Sunday, December 20, 2020

Still Here! Still Carrying On, Too!

Well, the ship of state is still afloat. I slipped up, and haven't posted for a while; I have gotten a message from Google that if I don't use my Google account they will be closing it, so I plan on posting here once a week. It's kind of a placeholder, to keep the account open and save the photos I have on file. I still cannot use the new format well - I do not have a smart phone - so my usual longer essays are over on my Proboards forum: (I don't get line returns here, for example.) I just posted an essay about turning 64, and how it's impinged on my gaming. Have a look, and see what you think...

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

We are still here... An Update

We are, as the title says, still here. Janet's doing better - her sore throat is almost gone, and she has yet to show any other symptoms. My cold is in the wane, and I have tested negative for Covid-19. However, both my daughter and son-in-law in Zurich are sick and have tested positive for the virus. They have fevers, but are holding their own. I am still in isolation until next week. More news, when and if I get some...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cancer, Covid, And Us

As you can see, we're still having issues with the new 'smart-phone' format. We'll deal with it.The news: Janet passed her annual cancer screening; she's still clear. However: She's tested positive for Covid-19. She's feeling pretty good, and we'll fight this. My own health is good, after a big change in my medications. More about all this over on the4 Proboards forum...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

More Losses Of Functionality

Google has informed me that neither of the browsers on the MacBook will work anymore onBlogger, so in what little there may be left in the future here I'll be using the Windows 10 machine and Microsoft Edge. I cannot post comments on other blogs, however, until I switch over to Google Chrome, their proprietary browser. In the meantime, I suggest following our adventures over on my Proboards forum:

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Issues With The New Interface

The new and improved Blogger interface has kicked in, and I am having some pretty dire issues with posting. Neither of the browsers on the Mac I've been using for the blog work with the new interface, and this machine (the HP PC running Microsoft Edge) will work with my digital camera or other media. So, for now, look me up over at: Thanks!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Making Sawdust, And Improving My Mood

we're still working on the Blogger interface issue, as well as getting a lot of stuff done around the house; what with the Missus health issues, we're keeping pretty busy. I did get a chance to make some sawdust, this evening. There's more on the forum, and I'll post a link in a moment...

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Great Experiment Begins!

I have no idea what this is going to look like when you see it - I'm getting really odd things happening with this platform. So, I'm writing over on my forum, and posting a link to the text here. Today's post is here:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

And Now, Something Nice...

This may be my last post on this blog; Google / Blogger is changing the interface format of the platform to better suit people who use their smart phones and similar devices to look at the Internet. I don;t have either; I use a desktop computer, and the new format simply does not work with it. I shall try the Windows 10 machine, to see if that helps, and we'll try to keep on posting as best we can. In the meantime, let's have some good news: From Murr dur Oboe, Homicidal Nylss Mercenary: "I love my painting kit. Thank you so much for this. I’ve already painted the two minis that you gave me." One of the Shieldmaidens, who plays Murr in my Tekumel campaign, was a guest at our Anniversary event and mentioned that she was interested in getting to learn how to paint miniature figures. Well, nobody was there for me, fifty years back, so in consultation with Dr. Hannah, Ace Painter at The Source Comics & Games I got Murr a little 'starter' kit with paint, brushes, palette, and brush cleaner - I also got a carry case to put it all in. Dr. Hannah also suggested a couple of miniatures to go with, as 'starter figures', and these wer packed in with the tools. It worked. Murr is a great painter; her very first two miniatures are in the top two photos, and she enjoyed painting them so much she went and got herself a Reaper 'Bone Dragon' with the results you can see in the lower photos. I love it when this happens. It's why I'm in this hobby. I got very lucky, and got to know some really amazing people back in the day, and I try to pass that good onward. We'll tally this one as a success... :) (Edit: The 'preview' looks nothing like what appears on the blog. I'm working on it.)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

And Now, The Bad News...

For Dr. Burns. RIP, sir.

Bob Meyer, who's leaving the building

Having survived the past couple of weeks, we have some bad news to announce.

Dr. Mike Burns, owner of Dark Fable Miniatures, last his battle with cancer last week. He'll be sorely missed; he was always easy and fun to deal with, and had a great line of figures.

Bob Meyer, aka Robert The Bold of Blackmoor, and one of Dave Arneson's original players, has announced that he will no longer be running his Blackmoor games. It is my understanding that he's in discussions with a local gamer to take over The One True Blackmoor Campaign.

That's the lowest of the low points of the last couple of weeks. There's more, and maybe I'll write about them, but not right now. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Back After Thirty Years...

Filling up the wading pools
That's our original wedding certificate, there...

The south tent

The alleyway

Why we had the pools

The north tent

I have been off-line for a while; the real-world issues that we had to deal with at the beginning of the month have now subsided, and the rest of july has been spent getting ready for our Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary. We got married on July 22nd, 1990, in our new back yard and we thought - given the advisories from the CDC and WHO - that we'd return to the scene of the crime and have some friends over.

A catered lunch from a local deli was provided; everyone got a box lunch, and a cooler bag to take home the left-overs (If any; the hordes were ravenous.) The usual buffet was replaced by a table full of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, handi-wipes, dog biscuits, individually-wrapped flatware and straws; coolers full of wet ice had individual drinks, and more coolers full of dry ice had all the individual box lunches. Bowls of individually-bagged snacks were also available, and one of our old friends brought a cooler full of dry ice and ice cream.

Since the weather forecast was simply lousy - heat and humidity to start, strong storms later - I put extra tarps on the tents and battened down the hatches. Power was run out to the tents for the lights and fans, and set up on a single breaker for dealing with the wet. We got two to three inches of rain that night, but stuff stayed reasonably dry.

People stayed in their masks, we had a good breeze, and the individual family groups stayed together. Everybody had been watching their health for the previous two weeks, and everyone felt pretty safe as we'd be outdoors all day anyway.

