My Life As A Gamer: Computer Games, part 2

Today I'll write a few words about some of the games I played.

At first those were mostly simple damn hard platform games, some shooters, some adventure games, some logical ones and various maze-based games. There were also great fighting games. Some of the games were forgotten but some of them were remembered...

After getting an Amiga 500 the primary change was quality of games. Oh, and three new major categories of games were added: cRPGs, strategies and simulations. Ok, the last ones weren't especially important to me but two first became my favorites from now on. I won't list all the games I played in nineties – it'd be easier to just look on YouTube and check one of many videos of various Amiga games. I'll only focus on particular games that have a very-very special place in my heart.

First Samurai: A platform game telling the story of a valiant samurai that follows a vile demon across the time to avenge his master. The game had excellent music, intro in times when they were novelty and a bonus instead of being expected integral part of the game. It was also quite hard requiring lots of effort to master. Being able to play the game from the start to the end without losing any life filled me with great sense of accomplishment. Oh, did I mentioned that I was fascinated with Japan since I watched Shogun as a child?

Yo Joe! Nicky Boum, Lionheart, Turrican 2, Assassin... All shared the qualities of First Samurai – they were hard (but not Nintendo Hard) platform games with great music and I loved them as much as First Samurai. I could list a few more platform games but these were the best.

Civilization: The game that started a whole lineage of games (ok, honestly the grandparent was Empire, which I played too but Civilization made the difference). For those who don't know that game (both of you), Sid Meier's Civilization is a strategy game where the player leads a civilization from a stone age to modern times, deciding about exploration, colonization, diplomacy, wars and scientific research (as a side note, in all Civilizations and kindred games I tend to focus on scientific research and ignore other aspects until I have desired military technology and can use it to overcome enemies. This strategy tends to backfire with aggressive neighbors near the starting area, however). Some of the Civilization's major descendants were Master Of Orion, Master Of Magic and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, all of which I greatly enjoyed many years later.

Populous I & Populous II: Strategy games in which player takes a role of a god leading a tribe of worshipers and battling other gods. Second part used Greek Pantheon, allowed for determining your deity's abilities and greatly expanded the number of available spells divine interventions. Those who read previous blog entries might recall that I read Greek Mythology as a kid a lot. Yes, the second game had great appeal to me.

UFO: Enemy Unknown (known as X-Com: UFO Defense in America): No, not the recent remake. The original UFO/X-Com. One of the best games mixing tactics and strategy into wonderful combination that ate hundreds of hours of my time. The player leads an international team dedicated to fighting growing alien threat, intercepting alien vessels, hunting alien infiltrators, battling alien invaders, saving civilians, gathering alien equipment and reverse engineering it to have a chance of protecting the Earth. From time to time I want to GM a session or two based on the game. Maybe someday I'll come to that.

Syndicate: Another game where the player leads the combat team fighting tactical missions with strategic overview of the world between the missions. Except the tactical missions are done in real time, instead of saving the Earth from aliens, we were conquering the world for our corporate overlords and killing civilians when they run into line of fire did not penalize our mission in any way (except missions where particular civilian is to be escorted... by the way, civilian AI in escort missions was comparable to NPC AI in modern MMORPG escort quests but at least it had excuse of being powered by 8 MHz processor). Strategic part of the game also included investing money into scientific research providing agents with more powerful weapons and more efficient cybernetic implants. Can anyone notice a certain pattern in games I like?

Hired Guns: And here we break with the pattern. Hired Guns involved no scientific research. Instead, player was leading a group of four mercenaries through a series of locations on a planet named Graveyard. The final goal was to acquire four fusion cores and rigging them to detonate in the final mission. Hired Guns was a combination of a first person shooter and a tactical game. The closest game that I can think of was Space Hulk (which I never played). Intro music was brilliant, despite being quite simple it was capable of creating a sense of tension that matched the game wonderfully.

From the Hired Guns we can smoothly move to Dungeon Master. This is one of the classic cRPGs, and in some ways the classic cRPG. Four heroes traveling in the dungeon's depths, solving puzzles, looking for secret passages and hidden triggers, defeating monsters and
gathering equipment, until they reach the McGuffin required to defeat the Big Bad Evil Guy. But wait, how does it differ from Hired Guns? Well, for starters it's fantasy instead of SF. There are some other factors involved. Hired Guns used food as healing resource. Dungeon Master and its spiritual descendants instead require the characters to eat and drink from time to time to merely maintain their strength. Combat is less based on the player's agility and more on the characters attributes, which increase with experience (note that the player's agility and timing still plays important role in most Dungeon Master-like games). Dungeon Master itself tells a story of group of champions traveling into the depths of the dungeon to defeat Black Lord Of Evil Lord Chaos. It also happens to be story behind other classic cRPGs of that time inspired by Dungeon Master: Black Crypt and Eye Of The Beholder with Black Lord Of Evil Lord Chaos replaced by evil cleric Estoroth Paingiver and beholder Xanathar respectively. I'd like GM a classic dungeon crawl based on one of those games someday but I am afraid I am lacking enough players with necessary amount of interest in dungeon crawls that could be gathered at the same time with enough free time to play through it.

Eye Of The Beholder II: Eye Of The Beholder sequel changes little in the way of gameplay, except it began outdoor... And by outdoor I mean in a dungeon with trees painted on its walls. It added a few features and was more interesting when it came to puzzles and the story.

