Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Summertime Gaming Can Reinforce Lessons

Today’s the last day of school on the medieval frontier of Northern Virginia...the medieval side. (Alas, our school board thinks starting school the second week of August, putting the first term SOL testing right before the December holiday break, will increase SOL scores instead of focusing on paying teachers decently and letting them teach instead of handle bureaucracy....) Already last week summertime recommendations started coming home: a list of recommended “series” books for summer reading, a 22-page handout with math problems to solve, a list of educational websites to visit, a page of “dice games” that are really just math exercises with dice, and a thick, door-stop-sized reading/writing workbook someone ordered but apparently didn’t use all school year. All this comes slathered in the repulsive stigma of homework, something the seven year-old Little Guy has grown to dislike and resist throughout the school year, more so in these final weeks before summer vacation. So what’s a parent to do? I’m turning to two things we know and enjoy: fun themes and games.

The Little Guy – and most elementary school kids, I suspect – maintains a host of interest in various media properties: Minecraft, Transformers, Pokemon, Star Wars (particularly Clone Wars), Godzilla, Doctor Who. Interest in them waxes and wanes, but they sometimes help him engage in educational activities disguised as fun. (I’ve blathered on about themes in games before in “Introducing Newcomers to Games: Theme & Mechanics.”) Just the other weekend we caught him sitting in bed reading a Star Wars book aloud to our cats (granted, they like hanging out in his comfy bed anyway, but apparently reading was a bonus). We’re embarking on a first-edition Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign at his insistence; so far he’s enjoyed accurately adding up the results of numerous d6 rolls, especially when tossing handfuls of dice when using a Force Point. He reads all the powers and attacks on the cards when we play the Pokemon collectible card game.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

An Exercise in Nostalgic Futility

A reader recently asked me about T1 The Haunted Keep from my “Gaming Artifacts: Homemade Modules” post. Back in my teenage days during the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (the mid 1980s) I wrote several Dungeons & Dragons modules to run with the neighborhood kids, complete with maps and keyed texts in the style of TSR’s own releases. T1 The Haunted Keep was my continuation of the sample dungeon at the back of the Moldvay-edition D&D Basic rules. All my work from this period is irredeemably horrible, yet I keep these artifacts because they were an integral part of my earliest, eager gaming days. And that enthusiasm suddenly returned when someone expressed interest in seeing at least the maps to gain some insight about how I developed the dungeon as a base for a family of wererats and their marauding goblin allies. At first I had grand designs of typing up my handwritten text, cleaning it up a bit, rendering the maps in a better style than pencil-on-graph-paper, updating the stats to my oft-overlooked AnyOSR Key system-neutral notations, and releasing it with retrospective design notes for fun. Then I realized the idea was distracting me from my current distraction (developing The Greydeep Marches setting) from what I really should be working on (The Infinite Cathedral setting) and that it was channeling my nostalgic enthusiasm for the creations of my youth. Once I calmed down, refocused, and realized bringing it to publication in any form was not a good use of my time, the brief experience provided an opportunity to reflect on my past work to see what made an impression on a teenage roleplaying gamer in the mid-1980s.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Adventures in Victorian Wargaming

Over the years I’ve pursued an interest in Victorian era games, first through GDW’s groundbreaking Space 1889 (well before fan interest in “steampunk”), then with R. Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein, dabbling with The Sword and the Flame miniatures rules, and even writing for early versions of Victoriana. The games inspired my interest in the historical period itself (not just its fantasy game-world versions) to the point I’ve accumulated a small, specialized library on the subject that never seems to hold enough books by Osprey Publishing. In recent years the company started releasing wargame rules sets for various historical periods (and some not-so-historical ones). When I saw Daniel Mersey’s Victorian-era wargame rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings, I immediately saw a way to put all the various historical miniatures I’ve been collecting and painting over the years to good use in an engaging skirmish game.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Lingua Franca for RPGs

“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
Genesis 11:9

Gamers are a contentious lot, reflecting an overall human tendency of unfriendliness, or at least indifference, toward those outside our chosen tribes. We have been “confounded” by a plethora of different games catering to different genre tastes, mechanics, and play styles. Some folks can sit back, acknowledge the existence of games for which we don’t care much, and let others go about their business playing games that bring them the most enjoyment. Others like arguing about which edition or game is best and disparage those who play different games. Differences set us apart – they can help define who we are and what we enjoy – but can also reinforce tribal tendencies within adherents of particular games and can cause friction with other factions. In most cases this wouldn’t pose a problem; but for adventure gaming, and roleplaying games in particular, it’s often a barrier to bringing new people into the hobby or more actively pursuing our own involvement with new player groups. For better or worse, Dungeons & Dragons has, since its beginnings, served as a common frame of reference, a lingua franca, so to speak, for the diverse and sometimes divisive roleplaying game hobby.