20 March 2017

Swords & Wizardy & The OSR & Me

  So, 22 APR 2017 is Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.  According to Geek & Sundry, 29 APR 2017 is International Tabletop Game Day.  I plan to be doing something for both.

  As I've mentioned before, I used to really groove on crunchy games. Rolemaster, GURPS, even the Leading Edge house system and Millennium's End.  But somewhere in there I realized that there was still room - in fact, more room - for simple games.  My first RPG was Red Box D&D, BECMI in all its glory.  I've since collected and played Moldvay, Holmes and the original White Box.  I've played at the table with guys like Dennis Sustare and Frank Mentzer.  I've learned that sometimes, less rules is more.  Sometimes the DM just making stuff up as the game goes on can be a lot of fun.

  Now, I played a lot of 3.x during its heyday.  But nowadays those books kinda gather dust on my shelf.  And I don't even own more than a Pathfinder core book that hasn't seen play.  Most of the time that amount of "builds" and feats and crunch aren't what I want anymore.  Paradoxically, there are situations where I want something with tight rules and math, like 4e if I want to run my Final Fantasy-inspired game, or Spycraft 2.0 when I want the players to try to synergize their character abilities.  Most of the time, though... I want to keep it simple.  I run Basic D&D or 5e, I look lovingly at older games with a lot of wiggle room like Traveller, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters...  And then there's the OSR.

  OSR, or Original Source Rules, represents games that go back to the original 1974 D&D formula.  Arguably the best and most visible example of this is the excellent Swords & Wizardry from Frog God Games.  Go ahead, click and download, the game is FREE.  Swords & Wizardry comes in many forms, it's kinda like Linux for roleplaying. There's Complete, there's White Box, and now, thanks to Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern, there's Swords & Wizardry Light- a complete RPG levels 1-3 on four pages.  Coming soon will be Continual Light, a rules-super-light version going up to 7th level.  So... what's the deal with Swords & Wizardry?  Much like OSRIC did for AD&D 1e, Swords & Wizardry puts a rules set out there to make it possible for publishers to create new material for various versions of Original '74 or Basic D&D.  But it's now a rules set many people are playing and writing for in its own right.  NTRPGCon's Mike Badolato has also started the creation of an appreciation society for S&W Light and Continual Light called the Swords & Wizardry Legion. I might add that one of the authors of Swords & Wizardry is Dr. Dennis Sustare, creator of Bunnies & Burrows among other games and an officer of our gaming club...  small geek world, isn't it?

  I have over the last year collected and played Swords & Wizardry material and other OSR games.  The folks at Night Owl Workshop have done some neat work creating their "What if?" games.  "What if Gary Gygax had been into superheroes?  Sci-fi?  Planetary Romance? Pirates?  Indiana Jones-esque Archaological Adventures?"  What they've done is applied the D&D '74 rules to each of these genres, creating small games that cover these in a fun and digestible manner. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of Guardians, their supers game, and I look forward to getting some play out of Raiders! for some Indy-like adventure.

  So, what's cool about OSR stuff?  Well, first of all, it's familiar.  Six Ability Scores rated 3-18(ish) with Armor Class and some kinda THAC0/BHB.  From there you go... anywhere.  And that's the cool part.  I've looked at using the Agent class from Guardians to do GI Joe.  Operation White Box plus Guardians gives you Captain America, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos.  Raiders! plus Guardians can give you the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Swords & Wizardry plus Warriors of the Red Planet plus Guardians can give you Masters of the Universe.  Need some monsters?  Borrow them from any D&D edition from OD&D through 2nd Edition.  Ditto magic items.

  Being a father of two and trying to get my writing and teaching careers off the ground means I don't have as much time to game (or blog) as I'd like.  So I have to do things a bit off the cuff a lot of times.  These games are PERFECT for that.  I used Displacer Beasts and Hook Horrors in a Starships & Spacemen game.  Could be done just as easily with Stars Without Number.

  So... I have a lot to appreciate come Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.  The OSR movement is something that speaks to the gamer I am now as well as the gamer I was way back when I rolled up my first BECMI character.  There's so much that can be done with the basic framework of the OSR, and the best place to start is any of the Swords & Wizardry sets.  From there you can go wherever you want too.  You can add complexity, you can go for any genre, you can borrow shamelessly from other OSR authors for your home games.  The game gets out of the way so you can play and tell stories.  And that is what I want at this stage in the game.  (I say that while still having a deep and abiding love of Shadowrun, a system that doesn't get out of the way... but that's another blog post.)

  Check it out.  And play some on the official Appreciation Day.  It'll be fun.  We'll party like it's 1974.

22 February 2017

A Revelation on Why I Love my Fandom Clubs

  Earlier today, I read THIS article posted by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It's clear the author's intent was to discuss religion versus the SCA as far as instilling morality and civic virtue in children.  That's a concept I'm going to leave alone, as I've vowed not to discuss religion or politics on this blog- it's about gaming, fandom, etc.  But in that discussion, the author touches on some things that are near and dear to my heart and did give me one of those phantom lightbulb over the head moments as I read.

  As far as anyone can remember, I've had a tendency to martial custom and tradition.  I was part of a Boy Scout troop that was led by senior scouts who were all JROTC, so beginning in Middle School I got my first exposure to formations, proper forms of address, military courtesy, etc.  Now, bear in mind this is the same time period during which my love of fantasy, science fiction and roleplaying games were all exploding into the huge mass of geekiness that sits before this keyboard today.  It all amalgamated together into my particular flavor of geekitude.  By the time I was in High School, I went JROTC myself, then ROTC in college, then a speedbump when I got diagnosed with sleep apnea.  A decade and a half later I would finally get to soldier a bit in the Texas State Guard, but in the meantime I was part of a long tradition of fandom clubs that had very martial themes and practices.

