Monday, December 31, 2012

So long 2012! And Happy New Year!





Thank you for reading this blog!

May you look back on 2012 with fondness, and may 2013 be even better!

How did you do on those New Year's Resolutions?

I finished all of mine except the losing weight thing. Hey, I lost weight, just not my desired goal. Oh well, next year, right? ;)

It was a busy year. About This time last year I was going full bore into finishing my master's thesis, Peter the Hermit: Straddling the Boundaries of Lordship, Millennialism, and Heresy. Last May I graduated, and presented my thesis at the 47th  International Congress on Medieval Studies. Also finished my part in ISU's Gold Star Hall Project, writing a few hundred biographies of former ISU students who died during World War I and World War II. Their names are etched in stone in the ISU Memorial Union's Gold Star Hall, and you can read the biographies in the kiosk there. Along the way I became a columnist for the Iowa State Daily until I graduated.

Summer found me looking for jobs while visiting friends in Washington D.C. and making new friends in Georgia. In early fall I moved from Iowa to Georgia. In the meantime I've written a handful of short stories.

On December 11, I did what I've always wanted to do since I was seven: I completed the first draft of a novel. I'll start revising it in January. And it appears I've already started on my second.

Then, of course, there's this blog.

d20 Dark Ages has been a lot of fun to write. I hope you had fun reading it.

Although it seems like everybody is migrating to Google+ communities, I'll still be updating this blog regularly for the foreseeable future (though it'll be a few days before I post again). Look forward to more monsters from 1980s cartoons converted into S&W stats, retrospectives, mini-mondays, and miscellaneous gaming related material. Furthermore, I look forward to your comments.

Some people may think I'm talking about doom and gloom. Really, I'm arguing for doom and boom! Out of the fragmentation of the old way of things, something new will arise.

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 28, 2012

My Top Five Books of 2012

I've read about 25 books this year, from cover to cover. Some longer, some shorter. Most are fiction but there's several non-fiction works in there. This does not count the 50+ books I skimmed through while finishing up my master's degree in History last spring. (It's one reason I'm not sure if I want to get a PhD, yes, you read a lot, but you often don't read a book cover to cover. Just lots and lots of skimming). Overall, in 2012 I read about a book every two weeks, which is good enough for me.

Here are my top 5 recommendations. What are your top five?

1. The 50th Law, by 50 Cent and Robert Greene.

Nihil Timendum Est --"Nothing must be feared."/"Fear nothing."

This is the first book I read in 2012, and I've felt its impact through out the whole year. I remembered its lessons going into my thesis defense and later while standing on the edge of a mountain cliff. Robert Greene compares 50 Cent to other historical figures andhow they overcame their fears and prospered. While many of us will never experience the harsh streets 50 Cent did, the lessons in this book are priceless. This is more than just a biography.

If we let them, our fears can become generalized anxieties that we try to avoid. Yet by avoiding them, we become imprisoned by them or, worse, we resort to quick fixes which end up making the problem worse. First, we need to face reality as it is, in all its ugliness and beauty.



2. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
This book actually ties for first place. It gave me the kick in the ass to finish the first draft of my novel, Anne Greyhawk and the Valkyrie's Vow. Anybody who wants to create something--artists, entrepreneur, people who want to lose weight--must read this book.

Fear is a manifestation of Resistance and Resistance keeps you from living the life you want. Resistance gives you every logical reason why you shouldn't start exercising, paint that masterpiece, write that novel, or start that business.

If you want to beat Resistance, your fear, then go pro.

A lot of self-help books are filled with pie-in-the-sky, transcendental B.S. This one isn't, and neither is The 50th Law.



3. The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman

I'm really including Pullman's entire "His Dark Materials" trilogy which includes the Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass. Amid all the armored bears, the cowboy aeronaut, and little Lyra and her daemon getting manipulated by her parents, there is a great moral to this series. I won't ruin it for you.

I'm still not sure why this was classified as a children's book. Yes, it has children in it, but it deals with far reaching philosophical concepts that might be above most children's heads. It is, more or less, a sequel/retelling of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Early on one character mentions Zoroastrianism.

Then again, maybe the children in England can hande such things. At least the grown-ups can anyway, when compared to the numerous attempts to ban this series on this side of the pond.

Although long-winded at times, His Dark Materials trilogy is an epic adventure that makes for an exciting and enlightening read.


4. Hornet Flight, by Ken Follet

Mix in Nazis, spy-rings, a boy reaching maturity, a law official bent on enforcing the law no matter what, a couple of beautiful women, and a desperate escape across the English Channel you've got the essence of Hornet Flight. 

It takes place during the darkest part of the war, 1941, when England had to hold its own. Our hero emerges in Denmark to try and stop the Nazis from using a secret weapon against England's bombers.

Follet is a great storyteller, and this book delivers the goods. As an aspiring novelist, I could do worse than to emulate him. He knows how to do character development, pacing, plotting and all the other ingredients to just tell a great story.



5. This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti

I've never read Christian fiction until I read this book. And I managed to make it all the way through. Peretti weaves a great tale of supernatural events surrounding a small college down as demons from Hell try to take it over. Only a small group of mortals and angels stand in their way.

