Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Very Geeky Holidays

I’m thankful that throughout my life the holidays have always been a time to indulge my inner geek and share it with others. It’s become a quiet tradition, not always something planned, but something that simply happens on its own. But before I wander into my rambling missive on the subject, I want to wish all Hobby Games Recce readers, everyone who supports my gaming efforts here, at Griffon Publishing Studio, and elsewhere, a joyous and geeky holiday season...or, if you prefer, Christma-yu-kwanza-kah-nalia (hopefully you can find your specific holiday somewhere in there).

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
The holidays bring out some of the most sacred family traditions among western cultures (and I’m assuming among some non-western cultures, too). Growing up we had some pretty standardized practices adjusted over time for our ages, involvement in religious rituals, and other changing factors: the Christmas tree went up and was lit according to a particular schedule; trains often ran around it to enhance the holiday’s playful spirit; we shared a traditional Christmas Eve dinner of ham, potatoes, pinkelwurst, and kale, with stollen and cookies for dessert, with a full turkey dinner on Christmas Day (I have no idea where my parents found the energy to do both); we opened presents, one at a time, taking turns in order from oldest to youngest (I assume as a lesson in patience for us younger folk); and, of course, we attended church at some point, first the early evening children’s pageant, later the spectacle of midnight mass with music, lights, and ceremony rivaling the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Even though the years have passed and I’m married with a child of my own, our household’s new traditions have evolved, some carried over from our treasured past and others we establish together as a family. We still set up a tree and trains, but we also festoon the front of the house with modest holiday lights and, when I bother, decorate our eight foot-tall sasquatch stand-up, “Skookums,” in the front yard (left over from Halloween); I bake stollen to give as gifts to friends and family; we enjoy the traditional ham dinner, though we graze through leftovers on subsequent days; and we open presents Christmas morning instead of Christmas Eve with a sense of well-ordered chaos.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Game Company Ephemera

ephemera: 1. something of no lasting significance; 2. paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles.


I recently received an interesting Kickstarter project I backed: a print copy of Terence Gunn’s The Fantastic Worlds of Grenadier, a catalog-like overview of one of the first miniatures companies to cater to the roleplaying game community with continued strong support of numerous game lines and different genres. Although it doesn’t exhibit the kind of meticulous scholarship displayed in works like Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World, the book serves as an important record of a game product line from a company that no longer exists. The Fantastic Worlds of Grenadier contains 128 glossy pages reproducing box cover art, advertisements, and images of miniatures and sets, from original photos, the black-and-white boxed-set inserts, and other sources...an impressive array of ephemera related to fantasy miniatures and those for other niche genres. Accompanying text discusses how the company got its start, involvement of different sculptors, various product lines, and other corporate developments. For me it’s a valuable historiographical reference to a by-gone era in the earliest days of roleplaying games, a record of corporate ephemera that can help inform us where we’ve been, where we stand, and where we’re going with the adventure gaming hobby.

The adventure gaming hobby generates a lot of ephemera often lost amid the vast volumes of “official” publications. Certainly roleplaying gamers in particular generate volumes of character sheets, adventure notes, character portraits, adventure chronicles, and maps. Few survive for public view, finding their way into the trash or, at best, some forgotten file or envelope in a box of neglected roleplaying game books. One might dispute the importance of preserving and accessing these documents – they often have little meaning to those beyond the immediate users – yet they can illustrate the practical elements of roleplaying games beyond the framework provided in rulebooks and scenarios. One website, The Play Generated Map & Document Archive, strives to collect and display some of this player-generated ephemera; while it in no way claims to (or could possibly) collect all game-related ephemera ever made for roleplaying games, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the amateur creator’s mind. It serves as an archive for future reference to samples of this material.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advancement Influences Tone

Most roleplaying games include some kind of advancement system to encourage players to join game sessions and improve their characters. It’s been an essential element of roleplaying games since their beginnings, this ability to continue playing to gain more experience and build a more powerful character over time. Yet the particular mechanics of how in-game action translates to character experience influences the tone of the game. Players naturally want to improve their heroes; characters’ in-game actions tend to focus on those that best reward them in the context of the specific game scenario. Games that reward experience for slain monsters and looted treasure have a different tone than those giving points for solving problems, gaming in-character, managing encounters, and achieving goals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Level-Up Lifepath

Dungeons & Dragons and Old School Renaissance retro-clone games in particular often rely on the “zero to hero” idea that characters begin at first level and rise through the ranks by going on adventures, killing monsters, and taking their stuff...or die trying (emphasis on the latter). Of course nothing stops players from rolling up higher-level heroes simply by adding level adjustments to first-level characters. It’s an exercise in bookkeeping, adding levels and experience points, adjusting to-hit modifiers, adding spells and special abilities depending on the character race and class. This all seems shallow to me and doesn’t offer the roleplaying opportunities to enhance a character actual play provides. I started thinking how to change that, looked back at some classic, well-loved roleplaying games for inspiration (and one recent acquisition), and discovered the sometimes-used “lifepath” method could provide some enhancements when creating higher-level characters.