Saturday, May 23, 2020

Fat Dragon Games Sale - 50% off Through the End of May

Now that I am home from the hospital and recuperating, I find myself playing a game of catch up.

Fat Dragon Games has its entire catalogue on sale until the end of the month. You want terrain for your game? Print and fold or 3d printers, it's all here.

I ran the 3d printed Mouth of Doom over a number of conventions using Fat Dragon Terrain. It's top-notch stuff.

Here's the link to the Fat Dragon Games Sale.

Yes, that's an affiliate link above. Affiliate links keep the taps flowing and the doors open at The Tavern.

Friday, May 22, 2020

I'm Back!

I'm back!

I'd like to thank Chris for stepping up the past few days. If all goes well, Chris will be a regular presence here at The Tavern. No pressure. Nope, none at all ;)

Quick update for those scoring at home:

Three stents and three blockages cleared. 60 pounds of water retention pissed away. Got home from the hospital late yesterday afternoon. 14 days. Phew!

Rach and I plan on doing a weekly Gamers and Health podcast - probably initially as part of the Tavern Chat Podcast. This has been a life-changing - and nearly life-losing experience. If we can help others avoid some health issues, I'll simply be paying it forward.

I'd like to do a special "Shout Out" to Frank M and others that wished me ill, or even death with my CHF health emergency - Go fuck yourselves! The best revenge is living and living well, and I plan to do both.

As a side note, I'm hearing some rumblings that two more OSR Cons are going to be CoVid-19 victims. More when we have confirmation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Brief (?) Snapshot of my Gaming History-Storytime

A Brief (?) Snapshot of my Gaming History
Still not Erik, BUT word is that he'll be back today/tomorrow so this might be my last guest post here at the Tavern. I'd tell you to go follow me at my blog(s), but one is secret, one is not about gaming, and one is well, I really need to get back on it. The remaining is Frugal GM, but I don't do stories, rants, or stupid stuff there.

Ok, let's be honest here, I do stupid stuff wherever I am. I really shouldn't kid you guys or myself there.

Like probably everyone reading this blog & post, I'm a gamer. Sure, you can call me a dork, geek, nerd....you wouldn't be the 1st, but "gamer" fits.....dweeb is right out though. These days most folks, ok single women I try to chat up, tend to equate "gamer" with some guy who sits around playing Xbox all day. You think that's bad, wait until you explain you'd rather spend your weekend at a convention sitting around a table rolling dice and pretending to be a Dwarf!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt2)

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt2)
So if you read my post yesterday you'd probably think that I really don't like tournaments, and really, that wasn't quite my point. What I largely don't like is how most tournaments are run. To me the amount of work involved on the organization side really wasn't worth what the hosting company gets out of it.

Really it's a basic risk/reward ratio. Sure the company (in my case KenzerCo) really didn't have much skin in the game since the real costs (time, money, and more time.....) were borne by volunteers, but if players/fans go to a convention and have a bad experience, or observe problems, then they might not be so apt to keep on playing. Some players I couldn't care less about (like we had one group of players come in second, bitch and moan insanely on the company forum boards, and made a big deal about never coming back......with the huge amount of crunchy record keeping the game had it was clear these guys hadn't interacted with the company, or other fans, in years so their absence would be felt just as much as their participation was!), BUT......games need new players and generally need to keep old players. The hardcore fans will generally ride the waves.

When I came on to the tournament scene I inherited the situation as-is and nothing was really going to change except the continued requests for power creep to take care of what others thought were "problem groups or players". One of my buddies ran a real one-trick pony Magic User, a Double-Specialist Divinator. If you needed to figure out who, what why.....he was your guy. If you ran a tournament where the objective was only to figure out who killed somebody, this PC would have it figured out before most of the table were able to pick up their dice. Trying to write an entire adventure to thwart this guys was recockulus, but an expectation. The thing is, the guy was literally a one-trick pony. He wasn't going to contribute jack-squat to combat...and the game was called HackMaster for pete's sake!

Anyway I dealt the hand I was given and did the best to my level of ability, which wasn't more than the status quo.....until the new edition of the game was coming out. The KenzerCo D-Team still wanted some type of competitive tournament, but the writing on the wall was that the old way really wasn't going to work.

