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Anarcarnivàle

An RPGGeek blog so I can participate in the RPG Blog Carnival which has always seemed cool to me. https://roleplayingtips.com/rpg-blog-carnival/

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Monetizing the Short Dungeon

Clark Timmins
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The One Page Dungeon Contest has run annually since 2009, becoming one of the biggest and best annual public competitions. Ten years, 937 dungeons (one page at a time), for an average of 90+ entries per year. There are numerous repeat contributors, but every year pulls in new designers, too.

One Page Dungeon Contest 2009 - 113 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 - 63 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2011 - 68 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2012 - 106 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2013 - 72 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2014 - 110 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2015 - 97 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2016 - 64 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2017 - 83 entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2018 - 161 entries

The individual submissions have been made available as single-page files from 2009 through 2017 (more on 2018, later). These tend to be PDF files, but (especially in the earlier years) might be JPG or PNG files. From 2009 - 2013 compilation PDFs were created of all entries for the year, and for 2010 - 2013 a smaller compilation PDF for winning entries for the year. These PDFs were pretty simple documents without much structure - page sizes varied, and so forth. But we have:

The One Page Dungeon Compendium 2009
One Page Dungeon Contest 2010
One Page Dungeon Contest 2010: The Winning Entries
One Page Dungeon Contest 2011
One Page Dungeon Contest 2011: Winners
The One Page Dungeon Contest: The Complete 2012 Collection
One Page Dungeon Contest 2012: Winners
The One Page Dungeon Contest 2013
One Page Dungeon Contest 2013: Winners

"Selected" dungeons (winners) for 2009 received a slicker compilation with The One Page Dungeon Codex 2009. This is probably the first serious effort at "monetizing" the competition; the product was sold by Tabletop Adventures, LLC.

In 2014, Shattered Pike Studio produced a slick/professional "Compendium" of all the entries. This product was significantly better formatted than the previous compilations, and was easier to use as a resource. The same company then retroactively rolled out previous years and produced a similar commercial product for the annual events through at least 2017:

One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2011 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2012 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2013 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2014 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2015 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2016 Edition
One Page Dungeon Compendium: 2017 Edition

Generally, people who submitted a dungeon from 2014-2017 received a free PDF copy of the annual compendium (the retroactive volumes didn't extend this courtesy, as far as I am aware). Everybody else could buy one in either PDF or softcover. They have been reasonably priced, and really are a good resource. I can't fault them for what they are. Clearly, all the layout and production, not to mention running the contest, etc., costs money. Presumably, the selling price recoups the cost. And if you're just not interested in paying cash? Well, for all years through 2017 the competition site has maintained a file repository with all of the entries in their original formats. These archives still exist, though many of them are getting harder to find.

The nature of the competition itself is non-remunerative. Winners do receive prizes, which are modest. My understanding is the prizes are donated to the competition. But all entries are unpaid creations, belonging (in theory) to their creators. However, the contest does require that entries be submitted under a liberal Creative Commons license. In other words, by submitting a dungeon you are giving it to the public for free - and you are allowing for the work to be commercialized.

Through 2017, the competition has remained (in my soapbox parlance) ideologically pure. Free content being submitted for the hobby's "common good", with a chance for new designers to get into the mix, and maybe even win. The content ranges from average to exceptional, and most of it is quite usable as submitted. The "system agnostic" approach doesn't align the contest with a specific game system or publisher. It's all good. Even the monetized compendia are merely an alternative format. Don't want to pay? Well, all the entries are right there, free.

Now 2018. Suddenly, the entries are not right there. The file repository has been replaced with an image gallery and a submission list. Yes, you can see an "image" of every entry. But the image is scaled "just right" so you can see the general outline, but you can't read the text. Every single submission - all 161 pages of them - are still licensed under Creative Commons. But... where are you going to get them? Sure, a dozen people have made theirs available on a personal site, or a tweet, or a google post. But they're hard to find, even if you go looking for them. So, who is going to "get" all of this free content? Well, for sure there will be a Compendium: 2018. It will be available as PDF or softcover, I imagine. And it will be available for free (as PDF) to the 161 entrants. Everybody else is going to pay.

This seems, to me, to be... not ideologically pure. It's an established competition. Entries are free. But now controlled. Essentially, entries have now become freely donated content, given to a commercial publisher. Who's going to publish them. The "guise" of availability is right there in the image gallery. I say "guise" because the images are not usable. Nor are they "obtainable" even by trying to "Save Image As..." They really don't want to give it away for free anymore. They want you to give it for free; but then they want to sell it.

Hopefully, I'm being paranoid? Hopefully the entry archive will pop up once the judging is over, and then I will eat my hat.


And I eat my hat! They're now up. All of 'em. In original PDF format. I am a blackguard.

You're the top! You're the Colosseum,
You're the top! You're the Louvre Museum,
You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You're a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeart sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse.
You're the Nile, You're the Tow'r of Pisa,
You're the smile on the Mona Lisa.
I'm a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, Baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!
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Fri Jun 8, 2018 6:58 pm
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The Impossible History of Star Trek

Clark Timmins
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One of the earliest video games that featured (somewhat) complex game play was Star Trek. In the game, the player controls the ''Enterprise'' and moves through an 8 x 8 grid of space, in search of Klingons. It's kill or be killed. The game featured a variety of (back then) incredible features such as energy allocation, weapons fire, and visual grid.

Wikipedia has a pretty good page with various links to various "history of..." articles. Some of them even agree. Computer Gaming World's article "A History of Computer Games" (Number 88, November 1991) says the initial developer(s) is unknown: "No one knows who hacked the first such game, but the games were in college computers nationwide by 1969." On the other hand, Wikipedia says that Mike Mayfield developed it in 1971. So you can take your pick. My personal belief is the game developed through a series of changes and enhancements made by probably hundreds of gamers until Mayfield "version stamped" it as a release. And that "version" didn't last longer than the day it was released before hundreds of gamers were modifying it again. The most widely circulated versions were all in BASIC. Almost every mainframe and minicomputer had its own flavor of the game, often varying in some minor particular. In "those days" the game was distributed as source code. BASIC "type-in" source code for various versions appeared in almost every computer magazine of the 1970s, and some well-known versions appeared in published books of source code. The gamers who were typing the code probably were decent programmers and probably didn't hesitate to make enhancements.

