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Review: “Blagdaross” by Lord Dunsany

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 18:24

This should be a throwaway story. Filler. A curio. This should be the sort of tale that you skim past in order to get to something with a hero, a magic sword, and a dragon in it. But it really isn’t.

Check it out. Here is Lord Dunsany writing about… (wait for it…) a piece of cork:

For the first few years in the bottle that I guarded the wine slept, dreaming of Provence; but as the years went on he grew stronger and stronger, until at last whenever a man went by the wind would put out all his might against me, saying, ‘Let me go free; let me go free!’ And every year his strength increased, and he grew more clamourous when men went by, but never availed to hurl me from my post. But when I had powerfully held him for twenty years they brought him to the banquet and took me from my post, and the wine arose rejoicing and leapt through the veins of men and exalted their souls within them till they stood up in their places and sang Provençal songs. But me they cast away—me that had been sentinel for twenty years, and was still as strong and staunch as when first I went on guard.

This is not one of Dunsany’s signature stories. It’s not going to be collected into anthologies. It’s not one people are going to rave about to each other or insist that people read. But it does highlight something that I think is really significant: the man could find more myth and romance and virtue and wonder in a garbage dump than most people would think to put into entire worlds of fantasy.

What is it that makes this possible? Why is there such a harsh break between what he was doing and what practically everyone would go on to do later on? Personally, I think it is due to this:

I lay idle one night in the gloom on the warehouse floor. Nothing stirred there, and even the spider slept. Towards midnight a great flock of echoes suddenly leapt up from the wooden planks and circled round the roof. A man was coming towards me all alone. And as he came his soul was reproaching him, and I saw that there was a great trouble between the man and his soul, for his soul would not let him be, but went on reproaching him.

A modernist would see nothing more here than disgraced man about to use a piece of cord to commit suicide. Dunsany, on the other hand sees things as they actually are. Because the truth is that we really are surrounded by all manner of wonders and terrors and tragedies. You don’t need some Never Never Land buried in mankind’s forgotten past in order to explore this. This is where we live. 

This is also only the beginning. Because for his big finish, Lord Dunsany has a concise expression of what fantasy in the early nineteen hundreds was all about.

Behold:

I am Blagdaross. Woe is me that I should lie now an outcast among these worthy but little people. Alas! for the days that are gathered, and alas for the Great One that was a master and a soul to me, whose spirit is now shrunken and can never know me again, and no more ride abroad on knightly quests. I was Bucephalus when he was Alexander, and carried him victorious as far as Ind. I encountered dragons with him when he was St. George, I was the horse of Roland fighting for Christendom, and was often Rosinante. I fought in tournays and went errant upon quests, and met Ulysses and the heroes and the fairies. Or late in the evening, just before the lamps in the nursery were put out, he would suddenly mount me, and we would gallop through Africa. There we would pass by night through tropic forests, and come upon dark rivers sweeping by, all gleaming with the eyes of crocodiles, where the hippopotamus floated down with the stream, and mysterious craft loomed suddenly out of the dark and furtively passed away. And when we had passed through the forest lit by the fireflies we would come to the open plains, and gallop onwards with scarlet flamingoes flying along beside us through the lands of dusky kings, with golden crowns upon their heads and scepters in their hands, who came running out of their palaces to see us pass. Then I would wheel suddenly, and the dust flew up from my four hooves as I turned and we galloped home again, and my master was put to bed. And again he would ride abroad on another day till we came to magical fortresses guarded by wizardry and overthrew the dragons at the gate, and ever came back with a princess fairer than the sea.

This concept of fantasy did not evaporate the moment that John Carter made his first leaps across the Barsoomian sands. It endured as a default reference point throughout the works of later authors such as L. Sprague de Camp and Michael Moorcock.

When did we as a people finally lay this down collectively? Ah, that’s easy. That happened some time around 1980 when somebody figured out that you could use D&D and Tolkien’s pre-Christian mythology as a template for a new type of fantasy that is utterly disconnected from wonder and Western culture.

Going down that path might have brought us something substantially more realistic. But it sure didn’t give us much that was actually real.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review: “Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean” by Lord Dunsany

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 03:53

Lord Dunsany is right there on the Appendix N Inspiratonal Reading list… listed as “Dunsany, Lord” no less.

Now… why is he there? Well, take your pick:

  • Because Gary Gygax grew up reading and enjoying these stories and this is a completely haphazard and idiosyncratic selection of things that just so happened to fire his imagination.
  • Because Lord Dunsany is arguably the most significant fantasist of the twentieth century and nobody collating a list of significant works of fantasy during the mid-seventies would have dared omit him.

Think carefully, y’all!

But seriously, though… the guy is positively tremendous. The story we’re going to look at today is my favorite short story ever. I had picked up Lin Carter’s compilation of Dunsany stories At the Edge of the World and when got to this one, I set it aside because I was persuaded then and there that I simply had to read all of Lord Dunsany’s fantasy from the very beginning. It’s that good!

A word of warning is in order here. Given everything else on the Appendix N list, you are liable to be extremely disappointed to find out that Lord Dunsany did not in fact write mind bendingly weird horror, blood soaked tales of sword & sorcery, sizzling planetary romance adventures, or off the wall science fantasy. Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany actually had his work published in literary magazines! (His story “Time and the Gods” appeared in the same issue of a magazine that featured work by Bernard Shaw.)

But don’t let that scare you off. You’re going to be right at home with his stories. Among other things, they are the perfect prelude to the Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft. (And contrary to the haters out there, I think Lovecraft was pretty darn good at emulating the cadence of Dunsany’s prose.)

Even better, there are things here that really can be a big help to your tabletop role-playing game sessions. Dig this opening passage, for instance:

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun. To the south they are bounded by magic, to the west by a mountain, and to the north by the voice and anger of the Polar wind. Like a great wall is the mountain to the west. It comes up out of the distance and goes down into the distance again, and it is named Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean. To the northward red rocks, smooth and bare of soil, and without any speck of moss or herbage, slope up to the very lips of the Polar wind, and there is nothing else there by the noise of his anger. Very peaceful are the Inner Lands, and very fair are their cities, and there is no war among them, but quiet and ease. And they have no enemy but age, for thirst and fever lie sunning themselves out in the mid-desert, and never prowl into the Inner Lands. And the ghouls and ghosts, whose highway is the night, are kept in the south by the boundary of magic.

