Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Solo Games: Battle Cards

 It looks very rough. If I get through this one I will be very lucky.”

Major General James Gavin

After last week’s piece on solo games something new came across my gaming radar to remind me of one recent game I’d missed...and an opportunity to get more like it. I spotted Battle Card: Market Garden a few months ago over on’s “Postcards from the Front” game jam. As I’m an aficionado of solo games of all kinds – even wargames – I downloaded it and a few others that seemed to cater to the intersection of my historical interests and rules preferences. Market Garden was the first I tried and I instantly loved the concept. And now I just caught wind the creators are designing five more similar historical solo wargames set in World War II...and I managed to back the project on Kickstarter before the campaign ends on Oct. 1. Five print-and-play solitaire wargames with innovative mechanics and WWII historical themes for $5? An excellent opportunity for anyone interested in any of those elements.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Solo Play: My Own Worst Enemy

I’ve always enjoyed solitaire games since I first discovered the adventure gaming hobby back in 1982. Purely solitaire experiences helped me engage with my gaming interests when other players weren’t available: titles like Avalon Hill’s B-17: Queen of the Skies, solo gamebooks from the Fighting Fantasy series, and, of course, solitaire roleplaying game modules like BSOLO Ghost of Lion Castle and XSOLO Lathan’s Gold. I also embarked on other solo endeavors where I played all the sides against myself, usually for board wargames like Kingmaker and occasionally in non-programmed forays into solo roleplaying. I’ve admired and authored solitaire tutorial adventures for roleplaying games as a means of introducing both game mechanics and theme to new players. Over the years more games – primarily board games and wargames – have integrated solitaire play into their rules, especially with the relatively recent development of cooperative games. I’ve indulged in them as much as I’m able. Although these “solo only” games offer exciting experiences crafted for a single player, they’re sometimes more frustrating and less satisfying than busting out an old favorite to play against myself.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kind People Make Spaces Safe

 I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library.”

Ray Bradbury

The library where I grew up; not my
current public library....
Every few months something inspires me to consider the issue of safe spaces, specifically public libraries as safe spaces. It’s become one of those perennial issues emerging in discussions about our society as a whole and our smaller communities of gamers. Paramount among these prompts was Wil Wheaton’s moving keynote speech at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival, The library is a safe place,” about how books and his local library helped him find his way through his difficult childhood. It’s long but worth reading. Go and read it now...I’ll wait. I gleaned other tidbits from my social media feeds demonstrating how public libraries offer a place where the homeless, out-of-work, and troubled can find refuge, however temporary. The main event, however, was closer to home; this past spring our local public library hosted a convention celebrating graphic novels, movies, even games with fandom followings. After some reflection on all these perspectives I reached a realization. As merely places filled with books and other media to engage our interests and momentarily distract us from our real-life woes, public libraries fulfill only part of their role; what brings the safe place to life is the confluence of the media and caring people in one location. People matter. They make the difference in how we experience places and events...for good or ill. I regret that, while games might serve as one aspect helping to make libraries a refuge, exclusive game spaces do not always make for safe spaces...people, civility, and kindness make the difference.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Be Prepared Teaching Games

Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

Louis Pasteur

I wasn’t in Boy Scouts very long, probably about a year, but I learned a few things (many of them not well). How to use a pocketknife safely. How to tie knots. How to navigate using a map and a compass. How to endure the mistreatment inevitably coming your way as the shortest, scrawniest kid. And, of course, the importance of being prepared. I’ve tried to keep that lesson in mind as I’ve stumbled through all the challenges life has unexpectedly dumped on me over the years. I’ve found having a mindset of preparedness has helped me introduce new games – or the new experience of games – to a host of people. Sometimes I’ve done this with a few friends in the comfort of our home. Other times I’ve prepared for games in more public venues like museums, libraries, and conventions, often for strangers. I’ve learned from experience...both successes and failures. In a world where “overthinking things” still retains a societal stigma (though more of us admit and accept it), it’s nice to know being well-enough prepared can pay off. Especially when teaching games to new players.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Reflecting on Our Game Experience

