 or +2 hit points gained thereafter. That would do something to reign in the awesomeness of high-level fighters, but then you would also have to pretty much re-write the magic system so that the damage didn't scale so high. And then do the same thing for monsters. No, the so-called "grim-'n'-gritty" option doesn't really help, because it would involve re-writing D&D. If you wanted to keep the hit point totals small and the spell ability weak, the best option would simply be to limit character advancement early, à la the "Epic Six" idea.

But I get ahead of myself. When I said "heroic fantasy" up at the top of this post, I was referring to something rather specific that merits definition: I meant the sort of heroic fantasy that one sees in fantasy novels, where there isn't much of a sense of "level gain" or "power curve". Yes, characters in those novels get more competent over time, but they hardly ever go from being mooks to unkillable gods. So if I wanted to replicate the feel of a fantasy novel in an RPG, would I be forced to abandon my beloved D&D and use one of those hateful other games?

I don't think that's necessarily the case. I think one could create a very proper sort of heroic fantasy game out of D&D, with only one simple tweak. And I wouldn't even need to alter the pace of character advancement.

We have to remember that first off, D&D was created as a game to simulate fantasy in general. Swords & sorcery novels, yes, but Lord of the Rings too. The plots and motivations and moralities might be worlds apart in these two genres, but mechanically, the heroes of both are equally mortal, equally vulnerable. High fantasy heroes are no more eager to rush into a needless fight than pulp fantasy heroes, because fights get people killed. The uncertainty of the outcome will stay a rash soldier of Middle-Earth just as surely as a self-interested tomb-robber of the Hyborian Age. So, I think, the way to make D&D feel more like a fantasy story (of any genre) is take away some of the players' certainty of success in combat.

You would do this by hiding their characters' hit points.

The curious thing about hit points, of course, is that they don't represent wounds. A character who has 1 hit point isn't running out of blood, he's running out of luck. And luck isn't something that the characters themselves can quantify or gauge or use to help decide when they should be retreating from the dungeon. "Well, my luck tank is running out of fuel, better go back to town and sleep for a few days." The characters might retreat because they're tired, low on spells, low on food, or just plain paranoid, but hit points are a players' consideration only. And if I want to immerse the players in the game-world, make them think like their characters, never truly certain of when their luck will run out, I have to keep their hit points (as, indeed, I already do with most other statistics) secreted behind my DM's screen.

There are logistical problems to overcome, no doubt. Players are going to bitch and moan about not being able to see information vital to their characters' survival. It would behoove me to be generous with descriptions of characters' relative states of readiness, "i.e. you're feeling pretty winded right now, and kind of shell-shocked; rushing into another battle today is the last thing you feel like doing." On the positive side, "cure wounds" spells and "healing potions" would have to become something else, something less overt in their effects, like "restore breath" spells and "fortune-in-battle potions". Whoa, that last one is pretty cool: "'Fortune in Battle', this magical effect restores 1d8 hit points, not that the player characters will know that." Definitely cool.

Okay, time to quote Farscape.

"John Wayne? No. The big guy. TRUE GRIT, THE SEARCHERS, THE COWBOYS, GENGHIS KHAN. No, look, forget about GENGHIS KHAN. Everybody makes a bad movie..."
—John Crichton, episode 1.4 "Throne for a Loss"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Inspiration Strikes!

The module problem pestered my mind while I slept. It was still here for me when I got up this morning. It lay dormant while I played video games, mapped some more dungeon for my current campaign, and read this morning's newest fanfiction (bad habit, working on breaking it). But just now, and I mean just now, I realized what I must do.

Wow, blogging into the silence of the big, empty internet really can be therapeutic!

Okay, so in my first entry, I pointed out that adventure modules aren't adventures, they're just booklets that describe places (dungeons and such) where an adventure might take place, if the PCs decide to go there and shake things up. This whole concept interests me like watching mauve, taupe, and beige colored paints dry and then trying to explain the difference between them. So I probably ought not to be writing the typical sort of adventure module.

