“Planet Algol is still awesome,” or, “A Return to Zhontaar?”

•04/07/2015 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t been gaming much in the seven months since my son was born, but the hobby has been on my mind regularly.  I’ve recently transitioned from a fixation on espionage to science-fantasy/retro-SF, which may in part have been unconsciously triggered by a surge of WordPress spam comment notifications in my inbox regarding my old “Planet Algol is awesome” blog post.

The RPGs vying for my attention lately have been Stars Without Number, Cubicle 7’s Rocket Age (which screams “Leigh Brackett’s Solar System: the RPG”), and the marvelous BoL sci-fi hack Barbarians of the Void.  Looking through these, I can’t help but daydream about my own settings and pine for the time and schedule-flexibility to have a regular group.  It’s certainly enough to make me want to send the Bookstore Boys on an exploratory voyage to Zhontaar and the 19th Aeon of Terra, a turbulent time of collapsing space empires and strange cosmic events…

In addition to enjoying the above material, I’ve set the time machine’s  dial back a few years to the “golden age of RPG blogging” (ca.2009-11) to revisit some science-fantasy favorites: Planet Algol and Humanspace Empires.  Both blogs are still as fun and inspiring as when they were written, and I would love to see them revived.  There’s always room for more weird science-fantasy, especially when it’s done as well as those two bloggers did it.

a new 1st-level human has joined my party

•10/08/2014 • Leave a Comment

A month and a half ago my son “Milk Beast” was born.  I confess I haven’t spent much time daydreaming about the day he’s old enough to play RPGs with his dad, but the thought has crossed my mind…  I also haven’t gotten him a “Level 1 Human” onesie either (yet):


This design is cute, but how does a DEX 3 infant have AC 6? 

Now that MB has had his 2-month shots (and rolled a successful saving throw vs. side effects) and we don’t have to be quite as paranoid about socializing with him, I’m definitely looking forward to inviting my gaming friends over to roll some dice —  I haven’t tried DMing with a baby carrier on, but I’m sure that somewhere, someone has done so!

hangin with billy dee

“My dad showed me this neat game where you roll funny dice and pretend to be wizards and heroes.  Wanna play?”

thoughtful guy

“Hmm… What character should I play?”

I’ve had a great time introducing my nephew and niece to role-playing games — we’ve played Lego Heroica and Hero Kids so far — and when the time is right, it will be MB’s turn.  Whether he takes to tabletop RPGs or not, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time playing with MB and encouraging his imagination and creative impulses.

Bookstore Barbarians vs. the Apemen

•04/03/2014 • Leave a Comment

Wherein the Bookstore Boys (as I call the group for whom I occasionally run games at Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay) create new characters and test-drive the upcoming Barbarians of Lemuria: Mythic rules…

I decided to stick with the published Lemuria setting this time, since I’ve been hankering for sword & sorcery lately.  The Main Theme from Danny Elfman’s thrilling, percussive soundtrack to Tim Burton’s meh 2001 Planet of the Apes remake had already been on seemingly-endless repeat in my mind for a few days, undoubtedly left over from an OD&D adventure I ran a couple weeks earlier.  Said OD&D game provided the basis for this adventure, and the soundtrack definitely influenced my pre-game prep and in-game description…

The adventure began with the heroes — a Satarlan gladiator, Satarlan hunter, and Zaluti assassin — all in rags, clinging to flotsam after the prison galley in which they were being transported was blown off course and wrecked in a terrible storm.  The heroes managed to get to an uncharted island after seeing a shiny silver flash on the horizon.  Once ashore, the heroes scrambled to make weapons, find food, and prepare shelter before nightfall. [The boys ran wild with this, wanting to sew blankets, knap stone into blades, and craft other items…]  As twilight descended, the group heard the echo of drums in the distance…  After an uneventful night, the assassin decided the next morning to forego hunting, gathering, and crafting in favor of exploring — alone.  This led to an unintentionally-humorous sequence wherein the poorly-equipped hero narrowly escaped from a hungry tiger-lizard, slid down a muddy slope, fell into a rushing river, and was washed back out to the beach, at which point he slogged back along the coast to where his companions were cooking and eating the day’s kill.

[In their enthusiasm for crafting, the boys completely forgot about the mysterious silver flashing up in the hills.  They probably could have spent the entire 3-hour session puttering around on the beach, so I decided it was time to shake things up…]

During the second watch of the second night, the camp was set upon by a raiding party of Apemen wielding sleep-inducing poison darts.  The heroes were quickly captured, bound, and carried to the Ape village, where they were placed in a wooden stockade.  When the Ape drums started up and some cooking spits were erected over a large fire, the heroes knew they didn’t have much time to escape.  The Gladiator used his mighty strength to pull some of the logs of their prison out of the ground enough for the group to wiggle out.  Using her magic, the Assassin created an illusory demon that rose from the bonfire and terrified the Apes into temporary flight.  Taking advantage of the confusion, the group grabbed some Ape weapons (stone spears, stone daggers, javelins) and made a break for the jungle.  The Apes’ panic was short-lived, and soon the sound of drums and hunting horns echoed up the trail behind them.  Hotly pursued by Ape warriors hurling javelins and darts, the heroes (led by the Hunter) managed to make it back to their camp and mount a defense.  The PCs decimated the first wave of warriors and nearly slew their war-leader.  After the Apes retreated to regroup, the party decided their camp was unsafe and (finally!) decided to flee to the hills in search of the silver flash.

