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.
[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.


  1. Your post has made me nostalgic Chirine. Some friends and I used to wargame most evenings at our local university as well, in a corner of the second floor of the Humanities Wing. The cigarette smoke would be billowing down the hall as we re-fought Barbarossa or Overlord time, and time again with all the great games from Avalon Hill and GDW. Good times!

    1. Oh, yes! Smoking was a lot less of an issue at Coffmann, as we tended to spend all our money on games and miniatures.

  2. All that smoking makes me realize how much things have changed.

    Oh, and people that spend time telling anyone else to have fun, miniatures or not, are usually morons anyway... ;)

    1. Yep; healthier, too! :)

      I tend to agree with you. The notion of "badwrongfun" I've seen in some circles continues to baffle me.

  3. I don't understand where this "no minis" thing came from either. I was introduced to RPGs through wargames, back in the late '70s, and minis - whether we actually used them at the table or not - have always been part of the recipe.

  4. Very nice post.really I apperciate your blog.Thanks for sharing.keep sharing more blogs.