Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Custom Of The House - More On 'Pre-School' Gaming

Some graph paper, a little paint; you'd think it was 1974, or something...

A slight diversion tonight; I am starting a nice four-day weekend, after a long week on the job; one of my co-workers had to take some emergency leave, and I've been flying solo all week. It wasn't all toil and trouble, though, I was invited out to Dave Wesley's for Bob Meyer's Annual Blackmoor Game on Tuesday; Bob is better known as 'Robert the Bald', one of the original Blackmoor players, and inherited Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor campaign when the latter passed away. We also got to see a draft version of the documentary film "Secrets of Blackmoor", which I am very favorably impressed with; it tells Dave's story without demonizing Gary. It's due out in something like four months, according to the producers, as they have some final edits and technical stuff (titles, voice-overs, etc.) left to do. Here's a link to their web site:


Their blog is pretty interesting, too.

I should note that I am in this film, for all of a couple of minutes; I am, I'm told, more in the sequel. I've acted as an unpaid historical consultant to the producers, as I seem to be the one who knows where to to find stuff.

Anyway, along with the game and the film preview us Old Guys got to talking about what makes up the way we played - and still play, for that matter. It was a pretty lively discussion, and the end result was that a number of The Old Guys may just turn up for my Free RPG Day event on June 16th; I shall keep them incognito, and surprise my players... :)

One thing that really popped out at me in the conversation was how our play style led to what are now thought of as 'RPGs'; most of the time, the players met at somebody's house, and generally the host for the evening would devise the scenario for the game, set out the terrain and scenery, and let people who were coming - one generally RVSP'd for these things - know who had to bring troops for the game. You, Gentle Readers, have probably seen the celebrated photo of the usual suspects in Dave Arenson's basement; we did the same thing a few years later, when Dave went to college and started playing there. The Custom of The House was the same; somebody, like me, would offer to host a game and so would set up the scenario and provide the 'hardware' for the game with the help of anyone who wanted in.

(Which is why, by the way, I have yet to fully accept the term of art 'GM' for the title of the person running a game; I still refer to them as 'the referee' as a survival from Ye Olden Days.)

Given this style of gaming, and the influence of the Braunstein games, it was a pretty short slide into the classic 'RPG' style of 'GM' and 'player-characters'. So, here we are some fifty years later (more or less, depending on how you want to look at it) and I'm still doing things the same Ye Olden Way. The photo heading up this post is what the game table currently looks like; the 5e campaign will be here again on June 10th, and while we'll be back in that bucolic metropolis of Cicatri Dale for the start of the game session, my co-GM tipped me off that some caverns may be in our future. So, while I'm waiting for the published map of the village to come back from the printer - 48" by 60", in full color - I got out the map of the caverns and enlarged it to 25mm scale for our figures. I may put the vertical extender in for that 'underworld' feel; I'll see how it looks.

Now, obviously I do have a PDF copy of "The Redwood Scar" - it's where I got the maps. However, as we discussed on Tuesday, I have not read any of the adventure. I am, besides being the co-GM, also a player in this campaign when we're in Blackmoor just as my co-GM is a player when we're in Tekumel. We talked about this, in the context of honesty in the game; it was, and still is, a basic cornerstone of our 'pre-school' games that the GM is always going to be honest with the players. The NPCs can and will lie through their teeth, but the GM is a facilitator and an honest broker for the players - as Dave Arneson used to say, "They are perfectly capable of getting themselves into trouble, thank you, without my help."

We set up and run the scenario; the players run the adventure through their actions. All we do is grease the skids, put out the banana peels, and watch the whole mess unfold. That's what 'pre-school gaming' is all about - we're a bunch of friends sitting around a table laughing, remember?

And yes, I will get to Dave and the rubber monster suits; that's tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Care For A 'Pre-school' Adventure?

This particular copy is a year younger then I am.

So, after a miserable weekend, let's get back on track and to the discussion at hand.

I commend to your attention this particular book, which contains a perfectly good adventure that can be played out in several game sessions, using any RPG that one prefers. You'll have to run up the NPCs in your preferred system yourself, but the author of this adventure has done all of the other work for you - setting, plots, details, characters, they're all there.

And you can even adapt this adventure to your favorite world-setting, too! I knew this guy named Phil, who managed quite nicely to adapt this book to the setting of his own campaign, and gave us quite a wonderful series of game sessions. Lady Si N'te, that ever-resourceful and well-connected Priestess of the Goddess, takes all her jewelry business to that nice chap Lurgan of Simla.

I've been taken to task on an RPG forum or two for constantly suggesting that gamers need to read something other then sets of game rules. Well you know, that's what Gary was trying to get at with his 'Appendix N'.

Read. Absorb. Be inspired.

Next up: Dave Arneson and people in cheap rubber monster suits.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Third Option In Action - The Weekly Update, May 20th, 2018



Claudette Colbert, "Cleopatra", 1934

There's going to be a short pause, for a reflective moment, and then we'll get back to my series of posts on game styles.

I had done some one-sheet flyers for my upcoming open-table game in June, and I used this image from one of my favorite movies as an illustration. I was handing out some of the flyers at a friend's house, when one of the other guests informed me that this image was exploiting women, typically demeaning of them, and typical of my gaming interests and styles. I got my ass chewed, not to put too fine a point on it.

I tried to engage the person who was telling me this, asking for specifics, as I am genuinely concerned and curious as to why this particular image was offensive to her. That effort went nowhere, as I was told that as a man I would not be able to understand the issues involved.

