Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Customizing My B/X D&D Experience

My son and I have been gaming on and off recently, occasionally testing the waters of intro roleplaying games between Pokemon card game duels and an occasional board game. We’ve enjoyed Hero Kids, though each adventure requires a good deal of prep, whether I’m printing and adapting an existing scenario or devising my own (with the requisite maps). We’ve also tried the forgotten Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game – a wonderfully simple yet entertaining intro roleplaying game experience that capitalizes on the popular Japanese license – which I’m enjoying for its very basic, read-aloud scripted scenes and simple combat system printed on the various Pokemon cards. Both games still hold some potential for several more play sessions, especially if I can wean everyone off Hero Kids’ maps. At some point, though, I’d like to transition to something a bit more mainstream that also caters to my own gaming urges. So I’m re-evaluating my current views regarding Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons, as many of you know, my preferred version of D&D and, despite my general explorations of the Old School Renaissance, my preferred OSR game. I’m looking to make it more comprehensible for a seven year-old and provide a more heroic (read” less-deadly”) experience for characters.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Beyond First Edition RPGs

The release of subsequent editions of roleplaying games carries different significance for publishers and gamers. Professional publishers often develop subsequent editions to further refine the game system or setting, but usually with the core motivation of launching a new product or product line to stimulate sales. As consumers, gamers have the prerogative to invest their money in what they like; some love new editions of their favorite titles, others try one edition and either stick with it or move on to something else (just as some gamers find everything they need from a game’s core rulebook while others need every published supplement). Do gamers really need subsequent editions, or would publishers’ efforts be better spent on developing and releasing innovative new rules and settings?


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Portable Kriegspiel

Veteran gamer and designer Bob Cordery recently released The Portable Wargame, a small yet illuminating booklet that vastly refines the idea of the classic Kriegspiel for today’s gaming audience. It distills the wargaming experience to a gridded surface (squares or hexes) using modular terrain on a board far smaller than the sprawling landscapes usually enjoyed by miniature wargame enthusiasts. While gamers have been using gridded boards for a while – and some, like Richard Borg’s Commands and Colors series, continue making innovations in that field – The Portable Wargame provides a rules framework to run a streamlined yet satisfying game with fewer resources and less time than traditional board and miniature wargames.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DIY Licensed Games

Last week I talked about professional publishers releasing licensed roleplaying games based on popular media properties, particularly in the context of West End Games’ often ambitious licensing designs in the mid-1990s. But in a hobby often infused with a do-it-yourself spirit nothing prevents individual gamers from running their own adventures in their favorite film, television, novel, and comic book settings. The roleplaying game hobby has always cultivated an informal tradition of gamers doing their own thing, taking established games or settings and developing them for their local player groups. Reading Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World one realizes how the entire adventure gaming hobby evolved from people taking someone else’s ideas and modifying them to varying degrees into something different. In the same vein fans sometimes unofficially channel their enthusiasm for a media property into their roleplaying games, often in a more timely manner than professionally published licensed games delayed by the production and approval process.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WEG Memoirs: Licensed Games

West End Games offices, 1993.
I’ve wanted to talk about games based on licensed media properties for a while, both from the angle of professional publishing companies and hobby enthusiasts. During its final few years (1993-1998) West End Games focused a great deal of its energy on acquiring licenses and publishing games based on them, to the point some considered it the leader in licensed games. My experience working for West End sheds some light on issues facing professional publishers in producing game product based on popular media franchises. Like many aspects of West End, this endeavor involved a lot of scrambling behind the scenes and a great deal of risk.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Gaming Artifacts: Homemade Fantasy World Maps

How I miss those lazy afternoons when I got home from school and had an hour or two before dinner to indulge my gaming hobby. Sometimes neighborhood kids would gather for a hapless D&D scenario or a board game of my own dubious design. Other times I’d relax with a good fantasy or science fiction novel. I’d draft maps for future dungeon delves or wilderness expeditions. I’d type out articles for my extremely amateur gaming fanzine. And then there were the wars waged by metal miniatures across map-kingdoms of my own creation.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Basic Hack Offers Intro OSR Experience

I’ve enjoyed dabbling with the Old School Renaissance (OSR). It’s nice to indulge my nostalgic tendencies and revel in some of the innovations people are sharing based on the old “core” fantasy roleplaying game rule sets: Erik “Tenkar” Stiene’s Swords & Wizardry Light, James Spahn’s The Hero’s Journey, Scott Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Land, among others in the back of my mind. Yet the OSR itself caters to gamers with at least some experience with any earlier flavor of Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games, whether someone played once in high school or has been playing regularly for years. It’s not exactly a clear entry point for newcomers to the roleplaying game hobby. Since OSR titles are primarily available through online venues, they’re not visible in hobby, game, or book stores – unlike the current edition of D&D – and none of the OSR games have really, to my estimation, catered to complete beginners.... Until now. Nathan J. Hill’s The Basic Hack, an iteration of David Black’s The Black Hack, incorporates a few elements and a distillation of the OSR gaming experience I feel can offer an entry point for new gamers, either in the hands of an experienced gamemaster or even on their own.