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.”


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!”