The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

My Life in Polyhedrons – HARPGC Year 2

For me the second year of HARPGC was dominated by the events surrounding the Tournement in Fire, and bookended by two small tournements we ran.

The first tournement, which Warren and I ran at the start of the year, did a great deal to make us more visible in our own school, and increased our membership that year. The second tournment, which all of the Tournement in Fire team ran near the end of the year for junior high students, ensured the size of the club would increase again the next year.

During the year, the main event for me during the lunch hours was running the campaign that the Tournment in Fire team used as practice – the Shadowlord campaign.

For being such an important campaign, and for all the things I did very differently, I don’t really remember much about it. I couldn’t name a single character (though guessing which player was playing which class would be very easy; as everyone had a set class in prep for the tourney)

What I can say is this.

This is the first D&D campaign I ever ran that all of the material was my own (though I had done that in other games before). The game centred around the party’s continuing battle with a villian called the Shadowlord (a name I stole from a module, x11).

We would start a new adventure every Monday, play through the week, then get together on Saturday for another four to five hours.

My plan from the start of the campaign was that the villian would survive every week, returning the next week with a new scheme. I always made him two levels ahead of the party, so this ought to have been easy. However, during the course of this campaign I learned a great deal about how not to manipulate players and situations (there were many situations where the players felt they had the Shadowlord trapped, and that it was impossible for his to escape – inevitably he always did).

My thought was that the players would simply feel more and more anger towards the Shadowlord each week (giving them extra motivation), and for awhile this is what was happenning. But, as the weeks turned into months, anger turned into frustration. By the time the game was wrapping up the players were ambivilent towards their nemesis, and annoyed with me.

As little as I remember about that campaign, I remember even less about the other events going on in the club that year. Though I know for much of the year there was another game going on, I couldn’t tell you who was in it (which, considering they were likely people who later became friends of mine, is quite embaressing) much less what they were doing.

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January 8, 2011 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – Tournement in Fire

Immediately after Tournament in Stone Warren and I began scheming about how best to win Tournament in Fire. Though our original discussions revolved around how to find four ace players to fill out our team, in time we began to worry about how to make all six of us the best damm team ever.

Step one of our plan was executed at the beginning of the next school year. Our now unofficial club promoted a tournament that Warren and I ran to see who could win spots on our team. I think we had about a dozen people sign up, though maybe my memory is a little fuzzy on that one.

The tournament was a quick little event that we wrapped up in one week’s worth of lunch hours. Then we had some very tough choices to make.

Interestingly, what made the choices tough was not the play of those involved; we knew exactly which four players we wanted. The problem was that two of our players, Jamie (my old friend) and Devrim, told us before the event started that they were a package deal – one of them alone would not join our team.

So we wanted to pick Kory (from the club’s previous year), Quin, Dale (my old friend), and Jamie, in that order. But after long deliberation Warren and I decided we would rather go with Jamie and Devrim (who had just missed the cut), than Dale and the guy who missed the cut by two.

Though it was not intended to, this mini-tourney hugely raised awareness of the HARPGC, and largely contributed to it consistently having two games going during year two.

After we had our team assembled we divided up the rulebooks between us, with each person assigned to know EVERYTHING about their section; especially everything about fire.

Then we began playing a D&D campaign I had designed especially to focus on fire. (I think the Shadowlord campaign is worthy of its own post – so I’ll leave it at that for now.)

The campaign wrapped up about a month before Tournament in Fire, so then we began drilling each other on fire related rules. We started playing single encounters meant to test our fire knowledge – we were the kings of fire.

Then came the actual tournament. Being an event run by a University of Alberta club, a team of high school students entering were hardly noticed – that changed quickly.

As I would learn years later (from Todd, who was co-organizer of Tournament in Fire), the very first monster in the tournament, a gianormous lava worm, was meant to be unkillable. It was a sight to quiver in fear at, not a creature to destroy. We destroyed it. Luckily for us Todd had insisted his co-organizers give it a point value.

