Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good Night for Now.

A situation has come up that will render internetless for an unforeseeable amount of time; a week, a month, a week of months, I can't tell at this point. Anyone wishing to contact me will need my snail mail address. Just email me at in the next week and I will send it along.

Thanks to everyone who has accompanied me on this journey through the glass screen and along the strange and twisting paths of the electronic highway.

Jason Zavoda

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review - Roll For Initiative podcast #150

Review - Roll For Initiative #150

I offer my congratulations on their 150th podcast. Personally, I'm terrible at this kind of thing so I know it takes some balls to put yourself out there the way these guys do.

This is my first experience with the Roll for Initiative podcast so I really didn't know what to expect. I was a little concerned during the introduction with the inside jokes and extraneous commentary, but it was mercifully over fairly quickly. Then there was a short foray into fan-mail. I would have liked to have heard a line-up of what they had in-store for this podcast right at the beginning, but the website gives you an idea of what to expect, at least for the main topic of conversation.

Greyhawk is my favorite setting and the G series my favorite series of modules, so when I saw that this particular episode would cover G1 The Steading (pronounced, I believe like Steady rather than Steed) of the Hill Giant Chief, I decided that now was the time to jump into the world of Roll for Initiative.

Much to my surprise I found myself immediately enjoying the seemingly unscripted banter at the beginning of the podcast with its podcast oriented Ennie discussion and its pro-AD&D and nuts to you 5e slant (my apologies if I've mistaken the number of 5e comments as criticisms) as well as the  voice-mail/e-mail question which lead to some helpful recommendations for city building and stocking.

There is a certain amateur quality to the discussion if you are accustomed to listening to talk radio but they do an admirable and coherent job of discussing gaming at least at a somewhat higher level than most sports talk without the profanity and at a much higher level than morning drive shows.

I enjoyed their discussion of G1 as well as their spotlight on Thorkhammer's underappreciated expansion of the G series modules (G4 thru G9 which I believe they have made available through the Roll for Initiative website as a gift from Thorkhammer himself, but check their website for more information). No new ground for most Greyhawk aficionados but they touched on many of the main elements and ideas found in the 8 slim pages of the adventure.

They wrapped up their podcast with a discussion of the Ettin with a nice touch of gamer enthusiasm that brought back memories of talks over the game table from three-plus decades of my own gaming experience.

All in all a worthwhile and pleasant experience like rewatching an episode of a favorite TV show from the 60's (or 70's if you watched the BBC). 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Comment - Campaign Setting Part 2

Part 2

A Strad is wasted playing bluegrass but you can squeek out some great foot-stomping tunes  on a 15euro fiddle. Your argument is subjective in that you define 'high quality music'. Is it complex music that I do not care for or simple music that I do.

A good DM knows the type of music his players want to dance to and what instrument is the best for that result. A strad just doesn't have that squeek, a CD doesn't have that lovely rasp and low grinding sound of vinyl... A good DM also knows it when he can't work with a player whose 'high quality music' differs too much from his own.

"Best Setting" is a personal definition and the DM's interpretation and presentation of such a setting is also a personal, a subjective, interpretation. For example I find Claudio Arrau to have been one the world's best classical pianists but I can't stand it when he plays Stravinsky (and since the two of them knew each other I believe Stravinsky approved of Arrau's interpretation of Stravinsky's music). Here is what the world called a 'high quality pianist' - a 'good DM' - playing 'high quality music' - 'the best setting'. But Arrau, as a good DM, knew that some of his players liked the Stravinsky setting, while others preferred the Chopin setting, or the Mozart setting, and yet he also knew that the players that liked the Ragtime or Honkey-Tonk settings needed to find another good DM to listen to.

There is no set of music that is 'golden', no notes on the page that are guaranteed to make 'high quality music', no instrument that will produce a sound that is universally liked, no setting that everyone will agree on or elements of that setting.

Most importantly 'The notes on the page do not play themselves'. The music each of us subjectively decides is 'best' is dependent on the artist who plays that music 'who we subjectively decide whether they are good'. The music is made by the DM whether it is their own composition or written by someone else.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Comment - Campaign Setting

A setting, a campaign, even a single pick-up game is only as good as the DM.

There is no formula, no diagram, no mythos, not a damn thing that can make a setting good on its own. A good DM can make a bad setting good, can take a piece of crap published module and make it fun. It is a god-damn art. It isn't the setting that can get you into the game, that can keep a campaign going for weeks, months or even years, that can stir your imagination and make you feel the gold coins slipping through your fingers or startle the crap out of you when your character turns a corner, or makes you shout when you chop down that last beastie just before it takes your character down. A good DM does that.

Part II

My point is that there is no setting fluff that makes a campaign golden.

I detest Planescape, others love it. Greyhawk is my favorite published setting others have no time for it.

Setting fluff is subjective. You can have rivers that flow uphill, you can run into WWII German infantry attacking dinosaurs controlled from outerspace with a tree full of keebler elves on the side and it can be a fantastic game.

