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Tag Archives: Role-playing

About what happened last session

Illustration of a goblin

Illustration of a goblin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

* the thief lies dying on the ground after an attack, slowly bleeding out, the goblin cleric was just hit with a critical and lost his ear. What is the most reasonable thing to do? Heal the ear first of course! Stupid human weakling is  not as important as a good goblin ear.

* they have cornered the wererat and his minions who have taken over the dwarven cave and killed all it’s inhabitants. What do they do? Parley of course. So they get another job: bring us one of the bouncing bears from the surrounding forests because we are hungry.

The end result: the orcish warrior now has a nemesis in a purple gummi bear who swore to avenge his brother. And I just wanted this to be a bit of comic relief.

* I dropped a deck of many things on them, and what does the thief do? Draw five. How bad did it end for him? Well, he is more dexterous now, more experienced, and got a treasure map and a magic weapon. So the goblin cleric tries the same. He lost all his experience but gained a bit more wisdom.

Beowulfs Saga

Beowulfs Saga, CoverI would be really interested in the history of this gem. Like this I only can describe it from what it says in the book itself, and that is not much. It still is fascinating. This one was the one of the three books I got via the Troll-Welt storage clearance thingy which impressed me the most. The other two were more or less decent adventures, but very simplistic. Which might have had something to do with the fact that they were written 5-7 years before they were published in Germany, and were from a very different school of roleplaying (Gygaxian dungeon crawl?)

This one was clearly influenced by Ulrich Kiesow and his railroads. It reads more like a script in many cases, and while it does account for a lot of player action variation, some of the things they might do would just throw the whole adventure off the rails. Even when reading it the first time I was impressed with the story, but I noticed that something was amiss if the players just would decide on some completely different action than the one prepared. But a lot of German adventure modules from that time had that problem.

The story already starts with something the players should have done: they are supposed to have done something that warranted them trying to get away as quickly as possible from their home country. While this seems to be a good idea at first (what bunch of heroes never gets into trouble?) this already can throw the adventure if they decide to, well, face the trial or other consequences. Then they are supposed to take the only ship out of town, which coincidentally only goes to the country of Thar Scani, a very thinly veiled medieval Scandinavia. And I mean very thinly. Going there already might be a challenge (what do you mean you are trying to flee into the mountains?!)

Now they are supposed to get bored in the big metropolis of the North, Askeby, which turns out to be a slightly oversized fishing town with delusions of grandeur. Someone they know invites them to his farm to spend the winter there (so you already were bored in Askeby, and you go to spend the winter snowed in in a fjord?) and so they travel there. On the farm they spend some nice weeks until further guests arrive (including the titular Beowulf), make trouble, and now they have to be hunted down by the heroes because they now are honorbound to the family of their hosts. (hmm, completely reasonable for adventurers who just fled their own country as criminals, I guess)

I think the adventure makes much more sense if one does not actually follow the plot and just uses the informations contained in it for whatever scene might come up. The description of Thar Scani is concise and workable, with enough details to have further adventures in this country. There are wonderful descriptions of Askeby (which I could use for any Northern/quasi-Viking city) and a few other locations that can be used for anything else. From what I have seen those actually are even more or less archaeologically correct and based on real life examples. In between there are examples of NPCs, both mundane and magical, which fit in well into the whole setting. The only real problem is that the adventure that binds it together is a railroad and mostly a waste of space (although it is finely written prose and gives a nice feeling for the whole scenario).

In the end we have the stats for this adventure, and there comes the surprise: 5 pages of rule stats for 6 different systems. DSA (of course), (A)D&D, Midgard, Pendragon, and Mers, including a workable rule for berserkers for each system. I am loathe to admit it, but I used those stats in at least half a dozen adventures.

Now, the thing that interests me about this is the way this was developed. It came out in 1989, and with that it should have been one of the first Northern campaign settings coming out in Germany. For DSA Thorwal und die Seefahrt des Schwarzen Auges came out in November 1990, and had only sparse information for it’s Viking expy (half the box was indeed dedicated to ships and sailing for the whole setting), for Midgard the first edition of Waeland came out in 1991. Both had the same or a larger pagecount than Beowulfs saga, but both of them were sparse in the actual depiction of the culture in question. This is were Beowulfs Saga shone. The author, Rick Davis, obviously put some effort into the description of Viking culture, and it contains wonderful tidbits about Viking religion, politics, and jurisprudence. There even is a two page long bibliography listing nonfiction, fiction, as well as other interesting roleplaying supplements about Vikings (it references Gurps Vikings and the D&D Gazeteer 7: The Northern Reaches, but the only German references are Corrinis and Jenseits der Huegel).