The book can be preachy at times, but if you look beyond that it can make for a good story.

Others, I'm sure, might be bothered by all the roads that lead to damnation that Peretti describes: colleges and professors, Eastern religions, meditation, world-wide corporations, foreign businessmen, etc.

Overall, though, a good book.


Honorable mentions include:
The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
7-Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene



Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Have Encountered "That Guy"


Joseph Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard is lucky, very lucky, or blessed by the gaming gods to never have encountered "that guy," the obnoxious gamer who ruins the game for everybody else.  He's been gaming for 35 years. And I've been gaming for 22+ years, and I've encountered that "that guy" several times. Once is enough.

I think, however, that most of use have been that guy at one time or another, especially back during our teenage years. In fact, that's where I first encountered that guy, who played a slutty female half-elf who tried to ruin marriages at the bar while other players rolled their eyes and just wanted to get to the dungeon. And I, the DM, just said, "Fine you ruin the man's marriage," but then the guy got mad because I wouldn't let him roleplay it out.

I've met that guy, the killer DM. But what's more annoying is that guy who loved to have the characters captured and all of their stuff taken away.  Every few sessions it'd be like module A1: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords over and over again. Yep, you're captured! All your stuff is gone, including magic items and treasure! Now fight your way out of this labyrinth!

In an 1e AD&D game, that guy wouldn't shut up about his damn flail. We were using the weapon type vs. AC tables in the PHB. Flails got bonuses to hit across the board. "I don't know why you would chose a sword, you should use a flail," he'd say at least once per combat, especially when somebody missed. He wasn't too happy, however, when magic swords kept going to other players.

In wargaming, that guy would run scenarios stacked in his favor to beat you and then afterward tell you what you could have done to win. But when you'd beat him or remember something in the rules that gave you an advantage, he'd get mad. And then next time he'd change the rules. In the end, though, people stopped playing with that guy.

That's just to name a few. I could go on.

But Mr. Bloch is right. That guy was (and is) a game changer, whether that guy sat at your table or was a game designer for TSR or WotC. I'm not sure if the d20 Dark Ages began when the rules changed to thwart "that guy", but I'm sure there's some kind of correlation. Because, the actions of that guy usually involves some sort of bending or breaking of the rules. When people start paying more attention to the rules, well... you get more rules. I think the RPG industry owes a considerable debt to that guy. Because without him, there would be little reason for new editions, rule supplements, and splatbooks.

In my experience, that guy is the first to use, the first to abuse, and the first to complain. We all have lapses or foibles that surface at times, but that guy's primary goal is to use the game for his own benefit--to hell with the other players.

Mr. Bloch, and to anybody else, who reads this: I hope you never encounter that guy.

That guy cannot be reasoned with. You can talk to him. You can yell at him. Most of us at that point would at least get the hint that something was wrong. But that guy won't get it, or will. Either way he just doesn't care about his abusive behavior.

And it is abusive behavior. See, while you're spending your energy figuring that guy out or to thwart his efforts, he's still a problem. You're still acknowledging him, you're dancing his dance, and you're not having fun. You can lower yourself to that guy's level to beat him in the game or thwart his efforts, but any enjoyment is short lived--because then you have to deal with him the next time around, and now he's holding a grudge.

The best way to deal with that guy is to boot him out of the game. Or if you can't boot him, walk away.

If he confronts you, just tell him. Who knows? Maybe he'll see the light.




Or maybe not. Don't waste your time trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Creature of the Comet



Creature of the Comet
HD: 8
Armor Class: -1 [20]
Attack: 2 slams (1d10 each)
Special: Magic Resistance 75% (and reflection—see below), +1 or better weapons to hit,
bludgeoning vulnerability, immune to cold
Move: 12, 36 (fly)
Saving Throw: 8
Alignment: Any
Challenge Level/XP: 13/2,300

Reflection: A Creature of the Comet has 75% magic resistance. A spell that fails to breach the resistance has a 50% chance of reflecting back on the caster.

Bludgeoning Vulnerability: Bludgeoning weapons do double damage against a Creature of the Comet.

When a comet flies close to the world, powerful wizards and liches (of at least 12th level in caster ability) may attempt to call upon its power, using an ancient Hazahdian ritual (a spell of at least 6th level). The ritual calls down 1d3 Servants of the Comet, depending if the alignment of the comet matches the alignment of the summoner. A Creature of the Comet appears within a mile of the spellcaster, as desired, and remains in the summoner’s service until destroyed or when the comet passes away from the world (1d3+1 days, then the creature vanishes back into the heavens). It descends from the heavens landing within a 40ft radius target area as designated by the spellcaster. Creatures in the area must make a successful saving throw or be struck by the creature for 4d8 damage and knocked down.

A Creature of the Comet appears as a sexless humanoid, some eight feet tall, made of ice, dust, and
energy.

If a Creature of the Comet is slain, it leaves behind a small pile of cosmic ice and dust. At the Game Master’s discretion, these substances may be used to enchant items or empower certain rituals (such as summoning more Creatures of the Comet).

