Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The folks over at the new version of TSR have a blog, "Multiverse", where they talk about all sorts of things related to games and gaming - comics, and movies, too.

They have kind of a regular feature called "What's On Your Shelf?", and having heard about what's in our basement, made some noises about doing an article on the game room and lounge. I dug out some photos for them, shot some more, and this neat little article is the result:

Regular readers will have seen the game room being rebuilt into it's current form, but I'd thought I'd share... :)

And have a look at Multiverse, too! They have all sorts of fun stuff going on.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Weekly Update (3) - Sunday, March 18th, 2018 - Two Polycoms, No Waiting...

The one...

and the other...

So, I can hear you ask, "What's with all the technology?"

"It's remote access gaming," sez I in my best Peter Gunn pirate voice.

Back in my career as a audio-video technician, I built a lot of conference rooms for businesses, and got pretty good at it. So, The Missus thought, why not use our connections in the surplus market to get some of this technology, and use it to make our game room more accessible to people. So, we have.

The idea, at this point, is that if you and your game group want to visit our house and our game room you'd have to get to Minneapolis. Our thought is to take our house to you - electronically, of course. What's been our concern is the relatively poor technical quality of the audio and video that we've seen on the Internet, and we've been working on how to improve on that.

One aspect of this has been the new computer for the game room; it has it's own camera, but we're going to be interfacing our multi-camera system to it as well as our own audio feed; we're looking at providing the best possible feeds that we can. You'll be able to look at the game room on your computer, as well as look at the game session later on youTube after we upload the video - providing, of course, that everyone who's on the screen agrees; if you are having a bad hair day, we'll keep the recording in the archives.

What the Polycoms give us is much better and more reliable audio quality on your side of the connection; We have two of these units, and all they need from you is a wall plug and an analog phone line. We can also go through a cell phone, too. The idea is that you fire up the phone, after we send it to you, call up the game room, and we're off with up to ten or fifteen people at your game table. After the session, you put the phone back in the box, and end it back to us. (Shipping prepaid, most likely; we're working out the details.)

And with the possibility of adding in more lines for conference calls, you can see why we're so excited by all of this.

Surplus is a wonderful thing... :)

The Weekly Update (2) - Sunday, March 18th, 2018 - A Tale Of Two Cameras...

From this...

To this...

A very big part of the changes about to engulf us is the way we communicate with people. Back in the day, you either were published in the magazines or out at conventions; these days, we have the Internet will all sorts of amazing possibilities. We had one of these amazing possibilities come up on Thursday evening, and we jumped on it. Hard. Very hard.

Long-time followers of this blog will remember when we got the little pocket video camera, the 'Bloggie', and how we did some podcasts with it which are up on our YouTube channel. The 'Bloggie' is a nice little camera, but it does have some very real limitations when it comes to the kind of 'field production' that we'd like to be doing. The new Sony digital camera puts our production capacity right back where we're used to having it; we're breaking down our inventory of video production gear into the component parts, and recombining it all into two broad areas: field production, where we can shoot both 'A-roll' and 'B-roll' footage for later editing and uploading to our YouTube channel, and studio production, which will be a switched three-camera shoot from the game room.

I'll be you were kind of wondering what this had to do with gaming, didn't you? :)

Back when we were shooting the YouTube videos, we felt more then a little limited by the hardware involved; I could not cut to close-ups of the miniatures I was talking about, for example. Audio quality also wasn't all that great, and certainly not up to the standards that I would have expected from somebody with our level of production experience. We're going to divide up the microphones we have amongst the studio and the field kit, and we think that this will really add some 'production value' to what we want to do.

A by-product of all this is that we also have enough spare cameras, switcher capacity, and microphones to also wire up the workbench itself as well as the workshop proper so that we can bring you 'how to' videos sharing with you how I do things - you can learn from my disasters, The Missus says.

The digital still camera fleet is also being reorganized, with a primary and a secondary camera being set up for both archival and game documentation work. It's been amazing to see how much gear we've accumulated through our surplus market connections over the past year, and it's time to get it all sorted out and packed for use. And, because this is our house, we can leave everything set up and functional between shoots - no time and energy lost in set-up and tear-down, which will be a big help to us.

So, I have a lot of work to do, this year, but it's all starting to happen this weekend. We're off!!! :)

The Weekly Update (1) - Sunday, March 18th, 2018 - First, A Little Housekeeping...

Fifth Daughter, in her native habitat

This is the first part of what may be a longish set, bringing everyone up to speed with developments here at The Workbench; please bear with us, as there's a lot going on...

Fifth Daughter will be moving ou of the house in a couple of weeks, to move in with her fiance in their new townhouse. This will mean that for the first time in over a decade, The Missus and I will be 'empty nesters', with the house entirely our own. This will being some really major changes to our lives, as we move all of our boxes of stuff back into what used to be 'the spare room' and getting more then half of our house's square footage back. We're in for a month's worth of very intensive work, but once it's done it's done; I spent most of the past two days digging out and de-icing the garage door, so I could bring all of Fifth Daughter's boxes in, but this is now done. I can access the sheds, too, and with the arrival of the warmer weather hereabouts I can get cracking on projects and repairs that have had to go into hibernation, over our cold and snowy winter.

The move will also drastically lower our household expenses, as we'll no longer have to provide a lot of services at our expense. We'll also see a drastic lowering of our stress levels, as the 'constant pandemonium' of having a resident college student will no longer apply. We'll have a lot more time, energy, and resources to put into things, and The Missus and I are looking forward to our new lives. Coupled with Der Bug's reliability and my new job, we're going to be in really good shape, going forward from here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Look Back At An Old Post, This Morning...

From the blog "Chirine's Workbench", March 16th-17th, 2012:


 This is going to be a very personal post, told from a very personal point of view, and with some very personal feelings.