So here I am having the opportunity to create some real change when it came to HackMaster (well, at least HackMaster Basic.....the beginning of 5th Edition HackMaster). I came up with a short list of requirements for "my" tournament:

  • The tournament had to be competitive....for those that wanted to compete.
  • Players had to be able to drop-in/drop-out of the tournament rounds should they choose
  • Scoring had to be "fair"
  • After-tournament drama needed to be minimized/no longer an issue
What I envisioned, and was able to execute, was a three round tournament  that accomplished all these things, well as much as possible.

The very first thing I did was layout the general format of three rounds, but instead of an elimination tournament, each round was different. Round one was what we called a traditional Roll-n-Run where players had 30' to create a character from scratch (This version of HackMaster was still kind of crunchy and 30' could be a challenge). Want to play, but really don't want to learn to roll up (or bother with) a character? No problem, here's a huge stack of 1st level pregens....take your pick. Round two was a pre-gen only game where the pregens were actually leveled-up versions of those 1st level pre-gens from the previous round, making it easier for new players that had also played earlier. Round three was a home-PC "only" round where you could play with the same PC you have hopefully been playing with for some time, as it was a higher-level game. No PC, again no problem....here's those same pre-gens leveled up some more.

That took care of my 1st requirement, and pretty much the second requirement as well. Play one round, play all three rounds if you want. Now there was technically still a potential issue with new, inexperienced players wanting to sit down and play the higher-level Home PC game, and they were welcome to do so. One way around keeping this from being an issue was to have that round listed as only for experienced players. The other way was by having a GM ready to run a group of inexperienced players as their own group. If they had shown up to the previous two rounds, then they wouldn't have needed there own group. That 1st year we did have an entire table of newbs, but they just wanted pre-gens and didn't care for the tournament, which was fine, they still got to check out the game and leave happy.

Now for scoring fair........that took me a while to get my head around. Previous scoring was how well the group did and the best table appointing a Most Valuable Player (MVP) who would be the winner. Heck some groups had decided who their MVP would be before they started play, should they win, so the wealth of Serialed Number Items would be spread out in the group. My initial thoughts were to break scoring into three broad parts, and try to minimize some of the potential cheats/tweaks/undue influence from people trying to work the system. The three broad scoring areas were 1) progress as a table (how the group did), 2) how the players thought the other players did, and 3) how the GM thought the players did. Now #2 & #3 had a LOT of potential for abuse, but I was abe to come up with some tweaks:
  • Scoring as a group was easy.....how far along did the group progress, factored in by how many players/PCs there were. A table of 8 players could undoubtedly get farther than a group of 6 players (we did our best to have equal table sizes). That wasn't much of a change from the old HackMaster tournaments, although we did reduce the number of encounters so that every group should have a chance at finishing the adventure, where that wasn't necessarily a thing before.
  • In order to reduce playing favorites to an extent instead of having a MVP vote or even a simple rating system (which I'd seen before as well), players had to rank the rest of the table. If there were 8 players, then you stacked and racked the other players from best being #1 to relative worst being #7. You did not rank yourself. This was a bit of a pain, record keeping, but I made a quick Excel sheet before hand that factored in table size so the resulting score could be compared across all players and tables.
  • For the GM scoring players at their table that ended up being a lot easier as expected because HackMaster revealed the solution. In the HackMaster Basic book (which is free btw) there are two ratings for the GM to apply to a player's role-playing and have to do with the award of Honor, something I'll not get into. The first rating is for the player's ability to adhere to the PC's race and class. Playing a Violent Priest of the Caregiver (a Pacifist Deity).....yeah, that's going to cost you. The other rating is for adhering to the character's Quirks, Flaws, & Honor. Together it's basically "Did you play the character on your sheet, or just do whatever sounded good at the time?" Granted that is an over simplification, but easy-peasy for a HackMaster GM.
HackMaster Basic GM Rating Charts
Scoring basically was just adding up the player's score from every round they participated in. Person with the highest score wins. The 1st time I did this nobody was surprised at who won, probably because everyone was involved in the process......