When the first computers started hitting the hobbyist market they almost always had some sort of "Trek" type game. And when the first home computers started hitting the commercial market, every vendor was ready with their own implementation. And then seeking market share, most vendors "ported" their system specific version to everybody else's system. It's worth noting that there were no end of programmers willing to stick their name on it as the author. In many cases, probably this was justified by the amount of modifications and enhancements provided.

Another avenue of tinkering involved porting the game to another computer language. Or another operating system. Or increasing the 8 x 8 grid to something astounding like a 10 x 10 grid. Or to fit it out with some type of enhanced interface (either a character map or - gasp - graphics). And this continues through to the present. There's even a version for Windows that's been updated as recently as a year ago. And for OS/X (not to mention OS/2). And it's a nearly-standard distribution with BSD UNIX. And somebody's made a LINUX port.

Every so often one of these variations really caught on and circulated among a wider audience. Often, these got tagged with roughly the year of their development. But sometimes they got tagged with some future year to infer they were better. Too, the inevitable "gag" versions appeared.

Throughout the whole process, the owners of the Star Trek intellectual property served out cease and desist letters. This led to numerous humorous name changes. The most common change was just to drop the "Star" from the name, as in Trek-80. Or swapping out "Star" with something else, like Apple Trek or Tari Trek. Other vendors were more paranoid and rebranded their game something like Invasion Force. In these games you'd command the USS Anything-but-Enterprise against the fleet of the dreaded Anything-but-Klingons. And sometimes you'd have missiles instead of photon torpedoes. And etc.

So if you're thinking it sounds like a total mess that probably couldn't really be figured out even if somebody really tried... then you're thinking what I'm thinking. And this plethora of products that are all sorta-kinda the "same" game, but all sorta-kinda unique, is reflected in our Video Game Geek database. We have at least sixteen Video Games defined for some flavor of the game. And many of those have multiple versions defined. Perhaps it could be normalized. But the way it is... it sort of reflects the way the game is.

Check it out - in alphabetical order:

Apple Trek
EGA Trek
Invasion Force (TRS-80)
Space Trek J
Star Trek
Star Trek 3.5
Startrek 3.2
Startrek 3.5
Stellar Trek
Tari Trek
Time Trek (OSI)
Trek 78
Trek3
Trek-80
Trek-X
Ultra-Trek (in Space Games-3, CS-3002)
VGR Trek
Video Trek 88

So, yes, I would agree that you carefully can pick two of these and argue pretty convincingly that they're different games from each other. But you could pick a different two and argue pretty convincingly that they're the same game. And maybe if you were really persistent you could come up with some type of development trajectory. Or even find a couple more in our database that I missed.

At some point, though, the commercial market was ready to move on from space-control shooters to FPS, complex strategy, and - in the Star Trek line - officially licensed products that had less to do with shooting Klingons and more to do with exploring the galaxy.
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Wed Feb 14, 2018 5:05 am
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The Incredible Shrinking Floppy Diskette

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Roughly five minutes after the first "personal computer" was sold, the first owner was thinking it would be great if there was some type of persistent storage device that held data even when the power was off. The most-common piece of equipment available "back then", that was designed to store and retrieve data was the old cassette player. Naturally, the first wave of personal computers used cassette tapes to store and retrieve data. In fact, cassette tapes were commonly used until at least the mid 1980s. While cassettes were durable, cheap, reliable, and ubiquitous, they had some rather severe shortcomings. First, they were really, really, really slow, with a "good" data transfer rate being something like 50 bytes per second. That's not megabytes; not kilobytes; just bytes. Second, they didn't hold that much, at about 100 kilobytes per 30 minute side. An "extended" 90 minute tape (the type that was used for home bootlegging of LPs) could hold a total of something like 300 kilobytes. Some vendors did come up with dedicated solutions - the Commodore Datasette comes to mind - that improved capacity and speed. But lets face it, even an improved Datasette solution (which required a special dedicated tape drive) was still a lousy solution.

Enter the floppy drive. In 1971/2, IBM and others started selling the first floppy diskettes. These were the big old eight inch things, with a large media disk encased in a soft ("floppy") plastic shell. IBM called them "Type 1 Diskette" - everybody else called them "floppy disks". The very first ones sounded like they stored a bunch - IBM marketed them as 1.5 megabit capacity (that worked out to 175 kilobytes). Throughout their decade-long lifespan the disks continually increased in storage capacity (largely due to better encoding methods) until reaching a peak of about 1.2 megabytes - by then, nobody was using them anymore.

In 1976 Shugart sold the first 5 1/4" floppy disk. The original idea behind the 5 1/4" model ran along the lines of the 8" being "so huge" and holding "so much" data that nobody really needed all that storage. A smaller disk was cheaper and more appropriate. The first 5 1/4" disks were only "polished" on one side - the flip side was not intended for media storage. The first format held 110 kilobytes; the rapidly-appearing and most-common format held 360 kilobytes, which was several times larger than the RAM available in most home systems. Better media became available, roughly doubling - then doubling again - the data storage capacity ("density", as they used to say). And people quickly learned to make "flippies" out of of "floppies", recording on both sides - even though you weren't supposed to.

In 1983 a big consortium of manufacturers started pushing the 3 1/2" floppy disk. These were a big step forward in technology. Instead of using a tapered cone to center the concentric media tracks, an affixed metal hub was implemented (which also allowed much higher rotational speed). The floppy case was replaced with a rigid plastic shell offering much better protection (everybody still called them "floppies"). A metal shuttle covered the media openings when the disks weren't in use, offering much-needed media protection. And the media used had much higher data storage capabilities. Very quickly, the drives were made to read both sides of the diskette. The first widely marketed disks were "DS DD", or, "Double Sided Double Density", at 720 kilobytes capacity; this rapidly rose to "HD", or, "High Density", at 1.44 megabytes. These disks were pretty much the last-stage technology for the old spinning media solution.