The whole first day went smooth as silk for us. We finished the day with over eight thousand points. To put that in perspective, usually the cut off for the top ten teams was around 3.5k and usually the best team after day one had a little more than 5k. We had more than a 3k point lead on the nearest team – all we had to do was show up on day two and the tournament was ours.

Then IT happened.

The organizers of the tournament announced that we had been assessed a time penalty, and not just a little one either; they docked us more than two thousand points. We were furious – no where in the rules for the tourney did it mention time limits or penalties, and somehow we were the only ones worthy of one. Supposedly for going overtime we had to pay 500 points per half hour.

We were all furious, but it was made clear this was non-negotiable. So I told the team to calm down – we still were in top spot and were the team to beat on day 2.

On day 2 we were determined to not get a time penalty again, so we flew threw the adventure. Sure enough we did finish the adventure in the allotted time, and had a combined two day score of 14k – a score that would have won the previous year’s tournament by a large margin.

As the hours went by after the tournament, with us waiting for the other teams to finish, my team mates became more and more nervous, while I grew more and more confident. After all I reasoned – these guy must be wracking up enormous time penalties.

When the final two scores came in, it was revealed that we were third; apparently time penalties only applied on day one. The two prizes were given to the top team and the runner up, though they gave us a special prize of a jar of Hot Banana Peppers for killing the unkillable monster.

I don’t think I could overstate the impact this loss had on my life. It wasn’t just that we worked so hard for so long and lost – it was that we worked so hard for so long and lost when we should have won. I went into an emotional tailspin that by a year later had me attempting suicide. And although I have not been suicidal in many years, it would not be out of place to trace all the failures in my life to that moment. That was the moment I stopped believing in myself, it was the moment I stopped being a winner.

One small bit of vindication came years later when my then room mate Todd was telling me the story of why he quite the Phantasy Gamers Club. He was explaining (not knowing my part in the story) how he was one of the organizers of Tournament in Fire, and that there were some kids who should have won the tourney, but that the other organizers fixed the event so their friends would win. That warmed my heart a little, but was too late to repair the damage.

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December 18, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – Tournement in Stone

Dungeons and Dragons is not really something that lends itself to tournaments; there are too many subjective elements for any competition to be completely fair. However, the fact that D&D grew out of war gaming meant that competitive D&D has existed almost as long as the game itself. For me, in all the years I have played I have been involved in just four tournaments, and those four all came in a small window between February of 1990 and May of 1991.

In early 1990 I saw an ad for the “Elementals” tournament that the Phantasy Gamers club at the University of Alberta used to host every year; my friend Warren and I decided to enter. “Tournament in Stone” was the title of that years tournament, and naturally all things stone was its theme.

The whole structure of the Elementals tournaments worked like this. Players could either enter as a team of six, or individuals/smaller groups could enter and be matched up with others to form teams of six. During the first full day of the tournament(Saturday), all the teams who entered played the first third of the adventure at staggered times. At the end of the day the top ten teams would be invited back to play the rest of the adventure on the second day (Sunday).

Warren and I just went ourselves, and were unfortunate in our draw of team mates. Amongst our team mates were a pair of brothers who were huge idiots (years after this took place I would know them again via a live role playing group; and it seems my initial opinion of them was correct, and shared by all).

Our team did so-so the first day; well enough to come back on day two (I think we were eighth after the first day). We were way behind in points, but confident we could come back. THEN…

So here we are, maybe a couple of hours into day two, when suddenly idiot brothers announce they are leaving. I asked where they were going, and idiots kept telling me it was personal and none of my business. Admittedly, where they were going was none of my business, but that they entered the tournament, got put on my team when apparently they had “prior commitments” was my business.

We were two guys down for most of day two. Our party died off way before the end of the adventure. We finished tenth overall (the lowest possible position for a team that made it to day two).

There are two things that I remember clearly from the end of that day (after all groups had finished playing and were waiting for the results). The first is listening to the only player who saw the end of adventure talking about it. Though he was a stranger to me then, years later he would be my good friend and room mate. The second is that I couldn’t get over the anger I felt towards those idiot brothers.

