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Page Collection for ^2009-05

2009-05-01 Ur-Quan Master

Ur-Quan Masters Screenshots Following the link chain from Erol Otus Interview to An interview with fantasy artist Erol Otus to The Ur-Quan Masters I ended up wasting a few hours playing this game. Multi-platform (Windows, Mac OSX, various GNU/Linux and BSD variants) awesome using astroid-like navigation when in combat (turn you ship clockwise or counter-clockwise, thrust, and shoot) with lots of weird aliens that you need to convince of an alliance.

The Ultronomicon is the Ur-Quon Master wiki. Go to the non-spoiler hints and look at the First Things To Do page. :)

Also, check out Wikipedia’s Star Control for some context. The Ur-Quon Master game is equivalent to Star Control II. Originally published in 1992!

Makes me want to play Ultima IV again; the xu4 port is available for Windows and Mac OS X, gratis but not Free Software. I love using a ship and firing those cannonballs at monsters!

Also check out Old Guy RPG Blog’s work on a player’s handbook for Ultima, I-III, OD&D style.


Comments on 2009-05-01 Ur-Quan Master

I managed to waste the entire day playing Ur-Quan Masters and Ultima IV instead of drawing maps or preparing my D&D games.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-02 01:05 UTC

How can a day playing Ultima IV be wasted?

– Sektat 2009-05-03 09:17 UTC

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2009-05-03 Hayfever Hiatus

The trees have not been trying to fuck me through the nose in recent days. I’ve been spared any significant pollen allergies for at least a week. Good days!


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2009-05-05 Art Contest

Today is the last day to submit to the Erol Otus Art Challenge

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2009-05-06 Übermonsters

Following in the footsteps of Tim Short’s A Kinda New Look at Mr. Doppelganger, Michael Shorten’s The food chain - uber monsters and civilization and Dragons and Spawning and pesky Adventurers (author name?), I decided to write something about übermonsters. It reminds me of Robin Stacey’s Problem Monster Number Uno in Save or Die Issue #3, the Bodak.

My explanation for why humanity has not turned to cattle is organization. I imagine it like the Inquisition in the old days. Except that you add magic and heroes to the mix. And don’t forget “At-will Detect Evil” as one anonymous commenter said in one of the threads linked above.

So, I imagine a gang of twelve doppelgängers arriving in a frontier town. They kill twelve villagers, and settle in. And then what? They have a child? In which case it does come down to gestation period, replication rate, details of biology.

  • Are they exactly like humans? In that case, they might have been living amongst human society along. No problem.
  • Are they slightly different from humans? That makes them suspicious.
  • Are they evil and will kill people that suspect them? That will make people suspicious.
  • Will they move out as a group? Suspicious.
  • Did a group of foreigners arrive and disappear? Suspicious!
  • Is the community big enough for them to be spotted eventually? Very suspicious!

In any case, the day will come when somebody starts to suspect. If a person suspecting the shapechangers is disposed off, this will arouse more suspicion. If such a person is allowed to live, the power of Law kicks in. Clerics can cast spells, paladins can detect evil, witch hunters know about their weakness (in the case of doppelgangers this would be alcohol), a mob is assembled, and even if they are spellcasters or awesome fighting machines: will they stand against 100 angry villagers? Even if they win and leave the village, there will be pursuit eventually.

In my games, level nine is name level. Thus, in every settled five mile hex there is a level nine person and their entourage, possibly more. These people will also know how to deal with typical übermonsters.

That explains why übermonsters have not taken over the world and turned all humans into cattle. Sure, this might not work everywhere and all the time. But those situations would be temporary anomalies. Eventually, a hero will come along, clear the hex, and get rid of a village full of doppelgängers. There is no such thing within human lands, unless the doppelgängers “behave exactly like humans”.

That leaves the question of the wilderness. I agree, the wilderness will be full of doppelgängers, except for the areas where even greater evil rules – giants, dragons, what have you.

In short, I’m not worried about übermonsters.

Except for the Bodak. ;)


Comments on 2009-05-06 Übermonsters

I agree. Fear the Bodak!

I like your rationale, a lot. The Name Level + Stronghold concept from Classic D&D works very well as a way of keeping back the tides of evil monsters and goes a long way toward explaining why civilisation stays civilised most of the time.

Good post.

greywulf 2009-05-06 20:18 UTC

Thanks. Your comment inspired me to write more about my name level approach.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-06 23:52 UTC

Hey Alex great post. There are several ways to limit an uber monster especially in a society with organized magic and the temples full of good old fashion god power.

And agreed, Fear the Bodak!

Tim Shorts 2009-05-06 23:52 UTC

I liked the idea that you put forward in Mr. Doppelganger Part 2 where in mages might be willing to pay for doppelgängers, dead or alive – because they can use “precious blood and other gooey parts for potions, spell components and enchanting magic items.”

Awesome idea. :)

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-06 23:59 UTC

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2009-05-07 Monday Games

Monday Night Table A picture of James’ Silver Marshes for Faerûn that we play every other Monday.

From left to right: Moni (who also plays in both Sunday games, one run by me, the other run by James), Marco (who runs an Echoes of Heaven campaign and plays on one of the Sunday games), Marcel (who also plays in a West Marshes style campaign), James (who is running the campaign on the picture and our Shackled City campaign on a Sunday per month), Daniel (who also plays in a Deadlands campaign, I think), and I’m taking the picture (I also run our Rise of the Runelords campaign on all remaining Mondays, play in the same game Marcel plays in, run one Sunday game, play in James’ Sunday game, and I play in Marco’s game).

When I look at this list, I’m impressed. We must be hardcore! :D

I didn’t mention the Mouseguard game Harald runs and the Rolemaster game Berni runs.


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2009-05-07 Name Level

Yesterday’s post about Übermonsters reminded me of a recent change I instituted in my Alder King D&D 3.5 Sunday game regarding Name Level:

Name Level
Characters reach reaching level 9 must build a stronghold or be ready to retire their character when they reach level 10. (Ordinary adventures will take place in the level range from one to nine; higher level adventures may involve mass battles.)
There is no Leadership feat. Instead, players build an entourage using roleplay within the limits of their Charisma score. One of their entourage will be a Loyal Follower and a potential replacement character. (Inspired by David Bowman’s Entourage Approach.)

The Sunday group has six players. Half the players liked it immediately, one of them saying they’d like to start a warband using their entourage, and two others hired a bard each. I think that’s an excellent start. :)

Does anybody remember who wrote on their blog that they didn’t mind their player’s using the D&D 3.5 rules as long as they could use simpler rules behind the screen? That’s what I’m trying to do. :)

Also, nobody minded the level cap because when I started looking for players I told everybody that the campaign would end around level nine to twelve.


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2009-05-08 Literary Grounding

What I really like about Scott’s campaigns (real name?) is his literary grounding. It seems that he picks a number of books that will act as inspiration for a particular campaign, and exclude all others. Here are his two lists:

So many unread books and so little time!

