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ANALOG GAMER DAD is my new blog focusing on tabletop gaming with kids and other parent-y stuff.  Feedback, comments, and suggestions are always welcome!

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reflections and anticipations

Time to take stock of things as 2018 draws to a close and 2019’s arrival looms.

2018 was a very busy year for my family and I, what with moving halfway across the country (and the preceding whirlwind of packing, selling our condo in CA, etc.) and starting a new job in April.  These big changes and the reality of life with small children translated to limited actual gaming this year, but there were still some highlights:

  • I did get to run a three-session Fading Suns adventure for the HMB group before we moved, which was a lot of fun, a great sendoff and a milestone of sorts to boot — although it had been one of my favorite published settings since 2001, it was the first time I had the opportunity to actually run FS.
  • Last month I ran a Wilderlands session for that group via Roll20, my first online gaming experience.  Although I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been, it was overall a good experience; we’ll do more online gaming in the new year as schedules permit.  More Carpathia, Fading Suns, OD&D, and who knows what else?
  • A coworker invited me to join his new monthly-ish AD&D group.  We’ve had our “session zero,” and I’m looking forward to see what kind of shenanigans will unfold as my 1st level human fighter “Froedus mac Anguish” begins his adventuring career.
  • Per my two recent posts, 2018 has also seen my son’s introduction to gaming via toy soldiers and miniatures.  I expect that the bulk of my game-related activity in 2019 will be with my son in one form or another — painting minis, tabletop skirmishing, introducing RPG concepts, etc.
  • As mini-painting has become a semi-regular activity again, I’ve been tentatively exploring solo skirmish wargaming.  This in turn led to some research into solitaire RPG play and quite a bit of note-taking.  Both ideas are appealing in this busy season of life, where getting together with a group for (regular) multi-hour sessions is difficult.  The latter also seems like a good way to exercise my gamer-ADD and try out some different systems.  Besides, more time spent in actual gaming activities means less time mindlessly surfing the internet!
  • Now that the phase of “analog gamer dad” is truly underway, I’m thinking about starting a separate blog focused more on creative play with my kids, “Education of a Young Gamer”-type posts, and other parent-y stuff.  The Scroll will remain for my “grown-up” game writing.

The Education of a Young Gamer, part 2: fun with miniatures

A couple months ago, my 4-year-old son the Page (he’s a knight in training) and I stopped by the Warhammer store in Round Rock after running an errand nearby.  Not surprisingly, he was very intrigued by all the little painted figures, terrain, buildings, and other props.  He proclaimed that maybe “when he gets older,” he would have some miniatures.  “Maybe so,” I replied with a chuckle, “but if you want to play Warhammer you’ll have to get a job to pay for your army.”

When we got home, I dug out my big tackle box of painted minis, mostly characters done by Frau Gnombient and I years ago when we were playing a lot of Talisman.  I was never a great painter, but it was fun and I produced some decent figures.   The Page was very interested in these, but didn’t really understand the concept of how they were used in games.

Our backyard toy-soldier battles (described in my last post) got me thinking more about skirmish gaming possibilities with my son, which naturally led to thoughts of miniatures.  Hmm, I bet the boy would have fun painting some of these guys.  So a few weeks ago, on a rainy weekend, I pulled out the old yellow tackle box full of primed, unprimed, and semi-painted miniatures acquired over the past 12 years.  The Page picked out a few to paint, and we commandeered the kitchen table for a while.  He painted four miniatures, and eagerly waited for them to dry (and dry again after being sealed) so he could conduct his own battles with them.

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Hard at work…

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The finished figures!

He’s had two painting sessions since then — a few 25-28mm and some larger 54mm plastic monsters.  Before he starts each figure, I talk with him about what colors he wants to use for the head, body, weapon, etc.  The figure doesn’t end the way he plans it — he seems content to do one or two colors on a figure and be done — but we’re laying a foundation…  Although his painting skills are understandably very basic at this point, I’m pleased to see that he seems to enjoy the activity.  The 54mm figures are definitely easier for him to handle at this point, so we’ll experiment with some of his Alamo soldiers next time.

This next weekend is supposed to be wet and gloomy, so we’ll probably get to do more painting (and maybe some kind of actual skirmishing) when his baby sister the Maiden is napping.