After the tournament Warren and I decided we would come back the next year (Tournament in Fire), but that next year we were going to win.

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December 11, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – HARPGC Year One

On registration day for my first year of high school I poured through the list of clubs in the various handouts we had been given and was disappointed to discover there was no role playing games club at my school. There was however details on how a student could form their own official club.

My high school's logo.

After waiting a few weeks to see if a club existed, but was not listed in the handouts, or if a more senior student was going to form a club, I decided to go ahead and make one myself (with help from my friend Warren and also John). It was a huge pain in the butt, wasting an enormous amount of our time and effort. And despite going through all the official steps we would never be listed anywhere as an official club.

Ironically, though I never again went through the pain of registering the club, in future years when we were completely unofficial and off the books we got a small amount of recognition (including a yearbook photo).

We spent almost every lunch hour gaming in Mr Marshall’s room (Mr Marshall was my English teacher). In that first year I don’t think we ever had more than six players, and at times had less than that. It was a very personal club back then, though I was happy to see it grow in future years.

Our first year participants included myself, Warren and Kory. Also there every lunch hour was John, though he almost always just watched. (a couple of times when we played a game that absolutely required another player he would join in)

I honestly couldn’t say with certainty what we played during those many lunch hours. I remember a lot of games, but the years of the gaming club all blend together in my mind. I do seem to remember that in the first year I was almost always the DM/GM – but then that’s been the case for most of the past quarter century.

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December 4, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

The Struggle for Campaign Contiuity

One of the common reasons for playing games is to find something that is missing in your real life, be that action, excitement, camaraderie, magic, monsters or romance. For me the thing that is missing most in my life has always been continuity. People, jobs, homes, and even hobbies seem to come and go like the wind in my life. (part of why I hold D&D so dear is that there has be no one and no thing that has been in my life so consistently)

That's how a game should go. Right?

And so the one thing I have always desperately wanted from gaming is a sense of continuity – and that is the one thing that gaming has never offered me. When I was in junior high I had an AD&D campaign that lasted close to 2 years, but since then I have not had a game last even one.

The odd thing is that this isn’t the universe playing some sick joke on me; this has largely been self inflicted. Just looking back at the past decade I have had:

  • A game I quit because I was frustrated with the DM.
  • A game I ended because I was feeling burnt out.
  • A game that ended because my co-DM and I were clashing
  • A game that ended with a TPK (and I wasn’t willing to hand wave)
  • A game that ended when I decided to move
  • A game that ended because I didn’t want to play with anything but the original group
  • A game that ended because I preferred to end it rather than remove the parts that were offending one player
  • A game that ended because of a lot of TPKs
  • A game that ended because I wanted a fresh campaign to try some rules experiments
  • A game that ended because those experiments weren’t working so well
  • A game that ended because the character turnover was insanely high

…and that’s just the longer lived games. Each of those lasted at lease a couple of months, there are probably a couple dozen other games that died in their first couple of sessions. (plus a some I didn’t include because they weren’t really my fault)

Or maybe more like this.

I used to think that I was a poor player because any time I was actively gaming I would be coming up with ideas for my next game to run, and I could be a real grouch if much time went by without getting a chance to show off my work. But I think it runs deeper than this. You see, not only am I thinking up new and exciting games when I am a part of someone else’s games, I am doing the same thing when I am running my own games. All too often instead of focusing on planning the next session, I am dreaming about a totally different campaign.

The really absurd thing is, when looking back at the corpses of games that just didn’t last, I am the one who gets most bothered by it. Much of my current group are social gamers who like a good game but aren’t worried if it isn’t one for the ages; they put up with my game hopping because as long as there is a game they are happy.

But I am not happy. I need to change my ways for my own sake. Perhaps I should resolve that the new game we are starting now will last through all of 2011, period. Or perhaps I need to find a better understanding of why I can’t just stick with one game for any length of time.