Or it can be a horrible game if the DM sucks. The DM is the setting. He breaths life into the words of a published world, he makes paper lions roar and unsheath their claws, he takes his imagination and becomes everything, the split in the player's backpack that rips while he is being chased by those paper lions, the rotting boards of the bridge the player runs across, swaying back and forth over a black and bottomless pit, the fraying rope, the feathered lizard creatures with spears that rush the player from the other side as the lions wait for their dinner to return. The DM is the town where the player rested, the kingdom the town resided in, the tribe of Ogres or clan of Giants, the number of coins stuck to the chest of the sleeping dragon.

There are no elements, no fluff, no story-line, that universally make a flavoursome campaign setting. The flavor comes from the chef, the DM and nowhere else. He can take your favorite steak and burn it beyond recognition or make it the so good your mouth waters at the thought of it.

All that you can do here is make a list of recipes that other people have enjoyed. A good chef, a good DM will know what to do with them. Use them, change them, maybe ignore them, but all you really need is that good chef.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Comment - Searching the Room - Part 2

DM: As you begin your search you hear a clicking sound from the hall.

Ted (the thief): What the hell is that?

Clarence (the cleric): Is the door still open?

Mike (the magic-user): Shit!

Frank (the fighter): I'll check it! Back me up!

DM: As you approach the open door you can hear the clicking sound again. It sounds like two pieces of wood hitting each other.

Ted: What the F...!

Frank: I have my longsword of painful blisters ready.

DM: What do you do?

Frank: I edge against the wall and take a glance out, left and right , real quick.

DM: In the glowing orange-tinted light of your sword you don't see anything, but as you pull your head back you hear the click again. It sounds very close.

Ted: We are screwed man! They're coming outta the walls!

Clarence: Shut-up Ted!

Mike: I take out my powder of Dis-invisability and prepare to use a dose of it.

DM: Are you going out in the hall?

Mike: I will jump out and send the powder to the left and right in the hall.

DM: Roll when you jump out.

Mike: An '18".

Frank: I'm ready to attack!

DM: The powder swirls from Mike's palm and spreads in a pink shower up to the ceiling and down to the floor flowing right and left like the edge of a rainstorm.

Frank: I jump out into the hall!

Clarence: I have my mace in hand and I'm right at the door.

Ted: I have my sling out and I'm back up against the wall opposite the door.

DM: The powder has settled across 30 feet of floor, fifteen feet to either side. Frank you see nothing.

Frank and Mike: What!

DM: Suddenly the clicking sound comes again as loud as if it was right in the room with you. All of you can see the small cricket near Frank's left foot.

Frank: You bastard!

DM: Are you still searching the room?

Comment - Searching a Room

If you ever read Knights of the Dinner Table you can find examples of play exactly like that, where the DM just hands them a list of what was in the room and the players transfer it to their character sheets.

I like the right kind of detail in my game and try to tailor such searches to my players' temperament for detail. If a character makes such a blanket statement I usually slow things down ask for details. How much time are they going to take searching, do they trust the the other players not to pocket a few shiny bits of treasure, are there traps, etc...

DM: "The wizard's apprentice inhabiting this room is dead and his homunculous familiar as well. What a mess."

Thief 1 (Ted): "I thoroughly search the room!"

DM: "Okay, it is a long room running south; about forty feet and twenty feet wide, but it looks like it might turn east at the end. Where do you start searching?"

Fighter 1 (Frank): "Not so fast thief-boy! I'm going with you. Last time you searched you palmed that ring of spices."

Cleric 1 (Clarence): "That's right! Keep an eye him Frank. I'm going to shut the door. Who needs healing?"

Mage 1 (Mike): "I do. That bastard used a Magic Missile on me!"

DM: "Just as a point of interest the bookcase against the wall is still smoldering from Mike's Burning Hands, but most of the flames were put out by all the blood after Frank chopped the wizard's head off. (Nice called shot there).

Mike: "The Bookcase! Healing can wait. I put out the burning books and search it!"

Ted: "Hey, I'm searching the room!"

Mike: "Not this bookcase you aren't!"

DM: "How are you putting the flames out. And where exactly are you guys searching?"

Ted: "Okay he can have the charred books. What does this place look like?"

DM: (Finally!) As I said when you opened the door, the wizard was sitting at a table, now knocked over with two of the legs broken. There were 3 chairs around it, now knocked over as well. A long bookcase is against the west wall behind him running about 15 feet. There is a sideboard against the north wall, with a strange picture above it and the door opened in the east wall. The room runs south another twenty or thirty feet with another bookcase at its end and three pieces of furniture and a desk on the east and west walls. There appears to be a gap at the end of the east wall where the room seems to run east. A cloak rack is near the door.

Ted: "Sheesh! What are you doin'; writing a novel?"

DM: "Hey, you want to thoroughly search the place. This is what you have to search."

Frank: "What's that picture look like?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This is AD&D! or Comment on 5e sleep spell

I wouldn't add a scalable sleep spell to my campaign It sounds too exploitable in combat. Something that would be continually cast to bring down opponents and robbing the sense of hard won victory from the players. Instead of that giant staggering on with its last few HP, still a deadly threat, the encounter becomes a throat-slitting ending over and over again. Sleep is a nice little low level spell for the generally fragile and under powered mage and this change threatens to make it something used with every combat. It sounds like a sugar-teat which is fine for an infant but gets Game of Thrones disgusting once the kid is old enough to be cast out of Sparta to fight with wolves over his dinner.