Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Games in Museum Gift Shops

Frequent readers know I’m an advocate for introducing games to non-gamers, both to grow the hobby and to share an entertaining pastime. I’m always amazed at -- and discouraged by -- the lack of games in museum gift shops, especially when so many games seem thematically well-suited to various museums.

NASMHalbstdtI live near a number of museums of different sizes; all have gift shops, almost all cover periods or issues of history demonstrated by games I know, and none sell any of these games. They’re primarily filled with cheap souvenirs -- toys and trinkets that soon break, go missing, or are forgotten -- with a smattering of higher-priced “collectible” items appealing to (and affordable by) only a sliver of museum visitors; some provide a comprehensive offering of relevant books for research material and other inspiration for those playing games with related themes.

If they have any items one might classify as a “game” they tend to include themed playing cards, superficial trivia games, themed versions of Monopoly, and games designed from a purely educational perspective…not quite the contemporary board game fare with solid replay and production value we’re used to seeing.

Many games appropriate for museums carry a higher price point than most casual visitors might afford. Yet offering something previously unseen to visitors offers the potential for purchase and play; if a game isn’t on the shelf, people interested in the museum won’t know it exists and thus won’t become aware of the potential to further explore their interest through gaming. Combined with knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and personable volunteers, games might also provide the basis for in-gallery demos to further enhance the museum experience for interested visitors.

I understand a long and difficult path exists between game manufacturers, their distributors, buyers for gift shops, and the museum gift shops themselves. There are three or four steps involved in bringing a relevant game to the right museum store, and few can take the time or effort to fulfill a few niche accounts and put potentially unsalable merchandise (as possibly seen by museum shop buyers) onto the shelves. Yet ideal games for many museum shops exist if game publishers, their distributors, and museum shop buyers did some research and made some contacts.

As a general rationale, I’d recommend games for museum stores fulfill several key qualities to make them as appealing as possible to potential customers. Games with basic, if not introductory, rules remain preferable to complex games without easier alternatives (I’m thinking games that offer basic and then advanced rules in the same set, a subject I’ve discussed before). The price point should remain within reason for the average museum-goer, yet high enough to include some key, relevant games…I’d say $50 is the upper limit for these kinds of purchase, though in reality the ideal upper end probably sits closer to $25 or $30. The game should be ready to play out of the box; no painting minis or other laborious preparation, a common obstacle to newcomers getting involved in historical miniatures games.

Here are several game recommendations for various museum types that engage my own interests (so these are by no means comprehensive or complete). Bear in mind not every museum theme has appropriate games, but given the throng of historically themed games, many museums could find at least one appealing, affordable title to add to their gift shop inventory:

World War II Museums: Most museums with World War II exhibits could benefit from offering some classic, well-designed games for that period. Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast’s Axis & Allies, both the board game and the various flavors of the miniatures games (most of which, I believe, have a non-randomized base set) work, though the main board game has a hefty price tag. Days of Wonder’s Memoir ’44, also at the high end at $50, stands out as one of the best battle games for the period with amazing replay value and online support. At $40 Battlefront’s Flames of War starter game, Achtung!, an introductory boxed set also works, complete with beginner-friendly rules, a few unpainted, and dice (and now with the digest-sized version of the Flames of War third edition rules). Certainly period-themed games like Wings of Glory World War II would also fit the bill.

Aviation Museums: I recently talked about the rich aviation heritage in Virginia, though I quietly lament the lack of solid aviation-themed games there. Chief among these is Ares Games’ Wings of Glory line (formerly Wings of War) covering both World War I and World War II. The game benefits not only from a solid, easy-to-learn game design (and one with basic and advanced rules) but from the fantastic miniatures that help enhance play. Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast’s Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 provides a similar experience with a starter set of fixed Battle of Britain-themed aircraft.

Civil War Sites: I’m not familiar with many Civil War games currently available, but I’ve heard Gordon & Hague Wargames is developing a starter boxed set of pre-painted, 10mm Civil War miniatures to accompany its Sundered Union rules (the quick-start and advanced rules, both available free online); I fear, however, the price tag might exceed what casual Civil War aficionados might willingly pay for such a diversion. Although Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast’s Battle Cry fills the battle game niche for the Civil War like Memoir ’44 does for World War II, its price tag remains slightly above the parameters I’ve mentioned above (though not prohibitively so for some).

