Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Inspiration of Books

 Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.”

Carl Sagan

Over the years I’ve found inspiration in many places – films, television, music, historical sites, museums – but perhaps nowhere more than in books. They have fueled my endeavors in writing, game playing, and game design, explorations of various historical periods, and, of course, further reading across numerous subjects and genres that engaged my imagination. They have helped expand my horizons through non-fiction, escape this world and explore others through fiction, and play within the realms of roleplaying games. I have always been surrounded by books. No doubt I inherited these tendencies in part from a family that encourages learning (including several who were teachers) and respects the value of books. Books have helped enrich my life and, I’d hope, encouraged me to help enrich the live of others in some small way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Nothing Stays the Same

 Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Last year around this time I celebrated my 10th anniversary blogging at Hobby Games Recce. I reflected on many elements of my adventure gaming life that had changed. This year, as I mark 11 years blogging here, I wanted to take a broad look at how some elements in the gaming world have changed over more than a decade, particularly things that have disappeared from my gaming scene. I’m not doing a comprehensive review – I don’t have time to skim over more than 400 blog entries – but I’m going for general impressions on a few key observations. In doing so I’m reminded how fleeting anything really is. Games, companies, websites, hobby stores, even online communities come and go. Their popularity and our immense enjoyment of them do not guarantee they’ll always be here for us. We must appreciate what we have in the moment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Normalizing 4D6

As the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions.”

Plato

I was surfing online this weekend looking for interesting dice sets, just for fun. While a majority of polyhedral roleplaying game dice I noticed contained one each of the “standard” dice (including the D% ten sider), I was surprised to see a number of them – primarily in my search for “Koplow dice” – included four six-sided dice (4D6). I’ve seen a few sets in stores that also pack 4D6. I checked the “starter” boxes I have for Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition and realized the dice set provided with the Essentials Kit also included 4D6 (the Essentials Kit offers character creation rules, while the Starter Set does not). This seems to indicate a shift over the game’s almost 50-year history from several methods of rolling character ability scores to the one most geared toward what some might call a heroic play style; one where player-characters aren’t simply grunts sent through a meat-grinder adventure to meet horrible ends, with only the most “worthy” surviving, but where they begin as heroes who all have value in the overall storyline.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Making New Discoveries

 “The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”

Aristotle

I sometimes joke about my “gaming radar” when I discover new products that engage my interest in some aspect of the greater adventure gaming hobby. We each have different strategies for staying on top of gaming news, discovering new releases, evaluating possible purchases, and generally finding new inspirations that fuel our engagement with the hobby (including books and music in particular). Like reconnaissance technologies over the years our means of finding gaming news has changed, become seemingly more efficient, and flooded us with more information to analyze and distill into some effective form. Intelligence-gathering technology evolved from rudimentary radar and sonar to such marvels as satellites, GPS tracking, and lidar. Gamers once relied on magazines and limited personal contacts to gain new information about developments in the hobby; today the internet exposes us to an oft-overwhelming torrent of sources about countless developments in gaming.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Favorite Things: Thrilling Locations

 I don’t regard James Bond precisely as a hero, but at least he does get on and do his duty, in an extremely corny way.”

Ian Fleming

I recently spent an evening watching You Only Live Twice in our makeshift basement home theater: big screen, stereo speakers, quality projector, and sustenance from our “Space Bar.” I used to enjoy all the James Bond films, but in my more discerning older age I prefer to occasionally indulge in a handful of personal favorites. Yes, the plots are convoluted, the characters clichéd, the action over-the-top; but these films embodied an exotic, exciting sense of juvenile adventure that appealed to me in my younger days when a cinematic roller coaster ride mattered more than deep plot and characters. (Alas, I no longer have an appetite for more modern Bond films and their far too convoluted plots and impossible CGI-crammed action sequences that make my head spin.) It reminded me of my occasional dabbling with the espionage genre in roleplaying games, starting with TSR’s Top Secret and further enhanced by Victory Games’ James Bond 007 Game...which I first discovered through one of the supplements that still inspires me today, Thrilling Locations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Schweig’s B/X D&D Notebook

I’ve had hopes recently about introducing my son and a handful of his school friends to Dungeons & Dragons. (Granted I’m ignoring the inherent stigma D&D arouses in these regressive regions, but, ever the naïve optimist, I want to trust most parents these days would see the benefits of roleplaying games rather than assume they’re tools of Satan....) Unfortunately 18 months of the covid-19 pandemic – with its requisite precautions of social distancing, avoiding gatherings, wearing masks, plus an entire year of school online – put those aspirations on indefinite hold. But I can still dream and prepare. Besides, I sometime dabble in solitaire D&D play, reveling in rules, procedures, and imaginary action that once inspired me in my long-ago nostalgic youth. These urges lead to the inevitably inflammable question of “Which edition of D&D are you going to run?” Well, my own edition, of course.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