 This post wasn't originally going to be what you're about to read; I had wanted to talk about going out to see "John Carter". I had a day off, the first one in several months, and I wanted to take my very own Dejah Thoris out for a day's excursion. As Prof. Barker's archivist, I especially wanted to see this movie because I'd just found his childhood copy of "A Princess of Mars", and I thought it would be fun to see a movie that Phil would (I thought) enjoy; he'd loved the various "Conan" movies, as he'd read the Howard stories as they'd come out, back in the day when I taken him out to see them, and he was like a kid again watching them.

 I didn't get to see the movie.

 Instead, I buried an old friend.

 I got the call from the house at 11:15 this morning, and I'm just now back home at about 00:15 local time. Phil had been in slowly declining health over the past six months, and he'd taken a very marked turn for the worse over the past 36 hours. He passed away about 10:30 this morning, and the news passed like the flames of a chain of signal beacons along a Sakbe road.

 In Islam, the departed are to be buried within twenty-four hours; they have gone on their final journey and it is the responsibility of the family, the friends, and the faithful to take care of what Allah the Most Merciful and Compassionate has left behind.

 We did. We prepared the empty husk of the brilliant, eccentric, funny, cranky, and unique man I knew for so many years, and then we carried him down his stairs in his home for the last time. Like so many Praetorians, we did what we'd promised we did for him so many years ago; we took care of him, and we took care of Ambereen.

 I rode with him for the last time on the way to the mosque, and when I was asked by the brothers who were to prepare him for the prayers of the faithful why I was there, all I could respond with was something that Phil had said about me to some of his players back when I was twenty-five and he had come with Ambereen to my birthday party: "This is the son I never had."

 I stayed with him for the last time as they washed and anointed him, and I was asked about this man who had departed from us. I told them of his gifts as a linguist and as a scholar, of his writing, and of his life. I told them of his conversion to Islam, and his abiding faith. I told him of how he'd taught so many of us so many things, and I told them of his astonishing creation of an entire world.

 I stayed with him while he was given the robes he would wear for his final trip in this world, and I stayed with him while the faithful offered their prayers for him. Together, we took him to the cemetery, and we returned him to the earth that he had sprung from. We took Ambereen home, and stayed with her telling stories of our times with him; there will be, I am told, an official memorial in the near future. Tonight was, though, just for us.

 We'll be back there tomorrow, as the family members fly in from all points, and we'll do what we can to help. That's what we came to do, all those years ago, and what we'll do for him and for Ambereen in the future; be there for them, and to serve the Petal Throne.

 And now, if it's all right, I'll be off to try and get some sleep. I'll have more later, when I have the chance.

 Thank you all, once again...

yours, chirine

[Edit. I thought it had been five years, I guess it's been six. It's always been a difficult day for me, ever since, and I hope you'll excuse me for the confusion. Thanks. - the Management]

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Has It Really Been Ten Years? Seems Like Just Yesterday...

It's been brought home to me today - yet again - that we here at The Workbench seem to measure time in different ways then most people do. It seems like just yesterday that I first heard this news, and it's still fresh in my memory.

Gary was always unfailingly kind, polite, and respectful to me, despite knowing full well that I worked for Dave Arneson and M. A. R. Barker. We'd bump into each other at Gen Cons and TSR stockholders' meetings, and he'd always have something nice to say to me; I got to play in his Greyhawk, after the latter, and at one of the former - the first Gen Con at the University of Wisconsin Parkside - he walked up to me and said "You do the miniatures for Prof. Barker, right? Then this is from me to you." And then he handed me this:

I have a lot of artifacts in my game room from across the decades, but this gift from Gary is one of the most special things in my archives, simply because from whom it came and the spirit in which it was given. I carried this case, full of the miniatures you've seen on this blog in previous posts, out to Phil's Tekumel game sessions for the next decade.

Three years ago, it carried the same miniatures out to Gary Con for my Tekumel RPG session. After I put the figures out on the table, I took the case upstairs to the Gary Con charity auction. If you looked under the foam - which is still in great shape, after four decades! - you'd find some signatures. Gary's kids Luke, Ernie, their three sisters, and his grandson Alex were all kind enough to sign the inner side of the case. The case will stay in the archives, doing what Gary gave it to me to do - carry figures to my games - and then it'll go to my grandkids. (If they don't want it, it'll go to his kids.)

We miss you, Gary. Have a good time looking over everyone's shoulders, this coming weekend.

Kyrie eleison...

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Packages And Load-ins - The Weekly Update - Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Just arrived today! Hurrah!

I'm happy to report that my envelope from Wizkids arrived in today's mail, and that the "Adventurers' Campsite" set is now complete. The two horses will go to the new 'Blackmoor' miniatures tray, and the various accessories to the little sorting boxes - formerly fishing tackle boxes, I think - that I use for stuff like this. Organization is key when using 'props' / 'set dressing' like this in games; one should be able to get the stuff out and on the table quickly, so as not to slow down the flow of the game play.

As you can probably see from the various photos I've taken of my games that are here and on my Photobucket page, I love 'clutter' like this for games. It always seems more satisfying for players to be able to say "I duck behind the barrels!" and I find the setting-up and setting-out to surprise the players to be just as satisfying. It's a particular play-style, I freely admit, and not for everyone or to everyone's taste in gaming. So, I'm very happy to have this set - it's like getting a package from John McEwan, back in the day, who made a huge range of stuff like this that we all used in out games.

The "Ezmerelda's Wagon" did kind of stump me for a little bit, as it doesn't look all that much like a historical wagon - what with The Missus being such a horse fan, we have a lot of books on horse-drawn vehicles, so off I went to do a little research in the stacks and on the Internet. Luckily for me, I have a nice selection of books and brochures from various British museums on living wagons, like the vardo, living van, and the showmen's wagon, so I have a lot of good references from which to work up a decent paint scheme. I can't tow it around with a steam traction engine in 'Blackmoor', but I'll see about a draft horse or two - the two horses in the set are riding horses, and would not have been used as the motive power for the wagon. (And yes, I do have several nice traction engines on the model railway.) I also picked up the titling cart and a pair of oxen, so one of those can pull this wagon and the other the cart.

