Sunday, 12 February 2012

Handgrenadealien's Roleplaying career. Help Required.

So far the majority of posts on this blog have concentrated on my efforts in modelling and collecting retro dungeon terrain and the various denizens therein, which accurately reflects the current state of affairs regarding my roleplaying activity.
This is mainly due to the lack of a regular gaming group, a state of affairs that has existed for several years now; in fact the last time I actually participated in a game was last July when I G.M ed a Call of Cthulhu game for two of the lads from my regular boardgaming club. The last time I actually participated as a player was 3 years or so back when I joined a D&D 4e campaign set up by another chap from the boardgame club, but that fizzled out fairly quickly when we collectively discovered that none of us liked the system. Looking back this is the likely point of origin of my re-newed interest in old school RPG's, I can quite distinctly remember going home on the Saturday evening following a game of 4e and pulling out all my old RPG stuff and seriously contemplating starting up a campaign using the Moldvay Basic set. I did in fact get as far as setting up a small dungeon , painting miniatures and sourcing terrain, but try as I might I couldn't induce any of my friends or associates to take part, lack of time or lack of interest seemingly the reason.
Now that is quite understandable, finding time to commit to such a long term undertaking as a roleplaying campaign when we are already busy with families, work, other hobbies etc is difficult, plus many of us have already run the gamut of roleplaying through our college and university days and probably have a suspicion that it won't as much fun second time round. This is one reason why I started to collect more gaming paraphenalia in the hope that a visually attractive game might prove more appealing to the stubborn masses, but in retrospect this may be missing the point. When I look back at the successful games that I've run and participated in down the years the ones that stand out are the ones with the best narrative thread running through them.
Now this obviously wasn't the case back at the beginning of my roleplaying days, our efforts running very much along the lines of kicking in the doors, killing the bad guys and stealing their treasure. To this day I still ( rightly or wrongly) associate this style of play with D&D and Advanced D&D.
A change in style coincided with the purchase of 3rd Edition Runequest published here in the U.K. by Games Workshop under licence from Avalon Hill.

I couldn't say whether it was the different approach to roleplaying presented by Runequest or simply maturing as a G.M. bearing in mind I'd turned 18 the year this was released, but from here on our gaming began to take on a more cohesive form. The first Runequest campaign we played was based around a city called Palathar which I've touched upon in an earlier post and subsequent one off adventures and small campaigns were based in the same region though at different times in its history. This all helped build a cohesive feel to the world despite the games often being set many hundreds of years apart and actually played over a period of 7 years. The fact that as a player you were presented with more ways to interact with your world helped, heres a couple of character sheets from those games that illustrate the fact:

 Here is the first character, an adventurer from a civilised background equally skilled with blade or musical instruments. I can't remember why he had these musical skills but they illustrate my point well enough- here was a person with a back story and skills to cope with living in society not just adventuring through dungeon environments.
As a contrast the character below from the barbarian society that was a basis for a later campaign:

A very different character from a different society but still with skills appropriate to his background.
Its interesting to remember that we never played Runequest with miniatures or terrain of any kind, it was pure pen and paper and better for it.
I think those years between 1987 and 1994 marked a high point of roleplaying activity for us, after that for various reasons it fell right off.
It was only fairly recently that I picked up the G.Ming baton again, a chance conversation with a newly married friend and his wife over a game of Arkham Horror sparked off a brief but intense period of playing Call of Cthulhu. Our first campaign was run in 1920's London and the South-East with a brief trip to the Middle East also involved, what really bought this to life was the fact that we were all interested in the 1920's and the Cthulhu Mythos in general and as a consequence had a good feel for the period. The other thing to mention here is the amount of background and pictorial material that was available via the internet, really important for a game which demands good quality props as part of the inherent investigative processes in the game.

So there you have it, the essential dilemma faced if I want to run an old school game again, the essential ingredients being the use of lots of tabletop terrain & miniatures plus a strong narrative theme. Does such a creation exist. Any Suggestions.


  1. Im kind of in the same boat here. Not surprising since looking at your posts it appears we are close to the same age. Over the last few years Ive found myself trying to go back to the older games and some even some roleplay stuff to try and find what is missing from my games now. So far none of it has lived up tp what I think Im looking for. I do think Ive gotten close sometimes though. If you look across the blogs and internet right now there is alot of people trying to do Old School (even if there is no agreement on exactly what "old school" is) so you arent alone in it. I guess all of us old D&D players are getting nostalgic as we go into our second childhoods.

  2. not sure I understand the question, I mean what do you mean by "narrative theme"? You mention unique characters with backgrounds. A dungeon crawl campaign can have PCs with unique/logical backgrounds, if you want. They don't have to be gonzo/whimsical.

    You also mention narrative coherence -- the adventures having unity of place, etc. I found the 'megadungeon' campaign style can accomplish this if you make the 'base of operations' an interesting area with stuff going on that can distract the players from the dungeon. I ran two B/X style campaigns set in the same place (but 100s of years apart) in a town beset by monsters from a nearby system of mines. Rather than just one big dungeon, I had lots of little dungeons in the mountains, and a small city and several villages nearby for town and wilderness adventure. I tend to run things more silly/for laughs than serious but stroies certainly emerge, I just tried to keep introducing new NPCs, situations, plots, etc to keep the players busy.

    I think RQ is probably too deadly to make a dungeon crawl viable unless you cut back on the encounters and focus on puzzles, problems, etc. rather than combat. In which case the minis are not as important for tactical use but you can keep them on the table for marching order and the occasional situation where placement etc. is important. That's how we did it back before 3e -- minis mostly sat on the table for reference for marching order, camp sites, etc., not a pawns to move every round.

    How your players can interact with the world is more a matter of what you as DM and they as players do, but I know there has been an emphasis on encouraging non-combat options by adding explicit mechanics (which many players really like to have, I don't blame them). You might look at Castles & Crusades, which allows more customization but stays closer to rules-light old school game design. You could probably use RQ as the setting and use rules like C&C or B/X that are more accommodating to casual dungeon violence.