Because of the weather, we had to drop the video link, but we had back-ups. The only issue we had was getting the inflatable stuff inflated, but we managed.

It all seemed to go well, and people enjoyed being out and about. Yes, it was very muggy, but nobody was doing a lot of moving around so we all stayed pretty comfortable.

In short, a good time was had by all.

Thirty years in the same house. With the same spouse. In this time of constant change, some things do seem to last...

(Edit: photo added after getting permission of the photographer; that's our original wedding certificate, there.)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Once Upon A Time: Character Reference Sheets

Today's GM

Today's player

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about the game she was going to be playing in today. Her question was whether or not she needed to do a lot of preparation, like a detailed Character Reference Sheet.

There's been a lot of discussion about these in various forums and on various blogs, and I think you might find the thoughts of people like D. H. Boggs interesting. The general feeling, as near as I can tell, is that the surviving early sheets might be able to tell us about how those early games were played, and how the rules being used in those far-off days were written and used. I'm no authority on either, so I'd suggest a little web- searching might be in order for people who want to learn more.

We didn't have these sheets out at Phil's back when I got out there; they hadn't been invented yet, and all we had were 3" x 5" index cards, which Phil color-coded by our PCs temple, and we noted the various facts about our alter-egos on these. Phil's invariable rule was that if it wasn't on your card, you didn't have it. Period. As a result, we got really good about making sure that anything we had on our person was on the card, and anything else we owned was noted as being 'somewhere' on the card in a separate column.

This led, over time, into what might be described as a minor obsession with our baggage - which was helped along by our having to make notes about what was 'hold' luggage and what was 'cabin' luggage when we went on our voyages with dear old Harchar. Phil had had some ocean voyages under his belt, so he knew just exactly how long it would take to root around down in the hold to get out some particular trunk. The same thing happened in our legion days, when we had whole baggage trains to work with.

This led to our other primary record-keeping device, the note pad. I still hand these out at games, along with pencils and pens, and I advise players in the strongest possible terms to write things down. (Notes on game play also got taken, too.) I kept all this for my archives, and these are the basis for my accounts of our adventures in "To Serve The Petal Throne".

Such are the humble beginnings of the sheets we have today. Take a look around the Internet, and see what people have to say about them. All she needed for today was her gear and stuff, because she was playing in a very vintage game. A very, very vintage game...

And today's GM? Bob Meyer. Today's player? Chandra Reyer. The game? The One True Blackmoor.

Yes! My friend the Shieldmaiden is gaming with The Blackmoor Bunch.

It's a fine day, here at The Workbench.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

'WYSIWYG'? Theater Of The Mind? Let's Have A Parade!

My tiny parade
(Lord Chirine, who wishes he had some for the legion)
Getting ready for the real thing
(China News Agency)

The parade today in Red Square had eleven T-34/85s and seven Su-100s leading the Mobile Column, and I thought that it was impressive as anything that a) as many vintage tanks as this were in one place, b) they didn't run over anything that they weren't supposed to, and c) they all ran just fine, despite being pretty ancient by the standards of armored vehicles.

What this has to do with gaming is a style of gaming; in his recent interview (link in my post on Rings Of Dragon Summoning) Mr. Mornard talked about 'theater of the mind' games, where the GM/ referee described the situation and you pictured in in your head. This is a perfectly fine style of gaming; I've used it myself, as did Those Three Guys I often talk about. Phil did it quite memorably, and scared the kilts off of us doing it.

He also did what's been called 'What You See Is What You Get'; back in his salad days, he'd glue new weapons and stuff onto his little hand-carved wooden figures as they collected the stuff in his games. He still did this when I happened by, and I wound up sticking stuff onto the figures I did for our games with him over the years. I still do it, which leads to our little parade of die-cast armor.

One of the first things one learns about armored vehicles is that visibility from inside them is pretty poor; this leads to all sorts of unwelcome attention from people who are unhappy with you. While keeping one's accompanying infantry happy so that they keep a look-out for you, the prudent tanker will keep the hatches open as long as possible and keep one's head out the top and on a swivel to make sure that people with hostile intentions can be dealt with quickly and surely. Not paying attention can - and often will - get one in serious trouble.

So, in my style of game, where what you see is what you get, I like to have a way to show that the crew of the vehicle is either in or out; in this case, Anne of Bad Squiddo has thoughtfully provided a set of tank crew figures in her Red Army Women range. Since I am loath to drill into my vintage 1:43 die-cast russian toys, I got two sets of her figures and mounted them on removeable bases which can be put onto the armor to show that somebody is heads up - or not, as the case may be. And being the kind of modeler that I am, I also did the hatches as per the prototype. It's an easy way for players to see just what the current status of their situation that they are in, and it pleases my sense of how things should look.

So, we have, from left to right: 'Krokodil', with commander and loader up top; 'Fighting Girlfriend IV', with commander; 'Alligator', buttoned up; 'Sisters-in-arms', with commander; and 'Dragon', again with commander and loader. There are two different poses for the commanders, and I am very seriously thinking about getting out the very fine drill bits and drilling the one commander's hand to take the signal flags often used by Red Army tankers.

I should note that that last idea would be very important in an early-war game, where only platoon-level and higher commanders had radios. Communications at the platoon (or battery, for the self-propelled guns) level was by signal flag from the platoon commander - this makes for a truly Arnesonian style of game, as once the commanders button up nobody can talk to anybody else on the table.

Mayhem always ensues, which is why I like to run my games this way.

However, seasoned players in my games - like Mr. Mornard - have gotten wise to this over the years and so make a point of handing me a Coca-Cola; while I'm fiddling around with the bottle opener (called in Tsolyani the 'viyunlu', the 'device for creating the state of openness' - M. A. R. Barker, who ought to know) they carefully look over the game table and their forces to see what surprises I might have lurking in the dark shadows and odd corners.

'What You See Is What You Get', because I like building stuff and hearing the screams of glee and terror from my players.