  Beginning with our Trek club at Round Rock High School and continuing to the foundation of the Caladan Highland Dragoons in 1995/96 I was drawn to expressing my fandom in a structured, martial way.  Members had rank and title, there were award systems, formal standards of how meetings run.  At the height of the CHD, a Battletech club, we opened every meeting with a battalion formation- and by that I mean a BattleMech battalion of two companies of 12-16 members each plus a staff.  Our STARFLEET chapter, USS Ark Angel was much the same.  We had an award-winning Color Guard who opened ceremonies for Region 3 for the better part of a decade.  The Royal Dragoon Guards, the 2008 reboot of our Battletech club, got back to the Dragoon roots - roots we still carry on as part of Fort Shorncliffe in the Royal Manticoran Army.

  For the life of me, I could never explain *why* I always wanted to run things the way I run them.  Why it was important to me.  Why our gaming clubs had to have such structure.  After reading this article I finally get it - the structure, for me, filled the same niche the author talks about the SCA's structure fulfilling.  It's a social construct that teaches members a set of values and behaviors- in my head, I can hear the grandmother of one of my young members in the early 2000s commenting how unexpected it was to hear her grandson using "sir" and "ma'am" in conversation and practicing manners he'd never practiced before.  This was a happy side effect of our club insisting on proper courtesies not just to other members - but to everyone our members interacted with while in club clothing or actual uniform.

  The social construct created things like award systems and rank systems that rewarded members for participation and for giving their time and energy for the entertainment and sustenance of the other members.  To me, one of the best parts of being in one of these organizations was seeing people that worked hard to make the club go be recognized for their work.  In STARFLEET and the Dragoons it was with awards.  In Amtgard, like SCA, it could take the form of noble titles.  In The Royal Manticoran Navy/Army - it can be both!  I realize that the structure and immersion that the author ascribed to the SCA - which was missing from the standard church experience - is what meant so much to me about the fandoms I have been a part of.  It's something we live, something we do, something we are up to our eyebrows in for hours or days at a time when we attend events.  It sets expectations of civility and respect that we all adhere to.  It allows us to, as the saying goes, stand alone together.  Geeks against the world, with our own way of recognizing each other for our contributions.

  I never could figure out before why these constructs were so important to me - but after reading the Huffington Post article above, it all makes sense now.  It's my context, my framework for interacting with people of similar values and mores - and I'm not talking religion or politics here.  The members of Fort Shorncliffe include people of many religions and none, people of various sexual orientations, old people, young people, couples, singles, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians...  but for all that, for all our differences in the things that really matter in our mundane lives, what matters to a Dragoon is pretty basic.  We don't care about your race, religion, sexual orientation, political views - are you a gamer?  Do you love fantasy and sci-fi?  Are you able to get along with others who share those aspects if perhaps not others in your life?  Yes?  Welcome to the Dragoons.  Fall in. 

  It's that simple.  Like the article said about SCA, it doesn't care what your mundane job is.  Nor do I care about the personal details of the Dragoons in the club.  I actually find the diversity wonderful, and lament the folks who would give these people a pass because they have body art, or piercings, or are Pagan, or gay, or whatever.  The people I choose to spend time with in the Dragoons are a family I've chosen, and they may be staggeringly diverse and possessed of qualities or opinions repugnant to some folks- I mean, one of them is an Arsenal fan - but in the end we have created for ourselves a social framework in which none of the BS that divides us outside our fandom matters.  We all roll dice, we all love gaming, and whatever else we do- that keeps us together.

  The garb, the awards, the ranks, the titles, just like with SCA all of it contributes to forming an immersive framework in which we play, and thereby learn and perpetuate our social values.  We are accepting of one another.  We are tolerant of one another.  We differ in our opinions on the big issues, but we leave that at the door so that we can all have a great gaming experience.  We show respect for each other both up and down the social construct pecking order - we know that the club can't run without the organizers and game masters, but nor can it exist without the "privates" who only show up, game, and head home.  Each of us is valuable to the organization in their own way, and brings our own talents to the table.

  So let's look at the things the author stated about the SCA that were "good" as far as instilling good things to the membership involved:
  1. The SCA has a practicum.  Yep, we Dragoons have training for members that instills in them the skills, courtesies and customs we expect of them for representing the organization to potential members and the public.
  2. Expectations of behavior int he SCA increase as seniority does.  Yes, the leadership of the Dragoons are expected to be examples of proper behavior and service.
  3. The SCA reinforces behaviors and socialization through play therapy.  Yes, play is what we're about, and in collaborative play we practice the behaviors and socialization skills regularly.
  4. The SCA is all about the carrot.  From service to gaming, the Dragoons uses the Royal Manticoran Army award and promotion system to provide the "carrot" to our members, rather than the stick.  Members who show the values and behaviors expected of our social construct are recognized and applauded for doing so.
  5. In the SCA, how you behave is more important than what you believe.  Absolutely.  If you're not an ass, and you behave with respect of others and the organization, we're not going to question your personal belief system.
  6. Your day job doesn't matter.  This, too, is correct of our social construct.  We have everything from plumbers to massage therapists to soldiers to sailors to professors to retirees to computer techs and more.  None of that comes into what we do.  It's about who you are as a Dragoon.
  7. The SCA is inclusive.  As are we.  Again, we don't discriminate based on any factor other than being a gamer, following our rules, and not being a dick to others.  Do that, and we really don't care what else you are.

