Friday, April 3, 2015

At long, long last, I'm GAMING again!

Wow, cobwebs and tumbleweeds again.  I haven't posted on this blog since... September!?  Oy.

Okay... updates.  Half a year has gone by; much has happened.

School

I passed thermo.  I can't quite believe it, so I'll keep shouting it.  I freaking passed--aced-- thermodynaimcs!  I'm in mechanics and optics now, and it'll be electromagnetism and quantum mechanics next semester.  After that, all that's left are a couple of experimental physics labs and advanced electromagnetism and quantum theory, and I'll be done with my undergrad degree.  Weird that special & general relativity aren't required to graduate, but oh well, I want this over and done with ASAP.

Retro Gaming

Looking back at my last post, I can see that there are few more machines to scratch off my collection list.  I now have an Atari Jaguar and a Timex Sinclair 2068.  Sadly, the guy in Europe who makes Sinclair Spectrum compatibility cartridges (which are an absolute requirement for playing any ZX Spectrum games on an American Timex Sinclair computer) has quit doing that for the time being, so at the moment my 2068 is a useless hunk of plastic.  Seriously, there was, like, one game that came out for it State-side.

Since I haven't had any luck finding any of the remaining few game consoles or computers that I actually want, I've turned my attention to multi carts and flash carts, starting with the 1st/2nd gen systems.  I've so far nailed multi carts for two 1st gen systems (Fairchild Channel F and Bally Astrocade) and two 2nd gen systems (Vectrex and Emerson Arcadia).  Next, I'll probably go after the relatively easy-to-find multi carts for the Odyssey 2 and Commodore VIC-20, and then a flash cart for the Atari 2600 (probably the Harmony 2).

I'm frankly amazed at some of the ingenious means to retro-gaming goodness that exist out there for these old systems.  A simple audio cord and a piece of software will let me send disk images to my Apple II computers for writing to (5.25") mini-floppies.  That's pretty sweet, if tedious, and it'll definitely tide me over until I can spring for a CFFA 3000 expansion card that actually emulates a floppy drive with SD storage.

It looks like most flash cart or PC-interface solutions for these old machines are going remain more or less available and continually produced into the near future, so I'm not really worried about missing out on most of them... except for one device, already out of production and essentially gone from the world: a compact-flash drive and floppy emulator for the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A (which is a 16-bit retro computer I absolutely love).  It's a stark reminder that these little hobbyist projects can be fleeting.  If I want to one day meet my goal of collecting every American-released gaming system and having a way to play games on each one, I'm going to have to keep on top of this sort of thing much better in the future.

Tabletop Gaming

All of those posts I made last year about house rules for my Engines & Empires games have finally coalesced into a form I really like... so much so that I might just have to put them together, along with the Shade Isle setting that I'm running in right now, and publish them as a kind of mega-module or mini-campaign.  Yes, Virginia, I'm gaming again, and even though it's only two sessions in (more of a session and a half, really), it's already glorious.

I'm running the game out of a friendly local game store a mere few blocks away from where I live, and I have three players so far--one of whom is this guy, which is a pleasant surprise.  It's always edifying to meet a fellow old-school gamer in person, or to discover that a gaming blogger is local!

This will be the third time now that I've run my Shade Isle campaign.  This setting (the titular isle) has become my go-to sandbox for running OD&D campaigns; and its central dungeon, Shade Abby, has become my favorite tent-pole dungeon for propping up said campaigns.  Shade Abbey is my Castle Greyhawk; and I can't wait for this new group of players to get the chance to explore its depths, solve its puzzles, and figure out its mysteries.

(Yeah, and fight its monsters, foil its traps, discover its treasures... all that good stuff.  But that's the fine-grain, nitty-gritty of the individual game-session.  On a macro-scale, I get a kick out of filling a setting with mysteries and interlocking secrets and seeing players discover them and put the pieces together over the course of the entire campaign.  This is, in my opinion, absolutely essential to keeping players engaged and invested in a hex/dungeon-crawl campaign, and I never see anyone comment on the fact.  I shall have to write about it at length in the future...)

One thing that I've done different this time has me a little bit on edge, though: I didn't start the characters with maximum HP.  Usually, I start the fighters with 8 HP, the clerics with 6 HP, and the mages with 4 HP.  This time around, I went with 1d5+3 for the fighters, 1d4+2 for the clerics, and 1d3+1 for the mages (which is mathematically equivalent for fighters rolling 1d8 but re-rolling 1s, 2s, and 3s; clerics rolling 1d6, re-roll 1s and 2s; and mages rolling 1d4, re-roll 1s).  The reason I did this is a bit... arcane, even for an old-school game designer.  Maybe I'll devote a post to hit points next time.  Anyway, the upshot is that we have three player characters: Victor, Henrik, and Silverhart (a brawler, an artificer, and an elvish expert, which would be this setting's equivalents to the Engines & Empires boxer, tech, and... well, expert, only elf instead of human; I'm not using race-as-class for this campaign), all of whom have 3 or 4 HP.  This results in a markedly different dungeon-crawling experience, especially since the party's one melee guy is a brawler, not a fighter--stuck in leather armor, he's just as squishy as the other PCs and their 0-level hirelings at the moment.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out (and who lives), especially now that the players are exploring their first dungeon level.  So far, they've already been in a couple of fights, but the last one was a bit irksome.  I rolled a wandering monster check and came up with 10 imps (setting-specific kobold-equivalents) who stumbled upon the PCs as they were exploring a room very near the dungeon-entrance.  I rolled a reaction for the imps and came up with "netural", but the brawler (who also happens to be the only Chaotic in the party, go figure) reacted to the sight of monsters by throwing a hatchet at their leader's head.  So... negotiations thus concluded, the imps decided to act upon their superior numbers and attack the intruders.  It was the actions of the elf that likely saved the party then: he turned up a table in the room to block off the door and provide some cover, and he dashed his lantern onto the floor on the other side of it, toasting a few of the imps and causing the rest of them to fail morale and flee.

That was, in fact, where we had to leave off the last session, so the consequences of this little altercation have yet to be determined... >:]


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