Thursday, February 21, 2013

Desperately Seeking Gary

This is not the article I thought I would be writing today, but I beg you, stay with me!

Just over a year ago I was reading articles over at Green Skeleton Gaming Guild when I came across a small picture in the right hand column. It was a photo of Gary Gygax that I hadn't seen before. Since then it has become my favorite picture of Gary to date!

The photo is fun, it's whimsical. It captures both Gary and the spirit of fantasy RPG players in a great light. In a strange way just looking at the picture makes me feel happy and of course, nostalgic.

I wanted to find a copy to hang on my wall. I asked around a bit and discovered that the photo was featured in a People magazine article from January, 1980. I tracked down the article but wasn't satisfied with the results. I eventually discovered that you could plug an image into Google to find better quality versions of existing images. In this case however, the next best picture was still not frame-worthy.

Still, it was progress! The larger image was a full-page scan of the article and the photographer's name was listed on bottom left corner of the page. The photographer was a man by the name of Marc PoKempner. I quickly Googled his name (plus the word photography) and found his website and contact info. I sent him an email detailing my journey so far.

It was a shot in the dark, but a shot that paid off! Marc wrote me back within a few hours! While I won't post the entirety of the email here, I'll summarize it the best I can. He congratulated me on tracking him down and confirmed the he indeed was the man responsible for the photo! He went on to describe the shoot briefly, saying, "I didn't know much about Dungeons & Dragons before I shot that assignment, but Gary had the figures, and the tree knot seemed like an appropriate setting - glad to hear that it still has resonance". Awesome!

He also informed me that digging up the negative and making a single 8.5"x11"print would run in the $250 range. That's a lot of GP and a bit out of my price range for a single photo. Don't worry though, hope is not lost! Marc elaborated that the price tag reflects only a single print and that multiple prints would drop the price-per-print.

My question to the community is this: Would anyone else out there be interested in this print? The greater the desire, the lower the price (to a point I'm sure). Is this potentially Kickstarter worthy? If so, it's something I'd be willing to pursue. If not, I'll start saving my pennies!

Thanks for reading and until next time, happy gaming!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Alas, poor HP, I knew you well.

The title is a bit tricky, and for that, I apologize. By HP, I don't mean hit point, I mean Hewlett Packard. My poor PC has been whining and groaning for a few days now. It's been having trouble starting up and coming out of sleep. I can't say I'm surprised. After all, I've had the thing for going on 6 years and haven't had a single problem with it until now.

Also, I don't exactly treat my stuff with kid gloves.

But I haven't given up hope! I've passed it along to our friend Michael to see if he can rejuvenate it. Cast a technological Restoration, if you will. The man isn't just a "computer guy." He's a guru; a silicon valley sorcerer.

Unfortunately that means I'll be using my better half's laptop for this article, a task I am not too eager to undertake. Sure, I can type ok on it, I can technically do anything I could do on my desktop. Still, it just feels awkward.

Enough about that though, let's get on to the content!

I've been watching a lot of movies these past few days. I'm not sure what's come over me, but I've been on a real bender of demon themed movies. First it was flicks from the 90's but eventually progressed to anything I could get my hands on; a journey which eventually led me to the 2009 independent movie Lo.

I won't spoil the story for you. Watch it if you get a chance, it's currently on netflix instant. I will say though, that this movie does a phenomenal job at portraying demons. (In the FRPG community, they may be more accurately described as devils.) They are crafty, conniving and emotional.

Wait - what?! Emotional?

Yes sir! Emotional. Sure, the most common emotion is anger, but it isn't the blind, senseless rage that is so often the case when Hollywood depicts the lowliest of the low. There are times when you can really empathize with the bad guys. You can watch their smug grins transform to false apathy, only to shift again to frustrated anger and eventually defeat.

How very... human!

Seriously though, these demons have character far beyond the normal M.O. of tempting dudes with spiky horns. At one point they pick up instruments and break into song (in the form of a mid-50's prom band). The infernal things do it in a tongue in cheek, yet still brutally cruel way to crush the protagonist's spirit.

It really got me thinking about the nature of evil and demons/devils in my own game. With devils I have a tendency to lean toward the elaborate trickster motif. After watching Lo however, I may just change that.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Oh, and sorry about the lack of pictures this article. I'm lost without a mouse!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pass/Fail or something in between?

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. In this case, it came from a video game!

