Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Victorian SF & the Yuletide Invasion

Bastet, in the form of our cat Vader, couldn't
resist nestling down amid all the
plastic foliage.
I’ve wanted to run a Victorian science fiction miniatures game for a while now, ever since John from the 54mm or Fight! blog generously sent me a box of 15mm painted and based miniatures. In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing – and reflections on gaming and colonialism – I started developing a storyline in which I could fight battles between the various forces John sent, including French Foreign legionaries, African troops, some American Civil War zoaves, and a massive host of lizardmen. I pulled out my jungle terrain and Egyptian temple pieces, set them up on my three foot square green felt mat, carefully assembled and deployed my units, jotted stats on record sheets, prepped my dice and cards...only to realize the yuletide holidays were bearing down on me. Although I’ve done everything to set up the initial battle in a campaign, including developing an overarching storyline, playing will have to wait until after the holidays.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Share Our Good Fortune

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

Chinese Proverb

I was thinking of making the two-hour drive from Culpeper to Mechanicsville, VA (a suburb of Richmond), at some point in November to treat myself to a few purchases at Waterloo Games. A friend from the Williamsburg gaming conventions I attend, Rob Eubanks, opened the store just as the pandemic started in 2020 and, through his own dedication, his family’s support, and the patronage of a great gaming community, managed not only to stay open but to thrive. I’ve visited the store several times in the past year. Before trekking down to Richmond I check the website and Facebook page to see what’s going on. This time I saw Rob posted a notice that he’s collecting food donations for a local charity, Feed More, to help those in need during the upcoming holidays. It reminds me how fortunate many of us are to have the means to indulge in the adventure gaming hobby...and how unfortunate many others are. I celebrate folks like Rob inspiring his game store community to help their neighbors during the holiday season. And it reminds me to not only show gratitude for my good fortune by donating to help others now, but to do it more often throughout the year.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Reconnecting with Tunnels &Trolls

I’ve been busy lately more with wargames than roleplaying games – both core elements of the adventure gaming hobby (along with board games) – but I recently took a break from various wargaming projects and dove back into an old yet renewed game I’d enjoyed in my youth: Tunnels & Trolls. At first I didn’t get very far, just reviewed the rules and rolled up a character, but soon I was perusing different adventure books and couldn’t resist running a solitaire scenario. For a short while I basked in a comforting feeling from my earliest gaming days, sending my character wandering through programmed adventures, stumbling around traps, and either fighting my way to victory and fantastic treasures or failing that one saving roll and suffering a seemingly arbitrary and undeserving death. The experience proved a refreshing change from my current activities and one I intend to return to when I need a bit of contrast to my usual gaming scene.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Card-Driven Battle Games

I’ve recently enjoyed playing around with some wargames using cards for unit activation and actions. They’re new acquisitions with elements I thought I might like to explore, something different from board games and miniature wargames, though with plenty of similarities in different aspects. Manoevre from GMT Games (2008) covers early 19th century combat (the Napoleonic era), while Airfix Battles from Modiphius Entertainment (2016) offers an introductory wargame experience set in World War II. They loosely fall into the “board wargame” category, though enterprising hobbyists can craft their own conversions to a more visually impressive experience with miniatures and terrain. The central card mechanics work well in providing players limited choices maneuvering units on the field. As with any game, each has its own strengths and disadvantages; but on the whole each game provided a positive play experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Star Wars RPG Instant Adventures

I’m trying to jumpstart my work on a neglected system-neutral fantasy roleplaying setting and, in seeking inspiration to fuel some creative momentum, I’m looking at some of my favorite roleplaying game supplements for ideas and reviewing notes I’ve gleaned from others on relevant game design. My reading includes the Instant Adventures collection for West End Games’ D6 System Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Although filled with scenarios, its original design parameters offer some ideas on how I might approach developing and presenting my setting sourcebook – short, easily digestible sections with maps and sidebars to quickly orient readers – still useful 20 years later in our Internet Age of instant gratification and dwindling attention spans.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Considering Bloody Tarawa

 I cannot tell you what profound respect I have for these Marines who took Tarawa, the living and the dead. I do not believe any Americans ever fought more bravely or so unselfishly.”

