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.