But we have authentic contemporary depictions of it in art?

When it comes the the discussion of how medieval and ancient soldiers were actually equipped and fought in reality, something that comes up all the time is the mention of authentic artwork from the time that shows various weapons and how they are being used.

I admit those as evidence, but I dispute that they are proof.

Art is art. Not documentation. Sometimes art can be helpful in figuring out how certain things needed to be constructed to work, and held to be efficiently used. But in those cases you still have to try and replicate the depicted construction or handling and try them out to see if it actually solves problems people have encountered with modern recreations.

People have build plenty of ball and chain flails and studded leather armor over the recent years, but nobody has ever demonstrated that those can be of any use in a fight.

My favorite example of why authentic contemporary art can not be used as proof that people actually did things that way at the time is the 1987 movie Predator. In Predator, we see American soldiers fighting in a jungle, dual weilding MP5 sub-machine guns and carrying a hand-held minigun.

This artistic depiction of American soldiers was created by American artists in 1987, depicting scenes that take place in 1987. It can’t get more authentic and contemporary than that. There are countless historical records that show American soldiers actually saw action South America at that time, and in the archeological evidence we have thousands of surviving MP5s, and numerous still existing Miniguns that are extremely close to the one shown in the footage.

But should we take Predator as a reliable source for how American soldiers conducted jungle warfare in the 1980s? I’d be cautious about that.

And let’s also not forget that many pieces of medieval art were clearly drawn by people who clearly had never seen the things they were drawing.

Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert – 40 years and still going strong

It’s already two months late, but everyone else seems to have missed it too. The first printings of the Basic and Expert rules by Tom Moldvay and David Cook were done all the way back in January 1981.

And what a game they made!

After I started playing D&D when 3rd edition came out, I went for many years before I ever even heard of something that was occasionally mumbled about in the background called B/X or BECMI. And it completely stayed under my radar until six years ago when I took my first actual look at it, having it filed away as “that D&D light version where elf is a class”.

From the way that I remember it, the oldschool revival seemed to have started very much as an AD&D thing (though Basic Fantasy was actually the first retroclone) and that was a game I had tried getting into but bounced off very hard. But in the later years, when the return to older games morphed more into a forward evolution of those old concepts, B/X really seems to have established itself as the primary focus and reference point for oldschool roleplaying. Hard to say how things will be in another 40 years, but I am quite confident that this game will be staying with us for a long time to come.

The Sprawl

Well, silly me…

After I had my initial idea that Night City with its districts and gangs could be an interesting setting for an alternative Blades in the Dark game, I soon decided that I’d actually rather run something more along the lines of Apocalypse World. Blades’ system of fighting for turf really only makes sense if you want to play aspiring crime bosses, but doesn’t fit for parties who simply want to secure their neighborhood or megabuilding. Apocalypse World is in many ways based around the idea of the players establishing themselves as a powerful force in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, even though it doesn’t say so outright, which I think is a better approach for up and coming lowlifes in a cyberpunk city.

And after several days of fiddling around with Apocalypse World to replace the psychic powers with a hacking system, I discovered that someone else had already done something similar many years ago, and turned it into a full game and a proper book.

If you are familiar with Apocalypse World, then The Sprawl immediately shows that it’s a very close descendant. There are of course many different games that use the underlying dice mechanic and principles of Apocalypse World, but this game is much closer to the first game that started it all than for example Dungeon World or Blades in the Dark. The Sprawl is the first other game I’ve seen that retains most of the basic moves from Apocalypse World mostly as they are. The names have been changed to a style that (the author assumes) have a more cyberpunk feel, but you still have the Go Aggro and Seize by Force moves that make conflict scenes in Apocalypse World so unique. The playbooks for different character types are all completely different from those in Apocalypse World, and while I think the Hardholder and Chopper could have been really fun in a cyberpunk setting, the ten playbooks of The Sprawl really cover all the character archetypes you could ask for in a cyberpunk game very well.

The Sprawl seems to be particularly well suited for a game set in Night City and I’ve seen people even describe it as an unofficial PtbA version of Cyberpunk 2020. The names are different, but it does have playbooks to play a Ripperdock, Media, or even Rockerboy. I looked at the new Cyberpunk Red once and was immediately “yeah, no thanks”. Even though I find the setting quite compelling (as genetic cyberpunk as it is), I really am way past the point where I want to deal with a four page flowchart to get all my little +1s here and +2s there. Those things don’t help getting invested in the story and spontaneous going with the flow of a chaotic action scene. They do the opposite. PtbA rules really are the way to go for the kinds of games that I actually have an interest to run.

