Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Cosmic Gobsmack: Me and Mr. C

My gut started bothering me a week or so before the last GenCon.

I had a previously set appointment for Aug. 21st and told my Family Dr., who recommended a CT Scan two days hence.

It detected a mass.

I was scheduled for a colonoscopy 5 days later, the 28. The day I found out I had colon cancer, even though I was not scheduled for another test for a year. It was guesstimated to be small and require that no more than 7 or 8 inches of my colon.

On Sept 28th they removed half of my colon and a tumor my surgeon characterized as "...big as (his) fist".

Two days ago, Nov. 14th, I had the first of twelve chemical infusions to be administered every two weeks over the next six months. I have already experienced brief flashes of some of the platinum's side effects; I understand they only get more intense and of longer duration. Last night I stuck two fingers into a jar of cold pickles and thought I was grabbing a Taser on low power. Drinking cold water feels like drinking slushees.

I want to write about what all of this has been like. I will.

I want to keep writing about games and gaming. I will.

I have several projects mentally assembled but yet to be born, but born they will be.

I have two collaborations/assignments that need to be done. They will be.

I cannot promise how often I will be able to post here over the next 6 months; I'm told to expect flashes of "chemo-brain". But I will, when I can.

When asked at GameHole Con two weeks ago what was driving me, I said that the two fuels I intended to rely upon are Ornery and Acerbic.

To the countless people that have sent me prayers, good vibes, sincere wishes of many sorts, many of them from folks I have never met: You overwhelm me with your love and support; that is what will get me through the bad days ahead.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Credit, Recognition, and The Pillow Test

During the past several years several people have asked me various questions on the same topic or subject, and my feelings about it. I guess it has come time to state it publicly, once and for all.

Gary Gygax and Brian Blume hired me to be the company editor, that company first being Tactical Studies Rules, and then TSR Hobbies. I edited some of their business letters; I edited some of Gary’s stuff; I edited whatever game the company was working on (but more as a proofreader in those instances); I edited Strategic Review and then when I edited Blackmoor, all of our lives changed a little that day.

The word “edit” was pretty loosely applied back then. In the heyday of newspapers there was a person or desk called “Re-write”. This person took the facts as dictated from the reporter not actually writing their own story and made them coherent. I did a ton of that. Another skill necessary for a good editor is making the words that you have flow; they are there for a reason and should be pleasing to the mind reading them, they should be euphonious in your head. Sometimes this means substituting words and other times reconstructing sentences and paragraphs. But the most called-upon skill in those days was my ability to divine what the author meant and re-write in his voice, at the same time filling in all the gaps. In some cases those gaps were rather substantial, and I ended up creating significant portions of transitory and “tying together” material. In some of the D&D supplements it was as much as 30% of the content. This continued, to one degree or another, for Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. With the former I wrote lots of stuff, for the latter not so much.

This was what I was hired to do. Gary put his trust in me that I was not going to screw up the basic system and gave me my head. So, technically, I wrote a small chunk of OD&D. In accepting that trust and responsibility, I certainly had a major hand in directing the evolution of the game as we know it today. It was what I was hired to do; this is why I am only ever listed as the editor. I was one of many that were thanked in the fronts of the AD&D books, and I was OK with that.

To be bluntly honest, had I known then that D&D was going to become what it did become, I might have argued for, and gotten, “more credit”. But we first TSR employees were a team when it came to creating stuff. A lot of our early product was worked on en masse; we all had a hand in it. When it came to stuff like new spells and potions, I do not think it possible, without Mr. Wells’ time machine, to clearly say who did what in the majority of cases. Certain artifacts and magic items were proposed by various individuals; for some of those I can remember authorship.

We “First Five”, Gary, Brian, Dave Sutherland, Mike Carr and myself (founders of what is now called The Old Guard by GaryCon) shared ideas freely.

A couple of years ago I revealed the process for what became Basic and 1E. Before then, no one had every asked me about it and I had not felt it necessary to blow my own horn. I revealed that I was certainly godfather to 1E and Basic, having spent nearly seven workdays closeted with Gary making decisions on which was which and what went where, as well as what got nerfed and what got beefed up. Then I sort of withdrew from that part of the company to concentrate my efforts on my division of the company, Periodicals.

A chance to do a professional, “slick paper” magazine about games and gaming is what most drew me to TSR in the first place; getting to help on this new game was a side dish. Gary promised the chance to turn The Strategic Review (beginning to notice a fondness for certain letter combinations?) into a “real” magazine with advertising and some color. As a recent grad of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a fresh degree in Communications, and former junior college newspaper staffer, I was ready.

Gary and I had discussed a magazine at some length before I was asked to come on board this “new venture” he was brewing. I thank whatever fate or providence or my lucky stars or whatever for my wife, Cheryl, nearly every day. She had the faith in me, and the letters RN behind her name, and enabled to me to pursue this crazy dream with Gary while she provided the majority of our support those first years (we had our first child, Amanda, before I went to Wisconsin). We started two magazines: Little Wars and The Dragon Magazine (how I originally named them).

LW was devoted to all things historical; we had several sets of historical minis rules as well as some historical boardgames then. Sadly, our success in fantasy almost fore-doomed any success in historical; we were very soon known as “those fantasy guys” and not taken seriously for anything else. I still maintain that William the Conqueror – 1066 was an outstanding innovation in boardgaming that blended in the feel of minis long before similar systems of today. Eventually, LW was absorbed back into The Dragon as it became more well-rounded.

The Dragon proved the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. Gaming took off at the same time and we rode the rocket. The mag was very successful financially and generated a lot of profits. A substantial number of artists got their first stuff published by me; some went on to TSR. Several new writing voices were first published in one mag or the other. Several years later a couple of them showed up as “talking heads” on a couple of history programs. It was heady stuff to find new talent; I hated to leave the mag more than anything I have ever done.

What we “First Five” had really done hit me in the gut whilst I was watching the second LotR movie. We had cleared the forest and pulled and burned some of the stumps, then planted that first meager crop. Our efforts then made this possible now.

Granted, as I have stated elsewhere several times, we were at a confluence of culture and events and society that enabled this to happen, but it damned sure was not something inevitable or anything like that. We busted our asses and in so doing created all the jobs that came after; we laid one hell of a foundation in 1975.

I wonder how many Harry Potter books were sold to old players, buying them for their kids?

The social impact of what we devised, without a name then but called role-playing now, has been surprisingly significant. One of the great pleasures for me now at cons is hearing how our silly little game impacted people’s lives, sometimes for keeping them from mischief, other times enabling them to come out of their shells and learn to interact with others. Gary and I had already recognized the latter, having congratulated each other once for (here I paraphrase) giving nerds something in common to talk to each other about.

There is little that delights me more than someone recounting the two summers they adventured and stayed out of real-life trouble with their pals, or how playing the game enabled them to find self-confidence.

After I left TSR I founded a new magazine, Adventure Gaming, with the support of the now-defunct Ral-Partha (which lives on in memory and spirit in Iron Wind Metals). It only lasted 13 issues, falling victim to the failed “trickle-down” policies of the Reagan administration; hobby and book shops were disproportionately hard hit by the melt-down. So I got out of the business I had helped take off.

I was many things for the next 20 years: Dad, Husband, soccer coach, salesman, draftsman, softball player, HS soccer announcer, soccer ref and still played the occasional boardgame, and then got a Masters in Educ. So I could teach. My children are of an age that was not impacted by Sat. morning D&D, so I essentially stayed away from the hobby for 22 years. When I came back to GenCon in 2006, I was stunned.

