Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Playing at the Fair

We recently visited the Maryland Renaissance Festival and it brought back memories of how much I used to enjoy the playful immersion in the renfest environment. My adventure gaming hobby stands at the confluence of many inspirations during my youth. I’ve discussed the role music, books, films, and even family vacations played in fostering in me an appreciation of elements that would fuel my gaming activities (“Early Fantasy Gaming Inspirations” and “Early Musical Influences on My Gaming”). Although I went to my first renfest well after I’d discovered Dungeons & Dragons, the experience enhanced my appreciation for roleplaying games, history, music, and literature. Our recent trip back to the Maryland Renaissance Festival reminded me how renfests still provide inspiration for gaming. I also realized how closely renfests mirror roleplaying games (or games in general) in that they provide an immersive experience and a relatively “safe” space in which to play.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Boxed Worlds & Focused Locales

I peer over at my wall-spanning bookshelves (well, one wall of them, anyway) and see a chunk of my Dungeons & Dragons shelf occupied by several thick boxed sets crammed with fantasy world settings. Their names ring boldly in the annals of fantasy roleplaying games: Dark Sun, Raveloft, and Forgotten Realms. Lately I’ve been thinking about getting rid of them. Virtually unseen nearby sit several thin, saddle-stitched D&D modules, some of which provide more localized settings for fantasy adventures beyond the actual scenario material. Some of their names – notably B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and X1 The Isle of Dread – also stand tall in the annals of D&D. I’ve spent more time adventuring in these smaller locales than the vast expanses of the boxed sets and their numerous support supplements. Perhaps these more compact modules offered a young gamer both examples of solid settings as well as the invitation and inspiration to expand upon them. Perhaps I didn’t immerse myself in the larger boxed settings because by the time they were released I’d moved beyond my carefree, younger days of after-school and summertime gaming into a professional life that put a premium on free time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Boldface Highlights Adventure Essentials

Tim Shorts tried something different with his recent, Patreon-supported micro-adventure, Into the Ruins. He used bold type to highlight “things of note” within scenario entries. Certainly boldface type has its traditional place in paragraph formatting, most notably as an introductory paragraph subhead labeling the subsequent text: “Chamber 3: Guard Post. Five orcs cluster around a wooden table, tossing dice and drinking ale....” But reading Tim’s micro-adventure and then perusing some classic modules from my youth demonstrated that peppering adventure text with notable boldfaced words has been a layout convention since the beginning of the roleplaying game hobby. I suppose I’ve always been subconsciously aware of this, but it took Tim blatantly pointing this out to bring it to my attention and kindle my interest in how it was used in other published work, particularly modules supporting my earliest immersion in Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced D&D.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reflections on Recruiting Gamers

I’ve always sought to recruit new players to roleplaying games. My earliest efforts included drafting neighborhood kids, though eventually I happened upon a few like-minded friends who occasionally gathered for games. (Alas, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons at the tail end of junior high school, which, for a brief time, sponsored a D&D club before overly concerned parents shut it down). Although I discovered several kids on my high school bus route played D&D, none really wanted anything to do with an overly enthusiastic freshman. I can imagine many gamers in the early to mid 1980s tried finding other players, balancing the social stigma against the potential reward of expanding their player base, all with the cloud of the anti-D&D hysteria looming overhead. In those days my blind enthusiasm drove my clumsy efforts to find and lure new recruits to the adventure gaming hobby. But by the time I got to college I started more consciously to consider strategies to involve people in my (admittedly limited) social circles in gaming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

20th Anniversary of West End’s Demise

Every year as July approaches I get a little glum about the summer of 1998 when West End Games filed for bankruptcy and pulled the rug out from under numerous employees, creative freelance writers and artists, and fans of the company’s groundbreaking Star Wars roleplaying game. “Consider yourselves unemployed,” was how the company’s owner initially broke the news to the puzzled editors, graphic designers, and sales personnel unexpectedly summoned to his office. These annual, bittersweet recollections send me into a spiral of memories from which I can usually extricate myself by focusing on the positive aspects of that time. During my five years at West End I worked on many projects that still make me smile with a proud sense of satisfaction: certainly The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal; Platt’s Starport Guide; the revised and expanded version of the game’s second edition; the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game (and similar products for the Men in Black and Hercules & Xena game lines); numerous solitaire tutorial adventures (including the standalone book Imperial Double-Cross); and a revision of the roleplaying game’s Star Wars Style Guide that helped authors with all aspects of the submission and writing process (which notably resurfaced a few years ago on the interwebzes as the guide George Lucas supposedly ignored when making the prequels, certainly not its original intention). It was a dream job, despite constant anxiety, vicious office politics, and what I expect are the general idiocies that plague any modern American workplace. But the occasion also gives me an opportunity to reflect on the many good things West End brought into my life and other people’s lives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“Vanilla” Ready for Toppings

I’m in the final stages of bringing my latest project to publication, meaning the self-doubt is really kicking in. The Greydeep Marches is a short (34 pages), system-neutral, OSR-suitable setting sourcebook for fantasy roleplaying adventures. The setting flowed from some initial brainstorming that first appeared in one of my old Hobby Games Recce pieces – “The Importance of the Setting Bible” – with development enabling me to dabble in some new concepts and techniques from various influences. On the surface it looks like plain “vanilla” medieval fantasy: a kingdom, knights, villages, elves, dwarves, halflings, dark forests, ruins, etc. “Boring,” one might say. Yet, like a serving of vanilla ice cream, it offers gamemasters the chance to add toppings to suit their own tastes, a foundation on which they can build a particularly tasty treat.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rogue-Like Games Demonstrate Grinder/Heroic Dichotomy

In my need for escapist entertainment lately I’ve fallen back on computer games, including several in the “rogue-like” genre. Yes, those solo, dungeon-delving games based on Rogue from 1980 with dungeon elements defined by ASCII characters. Seems like everyone’s making their own version (much like the Old School Renaissance); I happen to like Pixel Dungeon for its upgraded graphics and interesting magical item uses. Just a few clicks and I’m exploring a random dungeon with monsters, magic items, and plenty of opportunities to meet a horrid end. I don’t care, it’s fun, caters to my interest in fantasy gaming, and doesn’t require me to invest too much time, energy, or focus. I juxtapose this play style with the kind of tabletop roleplaying game session that satisfies my needs in my middle-aged years: heroic characters taking on epic challenges in my favorite genres, where they stand a decent chance of survival despite seemingly insurmountable odds. This illustrates to me the vast differences between “grinder” style games and heroic play, and reinforces why I prefer the latter in my full-fledged roleplaying game endeavors.