Both Eye Of The Beholder games were made by SSI in early nineties and had the honor of being official AD&D/Forgotten Realm games. Before them SSI released a series of AD&D games using older game engine today best know as SSI Gold Box. It included series of games taking place in Forgotten Realms and a shorter series of Dragonlance games. Gameplay was significantly different from Dungeon Master and its spiritual descendants. Turn-based combat required no agility but much more tactical skills and luck with computer-generated dice rolls, the exploration part was much easier and starvation wasn't an issue. Plots of the game, while mostly provided in the form of text and often referencing entries in game journal, originally provided as printed book together with the game, was well developed and quite absorbing. In fact I currently GM a Pathfinder campaign based on Pool Of Radiance game.

The last two games I'd like to mention today will be Amberstar and its sequel Ambermoon. Those two games were created by German group Thalion, who happen to be creators of Lionheart mentioned above (and in fact Valdyn, the Lionheart's protagonist is special guest star and optional party member in Ambermoon). The first game tells the story of a young adventurer who learn that to save his world from a demon prince he must travel all around the continent gathering thirteen pieces of the titular Amberstar and then defeat the demon. While the protagonist defeats the demon, not all goes well leading to the second game taking place some eighty years later. The first game character's grandson ends with saving the world from unexpected threat again, in better graphics. The second game is also full of various references to the first part, rewarding player for remembering minor details from the first game (regretfully it punishes as "cheating" coming to one conclusion that was rather obvious to anyone who played the first part). Again those two are games I would gladly use as a basis for a short campaign.

Next time I'll write about some of the memorable games I played after moving from Amiga to PC.


Spear Of Dragondoom

Thousands of years ago, when the humankind was young and inexperienced, unable to protect oneself from the ravaging monsters before capturing protective gaze of deities, an unnamed village was a part of hunting territory of a pack of rapacious dragons. Its denizens for generations were incapable of stopping the beasts from devouring their herds or even their children. One spring, a young but already renowned hunter reached the seaside while roaming the wilds. There he heard a voice that advised him how to release the village from the predations of the beasts. Following the instructions, he crafted a trap in one of the mountain valleys using a freshly killed deer as a bait. When one of the wild dragons came, attracted by the scent of blood, the trap was triggered crushing the dragon with avalanche. The hunter took the bones, the teeth, the heart, the tongue, the blood and the vicious saliva of the dragon. He used the bones to craft the spear, tempering the shaft with dragon blood and making the head out of a strange stone that was left on the beach for him by the mysterious voice. The heart and the tongue he ate, as instructed earlier by his unknown patron, gaining the strength and cunning of the beast. He grounded teeth and mixed with the saliva and certain herbs to brew a venom with which he poisoned a few sheep and used them as bait for the rest of the pack. When the beasts came and teared the sheep apart and devoured, they grow slow and sluggish allowing him to move out of his hiding with his new weapon and deliver a killing blow to each of the monsters. The first and the second died before even noticing the danger, the third one evaded a few blows but finally fell. Only the last dragon regained its senses enough to fight back, delivering a mortal wound to the hunter before bleeding to death from multiple wounds. The hunter was buried by his folk and hailed as a champion and savior and later the people started to worship him as a hero and a deity. His spear was kept in the village to be wielded against future threats for many generations, until the village grew into town and then a city and finally turned into crumbling ruin many generations later.

And here are stats for those who play Pathfinder or D&D:

The Dragondoom (Minor Artifact)
Aura strong conjuration; CL 12th
Slot none; Weight 6 lbs.
Description: The Dragondoom is a spear made of polished dragon bone with the head made of blackened, scorched metal shard. It acts as a +1 dragon bane spear in anyone's hands but it grows in power if its wielder uses it to slay a true dragon, the older the dragon the more powerful the spear becomes.
  • Killing a young or older dragon improves the weapon enhancement to +2. From now on it grants immunity to frightful presence of dragons.
  • Killing an adult dragon improves the weapon enhancement to +3 and grants the wielder benefits of Evasion special ability against draconic breath weapons.
  • Killing a very old dragon makes the spear +4 weapon. The wielder also gains Spell Resistance 11 + character level against draconic spells and spell-like abilities.
  • Killing a great wyrm allows the weapon reach epitome of its abilities. It enhancement bonus rises to +5 and deals maximum damage to dragons.
Additionally, when the wielder of the weapon participates in killing of a true dragon he may eat its heart to gain bloodline powers of a draconic bloodline as if he was a sorcerer of a level equal to the killed dragon's CR.


The Horned Toad Of Keld

The Horned Toad of Keld is a divine anomaly amongst the ascended deities. Originally it was a familiar of an archmage from the land of Keld, infused by its master with powerful enchantments that made it much more than a mere animal. Together with its patron, it lived long and grew stronger and smarter than any mundane toad. In a sense it ascended to higher order of existence than the one born to even before its master, following many other adepts of his trade, decided to follow the ancient path and reach for the divinity. It took the archmage many more years of studies, gathering exotic ingredients, experimentation and other preparations before he deemed oneself ready.

On the eve of carefully predicted astrological conjunction the wizard sent away his apprentices and closed oneself within the tower he build years before in the anticipation of the ritual he was to perform. The knowledge of the following events is sketchy, however, for the only witness of them is the Toad itself. What is known is that the magician died while casting the final spells. His death should end the familiar's life as well, but instead, through an unexplainable quirk of magic, the bond connected to the gathering divine power. For a moment, the Toad was familiar of divinity itself. In a heartbeat, the barrier between mortal and immortal existence was breached. The Toad became the familiar of deities and the deity of familiars.