Note: The artwork came from the first episode of He-Man, The Cosmic Comet. Check out, Robert W. Lamb's website,  to learn about his work on the cartoon, especially the background art gallery!



Monday, December 24, 2012

Mini Monday: Miscellanea and Merry Christmas!

No new miniatures completely painted from me.
Yet there's lots going on.

I had great weekend gaming at Treefort Games

On Saturday evening I got to play the Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, the d6 version by West End Games. It's been years since I played this game. I ran a one-off back in 2005 or so. But I haven't been a player in over 12 years! Needless to say, I was eager to roll those d6s. 

I got to be an Alliance/New Republic Intelligence Operative on Tatooine (not sure which period), tasked to meet up wth the rest of the group and help escort their cargo across the desert. When I came upon them, they'd been attacked by Tuskan Raiders, who attacked us again. But we survived, though half the group got wounded and made it to our destination.


In more miniature related news...

The Star Wars game came after two games of Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, which I ran. We played Italian Condottieri versus the French, roughly early 15th Century. There's a yahoo group if you want to know more about the game without shelling out $90 at Amazon. 

The French won the first battle, with their knights with elite morale. They charged across the tabletop, blocking their own canon and ran down some Italian swordsmen holding the flank. The Italians had more firepower, but they were mostly levies. 

The Italians won the second battle. It came down to a big brawl near the French side of the table, but the Italians prevailed. 

The second game ran more smoothly than the first, since people were learning the rules. But the rules are simple and straight forward. And the average game lasts around 2 hours or so. People had fun, and afterward were asking me about army lists and so forth. One guy bought three boxes of War of the Roses miniatures from Perry Miniatures. So it'll be nice to play some War of the Roses. People are talking about doing fantasy armies. 

Since I really like Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, that's fine with me. People liking and playing the game I like gives me inspiration to paint miniatures for the game I like. I've got lots of generic footmen and knights painted up. The next step is to complete cavalry and footmen units with heraldry specific to each army.

I've also been eyeballing the Teutonic Knights by Fireforge Games. Sure, their a bit early for Hundred Years War, but I'm looking for some Imperial Germans, and let's face it, the miniatures are cool! Thanks for Mark at Creative Mountain Games for posting this review on his blog.



Yesterday, a Warhammer 40k Apocalypse battle was fought amid a gingerbread village, as seen by the pictures on the left. They were just setting up. It was fun to watch them fight amid the terrain, which presumably got destroyed and eaten. The game lasted all afternoon and into the evening, after I left. 

The Space Marine Titans were a sight to behold. It made me wonder if the opposing eldar had much of a chance. 

It didn't play. I was pushing miniatures Warmaster, Bretonnians vs. High Elves. I played Bretonnians. I can't remember who won, both sides had taken a pummelling when it was all over. 

It was the first time I'd played Warmaster. And I prefer it over the standard Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Magic isn't as powerful, and the deciding factor in a battle isn't the general loaded down with magic items fighting another general loaded down with magic items. 

It played a bit like Napoleonics, were each side pushed each other back a forth, while wearing each other down. Fun times. 

I don't know why I didn't take more pictures...

Finally, here's a Season's Greetings from Krusty the Clown!



Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Retrospect: The Apocalypse Stone

(Here's an obligatory SPOILER ALERT! even though if DMs let their players see the front cover of this module, the players should know what they're in for. And I really find it hard to talk about this module without revealing part of its plot).


"Warning: This adventure will end your campaign and destroy your world!" --The description right under the heading, "How to Use this Product."

In honor of the Mayan Calendar coming to end and what all that could possibly entail, here is a retrospective of a module that happened at the AD&D Second Edition end times: The Apocalypse Stone, by Jason Carl and Chris Pramas, published in the summer of 2000, right before 3e came out.

Ah... the Millennium. Remember Y2K? Remember the television show Millennium? Of course, the Left Behind series was still in their hayday. UFO cults. Fun and interesting times.

Now imagine the Apocalypse happened, and it was all your fault, and you didn't know it.

That's the premise of this module: you've been duped.

Basically, your patron hires you to get the Stone of Corbinet  from its ancient resting place. This first part plays like a quest for the Holy Grail, with a crazy Fisher-like King and all. Once retrieved and brought back to patron, the world has been pushed out of tilt with the rest of the multiverse. Have a nice day.

What's even more insidious? The module tells you to run the players through another adventure (the Tomb of Horrors is suggested). This way, as the Signs of the Times unfold, the players won't immediately know its their fault. And then there's the cannibalism scene which the players have to redeem themselves before going on to save the world... or not.

The DM has a "ha ha... fooled you!" option. Or he can have the world end no matter what the PCs do.

Either way, I'd only run this module if I wanted my campaign world to end and if I had some trusting players who wouldn't get too upset if I deliberately dupe them this once.

Overall, I'm not sure if this is a good module. Some of the ideas are neat, but you can fabricate your own apocalypse by consulting the Book of Revelation or Ezekiel. One of the module's strong points is the slow sense of doom the characters might feel as the countdown to the world's end commences. As I said, the basic premise of the module requires the DM's deception. Even astute players, aware that their patron might be not all he seems, would still be railroad for their efforts if the DM follows the module as written.