On top of that, Engines & Empires is pretty explicitly a plot-driven game, and that doesn't lend itself well to the sandboxy sort of adventure location where the PCs are expected to go in, explore, retreat when they run out of resources, delve again, lather-rinse-repeat. I should stop trying to apologize for this and just write material that supports the play style I want to promote. In fact, I feel another boldfaced statement coming on, kind of like when Jake Blues saw the light and started turning handsprings:

Just because I'm in the OSR, that doesn't mean I have to like sandboxes, mega-dungeons, swords & sorcery, or any other point of newly-minted old-school "orthodoxy".

We're hobby gamers. We do things our own way, and we do it for ourselves, by ourselves. This resurgence in old rules is a great thing, but it's great to different people for different reasons. For me, the increased popularity of B/E and BECMI (or should that be B/X and BXCMI?) means that I'm able to run a rules-light game that doesn't bog down in needless details. This leaves more room for plot and character, which is what I get out of playing and reffing. That's my payoff, acting and narration. For others, it might be exploration or puzzle-solving or trying to reconstruct the home campaigns of Gygax and Arneson with a bit of text-aided archaeology, but not me. I say, "to mine own self be true." I'm done apologizing.

So, what form will E&E modules take? They won't be adventure locations. They'll be plots. But before somebody shouts, "Dragonlance! hiss!" and starts reaching for the crosses and holy water, hear me out. I don't mean plot-based adventure modules or anything like that. I mean, books of plot elements that referees can draw upon as they please: plot hooks, plot twists, characters, locations, scenes, and the occasional bit of crunchy game material (new class, monster, item, whatever). Like a periodical or a magazine, slanted toward my E&E setting but still useful to anybody who likes gaslight, steampunk, and science fantasy. I can already envision what I'm going to write now, and that hasn't happened in months.

So, you know, yay for blogging. It worked. "Write two posts and call me in the morning." "Sure thing, Doc!"

Concerning Railroads
This comes up all the time on forums (which really just proves that I should avoid most forums), this idea that if your game isn't a sandbox, it's a railroad, and so "you're doing D&D wrong". I call it nonsense, because there's always pre-planning and linearity in games. Even the most wide-open world, with the most detached and impartial DM, must pre-plan some of his dungeons, his locations, the potential adventure hooks, and so forth. Sometimes, when pressed for time, it even behooves the beleaguered referee to prepare a "backup dungeon" and then just drop it bodily into the game world, right in the path of the traveling PCs, a kind of delaying tactic so that they don't get to the next region of the world before the DM can develop it. That's really just a kind of railroading, but the players will never cry foul because they'll never know it couldn't have been otherwise (i.e. that if they'd gone east instead of west, the DM might still have to place this dungeon in their path). What the players don't know can't bother them.

Railroading so that they players never find out can hardly be called a crime. In fact, it's a fine art requiring much subtlety. The problem with railroads is not that they compromise the players' agency; problems arise only when players come to believe that they're being railroaded, which is the result of a ham-fisted referee bludgeoning errant players back onto the main track. This is the mistake that creates the fallacy, "railroad == badwrongfun". Yes, that's a fallacy, because the truth of the matter is simply "bad railroad != fun". A good railroad keeps the players entertained and always keeps up the illusion of verisimilitude (same as a good sandbox, really, but with different tactics and goals involved).

On a forum once, someone whittled the question down to a dichotomy. Either you're for sandboxes or you're for railroads. I said that since plot-free sandboxes tend to bore me and my players to tears, I must be for railroads. The only question at hand is whether the DM is the ordinary sort of railway conductor who lets passengers get on and off at their intended stops, change lines, switch tracks... or is he some sort of demon engineer, straight out of an Old West ghost story, who keeps his passengers trapped in a pointless limbo for eternity? That's the difference between a bad railroad and a good one.

Okay, time for this morning's Farscape quote!

Aeryn: I'm sure your world has no force so ruthless, so disciplined.
Crichton: Oh, we call them linebackers. Or serial killers, depending on whether they're... professional or amateur.
—Episode 1.3 "Exodus from Genesis"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Turn and face the strange... ch-ch-changes...

