The Great Google+ Exodus

I am irritated. The news says that Google+ was a failure, even though many of us prefer it. I suppose that if you place it up against Facebook, then everything is a failure. I happened to LOVE G+, and this whole Data Breach thing is garbage. I don't know about you, but whatever the mean ol' hackers got it wasn't anything that they couldn't get from polite conversation. No credit card numbers, nothing to help anybody steal our identities.

Whatever. Nothing that we can do about it, right? It does make me question the integrity of Google itself. I don't know about you, but I have a lot of time invested here! Is Blogger itself in trouble?

Needless to say, I am abandoning the G+ network. I see no point posting to a social network that has no future. I noticed that most of my contacts and folks I follow are going to MeWe, so I went too.

It makes me miss G+. I really liked the interface, MeWe is modelled after Facebook, but at least they won't conduct psychological experiments on us or block our feeds if do something crazy, such as going vegan or whatever.

Like G+ we aren't inundated with ads. You get only what you sign up for which makes it a winner in my book!

What this means for blogger, your guess is as good as mine. Many bloggers had linked their's up to G+, but I never did as it made all of the comments posted on this blog prior to G+ turn invisible.

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The Mystery of Dave Arneson's Engine

(This article was written as part of Murkhill's Week-long celebration of Dave Arneson. Click the link to find more great articles!)

Like many other Dungeon Masters, I had never heard of Dave Arneson until well after his death. He had been edited out of the history of the game, but what we know as Dungeons & Dragons is based on the game of Dave Arneson’s invention. You see, Dave Arneson did not just develop a game, the key word here is that he INVENTED a game. This is something that hasn’t been done in our common age. Folks who designed games always based the principals from ancient games and they put a new spin on them, but Dave didn’t do that. The very idea of playing a game without a board or markers, to our knowledge, has never been done before.

The game which he invented doesn’t have a name, so we refer to it as Blackmoor, and it is an elusive concept. There are different forms of it; there were the games that Dave ran at conventions or private games with strangers who wanted to delve into the mysterious dungeon, but at this point, the actual game of Blackmoor had not been played in many years. The earliest games were more along the lines of what we’d expect from a long-term D&D group, and the world that they discovered and developed through play is what we now know as Blackmoor.

Now, what made Blackmoor so revolutionary was how it was played. Players could try anything, and they were expected too! Arneson developed systems on the spot to determine the results of each action, and he did this in real time. He didn’t have a book which told him the rules, he invented rules at the table which he felt would give the best results.

It is said that Dave based his game on TSR’s Chainmail, and he did use it briefly, but as his book “The First Fantasy Campaign” will show you, he quickly abandoned Chainmail in favour of his own knowledge that he had gleaned from his years as a wargamer.

The actual campaign of Blackmoor was much more advanced than what would become Dungeons & Dragons, on some levels it was a cooperative game, but on others, it was very competitive; and there were different levels of play. Blackmoor was both a strategic game and, separately, a tactical game. Players controlled armies at what we would consider low levels of play, and sometimes these player-controlled strongholds appeared to act as villains. We know that Arneson did use miniatures from time to time, could this be what was going on? Just a test of a player’s defences?

This is something that I myself have discovered about the game; one can use it as the basis and setting for a huge variety of games, be it tactical miniature play, free-form exploration, or even a well-developed mystery which incorporates everything on an as-needed basis. One can play an individual or even a nation’s decision maker! The limits are truly up to our ability to imagine.

The original players were well versed in wargames, so their games reflected this background, but that doesn’t mean that the game was one dimensional, as it wasn’t. It didn’t become one dimensional until the public became interested, then Dave would take this game, in its preserved state, to them. In this game, players rolled up a character and Dave would take them into the dungeon; but was this game Dungeons & Dragons? The answer is no.