Robert Sherrod, Time-Life photographer

A few weeks ago I reflected how our wargaming experience might have more depth when we consider it more than simply playing a game, but give thought at some point to the history behind the battle, the ramifications for people who, on the board, often look like cardboard chits and playing pieces. Although that piece focused on issues of colonialism in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, it also pertains to other issues, notably the human cost of war. I’m reading John Wukovits’ One Square Mile of Hell, an account of the battle for Tarawa in November, 1943, from its planning and training phases, through the ruthless fighting, and its aftermath with survivors and families. Coupled with my occasional visits to the National Museum of the Marine Corps and my enjoyment of Worthington Publishing’s solitaire Tarawa 1943 game, the book offered a vivid, painful reminder of the price we pay to wage war.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Gaming Artifacts: AD&D Deck of Encounters

I’m always on the lookout for interesting resources to inspire and enhance my solitaire roleplaying gaming. Most work just as well for group play, but some can form the basis for solo adventures when the gang just can’t coordinate schedules and you want to spend an afternoon immersed in an imaginary game world. Years ago I recall using the second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deck of Encounters: Set One for a few weekend forays back into my favorite Basic/Expert D&D rules. I don’t recall much about the few play sessions other than they offered some satisfying entertainment and relief from stress at the time. Perusing the deck today I can see how they provide a range of adventure seeds one might develop into sole encounters or springboards for more involved adventures. It’s quite AD&D specific, but enterprising gamemasters can adapt most encounters to their favorite game setting or genre with a little work. Alas, it’s not cheap to acquire these days, especially when other resources exist today with a similar if not more effective inspirational impact.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Considering Wargaming & Troubled History

 Time is the king of all men, he is their parent and their grave, and gives them what he will and not what they crave.”

Pericles

Queen Elizabeth II figure
by King & Country
Last week’s missive on Osprey books’ wargaming notes – along with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II – reminded me how the legacy of colonialism shaped the supposedly modern world in which we live. It’s not easy, in our tribal mentality, to separate individuals from nations, a monarch from an entire government, to appreciate the good in one person despite living in an imperfect world. People have written carefully considered and respectful pieces on Elizabeth’s long reign and the service she rendered to her country and, arguably, the world, especially as it emerged into a post-colonial, more globally aware era. I’ve seen other pieces reminding us of her role as head of a nation troubled, like most countries, by turmoil and transgressions past and present. Most of this discourse reminds us (or makes us aware) of colonialism’s lingering ills. Those of us who study history in various capacities keep these in mind; for sensitive historical wargamers it presents a quandary. How can we play games based on historical events that reinforced the colonizers’ power and abuse of those they conquered? Is it all simply a game we can blissfully play for sheer enjoyment while ignoring the historical context, especially what that meant for the conquered? Should we abandon our satisfying pastime lest we perpetuate the very ills of colonialism people still denounce today? I fear there’s no “right” answer here (or at least no reasonable person would claim and enforce a “right” answer), but the issue’s worth exploring as our adventure gaming hobby pursuits occasionally intersect with real-world issues.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Osprey Books Wargaming Notes

I can’t recall the first Osprey Publishing book I bought. I’m guessing it might have been something either for the Victorian period or World War II. But I certainly remember – in those days when my interest remained firmly grounded in roleplaying games with only nascent dabblings in miniature wargaming – the few pages at the back of each Campaign series book offering insights on how to wargame the campaigns featured in the book. They’re something I miss today as I explore historical miniature gaming even as Osprey itself publishes its own rules and I continue exploring sources that address playing out historical conflicts on the tabletop.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

ACW Ironclads Minis

It must be confessed that both ships were queer-looking craft, as grotesque to the eyes of the men of ’62 as they would appear to those of the present generation