Now a smart reader will notice I hadn't touched the last requirement, which was basically to try and nip potential problems in the bud so we didn't have the traditional post-tournament whining. This was actually easy, but also probably a bit overkill since at this point the vast majority of players were either not interested in the tournament as a competition or not the bitch & moan type......but since we didn't have a problem in this area that's just speculation. What I basically did was simply publish the tournament rules. The rules had a clear-cut defined resolution process for IF a problem occurred and made it clear that issues would be taken care of at tournament and only at the tournament. The rules were posted and each table was given a copy, along with a simple read & sign for all players to acknowledge that they not only understood the rules, but agreed to abide by them.

I really wish I still had these assorted documents so I could share them for the maybe one reader who might be someday considering a tournament. Was this setup perfect? I'm certain it wasn't, but did it accomplish my goals and facilitate players being able to game as much as they wanted during the games we had running at the convention? Yes, yes it did.

Really, the posts for these last two days aren't a gripe about tournaments and definitely not me patting myself on the back for running a successful tournament. Personally I'd love to see more tournaments at conventions. I think most gamers are competitive at heart, even if they are real role-players and just want to have fun. A tournament can put a little bit of different pressure on not only individual players, but on a table as a group and that pressure can change things up a little bit. Depending on the adventure the outside pressure of a tournament might actually heighten some in-game pressures, like if the adventure needs to finished within a specified amount of in-game time.....

Besides, if you have some cool company swag to award to a player, do you simply want a MVP or maybe make the player work for it? I'm kidding......or am I?

Truth though, if I managed to give one person an idea they can use....worth it. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt1)

A One-Sided Discussion Regarding Tournaments (pt1)
If you haven't figured out already I like(d) HackMaster and I've spent a LOT of effort on the game and it's publisher Kenzer & Company. I've done a few things for KenzerCo and one of them was working as their "Tournament Manager". I really don't recall the official title, but I've never been one for titles, unless having one makes it easier to get something done.

Basically I helped set up organized play at the two big cons of Origins (my favorite) and GenCon. Solicited authors, arranged for play-testing, wrangled GMs, and usually had to run a table to three myself. It was a fun, terrible, costly job that went largely unappreciated. Something about spending my vacation time, and a lot of money, attending a convention to work for free took its toll. I considered it a good year if I got to play one game a year at a con.


My history with tournaments goes way back to 2nd Edition AD&D when I was stationed in Germany. In 1995 and 1996 I got to take place in what was billed as the "National AD&D Tournament". I should have won the tourney in 1995 and I was given the tournament in 1996.....both of these are my opinions (duh) and you can skip this story text easily enough:

In 1995 I made it to the final table of the tournament and I got to play a Magic User, which is probably my preferred class. I can say without a shred of doubt that the only reason my party completed the task at hand was a lot of creative spell-casting, but the winner....determined by MVP vote, went to the elf that had some cheap table theatrics. It didn't help that I really pissed off a husband and wife pair that was at the table. The thing is that along with the randomly assigned PCs, each player got a one paragraph statement of how the felt about each other character at the table. My MU didn't like the fighter Solamnus (or something like that) and was 110% confident the idiot would get him killed someday. The husband was playing who I affectionately called "Salami" pretty much throughout the game.....and I know I threw in "meat-head" once or twice. The player and his wife, took it seriously.....seriously?

The next year at the final table I ended up playing the Paladin....in an adventure revolving around the Paladin questing for his Holy Sword. Again....seriously? The entire adventure revolved around my character......MVP was already titled in my favor before even picking up the dice.

Anyway IF your convention had a tournament in the 90's odds are it was a relatively simple affair. Depending on the number of initial players and the pre-determined number of rounds, you advance enough players to make the needed number of tables and end with one table. Usually advancement is determined by the players, often by a simple MVP vote. This methodology is simple, but easily skewed by the players.

There were earlier tournaments, that I did not take place in, that advanced parties through the tournament rounds and the determining factor of which tables/parties advanced was based on a oint system where if the party took action A they got X points and if they did B they made...or possibly lost, Y points. Party deaths may or may not be a factor in awarding points, but in almost all cases, advancing further netted more points. A badly designed adventure could reward parties that simply pushed harder and not smarter.