The Battle of the Backyard; or, The Education of a Young Gamer

Yesterday afternoon, my son and I went out to play in the yard with the Alamo toy soldiers his grandparents bought him when we visited that monument.  We were setting up the figures, and a quarter in my pocket prompted me to turn our play into an impromptu wargame.  After setting up the armies, we took turns declaring which soldier would fire at which target, and then a coin flip determined whether the shot hit or missed.  A “hit” soldier was considered out of the action and tipped over.
***
Surveying the territory, the Texians determined that the low plateau would be the most defensible location against the approaching Mexican infantry regiment.  The outnumbered Texians then took up positions behind the rude rock wall, hastily constructed at the plateau’s edge.
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The Texian Commander deploys his forces

Soon, the mass of uniformed regulars came marching carefully across the rocky plain, bayonets already fixed to their muskets in anticipation of closing with the rebels.  The Texians grimly gripped their weapons, awaiting the order to fire.
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Anxiously surveying the field!

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The Mexican troops attempted a charge on the Texians’ right flank, but the superior position and cover of the Texians gave them a considerable advantage.

Bird’s-eye view of the casualties, just prior to the Mexican retreat

After suffering almost 50% casualties, the Mexican regiment retreated, yielding the field to the Texians.   Victory for Texas, hurrah!
***
I was never much into wargames as a kid.  I liked playing with toy soldiers, making fortifications and trenches in the sandbox, and conducting free-form battles, but never thought to make Rules for hits and misses, movement, etc.   It was a ton of fun to get down in the dirt and play again, albeit with a little more structure for resolving actions. I think the next skirmish will involve fewer units, maybe with some similarly-simple, improvised rules for movement.   Since the Texian army includes figures for Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, I may also incorporate a multiple-hit rule for Heroes.
Interestingly enough, even with a simple binary resolution mechanic and no rules for cover, etc., I found that the Texians seemed to have a considerably higher success rate than the poor Mexican troops.  Somehow, that quarter was doing just fine compensating for my lack of rules…
My son was very into the game, and is gung-ho to play again this afternoon.  Since before he was born, I’ve daydreamed about playing games together, so naturally, I’m thrilled by his enthusiasm.  Time to go buy some more plastic toy soldiers!

BOLISH HACK; or “Dungeons & Barbarians”

This is really the tale of two tabletop RPGs — the venerable DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and the relatively-recent, “old-school-ish” BARBARIANS OF LEMURIA — and my attempt to combine elements of the two.  I am certainly not the first to imagine such a glorious union.  Two attempts come readily to mind:

  1. Barbarians and Explorers of Lemuria (BXoL) by Martin “Yora” Kallies was an (sadly) incomplete set of houserules that added encumbrance, treasure, demihuman races, and other D&D-isms to the basic BoL rules.
  2. Simon Washbourne’s BoL Hack converted BoL mechanics from 2d6 to 1d20 and bolted the BoL career system onto a very basic class/level system.

My own work on a BoL/D&D hybrid began when players in my Carpathia game expressed their preference for D&D’s class/level structure and, to a lesser extent, d20-based mechanics.  (Players love rolling funny-shaped dice, right?)  Washbourne’s BoL Hack met these requirements and became the basis for my “BoL-ish Hack.”  (Ha ha, get it?!)  This worked well in play and, the class/level aspect was especially well-received by the players.  After a while, I shifted back to the 2d6-based mechanics to take greater advantage of the D&D Reaction Table for task rolls.

Development of BOLISH HACK for use in a mythic-fantastic-medieval campaign is driven by the following assumptions and questions:

  • D&D-style class/archetype and level advancement systems are familiar to many casual gamers (thanks to video games, etc.) and make it easier for the referee (me) to adapt OSR D&D materials on the fly and gauge difficulty of encounters
  • BoL Careers and Traits (Boons/Flaws) provide flexible, flavorful means to add mechanical “uniqueness” to individual characters without overburdening players/referees with long lists (and fiddly mechanics) of skills, feats, etc.  That said, can the existing lists be trimmed or condensed to speed up character creation without sacrificing flavor?
  • BOLISH HACK should be close enough to both OD&D and BoL as to be able to take advantage of existing subsystems (I.e. BoL ship combat, etc.) with a minimum of conversion.
  • OSR D&D has wealth of material to be mined — monsters, adventures, etc.  How can these be adapted to BOLISH HACK with a minimum of conversion?
  • Subsystems that reinforce the resource management aspect of play (for encumbrance, etc.) should be sufficiently abstract and light as to be in keeping with the “spirit” of the parent rulesets
  • How to best implement a magic system that allows for specific spell lists and free-form casting?  Concrete spell lists for magic-users are helpful for players unused to free-form magic and referees adapting material from D&D.  Spell point system gives flexibility to players, and can power free-form magic.