H. Ashton Ramsay, engineer, CSS Virginia

A few years ago I discovered Bob Cordery’s excellent Gridded Naval Wargames* and began using it to explore different naval battles. The rules for American Civil War ironclad engagements worked quite well on my initial try, though I modified the critical damage system slightly for a little more depth. At first I used basic hand-crafted 1:1200 models for the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (what us Northerners commonly learn in school as the Merrimack), but as I dove deeper into ACW ironclad warfare, I sought to collect professionally cast models. What started in the “Before Times” prior to the covid pandemic has since expanded into a significant sector of my wargaming hobby. Thankfully I’ve found some good suppliers of models to fuel my habit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Summer Reading

 There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

Ray Bradbury

My son started school last week. For one of his first English assignments he had to endure the obligatory “write about what you did last summer” exercise. Most of his summer consisted of sitting around playing Roblox, but he mentioned most of our various excursions (about which I recently blogged). Summer reading was, alas, conspicuously absent. His electronic-media-dominated generation rarely pays attention to books, preferring to stick their faces in screens all day long. That said, my son surprised me on a last-day-of-summer trip to the regional used bookstore, where he was particularly keen on getting a book he’d noticed on a previous visit: Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. It gave me a small glimmer of hope that his generation won’t completely forget about books.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Summertime Distractions

In our leisure we reveal what kind of people we are.”

Ovid

We even
did the local
renfaire.
Academic summer is wrapping up for our family. My son starts school on Aug. 10 so they can run Standards of Learning tests for half-year courses before the yuletide holidays, when apparently kids these days void all the recently acquired scholastic knowledge from their brains. As a dad summer is a double-edged sword: on one hand, I get to spend time with my family on day trips and vacations; on the other, I’m distracted by everyone’s constant demands along with yardwork (a seemingly Sisyphean task). So I’m looking forward to easing back into the school-year routine and returning to projects, tapping some of the energy we found on numerous day trips and pleasant diversions that inspired our interests in history, media, and games.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Tables of Possibilities

 That is the exploration that awaits you! Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”

Leonard Nimoy

I love randomized tables in roleplaying games. They offer a quick-reference, thematic list to help define some aspect of a setting. A character’s past experiences. Encounters for a particular environment. Things that go wrong when you roll a critical failure. Some keep it simple, others elaborate with extra information or reference to other tables to determine more details about the results. Most provide a die type to roll to randomly determine results, though one might simply glance down the table and pick something appropriate for the moment. I’m definitely of the “roll or choose” camp, leaving things up to fate when I can’t decide, or choosing something that best reflects where the action or characters are going; though I rely on the dice when using table related to character creation. But tables themselves provide only half the necessary material; gamemasters and players bring their own involvement, perspective, and creativity when enabling table results to add richness to their games.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

WEG Memoirs: The X-Files RPG

I was at a loss for this week’s Hobby Games Recce piece (an all-too-frequent occurrence these days). So I found my masking tape and put an “X” in the window, hoping my secret contact could help me out, give me a clue, send me in the right direction. Next morning I found a mysterious envelope at my front door. Inside I discovered the terrible truth about a long-dead conspiracy: notes for a planned X-Files Roleplaying Game....

I’ve had X-Files on my mind recently. I’ve been sucked into watching episodes on Comet – “THE place for Science Fiction programming on television” – in the normal schedule or on one of the channel’s frequent weekend marathons. On a recent visit to my hometown and my favorite independent bookstore (Books on the Common) I also picked up a print copy of Jack Sanders’ Ridgefield Names, which reminded me of the Great Swamp there, of a spooky story I once told someone while driving through the swamp late one night, and of an adventure I wrote and later sold to Pyramid Magazine. I originally designed the piece, “The Great Swamp Beast,” for an X-Files roleplaying game West End Games proposed to Fox in the late 1990s. Alas, like so many efforts, it didn’t go anywhere. But I still have some notes, an outline, character sheet, and other ephemera attesting to the game’s early yet aborted development.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Turn Up the Positive Feedback