When HackMaster was getting off the ground, and really all the way through to the end, they had tournaments. HackMaster was already pretty crunchy and there were a lot of records to keep. Part of the serious parody had to do with being a "Certified" or "Leveled" Game Master. There was an actual test to take (and pass) to be considered a bonafide GM. If you wanted to increase your GM level one thing you had to do was run so many local tournaments. This might be fine if you lived in an urban area, but I can tell you that even in the City of Boise City (literally it's legal name) you could get folks to maybe play, but to get enough folks to meet the two table sized requirement......major PITA. I tried running games, er....tournaments at conventions, at game stores.....we had good games, but not enough to qualify as a tournament.

So tournaments could kind of suck at the local level.......and on the national level I come to find out.

This über-crunchy game with the insane amounts of record keeping did have one potentially cool side-benefit: you could play your home character at a convention tournament. At the two big cons we'd have the "Tournament of Champions" or the "Wurld Championship". Groups would bring their home PCs to the convention and strive to win. Depending on the tournament the winning table and/or winning table MVP would win a "Serial Numbered Item", basically a tracked super special magic item. The idea was great and a lot of people enjoyed themselves, but these HackMaster tournaments had a lot of problems as well:

  • If you didn't play as a group, especially a well-rounded group used to working together, you were at a SEVERE disadvantage
  • These well-rounded, experienced groups added a steady power-creep and absurd over-reaction in needing to create deadly adventures
    • To this day if I hear someone tell me I need to write to counter one specific player's PC or to "hit them sideways" to mess with a certain party, Imma gonna hit that bastard sideways.....with a shovel....which I will use to bury them in the nearest patch of dirt...dead or alive.
  • Nothing like travelling cross country to attend a tournament, having to block out HUGE chunks of convention time only to be knocked out of the tournament in the 1st round.
  • The competitive nature of these tournaments.......I'm just going to say it....lead to cheaters with PCs that were just jacked. I swear players would find a pushover GM and go fucking nuts. Sorry, but when every one of your PCs has 98% or 99% of potential hit points at 7th level (a statistical anomaly with one PC, but an entire group of PCs? Also, even with the best magic gear in the game, your 6th level non-specialist Magic User isn't casting 37 spells a day.
  • Every year, or at least every year I wasn't in charge ('cause I got the head's up) inevitably there would be some problems, some sour grapes, and weeks or months of bitching/griping/moaning how one group was robbed. Of course there weren't issues at the damn convention where they could be addressed, but once groups got home after the con.
Now add in these inherent problems into the joy that is trying to get volunteers on board months before the convention, getting folks to put in 10's to 100's of hours into tournament prep.......it really sounds like tournaments aren't worth it.....

.....and you might be right.

When HackMaster 4th Edition was going away and the new edition was coming in, it was clear the crunchy days and over-the-top competitive tournaments needed to go as well. Tomorrow in pt 2 I'll lay out what I did to change tournaments and maybe it'll inspire someone to run/organize a convention tournament series.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Little Bit About the 1st OSR Game....

A Little Bit About the 1st OSR Game....
Still not Erik.

When you've got an audience who presumably likes the same things you do, and you want to share something that might be a shared interest....what do you do? In my case I think I'll try to share some things that might not be known to the audience.

In this case I think the Tavern might like to hear a little bit about the OSR, specifically the 1st OSR game....which is probably not what you think it is. Wikipedia talks about the "Old School Revival" starting with the OGL in 2000, and I'm going to call BS on that. Let's look at the dates of some early OSR games:

OSRIC - 2006

HackMaster 4th Edition
Yeah....well HackMaster beats all of them by more than half a decade! Yeah, I'm calling HackMaster the 1st OSR game. Hear me out. HackMaster wasn't published by TSR/WotC/Hasbro and it doesn't use the OGL.

 I know that too many see HackMaster as a "joke" game and definitely don't see it as an OSR game, which is a shame. Yes, there is a decent bit of parody elements written into the game, but like any game, the real comedy doesn't come from the game.....it comes from the gamers. Murderhobos doing KTATTS generally don't differentiate between systems!

