Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Day 3: In which I slowly learn that buying Forgotten Realms is like pissing away money

Day 3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.
Hmm… my memories here are a bit foggy. I think it was either the first dungeon from the Starter Set or the one from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting box. The first one was nice, the latter taught me that FR is horrible.

No, come to think of it, it was the one from the FR set actually. (from the book on Shadowdale in the boxed set: “Beneath the Twisted Tower”)

The Forgotten Realms seemed to be a good idea at the time. Most of the material that was translated at all was set there, if it wasn’t generic, and the boxed set was one of the first products then-current AD&D publisher Amigo translated into German.

Of course once I actually read the whole thing I noticed what a strangely incoherent place the Realms really were. In my youthful ignorance I thought it might play better than it actually looked on paper, but soon after I noticed that no, sometimes you can’t polish a turd.

I don’t even know anymore what exactly made me think that way, there were so many things wrong with it in many subtle ways. Political systems didn’t fit together, cultures were in weird places in relation to each other, sometimes expies for Earth-cultures were doubled or tripled (how many Egyptian cultures are there actually on Faerun?), and everything was full of overpowered showstealing munchkin NPCs.
I ran the guys through the dungeon in Shadowdale and killed off one of them. Hilarious antics followed.

Well. I don’t know. The problem was that the Realms never clicked with me.
I did buy a few more products afterwards, but never really used them. I suffered from a bit of scarcity-induced gamblers’ fallacy: I already spent so much money on stuff, lets try to buy some more to get something out of it! And the fact that the only things I could get for AD&D were Forgotten Realms things didn’t help.
It never got better though. The Harpers sourcebook showed me that there are even more showstealing NPCs around, the Cult of the Dragon was bland like cottage cheese, only the Guide to the Underdark gave me some ideas for some fancy monster lairs. I think that one was the only one I ever used, and then it was for a campaign set in Mystara.
FR kept on being bland and untinteresting and pointless. Oh, but the computer games were a bit of fun. I played Baldurs Gate and a few of the SSI games.

Hmm… I guess that was not what people want to hear. On the other hand I killed my first PC in that scenario, but that is a story for another day.

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Day 2: Oh no, I created munchkins

Hmm.. I noticed that I might be kind of weird in this blog hop. I actually decided to post all the questions and answers in seperate entries. Most of the other participants just seem to do the whole thing in one batch. Me? I am using this as an excuse to actually post a lot more than I have been doing the last year or so. Small entries might not be so great, but at least I can get them out quicker than those I write on for ages and then don’t publish. There is one which I want to publish tomorrow that has been laying in my drafts since January last year!

Day 2: First person YOU introduced to D&D? Which edition? THEIR first character?

Did anyone else notice that some people in this blog hop are kind of weirdly focussed on the edition thing? Seperating AD&D and D&D and for some reason starting with 3rd edition it’s something completely else.

Not that I like 4th edition, but I don’t doubt that it’s D&D. On the other hand neither do I doubt that of Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, or any of the retroclones, so there is that.
The people I introduced to D&D first were my friends Achim and Julian. Horrible munchkins the both of them, which is why they both ran multiclassed human Fighter/Mages in AD&D 2nd edition, houseruled in by their Monty Haul GM. Which was, uhm, me.

Ok, I admit, I should have read the combat rules better. They managed to talk me into strange situations in-game and were a on a power trip. They managed to conquer an island (empty, well, after they killed the gnomes that lived there, but what did they care? They wanted to grow weed on it) around 5th level. That was when we decided to retire them and start over with a bigger group.

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Oh look! Another D&D movie…

…only this time D&D stands for Drakar och Demoner, as in the Swedish RPG I just wrote about yesterday.
Well, the acting and the special effects don’t seem to be really that different from the last Dungeons & Dragons made-for-TV-movie, which itself was orders of magnitude better than the first one. Not that Book of Vile Darkness was good.

Drakar och Demoner

Drakar och Demoner... and yes, that is artwork from the Stormbringer RPG, I guess they got some deal

Drakar och Demoner… and yes, that is artwork lifted from the Stormbringer RPG, I guess they got some package deal with Chaosium

Drakar och Demoner (Dragons and Demons, confusingly abbreviated D&D) is the Swedish standard fantasy RPG. This is where the hobby started in that country back in the 80s and where most Swedish gamers come from. It is not actually very close to D&D at all, being instead based on Runequest.

Specifically in the beginning it was a translation of the Magic World supplement from the Worlds of Wonder RPG, which was based on the Basic Roleplaying System, which in turn was originally based on Runequest. That reminds me of the fact that the first game to be translated into German was Tunnels & Trolls. Now that was a squandered opportunity. Although DSA at least got the same rhyming spells in the beginning.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Drakar och Demoner. It just got a new edition (the 7th!) a while ago. Fancy book with nice layout and in a language that I only understand partially. German and Swedish are rather close linguistically, but that doesn’t mean much. Although like with scientific languages I can guess a lot of the meanings of words from the texts anyway. I nearly bought the book when we were in Stockholm last year*, just to have it standing on the shelf. It’s not like I would have played it with anyone.

