Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Living Thanks

“We count our miseries carefully and accept our blessings without much thought.”
– Chinese Proverb

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Last week I talked about thankfulness in the context of the adventure gaming hobby. As we sit down this week to our individual Thanksgiving celebrations with friends and family, I offer my annual plea – modified a little more each year – encouraging readers to demonstrate our gratefulness for the many gifts enriching our lives, manifesting our thankful spirits through positive actions to enhance the lives of others, especially those who are not so fortunate.

I can never be truly thankful enough for all the gifts I enjoy. It’s easy to demonstrate gratitude for outright gifts, the ones we receive at the holidays and birthdays or the gestures of generosity shown between gamers and friends. But it’s easy to take for granted the many aspects of our lives that enable us to have the spare income and time to pursue our adventure gaming hobby...and even there I’m particularly lucky, given the many gamers who still engage in the hobby despite personal and financial difficulties. During this season of Thanksgiving – and especially in our daily lives when we don’t have holidays to remind us – we should not simply express our thanks, we should act on our gratitude.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Hobby of Gifts

As we near Thanksgiving my thoughts turn to the numerous aspects of my life for which I’m grateful: a supportive family and comfy home, the ability to pursue my work in the adventure gaming hobby, supportive online communities, my privileged place in the world as a white male American citizen. Throughout my life I’ve received many gifts, among them presents that started me off on and further inspired me on my journey through the adventure gaming hobby.

I wouldn’t have this level of involvement in gaming if it hadn’t been for one key gift which started it all. Back in junior high school I’d seen some neighborhood kids playing Basic Dungeons & Dragons and, lacking the game materials myself, went ahead and created my own very simple dungeon-delving game (Creatures & Caverns, the latest, refined iteration of which remains freely available on the internet). My parents – who always seemed to encourage their children’s varied and sometimes fleeting interests – bought me the Basic D&D boxed set (Moldvay edition) as an Easter gift that year...ironic considering the anti-D&D sentiments and accusations Satanism ran high in the early and mid 1980s. This one gift encouraged me down the adventure gaming path, not only as a player but as someone who spent the subsequent summer creating his own gaming materials for B/X D&D. Soon I was immersing myself in and drafting material for other roleplaying games and even designing my own admittedly rudimentary board and card games. My family continued fueling my gaming interests with occasional gifts: a copy of Avalon Hill’s Kingmaker, some D&D miniatures, paints, and adventure modules come to mind among the other numerous gifts that encouraged me throughout my youth.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Five Years of Game Blogging

Five years ago this month I began blogging here at Hobby Games Recce. I did it primarily to stay active as a writer and a gamer, maintaining some degree of online presence in a field in which I hadn’t published much in recent years – either through established publishers or my own imprint – due to family and work obligations. I found myself a full-time Stay-at-Home Dad (SaHD) with irregular tidbits of time, not really enough to slowly work away on voluminous game sourcebooks, but enough to offer rambling opinions on various aspects of the adventure gaming hobby. Five years and more than 250 entries later I’m still at it, mostly satisfied with my work and happy with the engagement it’s generated and friends I’ve made.

I began blogging on Nov. 11, 2010, with two posts: one about sighting games at the now-extinct Borders bookstores (at the time a rarity, though today Barnes & Noble carries an expansive array of popular hobby games), and the other about Wizards of the Coast/Avalon Hill reissuing Richard Borg’s Battle Cry Civil War battle game. Now you can find board game staples like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride – as well as other fare like Rory’s Story Cubes and Zombie Dice – in such venues as Walmart and Target, with remaining big-box bookstore Barnes & Noble carrying those and more diverse board and card game fare. How the game-scape has changed during five years.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Skills in B/X D&D

I’m slowly returning to Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (B/X D&D) as I explore the Old School Renaissance (OSR) and return to creating material for medieval fantasy roleplaying games. Frequent readers know it’s my preferred version of D&D for various reasons, many informed by my casual survey of OSR games that caught my eye. But as I consider the practicalities of running a game, I realize I can’t leave my past behind. As a longtime player of West End Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game and other fare using the D6 System, my primeval gamer brain enjoys the class-and-level system of D&D but also yearns for more skill-based mechanics to encourage action beyond combat, all part of a roleplaying game’s freeform appeal that “anything can be attempted.” So I find myself considering modifications – ultimately part of my B/X D&D “house rules” – allowing characters to employ non-combat skills.

Class-and-level games focus primarily on combat, with some additional rules or systems for the non-combat exploration aspects of dungeon delving. This makes sense given original D&D’s evolution from wargames, particularly Chainmail, in which combat played the central role, with magic and other elements contributing to the outcome of the overall battle. Looking at D&D’s central mechanics, they primarily focus on resolving combat between the party and various adversaries. Other systems emerged with “special rules” for exceptional actions: magic-user and cleric spell systems, thief abilities, clerics turning undead, various races opening doors or spotting secret doors, even saving throws. Unlike, say, the D6 System, where a central “core mechanic” covers combat, skills, and other challenges, D&D relies on quite different rules to resolve different non-combat actions. Third edition D&D tried resolving this with the introduction of an entire skill system based on d20 rolls, but many other elements relied on the tried-and-true methods of yore.