I live in Cincinnati, which is less than two hours from Indy. I came in from the East, running West on Southeastern Ave. When I got to the intersection with Washington, I saw little flags hanging on the light poles welcoming GenCon. I saw signage everywhere saying the same. I was gobsmacked by the numbers of the opposite sex (I never know how to refer to them; if I use the word “ladies” I offend some; if I use the word “females” I offend others; if I use the word “girls” I offend them all.) There were kids, too. What a wonderful metamorphosis had transpired. 

Every time I see others RPG’ing, I smile inside. I helped make that happen, I helped make that matter, and I had helped to touch to those lives. What we created spawned an entire library of knock-offs, an industry devoted to capturing that magic that we discovered in ’74 and ’75. We made, literally, millions of memories possible. We created hundreds of jobs, possibly thousands depending upon how you choose to analyze it.

So when I am asked why it seemingly does not bother me that others’ names might be better known than mine, I tell them that it really does not matter to me that my name is not on a marquee in lights. I walk through game cons with the same thoughts I have each night as I go to sleep: I know what I did. I rest incredibly easy every night knowing that I had a hand in something that has had such a profound impact on society and culture. Future historians might puzzle over the cultural significance of droopy pants and how or where it started. No such questions exist for the birth of role-playing; those historians simply say “1974-1975 and “The Little Brown Box”.

I have been “a gamer” for over 55 years now. My gaming history is demarcated by “pre-RPG” and “post-D&D”; I avidly play all three main types of gaming: boards, minis and RPG’s. And they are all different now because of what we did from 1975 to 1980, when we lit the fuse that ignited the gaming experience. So I lay my head on my pillow each night knowing that.

What recognition I have received has concerned my magazines more than my other work at TSR, and that’s OK. 

And you know what? Next year I plan to go to my 50th HS Reunion. When I walk in there, I know that out of 700+ fellow alumni and alumnae, none of them has had the impact on modern culture and society that I was a part of. And most of them will have no idea how I helped change modern popular culture, and that’s OK, too. I know.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gen Con #49, 2016: How big is too big for a convention?

First Impressions…

The residents of Indianapolis have every reason to think that GenCon attendees are some of the dumbest sheep around.

This was the most visibly diverse GC ever.

The vendor hall grew to monstrous proportions.

Attendance was flat, but Thursday was mayhem.

The Debut of The Dwarvenaut

The Charity Auction was a smashing success.

Has Gen Con gotten too big?

Now some details…

GenCon attendees, for the most part, are some of either the most rude, or dumbest, pedestrians ever. The lights in Indy are really simple; a white icon of a person walking or an orange hand with a countdown in seconds. When the white icon comes on, you walk. When the orange hand comes up it means DO NOT START ACROSS NOW; the countdown is to alert those already in the crosswalk how much time they have left before the light changes so GET THE HELL OUT OF THE CROSSWALK! Well, not for GC attendees, apparently, who lumbered out into the crosswalks halfway through the orange countdown and made the long-suffering drivers wait while they plodded across. C’mon, folks! Show some courtesy to your hosts and quit acting like a herd of buffalo.

When Indiana’s benighted Gov. Pence signed a bill last year that basically said it was OK to discriminate in IN for just about any reason, GenCon LLC was the very first to threaten to pull out of Indy. Eventually, Pence’s lackeys convinced him (remember, this is the guy that thinks it is cool to be Trump’s running mate) that Indy might get upset with him to lose the $70 million that GenCon means to Indy, and so allowed the bill to be rescinded.
Never has GenCon been as openly diverse and embracing of everyone as it was this year, proving again that we are all just gamers first. All sorts of costumes draping all sorts of body types, some attendees were just letting it all hang out.

Costumes have become a very big deal. Some of them are amazing and evidence hours of work and lots of dollars spent. Some of them are puzzling, I must admit. But it all seems to be in good fun, for the most part. I can’t help feeling though, that the idea of costumes at GenCon feeds some peoples exhibitionist tendencies. So, Dude in the leather G-string that paraded around for 2 days legally naked (and all the rest of the similarly benighted), save it for your mirror at home. I truly do not care how well you’re ripped; put some damned clothes on. GenCon isn’t Naked City IN (where they have real naked contests). If any female in attendance had shown that much skin, she would have been cited for Public Nudity.

I no longer smoke tobacco, but I still make regular trips to the smoking areas to see old friends and use my vape. It was during a few of these sojourns that I noticed a phenomenon that I do not pretend to understand. Apparently, some of the vapers there are looking for future employment as human smoke-screens; WWII destroyers should have been so efficient. What is with the huge clouds? Isn’t all that juice wasted?

Attendance was pretty flat this year, right around 61K attendees, same as last year. Turnstile numbers (how many attend each day added together over the 4 days) were way up. I think I know why. Thursday was insane; I’m guessing that a whole lot of gamers decided to take the whole four days. I do know that some items at some booths were gone by Friday noon. For the first time ever, I thought to buy a GenCon souvenir; they had a nice messenger bag I liked. They were sold out on Thursday.
Other than a tragic inability to understand traffic rules, the crowd was as well behaved and courteous as you would expect a gathering of gamers to be. I witnessed many acts of kindness and none of boorish behavior.

The vendor hall this year was the largest ever; I believe they may have added about 11 rows when they expanded. I do know that my achy and arthritic knees and ankles gave out the first time at Row 19; I completed my circuit the next day. Artist’s Alley was embroiled in controversy over who got in and who didn’t, including a couple of long-time denizens of the Alley whose work was not accepted this year. My god, has this also become politically corrupted now with petty jealousies and spite?

On a positive note, I was able to pick up three boardgames (Shadows over Camelot, Powergrid Deluxe and a new game that looks quite interesting called Council of Blackthorn) that I think my group might like, as well as a couple of silly card games. I got really lucky on a boardgame I saw coming up for auction after my shift was done; a FASA game I did not have from the series they did on James Clavell’s stuff, called Shogun. I scribbled a Proxy on the bid card and got the game for about 65% of the Proxy. It was much later when I opened it and found it to be un-punched!

Every year there are new vendors at GC, and this year was no exception. There is an ever-increasing number of what I call “non-game” vendors, selling jewelry and knick-knacks as well as esoteric stuff like kilts, steampunk clothing and accessories, mapping software, replica weapons and stuffed animals. These last must be something to do with anime as the majority of them had Asian features. Ah well, I don’t have to understand it for you to have fun.

About a year and a half ago, some film-maker types had the idea that Stefan Pokorny, CEO and mastermind of Dwarven Forge, was an interesting guy. They followed him around for over a year making a documentary about him. They named the movie The Dwarvenaut; it had been shown only a handful of times at film festivals around the country before GenCon, where it debuted to the public.
(Full Disclosure demands that I say up front that I consider Stefan to be both an amazingly talented guy, but better yet, my friend.)
I spent a bunch of time in the DF booth; the crew of ladies that Susy assembled were great to spend time with.
There is a glaring error in the credits of the movie (the post-production clods spelled my name incorrectly), so I was signing copies of the DVD’s and Blu-Rays with the correct spelling. They were specially priced for GC (50% off Amazon’s price) and signed by both Stefan and myself.
The movie is very, very interesting. (I am in it very briefly, and act sort of annoyingly; so, no ego in this recommendation.) Stefan is an amazingly talented artist capable of producing Fine Art as well as amazing sculptures of castles and caverns and dungeons and monsters and the like. The Blu-Ray has some extra stuff much more interesting to us gamers, like a 15 minute documentary on GaryCon and more. Treat yourself and pick one up.

Last year, the Charity Auction raked in about $12K; we smoked that figure this year with over $17K. Cardhalla raises a hefty chunk, and the people at Mayfair Games donate a hefty chunk of cash each year. Frank and I got them rolling and fired up the first hour and the rest of them ran with it. I still get a great deal of pleasure working in the Charity Auction. Next year we will have Twinkies again (inside auction reference for those in the know).