Mayhem always ensues. :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Interlude - Father's Day (Late, I know, but...)

Sunday's message traffic

First Daughter
Fifth, Third, Fourth, and Second Daughters
Seventh and Sixth Daughters
Their Mother, Queen of the Internet

I do go on a bit every now and then about my family. I've been asked if they really exist, so here's the photos. There are also two sons-in-law, two grandchildren, and assorted significant others.

That's the lot; and I am very, very proud of them all.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Rings Of Dragon Summoning - I Did Warn You, Remember?

A pair of 1/48 scale P-40s for the Red Army Women
Something for the D&D side of the game...

Why, look - a perfectly good pair of Rings Of Dragon Summoning! I wonder what would happen if we touched them together?

I've been asked how, if I'm putting all this work into "Death Among The Rutabagas", I could possibly top that game with the actual S&S game. The answer is, as anyone who has seen any of my games knows, I've already gotten the end-game in hand. I will top myself; I always do.

My lovely Missus, of course, has had a lot to do this. She found us the two P-40s, one of which I repainted into Soviet colors; the other is in V AAF colors in honor of my dad who served in that formation. We'll see if the Red Army players get some air support. (JoAnn Fabrics, in the kids' crafts section.)

The giant dragon, which has eyes that glow in the dark when you throw the switch, is for the D&D players to have as their air support. (Home Depot, after-Halloween sale). She still needs her coat of gold paint, which is for a summer weekend yet to come. The flying boat is my contribution, as are the magical flying stands.


And for your delight, Mr. Mornard has appeared in an interview:

His interview starts about 1:50:00 into the show, and I suggest you give him a listen as he talks about our style of gaming. It is a long interview - maybe two hours plus, but worth listening to.


And yes, I do have the actual Rings. Three of them; one belongs to Lord Chirine, who got it from Gertie, the Great Golden Dragon of Blackmoor, and the matched pair belonging to his twin children who got them from their Dragon Godmother as a christening gift. Who happens to be that very same Great Golden Dragon.

We have some family history, here at the House of Wonders.

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Essay in Game Design - Mayhem Will Ensue!

You can lead the players to the bridge, but you can't make them cross it.

The question has been asked how all this essay on my games has anything to do with modern table-top role-playing gaming. It may very well not; what I'm doing is - hopefully- a window into a time and place in gaming where I learned some things from some people you may have heard of. Back then, we didn't have the myriad sets of rules that are out there in the market today; we had to make it up as we went along, and that - in turn - generated a lot of new rules sets.

What I'm doing is applying those lessons learned to the games I run. In this particular case, it's 'historical miniatures' - in the same way the first Braunsteins were. You recruit your players, you give them what they have to work with, you give them their objectives, and then you stand back and let the mayhem happen.

It always does, given good clever players. It's why I am in this hobby, to watch the fun as it unfolds.

More to come!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Essay In Game Design - Part Five

The MacGuffin

Back about this time last year, I was at a speaking engagement talking about how I run my games when  a young lady in the audience asked me what movies she could watch to get an idea of what I was going on about.

I suggested the films of Alfred Hitchcock. She asked which one, and I said "All of them".

Why? Well, you have to have Something that the people involved in the film or game have to want or deal with. Hitchcock called this the 'Macguffin'. It could be the Secret Plans, the Letters Of Transit,  the Little Blue Droid, or a statue of a bird. It can be anything - but it has to be something that gets the Heroes' attention.

"As you will recall," to quote Rene Artois (owner of several MacGuffins), back in the second part of this series of essays I gave the hand-out that all the players will be getting before the start of the first game in this series. There are several MacGuffins being hung out there for the players' distraction and bemusement:

The Supply Dump:
Given that both sides on the Eastern Front were prone to using the supplies and equipment of the opposite side - the Germans actually built a factory to make the ammunition for the thousands of Russian 76mm cannon they'd captured, for example - both sides will want to get their hands on anything they can use. This mitigates against blasting everything in sight with high explosives, and intelligent players will use a more cautious approach - as we leaned to do in Phil's campaign, to use another example. There's a time and a place to blow stuff up, but doing so while standing in the middle of a supply dump full of oil drums probably is not it.

The Livestock:
Huh? How do some chickens and cows figure as a thing to fight over? A simple experiment will give you the answer to that question. Go to your local grocery store and get three or four cans of tinned corned beef. Also get several loaves of black rye bread (Aldi usually has the exact 'ration' loaf in stock, which I laughed my fool head off over) and eat nothing but the corned beef and rye bread for the rest of the week. That chicken you found while you were trying to find out what that hidden movement chit was will look very, very good. To quote a Mongol I once knew, "Your horse is dead! Tonight we feast!"

The Staff Car:
VW staff cars, specifically the boxy Kubelwagen, are a trope / meme in WWII movies; they are easy to fake up out of plywood and as a result very cheap to blow up to give the heroes something to do. ("Where Eagles Dare" does this a lot.) The military version of the VW Beetle - yes, there was one, based on the Kubelwagen chassis with the Bug's body - on the other hand was only issued to favored or higher-ranking rear-echelon officers. The information that one of these is sitting apparently abandoned in the village is thus pretty exciting, as who knows what got left behind in the car and it has a heater! Both side will want to lay their hands on the Bug, as a result.

Similarly, the actual S&S game has this sort of thing as well. Without giving away too many secrets, we have:

The Night Witches:
The Russians are out to rescue the downed aircrew of one of the Po-2s of the regiment. Simple, but challenging as the two aviators are on the run from the opposition. And they have the machine gun from their Po-2, the one with the world's fastest rate of fire.

The Rings Of Dragon Summoning:
They are in there someplace; luckily, we have magic-users who can Detect Magic Object(s).

The General's Briefcase:
How careless of him to leave it in his staff car. I wonder what's in it? Cigars? Fine brandy? The division's code books?