The Horned Toad Of Keld is enigmatic entity. Amphibiously inhuman and yet vaguely familiar for it lived a lifetime as a mystical extension of a human wizard. Usually indifferent towards mortals, it shows a degree of affectation towards mages and ascended deities. It has no real priests as it grants no magic of its own and has no organized temples. It is willing to enter pacts with wizards empowering their familiars with spark of divine power, however, and many familiar-owning wizards keep a small shrine to the Toad.

As other young ascendents, the Toad often manifests directly, appearing as a pony-sized, grey-skinned toad with its head adorned with a pair of antler-like horns. While it does not speak directly, it can communicate with a form of telepathy resembling the one used between familiar and its master.


Test Of The Starstone: The Truth

Those of you who know Golarion, the Pathfinder RPG's default setting will be probably interested in hearing the true story behind the Test Of The Starstone and Ascension of trio of mortals to godhood.

Dramatis Personae: Aroden (God of human culture, innovation and history, the last member of the mankind's first and greatest civilization, ascended prior to described events), Cayden Cailean (adventurer, hero, womanizer and drunk), Iomedae (virtuous if somewhat self-righteous paladin), Norgorber (mysterious thief) and Thais (prostitute with a golden heart, friend and occasional lover of Cayden).

The described events take place in the Starstone Cathedral in the Absalom where Aroden placed the Starstone after he recovered it from the depths of the sea.

Aroden: Behold! I have raised Starstone from the depths of the sea and placed it in the temple of Absalom where the worthy ones can taste my cookies! *Places cookies of divinity on the table*

Norgorber: *sneaks behind the Aroden's back into the temple and steals the cookies of divinity from the table*

Aroden: Dammit! Who stole my cookies?! *bakes another batch of cookies and places them on the table*

Cayden: *stumbles into the temple while drunk* Ooh! Fina-hic-ly! Shom snnach tho my dr-r-r-ynk! *grabs some cookies*

Aroden: Dammit! Cayden, you washed down my cookies WITH ALE?! How could you! Ale does not suit them at all! What barbarian could eat cookies of divinity with anything less than Azlanti semi-sweet red?! When I will be blessed with worthy connoisseur?

Cayden: OHai shweetheart, wanna some? *shares the cookie with Thais before getting to bed with her*

Aroden: You shared the cookie of divinity with whom?!

Cayden: *licks his finger* That was helluva of a cookie! Oh, theres some cr-r-rumbs left... Hey, doggie-doggie, hey doggie-doggie...

Aroden: *facepalm* Why do I even bother...

Iomedae: *enters the temple passes the test, eats the cookie*

Aroden: with anticipation Well, how was it?

Iomedae: Well, a bit undercooked. It could use more cinnamon and some raisins. I would add Arcadian chocolate instead of Vudran coffee too.

Aroden: angered That's it! I quit! Bake them yourself if you think you can do better!

The real proceedings of these three Ascensions were revealed on Paizo messageboard while discussing the circumstances of Cayden making Thais his divine herald. I would like to thank all the participants of that discussion for inspiration.


The Lone God

In times before the history, when the world was young and the people haven't gathered to build cities yet, a man was exiled from his band. Cause of his exile was lost to the fog of ages together with the people he belonged to. Was it crime? A broken taboo? Inauspicious omen? No one knows, maybe except the exile himself, but he does not care anymore. Exile for his people was death. Those who were severed from the family were left to fend for themselves and died quickly, alone in the cruel wilds of that age. Everyone exiled died, except that one man. He was the first exile to live, to endure the wilds, to survive alone. He was too skilled hunter to starve, too stubborn to surrender. His will to live drove him until he learned to appreciate the solitude, to enjoy it. No longer afraid of being alone, like his kin were, freed from the dependency on others he thrived where those before him dwindled.

His focus on survival and solitude slowly changed him. He lived longer than any member of his former tribe but living alone, without others to compare against he did noticed that for many turnings of the seasons. His senses grew sharper than any beast he was hunting for. His wounds mended faster and no illness ever touched him. He ascended past the boundaries mortality subtly and without witnesses. Forever alone, now of own choice, he grew into the deity of solitude.

The Lone God, the first exile, is a strange god. He has no servants, no followers, no temples, no priests and no worshipers. He enters no pacts and grants no magic. He is patron to no one because those who would be suited to worship solitude are those who require no patron and no companionship. Those who would turn to him for aid and protection he will reject; it is said that sometimes he hunts those who dare to disrupt his isolation with prayers — asking for help or providing it contradicts the very nature of his divinity, after all.


My Life As A Gamer: Computer Games, part 1

As I mentioned before, computer games played (and still play) important role in my life.
My first memories concerning computers are clouded by time. It probably was somewhere around '85 when my father (who was repairing electronic devices for living) brought a computer for repair. I think it was Comodore C64. Soon, he borrowed Atari 2600 game system with three or four cartridges. I am certain that there were Miner 2049er amongst them. I think that another could be Missile Command or similar game. While we had Atari 2600 at home, a Spectrum 48k was also brought in for a short time, but without programs (or maybe it wasn't working at all, I don't recall doing anything on it).

In late '85 father started buying Bajtek, a monthly computer magazine . For me, the most interesting part of it were 4-6 pages dedicated to games. Somewhere around '87 we bought our first own computer: Atari 130 XE with cassette tape player plus a few tapes with games and programs. Our collection of tapes grew quite quickly, at least until 1991. Father went to visit his brother, who was living in Germany since early 70s. He promised to bring us a new joysticks. He brought one... And Amiga 500. Quality of gaming jumped up exponentially. At time of its introduction there was no better home computer. Great graphics, great sound, great games, four times as much memory (practically eight times, because Atari 130XE used only 64 of 128kB of memory possessed due to 8-bit architecture limitations), 3-1/2 floppies instead of tapes... Sky was the limit! It's a terrible shame that Commodore and later firms that acquired rights to Amiga design failed to continue it's development at rate matching Intel-based PCs.