Tonight, I finally got to see "The Eleventh Hour", the newest episode of Doctor Who and the first to feature Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. And man-oh-man, what a great episode it was. Simply brilliant. I think I enjoyed this particular episode more than any I've seen with Eccleston, Tennant, or even the older Doctors. Matt Smith is a fine actor, Steve Moffat did a wonderful job as a writer, and I'm quite impressed by the show's new start. Even as I continue to bubble and glow about the newly regenerated Doctor, I consider the next entry for my shiny new blog...

And, hey, my E&E setting just underwent a little regeneration of its own. I've only just completed a revision to the book, so the E&E Campaign Compendium is now the E&E Revised Rulebook. Yes, I remain a sucker for alliteration. But boy did I ever agonize over whether to publish a revision. I mean, sure, E&E worked fine as it was, but there were still problems, most of which can be summed up in one phrase:

Pointless terminology changes.

By going and re-naming some very basic and high-profile game terms, I idiotically created a needless language barrier between the E&E setting and its own bloody core rules. That was a stupid mistake, and I felt I had to rectify it. On the one hand, it's a minor issue, because gamers on the whole are pretty smart people, and it's not like anyone didn't know what I was talking about with Vitality or Defense or whatever... but, on the other hand, the OSR is a big old nostalgia-driven D&D revival, and how can I claim to be a part of that with a straight face if I don't even use Armor Class in my game setting? So I put a lot of the proper vocabulary back where it belonged. Along with a few little tweaks to the rules and incorporated errata, of course. Here's the highlights:

• Constitution. I had renamed it "Vitality" in E&E, for little more than nit-picky vanity. Basically, I wanted to get rid of two ability scores starting with the same letter, so that my stat-blocks for characters would be more concise: S-D-V-I-W-C instead of the old-style S-I-W-D-Cn-Ch. But clearly, I wasn't thinking this through very far, because the former is no easier to read at a glance than the latter. Yes, I cut the number of Cs in half, but then again, I really just increased the number of Vs involved by 150%, didn't I? On top that, I'm quite disillusioned with modules these days, which pretty much eliminates the whole point of desiring a concise and easy-to-read-at-a-glance stat-block. But, should I ever come around to writing modules again, I'll use a different tactic, I think: I'll list the stat-block entry for ability scores as S-D-C-I-W-Χ, where "Χ" stands for Charisma (as in "Χάρισμα", get it?). Peculiar side-note: etymologically, Strength and Wisdom are native English words, whereas Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution all derive from Latin. Charisma is the only Greek word in the bunch. So, what the heck, I'll abbreviate it with a capital "chi" if I bloody well feel like it!

• Saving Throws. I had changed these to "Resistance Rolls" for E&E. Like Swords & Wizardry, E&E collapses the five saving throw categories into a single stat, but the kicker is this: the new save number in E&E is inverted, so that it goes up as it gets better and you want to roll low to make the save, just like making an ability check. I definitely prefer this mechanic (I'll wax poetic about the merits of "rolling low" some other time), but this name change is just as pointless as the others. So from now on, I'll call a save a save.

• Armor Class. Changing this to "Defense" was a more justifiable change than the others, because there really is a hullabaloo over whether Armor Class should go up or down as it gets better. The nostalgia crowd says "descending AC all the way, and attack tables too, because THAC0 is for heretics." The practical crowd says "ascending AC, because it's just plain illogical to subtract bonuses and add penalties." In the end, I decided to straddle the fence, and to just go ahead and dual-stat the game's defenses. There will always be two camps on this one, and I want E&E to allow for both descending AC and the ascending stat, which I've re-named Defense Class. Every creature or character in the E&E game lists an AC/DC (rock on!), i.e. leather armor is AC 7/DC 14. Why is the DC so much higher than one might expect from, say, BFRPG or the d20 System? Well, it's a matter of compatibility. Like Mr. Raggi's WFRP, I have decided to shoot for maximum compatibility with the old rules. Deriving a Defense Class from Armor Class by subtracting from 21 is definitely the way to go, because it lets both stats work with a single score for attack rolls. That score is now a part of E&E, and I have named it Fighting Ability.