Railroad Museums: America justly has a fascination with trains, and thus several regional and even national museums focus on our nation’s railway heritage…Steamtown National Historical Site in Scranton, PA, comes to the forefront. Gift shops for such museums would be remiss without stocking at least the basic Ticket to Ride game from Days of Wonder. Granted, it has a higher price point at $50 than most folks might afford, but it remains today’s premier railway-themed game. I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest some of the railway-oriented games from Mayfair Games.

Art Museums: Any art museum with a collection of cultural art from around the world and throughout history could easily stock a healthy gaming section. (I’m thinking primarily, of course, about the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, though any art museum worth its salt could customize its gift shop game offerings to its collection.) Reiner Knizia developed several appropriately themed games, particularly Ra, Samurai, and Tigris & Euphrates; I’d also add Carcassonne for medieval collections. Any museum shop buyer wandering into a well-stocked gaming store could easily find enough affordable, relevant titles to represent the gallery’s holdings.

As noted earlier this is far from a comprehensive list. I invite readers to suggest other offerings generally appropriate for museums with specific themes, especially ones in their own geographical area.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Developments in RPGs, August 2012

Or “That’s What I’m Doing Wrong….”

August brings GenCon, the largest gaming convention in America and arguably the largest focused primarily on roleplaying games. GenCon always incites a flurry of activity -- shared in our optimistically frightening Internet Age with millions worldwide from a host of correspondents both professional and amateur (though no less enthusiastic) across numerous electronic venues -- from official press releases about new games, news of awards, web correspondent podcasts, and reports from game industry luminaries to personal con-goer reports, seminar recordings of varying quality, and an avalanche of photos from the convention.

NumeneraI haven’t been to GenCon for years, though I suppose I’d now find the experience quite overwhelming in my advancing middle age. While I’d like to think I’d enjoy returning there, I’m having fun casually keeping up with the most notable developments thanks to various web reports primarily gleaned through my Google+ circles, which understandably have a number of game industry professionals and other game enthusiasts in them. GenCon or otherwise, August seems the month -- in the waning days of summer before kids return to school -- when the adventure gaming industry makes the big announcements.

Three major developments in roleplaying games made their debut in August bolstered by buzz generated at GenCon: the next phase in the D&DNext playtest; news of a third iteration of a Star Wars roleplaying game in the hands of yet a third company; and the beginning of a Kickstarter campaign for Numenera, a revolutionary roleplaying game by the legendary Monte Cook.

All three projects have interesting aspects about them that tap into online gamer communities, and a few make me ponder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” They’re worth examining for valuable bits of self-edification, both in what they do quite well and where I feel they don’t quite hit the mark.


Wizards of the Coast seems to have embraced the Internet Age’s global electronic community in its design philosophy for the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. Within the bounds of its own design parameters and creative team the company has harnessed the power of its consumer base (arguably the most numerous, loyal, and vocal of all gamer fans) to preview elements of the system, playtest them, and provide feedback. It’s not quite a true collaborative effort, but one that helps make fans feel special, as if they’re working with and truly contributing to the next version of the beloved, oldest, and most popular roleplaying game brand.

The major announcement at GenCon heralded the next phase of the D&DNext playtest and a continued symbiotic relationship with the game’s fans; but it also revealed two interesting bits of news to further reinforce the game’s development and release. Apparently the next iteration of the game is scheduled for release in 2014, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of its original publication. This also gives Wizards of the Coast, its designers, and the fans two years to collaboratively develop and later market what one hopes is a signature product to reunite a gamer population fractured by multiple editions and breathe life (and economic viability) into the D&D brand. Aiding this is the company’s decision to release the D&D backlist in electronic format next year. I’m not quite sure whether this includes only 4th edition material or books from previous editions, but it’s a solid support move further bolstering its efforts at expanding the online D&D community.

One cannot ignore other factors that might drive Wizards of the Coast to revise D&D and do so by reconnecting with the brand’s numerous fans. Parent company Hasbro has corporate demands that always seem to threaten D&D and Wizards of the Coast’s survival itself, as evidenced by the abominable annual tradition of holiday layoffs. The company and the flagship roleplaying game brand also face stiff competition from Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which attracted droves of former D&D enthusiasts unhappy with the game’s previous edition and, some claim, have exceeded D&D’s sales and popularity in recent months. The fractured gamer community has also realized the value of old school renaissance games emulating beloved aspects of D&D editions long past (often free) with strong online followings, further drawing from gamers who might otherwise buy into and continue playing D&DNext.

