Saturday, April 27, 2013

And Another Thing...

Well, lately, I've been obsessing over my old Dungeons and Dragons games. This was spurred on by the unexpected deaths of the creators of the game, Gary Gygax, and Dave Arnoson.They died a year apart from one another, a few years ago, and since then, more of the early writers and artists have been kicking off their mortal coils, and well, frankly, it's been weird...And not just in a 'mid life crisis, the world is over, we're all going to die' - sort of way...It's weirder because of the Internet.

Since the 1990's D+D has been going through these radical revisions in attempt to compete with video and computer games (ironically, some D+D like computer games, and their code, were built by TSR people in the early 80's). Anyway, the D+D I grew up with the late 70's and early 80's (the so called Golden Era) has made this huge come back. Partly inspired by all the early edition creators dying, but more importantly, the people that played those games back then have kids today, and they're proudly digging out their old rule books and playing old school D+D with them. It's a freaking explosion.

They have self published game for any version of D+D you could desire. And later this year, Wizards of the Coast ( the company that owns D+D ) is putting out an all new 5th edition of the game - rumors are spreading far and wide that it's going to return to it's early 1974 roots, in an effort to reclaim The Game.

Even I picked up the 3rd edition rules to play the game with my son and his friends when it first arrived back in 2000-2001. Yes, we started with the basic set (pre-rolled Regdar and Lidda live to this day, but Naul wasn't so lucky), and then moved onto the hardback books / rules. The snag we had was when D+D 3.5 was released months later, effectively dismissing the 3.0 rules of the game. Oh sure, it's the same game, but nothing turns you off faster than having to fork over a paycheck for a game you already own. That, and having a 12 year old get overwhelmed with a new layout, format, and expanded rules. But, I should've known better from the start.  

The publishing history of D+D is riddled with court cases involving everything from free speech, intellectual property, copyright violations, to hideous homicides. It's ... complicated...There's a fine line that separates compatible with plagiarism, real  from fantasy, and it's one D+D has been struggling with for decades (which also staggers the mind as well). When enough time rolls by, I'm sure we'll get a book that gives us the behind the scenes look at what was really going on back then, but for now, the details are sketchy, and, depending on your perspective, open to interpetation. It's odd...With sooooo much information dedicated to one game, it's amazing how much we don't know about the day-to-day business of the companies in charge, it's past dealings with home (and international) pressures, warring egos, and the such. You can research the bajeezus out of the books they released, and goggle the names of the people involved, read countless interviews and contecture (like this blog) and still come away with more questions than answers. But if you want to know how much damage a cursed, staff of striking + 2, + 3 to magic-users does, we got you covered.

It's not all bad...If my son was 12 years old now, I'd be up to my eyeballs in Pokemon games and Skylander Toys...And that stuff is expensive.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