Update: It turns out that Zachary has been thinking of a very similar topic – instead of asking the per-campaign question, he just asks the per-judge question.

Update: Even more…


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2009-05-09 Oddmuse Testing

When I’m working on Oddmuse, I will often edit a test file, first. Today, for example, I edited t/history.t and was interested in the state of things once it had run. Usually I’d run perl t/history.t and then something like perl wiki.pl action=index and look at the HTML code. But this time I wanted to see it in a browser. And I didn’t want to setup my local webserver to use the test data directory. So I wrote a little shell script:

export WikiDataDir=test-data
exec perl wiki.pl $* | perl -e 'undef $/; $_=<STDIN>;
 s/.*?\r?\n\r?\n//s; print $_;' | w3m -T text/html

I called it oddview and run it from my oddmuse directory like this: oddview action=index and I’ll get the index action result as a web page displayed in the the text browser w3m. Yay! :)


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2009-05-10 Ogre Barbarian

So I’m looking at this adventure, and it has an Ogre 4th level barbarian in it (D&D 3.5). They mention his minimum damage while using a Power Attack +7, and I started wondering… It suspected they had made a mistake.

AC 10, Dex 12 (unlike the MM, and no ring) ⇒ +1, natural ⇒ +5, +1 hide armor ⇒ +4, rage ⇒ -2, size ⇒ -1 = 17 (touch 9) – this is one better for touch because of the Dex difference and no +1 ring of protection.
Hitpoints 4d8 (ogre) +4d12 (barbarian levels) +48 (raging Con 22 ⇒ +6 per HD) +3 (Toughness feat) = 95 – correct
BAB +7, raging Str 30 ⇒ +10, +1 greatclub ⇒ +1, weapon focus ⇒ +1, +7 power attack ⇒ -7 = +12/+7 to attack
Damage 2d8, raging Str 30 ⇒ +10, two handed ⇒ +5, +1 greatclub ⇒ +1, +7 two handed power attack ⇒ +14 = 2d8+30

Damage while raging and with full power-attack is 32-46 – wow!

I hate to do this number-crunching, but these numbers are far from obvious when looking at the stat blocks in both the adventure and the Monster Manual. It’s far too easy to forget. Gaah! Too much work for far too little fun.

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Comments on 2009-05-10 Ogre Barbarian

Now you should give him a scythe and do the math on a power-attack critical.

  • +1 Large scythe base: 2d6 + 1
  • Str 30: +10
  • Two-handed: +5
  • Two-handed +7 power attack: +14
  • Critical: x4

What do we get? 8d6 + 120 damage = X(

I think I just found my next character build. I think Improved Critical would fit in there somewhere. sardonic

Marco 2009-05-11 10:00 UTC

Awesome. And all this without smite evil!

– Marcel 2009-05-11 10:54 UTC

Definitely. Enlarged death priests with a +1 keen scythe. :)

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-11 15:10 UTC

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2009-05-14 Podcast Summary

Some months ago I asked about Podcast recommendations (2009-01-30 RPG Podcast Recommendations Wanted). A few months later, here is my current list.

These I listen to as soon as they are out:

These I listen to occasionally:

I have some more in my feed but I don’t listen to them as regularly.

Tags: ← check out how my taste has changed over time

Comments on 2009-05-14 Podcast Summary

Hey, thanks so much for listening. I’m glad you enjoy the show!

Brian 2009-05-16 02:58 UTC

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2009-05-15 The Real One Page Dungeon

Stone Tablet Inf
A6 sketchbook
I’d like to collect all the maps of the One Page Dungeon Contest 2009 and not just the “winners/runner-ups” of the contest.

I’d also like to offer a glimpse into my game prep by showing you the notes I used for a two session adventure. These notes are “real” notes, not written up to be published. They would also fit on a page of A4 paper, should I try. As it is, I have an A6 page from a sketchbook and two sheets of A5 paper.

Some campaign background: The party has a shadow elf looking for her abandoned ancestral home and meets a sort of chicken Indiana Jones who tells her he has some information for her, if she agrees to get the stone tablets from an old elephant temple that has recently been uncovered by a landslide.

The first session the party goes in, fights ogres in the hills, fights the bear in the cave, finds the secret door behind the elephant statue, avoids the rolling boulder trap, finds a room with stone tablets on the walls, copies them, and takes them back. Chicken Indiana Jones says: “But where are the rest of them? Surely you must have found the secret temple behind the facade!” The players roar in anger and I roar in glee…

The second session the party knows that there must be a second temple hiding behind the first (a temple to the moon) and ends up finding a third temple hiding behind the second (a temple to death). If you’re interested in the source material of the various funky stuff that’s coming together, here: We’re playing on the Lenap map of The Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Necromancer Games), I’m thinking of using Caverns of Thracia (Necromancer Games) soon, and The Sunken Ziggurat (Goodman Games).

If you look at the XP report of the session you’ll note that I have a weird system of assigning XP for this campaign: I’m assigning “points” to interesting stuff and hand out 300 XP per point. Usually combat is worth the CR of the enemies divided by two in points. Discovering stuff about the setting and doing things provides the other half of the XP, because that’s the kind of thing I want to encourage.

Two A5 pages, being the equivalent of a “one page dungeon” ;) :

Levels 1 & Levels 3 &

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2009-05-15 Water Temple

Water Temple As people started posting their One Page Dungeon 2009 submissions, I decided to post my Water Temple submission as well.

I drew the map by hand on traditional graph paper, scanned it, manipulated brightness and contrast until it looked more or less OK, imported it into Inkscape, traced it, and added text wherever I found some free space.

In my Alder King game, this water temple provided adventure for two sessions. The first session was spent trying to talk to the kuo-toa living in the temple, fighting a crazy loner, and luring some others into an ambush. The next session they discovered a well that eventually led to the stirges’ nest and the priest. They never discovered the necromancer lair and he still lives beneath the city of the flying monkeys in Quin Parr’s realm. I like to return to old adventure locations and thus I’m sure that the necromancer will turn up one way or another in the sessions to come.


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2009-05-16 Oddmuse Mail Subscription Dubious

I’m thinking about adding mail subscription to Oddmuse. I used to oppose this, claiming that people should use rss2email and similar feed subscriptions as a replacement. I changed my mind when I joined the RPG Bloggers. I read a lot of posts from blogs I’m not subscribed to. When I leave a comment, I’m interested in getting notified of replies to this one post only. Email just works.


Visitors can add their email address and click a checkbox to subscribe to changes when they edit a page. The requirement to successfully edit a page acts as a defense mechanism against spammers and vandals (SoftSecurity).

Email addresses are stored in a file. Each mail contains an unsubscribe link, and from there users can see (and unsubscribe from) all other pages they are subscribed to. The link contains a hash of the email address which prevents others from guessing what email addresses have subscriptions.

There is also an admin interface that shows which email addresses are subscribed to which pages, allowing the easy removal of email addresses from the database.