The question now is this: has GenCon gotten TOO big? The Best Four Days in Gaming (as they like to style themselves) may be getting too big for its own good. They had a record number of ticketed events this year. Those events were spread all over hell and gone. Just about every downtown hotel, with the exception of The Conrad, had games running somewhere. The convention spilled over into the Lucas Oil Center this year, making for a venue that is very spread out.
My first GenCon was in ’74; a couple hundred of us crammed into a non-air conditioned venue in August. The air was redolent and we all sweat through it together; the shared experience bonded us. The sweat is still there in Indy, while the venue has superior ventilation, it is still a daunting proposition. Sadly, I have heard a lot of gamers over the past year say that they just weren’t feeling Indy anymore. Particularly in the Midwest, we have several very viable smaller cons that are growing. Two that stand out in my mind are Gary Con and Gamehole Con, both in WI, one in March and the other in November. (Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge my pledge to Gary's offspring to support GaryCon, as long as I am physically able, that I made upon his death.)
Everything changes with time but the mountains, or so the old saying goes. I know that there are enormous game conventions (or shows) in Europe that dwarf GenCon. I cannot wrap my head around what they must be like.
The “fun” I seek when I go to GenCon is no longer gaming related, at least not in the way it once was. My enjoyment comes from seeing old friends, looking at new products and working the crowd in the Auction. I no longer get to play games at GenCon. I am fortunate in that I get to attend several cons each year as a Guest; at these events (TotalCon, GaryCon, NTRPGCon and Gamehole Con) I get to play games with strangers and friends; that is what game cons have always been about for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Where's The Beef?

Who remembers Clara Peller? She was the irascible “little old lady” in the Wendy’s ads in the early to mid ‘80’s demanding to know “Where’s the beef?” She made a million bucks demanding answers, in a sense.

I have a new question for the Gygax Mem. Fund (GMF). I have searched the records of the State of Wisc; I have contacted the Probate Court of Walworth County, Wisc.; there has been no Will probated after Gary’s death. Gail Carpenter Gygax (GCG) would have the world believe that Gary died intestate. I happen to know that he had one while I worked for him; he told of the unique provisions that he had modeled after his (I believe it was) Grandfather. I wonder what happened to that one?
Nearly two months ago, the GMF, through one of its shills, promised us a complete audit by a third party firm or accountant. Where is it? The tax returns provided, some years after they should have been available (according to the laws concerning 501-c-3’s chartered in WI) do not add up. Literally. They don’t add up.

They also show another disturbing trend. According to the expenses listed on the returns, the GMF has ground to a virtual standstill. Allowing for the fact that GCG was ill for a good deal of time one year, I find it odd that the GMF raised more money during the year she was ill than they did the following year when she was apparently healthy (or at least healthier).

Now the GMF wants to sell us bricks. Come on… where will they likely end up?

According to public records available for the State of Wisc., there has been no meeting with the City Council in Lake Geneva about “the site” for some time (a couple of years?).

One has to wonder and can only speculate in this tangled web. One might speculate as to the values apparently displayed. If the Memorial is so very important to her, why did she feel it was necessary to spend time and money Trademarking Gary’s name, even going so far as to force his sons to give up their publishing effort, Gygax Magazine?

Tower of Gygax—possibly the best way we gamers could have celebrated Gary and his creation, was essentially killed by GCG. It started out as a volunteer effort to do something to remember and pay tribute to Gary. A bunch of us old farts and a bunch of younger ones all designed and wrote up one or more rooms for The Tower, the premise being that if you survived a room you were immediately in another. Deaths were frequent, and expected frequently. When a player died, he got up from the table and was immediately replaced by the next guy in line; we had all ages and laughed ourselves silly more often than not. Then GCG told GenCon that they did not have GCG’s permission to use the name Gygax. If they wanted to use it, she demanded a piece of the action. Trouble was, there was no action. So, what could have become a living, dynamic tribute is now just a memory. (Ironically, Indiana is the only state where that might work.)

What’s next? An admission cost to a Memorial that is no closer today to being built than it was four years ago? One can only speculate…

All of us that have a stake in this issue, who made contributions and bought books, deserve to know what is going on. Otherwise must we begin to see this as yet another failed “kickstarter-like” project foisted off onto the gaming community?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Interview with DARLENE, May 2016

Darlene, best known for her iconic work in illustrating AD&D (1E) and the Greyhawk maps, and I go back a long way together. Even before TSR was buying her art, I was buying it for Dragon Magazine. We share many interests and it was with great delight that I found out about her involvement with this unusual system and that she was “back with us” in the gaming field.
For the remainder of this piece, we will only use initials—less typing.

 TK: So, D, what have you been up to lately?

D: I've been up to my share of mischief. But what I have on my mind to talk about today is my artistic contribution to a (virtually) new 336-page hard-back fantasy role playing game published last December, 2015.

TK: So tell us...
D: The book is called Mythos Arcanum and its game system was inspired by old school D&D.

TK: I have skimmed it, mainly to see all the gorgeous art; what makes this different from all of the other clones?

D: The author, Joe Aragon juxtaposes modern day rules with allegorical content. It's different from older fantasy role playing games in that, during the course of the game, it encourages players to explore meaningful self-reflection with their characters. The first concept behind this game is to have fun. Joe Aragon simply broadens the basic package of fun with a new, mind-expanding component. By allowing philosophical queries of illusion and reality to surface, Mythos Arcanum becomes a gateway for young minds to explore the nature of reality.

Q: How did you first get involved with the project and the author?

D: Joe sorta courted me…

TK: “Courted?”

D: (laughing) In a chivalric sense and only as an artist. I have never personally met Joe Aragon. He contacted me around 2010 via email asking me to create a logo for his company, Mythos Arcanum Games Imagined (MAGI), which I did. After that, he persistently raised the possibility of me creating interior illustrations for his book. We e-mailed back and forth for a spell. At the time, I was closed to that possibility and tried to communicate my reluctance to return to RPG illustration. Joe pointed out that my endeavors in fantasy illustration were not just relegated to the past. He indicated that a lot of people would welcome seeing new RPG art from me.

TK: Wasn't I telling you that very thing?

D: Yes, you were. You pointed out that people still remembered me even though I was out of the loop for 30 years. Many fans honor the Greyhawk maps as classics and still relate to my illustrations as integral and formative to their early gaming experiences.

Tim, it's due to your prodding as much as Joe's that we are even having this conversation today. You have a leading role in my return to the RPG fantasy scene. That's why I thought you'd appreciate hearing about my new RPG endeavor.

TK: I do. Continue.

D: Initially, I refused Joe as I had not done any serious illustration work for over 25 years. With a full time job, I felt I did not have the time. Then there's the fact that monetary compensation for RPG interior art in the industry is notoriously low--at least compared to rates in the real world.

TK: What made you finally decide to work with Joe?

 D: I relented after I finally grokked (Oooh, a Heinlein reference) Joe Aragon's innovative concept behind his new game system. In Mythos Arcanum, Joe Aragon improves upon an issue that has never been satisfactorily addressed in RPG game settings. Consequences exist for the taking of life. Joe calls it, "philosophical role-playing" and explains it like this:

"In a standard fantasy role-playing game, a knight might kill a group of bandits. For this, he is awarded treasure and experience points. In Mythos Arcanum, in that same situation, the knight might have to face up to that what he's doing constitutes murder and that killing the bandits may not be the right thing to do."

As in real life, it does not matter if the unfortunate man who met his demise was a thief or murderer. Nothing ever condones the taking of life. The laws of karma are in full play.