 I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Mark Twain

Everyone loves positive feedback. It validates us, says someone out there appreciates us, even if only in some very small, almost-anonymous way in the seemingly infinite cacophony of the internet. The Internet Age has conditioned us to crave it and has made a business of our need for positive reinforcement. Likes. Shares. Comments. Views. Texting. Instant Messaging. Reviews. Emojis. Humans have an urge to share things they like among their friends, a hobby community, even complete strangers. We find positive comments about these things not only uplift us but help connect us to like-minded people, give us a feeling we belong to a community. Positive feedback encourages us to interact and share more. Creative people often find positive feedback helps fuel their work, or at least their enthusiasm for it. Unfortunately in this Internet Age the negative feedback we get can easily overwhelm the positive...and can send us into unproductive downward spirals. It seems more people would rather kick down our sandcastle than help build it. It’s easier to destroy; creation requires a lot of time and effort, plus a good deal of the creator’s spirit (a natural vulnerability). Some folks find some twisted satisfaction in online destruction...trolls who, for whatever reason, seek to speak poorly of others, degrade their accomplishments, twist their words, pick a fight, and otherwise remind us of humanity’s darker side. We need to be more positive, build up those who need uplifting, praise the good things that have affected our lives, and offer thanks to those who improve our lives, even in small ways.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Rumors in the GM Toolkit

Half a truth is often a great lie.”

Benjamin Franklin

Would you trust any rumors about
this crazy hermit?
One of the first elements of Basic Dungeons & Dragons that impressed me came in module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. Here, in the supposed base for characters exploring the Caves of Chaos, one could talk to the keep denizens and get information to inspire or aid their adventures...and some of that information was accurate, and some was patently false. I’m developing a new, system-neutral fantasy roleplaying game setting (mostly because, after The Greydeep Marches, I’m a glutton for punishment) and, as I work out key personalities, factions, and locations, I’m tempted to offer a vast menu of rumors to goad characters into exploring different aspects of the region. And I don’t really feel obliged to note which rumors are true and which are false.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

WEG Memoirs: Heroes & Rogues

 A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Christopher Reeve

For many Star Wars fans – especially the recent ones – West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game is all but unknown. Almost 25 years after its bankruptcy and two or three additional versions of a Star Wars roleplaying game later, most folks focus more on the latest Star Wars media, with roleplaying games taking a back seat to the latest movies and streaming series. But there was a time when West End’s game helped reignite interest in Star Wars, expanding the universe with a flood of continuity (some might say an unmanageable flood) and new ways to look at that galaxy far, far away beyond what we saw in the original trilogy. Much of that was cast aside after Disney acquired Lucasfilm – an understandable move given the daunting amount and variable quality of in-universe information to track – but some of us watch the recent Disney+ streaming series and crack a slight, pained smile when we recognize something West End created that managed to endure this long. West End didn’t simply amass vast piles of information to create a galaxy of continuity and verisimilitude; it expanded our sense of what was possible within the setting, the different characters we might find and the different stories they might tell. While the first edition core roleplaying game began this trend upon its release in 1987, subsequent publications pushed us to explore different corners of the galaxy. Heroes & Rogues was among the best of those products.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Quick & Deadly Combat

 Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

Back in April my son and I attended a “buhurt” medieval combat sport event, “Mead and Mayhem,” at a nearby winery. Several teams from the east cost battled in the lists in a regulated melee. Participants wore period-authentic armor and bashed at each other with blunted weapons certified to the league rules, with no thrusts, no hitting certain spots, until an opponent goes down (at least one hand on the ground). The first day teams of five armored opponents bashed at each other in the heavy wood-rail arena (the “list”) while an audience of about 150 cheered them on (fueled, of course, by wine, beer, and mead...). As a medieval enthusiast I enjoyed it; my son quickly let himself get caught up in the action, despite my droning historical commentary. Despite the rules each melee demonstrated the power and brutality of medieval combat...and showed how such fights often took less than two minutes to bring one team of five to victory. Of course in my head I started comparing it to combat in roleplaying games, particularly my favorite Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. Although that’s a fantasy roleplaying game grounded in some aspects of the real world, in actuality trained, armored opponents clashing in battle goes pretty quickly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Long & Short of RPG Stats