Star Wars RPG

In August 2011 Fantasy Flight Games announced it had acquired the rights from Lucasfilm to license Star Wars-themed miniatures, card, and roleplaying games. At GenCon 2012 it released the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, a starfighter dogfight game reminiscent of but obviously not quite the same as the World War I and World War II Wings of War aerial combat game the company used to distribute in America for the Italian company Ares Games, designer of the original game and its updated reboot, Wings of Glory. Also at GenCon 2012 it released its entry in the long, storied history of Star Wars roleplaying games, the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game Beta. It’s intended as the first of three Star Wars-themed roleplaying games covering the “classic” era trilogy. While the first release would cover the “fringes of society, the scum and villainy of the galaxy, and the explorers and colonists of the Outer Rim,” subsequent core books would cover the Rebel struggle against the Empire (Age of Rebellion) and finally “figures of legend: the last surviving Force users in the galaxy” (Force and Destiny).

Like Wizards of the Coast’s strategy with D&DNext, Fantasy Flight seeks to harness the power of fans in developing the game, both those who want to roleplay in the Star Wars universe and those familiar with the similar system in the company’s Dark Heresy roleplaying game set in Games Workshop’s popular Warhammer 40,000 universe. The Edge of the Empire Beta rules consist of a 224-page softcover stripped of most of the artwork and background material (according to the Fantasy Flight website for the game). It also includes stickers to put on dice for the “special dice” required to play the game (much like Dark Heresy). Unlike Wizards of the Coast -- which offers its D&DNext playtest documents for free with a lengthy sign-up and non-disclosure process -- Fantasy Flight charges $29.95 for the beta version of its Star Wars roleplaying game, available at GenCon, through its website, and at select retailers. While one might assume this sum ostensibly covers the cost of printing, it no doubt helps fund further development of the game and provides licensing revenue to Lucasfilm. Already one can find some grumbling on the internet about paying for the privilege to playtest someone else’s game.

Full Disclosure: Frequent readers and those familiar with my notorious reputation know I worked on West End Games’ D6 System Star Wars Roleplaying Game ages ago, and even did some writing for Wizards of the Coast’s version, too. I have a long history of playing D6 System games and generally advocating for easy-to-learn mechanics that quickly involve players -- whether longtime gamers or casual fans of the setting -- in the action of a beloved genre. If I had to sum up general approaches to Star Wars roleplaying games, I supposed it might boil down to this:

West End tried to appeal to Star Wars fans using accessible six-sided dice and linking all rules to a basic dice-pool game mechanic I can still teach complete newcomers within 15 minutes.

Wizards of the Coast seemed to port the Star Wars galaxy into the Dungeons & Dragons mechanics of the time (3rd edition D&D) to attract the established D&D audience instead of drawing in new, non-gamers who loved Star Wars.

Fantasy Flight Games seems to be adapting the Star Wars galaxy to its own system used in Dark Heresy complete with special dice (in my mind alienating casual Star Wars fans seeking to try roleplaying games); and getting playtesting advice while still making money on the print playtest edition…then getting players to buy the full edition when released.

Only time will tell how the gaming and Star Wars fan communities will view these developments -- particularly the use of specialized dice and pay-to-playtest materials -- but my experience leads me to believe that Star Wars fans and gamers would pay any amount for the right product. As always, the Star Wars license remains a license to print money.

Monte Cook’s Numenera

While I’m not terribly interested in D&DNext beyond casual professional interest, and I follow any Star Wars roleplaying development as a matter of course, Monte Cook’s Numenera roleplaying game has captivated my attention on several levels like few other roleplaying games ever have. (Technically this isn’t a GenCon development, but one announced shortly beforehand in a move of public relations brilliance.)

The science fantasy game is set one billion years and eight great civilizations in earth’s future. The game’s several websites have already showcased some of the amazing full-color concept art that captures the setting’s tone. Cook’s concise yet vivid introductory pitch sums it up best:

Humanity lives amid the remnants of eight great civilizations that have risen and fallen on Earth. These are the people of the Ninth World. This new world is filled with remnants of all the former worlds: bits of nanotechnology, the dataweb threaded among still-orbiting satellites,  bio-engineered creatures, and myriad strange and wondrous devices. These remnants have become known as the numenera.

Player characters explore this world of mystery and danger to find these leftover artifacts of the past, not to dwell upon the old ways, but to help forge their new destinies, utilizing the so-called “magic” of the past to create a promising future.

