Old School Tabletop Roleplaying Gaming

Gates & Glamours

Lots of Microlite20/74/5e Goodness


I have recently discovered Brian Mathers’ blog, The Gnomish Embassy. Brain’s blog has a large number of posts for Microlite20 in general although his Microlite20 seems to focus on Microlite74 and Microlite5e. Here is a small sample of his Microlite20/74/5e posts:

The Gnomish Embassy also features well-developed characters and monsters for these (and many other games). It is one of the most interesting and useful blogs I’ve discovered this year. I don’t know how I’ve missed it before.

Dealing With Player Death

I’ve been playing and gamemastering tabletop roleplaying games since 1975 and I have dealt with a lot of character deaths, both my own characters and characters of players in the games I’m running. I’ve even had a few former players die over the years — long after they had left my game. However, I’ve never had a player currently in my game die — until last week that is.

James texted me Monday evening asking if he could drop by on his way home from work Tuesday to drop off a couple of books he had borrowed and grab a couple more. Tuesday afternoon, when he didn’t show up, I called him. His wife answered the phone and told me James had had a mild heart attack in the early hours of the morning and that he was in the hospital, but doing well. I spoke to him briefly and said I’d come by during visiting hours Wednesday and see him.

I arrived at the hospital a little after noon on Wednesday to find James in surgery and Robin very worried. James had a second heart attack that morning and his doctors had decided to do emergency bypass surgery. I stayed with his wife until their son arrived from Akron but then I had to head home to take care of my wife. I got a call from Robin a few hours later telling me that James had come through surgery (a quadruple bypass and the insertion of two stents) and was in guarded condition. His doctors had told her if he could make it through the next 36 hours without any major issues, his prognosis would be excellent. We did not talk long as she had a lot of calls to make to friends and relatives. Sadly, James never regained consciousness and passed away about 7 Thursday morning.

The funeral was Sunday afternoon — about the time my Sunday game would start. Needless to say, there was no game as all of us were at the funeral. To be honest, we are all a little lost. It’s one thing to lose a longtime player from your game because they had to move or because their work hours changed. It’s apparently a very different thing to have a player die. We aren’t sure what we are going to do with the campaign. The campaign will continue, but we are unsure exactly how to continue it — starting with the obvious question of what to do with James’ characters. Should we retire them? Use them as NPCs? Something else? It’s not like we can just ask James what he wants done with them. We have some time to decide how we want to proceed as we have cancelled this week’s game which means will not play again until the 19th (as the 12th is Mother’s Day).

I had only known James a few years. He was my first local gaming contact when we moved to Youngstown from Texas in late 2016. He and his family have become good friends. James as a good person.He was retired from the navy and worked with a local non-profit to bring jobs to Youngstown. His characters were as enthusiastic about their game lives as James was about real life. If there is gaming in heaven, James will be rolling his dice. Perhaps he’ll get his wish and can play in Arduin with Dave Hargrave as GM. All I know for sure is that I will miss him.

Welcome to Gates & Glamours

Gates & Glamours illo

Welcome to my new blog: Gates & Glamours. Actually, “revised blog” might be a more accurate description. I noticed that most of my posts on RetroRoleplaying: The Blog the past few years have been announcing new games I’m working on, games I’ve completed, games on sale over at DriveThruRPG, etc. In the early years, the majority of my posts were about old school gaming. The interesting posts were getting buried under tons of announcements so I decided to split the blog in two. The original RetroRoleplaying: The Blog will be for announcements about my games and Gates & Glamours will host my posts about old school gaming.

I chose the name because gates to other worlds have always been an important part of my campaign worlds and “glamour” is a synonym for “magic spells”. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I suspect the real reason has something to do with the fact that when my sister and I were very young we used to drive my mother crazy by shouting “GATEWAY GLAMOUR” in a silly sing-songy voice. I don’t really remember why we did this, but I think it had something to do with a show on TV where someone went through a “gateway to glamour” and got a makeover. Don’t look at me that way. I was five or six and my sister was probably three. We were little monsters at that age.

I’ve copied 400 plus posts from RetroRoleplaying: The Blog here and cleaned them up some (e.g. removing deleted comments, removing long out of date plugs for various RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Drives, etc.). These posts will eventually be removed from RetroRoleplaying: The Blog. Most of the posts about my games (Microlite7x, Microlite81, etc.) have been left on the old blog and not moved here. Posts about my games which talk about game design issues or talk about rules or draft classes are the exception, some have been moved here — especially ones that generated a lot of discussion.

I intend to use this blog to actually talk about old school gaming as I used to back when started blogging in February 2008. I doubt I will be a very prolific poster as being my wife’s 24/7 caregiver and working or my campaigns and games takes up most of my time. I will, however, try to have at least four somewhat weighty posts each month and a few short takes as well. No promises, however.

Moving old posts from the RetroRoleplaying blog was not without a couple of minor problems. First, random comments were duplicated (or triplicated in some cases). I believe I have caught and removed all of the duplicate comments, but a few may remain. Second, some of the links to other posts on this blog may not work. I’m trying to find and fix them, but finding them is a type of proofreading and 93% of the population is better at proofreading than I am — at least according to tests I took in high school. If you find one, feel free to message me with its location so I can fix it.

Finally, I have tried to make commenting easy. There are two ways to comment:

1) You can join the OSR.SPACE community, log in, and comment.
2) You can choose to not bother with an account and just comment.