  This article really helped me put in perspective why I love the structure of my fandom, and why I've instinctively gravitated toward these organizations since I was a kid.  It provides the context and structure for myself and people like me in a way non-geek institutions just don't.  I'm proud to be a member of the Dragoons, and of the Royal Manticoran Army.  I love recognizing my friends for their accomplishments, be it raising money for Extra Life or passing their promotion exam.  Sure, being a Private First Class in a fictional Army means nothing Monday morning at work- but it means something to all of us as we band together in our geeky pastimes.  Our stripes, our ribbons, our war stories about that time we assaulted the insect shaman nest in Seattle, or fought the Wolf Clan on Trellwan, or were cornered by orcs in Moria, or Stormtroopers in Mos Eisley... those things matter to us.  They're our shared history, our war stories, that which we bond over as brothers and sisters when the rest of the world and our blood relatives just don't understand the preoccupation with Star Trek and funny dice.

  So... I may not be SCA, but the same observations apply.  This is why I geek the way I geek.  Hooah.

12 February 2017

Some gaming musings on Voltron...

  I was a fan of the original Voltron back in the 80s.  I loved the Lions, the vehicle team, I even dug the gladiator Voltron and the only thing we had to go on for him was the toys, since the original anime, Albegas, was never brought to the US.  Since then, I have purchased Beast King Golion on Voltron: Legendary Defender series I used the opportunity to introduce my kiddos to one of my favorite shows from childhood.  They already loved Dungeons & Dragons, Thundarr, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends...
DVD and re-watched the US edited Voltron series, purchased the soundtrack CD... yeah, I'm a fan.  When Netflix launched theirVoltron: Legendary Defender series I dove in with both feet.

  So... Voltron.  Season one of the new series rocked.  I've just begun season two.  Being the gamer I am, I starting thinking about how to use some of these concepts and themes in a tabletop RPG.  The colorful lions and teams of heroes come from the Japanese Sentai tradition.  The Sentai-style show began in 1975 with GoRanger.  This is the great-great-ancestor of what we know as Power Rangers over here.  In fact, the official Super Sentai lineage is still ongoing as of this writing.  While Beast King Golion is not strictly a part of this line, many of the concepts of the Sentai series are present here.  A team of pilots (usually 5, usually with 1 female and sometimes a kid) in multicolored uniforms with matching mecha that usually combine to form a super-mecha.  We can see shades of this in everything from Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) to Mighty Orbots.  Usually each teammate has a definite focus, a skill, a personal attribute, an archetype.  Sometimes this has something to do with their color codes - blue has an affinity for water, for example.

  How does this translate into gaming?  On the surface- perfectly!  Think about it.  An action-oriented team where the concept of niche protection is hard-coded into the genre.  Think about it from a D20 Modern perspective, using Voltron as our basis.  Shiro, Paladin of the Black Lion, is primarily the leader archetype.  Yes, he is a great warrior- possibly the best in the party, and if anime conventions and plot lines from the original Golion remain in play, he's the Roy Fokker.  By that I mean he's probably more of an NPC than a PC, the seasoned vet who brings the team together and then gets taken out so that the younger hero can take his place.  But, we're going with the season one team, here.  So Shiro would have levels in Charismatic Hero.  Perhaps not all his levels- but half of them at least.  His function is to lead and inspire.  Hunk is the mechanic and tough guy archetype - his levels would be split between Smart Hero and Tough Hero, with Tough being the majority and adding a few Feats to back up his technical acumen.  Pidge would be Smart and Fast, with Smart being the focus.  Lance would be Fast in great part, as his piloting and combat skills are his primary asset.  Keith would be fast and charismatic, as he is the heir apparent to Shiro.  Princess Allura, although she does not currently pilot a lion, would probably be Dedicated Hero with a dash of Smart and Charismatic.

  The lions each make up a part of Voltron - and here's where the problems come in.  Each lion contributes its essence to the whole that is Voltron, but Voltron effectively becomes one character when the lions are united.  This means that four out of your five PCs are twiddling their thumbs in a conventional game.  So what to do?  I credit my partner in crime in game design Bobby for coming up with this idea: If each lion represents one of the core attributes, then certain combat options would be under the control of that lion's pilot alone.  The new Voltron series seems to bear this out- when they need the shoulder cannon, Shiro has Hunk activate it.  When they need the sword, Keith activates that.  Each Ro-beast has a different fighting style and different weaknesses, which makes figuring out how to fight them a puzzle for the entire party if written correctly.

  So, just for giggles, let's take a look at this.  I'm going to assign each lion a primary and secondary Ability Score from the D20 array that they bring to Voltron.
Black Lion:  CHA and WIS - As an individual lion, the Black Lion is the largest and most powerful of the lions, but as the core of Voltron, it is where Voltron's intimidation and inspirational abilities spring from.  Voltron puts fear into evildoers and inspires those of good heart to have hope.  As part of Voltron, Black Lion brings these abilities to the table.
Blue Lion: WIS and CON - The Blue Lion in the original series was the powerplant for Voltron.  Therefore this lion brings some of Voltron's CON, but it also brings WIS to contribute to the kinds of actions that would come from a Dedicated Hero - repair of Voltron being an important one.
Green Lion: INT and DEX - Green Lion brings stealth and wiliness to Voltron. 
Red Lion:  DEX and STR - Red Lion brings the Blazing Sword, as the contributor of Voltron's combat skills, DEX and STR flow from Red Lion.
Yellow Lion: CON and STR - The Yellow Lion is the hear of Voltron's toughness and resilience.

