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!”