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Jeff's Gameblog
Sunday, 13 June 2004

Here's the latest version of my 6 Islands campaign setting. I'm leaning towards the humans that live on the island possessing a culture and technology somewhat like England just prior to the Norman Conquest. Among other things, doing so would reduce the importance of horses. I've never had a whole lot of empathy for horses and I have almost always imagined fantasy rpg parties as walking rather than riding. If they are riding, it's almost always been either by ship or on the back of fantastic creatures.

The light bluish-green areas are shallows. I'm not exactly sure about the brownish island. It's basically a coloring error I left in because it gave me something to think about. Maybe the land on that island is less wooded or less fertile.

The scale of the map is probably about thirty six miles to a hex. Bigger then a breadbox, but smaller than most settings.

Posted by jrients at 8:48 AM CDT
Saturday, 12 June 2004

Ran to the library today. They had 4 paperbacks from the Destroyer series on the shelf. I picked up #16, Oil Slick. Good, fast read. I managed to finish it in eight hours and still get all my usual Saturday afternoon/evening stuff done.

I also borrowed The Year 1000, subtitled What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, further subtitled An Englishman's World, by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. Being a bit of an Anglophile, I alwyas turn to Britain circa 1066 when I start to think about a psuedo-historical D&D campaign.

Posted by jrients at 9:09 PM CDT
Corroboration is a good thing.
If you want to play an AD&D derivative, go get Senzar. Ignore the puerile crap and you'll find the very best non-D20 core game ever made. Logical and intuitive to use. -Patrick R.

The above quote is from an old thread on The Miniatures Page. It's nice to see at least one other person who sees the potential in SenZar. Now all I need to do is locate a copy. I have yet to see one on eBay and the handful of copies I've found via googling are all for sale by British outfits. It looks like I'm going to have to start contacting game stores to get a copy.

Posted by jrients at 3:06 PM CDT
Friday, 11 June 2004
Sick curiosities, part 2

My love of old and disregarded games didn't really take firm shape until I discovered two different websites at about the same time. The first, The Museum of Roleplaying Games, got me interested in the original D&D game and classic Traveller. The second, eBay, made tracking down old games much easier. And since I'm always on the lookout for reading/playing copies and not mint condition stuff, collecting old rpgs became much cheaper too. Now I've reached the point where old and influential games are not enough, forgotten and largely unloved games are starting to fill my shelves as well. Hence my recent acquisiton of Cyborg Commando. It is a pretty crappy game, by the way. Maybe not as legendarily bad as some would make it out to be, but still not good. Not good at all.

Still, just because Cyborg Commando or World of Synnibarr aren't the best games ever written doesn't necessarily mean you can't have fun playing them. After all, playing a fantasy adventure with the original D&D booklets was pretty hard too. Yet people muddled through and often had a kickass time doing it.

My investigation of oldy, moldy games has clearly established one thing in my mind: Stop looking for the one perfect system. You aren't Jack O' The Lantern for crying out loud. A game that's good enough is good enough. A lot of gamers, myself included, have wasted a lot of hours wringing our hands and bemoaning our inability to find the game that perfectly matches our play style or the kind of campaign we want to run. I say let go of the urge to find the perfect game. Find a game, damn near any game, and get to playing.

Posted by jrients at 4:18 PM CDT
Thursday, 10 June 2004
Sick curiosities
I am more and more attracted to RPGs that slipped between the cracks. This started, naturally enough, with my first RPG, the '81 D&D Basic/Expert set. My fascination with this rpg (particularly Tom Moldvay's Basic rules) can be explained away as simple nostalgia. However, I think there's more there. I think perhaps that Moldvay's work really is the pinnacle of Basic-style D&D, though perhaps not AD&D. Knowing that Moldvay was the man behind Lords of Creation finally pushed me into that direction, thought the William Blake campaign info in the back was the initial draw many years ago.

I got into old games well before LoC though. I think maybe the first vintage RPG I ever purchased was the 1st edition of the Basic D&D rules, the old blue book. That was back a ways and I really only purchased it because it was in a store and it said "Dungeons & Dragons" on it. I wasn't entirely sure what I was even buying. Then came the day I picked up Superhero 2044 at a con. That hazily-remembered day, many years ago, marks my descent into being a collector of lost and forgotten games. Back when I got married I sold 2044 (among many other things) because I had to cut back my game collection to move into smaller digs with my new wife. Still, I cherish memories of it. Superhero 2044 hails from a day when an RPG could be typewritten, shoddy, and incomplete but still make a serious contribution to the hobby.