  So, each lion would get a list of abilities they can add to Voltron.  For the sake of brevity, let's give each Lion three abilities just to see what it would look like.

Black Lion
  • Basic Attack (Melee)
  • Intimidate - Force Morale Check on enemy units of smaller size class than Voltron.
  • Inspire - Similar to Clerical Bless, gives bonus to allies on saving throws and morale checks.
Blue Lion
  • Basic Attack (Kick) - Option to do Cold Damage
  • Automated Repair Systems - As Cure Light Wounds on Voltron
  • Power Surge - Grant bonus to Voltron's FORT Save.
Green Lion
  • Basic Attack (Ranged) - Beam weapon from lion's mouth.
  • Analyze Enemy - Give attack bonus on following round.
  • Find Weakness - Give PCs a clue as to the deficiencies of an opponent.
Red Lion
  • Basic Attack (Punch) - Lion Bite
  • Blazing Sword! - Hell yeah.
  • Multi-Attack - Attack multiple opponents.
Yellow Lion
  • Basic Attack - (Kick) with optional Fire Damage
  • Power Attack - Modifies any of Voltron's melee attacks.
  • Shoulder Cannon - BIG Ranged Attack.
So, during combat, the Black Lion pilot can let any other Lion pilot activate their special attacks and abilities and make rolls for Voltron.  In this way, all five PCs can be active in combat, not just the one calling the shots.  Each of them must make all the die rolls that are tied to their special abilities.

Now that I've jotted down these ideas, there are other things to look at.  Bobby mentioned each lion and pilot being able to lend their feats to the whole, which reminds me of the way the Pointman class can lend feats to the whole team for the duration of a  mission...  There's a lot to consider here if I want to run Voltron or a similar Sentai-inspired game in the future.

  Just some notes and ruminations I thought folks out there might enjoy.

15 December 2016

It's been too long, and the nature of Fandom Leadership.

Greetings, Programs.

  My posting has been very light this fall, and that's because I spent the last four months as a college professor teaching two sections of Effective Learning.  This was the most satisfying job experience of my life by a long shot.  Helping students adapt to college and being their professor, homeroom teacher and occasionally confidant was an incredible experience.  There are so many students that I'll remember always- and I know they appreciated my help, because they told me so with cards, donuts, and hugs.  My teaching career is on hold for a bit while I find other opportunities in my discipline- my degree is in Military History.  While I'm looking, I'm going to spend more time playing with my awesome kids, and crafting the RPG I've always wanted to write.

  Now, some of you may know I'm involved in organized fandom.  By organized, I mean the kind of clubs that have a structure that seeks to emulate the subject matter of the fandom to which it is dedicated.  Many of those organizations have ranks or noble titles - mine has both.  It also has a unique system of appointment-based leadership from the top all the way down.  No elections.  Now, our chapter chooses to have a vote of confidence each year for our leadership- we feel very strongly about this.  But at the upper echelons, leadership is defined by who the upper management think will do the job well from among the applicable candidates.

  Where problems appear is that while the organization has military trappings, there are of course members with no actual experience in uniform.  Heck, my experience is limited to JROTC, ROTC, and a stint in the Texas State Guard.  But that leads to a very Hollywood idea of how rank works in people who only know what the media shows us.  Plus, there is the sort of effect where people who may not have a lot going on in the rest of their lives grab onto their fandom accolades with both hands and use them to define themselves.  Their self-worth is tied up in what my friend Scott has called "Nerf Rank" for the two decades we've been involved in various forms of fandom together.  And that's when the trouble starts.

  I had a run-in with a member who, despite nearly always treating people poorly on social media, has been appointed to a lofty position.  This member has shown in posts over the last two and a half years that I've been involved a propensity for being snippy, putting on airs of superiority, and generally being kinda nasty to people.  Now, I have a strong suspicion this member fits into the "this is my self-identity and self-worth" category as their noble title was for a while part of their Facebook profile name.  That's kind of a clue right there.  This particular person also had a track record of tagging superiors every time a conversation went a way they did not like, as if to bring Mom and Dad to the thread to end the argument.  Further, many comments were things like "RUDE" or "smh" and the like.  In fact, when called out on casting Summon Brass by myself, the reaction was twofold- 1) "And they wonder why nobody helps them." and 2) "Who the F are YOU?"

  Well... that, to me, is a frightening example of a complete and total misunderstanding of leadership and the way these things work.  First of all, as a member, my rank, title or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with my ability and right to express an opinion.  As a member in good standing, I can disagree if I wish.  I can find a behavior abhorrent if I wish, and say so.  Now, as has been pointed out after this encounter took place in any organization we should praise in public, criticize in private, and correct as necessary.  With that in mind I'll hold my fire until fired upon, but to continue...