(I was also led to the D&D module that the wagon was originally introduced in, "The Curse of Strahd". I read through that, in search of model information, and didn't particularly like it for several reasons. As I seem to have cause a bit of a ruckus on Google+ with my earlier observations, I'll save my thoughts on the subject for another time.)

Two other projects got done today; I was asked for some photos of the game room for a possible magazine article, and I had to bring a 52" LCD screen in from The Bug. It measures 49" across, and The Bug had 52" of width, so it just fit. This is another surplus buy, and I'm hoping to use it as a table-top display for games. The Missus is a whiz at electronic stuff - she updated the OS on this computer, Friday - and has suggested doing digital maps like the one she adapted from Phil's huge map of the Jakallan Underworld. This 52" is heavy, but very 'over-built' for what I want. It'll also act as a back-up to the 52" plasma screen in the game lounge, like the Sony 42" LCD does for the plasma screen in the game room. Wiring up the video systems has started, and we're off on a wonderful new phase in our gaming.

Oh, and I got the laundry done, too.

Tomorrow, it's groceries and painting miniatures! Hooray!!!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due, or, It's Not All Doom And Gloom Around Here...

As the title says, it's not all doom and gloom in these parts. As mentioned, Con of the North came around a while back, and my brother and my nephew stopped by for dinner. There's a game shop next door to our favorite food place, and The Missus got the giggles after seeing this set on the shelf.

It was kind of point of honor between Phil and I, back in the day, that if we ran into it in our games we'd have it on the table for the gamers to boggle over. A lot of what could be described as 'accessories' got made, and I still like to have these sorts of things around for games - if only for the comic possibilities, like the time the Glorious General ran through a campfire yelling his head off; everybody thought he was being particularly heroic, but he said it was to get the vicious biting ants out of his kilt.


So I got this set, along with a figure for the new Rogue in our 5e campaign, and I was pretty delighted to be able to have this for players to marvel at. I did run into an issue, though; the box printing was in error, with the contents list for the painted version of the set instead of this unpainted version. I contacted Wizkids about this, and they directed me to their product support site, as they were aware of the problem with the discrepancy of the contents. I was very pleasantly informed that they were standing behind their product, and they had sets of miniatures to make up the differences in the sets all ready to go and one such set is now on the way to me.

I am very, very happy to be dealing with a company that owns up to mistakes and supports their products. That's good business, and I support that. The figures are good, they come already in primer, and they paint up well. I got some more of their line this past week, as I believe in supporting a company that does business this way.

So, lots of fun here, and I'll have photos after I get some paint on these...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Third Option - The Weekly Update - February 25th, 2018


One of the people commenting on the recent posts I've been making had a very, very good comment tonight that really does a much better job of articulating what's been going on in my life - both real world and gaming world - for the past few years, and I'd like to share it with you; it's also in the comments section of the post on Watching The World Go By:

From Scott Anderson:

+Chirine ba Kal What it matters is people are demanding that other people play differently;

-to include some hypothetical group of people who don't actually exist in the form these agitators imagine

-without examining how you or I actually play now
-presuming we are bad because of our age, sex, and other demographics
-and attempting to change the hobby to exclude the people they imagine us to be in favor of the imaginary people they wish existed.

On each of these points, I am deeply offended, and especially so on the very first: how dare anyone not at my table tell me how to play?

You may believe you are inoculated against these attacks, but you aren't. At some point you will have to make a choice between standing by the principle of true inclusiveness, which you exhibit, and playing the game this Inquisition demands. And speaking from experience, that's a game you cannot win.

It's good that for most of us, this is hypothetical; no one is able to force their game on us. But it's deeply offensive that they would try it, and that WotC would actively participate and applaud.

These are points that I agree with; I try very hard not to judge people by any preconceived notions I might have, and I would have expected to get the same consideration in return. I've had all too many incidents over the decades where I have not, and it's finally come to a head.

I am very fully aware that I am not inoculated against attacks from people; this is the age of the Internet, after all. I do think that, over the past year, I have made my choice about what I want to do in my gaming and in my 'public appearances', both in person and on line; I choose to stay with my principles and my beliefs, and if that bothers people, then so be it.

I've had the Inquisition in a few times, and we've beaten them off; we'll still be doing that. Would-be 'Game Police' should be warned that while The Missus and I try not to start 'em, we do tend to finish 'em; I've outlived a lot of my detractors, and I expect to outlive a few more.

I'm also choosing to exercise the third option open to me. "No gaming is better then bad gaming", as my old friend Mike Mornard likes to say,  so from this point on I will not be doing any gaming that I do not find personally enjoyable. This is both for the games I play and run, and for the various places that I go on the Internet. I am continually surprised by the people who insist that I have to game the way that they want me to, say the things they want me to say, and do the things that they want me to do for them.

So, while I've done an awful lot of things for an awful lot of people for free over the years, that's over and done with. I choose to put our resources into what The Missus and I enjoy and like, and if people want to come along for the fun, they are certainly welcome to. I have my writing and my model-building, and she has her writing and her crafts; we'll be happy to share, as long as people are interested and remember to say 'thank you' once in a while.

I'll continue the RPGsite thread for as long as people want to ask me questions, and when interest dies off we'll say goodbye with no regrets. This blog and my musings will continue, as I start a new and wonderful chapter in my gaming story with everyone having remote access to my game table. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope to have it all up and running soon.

Thank you all again, and I'll look forward to meeting all of you electronically...

A Pause For The Weather...

The view out the front door...

The flock, in winter

Things are going slowly today; I had another eight inches of snow to deal with, as well as the usual weekend housework. The Bug is off the street - we get plowed tonight - and I have to move it back at 0800 tomorrow morning.