If you ever game on a smartphone or tablet, chances are you've come across Temple Run 2. It's known as an infinite runner style game. You control a hapless tomb robber.. err.. I mean treasure hunter who has stolen an artifact from an ancient temple. Upon acquiring the artifact, a giant beast with a skull mask gives chase and your mission become clear... RUN AWAY!

The title screen

Unfortunately your path is impeded by a variety of obstacles. You must jump, dodge and slide your way from hazards while a tireless brute breathes down your neck. It can be disorienting at times but it's actually quite fun!

They aren't paying me to advertise their product so let me get to the point. There is a particular mechanic in Temple Run that got me thinking. You see, if you miss a jump by just a hair, or if you fail to dodge a small obstacle on the ground the little man on the screen trips. He doesn't fall down, he doesn't get gobbled up by the monster, he just sort of stumbles for a second. The screen shakes, a booming roar echoes out of the speakers and the hulking beast gets closer to your pint-sized pilferer. The game is letting you know that you're safe for the moment, but trip again and you're monster chow! It's a great way to keep you on your toes.

The beast!

Let's take a look similar situations in many fantasy tabletop games. You stepped on a pit trap? Make a reflex save to jump out of the way! You got hit with a poison dart? Make a fortitude save to see if you succumb to the toxins! Some lusty water nymph charmed you? Roll a willpower save to see if you can shrug off her entrancing allure!

Not only are these common occurrences, they also have a common quality: they are pass or fail situations. Pass your reflex save and deftly jump over the pit, fail it and you plummet to your doom! Fail your fortitude save and fall over with burning guts and explosive diarrhea, pass it and you can sprinkle that poison on your cornflakes to give them a nice piquant aftertaste. There's no in between!

It's pretty much like this. Every time.

I've been playing with the idea of near misses and close calls. What if the player failed their reflex save in the aforementioned pit, but only by one little point on the die? Is it reasonable to say that the player fell in the hole but caught his foot on a dangling root about half-way down? Maybe he only takes half the fall damage, avoids the spikes and loses all his spare change? What about the adventurer and the poison dart? Say he passes, but by only one or two? Is it possible that the toxicity still runs it's course but he is mostly resistant? Maybe it leaves him feeling just slightly off or it gives him such potent gas that stealth is out of the question for at least an hour!?

It's a fun thought and I'm sure some systems out there support near misses. It would add a great amount of flavor but would also require a significant level of trust between players and GM, as rulings would be handled case-by-case and on the fly. Who knows, maybe I'll toss the idea to my group and see what they think.

Do you have any rules for close calls and near misses? Core rules or house rules? I think it's an interesting topic.

Until next time, happy gaming!   

Thursday, February 7, 2013 the Past!

So I was browsing through the RPG section of my FLGS (Showcase Comics, if you read the last article) when I discovered a little corner shelf!

"Discover" probably isn't the right word, I mean the shelf had always been there, but what was on the shelf took me by surprise.

Not only did the store start carrying old editions of RPGs, they managed to have a copy of First Quest! Now I know it isn't a rarity by any means but it's a treasure to me. You see, First Quest was my first real foray into Dungeons & Dragons and the world of RPGs.

 I imagine the fighter's next move is to brutally extend his middle finger.

First Quest is a bare-bones version of AD&D second edition. It includes figures, a DM Screen, a stripped-down rulebook, two spell books, a full color monster/treasure book, a double sided map, character sheets and a dramatic wall poster. I swear, the box lists it as dramatic.

Go ahead, have a minute to take in all that drama...

What I view as the hands-down coolest feature of the game is it's included CD! The box claims you can "Play it's audio CD and hear monsters, magic and mysterious dungeons spring to life. As the CD's interactive adventures, sound effects, and music ring forth, you and your friends play fighters, wizards, clerics and thieves."

I don't know about you, but that snippet seems like it needs about a million more exclamation points.

I wonder if they'll still honor these advertisements? I sure could use an attractive membership pin.

I have nothing but fond memories of this set. I remember sitting on my friend Brett's bedroom floor playing with him, his little brother and our friend Dave. It wasn't only my first time playing D&D, it was the first time I played a cleric, which is still my favorite class to this very day. It was my first time discovering a gelatinous cube and my first time seeing dice with more than six sides!

Now that I've got my grubby paws on the set, I'll probably try running it at some point in the future, as long as I can find a CD player somewhere...

CDs were so expensive!

 Until next time, happy gaming!