I guess in the end, your mileage may vary.

Finally, I don't know anybody who's run this module. It was meant to be the wrap up module to AD&D Second Edition, along with the less impressive Die Vecna Die! Though the modules wrap up D&D in different ways (perhaps I'll compare the two modules in an upcoming post).

----

Have you run The Apocalypse Stone? Or were you a player who went through the module? I'd love to hear your experiences with the world and edition ender. (Heck, if even you've read through the module I'd like you to share your thoughts).


The d20 Dark Ages in Context: 1989

Writing this blog has brought up a lot of memories. One thing just leads to another. I think I first Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years, which was on TV during my early years in D&D. D&D has definitely impacted my life, but a lot more important things were going on in 1989. I remember a lot of this stuff, yet some of it I had to look up on Wikipedia and was like "oh yeah, that happened in 1989, I thought it was earlier (or later.)"
mentioned this when I compared my middle school self to

Maybe these lists will bring back some memories for you too:

Politcal Events
President Reagan left office that January, George H. W. Bush takes office.
The Soviets leave Afghanistan.
The World Wide Web was invented in Switzerland by Tim Berners Lee.
Communism in Eastern Europe also begins to collapse
Tianemen Square protests and massacre.
Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. is the first person to be prosecuted for unleashing a computer virus.
"The Forgotten Woodstock"--participants brought their own supplies and had to barter with each other.
Hurricane Hugo
Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize
President Bush meets with Prime Minister Gorbechev, both agree that the Cold War is coming to an end.
US invades Panama
The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall collapse!
(The Information Age Begins...)

Music, Movies, and Popular Culture
Madonna's "Like A Prayer" music video debuts. Conservative groups hated it. But I still think its
"Express Yourself."
Madonna's best work, followed by
Michael Jackson named King of Pop, but even I noticed his "changes" since "Bad."
Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation"
Debbie Gibson's "Electric Youth"
Nine Inch Nails--Pretty Hate Machine
The Bangles--"Eternal Flame".
And New Kids on the Block were still "Hangin' Tough" and makin' me gag
Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" gave me a nice history lesson.

Batman!
(And "Batdance," the car accident of a Prince song and video)
Field of Dreams, which was filmed in Dyersville, Iowa, near my hometown.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Little Mermaid


Television Show Debuts
COPs
Seinfeld
Quantum Leap
Hey Dude
Saved by the Bell
Doogie Howser, M.D.
America's Funniest Home Videos
Baywatch
The Simpsons (yes, they've been around that long).




(I think cartoons really started going to crap by this time, probably because I was getting older).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debut in 1987, but the movie came out in 1989
Count Duckula
Duck Tales (woo-hoo...)
G. I. Joe was still around in syndication

Unfortunately, I don't remember the books I'd read in 1989. I know, by that time, I'd read The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, some R. L. Stine children's horror books, most of The Chronicles of Narnia, and a bunch of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

----

What do you remember from your first year playing D&D? What stands out in your mind when you look back on that time? 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Retrospect: Dragon #195 (Part 2)



I've already done a retrospective of Dragon #195 back in October. But that was before my girlfriend fulfilled my wish and got me the hardcopy as an early Christmas present.  It's in pretty good condition, far better than my old copy that I sold some years ago. I have the issue as a pdf, from the Dragon Magazine Archive. But there's nothing like holding and flipping through a physical magazine or book.

Just to reiterate, Dragon #195 was the first Dragon Magazine I ever bought. I think I got it at Waldenbooks or B. Dalton. I was 14, and just beginning to understand the plethora of RPGs out there besides D&D.

What strikes me most about this issue isn't its articles and fiction. It's the advertisements. It's hard to get that feeling from a 2-D pdf. This issue has some "weight" to it when compared to some of its successors. Here's why:

White Wolf placed an 8-page advertisement for Mage: The Ascension right in the middle of the magazine. What you see to the right is just part of this huge advert.


White Wolf had a lot of explaining to do, since this game was unlike anything gone before (except for maybe Vampire). We're talking about mages who can bend reality itself, and how they are broken down into "traditions."

The game itself came out in July 1993, the same month the magazine was published. I know it bought sometime later. Behold the power of advertising!




Next we have Dragon Strike. Oh boy, yet another Hero Quest rip off, but this one comes with a movie! On the next two pages James M. Ward wrote up an article describing the of the game. Sometime in 1992, Mr. Ward writes, the folks at TSR revisited an old question:

"Wouldn't it be cool to hook up a video with a role-playing game?"

The "hyper-reality" video is the result. You can view on You Tube. Judge for yourself if you think it'd be effective in bringing gamers into the hobby.

And yes, I bought it. Hey, I wanted the figures, and Dragon Strike seemed to be a good way to introduce people to RPGs. I'll describe my experiences with it in a later post.

Finally we've got the previews section. First up, the AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual. Finally, a book to replace the lame and cumbersome Monstrous Compendium!!! 