WEG Memoirs: Hosting Uncommon Visitors

Some odd coincidences recently reminded me of a few, rare visitors we hosted at West End Games’ headquarters in the remote wilderness north of Honesdale, PA. (And it seemed appropriate after my recent post about behind-the-scenes revelations of game companies.) A friend sent me a photo when he discovered a pack of bratwurst from the Alpine Wurst & Meat House in his local grocery store. My son and I watched A Bridge Too Far to commemorate Operation Market-Garden Sept. 17-25, 1944. Both incidents – however odd and seemingly unrelated – stirred my foggy memories of three rare yet notable occasions I entertained illustrious visitors at West End’s offices.

Some gamers might aspire to visit their favorite game company’s headquarters, but it’s quite disappointing to discover it’s primarily a business – offices, warehouses, shipping facilities – with only minimalist trappings that betray the game product’s inspiration. They’re usually little more than offices and warehouses with a few geeky mementos on desks and perhaps a display with some distinctive product or awards. (Though I fondly recall a Phil and Dixie comic strip in Dragon Magazine that pictured TSR’s headquarters as a giant six-sided die....)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Behind the Publishing Curtain

 I hate and love. And why, perhaps you’ll ask. I don’t know: but I feel, and I’m tormented.”

Catullus

History of gaming scholar Jon Peterson’s latest book releases in October. Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, from The MIT Press, promises to turn Peterson’s meticulous research onto the early years of TSR, up to Gary Gygax’s forced departure from the company in 1985. I’ve read several books claiming to document the history of the game industry and the evolution of games, including Peterson’s groundbreaking Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games. I enjoy reading behind-the-scenes accounts of my favorite game companies – having worked professionally full-time and freelance in the hobby – but I also loathe them for their constant, often explosive struggles between creative personalities and ruthless business motives.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gaming the Covid Crisis

 Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

Confucius

Occasionally I joke when people ask what games I’ve been playing lately: why, live-action Pandemic, of course, just like everyone else. Perhaps if more people had played Pandemic the board game they might have had a better understanding of the covid-19 crisis and more seriously considered some of the unexpected threats it poses to our society. Looking back over the last 18 months, however, I sometimes wonder how different, hopefully more effective, our response might have been if people and institutions at all levels had taken the time beforehand to learn to assess situations, form possible action and contingency plans, and explore possible outcomes through game-like exercises centered on pandemic response.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Another Pandemic Summer

 One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”

Aristotle

We’ve managed through another pandemic summer, not quite as difficult as last year – when covid-19 ravaged our populations amid political tensions and an inconsistent response at various levels of government – but challenging nonetheless. We managed to engage in some of our geeky pursuits, learning about history, watching movies, trying some new games, and making a few careful day trips. And I’m happy to report the wargaming programs I’d hoped to run at the local museum finally got a tentative start. But overall it was another summer of getting by without many of the entertaining activities we’d normally enjoy during this season.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Games as Puzzles

 Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

Voltaire

I love sitting down with a new game and trying to figure it out. Certainly I have numerous “how to play” videos to consult – though I usually do this before purchasing a game that’s tempted me with rave reviews or an engaging theme – but sitting down to sort through the components and then figure out how to actually play it is just part of the fun. For some games I enjoy repeat plays where I can try different strategies for winning. With the exception of solitaire games, each one provides a chance to get to know the people gathered to play it. Summarized in three questions – How does it work? How do I master this game? and Who are these other players? – these puzzles cross the boundaries of the adventure gaming hobby – board games, roleplaying games, miniature and board wargames, card games – and can consume participants to varying degrees based on the game and the player.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Essential Maps

Maps play important roles in many of adventure gaming’s geeky pursuits, such as immersing oneself in a new roleplaying game or reading up on historical military campaigns for wargaming inspiration. Maps play a central role in games: they help describe the adventuring environment for roleplaying games, show how we might set up miniature wargames, and even form the “board” on which we play other kinds of games. So when I see a lack of maps in materials that really need them, I can’t help but think an essential part is missing. The lack of maps in two books that come to mind – one a military history book and another a roleplaying game book – really exemplified this point.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

WEG Memoirs: D6 Indiana Jones RPG

All your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics. Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I.”