We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

We can learn a lot from games if we take the time to look beyond the mere momentary entertainment they offer. Like real life, we often finish a game, make some cursory judgments about whether we liked it, and then head home to our daily toils, temporarily restored by some brief respite of play. Too often it seems we stumble through life like this, careening from one crisis to another on various fronts (home, work, school, friends), muddling through the tedious daily grind, and finding passing relief in our hobby interests before succumbing to sleep, all while rarely taking time to look back at our experiences, reflecting on them to see what we might learn, what we might change as we move forward. Games, especially those we play for some educational value (however shallow), can help teach us to analyze an experience, reflecting on what we hated and liked, how our choices affected the game, how we interacted with other players, and what we might do next time to achieve a more favorable outcome. Reflecting on the play experience remains a paramount exercise when using games for learning, in both formal settings and in our own casual gaming.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Summertime Gaming

Cannon at Drewry's Bluff.
My son’s school year begins tomorrow, an early start that puts an end to the carefree days of summer. I don’t get as much done since I’m busy with yard duties, household projects, and entertaining my son with a weekly day trip and other diversions. We’re both looking forward to getting back into some kind of somewhat productive routine. We found some opportunities for gaming during the summer, with some engaging games we really enjoyed. I’m hoping we can sustain our gaming momentum into the more structured part of the year as I tempt him with themes that interest him.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Design Choice: Rumors

 Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”

Joseph Conrad

I’m working in fits and starts developing my Mage-Blight Hills fantasy roleplaying game setting (system-neutral) and making various design decisions in both what I develop and how. I’ve decided, for a number of reasons, to write to the page, working within the layout to keep my writing on each setting element concise. It also helps me manage my own perception of how much I’ve completed. Compartmentalizing my work helps me focus. Nothing seems so discouraging as looking at the existing page count and realizing how far one has to go; but when I finish a one-, two-, or even four-page section on a particular location, person, or concept, I gain some small sense of accomplishment. It forces me to work to make sure every aspect of the setting I write about has the most important and useful information. This work/design choice caused me to re-think how I present and use an important element of many settings: rumors.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Awards & Reviews

In last week’s missive about Gale Force 9’s Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps I mentioned the game won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best SciFi Fantasy Board Wargame in 2020. I started thinking about various issues surrounding game industry awards. It seems like summertime – and the blockbuster summertime conventions – is prime time for various game-related awards. The Origins Awards. Ennies. The aforementioned Charles S. Roberts Awards. Germany’s prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year). Awards have their place in recognizing creators and their outstanding work; but they do so using select criteria established by a governing organization and votes from a limited sampling of the overall gaming community. An award is rarely an accurate indication a game is right for any given gamer. It’s a validation of a game’s overall excellence when compared to others in its category, but individuals have other means – reviews and how-to-play videos, for instance – to evaluate whether an award-winning game (or any game) is right for them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A Tale of Two Alien Games

More often I’m exploring cooperative and solitaire games given their growing prevalence as a subgenre of the adventure gaming hobby and my limited player base. Frequent readers know I’ve discussed solo roleplaying game options before (and I’m still exploring more recent entries), but I’ve not really talked much about solitaire board or wargames beyond the “playing against yourself” variety. The pandemic had me exploring a host of different options, both purely solitaire games as well as cooperative games suitable for a single player. The intersection of these games with themes that interest me has brought a few new titles into my collection. As a fan of the first two Aliens franchise movies, I couldn’t resist picking up their associated games, each designed as a cooperative game suitable for a single player. Both remain true to their cinematic origins, but they offer quite different experiences on several levels.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Summer Star Wars Games

During the summer I spend a lot of effort keeping my son busy (i.e., off his tablet in Roblox land), much to the detriment of my own writing and game design projects. Amid our usual goals and diversions – more frequent walks in the park, a short vacation, the admonitions to read actual books, weekly day trips – we’ve been attempting to game more often. Not as much as I’d like, of course, but I’ll take one or two after-lunch gaming sessions a week if I can get them. He’s getting to the age where he can comprehend the rules without me having to streamline them into a kid-friendly format; but his interest in various historical periods or media properties primarily drive his engagement in related games. This influenced our choice of games. It also encouraged me to take a brief respite from designing my current roleplaying game project (The Mage-Blight Hills) to revisit some basic skirmish rules I set aside a while ago.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Ephemeral Nature of Games

 Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

All things must pass...and so too with games. Despite the wonders of the internet helping to produce, disseminate, and preserve PDF games and a host of websites helping gamers to obtain those hard-to-find treasures, many games still pass into the dread territory of “out of print,” becoming difficult if not impossible to find. Consider the ages of different aspects of the hobby: miniatures wargames 110 years (by far the oldest, based on H.G. Wells’ Little Wars); board wargames 71 (based on Charles S. Roberts’ Tactics); roleplaying games 49; collectible card games 30; Euro-style board games 28. All relatively recent as history goes, and most within our lifetimes (okay, my long, increasingly weary lifetime). Some live, legally or otherwise, in PDF on the internet; but many fade into memory, tossed into the trash or sold at flea markets, their mark on our gaming culture out of reach of future generations. Few, if any, archives actively seek to preserve a record of adventure gaming hobby materials, most notably the Strong National Museum of Play; regrettably our nation’s venerable Library of Congress does not (a subject I’ve wanted to blog on for years now but just can’t given our volatile political climate). Each of us enters the adventure gaming hobby at different points in its history and our own lives. Our interests can wander or change across genres and forms. So when we discover something “new to us” that engages our interest, finding it can prove challenging in our increasingly disposable, capitalist society which cultivates a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO) on the “new hotness” of the moment.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

History Is Our Story

 That the future may learn from the past.”

Colonial Williamsburg mission

Bamse samples: artwork by Julie Campbell and writing by Colin Maxwell.

I enjoy learning about various periods in history, from the broad picture to the smaller, more personal stories and everything in between. My engagement spans the vast landscape of media, from non-fiction books and documentaries to the more embellished films, historical novels, and, of course, games. And even comic books. So when I discovered Colin Maxwell of Maximized Comics Kickstarting another history based comic book, The Adventures of Bamse, I didn’t hesitate to back it. I’d previously backed and enjoyed his earlier true-war stories, Raid on the Forth and Flight of the Eagle, two relatively obscure episodes from World War II (well, “relatively obscure” to those of us who don’t live in Scotland...). Both draw on events related to his own local history, so I couldn’t resist supporting publication of the story of “the dog that became the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War.” (At the moment the project still needs funding in the final days of the campaign – which offers the chance to also get the previous two comics, all well worth the price even considering shipping from the UK to the US.) These comics remind me how history consists of many stories great and small, far-reaching in scope yet also personal. Humans have loved storytelling throughout time...and history is our own epic tale, a larger-than-life story we can also draw upon for our games, whether historical wargames, board games, or even roleplaying games.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

WEG Memoirs: The SWAJ Dinner

Memories of my West End Games days some 25 years ago are gradually fading into mushy I’d better tell the tale of the Star Wars Adventure Journal dinner I hosted at GenCon 1996 before it dissolves further into my foggy sense of the past. It came at what seems like the high point of my time at West End, when the Star Wars Roleplaying Game enjoyed great popularity, especially with special editions of the original trilogy and <gasp> even talk of new movies on the horizon. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like many events in our lives, it’s a confluence of numerous factors leading to a single, memorable point....

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Tempering “This Is the Way”

 Persistence without insight will lead to the same outcome.”

The Armorer from The Mandalorian

I’ve been reading some miniature wargaming rules, some from the 1970s and others having been around a while that still see a good deal of play today. I’m guilty of acquiring games of various forms – roleplaying games, wargames (both board and miniature), even board games – not necessarily to play but to read for their own sake, seeing how each uses rules and components to craft a particular play experience based on a setting. Some authors of older rules assume an attitude that their particular method of playing a game is the way (at least the way for them), sometimes looking down on or dismissing other rules concepts that don’t work with their vision. “This is the way,” one might say, to coin a phrase made popular by the Star Wars Mandalorian series. Naturally where one rigidly declares their rules are the best way of playing a particular game others will rebel against it, offering an alternative emphasizing different game aspects. Much of early gaming – roleplaying as well as wargaming – evolved through this reactionary give and take, with games emerging in response to and in competition with other rules, based on what individual designers felt worked best to provide a satisfying game experience. Certainly games have changed over the years, especially with the accessibility to both publishing and distribution computers and the internet have enabled in the 21st century. To me it’s interesting to see inflexibility in a play activity, though no doubt I’ve been guilty at some point of being too rigid in my game interpretations. I remind myself that everyone finds satisfaction in games differently, that, as always, your mileage may vary. And in many cases, as demonstrated in The Mandalorian’s third season, several divergent, adversarial groups can come together, relax their rigidity, and work toward something new.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Journey to the Mage-Blight Hills

 We are not monsters; we simply are. We are creatures with unrealized potential.”

