Entry for August 21, 2007: Games people play redux

Friends, I hope you've had a good week. On Tuesday, 14 August 2007, I ran the latest D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains" Arabian fantasy session. The good news is that prospective role-player Ben R. joined us and that the current party (see "Simpsons"-style portrait above) successfully navigated through the intrigues of the oasis-city of Galko.

On a less positive note, with the absence of Beruk A./"Kunal" and late arrivals of Alex J./"Karril," his girlfriend Serena, and Byron V.O./"Kemosh" (by videoconference), the game could have gone more smoothly and was marred by an argument between Byron and others (particularly Paul J./"Rache") over decision-making procedures, or the lack thereof. Fortunately, I don't think we scared away Ben/"Slink," and the interpersonal conflict was much milder than those that plagued the cohort known as the "the Dragonslayers."

Some context: In the years between the explosive growth of "the Liberators" (2000 to 2001) and the more stable "Mystical Harmony/Seekers of Lore/Drake's 7" (2005 to 2006), the Boston-area social/gaming groups still had regular turnover, and factions based on age, geography, and playing style squabbled regularly.

The "Dragonslayers" did earn their name by fighting dragons and Undead pirates on the Sea of Nagendwa, and that player/character cohort did reach heroic experience levels (10+) for my world. On the other hand, they rarely agreed on goals, wasted time arguing about rules or competing in combat, and hoarded magical treasure. Other past groups, such as "the Paragon/Twilight" in Virginia from 1993 to 1995, have had similar problems.

After a round of telephone calls and e-mails, I hope that the current gamers better understand one another. Each adventuring party, and each role-playing group, has its own personality and standard operating procedures. At the same time, people like Paul, who has been around since "the Liberators," must work well with relative newbies such as Ben.

Greg D.C./"Killian" and Brian W./"Mumtaz" prefer an ad hoc, informal leadership style, while Paul (who attended with his girlfriend Bri) and "virtual" Byron want a more formal one. At the same time, each player seems to have taken turns going off on his own in defiance of the party's wishes (see the Yahoo/eGroups Web club for more details: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/DnD3VanishedLands/). In an "1,001 Arabian Nights"-style game, all of this gives me opportunities for trouble and collaborative storytelling, but I'd prefer that everyone get along, in and out of character. We'll see how tonight's "Broken Chains" and tomorrow night's "Holy Steel" games go.

The other big news for our hobby this past week was the long-awaited announcement of "Dungeons & Dragons" Fourth Edition at GenCon. After 25 years, I'm typically an early adopter of rules revisions and prefer streamlined sourcebooks with good art and style over those that specify how every possible situation must be simulated, enumerated, and adjudicated. I'm cautiously optimistic and have been closely following Wizards of the Coast Inc.'s initial previews, as well as the lively debates online.

Last Wednesday's "Holy Steel" teleconferencing game (with Paul and me in Massachusetts, Dexter V.H./"Faelonia" in Brooklyn, New York, and Byron/"Ibrahim" in St. Louis, Missouri) and this past Saturday's planned D20 "Star Wars: Saga Edition" one-shot had to be canceled. Skype was down, and we've begun looking at alternatives to the "Fantasy Grounds" virtual tabletop software.

Also, Dexter had to postpone his latest visit to the Boston area at the last minute. I'm as disappointed as the other gamers (especially since I had created a character and don't get to play rather than serve as Game Master very often), but I hope that we'll be able to play face-to-face in late September, when Byron and Dex hope to visit.

Janice and I made the best of the pleasant weather this past weekend, however, and we went to the Marshfield Fair. The annual agricultural festival had rides, livestock and fresh produce, and of course, excellent food. We ate a pulled pork barbecue sandwich, steak and cheese spring rolls, a burrito, Polish potato pancakes, chocolate cake and drank birch beer and a mango smoothie.

On Sunday, Aug. 12, after playing "City of Heroes," I caught up on recorded television. This past week's episodes of "Doctor Who" and "Flash Gordon" were decent, but I thought that BBC America's "Robin Hood" was better than average. On the other hand, it suffered in comparison with the classic Errol Flynn movie, which I rewatched on AMC. Janice and I have also been watching lots of "Ninja Warrior" on G4, and I look forward to this autumn's new shows. Look out for Mount Midoriyama!