26 January 2015

2015 and My Gaming Aspirations

  Well, I let December get away from me and here we are at the end of January.  The holidays were ridiculously busy, finishing up my last full semester before thesis work starts, dealing with my son's newly developed behavior issues, driving to Georgia to see my Mom and Stepdad, then the cruise for my wife's 40th.  BUSY.  We get home, I hit Chupacabra Con II in Austin, get back to work, then deal with revolving flu at the house- first Zane, then me, then Kaylee.  Mary dodged the bullet thanks to an iron constitution and some help from pre-emptive Tamiflu.

  I'll start with Chupacabra Con.  This is the second year for this small gaming convention here in Austin, and I'm very, very glad I made it.  For such a moderately sized con, the guest list was long and distinguished.  I was totally jazzed to meet a lot of folks who are game designers and authors and even make connections with a few toward my future work in the industry.  The panels were the best part of the con for me- I got to listen to folks like Ken Hite, Shane Hensley, Ross Watson and Sean Patrick Fannon impart wisdom on world building, indy games, GM pointers, making memorable NPCs...  There were more guests than you can shake a stick at.  Jeff Dee and Manda were there talking Tekumel, Robin Laws was in attendance... and that wasn't all of the writers and designers and artists.  There were new protoypes being playtested right there on the convention floor, old favorites being run and new hotness being put through its paces.  This was *MY* kind of game con- but most dearly, especially the panels.

  So what did I learn from the panels that I'll be taking to heart?  Well, there's a few nuggets of wisdom that are now burned into my brain that I'll be heeding once I have the time to work on our project for publication.  Here they are, straight from the panel of the already published:
  • Stick to a system that's already published if you can.  It has the advantage of a pre-existing audience for those players who are not inclined to learn new systems.  It can also open up distribution avenues for your game that would not otherwise be open.  Savage Worlds seemed to be a popular choice with folks. 
  • Stick to Earth if at all possible, and go from there.  I found this piece of advice surprising, but it makes a lot of sense.  First, your players have a common frame of reference.  Second, your map is already laid out for you.  A lot more background and explanation goes into this, and Ken Hite said it better than I ever could, but using Earth and familiar cultures gives the players that much to hold onto when you start throwing the unique attributes of your game world at them.  It removes the sort of barrier to entry that an entirely alien (to 21st Century Westereners anyway) setting like Tekumel tends to have.
  • Publish your first (maybe every) product as a PDF, and use DriveThru RPG.  Electronic publishing prevents the cost and overhead that physical printing involves.  DriveThru is the go-to for 90% or more of the PDF market.  If you're not on DriveThru, folks wonder why you're not on DriveThru.
  • The best way to make a Small Fortune in the game business is to start with a Large Fortune.  Don't expect to get rich, or even to have a hefty sideline.  If you make a profit, it's great, but making a living as a game designer is difficult work.
  Armed with those ideas, I left the con with some more to think about and a nice compliment from the creator of Savage Worlds, Shane Hensley, on some of my thoughts during the panels.  That jazzed me.  Being realistic, I know I can't dive into a great product for publication with the last 9 hours of my Master's program hanging over me.  So I've set a couple of personal gaming goals in 2015 that don't involve me writing my magnum opus.

  • Play a Champions/Hero System game at least once.  Many of the game designers who I listened to at the con had wonderful memories of Champions - especially when Aaron Allston was GM - and spoke highly of the game.  I own many of the books, but the system was never popular around here.  I need to rectify this hole in my education.  As I become more and more fascinated by the history of our hobby, I feel the need to make sure I experience all the major game systems from the golden age, and Champions seems to be the big one that I've missed.
  • Run some out-of-print games for people who weren't born when they were in print.  Gamma World.  Gangbusters.  Marvel FASERIP.  Star Frontiers.  Metamorphosis Alpha.  Classic Traveller.
  • Play some miniatures games - we're looking at Stargrunt II right now.
  • Run something *I* want to run as a campaign or mini-campaign once a month.  At least half the group needs to be people from outside my current gaming circle.
 So, we'll see how this goes.  I know the minis goal will be met by our Royal Manticoran Army gaming.  If I can balance family, kids, job and school and still fit these in I will be a happy camper indeed.

11 November 2014

You Were the First Goonie...

  I might have met Grady T. at one of the Millennium Con game conventions I've attended over the last 15 years or so.  I've played with a lot of folks at Millennium- many games.  I make it a point to try something I've not played every year in addition to old favorites.  It's possible I attended for over a decade and never rolled dice with Grady.  Grady passed away in 2013, and his wife and friends appeared at Millennium Con that year with part of his collection for sale.  A gamer's history, the sum total of his hobby, piled like a dragon's horde along a wall in the dealer's room.  I purchased a few miniatures last year, being short on funds.  I made a mental note of how sad it was that someone possessed of such an amazingly large and broad collection had passed away.

  This year, more of Grady's collection appeared at Millennium, and Bobby and I perused it on Friday night, each selecting a couple of books from the extensive pile of Battletech books.  The piles got bigger, and bigger...  The Star League sourcebook.  MechWarrior 1st Edition.  All the House books.  Almost every issue of Battletechnology Magazine.  Scenario books.  The Clans : Warriors of Kerensky.  Hundreds of dollars worth of Battletech books.  An entire history of the line, from the earliest combined rulebook, The Battletech Manual, to the end of the MechWarrior 3rd Edition era.  I also found some other items of interest to me - GDW's Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, plus two Xenozoic Tales trade paperbacks.  R. Talsorian's Dream Park RPG, along with all its adventure modules and the GM screen.  I began to realize that in many ways I did know Grady- his collection was a lot like mine.  Niche games most folks had never heard of, like Dream Park and C&D.  He had a love for Battletechnology, something I have always wished had continued past it's 30-odd issue run.  He was a player that loved not only the miniatures, but took the time and money to collect all the background material and universe books- even those that had no game rules or new units in them.

  As we looked through his extensive collection of miniatures, I saw the collection I would love to have - Napoleonics, WWII in several scales, Renegade Legion, Battletech, Cav, model kits, Warhammer 40,000, spaceships I couldn't begin to identify...  I saw and purchased some beautifully painted Macross 1/200 destroid kits with the intention of using them as large Battletech miniatures.  I saw so many things I wished I could have in my collection when I came across something that made me stop in my tracks - a set of Napoleonic figures that were primed and glued to a tongue depressor.  Now, folks who have never painted minis like this might not recognize why someone would do that - it's a technique to make the miniatures easier to handle in a group while you are painting their probably uniform color schemes.  Painted minis are projects done, unpainted minis are projects not started, but minis primed and on the stick- Grady was working on these when he passed away.