The Sorceress's Wagon:
Gosh, it looks cool, but it's all locked up. And the mage wants us to find it and bring it back. And I thought I saw a horse, over there in the barn...

Mayhem, as I like to say, will ensue.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Essay In Game Design - Part Four

The Usual Suspects

And now, what I consider to be the nuts-and-bolts of my kind of gaming, as learned many years ago...

1. Intellectual Honesty

The first time I heard the phrase, "The rules are there to protect the players from the GM", I thought I'd wandered into the wrong hobby. In the tradition that I was raised in, the referee / GM was strictly neutral in game play. Yes, the place was designed to kill you - but only if you tripped the trap, set off the alarm, licked the sleeping Dire Peril, or were stupid enough to stand around in the corridor arguing. (The latter would normally result in a Wandering Monster Check, with the usual nasty results.)

Dave Arneson was a 'killer GM', not because he went after players deliberately in the game, but because he was faster, smarter, and much more clever then the people he was playing with. I thought it was very sad that at the beginning of the Gary Con game I ran some years back, Mr. Mornard had to specifically remind the players that I was not going to move my ambushes and traps to meet the players; instead, I was lying in wait for them, having made my best dispositions to block, harass, and outright kill them. It was going to be a 'fair fight', with no 'cheating' or 'fudging dice rolls', and any player who didn't think that I would be playing that way was invited to leave the table before the game started.

None did. I had the fight of my gaming life, as they all rose to the occasion and played as hard and as fast as they could.

Prof. Barker wasn't a 'killer GM'; his world was deadly enough, thank you, so he didn't have to be.

2. Hidden Movement

I happen to be a fan of miniatures; Mr. Mornard is a 'Theater of the Mind' gamer. Both styles work fine for both of us; we segue back and forth between the two as needed by the way the game plays out. A very big part of our games is that we, the GM, knows what's around the corner or making those noises in the bushes. The players do not, and that element of surprise is a big part of the gaming style that we like.

Whether you're using little lettered chits like I do on my miniatures tables, or simply keeping track of things on a notepad at your elbow, you're doing hidden movement and providing your players with the elements of surprise.

Dave Arneson and Phil Barker were both fans of written orders in miniatures games. There's no better way to simulate 'The Fog Of War', as the rest of the players try to work out what was supposed to be going on. Likewise the 'combat round', which often resounded with "YOU DID WHAT???" across the table.

Surprise. It's yours to come up with, and your players to deal with.

3. Think

Use the brains God gave a turnip, and think before you do. If you've planned things out, and the players go in an entirely different direction, it's up to you to think fast and land on your feet. This is why I keep harping on reading and research; give yourself the background information to be able to deal with any situation that might come up, and off you can go with confidence.

Gary spent hours in the Lake Geneva Public Library, Dave Arneson had the entire University of Minnesota's library system, and Prof. Barker had nearly 10,000 books in his personal library. They never seemed to have any problems with what their players would come up with.

4. Ask

That's a heavy-handed hint; it's what I'm here for.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

An Essay In Game Design - Part Three

From small things... large things.

So far, in this current series of little essays on what it is I do, you've seen the two hand-outs for the first game in this micro-campaign. I think that we'll end up running "Death Among The Rutabagas" as a two-part game; once for the initial Soviet attack, and again for the ensuing counter-attack as all of the players who want to play in the third game in the series, the actual running of the S&S game; folks will have not remembered to show up for the first game, and I'm leaning in the direction of making it a requirement for any Red Army players in the third game to play in the second. Either way, I'm running the games because I want to - I have the scenery and terrain, as well as all of the miniatures, so we're going right back to the way I used to do things back in the late 1970s and into the present. I learned the hard way that if I wanted to have games happen on time and run well, I had to own all the assets.

The biggest question that's come my way about all this is "How do you come up with this stuff?" The answer is both simple, and complex:

Like Gary, Dave, and Phil, I read. 

Books, I am told, are very old-fashioned and obsolete, as everything that anyone knows is up on the Internet. And, it takes too long to read books, and the information in them can't be found by searching like one can do on Google or similar. Gary's 'Appendix N', Dave and Phil's libraries, and bookstores like the now-burnt Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's are full of information that we all knew and understood in our salad days.  I don't think I can even begin to count the hours we spent looking through books in libraries like the ones that these guys did.

Real history, as can be found in all it's untidy detail in books, is full of material that the GM / game-master / referee can use to generate and create games and then fill them with detail. Campaign gaming, that unruly beast, can be tamed by reading and remembering - the number of times that we as players were surprised by some bit of real-world history that the GM had at their fingertips were legion, an filled many an hour with the screams of glee and terror.

For us, campaign gaming drove the tabletop games. My infamous 'Braunstein'-style game, The Great Mos Eisley Spaceport Raid, was created by some guy named George when he wrote the campaign 'script' that I followed for my 'Star Wars' campaign. Similarly, our battles of Third Mar and Anch'ke were created when we went to war in Phil's basement. This game series got started when some of the Shieldmaidens and I were discussing the Night Witches and a possible RPG campaign using the rules of the same name.

Once we had that discussion, it was down the rabbit hole of the Internet so find out more information; I use the web as a sort of 'card catalog' / 'index' to see what I can find. Google searches can turn up all sorts of sources, suitable for further research and reading, and have led me to all sorts of fun stuff for all of my gaming. And it's been just as fun to introduce my friends and gamers to the books that Phil and the others introduced me to, and which formed the basis for the games that they ran and published.

This particular set of table-top games got started with a pair of Soviet-era toys; the question of "How many hit points does a T-34 have?" led to the notion of re-staging Gary's 1975 game (and the purchase of many little plastic people) followed by the request to run a 'teaching scenario' for the players (and the purchase of some more little plastic people for the little metal people to shoot at) followed in short order.