TK: There have been a few occasions when thinking about our whole genre that I have been somewhat appalled by how casually we shrug off all the killing. I then remind myself that it is all make-believe. This game seems to be a lot less blasé about that.

D: The moral lesson (of there being consequences for ones choices and actions) is a vital lesson to learn deeply in today's world--especially in the case of young players. So yes, I could easily devote my time and energy to produce something worthy and beautiful for the next generation of table top gamers. All could benefit from knowing some key life lessons.

Oh, yes--another reason I'm on board regards the game's take regarding the nature of good and evil. He writes this about the issue (page 106): "The intended spirit of Mythos Arcanum is purposely designed to portray the universal struggle of good vs evil. Various archetypal character classes are created as symbols of these principles in order to play out scenarios of good versus evil in a medieval fantasy setting. As the heroes fight against monsters of darkness and villains with selfish agendas, they explore various fantasy realms of the imagination. It is assumed the players will play the side of good or at least neutral as they strive against the ever-present and destructive agents of evil, destruction and darkness. This is not a game to indulge an individual's attraction to those things both dark and sinister... There are many other game systems designed for such endeavors."

That's why I think this is a fantastic RPG system to introduce to young people and why I went the extra mile.

TK: I have a slight issue with his characterization of other games indulging attraction to the sinister, but I still find the premise refreshing. On another note, you mentioned being worried about starting back up with doing illustrations. How did that go?

D:  Well, I got off to a very shaky start. That was five years ago. I was the opposite of prolific. I think I astounded Joe with my snail pace, averaging about one illustration every moon cycle. Since I had not touched pen to paper in years, it took me a while to get acclimated enough to find my groove. Once I finished the art, I scanned it. Usually, this is the final step, but I found it was but the first. Dogged by the perfectionist within me, I found myself “cleaning up” imperfections on the scanned electronic version. I'd readjust the proportions of figures, alter backgrounds and props, re-crop, re-define, and sharpen the lines.

TK: So you like using the computer.

D: Like it? My computer is more than an artistic tool. I love the fact that I can zoom in really close without straining my eyes physically. The best part is the computer’s ability to “undo” strokes--which is impossible with ink on paper.

Also, with the computer, I can contribute a lot more detail. In a piece of art, I love to balance richly textured areas with non-detailed areas. I seem to use the mouse in the same way I use a pen.

TK: Wait a moment--you don't use a stylus? Don't all computer artists use those?

D: Apparently not. I never invested in a stylus. I forget the reason. I simply learned to use what was at hand to work with. Every dot and every line equals one mouse click. It's no different than the pointillist technique I did during the day, and takes about as long.

TK: Let me get this straight; you’re saying that all of your art in this gorgeous book was done using just a mouse? Including this one that looks like a woodcut?

D: Good eye! And I mean that in more ways than one. (Happy your eye operation was successful)...    Yes, I opted to preserve the mystique of something from yesterday-year. It was not hard because I seem to naturally drift towards doing a woodcut effect anyway.

TK: Wow, D--The book is profusely illustrated.

D: This was the result of a successful 2014 fall Kickstarter campaign. One of the stretch goals was to have me fill in the gaps. I am not the only illustrator. Between everyone, every monster, racial type, and character class is fully illustrated. Jim Holloway created the cover art and about 27 of the interior illustrations. The other artists who contributed are Rowena Aitken, Vaggelis Ntousakis, Laura Siadak and Martin Siesto. So all of a sudden, I had a bunch of illustrations to complete in addition to the book's design.

TK: How many illustrations did you do?

D: Officially, I created 52 illustrations of various sizes. But while I was designing the book, I thought it would be neat if the Herb Lore section could appear like an old Herbological Guide Book. So I gifted the project with 34 small spot illustrations of plants. Simply to delight the reader, I also created 17 symbolic emblems in the Deity section to fill it out. I think these special little touches entice the imagination. So to answer your question, I did over 100 new illustrations for this book.

Q: Isn't doing all this detailed work time consuming?

D: Very. But if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, don't you think? The successful Kickstarter helped to free me from the 20th century notion that "time is money." In that world, it makes no economic sense not to declare a piece of art finished as quickly as possible. That doesn't work for me.

Time is art. That's my new paradigm. I added detail because I love the richness of juxtaposing different textures. Besides, I consider the time I devote on my illustrations to be a gift to my fans.  Locked into my work is the spiritual substance of my artistic focus, beneficence and devoted presence which can be felt through the images. Sensitive players can touch Joe's strange and beautiful World of Rocheron within Mythos Arcanum.

TK: You mentioned designing the book?

D:  Before I came on board with the project, around 2011, the book was technically ready to go to press. However, the previous layout person made all the customary mistakes novices always make when they attempt to design a publication. Even if space is dear, people must avoid starting a new section in the middle of the second column of a left hand page. Equally bad is splitting up graphs and text so that a page has to be turned to glean important information.

Amateurs at design also tend to be horrorvacuists (having a fear of white space) so they are compelled to fill up every available area of every page. Unfortunately, this practice produces uninviting walls of text which are a chore to read (decipher). The alternative is to sculpt the white space to improve the reading experience. That's why I urged Joe to reconsider publishing the book as it was.

TK: And you improved upon this?

D: Absolutely. I wanted the design for Mythos Arcanum to be the best the industry has yet seen.
I took a tremendous amount of care with the design of each page. Stylistically, I adopted the use of a medieval canon as the underlying grid design for the book. This resulted in a healthy amount of marginal white space bordering each page. A page's superior readability depends on the correct interplay of positive and negative elements and shapes. When plenty of white space surrounds the text, readability always improves. Studies show, when something is more easily read, comprehend is improved.

Another important thing about text columns most beginners don't understand is the optimum ratio between the size of the font to the length of a line of text it's set in. The optimal line to character ratio is between 50-60 characters, including spaces. That's why 12-point type set solid in a one-column format is so difficult to read. The eye too easily loses its place when jumping down to catch the next line. The space between lines should be two points above the point size.

TK: Page breaks are sensible. There is an index. Information appears to be easy to find. The illustrations all seem to make sense in conjunction with the text.

D: Superior design never calls attention to itself. To serve the meaning of the text so that information is more accessible, great design steps away from the limelight... It's neutral, invisible, subtle and unassuming.

TK: I can tell this subject is near and dear to your heart, but moving on...
What final things would you like your fans to know?

D: I went the extra mile in this book for my fans. I wanted to acknowledge and give something back to them for all their support throughout the years. I also wanted to pay it forward to the future generations of table-top gamers. Thus did I place all my time, effort, sincerity, and breath of creation into what I once considered to be my one final RPG project, my swan song.

TK: And now?

D: I'm sticking around. I'm staying.

TK:  OK D, it's time for your plug. How may people obtain a copy?

D: First, I wish to be very clear. The copies I am offering are among those I already purchased from the author. The copies he may have available on his website are not a part of this offer. Since I am selling these books as collector's items, purchases will directly benefit me as the artist.

In exchange for their purchase, people will be getting something special from me. For each book sold, I'll create a special bookplate (ex libris) to be placed into the book, personalized with the name of the purchaser specially lettered by me. I would also affix my signature to the plate, making this a signed copy. Viola! Instant collector's item!

TK: I get it.

D: I believe collector's items are worth more if they remain in their original packaging. Therefore, each book sold would remain shrink wrapped. Each ex libris I personally create will be shipped in the same package as the book. I will spring for priority mail within the continental United States.

Interested parties can send a $100 check made payable to: Darlene to P.O. Box 877, Mount Gilead, NC 27306
And I CAN now accept credit cards on my web site. This is the link to the payment part of the site: http://darlenetheartist.com/?page_id=139

TK: Thanks, btw, for my signed and personalized copy of the book.