Switching from Atari 130 XE to Amiga 500 was a great change. No longer loading games took hours (sometimes literally with bigger games) so I could play multiple games each day, switching the played game for another at will. Still I had to share the computer with brother.
A few times we got newer Amiga and upgraded them with more memory, HDs, various expansions. Later we also got Amiga 1200 with expansions. At least we had two working computers at the same time.

The paradise lasted for ten years, until computer games outgrew capabilities of Amiga. In early 21st century my brother moved to grandfather, who later bought old IBM PC, then another and another. First my brother moved from Amiga to IBM and finally I got my own Intel-based computer (seriously outdated) a few years later. After some time grandfather gave me another computer, better than before but still outdated and then another (single core Celeron in times when dual core was the norm, with integrated 64 MB graphics...).

Only in 2009, after grandfathers death I bought myself my own Asus laptop with decent processor and good 512 MB Radeon graphics card and finally I could not only play a lots of games that I were missing but also I could play them at high quality settings, most of the time. It was great time until October of 2011, two months after the warranty ended. One day the computer just stopped working. No warning signs, no anything. Just didn't turned on in the morning. That was one of the few rare moments when I, while being awake, bitten my left thumb to check if I don't dream (or rather have nightmare in that case). I sometimes do that in dreams when I recognize that I am dreaming but want to be sure. That day I hoped that I haven't woke myself up yet and that's just a bad dream. Regretfully, it wasn't. I had to spend most of the money I had just to get it repaired. For two weeks I was back to using old computer after two years of heaven. This was time of hurting eyes and aching head - laptop built-in screen had graphic quality unparalleled by the old CRT monitor. After two weeks I got my laptop back, repaired. Or so it seemed until the Christmas. Just before Christmas it shut down without warning. I trembled but it turned on without problems. Until next Thursday when it shut down again. Once more it turned on but on the next day it didn't work at all. There was warranty on the first repair so the same company fixed it again without additional costs but since then I am exceptionally careful with it. Which means no games that force it into highest activity, regretfully and I won't be able to repair or replace it in foreseeable future. So for now, I switch between laptop and another outdated reserve computer.

Next time: Less about computers and more about actual games. Probably.



And here it is! I can reveal that it was incoming publication that gave me the final push to start a blog about gaming:

Meet the Commander class, originally created as a Captain base class by yours truly, licensed and slightly modified by Amora Game to suit their needs (they changed Direct Order, Strong Voice and the way some of advanced tactics work). Oh, and Extra Tactics feat is also mine.

Together with my Captain Commander, there is teamwork-focused Centurion prestige class created by Kevin Bond. It certain looks interesting. It could suit an NPC or two from the City Guard in my current Forgotten Realms campaign.


What If: The Doom Of The Rings

The first setting idea I'd like to share is something I thought about many years ago and concerns prof. Tolkien's Middle-earth. I must admit that I am of mixed feelings towards the Middle-earth myself. I admire the work prof. Tolkien put into creating a complex, living world with rich history. I like Hobbit and even Silmarillion even more but The Lord Of The Rings not so much to say the least. There are reasons why it's parody was titled Bored Of The Rings, after all. My stance towards the trilogy somewhat warmed recently, thanks to fine work done by Turbine with their The Lord Of The Rings Online game.

Many years ago, after reading The Last Ringbearer, I started to think about Middle-earth game that would twist the story a bit. Not nearly as much as The Last Ringbearer, but a bit. Primary concern was the timing, I didn't wanted to place it prior to or during the events of The Lord Of The Rings because I don't like players messing up with existing story (depends upon particular setting, in Star Wars Expanded Universe I am more lenient, for example) but placing it afterward would be a bit pointless. After some thought I considered tweaking the ending of the trilogy for the purpose of the game setting - it is one of the rare occasions when I even considered that because I prefer to leave book worlds as they are and instead play in worlds designed as game settings instead. There are plenty of those for anyone who needs a world to play and can't (or won't) create his own.

The basic premise of The Doom Of The Rings setting is that neither Gandalf nor rest of the Council Of Elrond anticipated the possible fallout of The One Ring's destruction. When it finally fell into the fires of the Mount Doom, the great power bound within was unleashed. It did shattered the vestiges of Sauron's physical form, nullifying his ability to influence the world, as planned. The power didn't disperse harmlessly, however. Instead it rushed toward the most suitable receptacles - the remaining rings of power. The surge of unbound sorcery immediately empowered the lesser rings and their bearers. This freed the Ringwraiths from their servitude toward the now powerless Sauron and revived the discorporated Witch-King of Angmar. Even the bearers of the Three, free of corruption until now, had to wrestle with temptation of power. The sudden disappearance of the Sauron's will driving them routed the orc army during the Battle of Morannon. Only the eruption of Mount Doom stopped the Free People from invading Mordor. Without the guidance of Gandalf, who was struggling with Narya, trying to overcome the sudden influx of power, the army under the command of Aragorn returned to Gondor, unprepared to venture into the barren lands while the rain of volcanic ash ignited spontaneous fires and poisoned already scarce supplies of water.