In addition to the 8; 5 1/4; 3 1/2 standards, there were dozens (and dozens) of other sizes and formats offered by any number of manufacturers. Even the first Macintosh systems used a non-typical 3 1/2 inch drive format that ("helpfully") halved the capacity.

But the floppy disk had run its course. Iomega (and some others) made a huge effort to keep the floppy alive with their "Zip" and "Jazz" drives, offering hugely expanded capacities. But the writing was on the wall. And the writing spelled "CD-ROM".

Details in a Nutshell (try to find 2 good sources that agree...)

Typical Cassette Tape
200 kilobytes at 50 bytes per second

Typical 8" Disk
500 kilobytes at 16 kilobytes per second

Typical 5 1/4" Disk
360 kilobytes at 15 kilobytes per second

Typical 3 1/2" Disk
1.44 megabytes at 150 kilobyte per second

Incidentally, the 150 kilobyte per second is the rate of a "1x" CD-ROM; they held 650 megabytes. So you can see why they were so popular.

- I'd be happy to receive any authoritative feedback on esp. the data throughout on the various old media -
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Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:25 pm
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Multiversing

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A review of the RPGGeek database shows that items tagged with Multiverse fall just short of 500. You'd think that putting everything into one game would be a whole lot more popular than that. But... it seems like perhaps gamers like to keep their games to a single genre.

Some of the major multiverse style games published include Doctor Who Roleplaying Game and the closely-named Doctor Who Role Playing Game, both obviously derived from the same media franchise. Also, Lords of Gossamer & Shadow, Aether, Torg (and Torg Eternity), Untold, Beyond the Ӕther, Breachworld, Rifts, Chaos Realms, Fringeworthy (3rd Edition), and Jumpers are heavily invested in multiverse style gaming. As are Immortal: The Invisible War (1st Edition), Nexus D20, Nexus the Infinite City, The Order of the Link, Rifts Chaos Earth, TIME LORD, and of course The World of Synnibarr.

Elric!, Elric of Melniboné (1st & 2nd editions), and Stormbringer (5th Edition) are often considered multiverse centered. The Strange also seems to fit the bill. GURPS (3rd Edition) - really any version - supports the style. There are extensive adaptations of Savage Worlds to allow multiverse play. The whole Spelljammer setting of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) was sort of orcs in space. Lots of folks think that Empire of the Petal Throne qualifies. And if you want to include the oddball one-off adaptation or fan-made stuff then pretty much any major game will have some type of multiverse component. Even the venerable Dungeon Masters Guide (AD&D 1e) has an appendix to allow D&D players to wander over to Boot Hill (1st Edition) or Gamma World (1st Edition).

But probably the most thoroughly steeped multiverse game is the aptly-named Multiverser - based on the (commonly promoted) concept that you could have one character play in any every genre. In order to do that, the game had a "universal" engine that claimed to handle everything from dagger-vs-claw to plasma-vs-laser and everything from chainmail-and-shield to powered-up-mecha. Several major systems also have attempted this, occasionally even with some measure of success.

There's also a healthy niche of old school gonzo players. This goes back to the roots of the hobby where dungeons occasionally led out into space, other planets, or even into crashed space ships (think S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks). For fantasy purists, these excursions were often distasteful and caused lingering campaign problems (that fighter with a laser pistol...). Others found the whole mélange delightful, even if the mixup broke the rules. One of the more amusing venues of gonzo gaming these days is Crawling Under A Broken Moon. This periodical offers a whole slug of gonzo crazy in every issue. Some of it so gonzo and so crazy that probably it's too much even for average gonzo crazy players. If you haven't enjoyed issues of this gem, I recommend it.

Another really well-known but never played crossover game is the infamous HYBRID. This... uh... thing... started off as a hybrid of HERO System 1-3 and Marvel Super Heroes. But it didn't end there, eventually turning into a hybrid of pretty much everything, except for logic. It's risible that everybody has heard of the game but nobody has ever played it (probably because it's unplayable). Another "gem" in the group is The World of Synnibarr. It's been through a couple different editions, but the 1st edition remains the best known. Like HYBRID, it's known for being one of the worst RPGs ever. Unlike HYBRID, it's completely playable. I'm not saying you'd want to, but you could. It's an accessible bad system.
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Sat Jun 24, 2017 3:52 am
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Oh say can you see my HYBRID?

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HYBRID. As everybody knows, it's one of "the worst RPGs ever written". I'm not sure how you quantify that, but I'm on board with it. It's definitely secured a place in the "unholy trinity" of bad games. But it's a special place. The other two games are either deliberately bad or deliberately offensive. What am I saying? They are both deliberately bad and deliberately offensive, no either about it. But HYBRID is neither bad on purpose nor offensive on purpose. In point of fact, the sexism/racism in HYBRID seems almost accidental. Almost like a someone who knows so little they don't realize they know so little tackling the subject. And anyway, by today's standards the sexism/racism embedded in the game is rather pedestrian compared to what's come since. Too, it's not running throughout the game's entire corpus like a ribbon of darkness intentionally braided in. It pops up in a few places and then gets ignored. Geez, I almost sound like I'm defending it...

So the game itself, "the" HYBRID, really is quite difficult to pin down. What is certain is that starting somewhere about 1997 an individual started making strange posts on rec.games.frp. Of course freaks and geeks on rec.games were so common as not to elicit comment. The fact that the posting system required no validation meant, too, that one person could post under numerous names or many people could post under one name. And the way that Usenet gathered posts from pretty much any system that wanted to send it posts meant that establishing the identify of a given poster is - pretty much literally - impossible. So bearing that in mind, "an" individual started making posts about their game system. They described it as a hybrid of the Hero system and the Marvel system. Hybrid systems are a dime a dozen and generally need no comment. This particular Hybrid system was endlessly, inanely, and insanely promoted by the author. It became difficult to comment on anything in rec.games.frp.super-heroes without having your post cut up by a response along the lines of "in my Hybrid system this is handled better by...". He was so persistent and so annoying that numerous long-standing members simply bailed out. Eventually even the forum moderator simply quit. This is really quite surprising given the open, wild nature of Usenet where daily flame wars were the bulk of the content.

