Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Holidays From All Of Us Here At The Workbench!

Our Christmas dragon, with present

Somebody else's dragons - see the link in the text

The new laundry - I feel like I'm dealing with the Death Star...

The plumber has been in, and removed a huge ball of roots (courtesy of the big maple tree in the front yard) from our main sewer line. Now that the latest crisis is over, I finally got our Christmas Dragon out on the front walk so that we could salvage something of the holiday. Other then the plumbing, it's been a quiet holiday and we've been catching up with friends and family.

The inflatable dragon was / is marketed by Home Depot, where we got ours, as "Gary". (I think all of you clever readers can work that one out.) Other people have done this as well, and I suggest the link to the article that our second photo came from:

We have gotten no feedback on our dragon, and I suspect that people are already traumatized by the huge flock of plastic flamingos in the front yard. Yes, people do stop and stare, but then I take it as a good sign that they start laughing and walk away with a lighter step.

The new laundry gear is working well, and we've gotten the mess from today's adventures in sewers all cleaned up. The rest of the laundry will follow, as I'm in the middle day of my holiday vacation and getting the house in order. We continue... :)

And again, Happy Holidays from all of us here at The Workbench!!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Anne The Dice Bag Lady - Where I Get Things

She's even funnier in person.

Annie Norton - like Howard Fielding of the Tekumel Project, David Soderberg of Bronze Age Miniatures,  and Mike Burns of Dark Fable Miniatures - produces a lot of the miniatures you see in my games. All of them have really good lines of figures, and are worth taking a look at. These are the classic metal miniatures; yes, I do buy sets of plastic figures, but they tend to be for the games I do outside my home game room. Not to put too brutal a point on it, they are cheaper in price then my metal figures, and I have to worry a lot about what we'll diplomatically describe as 'Loss Prevention'.

Her line of Dark Ages figures are really good - if you've watched A Certain Television Series, you'll find a use for them. Likewise, with my fondness for the Golden Age of epics, I have a use for her 'Amazon' figures - they work very well for both Ancients and Tekumel gaming, in the same way that Phil used heaps of Ancients (mostly Garrison, some Minifigs) for his Tekumel adventures.

There's also some very nice scenic items, as well as very handy farm and domestic animals that I find particularly useful in my games where I use hidden movement - players will sneak up on one of the movement counters, and discover that they've ambushed a couple of chickens or a goat. Mayhem ensues. Every time.

Link to her site over on the left, for your amusement...

Serious Gaming For The Holidays!!!

Armor, dice, pink flamingos, with friends on the way.
What's not to like?

Cake. Of course there's cake. It's *my* party.
The tea bar. Doesn't everyone have a tea bar in their game room?

December is a busy month for us here at the Workbench; the month starts off with my birthday, and ends with most everyone's Christmas holiday. We also have had the new washer and dryer installed, very cold weather, lots of snow, and today's crisis of a clogged main sewer drain. (Yes, help is on the way; we have insurance for this.)

Gaming here has settled down to Sixth Daughter's group that meets here on the Second Sunday of the month, and my Tekumel group that meets on the Fourth Sunday. I'm hoping, in this coming year, to be open on the First Sunday of each month to host a miniatures game based on the revival of my various campaign games. The battles will be generated by the events in the campaigns, so you're likely to see Barsoomian, Egyptian, and Pyratical events; Herself, the Lady of the House, has invested in the two most recent Bad Squiddo Games Kickstarters, so she has both Red Army and British forces to throw into the fray in her proposed Dr. Who campaign. She already has the figures that I bought for here back in the late 1980s, and she's raiding my collection of British model railway buildings for her adventures.

Girl Guides vs. Daleks? Land Army women with shotguns vs. Cybermen? Get out your sonic screwdrivers, folks, 'cause we're off on an adventure!

Sharp-eyed readers will have noted that the Third Sunday of the month is open; I am holding that date in reserve in case there's enough interest for another Tekumel group to form and play here in the game rooms.

Traditionally, hereabouts, I decorate the game room for special events. My birthday sees the deployment of my collection of Pink Flamingos, in all of the tasteless glory we can muster. Since we have the game group so near the holidays, I kept everything out and serves up cake and snacks for the game session. It was a success, I think; everybody had a good time, got fed, and laughed a lot.

The tea bar also got the usual workout, with everyone getting hot and cold drinks to suit. Doesn't everyone have something like this in their game room? I seemed to surprise people with the news that we have this facility, which kind of astonishes me; back in our glory days, when people came over to play at the hosts' place, the game room was set with both the game and the snacks, with the short-order kitchen fired up and ready to go.

I freely admit that this is an ancient style of gaming, but it it what I like and what I'm hoping to bring to all of you in this new years as I get all of my Kaika in a row.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Friday, November 29, 2019

2) The Night Witches and Their Friends

You get a very nice and well-equipped Red Army scout platoon with this deal

Moscow has added a T-34/85 and an Su-100;
the platoon has 'aquired' a GAZ-A, a -AA, and a staff car.

 There's a company in the UK by the name of Bad Squiddo, formerly known as Anne The Dice Bag Lady. Anne sells a line of Sensibly Dressed Women, from all sorts of genres and eras, and we recently got in her Amazons from the recent Kickstarter. (These are great for Tekumel - more about them shortly.)

I happen to own a couple of of 1:43 scale Soviet-era toys; a T-34/85 and an Su-100. The Lady of the House, feeling that the two armored vehicles needed some infantry support, bought me the 'Urragh! Deal' and so I have been basing and painting some Red Army women. You get scouts, snipers, infantry, and some heavy weapons - I pointed out to Herself that they couldn't all be 'tankriders', so she got busy and we now have a couple of GAZ trucks and a staff car to haul everyone around.