While the Free People celebrated the victory and vanquishing of the ancient threat, the Nazgul, much more tangible and capable of greater interaction with physical world than previously, spread across the Middle-earth driven by their rekindled ambition, greed and arrogance. Each of them sought out a seat of power and mustered orcs, trolls, dark men, and corrupted spirits under its banner. Reborn Witch-king returned to Angmar where his servants were already marshaling evil forces. One Nazgul came to dwell in Fornost, one in Dol Guldur and another moved to the depths of Moria determined to subjugate native goblins and slaughter returned dwarves. Three divided Mordor between themselves in uneasy alliance bent on ravaging Gondor. Eighth of the Ringwraiths claimed the throne of Umbar. The last one remains unaccounted for, an enigmatic threat lurking in the shadows, bidding its time for a decisive move.

Saruman, still at fraction of his former power and trapped within the walls of Orthanc, never left for Shire. Instead, he subtly manipulates events in Rohan pitting the Rohirrim against Dunlendings and trying to undermine the horselords' loyalty to Gondor. His agents roam the Eregion and Rhovanion spreading unrest, seeding betrayals, forging alliances and, above all, seeking items of power that would restore their master's might.

Gandalf managed to reject the temptation of empowered Narya and vanished after Aragorn's coronation, presumably recalled to the West for his mission was complete. Some, however, speculate that he decided to stay in Middle-earth against the wishes of might Valar, to advise the Men and Elves in their battles against the remaining forces of the Shadow.

Lothlorien struggles, flanked by goblins of Moria and orcs of Dol Guldur. The elven realm is protected by the power of Nenya but its continuous use strains the spirit of Galadriel and pushes her slowly into madness. Rivendell is harried by goblins, trolls and hillsfolk beholden to Angmar as well, but nowhere near as hard as Lorien so Elrond is forced to draw on Vilya's power to much lesser degree than Galadriel.

Gondor, under the rule of newly crowned Elessar Telcontar, is subject to the raids of Mordor orcs, Haradrim tribes and Umbar corsairs. The main forces of the kingdom are tied in Ithillien, preventing the hordes of Mordor from overwhelming the southern kindgom.

Men of Bree and hobbits of Shire, while relatively isolated from the greatest dangers, are still haunted by marauding servants of evil. Roaming groups of bandits, goblins and giant spiders cross the borders of once peaceful lands.

Rangers Of The North wage many small but vicious battles through the Eregion but their primary concern is retaking ancient cities of Annuminas and Fornost while preventing Angmarim from conquering the North.

Dwarven expedition slowly reclaimed Moria from the hands of various orc tribes but their progress was stopped and partly reversed when the denizens of the depths were rallied by one of the Ringwraiths who choose Moria as his new domain. Now, the dwarves must fight with all their might and fortitude to hold what they managed to retake.

Free people all around the Middle-earth need courage and valor to eradicate the forces of evil and make the way for the Forth Age to come.


My Life As A Gamer, part 3

Are we in XXI century yet? Oops, nope. It's still 2000, just after becoming member of GGFF for real. Which wasn't so sure at that moment, because late spring of 2000 seen the Guild moving out of the neighborhood cultural center. It was something about doing some unsavory and possibly occult things by the candle light in the center's kitchen (i.e. having climatic sessions). A shame because the center was great when it came to construction. It was composed of number of interconnected rooms on the ground floor of a kamienica in Kazimierz district of Krakow. The following months have seen little GGFF activity, aside from occasional meeting of Tolkien's fans. The summer passed and in the autumn preparations for Imladris IV - GGFF-organized convention started. I attended as one of the staff members, having an extended duty at accreditation. That autumn I also made a lecture or two on another convention in Łódź. This was the beginning of my participation in making gaming conventions. Soon the year ended, and the century, and the millennium too. The time for Krakon 2001 came and I got myself into making lectures on it as well. I continued to make lectures at Imladris and Krakon for a few years, rather unwilling to serve as regular staff member. In the meantime, GGFF got itself a new place to gather. First a small chamber in the cellar of a school in the center of Krakow, later left to meet at the Krakow's YMCA on the other side of the street, where we stayed until its end (GGFF's, not YMCA).

Sucessful conventions and new location revitalized the Guild, attracting a wave of new cultists members. Each week saw two or three sessions and new face or two. Some of them even returned more than once or twice. The most played were various World Of Darkness games, lots of Call Of Cthulhu (thanks to one and later two exceptional CoC GMs), Warhammer, Deadlands, some Earthdawn, 1st edition of Legend Of The Five Rings and many other systems. In the early 2001, MAG published Polish edition of another system: Fading Suns. Some time after a group gathered and started playing. While they promised to include me a few times, they hadn't a spot available so after a months or two I borrowed the rulebook and started GMing it myself to a few members of slowly forming Fading Suns group. Soon, after some regrouping I was one of three GMs regularly GMing Fading Suns in GGFF. Slowly the ideas I introduced in my games were accepted by the other two (who already were weaving their games into single campaign) and we ended with making one large campaign. By large I mean campaign that included (according to my notes) at least seventy one players playing more than one hundred and twenty four characters. Honestly, most of the players and characters were people who appeared on single session and never returned. We had lots of such folks thanks to constant flow of people who came to GGFF meeting only once. Some of players stayed for a few sessions. Some of them stayed for longer. Some of them are my best friends now and form an extended gaming group. That Fading Suns campaign had its highs and lows but some of those I'll describe in posts dedicated to that campaign, about some I will not speak at all.

One of my early Fading Suns scenarios I wrote down (which I rarely do) and sent to Magia i Miecz. Few months later, in early 2002, when I completely forgot about that submission I was stopped by one of fellow gamers who started to congratulate me. I was surprised when I learned that the scenario was just published. It took me over ten years to publish something again.

