Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Life below armpit level

I just spent 4 days using a mobility cart at GenCon 50. I never realized that my fellow gamers were so: (take your pick) oblivious, rude, unthinking, self obsessed, cruel, mean-spirited or just plain f***ing annoying.

After 20 years with Fishing Has No Boundaries, an organization that provides opportunities for folks of all ages with disabilities, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of some of the hurdles they faced in doing “ordinary” things, having helped them overcome them. I was completely and totally ignorant as to what it feels like to be in a wheelchair (or in my case, on a mobility scooter). I was invisible (except for a few hours one afternoon; more on that later).

I will now speak in generalities; not everyone, by any means, exhibited this behavior.

I cannot count how many times I had to tell someone to “Look up!” when they had their face in their phone and stepped in front of me (keep in mind I am in motion). Now if this behavior was being exhibited on the highway, I would be OK with that as it would weed out that gene from the pool in short order.

I was frequently battered about the head and shoulders by backpacks and bags of games. I got a few looks that seemed that the offender didn’t think I should be in his way.

I had idiots jump in front of me, giggling sometimes, with lame “Sorry”’s and smirks. No, Jerkwad, if you were really sorry you would not act like an ass-hat.

I had strings of gamers (gamers all in a group) line up like ducklings following Mama, and then make a game of how many could dash in front of me and make me stop. All accompanied with phony smirks and “Sorry”’s. You weren’t sorry, you brain dead moron; if you were you would have paused and let me through.

The insincerity really hacked me off.

Karma can be a bitch, and one vacuous smartass got his ass bitten for many of the others. Motoring along the sidewalk, where it happens to be sort of divided by a bunch of planters, this rather large fellow jumped from his side in front of me on my side, gave me the mealy-mouthed “Sorry” complete with smirk, just as I rammed his Achilles tendon with the scooter, absolutely, completely by accident. I could not stop in time. As I loudly proclaimed what a foolish move it was to jump in front of scooters everyone around looked just as I hit him and saw him limp away. I hope it got infected.

Brother and Sister gamers, get your act together on this. Lots of gamers have to spend their lives in chairs or on scooters, and the general herd treat them like crap, as though they do not exist. I spoke with quite a few attendees who are in chairs all the time, or on a scooter. Every single one of them said that what I was observing was what they dealt with every day. Some of these fellow gamers are considerably more fragile than I. Look around you and take that into consideration. One of them used the phrase that became my title; anything below armpit level is often virtually invisible to too many people.

I was ashamed of the way my fellow gamers were behaving, and mine is only a temporary condition. I empathize with those living with those circumstances on a daily basis.

Later: One afternoon , instead of a gaming-related cap, I wore a VietNam Veterans cap. People were marginally (but only a little) more considerate and seemed to see me better. They also offered help, if needed, every time I stopped.

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:

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.