D: My pleasure.

There you have it, fans of Darlene’s work.

Monday, May 2, 2016

More questions for the GMF

Gail Carpenter Gygax has tried to divert the intent of the questions I posed into a personal attack. I did not name anyone. I posed the questions to the legal entity known as GMF. Are we to assume that Gail Carpenter Gygax IS the GMF, in and of herself? There are two other names on the papers; are they just figureheads? If that is the case, why bother with them at all?\

Gail Carpenter Gygax construed my questions as a witch-hunt (her strange choice of words, not mine) and then shamelessly twists it into an attack on Gary and his memory, a scurrilous, pathetic tactic to divert attention.  Hiding behind the memory of her dead husband (my friend of almost 30 years) is a dodge. Answer the questions, please. Anybody that knew Gary and I while he was alive knows that I would never do as you accuse. Shame on you.

Irrespective of my beliefs of what Gary would or would not have liked to be remembered for and how he would have liked it to be done, I have supported this project from its inception, both monetarily and in print. Until the GMF achieves some semblance of transparency, that will no longer be the case. I cannot, in good conscience, tell others that they should become involved in a project in such a shambles that operates in secrecy and contrary to WI regulations and laws.

Many questions  still cry out to be answered, and now the subject of bricks comes up. Until there is a site, there is no way to know how many bricks can be sold. Forget the bricks,  forget choosing a font; they are a part of the overall architecture. Get a REAL working sketch of the proposed edifice; this means find and commission a sculptor. Get an agreement in place as to a site; gamers will visit or not—the site is immaterial. (As was pointed out by Gail Carpenter Gygax when she was cited by the local paper saying “…those guys [gamers] will go anywhere…”) or words to that effect. “Those guys”?

Why is GMF talking about bricks? Raising more money to sit idle and earn no interest for another year suits no one.

I am beginning to wonder just who (and what) this memorial  is for.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What is going on with the Gygax Memorial Fund?

Merriam-Webster lists as a second meaning for the word stakeholder one that has a stake in an enterprise

It is my contention that all of us, myself included, that donated money to the Gygax Memorial Fund (hereinafter referred to as GMF) are stakeholders in the effort. As such, we have a right to know what is going on; what has been done to finalize a site? How is the money being spent? What is it being spent on? Just how much money is there in the GMF?

Recently, Tenkar’s Tavern ( a blog at http://www.tenkarstavern.com/) asked a series of questions of Gail Carpenter Gygax, most of which went unanswered; some of the answers raised more questions.
Why were so many tax returns for GMF only made public recently (since Tenkar’s inquiries), which is at variance for WI requirements for transparency of all organizations  operating as a 501-c-3 Not-For-Profit entity?

Looking over the myriad papers, all sorts of things stand out

The single biggest head-scratcher is realizing that apparently none of the money in GMF is invested in ANYTHING! In the part of the required filings where investment (interest is accounted for in this section) proceeds are recorded, there is a glaring zero. Where is all of this money (close to a quarter of a million dollars) “sitting”? In a checking account earning zero interest? Is this a sound business principle?

One of the avowed principles of the GMF is to provide scholarships; the GMF could have provided a $2500 scholarship on the lost potential of last year alone.

I have never done real well with higher math and business principles; I’m OK at arithmetic ‘cuz I use a good old calculator. Totaling up the tax returns available online, they seem to indicate that GMF received $244K between 2010 and 2014. The most recent statement shows that the GMF has $222K
One document shows a person working .10 (1/10th) of an hour per week; that’s six minutes a week or 5 hours for the year. When I asked that person about it, he had absolutely no idea what it was about. How does someone work just six minutes per week?

Who is on the Board (or whatever name your organization uses for the group that oversees and directs it’s activities)? When were they elected? Why was an original member not informed that he had been replaced? Where are the organizational meeting minutes (as required by WI statute)? Are the meetings open to interested parties? Stakeholders?

In a year that saw almost no income “because of illness”, how was $1700 (four times the income for 2014) spent on “office, conference and meeting” expenses?

What were the 260 hours claimed spent doing?

Just what is the target $$ goal of the GMF? How much do you think you will need to accomplish your goals?

Has there been any success in changing the minds of the city officials that seem adamantly opposed to the location you want? What is the location that you have now, but don’t wish to use?

What is being done on the website? Why have you listed as “Audio Visual Engineer” a person that has had no contact with GMF for some years?

When will all the relevant, and required, documents be made available?

Why has there been no visible progress for close to two years now?

On behalf of the thousands of stakeholders in GMF, what the heck is going on?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

When Others Tell You What You're Doing, and they haven't got a clue

I was awarded a Masters Degree in Education by Xavier University in 2005. I state this not as a boast, but to establish the basis for what I am going to discuss at length: teaching and learning.
 I use terms that apparently offend differing parts of slightly more than half of our society for various reasons unbeknownst to me. Those terms are: lady and female (in my world, those of our species not born with a penis). I always assume one to be the former until proven otherwise. I have a wife, a daughter, grand- daughters and a great grand-daughter and expect them to be viewed by others similarly. I am a product of the Boomer generation and make no apology for that.

Recently, my efforts to bring more ladies into RPG’s have been misunderstood, impugned and insulted. What follows is how this all came to be. If I repeat something here I said elsewhere, I’m either sorry or it is important. In general, I use the term “wargaming” as the tent that holds us all, boardgamers, minis players and RPG’ers.

Several months ago my wife stunned me with a request to put together a D&D adventure for her and a bunch of her lady friends from Zumba class, none of whom had any RPG experience. I put together a very linear adventure (not so much “railroading” as limiting potentially distracting factors) with the intent of analyzing early actions for the lessons to be learned; sort of learning-on-the-fly. I gave them pre-generated Player Characters with minimal info; all they had was their six stats, their THAC0 and their HP. I explained each in about 30 words or less on a handout and we were playing in 15 minutes from sitting down to the table.

Four hours after beginning they had chased down the wicked bugbears who had stolen their patron saint’s finger to put in their soup, retrieved said phalange and rendered the bugbears hors de combat, and they all had a working knowledge of RPG’ing. We played with a single sheet of paper, a writing utensil of some sort and a handful of dice. Oh, yes, we also freely exercised our imaginations, had numerous laughs and wondered where four hours had gone so quickly.

I realized that I had touched upon something dormant in our hobby—rules overload and how this affects someone wishing to participate in the hobby we love. That stack of books we all lug around is really intimidating; newbies (of either sex) often feel that they will be at some sort of disadvantage if they don’t know everything in those books when they first sit down at a table.

How shocked would you be to know that I had the only set of rules for at least three quarters on the whole campus, and possible in all of southern Illinois in ’74-’75? The only reason someone in the group (well over a dozen avid RPG’ers ) finally broke down and bought a set was because I was graduating and taking mine with me to my new job at TSR.

I have taught in co-ed schools and I have taught in same-sex schools. The two types of schools have radically different dynamics. I have worked with every age of student, from pre-K to HS. More studies than I can count or care to list here have had some very interesting research results when studying classroom dynamics and environments. To sum up, very briefly: learning occurs differently in same-sex classrooms than in co-ed settings. I am not a shrink, nor have I read much in that field except as it might pertain to education and class rooms, so I claim no special expertise in this subject. Percentage-wise, more girls excel in the STEM fields in all-girls schools than do in co-ed settings. There are all sorts of social and societal forces at play here, as well as which students’ families can afford private schools which virtually all same-sex schools are today. In the end. what it ultimately boils down to is comfort; how embracing, inclusive and comfortable is the learning environment?
Girls learn differently when not in the presence of boys; the same is true for boys when not around girls. All sorts of factors are at work here: less fear of embarrassment in front of the other sex, no showing off for the other sex, no being thought of oddly for showing interest in something not associated with your sex, the list goes on and ends with just less distraction.