The setting itself seems enticing enough, especially in the hands of someone as imaginative and talented as Cook; but from what he’s already revealed about the system at his website, the game will incorporate some innovative system concepts.

Characters can fall into three “types” roughly corresponding to fighters, wizards, and rogues, though their names reflect the far future society they inhabit. Character creation follows a simple process of choosing a descriptor and focus to add to the type  to outline a concept -- such as “I am a tough glaive who controls beasts” (Cook’s example, with “glaive” the fighter type) -- with later game ramifications. Subsequent blog posts have outlined original ideas for using experience points and numerical stats tied to the text descriptors.

Although he isn’t taking the same online community-based approach to playtesting as Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight are with their games, he’s captivating potential and current backers to the game’s Kickstarter campaign with frequent glimpses into his design process and the game mechanics under development across Cook’s broad spectrum of online venues: his blog, the game’s website, and the Kickstarter page. The response to the Numenera Kickstarter campaign has been phenomenal, easily reaching the $20,000 funding goal and hitting double within 20 hours; as of this writing on August 21, reaching well beyond $120,000! Cook has offered numerous opportunities to buy into the game, the most notable being “The Real Deal” which for $60 includes the hardcover, full-color rulebook, plus a host of PDF resources including three adventures (for a total of 96 pages), Player’s Guide, a Ninth World Bestiary (also 96 pages), and a PDF of the rulebook for electronic reference. The Kickstarter campaign “stretch goals” also include altruistic goals that put copies of the rulebook in the hands of libraries across the country and soldiers serving overseas.

I’ll freely admit I’m jealous of Monte Cook: his prolific output, his innovative imagination, his long career in the adventure gaming industry, his massive hordes of loyal fans, and his thoughtful insight on many issues (and not just game-related, either, as evidenced by his positive A+ campaign for August). Numenera promises not only to be both a fantastic roleplaying game and world, but also to offer an amazing game design journey in the year Cook spends developing it and sharing the experience with his fans.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Virginia’s Aviation Attractions

Aviation offers inspiration for anyone interested in modern history, aviation, or aircraft-related gaming (from miniature wargames to pulp roleplaying games). Although it sometimes seems like I live on the medieval frontier of Northern Virginia (the medieval side), I’m quite fortunate to live within a few hours’ drive to several aviation enthusiast venues, both world renown and quite local.

VAAviationI’m often jealous reading about Lee Hadley’s numerous excursions to excellent British military museums -- detailed at his blog, Big Lee’s Miniature Adventures -- especially those celebrating the RAF aviation heritage and actually flying period planes. Granted, here in America, we have numerous shrines to aviation, too, though in a much larger country without a comprehensive public transportation infrastructure they’re a bit harder to reach. Thankfully we have several aviation venues right in my own backyard, more or less, that provide aviation enthusiasts like myself the chance to see aircraft up close and find some inspiration in them.

Open Hangar Days: The National Capital Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force maintains a hangar at Culpeper County Airport, within a 15-minute drive of our house, and hosts monthly, free admission Open Hangar Days the second Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During this time visitors can walk around the squadron’s restored aircraft (most of which remains in flying condition), including a Vultee BT-13A trainer and a Stinson L-5 observer plane, though other vintage aircraft owners at the field also put their aircraft on display. Volunteer staff answer questions and talk about the aircraft (and in some cases offer future aviators the chance to sit in a cockpit with some supervision). Members also set up displays of period artifacts, mostly from World War II. One of  my favorites is the Japanese gun camera, purportedly one of only a few left in existence. Our two year-old son (affectionately referred to here as the Little Guy) has really enjoyed these since we started taking him there in April. It helps that his uncle is a pilot, but seeing vintage aircraft and other planes up close has really excited him about planes.

Bealeton Flying Circus: About 45 minutes away the Bealeton Flying Circus offers a weekly airshow (weather permitting) Sundays from May through October. The gates open at 11 a.m. for folks wishing to picnic on the grounds, but the real attraction for coming early is to purchase open cockpit biplane rides, both “straight and level” and “aerobatic” (costing a bit more, but well worth it for thrill seekers). At 2:30 the field clears for an hour-and-a-half airshow featuring the circus’ numerous biplanes, primarily inter-war trainers like the Stearman, demonstrating various flight techniques; other highlights include a parachute jump and maneuvers by an aerobatic plane. Afterwards all the aircraft taxi up to the flight line and cut their engines; the gates open up and the pilots invite audience members to get a close-up view of the airplanes and talk about flying. The Flying Circus reminds me of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome near my hometown, which focuses on World War I aircraft and hosts Saturday and Sunday airshows in addition to maintaining a museum.