The problem was that on my host, there is no C compiler, so I was unable to install Email::Sender. The web processes also run in an environment without access to sendmail. Net::SMTP does not support Transport Layer Security (TLS). Googling around I found a “Simple SMTP client with STARTTLS and AUTH support” by Michal Ludvig: Command line SMTP client.

On my Mac OS 10.4 system at home, I wasted a lot of time trying to install Bundle::CPAN. Gaaah! Some dependencies were not automatic, but a few good invocations of reports on the CPAN command-line followed by manual installation of the missing package did the job.

I also needed to install IO::Socket::SSL with all its dependencies. Yuck! And it turns out that there is a dependency on Net::SSLeay, which needs a C compiler to build.

Thus, the command-line script will also not do for me!

In the end, I think I will ask them to install libemail-send-perl and libnet-smtp-ssl-perl for Email::Send and Net::SMTP::SSL; there is also Email::Send::Gmail but no corresponding Debian package. We’ll see; I might get it to work without.

Anyway, I decided to invest some time into coding an Oddmuse extension. I was all enthusiastic about it. But now I spent hours fooling around with Perl installations and test programs, I think I will stop it now and read a book or something.


Oddmuse Sends No Email

Thinking about it some more, sending mail after an edit might work for comment submission on comment pages, but it will never work for edits to ordinary pages. So right now I’m working on code that lets me subscribe and unsubscribe from pages, and a computer-readable output of said data. Then I will use a cron-job to send the appropriate emails.


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2009-05-19 Künstlerische Ader

Ich fasse es nicht. Meine Kritzelei hat in der Erol Otus Art Challenge eine ehrenvolle Erwähnung (“honorable mention”) erhalten. Wahnsinn. Dabei habe ich das Bild nur eingeschickt, weil Calithena so eindringlich um weitere Einsendungen bat: “Please submit stuff! We have some good entries already but I want Erol to feel good about the volume as well!”

Jetzt finde ich mich plötzlich in Mitten einer Liste von Kandidaten, die mir schon fast die Tränen in die Augen treiben.

Besonders erwähnen möchte ich Jennifer Weigel, die schon seid geraumer Zeit den Blog ihres Partners, The Art of the Near TPK, mit Bildern versorgt. Mit wenigen Linien schafft sie die geniale Linie zwischen naiven Bildern und leicht verstörenden Andeutungen.

Pete Mullen hat ja auch schon das eine oder andere Titelbild für Swords & Wizardry gezeichnet. Da herrscht auch eine ökonomie der Striche und Farben, die mir sehr gefällt.

Die simplen Zeichnungen von Steve Zieser waren mir ebenfalls schon vor einer Weile aufgefallen. Ein Bild von seiner Feder ziert ja neuerdings auch den Blog von David Bowman.

Soweit die Künstler, welche mir auch schon vorher aufgefallen waren. Jetzt mache ich mich mal daran, alle Webseiten durchzuklicken. :)


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2009-05-19 Regelwahnsinn

Es muss wieder einmal gesagt werden: Mir macht die Charakteroptimierung keinen Spass. Auf Natalie Bennetts Blog fand ich einen Artikel, wo sie schreibt, wie frustrierend es ist, je einen Charakter auf Stufe 10 und Stufe 20 für D&D zu machen (in ihrem Fall handelt es sich um Arcana Evolved für D&D 3). Ich hatte schon etwas Mühe mit meiner Charaktererschaffung in der Rolemaster Kampagne Die Reise nach Rhûn – da haben wir sicher zwei oder drei Stunden insgesamt darauf verwendet, und mehr Spass als mit “3d6 in der richtigen Reihenfolge” werde ich vermutlich auch nicht haben.

Wenn ich denke, dass ich als junger Spieler auch gerne mehr Waffenspezialisierungen, Talente und Fertigkeiten, Proben und andere Dinge gehabt hätte, und wie sehr mich genau diese Dinge jetzt langweilen, muss ich immer daran denken, dass man mit seinen Wünschen vorsichtig sein soll, denn vielleicht bekommt man ja, was man sich wünscht.

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Comments on 2009-05-19 Regelwahnsinn

Also eine Optimierung ist ja optional, kann ja machen wer will. Einen Charakter erschaffen kann man dagegen doch recht zügig. Also mir hat das nie Probleme bereitet. Sie waren halt nicht optimiert, aber das war auch kein Beinbruch. :)

Taysal 2009-05-19 11:04 UTC

Vielleicht müsste ich fast schon sagen: Die lange Charaktererschaffung macht keinen Spass – egal ob optimiert oder nicht. Die Berechnung der Skillpoints, die Verrechnung mit Boni, die Berechnung von Rettungswürfen, das Nachschauen der Waffenkriterien, dass herausfinden der effektiven Angriffsboni und Schadenswürfel und Boni…

Als wir die neue Kampagne mit meiner Frau angefangen haben, war sie nicht so wirklich an der D&D 3.5 Charaktererschaffung interessiert, und ich auch nicht. Also hat es sich auch über eine Stunde hingezogen. So haben wir beide gemerkt, dass dieser Aspekt von D&D 3.5 uns keinen Spass macht. Klar kann ich sinnlose Feats und Sprüche für ihre Hexenmeisterin auswählen, aber das Resultat macht dann auch keinen Spass. Also ist es “Pflicht”.

In der Rolemaster Runde war mein Charakter auch nicht optimiert, und die Erschaffung hat trotzdem 3h gedauert. Das fand ich etwas frustrierend.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-19 12:04 UTC

Besonders nervig ist es, wenn man sich erstmal noch nicht mit den Regeln auseinandersetzen will und erstmal nur mit einer groben Charakteridee an die Erschaffung herangeht.

In einem Großteil der Fälle merkt man dann (oft erst, nachdem man bereits 20+ Minuten gerechnet hat), dass das Charakterkonzept welches man gerne spielen will nach den Regeln nicht funktioniert und man muss nochmal von Vorne anfangen. Frußt!

alexandro 2009-05-19 21:51 UTC

Ich kenne das übrigens auch - von D&D 3.5 vor allem, mit 4e habe ich da wenige rProbleme. Man kann sich weniger verfahren, weil man einfach Mal Entscheidungen, die man gemacht hat, im nächsten Level ändern kann. Auch die Softwareunterstützung ist besser als alles, was ich bisher kannte.

Aber zurück zu 3.5: Ja, ich empfinde die Charaktererschaffung auch als frustrierend. Vor allem kann mir keiner sagen, ob sich die Mühe hinterher lohnt. Was ist denn, wenn ich mit meinem Konzept falsch gelegen habe und 1. nur in wenigen Situationen vernünftig handeln kann und 2. in diesen dann auch noch stark zu kämpfen habe? Generell ist es einfach lästig, sich die ganzen Optionen an allen Ecken und Enden zusammensuchen zu müssen.