I get a lot of inspiration from what I see in books, and what I happen across in my searches. I now know a lot more about the Red Army then I did a year ago, which is nice as I like to expand my fund of knowledge, and I'm even learning more about D&D. I think I'm coming out ahead of the game - in several senses.

Research. Reading. Learning. Doing. That's my secret, and anyone can do it. You can run games like this; in the nest essay, we'll look under the drapes to see the nuts and bolts of this kind of thing.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

An Essay In Game Design, Part Two

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

More from what I'm building; these texts will be give to the players as hand-outs, the way I usually run my games.


The Backstory:

Somebody in the High Command back in Moscow got the Bright Idea that it would be a good thing for the war effort to concentrate some of the women in the Red Army into a dedicated unit, a ground version of the three air regiments of women pilots – one of which became famous as ‘The Night Witches’. The theory was that since these women were in the main what later historians would describe as ‘hyper-active over-achievers’, having a unit made up of them would give the enemy some serious trouble. So, the Women’s Independent Company was formed, and since Moscow made it very clear that this unit was going to be both successful and a sort of ‘showpiece’ the generals assigned one of their best political officers (‘zampolit’), Major Bondarenko, to organize both people and equipment. The actual historical unit was the 1st Volunteer Women’s Rifle Brigade, and we’re assuming that our miniatures are part of this unit.

The Major is an organizer; when he organizes something, it’s organized. He’s also a genuine hero; he first came to Moscow’s notice when assigned to the famous ‘Road of Life’ when he drove the first loaded truck across Lake Ladoga on the ice road, saying: “The Party must lead the way, and Party officials must take the lead!” The major is not in command of the unit; the three platoon leaders, all women, are. They form a sort of ‘soviet’ of joint command – a ‘troika’, in Russian terms – and all manage to work well together in combat.

One of the 588th Night Bomber (the “Night Witches”) Regiment’s planes came back from a bombing mission this morning with a lot of very large holes shot in it. The crew reported that they were coming back from their mission when they spotted what looked like an enemy supply dump; when they circled back to take a closer look, somebody opened up on them with a powerful weapon that made very large holes in their canvas-and-wood biplane. Their squadron commander took one look at their plane and the holes, and called Army headquarters for help.

The Night Witches also say that in addition to the many camouflage nets that they saw, they also saw a Volkswagen staff car – not the usual boxy ‘Kubelwagen’, but the rare rounded one that is sometimes assigned to senior staff officers. If this is the case – and the Night Witches didn’t hang around to take pictures – then this is of interest for any useful information that might be in the car.

The Army commander thinks that this is a job for the Guards’ Independent Company to deal with. So, the company has been assigned to capture a village that has something in it, and find out what’s going on. If, as is expected, the village hides a supply dump, then the idea is to capture the supplies; the Red Army can use everything it can get, and isn’t going to be too picky about where it’s coming from.

Mission: Capture the supply dump; Find the staff car; Find out what the mystery weapon is; Hold off any counter-attack until help arrives.

The Other Side Of The Hill

It is sometime in 1944. The sleepy rural village of Potemkin lies in a pine forest; the local residents have left, leaving the village to the warring armies. The place is deserted, except for some abandoned livestock, and has been used as a supply dump by the military. Formerly a sleepy backwater, it is now on the front lines as the ebb and flow of battle have brought the fighting to the area.

The village lies on the organizational boundary between two divisions, and both units did not know that the Army Corps that controlled the supply dump had withdrawn the troops manning the place. As they were ordered to withdraw as quickly as possible by their commanders, they took whatever would fit in their trucks and left the rest. What’s been left behind is a treasure trove of food, fuel, and ammunition.

At some point in the past few days, the divisional staffs became aware that the supply dump was still there and effectively abandoned. Both divisions, one a mechanized infantry / Panzer Grenadier division, and the other – an armored / Panzer division – ordered that somebody should take a look to see what might be going in in Potemkin.

As is usual in all armies, the Divisional staff told the Regimental staff who told the Battalion staff who told the Company staff who told you, the players, to take what you had in your platoon and go see what might be seen. In your case, the Panzer division sent an under-strength platoon of armored cars and attached infantry; the Panzer Grenadiers sent a similar platoon of infantry in two half-tracks. Both platoons have arrived in the village, and formed an ad-hoc battlegroup to defend the village until the two divisional staffs can determine who’s in charge of what.

In addition to the usual military supplies, the platoons found several captured Russian cannon, with some ammunition for them. They also found, apparently abandoned by the supply troops, one of the very unusual Type 87 Volkswagen ‘Kommandeurswagen’ staff cars. These are rarely seen on the front lines, and are normally issued only to senior rear-echelon commanders. The car runs, but there hasn’t been time to search the car.

Both of the sergeants in command of their platoons have called for help, and a battery of half-track rocket launchers has arrived to provide some fire support. These are from yet a third formation, a specialist artillery regiment; the sergeant in command of this battery is happy to work with the two ‘line unit’ commanders. As is also usual in all armies since the beginning of time, the three sergeants are the people who usually get things done, and know their business. With the exception of the two motorcycles of the reconnaissance platoon, all of the vehicles in this ‘scratch force’ have radios and can communicate with each other.

Mission: Guard the supply dump in the village. Keep casual visitors out, and if attacked by superior force, do as much damage to them as possible, fall back, and counter-attack if possible. Trouble is expected; a Russian plane flew over last night, but was driven off by anti-aircraft fire.


I am not including the detailed information on the actual forces involved in the game; I'd like to keep some degree of surprise, thank you, in order that I may revel in the traditional Screams Of Glee And Terror when the players open their Sealed Envelopes and see what Janet has been able to obtain for these games.

Any thoughts or comments would be welcome. Thanks!

An Essay In Game Design, Part One

It does explain what 'Free Kriegspiel' is.