Posted by jrients at 5:20 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2004 5:21 PM CDT
Wednesday, 9 June 2004

The next part of my "In Praise of Bad Games" series should be about Cyborg Commando, but the going is slow. I recently acquired a copy and fell honor-bound to read the thing before I do my write-up. The prose retains all the turgid qualities of Gygax while omitting all the charm of say, the original Dungeon Masters Guide. I'm finding it very easy to blame co-author Frank Mentzer for this state of affairs. His rewrite of the D&D Basic/Expert line significantly dumbed down Tom Moldvay's brilliant version.

Posted by jrients at 9:02 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2004 5:00 PM CDT

I love 'nonfictionalized fiction', fiction masked as a piece of nonfiction. Examples include things like Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual and biographies of fictional characters. Right now I'm reading Inside Sinanju, the guide to the world of Remo Williams. I haven't read any of the Destroyer series, but Pat put this book in my hand after I related to him that I finally caught the entirety of Remo Williams: the Adventure Begins on cable. I think this weekend I'll end up at the library looking for Destroyer novels.

Posted by jrients at 9:45 AM CDT
Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Geez, that SenZar piece took too dang long to write. And I'm not sure it went anywhere. Ah, well.

I was really hoping to get some feedback on my Enochian Chess article by now. Peter, the editor who posted the article, noted that it was thorough. That was very nice, especially since I was trying very hard to be thorough.

It looks like the Heroes Unlimited game is going to be postponed, which is probably for the better. I haven't got a grip on a good idea for the next session anyway. Paul is coming over Thursday night to make a PC. Introducing a new cast member could be the focus of next episode.

Posted by jrients at 5:11 PM CDT
Monday, 7 June 2004
In Praise of Bad Games, Part 4
Back in the early 90's SenZar earned its rep as a bad game before it even hit the store shelves. How did it manage this tremendous feat? The authors were out on usenet promoting their game with hyperbole so outrageous, so obnoxious, so over-the-top that their behavior is the stuff of legend a decade later. Mark Hughes describes their attitude as "We are God's Own Bollocks! Lick us, we're tasty!" When these guys were properly flamed for their antics the SenZar people then went the route of the "anonymous fan" to promote their game. In case you couldn't guess, this shenangin only endeared them further to the online rpg community. Even worse, a brief perusal of the Amazon reviews seems to indicate that as late as 2002 the SenZar gang was still up to its old tricks.

To this day you'll find lots of people ready to tear SenZar a third bunghole even though they've never even seen a copy. To be sure, many people who have seen the game have also hated it. Check out David Edelstein's review for an example of a relatively informed opinion. I say relatively informed because I feel like maybe Mr. Edelstein let some personal gaming baggage get in the way of his review. More on that angle later. In the meantime, here's some other choice comments culled from teh intarweb:
If Carl wanted to run Senzar, I'd give it a try, because I'd know the people would be fun and in the worst case we could while away the hours mocking death jesters. In fact, I once joined a Lords of Creation game, fully aware of what I was getting into, because I trusted the GM. --Population: One weblog
Senzar is essentially, as far as I can tell, someone's pumped-up AD&D mods. There are a dozen or so different races, all with various abilities to "kick butt". The word "cool" is used a lot. The game seems to be geared toward the crowd that thought Beavis & Butthead was funny, without understanding that it was about *them*. --Kevin Mowery
I'm at the point now where I'd play the Lords of Creation setting under a fusion of Synnibar and SenZar rules just because it wasn't D20. --unknown
(Yikes! Do I need to do an entry on Lords of Creation too? I was under the impression that it was underappreciated, but I wasn't expecting it to be mentioned in the same breath as SenZar and Synnibarr.)

