Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Schweig’s Project List, Oct. 2015

In preparing to attend Nuke-Con Oct. 2-4 in Omaha, NE, I’m assembling a host of materials: signs for my numerous events, adventure components (scenario, character sheets, tent cards, handouts), rulebooks, compact miniature wargaming bits (tanks, terrain, reference cards). I managed to order two portrait-oriented Lion Flip-N-Tell Display Book-N-Easels to compliment the stand-up landscape portfolio I’ve had for years. These work really well as double-sided sign holders, with the portfolio format allowing me to easily change signs as needed. They also fold flat for easy packing and transport.

Nuke-Con provides me with a guest table where I can hang out and chat with con-goers when I’m not running games. I’ll have two of these portfolios set up on the guest table with information about my con schedule and products, while the third serves at my gaming tables to identify the event and display any in-game reference materials.

In trying to devise interesting information for signage to inspire guest-table conversation I thought I’d offer a brief outline of some of the projects on my immediate “to do” list. I regret many of these have languished for years, set aside when real-life jobs consumed my energy and then when my full-time parental duties took over my life; but with the Little Guy in kindergarten full time now, I have a little more time to focus on developing and completing game projects for publication.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Host, Teacher, Referee

When we consider the role of a game referee – whether a gamemaster for a roleplaying game, the owner of a board game, or an actual referee in miniature wargames – several key elements emerge as necessary to provide a positive game experience. A referee serves as a host, teacher, and arbiter of game rules; learning the skills required to excel at each of those diverse roles helps make a more satisfying experience for everyone.

Hosting, teaching, refereeing, or scheming?
I’m reading Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World (yes, I’m still not finished...it’s 700 pages long!) and contemplating my own experiences as a player and gamemaster. I realize the role of a game’s referee – and the degree to which the referee shares involvement with the players interfacing with the game system – has changed across time and different gaming forms. In the earliest days of wargaming the creators of the Kriegsspiele used the concept of a wargame as a training tool for upcoming officers; the referee not only owned the game components, but knew it well enough to run the game for others who did not possess a working knowledge of the game mechanics beyond their role as military decision-makers. Most miniature wargames later followed an iteration of this model: the referee provided the game components and was familiar enough with the rules to both run the game and offer assistance to those who didn’t know them. The earliest roleplaying games focused on the gamemaster, who usually owned a copy of the rules and therefore understood them well enough to not only run games but shepherd new players through the character creation process and in-game mechanics. Board games leveled the playing field in terms of knowledge of the rules (something Avalon Hill began in its two-player board wargames without a referee), though someone still has to own a copy. Throughout this history three roles emerge for the referee, all of which contribute to a game’s overall success:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Classic or New Editions?

Mongoose Publishing recently released a playtest PDF for its latest edition of the venerable Traveller roleplaying game...charging $20 for the privilege of perusing, playing, and helping to improve it. It’s an opportunistic strategy I’ve seen before – with all three slightly variant flavors of Fantasy Flight Games’ iteration of a Star Wars roleplaying game – and don’t particularly like, even if publishers have internal financial justifications for it. The news of yet another edition of Traveller raises the issue of whether gamers need new editions of classic games.

From a publisher’s perspective new editions serve numerous purposes: updating outdated mechanics and changing meta-story setting materials; revising the game line’s graphic presentation to appeal to current tastes; and relaunching a game line (including the inevitable parade of supplements) to reinvigorate sales. I can certainly attest to this first-hand from my involvement with West End Games. As a gamer I enjoyed the first edition of The Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Just before I joined the company to establish and edit The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal, West End released a second edition of the rules, purportedly to combine and revise rules additions and interpretations released in various supplements over the years. Ultimately the company published a Revised & Expanded edition of the game, a sort of 2.5 release, affectionately dubbed “super-mondo” by the staff because it had the largest page count and was the first to feature full-color throughout, including both movie stills and original full-color artwork. Each of these subsequent editions fulfilled many of the objectives outlined above – updating rules, revising graphic presentation, and relaunching the line – even though the original version remained playable (with personal rules interpretations) and quite enjoyable. Despite my own preferences for the game’s first edition, I towed the company line and dutifully supported each edition in turn, writing source material and running convention games using the latest version (despite my overwhelming misgivings about the notorious Wild Die...).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

“Daddy, Who Are the Bad Guys?”

My five year-old son, the Little Guy, has asked this question occasionally around the game table, usually when I pull out some historically themed game appropriate to his level (in its original form or, more likely, in a streamlined “quick-start” format). It’s a valid question. Kids his age like to have everything categorized in black and white. They don’t have the experience or wisdom to discern varying levels of gray in everyday issues. Their views can change with time – the Little Guy went through a phase where he didn’t like Star Wars much, but now he’s “back into it” – but they like having their world defined by yes or no, black and white, not long-winded discussions of the gray areas like Daddy’s prone to offer.

My great-great Uncle Martin (left)
playing chess during the Great War.
Part of our dilemma comes from our personal connections to various historical conflicts. We’ve played the WWI version of Wings of War (now Wings of Glory) and the Little Guy has expressed interest in trying the WWII version. Both historical games present problematic aspects of the bad guy issue. His great-great grandfather served in the Kaiser’s medical corps in the Great War and witnessed first-hand the terrible price war exacted on soldiers’ bodies and minds. When a friend sent me the B-17 Flying Fortress plane for the WWII Wings of Glory, the Little Guy naturally asked if it was a bad guy or good guy plane. The question inspired a short discussion about serving one’s country; we have various relatives who served America in WWII...including one with the 8th Army Air Corps in England working as ground crew for bombers heading into Germany, where other distant relations lived and survived air raids before fleeing west in the face of the ruthless Soviet military juggernaut. Two of his great-grandparents quite literally (and fortunately for us) missed the boat on returning to Nazi Germany.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

B/X D&D Preferences Inspired by OSR Retro-Clones

In dabbling with the Old School Renaissance (OSR) and retro-clone games I’ve come full-circle back to my original adventure gaming roots. I started on Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (the Moldvay edition, often called B/X D&D) and, after exploring many modern interpretations of the classic games enabled by the Open Game License (OGL), still prefer its concise, streamlined, yet easily adaptable form. B/X D&D remains my favorite of all the different versions of D&D and all the OSR retro-clone offerings available today. I enjoy a few OSR games on their own – rather than for the evolutions they bring to OSR retro-clones – particularly the Barsoom-inspired Warriors of the Red Planet, sci-fi retro-clone White Star, and Barbarians of Lemuria (arguably on the fringe of the OSR retro-clone scene). But when it comes to swords-and-sorcery fantasy roleplaying, I default to B/X D&D.

Yet even my beloved B/X D&D could stand some streamlining, revision, and enhancement. What game can’t? Most games become customized the moment a gamemaster and players start adding “house rules,” from interpretations of rule systems to new additions to suit their particular play style. My recent explorations of the OSR have helped me determine some of my preferences in various aspects of traditional D&D game mechanics. Along the way I’ve particularly enjoyed what some creators have developed based on many classic gaming elements from the Golden Age of Roleplaying. Surveying how classic games and new OSR titles handle various mechanics – especially in relation to my overall personal preference for B/X D&D – helped coalesce some of my opinions about elements I’d tinker with in my own “house rules,” should I ever come to run a B/X D&D game myself: