Thursday, June 30, 2011

D&D Metal Background Music

Tomorrow, myself and a few of my old gaming group from years ago will be finally gathering around the table again for some good old fashioned table top role playing.  I'm going to be DMing the campaign, and our plan is to gather once a month to play.  If any of you have followed my blog over the past few months, you probably know that we've been running a play-by-post D&D game via a private forum we have, and while it has been fun, there's nothing quite like sitting at the table together.  I've spent some time planning out a few adventure scenarios, drawing maps and the like (which I'll be sharing here soon), and it struck me that it would be quite awesome to play some music in the background while we play.  And what better music to have running in the background than some D&D/fantasy inspired heavy metal?

Of course, there are the classics like Sabbath, Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Dio, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, etc., but I wanted to go further than that.  In the process, I've discovered some pretty amazing metal bands with fantasy inspired lyrics and songs.  While the debate on whether they are truly "metal" could rage on for days, they do share common qualities associated with the sub-genre known as "power metal."  Here's a list of some of the bands that will be appearing on our campaign soundtrack:

The Sword
Dream Evil
Blind Guardian
Iced Earth
Demons & Wizards

These are just some of the bands I've found with good fantasy lyrics and a thrashing metal sound.  If any of you readers have some good recommendations for me to add, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King - The Dark Tower Book II

This isn't a gaming related post, so I hope some of my regular readers might forgive me.  I actually finished this book a while back, but was on a posting hiatus at the time, hence the delay in this review.
I know I am in a minority amongst my peers in the fact that, until recently, I had not read any of the Dark Tower series.  The simple fact of it had always been, it was a series I had always wanted to read, but just never really got around to picking up.  I read the first book, The Gunslinger, last year, and found it to be a curious and interesting story.  You could tell that it was written by a young author still trying to find his way, and not entirely sure just where he was going with the story in the long-term.  Drawing of the Three appeared quite a few years after The Gunslinger, and while the prose is certainly more polished, and the book structure more likened to that of a seasoned professional writer, I couldn't help but get the feeling this was still being told by a writer who wasn't exactly sure where he was going with his story.  I think, however, by the end of this book, King had managed to discover, at least to a certain point, exactly what the tower was, why Roland needed to get there so badly, and why he couldn't do it alone.
I won't ruin much of the plot, but essentially after being told by the Man in Black in The Gunslinger that he would need "the three" in order to find the Tower he so desperately sought.  The book switches between the world of Roland and earth in different time periods in order to draw these three together.  If the Dark Tower is King's Lord of the Rings, then this was his Fellowship of the Ring, which distinguished itself for long periods of description of the travels of the hobbits and later the Fellowship.  The Drawing of the Three spends literally hundreds of pages in describing the journey of Roland and his companions across the beach of his world, wherever that is, in search of the next door, until all three of his required companions are together.  Again, I don't want to ruin much, but the climax of the book, and the big surprise on who the "three" actually are turns out to be just a very strange and somewhat cheesy element.
I'm not a huge fan of Stephen King's writing.  That said, many of the film adaptations from his works have stood out to be some of my favorites.  Such films as Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining are good examples of that (and yes I realize the Kubrick film was not King's vision).  While I found The Gunslinger an interesting if not puzzling story, I simply thought The Drawing of the Three drug on and on and on in parts.  The most exciting parts of the novel were the moments when Roland came to earth through the doors he found along the beach, which were placed seemingly at random with no rhyme or reason.  I found the character of Eddie Dean to be quite likeable, and the way he handles the split personality of Odetta Holmes and her evil alter ego "Detta" is interesting (until the end of course.)  Still yet, I didn't really think the series had progressed much at all from the close of the first book to the close of this one.  In fact, after putting it down, I found myself wondering if I'd ever even pick the series back up.  Certainly it will be a while before I get to The Wastelands, if I even manage to get back into the series at all.  I find Roland to be a fascinating character, and yearned to learn more of his past, his world, and what led to the destruction of it, and none of those were ever addressed in The Drawing of the Three.  Essentially the novel served to introduce some new characters and describe to exhaustion, their journey across a nameless beach in a nameless desolate world.
I really want to love this series.  I want to find out why Roland needs to get to the tower, what awaits him there, and why he needs these people to get there, I just don't know if I can labor through hundreds of more pages of Eddie Dean pushing Odetta in a wheelchair down a beach.  I understand how influential this series has been to many, and I want to believe that it's worth it to slog through the rest of the books, but at the present, I have been left rather unimpressed in a series which has been lauded so highly by so many people.
It just didn't work for me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gaming Within the Game

So, I'm getting ready to start up a new table top DnD campaign, and while writing up the adventure for the first session I decided to include a scenario in which the players are asked to play a card game by some locals at a tavern.  So, I thought, how could I handle this?  Surely there has to be something that covers this sort of thing somewhere, but after a quick review, I couldn't find anything that really addresses the idea of gaming within the game.  I'm sure there has to be something out there that covers this, but I decided to do what any old school DM would do; make shit up.  So, here's my method of simulating a card game (we'll call it Three-Dragon Ante after the card game by Wizards, which could be used in-game itself):

Three-Dragon Ante:

The pot starts out at an agreeable amount (let's say 5 copper).  The betting starts in a clockwise pattern at the table of players.  Each round the betting passes to the next player in a clockwise direction.  Everyone must either see the bet, or can opt to raise it based on what their characters are "holding."

