Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Droppin' In

Wow, okay, it's been a very long time since I've bothered to post anything here.  But then, life is busy.  Too much work, too much school, and barely enough time to keep on top of my current D&D campaign.

Oh, yes, another campaign, one that I'm running more or less by-the-book from the (Mentzer) Basic and Expert sets, with the same group of players as the last two campaigns (plus a couple of newbies).  This time, I've gone for a proper sandbox and mega-dungeon, with the player characters somewhat stranded on an island about a hundred miles across, with one very deep dungeon in the middle of it.

I'd post more about it, but there's a good chance that my players could stumble across this blog, so I'm not going to start publishing details until this campaign is all done.

But there's something else I've been working on in the meanwhile.

I've made it no secret on this blog that I've been dissatisfied with the basic structure of D&D for a good, long while.  It comes from number of places, but the main one is the disconnect between what D&D is intended to do, and what I wish it did.  D&D, of course, works best when it does what it was designed for: treasure-hungry adventurers descend into a labyrinth full of magic and monsters and grow in stature from penniless mercenaries to war-lords and arch-wizards.  D&D performs rather poorly when it is twisted in any other direction, and it does not emulate literary fantasy of the heroic or epic flavor at all well.  So, for quite some time, I've sought a new go-to game.  There were a couple of aborted attempts at design and false starts with other games (oy vey, is FATE ever not my game), but at last I think I've found a system that works for me.

Enter Barbarians of Lemuria by Simon Washbourne.  It has about 80% of what I need in a fantasy RPG: it's light on rules; flexible in character creation (without being crunchy); and the magic system is flexible and eminently hackable.  Most importantly, the advancement curve is very flat: characters start as competent heroes, and over the course of the campaign they become famous, somewhat more competent heroes.  Magic of the sort that a wizard can use during a campaign is quite balanced, and anything grand or world-shaking comes with a commensurate price... just as magic ought to work, according to the tropes of literary fantasy.  In other words, this is a much better game if one's purpose is narrative genre emulation.

I say that BoL is roughly an 80% match for what I need, because the game is dedicated to precisely one genre: low fantasy, a.k.a. "swords & sorcery".  Conan, Kull, Beastmaster, Deathstalker... fun stuff, but not exactly my cup of tea.   Other authors have, however, written alternate sets of rules that carry it into other genres, such as "Honor & Intrigue" (17th century swashbuckling) and "Dicey Tales" (1930s pulp).  Having obtained these other books as well, I least have the steampunk trappings I would need to run a game set in a Napoleonic/Victorian setting.  So we're up to 90%.

But, oddly, nobody's done high fantasy with these rules.  Nobody's made the attempt to kitbash together something that could do The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  And that's what I really need: mechanics for things like bravery and heroism, corruption and temptation, valor and renown.  Things that motivate high fantasy heroes, either in addition to or instead of mere wealth and power.

It is a truism that D&D campaigns, even if they begin heroically, with good-aligned characters and all the best of intentions, tend to devolve into "madmen and murderhobos" over time.  In fact, if my experience is anything to go by, the probability of this occurring approaches 1 as the campaign lengthens.  (Call this "Higgins's Law", if you like.)  At the moment, I am working on something altogether different: a set of house-rules built upon the BoL chassis that should hopefully take things in a more epic, heroic direction.  (The rules are nearly there; a setting to fit them is taking a bit more time, but that's next.)  Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to start posting this new material.  If it all comes together, I'll have a new favorite game.

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