From the beginning in Prussia, scores of years ago, wargaming was a male, military pursuit. It was serious business, used to train men to more efficiently kill, maim or capture more of the other sides’ men in war. As the wargaming hobby evolved, from serious killing-efficiency exercise to parlour entertainment for the wealthy, it remained a male pursuit, by and large.

It is too easy for us in the 21st century to declaim how horrid things were in the past in terms of today’s values and standards, but that is what they were then. If a woman was interested in something such as pushing brightly colored blocks of wood representing units of troops about on a large table, she was the one thought to be “odd”. (Gaming has always had a close relationship with Irony.)
I started The Dragon magazine (the original name I gave it) in 1976. It was not until 1978 that we got our second female subscriber (out of about 2700). I am sure there were ladies buying copies in stores, but I had no way of knowing where or how many or who, or what, etc. I got very few submissions from female writers, and almost always used ones I did get, no matter how badly they needed editing. I sought out lady artists; they were damned few and far between. I continued that trend with Adventure Gaming, my later magazine. This was in the early’80’s and still less than 5% of my subscribers were female.

I am going on about this to show how I have been wargaming for over 50 years now, almost exclusively in the company of males, until relatively recently.

After the success of the little thing I put together for my wife and her friends,  I thought to do something like it for conventions, and maybe turn it into a teaching tool of sorts. I have spoken to lady gamers who do not role-play; fear of the seeming immensity of the rules is a factor. I have seen females of all ages sitting on the edges listening but not playing; I want to change that. I want to do it in a non-threatening setting that has so far worked very well; I have two more tests scheduled at NTRPGCon and GameHole. For GH, I intend to run a ladies-only game for experienced players.

My intro-game is in no way wussed down; the danger is there or it would be no fun. It is a hell of a lot simpler because I play D&D the way it was played at The Dawn of Role-Playing. It is enough to tell the player to “roll a d20 and get a 12 or higher”; looking up the various charts and tables is a buzzkill; that’s what the DM does.

I am beginning to understand J.D. Salinger a little better lately.

If I had started a game club at a school, I would have introduced them to RPG’s in the same way: boys-only and girls only introductions; they will both learn it faster that way. Only after that would we start a “mixed” campaign. Given that beginning, I would expect the co-ed groups to be much more equally balanced as to leadership and problem solving roles being filled more equitably.
The issue has arisen that my game is mis-advertised as “For Ladies Only” if a male is the DM. Supposedly, my games place any lady players in it “in my power”. The idea that a DM somehow “has power over” the players I find abhorrent and counter to everything I have ever published, edited or written.

The Dungeon Master/ Game Master/ Ship Master/Person behind the Screen has control of the game, not the players. We try to exercise that control sparingly; a good example might be not letting the party find a level that is not yet done by not letting them see a hidden door or secret passage. Another example might be subtly trying to get the party to rethink a scheme they are set upon embarking on that you know, deep in your bones, is not a very good idea as it entertains very little chance of success and likely to end in a very gory and unsatisfying conclusion.

No DM can control what the players do. Where do you think TPK’s (Total Party Killed) come from? Wandering Volcanic Eruptions? I have not had a single party spontaneously combust.

I am genuinely sorry for any player that has suffered under a DM with a “me v. them” mindset. Those are the people that work at summer camp so they can lord it over and terrorize the younger campers, instead of showing them how to catch a fish or shoot a bow or whatever campers do today.

I am asked repeatedly “How can I know if I’m a good DM?”. My answer is still the same’ “Do your players come back every session? If the answer is ‘Yes’, you’re doing fine.”

I intend to run my “Ladies Only game” again at North Texas RPG Con and at GameHole Con. I offer a comfortable, non-judgmental environment in which persons with different plumbing than mine can come and learn through doing. No control, no lording. Just fun.

To my naysayers and haters I say this; I know what I am doing and I have been doing RPG’s longer than 98% of those doing them today. That you would ascribe to me your fears, prejudices and past bad experiences without asking my intent or studying my efforts is a sad commentary on yourself, all alone in your tiny echo chamber.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Two great cons, too close together

I am a very lucky gamer; I get to go to around half a dozen cons per year (seven in ’15, five in ’16, who knows in ’17?). The fact that I am retired is one enabler; tickets for airplane rides and nice hotel rooms when I get there is the main motivator for me to go play games with strangers all around the Eastern U.S. Some days it is very cool to be Tim.

I just enjoyed two cons only two weeks, and 1063 miles, apart. The 1st was TotalCon (full name-Total Confusion Con) #30, in Mansfield, MA; the 2nd was GaryCon VIII, in Lake Geneva WI. They are both run by dedicated volunteers for the most part, and both are great fun.

In chronological order:

TotalCon (hereinafter referred to as TC) has been going for 30 years now; they know what works for them and their market. Nearly all the volunteers that I have met over the several times I have been asked to come are avid gamers of one sort or another. They have the best kids’ programs and games of any con I have ever attended anywhere.

2016 (Feb 18-21) was no exception; it was a great con despite all the obstacles thrown up by the new ownership of the Holiday Inn. (I was apprised of their worries well before the con; everyone had their fingers crossed.) The new owners fumbled the ball badly, not once but several times. There were a lot of grumbling attendees, but I hope that by now they have realized it was not all, or even very much, the fault of the organizers. Refurbishing was supposed to be done by Feb. 1-it was not. Over five dozen parking spaces were lost to trailers, construction stuff and dumpsters. At least two halls were so full of detritus and scrap that you could not pull a small suitcase through them. Rooms were not ready; I went from supposedly being closer to the action to being shuffled to the farthest wing of the complex. (Have I forgotten to mention that the con virtually takes over an entire, rather larger, Holiday Inn complex, complete with indoor pool and spa?)

Other than the hotel hassles, as far as I could see TC went off without a hitch. It was certainly a pleasant change from last year, when the snow was piled higher than second- story windows.

I had my own tubular meat side-missions. Jenn Gerber took me to Casey’s Diner in Natick for their “All Around”. It is a very nice dog with a pleasing snap when bitten, on a steamed roll that we would call here in the Midwest a New England Split or a Clam Roll, topped with mustard, onions and relish. Very tasty and highly recommended. For such a tiny diner (that you must go to to fully appreciate the funky ambience) it makes a mighty dog, and some of them are gamers.

The next day Angelia Parenteau took me to the New York Diner in Woonsocket, RI. It seems that folks from RI, sometimes known as Swamp Yankees for reasons unknown to me, don’t eat hot dogs. At least, they don’t call them that; they advertise Hot Wieners or Hot Weenies. What Angie got me to try are known as “gagguhs” (a linguistic mutilation of the word gaggers); thankfully, they are better than their name would seem to indicate; mustard, onion and meat sauce comprise the toppings. The dog was good, the meat sauce interesting but the bun was a standard hotdog bun and somewhat uninspiring.

When you go to a given con a few times, you begin to make “con friends” that you only see there and hope to see each time. TC is no exception; I have made many con friends there and look forward to seeing them each year.