I also eventually purchased the Van Richten's Guide To Werebeasts and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Boxed Set (I know, gasp!). None of the other stuff interested me. I'm still not sure what the deal was with Cardmaster. I didn't want to play D&D myself and can generate adventures without cards. It remains an oddity to me

So, I got my wish. Dragon #195 is mine again.

----

Have you ever sold an issue of Dragon or Dungeon and then wished you'd had it again?










Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Greyhawk: Maps of the Flanaess

I guess I'm just bragging that I've got all three maps of the Flanaess, complete, for the World of the Greyhawk. The first is from the 1983 World of the Greyhawk Boxed Set. The second comes from the From the Ashes boxed set, which I've talked about. The third comes from Dungeon Magazine (#118-#121, and is in four parts, which you can still buy at Paizo.

Sorry about the shine on the first two maps. Both are made with glossy paper. 

My favorite is still the first, but its in rough condition--the right have was taped sometime ago because it was tearing on its seams. 

The second one shows the post-Greyhawk Wars Flanaess. 

Yet the third one, however, shows a bunch added locations, culled together from modules and supplements over the years. Erik Mona, then editor of Dungeon at the time, really did his research. 

Of course, if you want to see something really neat, head over to Greyhawk Grognard where Joseph Bloch mapped Oerth beyond the Flanaess.





Monday, December 17, 2012

Mini Monday: Massive Ork and Goblin Invasion!

Last Saturday something interesting happened at Treefort Games:

--We played a massive orks vs. humans battle.

--It took forever to set up (and to take down).
--Only one person really knew the rules.
--The battle pretty much was decided at the outset (humans would lose, and I was human).
But everybody had good time! 

Because it was such a huge battle, there were some lulls where people could step aside while things like berserk warbeasts or cascade morale failures would get resolved.


Never in my 22+ years as a roleplayer and 12 or so years as a wargamer have played in a battle this massive before. All of these ork miniatures belong to one guy. There were some on a different table--he couldn't fit them all on the battle field. And left some at home. He had around 150 trolls which he didn't bring!

He's been painting up orks, goblins, and other the other monsters for at least 20 years!

As you can see the ork host was massive, consisting of goblin wolf-riders, ork boar-riders, giants, trolls, at least a couple dozen monstrous warbeasts, and dragon or two.

The miniatures in the foreground until just passed the second hill are mine. As you can see, the lines are less dense than our opponent's.

This flank is anchored by some hobilars, a mixed unit of heavy infantry, some knights on the hill, a bombard (if you can see it), and a ribauldequinn. They held out for a little bit against the forces agains them, but failed morale checks really fouled up this flank in the end.




A view from the orc center.




A view from our center.


We held some cavalry in reserve beneath the table if you look closely. But by the time they were to be fielded it was already too late.




The archers hold against the goblin outriders. All across the line goblin wolve-riders or giant spider
riders screened the heavier elements of the ork advance.







The orks had problems of their own, however, their warbeasts (treated as Elephants) kept getting wounded by our arrow and warmachines. They would go berserk and plow into their own troops as seen here.

A small part of the enemy left flank collapsed as their troops ran away from their berserk warbeasts.


In the end though, our center collapsed. The crossbowmen and cannon on the hill were annihilated. The knights to the right faired little better, having been disorganized by a unit which fled straight through them.

I could not make the morale checks for my units to stand and fight. As one unit ran away, rules for cascading morale failure kicked in, causing even more to run away or become disorganized--easy prey for the orks to hunt down.




In retrospect, it would have helped if I had brought my Warhammer Empire Army. I'm sure my heavy cannon and hellblaster volley gun could have done some good!

I still need to finish painting up that steam tank...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What is "d20?"

What do you mean by the "d20" in the d20 Dark Ages?

It's a good question, since I'm saying that the Dark Ages began before Wizards of the Coast created/named the d20 system.

The d20 is just that. It applies to D&D and its d20 derivatives, clones, editions, and so on. It can, at times, include tabletop RPGs as a whole, since D&D is the flagship game of tabletop RPGs, at least through most of the almost 40 year history of RPGs.

What is a Dark Age?


"Desolation" by Thomas Cole, from "The Course of Empire"


The thread "Do we live in the d20 Dark Ages?" over at EN World got the Forum Thread Highlight for yesterday. Yes, its a microscopic blip of an achievement on the Internet, but I'm thankful for it anyway.

During the discussion on that thread, it dawned on me that my argument needs some definitions beyond the simple "Dark Ages" analogy and trends established back in this blog's first post.

So, what do I mean when I say "Dark Ages" or "Dark Age?"

In layman's terms: 
D&D/tabletop roleplaying gamers used to be more unified during the 1970s and 1980s ("The Golden Age") than they were in the 1990s, and today. D&D players have fragmented into different groups based on what version of D&D they play. As evidenced by the Edition Wars, interaction between these groups can be antagonistic. Beneath all of this is the desire to return to the "Golden Age," as evidenced by the OSR, certain modules, and Wizards of the Coast's attempt to unify D&D players with D&D 5th Edition.


