Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Tale of Two Movies

Will we ever get to see D&D-A Documentary? We were all thrilled when it went on KS and we could pitch in. Some of us have spent hours, literally, doing interview sessions for it

The way things stand right now, we may never get to see it. It seems that the three people that originally fronted this project had “creative differences” on how the film should track and what that would entail. Originally it was a pretty straight-forward documentary tracing the origins and rise of D&D as both a gaming and cultural phenomenon.

We hear about creative differences often enough. The problem here was that the two that veered off the original path did not tell any of the people being interviewed what was going on. They set up interviews at GenCon for “follow-up” questions to be asked to fill in gaps in the existing narrative. The problem with that was, from what I have been able to ferret out, they were under some sort of restriction at that time. The parties were in arbitration in whatever court does that in NY; while in arbitration, I have learned that the parties were prohibited from doing that.

If that was not devious enough, someone sent me a link to the site pimping this “new” movie: I found myself in the beginning of a trailer for a movie that I had not known existed until that very moment. Once I caught on, I immediately notified the people involved, (I think they call themselves Fantasy Games Films) that they did NOT have my release to use that taped segment for that, or any other competing film. A veritable crap-storm ensued with all the relevant parties, and courts, involved and the trailer was pulled.

The KS was in 2012. From May until Dec., 2013 the principals were negotiating on how the responsibilities and other issues would be divided. FGF violated that agreement and continued to film segments and neglected to tell the interview subjects that they were now filming for a competitive project. The next seven months were spent in a vain effort to get them to agree to Arbitration; an injunction was issued in Aug., 2014. They have supposedly been negotiating since that time, and were making noises about signing an agreement just recently. They reneged at the last moment. The Wanker Games go on.

Their lawyers have asked for relief; they want to bail on the whole mess. The court said no and now a date of June 10th looms. One can only wonder what degree of lunacy, on behalf of the renegade film-makers, would make lawyers ask the court to be allowed to bail. When even lawyers pass up the potential fees, I can’t help but wonder just how many holes they actually have in their heads.

I have held off on this crap all this time but now feel compelled to let the non-KS interested parties know what is going on. I have had enough of the lies, subterfuges and deceptions. Anthony Savini’s project, as far as I am concerned, is the original, legitimate project that was on KS.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This is Old School Gaming: A beginner’s guide to the rudiments of how the game was originally played.

If you don’t ask, I don’t tell. Information must be ferreted out; it does not drop from the sky or announce itself with a chime.

It works how I say it works because this is my world. I invented everything about it.

If you don’t tell me, that’s too damned bad. I assume nothing readily; neither should you.

Never, ever, think that my world will only present challenges “commensurate with your abilities.” There is no progress without strife, neither is there XP to be earned. Most of the stuff you hear about on my world should be challenging and scary. Choose your battles wisely; there are no do-overs.

“Live to fight another day” is a time-honored and respected attitude to have. Anyone that attributes this ethic to cowardice is a fool.

I am never arbitrary; players, on the other hand, often act stupidly.

If a rule is constricting the fun, the rule needs to be bent.

No idea is impossible. That said, do not complain when I tell you that no matter how high your Dex or how many Hastes have been cast upon you, you still have only, at best, a 15% chance to snatch that razor-sharp shuriken from the air and not shred every tendon in your hand. Would you even think about it in real life? Granted, this is not Real Life, but common sense and logic must always prevail; this is not a movie.

It works that way because I said so. Do not even begin to harbor the thought that maybe I did something incorrectly.

If I trust you enough to not minutely scrutinize every single die roll (vs. my “babies” or creating your PC), why should I even listen to you carping about my rolling behind a screen? If you don’t trust me or the players sitting around you, you are at the wrong table.

If you are not having fun, go home.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So many games to play and so little time to play them

Has anyone invented a term for gamers that play different kinds of games? Multi-gamer? Polygamer? Omni-gamer? The reason I ask is that I am one, whatever we are called.

Since my “return to gaming” in 2006, I have noticed a lot of gamers from the other side of that coin, gamers that could be referred to as uni-gamers. They play only one game or game type; only board games, only RPG’s, only miniatures or only card games. Most of them have tried, or would try other types but for whatever reason choose to stick to one genre. That’s cool; Gaming is gaming is gaming; they all foster social interaction and stimulate the mid, and that’s all good.

