Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking into Old School

Recently, I got into the tabletop Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin. One of the reasons I like it is because it invokes an old school feel, in presentation and play. This got me thinking about the old school renaissance again. Last year I was looking into this stuff, until I got sidetracked. But between really enjoying Dragon Age and seeing Swords & Wizardry (a retro-clone of OD&D--if your not sure what I mean here, check out this episode of TGTT) being run at the most recent Tucson RPG Guild gathering, my interest is piqued again.

If you aren't sure how to quantify what old school is, check out Matthew Finch's excellent A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. If Matt's essay doesn't make you want to play in a dungeon crawl or build a dungeon, or at least make you think about the way your play, feel free to ignore my posts with the "old school" label.

On a related note, I picked up the PDFs of Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord Revised (LL) and Advanced Edition Companion (there are free "no art" versions, but buy the full art versions--totally worth it). LL is a retro-clone of early-80s Basic D&D, and the Companion allows you to add AD&D-style character depth to the simpler basic rules. I had a customer service-oriented issue, which I brought up to Dan Proctor, the man behind Goblinoid. That was last night. This morning, he not only got back to me, but he totally solved my problem. I'm decently sure Dan had no idea who I was when he got my email, so I can only assume this is how he treats everyone. Either way, I told him I'd spread the word on his awesome service, so here it is. Thanks again, Dan!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

To Screen or Not to Screen?

In a fairly recent conversation on the Pinnacle Entertainment Group forums, I argued in favor of using a GM screen to, at least occasionally, hide rolls. The longer the conversation continued, it got me thinking about my philosophies regarding this. Then I read this post from Rob Donoghue's blog, and I had an epiphany. I'd already done some "roll then describe" stuff with my group, but I never applied it in as wide a scope as Rob's article suggests. I also held on to at least a few secret rolls prior to this read. I resolved to give it a try when next I ran a game, which happened to be my first run of Dragon Age last week.

I sat at the table, GM screen in front of me--I had created three additional panels of tables, to supplement the reference on the back of the GM's Guide, in an effort to minimize book flipping. I sat there, GM screen in front of me, and explained how roll then describe would work at our table. The players seemed game to give it a whirl, so we went for it.

When the first combat encounter began, I realized soon that I needed those tables, but I also felt like I was cut off from the rest of the players. The screen I was using was of the vertical style, and I've been using horizontal-style screens for years. I'm sure that extra height added to my discomfort. Since my screen was custom, I pulled the sheets out of the screen. My wife suggested I put them back-to-back in sheet protectors to save space, which I did. We made the quick adjustment and got on with our combat. I must say I have never felt so engaged with my players. I've gone sans screen before, using my hands to hide a roll, but I never actively paid attention to the difference in feel at the table until now.

I can honestly say I don't see myself ever using a GM screen again, outside of having it handy to check out a chart. And if I ever fall back on secret rolls (something I no longer intend to do, but who knows what a given system will require?), there is always my hand to hide them.