Belloq


Following clues to the lost files....
Someone on Twitter last week posted a photo of their used bookstore haul of West End Games’ World of Indiana Jones roleplaying game books...and I immediately had a flashback to those final months of the company’s existence before bankruptcy in 1998 when we proposed a complete reboot of the game line in a premium, full-color hardcover core rulebook. I not only managed to find the proposal still lurking on my hard drive but also – far in the depths of my bottom-most file drawer – the three-page print out in a folder labeled “Indiana Jones D6.” Given its history I’m glad no angry, cursed ghosts few out of the dusty pages to melt my face.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Armies in Plastic

 The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

Carl Jung

I’ve extolled the virtues of Armies in Plastic figures before but never featured the company in a post all its own. Goodness knows I’ve mentioned these 54mm (1:32 scale) plastic soldiers enough during the past 10 years when I used them in various projects. Now that the company’s having a summer sale (ends June 30) it seems as good a time as any to talk about the large-scale historical miniatures it offers, good for young wargamers and seasoned grognards.

Armies in Plastic Native Americans
ambush a party of rangers.
These 54mm soldiers come in solid-colored plastic sculpted with enough detail one can identify them with a particular historical period. They range from 18th century conflicts (Seven Years War, French & Indian War, American War of Independence) throughout the 19th century (War of 1812, Franco Prussian War, various British colonial wars), and even into the 20th century (World War I, Rusian Civil War, and, a large jump over WWII, modern forces for the War on Terror). For some periods different forces are the same figures cast in different colors; for instance, AWI redcoats are red, patriots are blue, even though both have the same mix of poses. But most series include entirely original figures: rangers and Native Americans for the French & Indian War; numerous British colonial adversaries (Zulus, Afghan tribesmen, dervishes), several kinds of British colonial troops (including kilted Highlanders), even Germans in pickelhauben and later-war stahlhelme for WWI (to name a few with which I’m familiar).

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

History Lost/Gained in the Pandemic

 That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

Aldous Huxley

The covid-19 pandemic forced many to alter our lives for the sake of the common good in overcoming a novel virus. Everyone’s lost something. If we’re lucky we only lost more than a year of life’s normal activities, routines, and special events. The less fortunate lost jobs, homes, and, worst of all, loved ones. (I discussed some of my own disappointments before in “The 2020 that Might Have Been.”) Hopefully we’ve gained a little something from these experiences...a perspective on what we lost, how much it meant, and how we might appreciate it all the more in the future. We’re still dealing with covid-19, managing our comfort levels, health, and vaccination status against the risks of returning to the way we did things in the “Before Times” as I sarcastically call them. A “normal” school year for students ranks among the losses young people sustained. Partial in-person learning and part- or full-time distance learning online focused on the most central of the core subjects – math, reading, science – and what little history they had studied earlier simply dropped off the academic map. Luckily for our household we try fostering and engaging an interest in history through films and games.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Estimates & Intentions

I enjoy reading scholarly works about the adventure gaming hobby; they help me take a step back and look at things from different perspectives. My most recent reading in this vein includes Jon Peterson’s The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity (2020) and John M. Lillard’s Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II (2016). They might seem to cover very different subjects, but, upon reflection, I’ve found some of their core gaming themes quite sound and relatable to my own experiences. Both demonstrate games as interplay between participants assessing the immediate situation and making decisions to change that situation in their favor. I sometimes feel like a simpleton in the shadow of these scholarly analyses of the adventure gaming hobby. Some of their revelations seem so obvious once articulated despite the depth of subsequent discussion and investigation they can inspire. Often I find myself reaching conclusions and then responding to myself with, “Well, duh.” I’d like to think I redeem my naivete in my subsequent reflections on the subjects at hand.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Father-Son Naval Warfare

Among my (admittedly) many gaming diversions from the covid-19 pandemic I’m dabbling in naval warfare again: American Civil War ironclads and World War II South Pacific. Granted I’d previously explored the Battle of the River Plate using both Fletcher Pratt’s rules and Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames along with flats from Topside Minis (which I’ve featured here before). I’d also tried Mike Crane’s The Virginia vs. the Monitor – or, Look Out Minnesota! with some home-crafted models (and the Minnesota fold-up piece provided in the rules). Both periods appeal to me, as did Cordery’s rules for their intuitive mechanics that easily accommodate some minor adjustments. I treated myself to some naval miniatures which, now they’re painted, are ready for some wargame tabletop action with my son.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Developing Skirmish Kids