I am often asked what my favorite kind of game to play is. My answer is usually something relating to the fun quotient or interest level, or something equally inane because there is no one kind of great game, for me at least. If pressed, I would say I most enjoy board gaming. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all three for different reasons, and I understand the irony considering where my reputation was made.

Miniature gaming is intense and visual, and I love it. It represents a substantial investment in both time and treasure; buying the figs is a serious commitment in money; prepping them for painting and the actual painting and mounting takes time, lots of it. (The alternative is paying someone else to paint them for you—more cold cash.) Good minis rules can have all the grit* any gamer could want. Alternately, some classic minis rules lack very much grit at all; the classic Chainmail is a prime example of this type of “smooth rules”. Serious commitment to minis often involves a sandtable which is, in itself, a serious commitment in the mere space it occupies. I had a dandy for many years and moved it from Wisconsin to Ohio. (One of TSR’s little secrets was that the head of the Periodical Division-me, and one of our most famous fantasy artists-Dave “Tramp” Trampier, were huge “tankers” (fans of armor gaming) and could be found on my sandtable many a weekend fighting WWII on the Eastern Front. When the cover was on we were racing HO-scale slot-less race cars, or playing Shogun. I enjoyed ancients, Dark Ages, medieval, Renaissance and Napoleonics.

I am not a fan of CCG’s.

I do admit to a fondness for Nuclear War, which we often played as a warm-up while waiting for the last guy to arrive (1st nuke always went on Chuck). I did a re-development on Naval War for AH when they acquired the title. All of the optional rules that I added to their edition were “house rules” that my buddies (who are all listed as playtesters) and I came up with over many, many playings.
When it comes to RPG’s, I mostly prefer playing from “behind the screen”. When I first got a copy of the game after having played in two adventures (one very short-lived and gory) at GenCon in 1974, I took it to my game club at Southern Illinois Univ. -Carbondale. (The club, The SIUSGS, is still alive and kicking, and using the same logo I designed in ’74.) I had the only set of rules and the only “funny dice”. Guess who the DM was and you win a +1 on your next roll. Everybody wanted to play; games with 10-12 PC’s were common; I ran a few with as many as 15 or 16. DM’ing was what I learned to do as I learned the nuances of the game, and ultimately led me to TSR and all that that entailed.

The edition wars amuse me more than anything. Personally, my style would be considered Old School. I believe that rulings, not rules, are what make for a fine night of RPG’ing. I believe that there should always, always, always be an element of uncertainty, something unknown and the possibility of successful, stupid derring-do occurring. I mostly only play D&D. I have dabbled in a couple others at cons, usually involving a game for charity or the like.

I love boardgames; always have (since first stumbling across AH’s D-Day in 6th grade) and always will. I feel a sort of condescending pity for people that don’t play boardgames; they are missing out on the (arguably) most social aspect of our hobby.

My first boardgame in the post- Candy Land/Chutes & Ladders era was a predecessor to Monopoly called Finance; it was the first boardgame in which I schemed and strategized. I was hooked.
Boardgames traditionally do best during time of economic stress. Today, though, that paradigm has shifted and boardgames are more popular than ever. NBC News remarked on it several weeks ago. I think that this is significant because families are spending more time together playing games.

The choice and selection of board games available today is staggering. Just as much as any RPG, a good boardgame can reveal the inner rascals in all the players. Boardgames run from the simulation types such as Squad Leader to much more abstract games of the type called “Euro-games”. One thing has not changed, though; there are still a lot of dogs out there, more now than at any time simply due to the flood of boardgames in the last 8-10 years that have come onto the market.

I have a ton of favorites; I favor the games playable by as many as six (or more) people because of the social nature of boardgaming. A short list, in no particular order, of the games I have played the most in the past year: War of Kings, Feudality, Serinissima, Fire & Axe, Last Night on Earth, Fight in the Skies (aka Dawn Patrol), Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Great Space Race and Ticket to Ride in any iteration except the US.