Fading Suns was game of our choice, with occasional pause for other games. There were some lulls in the Fading Suns campaign lasting for about half a year each. The first one started when my and the primary GM of the campaign contacts with the third GM loosened. We returned to the campaign with new players, with only me and the main GM from the old guard, and some completely new players (new as in "just beginning to play RPGs"). They caught on quite soon and the group was extended by additional players. Then some of the old guard returned. A second party was started when the other GM meet some of our friends who asked for session. Then one player came for as a special guest for a game and later started to make trips from another town just to attend sessions (later she moved to our city and married one of the co-players). Then another party formed and another. As the time passed and campaign was getting thicker with intrigues, characters moved between parties as the plot required. Some of player created secondary and even tertiary characters to participate in multiple parties and be involved in various plots. Prequel sessions and alternate timeline sessions happened. Events were invented on the spot. Sessions were started spontaneously while sitting at pub. Folks were discussing their characters and adventures during non-gaming meetings. Nothing last forever, however, as our extended gaming group splintered due to fatigue, burnout, lack of communication and misunderstandings. Some of the players continued playing it with another GM while the main GM severed his contacts with them. I refused to play and master Fading Suns anymore but kept in contact with various remnants of the group as did another player. There was anger and sadness and sorrow. It took one and half year to heal the wounds and gather the people again and see them speaking to each other. On my last birthday party, no less. Relations were re-established but the campaign was left behind. A new Fading Suns were started after people were fed up with waiting for third edition. World was restarted and history written from the beginning. I put away my character of over nine years and have no intention to reviving him. Those were good old times but they ended.

Two major campaigns beyond Fading Suns at that time were Legend Of Five Rings and native Polish Aphalon (but converted to L5R roll & keep mechanics) with Aphalon having the honor of being the longest campaign GMed by a friend (the same who was the main Fading Suns GM) as he started it even before we met. Unlike the Fading Suns, it wasn't terminated by the group fall. Instead, we returned to it after the group reassembled and keep it going.

Before the Fading Suns group splintered, I joined another friend's Mage: The Ascension game, after her group had its own share of players leaving. It was the second longest campaign I participated in (technically I played the Aphalon for longer time but the MtA campaign was much more session-intensive), and unlike Fading Suns it was closed and finished before the campaign fatigue and burnout could destroy it. The same group later invited me to participate in their D&D 3.5 campaign. Somewhere in the middle of 2010 I started to post on Paizo forum, after their Pathfinder (PF) game caught my attention. When the D&D campaign came to an end over a year ago I decided to start Forgotten Realms campaign, using PF rules for them, hoping they would make a full transition to it, but the GM choose to start a new 3.5 campaign still having a few gripes about PF changes. We switch between my PF and his 3.5 game as time and circumstances allow.

Recently, Warhammer 40K became all the rage amongst members of the former Fading Suns extended group with multiple parallel games active at the same time with me being member of the latest group started when a friend moved to Kraków.


My Life As A Gamer, part 2

The much awaited breakthrough came with the sixth issue of MiM and review of Amber: The Diceless Roleplaying Game... So the roleplaying games can be played without fancy dice?! They can be played without the dice at all?! Hell, yeah! That simple but profound piece of info changed everything. Quickly I sketched my own diceless game shamelessly borrowing races, professions, class abilities and spells from every source I could get my hands on and started to GM it to a few friends (all of them one year younger than me). The whole system worked on a basis of GM's fiat, which had its failings when the GM was too lenient (usually me and one other friend) or too strict (usually another friend). the first session started spontaneously when I was yet designing it. I was speaking with my friend about it and he wondered how the combat is intended to work without rolling the dice, so I explained to him that participants describe their actions and GM adjusts the circumstances accordingly to declarations, taking into account ability scores and skills possessed by combatants. From explanation we moved to example of combat and then, after dwarven ranger defeated ambusher the session continued forward on its own. First NPCs he met were drawn from Ishar cRPG that I was playing at that time. Soon it was my turn to play. I picked a gargoyle black knight. Gargoyle species was inspired by monster from HeroQuest one of the friends had (which, regretfully was German version and because no one of us had any knowledge of that language, we never managed to master it) while the black knight was taken from KC, where it was necromantic counterpart of Paladin. Thus, my first character was completely amoral gish-necromancer. I still have a place in my heart for gishes and necromancers but I play good or at least decent characters much more than evil now.

We played it during the spring and summer of '94 until in one of the following MiM issues was dedicated to a simple but complete roleplaying system written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the creator of The Witcher. It was aptly called Tym Którzy Pierwszy Raz ("For Those Who [play] The First Time") and required two six-sided dice (technically speaking one-and-half handed weapons required use of ten-sider. Guess how many one-and-half handed weapons appeared during the game?). After we got bored with generic fantasy I rewrote the system to handle SF themes (i.e. added firearms and combat armor, also tweaked magic to be psi) and we started to play as Colonial Marines hunting for aliens xenomorphs. In one of the adventures I introduced alien-hunting Predator. I had no idea that there was Alien/Predator crossover comic book at that time, it just seemed like a good idea. One year later the same game was published as softcover book, named The Eye Of Yrhhedes after the introductory scenario where the party was pitted against Big Bad Evil Guy Artifact bearing that name. As far as I can tell we never learned who the hell Yrhhedes was or why his eye was five foot crystal orb that lashed against enemies with tendrils of energy. Regretfully, that one issue of MiM I have lend to someone and never got it back and the softcover book I have sold when I wanted to get some cash for new games.