This individual (if indeed it was an individual) usually posted under the names Matthew, C, or C++. This person's account was banned multiple times, and as is done everywhere they just created another account and went on spamming. Eventually he (she?) started posting via various Usenet feeders such as Deja. Using Google archives it's possible to dig down into the threaded discussion forums and see bits and pieces of the game that eventually would become HYBRID being thrown out like swine before pearls. This went on for years and years. Posts usually went something like this one - picked entirely at random:

C++
8/23/00
WRONG!
[ 40 ] ^ 2 = 1,600 : in Hero System ,
<< NOT 6,400 >>.
So, in Hero System, STR 40 = strength to lift & leg press 1,600 kg.
And, STR 200 in Hero System = [ 200 ] ^ 2 =
strength to lift & leg press 40,000 kg or 40 metric tons.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
[ 40 ] ^ 3 = 64,000 : in Hybrid Hero System
So, in Hybrid Hero System, STR = 40 = strength to lift or leg press
64,000 kg or 64 metric tons.


Crystal clear, eh? Lest you think it's aberrant, here's another from a few months later:

C++
12/20/00
In article <L5V%5.4548$Mw6.2...@news-east.usenetserver.com>,
- show quoted text -
In 'Hybrid', magic is proportional to a character's TP, which is
TK^(1/2). So, if Xavier has 75 TP, then he has 75 Magic ; but, if Dr
Strange has Shift Y Magic, then Dr Strange should have 250 TP which '86
MU TSR '86 does not go into but implies which 'Hybrid' has & uses,
assuming Mephisto is at Shift Z ( 500 ) & Galactus is at Class 1,000 .
This is why Xavier was Dr Strange, on a weaker power scale since Xavier
is at 75 & Dr Strange at 250, in Amalgam which comic writers tried to
explain to comic readers but it seems most comic reders were too stupid
to understand this basic tenent for reason of being too lazy to make
the mental leap in basic arithmetic calculations & simple logic.
Sent via Deja.com


These endless posts continued for years. And there are lots of them. They are posted under a huge variety of user names. I won't here list them because I have no way of knowing if they're the "same" person as C++, above (I have no way of knowing if those two posts are from the "same" person, either). Quite often, these posts were to correct a typo in a previous formula. Quite often, later posts would say something like:

6/8/01
The original equation was correct that being 3*X^2,
forgot to include a variable in computation in
previous calculation leading to 2*X^2. So, ignore
the 2*X^2 equation, as it should be 3*X^2 for
superstring in Hybrid rpg to calculate little
psyche, from which you can determine big Psyche,
by psyche = Psyche^LOG10(Psyche). Sorry for typo !
The next equation that I will be working on is
how to determine populaton for a multi-verse
universe. Maybe, instead of 3*X^2, it should be
pi*X^2, not sure. I suppose 3*X^2 is good enough.


Or perhaps like this post that clarifies everything:

8/17/01
Damage at normal intensity, X = Nd6
in Hybrid rpg, Z = Nd6 in Champions :
Z = [X*Log10(X)]d6 . And, damage at
full intensity : Z = [X*(1+Log10(X)]d6.


And then on 28 March 2002 something utterly magical happened. C++ made a final post (it wasn't really final, but it said it was going to be) that included the whole entire game distilled down into a self-proclaimed single paragraph. It was maybe 20 pages long. This single post "became" HYBRID "version 0.5" and was grabbed by Philippe Tromeur and posted as HTML on his site. Voila! Archived! I've never been able to find it on Usenet (my Usenet skills suck). It was almost immediately replaced by a version called "the one paragraph RPG" version, so called only because it wasn't versioned but did have that subtitle. That version is readily available and even today remains on the web over at oocities.

The author, from this point forward consistently self-identified as Matthew/C++, then gained the ability to post HTML updates on the site and every month or so would put out a new version of the game. This continued through March 2005 when Version 2.1 was posted and then poof, the entire crazy process just stopped. What happened? Stroke? Heart attack? Bus? Clearly the author intended to continue. But didn't.

The versioning of the game was whimsical. Early versions followed a sort of semi-standard .05, .10, .11, .12, like that, jumping to 1.1, 1.2, 2.0. These often were named with the decimal point moving about freely, so version .12 might refer to itself as version .12, version 1.2, version 1.20, or whatever. Sometime in early 2003 the author started to calculate that the game was "XX% complete" in development, and adopted the percentage as the version. From this era we get the various .345, .321 versions. They are not sequential as the scope of the game often increased faster than the completed portions. How this all is calculated is actually discussed (nonsensically) in the rules. Sometime in early 2005 the author realized the game text had reached astronomical size and started versioning it based on how many megabytes long it was. We thus end up with the last version - 0.21 - being so named because it took up 2.1 MB of disk space. Because Version 0.21 was the last ever posted, usually it is considered the definitive version. One final comment - sometimes a single version of the game used two or even three different self-references - for example, Version 0.3 is the same thing as Version 0.15 - though not the same thing as Version 0.30!

You can see from the randomized development alone that the author was pretty seriously committed to the game and (I believe) really thought he was making sense most of the time. Honestly I don't believe it was a trick or a scam or a deliberate attempt to "make the worst RPG ever". Of course... maybe I've just been bamboozled, too.
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Fri Jun 23, 2017 3:29 am
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Reductio ad Hitlerum

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In 1951 Leo Strauss coined the risible phrase Reductio ad Hitlerum, a sort of quasi Latin phrase meaning "reduction to Hitler". The general concept here is that person A tries to discredit person B by comparing B to Hitler. Clearly, if you have anything in common with Hitler you must be evil scum. And by Hitler we must assume we all know we mean Adolf Hitler, Nazi party member #7. In the game of logic, Reductio ad Hitlerum is a type of fallacy of irrelevance.

If you ever see a politician perform Reductio ad Hitlerum you know you are days away from their defeat. Any official spokesperson throwing themselves upon Reductio ad Hitlerum is days away from retirement. The thing is as hot as an atomic potato and in today's sanitized society you simply cannot compare anybody or anything to Hitler and get anything except a storm of criticism in return. It doesn't help if, like the lamentable Sean Spicer, you have no <expletive> idea what you're talking about.