What a place!

What a stage!

Now I’m not sure how it is that we got to the point where role-playing game supplements went full on with the whole census data and almanac shtick. Honestly, the more stuff you give me the more stuff I feel like I oughtta be faithful to in running a game. That’s work! But worse than that, there’s only so much I can keep in my head at once. And even worse than that… the players are generally only going to want to hear at most half a paragraph sketching out the basic geography of the setting at any given time.

If you’re going to throw something like that at your players, you might as well make it something awesome like ghosts and ghouls that are kept out only by a boundary of magic… or even better, the personification of Death himself just chilling out in a desert! Heck, you just invited your friends over for a fantasy role-playing game. Imagine the look on their faces when they get a little unadulterated fantasy instead of yet another jumped up Poughkeepsie!

Short stories like this have to sketch out an entire world in a couple of paragraphs. And convey a tone and an atmosphere and a feeling all at once. And they have get to the point quickly– and convey that quickly as well. Just like you do when you’re running your games.

Here’s how Lord Dunsany does it:

From these three little kingdoms that are named the Inner Lands the young men stole constantly away. One by one they went, and no one knew why they went save that they had a longing to behold the Sea. Of this longing they spoke little, but a young man would become silent for a few days, and then, one morning very early, he would slip away and slowly climb Poltarnee’s difficult slope, and having attained the top pass over and never return. A few stayed behind in the Inner Lands and became the old men, but none that had ever climbed Poltarnees from the very earliest times had ever come back again. Many had gone up Poltarnees sworn to return. Once a king sent all his courtiers, one by one, to report the mystery to him, and then went himself; none ever returned.

This is what I call a situation. And this sort of thing is the bread and butter of role-playing game sessions.

Now, in our games the players are more likely going to have to foil some dastardly scheme perpetrated by Cthulhu worshiping cultists that are dead set on disrupting the magical barrier that keeps the ghosts and ghouls at bay. They’ll probably have to contend with Thirst and Fever as they head out into to the desert in order to challenge Death to a battle of wits. That’s just how we roll!

Where Lord Dunsany goes with this one is of course nothing like that. He’s more concerned with things like wise kings, beautiful princesses, heroic hunters, true love, solemn oaths, and terrible blasphemy.

You might recognize the overriding theme by the time you get to the end, though!

Read the whole thing!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Quick Response to Malcolm the Cynic

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 13:22

This is from the comment thread on the previous post:

“You can prefer pre-Tolkienian fantasy if you like. You can dislike how too many people copied Tolkien if you’d like. But one thing you cannot do, at least not honestly or at least accurately, is claim that Tolkien didn’t make exactly what he wanted to make exactly the way he wanted to make it.”

I agree.

Going down that path at all is clearly not constructive. It was a mistake.

Those of you that wanted me to explicitly walk that stuff back before trying a different angle on this… consider it done!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tolkien Really is Derivative

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 16:58

Check out this bit from Barbarian Book Club:

I honestly came to the challenge and expected to read a few fun stories, sword and sorcery types. Instead, I read Dunsany and everything I thought I knew about fantasy was demolished. I’ve spent the last two weeks devouring his work and won’t stop until I’m done with everything I can find. Reading modern fantasy without going back to Dunsany is like eating just a bit of frosting and some sprinkles instead of the whole magnificent piece of cake.

Pardon me for saying it, but… hey y’all, I told you so!

You thought I was off my rocker. You thought I’d gone off the deep end. You thought I was unhinged. Mentally disturbed. Deranged even. Too bad for you, I wasn’t!

So let’s talk about this. Why would it be fair to argue that Tolkien was in fact derivative? You’ve got to admit… there’s a lot more challenge to arguing that than the usual line you get about the sad, sad man that was heroically fighting a rearguard action to preserve all that was good and right and true as the captains of civilization’s remnants steeled themselves to commit to a truly titanic self-destruct sequence.

Oh, but that stings, doesn’t it? Face it. You don’t even want to entertain the thought. Well hey, cut the feigned outrage routine and think for a moment. Consider this thought from one of Tolkien’s pub mates:

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.

What is it then that Tolkien shared with, say, Frank Herbert that would have united him against the era in which Lord Dunsany hailed from?

There is a profound break there. You see something similar in the gap between Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Not that Leiber wasn’t a supremely talented writer that has a well deserved place in the fantasy and science canon. Not that I can’t recommend that you read and enjoy his work. But something vital fell through the cracks in a matter of a couple of decades– to the point where people that think they are heavy into sword and sorcery are going to be stunned when they finally have a first hand encounter with the man that laid the groundwork that established the conventions of that genre in the first place.

The gap between Tolkien and Dunsany is very much like that. But it goes even deeper and is more astonishing. How even to begin to describe it? I would put it this way: Lord Dunsany wrote pure, undiluted fantasy. The Lord of the Rings in contrast follows along with the precepts of what would ultimately be termed speculative fiction.

And there is indeed a world of difference between the two.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Should RPG Campaigns Have a Plot?

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 12:44

The question is asked, “What are your favorite ways of coming up with an engaging campaign plot line for role playing games?”

My answer to this is that it’s an inherently wrongheaded question: If your campaign has a plot line, you are not just doing it wrong. You have repudiated the very concept of fantasy role-playing games!

The most common structure in “plot oriented” game sessions is going to be the Pathfinder/Wizards series of combat encounters that are perfectly balanced to the party’s assets such that they can win against a “boss” of some sort with their last hit point. At the campaign level, you would then have a series of these scenarios that are strung together that all culminate into a satisfying climax where something resembling an epic plot is resolved.

This is no doubt a lot of people playing tabletop games in this manner. Is it legitimate or is it intrinsically, morally, and ethically wrong to do it that way? Now, you might think I’m being facetious, unnecessarily bombastic, or just plain silly… but I honestly think that it really is WRONG. And the reason is… it’s boring!

Not that we didn’t have linear adventures in the bad old days before this new type of play became the norm. I just ran the Car Wars adventure “Convoy” for someone this summer and it’s about as linear as it gets. Heck, even the combats are played out on road sections where the average speed of the combatants is sixty miles an hour.