  I don't know how Grady died.  I didn't think to ask, and that's an odd question to ask the widow disposing of her husband's collection in any case.  She did tell me he had been collecting and playing for 38 years- I'm 39.  He's been at the hobby almost as long as I've been alive - probably longer, given that some folks play a bit before they dive into a significant collection.  His wife told me that she knew most players got into one system and played the heck out of it, but that Grady played so many she couldn't keep track.  Looking at his collection I had to agree.  I told her I was in awe of his miniatures collection and that the ones we were purchasing were going to go toward the use of our Battletech Club, and pointed her proudly to the RDG logo on my shirt.  As we talked, I mentioned how I had many of the Macross kits unassembled and unpainted in storage, and that Grady had done such an amazing job- perhaps I would now be inspired by these finished kits to complete the ones I had purchased.  I told her of the painting station I had at home that has yet to see anything painted thanks to parenthood and graduate school.  She asked my age, and then told me I sounded just like Grady at 39, and that I would find the time to paint those kits if I really wanted to do so.

  I took that comment for a casual compliment from a vendor to a customer, but it would later resonate more with me.  I returned home, and took stock of the books and miniatures I had purchased from Grady's collection.  For some reason, I had picked up a his copy of The Battletech Manual, even though I already own one, and was the 1987 combined rulebooks for Battletech, Aerotech and CityTech- meaning that it is quite deprecated at our current game table.  Still unsure of why I purchased it along with the more valuable, collectable books I did not already own, I picked up the copy and found it had a stack of tournament scoring sheets tucked into it, along with an order form for a long-defunct historical miniatures company.  Opening the book, I found Grady's name written inside in orange ink, along with a block of notes written inside the blank cover.

"Pg. 27 DEATH from above
  (Base 5) + (+3 Attacker Jumped) + (movement modifier of target)"

What followed was a summary of how to adjudicate a DFA attack.  Looking at these words, I could see that Grady and his group encountered this situation often enough to make careful notes in an easily located place on how to resolve a Death From Above attack.  I began to page further through the book, and found on Page 10 a system of highlighted sections and notes in both green and orange ink permeated the text of the book.  From the location of these highlights and notes, I was soon able to get a feel for the rules most often referenced by Grady's group in their games- I began to feel quite connected to these players decades ago and their enjoyment of the game I grew up loving.  When this book hit the press I was in middle school, playing the Battletech boxed set and reading Battletechnology Magazine. 

  Reading this rulebook and absorbing the meaning of the notes, the highlights, the references...  I feel like in some way I knew Grady - or at least I knew what kind of gamer he was.  He had a true love and enjoyment for Battletech, and in the bargain he had collected some of the less well known games I have had on my reading shelf for years.  He didn't limit himself to historicals - as many historic miniature players do.  He didn't look down his nose at science fiction or fantasy, on the contrary he had everything from skeletons to Space Marine Dreadnoughts to a Commonwealth Fluttering Petal class fighter... 

  I have found this entire experience emotionally moving.  I've had these feelings before- the occasions for this impression are two.  Once was when I was standing on the deck of the Battleship USS Texas, BB-35, in the shadow of the foreward 14-inch turrets.  As I placed my hand on the turret armor, the most solid surface I can recall touching, I could feel a connection with my great-grandfather Seaman 1st Class Roland W. Froehlich.  Papa had been a coxswain of an infantry landing craft during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Many of Papa's shipmates were from little towns around central Texas, La Grange, Winchester, Halletsville...  When they saw the Battleship Texas shelling the Japanese-held islands, they considered it a good luck omen.  Standing there under those guns, knowing they had safeguarded my great-granddad and his crew, I felt a connection through time by touching the turret. 

  This same impression came from visiting Space Center Houston and placing my hand on the Apollo capsule that is on display inside the visitor's center.  That hull, the surface of which betrays the journey it made to lunar orbit, has been farther from home and returned than any manned mission in the history of space flight, and it is right there, within arm's reach, tangible, real.

  In the same way as the space capsule and the centenarian warship connect me to history, holding this book and taking stock of the passages that were important to its previous owner, I feel a connection to Grady T.  I know the contents of his collection, in part, and that collection of books and miniatures will continue to entertain gamers through my home games and those of the Royal Dragoons and its affiliations with STARFLEET and the Royal Manticoran Army.  Grady's legacy will continue to do what gaming books and miniatures are meant to do, and I hope that wherever Grady may be that brings a smile to his face.

  Here's to you, Grady.  Just like One-Eyed Willie was declared to be The First Goonie, I have come to consider you a fellow Dragoon.


30 October 2014

In Which I Muse About Younger Gamers...

  I think of myself as a second-generation Grognard.  I was born when the first generation were cutting their teeth in Lake Geneva and didn't get into the hobby myself until 1986.  Thanks to friends of my mom's, I soon had a healthy library of games dating back to the 70s.  I consider the game scene from when I was growing up to be something of a Golden Age, with tons of games to choose from.  D&D Basic, the Mentzer BECMI edition, had great artwork and modules, trade dress that leapt off the shelf, and we were just about to see the Gazetteers that would fascinate me with Mystara to this day start publication.  TSR was pumping out Marvel, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, Indiana Jones... FASA had Star Trek and Renegade Legion, there was GURPS and Cyberpunk and Twilight : 2000 and The Morrow Project and Aliens and... you get the point.

  When I was a middle schooler, that first year of D&D, we had a fixation on gaining levels and gold.  My first Magic-User built a tower, ruled a hex in The Known World, and climbed into the upper 20s level-wise.  I was, briefly, the creature I encountered much to my dismay this past weekend in a basic way.  What saved me was quickly moving into games where the levels and loot didn't matter all that much.  The story took center stage, and gaming for me became like reading a series of novels or watching a beloved TV series.  The levels were not the end, the end was the story and the levels were the means to reach it. 

  I have, since the late 80s, been a Game Master/Dungeon Master for whom the story was the main reason to play the game.  I have generally had players that are in agreement.  My best friend Randi is infamous among our group for doing something that would be dangerous for her own character and then saying "It's good for the story..."  Randi understood the simple truth that protagonists in the story don't always have to win for the story to be good.  As with The Empire Strikes Back, sometimes the story is even better when the protagonists get their tails kicked.  Gamers from my generation, and moreso the generation before it, understand for the most part that failure and character death are part of weaving a good narrative. 

  So, during our 24-hour Extra Life event, we managed to raise $1,192 for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.  This was good.  I also had to deal with the most frustrating situation I'd run into in gaming.  This was bad.  I said some cross words.  I had a terrible reaction to the situation.  Allow me to explain.

  Our group had decided we wanted to marathon the new 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and I had decided to bring my classic modules to run with the new D&D.  We settled into our table, with me having my own office chair from home (hours later those who laughed at me for bringing it were nodding in understanding) and my gaming equipment.  Laptop for YouTubing our updates and music, whiteboards for initiative and HP notes, a box full of old modules from the B series to the Desert of Desolation AD&D series.  Dice, pencils, everything.  I hid my notes from prying eyes with a pair of ancient DM screens.  We were ready.  I even had a brilliant retro-looking character sheet to help put the players in the old-school vibe.