Und wenn amn garnicht optimiert? Tja, dann kann es sein, dass man am Ende einfach Mal mit einem Charakter dasteht, der leider garnicht richtig kann. :(

Bernd Pressler 2009-05-19 22:12 UTC

Was bei uns auch ein Problem war: Einer der Spieler hatte grossen Spass an der Charaktererschaffung und Karrierreplanung, die anderen weniger. So gegen Stufe 14/15 war dann klar, dass man den Powergamer nur ins Schwitzen bringen konnte, wenn die Monster für alle anderen Spielercharaktere absolut tödlich waren. Kurzfristig tauchten dann neben dem Boss Monster auch ein Gruppe von Minions auf, bei denen dann “klar” war, wer die zu bekämpfen hatte. Das fand ich dann auch nicht so cool.

Für meine D&D 3.5 Runden habe ich übrigens gerade vor zwei Wochen angekündigt, dass es eine Form von Retraining geben wird, damit man mit der Zeit Skills und Feats herumschieben kann.

Leider habe ich zur Charaktererschaffung bei D&D 4 noch keine eigene Meinung, weil wir in den beiden Playtests vorgefertigte Charaktere vom Spielleiter bekamen. (Thanks, Adrian!)

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-19 22:40 UTC

Also bei uns gab es in der 3.5 nie Probleme und Optimierung war auch nie nötig. Der ein oder andere hat höchstens mal gerne auf eine Prestigeklasse hingearbeitet, aber das war es auch schon. Da wir immer Wert auf gutes Charakterspiel legen, war auch immer alles passend - auch wenn mal die ein oder andere Sache nicht ganz gut aufeinander abgestimmt war. Ich muss aber gestehen, die 3.5 verleitet ganz gerne zum Optimieren, da die Regeln ja wie ein Zahnrad ineinandergreifen. Aber einen Zwang sehe ich da nicht. :)

Taysal 2009-05-20 16:37 UTC

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2009-05-20 Music at the Gaming Table

I posted this in a thread on EN World but decided it was worth to keep on my blog as well.

What about the use of music at the gaming table? One of my DMs uses the Baldur's Gate soundtrack every time.

I tried it using the Vagrant Story soundtrack and writing down a few key elements of the various tracks. I knew the track that started with a bang and was useful for combat and I planned to switch to that as the dice fell for initiative.

It turned out too complex to juggle. I forgot to turn it off when combat ended until a player complained; I forgot to turn it on half the time; it took me critical seconds between combat announcement and die rolls to skip to the right track.

Lesson learnt. I no longer do this.

I do scream “DO DOO DOO DOOOOOM!!!!” at the table at opportune moments, however.

Or I’ll start with “Ok, so you’re walking down this corridor, when… [humming as I looking up stuff] dumdidumdidooo…” Players will shout “Watch out, random encounter incoming!!”

In a way I have maybe three or four such “musical” humming themes that I use at the table.

“Wheeeeeouuuuwheeeooouuuwheeeeee…” Flying monsters attack!!

I heartily recommend to use a variety of grunting, howling, cackling, drumming, whimpering, and crooning at the table to immitate cinematic soundtrack-like effects. You can’t sing all the time, you can’t produce the real sound-effects, but you can be entertaining!


Comments on 2009-05-20 Music at the Gaming Table

A player for a group I played in did zit/DARRRR for every arrow that hit in combat. That was pretty fun.

Harald Wagener 2009-05-20 10:01 UTC

Hahaha. Well, I make audio soundtracks, so as not to hurt my voice.

Siskoid 2009-05-20 12:21 UTC

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2009-05-22 Go

Go board Tetsuki rules!

Played two games at IGS Pandanet and won. Then I installed glGo and GNU Go and lost. Every. Single. Game.

I will now go back to my Graded Go Problems For Beginners. Bought all four books 2nd hand many years ago. Now I just need to work through them! And I prefer to do that offline.

If you don’t mind doing it online, check out Go Problems.

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2009-05-24 Old School Affordances

I think the key to understanding the “old school” vs. “new school” (I hear you groan already) is the idea of affordance.

Even if you don’t care about old schoold and new school – and I don’t care about the discussion, I just care about using Labyrinth Lord instead of D&D 4E – even if you don’t care, the idea of affordance is something you might find useful when picking the system for your next campaign, or when figuring out why a particular person is unhappy in their current gaming group.

James Maliszewski started the discussion by claiming that “old school” was more than a feeling; it had to be an element of the system used, otherwise all discussion is immedately made moot. Rob Conley replied by saying that it’s not necessarily an element of the rules, and not just a feeling, it’s an attitude.

A year ago, I would have agreed with Rob. I wanted to play old school games, but my players wanted to use D&D 3.5 rules. No problem, I thought. I’ll just run a game using my old school attitude. But it didn’t work.

The reason is that the system afforded (invited, encouraged, suggested) certain player behaviour that disagreed with my sensibilities behind the screen. I could have tried to fight them every step of the way, but I’m a casual DM. I have better things to do in life than waste time trying to educate grown up people who spend their precious time at my table. They, too, have better things to do.

  • Players liked to use the rules to support their character concepts. They didn’t want all melee fighters to just be fighters. They needed special weapons and a particular set of feats, and different classes.
  • Players wanted to be effective in combat. They wanted to be awesome, guaranteed. They were not interested in failure and hardship. If their characters did not have superb stats and impressive bonuses, they felt left behind.
  • As the game went on, some of them wanted very specific magic items to round out their characters. They expected these items to be for sale, or to create missing magic items themselves.

It reminded me of my earliest attempt to use the Kitsunemori setting. My players didn’t enjoy the changed armor rules, the new weapon list, changed cleric abilities, removal of the monk class, changes to the magic system, and so on. Either it was too much to read, or they had strong desires to try this or that build, or they just didn’t care. Trying to use the setting crunch was a waste of time, and I quickly realized it.

Similarly, trying to use the new rules and play an “old school” game is going to waste a lot of your time. Maybe it’ll work if all your players are specifically interested in it. My players have not been as interested as I, and thus my attempts have fallen flat. My attitude alone was not enough.

It seems to me that you need all the players to buy into the old school attitude. And that, to me, seems to be the equivalent of heavily house-ruling the game, even if you never write down which parts of the rules you will not be using.

System does matter.

Update: For an example, check out 2009-05-25 B ⁄ X Affordances.


Comments on 2009-05-24 Old School Affordances


I suspect that different systems work well for different groups too, depending on their particular vision and definition of Old School. My group, for example, found that 3.5e D&D didn’t give that old school vibe particularly well, whereas 4e D&D does. I’m pretty sure that goes counter to many other groups’ experiences.

Every rule system has a flavour. It imparts a certain mood or tone to the game. For example, play a swashbuckling high adventure using 3e D&D, and exactly the same adventure using GURPS, and they’re feel very different. That’s the rules affecting the gamestyle, right there.

The key is in finding a system that’s a flavour you like :D

greywulf 2009-05-24 20:28 UTC

Finding a system indeed. My main motivation has always been to use a rules-light system that still allowed for the D&D experience. That was what attracted me to M20.