But note that little bit of a fractal-like quality emerging here: road combats like this are intrinsically less interesting than the insane ballet of destruction that goes on in the arenas. The elimination of dimensionality in game-play really is boring. “Convoy” compensates for this by moving the more significant aspects of player choice up to the resource management level. It’s not any one combat that matters. It’s how you pace yourself to get through them all in time that counts.

But what happens at the end? Everything suddenly opens up! The surviving drivers split up their take. Players kick back with an Uncle Albert’s catalog and go shopping for ways to pimp out their rides. They look back on everything that went wrong in the session and start hashing out ways to avoid that stuff the next time around.

This sort of planning is the bread and butter of any rpg session, but the next thing that happens is the best part. When the dust finally settles, the referee turns to the players and asks… “what do you do now?”

And while you may have used somebody else’s convention scenario to get your campaign off the ground, I would argue that you really haven’t started playing until you ask this question. It really is the entire point of this enterprise, and if your game system or campaign system precludes it from ever truly and honestly being asked, you’re not really playing a genuine role-playing game.

(And note that James Streissand’s answer to this question on Quora is predicated on the players having a choice even of which type of campaign to pursue. This is solid… and it mirrors the same type of choices available to players when they’re dropped into even a classic module like B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Ah, and check out his expansion on this over at his blog. I think it’s clear we are pretty well on the same page with this. To be precise, I would say that role-playing games do not have plots. They have situations at the campaign, adventure, and encounter level which the players are free to interact with however they wish– as long as they accept the consequences!)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tolkien and Modernity

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 13:04

Tolkien was ahead of his time. And that’s precisely what I object to about him. And you know it’s real. People experience a culture shock when they go look up his forgotten contemporaries that they don’t with his work.

You can see it, too, in where people struggle with him. I tend to like the parts that people complain about the most. And detest things that blow past other people.

Aragorn patrolling dangerous countryside with a broken sword for one thing. How utterly, embarrassingly British. Something as portentous and mythical as that, reduced to a cheap subversion along the lines of Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver. The anti-Conan did not originate with Michael Moorcock’s Elric– no, it’s right here! And it’s preposterous.

Tom Bombadil, in contrast, has always been my favorite part. It’s Tolkien tipping his hat to the old fantasy he was about to pave over. It’s weird and wondrous. Marvelous and whimsical. Untainted by the coming pain and regret. It’s not fully explained, either. Even better, (and wacky fan theories aside) it plays havoc with the book’s painstakingly crafted mythos.

It’s the first thing to go when anyone tasked with retelling Frodo’s tale for today’s audiences begins the editing process. Because while people today love Tolkien, they hate fantasy. And it’s both his genius and his curse that he could produce a brand of it that is not so offensive to our modern, post-Christian culture.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge: Go Read Lord Dunsany, Dang It!

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 02:01

Tolkien is derivative.

He was very much a man of his time. His work today is recognized as being inherently conservative and deeply Catholic. And yes, it is truly a masterpiece, one of the great works of the English language. But he also was a man of his times. He was thoroughly immersed in modernism. He was surrounded by snide progressive hecklers that chided him mercilessly. He went from being shell shocked in The Great War to watching the countryside be utterly consumed by “progress”.

I hate to say it, but this is not at all the proper context for someone to write the definitive fantasy story of all time. If you haven’t read the signature fantasy works that predate his influence, you won’t be able to imagine this being the case, but the man really did pull his punches. He tiptoed around themes and questions that deserved to be met head on. He truncated his creative palette for the same reason authors do today: he wanted to be taken seriously and he knew there would be consequences for not walking the line.

What’s the alternative, you ask? Well… if you want to see what a full-throated expression of what an unadulterated fantasy genre could be like without the taint of Modernity and despair, then look no further than Lord Dunsany.

My favorite story of his is “Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean.” I will say nothing to spoil this one for you. Seriously, go read it. No commentary can do it justice. I can’t name a single story that can compete with this one in terms of its capacity to produce undiluted wonder. It is the very definition of fantastic. In comparison, every author after Dunsany might as well have hid their light under a bushel basket.

For people wanting a more explicit handling of the central problem that “real” Fantasy must necessarily address, see “The Kith of the Elf Folk”. If “half elfs” are just another fantasy race in your imaginary worlds, I have to say… you are brain damaged. This is a sort of dementia that is on par with vampires being divorced from Christian lore and concepts of damnation. The correct answer for what is going on with this are unimaginable to most people because Tolkien either toned down his answer or else was so careful in filing the serial numbers off of what he produced that people could enjoy his work without thinking deeply about the consequences of elves and men intermingling when the former are necessarily barred from heaven.

For a third Dunsany story that brings something different to the table than either of these, I recommend “The Journey of the King.” Now, many people have chided me saying that reading “Appendix N” is not sufficient for people to get a solid grounding in the roots of fantasy. Don’t read a pile of yellowed paperbacks and pulp magazines, they say, but go read the stuff that the Appendix N authors themselves used for inspiration. It sounds good. It sounds smart. And heck, I actually agree with it. But without a doubt the one book that casts by far the longest shadow over the fantasy genre is going to be The King James Bible. This story shows why. If you want to tackle life’s toughest questions, if you want to create something that sounds authentic, like it may have really happened in the ancient world… if you want to be fluent in the patterns of language that create a palpable sense of portentousness and wisdom, if you want to tap in to that part of the human psyche that still had this very real concern that we’ve done something to offend a primal and jealous force… then read that book!

Or at the very least, go read Lord Dunsany and see how his immersion in that particular volume gave him a power and a command of the language that no creator since his time has enjoyed.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kasimir Urbanski and Appendix N on Geek Gab!

Sun, 07/29/2018 - 20:18

Okay, it finally happened. Kasimir Urbanski and I have finally had a big sit down on the topic of Appendix N. Note that we did not have a formal debate; rather, this was more just a friendly conversation on the subject. Anyone that has followed Urbanski’s blog posts and Google+ threads on this topic will, I think, be very surprised by the results here. Yeah, the usual straw man arguments do make a cameo appearance, but it is relatively brief. And for the record, below are my notes for the key points I wanted to have covered during the exchange.

Listen to the whole show and decide for yourself how well they got argued!

What is Appendix N?

