Sunday, July 31, 2016

I Believe in DCC

So the past few sessions of my local group have been... odd. We finished up the first major story arc in our Star Wars campaign, and I wanted a few weeks to prep for the next arc. I offered to run a brief D&D 5e campaign between arcs. We sat down, made characters, and did a brief intro session. It was by no means bad and my local group is awesome - but it didn't... pop.

This happened a few more times. We'd try a different game and while my awesome players had a grand ol' time. I didn't feel it. It didn't grab me. Not like the Star Wars campaign. So looking at my newly paired down gaming collection, I thought "What are some of the coolest games I own. The ones that I've always wanted to play regularly, but always had some excuse or another for why it wasn't quite right."

I kept going back to Dungeon Crawl Classics. This balls-to-the-wall love letter to the halcyon days of 1970s gaming is one of my favorites. From its mission statement, to its awesome art, to the unbridled insanity of its adventures - it just oozes fun. Also, DCC recognizes that its a game. It doesn't try to take itself too seriously.

Then the voice in the back of my head started muttering. "But it's a 500 page rule book. It's got extra funky dice. No one's going to buy into a funnel. They just won't get it." The bitter, jaded, know-it-all grognard in me thought that he knew the future.

But Thirteen Year Old James said "But it's so damned cool!"

Grogndard James replied, "Yeah, but you're the old guy in your group. These guys were raised on Third Edition D&D and Classic World of Darkness. They won't get it."

Well, I decided to take a shot. I gave way to my younger self and went in full tilt. I put my faith in this game and faith in my players. I told them that I was canceling the last thing we'd tried to start and they had to "Trust me." They were understandably nervous. My mercurial attitude lately was undoubtedly starting to bother than and they probably just wanted me to pick something and stick to it. But I asked them once more to trust me. Please trust me.

Well game night rolls round. My game prep consisted of spending two weeks re-reading DCC, Sailors on the Starless Sea, and printing out 200 0th level characters face down. I laid out two stacks of these sheets and everyone at the table looked at me strangely.

"Pick four," I said. They dutifully did so. When they saw their stats (3d6 down the line, as Crom intended!) they were nervous. I could see it on their faces. This was definitely not what they were used to.

"I'm a radish farmer with a Strength of 7?!"
"This guy doesn't even have more than a +1 modifier for any of his attributes!"
"What's a costermongerer?"

I calmed them down and said, "Give your four characters names and we'll get started."

So they did. Then they started looking at the sheets.

"Wait? My weapon is a trowel?"
"Alright, this guy's stats suck - his name's Chicken Noodle Boy."

Then, the game started. It was twenty minutes before we even got to the first encounter because something truly magical happened. With just a name and a profession, I started watching five players roleplay twenty characters. They started building connections, motivations, and interacting with one another. My group is awesome like that. They love to RP, no matter what you give them. They gave a little bit of investment, a little bit of faith.

Then game began. They got creative immediately."I take my sail canvas and throw it over the creature," and the like. They started using the meager resources they had. This is when I started to see that this just might work.

Two hours later, we're neck deep in awesomeness. These players and their funnel monkeys are all in. In a single session they've made a deal with a demonic sword, they've murdered some of their own fellow PCs for cowardice. They've watched as a horrible monster with a lobster mandible for a head bursts the skull of one of their beloved funnel monkeys like an over ripe melon - to which one player cried "That's so fucking metal.". They've fired laser beams from a magic ring at a leviathan.

When the smoke clears we've gamed for two hours longer than normal, and no one has noticed. One of the funnel monkeys has set himself up to become a villain at a later date. They all walked away from that table with a sense of "Holy shit, that was close - but we did it." And the survivors felt as though they'd truly earned their right to be larger than life adventurers - a Warrior, a Dwarf, a Thief, a Wizard, and a Halfling.

As we packed up the dice and closed shop for the evening, one of the players said "This is awesome - this game needs a soundtrack." I didn't ask them to be "heroes" and I didn't ask them to treat it like some serious high fantasy. It was pure schlock fun and when everyone (myself most of all) accepted it as that, we had a blast. My players are all looking forward to where the road to gold and glory will take them - and they've all got faith that it's going to be a helluva a ride.

Oh, and Chicken Noodle Boy? He survived - and at this rate, he's likely to become one of the most famous cut-purses in the world. And it's got nothing to do with numbers on a sheet. All it took was a little faith.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Owning Games vs. Playing Games

In what has become an ongoing effort, I continue to whittle down my gaming book collection. Each time I pear down, it becomes less and less painful. My wife (who has wisely always valued "experiences" over "stuff - or XP over GP, if you will) made an interesting point the first time I did a major clean out: "I understand how owning a bunch of books, especially rare ones, is a kind of 'geek cred,' but James, you don't give yourself enough of that. You run a successful publishing company and have written for some pretty big IPs - that's worth more 'cred' than any book."

While I always remember that I'm just a fanboy, I do see her point. So it boils down to whether I want to own a game just to own it, or whether I'm actually going to play it physically at a table. To that end, several of my most beloved games went on the chopping block recently - and for two major reasons: First, I'm not likely to actually play them physically - or in some cases, I've never played them physically. And on a related note, I'm an active gamer and not a collector.

To that end, it is after much hemming and hauling that I decided to get rid of most of my Swords & Wizardry Complete books. I'm keeping a physical core book, the screen, and Monstrosities - but everything else is going. The physicals I'm getting rid of I own all in PDF (except one or two), and am more likely to play with my OSR kin over Roll20 than at a table - so eletronic versions will certainly serve me as well as the physicals.

The huge realization is that parting from the physicals isn't some "disrespect" to the game's creators. Matt Finch and Frog God Games still had (and continue to have) a huge and positive impact on my career as a writer. Not physically owning certain books will not diminish that and the books I decided to keep will continue to aid me in design. 

In addition to parting with my S&W Complete books, I also put up my OSRIC core. I purchased it and it immediately went on the shelf. I never even opened it. Others included my collection of the newer incarnation of World of Darkness and Changeling: The Lost, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and my Beyond the Wall books. Am I doing a larger disservice by continually choosing to play other games over them and letting them linger on a shelf, or sending them to a home where they'll be valued either at a table or among a collector? I think, in the end, the former is the case.

In the end, our love of the game is not defined by how large a collection we own - though owning a large collection is pretty cool. Near every book we part with can be reacquired when the time comes. So, by recognizing that my collection is a fluid, changing thing, it becomes easier to part with these books and a comfort comes in the fact that they will reside with someone who values them as part of a collection and does not require the necessity of active use for ownership.

For me, in the end, it comes down to an old mantra spoken often when one must part with something that has been a source of affection and love in their lives: If you love something, let it go.