  When you see something, don't just say "RUDE" or "smh" or passive, uninformative things like that.  What you SHOULD do is take initiative as a leader and try to turn the situation of a disgruntled member into something constructive.  "Why do you feel that way?" or "What leads you to believe this is the case?"  You might find that the person has a legitimate beef, and that it's something that you as a leader can either take care of, or see that it is taken care of.  CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.  It's something I teach my college freshmen in EDUC 1300 as a skill that will help them in college, in the job world, and in the rest of their lives... like fandom.  Don't be inflammatory, be proactive.  Find out what's wrong, and see to it.  That's a leader's job.  Speaking in text-isms and expressing disdain for the opinions and thoughts of those you wrongly believe are inferior to you is just wrong.  It's wrong from a leadership perspective, and from a fandom/fun perspective.  No one is less than anyone else.

  It does not matter what your rank, title, position or anything else in a fan organization is.  You are not in fact superior to anyone else.  Without the lowly newbies and slackers at the bottom of the organization, there is no need for a number of Grand Poobahs to don shiny garb and be showered with rank and title.  Organizations like ours are formed out of the building blocks of individual members, many of which just want to be part of the fun and will never take a promotion exam or rise above the base induction "rank."  Those people are what the club is built on.  Some of them become motivated to do more- they become more active, leading, organizing, helping.  And that's great... and you know what, Leader Person- YOU owe THEM.

  You see, leadership is about taking care of your people.  As a leader, it is your job to plan and execute activities and events to carry out the primary purpose of the organization- which is presumably to have FUN with the flavor of the media your Fandom follows.  This means your job is to SERVE, not to BE SERVED.  You are no better than the rankers who make up the vast majority of the organization.  You have volunteered or accepted a post that means you will do more work than they will, but that is your choice to do so.  If they are smart and conscientious, those members will thank you for the work you put in.  Your leadership will also recognize you for your service - that's THEIR job.  But never - EVER - does a Nerf rank or title entitle you to ask someone "Who the F are YOU?" as if they mean something Monday morning at work.

  You see, that uniform you wear to events might actually get you saluted by members who are savvy enough to know to do so.  What you may not know is that it is precisely as important that you RETURN that salute as it is for the junior member to render it.  Why?  Because the salute is a greeting among members of the profession of arms and, if it is to be emulated by our fandom organization, the junior initiates the salute out of respect for the superior's rank and station... but the superior returns the salute out of respect for the subordinate's own service.  It is a mutual acknowledgement of camaraderie, not an act of submission or dominance.  The latter would have no place in a fandom organization.  It is as if to say "Thank you for running Department X and making sure we all have cool stuff to do!" by the junior, to which the superior says "And thank you for being part of our organization."

  In fact, you might not know this, because it certainly wasn't done in other fandoms I've been a part of, but the seniors do have a tradition when dining with juniors of being served last.  When I was 3BDE OIC in a Star Trek fandom organization, I waited until every single member of the Brigade had been through the chow line or had their dinner plated and served before I ate.  Sometimes when the hotels messed up, that meant I went without until afterward.  That's what a leader does.  You don't demand special treatment because you rank the other club members, you exempt yourself from things so that the rank-and-file members have a shot at awards and special recognition.  It's your responsibility and your job as a leader.

  This exchange has given me a lot to think about.  I got more that a little pointed, and that was wrong of me.  I'll have to take these comments to private message in the future if I see someone treating my people roughly.  It's a club.  It's supposed to be fun.  The rank card has to be played very carefully, in controlled situations and with the consent of all involved.  It's not a cudgel to beat junior members over the head with.  It's a tool to recognize seniority and service, and to help establish a reporting chain within our organization.  I'll be the first to admit that we use it pretty heavily in our own chapter in the way it might be used in an actual military- but many of us are either current/former Guardsmen or prior Federal service.  We're used to it, and it works for us.  But don't imagine that I would ever tell one of my members to shut the hell up because they're a Private and I'm a Major.  That doesn't even compute rationally.  Every Dragoon in my chapter has a right to their opinion and to be heard.  Regardless of their Nerf Rank.

  So... from here on out I'm going to keep my commentary on folks who do this sort of thing in the background, rather than engaging them on Facebook for all to see, unless they press the matter or refuse to stop harassing my friends.  Apparently, defending my mates makes me a "crony" and a "troll" and gets me put on a block list.  Well, I wear that block list as a point of pride.  If you're so insecure in yourself that you must stoop to such asinine, childish levels to protect your ego, well, then...  deedle deedle dee.  My friends and I will go on gaming, attending events, and generally having a ton of fun in our corner of the organization.  We'll send you a postcard.

  Leadership is SERVICE.  Period.  And nobody is so insignificant as to not be worth your time.  Every member is a vital part of what makes our organization great.

25 October 2016

Extra Life 2016 - The Realm of Dungeons & Dragons!

  One of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid was the amazing Dungeons & Dragons cartoon that aired in the early 80s.  The main characters were transported via an amusement park ride into "The Realm of Dungeons & Dragons" where they met Dungeon Master, a small, wise, almost Yoda-like character who gave them mysterious clues in their quest to get home.  The Realm an amazing place with some incredible visuals of fantastic locales.  A prison  held aloft over bubbling lava by massive chains.  A Dragon's Graveyard filled with draconic skeletons and magic items.  A floating castle and magical islands - all suspended by some arcane power in midair, some stationary and some slowly traveling across the landscape.

  This is where I am going to set the DCC game I plan to run for Extra Life.  But have no fear, the PCs will not come from Earth, and the kids who are desperately trying to get home will not make an appearance.  Rather, we are going to explore the fantastic elements of the Realm in a way Saturday Morning TV did not make possible.  Never once did a sword find its' mark.  Never once did one of Hank's arrows pierce an Orc, nor Venger's magical spheres immolate a foe.  Standards and Practices, dontcha know.  Can't have that kind of violence on Saturday Morning TV.

