14 December 2014

The Middle-earth Office

The Hobbit + The Office (original UK version) = hilarious SNL skit.

09 December 2014

Games To Which I Have Cooled Over Time

Over at the RPGsite, there is a thread that asks posters to discuss “Games You Have Soured On.”  Below are three games to which I have ‘cooled’ (‘soured’ seems too strong) over the years. 

Dungeons & Dragons – 3rd/3.5th editions

When I first read through the 3rd edition D&D rules, I thought: “At last – most of the problems with AD&D have been fixed!”  Everything seemed more coherent and consistent within the ‘d20’ version of the game.  Many of the old, seemingly arbitrary restrictions (e.g., racial restrictions on classes, level limits on non-human characters, certain alignment restrictions on classes, etc.) had been jettisoned.  The fact that the rules seem to have ripped off many of its core elements from ICE’s old Middle-earth Role-playing game (e.g., rolling 'high' is always good; a skill system that was integrated with a class system by having different skills cost different amounts of 'points' for different classes; a unified, consistent system for ability score modifiers; a unified experience chart for all classes; etc.) was fine with me, as I had been a huge fan of MERP back in the day.

However, after running two separate campaigns (each slightly less than a year long) I realized that the game just was not for me.  Acting as the Dungeon Master was a chore, both in terms of the prep work, and actually running the game. Combats seemed invariably to drag on and on, especially at higher levels.  The constant checking of modifiers, feats, spell effects, attacks of bloody opportunity, and the like, became soul-crushingly tedious. And all these annoyances accumulated even though I had introduced house rules in both campaigns to slow down the characters' rate of leveling.  I can't imagine what a headache regular leveling would have generated!

In retrospect, I'm amazed that I stuck with 3/3.5 for so long. And I'm amazed that it was so popular – and still is, with Pathfinder.  I guess that I just don't share the same tastes as many (most?) post-2000 role-playing gamers.  One great thing about the ‘Old School Renaissance,’ for me at least, was that it helped me realize that there were many other people out there who felt the same way.

Castles and Crusades

After souring on 3.5 D&D, I turned to Castles & Crusades as an alternative.  Initially I was quite enthusiastic about the game. (I even wrote a very positive review of it.)  C&C seemed to be exactly what I wanted: an 'old school' game that retained some d20 elements that I liked (ascending AC, a 'unified' system for resolving saving throws and tasks, etc.). And I still like the game's versions of the bard and ranger classes.

Over time, though, I realized that the SIEGE system (C&C's 'unified resolution mechanic') did not really work that well in practice. It came with certain costs, and the difference between 'primes' (tasks that concerned the characters' 'favoured' ability scores, with respect to which they had a target number of '12') and 'non-primes' (tasks that concerned all the other ability scores, with respect to which characters had a target number of '18') was rather too great. In practice, it lead to some weird outcomes. For instance, clerics proved to be the best scouts in the game. And, rules aside, the consistently awful editing of C&C products invariably rubbed me the wrong way.

In time, I decided that I was better off simply modifying earlier versions of D&D (Basic/Expert, AD&D, or original) to my tastes. With the availability of free retro-clones like Swords and Wizardry and OSRIC, I saw no need to continue with C&C. (Eventually I even contributed to a ‘quasi-clone myself,’ Crypts and Things.)  I’m still ‘okay’ with C&C.  I would play in a C&C campaign if a good GM were running it. But I have no interest in the game myself these days.


I got into Rolemaster through MERP (which I still like, warts and all, though I wouldn't run it today).  I enjoyed RM in the 1980s and early 1990s, until I quit role-playing games altogether for a stretch around 1992.  At that point, I was suffering ‘burn out’ from all the RM Companions that ICE had been pumping out. There was just too much material for the game – I found it overwhelming.  (Of course, this material was all 'optional,' but since I was an obsessive completist back in those days, I had to own and read all the Companions.)

A few years later I picked up the new version of RM, the (oddly named) ‘Standard System,’ and while it had integrated many of the better ideas from the Companions into a coherent package, it was just … too much.  I tried to run a RMSS campaign around 1999, and it was a disaster.  The system was not the only problem, as our group had a singularly horrible player (a power-gaming ‘optimizer’ – my first and last encounter with this loathsome species).  But RMSS proved to be way too rules-heavy for my tastes.  I've never been tempted to run Rolemaster again, except for the ill-fated and short-lived Rolemaster Express, which seemed to recapture some of MERP's simplicity and charm.

Supposedly there is a new version of Rolemaster in the works.  I will check it out once it becomes available.  Perhaps it will reignite the old flame?  I’m sceptical about that, but will try to keep an open mind.

Despite having cooled on Rolemaster, I still adore Angus McBride’s covers…

(My next post will be a positive one.  I promise!)