** It is more or less a significant subset of the fantasy and science fiction canon– and consistent with what the typical fantasy fan of the seventies understood about the genre.

Does it shed light on why classic editions of Dungeons & Dragons are the way that they are?

** Yes…. See also Ken St. Andre’s Tunnels & Trolls, Marc Miller’s Traveller and James Ward’s Metamorphosis Alpha. All of them leveraged a synthesis of weird books in order to get off the ground. All of them took no thought of slinging elements from contradictory stories and series together into one great game of “play anything from any book you like– as a player or a dungeon master!”

Does it have any utility for game masters that are running fantasy campaigns of their own?

** If you struggle with imagining worlds where alignment, spell memorization, and mega-dungeons are “real”, then you are going to get a real kick out of seeing these things in their original contexts. Contrarwise, if you assume that The Lord of the Rings is the starting point for how fantasy even works, you are going to inevitably be frustrated by how classic D&D is implemented and how it plays. Further, a person that thinks only in terms of derivative eighties style fantasy will be tempted to sacrifice player autonomy in order to produce the sort of “epic” story arcs that you take for granted as being the entire point of the fantasy genre.

Are some types of fantasy a better fit for classic D&D than others?

** You’re going to have far less friction adapting situations from Burroughs, Leiber, Howard, and Vance to D&D than you are trying to make it fit with Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Just as one major example: the need for backgrounds and motivations is simply absent from pulp stories in general. This is the first thing that is added to movie adaptations of Conan and Solomon Cane, but it’s pretty well absent from the source material. It’s not an accident there’s no space for “background” on you Moldvay Basic character sheet!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Today’s Forecast: A “Definitive End” to Appendix N Discussion!

Sat, 07/28/2018 - 15:47

Pop the popcorn, y’all! This is going to be good!

Cognitive dissonance, thy name is Urbanski. You probably don’t have the balls to appear someplace where your presence is inappropriate anyway. (h/t Neal Durando!)

It is absolutely baffling to me why the topic of Appendix N is just so triggering to certain people.  It’s been asked before: “why does the idea that Gygax got specific ideas for D&D from specific sources, and that these can be identified, seem to offend some people? Are they invested in the idea that it was all original for some reason?”

Good questions! Maybe we’ll get some answers today on Geek Gab.

And just for the record… before we go onto the show, here are my questions for the RPG Pundit:

  • What is Appendix N?
  • Does it shed light on why classic editions of Dungeons & Dragons are the way that they are?
  • Does it have any utility for game masters that are running fantasy campaigns of their own?
  • Are some types of fantasy a better fit for classic D&D than others?

Seems like pretty tame stuff to me. It doesn’t have to be so difficult to have a conversation about this. But for some reason, it just is.

Don’t miss it! We should be live in a couple of hours here…!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jack Vance is the Soul of AD&D

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 16:06

From Gary Gygax’s introduction to The Dying Earth rpg:

Aside from ideas and specific things, the very manner in which Jack Vance portrays a fantasy environment, the interaction of characters with that environment, and with each other, is so captivating that wherever I could manage it, I attempted to include the “feel” he brings to his fantasy tales in the AD&D game. My feeble ability likely managed to convey but little of this, but in all I do believe that a not a little of what fans consider to be the “soul” of the game stems from that attempt. Of course there were, as noted, a number of other authors who had considerable influence on what I wrote, so let it suffice to conclude that in all a considerable debt of gratitude is owned to Mr. Vance, one that I am always delighted to repay whenever the opportunity arises. It should go without saying that whenever I see a new title of his, I buy it and read it with avid pleasure.

And ah, note there the reference to other Appendix N authors as having “considerable influence” on the game as well. Also, Gygax appeared as a character in one of Vance’s books. Interesting!

And check this out:

Of the other portions of the A/D&D game stemming from the writing of Jack Vance, the next most important one is the thief-class character. Using a blend of “Cugel the Clever” and Roger Zelazny’s “Shadowjack” for a benchmark, this archetype character class became what it was in original AD&D.

If you have been frustrated by the thief class and how it plays in early editions of D&D, you may want to take a look at these two characters yourself!

Finally… Neal Durando notes here that Vance’s Dying Earth setting is antithetical to the sort of setting splat books that became synonymous with rpgs in the eighties:

There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion.

You know, that’s strange.

It’s almost as if a familiarity with the books of Appendix N can have a drastic impact on how you even conceive of the game– and how you go about setting up your campaign or how you design supplements for it as well.

Somebody ought to look into this!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jessica Price and James Gunn on Free Speech

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 04:58

Below are Jessica Price’s comment on the firing of James Damore from Google and James Gunn’s remarks on Brendan Eich’s firing from Mozilla.

 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The D&D fight of the century?

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 01:34

Daddy Warpig has just announced it on the most recent episode of Geek Gab: “We are trying to get together a show with RpgPundit and Jeffro to come on the show and debate issues of D&D and from what I understand looking at Google+, the RpgPundit just launched another broadside against Appendix N, so I am absolutely sure that if we bring this off, that will come off in the discussion…. Jeffro vs. RpgPundit in the D&D fight of the century!”

Unfortunately, not everyone out there wants to see a couple of role-playing game junkies come to blows over this. As Adam Simpson comments on the video, “RPG Pundit and Jeffro? I will listen to that! I’m not looking forward to fighting but I would like to see both of them make clear their positions on Appendix N. I get the feeling sometimes those are 2 guys who have more in common than in conflict. I like RPG Pundit but I think Jeffro’s insights on Appendix N are worthy of everyone’s attention.”

What does the RPG Pundit have to say on this? Maybe he’s mellowed on the subject of Appendix N over the past year or so…? Let’s check in with him.

Show me how many major references there were to Appendix N in print BEFORE the OSR. If it was so pivotal, that should be easy.

But you can’t. You’ll probably find some dusty Dragon article that mentioned it, once, or some single conversation on some newsgroup from the 1990s.

That’s some pretty tough talk there. You might be thinking he’s ready to throw down in a no holds barred fight to the finish on the subject. And if you are… you’re wrong:

I have no problem debating you about Appendix N, with regards to how important it is, because it just isn’t, and the historical evidence is on my side.

And if that’s a segment of the show, I have no problem with that. But I’d rather be more topical and spend time discussing a much more important subject, which is the SJWs’ attempts to take over the entire hobby.