Aside from the occasional roleplaying game material – inevitably requiring a great deal of time and effort to develop and publish – the rest of my publishing endeavors these past few years have focused on miniature wargames suitable for introducing newcomers to gaming and draw kids into the adventure gaming hobby. Having recently completed a rare freelancing assignment for a roleplaying game adventure collection, I’m reviewing several project ideas vying for my attention, each of which engages my enthusiasm to varying degrees. I’ve decided to advance one of my projects to the next step. Once again I’ve indulged my interest in games for youngsters and spent some time developing Skirmish Kids. It started out as a quick game to include with some miniatures for my son, then something a bit more involved with an intent to publish. After some playtesting on our own and a good deal of writing and self-editing, I have a draft ready for anyone interested to read, playtest, and offer comments.

[Edit 5-25-21: Thanks to reader Russell Phillips, interested playtesters can now download the Skirmish Kids file in both Mobi and Epub formats as well as PDF.]

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Ebb & Flow

 A great life is to be able to ebb and flow.”

Robin Wright

People’s involvement in the adventure gaming hobby ebbs and flows with the tides of their lives. Many enter when they have leisure time to spare, often in middle or high school, sometimes in college. Others immerse themselves in it as an adult hobby, a relief from the trials of everyday life. Some people drift away from gaming and never return; many set it aside for a period and return to it later with renewed energy and a different perspective. For some of us it’s a creative outlet whose output fluctuates depending on inspiration, energy, and opportunity. Although I’ve long cultivated an interest in the adventure gaming hobby across the wide gaming spectrum – roleplaying games, board games, wargames (both with boards and miniatures), even card games – my focus has ebbed and flowed depending on my own life’s circumstances. As I look back on my gaming activities during the past pandemic year – limited as they have been by social distancing and other precautions – I realize I’m undergoing a shift in my gaming tides.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Frustrated Pandemic Dreams

 All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Our subconscious works in mysterious ways, as evidenced by our dreams. Sometimes they’re strange visits to past episodes of our lives, other times nightmares, and often strange and frustrating situations, for all of which wakefulness offers some respite. Goodness knows 13 months of pandemic controversies, news, anxiety, and precautions have weighed heavily on our minds. The media is rife with stories that seem almost routine now: tips on working from home; how students can make the most of distance learning; simple ways to beat the pandemic blues; and typical covid-fueled dreams about precautions and privations we’ve endured. So it should come as no surprise that the pandemic has infected my scarce peaceful hours of sleep at least once a week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A Contentious Hobby

 The moment we want to believe something,

we suddenly see all the arguments for it,

and become blind to the arguments against it.”

George Bernard Shaw

I’m reading Jon Peterson’s The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity and cannot help notice similarities between the early debates about aspects of the hobby and the arguments gamers still have about those same issues today. These go beyond the foundational tensions between storytelling and game mechanics one expects between roleplaying games’ early adherents, the wargaming and speculative fiction communities, from which the hobby coalesced. They seep down into the minutia of nearly every base concept of early Dungeons & Dragons...concepts that have over time continued to provoke debate. The adventure gaming hobby community seems just as contentions now as it was 40 years ago; except now, instead of printed APA fanzines and house-organ magazines, most folks argue their points in any number of blogs and forums online (each with its own bias and self-supporting echo-chamber mentality).

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Paper Romans in Germania, Part III

Romans trimmed, scored,
and ready for glue.
I’m still sending my paper Romans into the wilds of Germania on the wargaming table...and I’m still printing, pasting, trimming, and prepping additional forces from the Peter Dennis’ Wargame: The Roman Invasion, AD 43-84 (for imperial Romans) and his Peter’s Paperboys website (for Germanic tribesmen). I’m also considering various ways to play a campaign, though that’s fodder for another article. But since I’m back to making more paper soldiers I thought I’d offer some insight into how I construct and store these wonderfully rendered armies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Editions & Incarnations

 Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”

Dalai Lama

Looking over my roleplaying game shelves I realize I have – during my almost 40 years of gaming – bought into several new editions of games I enjoyed and even tried a few new incarnations for favorite settings. So many roleplaying games over the years have released subsequent editions and some classic settings have even seen new incarnations with improved presentation and original game mechanics. I expect it’s part of the gamer experience, choosing to invest in a new edition or incarnation of a favorite game. Sometimes I explore these only to return to the tried-and-true original game. Other times I check out new incarnations mostly to see how different publishers approach some of my favorite game settings.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Paper Romans in Germania, Part II

 Upon the field of battle the chief is bound in honor not to let himself be surpassed in valor, and his retainers are equally bound to rival the valor of their chief.”

