Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Sorry for the slow posting been busy at the Giant's house what with back to school, grandkids, kids, nieces, nephews, and such. Will be back to our regularly scheduled blogging soon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Childhood Stories

I had the great good fortune to be raised by my grandparents and my great grandmother. My great grandmother was Norwegian and had many stories to tell me that she heard from her grandparents and so on. These songs and stories were often cute and funny but most had a cautionary element to them as well.

She told me to stay out of the woodshed at night because Villy, Voodleg (Willy Woodleg) would kick me in the seat of my pants if he caught me. She warned me to keep up on my chores or the nisse would get into mischief and tangle the horse's mane or make the cows grumpy. The scariest story she told was of a girl who looked pretty but was hollow inside and had a cow's tail. The girl would get me if I went too far in the woods. Witches, elves, trolls, and other creatures were part of the fauna of my childhood.

I am working on my own campaign world. I have been adding to it since I was a very young boy (I used it as a setting for short stories). This campaign world includes the creatures my grandmother told me about. It includes the deep mysterious forests I grew up next to as well as the hot, rocky, eastern Washington we moved to later as well as the cold narrow fjords that most of her stories came from.

Do any of you have a campaign world influences that come from your childhood? Did your parents or grandparents stories inspire you? Did you see a movie or read a book that got your juices flowing when you started designing your own worlds? What influences if any from that 'magical' period of childhood when Santa, the Boogeyman and elves were real and places like The North Pole, or the Troll Kingdom could be reached if you just knew how?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gaming and Truth

One of the topics on G+ in the circles I have been hanging with is 'Gaming Style'. Questions and opinions have abounded but the consensus that people have been willing to articulate are remarkably homogenous. I don't mean that the styles have been entirely the same but that on certain topics everyone is in agreement.

Our general agreement is not too surprising. We are all about the same age, social class, and have similar interests. We have all found the larger community on the internet. We are all people who want to be liked, our thoughts praised (or damned for the right reasons), and respected by the people we have encountered on the internet.

What is surprising is that no one is willing to go out on a limb, not one inch. Nobody is saying anything remotely controversial. Why? Are we so afraid of being outsiders even from our own ostracized 'nerd herd' that we'll parrot anything we hear or read? Sure we disagree on whether we roll dice 'in the open' or behind a screen but tougher questions always are answered the same way.

The question of whether we run 'an open and inclusive game that everyone will feel safe in' is much tougher to answer. Not because we don't know the answer. The 'right' answer is that we always run open and inclusive games. It is tougher because nobody is willing to say, "Well yeah, I set my games in historical Dark Age Europe." Or, "no, my current campaign is witches vs witch hunters in an alternate version of Europe." Or whatever.

No, everybody ran games set in the same fuzzy bunny universe where, men, women, transgendered, gay, every race, and every possible permutation thereof were entirely equal, welcome and with identical social standings. Except for an inventive guy who is trying to work out a social system where women are on top in a fashion similar to Republican/Early Empire Rome and they got there by having a monopoly on magic.

Only one or two people commented that the game might be well a little, 'fetish pronish'. Sort of like Gor but reversed.

Nobody I am aware of (except me) ever mentions that humans are entirely dimorphic. Expecting women to compete with equal success to men in physical combat is like expecting Oprah to beat Montel in a boxing match. I know it is fantasy but don't tell me your game is entirely 'historical' then make even a quarter of your military female. Unless it is modern combat and even then it simply doesn't reflect reality.

Games would simply rather make every ability score available to all genders. Which means that even a male elf is likely to be weaker than a female human. Really weird. I know that we don't want to discourage women from gaming too many of them are already turned off by the game and many of the women who do play really do believe women and men are physically equal or any inequality is entirely cultural. However, if you do have a historical viking game, how many women warriors would you expect to exist? How do ignore the gigantic slave trade endemic to the Norse world and economy?

Northern Europe is not the only racist, sexist, and culture. So how much truth do we include in our games? Do we play in a generic fantasy world that has no differences in sex, race, even species? Do we hide our cultural difference by designating our different fantasy species as the different races? Are halflings your Gypsies (I'd say Roma but I am talking about the stereotype not the reality)? Are your dwarves your drunken rednecks?

So where does that leave us? Sure I want to make my friends and players feel comfortable in my games and in my home. What kind jackass does not? But I also have players that want to play in real historical settings, I have players that want to play in gaming universes that are about seven kinds of unpleasant for some people. Do we just play forever in a 'fuzzy bunny' world or what do we do?

illustration, Frazetta's A Fighting Man of Mars

Google + Ate My Blog/Speak Out with your Geek Out

Okay, I am just getting back into D&D after a twenty year absence from the game and I am blogging about it. I have no complaints about that. Well no reason to complain. I'd like more viewers and hits and such but I figure that'll happen or not.

What's 'chapping my hide' is that I have been spending way too much time on Google +. I have gaming related things I really need to write and instead I am looking at pictures some girl is posting. Great pics mind, really artistic and the blog is in Persian so that means if I wanted to read it, I read it in Google Translate. So that takes time plus reading what all the 'cool kids' are talking about.

When I say 'cool kids' I am not being sarcastic, these guys really are cool. They talk about stuff I am interested in and are not ashamed of being interested in gaming and such. Speak Out with your Geek Out, has added many more posts about gaming and geekdom just this week. Everyone who I follow is at least commenting on it and making it interesting.