While reposting the classic rant on my blog, which I only did because it was just it’s turn to be reposted on my list, I literally looked at it and thought to myself “well, we won’t be likely to have time to argue about minor crap like this anymore, not with what’s going down hobby-wide now”.

There you have it.

He’s coming out swinging in the comment boxes here, but as far as any kind of in depth debate on the subject of Appendix N is concerned… he’d really prefer to discuss almost anything else!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Breakthrough Moment with G.E.V.

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 17:14

I’ve played this scenario with many people over the years and really… the combination of spillover fire, overruns, and the terrain rules can be a lot to take in for a first time player. Watching a dozen of your G.E.V.’s evaporate due to one bad decision can really take the wind out of a guy’s sails, too. It takes a certain kind of person to go through that and say, “hey… let’s do that again because I’ve got an idea for a different strategy.” We have a name for that kind of person, too: they’re called gamers!

Get those first few trial games out of the way and this old MicroGame suddenly gets serious. Arguments break out about which strategies are better and who is the better player. There’s only one way to settle them: a tournament style set where each player gets a chance to play both sides. This really ups the ante!

Here’s how things fell out when just such a thing broke out at my table:

The attackers move in and pool up. The defense player had just been whittled down in a steady retreat, so he’s spoiling for a combat. He’s changed up his armor unit selection this time adding in a couple of G.E.V.’s specifically to counter the tactics his opponent used previously. But now he has to decide: should he fall back or rush the enemy G.E.V.’s.???

He rushes the attacking G.E.V.s, killing two and disabling one. All hell breaks loose, and when the dust settles, the G.E.V.’s are gone. Eight G.E.V.’s leave the map fairly late, scoring three victory points each. The defense kills a total of four enemy G.E.V.’s, scoring the same amount of points. But the attackers devastate the defense killing ten units altogether for a final net score of sixty points. When the tables are turned, the bar is set: it’s going to take a fairly hefty decisive win to beat this!

The defense this time opts not to rush the incoming G.E.V.’s. This hands the invaders some choice targets:

Not a good start here!

The G.E.V.’s have killed two armor units and disabled another. They position themselves to bypass the defensive line entirely while reserving the chance to pick off finish off the damaged heavy.

More sparing occurs and the attackers achieve this position:

The attackers have to choose. Do they run away and collect a hefty victory point bonus for leaving early? Or do they shoot up the defense for a few easy points?

The chance to wipe out that defending heavy tank is just too tempting!

But good gosh, the 2-to-1 attack on the heavy fails. He shoots back and the results are disastrous. The G.E.V.’s now have the option of abandoning the units that are disabled in return. The attacker looks at the victory point tallies, makes an error in his reckoning, and doubles down. He leaves two G.E.V.’s right on the coastline thinking that the defenders will have their hands full picking off the disabled units.

But the attacker completely forgot about the overrun rules. The Heavy tank shrugs off the pitiful 1-to-2 attack that the disabled units muster and he blows them away. He and the surviving infantry squad move in and disable the two G.E.V.’s that had thought they were going to get to do some serious killing!

The other G.E.V.’s have left the board. The defense has free attacks with no chance of losing any more units. They get a 1-to-2 shot with the infantry squad and a 2-to-1 shot with the heavy tank– any “D” or “X” result will be a kill!

The dice are rolled and… the defense rolls two ones in succession. Miraculously, the two G.E.V.’s that should have evaporated due to their commander’s hubris are in fact going to get away scot-free!

The victory points are tallied. The attackers get 56 points for getting seven G.E.V.’s off the board early and another 38 points for their kills. The defense scores 30 points for taking out five attackers. The final net score here is 64, just four points higher than the previous decisive victory.

We have a new Breakthrough champion at my house here… but if the dice had turned up as anything other than snake eyes, it would have been the other guy!

Unbelievable!

But this is precisely why G.E.V. is regarded as one of the top 100 greatest hobby games of all time.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Unfrozen Gaming Caveman Speaks: The Truth About Today’s D&D

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 19:28

 

Seriously, just read it:

I used to be an avid gamer. From the moment I first saw people playing D&D in junior high school (1976 or so) to the early 1980s when my life turned into a Hunter Thompson/William S Burroughs mashup, RPGs were my main avocation.

In the years between then and now I’ve played on the rare occasions that a game has been available, but between getting married and raising children and learning to hold down a job and becoming an internationally unknown least-selling New Wave writer, I really haven’t taken the time to seek out a gaming group.

Over the last few years I have been reading and commenting on OSR blogs, mostly from following people who have interesting comments on other blogs (+Jeffro Johnson was my OSR gateway drug) but I haven’t really been exposed to what might be called the mainstream of RPG writing over the last few decades.

Even when my eldest daughter started playing D&D I didn’t pay a lot of attention. A few things she said about her games struck me as odd, but I shrugged it off with paternal indulgence.

Recently, though, I have been following links and reading articles written (allegedly) by gamers for gamers.

And what the actual fuck, people?

This is not like going back to my hometown and seeing that they tore down the old mall and widened the highway and put a McMansion Estates where the old high school stood. This is more like going back to what I thought was my old hometown and ending up in the Silent City of The Dessicated Dead on the lost Plateau of Leng.

What the people I am reading now are talking about is not the game that I used to play. It’s not even the type of game that I used to play–or the category of activity that I used to play. The difference isn’t like Chess and Checkers, or Golf and Bowling.

It’s like the difference between cooking chili in a crockpot and blindfolded bicycle racing. The points of similarity are so rare and so irrelevant that I can’t say it’s the same thing at all, despite using many of the same names and much of the same specialized vocabulary.

I mean, I thought that the OSR gang was exaggerating the differences between Old School gaming and the modern… whatever for effect. I figured that they were just getting hung up on a few rule changes as a kind of group shibboleth–if you use these rules from this edition then you’re not one of us.

Not so much. If anything, what I’ve read from the OSR has been understating the case.

What I used to do that I called playing RPGs was having fun playing make believe Heroes vs Monsters and rolling dice to see who killed who first.

What people are doing that they call playing RPGs today seems to be using writing fanfic as a group therapy session.

Misha Burnett is spot on here.