I hope to be back later on today; we shall have to see. In the meantime, thank you all once again for your comments - I find them fascinating!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Ahhh, What's 'thaco'? - Some Notes, For Reference...

First off, tonight, thank you all for your comments! I've been working an odd combination of shifts as well as dealing with our local back-to-back snowstorms - four inches Friday, possibly four to eight inches today - so I suspect I'll be back with more sentient comments and replies tomorrow and then we'll get back to the usual course of things hereabouts.

I'm still thinking about getting into the comments and observations my recent 'open letter' has elicited. I'm seeing an issue - not with the commentators, but with me - that I may not have the vocabulary or gaming experience to be able to offer any useful observations on the larger world of the modern gaming hobby.

This introspection was brought on by one commentator who observed that they felt my having played "something called Blackmoor, something called Greyhawk, and something called Tekumel" was a form of boasting. Perhaps; I meant it as a statement of fact. I have never played any of the various editions of D&D that have been around, from the 'white box' set on. When I played with The Dynamic Duo, there weren't copies of The Rules at the game table; they ran whatever they were doing off the top of their heads, and if they ever looked at The Rules it was very unusual. They 'winged it', and our assumption as players was that the GM ran the game, and we provided the adventure. (And a lot of low comedy, usually.) I have not played Gamma World, Traveller, GURPS, or any of the other games that the folks commenting have mentioned. I've been playing the same few published games (Chainmail and EPT, are examples) for decades, a) because they work just fine for me and my players, and b) I play world-settings, not rules systems. (Braunsteins, on the other hand, I learned by oral tradition from The Tribal Elders.)

When I say "something called Blackmoor, something called Greyhawk, and something called Tekumel" I am using Dave Arneson's own phrase:

Me: "Dave, what are we playing?"
Dave: "Something I came up with called Blackmoor."
Me: "Oh. Okay."

Remember the player at that Gen Con who showed up with every book from every edition of D&D?

Player: "So, Mr. Arneson, what edition are we using?"
Dave, proffering a hand to shake: "Hi! I'm Dave Arneson, nice to meet you!"

Yes, I do understand the importance of game mechanics - I've written a few, over the years - but I don't worry too much about them as I play as can be seen in my YouTube videos. So, I am not sure that I have much to add to the quite fascinating discussion that's taken place, or if any observations by Yours Truly would be of any help.

And I do love a good discussion. Over on the RPG forum that I'm still on, I've been lucky enough to have the site owners and the members let me have a 'corner booth' for an on-going dialog:


These are basically me be ing propped up in a corner, and answering all of the questions people put to me. Part One went to 600 pages, 5,999 posts, and 254,857 views; Part Two is currently at 235 pages, 2,344 posts, and 79,354 views. (The thread had to be cut into two sections, as it was slowing down the web site's server.) I am, quite genuinely, utterly astonished that the discussion has been going on now for over a year. I have no real idea why; I just hope that I'm not boring people to tears with my ruminations.

I also don't have the same kind of game-play experience that most people these days seem to. I don't like 'one-off' games that come and go in the blink of a convention or game day, and I prefer long-term campaign gaming where the GM gets the chance to develop his world-setting and we players get to develop our characters in that setting. We never paid much attention to 'experience points', as we played with some very tough and very clever GMs who rated us on simple survival more then anything else.

So, again, I don;t know if I'll wade into the discussion; we'll see, tomorrow.

In the meantime, it's back to the paintbrushes and the snow shovel...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Watching The World Go By; Thoughts And Observations

My miniature alter ego and his deck chair, circa 1978

A couple of regular readers have asked what prompted yesterday's 'Open Letter'; It's the result of the proverbial 'straw that broke the camel's back', after some years - decades, really - of getting grief for what I believe in and what I've done over time. As a certain sailor that I grew up with used to say, "I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!"

I've been watching the discussion that's been going on, over on Google+, and I'd like to suggest that anyone interested in gaming scroll through the comments to the one from Chgowiz about not really looking at blogs any more; I agree with him, but what I really want people to read - and absorb! - is his philosophy of gaming. It's the very best description of what people did back in the dawn of the hobby, and what I treasure in gaming.

So, 'on getting grief from people', and why I'm such a cranky old codger; let's look at a few of the straws that the poor old camel has accumulated, over the years...

Back before I married The Missus, I had a girlfriend. We had a pretty good relationship, but one of the biggest reasons why it foundered was the very negative reaction to our skin colors. We were what used to be called a 'salt-and-pepper couple', and quite a few of the people we met in the course of our lives had quite negative things to say about the two of us because of that. Later on, quite a few people - some of the same ones, too - objected to The Missus, as they felt she wasn't a suitable match for Yours Truly. (We've been together now for some thirty years.) So much for the vaunted 'Minnesota Nice'.

Regular readers will recall that I have five daughters, all of whom were adopted and each under their individual terms and conditions; we chose to be a family, and my kids are from all across every possible range of every possible spectrum. The Missus and I accepted them for who they are, not what they are, and we got a lot of grief from people we knew for doing so. My least favorite quote from a now-former friend: "Why do you spend so much time with them? They aren't your real kids, you know!"

I use miniatures in RPG games. This is, I gather, some sort of Dire Heresy. And, to make it worse, I still play the games that I played back in the day, and don't play the hottest newest thing in the business. I am, I am told, Not A Serious Gamer both for this and for using plastic figures in games that are Not Serious Games Played By Serious Gamers As Part Of A Serious Game Group.

I'm told that I oppress gays in my games, and that Prof. Barker oppressed gays in his games because he was a devout Muslim. This is news to both myself and many of Phil's gamers, as we never saw anything of the sort. I did go back and check the notes, transcripts, and audio tapes of both his and my game sessions, and I can't find anything of the sort.

I'm told that I oppress pagans, by making them game with evangelical Christians. Again, this is news to me; I don't ask what beliefs people hold when they game with me.