So I've been watching a lot of "History Channel" series about WWII. Things like "the biggest construction projects of WWII", "the deadliest secrets of WWII", "the largest battles of WWII", etc. You must know the type of show I'm talking about. They take the same thirty minutes of footage, interview a couple experts nobody's ever heard of, and then blend it up in a new order to make a new series. Whether the particular topic has much to do with Hitler, you know he's going to be stuck in there somehow. A current favorite trend of History Channel series is to make sort of live-action re-enactments of events being discussed. So they talk about the development of the V-2 and they get some guy who can pass for Wernher von Braun if you close both eyes, stick him in a lab that's mocked up art deco style, and have him looking pensive at a board full of gobbledegook. One of their favorite people to re-enact is, naturally, Hitler. Probably because nobody who looks even remotely like Hitler wants to deliberately associate themselves with Hitler, they always seem to wind up with actors who look about as much like Hitler as they do to, say, Julia Child. Throw on the toothbrush moustache and call it good.

I've come to the conclusion that if you are re-enacting Hitler it is a legal requirement that you do it in the full-blown furious crazy mode. You never see a Hitler imitator just sitting there looking at a map. No, he's always standing up, crouching over some table in a dim room, surrounded by nervous-looking sycophants - and he's pounding the table and foaming at the mouth, shrieking about things. "We must have more submarines!", or, "You must not fall back even one inch!", or, "I think I'll have the green salad for lunch!" Whatever it is, he's furious about it. Emphatically furious. Do you think somebody could really walk around 24 x 7 being furious about everything?

Turns out that Hitler hasn't made much of a dent in tabletop RPGs. Maybe we collectively realize that it'd be in poor taste. Or maybe we realize that a continuously furious crazy psychobabbler is more or less what most player characters are like. But the products we've got... they don't inspire much confidence.

We've got the ridiculous comedy angle - Adolf Hitler - Porn Star. He's even on the cover, looking surprisingly convincing as a burned out, STD-ravaged, cigarette-bumming hack... behind the GM screen. I've played with GMs more or less just like that, maybe without the full costume. You know the rules-lawyering types: YOU HAVE PROVOKED AN OOO AND TAKEN FIFTY-TWO POINTS OF DAMAGE - SAVE VS. MASSIVE DAMAGE! The furious crazy type. "Hey wait, I just was sandboxing. It was just a bump. I didn't mean to move..." A TOUCH IS A MOVE, SAVE OR DIE!

We've got The Final Battle #04: The Death of Adolf Hitler. All you have to know is the cover shows Chuck Norris and the game system is ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game of Big Dumb Fighters. Any assumptions you make from this point forward are correct. Before you conclude this is just a joke product that has never been used, I have heard that one non-English-speaking GM in Latvia actually ran this scenario for his group in 1992 because putting it through then-current google translate changed the title into "Death in Allied Froth" and he was looking for a good swamp adventure.

We've got Hitler's Knights which is a surprisingly recent product that takes itself seriously. They seriously should have considered Leo Strauss' commentary about doing anything with Hitler and hoping for a reasonable outcome. Then again, the old bastard himself isn't really in the product, just brain-<expletive> followers.

And finally, Operation: Hitler!, featuring everybody's first response to the age old imponderable: What would you do if you could go back in time? The mal-adjusted say "See if my mom was hot in high school". The well-adjusted say "Assassinate Hitler". Of course we know from Torg that you can't assassinate Hitler because he's too well protected by creeps that think history must be protected so the now doesn't collapse into quivering uncertainty fields. So you might just as well see if mom was hot after all. But in this scenario you can do both. Or you can at least try to do both. This scenario also shows Hitler the way the History Channel likes him - furious. Furious, furious, furious. It must be exhausting to always be so wound up in anger about everything from munitions productions to sharpening a pencil.

And that's it for gaming. See what I mean? A whole industry of geeks, from the 1970s to the present, and collectively we are smart enough to (mostly) avoid the unwinnable. I can tell just from that the politicians never were canny enough to roleplay.





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Thu Jun 22, 2017 11:44 am
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Seeing in the Dark

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Humans are afraid of the dark. Whether it’s social, cultural, or biological, the fact remains that very, very few non-blind humans feel safe when they can’t see. Thus, throughout the history of gaming, various methods of “seeing in the dark” have been proposed.

Artificial light sources are, by far, the most common method. Torches often are used in fantasy games. They are easy to construct, cheap, and (at least in theory) offer some degree of protection and/or allow you to start things on fire. Generally, a torch is a stave (often wood) with one end wrapped with something flammable. Roman torches used lime and sulfur mixes, which would even burn underwater. Modern torches use a wound wick soaked in paraffin (the modern Olympic style torch actually is something like a giant cigarette lighter with a pressurized fuel reserve). Single-use modern torches may use a solid fuel tablet. A “tiki” style torch uses a wick descending into a flammable liquid held in a reservoir. Medieval torches were typically made from a pine knot or an oil-soaked and tightly-wound hide or linen. A torch has many drawbacks, however. They are smoky and smelly, they provide very limited illumination, they are bulky to carry, and they feature a hazardous open flame. Most rules suggest a torch provides light for about an hour (an optimistic duration).

Some games suggest lanterns of various types. The simplest lanterns consist of a small wick floating on an oil reservoir – these are very difficult to transport, however. More complex lanterns use a mechanical clip to hold (and adjust) a wick that descends into the flammable liquid reservoir. Lanterns are somewhat less bulky than torches but they also are generally fragile by comparison. If they are broken, it’s likely that the flammable liquid reservoir may ignite with bad results. A “miner’s lamp” is made primarily from metal and is durable – but also provides less illumination than a glass-enclosed lantern. Also, lanterns again don’t provide that much illumination. Most rules suggest a lantern will burn some unit of oil in an hour.

Many fantasy games use magical light sources. These are too variable for easy summarization – they range from “torch-like” light to full daylight in huge areas and often are available in various colors or other effects. From abt. 3rd Edition onward, Dungeons & Dragons has made the various “light” based spells create magical light equivalent to a torch or lantern, which certainly helps standardization. The Original D&D rules gave light spell areas in “inches”, which varied inside vs. outside. There has never been an intelligibly realistic rule about what happens to magical light beyond its range of effect. Is it a “ball of light” within the area and then immediately pitch black outside the range? Can the magical light be seen by people not in the area of effect? Does the light radiate from a magical point source or does it just fill the whole area? Who knows? In any case, creating magical light is something that almost every fantasy games makes simply and readily available to characters.