Since the dawn of roleplaying games many have relied on two forms of game stats for adversaries and other elements requiring definition in relation to game mechanics. Long-form stats usually reside within the rulebook pages with similar reference material; the typical bestiary chapter for fantasy roleplaying games. Sometimes supplements use them, too. Adventures often rely more on short-form stats distilled from their more detailed cousins. These serve as quick, in-game reference without having to drag out the rulebook. New monsters appearing in adventures often get short stats in game text with long-form stats and more elaborate description in an appendix. Although I admit both long and short stats have their place in roleplaying game rulebooks, I’m starting to tend toward short stats or – horror of horrors – no stats at all in my own setting and adventure materials.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Narrative, Challenge, Reflection

 “Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.”

Plato

I admire Professor Scott Nicholson’s scholarly work about games. He inspires people to look at different aspects of games with a more critical eye, particularly in an educational setting. And he helps fuel my interest in games for learning, using game experiences inside or outside a classroom to encourage people to expand their horizons. His latest project – EscapeIF uses educational storytelling (in a familiar programmed text adventure format) to provide an innovative and engaging framework for classroom learning. In exploring EscapeIF I realized this format relies on three core elements – narrative, challenge, and reflection – all of which easily apply to teaching as well as our own game experiences.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Games for Tired Eyes & Fumbling Fingers

 We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!”

Benjamin Franklin

Am I getting old and crazy
like the hermit in
B2? Probably....
My grandmother, who lived to be 100 years old, often gave me this advice, with a mischievous look yet a tone of resignation in her voice: “Don’t get old.” Now I’m a bit past 50 and have been feeling “old” creeping up on my weary, mortal form for a while now. Mostly it’s just aches and pains, sore muscles taking longer to heal, my eyesight getting worse, my fingers a bit more inept. Now and then I notice some physical limitation or other while I’m engaged in gaming activities. I still enjoy numerous manifestations of my adventure gaming hobby, but some are beginning to present slightly greater physical challenges. I often wish publishers might take such factors into account, though for now I find my own ways to manage.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

WEG Memoirs: Intro Adventure Game

 This is one of the best intros to RPGs I’ve ever seen.”

Andrew Rilstone, Arcane magazine

This year’s GAMA trade show recently wrapped up. The occasional posts from folks who attended stir up memories of the few times I went with West End sales managers to promote our games, especially the Star Wars Adventure Journal and the roleplaying game. It was more than 25 years ago, so my memory remains foggy, but I recall going three times to GAMA: in New Orleans, LA, Reno, NV, and Atlantic City, NJ. These offered good opportunities to promote games face-to-face with store owners and spend off hours chatting with colleagues in other companies. At one of these the then-sales manager at Iron Crown Enterprises traded me a copy of the company’s boxed Lord of the Rings Adventure Game published back in 1991. Combined with my nostalgic love of boxed sets and my urge to introduce newcomers to the adventure gaming hobby, it provided the inspiration for the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

D&D, Sci-Fi & Banning Books

Goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them!”

Professor Henry Jones

I regret to see book banning and angry mobs back in the news again. (Apologies to those who don’t come here for my occasional descent into political issues, but if you keep reading you’ll find some mention of games in the context of this subject.) Now that the furor over “critical race theory” has slightly subsided after Virginia’s contentious gubernatorial election in November and public schools start lifting mask mandates, the right-wing has fired up its angry base against books they fear question their white-privilege morals, insisting schools ban these objectionable titles, or even burn them (yes, two Spotsylvania County, VA, school board members said particular books should be pulled from school libraries and burned). Fear of the angry mob has permeated schools to the extent that an assistant principal in a Mississippi elementary school was fired for reading I Need A New Butt! Unfortunately we’ve seen this all before in some form and to some degree, though more often from the top down, from governments officially banning books and free speech rather than vocal minority mobs aggressively forcing government policy to reflect their agenda.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Traveling the Thousand Thousand Islands