If I haven't lost you yet, hear me out. Now I played HackMaster 4th edition and did transition to the new edition and I should have a clue what I'm talking about as I was a volunteer for a number of years for KenzerCo. I should be a level 5 GM, but I never bothered to apply because by the time I qualified I no longer cared.

Level 5 GM? What? Yeah, well HackMaster was a product of its time and to say it was crunchy was an understatement. At it's core HackMaster 4th Edition (as in it was the 4th edition of D&D.....that was part of the joke, but really what most players thought of it) was about 50% 1st Edition AD&D, 25% 2nd Edition, and 25% home rules. 

Think of it like this. You're in a home group that has been playing D&D for a couple decades. You're all brainy types.....a lawyer and a bunch of engineers and you have an opportunity to print your home game rules for others to play.

In short this is what happened. Wikipedia hits some of the high notes and hopefully I can fill in a few blanks I've learned 1st hand from the D-Team themselves (what we call the KenzerCo folks). Hopefully it'll be obvious where I'm expressing opinion.....that bit about percentages, technically an opinion, but not mine. David Kenzer told me that personally.

Speaking of David Kenzer, HackMaster really exists because of him, even though originally it was just a generic name of a game being played in Jolly Blackburn's Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT) comic. I'm also not discounting the many contributions to the game from the rest of the D-Team, KenzerCo staff, and other contributors (I've written a game rule or two that got published through the HackJournal).....but I digress.

My introduction to Kenzer was at a con where some rabid fanboy had him cornered and was trying to explain how a particular rule worked despite the fact he was a) wrong, and b) speaking to the guy who literally wrote the rule. Kenzer's response was epic and I wish I could remember the fine details, but he basically told the dork he was wrong because he wrote that rule, and that it was literally his game and if he wanted to make a rule stating that this nerd got a permanent -1 to all his dice rolls in a HackMaster game then it would be so. Don't get me wrong, Mr. Kenzer was not being impolite to the guy, but he was kind of being a bit of a dick.....and believe me when I say that won me over instantly. He's actually a great guy, just doesn't suffer idiocy well because he doesn't have to.....

The Messed Up KoDT #4
OK anyway a super important thing to know is that Mr Kenzer is a lawyer and not just any lawyer, but an intellectual property lawyer. KenzerCo was doing their thing and Jolly Blackburn was transitioning from publishing Shadis to breaking out KoDT to it's own comic. He put out three issues before a problem occurred: the printer totally screwed up the printing of issue #4. IIRC there aren't too many issues of the messed up copies out there, but I have one and it is unreadable as it looks like the font was substituted with some knock-off win-dings font. A disaster of this magnitude is the kind of thing that would put the comic under. Luckily Jolly was able to join KenzerCo and they funded the re-print. Now I'd argue KenzerCo is more known for KoDT than HackMaster, which is a shame since they've had a few other hits...and at least one big miss. 

Now I can't recall the exact timeline, but WotC, just barely pre-Hasbro, released the  Dragon Magazine archive in PDF form.....and they didn't have the rights to reprint the KoDT strips. Just a head's up, probably not a good idea to violate the intellectual property rights of a small company headed by a well-known intellectual property lawyer! Eventually WotC was rolled into Hasbro and plans were well underway for D&D version 3.0. 

The way I heard it, the powers that be figured nobody would care so much about 1st & 2nd Edition once 3rd Edition came out, so settling a guaranteed loss in court for rules nobody will miss....seemed like an easy choice for Hasbro. KenzerCo went from maybe having a different publisher make a game for them to having the rights to print their home game. I'm sure Hasbro wasn't too pleased when HackMaster won Game of the Year at Origins, and the game ran strong until the rights/terms of the settlement expired. We had some great tournaments at the big cons, smaller cons, but I'd say the game was a bigger hit with countless home groups that had been playing 1st/2nd Edition in someone's basement for a couple decades. I've lost count how many people told me they loved/played HackMaster with their home group, but would never consider coming to a con to play (which is a shame).