25 November 2014

Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: The Book

Congratulations to my friend Christopher Robichaud on his new book, Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy!

There is a nice overview of the book by Ethan Gilsdorf here.  It looks great, and I'm looking forward to delving into it once the holidays arrive.

On why Aristotle would've approved of playing RPGs:
In one of the most compelling chapters, “‘Others play at dice’: Friendship and Dungeons & Dragons,” Jeffery L. Nicholas offers several examples of friendships between characters and players in D&D (as well as friendships from Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, A Song of Ice and Fire, and his own life. “One reason Aristotle believes people need friends is that only through friendship can one exercise certain virtues that are necessary for leading a flourishing life,” he says. “Through D&D, individuals have the opportunity not only to learn about friendship, loyalty, and love, but also to develop those rare true friendships in which they live a life valuing loyalty and love.” 
I think all D&Ders can speak to a similar effect that the game has had on their lives. It’s a virtuous game, one that opens our eyes to different ideas, different worldviews, different perspectives, opposing plots and quests, as well as pursuit of the common good. “Characters develop relationships that mirror the relationships we develop with other players,” says Nicholas. Had it not been for D&D, he and his gaming buddies would never have been as close. “D&D brought us together once a week, and we were able to talk about the most important things in our lives.”
My only criticism: "No ... Kant vs. Nietzsche vs. Kierkegaard psionic showdowns on the Astral Plane."  (*sigh* Some day…)

Kudos to Christopher!  I think that he rolled a 'natural 20' with this one.

06 November 2014

Pelinore Returns

During the early 1980s I was something of an Anglophile, at least with respect to RPGs.  I generally preferred White Dwarf to Dragon (these were the years during which White Dwarf was a general RPG-focused magazine), I loved the Fighting Fantasy books (they were my ‘fix’ when I couldn’t get together with my friends for a regular game), among my favourite AD&D modules were the ‘U’ and ‘UK’ ones, and I was a big fan of the ‘weird’ Fiend Folio (the Githyanki, the Githzerai, the art of Russ Nicholson, etc.). 

During this time I picked up a few issues of Imagine magazine (now long lost, alas).  Unlike White Dwarf, it was hard to get Imagine at my local gaming shop.  Those few issues included some articles on a world called ‘Pelinore,’ which seemed cool and unusual.  I recall wondering what the whole setting was like.

Now that setting has been made available – for free – by Kellri, in the Collected Pellinore.  Kellri has brought together, in a single document, the Pellinore material from Imagine magazine and GameMaster Publications from 1984-85.  It can be obtained here.

How can one not love a setting in which the clerics of the ‘Green Man’ must be inebriated in order to obtain their divinely-provided spells?  (“His clerics must become moderately intoxicated before sleeping in order to regain their spells” [p. 20].)

05 November 2014

New Shadow World Novel

‘Shadow World’ (also known as ‘Kulthea’) is a fantasy world created by Terry K. Amthor, one of the original members of Iron Crown Enterprises.  It was designed for use with the Rolemaster fantasy role-playing game in the 1980s.  (Amthor’s Middle-Earth campaign module, The Court of Ardor, is sort of a ‘rough draft’ of Shadow World, and is a very poor fit for Middle-Earth, even by the rather loose standards of 1980s ICE.  Severed from Middle-earth, though, Ardor is an excellent setting – easily one of my favourite of all time.  But I digress…)

Amthor recently published a novel set in Shadow World, entitled The Loremaster Legacy.  The ‘Loremasters’ are a secret organisation of mages committed to fighting the ‘Unlife,’ similar to the Istari of Middle-earth, but without the semi-divine background.  (Interestingly, an earlier version of the Loremasters – the ‘Guild of Elements’ – exists within Ardor.)

I used to be a huge fan of Rolemaster, and Amthor's work in particular, including his Shadow World setting, or at least the continent of 'Jaiman' (I never really got into the other areas).  I remember finding the mix of fantasy and science fiction intriguing decades ago.  Now I know that such ‘mixing’ was common in the early days of FRPGs, in such settings as the Wilderlands and Blackmoor, but in the 1980s it seemed quite novel to me, as I was unfamiliar with those settings. 

Anyhow, it's been many years since I last thought about Shadow World at any length, but I may check this out!

31 October 2014

Happy Halloween 2014

I'll be trying out the 7th edition Call of Cthulhu rules tonight (using the free "Quick-Start" version).

It seems like the right night to do so...

About Me

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I'm a Canadian philosopher, fantasy gamer, and procrastinator extraordinaire, who divides his time between Milwaukee WI and Toronto ON. I lived in Dublin Ireland 2005-2008, and still miss it very much! At least I still have Guinness.