What little I know of contemporary incarnations of D&D is via the “nobody dies everybody wins” tables that are inevitably next to mine at the conventions. It wasn’t until some of the people that switched to Moldvay Basic D&D as a result of my posts over at Castalia House Blog that I found out what was really going on. Seriously, the first hand accounts of what people actually did in these 5th edition sessions made my jaw drop. Horrible!

David Burge summed it all up thusly: “1. Identify a respected institution. 2. kill it. 3. gut it. 4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.”

The few people that stumble their way towards something almost resembling what gaming used to be like find themselves having to reinvent not only things like morale checks, but even non-linear dungeons where the players have control of how far down they delve, whereby they would be handed the capability to select the difficultly level that gives the the sort of gaming they are looking for!

Truly, a dark age of gaming is upon us!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

“It’s pretty much Avatar before Avatar.”

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 14:17

Xavier L. writes in:

I think you got everything wrong. “A Conquest of two worlds” is literally an anti-colonial story. It’s pretty much Avatar before Avatar.

I wouldn’t describe D&D feudalism as window-dressing though, it’s pretty much essential. The people who work for you are called peasants, not natives, and the tax, if you are a cleric, was the tithe, right?

He’s absolutely right here.

The “colonialism” depicted in “A Conquest of Two Worlds” is an over the top caricature. The earthmen are only in it for the resources. The aliens totally didn’t do anything.

And yes! It is absolutely an “Avatar” type story. One character despises the obvious injustice, “goes native”, and then fights both with and for them against the earthman exploiters.

But here’s the difference: unlike in Avatar, the colonialists here cannot be stopped. They are awesomely unbeatable, an exaggerated variant of Sauron’s armies or the Persians from 300. And the aliens have less fight and prowess than even a bunch of ridiculous hobbits could summon.

And the ending that you end up with in consequence of that particular premise…? If Avatar had been written that way, the aliens would have fought to their last remaining outpost only to nuke themselves and their Spirit Tree into oblivion.

It really is a weird story.

He’s also correct about the AD&D clerics. Here’s the relevant rule:

Upon reaching 9th level (High Priest or High Priestess), the cleric has the option of constructing a religious stronghold. This fortified place must contain a large temple, cathedral, or church of not less than 2500 square feet on the ground floor. It can be a castle, a monastery, an abbey, or the like. It must be dedicated to the cleric’s deity (or deities). The cost of construction will be only one-half the usual for such a place because of religious help. If the cleric then clears the surrounding territory and humans dwell in the area, there will be a monthly revenue of 9 silver pieces per inhabitant from trade, taxation, and tithes.

Note that there is an analogue to renegade characters like Edmond Hamilton’s Halkett and James Cameron’s Jake Sully in The Keep on the Borderlands. It’s the Evil Priest, maintainer of the Temple of Evil Chaos in the Caves of Chaos. He has agents and sympathizers in the Keep on the Borderlands, so beware!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fake Gaming is Real: Misha Burnett on that Critical Role Blowup

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 05:22

Author Misha Burnett weighs in on the recent commotion over the Critical Role show:

I started a thread about the Critical Roll situation in a Facebook group this morning. The group is kind of a general all things geeky group and I can count on them for good discussions without anyone getting political or screaming about being oppressed.

It was, for the most part, a good discussion, with a lot of different perspectives.

I did notice, though, some people getting really defensive when I pointed out that a DM who “doesn’t let player characters die” is a DM who is breaking the rules of the game to force a particular outcome.

One person insisted that she did not mean that a DM should break or ignore rules but instead just “fudge the rolls” to insure that no PC ever dies. Other people said that PCs should only die when it is the player’s choice, and one said that she will only play in games where character death is not a possibility.

And I think I figured something out. I have always wondered why players who emphasize “story-based gaming” and similar terms even bother to use books and paper and dice at all. You can have interactive storytelling just fine without them. If your goal is to just get a bunch of people to tell a story working together you need nothing more than the people and room to talk.

What’s more–the big storytelling advocates tend to have a lot of books, expensive hardbacks with tons of rules in them.

And it hit me that they want the illusion of rules, but not to be bound by them. It’s the same thing as the Soviet habit of holding elections even when there was only one party candidate to “elect”. They wanted to control the outcome while pretending that “the electoral process” put the right person in the right seat.

Storygamers want the rules in the same way. That’s why they got so defensive (I got one commenter tell me “I’m done arguing with you” when she had, in fact, not advanced a single argument) when I pointed out that if the rules weren’t being followed there’s no reason to have them at all.

They don’t want to admit that they are being capricious and arbitrary and just deciding how they want things to go. Instead what they want is a stack of rules that they can point to that prove that they are playing fair and earning their successes and that they all have 20th level half-unicorn bloodmages because they are just that good. And pointing out that they started at 10th level with magic items and have a DM who “fudges” away any negative result makes them livid.

So they keep bringing up “House Rules” and “Rule 0” and about how the DM is the final arbitrator of the rules. And that’s well and good, I am all in favor of house rules. But there is a big difference between a poker dealer saying “twos are wild” as he’s dealing and someone who says, “I’m going to turn this two into a seven to fill my straight” after the cards are turned over.

These people are only cheating themselves. The situations that develop when players are subjected to coherent rules and actual risks are so much richer than those that are derived from what people think would be the most intriguing. And I can almost understand it.

The rules and the dice really are there to protect you. They are like a climber’s rope and harness. They work… but you have to trust them. And when you’re fifty feet up on the wall, you really start to wonder: if I start to rappel down, is this stuff really going to work? It’s scary. It really is! But the moment you throw yourself off that wall… wow, is that ever fun!

It’s the same thing when you’re sitting there with half a dozen people looking at you expecting a good time at your table. I can’t imagine it really, having all of those rpg books, dice, adventures… spending countless hours “gaming” but never once seeing what happens if you just go where the dice and the rules and the adventure and the player choices take you.

I really can’t imagine it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pulp Era Colonialism is Intrinsic to Dungeons & Dragons

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 23:00

From Edmond Hamilton’s short story “A Conquest of Two Worlds”, published in 1932 in Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories magazine:

“I don’t know why we should be going back there to kill those poor furry devils… after all, they’re fighting for their world.”

“We wouldn’t hurt them if they’d be reasonable and not attack us, would we?” Crane demanded. “We’re only trying to make Mars something besides a great useless desert.”

