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!!!]

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Dave, Gary, And The Geneva Convention

No, not that convention, and not that Geneva...

I had a really interesting question come in via text message the other day, and I asked the sender if I could use it s the basis of a post here; I thought the answer might be of interest to people who are readers of this blog and who like Ye Olde Games...

From T. S.; Monday, April 27th, 6:26 PM -

"Hi, so would the world created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson have something like the Geneva Convention?"

My e-mail in reply:

   Yes, in both Dave and Gary's campaigns there was a very good set of 'Laws of War' that were in place. Both of them were historical gamers, and this was an extension of what had been in place in warfare since ancient times. One did not casually kill prisoners, for example, as they were often mercenaries and could be hired to work for you - so killing them was a waste of valuable trained soldiers. And, to be blunt, if you got a reputation for atrocities, there was a pretty good chance that if you lost a battle, you'd get killed in various interesting ways by the people you'd been nasty to in the past. There are lots of examples of this. There is a lot of 'enlightened self-interest' in this, where if you let your army get out of hand there was a good chance it'd get wiped out, so keeping the troops in hand was a practical idea.

    The exception to all of this were sieges. If you held the castle to the last, then you were likely to get killed by the attackers, who would have much preferred you to surrender 'under terms', where you negotiated the terms of surrender and got out of the castle in one piece. Once 'the ram touched the wall', to use the Roman phrase, all bets were off and it was going to get messy.

    Popular uprisings were also a nasty business; the usual rule of thumb was that anyone captured with a weapon in their hands would be killed. So, again, you had to keep the troops in hand and not allow them to get nasty with the locals.

    And there's ransom. Everybody would be happy to pay ransoms instead of getting killed, so if you offered terms and cash, there was an excellent chance that you'd get away with your skin intact.

    All of this in their games was known to us, because we were all historicals guys, so that's the way we played. Same in Phil's campaign, where 'noble action' tended to keep the players in check.

    Does this help?

I'd like to add some more to this, if I may, and as always my observations are based on what I saw and heard in games at specific times and places. Published articles and texts may vary, of course.

I think that it's kinda gotten lost that the originals of what's now called 'TTRPGs' were derived from the authors' experiences in historical miniatures gaming, and how that genre of gaming - now referred to entirely as 'wargaming' in some gaming circles - influenced how Dave and Gary thought that their worlds should work. Gary talked about this in his 'Appendix N', where he cites his reading materials. Dave had much the same thing to say - and so, for that matter, did Prof. Barker, who was an Ancients and Medieval scholar of some note.

All three of them, being seasoned players back in a time where one read a lot of books to learn things, were familiar with the historical 'Laws of War' that were the ideals promoted by various philosophers on the subject. And, as all three were very good researchers, they knew quite well that a lot of these ideas were just that - warfare was, and still is, a nasty business. When we gamed, we expected casualties, and we tried to make sure that we took as few losses as possible - the basis of 'long-term campaign gaming' - and we carried that over into our RPGs when we got to those. Chirine and his friends lasted for over a decade of game play in real time, and well over that in game time, because our standard was playing for survival; goodies like treasure, position, and status were all nice, but not much good if you were dead.

When we played, we didn't play out the nastier sides of warfare in history; we didn't game it because we all knew how nasty real history could be and we didn't think it had a place at our tables. I've been told that we were young and naive, and that if we wanted to be 'real gamers' we'd have done this kind of thing. Well, sorry, but we didn't; we thought that the 'code of chivalry' applied to our little lead knights and men-at-arms; in Phil's campaign, we thought that our little metal legions should follow the way of 'Noble Action'. Yes, it may all have been romantic fiction - but we were John Carter, Holger Dansk, Dejah Thoris, and all Four Musketeers; we were Heroes and Heroines, and we acted like it.

So, while there was no formal 'Geneva Convention' in these games, we acted as if we were people living in that time and place, and followed the codes of honor that those times and places believed in.

In a while, after we get out of lock-down, I'll be running my very first Eastern Front game. I know quite well how nasty a war of extermination that that was, for everyone involved, due to my extended family. We won't be playing it that way; we'll be playing it the way those three guys did at their tables.