One of the ringleaders of the Shieldmaidens is working on doing a campaign using the 'Night Witches' RPG, and so we've been looking at biplanes and MacGuffins for the S&S game. So far, the Russians are out to rescue a downed Night Witches air crew, and to investigate that suspicious Vokswagen staff car down in the village. (The D&D side also has two MacGuffins, but I have to have some secrets ahead of this game...)

I'm supplying all of the terrain and scenery out of stock - yes I do have that much stuff in hand - and this is turning into one of those epic games along the lines of my infamous Braunstein, "The Great Mos Eisley Spaceport Raid" that we did back in '82 or so...

And we're having a whole lot of fun, too!!! :)

1) Dave, Gary, And Plastics - A Game Of "S&S", From 1975

Your classic Dave and Gary magic-users...
Your classic Dave and Gary fighter types
Your classic Dave and Gary Undead
(You never have enough Undead)

As regular readers of this little confection know, I focus on specific world-settings in my games. Which is why I have lots and lots of Tekumel, Barsoom, and Ancient Egyptian figures in my collection. Lately, though, I have been building classic Dave and Gary D&D figures; the 'Frostgrave' line is perfect for this, s they have that middling Middle Ages look to then that characterized D&D back in the early days. Plate armour? You have got to be kidding! That stuff is expensive, and only paladins and the like can afford it.

So, you may well ask, why am I building up a  D&D force?

Because, Oh My Gentle Readers, I hang out with a bunch of loud, raucous women called The Shieldmaidens who seem to enjoy me telling stories of games long past and of the people who played them.

One of those games, back in 1975, was run by Gary for his friends. He told a bunch of them to drop by and they'd play some fantasy miniatures. He then invited another bunch of them to drop by and play a WWII skirmish game. This being before the invention of social media, nobody compared notes, and when they arrived they all found the table covered in a mysterious mist. The first thing anybody knew what was happening, the crew of the lead 'track was shooting at a troll...

Yep. By popular demand, I'm going to be running a game of "Sturmgeshutze and Sorcery", it all of it's wacky glory. Hidden movement, periscopes, character cards, and all the mayhem inherent in a mash-up of D&D 5E and Tractics. People will not know what side they are on until they open their sealed envelopes that also have their mission orders and victory conditions; they'll also get photos of their figures to make things a bit easier for them.

The 'D&D side' will be the Frostgrave 'Soldiers I' and 'II', with the Frostgrave 'Wizards I' (and 'II', if I can get them in time) with a nice assortment of D&D creatures provided by the Usual Suspects amongst the Shieldmaidens.

"Sooo," I can hear you ask, "What are they going to be fighting?"


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Blackmoor Castle Map - I Hope You'll Pardon My Amusement...

Who would have thought???
Paul Stormberg, a very nice chap who is both the kind of 'preservationist' that I am (read 'packrat') as well as a dealer in game exotica, had an auction recently in which this single page went for some $646.

I laughed a lot. A whole lot.

The joke, you see, is that I printed off about fifty of these sheets for Origins in 1984, where the model of Blackmoor Castle that Dave Arneson had asked me to build was being used as an attention-getter for the AGI trade-show booth for most of the weekend. Like with Phil's Temple of Vimuhla model (which was also on display at that convention), I asked the gifted artist Ken Fletcher to draw a map of the castle that we could hand out at the convention to the passer-by. We handed something like forty, forty-five copies out, and I think I still have three-four of these maps in the files in the game room.

The map was done from my model, which was generated from the plans that Dave had drawn for his Blackmoor campaign. which was in turn were governed by Dave's N-gauge/scale plastic model of the castle (Kibri #37304, to be exact). My model also had the 'dungeon' levels as well, so the entire thing sat some three feet high above the plywood box base. The biggest issue with Dave's plans is that the stairways generally didn't line up; as Dave said to me: "It doesn't matter in the game, so do what you can." I did, and it was a chore. Dave was a great GM, but not the best of architects.

As a historical footnote, the 'L&M Engineering Dept.' listed on the sheet is from my original model railroad: the 'Lackawampum and Miskatonic Railroad', operating in the nether regions of the model railroad hobby. I still have the crack passenger express, the fabled "Soapstone Star" in it's deep midnight blue and brushed-silver livery, with the lit drumhead sign on the observation car showing The Eldritch Sign.

(And yes, the train crew figures were what you think they were, courtesy of the miniatures hobby...)

I am hugely delighted that Paul was able to find one of these hand-outs after all these years, and that somebody got to add it to their collection. Hopefully, they'll use this in a game; mayhem, as I like to say, will ensue...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

D&D, BBC3, and 'Beardos'

"So," I asked in my best John Cleese voice,
"Are there any women here today?"

High-pitched voices: "No! No!"

Low-pitched voices: "No! No!"

I'm back, after a long spell of working odd shifts and dealing with odder contractors.

The genesis of this post was a post on the BBC Twitter feed, about the current state of gaming:

I was astonished by the whooping and hollering about this post that consumed certain gaming and 'geek-culture' circles on the Internet, and gave me some food for thought.

Now, as you all know, I take my responsibilities as an Elderly White Male Gatekeeper Of The Hobby (note 1very seriously; we only do Serious Gaming here at the House of Wonders, with lots and lots of Serious Fun to be had.

In that vein, and in the spirit of this video...

... I asked my players if they'd seen the BBC post. They had, and so arrived at the next game session properly equipped for some Serious Gaming.

