Some Thoughts On Gaming Controversies.

With the release of the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edtition) there has been the usual flurry of reviews and comments ranging from “this is the best…evar!” to “this game sucks!” It is the latter opinion about suckage that I wish to address.

I have been playing role-playing games since around 1977. The first game I remember really getting into was traveler. Those three little black books from Game Designers Workshop hooked me for good.My friends and I spend many hours enjoying the universes that we created. We had marathon traveler sessions at by old apartment in what was then the student ghetto of North Tampa. Those were the days when we would literally play all weekend.For the record, at the age of 65, I don’t think I could do those marathon sessions again although I might give it a try.

I got into Dungeons and Dragons through some of the players in my traveler group. I was a bit leery at first of the whole fantasy thing until one of those friends pointed out that Dungeons & Dragons was actually derived from a set of medieval wargames rules called Chain Mail. I had been playing Chain Mail since the early 70s and really liked it. So I figured I’d give this Dungeons & Dragons a try and I’m glad I did.

What made the game so much fun for me were the people who were running. Bob Peterson and Olof Rydholm brought the settings to life. They made the adventures more than just a dungeon crawl. Our group did more than just kill other beings and take stuff. And this made all the difference in the world.

The lesson that I took away from those games was that a game master can make any experience either a good one or a bad one. Thank you gentlemen I am forever in your debt.

Now to bring this up to present times I would like to address some of the criticisms of the new dungeons and dragons game. The biggest one I’ve heard so far is the same one that I heard and have been hearing for a number of years now is that the rules are very heavily combat oriented. Well, in truth they are my response is so what? The rules may be heavily combat oriented and trust me as someone who has run and played and written for the twilight 2000 game I am certainly familiar with combat heavy games. Well here’s a surprise! They don’t have to be. As game master, you have the ability to make these games as combat intensive or not as you and your players see fit. It can be done I know it can I’ve seen it and done it myself.

A good example of this comes from the call of Cthulhu role-playing game. One of the biggest complaints that I have heard about the game is that if the player blows a die roll they can’t get a vital clue. They miss it. My answer to that is simple. As a game master or in CFC terms more master, if that clue is vital and important enough to the investigation then I am going to make damn sure the players get it. They may not know how to interpret it once they get it but they will have it. There are a number of ways to do this the most basic is to of course fudge the die roll all well you are really made it type thing okay fine you know they get the clue. The best way, in my opinion, is to set up a couple of different ways that they can get the clue/item/artifact whatever they need.

As for the whole games suck… well for me it’s very simple. If I don’t like the mechanics or I’m simply not interested in the subject matter then you know what, I don’t buy it. Now I will say that I do play in a lot of games that well let’s just say I’m not all that interested in them but I like the people running them so I will give the game a shot.

Bottom line… In my view, it’s the people involved in the game/campaign that are the most important. The rest is just window dressing.

Play games. Have fun!

 

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Back Again For the First Time

Yes its me and I’m back again. Only this time, there’s something new! I’m dictating this entry using Dragon naturally speaking 12.5 software. I speak into the mic and like magic my words appear. Wow!

This makes blogging much easier as I can sit here and pontificate to my hearts content without a lot of typing. I can think things out and deliver my carefully considered and no doubt valuable opinions or I can as they say “shoot from the lip” not that there’s that much difference between them anyway.

Anyway, I hope that I can at least be entertaining.

See you all later!

“When History Wore A Rose…” Welcome to the Kingdom of Ruritania!

