Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Monsters & Motivation

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.

Friedrich Nietzsche

As I mentioned back at the end of my New Year’s missive (“Rejuvenating after the Lost Years”) I’m developing a medieval fantasy setting (possibly using B/X Dungeons & Dragons, maybe system-neutral; that’s a debate for another day). It’s a vast moorland of heath, mires, and hills created ages ago when kingdoms banded together to destroy the power of a great mage. Rather than rely on the usual explore-slay-pillage tropes on which some games and gameplay rely, I’m trying to focus more on the relationship of the region’s inhabitants with both the environment and each other. So in designing this setting I’m looking beyond basic, superficial stereotypes and trying to craft for each faction, individual, and even monsters a relevant motivation when interacting with each other and with player characters. This inevitably leads me to examine the role we give “monsters” in fantasy roleplaying games. like my favorite B/X D&D.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A Confluence of Solo Games

 Solitude is independence.”

Hermann Hesse

The yuletide season brought a confluence of solo games by means of holiday gifts, personal purchases, and sheer happy coincidences. My parents got me Ravensburger’s Alien: Fate of the Nostromo board game (for solo or cooperative play). As a holiday treat I bought two “bookgames” from Worthington Games, Waterloo Solitaire and Bismarck Solitaire, two releases with interesting origins in the pandemic privations. By sheer happenstance two Kickstarter games arrived just before the yuletide season got underway: Scott Almes’s Unsurmountable solo card game and Grant and Mike Wylie’s Tarawa 1943, also from Worthington Games. All these combined in this cautious, eternal season of the covid pandemic to provide some much-needed gaming diversions.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Rejuvenating after the Lost Years

 With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

A reproduction of an Egyptian scarab figurine sits on my desk. He’s plaster, painted as if he were blue faience, a souvenir from my last visit to the Worcester Art Museum ages ago. I bought it and set it on my desk because he embodies the creative spirit of the ancient Egyptian god Khepri, inspired by the beetle that rolled around dung balls from which its offspring miraculously crawled, seeming to summon life out of nothing. Khepri was also revered as a god rolling the sun from the dawing horizon on its skyward course each day. The figurine on my desk isn’t as much an inspiration as a reminder, a talisman symbolizing the imaginative spark. He’s not been very happy with me during nearly two years of pandemic privations. He sits there, silently, but in my mind he’s furiously shouting at me: “Create something out of nothing! Better yet, create something from a ball of crap!”

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Restful Holiday

 Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

W. Somerset Maugham

For a second year in a row our family has enjoyed a restful holiday. Taking things at our own pace. Not beholden to guilt-wielding family members expecting us to drive 12 hours to visit them, only for them to ignore us. Taking the time to relax, eat slowly, and relish the little delights the season brings. It’s one of the few decent things we’ve retrieved from two years of horrid, deadly covid plague coursing through our society. I’m hoping we can keep it after the pandemic (hopefully) subsides. As expected – and as I’ve long believed – it was a time to indulge in fantasy diversions of media and gaming, complimented by food, family, and fun to brighten this most darkest of seasons.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Memories of D&D Christmas

At this time of year I frequently look back with a nostalgic eye on the memories of my youth, particularly celebrating the winter holidays. As I’ve mentioned before (in seemingly ancient missives like “The Season for Fantasy”), the yuletide season seems ideal for indulging in fantasy media and games. Since I’m reading Alison Weir’s history of the War of the Roses at the moment, I am, strangely enough, thinking back on the first Christmas after I discovered Dungeons & Dragons: 1982. Having received the Moldvay Dungeons & Dragons Basic set as an Easter gift earlier that year, then purchased the D&D Expert set a few months later, I’d immersed myself in the game, spending most of my after-school time and the entire summer reading rulebooks and modules, creating characters, drafting maps, creating adventures, and running games for the neighborhood kids (from whom I’d first heard of D&D). That year began a tradition of receiving at least one gift to feed my adventure gaming hobby habit for Christmases and birthdays. That first D&D Christmas I got some D&D gifts, of course, but I also received Avalon Hill’s Kingmaker, a game that broadened my horizons and sparked an interest in history.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Developing the Doppelganger

 Trust not too much to appearances.”


I’ve got a small, module-sized setting in mind to develop, one intended for that possible day when the pandemic subsides enough so my son can have friends over and I can tempt them away from Roblox to try some games, maybe a wargame, and hopefully my homebrew version of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. To that end I’m sketching out a region with a premise, a moorland created in an ancient battle to defeat a powerful sorcerer; meaning lots of magical-type creatures and ruins to explore. I’m even getting ideas for a town they can use as a base, in the manner of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. With all these ideas swirling in my head – especially considering monsters created by magic, like gnolls, gelatanous cubes, and, of course, owl bears – I remembered the dreaded doppelganger from my earliest days of D&D. Re-reading its entry in both the Basic D&D rulebook and the Advanced D&D Monster Manual I was rather disappointed in the very shallow presentation...so I embarked to not only see what subsequent editions did with the monster, but started concocting ways I could adapt it to my own ends.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Collect All the D&D

 We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

Umberto Eco

For many the yuletide holiday season involves lists: lists of ingredients for traditional meals; lists of things to do in preparation for whatever winter holiday we celebrate; and lists of gifts, both that we hope to receive and that we’ve accumulated to give to our friends and loved ones. In the weekly hometown newspaper I use to work for we’d run a story every December about the various letters to Santa the local post office received, getting some idea what kids were asking from Santa that year. Kids send their lists of desired toys to Santa, while St. Nick himself keeps a list of who’s been naughty and nice. During this season of list-keeping I look back to my own idyllic youth to a list, of sorts, I kept: the 1981 TSR Hobbies, Inc., “Gateway to Adventure” catalog that came in the Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set I got as an Easter gift in 1982.