  But the Realm existed offscreen.  It existed before Hank, Sheila, Bobby, Diana, Eric and Presto arrived.  If they ever made it home, it presumably continued to exist after they left.  So let's talk about The Realm of Dungeons & Dragons.  It's a much darker place than we are shown onscreen.  The Orcs employed by Venger are fearsome warriors.  Villages like Pendrake do enlist adventurers for their own protection, since farmers banding together into militia can only barely hold their own against the Orcs, or Bullywugs, or giant Scorpions, or the Beholder...  The Realm is fraught with danger, and many free cities like Tardos close their gates to outsiders.  Other settlements, like the Queen Zinn's realm, are under curses or worse.  Venger teeters on the edge of ruling all of the Realm, held back only by some stalwart enclaves and the depredations of Tiamat, who would be no more pleasant an option than Venger as an overlord.

  The heroes of the Realm, like Strongheart, Ringlerun and Melf are certainly outnumbered by the forces of evil.  But we know there are settlements that remain free, like Helix.  And this is how we will begin our story, by mixing the Realm of Dungeons & Dragons with Dungeon Crawl Classics.  DCC has a reputation for gritty, and unpredictable magic, and evoking late 70s RPG tropes.  So to merge the two...

  A great darkness is descending upon the Realm.  Magical energies are surging, causing the spells of even well-meaning magic-users to result with unpredictable effects.  The very fabric of reality seems to be unraveling, and none can understand why.  Several settlements send representatives to seek the counsel of Dungeon Master, who has been stricken just as others have by this world-bending malady.  Dungeon Master meets with the PCs in the Forest of Know Trees, who reveal to Dungeon Master and the PCs that the Magical Malady is caused by a massive influx of pure magic from other Realms.  This concentration of Magic is causing a similar problem in many other Realms- Magic is behaving erratically, or perhaps draining from a Realm.  In fact, players who wish to have a PC hail from any other D&D setting could conceivably be transported to the D&D Realm as they search for the answer to their own world's problems.

  Once so informed, the PC group must quest for the source of this Magical Malady, and find out who or what is behind it.  Then they must figure out a plan to defeat or destroy it to return all the worlds to normal, before the gathering of the magics of countless realms destroys them all.

The PCs will visit some of the exotic locales of The Realm in their quest.  The spired city of Kadish, the Slave Mines of Baramore, The Great Glaciers... They may run into some of the more iconic Bad Guys of the D&D Realm.  But the kid gloves that defined the TV series are off.  This is a Realm where magic is unpredictable, death extremely possible, and even Dungeon Master has no idea what is really going on.

  To donate to our Extra Life efforts for this year, click HERE.

Extra Life and Extra Job...

  The Old Dragoon has just completed his first tour of duty as a college professor.  All that work getting my MA paid off.  I have been hired as an adjunct faculty member in our Student Development department, and I am currently teaching my second crop of students in the Effective Learning course, EDUC 1300.  It's incredibly satisfying work, my students wrapped up our 8-week double speed semester by bringing donuts and a card in which they wrote some wonderful commentary on how my efforts have helped them become better students.  It's moving to know that I've actually made a difference for these kids, and that I've taken a course none of them actually wanted to take and made it interesting and even a bit entertaining.

  So teaching is now my secondary gig on top of my 40/wk as a senior IT technician.  It's hard to find time to keep the dice rolling, but now that my first go-round is over, and I'm repeating the material for new students, things are easing up a bit.  I've been running some D&D about once a month for my son and my goddaughters, and that's been a blast.
  My son Zane is shaping up to be a pretty good combination of the geek I was growing up and the sportsman my dad and stepdad wish I'd been.  The kid has an amazing arm for football, and is now a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do.  I'm so proud of him.  My daughter Kaylee is pretty awesome, too.  I can't wait to post a picture of her in her Rey costume for Halloween.  It's now been five years since I've been their dad - we fostered and adopted - and it's been a crazy adventure, but the best one yet.  The only thing I  love more than a good tabletop game is my wonderful little family - my wife, my kiddos, and the den of geeks we've assembled into our community.

  So... what's this about Extra Life?  Well, our gaming club is going to be undertaking a 24 hour game to raise funds for Extra Life in support of the Children's Miracle Network hospitals.  It works like a charity race, people sponsor others to play.  But in this case, we're challenged to play for 24 hours.  Since we have a couple of members who've requested we break the 24 hours up, we've elected to do it in a six hour session on Friday,  11 November 2016.  We'll hit a twelve hour session on Saturday, 12 November and wrap up with another six hours on 13 November.

  We're going to be playing Dungeon Crawl Classics, the amazing retro-style fantasy RPG by Goodman Games.  Stay tuned for more information on the Extra Life game right here on The Old Dragoon's Blog.

08 September 2016

What Star Trek Means to Me: A Reflection on a Half Century of Trek

  This was my first Star Trek toy.  When I got it for the Christmas of 1979, I was a wee lad of 4 who had just seen Star Wars the year before at a drive-in.  In fact, my X-Wing hailed from the same Christmas.  I had already learned to love both Star Wars and Star Trek- I watched the reruns with my dad in our crackerbox of a trailer house in Lake Charles, LA.  I had a Spock uniform t-shirt.  I had a Star Trek coloring book.  I've been a Trekker literally as long as I can remember.  My only earlier memories of fandom revolve around things like the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon and the old Marvel cartoons like The Fantastic 4 and the Incredible Hulk.