From “A Testament of Completion”

The paths down which imagination leads us sometimes don’t make sense, might bring us to strange places, but offer us opportunities to grow. I’m stumbling down one such path with my latest fantasy roleplaying game project, The Mage-Blight Hills, a setting sourcebook without any game stats, enabling gamemasters to port it to whatever system they prefer. It grew from a simple idea, a lark, really, for an adventure I might run for my son should I ever introduce him to pen-and-paper roleplaying (as opposed to the diversions he finds in the seemingly infinite electronic worlds of Roblox). As I thrashed about trying to develop and write another setting – the perpetually postponed Infinite Cathedral – I let my imagination run a bit wild on this other scenario...until it took on a life of its own and demanded I follow the path it set before me. Although it’s still quite a ways from any sense of completion, it’s providing both a chance to find some solace in an escapist fantasy world and an opportunity to try out some concepts in setting design.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Miniature Wargames’ Versatility

Many facets of the adventure gaming hobby have a do-it-yourself aspect (DIY). Roleplaying gamers spend time creating their own settings and scenarios. Miniature wargamers work hard crafting terrain and props besides painting and basing figures. Both forms offer flexibility in altering rules (“house-ruling”) to better suit people’s different styles of play or level of detail/complexity. (Less so board and card games, including board wargames, all of which, by their very nature, include everything one needs in the box, ready to go.) Which means roleplaying games and miniature wargames can combine their DIY suitability with gamers’ needs and preferences to customize the play experience for a particular audience, venue, or event. Over the years I’ve tried to introduce gaming to new audiences, most recently at the local museum. Although roleplaying games aren’t ideally connected with local history, historical miniature wargames possess the capacity for customization to a particular time and place...with some DIY legwork and a bit of research.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

New Inspirational Music

 Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

Victor Hugo

As I continue designing and writing a new medieval fantasy roleplaying game setting I constantly remind myself how much music motivates and inspires me. Simply having relevant music playing in the background makes me more inclined to sit down and focus on developing game material. Fantasy fandom – from roleplaying gamers and wargamers to those who immerse themselves in literature and online media – sometimes argues about the nature of medieval elements. Can we have ethnically diverse elves, dwarves, and halfings? Must we adhere to the miserable health and social conditions that plagued medieval Europe or can we just play around in a relatively carefree renfaire environment? How much fantasy do we mix with our historical inspirations? So it’s no surprise my own tastes in medieval-themed music runs the spectrum from purely fantastical to authentically historical. Two sources of new music help fuel my enthusiasm for the current project: the soundtrack to the first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and a collection of releases from the British medieval instrumenttroupe Trouvere.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

WEG Memoirs: The Mos Eisley Diorama

 You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Now and then I post the photo of me running the Star Wars Roleplaying Game at a large, boxed-in diorama of Mos Eisley starport at a convention. During my time at West End I built the diorama from scratch and set it in a custom-made box for transport. I subsequently hauled it around to various conventions, even after the company went bankrupt. It’s sat in the basement or storage for many years now, but occasionally I pull it out, dust it off, and take some photos of it with the 25mm Star Wars miniatures I still have. I’ve featured the diorama and figures here before; head over to “Schweig’s Gaming Roadshow Gallery” and scroll down (though I’ve posted a few photos again here). It’s a relic from my West End days that still stirs feelings of nostalgia for a time when running demos on a visually appealing table helped promote one of my favorite games.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Culpeper’s Toy Soldier Exhibit

 Culture arises and unfolds in and as play.”