Fighting Ability is just like my old Attack bonus, but one point higher; or like THAC0 subtracted from 21 (instead of 20, as I had been doing before). The original E&E game derived Defense from (20 - Labyrinth Lord AC) and Attack from (20 - THAC0), under the assumption that only the roll high (1d20 + Attack vs. Defense) system would be used. The revised E&E rules are more all-inclusive. So, whereas before, you might have a level 1 character with Attack +1, and he would roll to hit chainmail (Defense 15) by rolling 1d20+1 and trying to meet or beat 15, now there are more options. A 1st level character's Fighting Ability starts at 2, and depending on the campaign, his target in chainmail will have either AC 5 or DC 16. If DC is used, it's pretty much as before: the character rolls 1d20 + FA 2, and tries to hit or beat DC 16, so just like before, he'll hit on an unadjusted roll of 14 or higher. But if the ref would rather use AC, you can use either "roll low" or you can use "target 21". In the former case, you just add FA + AC, and that's the chance to hit: FA 2 + AC 5 = 7 in 20 chance to hit, so you hit on 7 or lower. In the latter case, you roll 1d20 + FA 2 + AC 5, and you hit when the total is 21 or higher (natural 14 in this case, same as all the other systems I've described). It's all up to what the players and the referee prefer, and I can still stat up an E&E character with a reasonably concise summary, i.e. "FA 4; AC 8/DC 13".

There are other changes here and there, like revised critical hit rules, and tweaks to spells and technology, a change to the weight of coins that nods in a small way to the historical value of precious metals, but most of the revised book is unchanged from the original. (As tempted as I was to shift E&E to a silver based economy, I couldn't really do it without altering the relative values of coins, i.e. LL's standard 1 pp = 5 gp = 10 ep = 50 sp = 500 cp. A new ratio would involve new treasure tables, and I'm trying to keep compatible with Labyrinth Lord as much as possible here! So instead, I just decided to keep the ratio, but shrink the coins way down in the E&E setting. That way, you can use whatever is needed according to particulars of the game system. If playing E&E, a coin weighs only one pennyweight, but if playing something closer to LL, a coin weighs 0.1 pound. The number and type of each coin remains the same, which is the important thing when describing a treasure hoard.) It's really just a massive backpedal, an effort to put the old terms back so that E&E has broader appeal with old-schoolers. Shameless, I know, but there it is.

Wow, that ending was abrupt. I feel as if I'm forgetting something. Ah, yes! This evening's Farscape quote:

Crichton: Kinda like Louisiana. Or Dagobah. Dagobah—where Yoda lives.
Aeryn: Who's Yoda?
Crichton: Just a little green guy. Trains warriors.
Aeryn: Oh.
—Episode 1.2 "I, E.T."

Well, Hell's Bells.

It seems that just about everybody else in this here OSR is starting up a blog. I might as well get off my backside and join the, *ahem*, polite and always enlightening conversation.

The problem is, I suffer from severe, chronic writer's block. They say that a writer ought to get in the habit of writing a thousand words a day, so that it becomes rote habit to write even when you don't feel like it. That's why I'm eager to start a blog: it might prove therapeutic. If I can write a few hundred words and toss them out on the ol' web 2.0, maybe then I can also unstopper the floodgates keeping back my more creative endeavors.

Problem is, you see, I'm being pulled in so many different directions. I have school work, essays and such that I really ought to be writing first; adventure modules for the E&E setting that I really should have started a long time ago; and fiction projects, those half-dozen unfinished novels that all writers have but few complete, that I really should get back to before I forget how they end.

So, I'm going to start blogging. I'm going to start spewing my opinions into the void again: random ditherings about role-playing and game-mastering and video games and whatever oddball topics happen to come up. Stuff I like to talk about, like, why is it that after all these years and so much improvement to our computer technology, that Nintendo can't bother to release an arcade-perfect version of Donkey Kong that doesn't omit the 2nd level (the cement factory with conveyor belts) like the NES cartridge did? What the crap is up with that? I look forward to your comments.

Lately, one thing has been sitting in the forefront of my mind like a ten-ton ACME safe just waiting to be opened up from the inside, so that the smushed and broken Wile E. Coyote of my thoughts can stumble out of it. I was wondering, why am I so writer's-blocked on adventure modules? It seems like they should be an easy thing to do. Map out a dungeon, key the dungeon, write up all the descriptions and stat blocks. Easy peasy. It should hardly take any mental effort at all, especially if (like me) you're not out to change the world with some kind of brand new and stylish adventure format. Well, I presently have about zero desire to write RPG materials right now, and I think I know why the creative impulse is so lacking.