  I developed a deep love of Star Trek, in the 70s and 80s the reruns of the original series were ubiquitous.  Every television market in the US had a nearly 100% chance of having some channel among the broadcasters that would show the series.  In Austin/Round Rock, where I eventually ended up, it was KVUE.  I remember moving into our home on Chisholm Valley Drive and plugging in my black and white portable TV our first night there- I tuned into KVUE and there was "The Apple"- one of the two Star Trek episodes that always seemed to be airing when I tuned in after missing a few.  It was either that, or "Devil in the Dark."  Every time.

  Wrath of Khan released just before my birthday in 1982, which was coincidentally the year my parents divorced.  Star Trek had been part of my memories from that short glorious seven years in which I'd had both parents under one roof, so it was part of me that reminded me of happier, if somewhat turbulent times.  I carried that with me as I got older.  Star Wars was like a treat you got every once in a while - in '83 when we got Jedi, then the two Ewok movies, the Droids cartoon... Star Trek was a staple.  It was always there.  I could see it after school and on saturday nights, every week, all year.

  When I discovered reading for fun at a relatively young age, I gravitated toward

geek reading even then.  I checked out The Hobbit for the first time in 2nd Grade.  But I was already devouring Star Trek media.  I remember purchasing the book "Phaser Fight" at the school book fair, and all but memorizing all it's choose-your-own-adventure options.  I later repurchased the book to read to my children.  They love trying to save the Enterprise at bedtime.

  My fandom exploded when I got to middle school.  At Chisholm Trail I procured two things that would propel me to become the geek I am today - the Franz Josef Star Fleet Technical Manual and a like-minded group of fellow geeks.  This led me to roleplaying, first Dungeons & Dragons and very quickly Star Trek, the classic FASA RPG.  It was here, though, that the social cost of being a geek in the 1980s became apparent.  I flew my geek flag in a way that wouldn't be socially acceptable until today, when geek is chic.  Nobody bats an eye anymore at folks in Doctor Who t-shirts or Star Wars jackets, but in 1986 being a Star Trek fan was not precisely socially acceptable.  My insistence on being me regardless of social norms resulted in a very tight group of fellow outcasts- but we were outcasts none the less.  What is today called 'cosplay' was grounds for an ass kicking in the 80s.

  We persevered.  We forged passes to the CTMS computer lab so we could put together our own manuals and regulations on the Apple ][ computers.  We created things with Print Shop.  We rolled up FASA Trek PCs and quizzed each other on the crew compliment of Baker-class destroyers and the torpedo armament of D-2 Stingtongues from the Klingon Empire.  We read Starlog Magazine and eagerly anticipated the release of Star Trek IV, renting it as a big event for Daniel Varner's birthday party.  The guy who introduced me to D&D was a huge Trek nerd as well.  We all were in our little gamer geek circle.  And it was worth every damn social snub and party we weren't invited to.  We were instead delving dungeons or exploring strange, new worlds.  Nowadays, the folks who didn't understand us are watching stuff like Stranger Things or Community or The Goldbergs and starting to see what my tribe and I were on about back then.

  Star Trek was part of my refuge.  It was part of what kept me sane and gave me a place to belong.  All of us Trek nerds and gamer geeks spoke the same language- and we did so before Darmok was at Tanagra, too.  In fact, for the first bit of Middle School, Star Trek was Star Trek.  No bloody A, B, C or D.  Well, OK, A appeared in '86.  But there was no Next Generation.  No DS9.  No Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery or Reboots.

  I watched Star Trek and wondered why older adults had the attitudes they did about non-Caucasians.  Uhura and Sulu were colleagues, bridge officers, surely equals with everyone else?  It made me look inward, even at a young age, and realize that the attitudes I had absorbed from the culture around me were a bit backward- more than a bit.  It caused me to look hard at some of the words I used, some of the attitudes I had, and start to form my own opinions about things.  It took a while to finally sink in, but thanks to the examples set by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation I learned that people of all stripe can get along.  If a Klingon can serve on the bridge, what do I care what skin color the other humans around me have?  Bele and Lokai drive this home with the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"- don't you see, he's black on the right side, I'm black on the left side.  It points out the ridiculousness of racial bigotry in a way that makes us feel a bit silly for every having held that sort of opinion.

  Star Trek pointed out so many things.  "Balance of Terror," "Errand of Mercy" and "Day of the Dove" taught us that our enemy is not always so different from ourselves.  "A Private Little War" taught us the proxy wars in Southeast Asia were nasty business.  "The Doomsday Machine" taught us the futility of the nuclear arms race.  So many social lessons wrapped in the veneer of science fiction.  TNG kept up the tradition - sometimes a bit too preachily in the first two seasons.

  Let's talk about TNG.  When TNG premiered I was in the 7th grade.  It blew us away.  Yes, even Season 1.  Yes, even "Code of Honor."  I had the Galoob action figures on my birthday cake when they came out.  We were already making TOS communicator props out of cassette cases and masking tape, making combadges and wearing them on our shirts came next.  Simplicity released a TNG uniform pattern.  We plopped down in front of our TVs every Saturday to tune into KBVO Fox 42 and watch TNG- new Trek.  Sure, the Captain was bald and the helmsman had a banana clip on his face and was the dude from Reading Rainbow but it had us SPELLBOUND.  As many jokes as we make about Wesley Crusher now, Wil Wheaton was living the dreams we young geeks had.  He was on a starship, not stuck in some mundane middle school, dealing with 80s stereotype classmates and derision for our loves and our intelligence.  He was out there, saving the day sometimes, and we wish we were Wesley.  And Beverly Crusher?  Well, we didn't have the word "MILF" back then, but...