Home for 10 days and then off again:

Another Tale from the Red Road

The Mad Mage, my bombardier/navigator, and I got an early start on Wed AM; first stop for us is always Corkys Dogg House in Cedar Lake IN, a tradition I started with The Axeman (Rich Franks) when we went to the last Lake Geneva Game Convention before Gary died. It is my annual truly authentic Chicago Dog experience. This year, tho’, was different; I went for the Polish sausage. First you must understand that the Vienna Beef Co makes one of the best mass-produced Polish in the country. There is  a certain method of cooking it that I think was once called “Maxwell St. style”. You take a frozen sausage and drop it in the fryer; when cooked the skin is crunchy and crackly and the insides just right for eating. Memory did not disappoint.  It was sublime. The Mage (Jim Wampler) treated himself to a pair of them this year; Damn the Chron’s, Full Gulp Ahead!

The weather this year was downright cold. I know, I know, I used to live there, but that was 35 years ago; Cincy weather has been much milder. And my bones are older.

Gary Con VIII (hereinafter referred to as GC) was going to a new venue- The Grand Geneva Resort. It used to be, way back when, The Lake Geneva  Playboy Club. Yes, the same site we tried (in ’77, I think) when it was the Playboy and nearly killed GenCon.

With no half-nekkid Bunnies about for many years now, the Grand Geneva has morphed into quite a posh place. GC would not be able to negotiate room prices anywhere near what they do get now if it took place “In Season”. I had a gas fireplace in my room…

For the first time since GC 1, I had two events with only three players signed up. I am guessing that whatever perverse thrill drove players to seek violent and notable deaths in my previous adventures has worn thin. All those TPK’s were fun for us all, but as the singer sang, “… the thrill is gone.” I am going back to storytelling and puzzle- and mystery-solving. There will be plenty of hazards, fear not, but I now wish to ferret out more subtle minds to duel with and confound. I love pitting myself against the collective mind of the party. (Probably more on this in another blog)

As luck would have it, I had tossed a new favorite game into my pile of stuff when I packed my car. The game is War of Kings, a Kickstarter project I backed because it had neat pieces and has since turned into a favorite for 2-6 players; the 6-player is brutal. I offered to run back to my room to get it and teach it to them. I had played with one or more of the guys in both groups, so I did not have to persuade very hard. I figured that I owed them 4 hours of gaming, so what the hell? All six guys loved it and we had two really fun games of 4 players each time. They were all skilled players and the game is subtly simple, so both contests were spirited. I think I may have sold a few copies…

I ran my infamous “mouse-game” and we had a great time, and everyone lived, to boot. (Sorry, no spoilers)

The Finals of Circus Maximus were great on several levels: all the players were skilled at the rules; all were paying constant attention; we used my custom track that is 44 squares longer and finished in about two hours. Lots of mayhem, three chariots flipped and one driver trampled. All in all, the mob was pleased.

My big moment came at the Charity auction. I had made the offer to allow my scraggly ponytail to be snipped for charity. I am happy to say that I got $200 for it; I turned down an offer of $400 to shave my head. All in all, we raised about $12,000 for the charity. When you consider that GaryCon can raise $12K with an attendance of about 1200, it makes you think what GenCon, with an attendance of well over 50K, could raise at its Charity Auction if it really tried. The gage has been tossed.

The transition into the new venue was not without problems; however, the majority of them were not visible to the general public and so little suffering resulted. As this con has run a tighter ship each year, I am confident that they will grow into this new venue just a like a hermit crab grows into a new whelk shell.

The “GaryCon Vibe” was present, even in new digs. I have decided that this past Con is the last that I will attend and NOT see all the old friends I mean to. Every year there are old friends that I know are at the con but I keep missing; from now on I am leaving Sat. night open to catch up with them and be in better fettle to return on Sunday to Cincy.

Frank’s party was outstanding, I got to spend some time with some old friends, got to spend some quality time with new friends—GaryCon VIII was great. I hear the resort is already taking reservations.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How I helped to pull the rope that tolled the bell for OD&D

Everything printed after the original three little booklets having to do with OD&D (the game as it was played before the publishing of AD&D) was about suggestions, not rules. One of the founding tenets of D&D as it was played in its formative years of ’74 to ’77 was about rulings, not rules. Another was that it was expected that Dungeon Masters (DM’s) would mine for ideas wherever we could find them: books, fairy tales, movies, old comics, the pulps--all were fair game for ideas upon which to build an adventure or campaign.

OD&D (what the original, first version has come to be called) was simple, as in rules light, certainly not simple to understand in reading the three. (Often the term “Old School” (OS) and “OD&D” are used more or less interchangeably.) Every DM sculpted his campaign as he (they were all males in the beginning) saw fit. DM’s in those heady, halcyon days when everything was new and wonderful were direct descendants of our Neolithic ancestors who threw sheep shoulder bones into the fire and read the cracks. We “read” something just as exotic—platonic solids made of pretty colored plastic and covered with numbers. (The original d20’s  had no “-teens”, just 0-9 twice. We rolled a d6 alongside to add 10 or not.) There were no Jump Across a Chasm charts; we had Dexterity (Dex) and Strength (Str) we could factor in to determine the chance of a Player Character (PC) making it. Folks with high Dex stood a better chance of jumping the chasm through which a raging torrent flows; they rolled a d20, the DM rolled a d20 and the DM made a ruling. Was it arbitrary? Mostly not. I treated dice like Nordic runestones; rolling high numbers was good; rolling 4 or less often meant it did not work out so well—everything in between was where we read the cracks in the sheep shoulders (and most of the time I paid no attention whatsoever to the die I rolled). Oftentimes, just “rolling under your Dex” was all it took.

We all as DM’s created our own worlds in which things worked in certain ways. Don’t like psionics? Fine, they don’t exist in your world. Think that vampires as presented are too tough or not tough enough? OK, make them fit your world. Think something ought to work a certain way, or not work a certain way? No problem, they worked the way you felt “right” in your world.

When I took the first set of rules to the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s Strategic Game Society (The SIUSGS) in the autumn of ’74 shortly after the GenCon I attended that summer, a few of the guys (no lady members, back then as all we played were boardgames and miniatures (minis)) asked to see them, just to look at them. They were flustered and could make little sense of them just casually scanning; it did not seem to bother anyone in the slightest that only I “knew the rules”. We played 6 or 7 times a month for at least six months before any of the dozen or so players felt like buying a set of their own. It was two months before anyone else bought dice. The point? You did not need a bookbag full of books to play Old School. You did not have to familiarize yourself with dozens of charts and tables to be able to play. All you needed was dice, pencil and paper and imagination. We had no minis in the beginning; we used dice to teach ourselves mental spatial reference skills. “Greg, you’re blue; Tom, you’re green and the orcs are red”. To this day I prefer an OS type of melee, where it is flowing and fast and one-on-ones only happen later in subsequent rounds; you might be fighting three goblins but have hit each one only once so far… .

By now most everyone knows that TSR published the G Series of modules to serve as a common framework for convention games and tournaments (which were, in and of themselves, a perversion of the game’s ethos). We had to standardize play and grade behavior against a rubric.
The untold story up to this point is why we published the Supplements. I will give you my perspective:

Greyhawk (GH) was the only “true” supplement in that it contained the Alt Combat system and a few other things that simply could not be squeezed into the three original little brown-boxed booklets referred to often as the 3LBB’s—the three little brown books. It was truly supplementary material to flesh out the game. At first it was thought that miniatures gamers (the original target audience) would be more comfortable with the standard weapon damage. At some point someone had a “What were we thinking?” moment and admitted that minis players were already inveterate tinkerers , and Damage by Weapon Type was born.

As GH was named after Gary’ campaign, it was widely perceived as “Gary’s supplement”. Wishing to be fair, TSR told Dave that he could have a supplement also, and refine and tinker with the overall system should he wish to. This became Blackmoor, the second supplement, so named for his seminal campaign. As he stated frequently before his death, Dave was not very happy about “his supplement”. (The reasons behind that have all been dealt with at length in other venues. I go into a chunk of all that on the thread I have on Dragonsfoot.org.) In it we introduced new ideas and suggestions for building a temple and cult around it and making it a focus in a campaign as an example for others to mimic; remember that “borrowing” was encouraged. We showed players ways to go underwater and adventure. We were literally trying to open minds to possibilities. It was the last true supplement; the following books were horses of different colors.