Learning about different places, people, and cultures different – whether through physical travel or wandering the internet (or, gasp, even a book!) – can provide new experiences from which we might learn and grow. These different perspectives don’t simply expose us to new elements; they challenge us to examine ourselves. We use the phrase “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” reflecting both our appreciation for foreign places and our own gratitude for the comforts of home. We might claim the same thing in our gaming. Many of us play in fantasy roleplaying games heavily influenced by western European history and culture. It’s worthwhile to venture out in an imaginary sense to explore new lands in our gaming...especially with tour guides native to a foreign culture. I recently embarked on such a journey, immersing myself in A Thousand Thousand Islands fanzines inspired by southeast Asian culture. It’s given me some wonderful game inspiration as well as a taste of a world quite different from my own privileged, white American male perspective.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Gaming for Peace

I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life – whoever you are, whatever our differences.”

John Denver

Russia invaded Ukraine last week amid a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, economic uncertainty, and continued politically fueled anger in America. Not exactly a time to sit around playing games. But just before the Russian invasion I learned of an interesting international training project, the prototype, computer-based Gaming for Peace (GAP) that intends to teach military peacekeepers “soft skills” focusing on building trust, teamwork, cultural awareness, and helpful communication. According to the website, GAP is “new training curricula for enhancing the preparedness and skills of personnel for conflict prevention and peace keeping missions.” I gave it a try. It seemed to me an exercise not only in building soft skills but in broadening one’s experience in empathizing with others, both those on your team and those you’re helping. Working with others for peace, compassion, and greater understanding seems like something the world needs a bit more of right now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Online Game Shopping during Covid

In an earlier post I noted my inability/unwillingness to migrate my gaming from the in-person tabletop to the electronic platforms the internet offers during the covid-19 pandemic. Yet the internet has made surviving the pandemic possible...and even bearable. My wife could work from home. My son could attend “virtual learning” at school remotely for a year. And I could continue indulging in game purchases when it didn’t feel safe to make my occasional pilgrimages to area game stores and conventions. Though my gaming didn’t leave the house (with a few exceptions at the local history museum), purchases kept me engaged with reading and learning rules, crafting miniatures and terrain, and playing games solitaire and with family members. Despite a seemingly impersonal online shopping experience (compared to in-person shopping), I discovered some excellent online retailers who brought game-related diversions right to my doorstep.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Tabletop Transitioning Online

We fear change.”

Garth, Wayne’s World

As a member of Generation X who fears change, I feel torn between two worlds. I am reluctantly adapting to the exponential technological advancements of 21st century society despite my preference (possibly nostalgia) for the seemingly better days of my youth. It’s not easy for an old curmudgeon like me ensconced in my old ways. It’s not that I haven’t tried. Long an advocate of print publishing, I adapted to release game product in PDF format and even succumbed to sharing my written thoughts on game matters online in this very blog. Even so, I still prefer to read print books, for my eyes and attention span have limited tolerance for reading text on a screen with any lasting sense of comprehension. The pandemic has forced everyone to adjust, often with the aid of electronic devices and various apps and programs. And I’ve tried to adapt, too, but I find tabletop gaming online doesn’t offer the same experience, the same satisfaction, of gaming in person.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Star Wars: A Dead License

 If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Today it’s hard to imagine a world without Star Wars. We’re awash in everything from that galaxy far, far away: numerous streaming cartoon and live action shows, novels, comic books, action figures, Lego sets, a host of new films in theaters, and even occasionally roleplaying games. It certainly helps that one of the word’s major toy manufacturers (Hasbro) has a license to make Star Wars toys and one of the largest (if not the largest) media company (Disney) owns Lucasfilm (and hence the Star Wars intellectual property) since buying it for $4 billion and change from George Lucas in 2012. But some of us old relics have been around long enough to remember a distant time toward the end of the 20th century when it seemed Star Wars – which for a time played such a huge part in our youthful culture of blockbuster movies back then – was fading into obscurity.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

System -Neutral or OSR Stats?

Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.”