Each player rolls a d6 and keeps the results hidden from everyone but himself/herself (and the DM).  He sets the d6 over in a hidden spot where it cannot be seen.  Betting goes again, and this process continues 4 times with each result being kept hidden until the end of the 4th round.  At the end of the 4th round, each player reveals their dice (the DM can then verify that a "player" did not cheat since he saw the dice rolls...we'll get to "characters" cheating in a moment though).  The player with the highest number on all 4d6 wins the pot.  A tie results in a split pot.

Now, how do you cheat in this game?  Well, keep in mind this game is approached from the 2e position so we'll take non-weapon proficiencies into account.  Any player may attempt to cheat in this game.  To do so, he must somehow alert the DM that he is attempting to cheat.  If the cheating player has the Gaming proficiency, a successful proficiency check will allow the character to cheat and replace his lowest dice roll in the game with a 6.  Anyone who does not have the Gaming proficiency, may attempt to cheat, by rolling an ability check (whichever the DM finds most appropriate i.e. DEX, INT, WIS, CHARISMA, etc.) at a penalty (also prescribed by the DM).  If the check is not successful, the character was not able to cheat.  This does not mean that he was caught, however.  So, how does one get caught or catch a player cheating?  Anyone with the gaming proficiency may use it once per game to spot cheaters.  A successful proficiency check combined with an unsuccessful cheating attempt will allow the character to catch the unsuccessful cheater in the act.

So, it's a fairly simple process, and the game can move fairly quickly I suppose.  Still have yet to test it out, but I plan on using the formula next Friday at our first session.  If anyone has a method of their own they'd like to share or can point me in the direction of something more useful for handling gaming within the game, it would be much appreciated.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire

Well, it has been far too long, my friends.  Work and life has managed to keep me away from my blog, but things have finally managed  to settle down in my world.  I've been catching up though, and boy has there been a lot to catch up on, especially within the OSR. 

I couldn't help but be drawn into the controversy surrounding Greg Christopher's post on the so-called "social contract" within the gaming community, and how somehow the LotFP: Grindhouse edition violated this supposed contract with its disturbing art depictions.  Not to beat a dead horse, because I know everyone in the OSR blogging world (I dare use the term "community") has had something to say on the matter, but I find myself leaning towards the position of ADD Grognard on the matter, which is to say, I think the main contention against Greg's argument has been not that of his opinion, but the fact that he took it upon himself to somehow represent the "community" or "network" or whatever you want to call it, of RPG producers and gamers.

Greg's main point has been that the artwork in Grindhouse goes too far, and doesn't meet the criteria for mainstream markets.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Raggi's intent has ever been to appeal to a mainstream market with his work.  Let's be honest here, the gaming community itself is small and shrinking in number as it is, and this OSR group is but a small niche within a niche.  LotFP is not something you'll probably ever see on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles alongside DnD 4e or Pathfinder, and I don't think Raggi particularly cares for his work to end up there.  Sure he wants to make money for his efforts.  Who wouldn't considering the work he has put into the system?  That said, I don't think he is particularly concerned with how it might stand up against any WotC products, or any industry standards their parent toy company may impose.

Is the artwork in the Grindhouse edition "too far?"  Well, it's certainly not something I'd ever purchase, but there are people to whom this stuff does appeal.  I don't believe Raggi has violated any social contract, because the social contract within the OSR does not exist.  Somehow, in various blog articles on his own blog and others, Greg has either failed to recognize this argument that he doesn't represent the "community" or he has simply chosen to ignore the fact.  And that is not to say that I dislike Greg.  I find his blog enjoyable to read, and to his own personal opinion on Grindhouse, I agree, in terms that it is not something I would particularly like or purchase.

I think the entire debate stirred up much more controversy than it should have really, and sort of proved why, at times, I have found it tedious to interact within this so-called "community" that is the OSR, because there always seems to be some sort of bickering.  I suppose this is because the OSR is mainly composed of various people, with varying morals and ideals united in one hobby (old school RPGs).  Still yet, the arguing can become tiresome to say the least, and while it may generate a few more pageviews on average than the regular blog entry, I think the sort of negative attention these articles draw can have detrimental effects overall.  Unless of course you're James Raggi, who probably saw his sales of the Grindhouse edition triple over the past two weeks.

Needless to say, that is my take on the matter, for better or worse.  I'm glad to be back in the blogging world and look forward to getting back into the swing of posting regularly.