Friday, June 24, 2011

A Video of Our Friday Night Gandalara Game and Thoughts on " Free- Form" and "Rules Light" System

I made a short movie of one of my gaming group's Gandalara meet ups last year.

The Gandlara Campaign lasted about seventh months, had four different DMs, and had a fair numbers of players pass through it, some first timers to the role playing hobby.

It represented my experimenting with free form or rules light, off the cuff system. Overall, I loved it and we had some of the most memorable games I ever played.

Essentially, characterful creation was dice-less and guided by some very simple rules of common sense mutually agreed upon between player and GM. The only real game mechanic was a roll of the two ten sided dice generating a number from 1-100 ...the lower you rolled, the better off you were, while the higher rolls meant trouble.

I think the games produced some of the very best characters I have ever seen. Really, each one sticks in my memory like characters from novels or movies rather than gaming characters. They let player individuality come like I've seldom seen with rolled characters in standard game systems. And we had some very exciting and funny moments that will always stick out, like when my character Captain Hachar got his hand cut off by his ally Kanamack the Dwarf when Kanamack was turned insane by a magical rune on a gate. Lord Bast, a cat-man sorcerer, eventually granted the Captain his hand back through magic--but decided it best for him to have a Cat's Paw instead.

How Well Did Free Form Work?

While it was fun, it was also somewhat frustrated. Not having set rules made battle a little difficult to conduct, set challenge levels of encounters, and have a magic system that was balanced. If a gentleman's agreement not to Powergame is not strictly observed, the referee can quickly find his job a nightmare and some players can get bored. In the end, we left it, but I would like to play again sometime.

The video is decent enough, not Cannes film festival material though. You can see from the game that it was largely the realm of GM fiat and some of it made no sense by conventional D&D standards--a fire elemental that could be harmed by a non-magical steel sword? And you can see from our use of the miniatures that movement was largely a player whim. Still, we did have some great games, and I did not conclude my experiment with free form gaming a failure by any means but if you do I believe you must have some more detailed rules on magic use. The session was GM'ed by my good friend Fish, who prepared some of the most interesting source material for the game I have ever seen. he read it aloud to us and it was excellent writing.

We used a rotational referee system where you could run a game from 1-5 sessions and then you had to turn it over to the next GM. Players and GM's were allowed to create any source material they wanted providing it did not arbitrarily displace previous creations of their fellows and worked in concert with them.

I am unseen in the video but I am the player running  Captain Hachar. The first minute and a half  or so is a  a commentary on Gandalara showing of the characters--the character parts are a little illegible but they don't last very long. To explain some of what you hear, the setting we used--a mixture of home brew mishmash and a published one from a very excellent series of in a world without any horses or camel like animals. The closest thing Gandalara had to such an animal was the vlek, a wooly six legged pack animal about the size of a small deer, timid and stupid and given to running away at the slightest provocation--hence a popular farewell in Gandalara is "May Your Vlek Never Bolt"!

A Narrative of the Session Events

This was perhaps Fish's second or third attempt at ever having really DM'ed after many years of playing...and he did great. Our party was shipwrecked by a magical storm in a place called simply "the Land". We befriended an old shaman and his mistrustful apprentice at his hut in the rain forest and he constructed magical conch necklaces which collected our voices, and by means of an enchantment allowed us to then speak and understand the language of the Land. We then traveled to a mountain fastness where there was an academy for training both warriors and wizards. Meeting a local ruler we learned that the factions of humans, demi-humans and humanoids from Gandalara had had discovered the Land centuries past and sought to invade it and wrest it from each other. By some unknown power. the Land  had disappeared and reappeared in a magical sea where there was no way to get there but by means of the storms. How to get out was a mystery.

The local warlord told us that since that time, the Land had been a place of perpetual war between the factions, usually ending in bloody stalemate, but with each side attempting to gain a new edge to defeat the others. And yet with each tribe there was a collective memory of their lost ancestral home of Gandalara (whose name was now forgotten since continual war had created a survival and not scholastic oriented culture). And all hoped to return there someday. The Land was ruled by 3 demi-gods and one of them met us at the mountain stornghold and sent us on a quest to basically try and unite all of the tribes and when this would happen, ostensibly, a way home would be accomplished. Two of the demi-gods were willing to do business while a 3rd was capricious and quite content with the way everything was.

In order to get around my "no riding beasts" feature of the setting, Fish created these bridals made of  woven horsehair and had the demi-goddess give us each one. They were the remains of horse like creatures that had once lived in Gandlara in the ancient past and when you held a bridal and concentrated, you could summon a "spirit steed" which would materialize in a shimmering mist and although it was incorporeal, it could bear you about! Really creative stuff!

How different was Fish's adventure? Well, the Elves of the land were 7-9' tall, grassland dwelling and dressed in primitive animal furs and rode Manticores--real ones not spirit steeds. They worshiped Zhet, an elf demi-god who we met and found that he was more amused by us than threatened and had his fun by creating an illusion of us all being slain one by one which actually convinced some of our players that their characters had been killed!  The form he chose to meet us in first was a fire elemental in humanoid shape with a great black iron crown hovering over his fiery head. But he showed his ture form after his illusion trick. Then, because we had slain his Fire Elemental Guardian, he gave us a choice: all of us fight one by one against his best warriors, or, as a group, face one creature of his choosing in his Gladiator Pit. If we won we went free, since he liked our spirit! The creature we fought was the strangest I have ever heard of--an UNDEAD Fire Elemental--yea, the very one we had already slain brought back from Fire Elemental Valhalla. And now he was made of blue and white fire that was icy cold and he was unharmed by steel weapons!

You truly never know what to expect  in a role playing game!

Anyway, I think Fish is probably one of the most original DM's I know.

You can see my homely but serviceable battle map cnsisting of a painted piece of cardboard marked off in 1 inch squares and overlaid with plexi-glass from Lowes, as well as my two d20's that I converted into percentile dice with paint. One set of dice function as my d100, d20, and d10.

Please note that my glorification of Captain Hachar and overly dramatic exclamations were for humor and should in no manner imply that I am truly as geeky as this video suggests...I think.

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