HackMaster 4th Edition GMG
If you like playing 1st Edition you really should see if you can get your hands on 4th Edition HackMaster, especially some of the supplements. The Goods & Gear, the Spellslinger's Guide to Wurld Domination, all of the Hacklopedia of Beasts...all good stuff. Just drop anything that sees too silly, but take a second look 'cause under the right situation even the stupid stuff might work. KenzerCo cannot sell most of the line anymore, but you can still find it out in the wild if you keep your eyes open. I was in a random hobby shop outside of Ft Bragg last December and found a full set of Hacklopedia of Beasts at a good price.....too bad I've had several sets, but down to one now.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Guest Post: Is North Texas RPG Convention Still Happening

Guest Poster Frugal GM
Ok, right off the bat big disclaimer: I'm not Erik. He's busy doing things none of us would want to be occupied doing and I volunteered to post on his behalf until he can resume.

I apologize in advance.

Yeah..right. I've finally got a captive audience of more than 12 13 readers and you'll just have to suck it up.

So here we are, mid-May, with a scant three weeks before North Texas RPG Con and the big question is really if the con is going to happen or not this year. It's obviously a complicated question and the answer is a definitive Yes and No, which I personally find a bit infuriating.

Nothing on the con at all, but really the hotel. Now I used to travel a lot for work, allegedly still do, and I'm very much a Marriott guy. I used to be Hilton all the way, but one horrific stay and I turned my back on them. I'm fast on my way to Lifetime Titanium with Marriott and if I never stay in another Hilton again in my life, I'm good.

Yeah, I know...you don't care. You probably shouldn't. I mention this because as a frequent business traveler Marriott is bending over backwards to cater to it's individual guests. I haven't spent a night on the road this year (unfortunately), but Marriott is carrying over my status, my earned rewards, and I can cancel any of my upcoming reservations as little as 24 hours prior to a visit.

Business (Corporate) events have their own set of rules events are under contract with deposits, along with fees and fines. Marriott is NOT catering to these guests, which makes little to no sense to me. As a business client, NTRPG cannot simply cancel or move back the con because of the contract, which makes sense.....in a normal year. As of now nobody knows if Texas is even going to allow events like NTPRG to occur.

I get that, BUT........Marriott is already catering to some guests and let's be blunt, they largely cater to travelers and allegedly have a clue about travel. I mean, this location is an airport hotel for a reason, right?

For those of you who do not travel frequently, or travel by air frequently. There are normally specific gates (as in timelines) when it comes to purchasing airline tickets. You'll generally see a price spike a two months to six weeks before the date of travel, again a month out, two weeks out, three days out....you get the point. Realistically we've already approached the appropriate gate for deciding to get tickets to NTRPG Con. If people were going to come, they need to have made the decision already. You cannot count on last-minute plane tickets.

Now I'm still online to come, but I'm within driving distance. I'll be cancelling one of my reserved rooms, because the guy I reserved it for isn't coming. Marriott is taking care of me because they want my future business......

See where I'm going with this? Marriott has to know that realistically NTRPG Con isn't going to happen, but instead of taking care of this customer, and their future business, they seem to be more concerned with this single transaction. This is the kind of thing that can make or break a convention.....and any decent Business Manager (basically the Hotel's Business-to-Business liaison) is going to know this.

Now Bad Mike and NTRPG really hasn't been complaining (I've seen none), but they have been clear what is going on. From today on Facebook (about an hour ago): "The state of Texas is unclear at this time whether gatherings of over 10 people who are not relatives are allowed, so we are proceeding with both virtual and face to face cons. If the face to face con is cancelled, we will have games virtual. If not, we will still have games virtual, with some at a tabletop. Flexibility."

The Spirit to ServeClearly they con is going on in some capacity, but the staff is having to jump through a bunch of hoops needlessly. If there is no call now, when really the majority of travelers have already had to make the decision to go/not go, Marriott should really step up and take care of their business partner. You want to now what is harder than organizing a convention? Organizing two conventions, one physical that may or may not happen, and a virtual convention.

Now all this is clearly my opinion, but I'm guessing a few people would share my sentiment. It's really a shame that Marriott would do this to a business customer and through them, to all of the other customer who would otherwise be spending time & money on their properties. Sure you'll take care of my room this year, but you're ok with making it so I don't need a room next year or the years after that because you ran the con into the ground?

I'm thinking someone needs to re-read The Spirit to Serve.
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