I found it all quite odd, and startling. I had run the image past The Missus, as I always do, and she had no issues with it; I had also handed out the flyers to the members of a womens' game group that meets at my usual FLGS, and they had no issues with it - they thought it was funny and fun, from what they said to me.

The incident yesterday was, for me, a curious echo of the chewing out that I had gotten a few months ago for my Ancient Egyptian figures; I had been discussing the utility of the 'palace people' miniatures that I've been able to (finally!) get for games in both Tekumel and Ancient Egypt, when a person I'd known back in Ye Olden Days told me that if I used these figures - which are, when you get down to it, quite historically accurate - at a game at the FLGS he'd "have me run out of the store!" as he thought that they were obscene.

I did talk to the owner after this particular conversation; I've known him for over forty years, and I like both him and his store. He also likes the figures, but asked me as a personal favor not to bring them in for games unless the games are run after the place closes and he can control who sees them. His concern, which I appreciate and understand, is that as a retailer he can't afford to have people complaining about his inventory or events. I've also talked to some of the convention and event organizers I know, and gotten the same reaction and advice.

So, the net result? No miniatures games set in Barsoom, Ancient Egypt, or Tekumel at the FLGS or at conventions for me using these figures. As I've said before, Option Three seems to be the best course for The Missus and I in our gaming. The world, as The Missus remarked, is a very different place from the one we used to know.



Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pre-School Gaming - Before 'Old School' and 'New School"

Still suggested.

A while back, during the comments on Google+ over my 'open letter', I mentioned what I'd been playing in RPGs back in the day. I got an interesting comment on that, which I think really points up the huge cultural gap that exists between me and 'modern' gaming.

I mentioned that I've never really 'played D&D'; I've played "something called Blackmoor with Dave, something called Greyhawk with Gary, and something called Tekumel with Phil"(Note One). Back then - and this was a few years ago, remember, and back then none of these three world settings had built up the mass of materials that they have today. There was, forty years ago, a relative dearth of published information on these worlds, let alone the plethora of sets of rules that we now enjoy in our hobby.

One had to 'explore'. Get up, walk around, ask questions, have adventures. It was taken as a given that we'd all read a lot of the same books and seen the same movies; see also Gary's 'Appendix N'. We all knew what we were supposed to be about, and so we sharpened our swords and our wits and got on with our adventures. "Doing it by the book" was impossible; the book - and the game rules - hadn't been written yet. The GMs of the day came up with adventures and worlds that they were set in, and we played our Faferds, Grey Mousers, Conans, and Belits in these new worlds with all the gusto and swashbuckling vigor that we could.

It was, as I've suggested, 'lighting in a bottle'. We learned to run our own campaigns by being apprentices, and we in turn had our own students. And we didn't have much worry about our roots in what's now called 'wargaming'; we moved from one to the other seamlessly, with games being 'sized' as needed by the events as they unfolded. Even the term of art, 'the campaign', is taken from the kind of gaming that we did; we played princes and kings and generals, and off we went on adventures. Xenophon's "Anabasis" was one of our 'adventure paths', for example.

I think that the biggest difference between our 'pre-school' gaming and today's hobby is the shift in reading habits I've seen in gamers. People don't read books; they read games.  Now, this does sell a lot of game books, and does keep game stores in business, but the 'books' section of my FLGS is noted for what I'd call 'a lack of turnover' in the stock.

Well, all right. I can understand this. It does astonish me when gamers visit the game room and are baffled as to why I have lots and lots of books on all sorts of subjects and very few sets of rules on the shelves. They don't read, and they do not understand why I do.

So, next up: Gary, Dave. Phil, and books...

Note One: It's not even my phrase;
Chirine: "Dave, what are we playing?"
Dave: "Oh, something called 'Blackmoor'."

Saturday, May 12, 2018

*My* Play Style - "Lighting In A Bottle" - May 12th, 2018

Have a look; you might just like it.

Real life events around here have finally calmed down to the point where I can get started on the series of posts that I've promised (threatened?) on how I game and why I game that way. I'll try not to be boring. I am also working in a new browser, here at the computer, and I seem to have all of the regular functions of this Google+ platform back. (We shall see.)

As I mentioned, I had been doing an interview with a reader a while back, and he asked what sets of rules I play. I had to stop and think about that, as I really don;t play 'sets of rules' in my gaming; I play settings, not rules. Rules, as one of the recent Google+ commentators on my 'Open Letter To Mike Merles' noted, are platforms; I think he's right about this, as they should be our springboards to adventure, more then anything else.

In a very similar vein, the esteemed author of "Blade and Crown" had a post that I think everyone should read - and to which I strongly subscribe:


we had a very good example of this philosophy in our recent 5e session here at The Workbench, where I took the time to set out the scene of our adventure, and the GM had the time to pre-roll the NPCs and stats; we had a great time socializing while all this happened, and having everything ready for the actual game in advance made it a really fast, tense, taut, and downright exciting game session. No number-crunching, no looking up tables, no fits and starts as obscure rules were unearthed from dusty tomes of ancient lore.

It was, in short, the kind of game session I love to run and play, and what I got used to when I played with some guys named Dave, Gary, and Phil. What I took away from those game sessions, all those years ago, was that I - GM or player - needed to take the time to get my act together before we started play. Take a little time, develop the character or the setting, and then run like crazy during the game session.

A friend of mine, who's played in some of my games, calls this "Chirine's 'lightning in a bottle'." I'd agree with that; he's not sure if it's possible for other people to do it, but I think that it is. So, in the next set of posts, I shall try to Reveal All...

In the meantime, head over to NJW Games, and have a look at some of the brilliance that's happening over there...