  Dice started to clatter and our party took shape.  It was a particularly martial party, all rogues and fighters and a barbarian- all non-magical  save Ed's Cleric.  After some quick setup and a battle to knock the rust off, the players were on their way to Castellan Keep in the Altan Tepes mountains.  They were about to undertake the classic B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.  By now it was time to take a break, and two players who knew Eric came by, and were interested in playing.  Being a nice DM, and knowing that two of our players were delayed by work, I let them sit in.

  This was mistake number one for me.  New rule: When gaming for 24 hours with people, make damn sure you know them well enough to get along with them when the hour grows late and tempers and fatigue start to appear.

  Turns out, Eric knew this couple from D&D Encounters at Rogue's Gallery, the local game store where I used to run Encounters as well.  It was a great time.  Rogue's runs two tables on Thursdays, and the wife of the pair played at Eric's table.  Eric had no experience gaming with the husband.  This would turn out to be some important information we should have had - his play style.  To make a long story short, it was antithetical to the old school play style in every way possible.  It broke the social contract of the game, the one in which the DM is the arbiter of the game, and drove home the differences between how I grew up playing D&D and how some of these younger players grew up playing D&D.

  Before play even began, and after having it explained that we were generating new characters at the table, our new couple frustrated us by attempting to use their organized play characters, with the husband attempting to let the wife use her 3rd Level Fighter from Encounters.  We explained that no, she could not be 3rd level when everyone else was 1st, and that nothing we did here would port over to their characters in any case since we were not playing by the current organized play rules.  This was purely a home game, and no treasure or XP would be applicable to Encounters or any other organized play association.  This was met with a sigh and the word "Fine" from our new player, who favored us with a rather condescending smirk.  I would grow to loathe both that smirk and the word "fine" before the night was over.  His wife, for her part, seemed perfectly content to play any level character, and made no protests when we told her she had to be level 1.

  The first sign of in-game trouble occurred during the first expedition to the Caves of Chaos by the players.  After two combat engagements in which he told his wife every move to make with her character,  Hubby Boo Boo  announced "Let's take a long rest so we can level!"  Immediately the old schoolers at the table explained to him two issues with his suggestion that they felt he might not understand about our table- first, that the characters are not aware that they have levels or XP totals.  Second, XP and leveling would only occur at the Keep in this case because a secure place to rest would be required.  Now, I did not announce either of these facts- the players automatically knew them since they were also of the older-school tradition.  We all chalked it up to "new player" and drove on.  He insisted that perhaps the party could secure the room they were in inside the caves, and long-rest so they could level right there.  Once again, and not quite as patiently, the concepts were explained.

  Eventually, the party returned to the keep where our New School Nemesis announced to the party that I had obviously failed to properly calculate the experience points for the monsters that had been defeated, and the party should be leveling up at this time.  I started to get a little upset at this, and referred to the Excel sheet I had created to factor in XP for me.  All the monsters were ticked off, the totals looked correct, but dividing the XP by seven meant the PCs were close, but not over the XP necessary to level.  I started to explain this, but Ed had already begun to tell him that as DM I was handling the XP, and that the totals were what I said they were.  "Fine."  Smirk..

  About now I noticed he had his PHB and Monster Manual on the table, and he was keeping notes.  While we were recuperating at the Keep he asked the sage if he could get an enchanted whip.  The rest of the party was already weary of how moments before he had been arguing with me over the resale value of some weapons they had taken off some Orcs, and more than one pair of eyes was imploring me to move the game along.  The sage told him that certainly it was possible to enchant a whip, but not any regular run-of-the-mill whip, it would have to be made of an unusual leather.  This, I thought, would be the end of the discussion.  We had no such luck.  Hubby Boo Boo immediately recalled the Owlbear the party had encountered and retreated from.  He wanted the party to go help him slay the Owlbear so they could come back with the hide for his magic whip and the bit of XP they needed to level.  The party proceeded not to care about the Owlbear, since they had a commission from the Castellan to clear out the greenskin tribes in the Caves.  There was no need to kill the Owlbear, since it posed no direct threat and might even frustrate the greenskins by its proximity to their caves.  HBB looked annoyed that his fellows had no desire to help him on his quest.  He asked if he could go by himself and get it.  At that point I should have allowed him to go, get killed, and be done with him.  I shamed myself for thinking it, this young man just didn't get the game.  Maybe playing with our group would be good for him.

  Back to the Caves.  More adventure.  More repeated requests to go get that Owlbear.  More group ignoring HBB.  More HBB telling his wife how and what to do in-game.  The party engaged more Orcs, during the battle HBB was trying to tell me which Orcs could hit which players, and correcting me when he felt the Orcs had a different hit point total than I had given them.  A couple of the players reminded him who the DM was, and we kept going.  Back to the Keep for rest, and as the DM was in the bathroom, HBB and his wife were erasing things on their character sheets and writing in new stuff.  Ed asks them what they're doing.  HBB tells Ed they are selling the loot.  Ed asks how they can do that without the DM being present.  HBB tells Ed that all captured gear is worth half what the PHB says it's worth.  Ed says not without the DM being at the table, it's not.  There must be a market for it, someone in the Keep must have the money to pay for it, and the price is actually negotiable.  "Fine." Smirk.

  More fun occurs when divvying out the coin the party has collected.  The total in announced in GP.  Several of the other players look up.  One asks "Didn't we find some silver and copper?"  It had all been converted to GP.  Ed asks where the party found a moneychanger and how much his fee was.  I explain to the whole group, so as not to single anyone out, that unlike many of the computer games they might be familiar with, you can't just total things in gold when they were received in silver, or electrum, or copper.  This seemed an unnecessary complexity to our new comrade.

  The game came to a screeching halt after the next sortie.  The players, organized by Jim at my request (I was becoming too fatigued to keep up with the cross-table talk and the multiple conversations) came up with a plan.  A good one, but every DM's nightmare.  They would split the party three ways.  Hubby Boo Boo and his wife would accompany some of the Keep's horsemen on a false caravan up the King's Road.  The rest of the party would split up 3 and 3, and sweep north along each of the hills flanking the places where they had found the Gnolls and Orcs had created ambush blinds.  The hill teams would engage the ambushing enemies after they had taken the caravan under fire, thereby catching the bad guys with their attention elsewhere. The Plan included a pair of warhorns to signal the center team if the flank teams needed support.  The armored horsemen were supposed to be able to hold on their own.

  I was tired by this point.  It was 0130 Sunday morning, and we'd already had a near fistfight due to fatigue and short tempers.  The ceiling fans at DLair were shorted out.  The room was HOT.  Tension was high.  Nobody wanted to be a dick to the new guy, but his shenanigans were really getting on the nerves of all hands.  I decided to turn up the encounter intensity and added a new creature to the mix.  The left was engaged by Orcs, the right by Gnolls, and up the center I used four Orogs from the new Monster Manual.  Orogs are big and mean, but the party was by now all third level, seven of them, and they had heavy horsemen to back them up.  If they played smart, they'd be OK.