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December 3, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 3 Comments

My Life In Polyhedrons – The 66ave Campaign

The longest, most memorable, and most fun D&D game I have ever been a part of was the one that started in the fall of 1987 and ran for almost two years.

By that time I had made friends with Brian and Joel, who lived on the same street as my new house. Warren continued to brave the elements and come over almost every day, while Jamie was an occasional guest as was Joel’s younger brother Dave. As with the previous campaign, I was the DM, though I did still have characters in the game, and there were a very small number of adventures run by the other players.

The sheer number of characters we had in that campaign was insane. We had a good sized party that made it all the way up to name level, but then both the thieves died. So we made a whole new group and played them all the way up to name level (plus during the interim the two dead thieves were raised), giving us an absolutely crazy number of characters to choose from.

We played a lot of adventures during those two years (we were at times playing every day, meaning we would go through a full sized adventure every week). Most memorably, we played through the Slave Lord series, we hijacked the Dragon Lance series (ie inserted our characters), and we cleaned out Castle Greyhawk. For the most part the adventures we played were all for AD&D 1st Edition.

One thing we did differently that made a huge difference was that we started using Lego for miniatures. While this was a nice addition from a tactical standpoint (didn’t use any minis before that), the surprising thing was how much it added to role playing. Joel and Brian being three years younger than Warren and I were still very much into action figure type playing. As a result it was very common for us to be using the Lego figures to pretend to be the characters even when the game wasn’t going on. There were even important character development moments that happened in the absence of the player whose character it was (we weren’t picky about who owned what character when we were goofing around with the Lego figures)

Perhaps even more surprisingly, considering our young age (and being all boys), was that this game had romantic subplots, though they only surfaced during the aforementioned Lego sessions, not when actually gaming.

Despite being the longest game I have ever been part of, it may have gone on even longer but for a very strange happenning in September 1989. After school started that fall it seemed everytime I called Joel or Brian’s house I would be told they were not available. After more than two weeks of being unable to reach either one of them Warren and I went over to Joel’s to find out what was going on. Joel’s mother finally let us in on what had happenned – Joel and Brian’s parents had decided that since Warren and I were now in high school it was inappropriate for Joel and Brian to be around us. I’ve never been able to figure out why it was OK for us to hang out went it was two junior high students and two elementary students, but not OK when it would have been two high school students and two junior high students. But whatever twisted logic gave rise to this sudden parting of ways, it was made very clear to us that we were never to speak to Joel and Brian again – so without any warning two of my best friends were ripped from my life; I never saw or spoke to either of them again (I don’t even know if they know what we were told). Thus ended a game where they were 2 of the 3 regular players.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment

My Life In Polyhedrons – The Solo Campaign

There have been a few times over the years where I have run a particular kind of game, then never again been able to do a game of that kind properly. One such instance was the (mostly) solo campaign I ran for my friend Warren in the early months of 1987.

My family had just moved, putting a lot more distance between me and the players in my previous campaigns. The distance caused my friendship with Jamie to weaken and my friendship with Dale to essentially vanish. But Warren and I became better friends than ever, despite the much longer walk between our homes.

The first AD&D game that I ran was almost entirely a solo game played by Warren; Jamie played once in while, but not often enough to have a major impact. A lot of the adventures we played back then were just the same adventures we had played the summer before – I just fudged numbers to make them AD&D compatible.

Perhaps the greatest feat of this campaign was how well Warren handled the crazy number of characters he was required to handle. On any given adventure he would be controlling between six and eight characters.

Although I continued to “own” some of the characters, by this point that meant nothing other than levelling them up and making purchases for them outside of the actual session.

The game fell by the wayside in the spring, for us to play other (non-D&D) games over the summer. And by the fall we had two new players to play with, and so it made perfect sense that we started a whole new game.

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November 13, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

My Life In Polyhedrons – Christmas 1986

It is perhaps ironic that as an adult I have much to say about children who are over zealous about the wrong things at Christmas time, as I most certainly was one of those kids growing up. And no year was worse than Christmas 1986.