At its heart, this was a very simple game of logistics. The idea was to go into the gilded hole and return with enough money to perhaps finance another expedition. Sounds like D&D! However most players didn’t get a second expedition as it was a one time only kind of deal, but for the Blackmoor bunch, they did get more than one shot at it, and this aspect of the game literally distracted them from the original campaign. They were building a system as they went, and like I said, the game required set rules that never changed and another set of guidelines to allow the DM to handle every situation. This was the game that Gary Gygax played, the game that Dungeons & Dragons was based on. Finding this game is a challenge all in itself, elements are hidden inside of D&D but D&D was ultimately a corporate product while the game of Blackmoor was not. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on how I feel the game of Blackmoor differed from Dungeons & Dragons.

1.       The Magic System

The spells cast by Wizards and Clerics were purchased beforehand. Spell-casters were limited by their actual spell level, but one was only limited to the spells which one managed to purchase and was able to carry with them. This system required strategy on the players part, choosing which spells to bring with them and forced logistical decisions, as the spells themselves took up what the character could carry out, which was treasure.

2.       Equipment

Everyone had to be smart about what they brought down with them. How much a character could carry was strictly observed. This was on purpose and while it has its place in D&D it often isn’t observed. Arneson was a master of relieving the players of their gold, having to abandon equipment and placing limitations on how much one could bring back kept the game going. Not to mention the players having to figure out ways to keep the treasure that they did have safe.

3.       Armour

One of the contentions between Arneson and Gygax was the combat system. It is my belief that, like the wizard, the fighter had to plan his trips as well. This required purchasing and repairing armour which took damage so that the character's body did not. Gygax used an avoidance mechanic, while Arneson didn’t. If one had Plate mail, one had to deal with the weight of the plate, but the armour would take X amount of hits until it was ruined and the character was exposed and took the damage himself.

4.       Hit Dice

I personally wonder if hp were Gygax’s addition to the game? I am not sure if Arneson used them. I believe that a character could take 1 hit per level before death. I could be wrong, each HD could = 1d6 of hit points, but during my games, I tend to abandon hit points in favour of the HD method, but I do go back and forth depending on the exact situation and the context of the battle.

We also don’t know how much of an influence Chainmail ultimately had on Blackmoor, if a Monster had 4HD did the players need to hit him 4 times in the same round before it was dead? It is doubtful since each successful hit reduces the armour's ability to protect you, but Arneson was always changing things up, and he did play with hp at D&D conventions and while he had no qualms about killing temporary characters, the Blackmoor bunch didn’t seem to have a very high mortality rate. This could be due to player skill or due to design as Arneson never stopped play-testing.

5.       Dice

Arneson’s system did not use the D&D dice, as they were not really a thing that one could buy yet. Instead, he relied on d6s to generate statistical odds. He was a big fan of percentages, how he decided each roll is still kind of a mystery to me. Many wargames still rely only on the d6, and no doubt the study of these systems hold the answers.

There is much more to the enigma of Blackmoor, it wasn’t just a combat/exploration game, but a game that simulated a person who had to prepare for things. It was the ultimate wargame campaign that put the player in charge of all of the things that standard wargames took for granted and was presented in a way that required the imagination of the participants to envision what their characters were seeing. This game blended every conceivable element, but you can see a specific focus on logistics, a reliance on the player's ability to prepare and interact with the setting, and also cemented the idea of dangerous combat that was best avoided if at all possible. The focus of the game wasn’t necessarily becoming god-like beings, it was a game that allowed the players to feel and explore both the setting and their character. The sad thing is that Arneson’s engine doesn’t have to be limited in any way, it can simulate any time and any situation. There is still more work to be done on the engine, but this work has stopped with Dungeons & Dragons which immediately put limitations upon it.

Playing Like it's 1973

We wrapped up the Second Season of Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death, and we can now get started on a project that I have been really looking forward to; our own world! If Gothic Earth has taught me anything, it is that it is incredibly easy to create your own spaces. not to mention that it is more interesting to DM because I'm not even sure what is out there.

The biggest change to this game will be the ruleset. It is no secret that there are things in AD&D that I just don't like anymore, and through talking to some of the original players I have found the basic source materials that AD&D was based upon and use that instead. So, we'll be using mostely original Dungeons & Dragons and homebrew it on a need to basis. I want a game that is more Dave Arneson than Gary Gygax, but less tongue in cheek.