  The plan went to hell almost immediately.  When the horns were blown, Hubby Boo Boo stayed in the center, and ordered his wife to do the same.  When he did decide to move, it burned time that should have been spent during the early rounds, and then wasted that time turning and heading BACK down the hill.  He spontaneously had a horse, which the DM had not been informed he had, and I just decided not to argue to keep the game moving.  The Orc chieftain and Gnoll leader were giving the side teams fits, and the Orogs were nigh unhittable due to dice luck and an AC of 18.  HBB's wife scored two very solid arrow strikes on an Orog, and the damage slowly started to tell.

  Healing potions and magic started to be used to keep the party on their feet, and slowly the tide turned.  The Gnolls finally all fell, and the right flank headed down the hill to support the center.  The Orc chieftain almost killed Raul's barbarian outright, save for the Barbarian ability to stay on his feet with 1HP if the hit that reduced him to 0 didn't have enough damage remaining to cause an instakill.  The fight was pretty epic.

  By the time everyone regrouped in the center, the wounded Orog was attempting to fall back with his three comrades.  It was pointed out, quite reasonably, that if the party did not drop at least one, they may not think the party was a powerful enough force to deal with.  The Orog was dropped between arrows from HBB's wife and a spell from Ed's Cleric.  They players declared victory as the three remaining Orogs retreated.  Now, purely looking at numbers, had those Orogs charged instead of fallen back...  TPK city.  But, I'd decided the Cleric's display of Divine power plus the wicked accuracy of that bow had made the Orogs think again once they realized their allies were all dead.

  The party limped back to the Keep, with their dead NPC horsemen along with the wounded and some loot.  Here's where the straw broke the camel's back.

  We were negotiating the take from fencing the loot, and I began to say the Orog breastplate would fetch a decent price, when HBB stopped me.  "The Orog had an armor class of 18.  That means he wasn't wearing a breastplate, he was wearing full plate.  Full plate is worth 1,500 gold.  You said he was tall enough to look a horseman in the eye flat-footed.  That means his armor must be huge, and therefore worth more."  His attitude and eyes were all but accusing me of cheating the party.  It got quiet. 

  I got up and went on a long bathroom break.  When I came back, I attempted to get started again and the topic of the Orog armor was brought back up.  I explained  that the Orog armor could not be sold at the Keep because it was a bordertown without the kind of money he seemed to think it was worth, and even if it was worth that much money, who in the Keep would want it?  Nobody could wear Orog-sized armor.  If they could get to a larger city, maybe, but right now it was just impossible.  "Fine." Smirk.

I finally lost my temper.  I railed that in no uncertain terms that I was the authority at the table, that the DM's word is final, and that hit points, monster locations, treasure, loot, XP and when people level are all adjudicated by the individual Dungeon Master at their individual tables.  There was that damn smirk again.  "I'm just trying to learn how to DM."  God, I wanted to say how I pitied any group he ended  up in charge of.

  That was it, the game was over as far as I was concerned.  I cleaned up the D&D stuff and broke out Car Wars the Card Game so that we could actually game through the required hours until 0800.  People left.  Before long it was just Quinn, Ed, Eric and myself- and Hubby Boo Boo and his wife.  Here's where things got odd.  She had a really good conversation with our players about D&D, and asked and had answered some questions.  The whole time this was going on, and I was cleaning up, and Car Wars was being played, Hubby Boo Boo was sulking over his PHB, making notes after notes and speaking to no one.  FOR HOURS.  Like, three of them.

  So, here's the deal.

  I think that I and most of my players grew up during the TSR age of D&D.  Back when the Monster Manual listed "number appearing" as opposed to creating encounters based on the power level of the party.  Back when treasure was random, and so were some encounters.  Back when "game balance" was something that happened when the players knew enough to run away from anything they couldn't handle.

  Somewhere all of that changed.

  In 4e and 5e, it seems the default for building encounters is based on the level of the group.  The group is also more or less expected to all be the same level- unlike earlier D&D games where the XP necessary to level up was different for different classes.  The monsters present in a place were what seemed appropriate to that place, or based on the average number likely to be encountered or in a lair.

  In these later editions it was explicitly spelled out, perhaps because both are designed to be compatible with the organized play paradigm, that characters could expect X levels every Y adventures or encounters.  It wasn't as freeform as it used to be, it was more like a programming code.  This was especially true of 4e.

  The organized play paradigm adds more to this- treasure amounts being standardized and homogenized.  Rewards being calculated on an algorithm, rather that a Treasure Type table that could be quite swingy from one end to the other.

  I think this kid got his D&D feet wet in an age of player entitlement.  He fully expected his character to be rewarded with XP and treasure commensurate with the amount of time he had been spending at the table rolling dice.  If he perceived that I was withholding his character's due, then *I* was the asshole DM.  I was obviously playing wrong.  If every Orc didn't have 15 HP, I was cheating the players.  If he couldn't reverse engineer the AC of the Orog into armor and then sell it, I was cheating the players.

  This is a HUGE cultural and play style gap.  I and my fellow grognards still roll for monster HP.  We still roll for monster damage.  Yes, there is an option to standardize both in 5e, we don't use it.  In our D&D, the idea of playing as if my PC is conscious that he is 50XP away from 5th level is completely wrongheaded and breaks the immersion of the game. 

  He expected everything to run like clockwork, as 4e does.  He even made his own sketches of the battle as I explained it, theater of the mind-style, and corrected me when my mental image of where things were conflicted with his.  That, too was off-putting.  Players in my game do not quote rules to the DM.  Players do not make corrections to the DM.  The players play, the DM DMs, and we all drive on. 

  It's trust, I suppose.  My players trust me not to cheat them.  They trust me to make the story happen.  If I kill an Orc 5HP too soon or 5HP too late, I either rolled a different HP total for that Orc, or I had a story reason to do it.

  This guy was auditing me as the DM.  Watching my every move, checking my math.  Not only was this unnerving, it was bothering me on another level- like a lack of respect for the game I had crafted, and for myself as the Dungeon Master.  This is where I feel the player violated the social contract of the game.  He argued constantly with the DM, breaking the way the game must work, and he consistently put the needs of his own PC above those of the party, nearly getting other party members killed in the process.

  Is this kid just a victim of the most recent trend (that 5e is admittedly capable of bucking) of player entitlement, or is he just an asshole?  This was a topic of much discussion over the past few days.  I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he WAS just trying to learn how to DM.  Maybe that's why he was checking my math and following the action step by step.  Maybe he wanted to learn how an experienced GM does it.  Maybe his insistence that the DM owes the players something for their time, rewards for their PCs for the investment of playing.

  That's just not how it was done when I was coming up playing D&D.  The angry part of me wanted to say "Look here, son, I have dice older than you.  HOW DARE you tell me how to run my game you entitled, spoiled little snot."

  Maybe I'm the asshole.  I have it on good authority from my regular players that it's not me, it was our guest player, the inestimable Hubby Boo Boo.

  My players also said it's too bad his wife can't play in our group, because once he was otherwise occupied she was very animated and a lot of fun to talk to...