I've been asked how I come up with my games. So, here's some of what I do:


“Sturmgeschutz & Sorcery”

A game by Gary Gygax, from 1975

A long time ago, far, far away (in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, actually) a guy got bored and invited his friends over for a game. He told half of them it would be a game of World War Two miniatures, and he told the other half of them that it would be a Fantasy Miniatures game. Back in those days, before smart phones and social media, the two groups of players didn’t know what they were getting into. When they got to Gary’s, what they saw was a table enshrouded in thick mist. It wasn’t until the crew of the armored car had a troll loom up out of the mist did everyone realize what was going on.

Mayhem ensued. Gary later wrote up the game for his company’s in-house magazine, TSR’s “Strategic Review”” under the title of ‘Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery’ – the word ‘sturmgeschutz’ is the name of a type of German assault gun.

On the table today is a re-staging of that 1975 game. What inspired me to do it was that back some time ago, I got some Russian die-cast toys: a T-34/85 tank, and a Su-100 assault gun. I normally don’t run games in the WWII period, but recently one of my favorite miniatures companies – Bad Squiddo, in the UK – came out with a line of ‘Red Army Women’, based on the women who fought for their homeland in WWII. My lovely Janet, who is just as much of a gamer as I am, bought them for me so my tanks would have some infantry support. One thing led to another, and led to this game.

Quite a few of my gamer friends expressed interest in playing this game, but they also asked me to run a ‘teaching game’ so they could learn the basics of Russian tactics – they are, in the main, all experienced role-playing gamers, but they wanted to add to their skills.

So, here we are. Feel free to ask any questions, and join in if you like – welcome aboard!

“Death Among The Rutabagas” - The Teaching Game

 When I first started canvassing people about doing a re-run of the original S&S game, potential players were worried about being able to play the Red Army force; the D&D side was easy, they said, because they’d played enough RPGs that they thought that they could give a good account of themselves. They asked if I could run a teaching scenario, so that they could get a feeling for and experience with Soviet tactics.

Many gamers have the perception that the Red Army was an enormous monolithic force that won by simply drowning the enemy in sheer numbers. While to some extent this is true, they also had some of the best equipment of WWII as well as the sheer determination to win. Part of this was the contribution to the war effort by the women of Russia. Besides the workers in the factories, women fought in the front lines as well. They won a very large number of high awards, and did some astounding things. This game is dedicated to them.

It is sometime in 1944. The sleepy rural village of Potemkin lies in a pine forest; the local residents have left, leaving the village to the warring armies. The place is deserted, except for some abandoned livestock, and has been used as a supply dump by the military. Formerly a sleepy backwater, it is now on the front lines as the ebb and flow of battle have brought the fighting to the area.

This game will be run using the principles of what’s called “Free Kriegspiel” - ‘Free War Game’. There are indeed rules for this game; however, you- the players- do not need to know them in order to play this game. Your ‘referee’/ ‘game master’ does, and will be running the game as a strictly neutral third party based on knowledge of the period, experience in gaming, and as the ‘teacher’ in this game.

This style of game play is very old, first being used to train military officers in the late 1800’s and well into the present. It is different from ‘Rigid Kriegspiel’ in that the players do not need to have experience with a formal set of rules; instead the players will run their units as they would in a real-life situation, giving orders and moving their troops as needed to achieve their objectives.

If this all sounds like ‘role playing’ to you, you’d be quite correct; it is.

It is where a couple of war gamers by the name of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax got the idea for a set of role-playing rules that they called “Dungeons and Dragons”. They built on their experience in war-gaming to create a game that has endured for over fifty years, and today you’ll be following in their footsteps as we play.

And one last thing; back in the day, the idea was for a bunch of friends to sit around a table and have fun.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Uncle Hugo's Burned This Morning - New Information, 6/3/20 From Don Blyly

Raw data, from Ken Boyd

Uncle Hugo's has been around for 45 years, and is the oldest F/SF bookstore in America. About 3:30 this morning, it was set on fire and destroyed.

[Edit - 5/30/20] I have removed the link I posted to the GoFundMe page after a conversation with the folks at Uncle Hugo's / Uncle Edgar's; there are some insurance and legal boxes that need to be checked off, and once these are done there will be a fundraiser. I will post more on this as I get it, of course.

[Update - 6/2/20] There is new information on the GoFundMe page regarding fund-raising:

Please read this update, and talk to them before you do anything. Thanks!

[Update - 5/30/20] The owner of Uncle Hugo's/ Uncle Edgar's has a statement on the store's website:

[Update - 6/2/20] There is more information on the situation on the Uncles' website. Please use the link above and take a look at this, as it's the best information I can give you at this time. Thanks!

[Update - 6/3/20] There is now an official GoFundMe campaign afoot:

Note to Ken Boyd: Thank you for posting this news to your social media feed.

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Secrets Of Blackmoor" Film Now On Amazon Prime

From their advertising. I have the poster.

Yes, those are my Tekumel figures. Go figure. :)
I'm told that the documentary film about Dave Arneson and the early days of role-playing games here in the Twin Cities is now being distributed on Amazon Prime, and that it's possible to get the DVD along with the extra bonus DVD with more interviews; have a look at their website for more details, if you'd like:

I think I should make it clear that this is not intended to be a review of the film; in the interests of full disclosure, I was part of the historical research effort that went into this film, and I do have a very small bit of screen time in it. I'm an archivist, more then anything else, and a very specialized one at that - I'm interested in the creative process that Prof. Barker had when he created his world and his body of work, and my interest in Blackmoor relates to how Dave Arneson and Prof. Barker interacted. Yes, I did work for dave at Adventure Games, but the producers of this film have already interviewed me about those years and I'm told that this period of Dave's life and career will be covered in the second film in this series.

If you want to read reviews of this film, there are some already up on the Internet and I will be happy to let those authors speak for themselves as they know far more about all this then I do; my perspective was from a very limited viewpoint, and from a different time and place.

