Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Changing Game Buying Habits

The local game store not 10 minutes from my house closed suddenly back in December after a wonderfully entertaining run of just over one year. I’m still bitter about the abrupt closing, the circumstances of which I’ve heard are surrounded in controversy, opportunism, and betrayal. I’m perhaps most upset by the loss of a place where I could hang out and play games with friends, check out the latest game releases, and enjoy hobby-specific events. I did not buy more than I usually would from a game store – one or two Godzilla comics a month for the Little Guy, an odd game here and there, some X-wing miniatures, and one special ordered Wings of Glory plane (also for the Little Guy) – about the dollar amount and game volume I’d normally do from a brick-and-mortar game store in a year (more, actually, if you include the comics). Being so close to home it also served as a great place to gather with fellow gamers, most notably for weekly X-wing miniatures games and an occasional tournament; I also enjoyed spending International Tabletop Day there trying out new games.

Despite this loss of a Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) my game buying has somehow increased during the past few months...perhaps not in total dollar amount, but certainly in numbers of product. In taking a general look where I spend my adventure gaming hobby money, I find some interesting voluntary shifts that had little to do with the involuntary loss of the FLGS.

Game Stores: I still frequent the other FLGS (“local” in the sense it’s almost an hour’s drive away) and usually pick up some miniatures, terrain, or other, not-too-expensive bit, just to do my small part. Occasionally I make a pilgrimage to a game store I’ve heard about a farther drive away, or if we’re traveling and I happen to scout out a potential store to visit. Unfortunately even the closest FLGS remains far enough away that a casual visit isn’t a consideration; I have to plan for a trip, usually combined with other errands, and rarely have the time I’d like to even browse, let alone join in a game or event. They’re often quite helpful in special ordering hard-to-find items, though I’m finding internet venues far more fulfilling and cost-effective for specific games (see below). Given the distance involved, however, the FLGS has diminished in its role providing me with game materials – a regret since I value actual locations that offer both shopping opportunities and spaces to gather and spend time with other gamers – but that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped supporting brick-and-mortar establishments altogether.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Gaming Artifacts: Homemade Modules

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)

I’ve put off discussing these particular artifacts from my earliest gaming days because, frankly, they’re awfully embarrassing. Compared with my subsequent work – in the course of more than 20 years in the publishing and adventure gaming industry – they’re irredeemably horrible. I count them with my amateur attempt at a gaming fanzine among the relics I wish simply didn’t exist; yet I keep them around not simply for shameful nostalgia, but because they were an integral part of my earliest, enthusiastic gaming days.

In my first years exploring roleplaying through Dungeons & Dragons (primarily Moldvay-edition Basic/Expert D&D, but also Advanced D&D) I created a number of my own adventure modules for our small gaming group of neighborhood kids (some I wrote down as created by my brother, who was somewhat reluctantly dragged into my gaming hobby). I dubbed those periods my “D&D Summers,” the months off between school years in high school shortly after I discovered D&D at the end of junior high. I filled my time with creating scenarios and settings, running games for friends, painting miniatures, exploring new games, and otherwise immersing myself in adventure gaming hobby activities all summer long.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Creators & Communities

My current reading of Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World – particularly about early wargaming clubs, newsletters, and rules – and the recent phenomenal and well-deserved success of James Spahn’s White Star Swords & Wizardry-compatible sci-fi roleplaying game demonstrate the importance of game creators setting out to do their own thing and forging enthusiastic communities around their creations.

In the earliest pages of Playing at the World, Peterson discusses how members of early wargaming clubs – both traditional chit-and-board games and those using miniatures – published their own newsletters, hosted their own (admittedly small) conventions, and shared ideas for creating game variants or developing new games, ones often distributed within the newsletters or in amateurish mimeographed copies. Clubs and newsletters (the primary means of finding opponents) brought people together not simply to play games but to talk about them, discuss evolving ideas, and share new interests in historical periods. All this engagement fueled the development of new games, including the groundbreaking rules called Dungeons & Dragons....

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Lulu OSR Wish List

Recently I’ve been exploring the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR) in roleplaying games. It helps me connect with my earliest days of dungeon-delving roleplaying and my continued preference for the Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons rules; it’s also providing inspiration both for game design and as options for solo and group play. I’ve acquired many free PDF rules online, but I can’t really enjoy reading them on the screen and don’t want to print everything out in cluttered loose-leaf binders or hastily stapled piles. I’m still a book lover; I can read a printed book cover-to-cover, even a game book, but can read only small portions of a PDF book on screen.

Since so many people have published so much OSR material through venues like Lulu and OneBookShelf, I need to establish a rationale to limit my purchases and keep them relevant to my interests and play style. Since the OSR looks back to the earliest days of fantasy roleplaying games, I wanted to find rules incorporating elements of my favorite edition of D&D, the Basic/Expert rules edited by Tom Moldvay. These included a number of elements that appealed to me: a generally more streamlined and better organized presentation than AD&D at the time; races as classes (sacrificing some player options for streamlining simplicity); and a comprehensive approach to the game, incorporating everything needed to play in one book. While I appreciate games with approaches different than my own rationale – and own and have enjoyed many – for future acquisitions I’m limiting myself to material that might best suit my own gaming style. I’m also looking for quality supplements to expand my OSR experience; these don’t need to tie into one particular rules set as much as offer inspiration for fantasy roleplaying games. I still need to do my homework. I have free PDF copies of some of the games that interest me, but I need to more closely examine many to see if they follow my rationale enough that I’d want to add them to my print library.