For the moment, at least, there are no annoying captchas to struggle with if you do not create an account as I’m using a service that has a record for stopping 99.9% of spambots in their tracks. So far, it is working great at preventing spambots from registering OSR.SPACE accounts. My fingers crossed that it continues to work as captchas that actually work have become annoying hard for humans to solve.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons as a Test of Artificial Intelligence?

The article below points out that getting a computer to play Dungeons & dungeons and pass a human player might be a better test of artificial intelligence than games like Go or Chess. I agree that playing Dungeons & Dragons (or any tabletop RPG) requires showing a much different time of intelligence than playing Chess or Go — games with strict rules and a very limited set of actions one can take on their turn.

Everyone had died – not that you’d know it, from how they were laughing about their poor choices and bad rolls of the dice. As a social anthropologist, I study how people understand artificial intelligence (AI) and our efforts towards attaining it; I’m also a life-long fan of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the inventive fantasy roleplaying game. During a recent quest, when I was playing an elf ranger, the trainee paladin (or holy knight) acted according to his noble character, and announced our presence at the mouth of a dragon’s lair. The results were disastrous. But while success in D&D means ‘beating the bad guy’, the game is also a creative sandbox, where failure can count as collective triumph so long as you tell a great tale.

What does this have to do with AI? In computer science, games are frequently used as a benchmark for an algorithm’s ‘intelligence’. The late Robert Wilensky, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a leading figure in AI, offered one reason why this might be. Computer scientists ‘looked around at who the smartest people were, and they were themselves, of course’, he told the authors of Compulsive Technology: Computers as Culture (1985). ‘They were all essentially mathematicians by training, and mathematicians do two things – they prove theorems and play chess. And they said, hey, if it proves a theorem or plays chess, it must be smart.’ No surprise that demonstrations of AI’s ‘smarts’ have focussed on the artificial player’s prowess.

Yet the games that get chosen – like Go, the main battlefield for Google DeepMind’s algorithms in recent years – tend to be tightly bounded, with set objectives and clear paths to victory or defeat. These experiences have none of the open-ended collaboration of D&D. Which got me thinking: do we need a new test for intelligence, where the goal is not simply about success, but storytelling? What would it mean for an AI to ‘pass’ as human in a game of D&D? Instead of the Turing test, perhaps we need an elf ranger test?

Of course, this is just a playful thought experiment, but it does highlight the flaws in certain models of intelligence. First, it reveals how intelligence has to work across a variety of environments. D&D participants can inhabit many characters in many games, and the individual player can ‘switch’ between roles (the fighter, the thief, the healer). Meanwhile, AI researchers know that it’s super difficult to get a well-trained algorithm to apply its insights in even slightly different domains – something that we humans manage surprisingly well.

Second, D&D reminds us that intelligence is embodied. In computer games, the bodily aspect of the experience might range from pressing buttons on a controller in order to move an icon or avatar (a ping-pong paddle; a spaceship; an anthropomorphic, eternally hungry, yellow sphere), to more recent and immersive experiences involving virtual-reality goggles and haptic gloves. Even without these add-ons, games can still produce biological responses associated with stress and fear (if you’ve ever played Alien: Isolation you’ll understand). In the original D&D, the players encounter the game while sitting around a table together, feeling the story and its impact. Recent research in cognitive science suggests that bodily interactions are crucial to how we grasp more abstract mental concepts. But we give minimal attention to the embodiment of artificial agents, and how that might affect the way they learn and process information.

Finally, intelligence is social. AI algorithms typically learn though multiple rounds of competition, in which successful strategies get reinforced with rewards. True, it appears that humans also evolved to learn through repetition, reward and reinforcement. But there’s an important collaborative dimension to human intelligence. In the 1930s, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky identified the interaction of an expert and a novice as an example of what became called ‘scaffolded’ learning, where the teacher demonstrates and then supports the learner in acquiring a new skill. In unbounded games, this cooperation is channelled through narrative. Games of It among small children can evolve from win/lose into attacks by terrible monsters, before shifting again to more complex narratives that explain why the monsters are attacking, who is the hero, and what they can do and why – narratives that aren’t always logical or even internally compatible. An AI that could engage in social storytelling is doubtless on a surer, more multifunctional footing than one that plays chess; and there’s no guarantee that chess is even a step on the road to attaining intelligence of this sort.

In some ways, this failure to look at roleplaying as a technical hurdle for intelligence is strange. D&D was a key cultural touchstone for technologists in the 1980s and the inspiration for many early text-based computer games, as Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon point out in Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1996). Even today, AI researchers who play games in their free time often mention D&D specifically. So instead of beating adversaries in games, we might learn more about intelligence if we tried to teach artificial agents to play together as we do: as paladins and elf rangers.Aeon counter – do not remove

Beth Singler

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under its Creative Commons license.

Perhaps Really Huge Dungeons Aren’t “Unrealistic” After All

I stumbled across an article on a huge complex of man-made tunnels under parts of China that were apparently, like the Great Wall, built to help defend the Northern part of China from invaders.  From the article (click here to read the entire article):

Experts have dug out similar war passages in Yongqing, Xiong county, and Bazhou. The ancient war passages are about 65 kilometers from east to west, 25 kilometers from north to south, which extend through 1,600 square kilometers. When the border between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty went as far west as Rongcheng county and Xushui county, it is thought that many ancient war passages existed in that area. How far the ancient war passages extended eastwards from Yongqing is still unknown.

These passages were apparently built around 1000 AD. Given the size of this tunnel complex and their apparent usage, perhaps megadungeons aren’t as an unrealistic idea as even those of us who enjoy them have assumed they were.

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