And yes, there was so much laughing that at one point in the game, our first-time-in-Tekumel player had her head down on the table, sobbing and crying with laughter.

It's what it's all about, folks, and has been since I got started in this lark by Dave Arneson and Prof. Barker back in 1975: A bunch of friends sitting around a table and laughing their fool heads off...

(Note 1 )

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"Plastics. The future is in plastics."

First bought for Sixth Daughter for her new campaign.

Harchar's rascals. Period.

Something for me, too...

So, if you don't mind, let's lighten the mood here at The Workbench.

Multi-part plastic figures get some distain from some of the Serious Wargamers I know, but then they don't game on a budget like I do. In these boxes, you get a lot of miniatures for your money, and for a model-builder like me, they are great kits. So...

'Frostgrave' "Soldiers II" - 20 figures to the box

No, I don't play the game. I first got this box for my Sixth Daughter for her world-setting in her new campaign. She squealed with delight, as they fit her world perfectly; the figures are so good I got a box for myself for my Dark Ages campaign. These are nice and crisp castings, and look really good.

You get a variety of basic torsos, and a huge selection of arms and heads. I think, based on the sprues, you'd need to built something like 100 of these boxes before you repeated a combination. What made me happy was the assortment of adventurer's accessories like bundles of rope, lanterns, torches, belt pouches, and packpacks. The set makes up all the adventurers one could want, especially if your players venture into cold weather. We could have used these when we were on "The Affair of the Malchairan Emerald", in Phil's campaign, when we visited the Temple of Ice in Ghaton. It was dang cold, I tell you.

'Ghost Archipelago' "Crewmen" - 20 figures to the box

No, I don't play this game either. I buy forgures to suit the world setting I support, and these figures are perfect for making models of dear old Captain Harchar's merry band of cutthroat rascals - sorry, I meant "honest sea-faring merchants", as Dave described them. He also described them as being of the 'Sinbad the Sailor' genre, with that Hollywood Technicolor look to them that has a sort of vague Middle-Eastern feel; the options in this pack give you that look, as do all of the torsos, and they'll work and look a lot better as Harchar's crew then the Foundry Macedonian 'Phalangite Personalities' that I've been using for years.

Lots of character, lots of options, and a lot of fun. Also as nicely done as the 'Soldiers II' castings.

'Gripping Beast' "Roman Starter Warband" - 25 figures to the box

I'll bet that you know what I'm going to say next. No, I don't play this game either. "Chainmail", by Perrin and Gygax, still works just fine for me, and I still build my forces by getting the best figures I can for a particular period. These are for my Dark Ages campaign, as along with my old Ral Partha / RAFM 'Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age' figures they'll be the locals trying to deal with the arrival of the Shieldmaidens' 'Sheildmaidens'.

I'm normally not a big fan of the late Imperial Roman period, but these figures are really nice. All the details are crisp and clean, and you get enough variety to get a good-looking unit - and a balanced one - out of the box. You also get six cavalry, which is a nice bonus, as well as the more period-correct standards. These are the same sprues as their larger boxes from the period - think of this as a 'sampler' box - and I may ask The Missus for some more of these in next year's budget.

So, there we are. Mayhem will ensue, I think... :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

An Open Letter To Cecilia D'Anastasio

I'm the old guy on the right; the other two you might know.
A gift from Gary; his kids were kind enough to sign it.

Dear Ms. D'Anastasio,

I suspect you have no idea who I am, or what I do; for that matter, I strongly doubt that you know what I've been doing for the past forty years. You might want to ask your interviewee, Mr. Morgan, and maybe you'll understand why your recent articles about Gary Gygax and his family have cause more then a little consternation here at The House of Wonders.

I understand that you are not a big fan of Gary, and what his legacy might or might not be. I'm also aware that Gary was an entirely human being with faults and issues, just like some other people I used to hang out with - Dave Arneson and Prof. M. A. R. Barker, to name two - who also had their own issues and faults. I am very aware of them, having worked with and for these people, and yet I can still after all this time respect them and honor their memories whilst remembering the great times I had with all of them.

If I may express a personal opinion, your article about Gail was just sad to read. Your more recent article, ostensibly about the release of "Secrets of Blackmoor", rubbed a lot of salt in some very old wounds; I had a front-row seat for all the legal conflicts between Dave and TSR, and your article seemed to delight in tearing open the scar tissue that some of us had had to grow back in those days.

Yes, I know you don't like Gary, and he certainly had his faults. However, he was always unfailingly polite and kind to me personally, even though he knew full well I worked for Prof. Barker and Dave Arneson at Adventure Games. That old plastic miniatures carrying-case was something he gave to me at my first Gen Con - the first one at U of WI / Parkside - and it hauled our player-character figures out to Phil's for the next decade. It's still sitting downstairs, in my little museum of gaming, and I still use it.

I think that it's more then a little sad that your most recent article, and the controversy that it has engendered, have come to overshadow Mr. Morgan's film. I think that it, and the people who in it, have gotten lost in all of the screaming and shouting on the Internet in the past weeks. Which, I think, is really too bad, not because I happen to be in the movie or because I helped with the historical research for it, but because a lot of people who I think should be heard from back in that day are in it.

And, If I may be frank, you have not done yourself or other reporters much good. You could have written a really good article about the film and the early days of gaming; now, I'll be thinking twice about giving interviews or allowing people to visit my archives.

yours, jeff berry / Chirine ba Kal

It's been a while... Good News, Bad News

Now with less and greyer hair...