From my point of view, the real value of this film and especially in the bonus DVD are all of you getting the chance to hear the voices of the people that I met in 1975 and gamed with and worked for in the following years. Some of these people are no longer with us, and I miss them; this is your chance to hear their voices. For anyone interested in the very beginnings of role-playing games, this film is a wonderful opportunity to hear about what went on in the Twin Cities, way back when, and how those games led to D&D and other RPGs.

Have a look, if you will, and if you can take away anything for your games, then I think you'll be the richer for it and have that extra bit of fun.

We thought that it was worth buying a copy of the DVD set, for our archives; I also got a complimentary copy of the set as a contributor, and that copy will also be here in the files.

I'd like to think you'll find it fun, informative, and entertaining.

Friday, May 15, 2020

'Campaign Gaming'? 'Wargaming'? 'Role-playing Gaming'?

Chirine and Vrisa, in the thick of it. Again.

Oh, yeah, here's something to do with the topic...

All this discussion of my model castle, both here and over on my Proboards forum, prompted a question from one of our regular readers as well as sparking a thread on the forum about rules sets.  What’s being asked about is how we integrated ‘straight role-playing games’ with what are now called ‘war-games’ – specifically, big miniatures battles - out at Phil’s.

I think that the first thing that needs to be remembered that back in the day, we didn’t know that there was any difference between what have - forty-five years later - now become two very different and very separate genres of games.

Back when Phil had started his original Twin Cities Tekumel game, Phil had been following Tony Bath's rules for running a campaign - he had a manuscript copy and knew Tony pretty well from the Society of Ancients. However, the players treated the campaign as a straight war-game campaign, and tended to run riot on the game table. Phil was a very, very good Ancients player, but trying to run both the game and the opposition was not working; if he ruled on something, he'd be accused of cheating to favor himself. (His players at the time, his original group, were a bunch of 'win-at-any-cost' 'power gamers', and not a lot of fun to game with if you didn't happen to like that particular style of gaming.) Phil had run about three to four big miniatures games before I started, and he didn’t do it afterwards - I wound up being a sort of 'deputy GM' for miniatures games, mostly because I had come on-line as the 'court painter', and he regarded me as a neutral. His players did not, which is why the group split.

We went on to our own games, and fought out several big battles on the tabletop like Castle Tilketl, Third Mar, and Anch'ke. Phil let the results stand, and he included them in his novels because they made for better dramatic narrative. But, we trusted Phil not to cheat, and he trusted us to do the same; it was a very different GM-player relationship then what he'd had with the other group.

From my point of view, both as a GM and player, it's pretty easy to do games like this in a campaign setting. We did this in Phil's campaign, back at the very beginning - I came in right after Michael Mornard won his Qadarni and Dave Houtla lost his (and started the war with Yan Kor.) What Phil had done was have the various Temples offer the players positions in the legions that they support. The players at that point, were all the classic 'barbarians off the boat' and were eking out a living in the odd-jobs market and trips down the Jakallan Underworld for Lady Mnella. So, being offered jobs in the forces was A Good Thing for the players. They mostly got commissions as junior officers, like most mercenaries would be, and were packed off to the Northwest Frontier.

    The context of all this was that this was at a time here in the Twin Cities when nobody knew how 'fantasy'-based RPG campaign were supposed to work. 'Fantasy gaming' at that time was a miniatures game - a 'war-game', if you will - where you lined up your lead elves and orcs ahd had it out on the table. The majority of 'fantasy' miniatures lines available reflected that reality; the first Tekumel miniatures, for example, were primarily 'military' miniatures, per Tony Bath's Hyborian campaign. This was, at that time, pretty much the only model that anyone had for how these things worked - and since Phil knew Tony through The Society of Ancients, and Tony had sent Phil a copy of the manuscript for his book on how to run a campaign - that was the play model that Phil used for his campaign.

    Back then, we had no idea that what's now called 'TTRPGs' were a different genre of game then what are now called 'war-games'; we slid from one to the other all the time - and didn't know we'd be Doing It Wrong some forty-five years into the future, in the opinions of some of the modern gamers I've talked with. We had already had the precedent of 'personality figures' in our games, which represented our in-game selves, and would appear leading our troops in the table-top battlefield. From there, it was a very short step - and to us, a natural progression to have these figures represent us in our 'role-playing' adventures.

    So, we had our characters hired / appointed / got drafted into legions, as deemed proper for our temples. In your case, your Vimuhla / Ksarul / Sarku people would be in a Vimuhla / Ksarul / Sarku unit, usually as low-ranking officers to start, and they'd be handed a set of orders and some NPC troopers and told to get on with the job. That's what Phil did in his campaign, and as I like to say "mayhem ensued".

    When I got started in Phil's group, it was as the 'court painter' to help Phil make the stuff he wanted to use in his games. Since this was an established group, Phil started me off at 3rd level - roll 1D4 for this - and I became a military sorcerer attached to the group's military force. Since I happen to be good at logistics, and the other players weren't, I became the group's 'staff officer' pretty quickly; I was in charge of producing the maps, for example, and that's how I started down the slippery slope to being a publisher.

    You don't need miniatures to play this kind of thing. You can roll up NPC troopers, or use dice / chits to represent them. You can use a set of RPG rules for smaller 'skirmish' games, with the PCs and their soldiers, or use a set of miniatures rules for larger battles that the PCs run as commanders. I normally play the opposition, but it's much funnier to bring in 'ringers' to play the PCs with a live opponent - I'm doing this for my S&S games, for example. You'll need to generate maps of the areas of operation, but that's fairly easy. Phil would have us a large-scale map, and Craig Smith would do a smaller-scale one of the area; I'd do the 'tactical' maps of the immediate area.

    I still do this, and I still run stuff the way Phil did it - run the game as if it was an RPG, with a good dose of free Kriegspiel in it like Dave Arneson did. Don't give the players a copy of any miniatures rules that you're using to run the game / campaign! They need to run their PCs, and not try to 'play by the rules' and be 'rules lawyers'. They need to game the world, and not game the rules. The players are there to run the show, and the troopers are there to kill stuff and do stuff as per the players' orders.