1100 Ruritania King's or Reigning Queen's Standard

When history wore a rose and diplomacy moved at the speed of a waltz…

So begins the great classic 1937 swashbuckler movie The Prisoner of Zenda. Based on the 1894 novel of the same name by Anthony Hope (Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins) an English barrister turned writer. There were two other books in Hope’s Ruritanian trilogy Rupert of Hentzau and The Heart of Princess Osra. The Hentzau book was a direct sequel to Zenda with Princess Osra filling in some of the background. The first two books were set in the 1870’s while the last one was set in the 1730’s. Hope wrote many other works as well but none were as highly regarded as The Prisoner of Zenda or as famous.
There have been many versions and variations of this classic adventure story. One of my favorites is The Androids of Tara. This variant is an episode of Dr. Who with Tom Baker and the Doctor and the late Mary Tamm as his companion, Romana. But, without a doubt, my all time favorite is the 1937 movie version with an all star cast including David Niven, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Madelline Carrol, and Ronald Coleman. It is IMO, the best version as well.
There is another version as well. One that I am quite familiar with. My friend Mike McCartin has created an expanded version of Ruritania that is just incredible. I have had a part in creating this but most of the work and all of the graphics are his.

Myself (on the left) and Mike McCartin on the right in our Steampunk personas: The Markgraf von Ahrenheim and the Graf von Falke

Myself (on the left) and Mike McCartin on the right in our Steampunk personas: The Markgraf von Ahrenheim and the Graf von Falkenhorst

Mike began by locating Ruritania on the map of Europe. Many authors and game designers put it somewhere in the Balkans. Mike and I both disagree with this interpretation. From the literature, Ruritania is part of the German speaking culture of Europe which would tend to put it in central Europe. Besides, Hope has already a mythical Balkan state, Kravonia in his book Sophy of Kravonia. Since I haven’t read that particular work yet, I’m really not sure what that would entail. Mike also made the decision to make Ruritania what is called a mittelstadten much in the same vein as the real world countries of Saxony and Bavaria. The results look like this:Map Ruritania 0001 (1)
As you can see, Strelsau, the capital of Ruritania, is located pretty much where Hope put it in his book; between Dresden and Prague. The rest of the country is Mike’s creation except for the part in lower southwest corner marked AH. That is Ahrenheim and that is my part of the kingdom.

The coat of arms of the Von Ahrenheim family

The coat of arms of the Von Ahrenheim family

Ahrenheim means “Home of the Eagles”. It began life as my attempt to create my own mythical kingdom. Part of Ahrenheim’s history was that it was founded by the remnants of the Roman XXIIIrd Legion. They had the title of “Aquila Victrix” (Victorious Eagles). The capital of Ahrenheim is called Roemersburg which means “Town of the Romans” in German.

As I tried to develop it, I found that the task was a little more time than I wanted to put into it so I asked Mike if Ahrenheim could be a part of Ruritania and he graciously agreed. We decided that Ahrenheim had been a small semi-autonomous county of Bavaria but during the Thirty Years War had joined itself to Ruritania. My Ruritanian Steampunk persona is His Highness, Bernhard Heinrich, Markgraf von Ahrenheim, Baron Derhake von Grieffensburg. The cool part is that Bernhard Heinrich Derhake was the name of one of my German ancestors.

So my friends, on behalf of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Flavia, welcome to the Kingdom of Ruritania.

Coat of Arms of the Royal Ruritanian Society. The lady is a depiction of St. Osra, the Patron Saint of Ruritania.

Coat of Arms of the Royal Ruritanian Society. The lady is a depiction of St. Osra, the Patron Saint of Ruritania.

