Friday, October 23, 2009

Mildewed Thoughts

Just getting a few things out of my brain before I suffer a stroke over them.

1. I wonder if it's possible to make a living by actually working reasonble hours. I've done nothing other than sleep and work for about a month and a half now, and it's inexorably pushing me towards a psychotic break. You wouldn't like me when I'm crazy.

2. Thoughts of late turn, naturally, to horror. In the D&D world, that naturally leads to thoughts of Ravenloft the campaign setting. There's a nice little review of Ravenloft's history over at Advanced Gaming Theory, from the first module all the way through the horrors that were inflicted on us by crappy writers and the bitch in charge of TSR at the time. I agree with most of it, but I'll say that there are a few of the modules that were really excellent, most notable among them was Castles Forlorn, a madening little twist of insanity involving time travel and a bad guy to drive you loopy.

More specifically here, in between TPS status reports, I've been pondering how a good horror campaign in AD&D would run without falling into the same traps that TSR's middle and late Ravenloft did. TSR, you see, noticed that most of our greatest horror movies and stories revolved around a central "bad guy" or antagonistic character. Dracula is mostly about the titular vampire and the efforts organized to defeat it. Frankenstein's tale is about the mad doctor's perverse disfigurement of the natrual cycles of birth, life, and death (and if you have forgotten just how perverse this really was, go back and read it again keeping in the front of your mind the image of a woman giving birth). Hell, in the end, even Halloween (our first and greatest slasher movie) became, in the end, mostly about Mr. Meyers. This is great, because the greatest horror, in my view, revolves around the concept of a single, charismatic damned soul and those caught up in its orbit or a very few other rare concepts.

But, of course, this doesn't make for a good roleplaying game. What scares us on the big screen just makes for crappy gaming, really, so what, exactly, is the composition of a good horror game? I suspect it has little to do with Ravenloft itself and more with understanding the underpinnings of what frightens us individually rather than what frightens us in the books and movies.

3. Thoughts of late also turn, for some unknowable reason, to The Peninsular War and the prospect of a game set in the style of The Richard Sharpe series. If you've not experienced this particular series, it behooves you to take some time and get into it. I think it'd be a great deal of fun to put together a series of "adventures" or more appropriately, missions, casting the players as members of a detached unit in either the military intelligence corps or part of the 95th Rifles. Of course, the trick would be to avoid the "Star Wars Syndrome" and keep major personalities out of the game. As tempting as it might be to put Welsey into play, I'd hate myself for doing it.

4. Thylia is log jammed in a corner of my mind, slowly developing a tumor that keeps me up nights. I find it becoming darker and darker in my mind and less and less like the original D&D, and even less like the morality play that 2nd edition can turn into. Bleak and hopeless wastes populated by men and women who's sole concern is to survive to the next day. I feel compelled, here, to quote "The Widening Gyre," but I shall resist such temptation for now. I'd like, more and more to actually assemble a group to give this world a twirl, but it's hard to set aside time to actually do that. Perhaps a Thursday or Friday night game, weekly or bi-weekly, but really, how many northern Jersey gamers are there?