Friday, September 7, 2012

Books vs. RPG Products

I won a Barnes & Nobles gift card at the white elephant gift exchange last Christmas at my grandparents-in-law's.  Rediscovering it recently, I have been poking around on B&N trying to figure out how to best spend my $20.

I long since discovered the wonders of buying books for $.01 + S/H from Amazon, using this amazing resource to fill in many a hole in my sci-fi / fantasy library.  When my friend lent me Halbritter's Armory recently and proudly told me I "wouldn't find another copy" of this "rare" and out-of-print book I didn't say anything, but sure enough, I found it for one penny on Amazon.

My current working list of B&N titles that I am trying to choose from (after a very brief session of poking around in the B&N search engine):

"Weapons - an International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D." for $.09 + S/H;

"Encyclopedia of the World's Special Forces" for $.21 + S/H;
"The Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders and Birth Defects" for $.12 + S/H;

"Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects" for $.01 + S/H;

"A Dictionary of the Martial Arts" for $.01 + S/H

"The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shamans Sourcebook" for $.01 + S/H

"The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft" for $.85 + S/H

"The Ultimate Dinosaur Book" $.34 + S/H

"A Bestiary" $.01 +S/H

The question begging to be asked is why in the world anyone would spend money on buying products created for RPGs when products created for other markets with much higher production values are available for pennies and are infinitely more useful than all the RPG crap ever put up for sale.

I have a large collection of RPG books that I never use.  I compulsively buy cool RPG books when I encounter them in the wild, sometimes irrespective of the fact that I own the exact same edition of that particular book.  The desire that I have to buy cool looking RPG books when I encounter them in used bookstores and comic shops has nothing to do with their utility in my games.  I will not use them.  Most of the material sprung upon my players in any campaign I run is original Carl madness.  I do use some published resources, however, and they are hardly ever "RPG Products".

 I do use my ethnographies from my days as a cultural anthropology major at the University of Oregon quite often in my campaigns, and academic texts on subjects as disparate as the city states and orthography of ancient Sumeria and quantum mechanics.

Imagine a subject that is of paramount importance in the RPG you are currently playing in.  Google that subject with possible book titles in mind and figure out what kind of books are out there on that subject.  Search for those books on Amazon or B&N or just freakin' Google it again or something.  If you do a rational analysis of the bang for the buck it makes no sense to buy an RPG product in physical form for $10-15 + S/H when you can get multiple books of source material on the same subject for less money.

I'm not sayin' I'm just saying.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dream Physics and the Bizarre in Gaming

I have run PCs through dream sequences in almost every campaign I have ever DMed.  In my early days as DM (we ran 2e and loved it) I used dreams as plot hooks and a way to introduce demonic and magical influences in ways that made the players think beyond the dungeon.  I started exploring gaming in active dream state with an adventure I wrote involving four pocket dimensions contained within the rubies on a ring the players found in a treasure trove.  Powerful entities in these dimensions reached out to the PCs in their dreams and planted the seeds which would ultimately result in discovery and exploration of the pocket dimensions in the ring.  This was an example of my "gaming" in college, when I was not actually playing but still compulsively wrote D&D material.

  My games tend toward the extremely bizarre by almost any standards, so perhaps the dream state is the platonic ideal that my games strive toward.  Long before the recent dream adventures of Tilia, I introduced many other situations in my 4e game that are analogous to the lucid dreamstate; I have always liked the results when I give the reins to the players and let them come up with the limits of their actions.

The first time this happened in my 4e campaign was toward the end of the players' exploration of the Temple of Tamoachan.  Naturally I had placed the temple above a long-since-covered-in-solid-rock-by-tectonic-processes alien spacecraft, which radiated the energy used to power many of the crazy magical networks the party had discovered throughout the temple (I have to crazy up even a crazy tournament killer death trap 1e module, of course).  A near climactic battle in a sub-level I created featuring a massive worship hall with "benches" that animated into minions and huge statues that animated into huge demons that kicked major ass was close enough to the energy-emitting alien vessel that I allowed the PCs to take a full rest and refresh all their powers as a minor action by focusing on allowing the alien energy into themselves. Once the PCs got into the swing of things it was a spectacularly fun combat, with me hurling far greater numbers and more dangerous opponents against the PCs than they could have ever expected to survive, and them blowing daily power after daily power and refreshing all damage each round in a whirlwind of death and destruction.