I'm told that I hate women and that I repress them. Back when I ran a production crew, I hired the best people I could find. It turned out that over half of them were women, and they were some of the very best technicians I ever worked with. I got a lot of grief from (male) people for doing this, which still baffles me.

I'm told that my blog is "A detriment to our business interests", and that "You need to be silenced"; one OSR publisher who told me that did so in an e-mail, following it up with a bribe; if I would submit any blog or forum posts to them for them to edit, they'd gave me trips to Gary Con and North Texas RPG Con. I declined to submit to their censorship, as I prefer to stay independent; if you look at my reviews of stuff, you'll note that I pay for what I get - no freebies. I am beholden to nobody, and I like it that way.

When I started doing this blog, years ago, all I intended was having a small corner of the Internet where I could tell you about the fun we had out at Phil's, and show you my miniatures. That's what it will continue to be, and if you can take away anything to use in your games from it, then I am happy. If you don't, that's just as fine with me, and I hope that you have fun with whatever games you play.

I haven't been enjoying the 5th Edition game I've been in until recently, when I got do have some of my kind of fun by doing miniature figures for all my fellow PCs. I really enjoyed their reactions; it made getting reamed a new one by a 5e Expert for dragging the party down by not being an expert in the rules of having a laptop / tablet / smart phone with the right apps on it for managing my own PC and being told that I should not be playing in the game because of this. "Okay," I said, "If I'm ruining the game for you, I'm out." I handed my character sheet to the GM, and that - I thought - was that. Later, the GM apologized, and the group asked me back; I thought that pretty decent of them, and so I'm enjoying some fun with some new friends.

And that, for me, is what gaming is all about. And what this blog with continue to be all about, if I have anything to say about it.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy this little effort.

An Open Letter To Mike Mearls at Wizards of the Coast...

Dear Mr. Mearls:

I am writing in response to a number of Twitter posts I've seen go by on the Internet from you, and in response to the whooping and hollering on the Internet that seems to have resulted from them.

I doubt that you know me, or know of this little blog. By way of an introduction, until very recently I'd never played any of your firm's products - "Dungeons and Dragons", to be specific. My role-playing experience, over the last forty years, was something called 'Blackmoor' with Dave Arneson, something called 'Tekumel' with Prof. M. A. R. Barker, and something called 'Greyhawk' with Gary Gygax; I have recently been playing your D&D Fifth Edition rules with a local game-master at the local game store.

Based on my gaming experience, I found your comment that men who use complex and 'lore-heavy' rules to keep women out of the tabletop RPG hobby rather odd - I find your D&D Fifth Edition so complex and 'lore heavy' that I am not enjoying the game mechanics or the material in the books. The GM works very hard to keep things moving, but my personal feeling is that when the players have to keep laptops, tablets, and smart phones with specialized applications open at the table in the course of the game just to keep track of the game mechanics, there may just be an issue. In light of that, you may want to rethink your recent statements.

Likewise, regarding your concerns about inclusiveness, especially regarding women in gaming, I think you may be a little late to the party. Speaking as one of the 'elderly white males' you've referred to, you may want to have a look at the photo at the top of this blog post. That was my gaming group, for more then a decade; before that, our gaming group out at Prof. Barker's looked much the same. Five women, three men, two 'people of color'; 'inclusiveness', here at my game table, means that anyone can play. That's the way I've always had game groups running, and the way I always will.

I think you mean well, Mr. Mearls; I just think you need to think before you Twitter...


Jeff Berry, aka Chirine ba Kal.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bad News, Middling News, and Good News - The Weekly Update - Monday, February 19th, 2018

Last week was not what I'd call a good one, and so this update is more housekeeping then anything else. I'll be back later this week with more entertaining posts, but this one is going to be a little introspective.

Got the news that mid-week an old friend died suddenly; we'd managed to reconnect recently, and it was a shock for all of us in the old gaming group to hear of his passing. He'd complained of chest pains that he'd thought were heartburn; it seems it was a massive coronary.

On the other hand, another old friend got through his heart surgery, to fix a valve. He's tired, and lethargic, but he's still with us.

My co-worker who's been sick with the flu for the past two weeks and out of work is back, and we're doing our best to look after him as best we can.

The van failed to start tonight, so we're in the lifeboat / bug for now. Which is why we bought it, after all.

No, I did not go to the local game convention, Con of the North. Instead, I had a lovely Saturday with old friends, who also didn't go to the convention, and a just as lovely Sunday with my brother and nephew who did.

By the by, I do recommend both Con of the North, here locally, and U-Con in Michigan; both are good, solid, well-run conventions, and both feature wonderful tracks of programming and gaming devoted to Tekumel run by long-time fans of Phil's creation.

"So," I hear you ask, "why don't you go?" Pretty simply, the logistics. My style of gaming uses up a lot of room and time at the convention, and is a lot of energy and stamina to put on. Neither really fits into the way modern gaming works, and both sets of organizers do a wonderful job of presenting Tekumel in a gaming context that works for modern gamers. So, I suggest going to them; they are worth it.

I will be back the end of the week wth more photos of my miniatures; real-life is getting in the way, and I hope to get back in the groove shortly...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Lifeboat, The Ship, And Some Stuff Got Done - The Weekly Update - Sunday, February 11th, 2018

The Lifeboat

The Ship

It's been a long week, with people being sick at work and me having to cover, but we're starting off a new week pretty nicely; the VW is here, and will go off to the garage to be checked out and a tire fixed. The poor old van is finally back, after a two-week stay at the garage to finally get the issues with it starting resolved. One new radiator, one new ignition coil,  one new distributor cap and rotor, and what may have been the root cause of the problem a new 'crank sensor'. The van now starts first time, every time, which is not bad for a vehicle with 338,100 miles on the clock. I'm also $1,200 poorer, but at least the problem is fixed. (I hope.)

In other news, I've been able to get some time to slap some paint on the new Dark Fable 'Anubis' figures, and I'll have photos up shortly; I've just run out of time, this weekend. I think they look better then the photos on the campaign might indicate, but that may be just my old-fashioned tastes in figures.