I guess that new edition is the reason why it’s publishing house decided to publish the old books for the game online for free. So if you are interested in the history of RPGs in Sweden (and if you can read a bit of Swedish) this might be interesting.


* if anyone is stranded in Stockholm with a desperate need for RPG material or boardgames I would recommend visiting the excellent Science-Fiction Bokhandeln in Gamla Stan (the old town).

Day 1: I had to do it all by myself godamnit!

With the 40th birthday of D&D happening there have been a lot of blogposts about that lately. d20 Dark Ages called for a blog hop (whatever that is) celebrating the whole thing. And guess what? I finally caught one of these multi-blog-questionnaire thingies before the whole thing was half over already. Weird.

What started AD&D for me

What started AD&D for me

Day 1: First person who introduced you to D&D? Which edition? Your first Character?
Hmm… I got into RPGs over the German entry drug Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). Which I had to find out about all by myself. DSA back then was basically available pretty much everywhere because it was published by one of the biggest game publishers in Germany, so that is where most German gamers got their beginning. This also means that some of the standard trappings of D&D never really made it to Germany until way later: miniatures for example were barely in use when I started, only 3rd edition brought this aspect of the game into focus. Most people playing with miniatures were into Warhammer, if interested at all, and GW miniatures were the only thing one could get for a long time.

Although… there was HeroQuest as well. I had that, as did many other guys my age. But even though I knew that the games were similar we had this understanding that DSA was HeroQuest for adults, and that it didn’t need miniatures to play it.

Anyway, D&D was something that was mentioned in a PC gaming magazine which ran a special on Fantasy and RPGs, but that was way after I already had the starter set for DSA. A while later I bought a German-language Starter Set for AD&D 2nd edition. I had introduced some people to RPGs before, but my regular players were rather enamoured with a system closer to the computer games they were playing (I think it was Diablo back then) so we switched to AD&D.

The first character I myself played (instead of just made and never used) was a Chaotic Good Fighter/Cleric.

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[Labyrinth Lord] Zombie Whale

Whale Zombie

Whale Zombie

Zombie Whale

No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60’ (30’)
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 15 +3
Attacks: 1 (swallow or zombie powder)
Damage: 1d4+2 or special
Save: TH4
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

More often than not accidental spawns of dark magic these undead are found in the realms under the waves, but on occasion veer into beach areas. They mostly swim, but the can fly if movement on land is needed. (thought you escaped? Ha!)

Living beings killed by them have a 50% chance of raising as zombies within a week, if no appropriate countermeasures are taken. If successfully attacked by their zombie powder attack (a breath weapon dealing 2d8 damage) characters are infected with a zombie virus and will transform into a zombie within a week.

Okay, this one is silly. They show up on one beach in Final Fantasy IX and are wonderful to boost levels with some extra XP. But they still are flying zombie whales. I think I am going to use them for some seaside encounter with a very weird aquatic necromancer.

[Tools] Science Fiction Soundscapes

I just found the youtube channel of Ender4life, who put together some videos with background noises from various Star Trek and Star Wars series/movies. I think this stuff might be really good as a background for any science fiction RPG, or maybe if you yourself want to just relax and pretend to be somewhere in the future.
Some of them are a bit very Star Trekish (ever noticed how these beeps they have don’t show up too often in other places?), but a lot can be used to create a nice Science Fictiony feel.

Review: Doctor Who: Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Doctor Who: Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Doctor Who: Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Paul Magrs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The problem with Doctor Who novels is the same as with a lot of franchise-based stuff: you never know what you will get. And not all of them are good. Funnily enough though when they actually are good they sometimes are quite excellent. The literary medium allows authors to play with things in their stories that would never have been able in a low-budget TV series (even though they tried, oh god, how they tried…).
Mad Dogs and Englishmen starts with The Doctor (number 8), Fitz, and Anji arriving in a hotel hosting a congress about Terran pop culture in the 20th century. The three of them soon become embroiled in a sordid affair around literary infighting. The issue is a famous 20th ct. fantasy epos: The True History of the Planets, by Reginald Tyler. The Doctor knows it well, but he fails to see how a story about Elves and trolls might be the reason for murder.
But But here he is soon corrected in his mistake, after all everyone knows the book is mainly concerned with poodles. Something is not right, the Doctor realizes, and off they go to investigate into different parts of the 20th century.
The book is both Doctor Who time travel fantasy, as well as sheer satire. Reginald Tyler is a rather unfavourable version of J.R.R. Tolkien (although Tolkien must exist as well, as there is a reference to a LOTR movie in drag), his best friend Cleavis is quite obviously C.S.Lewis, and John Fuchas, biggest director in the world, is quite obviously George Lucas. The book tells its story in a breakneck speed, which especially in the beginning makes the writing a bit sketchy. We barely can digest the idea of a humanoid boar as a hotel manager and a murder plot in there, when we are thrown on a space station with poodles in charge, and then meet poets and warlocks in 1940s England, the mob in 1960s Las Vegas, and mad filmmakers in 1970s LA. Oh, and then there are cameos of Miss Marple and Professor Challenger and a few other characters.
The strange thing about this is that it works. After a short while the novelty of anthropoid poodles wears off, but there is so much fun stuff happening that it doesn’t really matter.