Gary had very distinct ideas on how he thought his game should be played. One quirk? He found it intellectually incomprehensible why anyone would wish to play anything but a human Player Character (PC). He found the idea of “half-breeds” to be repugnant, and not just half-orcs, either. He simply could not wrap his head around it at first. However, he knew there were some battles he could win and some not worth fighting, especially if they drove sales. There were other challenges to the game, which brings me to the subject of hubris.

Dictionary.com defines hubris thusly; “…excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” We had a little pride, but a lot more arrogance, now that I look back on it. We absolutely felt that we “knew” the way the game “should be played”. We fought off the waves of sexual weirdos on the East Coast with their fascination with Girdles of Sex Changing and more; no Moms were going to let their kids play that stuff. We outlasted the hordes clamoring for Spell Points, the most unbalancing feature at the time that would have had wizards ruling the worlds. (Another of Gary’s quirks was that he really did not like wizards and that human fighters should be the heroes of the campaign.) We persevered against the adherents of critical hits and hit locations; didn’t they realize that fighting a really bad guy with something like a Vorpal Sword was going to cost them limbs causing them to bleed out? We preserved the original abstract concept of hit points. We felt that these challenges to the game, as well as many others too numerous or petty or insignificant now to name, needed to be quashed so that the game remained true to Gary and Dave’s vision.

At one point a bunch of would-be “improvers” flat-out told us we did not know what we were doing and should let the game out into the world, giving up all rights. Now that was arrogance.
We shaped and guided the evolution of the game with the supplements.  When magic began to proliferate, we saw a way to shape it and expand it in an “approved”’ fashion with new spells and artifacts. We also addressed an area of imbalance overlooked for some time; monsters with psionic powers like Mindflayers were too horrible even in a fantasy game as they wielded an unstoppable weapon. So we came out with a psionics system that was grotesquely misunderstood and misused from its very publication. (As the author of a great deal of it I acknowledge that it could have been done better and explained more clearly—hindsight.) This was Eldritch Wizardry. These were always presented as suggestions and ideas, never rules. It said so in every Foreword I wrote, but we also hoped that our “gentle nudging” would steer the game back.

Time passed and the game continued to grow as well as expand in unexpected directions. Level-creep--PC’s at high Levels that were never considered, let alone allowed for, began to proliferate. In the early years PC’s “retired” at Lvl 9 or 10 and a new PC started; this level-creep was eating up the game. We were getting pleas for help from DM’s and players alike.

The tipping point came one day in a letter I had to open  that day that spurred a supplement almost that very  week. (I must have “had the duty” that day; we took turns opening and reading mail to TSR.) In this powerful thought provoker, a bewildered DM wrote the following, more or less (I will paraphrase a bit): 

“Dear TSR, I don’t know where to go with my campaign next. Last session, my players went to Valhalla. They killed Loki, all the Valar, a dozen Valkyries, Thor and Odin and destroyed the Bifrost Bridge. “ 

I read this aloud to Gary and Brian; when we picked ourselves up off the floor or regained our senses, as the case may have been, ( I swear to you that this is true) we knew level-creep had gone too far. That week saw the impetus for one more supplement gather enough steam that I set out to edit the last of the RPG-oriented supplements, Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. This was the closest to a rule book that we came; we felt that PC’s should not be powerful enough to knock off gods. So we gave them really high amounts of HP: Odin 300, Thor 275. We charted out character levels undreamed of in the original game.

One other crucial point to consider about the supplements is that they produced money on a regular basis and helped the company grow. They were predictably reliable cash cows.

Earlier I mentioned that we ran a lot of tournaments at game conventions. They were huge moneymakers for us, particularly at GenCon where we got all the admission and event fees. Even with modules, we were still finding it nearly impossible to find a large enough pool of DM’s that thought enough like us to feel completely comfortable. It also came to pass that various lawsuits came to be filed at this time that caused a desire to create a new brand. TSR came to the conclusion that it was time to actually codify D&D; thus was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons born, and the death knell of the loosey-goosey, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants OS style of play. There were so many things we did not see coming, the most reprehensible of which is the rules-lawyer.

I have told the story elsewhere: Gary and I spent a week in his office at the end of which the general outline of Basic D&D and AD&D had been laid down. Basic was toned down for younger players and made simpler to understand for easing them into it. AD&D was a tarted-up, codified version of OD&D that would now compel everyone to play the same. Worse, it was now a whole hell of a lot less engaging to the imagination; everything could be found on a chart or table. OS, or OD&D if you will, is more mentally engaging and more challenging than all the subsequent editions, not less. It is also tons simpler to play.

The sequencing of the releases of those first three hardbounds was a masterpiece of marketing. We knew everyone would have to have the whole set and released them in an order sure to sell them all well, and it did. And it killed the OS style of play for a great portion of then-current players; new players only saw AD&D.

So why do I continue to play OD&D when I mid-wifed AD&D? Because it is all the things 1st Edition AD&D (1E) is not. It is not slaved to charts and tables, although it has some. It is not arguable; it works that way on my world because I say so. It is about gathering information, not relying on Skills and Abilities to do the work for you. It is about playing well, having fun and living to fight another day.

I see a dearth of those skills and abilities in newer versions. I think that in some ways OS required a higher caliber player as well as requiring trust at the table; I see the art of running a great table being less respected (and practiced). I actually had a young man in a game at GaryCon tell me I was doing it wrong one time and that I was not being fair; the table stared in open-mouthed amazement all the while. I told him that I was sorry he wasn’t having any fun and that he was free to leave the game; he did not ask for a refund, although I am sure I could have gotten him one.

Old School-style was more difficult and much more nuanced than what later editions engendered. It required more roleplaying, it required asking lots of questions; thus was “the caller” born. The term “the caller” surely had many other synonyms, but it was a vital role in early role-playing. When the entire party started to ask questions for one reason or another, the DM could be overcome by the cacophony. The caller had to be able to sort through his compatriot’s babble and then turn around to the DM with a coherent set of questions, as well as making sure that all his party was heard; sometimes the player that hardly ever opened his mouth had a spectacular insight. Contrary to what you might be thinking, the caller was not always the “dynamic leader-type” that every group seemed to produce that made decisions or swayed the decisions through force of will. But that role was one hell of a character builder. Ofttimes, the caller was the one that led the party in exploring.

Another salient point to keep in mind is that we gamers then (yes, I count myself in that group) were not all possessed of the greatest set of social tools and skills, not all of us, anyway. (I was an exception in that I had been four years in the Navy during Nam, been an NCO, l was married and had a child while going to college; also four years is a lot of time in which to mature.) Lots of players “found their voices” playing RPG’s, gaining self confidence and self assurance. I am not making this up; one of the more common themes I hear at cons is how playing RPG’s (particularly D&D) brought people out of their shell and into a social world.

The caller’s day is done; charts and tables and skills and abilities have all superseded that role; thinking creatively has been stifled; if it isn’t on a chart or table, it can’t be done. In one of my games at GaryCon one time, I had a dwarf PC kill two huge polar bears single-handed. That was not on any chart, but in OS, it could happen. It’s all fantasy, after all.

I guess what I have been leading up to is not another Edition War salvo, but simply this; OS/OD&D involved more roleplaying, not less, and more thought and consideration and just plain thinking. OS may be simpler, but in no way is it easier.

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