I had a very bad scare with the 'standing genie' figure. While gluing her separate left forearm to the figure, her tiny (2mm, maybe) wrist broke and I had a very bad fifteen minutes looking for the very tiny part. I did, and already had rescued her hand, and after a little work with an emery board to get a good, flat, and polished joint managed to get her all back together. Quite the scare, though!

I'll have more photos of my old figures for you this week, if people are interested...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Custom Of The House - Some NPCs

Harchar, his officers, and a pair of wizards;

People we know;

The Tlakotani;
Some people from the Garden of the Weeping Snows.

We met a lot of people in our adventures with Phil in his world, and we liked to have them on the table with us. So...

1a: Dave Arneson and his crew - Staffswinger, Swordswinger, Harchar, Fishface, and Hardtack the purser. (The first two got their names from the figures I used for them; Dave gave the latter two their names, based on their stats and occupations.)

1b: Two of the Undying Wizards, Thomar and Turshanmu.

2. The extended family: Ah Ti Ko, Si N'te, Nyssa, Tsahul, Mridan Vishetru.

3a. Deq Dimani, and the Tlakotani - Eselne, Mridobu, Ma'in.

3b. A friend and wonderful author: Kyrinn Eis Ebbridda, which I include to show that The Custom of the House is still in good health. (This figure is one of a matched pair; this is the Tekumelyani version, and Kyrinn has the Urutsk version.)

4. Some of the folks we met while visiting the Garden of the Weeping Snows. I also have a squad of the Pale Legion, too.

Lots of conversions, done from the figures I could get. Lots of Ral Partha figures, of course; can you spot the one from Superior Miniatures? Or what line that dear old rascal Harchar is from?

As you might guess, we used a lot of miniatures in Phil's games, and I enjoyed the look on his face when I'd pass the box of new ones up the table to him. If I may immodestly quote him...

"Chirine makes the most clever little miniatures!"

Thank you, Phil. I'll take that one, coming as it did from a master himself... :)

Next up? I don't know; maybe the priests and priestesses of the Twenty that I did for our games?

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Custom Of The House Continued - The Weekly Update - Monday, February 5th, 2018

Nothing like a bit of zombie-bashing to start with...
Entering the maze and mapping it out...
And, of course, things go sour...
Ever tried running to somebody's rescue in a maze?

If I may be permitted a short pause in the historical account, my 5e group (I am the GM when they visit Tekumel, and a player when we go back home to Blackmoor; my co-GM does the reverse as we share the duties) met yesterday and the new figures for the player-characters went over a treat. Everybody liked them - one player specified a different hair color, but that's no problem - and we used them in what's for me the 'traditional' way; as a tactical display on the table. My co-GM has a huge collection of really big battlemats that puts my collection of flip-chart graph paper to shame, and we played on that. I like to have the maps already made up, as it does save time in the game, but his approach worked out very well in this game session as we were going into a maze that had to be mapped out as we went along.

Things did go rather pear-shaped, as Alan Tichmarsh would say, and we then spent a bit of time running around in the maze trying to rescue our endangered party members. It all ended well, if you don't mind starting the next game session in a maze; I took lots of photos to accurately document where we all were, on the small Sony CyberShot I keep in my briefcase for game sessions.

Which, if I may enthuse for a moment, is the wonder and joy of digital cameras. Quite a while back, The Missus got me a Sony Mavica (MVC-FD97, to be exact) and this has been my workhorse camera for years. The 20x lens package is taken from Sony's line of video lenses, and is really useful for my photo-documentation. Back in the day, getting a camera - let along getting it to a game session! - was both difficult and expensive. These days, it's very easy, and very practical. The FD-97 has been joined by both a vintage FD-95 (A surplus purchase, new in the box; it's a spare and back-up unit) and a really neat pocket camera, a Sony CyberShot DSC-V1; this latter has a lens package that's not as good as the Mavicashave, but the incredible size of the storage media and the high quality of the images makes this my preferred game session camera with the Mavicas becoming my preferred 'studio' cameras.

I had a very good time; I am not what I'd call an 'active' player, as I tend to spend a lot of the time thinking tactically and looking to our flanks and rear to make sure that nobody dry-gulches us. The other players seem to like this, as I'm always ready to let them take the lead but am always ready to lumber to the rescue in all my steel-armored might. The next game session is at the end of March, after my co-GM finishes up with his convention commitments, and I'll have more then.

In the meantime, I'll get out some NPC figures and get some photos shot for you, shall I?

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Custom Of The House - Weekly Update - January 28th, 2018

Player Characters, 1974 - 1976

Player Characters, 1976 - 1978+

Player Characters, 1978-1988+

Player Characters, next Sunday at 1:00 p. m.

As promised, we're back to our regular programming. More about miniatures and Tekumel in a minute, but I wanted to share a wonderful moment with everyone. I was in The Source, my FLGS, today on an errand when I happened to get started on talking about miniatures in our games. (Big surprise, this. Not.) A gentleman who happened to be listening tapped me on the shoulder, and asked "You're Chirine, aren't you?" I was astounded and delighted, and then bent the poor guy's ear off taking about Tekumel for a while. It was simply wonderful - I never expected moments like this, when I started this little effort in blogging, and I'm pleased as punch that I got the chance to tell somebody about the fun we had in Phil's world with him as our guide.

It was a great moment, I tell you.

Okay, so it's the spring of 1976, and I'm out at Phil's to paint figures for him, and the next thing I know I get drafted (press-ganged, really!) into playing in his campaign. In very short order, I started doing figures for all the players, and here are four photos of those figures. I still have not gotten around to finishing off their new TRE bases, so any suggestions would be welcome; their original cardboard bases got wet decades ago and had to be replaced, and I'm still dithering over what to finish the new bases off with.