There is another game that I wrote a lengthy piece on for Gygax Mag (which some befuddled “editor” butchered so badly we had to re-print the article in its entirety on the website) called Samurai Battles. It is a magnificent hybrid, but sadly only playable by two. It combines minis (very detailed 22mm plastics) with boardgames and has two separate sets of rules. One is a very gritty set of rules for minis; the other is yet another iteration of Richard Borg’s wonderful Command & Conquer system. The game was published by a model-maker in Russia called Zveda, known for their fine models. Sadly, the Russian gentleman that wrote the gritty minis rules died suddenly a few months ago. The game is so good and sold so well that they immediately came out with companion with more troop-types and more scenarios.

I love to play all three types. Conventions are wonderful for this; I learn new boardgames watching them being played first, then get into one. There are just so damned many! Has anyone started an old gamer’s home yet?

NEXT: House Rules-The Foundation of Gaming as we know it today.

*Grit, in this instance, or the term gritty, refers to the level of details that the rules take into account; the more minutiae, the grittier the rules. In this gaming usage, grit is not restricted to describing minis rules; simulation board games can be quite gritty and there are more grades of grittiness in RPG’s than there are grades of sandpaper at the hardware store.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ground Zero for something new

I have felt the occasional urge to start a blog for some time now; it sort of waxes and wanes.. As I understand it, a blog is my own little soapbox upon which I may climb from time to time and declaim on any- and every-thing. That’s one definition, at least. Some friends have suggested that I could use a blog to disseminate my approach to gaming and all the different kinds of games I play. Others suggest that I do naught but spin yarns of “the glory days”. (That last, while fun, can wander a bit.)

I don’t do a lot of seminars at the cons I attend for several reasons; some aren’t into seminars (that would be most of the ones I attend as a Guest); some of the panels I have been asked to be part of were on topics that I have utterly no interest in; some shared the panel with persons I cared not to share a panel with; others were simply something I knew (or cared) nothing about.

I am most fortunate; this year I get to go to cons in Mansfield, MA, Lake Geneva WI, Cincinnati, Dallas, Milwaukee, Indy and Madison WI. The best thing is that with the exception of GaryCon, none of this costs me anything. (GaryCon gives me a room that I share with Frank Mentzer, but I pay the rest of my own way because of a promise I made to Gary’s kids after he died.)

I am an embodiment of the oft-overused identifier “Old School” when it comes to not just roleplaying but all the various forms of gaming that I enjoy. I have been a board wargame player since the winter of ’61-’62, cutting my teeth on Avalon Hill’s classic D-Day. My family was mad for games; my earliest games were Candyland, Chutes & Ladders and Chinese Checkers. The grownups were all card players when my mother’s family got together for any reason whatsoever; the year you were deemed old enough to get in on the Rummy Royal/Michigan Rummy with the grownups was a coming-of-age milestone.

I got into miniatures in ’73; the then-young man that got me into minis was Tom Wham, another old-timer from back-in-the-day, while we were in college together.

My gaming underwent a sea-change in 1974 when I first played the then-new game of D&D and became good friends with this lovely/loony dreamer named Gary. I went to work with/for him a short time later and became part of the nucleus that midwifed D&D. Along the way I started a couple of magazines, edited and wrote a ton of role-playing rules, developed some games and later started another publishing company of my own and another gaming magazine. (The mags were Dragon, Little Wars and Adventure Gaming.)Lately I have gotten involved with yet another mag, Gygax Magazine.

Now that I am retired from the 9-5 grind, I have another new company, Eldritch Enterprises, and three partners, Frank Mentzer, who sort of succeeded me at TSR; Jim Ward, the father of sci-fi roleplaying, also at TSR; and Chris Clark, simply the most prolific game writer/designer I have ever met and the twisted genius behind Inner City Games, not to mention partnering with Gary post-TSR. We write role playing adventures.

I am fortunate to be one of half a dozen gamers that get together in my basement every other Wed to play board games and the occasional card game. (I host a few poker games each year as well, but that’s a whole different kind of gaming. We play an accelerated version of Hold ‘Em.)

I am well capable of bloviating on many a topic; I would prefer to write about what people actually have an interest in reading. So here’s the deal: throw me a few topics/questions to get the show on the road, and we’ll see where it goes in future installments.