Yes, it's been a while since I last posted. There's bee a lot happening in my family and gaming life, some of it very good, and some of it very bad. I'll try not to bore everyone with all the details, and stick with a summary and get back to regular posting.


Our Third Daughter miscarried our grandchild, who did not survive. She's doing as well as can be expected, and recovering.

We have a new roof on the house, which we hope will stop the various issues with water seepage that w've been dealing with for a long time.

I am on vacation at the moment, with a week left for time off. Things are getting done.

An old friend, Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo, has passed away after a long illness. We had some great times with him, and he still influences my gaming to this day. I'mm miss him.

I had a great trip to see friends in Alabama; I took Sixth Daughter with, so she could meet some publishers and show off her writing and artwork. It was very successful, I am proud to be able to say.

The Missus passed has cancer screening for another year, after a bit of a scare. She's clear, but we'll keep being cautious.


The documentary film about Dave Arneson and the early days of gaming here in the Twin Cities, is now up and available for downloads. Here's a link to their website:

(In the interests of full disclosure: I am listed as one of the historical research people, my collections and archives were used in the production of the film, and I appear briefly in it.)

The film covers the early days of gaming up here in the North Woods, up to the publication of the original boxed set of D&D. I'm told that there is a second film in production, covering the period after that date and up to the closure of Adventure Games, and I'm also told that I will have more 'air time' in this film as this the period when I was most closely connected with Dave.

Why you should watch this film: Because, purely and simply, you get to hear the people who played with Dave in the original games in their own voices. In some cases, you get to hear them for the last time; watching this film back in May at the premiere was pretty heart-wrenching for me personally, as some of these people have now passed away. This film may be your last chance to hear from some of my friends, and I suggest you take the opportunity to watch it and se what I found when I came to the Twin Cities back in 1975.

You will meet some pretty amazing people, and hear some pretty funny stories. I think you'll be amused.


As I mentioned, some things have gone very well, and I'll start posting on them shortly. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

If I May Be Permitted A Personal Note...

Herself, in 1987 is our 29th wedding anniversary. We are still here, in our same little house that we were married in the back yard of, and we suspect shall be here for a while longer.

Tekumel has had no greater supporter or worker; she's been there behind the scenes since 1987, making the magic happen.

Thank you, my love...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

'System Mastery' vs. 'World Settings'

The scene of the action(s)

Early last year, an experienced D&D 5e gamer told me I should get out of the campaign that I'd been playing for a while, as I was "holding the party back because I didn't have system mastery on the 5e rules". So, since I agreed with him, I handed my player-character sheets back to the very patient GM, and left the campaign. (And the table, and the game store, but that's a different story.)

It got me thinking. No, I don't 'know the rules'. I'd thought I'd known the world, as we were playing in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. What I had failed to comprehend was that we were not playing in Dave's Blackmoor, but in the Zeigeist Games version - which is substantially different, with most of what made Dave's Blackmoor so unique and fun simply not being present. (Like Gertie, The Mother of All Dragons, for example.)

Back in the day, we didn't play rules sets; we played worlds, and game scenarios set in those worlds. We did this both for what has become the 'RPG genre' and the 'wargaming genre', as all of us being so young and inexperienced (I have also been called 'unsophisticated', about this now vital and very important difference in genres) we simply did know any better some forty years ago.

I get asked what I play, so here it is:

Tekumel - by M. A. R. Barker

I have always loved Phil's creation, and I enjoy campaigning in it. So, I do, and I use whatever rules set happens to fit that particular game session.

Barsoom - by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Phil introduced me to Barsoom, and I've never looked back. Sword And Planet Romance, in all it's glory. Those Therns continue to be a pain...

Ancient Egypt - by Hollywood and the Pulps

Historical gaming has always been something I've enjoyed, to the despair of Serious Historical Gamers. Real history is full of really wonderfully goofy stuff, like The Tangier Garrison of Charles II, and you can't make it up nearly as well. So, 'classic' Aegyptus as in the time of Lord Meren, and 'Hollywood' Aegyptus as in the time of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

The Dark Ages - by The Missus, Herself

More historical campaigning, but with lefse and open-faced sandwiches on the sideboard. Herself is Scandinavian, so she wanted to salvage the fifty Shieldmaiden figures I'd bought for an abortive campaign by adventuring in the Viking Age. I happen to have a bunch of old Ral Partha / RAFM 'Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age' figures as well, so we can have some raids to sack and pillage those Northern European buildings I have. And we can visit Novgorod and Constantinople, too, such is the depth of my scenery boxes

The Pyrates - by George Macdonald Frasier.

If you haven't read this book and wanted to break out the ships, dice, eyepatches, pieces-of-eight, and percentile dice, then nothing I can do will help you. Avast, me hearties!!!

Lots of maps are going up on the walls; I have heaps, and we'll be awash in adventure...

Conventions. Gaming Styles, and Logistics

The style of games that I usually see...

... and the kind of games that I usually do.

We've just finished up with the huge local F/SF convention, Convergence, and as usual post-convention I'm being asked why I wasn't there and doing my bit for Tekumel and gaming in general by running games. This discussion normally begins at the beginning of the year before the local game convention, Con of the North, continues through Gary Con and Convergence, and usually ends with Gen Con.

The assumption that is normally being made is that my games are just like everyone else's, a battle mat with a grid, and maybe a few of the pre-painted vinyl figures. Gamers and event organizers, despite the number of photos I've sent out, are always surprised and shocked to hear that I don't game that way, and that I'm going to need a fixed base of operations for the duration of the event due to the sheer vastness of what I bring to an event.