I had decided in the fall that we were going to start playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and my big plan to obtain the numerous expense hardcover books was to divide up the list of books and send out requests to anyone and everyone I thought I could milk for a $40 book. All together that Christmas I received six of the books I was looking for; amazingly, some came from people I barely knew.

The books were monsters, and as anyone who has ever seen them can attest, they weren’t written very well from an instructional stand point. (doubly so when compared to the coloured box sets we had been using) But like any edition change we were able to play largely because we gave up trying to learn everything, and just learned the absolute basics. The rest came through experience.

So to sum up, Christmas 1986 was a high point in terms of gaming, and a low point in terms of being a reasonable human being.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – Coloured Box Set Redux

About the time school started in September 1986 (grade 7 for me), I decided to reread the red box cover to cover, and discovered that how we had been playing was grossly in error. Considering how we considered the rulebook to be king, this was especially horrifying.

We thought King ruled, or rules were king; one of those equally silly things.

After thinking about our situation, I came to believe that the best thing to do was just scrap the game and start fresh and new. After all, not only had we been misinterpreting the rules, but we had created a grossly imbalanced situation that was not fair to half our players.

I don’t remember how I first told the group that I thought it was time to start a new campaign, but I do remember their reactions. Warren had his usual easy going attitude about it, while Dale and Jamie were very unhappy. To be honest this really surprised me, I figured that Dale would agree with me on principle and that Jamie would love to have a level playing field; but both of them only saw what they were losing.

Tensions were high, but what ended it was the ultimatum I gave Dale and Jamie. I wasn’t going to play the old campaign any more, I was going to play a new one. If they wanted to play with me, they would have to make new characters. That ended the game though not the hurt feelings. Perhaps most importantly, for the first time I had asserted the type of authority normally attributed to DMs. From that point foward I was the DM.

This second campaign was a short lived and forgettable one. To be honest I can’t remember what rules we changed that made me so happy other than limiting each player to one character.

The only character I can even remember the name of was mine (Hundra, named for some cheesy fantasy film chick; the first time I had a female character) – she was probably a fighter, but who knows.

The only adventure I remember clearly was “The Journey to the Rock”. Though I am pretty sure we played this campaign regularly for at least two months.

A great adventure? Not really. Yet I have great memories of it.

This game ended, I moved to a new neighborhood, and we started playing AD&D at about the same time, so I don’t really remember what caused what. And despite Dale and I having gone from being good friends to inseparable during the first few months of my D&D career, after this short lived campaign I would barely see him again, and but for a short tournament in high school, never game with him.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , , | 2 Comments

My Life in Polyhedrons – The Million gp Gem

Of all the absurd moments in that first campaign, nothing stands out in my mind so clearly as the day our characters became millionaires. Dale and I were over at Jamie’s house discussing D&D, when Dale mentioned their was something he wanted me to look at.

A million gp for this?

Dale took out the module The Keep on the Borderlands (which we had already played many times) and opened it up to the minotaur’s cave (which in all our adventures we had never found). Dale showed me the treasure which said something like “and there are three gems worth 1,200, 500 and 300gp”. Dale argued that it was saying that there was a gem worth over a million gp there. I disagreed, but after a very long time I gave in.

As soon I gave in we set up to play the adventure; an absurd notion considering our characters were now around 10th level while the adventure was made for characters of levels 1 to 3. And while the minotaurs cave was suppose to be a hard to find, Dale made it super easy so we could get down to business.

Dale’s one concession that this was too easy was that he increased the number of minotaurs from one to three – but it still was hugely lop sided, and in less time than it took him to convince me to go along with this, our characters were very, very, rich. (and a level higher since colored box rules gave an XP for every gp)

As always we divided the treasure equally amoung the characters, which meant that I got three shares, and Dale two; Jamie got just one. Almost immediately Dale and I started drawing up plans for huge castles we would be building with this loot (having our characters pool their money in such a way was common). Poor Warren wasn’t there that day, causing his character to fall even further behind.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment