Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Player-Tinkerers: Customizing Game Rules

tinker (verb): to work in the manner of a tinker, especially: to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner.”

Merriam-Webster Online

I recently ordered a pretty pricy battle game and – after the initial euphoria of opening the box, reading the rules, and sorting all the tiles, counters, and bits – soon found disappointment in the actual gameplay. The game worked, of course, and I admired some of the mechanics; but in play I encountered several instances that didn’t seem to make sense and even crippled the abilities of units in certain frequently encountered situations. I ambled about in despair for a brief moment...I’d just spent money on something that didn’t work to my satisfaction. But then I reminded myself I could tinker with the mechanics to transform it into something closer to the satisfying play experience I expected. That’s part of our nature as gamers: if a game isn’t working for us, we seek solutions to make it work. And sometimes that’s part of the fun.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Organizing the Deluge of Gaming Goodness

Back in the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (for me the early-mid 1980s) organizing all the wondrous little bits of gaming goodness seemed so easy. Materials came to us in easily digestible bits that fit into conventional containers: bookshelves, folders, binders, boxes. But today’s gamers face a veritable deluge of useful content thanks to the connectivity of the interwebzes. How do we – can we – organize all the relevant gaming materials we purchase, download, view, and create ourselves in this Electronic Age where everyone’s a creator and nobody’s an editor?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tinkering with Gridded Naval Wargames

I credit Bob Cordery and his gridded wargames rules (including the Portable Wargame series) with kindling my interest in periods and battles I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. His Gridded Naval Wargames recently drew me to the basement wargaming table for some maritime combat action. I’m not a huge naval wargamer. I’ve dabbled in Fletcher Pratt’s game (“The Quest for Naval Minis”). I created a solitaire game simulating the submarine action of Operation Drumbeat. I’ve considered buying into Ares Games’ Sails of Glory, but have second thoughts when I look at the price and complexity. Cordery’s rules – rife with interesting asides, historical insights, and practical examples – inspired me to explore the genre and tinker with the rules...as many gamers do to improve upon mechanics and enhance their play experience.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trapped in the Museum 20 Years Later

I just published the 20th anniversary edition of Trapped in the Museum, a solitaire adventure gamebook I first released back in 1999. Back then S. John Ross gave me his kind permission and much-needed encouragement to use his Risus: The Anything RPG game system for the brief pulpy tale of a college student who suddenly wakes up in a dark, locked museum. Another mutual friend, Shawn Lockard – who for a while hosted the WEDGE West End Games fan website – maintained a site for me where the free solo gamebook lived for a while. At one point I even printed copies to give away at the few convention appearances I was making at the time. It was all in an effort to keep my name and game design reputation in the public eye in the hopes it might attract some freelance writing work. It was the unintentional launch of a 20-year independent publishing career.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Limitations of Programmed Solo Adventures

I’m wrapping up work on two programmed solitaire adventures, a 20th anniversary revision of my Trapped in the Museum free adventure and a much more substantial science fiction scenario, The Asturia Incident, each using the OpenD6 system. I enjoyed working on them. They offered a break from more traditional roleplaying game writing and allowed me to have fun exploring elements within each genre. Both serve as tutorial adventures walking players through the skill-roll process in numerous situations, though this proved a bit more difficult to adjudicate thoroughly in the longer scenario. And while I’m thinking about developing a substantial pulp-themed solo adventure (a sequel of sorts to Trapped in the Museum), I feel I need some time to cleanse my palate from the rigors of programmed solo scenario writing. As entertaining as I hope the final product might seem, writing a programmed solo adventure takes a great deal of creative effort and has limited appeal in the roleplaying gamer market.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Solo Tékumel Actual Play Report

Lately I’ve had an urge to explore M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel setting through solitaire roleplaying. (You can read my earlier missive on this subject, “Prepping A Solitaire Foray into Tékumel.”) So one night while my wife was off watching Game of Thrones with friends and my son sat glued to the television screen watching American Idol (neither of which engages me in the least) I spread my solo gaming materials across my standing desk and indulged in a brief foray into the Empire of the Petal Throne. My heroes consisted of Ibásh, a young, idealistic priest of Keténgku; Bara, a protective aridani warrior late of the Legion of the Mighty Prince; and Thékuto, a well-traveled trade liaison for the Victorious Globe clan, to which they all belong. Their masters have quietly charged them with researching and retrieving an ancient automaton. As the first step in their journey they stopped along the sákbe road at the Tower of Deathly Hospitality (detailed in the earlier blog entry on this subject). Seeking shelter in the midst of a torrential monsoon, they find a caravan camped on the platform as far as possible from the dilapidated guard tower, with a lone fellow staring into the open door into the structure calling for his wife but, alas, not brave enough to enter and search for her himself. After learning of the tower’s haunted reputation from the encamped caravan, the group approaches Hóru hiArusá, a craftsman from the Silver Collar clan heading home with his new wife. Dzái sought shelter in the tower against his wishes; she has yet to emerge, call for help, or otherwise make her presence known. Although Ibásh wants to charge in, Thékuto, ever the voice of savvy reason, asks what Hóru’s willing to do if they group finds and returns his wife. The artisan offers them a finely wrought copper cup he himself crafted. Encouraged by this incentive the heroes enter the tower.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Do I Need that New Edition?

Seems like everyone’s releasing a new edition of our favorite games these days through regular hobby distribution channels, online, or Kickstarter campaigns. Some are genuinely updated and overhauled, others are classic games in spiffy looking refurbished packages with enhanced contents. Each time I see one of these I mentally undergo a quick evaluation – did I enjoy an earlier edition, do I like the setting and mechanics, will I play it, can I afford it? – and almost as quickly dismiss it. (Exceptions exist: see below.) I expect most gamers employ a similar cognitive subroutine whenever the prospect of any game purchase arises; but new editions often add an extra factor, that we already have a version of the game, one we most likely enjoy. Can it rekindle the love we once felt for this game? Can this new edition encourage and enhance additional gameplay? Is it simply a money pit to cash in on our nostalgia?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Summertime Excursions & Battle Cry

A cannon overlooking Lenn Park
on the site of a Civil War engagement.

We recently took my son, the now nine year-old Little Guy, to his first Civil War battlefield. I’m always worried about doing these things too soon, but he demonstrated an interest in the history: getting enthralled by the National Park Service movie on the battle, examining and reading about the artifacts, walking along the trails to the barely visible remains of entrenchments, and tolerating his father and uncle droning on about aspects of the exhibits and terrain. His growing understanding of history merging with my enthusiasm for games gives me an idea for summertime activities that might benefit him next year when he studies Virginia history: combining day trips to area battlefields with reading books from Daddy’s library and playing games portraying the events we study. Our trial visit to the Chancellorsville battlefield and a few rounds of Richard Borg’s Battle Cry helped convince me this just might work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Prepping A Solitaire Foray into Tékumel

Reading Man of Gold and diving back into Tékumel source material inspired me to explore Professor Barker’s rich, very alien setting through solitaire play (my distant past attempts at running it with friends having met with little success or satisfaction). I took some time to assemble my resources and work out some story basics...and then I put it to the test on an adventure seed I wrote as a challenge I issued in on of my recent blog posts, “Demonstrating Potential: Adventure Seeds & Outlines.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Gaming Eulogy for Google Plus

Google Plus is gone. Like a friend who parts ways following a different path of life than our own, it has wandered off into the ephemeral oblivion that consumes much of the content on the ever-changing interwebzes. I feel grateful to have involved myself with it since 2011, when a gaming friend sent me an invitation to the beta version. The experience expanded my horizons on various fronts, mostly game related. Google Plus exposed me to new people, material, and ideas that sometimes challenged my comfort zone but always expanded my experiences as a gamer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Demonstrating Potential: Adventure Seeds & Outlines

I’m re-reading M.A.R. Barker’s novel Man of Gold and it’s drawing me back into the rich, complex, distinctly non-western roleplaying game world of Tekumel. I’ve discussed this setting before (“Tekumel: The Lands of Joyful Addiction”) and how, despite the vast depth of the game world, I can never quite dive into it at the gaming table, at least for very long. After some reflection I’ve identified several reasons for this, not necessarily limited to Tekumel but particularly to games with esoteric settings. They all feed my growing list of elements I feel necessary in a good roleplaying game core rules set beyond basic, intuitive, yet easily adaptable mechanics (no doubt fodder for future Hobby Games Recce posts). But I want to concentrate on one aspect often missing from the various incarnations of Tekumel-based roleplaying games that could help make them and other games more easily accessible: adventure seeds and outlines.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Plethora of Projects