I might be wrong with this, but this seems to be the first time that someone presented a campaign settings for a Northern culture in German roleplaying. And funnily enough he did it historically nearly accurate. Something that both the DSA and Midgard settings had problems with (horned helmets! we need horned helmets!!! and winged ones as well! and dragon ships!)

Stuff to add to my homebrew system

Stuff to add to my homebrew system:

The Land of Nod’s Beastmaster class. There is a large part of fantasy/adventure literature that gets short shrift by us roleplayers because nobody ever thought about putting that particular character concept into a class. Well, here’s for all those wanting to play Tarzan.

The Land of Nod’s Scientist class. I might not actually use this in all my campaigns, but it is an archetype that could be seen as quite universal. Also I was wondering if I wanted to have a more technology centered class in the setting, but so far all variants i looked at (Alchemists et al.) were a bit lacking. This class has some beautiful ideas in there.

And the Bard from there. Seriously, The Land of Nod has some awesome stuff, just as I would like it in my own game. The kicker about the bard? The class doesn’t have proper spells. For some reason I never thought it a good idea to give access to spells to most of the characters possible. The class DOES have some spell like abilities, but not the usual spell lists that for some reason really don’t fit. (The Barbarian from the same article doesn’t really fit in my opinion)

The Yogi:  a pacifist cleric variation that does not get experience from violence. Sounds like an interesting challenge to me.

Whatever happened to the netbooks of yore?

One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned anywhere in the last few years are the Netbooks. Not those small and handy computers everybody went  crazy for the last few years. No, I am talking about files of the collected wisdom of the internet crowd on one topic or another (I know them mostly from Fantasy Roleplaying).

Whatever happened to them?
Okay, I know what happened to them, they still are at Olik’s and the Blue Troll’s websites, just as they were in 1998. But what happened to the idea of Netbooks? When I started with the Internet they seemed to be one of the biggest things on the Net.

Basically in the late 80s/early 90s people using the Net, and with that I mean mostly the Usenet and BBSs, were compiling wondrous resources for people with tight money but an internet connection. Now I hardly can say that those things were up to par with the best of the officially printed material of the time, because they were not.
But I can say that a lot of them contained a treasure of new ideas, rules, and mechanics to enrich (or bog down) the Fantasy Roleplaying of the time. And sometimes there would be the occasional little gem in between all the bad stuff. And this actually would be why they are not mentioned anymore: all the bad stuff in between.

The whole thing was a trend that already was over when 3rd edition came around. All of a sudden people took to the Open Game License like dwarves take to mead. But people still were remembering the old netbooks back then, and so at least one page was formed which wanted to create new Netbooks for the new system. They actually got quite far, building a few interesting things with new character classes and monsters, and had a lot of gorgeous ideas for people who were doing this essentially free, and then they quietly disappeared again in 2005. They said that the market was oversaturated with free d20 content and that they could not see anyone really taking to their books. I guess if you really were into publishing anything for the D20 system in that time you would just try to get it to a publisher. Or something like that.

Anyway, what I am interested in right now is the ways that I can use the old netbooks from the 90s for my campaign. They have a wonderful community-created homebrew vibe, not unlike the roleplaying blogosphere of today *coughcough*, and there should be some ways of putting that stuff into a campaign, even if a lot of the stuff in them seems to be a tad stupid.

But I am missing the concept as such, especially the fact that they seemed to be mostly just made up of Usenet entries collected into a larger text file, and then allowed to be distributed over the net. It just was so… what’s the word? Neat. Something like that would be hard to do today, where everyone thinks they’ll be able to  publish the next big thing with their own OD&D-clone. Although I do understand the attraction in 1. having the possibility to have your own things published and bound, and 2. not having to search for these things all over the Internet. Do you remember the days when every role-playing site around had a download page where you could get different files and programs to make your DM life easier? (or harder, depending on what you brought onto yourself) Roughly around the times when 3rd edition came around and the Internet bubble burst, all of a sudden the traditional download page was disappearing. I used to hunt through the webs for ages, trying to find new hidden treasures that I did not know about before, a feeling that is largely gone by now.