The question of “D&D experience” leads to the other big topic of “what is D&D to you” – endless! One example of the wide variety out there:

3d6 chargen. Wandering monsters. Save or die. Rust monsters eating my sword. Level draining. Random treasure (possibly no treasure). Dave the Game may be right and what I’m talking about is a ‘playstyle’ issue, but the playstyle that I learned from D&D is no longer one supported by D&D. That’s why it looks generational to me. – Jeff Rients [1]
I find this interesting because it is, for the most part, a list of those things that I found most senseless and annoying as both a player and a GM in past editions. – Scott Schimmel [2]

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-25 06:39 UTC

Other posts:


Thank you. This post and the link to the definition of affordance neatly explains something I’ve been groping at since I tried 4e.

Jeff Rients 2009-05-26 13:15 UTC

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2009-05-25 B ⁄ X Affordances

Gaming with kids I get to play Labyrinth Lord with Zeno and his kids, rarely. In the spirit of yesterday’s post on old school affordances, let me list some of them, as far as I’m concerned. As I noted in yesterday’s post, whether these are affordances you prefer is an entirely different question. All I’m saying is that if you agree with them, then Labyrinth Lord or B/X D&D by Moldvay, Marsh, and Cook might be a system you’d like.

No Skills: This challenges players. They need to roleplay to be diplomatic, intimidating, bluffing, or sense the DM’s motives. I also find that players need to guess where hidden treasure and secret doors are. This usually involves mapping.

Few Classes: Fewer classes and no prestige classes or other specializations provide less mechanical differentiation between characters. Players need to roleplay in order to differentiate characters. This also makes character generation easier and faster as there is no character career planning required.

Quick Chargen: Easy character generation with few actual choices to make speed things up. A high attrition rate is therefore more acceptable as you can bring multiple characters to the table and make extras in a minute or two.

Rare Healing: Players need to avoid wandering monsters and avoid unnecessary fighting. This makes strategic decisions (when to fight) more important than tactical decisions (how to fight).

Simple Combat: No explicit rules for combat maneuvers and battle grids result in quicker combat rounds, less waiting for your turn, and possibly more fights per session, if desired.

Little Damage, Few Hit-Points: Fewer attacks and smaller damage bonuses simplify the math and speed things up.

Smaller Bonuses: The smaller bonuses due to abilities reduce the math and produce far less trickle down effects. This also makes the initial ability rolls less important (without actually resorting to point-buy). Characters are also mechanically more similar.

Random Chargen: Random character generation also provides a strong incentive to just play the class the dice suggest possibly resulting in a surprise for players and interesting party dynamics.

Treasure Is Experience: Treasure acting as story reward encourages to research their goals, picking their fights carefully. It also provides for an easy and quick reason for the party to form and go adventuring.

No Magic Item Bazaar: There are no good rules for magic item creation and trading, therefore they are rare (what you find is what you get – WYFIWYG). They cannot be used for character differentiation. Instead, creative use of magic items is encouraged since they are rare and cannot be sold to buy something else.

Random Encounters, Random Monsters: These force the DM to improvise and adapt the story on the fly (not adapting the story will lead to a dull game).

Do you agree? Things I missed? What cool experiences does your favorite system afford?

(Also note how I sneakily avoided the use of “old school” in the title, haha.)


Comments on 2009-05-25 B ⁄ X Affordances

I completely agree with you – and would be happy to play a game with those kinds of rules. ;)

– zeno 2009-05-25 17:28 UTC

I wonder if one could use some more IT/Usability terms and tools for analyzing RPG systems, and how useful they would be in comparing them. Take the cognitive dimensions for example: a role-playing ruleset could be viewed as an information artifact using them. What you describe as ‘oldschool’ would then translate to few premature commitments, short gradient of abstraction, terseness, low viscosity, escape from formalism, etc. at the expense of poor role-expresiveness (no specialized elements of the game), lots of hidden dependencies, weak juxtaposability, etc.

Of course, since it’s a game, you don’t really want the interface to disappear – the point of the game is that it’s hard in some way – the one that is fun for your players and you.

RadomirDopieralski 2009-05-25 21:03 UTC

Even though I’m not playing D&D, and have never done so outside of some ill-fated 3rd Edition games, I have the exact same key points in my latest game. I think they all come together to make for a really fun game.

SuperSooga 2009-05-25 23:08 UTC

“They need to roleplay to be diplomatic, intimidating, bluffing, or sense the DM’s motives.” Does this mean actually being those things, or just being able to describe them. I assume physical actions don’t need to be acted out, so I’m not seeing why “mental” ones would have to be. This also seems to limit players to characters who are only as good at those skills as they are.

“Players need to avoid wandering monsters and avoid unnecessary fighting.” I don’t find that fighting necessarily means a stop to role-playing. Fights should always have high stakes, and move the story forward. If you want them to avoid wandering monsters, why put them in? If a fight is unnecessary, and would not be fun or advance the story, why allow the possibility?

“Instead, creative use of magic items is encouraged since they are rare and cannot be sold to buy something else.” Creative use of items doesn’t relate to creative characterization or role-playing, the way I think of the terms. As with role-playing the “social” skills, this approach would seem to be about testing the intelligence of the players. What if the character being played is less creative than the player needs to be?

“Random Encounters, Random Monsters:” These can be good seeds, but once the story has started to form, encounters should be meaningful - until there’s a need for more inspiration.

“Do you agree?” Well, not entirely. If I didn’t quote it above, I more or less agreed with it, or could go either way.

“What cool experiences does your favorite system afford?” In theory, it can afford anything, but I’ve not had time to plumb it, really. Generally, I go for stories that allow for exciting, positive, hopeful adventures. Since a GM can crush the characters whenever he wants, I’d only introduce serious hardship or failure if the players agreed with me that it would be an interesting narrative choice. If they did, there’d be nothing preventing such a story from being told with the rules I prefer, but it might take some slight adjustment of the types of challenges they’d face and choices they’d have to make.

– pdunwin 2009-05-27 06:03 UTC

Indeed, I prefer my players to describe what they are saying, which arguments they bring forward. If a players does not like to talk, chances are his character will not be very diplomatic. That’s also part of challenging players, for me. I like it, and therefore I like it when my system has no skill system which would “afford” rolling dice instead.

This is the same answer I have for the question on magic items: I’m playing the game not to simulate a world where the character can be smarter than the player, I’m playing the game to challenge the players via their character in our shared world. That’s why the systems are good at challenging players and are probably less suitable for world simulation.

I allow wandering monsters because of two reasons: First, rolling up a wandering monster surprises me as the DM just as much as it surprises players. I need to improvise on the spot, and I like it. Second, wandering monsters force players to make the strategic decision of when to fight. Players meet another party and need to figure out: Is this a distraction, a potential ally, an enemy guarding treasure, or just a time and energy sink.