1) Some of Phil's original 1974 players:

Craig, Dave, Mike (1), Debbie, Michael; Craig liked to collect weapons of the Ancients.

2) The Original Thursday Night Group:

Erica, Rick, Jim, Gregg, Jeff / Chirine I - the last is my leaden alter ego, of course.

3) The new players in the Original Thursday Night Group:

Kathy, Mike (2), Ken, Fred; Kathy went on to have several more figures, as she had a number of costume changes over the years.

4) The tradition continues; these are my fellow players in the 5th Edition D & D group:

Jen, Maya, Patrick, Paul, Chirine II, Trixie

Next up: our friends the NPCs.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Your Comments, And Some Housekeeping - Weekly Update, January 21, 2018

Chirine's cast iron cookware, from Blackmoor

I'll be getting back to our potted history of miniatures in our RPGs here shortly, but I noticed the last time I was posting that I seemed to have activated a feature where I had to moderate comments to post that were over 30 days old. I have now deactivated that, and I apologize for missing some questions and comments as a result.

One such comment was about Chirine's cast iron cookware set, and how extravagant it seemed for Tekumel. Yes, it is; the poster (Virchue hi Dune, I think) is quite correct. This set of cookware is an important plot point in our adventures; it's a relic of our time in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, where I used the huge pile of gold I happened to have aboard his ship to buy up enough of the locally cheap iron and steel to equip four full 8,000 trooper legions for the Imperium. I got a title and a high-ranking position out of the deal, showing once again it's who you know and how much you bribe them with.

In my book, the set is being loaded aboard my cart along with the rest of the baggage, when one of the bearers happens to look inside the wooden chest. He sees the iron cookware, and becomes instantly aware that his new employer is both well-connected and well-heeled; this comes into play a little later on in the adventure, as we march from Meku to Fasiltum to meet my new boss.

A second comment was from Tim Knight, about the push-back I get from a certain genre of RPG gamer about the use of miniatures in RPGs. I agree; I'm baffled by it as well. I think it partially comes from a reaction to D & D 4th edition, where the rules mandated the use of the Official Figures on a grid map, and really didn;t do much for the game as a result. We never played that way; we used the figures that we made to show where we were in a tactical situation, and we very rarely measured distances; all we worried about was being able to show who could see what, and trying to avoid accidentally shooting or stabbing each other in melees and such.

I think that a sort of 'mythology of gaming' has evolved, where things are supposed to have been done A Certain Way, and it's heresy to say that 'No, we didn't do it that way.' All I can do is report what we did, and what I saw and played back then.

Next up: My First Night out at Phil's, playing in his world and the miniatures that resulted...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

History, As Wriiten By Somebody Else

Still in print, too...
And very much in print...

A little interlude in my story, if you don't mind. You've probably heard of Jon Peterson's book, but if you're interested in the very early days of gaming here in the Twin Cities I'd suggest reading Gary Fine's book. He wrote is while he was playing at the Little Tin and the Fifth Precinct (which is very thinly disguised as "The Golden Brigade") and out at Phil's. He was there just as the oriignal group split, and his book provides a fascinating look at some of the reasons why we split off from that group.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Beginnings - The Weekly Update - January 13th, 2018

The sign at the second shop - still there, too.

The Dave Sutherland header cards for Old Guard

The Train Of Thought is now departing from King's Cross Station; the mighty 4472, 'Flying Scotsman', with top-of-the-gauge pressure is on the head end with her special pair of tenders and with 375 tones of vintage teak stock coupled on. Settle into your seats, please; the waiter will be around in a moment to take your orders...

First, the terms of reference: I am talking about the years with Prof, Barker that I had from 1976 to 1988, and the gaming that we did during those years. We played a lot of miniatures in his campaign, which would seem to be at variance with statements that have been made by other people who played with Phil; these are also quite correct, as it needs to be kept in mind that Phil ran his campaign from about 1973 to about 2006, with a lot of different players and play styles in those decades. We played a lot of miniatures in our day; for a good view of how his campaign morphed over time, there's a great podcast out there with one of the 1990's players - Scott Kellogg runs it, I think.

I've also noticed, over the past five / six years, that a fair number of the people who champion the 'OSR' movement - for 'old school revival / rules / etc.' - have a tendency to denigrate the use of miniatures in RPGs. The Great God Gygax is cited as saying that "Miniatures Are Not To Be Used!", and Saint Dave The Divine is also cited for saying "Miniatures Must Be Used!" and about all I can say is that Phil and the rest of us cracked out the lead whenever we thought that it might be fun. So, play what you will, how you will; if any of what follows amuses you, then I'm happy - I'm not out to 'convert' anyone to anything.

So, it's the summer of 1975, and I've just arrived in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis - St. Paul, of course) to go to college. I was looking for hobby shops, as I wanted to keep up my model-building, and chanced across The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe located at the intersection of Bryant and Lake Streets in Minneapolis. The store have originally been named 'La Belle Alliance', and located out in the western suburbs; it had just recently opened in the new location.

Now, I'd been doing a lot of war-gaming in high school- all we had were the 1/32 / 1/35 / 54mm plastic models that were widely available at the time, as we were just discovering the 1/72 lines by Roco and Airfix; our options, out-state in Rochester (Minnesota), were very limited. Big games, in big rooms, and I still have my 100' tape measure we used for tank and artillery fire.

The Little Tin, on the other hand, was an eye-opener of smaller-scale figures; some 15s, lots and lots of 25s, and even some 40s and 54s. Being interested in a number of historical periods, I dove right in, and began building and painting my little armies. And you could game there, too! The preferred period at the time was horse and musket historicals, with occasional excursions into tanks and ships; there was a couple of guys who played Ancients, and one guy named Larry Bond who was very big into SF miniatures with "Star Guard". [1]

The historicals guys were all into very complex sets of rules; WRG, by Our Phil's Cousin Phil, was all the rage, as it allowed for more arguments and disputes at the game table then a set of rules like "Chanimail" did. The guys at 'the shop' smoked like chimneys, argued incessantly, and on one or two memorable occasions actually managed to get more then one or two turns into a game. They also had a group that met around the corner at the Minneapolis Police Department's Fifth Precinct, which is where RPGs were banished to so that The Sacred Tables at the shop were not profaned by any of this new 'role-playing' foolishness.