Many fantasy rules provide various types of vision that don’t rely on good illumination – or any illumination at all. The very first implementation of this was in Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) where various non-humans had “Infravision” that allowed them to “see in total darkness”. The clear intent was that regardless of its name, Infravision was a sort of magical vision that didn’t require light. But this led to lengthy and ongoing disputes, explanations, hypothecations, and theorizing in almost every gaming periodical about exactly what the mechanics of Infravision were . In Basic Dungeons & Dragons this became the ability to “see heat”. Hardly an improvement, this further complicated the issue with all sorts of inscrutable questions. Could you identify an individual person with Infravision (vice just seeing “a” person)? Could you see a door in a wall? Could you read? Could you read magical scripts? While these considerations filled hundreds of pages they never were answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Toward the end of its commercial life, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) even introduced “Ultravision” to further complicate things.

Presumably the whole Infravision debate arose because gamers could just look up thermal imaging results and see what “it looked like,” and it sure doesn’t look like what the rules seemed to suggested. From about 3rd Edition onward, D&D generally has eschewed Infravision and Ultravision in favor of new types of vision that are meaningless outside of the game. This clearly makes the game definitions “correct”. The first is “Darkvision” which started out as the magical ability to “see in the dark” but by 5th Edition has become something like “super good low-light vision”. There’s also “Blindsight” that really isn’t seeing at all but functionally is the same – the critter just “knows” where stuff is and what’s going on, within a limited range.

In D&D the sweet spot of visual range seems to be about thirty to sixty feet. The venerable torch has illuminated as little as thirty feet across (in 2nd Edition) to as much as sixty feet across (in Basic). The lantern has been at least as good as (and often better than) a torch. The “Bullseye” lantern presumably uses reflective surfaces and a lens to double the range as the cost of most of the visual field. Beyond the ranges indicated in the rules, the light usually is considered too dim to be of any use. Of course any party carrying light in the dark readily is visible from a far, far longer distance than they can themselves see. Until 5th Edition the approach to lighting in D&D was all or nothing – there was functional vision within the area of illumination and no vision beyond it. In Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition), the concept of “bright light” and “dim light” are used – “dim light” yields various penalties. I recall reading one analysis of light and movement that determined a running character could not stop fast enough to avoid a hazard if their only light source was a torch or lantern.

In Lands of Adventure, torches and lanterns provide an illumination radius of twenty feet, but the illumination is provided in one foot increments with a penalty of 5% per foot. Torchlight thus offers “full vision” only in the first about one foot, falling off to essentially no vision at about twenty feet. Silhouetting halves the penalty. While this penalty-by-range is more realistic than the “all or nothing” approach, it’s also more complicated. In Gods & Monsters some species have Night Vision or Underground Vision. Night Vision is something of a cross between thermal imaging and low-light vision – it requires at least some ambient light. Undergound Vision is thermal and a “combination of senses” and requires no light whatsoever.

While there are a lot of variables involved, a “typical” torch might produce 250 lumens during normal burning time. While that’s better than a typical candle (about 11 lumens), it’s nowhere near a typical Coleman “mantle” lantern (about 900 lumens). A typical pocket-sized (small) LED flashlight puts out about 250 lumens as well. The torch is going to cast the light in a sphere, while the flashlight is going to focus the light in a beam. I’m quite familiar with the use of a Coleman “mantle” lantern as an area lighting source (our cabin is a simple wood box with tin roof and no utilities). The lantern yields enough light to play cards, as long as it’s hung over the playing table. I’ve also done a fair amount of spelunking with various incandescent flashlights (LED flashlights were after my young-and-dumb phase). I believe that the D&D standard range of thirty-ish feet without penalties is quite optimistically generous. I think the Lands of Adventure mechanic is far more accurate.
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Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:47 am
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Encounters

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An encounter. An unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. The "encounter" is an integral part of roleplaying games, and has been from the very start, being the principle topic of TSR2002 Monsters & Treasure, one of the three volumes of Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition). In this earliest game, an encounter was assumed to be with a monster "hostile [or] benign". The encounter consisted of a monster type (virtually all encounters were assumed to be with cohesive groups of like monsters), a number appearing (this was noted as being potentially dependent on indoor/outdoor location), and a chance of the encounter being in the critters' lair. The primary function of being "in lair" was whether or not the monsters encountered would be bearing treasure. In those first days, it was always better to encounter things in their lairs, because that way you got paid for defeating things. The whole rest of the volume was devoted to monster stats and treasure tables.

Fast forward four decades and an encounter, to most roleplayers, is still pretty much the same thing. Oh sure, we've become more nuanced in our approach. "Wandering monsters" have given away to set encounters; monster groups have different types of critters and/or specialties (one of the strongest aspects of Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition)). Encounters have morale, surprise, and maybe even (gasp) motivation. But at heart, you're bumping your character into a beastie. The beastie wants to kill/eat/loot and the character wants to kill/loot (for PCs, eat usually applies only in extremis).

The encounter process was substantively buffed up (and complicated) in Dungeon Masters Guide (AD&D 1e). Presented in "Appendix C: Random Monster Encounters", a plethora of tables and details were presented. What all this process did was introduce a lot of variability into the situation surrounding the encounter. Instead of encountering "30-300 orcs in lair", you could suddenly encounter a humongous diversity of things at various distances, under various conditions, and in all sorts of different terrain. Significantly for teenage gamers, a bare-breasted mermaid encounter also was illustrated. But guess what? You were still bumping your character into a beastie (hopefully a bare-breasted one). Complications, complications.