I am shooting for a classic game where the players don't know the rules. The more I examine systems, the more I notice the players basing decisions on game facts rather than their own imaginations. I've done my best to weed this kind of metagaming out of their thinking; you know, not limiting them to the character sheet. Is it too late to bring back that sense of wonder and amazement after 30 years of AD&D? I think so.

The TSR Code of Ethics

An interesting article has popped up over at Shane Plays about how TSR had a "Code of Ethics" that might be of interest to you. Go ahead and pop on over there and give it a read, I'll wait here.

Oh! You're back!

The whole time that I was reading that, I kept getting images of all of the times that they broke those rules. Ultimately, the documents are worthless, or were they? Sure, they broke a rule here or there, but I can only think of specific examples. For the most part, they DID keep to this Code, and they did so at their own peril.

This goes back to the Satanic Panic, so they say, but what really happened was that TSR wanted to bring their product to the mainstream market. What they did had nothing to do with "Keeping Children's Minds Safe", the very idea of a normal someone suddenly losing their mind and identity to a game is insulting. This wasn't done to make the Pope happy, this was done to make INVESTORS happy. Investors who had no idea what in the world that this product was, but they weren't going to let a little thing like that get in the way of wanting to control it.

The Golden Age of Dungeons & Dragons, back when D&D was Pop Culture. Back when it was a set of tools and rough ideas which you the user used to create your own adventures and told your own stories. Those days were gone. Now TSR was into telling you what the stories were, and they were safe, sanitary, and bland . . . unless of course, that got in the way of TSR's profits.

TSR controlled the monologue, and they have always done this well. Heck, they convinced us that 2e was a new system that was even better than the OLD crummy AD&D, when it was just the same system but clamped down tighter so that they had better control of the product. I'm not even convinced that 2e could really even stand on its own; during my games, I've always got to go back to 1e because it was just more fun! How many 2e books do you need to do the work of the 1e DMG?

Yes, yes. I know that this is a 2e Blog. I enjoy the rules, but that doesn't mean that I'm drinking the Kool-ade and liking it. Whenever you spend time with these products as we do, critical thinking is crucial, and I don't always like what I see.

Like many users at the time, I was addicted to modules. TSR had me believing that it was just too hard to do this myself, and that I didn't have time, or that my work just couldn't compete with the fine Professionals at TSR. I was a sucker. TSR didn't want you to see how easy it was to do it yourself, so instead of spending hours writing my own material, I'd spend days fixing their modules and tailoring them to fit my group. Some of the things on this list I changed, but looking back, it wasn't much. Somehow they managed to get me following this code as well.

That said, if one thinks about it, this code defies the very nature of Role Playing Games. It defies what it is that we do. We are talking about a medium where anything can happen, and the possiblities are endless. What if we just don't care that the hamlet has problems with trolls, they don't have to live there, and if trolls are making things dangerous, why risk my character on protecting these fools who want to live out in the middle of troll country? Why would I want to kill all of those goblins when I can enslave them all and have my own army? This NPC who invited me into his house and is described in detail is no doubt the villain, why not just kill him now while he isn't expecting it? Then you've got the DM that says, That isn't the way that the story goes! But isn't that the whole point behind the game?

Further Reading:

Trollsmyth: Abandoned Territory

Can World Building turn into a huge Red Herring?

Hey there Party People! Just popping in to say that I'm not dead, though we did have to cancel the last session because of the Flu, which was a bummer.

So what have I been up to while not updating my blog? Well, I've been prepping. Been second guessing myself a lot as well. I've got my major notes but I've noticed that I spend a lot of time crafting things that ultimately serve no purpose other than to expand a culture or project color. Things should function on multiple levels, aesthetics are good, but not when they distract away from ideas. I think that I kind of overwhelm my players with unintentional red herrings.

That said, I am working on tightening my focus, at least when it comes to preparing my notes. I know as a player I always hated blank worlds. I can't tell you how many times I played and the world was just too bland. I may had gone to the opposite spectrum. Designing an entire session based on just getting to know a foreign environment. Is that boring? We only get to play every forth Saturday, I really need to keep things moving.