Carl von Clausewitz

I have on occasion been moved to write about the Old School Renaissance (OSR, or whatever you want to call it using those initials). A few years ago I explored OSR rules and supplements. The vast array of adaptations offered some interesting innovations among the retreads of classic D&D mechanics. Settings and supplements tied to rules interpretations provided inspiration easily ported to other games. But now I’m developing two fantasy roleplaying game supplements – an as-yet unannounced setting and the Infinite Cathedral setting currently languishing in limbo – I’m faced with a conundrum. Do I provide stats for the inhabitants in OSR format or in my established but not terribly well-known system-neutral format?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Creative Magic of Office Supplies

 Before all masters, necessity is the one most listened to, and who teaches the best.”

Jules Verne

The world was quite different when I first discovered the adventure gaming hobby in 1982 with the Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set. We were emerging from the 1970’s energy crisis into an economy was plunging into recession and high inflation. Iran had recently released American embassy hostages imprisoned for more than a year. Britain and Argentina fought over the Falkland Islands. Ronald Reagan was president and we were still in the Cold War with nuclear annihilation hanging over everyone’s heads. My life, too, was quite different all those years ago. I grew up in a stable yet frugal household where money was often an issue. We didn’t live extravagantly, certainly not in the financially comfortable way I enjoy at the moment. My parents scrimped and saved so we could enjoy some choice presents for our birthdays or Christmas. We took a modest summer vacation every year. We kept busy with after-school activities, but nothing requiring too much additional spending. We didn’t have a video game console or VCR. But we managed decently enough, especially having a few friends from school and some neighborhood kids who also liked games. During high school the adventure gaming hobby dominated my leisure activities.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Monsters & Motivation

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.

Friedrich Nietzsche

As I mentioned back at the end of my New Year’s missive (“Rejuvenating after the Lost Years”) I’m developing a medieval fantasy setting (possibly using B/X Dungeons & Dragons, maybe system-neutral; that’s a debate for another day). It’s a vast moorland of heath, mires, and hills created ages ago when kingdoms banded together to destroy the power of a great mage. Rather than rely on the usual explore-slay-pillage tropes on which some games and gameplay rely, I’m trying to focus more on the relationship of the region’s inhabitants with both the environment and each other. So in designing this setting I’m looking beyond basic, superficial stereotypes and trying to craft for each faction, individual, and even monsters a relevant motivation when interacting with each other and with player characters. This inevitably leads me to examine the role we give “monsters” in fantasy roleplaying games. like my favorite B/X D&D.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A Confluence of Solo Games

 Solitude is independence.”

Hermann Hesse

The yuletide season brought a confluence of solo games by means of holiday gifts, personal purchases, and sheer happy coincidences. My parents got me Ravensburger’s Alien: Fate of the Nostromo board game (for solo or cooperative play). As a holiday treat I bought two “bookgames” from Worthington Games, Waterloo Solitaire and Bismarck Solitaire, two releases with interesting origins in the pandemic privations. By sheer happenstance two Kickstarter games arrived just before the yuletide season got underway: Scott Almes’s Unsurmountable solo card game and Grant and Mike Wylie’s Tarawa 1943, also from Worthington Games. All these combined in this cautious, eternal season of the covid pandemic to provide some much-needed gaming diversions.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Rejuvenating after the Lost Years

 With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

A reproduction of an Egyptian scarab figurine sits on my desk. He’s plaster, painted as if he were blue faience, a souvenir from my last visit to the Worcester Art Museum ages ago. I bought it and set it on my desk because he embodies the creative spirit of the ancient Egyptian god Khepri, inspired by the beetle that rolled around dung balls from which its offspring miraculously crawled, seeming to summon life out of nothing. Khepri was also revered as a god rolling the sun from the dawing horizon on its skyward course each day. The figurine on my desk isn’t as much an inspiration as a reminder, a talisman symbolizing the imaginative spark. He’s not been very happy with me during nearly two years of pandemic privations. He sits there, silently, but in my mind he’s furiously shouting at me: “Create something out of nothing! Better yet, create something from a ball of crap!”