Recalling Cthulhu

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This year, 2013, marks my 65th year under heaven.It also marks the 50th Anniversary of my introduction to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The first story of his that I read was “The Colour Out of Space”. The second one was “The Call of Cthulhu”. After that there was no turning back. I was hooked.
Looking back, I think it was a sense of dread wonder that drew me into his works. A beautiful strangeness that at once both enthralled and scared me. I remember the first time that I saw an ocean. I was 19 and stationed at Fort Ord, California on the Monterrey Peninsula. Having grown up in the midwest, I had never seen an ocean of any kind before and now I was gazing upon the vast Pacific…one of the first things that crossed my mind was ‘No wonder Great Cthulhu sleeps here.”
There is a large streak of genteel nihilism that runs through Lovecraft’s works. He was a mechanistic rationalist that believed that the universe is not hostile towards humanity but rather it just doesn’t care.
A years tour of duty in Vietnam reinforced that.
Over the years, I have read other authors who’ve come to play in HPL’s dark theatre. Authors such as August Dereleth who injected a note of conventional theology into the Mythos. I might add that while I’ve read some of Dereleth’s non-Mythos fiction and enjoyed it, I really do wish he had not tried to turn the Mythos in some sort of “War In Heaven.”
Other authors, however, did the Mythos proud. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Threshold” evoked for me that same sense of wonder. The same goes for Thomas Ligotti’s “Medusa”. There are many more.
And then there is the game…Call of Cthulhu…the first real Horror RPG that came on the market. It was first published in 1981. I bought a first edition and about every other edition afterwards. I’m now up to Sixth Edition and Hastur only knows how many other associated works.
One of those associated works is “Delta Green” by the good folks at Pagan Publishing. This is the best modern day evocation of the Cthulhu Mythos I have ever read. It takes every modern conspiracy and gives it new form. The associated is very good as well. It is a great combination of game and literature.
Five decades…wow…long time passing as it were…still…it seems like just yesterday…perhaps, given the nature of Yog-Sothoth and it’s effect on time…it was.

Stirring Up The Dust!

Whoa…it’s been a while since I’ve been here. The corridors are dusty and the rooms have that “shut in” smell. Still, it is a nice place even if I’ve been neglecting it a bit. It’s time to open the windows and let some fresh air in.
One of my goals for 2013 is to try and get some writing done. I have the time and the resources to do so. I’ve been told that my ideas and such are really good…so what’s stopping me?
Hopefully, I will find that answer and let loose my inner story teller.
Time to stir up the dust….

The Eagle Has Landed…Steampunk Style!

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It is the Spring of 1904. Tired of what it sees as “insufferable American arrogance”, the Prussian Empire has decided to go to war against the US. In order to demonstrate their technological superiority, the Prussians  are planning a daring strike with the goal of kidnapping President Theodore Roosevelt! They will transport a crack team of Luftsturmkommandoes (Air Assault Troops) in their new, top secret weapon…the Kampfzeppelin to make the strike. The unit will be led by Major Erich Luddendorf and Lieutenant Wilhelm “Willy” Rohr.  The goal is not only to kidnap the President of the United States but to also show that America and other Western Nations are no match for Prussian technical superiority and fighting ability.

The above scenario actually combines three of my favorite things. Miniatures gaming, war movies, and Steampunk. The two movies that inspired me in this venture were “The Eagle Has Landed” and “Zeppelin”. I will more than likely be using Pinnacle Entertainments, “Savage Worlds: Showdown” for the rules. It should be a fun ride.

I hope to have it ready in a few months. I’ll keep everyone posted on the progress.

The Door Into Mars!

When I first heard of the passing of Ray Bradbury, I stopped and reflected for a moment on his works and what they meant to me. Of all of his writings, my favorite was The Martian Chronicles. There was an eerie beauty to this series of stories. It was a world of vast silences and ancient wonders. It featured both the mundane and the sublime in equal portions that drew me back into it again and again. Ray Bradbury’s version of Mars was a place that I wanted to visit again and again.

When I  got into role playing games back in 1977, one of the first games I bought was the original Traveller from Game Designers Workshop. Those three little black books provided countless hours of entertainment for my friends and I. One of the worlds that I created was called Barsoom and it’s starport was Port Bradbury. It was my version of Mars and a small tribute to two writers, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had helped chart the landscape of my dreams.

In 1989, Game Designers Workshop, brought out what I regard as the best Victorian Science Fiction RPG ever, Space 1889.  This was in many respects the Mars of Ray Bradbury. A strange, exotic world of ancient ruins and even more ancient silence. But more than that, it had Martians and their civilizations. This was and still is a heady mix of Rudyard Kipling meets HG Wells but with a healthy underpinning of Ray Bradbury and his magic thrown into the mix.

Thank you, Ray Bradbury for opening that wonderful, magical door for the rest of us to step through.