The Hunter (an expert jungle tracker) led the group unerringly through the dense foliage, out of the jungle and up into the hills.  Before long they found the source of the silver flash — a downed Satarlan sky-boat.  Omis, the pilot, rejoiced at meeting two fellow Satarlans, and explained his situation: he had completed the repairs as best he could, but needed some Blue Crystals to help power the engine.  His sensor device had located some nearby, but he was unable to retrieve them due to his injured leg.  The PCs eagerly agreed to help, and followed the sensor to a gaping hole in the ground 20′ wide and 200′ deep.  Hanging from a mighty tree overhead were a number of long vines stretching down into the darkness.  The heroes climbed down these and had to battle their way past a disturbed nest of carnivorous bats (as they were swinging from these vines before they could reach the crystals, carefully chip some out with hammers, and return to the ship.  The adventure concluded with the heroes and Omis flying north toward Satarla in the sky-boat…

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #24-27: quick catch-up

•02/27/2014 • Leave a Comment

First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

The Rankin-Bass 1977 animated version of The Hobbit is #1, with very honorable mentions to Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981), and the Schwarzenegger Conan flicks.  Not because they are necessarily “D&D-like” in every respect, but because they were my cinematic introductions to fantasy adventure.  

Longest-running campaign/group you’ve been in?

My longest running regular group was probably my AD&D group during my college daze at UCSB, which met at least twice a month from ~1998-2000 and had, at its peak, 11 active players and 15+ characters.  I have individual friends with whom I’ve gamed since then for longer periods overall, but not on as regular a basis.  

Do you still game with the group that introduced you to the hobby?

Nope.  That first group didn’t last long — a few months of D&D, then a much smaller group took to Star Frontiers.  I’m still somewhat in touch with the two guys I played Top Secret with in 5th-6th grade, but we haven’t played together since grade school.

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?  

Maybe if I hadn’t been such a TSR-exclusive fanboy, I would have gotten to play some other great games.  I vaguely knew that there were other game companies out there, but with the exceptions of Car Wars and Twilight: 2000 — one I played and one I wanted to play but never did — I wasn’t interested in their products because somewhere along the line I picked up the notion that “TSR is the best.”  I even turned my nose up at games based on properties I loved at the time, such as Victory Games’ James Bond 007 or WEG Star Wars.  (Later of course I would learn the error of my ways…)

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #23: D&D song

•02/24/2014 • Leave a Comment

First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

King Crimson – “The Court of the Crimson King”

Peter Sinfield’s lyrical imagery in this tune is so deliciously fantastic, cryptic, and esoteric, almost as if it were intended to be a font of RPG inspiration. It has been a lyric which has sparked my imagination in different ways over the years, each time focusing on a couplet here, a verse there, perhaps even a single image.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #22: First D&D novel

•02/22/2014 • Leave a Comment

First D&D novel you read.

The first D&D book I read was Dungeon of Dread (Endless Quest #1) but since this question specifically asks about novels, we’ll just disregard this and all the other TSR gamebooks I read in elementary school…  The first D&D novel I ever read was The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore, which I found on a spinner rack in my high school library sometime in 1992-93.  I really liked it, and subsequently tracked down the two other volumes in the trilogy.  I never caught the Drizzt-fever and was thankfully never left shaking with a desire to play an outcast, good-aligned, dual-scimitar-wielding Dark Elf Ranger.  I will confess that one of the most annoying PCs I ever had to DM was an unholy combination of Drizzt (renegade Drow) and Raistlin Majere (brooding wizard) from the Dragonlance series…

As an aside — the first D&D novel I wanted to read was the original Dragonlance Chronicles, purely on the basis of the Elmore covers which as a kid I thought were among the coolest covers I had ever seen.  I didn’t actually read the Chronicles until I was in college, and when I did I was completely underwhelmed by them — probably because I had built up the awesomeness so high in my mind as a kid…  (“How can a book with a cover this cool not be awesome?”)

The Icewind Dale Trilogy and Dragonlance Chronicles are the only officially-licensed D&D novels* I can remember reading, and will likely remain so.  Nowadays I generally avoid RPG/video game/movie-related novels like the plague, although I confess to being intrigued by the recent run of Delta Green story collections…

*Not included are Andre Norton’s Quag Keep (the “first D&D novel”) or contemporary fantasy works based on the author’s D&D campaigns/characters, such as Feist’s Riftwar series.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #21: First time selling

•02/21/2014 • Leave a Comment

First time you sold some of your D&D books — for whatever reason

The first time I sold any gaming books was when I was an undergrad at UCSB — not to buy food, beer, weed, textbooks, or other school supplies, but other gaming stuff.  My copies of the 2e core books (“2.5″-era) and 2nd edition Forgotten Realms box were gathering dust on a shelf, so I ended up taking them to Metro Comics in downtown Santa Barbara, which at the time (~1997-98) had quite a selection of used RPG materials.  I can’t recall exactly what I traded for, since I was a pretty regular customer there — given my interests at the time, it would most likely have been stuff for 1e, Gamma World, or Call of Cthulhu (which I really dug, but sadly my group wasn’t interested in playing…)


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