Gothic Earth Session 14: The Hot Winter

Last nights game was all about movement. The party got out of Switzerland and their search for Fu Manchu and the Sacred Spirit Blade has finally had a break; George Weathermay discovered that the artifact had been sold in an auction in Egypt. Boarding a pleasure cruise, they sailed to the Far East, and all feel that they were led by their nose by the Celserial Order of the Si-Fan, but what are they to do?

The trail has taken them across the world into the exotic jungles of British Controlled Burma where they will find themselves learning more about their enemy than they probably want to.

 I love movement! It is a big part of the game. The game was liner, we had skipped October, tis a busy month, I didn't even have time to blog, and the writing time that I did have was spent researching and prepping.

You never know what your players are going to do, but I was shocked when they told me when their boat landed at Morocco, their first port, that they were just going to spend their time on the ship and not leave. WHAT?!?! Who does that? I had even posted some cool films of Tangiers on our Communications page to get them wondering why it was there, and they watched them; but, "we've decided that we are staying on the ship and relaxing." I told them they can relax in Tangiers so that they could find the clue and we can play this game.

I had written a murder mystery for them as well, but they weren't feeling it, so I didn't push it. They were interested in the main story arc, THANK GOD! A twisting and turning web that has them wondering what is going on, and a return to the true campaign.

I hope that they enjoyed their break this game, it is always calmest before the storm.

Speculation on the Wargames biggest influence on D&D

There are camps in the RPG community, those that prefer to campaign, and those that don't. Where did the idea of campaigning start? The answer is that its roots go back to wargames, and I can see how this came to be.

There are two kinds of wargames: your standard single games, one and done, and then there is a much more difficult game which is the campaign. In the campaign, you've got to preserve your troops as those who survive will be moving on to the next game. It changes the way that we play completely! But, why do we do this?

I was playing a WW2 game, and I saw that the enemy was going to take a city. My best course of action was to withdraw and move as many units as I could to a more defensible position. It didn't look good, I had made a mistake and my opponent was capitalizing on it. He was going to overpower my major artillery and take it all away if I didn't play my cards right. I was looking at a losing game.

Enter the 3rd Infantry. These guys were tough, I knew that but I had to sacrifice them to get my tanks and less tough infantry out of the area, so I ordered them to hold their ground for as long as possible so that I could move the majority of my forces back behind a river. I didn't know how long they could hold it, but if I didn't I was definitely loosing everything.

It was at this point that something extraordinary happened. The 3rd Infantry held. They were blasted by everything that the enemy had, but through lucky rolls and fate this piece not just held its position, allowing me to retreat without taking losses, but it was destroying the enemy. I was even able to get the 3rd Infantry out of there as well, once their job was done I was amazed. It was so much fun watching this take place. Once I got them out of danger I moved them behind my lines and didn't ask any more of them. They were very beat up and another attack on them would have wiped them out. I felt something for this unit. Even though this was just a game, something in me felt proud in that little marker. It became more than just a marker, it had guts and stamina that I had never seen before.

I ended up wining that game, all because the 3rd Infantry had done their job. I enjoy this game and played it again but the 3rd Infantry was no longer the stoic band of heroes that it was during that game. Even in winning that scenario they were gone at the end of it, never to appear again. I still treat that piece with reverence though. I remember what it had done as if it was a real thing.

You see this in wargames. Specific pieces do something that is so surprising that they become important to the player. We want to know more about them, and a story took place. We use them again and again! When we are playing a campaign, that specific band of heroes can continue. We'll treat them differently. For me; even though my tanks did more damage, the 3rd Infantry was still my favorite.

I am sure that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax felt the same way about specific members of their forces. They became more than just a painted piece of lead, this piece did great things once! What if we could break that group down and play them individually and that is the point of the game? We can learn even more about this unit! That sounds like fun! And it is, we call it D&D.

I myself prefer campaign style, especially when it comes to D&D. No one-shots, I want to see my character succeed against bad odds, to fail on his own terms, to be more than just a cardboard counter, a little lead sculpture, or a collection of digital 1's and 0's.  D&D allows this to happen in a way where even folks who never had an S.S. Panzer  Division tear into their enemies like an unstoppable monster.


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