  So what is it?  Is it a play style thing, or is it this particular person?  I just don't know.

05 August 2014

On Her Majesty's Fandom Service...

  Life has been interesting in the Chinese sense lately.  Term papers are coming up in my MilPhil and Great War classes.  The kids got strep, then Mary got strep, then I got strep with the absolute worst headache I have ever had.  I have never in 39 years had what I would consider a "debilitating" headache, and this sure was one.  For two weeks I have been missing work, battling illness in myself and my family, and trying to squeeze in school where I can.  Stress levels spiked, I've been short tempered, and kinda freaking out a bit.

  This brought me to a point of frustration with my hobby life.  Aside from my awesome kids, the only thing I have that helps me de-stress is my gaming hobby.  It's what I do, darlin'.  Lately, I have been profoundly unhappy with that hobby.  I used to roll dice all the damn time - some games were awesome, some were lame, some were good but not great.  All of them helped me relax.  Now, I found that just gaming wasn't enough- it had to be GOOD gaming.  For this, I have one Saturday a month with the Royal Dragoon Guards and a valiant attempt at a Star Wars game on Wednesday nights when school and kids don't intervene.

  I needed to get my groove back.  My enthusiasm, my energy, my ganas.  I needed something that I could use to refocus myself and hopefully my fellow Dragoons and get us back on the road to being an active, vibrant, enthusiastic fan organization.  I had figured out that part of what makes gaming clubs and fan organizations fun for me is the act of creation.  Building and conning these groups give me great satisfaction and joy as my friends and I get to create something that not only has the central purpose of entertaining us all, but provides a framework for us to recognize one another's accomplishments, engage in community service and distinguish ourselves against other groups of the stripe.

  We had, as the Royal Dragoons, become complacent.  We had imprisoned ourselves within the four walls of our meeting space, doing nothing but roll dice.  If we did break out and hit he open road, it was always to the 'Mech Pods - fun, to be sure, and we're doing it again soon, but there is so much else out there for us to do.  The gamers of the RDG are capable of more, and most of us take pride in the sort of accomplishments of which we are capable.  It was time to find something to help us get back on track.  STARFLEET was no longer fitting the bill- the organization is currently paralyzed by a lack of competent, charismatic and decisive leadership.  From our chapter all the way up the chain we hear a lot of silence, hemming, haw-ing and passing the buck.  It seems our "superiors" in the organization fail to take the least bit of initiative or responsibility.  STARFLEET was not where we would excel, although we have decided to continue on as a STARFLEET chapter long enough to see if things will turn around.

  Something new and filled with possibilities revealed itself in The Royal Manticoran Navy, the official fan club for David Weber's Honorverse novels.  The RMN as an organization was much that STARFLEET was not- STARFLEET was bottom-up, with chapters being sovereign and nothing being standardized. TRMN is top-down, with chapters being held to the standard set by the organization.  This appealed to me, and appeals to some of my fellow Dragoons.  I volunteered to join up and check out the organization as a member.

  So it was that I became PVT Webb of the Royal Manticoran Army.  I was immediately struck with the professionalism of the new organization.  First of all, TRMN charges no dues.  Their communications are strictly online, saving them the money STARFLEET spends on correspondence and the Communique.  TRMN generates its funds through sales of patches, rank insignia, t-shirts, polos and running a convention each year.  That's right, an actual convention.  Not an event like a STARFLEET Summit where only members are involved, but a full convention with author guests (often David Weber himself, this year along with Timothy Zahn) and the bells and whistles medum-sized conventions have come to expect.  In nearly every category I have seen, TRMN's approach seems superior to STARFLEET's when looking at purely organizational terms. 

  The top-down approach of TRMN might seem limiting to members of a chapters-first organization like STARFLEET, but as I watch STARFLEET writhe in paralysis I cannot help but admire the ability the top-down organization of TRMN to make decisions that allow for a professional, standard image to be presented across their organization.  They are much less cloudy on how they treat their organizational rank.  Promotions are standardized across the fleet for the most part, with any promotion above E6 requiring input from HQ.  Awards are likewise standardized at HQ level.  Chapters are encouraged to form voluntary associations as divisions and squadrons.  Marine and Army units are encouraged to form battalions and regiments.  The organization has a clear vision of what it wants to be, and takes measures to ensure its chapters are up to speed with that vision.

  This seemed like something I wanted to be a part of.  Not only did I love the novels on which the organization is based, I also like the way the group was composed.  I joined the smallest of the main commands in the club - The Royal Manticoran Army.  The Army isn't covered in much detail in the novels, 99% of the page count is the Navy with a dash of Marine action.  The Army intrigued me as it seemed the branch that needed the most "help" as well as the branch where myself and the other members of the RDG could make an impact.  I began to take some of the exams offered in their academy, and was again impressed.  The examinations were universally 10 questions in length, and  a mix of multiple choice and short answer.  The RMN academies give no credit for a short answer without a reference.  The exams seem to be 1/3 real world history, 1/3 Honorverse history, and 1/3 club operations.  As a student of military history, I found some of the questions quite interesting and it inspired me through their questions about the Rifles in the British Army to create my installation of one soldier - Shorncliffe Bivouac.

  A Bivouac is TRMN speak for a chapter of 1-9 RMA soldiers.  I submitted the paperwork to establish Shorncliffe Bivouac naming it after the traditional military camp, Shorncliffe Redoubt, where the 95th Rifles trained during their existence in the British Army during the Napoleonic campaigns.  The RMA brevetted me to Lance Corporal to "command" Shorncliffe Bivouac.  I completed, between my college assignments, all the enlisted exams offered by the RMA's academy.  I completed the Infantry and Armor schools.  I re-read the first three Honor Harrington novels on my tablet late at night when my insomnia was getting the best of me.  I had started to find my groove again.  I was excited again.  I decided to spread the excitement.

  Bobby and I had gotten tired of fighting the "bleh" that had infected the Royal Dragoons.  Folks showed up, and rolled dice, but most didn't show up on time.  Communications were difficult.  The excitement was gone, for the most part.  We both agreed that it was crazy to keep banging away at trying to make the Royal Dragoons an active and squared-away club if the members just didn't want to put in any sort of work.  We agreed, as did the rest of the staff - Ed, Quinn and Trenton, to give this one more try.  We would lay it all out for the members at our next meeting.  I'll be honest, I wasn't feeling great the morning of 2AUG2014.  I had been sick for a week, my head was still dizzy and achey, and I was in a foul mood.  The meeting started very shakily - nearly everyone was late.  I was about to throw up my hands and throw in the towel.  Ed gave a very good classroom on the Corellian system for his Star Wars campaign, and then it was time to give the "are we or aren't we" speech.  I wasn't feeling it, but as XO of the club, it was my job.