The assumption is that I can move around the event at will, hopping from  table to table and two-hour time slot to two-hour time slot; conventions and events, these days, use the same 'through-put' business model that food courts and fast-food places use. More and shorter games mean more customers can be serviced in a shorter interval of time and space; quantity is far more important then quantity, which is most noticeable in the deafening noise levels in the gaming spaces; the event organizers can get more through-put at a lower cost by putting as many game tables in a given room space as possible. This economizes on event staff and maximizes profit for the organizers.

Well, I don't game that way, and I have been told to conform to the 'programming format' or not run games at that event. I am very happy to not run games, which also baffles event organizers - they usually view their events as having 'prestige' or 'premium' status, and I have to say that the statement by an old friend is my mantra: "No gaming is better then bad gaming."

Som it's looking like that any games I run in the future will be here in my own game room; I like to run long-term campaigns / 'open ended sandbox play' anyway, and it's just easier on me to do things the way I always have. It takes as much effort to load out, set up, tear down, and load in a one day event as it does a four day event, and I normally get no help on either end of the logistics exercise. And I have to run the games in between, as well, so it just gets to be far more trouble then the trip may be worth.

Oh, and yes, I am expected to foot all the bills for these event out of my pocket. For what I've spent this year alone on other peoples' events, I could have run a pretty decent little convention all by myself.

So, a change in direction seems to be in the wind - or maybe a return to my core values, perhaps...

Monday, July 1, 2019

Romance, In Phil's Games - Along With The Action And Adventure, Of Course...

Tim KnightJune 22, 2019 at 6:11 AM

That's so amazingly evocative and poetic. I'd be really interested to hear, one day, how you all handled the subject of romance, marriages, children in game. Was it hand-waved or was there role-play? How did Chirine fall in love with Si N’te?

The short answer is that we role-played. Romance - like the Glorious General and N'lel hi Chaishyani, or Narkhodlan and Arlua, or Vrisa and Koro Tai - happened in the course of our adventures and was often followed by marriage and children. Phil's Tekumel was - and still is, if you asked me - a living, breathing world full of people going about their lives; what I call his 'meta-game'. We lived our lives inside that game, and we interacted with it.

There wasn't a lot of 'game mechanics' involved; Phil usually just rolled for a reaction, we rolled for a reaction, and we all role-played the results. We didn't hand-wave this kind of thing; you courted, if that was the situation, or you were courted. We didn't go into role-playing where the children came from; we assumed that somewhere along the way, Phil's meta-game rolls would throw up who was having kids. I should also mention that we didn't have player- player romances in Phil's games; we played our characters, and they rarely had 'romances'. That's pretty much how we did it.

As for Her Ladyship and her husband...

4.1801 The Shores of the Goddess, And The Treasures Found There;

Winter Solstice, 2360 A. S.; Ru’su, in the Nyémesel Islands

The crowd in the central plaza was getting thicker and denser as the light began to fade; Chirine stopped where he was, and looked for a reasonably clear path across the plaza through the throngs of local people that were filling the broad space. He’d forgotten that this was the evening of the winter solstice, and despite never having been here in Ru’su before, he suspected that the theocrats who ruled these islands had some sort of ceremony in mind. Being a foreigner, and one who stood out amongst the crowds of the commoners due to his dress, he wanted to be out of sight and out of mind when the festivities got started; many of the places that he’d been in his career had interesting and unusual ideas regarding how strangers could take prominent parts in their colorful traditional ceremonies, and many of the less civilized ones usually resulted in the stranger being sacrificed to the local gods in interesting and unusual ways.

His linen kilt and gold collar of plaques, which in Tsolyánu would have been considered dreadfully informal for a high-ranking military priest-priest, looked like formal or ritual garb here among the commoners of these islands. They all wore minimal loincloths at best, even on this evening of ceremony, with the only finery on display being necklaces and hair ornaments made of the seashells that all of the islanders prized. Considering what they had to contend with to get those shells, he mused, he’d value them as well; fishing in the seas around the Nyémesel Islands was fraught with danger.

The sound of a conch-shell horn echoed over the plaza, and he felt the crowd draw back a bit; there were too many of them to be able to see anything. The horn sounded again, and a path opened in the crowd in front of him as if on command; the people on either side of the narrow corridor they’d just opened looked at him and gestured for him to pass ahead of them into the central part of the plaza. He could see the heads of several of the priests of Mrettén ahead of him, at the end of the corridor, and their bobbing sea-shell helmets gave the impression that they were looking for something. Or someone, and he had the feeling that he was what they were looking for.

The helmets were joined by a tall headdress of plumes as he moved towards them, and he wondered what that might indicate; Khéshchal plumes were an exceedingly valuable commodity here, and he’d never seen anyone wearing them in the short time they’d been docked in the harbor buying provisions. Hárchar, always eager to make a kaitar, had gone around buying up all the plumes he could from his passengers to sell to the ruling priesthood; he’d been truly annoyed by the heaps of reddish seashells he’d been offered in exchange until Chirine had reminded him that the shells were the local currency – and were quite valuable back in distant Tsolyánu, where they were used in the making of the deep purple dyes sacred to Lord Hrü'ü, and worth their weight in gold to the dyers’ clans. Hárchar was greatly relieved and reveled in his profits, much to all of their amusement.

