Monday, December 8, 2014

Quattro con Carnage - Appendix Nintendo

Me (left) and my brother Tom (right) playing Final Fantasy I eons ago


Getting an "F" in Appendix "N"

I feel a little guilty admitting to this, so please be gentle...

Until I purchased the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game and started listening to the Spellburn podcast, I had never even heard of the term "Appendix N."  For those of you as clueless as I was, in the back of the original 1979 AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, by Gary Gygax, Appendix N features a recommended reading list of authors and literature.  These works were inspirational for Mr. Gygax, and helped him shape the tone and flavor of Dungeons and Dragons.  Some of these are pretty obvious if you've played the game for any length of time.  J. R. R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the RIngs".  Robert E. Howard's "Conan."  Jack Vance's "Dying Earth".  These are just a few examples. 

I like to consider myself a seasoned veteran when it comes to fantasy role-playing games.  I spent the entirety of the 1990's immersed in AD&D 2nd Edition, and tackled 3rd-4th Edition D&D from 2000 to 2012.  20+ years playing this game and at best, I've read four short-stories by Lovecraft  and listened to half of a Robert E. Howard Conan collection audio-book.

That's it.

That's my entire Appendix N resume.

It further shames me to say that I didn't even see the Lord of the Rings movies in the theater. 

All Your Base Attacks Are Belong to Us

I'm taking a while to get to the point of this post: my inspirations for fantasy gaming, and how it may work its way into Tannryth.  

I'm building a campaign setting from the ground up.  I've told you how I start (mapping), and shared some ideas on character creation.  But as I build "Tannryth", where am I getting my own inspiration, besides rule books?  I'm sure I'm not alone in this, and like many of my generation (late Gen-X, early Millennial), my inspiration comes primarily from video games. 

Certainly the games of my youth influenced me as a player.  I learned how to build a party of varied characters playing Final Fantasy I on the ol'8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the late 1980's.  I explored caves and temples in The Legend of Zelda, carefully adding notes to my handy paper map, provided with the game, so that I wouldn't lose my way.  In Wizardry I discovered the concept of true risk and reward, when characters that I so carefully generated were slain en masse by vorpal bunnies and skeletons while exploring the 3D dungeons.  

But the games that influenced me as a game-master came later, in the early 90's when my dad finally purchased a family PC.  It was a 486sx, and the very first game he bought us was Ultima 7.  Three months after buying the game, he finally got it running and I was blown away.  

First, because the game was awesome, and second, because it took him so frigging long to get the damned thing to work.  Remember boot disks?  

While the game showcased a sweeping story, much like my NES fantasy games, it was the little things that captivated my interest.  Being able to sit in a bar and converse with a waitress.  Slaying a band of pirates and taking over their home base to use as my own.  Buying a ship and sailing the high seas for adventure.  I didn't care about finishing the main plot until I was a bit older.  

When I started designing adventures for Dungeons and Dragons, first basic and then AD&D 2nd Edition, I was still gripped by Ultima 7.  I learned from this game the importance of creating a rich environment for my players, full of vividly described towns and villages, and colorful NPC's, who had lives outside of the players' interactions.  If this was important to me as a player, it had to be equally important to players in the campaigns that I created.  Just as the Ultima games featured several subplots whenever you entered a town, I learned to include the same in my adventures, often scouring Dungeon Magazine for "Side Quests" so that my players wouldn't feel railroaded by a single plot.  

There were other games that influenced my youth as a budding game-master.  Ultima Underworld 1 and 2 showed me that isolation could be just as terrifying as any creature that you could throw at a group of PC's.  When I started thinking about linking a series of adventures into a world-spaning campaign, I leaned on Final Fantasy 4, borrowing the scope and majesty of the setting… as well as a handful of airships.  I learned how to build a functional, if not dairy cow reliant, kingdom in Lords of the Realm 2.  

As the years went on the games of course changed.  Diablo, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Diablo 2, Dragon Age, The Witcher, Legend of Grimrock, Dragon Age 2… I've always had a fantasy game ready to go to help fuel my efforts behind the GM's screen.  I guess that's always been the case.  Even as a youth, I spent significant portions of time on the NES and PC playing games, but I always preferred a comfortable dining room table with group of friends to a single controller.  Not much has changed in 25 years… I'm still the same kind of gamer, farming ideas from whatever piece of fiction I can find.

Even if its pixelated, 3D rendered, or cel shaded.  

8-bit Meets OSR

Don't worry, faithful OSR fans, I don't intend on recreating the opera scene from Final Fantasy 6 in my upcoming Tannryth campaign, nor will I be crafting stats for Ganon or Bowser.  But there are a few concepts that I learned as an NES and PC gamer from the late 80's and early 90's, during the old-school electronic gaming era, that fit very well in an OSR type RPG campaign.  

It Should be Hard!

Did you bring your strategy guide?  Back in my day, video games were hard!  When you were three levels down in the Earth Cave in Final Fantasy 1, hunting Lich, without a save point, you knew that you had to bring your A-game as a player.  I want the characters in my upcoming Quattro con Carnage game to never forget that the risk of "carnage" goes both ways.  In RPG's such as D&D 3rd and 4th edition, while these can be terrific games, the level of risk to individual players is very low.  With Basic Fantasy RPG, and certainly Dungeon Crawl Classics (mwa ha ha ha!), players need to learn when to call it quits and just run like hell.  

There's a Whole World Around You… Use it… Use all of it!

Talk to everyone!  In a "points of light" style campaign, making friends will be very important.  My players should never overlook useful tips that the bartender may share, or strange happenings that the local rancher brings to your attention while passing by.  But when you've decided that you can't get through to someone with kind words, that's when you send your thief into their house for a good old fashioned smash and grab.  This is an OSR game we're talking about here, they're called "thieves" for a reason.  

Its Not About Self-Mastery, its About the Loot!

Be greedy!  I find that in many new tabletop RPG's, your character advances through feats, edges, and abilities gained from level to level, with less of an emphasis on the whole loot-grab aspect that I learned playing Diablo and Diablo 2.  In Tannryth, self-mastery is great, but mastering your hoard of enchanted goods is much, much better!  I'm very interested to see how this plays out when we transition to Savage Worlds for the third section, actually, since continuous improvement to characters occurs as they gain XP.  Will the magic items I dish out from the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion be as useful as what they will gain when they rise in rank?  We shall see!

Where do You Fuel Up?  

When looking for inspiration for your games, where do you turn?  Do you spend quality time with your PC, Xbox, or PlayStation?  Are you a die-hard, Appendix N devotee or do you prefer to watch your favorite characters die at the hands of George R. R. Martin?  Maybe movies are your preference, and unlike me you've seen every Lord of the Rings movie in the theaters multiple times.  

Let me know how you fuel your creative fires before you gather your adventuring party together! 

Two of my kids… same game… 20+ years later

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