Next in line of games I played were Kryształy Czasu, which we started playing when one of co-players came back from vacations in United States (travels abroad were still something exceptional then, travels to USA, the semi-mythical land of milk, honey and undreamed wealth were epic journeys on par with the Bilbo's quest). He brought back a few roleplaying boxed sets: Dragonlance Campaign Setting (Dragonlance books were published at that time and some of us were loving them) but we hadn't AD&D rulebooks, Marvel Superheroes (which I got as a gift) and some others. MSH was crucial because it contained a single D10, which we promptly started using while playing KC. My first Orchian (the name of the KC's world) character was half-giant warrior. Half-elf noble assassin/necromancer was next. Have I mentioned yet that I am very fond of gishes and necromancers?
Note to self: write a post or two about Kryształy Czasu. It has quite an interesting and underappreciated setting. Also, it allow me to gloat how I managed to become three-classed character without resorting to worshipping orc god Katan.
Important lesson I got from that time: the game mechanics influence the style of play. When we played without dice we focused on actual description of actions, each fight was exciting because we focused on what our characters and the monsters were doing trying to outwit each other with fancy maneuvers. When we moved to game with actual mechanics we found that that we describe our combat less and less replacing descriptions with more boring "I swing at him", "you missed", "he swings at you and missed" as our descriptions had little impact on actual efficiency in combat. I remember that we tried to adjust the rules to reflect the description but it not always meshed well with existing mechanics.

Late 94 and 95 saw the spread of roleplaying games. Shops where rulebooks and dice could be bought appeared. Or at least we learned about them. Now we knew that there was  gaming convention happening in our city every year since '93 in January or February. We missed it in the '94 but we were adamant on attending the Krakon in '95. So my gaming friends went while I got sick exactly at that time. Perfect timing, just perfect, duh. My friends returned with tales of convention and loot (aka things bought there). Also, they discovered an actual gaming club half the city apart from us. When I got better we made a visit to Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki i Gier Fabularnych (Galician Guild of Fantasy and Roleplaying Game Fans, later shortened to Galician Guild of Fantasy Fans). We kept in contact for some time but it was too far for us to go there every weekend! Ok, honestly, I run away after they started speaking about collecting fees from members. I could not afford fees and tickets while buying books and MiM at the same time. During this contact we lended some of our gaming library for some of theirs, promptly making copies for ourselves as any sane gamer did when got his hands on borrowed book because getting anything was still enormous undertaking. We lended them our newly acquired GURPS 3rd edition and got badly copied copy of a copy of a MERP rulebook in return. A few years later we got an actual MERP core rulebook when it was published in Polish and even played a few games.

In addition to learning that there are gamers beyond us, that year saw us playing more and more games: newly published Warhammer, Cyberpunk, Call Of Cthulhu, aforementioned MERP and Dzikie Pola. Also, I started attending to a lyceum (equivalent to USA/UK high school) and the next year rest of the group started too. Here our ways started to split, we went to different schools, we had less time, our interests started to diverge. It took a few more years before my first gaming group finally disintegrated but it did.

In mean time I discovered gamer in my own class in my new school - on the first English lesson we were asked to tell about ourselves and our interests and we both mentioned roleplaying games. We spoke after the lesson and later he introduced me to his fellow gamers with whom I played a few times. We also learned that a gaming shop was opened ten minutes of walk from our school so we started to hanging out there after lessons together with bunch of like-minded folks where we listened for the news and spoke about games. There was no place for gaming beyond playing Tragic Magic with the owner on the counter (personally I never got into CCGs, it would diverted my limited funds from really important things such as rpgs, computer games and ice cream). A few years later they started a larger shop in the center of Krakow but it had yet to happen.

One day, sometime after MAG, the main rpg publisher (also the publisher of MiM magazine), announced Werewolf: The Apocalypse translation we came to discover that there is another related game available in Polish (which until now we only saw in English version): Vampire The Masquarade... While MAG was translating WtA, ISA - another publisher - released VtM. Quickly, I convinced my class-mate that he should buy Vampire when he was choosing between VtM and Dzikie Pola. And so he did and I borrowed it from him. It started my long-time affiliation with World Of Darkness. Next year friend of his acquired Mage The Ascension (both World of Darkness as a whole and MtA individually might see their own posts in the future).

At the end of nineties I played much less than at the start of my gaming career. The slow disintegration of gaming group while at the same time not forming a new regular group reduced the amount of time I spent playing. Still, I spent lot of time, energy and whatever money I had on gaming. Starting in '96 I began to attend already mentioned Krakon convention, trying to not get sick when it was coming near. I think that a few times I got sick after, thanks to exposure of pathogens from the other sides of the country seasoned with lack of sleep. But it was worth it.

My favorite Krakon was '98 when I mingled with an extended gaming group from Łódź and spend most of time together with them. It was the first time I played with female GM, and I must say that she was great GM. Apparently I appeared as a guest in a middle of a very long, very complex campaign of... Amber. I already loved that series, despite reading only first three books (I hadn't managed to get my claws on later books at that time). I met them again the next year and started exchanging correspondence - actual letters, not these fancy new e-mails. They invited me to gaming convention they were making in Łódź in '99 and for a few years I was going there for conventions in addition to those happening in Kraków. In January of 2000 I learned about a week or two of meetings in a gaming club on Kazimierz. I attended and learned that they are organized by Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki. the same club with now-shortened name. One of the memebers even recognized me after those five years. This time I stayed because yearly fee was lower than discount for Krakon entrance fee that membership in GGFF bestowed.


My Life As A Gamer, part 1

As we gamers know so well, experience is what shapes us and makes us who we are. And because this is a blog about games (mostly), I want to say a bit about my gaming history.