There also were some strange encounters noted. Encounters that broke the system, so to speak. Let's say you're using the "Temperate and Sub-Tropical Conditions: Uninhabited/Wilderness Areas" table (pp. 184-185). Arguably one of the most-used tables. Depending on the "Predominant Terrain" you could encounter things like: Bull/Cattle, wild; Dog, wild; Herd Animal; Horse, wild; Porcupine; or Stag. Presumably, none of these "monsters" are going to attack. They don't have treasure. They don't yield meaningful experience. They might be eaten. So... they're an encounter, but you don't really "encounter" them in the original sense. Even more problematic - you could encounter a Pseudo-dragon. Turning to pp. 78-80 in Monster Manual (AD&D 1e) we read "Pseudo-dragons have a chameleon-like power, so they can blend into any typical background and become 80% undetectable..." So the players are bumbling along through the Sub-Tropical Uninhabited Wilderness and the Dungeon Master starts furiously rolling dice and consulting books and then announces "you don't encounter anything". What the...? This is not a game players want to play! It's even worse then encountering (and surviving) "30-300 orcs" and realizing they are not in lair! The party then spends the remainder of game night searching every nook, cranny, root, and twig in the forest for whatever it is that they are not encountering.

And it got even worse with the City/Town Encounters Matrix (p. 191). You're walking through the city. You have an encounter! It's a... merchant. You're in a city and you "encounter" a merchant. Are you kidding me? You walk further down the street and have another encounter! It's a... Nycadaemon. What's that? It's not even in the rules? What's going on in this crazy city?

You could, of course, argue that the encounter tables were poorly edited. This could be corrected. But that's not the real problem. It just illustrates the real problem - it drives right down to the heart of the encounter situation in roleplaying games. If you have an encounter, you expect it to be significant. And that's the real problem, right there. Because when you do have an encounter, you treat it as significant. There is no way the game master is going to spend the time to run you through an encounter with a "Person, Nondescript/Uninteresting/Insignificant". So the GM doesn't know the NPCs name or appearance? Ha! That's a ruse to fool you into turning your back. The GM tells you flat out "it's just a random farmer plowing a random field." Ha! Obviously that farmer must be tortured for information and that field must be excavated completely. Still nothing? Even more proof we're not looking hard enough!

In "real life", we have countless encounters every day. The streets are full of people. The shops are full of people. We may even interact with them. The store clerks, the person we sit next to on the train, the other people at school, the visitor at church, the kids on the sidewalk - all encounters. None (more or less) significant. In fact, if a "game-terms-significant" encountered happened in "real life", it'd probably be on the evening news. But there's no real way to simulate this in tabletop roleplaying. In computer roleplaying games - at least the newer ones - this can be simulated. There are all kinds of people or benign critters walking around in many of the newer CRPGs. Many of them even say pithy or curious things and have unique appearances. But they're still not significant encounters. But there's just no useful way to simulate that on the tabletop. Unless the GM wants to spend an awful lot of time running "pointless" encounters, the clear expectation is going to be that an encounter is intended to be significant.

In gaming, space and time function at a sort of "maxi" level for most events. Eight hours can pass with "we sleep"; a whole week or month can pass with "we wait in town". An interstellar voyage can pass with "we fly to Sector 7". But then the game will drop into a sort of "micro" level for significant events - like encounters. All encounters. Most games have something analogous to a "strategic" time/distance scale and a "tactical" time/distance scale. In AD&D First Edition (1e) Compatible Products there were "turns" and "rounds"; there was "overland movement" and "combat movement". Some games that focus more on tactical complexity (like e.g. Phoenix Command) have three different "levels" of space-time - and actually Phoenix Command has two wholly different "scales" (infantry vs. armor) to yield six possible "levels" of focus with corresponding nonsense reality. The reason for this is quite obvious - nobody wants to "roleplay" hundreds of hours of riding horses to the keep on the borderlands. Nobody wants to roleplay eight hours of sleep. We want all that to simply pass by. What we want to roleplay are the exciting bits that happen in between the long, dry spells. Thus, the dual space/time scales used allow us to play fun games. But, alas, the perverse consequence is that any (and every) time the game drops into the "micro" space/time scale, the event is deemed significant. Whether it is or not.
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Fri Feb 10, 2017 3:19 am
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Expanded Castle Greyhawk

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I've been exploring El Raja Key Archive and quite enjoying it. I've got the "Standard" version, so if you're working with the "Basic" version your experience may be different. The archive is a very intriguing collection of items. As you would expect from the collected extant artifacts, it's very uneven - ranging from scraps of notes through entire detailed adventures. One of the most interesting sections is entitled "Expanded Castle Greyhawk". This version is often called the "2nd Castle", and was created between 1973 and 1976 by Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz. According to the archive, Kuntz added these:

Quote:
In all Rob contributed some 20 levels to the 2nd version of Original Greyhawk Castle, 11 of those to the 15 castle core levels, 2 of those to the 8 west levels, 2 to the 8 east levels, and another 5 special levels (Asgard, Horsing Around, Demonworld, Bottle City, and Oz). In addition to these full levels, Rob also created several memorable locations within the castle such as the legendary Living Room, the prototypical, Garden of the Plantmaster, and the Giant's Pool Hall.


Not all of these are included in the archive, however. What is included in the archive:

Core Level 02 "Invisible Maze"
Core Level 02 Special "Bottle City"
Core Level 03 "Gem Room & Crypts"
Core Level 05 "Sealed Tomb"
Core Level 06 "Black Pudding Doorkeeper"
Core Level 07 "Tsojconth Level"
Core Level 07.5 "Black Reservoir"
Core Level 11 "Entrance to Oz"
Core Level 12 "Boreal Level"
Core Level 13 "Entrance to Asgard Melnibone & Dying Earth"
Core Level 14 "Orb Scepter & Crown Level"
Core Level 18 "Dragon Level"
East Level 03 "Garden & Giant's Pool Hall"
East Level 08 "Machine"
West Level 05 "Gallery"
West Level 07 "Barracks"
Core Level Special "Living Room"

There also are small bits and pieces on the archive of other mentioned areas. The enumerated contents form the vast majority, however. Many have keys, but some do not. Before firing up your credit card, you should be aware of exactly what the archive is (and is not). It is a collection of good scans and comments about the scans. It is not a "slick commercial product" in a ready-to-use format. If you thumb through your own old adventure maps and notes, then you will have the same visual experience as you will with the archive. Maps are always hand-drawn and mostly are pencil on graph paper, sometimes with ink annotations. Map keys mostly are handwritten pencil on lined paper, sometimes annotated quite heavily. The keys are reminiscent of very early gaming - an entry might read something like "4 bugbears with axes and 75 GP". The dungeon itself also is reminiscent of very early gaming - gonzo, crazy, little-to-no "ecology", packed with logical paradoxes, and combat/trap heavy.