Here's a more in-depth definition:

1. A Dark Age is a cultural perception, based in both the collective mind-set and memory of the tabletop role-playing game sub-culture. It can, at times, include sub-cultures other than those who play tabletop RPGs, because there is a lot of overlap, say between computer/console gamers and tabletop gamers. But both groups identify themselves as "gamers", even though they play games that are different and distinct from each other.

  • 1a) Often, an entity establishes the primary discourse for the sub-culture. In our case, this was TSR throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s. Now it is Wizards of the Coast, but they are rivaled by Paizo over the D&D discourse. The OSR has also been vocal
  • 1b) A Dark Age can include economic downturns or decline, usually by the entity establishing the primary discourse. For example, AD&D 2e is often synonymous with TSR's eventual buy out by Wizards of the Coast.
  • 1c) To avoid economic downturns or decline, the entity establishing the primary discourse will often produce further discourse which harkens back to the "Golden Age," trying to unify as much as possible, the different smaller cultures that arose out of the main sub-culture (see #2 below).

2. A Dark Age cultural perception begins when both the collective mind-set and memory of the sub-culture fragments further into different cultural groups. Each new group see themselves as part of the "correct" group, while "the other" groups are somehow "wrong." The primary discourse also breaks down.

3. A culture with a Dark Age perception will look back to a "Golden Age" and often will seek to replicate the achievements of that age, such as the common experiences that both help form or bring the culture to its zenith, before it "fell." The entity establishing the primary discourse while often take the lead in this endeavour, if it can (see 1c above).


These definitions will be update as further insights surface. I welcome you to join the discussion and contribute your viewpoint.




Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh no... Reviews of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Has anybody here seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yet?

I'm usually skeptical about movie reviewers, but I really don't want to sit through a movie filled with just one fight scene after the next, especially since the book only had like, what, two fight scenes?

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_hobbit_an_unexpected_journey/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-57559214/the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-reviews-are-in/

Apparently, the movie has some great set pieces, and stunning visuals. Unfortunately, as I guessed, in order to make the Hobbit into a trilogy he had to put in a lot of filler.

Please don't let this be like another Star Wars prequel. I don't want to relive that moment, while sitting in a theater watching the pod race in The Phantom Menace, when I searched my feelings and it dawned on me:

I'm bored. I'm bored during a Star Wars movie. No... No... It's not true. That's impossible!
NOOOOOOoooooo!!!!

All right, a bit melodramatic but I don't want my memories of the LotR movies marred by the Hobbit, like the Star Wars prequels did for episodes IV, V. and VI.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Satanic Panic of the 1980s


Rod Thompson over at Alesmiter linked this little gem: 12 Nutty Dungeons & Dragons Media from the 1980s, which is at mentalfloss.com. Thompson argues that we should ignore the "Mrs Grundys" of the world. In my experience, problems happen when they don't ignore you. 

The article snippets are both humorous and baffling (somebody actually said that)  I love the 60 Minutes report at the end. Man-oh-man did they play up the sensationalism, the teenage suicides, the nerdy D&D player talking about evil characters, Patricia Pulling fearing D&D's powers of behavior modification, Pulling's daughter crying at the end, Gygax making the Monopoly and chair analogies, and, oh yes, the eighties hair styles! Good stuff.

I missed out on the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Well, looking back, I wouldn't say I missed it. I don't know if my brother delt with panicky preachers or concerned mothers. I did, but that was well into the 1990s.

As for picture above, that comes from the Escapist. It's the front cover to an anti-D&D booklet put out by Pat Pulling herself. Read and weep, or laugh, or something, here:

http://www.theescapist.com/BADDbook.htm

In Retrospect-- Greyhawk: From the Ashes

I miss boxed sets.

They were like opening a box of goodies on Christmas day.

I can't say for sure, but I think Greyhawk: From the Ashes, by Carl Sargent, was the first ever D&D boxed set I bought.

Some Greyhawk diehards don't like From the Ashes. Greyhawk was just fine without the wars and upheavals.



I can't blame critics. In retrospect, Greyhawk was getting the short end of the stick, given the lackluster material TSR was publishing for it in the late 1980s. The Fate of Istus shoehorned Greyhawk into Second Edition if you played it as written. Grognardia called Greyhawk Ruins the "Worst. Module. Ever." I don't own it, so I can't say. Other modules like Child's Play and Puppets certainly weren't prize-winners. Greyhawk: From the Ashes for many Greyhawk fans must have been the straw the broke the camel's back. I disagree, I think both From the Ashes and the original World of Greyhawk boxed sets have merit. I like both of them.

Besides, back then I didn't know any better. All I knew was this: I finally had the whole map and descriptions of the World of Greyhawk. My bother let me have his books, but his 1983 World of the Greyhawk boxed set was off limits, include its wonderful map. Back when I first started running games, he did photocopy the Wild Coast and the Southern Keoland/Dreadwood region for me. This was sometime in 1989 or early 1990 if I recall. From the Ashes did come out until 1992.

Thus, the wait was over. I read through both the Altas and the Campaign Book at least twice,
devouring Greyhawk lore. An I introduce material from the Campaign Book as soon as I could.