In an effort to start posting again, I've decided to comment on the number of books related to playing (and understanding) Dungeons and Dragons. This seems to be a fairly new trend at the bookstores around here, and I thought I'd give the reader my off the cuff, inside track, (probably misinformed) opinions on a related note. 
The first thing one needs to know about Dungeons and Dragons (or D+D): There are different general versions (or editions) of the game. Depending on who you ask, there are 4 to 10 (or more) official editions of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Each edition revolves around three main rule books called the Core Rules. Briefly, they are: The Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. The editions are separated further, by publishing dates, which are further separated by their respective print runs, since Dungeons and Dragon is also divided up into various levels of play (for example, there's a string of books outlining everything from the so-called Basic Version of The Game to the more Advanced Version of The Game). If I had to  spit-ball a timeline, (and keep things simple), I'd say that it breaks down into something like this: 1st edition: 1974-1984, 2nd edition:1985-1998, 3rd edition: 2000-2005, and 4th edition: 2007-2013+. Each version "revises" (I'm using that term loosely) The Game.
Side note: Some people in D+D circles will refer to it as "The Game" because the rule sets can conceivably incorporate every other game ever invented. For example, if you wanted to write a D+D game where one of the players had to win a game of chess against death, in order to save the other players, you could put on a death's robe, pull out a chess board and play, while the other players read / perform a short script you've written out, resulting in some kind of conflict / resolution type scenario (concerning their fates or not), depending on what chess pieces are moved by the player playing against you (dressed up like death). If you lived in Berkley in 1986 (and had enough cocaine), and you wanted to write a game like that, there are rules to help you do that. That's how flexible the rules are. While other cross-gaming techniques have been worked into The Game over the past decades, it's core rules / game designs can easily lend itself to almost any other game. And believe me, this is intentional: Card games (and various types of Gambling Games) have been built into the D+D rules since the early years.  
Each edition tries to keep that flexibility, while trying to appeal to a larger, younger audience. As a result, you get these subsets of people who only play 1st edition rules, or 3rd, or 4th editions rules. It may seem odd to the non-gamer, but sometimes you'll run into die-hard players who only enjoy playing the Basic Version of The Game, while another prefers playing the Advanced Version. In the past, there have been fights about which edition is better, which is legit, which is the worst etc. It can get ugly. Even today, the reception for the newest incarnation of the game (dubbed by Wizards of the Coast as D+D Next, or, as the rest of us say, the 5th edition) has been getting mixed reviews around my parts. Some folks are really looking forward to it. Others hate it.
This is pretty typical. From 1984-1994, there were all sorts of off-shoots of the game, and the results were similar. I think it started with Greyhawk, but for me personally, it was when TSR put out it's Forgotten Realm series. When that arrived, my gaming group was split down the middle, between those who played it, and those that would never play it. When they put out the Gothic Horror Version of the game (Ravenloft), some people loved it, others didn't. When it's Science Fiction Version (Star Frontiers, and later, Spelljammer) arrived, some gamers went for the ride, others jumped ship. It's strange, because you don't get this kind of reaction with other games. We all enjoy the occasional game of Crazy 8's, Backgammon, Yahtzee, and Clue etc. But with D+D, it's a love / hate kind of thing. And so, for our purposes, (and as a form of short hand), I'll just say that there are four official editions of "The Game". The other six to eight official editions are off shoots from the main four. Although, on the web, that's debatable. For example, one gamer refuses to buy the Dungeon Master's Guide: Book 2, and Monster Manual 3 for the 3.5 rules, while the other one has them all. 
The other problem: Because there are so many different editions of "The Game", the players are anywhere between 10 to 60 years old. Players usually prefer the edition they grew up with, but they also tend to be a cross-pollinating group of people, and (contrary to the above paragraph) are also into other types of role playing games, which essentially grew out of the flexible rule sets of early 1st and 2nd editions of Dungeons and Dragons. This also proves the old saying: Any role playing game you make is based in the Dungeon and Dragons rule set, so you are essentially playing D+D. Whether you call it 'hit points', or Hits to Kill (HTK), or life level points, it's generally the same thing.
In my previous posting, (A Couple Weeks After Free RPG Day), I explained that there are games for every type of genre now-a-days: Western, Mystery (murder dinner train tours), ones based on different types of movies (James Bond role playing game) etc. And how it "ties in" with live action role playing games ( or LARPS : think Renaissance Fairs, Civil War re-enactors) and the "cos play" (costume design) hobbyist etc. And what a strange trip it's been growing up with a pen and paper, dice based strategy game, that eventually turned into actual medieval (pretend) warfare.
And now, on the Internet, there are the 'movers and the shakers' that are trying to keep their edition of the game intact. I'm including myself here, to some extent. Mainly, because they have all of this material they want to post - not for materialistic gain, but rather, for the love of the hobby,(which is semi conscious code for 'freedom of speech' or 'fandom fiction' here). And some of them, love The Game. I mean , I like the game, but some of these guys are really into it. And they have the money to spend on it, because it's not cheap! Each rule book, from each edition, will set you back $30.00 to $40.00 (or more), and that's just for starters. It's kind of like a cult in that way. Once you pay your initial 100 bucks, (and become indoctrinated), your hooked. You'll buy whatever supplemental rule book they put out, at 20, or 30 bucks a pop. Before you know it, you have a room full of D+D book case(s) and your 1000s of dollars poorer. The irony: If you get too depressed and need to take your mind off of things, I may have just the game for you...