“But the Martians seem to be satisfied with it as a desert,” Halkett persisted. “What right have we, really, to change it or exploit its resources against their wishes?”

“Halk, if you talk like that people’ll think you’re pro-Martian,” said Crane worriedly. “Don’t you know that the Martians will never use those chemical and metal deposits until the end of time, and that earth needs them badly?”

“Not to speak of the fact that we’ll give the Martians a better government than they ever had before,” Burnham said, “They’ve always been fighting among themselves and the Council will stop that.”

Later:

Within another year Weathering could send word back to the Council that the plan had succeeded and that except for a few remote wastes near the snow-caps, Mars was entirely subjugated. In that year approximately three-fourths of the Martian race had perished, for in almost every case their forces had resisted to the last. Those who remained could constitute no danger to the earthmen’s system of forts. The Council flashed Weathering congratulations and gave Crane command of the expedition then fitting out on earth for the exploration of Jupiter.

Needless to say, a movie like Avatar would have had a completely different ending back in the thirties! And as brazen as this story might seem to the average millennial of today, it is nevertheless something that that is hardwired in the nature of the much more recent Dungeons & Dragons game.

Consider this from the first edition AD&D Players Handbook:

When a fighter attains 9th level (Lord), he or she may opt to establish a freehold. This is done by building some type of castle and clearing the area in a radius of 20 to 50 miles around the stronghold, making it free from all sorts of hostile creatures.

Sure, there is a bit of feudalism baked into the old game merely as a sort of window dressing. But there this talk of “clearing” and subjugating wilderness hexes is very much in line with the spirit of Hamilton’s scandalously retrograde science fiction tale. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the overall posture and attitude outlined there is the very definition of what Lawful means in the context of the grandaddy of all role-playing games– something that would be readily apparent to anyone that’s taken the time to go back and read Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.

A cursory survey of D&D comments on Twitter reveals people’s inability to even imagine thinking this way is a big part of why they have no idea how to play the game.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

BattleTech: Decision at Thunder Rift

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 14:57

For many years I have read the many classic BattleTech scenario books with a mixture of wonder and awe. Given that we could blow an afternoon with just a handful of mechs on the board, I just had to know: what kind of person played this stuff…?!

Well, having done one of these now, I can tell you: nobody played them.

“Decision at Thunder Rift” is a conflict so big, it got a whole novel devoted to it. But the scenario itself is a hot mess:

  • The defenders get three 20 ton mechs, which are supposed to have made a valiant stand on a ridge, using carefully aimed fire to pick off their attackers as they marched uphill. The reality on the game board is… they’re turkeys that spend all of their time getting as far away from the turkey shoot as possible. Not very dramatic!
  • The defenders also get a small army of hovercraft. The rules give you the option to use either quick and easy simplified rules or else design your own version of them with the CityTech rules. If you use the former, then the defense will simply die as the hovercraft will all be wiped out in a couple of turns due to the fact that it only takes a single hit to disable them and a second one to kill them. If you use actual CityTech rules, the units will not only be able to take a lot more hits, but they will also be wherever they need to be in order to have the perfect shot– CityTech hovercraft are going to be two or even three times as fast!
  • And just one note on the original BattleTech box sets. The vehicle counters in CityTech are not numbered or otherwise uniquely identified in any way. If you try to play this scenario with the original equipment available at the time, you have a bookkeeping nightmare on your hands.
  • There are mentions made of potentially using infantry rules with this one, but no details on just what to do with them.

We spent an eternity playing this one. The hovercraft wiped out a couple of attacking mechs early on. Then the attackers figured out that if they simply made a beeline for the “turkeys”, nothing much would happen. (This is due to the to-hit penalties for jumping combined with the extreme resilience of medium mechs– it can take forever to drop one!)

There was one dramatic moment, though. The attacking Locust got to the top of a hill and fired its medium laser at a fleeing Stinger. It rolled a 12 on the all-but-impossible to-hit roll, then rolled a 12 again for hit-location, then rolled a 10 for the check-for-criticals roll. This resulted in a life support and a cockpit critical. A target dropped in a single shot!

So yeah, the turns just cranked by taking a long time to resolve for generally not a whole lot to happen in return. It was exhausting. The way it turned out, I had to be able to drop all three of the light mechs by turn 13 in order to win. (There was basically a die roll that determines whether this scenario is trivial or impossible, but you don’t know what it will be until turn ten.) The CityTech hovercraft meant the attacker had to be lucky to pull this off, but the dice just weren’t there. The fleeing 20 ton mechs were just too hard to hit… and the hits that did land weren’t concentrated in the same hit locations well enough to get the job done.

We did make one critical mistake: the attackers were supposed to get reinforcements on turn 10 and we completely forgot about them. However, if the defense played at all sanely, they should not have made a significant impact on the outcome at all. The light mechs would have had to take a few more shots at slightly better odds due to needing to steer clear of the south map edge, but otherwise nothing would have changed.

We ended up debating some other issues when trying to determine if one side or the other should simply concede. Stuff like… what constitutes an actual kill in BattleTech? (Is two gyro criticals enough?) Also, can the attacker leave the map in order to deny the defense kills? (If so… then they have no chance at all to win, particularly if the dumbed down hovercraft rules are used.)

Anyway, there is a lot of stuff here. There is a very creative use of terrain and units to make a really colorful situation come alive, using everything that existed in the BattleTech game during the mid-eighties. But there’s just one problem with it: it’s objectively the worst wargame scenario I have ever played.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Schrodinger’s Game

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 03:08

D&D didn’t really exist in the seventies.

Or rather, a lot of people were playing it– a close approximation at any rate. Or maybe a Frankenstein’s monster pieced together from a nearly random assortment of supplements and bootlegs.

If only someone could have stepped into this swirl of confusion and chaos, this period in which everyone would simply do what was right in their own eyes– someone with authority, an apostle that could settle once and for all what D&D truly was.

Was Dr. John Eric Holmes that man…? Or did the world need to wait for the arrival of the true prophet of D&D…?

Let’s see….

-No STR bonuses. Yes, that’s right, OD&D and Holmes did not have Strength bonuses. STR was purely a “roll under” stat.

