Greg Poehlein on All Games Considered

On episode 127 of All Games Considered, they had on game designer Greg Poehlein as a special guest during their live show at Conglomeration. Greg, perspicacious readers may recall, designed the adventure outline sheet whose virtues I extolled last month.

In addition to his skills as a GM and game designer, Greg’s also a terrific storyteller. He shared some great anecdotes, both from the days of yore, when he designed the original Star Trek role-playing for FASA, and more recently, when he pioneered electronic document retail, culminating in his current endeavor, MicroTactix Games. Check out the episode, if you’re not already a regular listener to All Games Considered.

Why Would Anyone Say No?

When I first seriously started nosing around roleplaying games in 2002 or so, one of my first stops after Sorcerer’s Place’s Baldur’s Gate sub-forum for pen and paper games was Wizards of the Coast’s own forums. I didn’t delve deep or for long, because most of the discussion was opaque to me, not being familiar with the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. A few things leapt out at me at the time, and still stick with me as being curious.*

One example in particular came up in the section meant for GMs to discuss their tricks and quandaries. A poster related the story of how, during play, a player asked if their wizard character could tear a spell out of their spellbook and cast it as a spell scroll — i.e., it would burn up or fade away or whatever it is scrolls do when they’re used. In the context of the story, it was an emergency, last ditch effort. At the time, I thought it was a wonderfully creative thing to do and didn’t understand why anyone would object to such a notion.

To be honest, I still don’t fully understand the reasoning behind the objections at the time. Yes, it sets a precedent of casting spells one hasn’t prepared by ripping them out of one’s tome of eldritch lore, but it comes at the cost of not having the spell anymore, as well as having damaged the repository of your arcane might.

I probably still don’t fully understand the economies of spells and spellcasters in Dungeons & Dragons, but at that time and still now, I think it’s a fantastic idea and would totally want to be able to say yes to a player who’s got that gleam of desperately grasping at any straw to pull victory from the maw of ignoble failure.

* Another thing I didn’t get then and still don’t get now were the myriad objections to the so-called SPUM, or Spell Point-Using Mage.