I’d say that I’m about 70% there.  Still sorting out the flavors of magic — clerical prayers, magician spells, faerie Glamour, and the plant-and-root lore of the cunning-folk.

 

the fortuitous arrival of Echoes From Fomalhaut #2

Pondering the upcoming next session of my Wilderlands sandbox campaign (playing online with the HMB group), I found myself populating the northwestern section of the Isle of the Blest with adventure seeds and locales.  With some dungeons more-or-less ready, my attention turned to figuring out more details about the nameless port where the action left off.   Big enough to support a temple (two PCs had to be un-petrified last time after a nasty encounter on Melan’s Isle of the Water Sprites) but not so big as to be a new regional power, I found my initial brainstorms to be less than inspired.

Amidst this, a slender brown envelope arrived in the mail from Hungary.  Inside was issue #2 of Echoes from Fomalhaut, the zine published by Gabor Lux (Melan) and E.M.D.T.  Melan is an OSR writer whose output has never disappointed me (Echoes #1, Zothay, Garden of al-Astorion, House of Rogat Demazien, Fight On! adventures, etc.), and Echoes #2 is no different.  This issue, subtitled Gont, Nest of Spies, is 44 pages of meat for AD&D1e and other OSR games, and comes with a two-sided map (side one shows a hex map the Isle of Erillion and side two an unlabelled map of the town of Gont.)  In this issue are two stand-alone adventures (one of which is set in the Dreamlands), random tables for alchemical substances and miscibility, short guidelines for energy drain, an overview of the Isle of Erillion, and an 18-page feature on the port town of Gont, which is divided into two sections: first, the town itself is described, including its major persons, factions, and places; second, “Down the Smugglers’ Walk” details the network of tunnels, cellars, crypts, and such beneath the town.  The writing is imaginative and flavorful without being overly verbose or tied too closely to the broader setting (the Isle of Erillion.)

Before I even finished the Gont section, I could tell that it would work perfectly in my Isle of the Blest campaign.  All that really needs to be done is flip the unlabelled town map upside down (I need a western port, Gont is eastern), re-draw the (labeled) Smugglers Walk map to match, and assign some of the adventure hooks to locations/hexes on the Isle.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble the PCs will get into here.

Thanks, Melan!

 

The most awesome birthday party ever

Today is the birthday of my grade-school friend Grant.  He lived across town, so growing up, we only attended the same school for 2 or 3 years.  Our paths crossed at different times in different ways — swimming lessons, Indian Guides, Boy Scouts.  After high school, our paths diverged and I haven’t really seen him since.

Grant introduced me to some interesting new things — Renaissance Faires, the Eastman & Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Led Zeppelin, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  He also holds the distinction of having the most awesome birthday party I’ve ever attended.

We were in 5th grade, September 1985.  I received an invitation to Grant’s birthday party, which had a Dungeons & Dragons theme.  Naturally, I was very excited and enthusiastic about this; however, I also knew that my parents would not share my feelings.  Unfortunately, they had bought into the “Satanic Panic” accusations and were very concerned about the sinister, demonic influence D&D might exert on their impressionable son.  After I tearfully begged and pleaded with them to let me attend the party of one of my best friends, they relented, with one caveat: “You can go to the party, but don’t tell your little brother or sister what you did there.”