I’m not sure what to make of your statement that your favorite can in theory “afford anything” – are you saying that system does not matter? Is this based on your observation that you and your players can experience “exciting, positive, hopeful adventures” no matter what rules you use? Does that mean you specifically hand-pick the rules you use? If you’re playing Rolemaster and the enemies roll ought to roll on the critical hit tables, do you ignore it? If your players spend time at the table worrying about which feats to pick and which prestige classes to work for, do you ignore it? Or are both elements part of “exciting, positive, hopeful adventures”? To me, Rolemasters affords deadly combat because of the critical hit tables; D&D 3.5 affords strategic character generation because of its feat & class system. If I don’t enjoy those elements, then I’ve picked the wrong system. I can pick a different system, or I can house rule it. Either way, I cannot just pick any system, because their affordances are important. They influence the way I and my groups play. We can’t afford (hah!) to pick a system that will “afford anything.”

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-27 09:34 UTC

“I’m playing the game not to simulate a world where the character can be smarter than the player, I’m playing the game to challenge the players via their character in our shared world.” That’s quite an eye-opener for me. I’m used to games in which characters can be very different from their players, including smarter and more charismatic.

“are you saying that system does not matter?” It doesn’t matter to the role-playing, no. I game with people who can role-play boardgames and wargames, not just role-playing games.

The question was about my “favorite system.” I believe that my favorite system could reasonably well accommodate any type of role-playing or story theme. There are games that would work better if I was trying to run, say, a horror game, or a pirate game, or a mystery game, or diplomatic game, but so long as the players were on my side and understood the theme, just about anything could work under my favorite system.

“Is this based on your observation that you and your players can experience ‘exciting, positive, hopeful adventures’ no matter what rules you use?” Well, no, in as much as I haven’t played all (or even many) of the systems out there. I’m just talking about my favorite system, which happens to be geared toward that kind of game.

“Does that mean you specifically hand-pick the rules you use?” I usually try not to discard rules offered by a particular system. Blind faith in the designers, I’m afraid.

“If you’re playing Rolemaster and the enemies roll ought to roll on the critical hit tables, do you ignore it?” No, because that would be part of what makes the game exciting. The ability, skill, magic, or technology to come back from that critical is what would make the game positive and hopeful.

“If your players spend time at the table worrying about which feats to pick and which prestige classes to work for, do you ignore it?” No, the ability of characters to improve and of the players to guide the improvement would be positive and hopeful.

“Or are both elements part of ‘exciting, positive, hopeful adventures’?” Yep!

“To me, Rolemasters affords deadly combat because of the critical hit tables;” Deadly can be exciting.

“D&D 3.5 affords strategic character generation because of its feat & class system.” This can be hopeful and positive. I’ll grant that it’s probably only exciting for one player at a time, and I would encourage players to improve their characters away from the table and share the in-game description with us at a different time.

“If I don’t enjoy those elements, then I’ve picked the wrong system. I can pick a different system, or I can house rule it.” Or you can adapt and make them enjoyable. Me, I’m not a big one for character degeneration, but that’s how Call of Cthulhu works. If I’ve joined a game of that, then I’ve bought into that part of the system and I do what I can to take some fun out if it, usually in the description of the decrepitude.

“Either way, I cannot just pick any system, because their affordances are important. They influence the way I and my groups play. We can’t afford (hah!) to pick a system that will ‘afford anything.’” In looking back over this article and the earlier one to which it links, I get the impression that the reason “affording anything” is potential problem is because players will latch on to the parts of the system that they like - which may not be the parts of the system that everyone else likes. The disconnect I’m having is that I’m assuming full player-buy in of a system. If a player came to Call of Cthulhu planning to go in guns blazing, I’d assume they were not aware of the way the system was designed and I’d try to explain it before the game began. They could still play that way, but they’d know what would likely result. If that didn’t suit them, I’d expect them to pick a different game. However, if my entire group (including me) wanted to play Call of Cthulhu that way, I don’t see what would prevent us from having an exciting, hopeful, and positive game of Call of Cthulhu. We wouldn’t even have to throw out any of the rules, but we’d probably have to create our own adventures and choose the adversaries with some care.

(I should mention that Call of Cthulhu is not my favorite system. For one thing, it “affords” boring shopping trips and nitpicking attention to detail. If no one’s interested in those things, the system becomes much more enjoyable for me.)

It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding the point of these articles, but I do think that with reasonable and adaptable players the system doesn’t particularly matter.

– pdunwin 2009-05-28 03:28 UTC

I agree with you, the problem with “affording anything” is that “full player-buy in of a system” is not a given in the games I play.

The lack of player-buy in starts with myself: I find character creation for D&D 3.5 and Rolemaster a chore. I find combat on a battlegrid a chore. I do a lot of rulelaywering in D&D even though that’s not what I want out of the game (I think). The reason is that I find playing with a system that fits poorly is still better than not playing at all. I end up playing with systems that afford a kind of gameplay that I don’t enjoy that much.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-28 09:27 UTC

So basically you can’t find players to play the type of game you want to DM? That is indeed a rough predicament. Of course you want your players to want to play the game you are running, but as a player I also feel it is important that the DM want to, you know, DM :) And frankly, I am also of the opinion that the DM’s opinion on what type of game to run should have much greater weight than each individual player.

By way of example, I would, under almost no circumstances, run BECMI or AD&D 1st/2nd edition, for a variety of rational and irrational reasons. I would, however, consider playing all three. So I think maybe you can push to run the game you want to run, and push harder than you are now. Of course, I am sure there will be people who feel more strongly about the system they play in, so you risk losing those players.

– Adrian 2009-05-28 12:32 UTC

Actually we had an informal vote about it. Back in 2007 we switched from M20 to D&D 3.5 in the Kitsunemori campaign, and last year we had a two short adventures to see whether we liked M20 Hard Core: 2008-09-22 Some Paizo GameMastery using M20 HC coming up. And the result was clear: 2008-10-14 Cannot Please Them All. Zeno ended up not playing anymore, so Claudia and I are the only two who like the simpler rules.

Then again, I’m taking the long view and teaching Zeno’s kids how to play Labyrinth Lord. :)

Playing in the park

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-28 12:43 UTC

I think it’s more than just different people liking different things. I have noticed a similar problem before with customizable user interfaces: given a choice, users (players) will actively choose settings (rules and game decisions) that are inconvenient (not fun) for them, just because that’s what they are used to, because that’s what they think it should be or simply because it seems easier (more fun) in the short term. When that happens, a good designer will try to come up with solutions that discourage (or even forbid) such choices, and let you focus back on playing the actual fun game, not the meta-game of finding out what is fun.

RadomirDopieralski 2009-05-28 18:09 UTC

“’full player-buy in of a system’ is not a given in the games I play.” Nor in mine, I’m afraid. It’s an ideal to which I aspire, but will likely never reach. What’s left to me is to focus on those players who do buy-in to the same kind of gameplay I enjoy and do my best to tolerate the rest. Most games, I find, “afford” players the opportunity (if that’s the right phrase) to personalize their characters however they want, and this sometimes leads to characters who are very far outside what I’d like the theme of the game to be. I don’t know of rules that force (or don’t afford) certain speech modes and characterizations, and probably wouldn’t want to play under them if I did, but that sort of lack of “buy-in” tends to rankle me. Usually I can get used to it by focusing on my own character or on other aspects of the game.