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Review: The City & the City

The City & the City
The City & the City by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It starts as a typical noirish murder mystery: Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Division in the Ruritanian city of Beszel is investigating a murder: a young woman has been found murdered in one of the even more derelict places in Beszel. After a few false leads his investigation soon brings him into contact with nationalists and other nutters who had in in for the victim, and it becomes apparent that the crime has roots and connections to Beszel’s sister city Ul Quoma. He has to cross the border and work with his counterparts there to make sense of this crime, which turns out to touch, but not quite breach, the sublime borders the two cities have between each other.

And this is where the problems arise: Beszel and Ul Quoma are geographically the same place.

In a weird kink of history two different cities have developed in the same place, sharing many of the same streets but not interacting at all, except as foreign, neighbouring countries. When seeing something of the other city a citizen is supposed to “unsee” it and work around.

There is a border crossing point in the middle of the city which lets people out on the same streets they were just in, but now in another country. Both cultures are different, and use different languages, culture styles, and even traffic laws.

Beszel is a derelict Eastern European nation with a more or less democratic government and some embarassing nationalists in charge, Ul Quoma is a more modern city with Turkish overtones, a prospering economy, and a military dictatorship in charge. There is some resentment on both sides. They even had some wars that were, unsurprisingly, disastrous for both sides.

Miéville manages to introduce all these things quite masterfully in a noir mode, written as if the main character was writing himself in competent but not flawless English. For the first few chapters our narrator does not even acknowledge the other city too much, and even when he does the reader can’t really be sure if this might just have been another sign of his level of skill in English. It is noticeable that after the whole nature of the cities is revealed his English improves drastically.
After a while it became clear to me that the mystery plot just is an excuse to explore the thought-experiment of two cities overlapping even further, testing out the boundaries and sounding out how far this story could be driven.
The story is well-crafted, and is used masterfully to explore the different quirks a setup like this would have, some glaring problems in the book’s internal logic notwithstanding. And it still works as a crime story/thriller.

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Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was one point in this novel where I was grinding my teeth. It was spelled out for the characters how to find the Jade Key to go further in their treasure hunt, and somehow I got it in an instant and those ubergeeks who knew everything about the creator of the treasure hunt and his way of thinking keep on missing it for weeks. Old run-down house and collecting trophies! How hard can it be?!

Which means most likely that I am a bit too geeky in some way. At least I can’t quote WarGames from memory, but at least the Monty Python challenge later would have been able for me.

Ready Player One is about a treasure hunt in a virtual reality (OASIS) which by the point when the novel takes place has taken over all other MMORPGs and works as most peoples’ workplace, school, entertainment, and what-have-you. There is a reason for this of course: the real world is rife with hunger and desperation, slavery has been reintroduced by way of indentures for debtors, gasoline has run out so quickly that whole streets are filled with useless cars, and trailer parks have grown into stacks of trailers all over each other. There is a good reason why the people in this world prefer the virtual reality to their own. And then the founder of OASIS dies and leaves a game as an inheritance: a treasure hunt inside OASIS, whoever manages it will gain control over the company; in end effect whoever wins will be the richest person in the world.
This leads to a subculture called the gunters who hunt for this treasure, and for a revival of 1980s pop culture (because the hints for this treasure hunt are made up of obscure pop culture references). And then nothing happens for a few years, until the main character (a kid from the stacks with a pithy 3rd level avatar called Parzival), manages to get on the high score board as its first entry.

The book reads like a well-written 1980s adventure movie, and it is easy to imagine all the different characters and places described in it by virtue of them being references to 1980s American culture. Sometimes these references are laid on a bit thick, but in most places they read just fine. The issue with the plot is that the reverence it gives to 1980s movies also extends to itself: there were barely any surprises in there, all the plot turns and twists were visible from far ahead, and it was sometimes a bit too clear when something would happen, even if I didn’t know what exactly it would be. In the end the moral of the story is that not everything can be online, and that there must be a real world for people as well, which is just such a 1980s cartoon moral. Of course its fitting.

The novel might not be the classic that it has been heralded as (I gather most of the reviewers are from the same generation that is celebrated in it), but its a nice, fast science-fiction adventure.

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