  Star Trek was part of my armor.  It was part of my persona, to be sure, but was what helped insulate me from the jeers and jibes and insults from the mainstream kids.  They could say what they wanted, Star Trek was bigger than them and bigger than me.  Star Trek had achieved an impact.  They didn't name the first space shuttle after an athlete or actor, they named it Enterprise.  Star Trek had a cultural relevance far beyond our little community in Round Rock.  When I wore my Star Fleet uniform (and I did) I did so not only as a fan, but as someone who believed in what that uniform represented.  Hope for the future.  It wasn't so long ago, and definitely not in 1986-89, that the predominating predictions of our future were Global Thermonuclear War and Mad Max post-apocalyptic stuff.  We were the generation born into the Cold War, and scared to death by The Day After.  Our President had warned us of the Evil Empire, and sabre-rattling had just started to give way to glasnost and perestroika.  A hopeful future was something we grasped for with both hands.  And we got it.  For the most part.  But Star Trek carried is through that period.  It carried me through that period.  People could say want they wanted about the nerd in the red shirt, but their opinions didn't really matter.  I knew what Starfleet, and Star Trek, represented.  I suppose today's parlance would be "F#$% the haters." but that wouldn't be necessary to say today, would it?

  High School was more of the same for two years.  Nerdery was still wildly looked down upon.  In those days conformity was the way to avoid ostracism - something in common with today - except the parameters of conformity were very different.  I have more than a few gay classmates - all of whom came out after we graduated.  I've seen some of the same people who gave me hell in High School posting today about Star Trek's 50th and the Facebook Trek emojis and other things.  These folks would not have openly acknowledged a love of Trek back in the 80s and early 90s for fear of being put in the same social gulag as myself and my close friends.  It simply wasn't done.  Back then, the mainstream was quite different.  There were no Marvel movies, no Game of Thrones, and Star Wars was at a low ebb.  Geek was certainly not "in" and nobody wore superhero tuxes to the prom.  We formed a Star Trek club at Round Rock High School.  We flaunted our geekery in the face of the derision of our classmates and we proudly and openly declared that yes, we do enjoy thoughtful sci-fi that addresses issues our nation has been wrestling with all our lives.

  Something started to change a bit junior year- for me, at least.  Somewhere in there I went from complete and total social outcast to something of a fondly regarded eccentric.  I have no idea how or why.  Was it that I got the best damn Monster Maroon uniform this side of Anovos?  Was it that my peers had finally started to understand or admit that some geeky stuff was actually pretty neat?  Well, it may have been some of those things.  But at our 20th High School Reunion I had so many people come up to me and say "I always admired you.  You weren't afraid to just be you."  Many variations on that statement.  I felt nothing but warmth and friendship with each and every person at that reunion (save one) and I realized that in being unabashed of my interests, embracing all my loves, chief among which was Star Trek, I had succeeded in that endeavor Data so appropriately quoted from Shakespeare- "This above all: to thine own self be true."  I was.  Even when it was ridiculously difficult.  And in the end, mine own self won out.

  After High School I never stopped loving Star Trek.  These days I would consider myself primarily a gamer, but that began in large part due to Trek and things like the BASIC version of Star Trek, the PC games Kobayashi Alternative and The Promethean Prophecy, and FASA's Star Trek RPG.  I graduated up to Star Trek 25th Anniversary, and other games, and of course branched out into every genre of gaming imaginable.  But my imagination was primed by Star Trek.  Fueled by it.

  We attempted to form our first chapter of STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association in 1993, the ill-fated shuttle Retribution, which in hindsight isn't too Star Fleet of a ship name.  We succeeded in 1999 with the shuttle Ark Angel, a chapter that persists today under the command of one of her founding members.  We were a family, and in many cases continue to be.  I've met some of my closest friends due to STARFLEET and Star Trek.  Both couples who chose Mary and I as godparents for their children were STARFLEET members.

  USS Ark Angel at her prime was an amazing experience. Dozens of Trek fans
brought together in a love of the multiple series and films, books and games.  All with a hopeful outlook for our future.  We became trend-setters, one of the most active chapters in the history of our Third Fleet, and one of the most decorated by the organization.  The period of 2000-2006 was incredible.  We formed traditions that are still practiced in Third Fleet today.  We set the bar.  Life and burnout brought an end to that golden age, which is sad, because there's not one among us who will not reminisce about how awesome we were at our prime.

  These days I'm not as involved in Trek fandom as I used to be.  My own chapter, USS Texas, is as much a museum ship as her namesake.  The Texas exists as part of a larger group of people who are also into tabletop games, Honor Harrington fandom, and Battletech.  It's no longer my identity and driving force- but as the anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek approached, I found myself being more and more nostalgic for Trek, re-watching TOS and TNG- Wrath of Khan is playing on my tablet as I write this.  Star Trek will always be part of me, and a part that led me to gaming, which is my primary geek MOS.  Without Trek, I wouldn't be me.  Just as much as D&D, Star Wars and fatherhood.  It's part of what makes me who I am, what formed me, and what carried me through the depressing parts of growing up.

  Congratulations to Star Trek on 50 years of making the future seem amazing.  I hope I'm around to celebrate the centennial, as a 91-year-old who still rolls funny dice and weaves stories for his grandkids.