I've never had a good experience with an adventure module. Never, ever. Especially when I GM, adventure modules seem to be about worthless as a gaming aid. They're not a time saver (I can whip up a dungeon of my own faster than I can read someone else's, and I'll run it better because I know it inside and out). They're a pain in the arse to use at the game table, flipping pages and looking through stat-blocks and map keys. They've been, at best, a source of one or two good ideas, plus another thirty-one pages of useless crapola. And maybe, I've thought to myself once or twice in the past few days here, I've just been subconsciously reluctant to add to the dung-heap.

This is not to comment on all of the new materials coming out of the OSR, by the way, because I have to admit that I haven't read practically any newly published old-school adventures yet. I'm talking about the old TSR stuff weighing down my bookshelf: D&D modules B1 through M5, plus the odd AD&D or Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure here and there. All of it, taking up space and not doing a thing for me. They've been the source of some of the most boring and poorly-paced campaigns I've run in the last few months, and it's all because I didn't realize something very, very important until just a little while ago. Most of you, wise and sagacious old-school gamers that you are, probably already know this, but it's a new revelation for me, so I'm going to point it out in boldface and italics:

Modules are not adventures. Places where an adventure might take place, perhaps, but still a far cry from the adventure itself.

Seems obvious to those of you out there who already knew what you were doing, doesn't it? But to a schlub like me, who's only been reffing games for a dozen years or so, it's taken me a while to notice.

Let's start from the empirical evidence: my players and I have fun when I've created the adventure from scratch, but they fall asleep when I run out of a module. Scientific experimentation ensues, double-blinds and control groups and data collection and statistical analysis and yadda-yadda-yadda, conclusion is, either I'm running modules altogether wrong, or they're all just complete crap, or both. How do we solve this dilemma?

Let's apply some simple logic and see where it takes us.

P1: Modules are fine, I'm just running them wrong.
P2: Modules are crap.

If proposition #1 is true and proposition #2 is false, then I'm doing something really wrong, such that when I run modules, I don't enjoy the same warm and fuzzy experience that other old-school gamers get from running, say, Keep on the Borderlands. Normally, I would have the module with me when I ref the game, hidden behind my little DM screen. I'd use the maps to tell where the PCs are going, and I'd use the keyed entries to describe those locations and find out what monsters are there. And for some reason, this just never works for me. It doesn't matter how many times I've read the module beforehand, or which details I change or leave alone. I cannot seem to create a fun experience (or any sense of drama or verisimilitude) when DMing under such conditions. It's impossible.

So maybe I'm supposed to be doing something radically different, like reading through the module a dozen times to nearly memorize it and then running the game off the cuff, or only taking away a few shining bits of inspiration and then taking the adventure in a completely different direction. Either of these cases would doubtlessly create a more engaging gaming experience, if only because I don't have to keep flipping through a booklet every ten minutes. But then I'm either not using most of the module, or I'm going through it so much (and wasting so much time) that I might as well have just whipped up my own adventure and run that. So what was the point of having the module in the first place?

That's the heart of my inquiry here, because I'm not going to go so far as to claim that proposition #2 is in any way true. Other people do clearly have fun running modules, but I just for the life of me can't figure out how they do it. This is a cry for help. How do you, out there, all of you OSR arch-magi, make use of modules? Give me a few good ideas, and I might just be able to create something interesting and useful. That's really the root cause of my writer's block, you know: the fear that I'll publish something useless to gamers. I don't want to create useless. I don't want to write module U1: The Yawning Caverns of Generic, module U2: You Too Will Never Play This, module U3: Pointless Temple of the Irrelevant Unknown. Tell me what modules are for, and I'll write them for that!

Whew, okay. Now that I've finished my first full-blown tirade, let's end this post the way I think I'm going to end all of my blog posts: with a beloved Farscape quote.

"Don't move! Or I'll fill you full of l... little yellow bolts of light!"
—John Crichton, episode 1.1 "Premier"