The day of the party finally arrived.  In addition to the dozen boys in attendance (mostly from our class), there were two older boys who would serve as the Dungeon Masters for the evening’s games.  The attendees split into two groups and went to the tables.  At our table, my friend Rich and I both rolled up 1st level Magic-Users (we were playing B/X.)  Our group then went down into a dungeon to explore and find some treasure.  At one point early on we found a sarcophagus in a crypt.  When the lid was removed and we saw a golden dagger inside, the argument broke out about who would grab it.  (Neither Rich nor I were particularly assertive kids, so we weren’t contenders.)  Eventually, someone won the argument, but when their character reached in and picked up the dagger, it animated itself and started flying around, slicing people up.  I think I had already used my one Magic Missile in an earlier encounter, so I was basically a useless meatshield at that point.  The dagger killed at least 2 or 3 characters (including mine) before someone finally caught it and laid it to rest back in the sarcophagus.

With my character dead, I was done for the rest of the session.  I have no idea what happened to the rest of the party, as I soon left the table with the players of the other slain characters to read comic books, of which Grant had an extensive collection. After the D&D sessions, the older kids left and it was food/cake/presents time followed by general horseplay/movies/sleepover time.  The next morning, as we were preparing to leave, we each received our party favor, a Fighting Fantasy gamebook.

It was a great time with friends.  Even the initial disappointment of my character’s death didn’t dampen my spirits for the evening.  There was much discussion at school the following Monday — both of the game and party, but also of these new gamebooks Grant gave us.  We were all avid Choose Your Own Adventure readers, but none were familiar with Fighting Fantasy.  We swapped books, bought more, and swapped them around too.

What a great party.  Happy birthday, Grant!

earliest inspirational sources of your D&D experience (Appendix N, etc.)

A forum discussion of the venerable Appendix N got me thinking about inspirations and influences on one’s approach to gaming.  As enlightening as discussions of Appendix N and other designers’ inspirational reading lists may be, in some ways it’s more interesting to see what influences and inspirations regular gamers brought with them when they first started playing D&D.  I’m particularly interested to know the experiences of other folks like me, who came into the hobby at young ages.

When I first started playing in late 1983, I was 8 years old and completely unaware of at least 95% of the authors in Appendix N.  I wish I could recall more specifics of the actual adventures I played or refereed, but alas — such details are lost in the haze of memory.  However, it’s fairly easy to remember/reconstruct the fantasy and science fiction I would have been exposed to by that age:

  • The Hobbit, both Tolkien’s novel and the 1977 Rankin-Bass animated film;
  • Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  Not fantasy, but the SW movies loomed so huge in my mind and certainly affected the way I thought about any kind of adventure;
  • Greek mythology, primarily through Kathleen Elgin’s First Book of Greek Mythology (which was a hand-me-down from my dad) and Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans film;
  • Various fairy tales and stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, as filtered through kiddie storybooks, Disney movies, etc.;
  • The Chronicles of Narnia;
  • Saturday morning cartoons such as The Smurfs and (maybe) Thundarr the Barbarian;
  • “Grown-up” movies — possibly The Beastmaster (on TBS, natch!) or Conan the Barbarian, it may have been before fall ’83; and
  • Choose Your Own Adventure books.  The importance of CYOA cannot be emphasized enough, as they provided my friends and I with an immediate frame of reference for the idea of role-playing (I.e., “here’s what’s happening, you’re the hero of the story, what are you going to do?”)  The diceless nature of our early games was also directly influenced by that kind of gamebook storytelling. I can’t recall if I had read any of the D&D-branded Endless Quest books before I actually played or if I persuaded my parents to let me get some soon afterwards; regardless, I vaguely recall Mountain of Mirrors as being the inspiration for one of the first (if not the first) adventures I DM’ed.

I would be very curious to hear anecdotes of other peoples’ experiences in this regard — how old they were when they started playing D&D, and what inspirational sources most informed their early adventuring — ESPECIALLY if they had little to no exposure to Appendix N.

Old Barrowmaze session report from June 2016

I found this in the virtual draft pile and thought I’d just throw it out there for the record.  This was the first session I ran for the HMB group, whose further adventures are chronicled here.