But like I was saying, a lot of SenZar's bad rep comes from the authors' hijinx and doesn't necessarily have as much to do with the game as it seems. Not that flaws can't be found in SenZar, but we shouldn't let the fact that the game is much maligned get in the way of a fair judgement of SenZar's virtues. And it does have virtues. Check out Jason Sartin's review, if you can bring yourself to read such a long review. Here's the short version of the review: Surprisingly coherent game mechanics for fairly incoherent setting, marred somewhat by a rather juvenile (if amusing) writing style.
"You know you have a bad GM when: ...he talks about converting his campaign to Senzar" --old humour list
The thing is, I can actually see myself converting an AD&D campaign to SenZar. Maybe that does make me a bad GM, but when I look back at all the yahoo fun I've had in some of my old AD&D games, suddenly SenZar, with its sense of wild fun and deadly violence, looks like a pretty decent fit. I can easily imagine taking the deadly trio of Sir Cleave the half-drow knight errant; his demi-brother Doctor Phostarius, the bard/wizard; and Munge, half-orc the assassin/cleric, uprooting them from their cushy abodes in Greyhawk's Bandit Kingdoms and dropping them into the middle of the ultraviolent godpolitics of SenZar.

The key to understanding SenZar, I think, is to judge it by its own standards. From the point of view of the "serious roleplayer", whatever that means, we can certainly poo-poo SenZar as a juvenile powertrip. But I fail to see the point of such an exercise, since SenZar never claims to be anything more than a munchkin's dream. The text of the game actively encourages making the most deadly PC you can. Heck, one of their taglines is "role-playing in God mode".

Evan Waters makes a comment at the end of Darren MacLennan's review of Creeping Death, the SenZar monster manual. Mr. Waters says
[I]t's telling that the majority of monsters in the book have no place in the natural ecosystem, but are rather "unspeakable fiends from beyond Hell."
If we were talking about a "realistic" fantasy simulation on the order of Harn or even Greyhawk, I would wholeheartedly agree with him. But I think we would do better to judge SenZar by its own lights, much in the manner that Roger Ebert critiques action flicks. A once-over of the official SenZar webpage ought to make it clear that the game is meant to be an utterly juvenile powertrip with big swords, big muscles, chicks with big boobs, and heinous acts of violence. To expect it to be something else is missing the point. Normal folk don't rip up copies of People magazine because it lacks the journalistic integrity of U.S. News & World Report.

Taken as the RPG equivalent of lowbrow action flicks, SenZar seems to have everything going for it. At least according to Mr. Sartin's interesting review. In the realm of killing things and taking their stuff, SenZar looks to be a choice worth investigating. Chargen is an interesting pointbuild system married to an oldfashioned class & level affair. Hit points are fixed amount per level, no more getting hosed by a bad hitdie roll. The spell system is described as tight. All in all, I think SenZar could be a vehicle for serious gamist powermunching in an over-the-top, death-at-any-moment setting. What's not to like? The fact that the monsters are in a separate book is about the only thing that really holds me back from getting my hands on some SenZar.

One of the standout lines from Edelstein's scathing review:
The best way to describe SenZar would be to say that this is a game I would have thought was rilly kewl when I was 14.
What happened to that 14-year-old kid, David? I play lots of different kinds of RPGs these days, but nothing has killed the joy of depopulating nonsensical dungeons full of mutant bad guys. Maybe that's why SenZar might work for me when it doesn't work for folks like David: I still got that powergaming kid inside me.

Then there's the who people try to hide that kid by moving on to Epic-level D&D or Nobilis or Amber or Exalted or superhero gaming. That way they can tell themselves how nuanced and sophisticated their play has become. I totally understand. I've been down that road before. But I think I'm starting to outgrow the need to justify my powergaming. SenZar seems more like my kind of game than Exalted ever was.

I am munchkin! Fear my wrath! Aieeeeeeee!

Bonus link: the SenZar drinking game!

Posted by jrients at 10:13 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 8 June 2004 10:55 AM CDT
Sunday, 6 June 2004

So I'm slogging through this huge 35 part presentation called Life of Reilly, which details the whole Spider-Clone Saga. I wasn't reading any comics at the time this whole fiasco went down and I have never been a regular Spiderman reader, but this stuff is riveting nonetheless. The peak into the process is priceless.

I'm hoping my bud Pat will come over today, if he's free. Wednesday night after the Savage Worlds game he was kinda bummed. Maybe we could work on his Mechanoids game or just shoot the breeze. Last night my daughter decided she needed to play with my dice, so while she was messing around with them I started throwing 3d6 for stats for possible Mechanoids PCs.

Posted by jrients at 12:58 PM CDT

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