Depending upon point of view, as the roleplaying gamers go, I am of the middle generation. I wasn't there when the hobby started. I wasn't even alive; I was born a few years after the hobby started. Also, there was that small matter of me being born on the other side of the world, hidden behind the iron curtain. Actually, this wasn't so small matter; it had serious impact on my relationship with rpgs, but I will muse on this later.

Let me start with saying that for as long as my memory reaches back, I was fan of science, science fiction and fantasy. My parents and grandparents started and supported my love of books and general interest in science. I taught myself to read on fairy tale O krasnoludkach i Sierotce Marysi (strange, there seems to be no translation of that book - I think I write more about it in the future, if I ever come to reflect about English word dwarf and Polish krasnolud(ek). Or if I write a post or two about Slavic mythology). While my parents were favoring historical and crime fiction, there were a few SF books and books about mythology - Greek and Roman at first but later mother bought one about Aztec mythology. There was also a lot of technical books, which I browsed for pictures, a lot of books and magazines about popular science, including Bajtek (first Polish magazine about computers which father was buying even before we had actual computer), a high quality Panasonic VCR when they were novelty, especially in late communist Poland, a borrowed gaming console (Atari 2600) and an actual computer (Atari 130 XE) around 1987. Oh, and until 1994 Poland had copyright laws that hadn't forbid copying movies and computer games, which meant they were cheap and easily accessible from hundred of small scale dealers. Me and my brother spent hundreds of hours playing video games and watching movies. Some of the oldest movies I remember are Red Sonia, Terminator and Rambo. I also recall Jason of Star Command and later Star Trek The Next Generation. One could say I was doomed to become gamer and fantasy and sf fan from the very start.

One of my oldest memories involving roleplaying games was from a children's television series - either Drops or 5-10-15 - where presentation took place. It took many years before it occurred to me that it was about rpgs at all. My second contact with rpg was their description in second issue of Joker - short-lived magazine dedicated to puzzles and logical games. It included two page description and one page image of a warrior fighting red-scaled dragon on a hoard of gold. Yeah, the one from red-colored D&D Player's Manual. I started to design a game based on the vague description but never finished it. Not enough information and too much distractions for nine year old.

At that time I was sinking more and more into board games, especially tactical and strategy games. As a politically unaware kid I mostly ignored great political changes happening around, like fall of communism which allowed for greater contact with "The West" and even commissioning desired goods from there, albeit at ridiculously high prices. It wasn't concern of mine for a few more years. What concerned me was appearance of a new board game named Magia i Miecz (Sword & Sorcery or literally translating Magic And Sword) which was Polish rendition of Games Workshop Talisman. The primary difference was Polish-made graphics (in opinion of many players better than original, I haven't seen Talisman to be able to judge myself). It even had additional Polish-made expansion Jaskinia ("The Cave") which was often criticized as poorly balanced and not well fitting the rest of the game. I loved playing this game when I had a chance.

In autumn 1993 I found a magazine of the same name (aka MiM) at local newspaper vendor. The large letters stating that inside are four new characters for the Magia i Miecz game attracted me as much as the name of the magazine. Quick scan of my pockets revealed enough cash for the purchase, so I returned home that afternoon with a new magazine to read, magazine that I kept buying for the following eight years. Inside were the promised bonus characters for the game (those were extra professions that one could advance into after meeting special conditions, like Sheriff from The City expansion set - we never get to use them in actuall play). It was the least interesting part of the magazine, however, because the largest part of the issue contained character creation rules for Kryształy Czasu (Crystals Of Time, referenced as KC from now on), a native Polish rpg game, serialized in the magazine before being published as softcover book. I did recognized it as one of that games I read about years earlier and showed it to friends who shared my interests (and who were my partners in make-belive games when we were younger). Immediately we decided that we want to play that game. Alas, we could not. The rules called for the use of two weird ten-sided die which we lacked. Remember when I wrote about the costs of commissioning anything from abroad? Aye, we hadn't have such money or contacts so we waited and bid our time before we could get one. Or a pair. Or better a whole handful.

Thankfully, the breakthrough came early the next year.


Wayfinder #7

Ten years since my first publication I got a new publication: Wayfinder #7

Hopefully I will get to Wayfinder #8 too. Three more days before deadline for sending submission hits. I already sent three. I will try to write one or two more. Then I will wait for notification if anything was accepted.

Oh, and before anyone asks: it's the first position in the bestiary section: Aeon, Caen.

In The Beginning...

And here we go: I start my own blog. Finally. I thought about doing so from time to time and now I decide to give it a try. Certain circumstances gave me a push that I was lacking previously. More will be revealed in due time, however.

I will be focusing (mostly) on roleplaying games, literature, all things fantasy & SF and related generes. All seasoned up with occasional rant, news, unrelated thought or two and raw ideas I find interesting enough to share and spread.

So, why "Shaper Of Worlds"? Because this will be (or at least is intended to be) to be a game designer's blog. At the very core of myself I am developer of universes. This is what appeals to me in fantasy and SF fiction the most: unlimited supply of worlds, events, cultures and cosmologies (both scientific and metaphysical), people and creatures. So, expect musings and reflections about designing fictional things - plots, whole settings, individual planets, species, nations, cultures, religions, characters, political events... Wait, the last one falls under plots designation, doesn't it?

Also, this might be the chance to polish my written English some more. So if anyone captures grammar error, punctuation error or just a bad stylistics, feel free to comment on it.

For now, I will have to familiarize myself with the blogger's UI and options available and find what look and composition appeals to me the most.