  As we started talking about things the group used to do, there was a stirring in most of the assembled members.  We started talking about getting out and doing lazer tag, camping, road trips, conventions and heads nodded and suggestions flowed from the audience.  The spark was still there.  The interest was still there.  The rank-and-file Dragoons were waiting for us, the leaders, to start showing our interest again.  The energy began to flow.  I began to feel better.  The fire was coming back, I was starting to feel like my old self again.  Suddenly, we were ready to rock once again.  We had two non-meeting events planned - Austin Classic Game Fest and a movie night to go see TMNT.  We had an exercise night planned for the 15th.  We had people interested in doing the Royal Manticoran thing because we're the Royal Dragoon Guards and we can make it look good.

  The meeting didn't end until 0200 the next morning.  When we broke for dinner after highly enjoyable Battletech and Star Wars games, we re-convened for OGRE and then 3:16.  The esprit de corps that once typified the RDG was coming back.  People were interested again.  If we build it, they will come.  So we're building it.

  I will be blogging when I can about the experience of turning Shorncliffe Bivouac into the next largest installation size up, a Barracks, and establishing our group as the first independent Platoon in the Royal Manticoran Army.  We're going to get back to community service, back to getting out of our meeting room, back to being shiny.  And we're going to make it look awesome.

20 June 2014

Fast Food in Spaaaaaace... A gamer musing.

  One of the RPG books that I clearly remember being completely and totally jazzed by was Palladium's Robotech II: The Sentinels RPG.  When Sentinels came out, I was in middle school and a very new gamer.  It was my 8th Grade year that I scored a copy of the book to add to my rapidly growing collection of RPG materials.  Robotech was always a passion of mine- when I discovered it on Channel 44 when I lived in Temple Terrace, Florida.  The show was like nothing I had seen before- there was depth to the characters, people died, had relationships- it was altogether just deeper than any cartoon I had seen before.  When Sentinels and the novels based on the aborted TV series dropped, I voraciously devoured them.  Same with the comic books.

  In one of my attempts to stave off depression through immersion in nostalgia, I picked up my Sentinels book and started flipping through it.  One of the things I was always more than a bit disappointed in was Palladium's attempts at deckplans.  They really only served as a general layout if that- there was no real sense of scale and nothing even approaching detail.  Still, it gave me an idea of what was inside some of the major vessels of the Robotech Wars.  As I paged through the deckplans of SDF-3, I noted the restaurants that pepper the recreation deck.  Something struck me as I started reading further to find all the ethnic cuisine restaurants listed on SDF-3: Why would the Robotech Expeditionary Force expend the resources to put an Italian joint on SDF-3?  Did this mean they had to spec out the needs of that restaurant for the projected length of the Expeditionary Mission?  Was it staffed by military personnel, or civilian contractors?  It seemed to me to be quite a complication for what was essentially a military mission.

  That must have been the point, though.  A military mission in which tens of thousands of humans and their Zentraedi allies would be travelling farther than anyone from Earth had ever gone, on a mission whose length was impossible to estimate with any accuracy.  Sailors on modern Navy vessels can generally get liberty quite a bit more often than would be expected of a deep-space mission like the one the SDF-3 was being tasked with.  Even ballistic missile submarine crews typically undergo cruises no more than six months at a stretch.  In order to send an expeditionary mission into deep space, crew comfort and morale must be a concern.

  In modern space exploration, every square inch of space, every pound of weight is critical and cannot be wasted on frivolities.  Aboard an SDF-class vessel, however, where space is at somewhat less of a premium.  Remember that SDF-1 managed to carry 70,000 civilians plus the better part of a city with its hull.  SDF-3 was larger still, and unburdened with a civilian city.  It would be much less inconvenient given these parameters to devote the space and storage for something as unnecessary as an ethnic dining venue.  SDF-3, if the Palladium deckplans are to be believed, has lounges and mess halls aplenty- probably more than are strictly necessary.   I suppose the number and location of these facilities could have many purposes - so that members of a given unit or division might dine together, perhaps, or simple convenience to the location of one's sleeping quarters. 

  The architects of SDF-3 must have remembered the morale effect of VT pilots off Prometheus taking a jeep into "town" to go eat at Minmei's Chinese restaurant.  In the entire series run of Macross, I think military dining facilities aboard SDF-1 are seen only once- when Claudia and Lisa are having coffee in the command tower lounge early in the series.  With the space to spare, why not continue the tradition of SDF-1 and offer a few creature comforts to people who are leaving their star system possibly never to return?

  It's probably my idle mind, but there's something I find comforting about the concept of being able to forget for a moment that one is on a massive warship in deep space.  It has become accepted alternate canon for Robotech fans of late to accept some changes.  The REF is no more, the UEEF is the 'real' authority over SDF-3, now known as Pioneer.  Given this change in paradigm, with SDF-3 becoming the centerpiece of a fleet, it now seems like it would be even more desirable for SDF-3 to carry facilities like the restaurants and multiple PX shops noted on the deckplans.  Now SDF-3 can be the spacefaring liberty port for every other vessel in the Expeditionary Force.  Crew on the Tristar or Battle-class vessels will be dealing with the full-on warship experience.  Tight quarters, military food service, limited recreational facilities.  BUT- a healthy rotation of crew through SDF-3 means the crew are able to see a simulated sky, visit parks and restaurants, do some shopping at the ship's several PX facilities.

  I really have no idea why my brain fixated on the ability for a crewmember of SDF-3 to grab some spaghetti, enchiladas or General Tso chicken while hanging in orbit over Fantoma.  My head is now full of mental notes on the supply vessels that doubtless accompanied the UEEF fleet having storage dedicated to pepperoni, shredded cheese, rice, ginger...  All these things would not be luxuries, they would be vital to the morale of thousands of personnel trapped inside metal canisters for what could be years on end.

  Now, more than ever, I want to run a Robotech game.

14 April 2014

The "Wasn't vacation supposed to help?" Blues...

  Greetings, folks.  I am severely upset with myself for having let so much time go by since my last post- it's not like I haven't had any creative thoughts or fun experiences or nifty gaming ideas hit me over the head in the meantime, but I learned a frustrating lesson.  I'd spend a very long while looking forward to the cruise I took the first week of March.  A long time.  Like, counting the days down on my desktop every day when I logged into work.  I was certain that a quick spin around the Gulf of Mexico would be the magic pill that would ease my woes.  I had already pulled the loud handle on my State Guard commitment for the time being, I had a month off between semesters, I would be able to enjoy this cruise without fetters.  Kaylee stayed with my grandmother, Zane with his teacher Ms. Tina, all was set for a great vacation.

  Oh, was it a great vacation.  A GREAT vacation.  Within minutes of getting on Carnival Triumph we had drinks in hand and were toasting leaving life behind for five days.  We ate, we drank, we played games, danced, gambled, ate some more... the kind of stuff you do on a vacation.  It was glorious.  I'm so glad there's no camera footage of me lip synching "Baby Got Back" during the music trivia competition.  I have a nice Carnival medal for that performance, plus my obligatory ship statue trophy for kicking ass in a trivia competition.  It was awesome.  We're going again in January to celebrate Mary's 40th.  Zane at least is coming with us this time, possibly Kaylee as well.  What the hell, we want our kiddos to have fun, right?