The helmets resolved themselves into two priests, as he thought; the plumes, on the other hand, topped a masked helmet worn by a rather slender and rather muscular woman. Unlike the priests’ blanket-like wraps of dyed sea-grass, she wore a filmy garment of the finest Thésun gauze which was draped from her shoulders to her hips. Like the plumes, the silken gauze was both rare and valuable here, and he assumed that the woman was a priestess of Mrettén in some sort of ritual vestments. She saw him, as he broke through the last of the crowd, and gestured to the two priests. They turned and saw him, and both broke out into what looked like smiles of happiness or relief; Chirine had the feeling that somebody was late to the ceremony, and that he’d been tapped as the replacement. The woman turned away and walked into the plaza’s center, and the two priests fussed over him like two old women over a grandchild. They handed him a tall helmet similar to theirs, but with a masked face and various emblems worked on the surface of the shell that it had been made from. Once he had donned it, they led him through a line of yet more priests who had formed a large open circle around the middle of the plaza, and pointed to a spot in the exact center.

When Chirine had crossed the plaza earlier, he’d noticed that it was decorated by what looked like arcs of shells inset into the stone pavement; they had been in different colors, from what little he could see of them under the stalls and people’s feet, and now he could see that they formed large circles, five of them, paved with shells in different colors. The center spot that he was headed for was just large enough for one to stand in, and done in golden-colored shells that glittered in the fading light. Ahead of him, facing the setting sun, was what looked like the cleric who was going to preside over the coming ceremonies.

When Chirine stepped into the central circle, the cleric raised his arms and gestured to the ring of priests; half and half, alternately, they either blew conch-shell horns or uncovered lanterns that illuminated the plaza in a soft golden light. From behind this circle came five dancers, each in gauzy fabric costumes that had been dyed to match the color of the shells that made up the five concentric rings in the pavement. They spiraled inwards towards him until each stood on the circle that matched the color of their costume, and stood still for a moment while the presiding priest made an incantation; the conch-shells sounded once again when he was done, and the five dancers began a stately procession around their circles, dancing between formal poses as they went. Each moved at a specific pace, the outermost moving the slowest and the inner ones faster and faster, twirling in the light from the lanterns.

The dance might have looked like some ordinary folk ritual to one untutored in sorcery, but to anyone with even a smattering of temple knowledge it was more then that. To someone of his training, and his experiences, it was much more then that; he was at the center of what amounted to a human replica of an orrery. He’d seen the mechanical version from the height of the First Imperium of the Engsvanyáli that had survived in the Tsoléi Islands. There, the five planets that orbited Tuléng were represented by sorcerous globes; here, bejewelled dancers played the parts of the various worlds.

The next ranks of dancers who spiraled into the circles simply confirmed his surmise; a dancer for each of the little worldlets that orbited the primary planets in Tékumel's sky joined in the dance, again accompanied by fanfare from the shell trumpets. The middle dancer of the five was joined by two dancers, one in dusty red and one in bright green, and he started as he recognized the dancer portraying Tékumel as the woman he’d seen with the two priests. The two acolyte children, for such they were, revolved around the older woman in the same counter-rotating way that the two moons Gayél and Káshi did about Tékumel, and as they joined her the crowds beyond the ring of priests took up the chant of the high priest; drums, rattles, and other musical instruments came into play, and the air of festivity seemed general.

There also seemed to be an expectation that something else, perhaps of a more dramatic or miraculous nature, should be happening and Chirine had the feeling that the high priest who was presiding over this ceremony was giving him a certain look. Chirine had the feeling that he’d better do something interesting and appropriate, preferably of a dramatic or miraculous nature, in the very near future or it might go badly for himself and his companions.

The fading twilight gave him an idea, and when the music and chanting reached a high point Chirine raised his own arms and outlined a sigil in the air over his head. He cupped his hands together, and drew them apart; a sphere of golden light grew and shone over his head, and lit the dancers, the priests, and the near ranks of the crowd. The music and chanting stopped for a heartbeat, and the dancers all froze in their places; time itself seemed to stop, and there was a complete and utter silence in the plaza.

He spared an instant from his concentration on the spell for a glance at the high priest. That worthy had gone from astonished shock to euphoric happiness in that briefest of moments, and Chirine went back to concentrating on maintaining the sphere of energy. The high priest called out to the silent throngs, saying something that sounded very important and not a little triumphant; the crowds thundered back, and the music and the dance resumed with a new energy and a very real sense of satisfaction from everyone.

After what seemed like an eternity, the music slowed and the dancers began to spiral back out to the ring of lanterns. The acolyte children from the outer rings left first, followed by the older dancers until only the woman and her two small companions were left. She began a slow spiral inwards to Chirine, and as they came closer to him he modulated the spell so that the sphere became both smaller and dimmer. The two acolytes continued their dance for a moment more, then they too spiraled off and were lost against the surrounding circle of dark shapes. The woman danced closer to him, and he could see the fine sheen of sweat on her skin.

As she came within arm’s reach, he lowered his arms, bringing the now man-high sphere of energy down to surround himself. She finally stopped, facing him, and she extended her own arms out to match his; they were both surrounded by the golden sphere of light, alone in the center of the empty and now silent plaza. He felt a delicate touch on his fingers, and let the spell fade slowly. As he did so, the priests in the surrounding ring extinguished their lanterns, leaving only the two of them lit in the glow of the now dim sphere. The woman gracefully swung away from him, still touching one hand so that they stood side by side in the glow of energy. She led him slowly to the high priest, who waited until they stood before him; the priest gestured to Chirine, and he let the sphere die away completely until they stood in the dark.