“I find character creation for D&D 3.5 and Rolemaster a chore.” The process can be complicated but at least in 3.5 it could also be relatively simple. Just because there are classes, races, feats, etc, that were designed to mimic, say, a samurai or ninja, doesn’t mean that one couldn’t take a bog-standard, easy-as-pie Fighter or Rogue and call him a samurai or ninja. But I don’t know which part of it was a chore for you. Fortunately a) it is (or can be) a relatively short part of the gaming process (and can be handled outside of the game and b) others who do enjoy the process might sometimes be willing to craft characters for you.

“I find combat on a battlegrid a chore.” I can see that. I’d certainly like to have a combat system that would work in our heads, but the amount of buy-in required to make it equally fair and equally enjoyable is daunting to me.

“I do a lot of rulelaywering in D&D even though that’s not what I want out of the game (I think).” Curious. I find myself doing it too, mainly when I feel that someone’s fun is being impacted by a misinterpretation of a rule (sort of unintentional lack of “buy-in”) but I strive not to become the person who kills the fun just to get everything “right.” Another ideal to which I aspire.

“The reason is that I find playing with a system that fits poorly is still better than not playing at all.” I quite agree.

“I end up playing with systems that afford a kind of gameplay that I don’t enjoy that much.” It must be quite a balancing act. RPGs by their nature are meant to afford a lot of freedom. Humans, by their nature, are imaginative and contain a lot of preconceived notions and assumptions. I imagine that for any two given systems and any five or more given people there’s going to be at least one person who finds the system being played to be a “poorer fit” than the other system.

A chilling thought: this sort of edges on religions in a weird way. Religions have “affordances,” intended or not, and in any sizeable group of people ostensibly following the same religion there are going to be people who take advantage of those “affordances” in a way that the other people don’t approve of. In the case of RPGs, since it’s just our free time and not our immortal souls at stake, perhaps there’s a way past affordances we don’t like through greater tolerance and adaptability.

pdunwin 2009-05-29 12:48 UTC

I don’t know if anyone is checking the comments on this page anymore, but I wanted to mention that I just read A Quick Primer for Old School gaming. More eye-opening for me and it made me think about why I appreciate “new-school” games. I don’t agree with the article’s take on how “modern” games are run, of course. They can be run that way, but it’s easily avoided. Playing the boring way is “afforded,” in the sense that the rules don’t prevent it, but not in the sense that the rules encourage it.

Well, anyway, I have a clearer idea of why people prefer some games over others, though I still think the enjoyment of a game depends more on the players than the system.

pdunwin 2009-05-30 04:22 UTC

Heh, I still read the comments! Not sure who else follows my RecentChanges. As far as I’m concerned, however, everything on-topic has been said.

I’m still pondering Radomir Dopieralski’s comment regarding users being bad designers so to speak and picking the less useful option and the implied duty to restrict choices to what’s good for them, in a way. While I agree in Software – I like opinionated software that I can use if I like the design or ignore it if I don’t – I’m not sure I want to apply such an antidemocratic principle to an existing gaming group.

Sure, if I was offering a game to strangers on some sort of market, that would be better. But as it is, I’m not so sure.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-30 11:59 UTC

Good analysis! As I look back on these I consider some to be desirable or undesirable for my vision of how D&D should work, but it’s only by breaking them out and determining the intended and unintended consequences of rules on gameplay that we can evolve our own games in the direction we want.

mxyzplk 2009-05-31 16:03 UTC

A welcome post, and much more serious than the nostalgic mantras passed off as ‘analysis’ and ‘cultural history’ by so many old-school bloggers. Simple and well-put.

Wax Banks 2009-06-03 02:12 UTC

Thanks. :)

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-03 11:48 UTC

Also something I enjoy: The Ever-Present Threat of Death keeps me awake!

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-04 11:27 UTC

For a negative point of view, check out Feedback From Some Former Northern Marches Players.

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-05 09:00 UTC

On the topic of quick character generation, here’s James Young saying Char Gen is Super Boring, specially for new players. I agree!

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-15 08:21 UTC

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2009-05-26 Ein Abenteuer Pro Seite

Philippe-Antoine Ménard aka ChattyDM und Michael Shorten aka Chgowiz haben den One Page Dungeon Wettbewerb durchgeführt und 112 Beiträge erhalten. Einer davon ist mein Wassertempel.

Phil hat gesagt, dass es auf alle Fälle ein PDF mit den Wettbewerbsgewinnern geben wird; selber bin ich aber an allen 112 Beiträgen interessiert und have auf einem Campaign Wiki eine Sammlung aller bisher veröffentlichten Beiträge angefangen.

Wer lieber einen riesigen Dungeon hat, soll sich mal die Wahnsinnskarten von Joseph Bloch aka Greyhawk Grognard ansehen, die für sein Castle of the Mad Archmage entstanden sind. Waaaaahnsinn! 8D


Comments on 2009-05-26 Ein Abenteuer Pro Seite

Übersetzt Du deinen Tempel noch? Ansonsten tolle Sammelarbeit!

Greifenklaue 2009-05-27 08:14 UTC

Hm, Übersetzen… Damit der für Abenteuer. erscheinen kann? Könnte ich natürlich… Hm.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-27 13:11 UTC

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2009-05-27 Fight On Issue 5

Fight On! #5 has been released. :) punch vee

As usual, I have stuff to say about Lulu pricing, and shipping and handling in particular!

The Spire of Iron and Crystal by Matthew Finch 36 pages$9.95
Swords & Wizardry Monster Book by Matthew Finch 140 pages$11.50
Knockspell Magazine #2 by Matthew Finch 86 pages$10.15
Fight On! #5 - Spring 2009 by Ignatius Umlaut 88 pages $9.00
Coupon Savings (MAYCONTEST10)$-4.06
Subtotal $36.54
Shipping and Handling$23.31

Shiping and handling is more than 30% – that hurts. I heard that they’re working on International Shipping Solutions. Let’s hope they get their act together, soon. I’m looking at “This should greatly reduce the shipping costs anywhere in Europe.” And I wonder: Are they talking about Europe the continent, or Europe the Union that Switzerland is not part of?

I’m a bit surprised that the adventure and Knockspell #2 both cost more than Fight On! #5. grumble

Ok, now I have to make sure to get something in for #6. Let me see… Due date is June 27!


Comments on 2009-05-27 Fight On Issue 5

I heard a rumor that international customers might get cheaper (flat rate) shipping for three items or less.

Must remember that for next time.

AlexSchroeder 2009-05-29 20:30 UTC

Yahoo! My name in lights. It was bound to happen some day.