So just for this week, I have really been letting my 'spectator geek' get his voyeurism on and what with back to school and my daughter feeling badly about making the Mormon Missionary boys feel badly and her planning a dinner for them to make up for it. The Giant's castle has been too busy for gaming.

Back to it for next week!
hat tip to Monica Valentinelli

Monday, September 5, 2011


Yesterday was the Giants' 29th anniversary. Mrs Giant likes the occasional 'bodice ripper' romance novel and for our anniversary, I wrote her one. Apparently she greatly enjoyed it (and by extension, so did Mr Giant).

I wrote the story with the protagonists as Mary-Sue's of Mr and Mrs Giant set in a lighthearted generic fantasy world. I translated the details of our first date those many decades ago when we were in high school to the fantasy world. I was well rewarded when I heard Mrs Giant chuckling with delight.

Anyone else ever write a similar story? Anyone ever allow their players to play 'Mary-Sues' of themselves? Tell me what you thought.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Inspired by a post over at Monsters and Manuals I have been thinking about the subject of magic in a RPG game world. Magic is not only common it is viewed (at least by players) as banal.

"Oh, cure light wounds? Yawn." "Floating Disc? Yeah, did that yesterday." These spells, events, whatever you want to call them would be amazing in any world where magic was at all rare. In a world like our own, a magic spell would get someone canonized or burned at the stake. Maybe both.

We live in a far more miraculous world than most times in the past, television, computers, air travel, etc make the most outlandish claims of witchcraft or miracles look bland and boring. Speaking with 'the devil'? Let's see I can pick up a phone or log on to my computer and I can talk to any real person I want, and I'll find some jackwagon willing to pretend to be anyone or anything I want on 'Second Life'.

Some games address this problem. In some worlds magic is simply not rare, anyone with the talent and skill can cast spells. Systems range from Vancian magic in D&D to a talent and ability based system in some Aftermath! campaigns, to "combat monster" magics you find in most MMORPGs. Other games simply do not address the problem especially those that have been based on a book.

The Lord of the Rings - Online, is a fun MMORPG based (very, very loosely) on Tolkien's books of the same name. In the books magic is rare, miraculous and not entirely trusted by everyone. In the MMORPG, magic is as common as breathing and as obvious and intrusive as a AK-47.

Which brings me around to the point of this post, magic in games. Some players and GMs want to see a game that has a carefully delineated system of magic that is as miraculous and common as a sack of turnips. Even the clerical spells while described as coming from prayer are little more than an EMT kit. Other players and characters want a world that has a more flexible magic system. A system where magicians cast spells they can think of on the fly that can cover a broad range of subjects. Magic and magic users can be common, uncommon, or anything in between.

I have used D&D Vancian magic (from the Jack Vance short stories collected into the novel The Dying Earth), I have used more flexible systems, like Fantasy Hero, GURPS, and a homebrewed Aftermath! game and I have played games where the players avoided magic like the plague (Call of Cthulu, Chill etc). All of these games had successful sessions and players ranged from dedicated magic users to eschewing magic entirely, even within the same game.

How do we as GMs incorporate a magic system where 'magic' doesn't mean 'technology'? Cure light wounds should not have the same emotional connotation as boiling water and bandages (unless you have a pre-hygenic world system in which case the old 'technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic' applies). When I want to play a game where 'magic' is a part of the system and game world I want magic to be well 'magical'. I want magic to be something that comes from the supernatural (or not fully understood, natural) understanding of the world's cosmology. In some campaigns I have run magic is natural, it is simply not well understood and interacts with elements that the world considers 'supernatural'. That is not to say that the magic is technology, simply that,

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The world is a wide and wondrous place in that gaming universe where magic is real and even glimpses of deities and demigods or even the old 'Prime Mover' himself sometimes are seen.

For the GMs out there what do you see as the best system for truly 'magical' magic? How do you keep the players from saying, 'Ho, hum, another unseen servant' or 'Alaistan! Can you please get over here and 'cure light wounds on me? My horse stepped on my foot for 1pt of damage. Oh, never mind, Lady Vallea 'laid hands' on me, heh, heh, and healed the damage'?

If you are playing a 'dungeon crawl', that is not such a big problem. Most games are 'location' rather than 'story' driven and if you could create mechanical golems to follow around the magic users nobody would bat an eyelash. In my 'OSRIC' campaign the players are in a late 'Roman Empire' early 'Dark Ages' inspired world where there are competing branches of the Christian church a few pagans and out and out devil worshipers. All non-Christian use of magic and magic users are suspect. But the magic is still the old 'Vancian' system of the D&D world. In Nova Venetia, the main city for the game, the non-Christian and sometimes demihuman magic users are circumspect in public. The priests, clerics, and rangers (I had the Christian rangers switch to clerical spells) of the Christian church are given wide leeway by all even the common man may be leery. In the 'dungeon' aspect of the game, players gleefully display their familiars and cast spells right and left regardless of whether they would do so in public.

I want a more flexible system with the right amount of respect and fear for the use and potential of magic. I want a system that still respects the roles of the cleric and magic user in Old School D&D and one that acknowledges sometimes it is impossible to see the difference with the naked eye.

Any thoughts?

BTW, no copyright infringement is intended or implied with using the little girl from the mouse empire.