Unfortunately, The Sprawl suffers from the same problem that almost all PtbA games seem to have. The bad example set by Apocalypse World that has been slavishly copied by anyone else. The game attempts to make the rules filled with style by using elaborate slang everywhere it can when a normal, self-explaining word would have done the job. I don’t know why the mechanic for hoping that an ambulance reaches you before you die is called “Acquire Agricultural Property”. Apparently it’s a joke on “Buying the Farm”, but I am a German fluent in English. I don’t know what that expressions means either, or what it has to do with dying. How am I supposed to explain this rules to players who are just as clueless? It’s only the most annoying example, but the issue is persistent throughout the whole book. Which, when you are trying to explain a very unconventional game system that is completely different from mainstream games, is bad!

One thing that I’ve seen people criticize rightfully is that The Sprawl presents a system for doing jobs for hire and does it in a way that implies that all the game will ever be is “Mister Johnson of the Week”. Get a job, prepare for the job, do the job, get paid for the job. And repeat until everyone gets too bored to continue. That seems like a good system for a couple of casual one-shots, but not for an ongoing campaign. But the mechanics as written actually work for a much wider scope than this. Since the real currency in The Sprawl is not money but reputation, there’s nothing stopping the PCs from giving them “jobs” themselves, or doing something for others for free. And almost all roleplaying adventures in any genres consist of an initial investigation followed by an infiltration. Looking for a friend who’s been having trouble with a gang really is no different from being hired to look for someone else’s friend who’s been having trouble with a gang. The PCs still pull of the same heroic and leave behind the same chaos in their wake, so their street cred should be affected the same way too. Calling the first and last phases of the cycle “get the job” and “get paid” creates the false illusion that it’s really about the exchange of currency. Which it is not. I think that The Sprawl is actually much more versatile than it Mission Structure falsely implies. Because as I said, even in a sandbox campaign, you always have the same cycle of establishing what the PCs want to do, preparing for it, doing it, and then raking in the spoils. To run The Sprawl as an open-world sandbox, one does not really need to make any changes to the rules. All it takes is a more open approach of what fiction the mechanics can represent. It only happens rarely, but The Sprawl is one of the very few games that I read and want to run as they written, without immediately having a number of house rules in mind before I’ve reached the end.

Perang’s Mansion in Tual

The house of the merchant Perang sits on top of a tall spire of rock, similar to the homes of most wealthy and powerful people in Tual. The poorer people live in shacks clinging to the base of the spires, resting on wooden posts, where they frequently get flooded or swept away by the stormy seas.

In the Green Sun campaign, Perang turned out to have been replaced by a doppelganger, who died at the hands of the heroes. Tual still exist in Planet Kaendor, and I might use Perang again as an NPC.

Comment as: Google Account

Well, this is a bit akward. But it has been bothering me for quite a while.

I was just browsing through Old School RPG Planet (which is a great thing to have again) and ended up at Beyond Google Plus, and Fixing the Internet, which Melan wrote back in october when the Google Plus shutdown was announced. Good points are being made, and I fully share the distaste for Google and Facebook (and also Apple) permanently trying to monopolize internet communication for the sole purpose of making money by tracing as much of our activities as possible.

I would have liked to just give that old post a simple “Yeah, you’re right!” to give my appreciation, but I ran into my old bane again that has constantly been getting in my way for the last half year or so. When you click on “Select profile…”, there is only one option to pick from:

Google Account.

No! If my only choices are to use a Google Account or don’t comment, then I don’t comment. I think in this day and age, I don’t even have to explain why. We all know very well what Google wants and Google does. It didn’t used to be that way, with Google Account just being one options among many on almost all sites. But at some point, I believe last year, the majority of blogspot sites seemed to have all other options removed at the same time. I kind of suspect that Google made that change quietly for all users and you now have to opt-in to allow people to comment in any other ways.

I think comments are a very neat feature and a great thing to have, since we are really interested in sharing ideas and not just shouting into the void. But there is only so much I am willing to give to Google by choice, and somewhere you have to draw the line. And I think I am not the only one who does. So if you are using blogspot, please check if your comments are restricted to Google Accounts and consider whether you want to enable other options. If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, but given that this changed happened so suddenly everywhere at once, I believe that most people don’t even know the settings were changed without their knowledge.