Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Here is the new box I'm using for my D&D books. The box I originally bought them in is intact, but in pretty crummy shape. And since many people only have the pdfs and not the original booklets, there is some interest in finding or building boxes to contain such books.

I got mine at Joann Fabrics, which is also a craft store, in the craft section. It's a papier mache box that looks like a hardcover book. Here's a link to the item on their website. (It says they have large and small sizes; I must have gotten the large size since the dimensions they list are too small and my box cost $4.95 whereas theirs lists for $3.99. Whatever.)

Anyway, these three pictures are as follows:

First, the front and "spine" of the box. I've added a sticker on the front, duplicating the front of the fifth printing "white box", and stickers on the spine saying (in case you can't read it):



TSR, 1974

Second, the books inside the box. See how much room is left? And

Third, the three D&D booklets, with reference sheets and Chainmail.

The box can be painted, but I was impatient to put my books in there. But I'd love to see any boxes anybody else gets and decorates.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Advice for DMs

As I've said before, I read Wil Wheaton's blog. In the linked entry, he posts a reminder of some of the basics of DMing.

These are pretty good, since they're not the same old four or five things. Plus they're drawn from actual play (which he's posted also earlier in the series).

Now, some might object because he's doing a 4e game. I don't care. The basic principles hold, regardless of edition (or for that matter game; he also cites GURPS and T20 as well as D&D). These are just basic things a referee should know/do.

I especially like the last point, about blogging about your experiences. We can all learn from each other this way, and I like it.

- - - - -

And speaking of other bloggers, I got my shipment from James Edward Raggi IV today. He's the guy at the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog. I got both versions of the Random Esoteric Creature Generator, which is infinitely cool, as well as Fantasy Fucking Vietnam. I think I'll run that one at a local convention -- that might shake some people up! (Naturally, I'll remember all of Wil Wheaton's advice when I do. The synthesis should prove interesting...)

Oh, and all three items are signed. How cool is that? This is one of the parts of the old school renaissance that I like a lot -- that you can be on a first name basis with game designers (or should I say with other game designers?) It puts the emphasis back on "hobby", instead of "industry".

Monday, March 16, 2009


Sometimes I wonder if we old school D&D'ers aren't just a bunch of crotchety old farts who are out of touch with the real world.

I mean, I read Wil Wheaton's blog. He played the hell out of D&D back in the day, when he was a kid, like we all did. Sure, it wasn't the '74 rules, but it was based directly on them -- it's effectively the same game. Sure closer than AD&D was at the time.

And ol' Wil has, through his celebrity blogger/geek status, gotten to get in on a 4e game with other geeks. And he loves it. He even got out his old Mentzer Basic set and read through it, which shows me that at least he can easily see a continuity between where we as a hobby were and where the current wave now is.

And that's cool. That's okay for them as likes it. They're having fun, and that's what counts.

But then I remember playing 3rd edition. I've had a lot of fun with it, but I also remember the rules arguments, the discussions, the sheer "trying to wrap our aging heads around strange and badly worded concepts" of it all (I still hate the unnecessarily complex "attacks of opportunity crap").

And I can't help but contrast it with the game I'm currently in. Aaron Kesher, over at Sandbox Empire, is the referee -- and I use that word advisedly. No lordly Dungeon Master he. He's just a guy with a world that he lets us visit. It's his sandbox, but it's our playground.

And play is what we do. We discuss rules, but only to see what fits us best as a group. We defer all final decisions to Aaron, because it's his world. We make bad jokes (okay, that's mostly me...). We come up with weird and strange notions (which Aaron makes note of...)

But we don't have the knock-down drag out rules arguments. We really don't.

We also don't have a lot of powergaming. Or any, for that matter. The routine goes like this. "Oh, man, I only have a twelve Strength? And a nine Intelligence?" "Don't worry; stats aren't as important as they are in later editions." "Well, okay..."

Twenty minutes later.

"Yeah, I think I would go ahead and pull the lever anyway -- after all I only have a five Wisdom!"

Players learn to have fun with their characters, warts and all. There's so little given in game terms that the players, highly creative sorts after all, simply have to come up with something interesting, whether background or quirks or philosophy or whatever.