This seemed to be the signal that the crowd had been waiting for, and what sounded like general revelry broke out. The high priest stepped forward, took both their hands in his own, and led them out of the plaza to the gate of the Temple of Mrettén. The gates opened at their approach, and they went inside to a shrine that was just inside the temple grounds. It was small, not very grand, but endowed with an aura of sanctity that one could sense from outside the gates. The shrine’s doors were opened by kneeling priests of what looked to be high rank, and then he and the woman were alone inside; the high priest had ushered them in, and then closed the doors with his own hands while bowing deeply to them.

The small room was lit by a single hanging lamp, itself lit with a single candle. The woodwork that made up the walls, floor, and roof looked and felt palpably ancient; he wondered for a moment if the whole shrine was picked up and brought here for this festival. It was small enough, he thought, and he’d seen similar things during his travels. The center of the room was taken up by a waist-high dais, covered in the sea-grass cloth that was used for most fabric items here, but sea-grass of the best quality and the finest weave. The dais was built of wood, square in shape, and it looked to be about a man-height across. All of the woodwork of the room and dais was of exquisite quality, and it seemed to glow in the candlelight.

He started to quietly apologize to her for his appearance; while he wasn’t of such a visage as to frighten children in the marketplace, his broken nose was not very attractive by Tsolyáni standards. She silenced him with two fingers touched to his lips, and whispered even more quietly in accented Tsolyáni. “Your nose is not what I saw, back there in the plaza; I saw what you have within, and that is why I made my choice this night. I am called Sí N’te, and you are the foreigner called Chirine after the great hero of ancient times.”

“You have it exactly, Noble Lady, and I hope that I caused no offense tonight in the plaza with my sorcery.”

“And you are too kind; I am but a temple dancer in the service of the Temple of Mrettén, a priestess, as you would call it, but not what you foreigners would call a ‘noble lady’. No, you caused no offence at all; the high priest who was in charge of the Circle Dance ceremony was delighted with how everything went. The priesthood will be all talking about this, and they will be most happy with you for doing things so well. I would expect,” she said with a sidelong look at him, “that you will find it much easier to trade for provisions and supplies for your ship and crew tomorrow.”

“Then you are a most practical person, as well as being an excellent dancer.”

She smiled in the dim light from the now low candle flame. “My thanks for that compliment; you are most kind to your humble servant.”

He stirred. “Servant? Is that something you wish, or something that is required of you by your priests? Will I be expected to trade for you, or will my small part in tonight’s ceremonies be deemed enough?” He frowned; this was not something he’d expected, and from what he knew of the priesthood of Mrettén, they didn’t trade any of their members to foreigners who happened to pass by and participate in their local ceremonies.

She touched his lips, and tried to smooth away the frown there. “It is indeed what I wish, otherwise I would have waited for the priest who was originally supposed to participate. I saw you, took my chance, and made my choice; it is our tradition that the priestess who plays the role I did tonight chooses her consort for the Circle Dance ceremony and the ceremony afterwards here in Mretten’s most ancient and most sacred of shrines…” She stopped for a moment, with her head tilted to one side in thought. “I misspoke; I used your word for ‘servant’, and I should have used your word for ‘consort’, instead. I am sorry; I should have really used your word for ‘wife’.”

For the first time in his eventful life, Chirine was speechless…

It is now the year 2,398 A. S., in Phil's Long Count of Years. Si N'te and Chirine have been together for some 38 years; they are still very much in love.

This was one of the very best nights of gaming we had with Phil in his Tekumel.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Lady, will you dance?"

It is the summer solstice.

Nearly forty years ago, Prof. M. A. R. Barker created one of his most memorable non-player characters: the Priestess of Mretten, Si N’te. She very quickly developed a personality all her own, despite her creator’s best efforts, and became a very real person to all of us who played in Phil’s Tekumel.

She’s had her share of adventures; she’s collected four wives – Kiya, Tsahul, Nyssa, and Fishface; one husband – Chirine; and a host of children along the way - two, the twins Kashi and Gayel, are her own, and the rest – Sitre, Menwe, Ten’er, Mridan, Takhmet, Takhmin, Aliya, Sirin, and Djel have all come to her on the winds of fate and been welcomed into her family.

It is the summer solstice.

The harbor and the skies over the palace have been filled with great ships arriving for this day, and bearing her guests to her home. Captain Harchar’s “Splendor of the Gods” rides at anchor, the “Prince Ahmed” out of Basra is tied up at the quay, and a great skyship flying the colors of the twin towers of Helium pivots into the wind while at hover. Gay Deceiver and her sister Dora sit on their landing pads on the Legion of the All-Consuming Flame’s parade ground, along with the flying sphere of Turshamu the Undying Wizard and the gleaming silver ovoid of an intra-system ship of the Ancients.

Her guests have names like Fafherd, Kimball Kinnison, Lapis Lazuli, John Carter, Hisvet, Ozma, Lorelei Lee,  Dejah Thoris, and the Grey Mouser. For this day, the barriers that separate the 772 worlds of the Multiverse have been sundered, and the old palace is filled with the life and laughter of them all.

It is the summer solstice.

The great plaza that lies in front of the old Engsvanyali palace that now serves her and her family has been cleared. Five mosaic rings, in different colors, had been set into the pavement in ancient times, with a solid round spot – done in bright gold – in the exact center. The plaza was ringed by an expectant crowd, all of whom fell silent when the drummers in their crimson tunics embroidered with a great leaping golden dragon began to sound a marching beat.

