Saturday, June 7, 2014

An Essay On Imagination and Inspiration On A Wet Saturday Morning (1)

"Quick, Henry! The Flit!"
(You can do a Google search to get the joke - such are the Wonders Of The Internet!)
It's raining, today, and so I am restricted to indoor activities for the nonce. The game table for next Saturday's game session is now done, and I am very pleased with both it and the fact that I no longer have to get up at absurdly early times in the mornings to get ready for games. The new table is working perfectly, and it's a real treat to build the games with it.

I will not be posting any photos of the completed Underworld until after the next game session; my players are all very clever and very inventive, and I would expect that they will print out any such photos to use as plans for their explorations. As I'm planning on using hidden movement, I'll keep things a secret until next Saturday afternoon.

I finally settled on just making a set of standard-sized wooden block to make the walls of the Underworld; I ripped these out of scrap with the table saw, and they worked just fine. (I should note that I approach my handy little Ryobi 10" table saw with great respect and caution, not to say stark terror, which is why I still have all my fingers - one should take NO chances with power tools; no short-cuts, no leaving the blade guards off, no nothing.) Pictures will be forthcoming, of course.

Several regular readers have asked me to talk about how I do things; some of the detailed thoughts on actual build tricks and tips will be the subject of my next podcast, as the video medium simply works better for such things, but I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what inspires me and my imagination.

I should admit, here at the start, that I don't consider myself to be a 'real gamer'; I think of myself as a model-builder who happens to run games with his models, and this has been the case for some fifty years - I first started 'gaming' battles with Lines Brothers toy soldiers that my dad got me when I was an impressionable seven years old, and which were supposed to be 'accessories' for my model railroad layout. Things evolved in a different direction, and while I still love my model railway - I model the Great Western Railway, the 'GWR', in 'OO'; you can smell the testosterone a mile away - I build mostly models for my games these days.

I come out of a very old tradition of 'play value' in 'game play'. It's very hard to define what makes this so, but there's a website that I can offer that shows this tradition in a particularly splendid form:

This kind of semi-miniatures, semi-roleplaying is what I grew up with, and it is still what I do today. There's elements of history, whimsy, charm. and expert model building all rolled into the mayhem on the game table. This is the same approach that led Dave Wesley to run the very first 'Braunstein':

One of the reasons why The Missus likes to take me shopping, when she can, is that she loves to watch my brain work; we'll be in IKEA or our favorite surplus place - Ax-man Surplus, several Twin Cities locations - and I'll suddenly start laughing. I'll have found something that I can use in a model or in a game, and my imagination takes over. Surplus chess pieces from an ancient Egyptian-themed chess set, cheap faux-Mayan bookends and even cheaper onyx ashtrays from the same tourist-trap gift shops on the Costa Maya, buildings and plants from the pet store's aquarium section - don't forget to look in the reptile and hermit crab sections, either! - as well as bedding for iguanas, bags of sand from the DIY big-box store; the list just goes on and on.

I was very lucky, when I was growing up; I had relatives who gave their bookworm nephew a huge box of fifties fantasy and science-fiction paperbacks, and my reading material was all of the great authors of the Golden Age of the pulps. Asimoz, Kuttner, Heinlein, Moore, Blish, and so on; these were the names to conjure with. Later, as I cast my nets wider, Kornbluth, Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, and so many, many more were all added to my bookshelf. I knew Gordy Dickson, Keith Laumer, Cliff Simak, Poul Anderson, and a great many more besides.

And then I met a professor of linguistics who wanted me to paint figures for him, because I was fast, I was good, and I was honest - he'd had issues with people 'borrowing' figures from him. I met a couple of guys who did a little game called "Don't Give Up The Ship", and who later did a little something that I think you might have heard of. They'd all bounce ideas off the game table, and I'd say, "well, ya know, we could have a model of that..." and we'd be off and running.

I don't pretend to be an 'original thinker'. I 'd get a sketch from somebody, and make it become real in a little model that we'd play with on the table; they would come up with the idea, and I'd make the magic happen for them and everyone else. That's what I enjoy doing, and what I'm still doing, after all these years.

Once upon a time, somebody passed one of my miniatures up the table to the Professor on a Thursday night; Phil looked at the little warrior with his magnifying glass, sighed happily, and said "Chirine makes the most clever little miniatures."

Thank you, Phil; I hope I still amuse you, when you drop in for a look from wherever you are, and thank you all, my patient readers, for taking time out from your lives to come along with me on this epic journey of discovery that I am embarked on. Welcome aboard; have a seat, and enjoy the ride...


  1. Thanks for this. Really looking forward to this "series". I've long been known to visit pet shops for their unofficial modelling widgets, but I'd never thought of Ikea before you mentioned them a while ago.

    1. I got to thinking about how I could answer your questions, and I realized that it was going to better and more informative to do it in some podcasts, so you could see what I was going on and on and on about...

      - chirine