  Anyway, we got home, hugged the kids, and jumped back into most of life.  I say most of, since I still had weeks until I was back into my graduate studies.  Even so, just getting back to work almost immediately sucked the benefits of the vacation out of me.  I once again felt lethargic and unmotivated.  It got worse.  Just before the cruise, author Aaron Allston had passed away- someone I had met, talked to, and even hosted in my home.  He was my mom's age, and his sudden passing bothered me on a persistent subconscious level.  Then my great uncle Frank passed, and at the funeral I took some photos of old 1800s tombstones to pass the time, since my grandmother insisted on getting to the funeral an  hour early.  I was moved by the recurrent lamb motif I had never before noticed- and then made the connection that every single on of those little lamb tombstones was a child, usually no more than three years of age.  That was like an emotional sledgehammer right in the gut.  I felt a sort of panic mode where I wanted to drive straight back to Round Rock, hit the daycare, and scoop my kids up into a big hug. 

  I've spent a lot of time, sadly, contemplating the finite nature of our existence.  I find that a belief in the afterlife holds little comfort, since every depiction I have seen of the afterlife seems incomprehensibly boring.  I find that I don't really want eternal peace and harmony, I prefer spending time with my children, my friends, and creating compelling stories and adventures both in writing and around my game table.  I've read that people of higher intelligence are more apt to contemplate death and mortality - and I'll take that as a backhanded sort of compliment.  I was just starting to try to push past all this morbid speculation when one of my coworkers, with whom I had shared an officer for two years, died unexpectedly last Wednesday.  He was 42.  Now, in full disclosure it turns out he had been diagnosed with diabetes about five or six months ago, and refused to believe the diagnosis.  In retrospect, his current office mate described symptoms from Tuesday that would be easily recognizable to those familiar with diabetes as dangerous warning signs.  In any case, he was only slightly older than I am, and now he's gone. 

  This kinda shook me to the core.  I find it terribly surreal.  I also find it a strange sort of wake-up call.  On one hand, it drives home the lesson that we should treasure every possible moment with family and friends.  That's something that just being a father has taught me.  Mary gets upset with me a lot because I'll let the kids snuggle up in my lap when it's bed time.  I'm not giving in to the kids not wanting to go to bed...  I'm giving in to my own feelings of paternal inadequacy by giving myself bits of additional time with my kiddos snuggled up with  me.  I know when it's game night my players get a bit upset with me when I let the kids climb into my lap instead of just popping in for their good-night hugs.  If I could get Zane or Kaylee to just snuggle in and listen to the stories, I'd happily run games with a child in my lap.

  One of the other things all this has brought to mind is how futile certain things are.  I'm watching petty political maneuvering rend friendships and cause turmoil in my little corner of STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association.  SFI used to be very, very important to me.  I left from 2009-2012/3 to avoid the politics, then some of us decided to come back and start a new chapter.  Now, most of us are regretting that decision due to the politics.  We want to have fun, roll dice, and maybe do an honor guard or two.  A lot of the mess that's going on, firmly anchored in this Region of the organization, just makes us want to leave.  So... do we stay and try to uphold the values that have recently been publically called na├»ve by some of our local leadership?  Do we pull out of the organization as quickly as we joined and leave the club to the jackals?

  I just don't see, at age 38 and with the life experiences I've seen recently, the point of batting over titles and accolades in the club.  I think member recognition is very important to any organization - but it's important for recognition and retention of the membership.  The leaders should seek no such accolades, and should never seek leadership for the sake of the title.  The higher up you go, the more work you're going to do for the organization.  It's work and service, not a path to influence and having your butt kissed.  Sadly, for some folks that's what the whole thing has become- and they're willing to do underhanded things to achieve those goals.

  Why?  Since becoming a father I've realized that there are things that are a whole lot more important and validating.  Parenthood is the chief of these, scholarship is another.  I had put a big portion of my self worth in the concept of soldiering- but after spending time in the Guard I realize that it's a worthy endeavor as a volunteer, but soldiering (as any soldier can tell you) is surrounded by just as much frustrating crap as civilian life is - sometimes much, much more.  I found that my endeavors as a student and as a father eclipsed the value I had put on soldiering- and so I put soldiering on hold until I can finish my Master's Degree.  My priorities have changed so much, there was a time where my #1 goal was to get into uniform, followed closely by being published as a gaming author.  Now, there's a massive re-arrangement of priorities where Zane and Kaylee are on top, my graduate studies are right below them, and they're both wrapped in staying sane while I complete my degree.  Anything below that is priority only until my MA is in my hand.  Family, School, everything else.

  My caveat to the above is, as always, everyone telling me to take care of myself.  To enjoy myself, to stay sane because I can't take care of the family if I don't take care of myself.  The death of my office mate from Round Rock has REALLY driven this home.  I restarted my attempts to control my weight in earnest, finding to my frustration that I had regained 80% of what I had lost to get into the Guard.  I must get back to where I was, and then further down the weight scale until I hit my goal.  I've got to get back to exercise- even if it's just WiiFit.  I want to be fit and healthy as long as possible to be here for my kids as they get older.  Bodily health is going to be an ongoing process, and so is mental health.  I've got to keep setting time aside for Mary and I to have couple time, and setting time aside for me, myself.  I need alone time to clear my mind, and I need friend time to actually relax.

  So there we are. 

21 January 2014

The OD&D Reprint Boxed Set... I has it...

  There I was a Dragon's Lair Austin.  It was the 4 January 2014 meeting of the Starship Texas/Royal Dragoon Guards gaming club.  My holidays had been wretched save the wonderful time my children had experienced.  I got bad health news about two family members, lost the fridge and the dryer, had to crunch out a term paper some of which I wrote on Christmas Day... yeah.  I was ready for something fun.  Thanks to a late gift card, I was about to do something financially unsound to contribute to that fund.  I had sitting in front of me in shrink-wrapped pristine glory the red wooden box that contained the 1974 Dungeons and Dragons rules and the four expansions and followed on until the game was rebooted as Holmes D&D and AD&D.  I had never before owned a copy of this version of the game that defined my childhood.  Sure, I'd seen bootleg PDFs, and I'd even laid hands on a copy at a convention.  Even knowing that this was a reprint, there was something compelling to me personally about opening this box.  We are just passing through history.  This... this is history.

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  Yes, I actually did queue up "Map Room - Dawn" as I opened the box.  As the players assigned to my table watched, I carefully unwrapped the cellophane and lifted the wooden lid inscribed with the distinctive dragon ampersand I had grown up with.  This moment, however unplanned, was the culmination of the last few years of my gaming hobby in some ways.  When I started back to college in 2011, I started to really seriously research the history of the hobby.  Thanks to amazing resources on the net, and books like Jon Petersen's Playing At The World and Dave Ewalt's Of Dice And Men I had started to amass a fascination with the genesis of the hobby.  I have a library at home over over a thousand boxed sets, manuals, modules, GM screens and other products - but nowhere among them was a copy of the very first RPG.  Sure, I had a Holmes set - a couple.  AD&D 1e?  Multiple copies of each core hardcover and at least one of the later supplements, original cover art AND the orange spine reprints.  I even had the commemorative reprints of AD&D 1e.  I had Traveller, Boot Hill, Gamma World... lots of Old School stuff, but never the original.