Johan Huizinga

On February 4 we visited the Museum of Culpeper History for a Sons of the American Revolution ceremony honoring African-Americans and Native Americans who served in the American War of Independence (AWI). I appreciate these opportunities to learn more about different aspects of history and how they affect our appreciation of our modern world. After a brief overview of the service these oft-overlooked groups gave fighting for freedom, a descendant of Revolutionary War officer Captain Phillip Slaughter spoke about his enslaved servant Spencer accompanying him on campaign in New Jersey, Valley Forge, and elsewhere, taking care of horses and the mess and otherwise supporting Patriot armies in the field. The gallery was packed – the previously planned outdoor ceremony was moved indoors given the forecast cold weather – and we luckily found a spot to stand in a corner of the Civil War gallery next to an exhibit of Civil War toy soldiers made in France. It reminded me I hadn’t taken any photos of these game-related artifacts before, and returned later that week to take pictures for my own reference (and to share) lest the exhibit change in the near future.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Capacity for Conventions

Running the Star Wars RPG with
convention guest Timothy Zahn, 1993.
I was cleaning out a filing cabinet a few weeks ago and came upon some old signs for convention games I ran in the distant past. I allowed myself to slip into nostalgia for the days when my calendar held annual sojourns to various game conventions within driving distance, where I’d go and run a full slate of roleplaying games and, in later times, miniature wargames (usually designed for kids and hobby newcomers). Most provided inspiration for numerous stories I’m wont to share when the mood strikes, I’m emboldened by some liquid refreshment, and I have a willing (or at least politely tolerant) audience. They’re great memories. But life marches on, obligations to home and family take precedence, and I’m certainly not as young and energetic. I’m not sure I have much capacity for running convention games any more, though goodness knows in my blind and foolish optimism I occasionally muster the energy and give it yet one more try.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Tower of the Faceless Clock

Or Challenges Extracting Rules Text from Solo Adventures

My discussion of the difficulties extracting system from setting in roleplaying game supplements reminded me of an abandoned project. It was an experiment to design a programmed solitaire adventure (with numbered paragraphs, like the
Choose Your Own Adventure books) to present a specific setting without reference to a specific rules system. Having written plenty of solitaire tutorial adventures intended to teach game mechanics along the way, designing one without considerations for typical rules – how to run combat, procedures for skill checks, how to make saving throws, etc. – proved challenging.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Extracting System & Setting

 If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

Katharine Hepburn

For most roleplaying games the mechanics and setting remain bound together. Extracting one from the other often proves challenging from a game design standpoint and dubious from a marketing perspective. Few game systems exist entirely apart from any given setting, though they claim (with different levels of efficacy) to operate with any genre. Over the years various games have released as standalone rules sets – Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS, Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying (BRP), Hero Games’ Hero System, S. John Ross’ RISUS: The Anything RPG, even West End Games’ popular D6 System – with varying degrees of success. Some emerged from existing games, like D6 from the Star Wars Roleplaying Game and BRP from favorites like Call of Cthulhu. These find some success among pockets of gamers willing to do the legwork to adapt them to their original settings (though some, like RISUS, make this quite easy). Yet few products have made their mark as settings extracted from or produced without rules systems. Such oddities require a delicate touch, a very generic approach to anything smacking of rules, and finesse in inspiring gamers to undertake the work adapting them to a favorite game system.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

RPGs’ Band-Aid (R) Issue

 Band-Aid: A trademark for a type of adhesive bandage.”

The Associated Press Stylebook

When I mention I’ve written for roleplaying games to average folks unfamiliar with the adventure gaming hobby (often called “mundanes” in fandom parlance) the inevitable reply almost always amounts to, “Oh, D&D.” Recent discussions about Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast drastically changing the Open Gaming License (with the advent of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons) have noted we have many roleplaying games with various mechanics and settings, all of which have the potential to provide a satisfying game experience given the confluence of good gamemasters, players, and inspiration. It reminds me of the Band-Aid brand name falling into what some might consider a “generic trademark” usage in our society...yet many mundanes, and even some in the hobby community, use the specific brand name “D&D” when they mean roleplaying games. Words matter. I encourage people to get in the habit of using “roleplaying game,” “RPG,” and other equivalents when they don’t specifically mean D&D.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Remembering to Find Escape in Fantasy

 What a pity. Love is, I think, wasted on the young.”

Cardinal Richelieu, The Three Musketeers (1993)

Christmas train succumbs
to holiday chaos.
I am finding some solace immersing myself in my current work designing a fantasy roleplaying game setting...when I can. The demands of the holiday season often supersede other activities and priorities (as I’ve noted before). But between gift wrapping, decorating the tree, setting up the trains, wrestling with the outdoor string lights, and the everyday interruptions of “Dad can you do this?” and “Honey did you take care of that?” and everyone’s favorite, “What are we having for dinner?” I managed to savor the few moments I got to immerse myself in my roleplaying game writing.