[DSA] Executive Meddling: Mask of the Master

No, this is not a joke.

You know, there is one thing that always interested me in the history of roleplaying as a hobby in Germany, and that were the various stupidities produced by Schmidt Spiele against the best interest of their own products sales and believability. tragic as they might seem, they can be kind of amusing though. the picture in the top left here shows the most well known of these follies: Die Maske des Meisters (The Mask of the Master).

Schmidt Spiele, as you might remember, was the game company responsible for The Dark Eye in it’s early editions. And they were very successful with it. DSA sold like hotcakes.

The reason for that was simple: while having very basic rules and a rather naive background it was the only pen and paper RPG available in pretty much every city in Germany.  Schmidt Spiele had a wide range of games and an awesome market penetration. If I remember correctly most of the  games I owned back when I was a kid were produced by this company. Most German players started with this game, and many a gamer’s life never really moved far from it.

But with the territory of being the biggest on the market there also came the hubris, especially in the beginning, but occassionally also later. Schmidt Spiele executives were not really that sure about the game itself. they just couldn’t figure it out.

Roleplaying games were something new and unknown to them, and they seemed to be bothered by the lack of proper gaming materials. There were no markers, no gameboard, nothing they normally put into the boxes that had sold so well for decades. Even more: German roleplayers did not come from a wargaming background, wargames being pretty much unknown in the general gamer audience in Germany until the  mid-90s or so. There were no miniatures, and most German players see them as superflous for roleplaying.

This did not sit so well with them. They (the execs) needed to do something with the whole thing, they could not just let the authors of the game do willy-nilly (conveniently forgetting that the fans might be the ones which knew best who to sell this game to…). In the end they actually found something to ease their mind: As they completely underestimated the age of players (DSA mostly was marketed to children back then), and because they had a few thousand of them still lying around from a cancelled product, the first extension box for the game  “Die Werkzeuge des Meisters” (Tools of the Gamemaster) contained a child-sized, ridiculously cheap-looking mask the GM was supposed to wear when GMing. [see picture above, note the fine shine of cheap plastic and the awesome yet silly looking wings…].

As the mask was part of an earlier product and is sporting the dark eye symbol they used for the product line later,  it can be assumed this was a very sleek way of recycling some leftovers they had lying around. Most likely the name of the game was not only chosen because it sounded better, but also because they needed to get rid of these things. Most likely they already had paid the designer for the symbol, so why waste that money?

Whatever the product was that was cancelled, now the new and first roleplaying game they were publishing bore the name. But not only that: as they wanted it to appear as if the mask actually was, well, a useful part of the game, they claimed in the rulebooks cantained in the box that it was absolutely essential to the right gaming experience to always wear them.

So yes, this was an actual gaming aid they tried to foist onto people. There is an apocryphal story of someone writing in to complain that well, his group absolutely loved the game, but they always had to stop early because the mask was so tight it was giving him headaches.

The mask wasn’t a big success, to say the least.

Later editions of the box  replaced the mask with lots of paper standups and other trinkets and everybody was happy. Players because they got something they actually could use, and executives because they could put something into their product that was recognisable as gaming material. Cynics might say that was because they ran out of masks to put into the reprint runs, and they most likely would be right.

Today of course it’s fondly remembered as a sign of the cheesiness of early DSA. A recent reprinting of the old game rules actually contained a cardboard version of it for fun’s sake, and when they finally published the Güldenland-setting a few years back (I should get back to that at one point), the authors made it (tongue-in-cheek) an integral part of the setting itself: the mages/nobility of that particular setting had to wear a three eyed mask to not petrify anyone they look at with their third eye/not let just any random peasant know that they don’t have the third eye they claim as a sign for the right to rule over the Imperium. So, just like in real life: thety didn’t need it, but everybody was saying it was absolutely essential. Oh, I loved that bit.