The shop's hard-smoking, hard-drinking, manly men looked down from their heights of historical authenticity at the effete college boys who met at Coffman Union on Tuesday nights; that lot played games like "Chainmail" (Heresy!), board games (Gasp!), and even let women into their games (Oh, the horror!) which was unheard of down at The Shop. (Personally, I think to this day it was because women are usually smarter and better gamers, and found The Boys to be pretty weak opponents.) [2] The University group was stuffed with reprobates like Dave Megarry, Dave Wesely, Dave Arneson, Pete Gaylord, Dwayne Jenkins, Ross Maker, and a few other people that you might have heard of. It was an exciting and challenging group to play in, I can tell you.

The Faculty Advisor for this circus was one Professor M. A. R. Barker, head of the Department of South Asian Studies. I'd seen his name before, on some really gaudy card headers for some plastic bags of miniatures from something called "Tekumel"; he'd written some sort of RPG for TSR, I was told.

I looked at the figures, thought that they were kinda neat, and started buying up the Little Tin's stock of them. The owner was ecstatic - the line was not, I got the impression, A Big Seller for the store. He gave me a nice discount, as he wanted the shelf space back - and I was a very regular customer - and so I got started on painting them. As is my usual habit, I steeped myself in all of the printed materials that I cold lay my hands on for this new world; a copy of "Empire of the Petal Throne", "The Dragon", "War of Wizards", and anything else I could get my hands on.

Phil got to hear about my painted figures for his Tekumel, and I was invited out to his house on what amounted to an interview to be his 'Court Painter To The Petal Throne'. I was (and still am, I've been told) fast and good, and Phil was having issued with poor eyesight and painful arthritis. The deal was, he'd hand me a pile of figures; I'd paint them to his specifications, he'd then choose the half of the figures that he wanted, and I'd get the other half as my 'fee' for doing the work for him. [3]

One thing lead to another, and I started playing in his Tekumel campaign; I was one of the founders of the original Thursday Night Group along with Jim Danielson and Greg Klett, and I would up being hired as 'the Tekumel guy' by Dave Arneson's Adventure Games.

I'm still adventuring in Phil's Tekumel, some forty years' later, and still painting figures. We'll have a look at them, as this holiday weekend goes on...

[1] Yes, that Larry Bond. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Bond
[2] I still find this to be true. They are still usually better players and opponents.
[3] After he'd passed away, I did a photo inventory of all his figures; I was very surprised to discover that of all his Tekumel figures, I'd painted just over half of them.

EDIT: Google has just informed me that this is Post #500 on this new version of the blog. I'm a little astonished by that, honestly, and thank you all for your time and patience.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Turning Back Time, As It Were - The Weekly Update - Monday, January 9th, 2018

One of the fights we had out at Phil's - Castle Tilketl
All sorts of things happening hereabouts, as we have a short thaw in the weather, and this will be a bit brief. Lots of questions have come in about what I'm heading into with this blog and my gaming, and I'll have a lot more answers as we go along.

The really simple answer is that I am going back to what I like in gaming, and enjoying that. I've been 'out and about' in modern gaming for a while now, and I have not been all that enthused with the direction I have been seeing the hobby / industry going. I don't feel particularly comfortable - or even welcome, as I've noted in previous posts - in the local gaming scene, and I've really been drawing back from doing things that I don't find particularly entertaining, enjoyable, or just plain fun.

What I have found really enjoyable and encouraging is that I have met a few people - both locally and on-line - who do enjoy the kind of gaming that I find fun and which we had out at Phil's when I was out there working for and with him. So, I am this year making a pretty straightforward effort to stop reinforcing failure and instead reinforce success. I will most likely continue playing in the 5e campaign, as I just found the perfect figures for each of the other players' PCs, so I'll be doing what I love to do - painting figures of the people in the campaign for the people playing in the campaign.

I got started doing this back in early 1976, when I was first invited out to Prof. Barker's to paint figures for him, and would up playing in his Tekumel campaign for over a decade. Our group, the original Thursday Night Group, was always very enthusiastic about using miniatures as our version of a 'tactical display'; we never really worried much about having the absolutely correct figure, and used our imaginations quite a bit as we played. Phil and I enjoyed a bit of a friendly rivalry with miniatures, as he also loved to make and paint them - the people in the group were always amused and amazed when he and I would plop stuff down on the table for games, 'just because'. We were having fun, and it didn't seem to 'ruin the immersion' for anyone in the group.

Over the coming weeks, we're going to turn back time a bit and go back to the summer of 1976 when I first started doing Tekumel miniatures, both for myself and for Phil. Back then, 'fantasy gaming' here in the Twin Cities consisted of big 'wargames' with lots and lots of figures based in units. When RPGs proper came along, we started using more and more figures for our PCs, which - I think - was an outgrowth of our wargaming use of 'personality figures' to represent our commanders. From there, it was a very short step to using them to represent our role-playing characters, and from there another short step to using them in our RPG sessions.

The fight for that small and squalid little mud-brick fort up in Milumaniya was a very good example of this; we had several months' worth of game sessions in Phil's campaign leading up to the actual assault and defence of the place, and we had a grand time doing it. Decades later, when my model-building skills caught up with Phil's ability to tell spell-binding stories, I finally built the place and we re-fought the battle several times. The game is now one of my 'pre-built events', and I can run it any time we get the urge.

So, what's going to be happening is that I'm going to walk you through the years of model-building and painting I did with Phil; my job was, in effect, to make things to put on the table for our games. I'll be starting at the beginning, 'way back when', and I hope you'll enjoy our journey.