Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Giving Thanks in A Plague Year

Every year or so around this time I post a Thanksgiving-themed missive. Something like “Living Thanks,” Step Up & Give Thanks,” “Gather at the Table,” or even after-action reports like “Thankful for Thanksgiving Gaming.” Despite the positive spirit and some game-related flavoring, they only garner a few page views compared to deeper articles on game issues or product features. And yet here I sit writing yet another Thanksgiving piece for Hobby Games Recce. Rather than offer broad exhortations for thankfulness with generosity toward those in need (at least until the last paragraph), I figure I’d indulge in some personal examples of gratefulness in my life during this truly awful 2020, Year of the Pandemic.

I count our family among the lucky ones during these dark plague times. We have thankfully not lost close friends or family members to covid-19, though we’re aware of a few who’ve had it and recovered. We are lucky my wife can work from home and thus continue earning the salary that sustains us; it’s allowed us to donate more than usual this year to charities benefiting those whose lives have crumbed into financial turmoil in America’s hellscape response to the pandemic. It’s enabled me to carve out parts of the basement for my wargaming table and storage, as well as a small, unpretentious home theater and the “Space Bar,” all of which have aided our escapist endeavors during these troubling times. I’m thankful my son can attend school through a “distanced learning” program online, though this takes a great deal more parental effort on my part than any normal school year. I’m thankful our parents managed to stay healthy and that we can still keep in touch online, by phone, and by mail, though we missed their visits throughout the year. Despite increased demands on my time and focus from other areas, I’m grateful for the few game publishing endeavors I’ve managed to pursue, though few have yet evolved into forms worthy of public release. One of the highlights this year came from Adamant Entertainment’s release of Star System: Every Star A Destination, an OpenD6 adventure collection in the spirit of the dlassic D6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game supplement Instant Adventures, for I wrote a small contribution.

Although I miss the numerous diversions we enjoyed in the “Before Times” – road trips for shopping and movies, museum visits, game conventions, eating out – their loss has afforded me more time and spending money to explore further realms across the adventure gaming hobby (mostly through the magic of online ordering). I continue following inspirations like S. John Ross, Tim Shorts, Michael Prescott, Scott Malthouse, and Dyson Logos who produce wonderful material for fantasy roleplaying games (and I’m naming only a few who immediately come to mind). I’ve enjoyed returning to M.A.R. Barker’s exotic Tékumel setting thanks to The Excellent Travelling Volume fanzine produced by James Maliszewski; reading his Thousand Suns imperial science fiction game allowed me to bask in my nostalgia for classic Traveller. I indulged in ordering some historical wargames from Columbia Games and Worthington Publishing, though I’ve only managed to find time and willing participants to try a few beyond my paltry efforts at solitaire play. I’m thankful I could return to painting miniatures as a means to relax, rebasing and refurbishing old minis and painting new ones, particularly a slew of 54mm Armies in Plastic figures acquired during a few good sales. All these remind me how grateful I am that we enjoy diverse, rich creativity across all levels of the adventure gaming hobby.

Other media diversions have helped me escape from the numerous miseries of 2020; for these I am also thankful. Our humble home theater hosts our now-traditional Friday family movie nights, with popcorn and drinks from the “Space Bar.” I’ve immersed myself in streaming series, particularly The Mandalorian, Lovecraft Country, and all four seasons of The Expanse, each with amazing actors, excellent storytelling, and high production values. Reading has always provided me a refuge from real-world worries. This year I explored some new fiction – notably The Expanse novels, which I consumed voraciously – and revisited old favorites by W.E.B. Griffin and Alan Furst. (Tempted as I was, given the times, I somehow resisted re-reading Walter M. Miller Jr.’s apocalyptic masterpiece, A Canticle for Liebowitz.)

I am extremely thankful for my handful of friends, some I’ve known forever, others I’ve only known online. They enrich my hobby life, whether playing games in person during visits or conventions or simply engaging in positive online interactions. Our exchange of ideas helps energize me as both a designer and a player. Many serve as ready playtesters for my varied game ideas. Sometimes we send each other gifts – games and toys, comp copies of my latest work, the infamous holiday stollens – and though this isn’t expected it’s always appreciated. I’d like to think I’ve returned their generosity in small ways throughout the year...and hope to find opportunities to continue to do so in the coming months. Beyond the gaming they are real friends; we share successes and heartaches as we drift through the tumultuous events that have consumed the world in 2020.

Increasingly I am coming to believe in the concept of cosmic indifferentism, perhaps concisely exemplified by German film director Werner Herzog: “The universe is monstrously indifferent to the presence of man.” It is exactly because of this that we must step up and take responsibility for caring for one another, to improve the lives of those in our community in spite of an uncaring universe. I hope this Thanksgiving we take a moment to survey our lives, recognize those aspects which sustain and enrich us, and let our gratitude inspire us to demonstrate kindness and generosity toward those who are less fortunate, that we may all have plenty to celebrate.

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


  1. What are your thoughts on a Thousand Suns? I’ve not found many play reports of it so it has been a bit hard to get a feel for how it plays at the table (and perhaps how GM friendly the book is.) I run a lot of sandbox space campaigns and I’m interested in more toolkits :-)

  2. I should really write a feature on Thousand Suns and its inspiration from Traveller (though I suppose I owe the Cephus Engine a look, too, as it's supposedly a Traveller descendent). A quick look through Thousand Suns reminds me it has a good GM section with a few pages of random adventure seed generator, with a subsector and meta-setting overview. Probably not as much toolkit as you'd prefer, more a spiritual porting of rules into a more modern Traveller-feeling game.

  3. Would *love* to read your detailed thoughts on Thousand Suns... it seems like a compelling game and I have a soft spot for the d12 for some reason.

    For solo Traveller play I mostly use Cepheus Light and Zozer's SOLO but I occasionally pull bits from the full Cepheus Engine rules. I prefer Light because it is just the right amount of bookkeeping, particularly the way starships work. I have a full set of the 1981 Traveller books and I refer to them from time-to-time but more to recapture the spirit of things then to use the actual mechanics or settings. I quite enjoy these products but... like West End Games D6... I've been playing them for a while and have a lot of "house rules" or at least interpretations about how I believe things should work. If you have any questions feel free to ask!


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