I’m slowly nearing completion on my latest project (though still a few months out from publication) and I’m already looking ahead to my next game-related endeavor. My writing schedule, such as it is, must accommodate my other roles in life. I manage to regularly work on projects despite the constant guilt that such activity neglects my household duties, innumerable homeowner projects, and the responsibilities of a father to an inquisitively sharp third grader. The start of a new year has me recovering from a month of preparatory activities for the yuletide holidays and an occasional pilgrimage to visit distant family. My productivity wasn’t helped by recovering from sickness both after the holidays and late January’s inadvertently “plague-themed” birthday party for an acquaintance, in which most guests fell ill in the following week. Yet the days are getting longer, my schedule’s returning to some semblance of order (as much as the Lords of Chaos will allow), and my gaze turns once again to game-writing projects at hand an in the near future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

GM Aids: NPC Cards

They don't look like much, but
they kept me organized.

In my last missive I mentioned some of the boxed sets we assembled at West End Games included cards; it reminded me how I’ve used index cards for non-player characters stats and other useful information in both my home games and products I helped design for West End. Having relevant game material handy remains essential for gamemasters, whether running a pre-published scenario or managing the characters’ free-form sandbox hex- or dungeon-crawl. I don’t always care to page through rulebooks in the middle of a game – though a scenario isn’t quite as onerous to peruse – so having cards around allows me to arrange the core information for an encounter just as I like on the tabletop to maximize ease of reference.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WEG Memoirs: Assembling Boxed Games

Remember when roleplaying games came in boxes packed with multiple rulebooks, cards, dice, and other goodies? What a a joy to revel in opening that box and celebrating each little piece that promised to grant us an exciting gaming experience. Yet how did they get into that gorgeous box in an age before cheaper Chinese manufacturers and robot automation? Humans put them there. Humans working in a stuffy, hot warehouse, mindlessly laboring at an assembly line, putting each component into each box one at a time. For a short while in that glorious age I was one of those humans.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Derivative D&D

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”
Abraham Lincoln

I’m constantly amazed learning about the origins and influences behind Dungeons & Dragons, how even today the roleplaying game hobby continues evolving based on past works “improved” by those who feel they could do a better job...and sometimes actually do. Two publications best illustrate the movements from which D&D derived much of its imaginative power and mechanical implementation: Jon Peterson’s monumental scholarly history Playing at the World and the visually impressive coffee-table tome Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana by Peterson and a host of others who have reflected on the origins of the roleplaying game hobby.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Early 2019 Games on the Road

Several times each year I go on the road to run events at game days and conventions. I have my favorites, most within easy driving distance and an overnight hotel stay. On Sunday, Jan. 27, I’ll make the trek up to Northern Virginia for the NOVAG Game Day at the Centreville Library, where I’ll host a Panzer Kids game. Then on Feb. 15-17 I’ll be in Williamsburg, VA, for the ODMS winter convention, Williamsburg Muster, where I’ll run the obligatory Panzer Kids game and a few other kid-friendly events. If you’re in the area come out and join us or the other folks running engaging miniature wargames.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Holiday Gaming Cheer

Despite an overly hectic holiday season overshadowed by a week-long pilgrimage to visit family in New England – tempered with a nice persistent head cold – I managed to find some solace amid the chaotic drama and logistical nightmare of traveling at this time of year. My family and friends were quite generous bringing gaming goodness to brighten this darkest time of the year and the bleak winter months (and I’ll admit I treated myself, too). The season offers a reason to indulge and invite others to indulge my adventure gaming interests. This year was no exception. In the past I’ve discussed how the December holidays seem a magical time perfect for such escapist pursuits as board and roleplaying games with friends and family. Although this season was fraught with chaos, I appreciate the game-related cheer that brightened my holidays.