Tacitus

Last time I documented my immersion in wargaming ancient Romans against Germanic tribes. I had everything ready to begin gaming: lots of reading to put everything in historical context; some starting forces of good-looking Peter Dennis paper soldiers; a set of familiar rules to try; even Roman numeral dice. During my historical and rules reading I’d taken breaks to construct my paper armies. I’d assembled two forces: a Roman expedition consisting of legionaries, auxiliary infantry, and a commander and a Germanic force of barbarian infantry, light infantry archers, light cavalry, and a chieftain. Just enough for a game as I glued, cut, and based more paper soldiers for future engagements.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Paper Romans in Germania, Part I

Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!”

Augustus

In my last post I mentioned my recent interest in wargaming ancient Roman conflicts, specifically those on the Germanic frontier, to find some temporary respite from the pandemic and my own internal issues. The journey grew into one of the more satisfying diversion strategies to keep my mind off various anxieties and help me relax. Like abandoning one’s self in a good movie for two hours or getting absorbed in a good book, immersing ourselves in an entertaining activity can help us escape so we can face life’s woes with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. Goodness knows I have plenty of diversions at hand – roleplaying games, board games, miniature and chit-and-hex wargames, plus books both fiction and non-fiction to read and re-read – but I have many interests to tempt me into new endeavors, even among these existing forms. So I embarked on a journey back to ancient Rome, on the frontier with Germania Magna along the river Rhenus (Rhine), perhaps at the fortress town of Moguntiacum (Mainz, which I’d visited long ago on a family vacation), preparing my Roman soldiers to sortie into the dark Teutonic forests.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

WEG Memoirs: The Interview

In my futile attempts to find solace from the pandemic and my own internal issues I’ve immersed myself in wargaming ancient Roman conflicts, specifically those on the Germanic frontier. I’ve always maintained an interest in ancient history (among numerous other historical periods). The Roman Empire remains one in which I’ve dabbled on and off over the years to varying depths. Though I’ve never been to Rome I’ve visited several site on travels in my misspent youth, including Trier, Germany (ancient Augusta Treverorum, capital of the province of Gallia Belgica), the Christian catacombs in Salsburg (Iuvavum), and the reconstructed auxiliary fort Saalburg in Germany. As a pandemic diversion I ordered several books to set me on a path to wargaming engagements from this period: Peter Dennis’ Wargame: The Roman Invasion, AD 43-84 (supplemented by some PDF downloads from his wonderful Peter’s Paperboys website), Daniel Mersey’s A Wargamer's Guide to the Early Roman Empire, and two Osprey books (also illustrated by Dennis), Teutoburg Forest AD 9 and Roman Soldier vs Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD. So between history, paper miniatures, and game rules (including Bob Cordery’s The Portable Wargame and Developing The Portable Wargame and Neil Thomas’ One-hour Wargames) I’m all set up to fight a few ancient battles defending the borders of Rome from the Germanic barbarians.

But all this evokes an episode from my roleplaying game past. In this case, oddly enough, all this focus on ancient Roman history reminded me of my interview for an editorial position at West End Games way back in the spring of 1993.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Why We Wargame

 Explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting.”

General George C. Marshall

This week Worthington Publishing is wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign to fund its latest game, Tarawa 1943, a solitaire wargame of the US Marine Corps invasion of that Pacific island during World War II. Although I’m not a huge fan of the war in the Pacific, I was tempted by several factors: it offers me a chance to explore an aspect of WWII I’ve not dabbled in before; Worthington games have high production values; and I enjoy solitaire games. It brings to mind the numerous reasons why I – and presumably others – play historical wargames. These games also remind me of the turbulent times in human history when ordinary people were called (voluntarily or otherwise) to make courageous sacrifices.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A Subdued Gaming Holiday

As the yuletide holiday season comes to a close I look back on a subdued time of family, food, and games. The break from everyday routine included time off from work for my wife, two weeks of break from “school” for my son, and, of course, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays for food and festivities. Usually we invite folks over to try out our newest games and old favorites, gathering afternoons and evenings around a cheese board and veggie snacks or a crock pot of hearty chili or zuppa toscano. This year we missed hosting folks for holiday celebrations; thanks to America’s hellscape response to the pandemic, we played it safe (as we hope everyone else did) and kept to ourselves, entertained no guests, and interacted with family on cell phones and computers. For now we’ll just have to look forward to future gatherings in less hazardous times.