-Magic Users will have their spellbooks with all 1st level spells, some of which they’ll know, others they will not.

-Dex-based paired initiatives.

-No Variable Weapon Damage

-Variable Weapon Speed

Well… how weird can it be, really…?!

The MU character class chapter blatantly contradicts the chapter on magic and how spell learning works.

Magic Missile requires a To Hit roll.

There’s no explanation for how Elves level up other than that the XP is divided between both classes.

It’s not called that, but Monster XP is supposed to calculated according to Challenge Rating.

Number of Monsters Appearing should be based on/adjusted for the number and level of PCs.

The mysterious +3 Magic War Hammer that only Dwarves can use.

On second thought, you know what…? D&D did not exist until 1981. It was invented out of whole cloth by a guy named Tom Moldvay. That’s the only conceivable takeaway here!

Guys…? GUYS!!!!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Space Empires 4X with Close Encounters and Replicators

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 16:13

This is easily among the shortlist of my all time favorite games. Everything about it is enjoyable.

We had three players last night and here’s how we ran it:

  • Standard 3-player starting positions with the home worlds at maximum distance from each other… but with every empty spot having a deep space terrain chit in them because we like having more stuff to explore even if the map isn’t 100% fair.
  • We played with the “standard” Close Encounters expansion rules… but with Flagships and Nebula Mining from the optional/advanced section. (This gives a jolt to both the exploit and explore portions of the game by giving you an incentive to build a bigger economic engine while also making it easy to explore without having to build CA’s first.)
  • We used the Replicators production sheets and monster sized terrain tiles. Advanced construction was available, but nobody ended up buying it. The new advantage and tech cards were in the deck… and the new terrain was all in the mix as well. (And I gotta say, the pirate ships and space folds are an AWESOMELY fun addition to the game.)

We dealt out two Empire Advantage cards and let everyone pick one. Person to my left chose Powerful Psychics which gave him free exploration-1 plus he could inspect counter stacks next to exploration ships. The guy to my right took House of speed– everything of his was move-7 with an across the board -2 penalty to defense. I took Immortals, which increased the cost of my colony ships by +2 but allowed me to ignore one hit per combat round.

I decided to build Attack-1, Defense-1, Move-3, Fighter-1 carrier groups and sent a couple to attack the House of Speed. I made several mistakes with this attack and it ended in disaster. One, I telegraphed the attack before I needed to by moving into his space just before a turn break. This allowed him to set his production up for defense– a big ol’ stack of defense-2 battle cruisers. Further, I had a chance to fight his fleet piecemeal, but instead moved to where he could concentrate his forces against me. Finally… I forgot to use my empire ability when it might actually have turned the tide.

Okay, so sometimes you have to live and learn in the middle of a six hour game…! Doh!

What to do…? I built more carriers and fighters… possibly for defense at first… but later in order to just have something to throw at someone. It turned into a monster fleet of 21 fighters and 3 destroyers with another carrier group serving as a flimsy backstop.

The terrain ended up placing a Fold in Space and a Warp Point in just the right place that I could attack the Powerful Psychics without exploring the space between us first. (I had no flagship anymore, so that was a great windfall.) I moved into the Warp Point and asked, “okay, who’s with me?” The Psychics waffled and The House of Speed nodded as if he understood. There we go! I move toward the Psychic’s space!

Finishing out the turn, I made yet another critical error in the context of an invasion: I could have moved to destroy his forward ship yards but instead burned down a defenseless colony planet. Stupid! The House of Speed was following me in with his fleets, though, and he chose to go around an irritating base and instead position himself to threaten the Psychics’ fleets. After the turn break, twelve hull units worth of ships appeared at the ship yard.

I’d bid 10 for the turn order and moved away from the defending fleets and toward the home world. My position meant that he could not concentrate both of his fleets on me at once. (Hey, sometimes I learn from my mistakes!) In response to this, the Psychics concentrated their efforts against the House of Speed, and an extremely large battle ensued. By the time the dust had settled, the Psychics were reduce to about 1/3rd of their former number of units… and he had an awesome Elite rated Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-3 Battlecruiser which he was very proud of.

It was of course all for naught because at that point I moved onto his home world and took him out of the game.

Now… was this the correct outcome…?

Well, I had to destroy the Psychics early on or get wiped out myself. The guy was putting everything into first economy and then tech. If he actually made it to Titans my units would be annihilated. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just build twelve point defense equipped scouts to take out my fighters… but thinking it through that would have only eliminated maybe six units on the first round of combat– not that much, really! He thought he had to build a fleet that could potentially stand up against either or both of us… so he went with non-specialist ships in order to have a fighting chance. (Plus, he’d bet on ship size anyway– it’s what he had.)

Now… he really should have turtled up on his home world. Building four mines there would have been enough to keep me from destroying him that turn. (I had no minesweepers.) The consequence of this would have been that our fleets would have simply burned down each of his colony worlds, possible getting into a fight with each other in the process.

I gotta say… fighting the way that he did was way more interesting. It was over quicker, anyway.

The other thing that really ought to have happened was that the House of Speed could have attacked both of us at once. Or he could have feinted against the Psychics and then betray me at the last moment. Would my fleet have been able to stand up to the Psychics’ more advanced units alone…? I think so, especially if I had thought to take out those shipyards when I had the chance!

Would I have been able to stand up against the House of Speed’s betrayal…? I don’t think so. If he had burned my colonies while I was burning down the Psychics’ worlds… he should have come out ahead. Even if I had thought to send minesweepers along with my invasion force, taken down the Psychic’s home world, and then got the 30 CP bonus for eliminating an empire, I don’t think even that should have made a difference. I ought to have been toast!

Yeah, the three player problem is still a significant game design issue.

However… with the Psychics pushing for advanced technology Titans, we had no choice but to join forces against him or die, especially with both of our fleets decimated due to our initial conflict. The gripping hand is… if I had played my initial attack correctly, I don’t think there would have been any conundrum at all. Maybe.

Nevertheless… if you play this one three player, I do suggest you run it under the sudden death short game rules: the first person to destroy an enemy home world automatically wins right there. This creates a dynamic racing game with scads of aggressive action in place of the staleness endemic to most three player direct conflict games. This is a well known problem in gaming and there’s really no need to waste an entire game session on it.

It is 2018, after all!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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