– Marco 2009-05-30 08:00 UTC

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2009-05-27 Play Style Affordance

Continuing my thoughts on system affordance, I was drawn to Reflections on our D&D Game Day by MJ Harnish. At first I just wanted to post a short comment, but then I decided to write some more.

He writes:

Perhaps my biggest personal problem is that I feel like I want to teach the kids how to really roleplay, rather than just chew scenery and kill stuff. Those games don’r really feel all that fulfilling. The system does seem to interact with this tendency (e.g., I’ve gotten the kids to take an active narrative role when running a one-shot of InSpectres before), but it’s not a purely causal relationship. Instead it appears to be an interaction of the RPG system, the group’s dominant playstyle (i.e., most players regress towards the mean so to speak), and the style of the story. As we wrap up this school year I’m already planning for next year’s activities: One thing I definitely want to try is dividing the group by their playstyle and then trying to help them match a system with that style. – MJ Harnish [1]

Here’s my suggestion to understand the group dynamics: Assuming a mixed group of player types, there might be a tendency for the player type that is rewarded the most to dominate the group play style. If there are kick-ass players and storytellers, the kick-ass players will be rewarded by loot and XP when they win fights, and if there are a lot of fights, the storytellers will loose influence over the group play style.

If you want to revert this trend, it’s not enough to have less fights, because then everybody will feel bored. Instead, you need to actually reward storytellers. Reward how, you ask? I don’t know. It would have to be something that is immediately recognized as a reward by both player types. Two things that I try to do in my games (specially in my Alder King Sunday game):

  1. half XP for combat encounters and provide the other half for exploration and discovery
  2. make allies an important part of the game, thus rewarding roleplay with non-player characters

I think it’s important for your rewards to afford (invite, encourage, suggest) the kind of play style you’d like to see.

A word of warning, however.

Check out the Breakdown Of RPG Players article, and pay attention to this part:

We also have data that suggests that most groups are made up of people who segment differently (that is, monolithic segmentation within a gaming group is rare), and in fact, having different kinds of players tends to make the RPG experience work better over the long haul. [2]

I conclude that we should not segregate groups by play style.


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2009-05-29 Number of Players

Zach asked on his blog: Number of Players In Your Group?

I answered in a comment but wanted to highlight my preference for a West Marches style game.

I play in several campaigns. The two Monday games have 5 players and 1 DM; one Sunday game has 5 players and 1 DM; the other Sunday game has 6 players and 1 DM; the irregular game has 5 players and 1 DM; the large campaign 8 players and 1 DM but for any one particular session we’re limiting the number of players to 5; the game with the kids has 3 players and 1 DM; the Rolemaster campaign has 7 players and 1 DM (but I’ve never seen all of them attend a session).

I’ve run D&D 3.5 games with seven players on a regular basis and I thought it was OK, but when one of the players left and I asked the group, they said they preferred the smaller size.

I think it’s much easier to run larger groups with simple rules, and group activities like fighting and riddle solving work better than social interactions (where usually just one person does the talking).

What works admirably well is having a big player pool but limiting the number of players per session. I like it! I’m not doing more of that because the players I have right now want to come to every single session.

I’m suspecting that this sort of session structure encourages (affords) simple hit and run missions that you can play through in a single session. As time passes, players come to realize that every session seems to follow the same structure: Move out, reach target, search around, small fight, small fight, boss fight, treasure, home. If you find yourself in that situation I encourage you to think about a trade-off: Just treat the changes in party composition between sessions as “editing mistakes in the movie” – I find that my players are comfortable with ignoring those continuity bugs.


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2009-05-31 Fair Use Or Not

Just got reminded of a post on the web that uses a map of mine. I know that many people use images without caring about a license. Please don’t do it. I hope I don’t do it, and I’ve seen many that use images from Flickr and attribute the images, usually by naming authors and linking to the appropriate Flickr page. This I like.

Some people will claim fair use, but in other jurisdictions such as Switzerland where I live, there is no such exception to copyright law. Instead, we have a limited number of exceptions, one of them being the right to cite a work for the purpose of criticism. Just using my picture doesn’t really do that, however. There’s also a lot more info about fair use on the Wikipedia page I linked to above.

To make it short, I was expecting a credit and a link for my map somewhere. If you took the map from Fight On!, then there’s no license for reuse, and if you took the map from my Flickr account, then it says some rights reserved and links to a page saying that attribution is required. Thus mentioning my name (or nick) and linking it to the source page seems like the obvious thing to do.

I would also encourage all RPG Bloggers out there to not just use any ol’ image, but care about authors and their rights. If you’re talking about a product, it’s ok to use a picture of the product and be done with it. Otherwise, check whether you’re allowed to use pictures, and follow the rules. Get some very old pictures that are no longer protected by copyright; search for pictures that allow you to reuse them, often by just naming and linking the author (personally I recommend Flickr).

And if you really care about the issue, help reduce copyright protection from decades after the death of the author to a much smaller and reasonable number of years. Also, make your own stuff available under a permissive license that allows reuse and remixing. I recommend reading Free Culture; an awesome book also available for free online.


Comments on 2009-05-31 Fair Use Or Not

You gotta admit, Flickr does a poor job of educating users on how to use the Creative Commons licenses. Not to mention, it doesn’t facilitate it in anyway: There’s no place in Flickr where you can enter how people “must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor”[1]. What you require should either show up in each photo’s page, or at least on your profile. No, from what I see, it just links to the license.

We often think that people should know how to follow licenses. But when people see “Creative Commons”, if they see it, they think it’s a free-for-all, when often it’s copyleft. The same thing happens commonly with copyleft software under the GPL. Engineers put it in a piece of hardware and ignore the license entirely. Rightly, the FSF's compliance lab sees their work as “educating users and developers working with free software” more often than litigation.

Software should enforce – or at least promote – the social (or legal) interactions it accommodates – an idea from another good Lessig book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace.

AaronHawley 2009-06-03 16:47 UTC

You are right, it’s a bit hidden. But the link to change the license is there, and they link to the CC site, so I was not confused. I’m not sure how a copyright–newbie would react, however.

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-04 19:38 UTC

I agree with what you’ve stated, Alex. I am guilty of using pictures in such a way on my blog. Lately, I’ve been focusing on taking my own pictures, creating my own art, or using free license pictures. I haven’t gone so far as to credit or take away the none free license pictures on older blog posts, but I’m making a conscious effort to be better about that now.

I think many bloggers who write just to write think, “I’m not making any money so why should it matter.” That is, if they even think about it at all. In reality, whether your blog makes money or not you could be liable for using a picture without attribution.

Samuel Van Der Wall 2009-06-25 09:10 UTC

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2009-05 Book Club

What: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

When: May 27, 19:30 @ Chuchi am Wasser, Wasserwerkstrasse 21 near Dynamo

Wikipedia: The Loved One.

Supporters: Nanda, Chrissie, Uli, Alex, Valpuri.

Tags: RSS

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