Often, the new commentary about the maps are quite intriguing - little notes about Mordenkainen running away and so forth are humorous and really compelling to geeky grognards. There's also a lot of stuff like this fascinating bit:

Quote:
[The Tsojconth Level] was originally part of Castle El Raja Key and corresponds with Castle El Raja Key Level 10. This is Rob's original map but his key still resides with Gary Gygax's copy of the Expanded Greyhawk Castle. Gary liked the design so much that he borrowed the idea and it became the Greater Caverns for the WinterCon V tournament module, the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth in 1976. Rob's original map, shown here, was edited by Rob and Gary for use in the Expanded Greyhawk Castle as Core Level 7...


The scan of the map is very usable, at 3296 x 2537 pixels with good contrast. Here's what you'll see - bearing in mind this is less than 1/4 the size of the actual image:



So if you've ever wondered what it was like to sit in Gygax's basement and roll dice before anybody else had ever heard of roleplaying... it's safe to say that El Raja Key Archive is going to get you closer to that experience than anything else available on the commercial market. It's not the "whole" Castle Greyhawk. But it's pieces of it!
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Sun Jan 29, 2017 9:34 pm
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DDOP - D&D Organized Play through the Versions

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Dungeons & Dragons has been the center of some form of organized play since the earliest days. Prior to the widespread advent of "conventions", Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) typically was played by smallish groups in local informal organizations. While there probably was no "standard" way to play, many very early campaigns record activity focusing around a particular enthusiast's home (almost always, the local "Dungeon Master of renown"). Player characters often would travel from game to game. Perhaps this was - at least in conception - the earliest style of "organized" play.

When Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) was published the national convention scene was fully established, popular, and operational. TSR produced a large number of "convention" modules. While these were typically standalone ("one shot") adventures with pre-generated characters, they were very widely played across the country and world at about the same time by tens of thousands of players. While most of these modules probably are lost to time, several dozen of them were lightly reworked, edited, and published as commercial products. For example, the favorite A - Aerie of the Slave Lords, C - Competition, and S - Special series of modules all began as competition products. During this time, TSR's appendage organization, the RPGA (previously called the Role Playing Game Association and the RPGA Network), appeared and began to offer a style of limited-availability organized play to dues-paying members. This style of disjointed but consistent experience caused a lot of players to want something more durable.

When Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) was published the first widespread, significant effort at standardized organized play was heavily promoted by the RPGA. TSR continued to provide convention and tournament modules, but the RPGA offered something innovative - a "living" campaign. In this style of organized play, players could create a standard character (with some limitations) and then take that character to any organized play event. In this way, the character could gain experience, level up, accumulate wealth and treasure, and in general be played like characters are played in home campaigns. This was startlingly innovative and for players who enjoyed conventions, immensely appealing. This first "living" campaign was centered on the RPGA's "Living City" of Ravens Bluff. Extant scenarios are quite expensive to come by - RPGA Living City Adventures. At roughly the same time, and with considerable overlap, TSR offered a generally available series of organized play modules: RPGA Adventurer's Guild.

Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition) and Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) saw what arguably was the largest, most vigorous organized play program, ever. This was the enormously popular Living Greyhawk Adventure Series, with literally thousands of scenarios published in numerous languages over eight years. Every geographic region of the real world (with play activity) was apportioned to a specific Region of Greyhawk. Play in the geographic region focused on developments in the assigned Region of Greyhawk. Larger "Meta-Regional" organizations existed to tie together disparate global developments. COR - Living Greyhawk Core Adventures scenarios formed the backbone of the narrative developments for the whole experience.

Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) switched settings but continued with organized play in Living Forgotten Realms Adventure Series. This was a well organized, standardized, formal play program with global support. Scenarios were uniformly superior - some quite excellent - and the play program was well organized and run. It inherited the best ideas and avoided the worst problems of Living Greyhawk. But like the game version on which it was based, it unfortunately never really gained the universal convention support and player devotion enjoyed by its predecessors. It also suffered from significant competition from Pathfinder Society Scenarios and other game systems' organized play offerings.

Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) has been marketed significantly differently from its predecessors. I could pontificate on that a bit, but it seems like flogging a dead horse. The initial organized play efforts were seemingly directed more at game stores than conventions, with DDEX - D&D Expeditions. After a couple years the convention approach was better embraced with DDAL - D&D Adventurers League. But it was pretty evident that the new Wizards of the Coast style was not going to attempt the scale of previous efforts. Instead, each of the recent play "seasons" is tied directly to a commercial hardback release. There are good points and bad points to doing it this way.

As there have never really been enough scenarios to support significant convention (or even game store) play over extended periods, the program has recently been opened up to various design companies. Instead of trying to support conventions directly (and uniformly), the approach seems to be to allow CCC - Convention-Created Content to fill the void. A few cherry-picked VIPs also are allowed to create and offer DDAO - D&D Adventurers League Authors Only scenarios.

The "Convention-Created" products debut at the convention for which they are created, but then are required to be made available to the public within about a month (via DM's Guild). This means that those interested can at least get them. The "Authors Only" products are a different story. Only a handful of people can write them, and only the author can run them, and to date only a single product has been released to the public. This is - to me - quite unfortunate (and a far cry from the previous "anybody with desire and talent can participate" egalitarian approach).

The "Expeditions" and the first couple "Adventurers League" seasons were made available for free download to participating Dungeon Masters. This was (to my mind, unfortunately) switched over to DM's Guild and scenarios were then published to that site, available for purchase, by anybody. While this probably means wider circulation, it also means many players will have read the scenario prior to play. It also has shifted the focus back to the game store and away from the convention.

As a concluding remark, I'll note that since "the dawn of history" various groups have offered their own versions of organized play and living campaigns for all the versions of D&D. While I have no doubt most of these were enjoyable, and many of them excellent, they have always remained relatively tiny in scale and numbers of active participants.
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Fri Jan 20, 2017 6:14 pm
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