Two companies of elite solders, the Black Guard – composed entirely of male beings – and the White Guard – composed entirely of female beings – march out of the old palace’s gates, down the steps to the plaza, and form up in ranks across the front of the palace. They re followed by Lord Chirine’s bodyguard; six troopers of the Legion of the All-Consuming Flame; they are not the very best soldiers of the Legion, as one might expect – they are, instead, the despair of their officers. But, they are the very best warriors that the Legion has in the ranks.
The drums continue; from out of the tall double gates, armored in buffed and polished armor, comes Lord Chirine himself ; he is what he is, the commanding general of his legion, and a mighty and powerful sorcerer. He goes to the golden spot in the center of the plaza, and waits.

It is the summer solstice.

The drums fall silent. A single flute begins a tune, and one by one Their Ladyships, Si N’te and her wives, spiral out to the five circles set into the pavement. Each takes a color; she herself takes the blue circle, and as more flutes and conch-shell horns take up the melody she is joined by her two twins, who each circle around her in opposite directions like their namesakes do in Tekumel’s sky.

It is the night of The Circle Dance, sacred to the Goddess Mretten, and the dance is being danced by the Goddess’ own First Dancer, Lady Si n’te with her family. As the last of the sun touches the horizon, her husband raises his hands and the plaza is illuminated by his sorcery. Their Ladyships and the twins spiral away, leaving Chirine and Si N’te alone and together in the plaza as then have been for nearly forty years of action, adventure, and romance.

Chirine lets his spell fade, and the night’s revelry begins.

It is the summer solstice.

Thank you Phil, for the world that you gave us and the adventures we had with you in it…

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Look Around The Table

 A moment in time during the 'Free RPG Day' game, when we were in one of the many 'cake breaks' in a valiant attempt by the party to Do Something about all that cake I'd gotten in a midnight raid on the grocery store.

Going around the table: The Glorious General, a Sacred Cat of Bast, a Librarian, a Lady-in-Waiting, a dodgy Yan Koryani nobleman (we think; he's kinda vague about his past), a Nlyss mercenary (the famous Murr dir Oboe, no less!!!), some guy who popped out of a telephone booth and says he's a Physician (Personally, I think he needed to get his washing machine fixed, as it made all sorts of terrible noises), and our very own Vampire Real Estate Agent.

A lot of other people showed up, too, but I was so busy I forgot to take pictures...

Seventh Daughter, All Tanked Up

Yep, the rumors are true. I have two new Daughters, the Sixth and Seventh of that ilk. Seventh Daughter flew in from out of town for the 'Free RPG Day' game and the associated festivities, and allowed that she had had a great time.

"Living the dream!" she said.

She also allowed that she'd like to wear Dad's armor (Wasn't that a British sit-com, back in the day?) soe we got her all suited up and she wore the 38 pounds of steel and leather for the next five hours to great acclaim. I made sure that her citizenship papers and writs were in her dispatch case...

This was a pretty amazing moment; Chirine hasn't been worn by anybody since he was shown off at the WorldCon in 1988. Seemed like a good idea to get him off his mannequin, dust lightly, and get a Priestess of Vimuhla all suited up...

Free RPG Day Has been Survived!

Three views of our little corner of the game store. The chaise lounge was for one of our players who had a bad fall and suffered a concussion. She came and played anyway; you just can't keep those Shieldmaidens down!

Twenty-one players, nine hours of continual gaming, twelve pounds of assorted cake, thirty-four dollars on the drinks tab I had with the store, one hundred and twenty flyers distributed, thirty-eight business cards handed out, and uncounted laughter.

It's been a long and very busy five weeks leading up to this event, but we're getting back to normal around here. More to come... :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Arrival Of An Annual Event...

The artwork may look familiar.

'Free Comic Book Day', with the Usual Suspects' tables

The Shieldmaidens, bless their little black hearts, continue to spread their subversive message of "Gaming is fun!" to the masses. As part of their continuing program of spreading chaos and laughter, they have 'invited' me to run an event at The Source for 'Free RPG Day' on June 15th, 2019, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; this will be my usual 'open table' game, where people can drop in and out as they have the time, and I have to work them into the game.

No safety net for this high-wire act, folks, and I like it that way.

As we did last year, this game will feature "Lady Si N'te And Her Nameday Party", set in our palace in the Nyemesel Isles in the far eastern waters of Phil's campaign. A screamingly good time was had by all last year, including the guy who got nibbled on by the Akho in the harbor. (That'll teach him to punch old ladies down in the coastal village!)

And yes, by popular demand, there will indeed be cake. Lots and lots of cake.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sea Battle Continued - (5)

Lots of ships got sunk; about half the pirate fleet got off the board, and about a third of the Akho took damage of one kind or another. No clouds were harmed in the making of this game.

All in all, I was very pleased with this game. People had fun playing in it, and I had a lot of fun setting it up and running it.

Sea Battle Continued (4)

The running battle became general across the board, with the Akho having to be very careful of the rams on the pirates' warships - the merchant ships counted as blunt force trauma, with the larger ships abl to kill an Akho by ramming. This was not a very one-sided battle; both side got pretty hammered in the fighting.

Sea Battle Continued (3)

As might have been expected, a melee broke out in the rear of the convoy as the first group of Akho attempted to drive the ships into their submerged ambush. Lacking depth charges, the wicked pirates started throwing food supplies overboard in an attempt to distract the Akho.

When they ran out of hardtack, they started throwing slaves over the side. I had to come up with grappling and digestion rules on the spot. More markers came out to indicate who was being fed, and the movement penalties involved.

Sea Battle, Continued (2)

The pirates elected to split their fleet into several squadrons, as did the Akho. The latter then threw me for a loop, announcing that they were electing to submerge most of their forces and attack from below. I had to come up with submarine rules on the spot, put ot chits on the miniatures to indicate who was and was not submerged, and the game continued.