National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center: One of the nation’s premiere aviation museums remains the National Air & Space Museum, and its newest addition, the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport has become the vast display space for many of the Smithsonian’s full-sized aircraft. One long, huge hangar allows viewing access on the ground, balconies, and catwalks to numerous planes from across the spectrum of aviation history. Among its many highlights one can find the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay which dropped the first atomic bomb, an Air France Concorde supersonic jetliner, the Grumman G-21 Goose (one of my favorites), a Junkers Ju-52 tri-motor airliner, a Vought F4U Corsair, and the sadly retired space shuttle Discovery inhabiting its own wing of the vast hangar space. Notable for its collection of experimental German planes from World War II, including the twin jet Arado Ar-234 Blitz, Dornier Do-355 fore-and-aft propeller plane, and the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. An observation tower allows visitors to watch planes take off and land at Dulles International Airport while listening to air traffic controllers direct pilots; an enclosed balcony overlook offers a glimpse into the meticulous work it takes to repair and refurbish historic aircraft in the restoration workshops. Of course an additional ride on the Washington Metro from one of the outlying stations with parking (usually Springfield) offers access to the museum’s other location on the National Mall, which houses exhibits on commercial and civil aviation, the history and science of flight, and galleries devoted to notable aircraft from both World Wars, the Golden Age of Flight, naval aviation, and milestones of flight. Both Air & Space Museum facilities also include the obligatory IMAX theaters showing aviation-themed films.

Virginia Aviation Museum: Anyone driving to Richmond International Airport can’t miss the museum with its SR-71 Blackbird and F-14 Tomcat parked out front. The exhibits inside the vast warehouse space include airplanes like the Spad VII, Curtiss “Jenny” trainer, and several reproductions of Wright Brothers’ aircraft; several detailed dioramas of World War II air battles; and interactive exhibits explaining the science behind flight. I visited the museum once a few years ago when it hosted a games day for a local wargaming club, quite an interesting venue where one might play miniature wargames (including aerial ones) among authentic aircraft and artifacts.

Virginia Air & Space Museum: For those living in the southern portions of the state, this Hampton museum offers the next best thing to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. Given Hampton Roads’ connection to aviation (with the NASA Langley Research Center nearby along with a strong naval presence), the museum contains a solid collection of jet aircraft -- a Convair F-106 Delta Dart and F-104 Starfighter among them -- plus several choice artifacts of space exploration like the Mercury 14 spacecraft, Apollo 12 command module, and Viking Lander. I visited the museum more than 10 years ago, but met a couple from the area (at the Flying Circus, no less) who recently raved about it.

I would like to believe most people live within a reasonable drive of some kind of aviation attraction, whether a museum, airshow, or even a private collection open occasionally to the public. For gamers it might offer some inspiration and historical context for anything involving aircraft.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Early Musical Influences on My Gaming

Gaming and music have always gone hand-in-hand for me. My father fostered a love for classical music, something I combined later with my interest in genre films to cultivate an appreciation of orchestral movie soundtracks. Classical music fueled my imagination at a formative time in my life when I was exploring numerous geeky interests like science fiction, fantasy, films, novels, and, ultimately, roleplaying games.

It’s so long ago I can’t remember if I was in junior high or high school, but I have fond, nostalgic memories of reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Savage Pellucidar -- perhaps my first taste of fantasy science fiction -- while absorbing Holst’s The Planets suite over stereo headphones. My record collection consisted of several classical albums I’d borrowed from my father based on my interests in mythology and history, plus a slew of kid’s records I didn’t listen to anymore. Most were what many consider “romantic-era” music of the 19th Century, and their sweeping symphonic strains helped transport me from my brooding teenage concerns to a distant place where my imagination could indulge itself. A number of composers and albums still remind me of that carefree time when one could indulge in daydreaming, reading, and listening to music just for the sake of it:

Holst: My album of Holst’s The Planets was well-played. Each piece transformed the mythological aspects of the planet into a symphonic painting to fuel the imagination, the melodic themes covering the vast range of planetary temperaments. Mars, the Bringer of War, rose from the brooding tones of imminent combat to the fanfare of war marching relentlessly forward. Jupiter’s theme reminded me of the soaring spires of some bustling medieval fantasy city.