 This was just a primer for when the party managed to teleport inside the spacecraft.  Finding themselves floating in a sphere of white energy that responded and conformed to their expectations, the players soon figured out they could "operate" the spaceship using whatever method they were best at. Hammer the barbarian fired lasers from the energy sphere at far away targets by visualizing his target getting blown the fuck up and using special 4e style attack powers with his ax to cleave the space where he was visualizing the target; meanwhile Beautiful Bob talked the white energy into doing what he wanted and soon gained access to the "ships logs", the total input the energy field had ever received from its former alien users as well as the myriad of sensors scattered throughout the solar system the ship was connected to.  Beautiful Bob soon absorbed the entire history of the world from birds eye view, seeing the continents split and join and the oceans rise and fall and the eventual beginnings of plant and animal life.  This is when the party learned that all intelligent humanoids were the failed byproducts of alien snake man experiments to produce a superior race of bipedal snake warrior servitors, cast off from the golden city on the meteorite into the swamps and forgotten about by the snake men.

Unlike bending reality in the alien spacecraft, I usually make limits to dream physics beyond simply what the player thinks to accomplish.  When I ran Tilia through her dream recently, I made a few notes about the physics of each stage of the dream journey and also improvised details on the fly.  Once Tilia became lucid, I allowed her more control over the dream but I did not give her 100% freedom.  Early on, she mostly walked because that was what her player expected her to do.  I had made a note that she could fly by walking or running on air in most of the dreamscapes, but Mike never thought to try that.  Floating in the mist and the great fall were examples of dreamscapes that started out with the presupposition of not standing on solid ground as part of the beginning dream description, but in all of the other scenes that unfolded in two long dream sessions, Mike assumed that Tilia was standing on the "ground" the whole time.

I assign a sort of elasticity to dream physics; they mostly resemble normal physics at first glance, but prolonged prodding and investigation will soon push them far past the normal state.  More accurately, the act of prodding and investigating shapes the direction in which the dream is pushed past normal expectations; the elasticity is a way to describe the resistance when approaching the limits of human comprehension (which a dream cannot stray beyond), and the resulting snap back into a more normal state of affairs.

There are limits to the bizarre in Dream Physics which do not exist in my alien and trans-dimensional gaming explorations (both are also strong recurring themes in my gaming).  A dream is after all a product of the mind, which experiences and processes reality while awake, and then deals with it while asleep.  Even though the sleeping conscious is not constrained by physical laws, physical reality forms much of the basis of dreams and provides a general framework past which a dream cannot be stretched too far.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Halbritter's Armory

Halbritter's Armory 

by Kurt Halbritter

First published in Germany 1977
English Translation 1978 - Jamie Muir 

A friend lent me this curious volume and I have derived a fair amount of amusement from its pages.  It purports to be an "Introduction to the Secret Weapons of History".  It is a farce, poking fun at war and instruments of war with one ridiculous, improbable and often immoral "weapon" after another.  My friend told me an amusing anecdote about lending this book to a fencing student of his, whose strict fundamentalist Christian parents were horrified at many of the illustrations.  First, a more typical example of the tone of this book:


And now a couple of illustrations that I think could be horked for your fantasy RPG setting:

Rad Maze to the Citadel

Cool Crescent Clifftop Castle 

Three Illustrations pertaining to the land of Bolt


I still intend to write another post about the conclusion of Tilia's journey through a constructed dreamland to wake up six slumbering liches, but for now I am just going to post a page out of my session notes.  This is the "wicked awesome drawing" Tilia's player Mike referred to in his guest post about the first dream session.  It gave me a loose structure for my prep work for the dream and helped set the mood nicely at the table.  I intend to post more of my session notes because a lot of them are crazy artifacts in their own rights.

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