    I'd advise not trying to do this as a large miniatures campaign. Use maps and counters, like the old SPI games, and have your ringers give the orders; the players, being the junior officers / sorcerers, have to work inside this environment. "Qadardalikoi" or something like it from the Ancients period will work for rules - I set up my rules specifically as campaign rules, with this kind of situation in mind. If you need maps, let me know - I have spares of NW Frontier, for example. I thing I've got at least one sheet of blank counters, too, but any set of them from an Ancients board game will do - what you want is a tactical display of who's where. You might also want to look at a copy of Tony Bath's rules, if you don't already have them - it's what Phil used al the time.

    What you want is an 'adventure generator' for the players. The high command makes it's moves, in ignorance of each other, so the players are sent out as scouts to see what's going on. Then, once the larger forces come into contact, they serve as the people actually trying to run units - you can also have the ringers help with this, on the other side. I'd suggest mostly doing this as an RPG, but miniatures are what I like.

Does any of this make sense?

[EDIT - June 1st, 2020: The photo I had at the top of this post has been removed; I thought it was not a good thing to head the post with, given what happened Saturday morning.]

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Saga Of Castle Tilketl's Crate

The crate whereof I speak...

Castle Tilketl, in all of it's mud-brick squalor

Our Heroes, defending the wretched place against all odds
A long time ago, as was reported in the pages of a TSR magazine, there was a battle fought and a Gold of Glory won. Korunme got a promotion to Molkar, and we all trooped off to the Milumaniyani deserts to play soldier. We wound up in a miserable mud-brick 'castle', ands eventually had to - as seemed to be the usual thing in Phil's campaign - run for it.

Phil was kind enough to draw me a plan of the place for our game, and it's still in the files. So, years later, I got The Bright Idea of actually building the place as a 25mm / 28mm model, and we got a lot of use out of the thing in some very fun games.

Storing something like this, as you can imagine, is a problem; it's why I try to avoid items of larger set-piece scenery and terrain. In this case, modeling won out over practicality. I eventually built a dedicated crate for the thing, and it's been sitting in there for over a decade. I built the crate to fit the model, and discovered after I'd built it that it had to be tilted up on end to get it out of the basement.

Well. We'd been there before, with another and more well-known model.

As I've mentioned, I'm in the throes of reorganizing and repacking the game room and game storage. It's become clear that the crate takes up too much room, so the castle will find a new home and the lumber will be recycled - the castle will fit out the door and up the stairs, so the crate is more then a little redundant. Sine I build everything with screws to hold the parts together, disassembly and re-use will be easy.

The castle will see more action, and become another feature here at The House Of Wonders... :)


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Gog and Magog - My Personal Holy Grail Of Wargaming

A long time ago, in a student union not at all too far away...

'Gaming', as I understand it...

Dave suggested that I get this book.
He was right, and I've never looked back.

Gog and Magog; W. Britain's #1264 (left) and #1215 (right).

Quite some time ago,  Dave Arneson advised me to get a copy of H. G. Well's "Little Wars"; I did, and I've never regretted it. Besides being a fun way to play in it's own right, it also has some very good ideas on how to run campaigns - echos of that can be found in my own set of rules, "Qadardalikoi".

Even longer ago, I used to be taken to see my relatives in the Twin Cities for the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the very high points of those trips was a visit to the Dayton's Department Store, where they had an entire city-block-sized floor as the Toy Department. A large portion of this huge space was devoted to Toy Soldiers. Britain's and Elastolin's predominated, and to this historically-minded youngster just to see the siege towers, artillery, soldiers of all times and all places, and some of the most amazing toys that one could imagine was the very best thing that I could ever do.

Decades later, I managed to get a couple of Elastolin items - a siege tower and a catapult, both with working parts - but by then Britain's figures and equipment were out of production. So, while I really enjoyed reading "Little Wars" and hearing about Gary's sand table games, I never expected to see my very own Holy Grain of Wargaming again. Too many years had passed, too many other calls on my time and energy, and I never thought that my fifty-three-year quest would ever end.

That changed, this past week. As I've remarked on occasion, this year will mark our 30th wedding anniversary; I've hired some very good painters, who happen to be friends of mine, to paint Herself's "Dr. Who" and "Elfquest" miniatures - the ones I had bought for her thirty-two years ago, when we were courting. They had never gotten painted, or even based; too many years had passed, too many other calls on our time and resources. This past year has changed all that, and now her miniatures are getting painted by people who are long-time fans of the same things that she is.

Which leads us to two 4.7" Naval Guns, Mounted For Land Service. W. Britian's first started selling these in the first part of the last century, and were a big feature of Wells' "Little Wars". they were made up until the early 1980s or so, and in four different versions. Gog and Magog are the two legendary giants that protect the City of London, and I've borrowed their names for my battery. Gog, catalog #1215, is the second version of the 4.7 and was cast between 1915 and 1930 or so; Magog, catalog #1264, is the third version and looks to have been cast between 1930 and 1939. You can see the fourth version at Gary Cons, where Paul Stormberg puts on a "Little Wars" game to great applause and enjoyment.

To me, this pair of toy cannon evokes a spirit of fun and enjoyment that I experienced with both Dave Arneson and Phil Barker. We had a lot of fun in those far-off games, and I try to keep doing that in my games today. They mean a lot to me, evoking memories of games played and friends gone.

Enter The Missus, Queen Of The Internet. These are her thirtieth anniversary present to me.

Thank you, my love, from me and all my friends.

[Important Safety Warning!!! These two toys fire wooden dowels at very high speeds, and are not to be fired without due caution; they shot the heads off a lot of metal toy soldiers, back in the day, and safety glasses should be issued to anyone at the game table before letting fly with these guns. Seriously. Have fun, but be careful!!!]