Tchaikovsky: One of the prolific masters of the romantic classical era, Tchaikovsky’s works indulged in the emotional drama of his subjects, from the concert piece Romeo and Juliet to ballet fare like the Nutcracker Suite and Sleeping Beauty. One of my albums included his moving 1812 Overture (heard every year at Fourth of July fireworks displays), written to commemorate Russia’s defeat of Napoleon’s invasion in 1812. On my album it was paired with Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, a lesser-known but equally explosive showpiece commemorating yet another battle of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Vitoria in Spain in 1813. Both fired the martial parts of my imagination with their cannonades and rich, patriotic melodies. (Despite this affinity for these two pieces inspired by the Napoleonic Wars, I’ve never had a burning desire to immerse myself in their history beyond a few wargames and Osprey books.)

Rimsky-Korsakov: Another Russian composer from a similar school of composition, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote many pieces inspired by cultural legends. The album I borrowed from my father, Scheherazade, contained four movements based on different tales from the One Thousand and One Nights, something to which I’d been exposed through the wondrous Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films. The liner notes gave only the briefest outlines of the stories upon which Rimsky-Korsakov based his music, but they sent me in a new direction exploring other legends of different cultural origins. As I immersed myself in Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons, the swelling theme of Sinbad’s ship on the ocean inspired a furious spate of setting creation as I set out to detail encounters on the numerous islands across the Sea of Dread from the vast world map in adventure module X1 The Isle of Dread.

Wagner: Perhaps I found the greatest inspiration from Highlights from Das Rheingold and Die Walk├╝re, an album of operatic pieces from the first two of Wagner’s four epic operas in Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle. The liner notes introduced me to the rich stories of Teutonic and the related Norse mythology -- which I further explored on my own -- and to the musical concept of the “leitmotif,” recurring themes representing characters, locations, emotions, and ideas. While the brooding themes appealed to my teenage angst, I was also inspired by the rousing Ride of the Valkyries, the cries of the Rhine Maidens, the clanging hammers as Loge and Wotan descend into the subterranean realm of Nibelheim, and the forging of the rainbow bridge and the fanfare of the Gods’ entry into Valhalla. My comprehension of the role leitmotifs played in the music led to my further appreciation of classical music and a growing interest in film soundtracks.

My appreciation for classical music and the use of leitmotifs only enhanced my interest in genre films. In an age when home VCRs were luxuries, I vicariously relived a movie’s action through the soundtracks I listened to on my stereo. With these influences it’s no surprise I found myself drawn to John Williams’ film scores, initially for the Star Wars trilogy but subsequently the Indiana Jones movies and other genre films he scored. His themes from The Towering Inferno, Jaws, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and the Harry Potter films and remain ingrained on the collective cultural consciousness for our generation.

Other film soundtracks also engaged my imagination, particularly anything from the medieval, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Among my CD collection today I have soundtracks by Jerry Goldsmith (Legend, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, The Ghost and the Darkness, Air Force One, The Mummy, The 13th Warrior), Alan Silvestri (Predator 2, The Abyss, Back to the Future), and Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian, RoboCop, The Hunt for Red October, The Jungle Book, Starship Troopers), whose Conan soundtrack remains one of the most versatile accompaniments to fantasy roleplaying game sessions.

Although they were released at a time long after my formative years when my early imagination was blossoming, Howard Shore’s soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings films certainly helped transport me once again into the fantasy realm of Middle-earth, though I have yet to use them running a roleplaying game in that rich setting.

My appreciation for classical music and film soundtracks led me to include musical accompaniment as part of my roleplaying game experience over the years. With my immersion in West End Games’ venerable Star Wars Roleplaying Game I actively began creating individual soundtracks to enhance adventure encounters played out at the table. Way back in the dark ages I used to record individual game session “soundtracks” from records to tape; today’s technology allows computers and miniature audio devices to access “playlists” that more easily accomplish the same objective. Long ago I drafted a brief outline on using music in roleplaying games, and I’ve since used those basic guidelines in articles on using the Star Wars soundtracks during roleplaying game sessions, in “discography” suggestions for game supplements like Pulp Egypt, and convention seminars.

Not everyone has an affinity for or understanding of classical music and movie soundtracks; but music affects most people and can further enhance their gaming experiences much like film scores subconsciously cue our minds to the action on screen.