The map on the right has seen a lot of use.  The player-characters in my campaign tromped all over that map from late middle-school into early college. They adventured from the Welkwood, throughout the Wild Coast, into the Mistmarsh, to the City of Greyhawk itself, and sought lost treasures in the Carn Hills and Abbor Alz. I used a lot of the material from the Campaign Book, supplemented with my own.

If you look closely, you can see I've drawn on the map. Since I was already running adventures before I had From the Ashes, I had to account for things had gone before.  I like the official Greyhawk material, but never let it dictate the direction of my campaign. I used the material, and there was a lot to chose from, to supplement my adventures, not the other way around.

I didn't, however, get much use out of the campaign sheets (pictured above on the left). I had planned on running some of the adventure cards, but in the end never used them. I didn't use the encounter tables much either.

Of course, the biggest treasure in From the Ashes is the reprint of the World of Greyhawk map by Darlene. No, it is not an exact reprint. The original showed the depths of the seas with variations of blue, and, of course didn't have "Lands of Iuz" stamped across the Fellreev Forest. Yet the reprint was good enough for me at the time.



From the Ashes was supposed to revitalize interest in Greyhawk. Yet there was always interest in Greyhawk. It just got overshadowed by the Forgotten Realms, or had to compete with other settings from the time. I just don't think TSR knew quite what to do with it after Gygax left the company. They wanted to focus on the Forgotten Realms, yet at the same time not alienate Greyhawk fans by throwing them a bone every once in a while.

We now know, of course, how the story ends. Greyhawk got the axe in 1994, which made From the Ashes even more precious to me at the time. Perhaps its needless to say, but I cheered when WotC brought Greyhawk back in the late 2000s.

But alas, they didn't bring back boxed sets...

----

What are you experiences with the From the Ashes boxed set? Do you think it suppassed the original boxed set? Or did its material mess up Greyhawk too much?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What More Do I Want?

So I posed the question: "Do we live in the d20 Dark Ages?" on EN World, half-expected to be poking a bear. So far, the responses have been good. Hussar had a great response. He argues that we're actually in the Golden Age of the hobby, "What more do you want?"

I was stumped for a bit

You can read my response on En World to get the context or below.

I guess these could be my mission statements.

----

What more do I want? 

Well, my answer is based on my experiences...

--For people to stop judging me based on whatever edition or version of D&D I decide to run as a DM, without regard to the fact that I do run great sessions and tell great stories. 

--Less emphasis on the rules, more emphasis on game play. Yes, RPG companies thrive on selling rules and supplements to players. Yet I've noticed over the years players spending more time looking at their characters sheets or consulting rulebooks rather than paying attention to what's going in the game. 

--More emphasis on the history and literature that inspired the hobby.

--To run my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign and play in a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign. 

--To introduce more people to the hobby using the above paradigms.

----

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Today is a Special Day

This morning I just finished the rough draft of my novel Anne Greyhawk and the Valkyrie's Vow. It's my first. I've been wanting to write a novel since I was seven. Now I've finally gone and done it.

Yes, I'm pretty happy about it, finally taking the discipline and completing it. Yet I feel like the Buddhist monk who was asked about the state of Enlightenment.

Person: "What did you do before you became Enlightened?"

Monk: "Hauled water, chopped wood."

Person: "What do you now, after you've become Enlightened?"

Monk: "Haul water, chop wood."

It's just another day and yet it isn't.

Today's also the anniversary of the conclusion to the War for the City of Peace campaign. It isn't a coincidence that I finally wrote a novel after my D&D campaign ended. It took up a lot of my time and creative energy. I was also finishing up my master's degree. And I know the discipline I learned doing that helped me finish this novel.

It's been awhile since I've felt this level of contentment. I'm going to enjoy it because, as Steven Pressfield in the War of Art tells us, Resistance will be there again in the morning.

Both the Anne Greyhawk and the Valkyrie's Vow and The War for the City of Peace campaign take place in my homebrew setting, Domikka, each in different parts of that world. I've been developing Domikka for over twenty years. Needless to say, I've been living with this for a long, long time.

My players have enjoyed it. Now, someday soon, I'll have readers who'll enjoy it too.

I'll keep posting updates here at the novel progresses. No doubt in the upcoming revisions I'll cut things and add some more.  But for now, as Stephen King taught me in his book On Writing, I resisted the urge to even peek at it while it printed off, and I've put it away where it will gather dust for at least a month.

----

Have you written the first draft of a book? How did you feel afterward?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Some Expeditions on the Internet

Today, while taking a breather during writing, I went blog surfing, and caught up on my reading list. There's a lot of neat stuff out there, but only have time for few, before I get back to work. 

Alex Campbell has been working on new projects over at Real Sketches. Check it out--especially the comic about Tesla. 

A Storybook World. Deirdra Eden Coppel brings to you interviews with authors like Paul Anthony Shortt (Locked Within) and advice for authors, editors, publishers to "navigate this crazy literary universe." Coppel's blog has a very welcoming and wholesome feel. What caught my eye was the word counters on the right under "Book Projects." 

You can get these word counters at Svenja Liv. Svenja Liv is an artist whose done work for Obatron Productions, Sun Tzu Games, and Twin Trinity Media. You may have noticed that I've added them to the right. 