A group of adventurers, recently arrived in Greenwax and looking for adventure and profit, decided to try their luck exploring the Barrowmaze north of the Old City.  The party consisted of:

  • KASIA, human fighting-woman
  • CYRIANA, elf magic-user
  • GNOMEE, downy-furred halfling thief [Ready Ref Sheets‘ skin/hair color table strikes again!]
  • EARTHANGEL, earthling fighting-woman

As part of their exploration of the Barrowmaze, the group accepted two commissions:

  • To find the wayward son of a Viridian nobleman, Baron Varlokh, who was last seen heading towards the Barrowmaze with a ragtag adventuring company.  Varlokh’s son is wearing a gold ring with a hematite stone inscribed with the family sigil.
  • To help the Temple of Seker (Lawful god of light) investigate rumors regarding the Cult of Set (Chaotic god of death.)  Sister Lorgi specifically asked for help verifying the cult’s presence in the vicinity of the Barrowmaze and, if, possible, determining the scope and purpose of their activities.

With their meager equipment, the group headed out the north town gate and set out on the west road, running parallel to the dilapidated stone wall of the Old City of Satur.  After a few miles, they took the north-forking path that, after an hour or so of additional hiking, led them to the great barrow field… Recap of the first session:

  • Rather than heading down the path to the largest mound, the party decided to investigate two smaller barrows first, both of which required smashing through the doors with a sledgehammer. The first yielded a small amount of treasure.  While examining a stone sarcophagus in the second, EARTHANGEL used her stethoscope and heard faint scratching sounds coming from inside.  They prudently decided not to disturb the occupant, and left the barrow empty-handed.
  • In the entry chamber to the Maze, they found an annotated, partial map of the complex on the corpse of an unlucky adventurer, along with a still-serviceable suit of chain armor.
  • A stone door unexpectedly slammed down while probing the floor for traps, but fortunately the only casualty was one foot of GNOMEE’S 10′ pole (now 9′ pole.)
  • In one room, they found a helmet sitting on the floor with a head still inside, along with a wooden holy symbol of Seker.
  • At a dead end, GNOMEE uncovered a Runic Tablet hidden beneath a loose stone in the floor.  The party had previously heard a rumor that runic tablets curse those who read them, but CYRIANA decided to read it anyway.  Lo and behold, the rumor did not hold to be true in this case: reading the runes granted her an automatic success on her next saving throw.
  • The group had several run-ins with skeletons, once above ground as wandering monsters and again in the Maze itself.  In the latter encounter, EARTHANGEL was felled in the melee but was fortunately only rendered unconscious. [Her player invoked the “d30 Rule” — which allows for substituting a d30 in lieu of the normal die for a single single in-game roll — and narrowly made her Save vs. Death… A very tense and exciting moment!]
  • With one of their fighters temporarily laid low, the party wisely decided to retreat back to town to rest and plan their next expedition…

 

Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy

I first read Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy in the early 2000s.  I had recently discovered Vance, and was eagerly devouring every work of his I could find.  Because Lyonesse was but one course of many in a sumptuous, extended feast, the special qualities of these particular books weren’t as noticeable at the time.  I’ve since re-read the trilogy a few times, and with each visit to the Elder Isles it climbs higher on my list of “favorite fantasy works ever.”

As evidence of the books’ greatness, I could point to the complex and engaging characters, the blending of myth and (pseudo-)history and fantasy, of tragedy and comedy and action and romance, and the exquisite language for which Vance is known.  Beyond those fine qualities, I’m struck by a pervasive undercurrent of delicious melancholy and bittersweetness. The only other fantasy work that has struck such chords in me is Lord of the Rings, specifically the closing chapters of Return of the King, where we read of the Elves leaving to cross the Sea and the passing of the Third Age of Middle-Earth.  In Lyonesse (far more so than LotR), so much of the characters’ strivings remind me of Qoheleth’s wise words in Ecclesiastes about vanity, “chasing after the wind,” and the fleeting, transitory nature of human life.  Perhaps it’s strange that this would contribute so strongly to my enjoyment of the work, but there you have it.

Lyonesse has only had one official RPG release, by a French company some years back (1999?)  Fortunately, The Design Mechanism recently announced their plans to publish an officially-licensed game, due in 2019.  I have little interest in Mythras/RQ, but I’ll certainly be grabbing this as soon as it’s available.  The Elder Isles would be a really fun RPG setting, one could run an OD&D campaign there with just a little bit of conversion effort.

The Lyonesse novels — Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl, and Madouc — were republished by Spatterlight Press (Signature Series v.52-54.) in 2016.  If you’re a fantasy reader and haven’t checked these out, you’re in for a real treat.