  To the strains of John Williams' classic Raiders score...  I opened the box.  My imagination actually painted a picture of the spirits of adventurers from the last forty years swirling around the box as I carefully removed the lid.  The sense of wonder was dampened just a bit by the cardboard spacer that covered the contents of the box, and then restored when flipping the lid over to set it down revealed the metallic artwork print inside the top of the wooden lid.  Here, too was a cardboard spacer that needed to be removed.  Once done, I was able to look at the booklets inside.  The books had been separately shrink-wrapped as a seven-book stack.  Underneath the books was a felt or velvet interior of the box, a well for the books to rest in lined with individual pits for the extremely intricately carved dice set that came with the box.  Attached to the box interior was a red ribbon, like the ones used to mark pages, probably to assist in getting the books out of the well in which they would be stored.

  I gently removed the shrink wrap from the books.  The covers were a heavy stock, with the prehistoric trade dress of the 1970s.  I could imagine each booklet being assembled and stapled in Don Kaye's garage by Gary and his kids.  I opened Men and Magic: Volume I of Three Booklets. It was like having a personal flux capacitor.  For a few moments, I forgot I was in the gaming room of a large game and comic shop, forgot that I had players eagerly waiting to peruse the boxed set themselves, forgot everything and basked in this facimile of the very first player's handbook.  3d6.  Only three character classes, Fighting Men, Magic-Users (as I still call them) and Clerics.  Race and class were indeed separate in this first edition.  I wondered at the references to Chainmail, and then found that the "alternate" combat system was the very first matrix of attack tables.  All combat hits did 1d6 damage.  This was it - the beginning of the beginning.  D&D before it evolved from this beginning point.  Every role playing game I had played since that fateful afternoon in the early summer of 1986 had stemmed from this.  The AD&D books I had marvelled at in 1985, wondering how one used their contents to play a game - their DNA began here.  I watched the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon every Saturday during its series run, and always wanted to know how it related to the stack of hardcover books in my friend Eric's brother's bedroom.  Here was where it all started.

  Now, at this point some of you are wondering how I can get all worked up over a game.  It's important to note that Dungeons and Dragons, and many, many other RPGs were and continue to be instrumental to the person I am.  Since playing that first character (a Magic-User!) rolled up using the 1983 Mentzer Expert rulebook in Daniel Varner's room with his brother and some of our other friends in 1986 I was hooked on the hobby that actually used the imagination I had been gifted with.  I had lots of trouble in my early school years because I was constantly daydreaming and not paying attention.  I was in gifted and accelerated classes, but still bored much of the time in the grade-level classes on my schedule.  This pattern continued throughout high school and well into my undergraduate studies.  Only now in Grad School and the latter half of my BA am I finding real challenge.  At any rate I was eager to find something where my imagination -normally getting me into trouble- would be a boon.  And here it was.  I could use this game to tell epic stories with my friends, we would have our own tales to tell that were much more exciting than the mundanities of school sporting events or more mundane pastimes pushed on us by our parents.

  In Boy Scouts, Troop 145 spent evenings playing D&D much to the chagrin of Mr. Bonner and Mr. Goorley, our scoutmasters.  We'd make camp, make dinner, and break out the dice.  Mr. Goorley's son Tim was my second Dungeon Master- and took us on adventures like Castle Amber, and msyteries of his own design.  I learned the word "Grimoire" from him.  I remember playing Brother Maynard of the Holy Outhouse at Lost Pines Scout Camp in the summer of 1989.  I remember drawing a toilet seat on a chain that represented his holy symbol.  Brother Maynard drank a haste potion and ran back to town for holy water as the rest of the scouts' characters struggled to vanquish the demon that was the master villain for the campaign we had been playing all through our stay at Lost Pines.  Sadly, the demon was destroyed before the good cleric could return from town - so Brother Maynard became a running joke - literally.  In many games over the past 24 years run by players who were there, a cleric would occasionally run past at superhuman speed for no readily apparent reason.  Somehow, this became a naked cleric.  Oh, well, at least Brother Maynard is still out there.

  D&D opened my world to all sorts of adventures.  Instead of just watching Star Trek or Robotech, I was writing my own stories in those worlds and taking my friends along for the ride.  We had our own Marvel superheroes, we explored ancient ruins, attacked the Death Star, fought World War III and entered into the gritty dystopian future of Cyberpunk and Shadowrun - depending on wether we were in the mood for elves.  I was a natural storyteller, Dungeon Master and all-around gamer.  When I did take up a sport, it was fencing.  I read - a LOT.  The Round Rock Public Library was a second home, and I volunteered there the summer of '90.  I devoured fiction, nonfiction, reference stuff...  I used the bibliographies most early RPGs so thoughtfully put in the back to find things I never would have found on my own.  Heinlein and Asimov, Philip K. Dick.  I read about the historical medieval era.  Roleplaying games not only inspired me to learn, they inspired me to think.  I came up with devious puzzles and traps for my friends to unravel.  I wanted to create my own Indiana Jones adventures- especially after the awesome traps in Last Crusade came out. 

  I also made friends.  Friends I still roll dice with to this day.  In every way that matters, my creative and social outlets from the sixth grade forward were colored by Dungeons and Dragons.  Putting these books in my hands, I could see the formative process that led to the most influential pastime I would ever find.  Sure, I had been a Star Wars and Star Trek fan since I was old enough to turn a channel, but now I could enter those worlds and play inside them.  Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man - all worlds I could now visit.  And my friends came along.  I can't count the number of things I've written over the years to support this world or that as an RPG - and I'm still doing it as time allows.  And I'm still telling stories my friends talk about for years.

  So yeah, reading these books was a big deal for me.  It got bigger as I was able to progress through the seven boolkets in the boxed set.  When one gets to Greyhawk, one sees the D&D game evolving toward what we all know and love.  Thieves are added to the class list, exceptional strength for fighters, spells whose names we've come to know and love.  I was seeing history as it was written.  The three booklets were followed by Greyhawk, then Blackmoor, then Eldrich Wizardry and Gods, Demigods and Heroes.  Each book added something that moved the whole a bit more toward those arcane tomes I had first perused in '85.  A bit more toward the Mentzer basic box I would buy at Hasting's in middle school.  The AD&D 2nd Edition books we would use constantly throughout high school.  It was like having the Rosetta Stone that suddenly unlocked the mysteries of an ancient language, the language of gamers and grognards.

I look very, VERY forward to continuing to peruse these ancient volumes, and perhaps I will run a game using these rules in honor of D&D's 40th anniversary.