I thought I was all special when I completed my 52 miniatures this year. Well, I ain't got nothing on a guy from Canada named Tim. Over at Tim's Miniature Wargaming  you'll find that he's completed over  1100 this year. Yeah, and looks like he's got the pictures to prove it!

And, last but not least, Hack and Slash is an OSR blog with a lot of ideas and links for GMs out there. 
Great stuff. 

Also, I upgraded this blog to Google+.

(Edit: Which basically means that I get pop up message after I post that asks me if want to share the post on Google+, yay.)

Mini Monday: 52 Weeks, 52 Miniatures & HYW



I completed painting 52 miniatures this year, and then some!

Below are two units, 16 miniatures each, done up for Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. I completed them just in time for the Hundred Years' War game last Saturday. The figures are from Black Tree Design.



These knights are meant to be generic so that they can serve in nearly any army in Western Europe or even Italy during the Hundred Years' War period. I used the Army Painter method on them--primed them with Army Painter metallic color, painted everything, then dipped them in the Army Painter varnish. I do need to be careful about too much varnish getting on shields, however. 



Here's a unit of commoners/levy troops. Again, I used the Army Painter method. It really cuts down on the time involve because you don't used paint for shading, just the varnish. I don't plan on using this method for all of my miniatures. But if you just want functional miniatures it is the way to go. And they look good on the tabletop.



So, 37 miniatures + 16 + 16 = 69 miniatures done this year! (No snickering in the back). I need to paint up a Reaper Mousling for my girlfriend to make it 70. 

Speaking of looking good on the tabletop...

Last Saturday I ran an Ancient and Medieval Wargaming scenario at Treefort Games. We hadn't planned on recreating the Battle of Poitiers, but it just kinda happened that way. 




Here's the initial set up (above). French on the left, English in on the right. Notice the longbowmen and their stakes.


French footknights advance under bow fire. 



A force of French levies reach the English stake barrier, but not without losses. Even if they do defeat the archers, a force of English billmen is in reserve.




The French peasant horde on the march. The English hobilars eventually charged right into it, took some loses but dispersed the horde, and broke through to go behind French lines, like Captal de Buch did at Poitiers.



Meanwhile, on the other flank, the French continue their approach while their King hangs back. Note the half-strength unit of Genoese crossbowmen in the background. No, the French knights didn't ride them down. They suffered from longbow fire.



The End: The French cavalry got flanked by English foot knights, while the hobilars encircled them from behind.


Nearby King John II points to the Oriflamme, perhaps demanding his knights to retrieve it. In any case, we can safely say that the English captured the Oriflamme and took King John II for ransom.

It was fun game, the participants enjoyed themselves. I enjoyed watching and running it. We played the scenario mostly rules as written, since none of the players had played Neil Thomas's rules before. 

I like these rules because they are not overly complicated, and you can add additional rules to them with little problem. Someday I'd like to try them out for fantasy armies. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In Retrospect: Final Fantasy I

Can this game be any harder?

At least, I recall it being really hard. I first played it as a rental from the video store.

 Since there was no way for me to finish it in three days, I just played the saved game already on it. My brother who watched me play kept saying "This is just like D&D. This is just like D&D."

I thought it was a cool game. And if it was just like D&D, that made me want to play D&D even more! (I was still too young--for ages 10 and up the books said). So I got my dad to buy me the game. I must have been nine, almost the magic age of ten.

And man, Final Fantasy was difficult! For some reason, I failed to understand that you had to go around and kill monsters to level up before moving on to the next dungeon or area.

My characters were only 4th level when I reached the Cave of Marsh. By that time, I knew I had done something wrong. My characters kept dying, often before they even reached the cave. They'd get poisoned by the snakes or pummeled by the ogres. But I loved the story--four heroes meant to restore balance to the world by each gathering four elemental orbs. Yet the game was hard. 


I see why now. Being young, I just didn't have the patience to sit for hours leveling up my characters. There were other games, like Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man that were faster paced.

For a long time I only made it as far as the Earth Cave before moving on to greener pastures. In high school I finally sat down and tried playing it through in a determined effort. My characters made all the way to the last level, but always died before reaching Chaos, the final villain.

I know Final Fantasy influenced my gaming. I wanted player to explore the worlds I created and triumph over an evil mastermind bent on the world's destruction.

When I was nine, I had a dream where airships, commanded by some malevolent overlord, descended from the sky. The monsters aboard enslaved my fellow classmates and took them back to the Dark Master's castle and I had to free them, somehow. Airships have appeared in a handful of my campaigns since I started DMing. In the last campaign, the player characters managed to find one, and it helped turn the tide of a war.

Lately I've been feeling pretty nostalgic for Final Fantasy. Maybe its this blog. I keep remembering things. Video games were certainly a lot harder than they are now. I never did beat the game. Maybe I'll download an emulator if I have time and beat it. Or, if I'm feeling really plucky, find my old game cartridge and replace the lithium battery (as seen below, just skip past the plane landing bit).




What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy or similar RPG games like Dragon Warrior? Did they influence your D&D games?







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