And we're loving it! We don't need piles of rulebooks as high as a dragon's eye. We don't need power attacks or healing surges; we just go in their and risk death for gold and glory.

We also don't need a complex skill set. You want to do something? Go ahead and try! Depending on your stats, your personality, the Referee's whim and quite probably the phase of the moon, it might be easier or harder, but unless it's a specific class skill (such as spellcasting), you at least have a chance. And that's all you really need.

And death happens, don't think otherwise. Each death means a new opportunity to try again with a new character. We've played three times and I'm on my third character. Nobody has gotten beyond level one. But we keep coming back, and we keep having a good time. And if we don't like something in the game, we can always ask the referee to change it. He might not, but we know that we can ask.

So yeah, the kids out there can call me a crotchety old fart if they like. Their words pass by me like a spring breeze. They can have their shiny new 4th edition, too, and more power to them! Anything that keeps them off my old school lawn is fine by me. Plus they help keep my friendly local game store alive, which gives me a place to play. And if we show them how it's done, they might just join us and find out how much fun a good old dungeon crawl can be.

At least that's the way I see it.

Sneerglaw no more

Sadly, Sneerglaw didn't survive the latest foray into Under Xylarthen's Tower, by the estimable Jeff Rients, as run by Kesher.

Those hobgoblins were just too much.

Although I do have to say, he proved much more valuable to the party dead than alive.

First of all, there were the 755 gold pieces he was carrying (from the last session when we'd found a necklace worth 5000). Then, one of the guys took his blackened Balrog skull back to town and traded it to a Mage there for a scroll of Protection from Evil.

All in all, not to bad a deal.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mister Procrastinator, that's me!

So, I said I'd read all these books/magazines I've gotten lately and then probably review them.

And I sort of have reviewed some of them (well, one, but with snippets of another).

I finally started actually reading Empire of the Petal Throne. Section 200, The World of Tekumel, really pulls you in. There's a world here, and it's up to you to explore it. This is not your "standard D&D" (as if that phrase ever meant anything...)

I haven't gotten into the seriously different parts yet, but I like the character generation and combat sections. Spellcasting would be a bit weird, but I'm sure it would be okay once you get used to it.

As far as physical presentation, the pdf of the book itself is pretty good, but I have to wonder about the maps. What size were they originally? They seem to be 11x17 in the pdf, which doesn't print out right on my 8.5x11 printer (even if I just print half, there's a strip down the middle I'm missing). And I'm really not an expert on printing odd sizes from pdfs.

Anyway, there will be more to come on this and other things. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The challenge is the thing

From Through Dungeons Deep, page 5:

"A fantasy game isn't played so that a single character wins. No one is trying to beat the others. The idea is to have a good time facing challenges and, hopefully, overcoming them -- all as a group effort. Everyone works together."

Ah, how that last sentence has fallen out in some games. I've seen it happen. I like it better when the group all does work together, but I also know I can't count on it.

from page 15, immediately following an example of play:

"This example showed several things. One is that the player characters never once made a decision based on game rules; their actions were based on the situation described to them, their knowledge of their comrades and common sense. This is what makes role-playing games feel so realistic."

Indeed. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Got the rest of it.

Yesterday I got Fight On! number 4. (I couldn't wait for the proofreading stage; I ordered as soon as Cal said he had it up on Lulu.) This issue is dedicated to Dave Hargrave and his world of Arduin, so be prepared for some old school gonzo dungeoneering!

And then today, I got Through Dungeons Deep, by Robert Plamondon. I'm happy it's the same book that I remember. The cover illustration proves that; it shows a painter with a smock and floppy beret, standing in front of a magnificent dragon. The painter tells the dragon that he has painted portraits of the most famous dragons in all the land, and now wishes to immortalize him. But before he begins, he will show the dragon a sample of his work.

With the dragon, flattered beyond repair, now eagerly staring at the easel, the "painter" takes the cover off of the mirror of life trapping. Vooop! No more dragon. Then he calls his workmen in and excavates the entire horde, without any combat taking place.

I remembered that story all these years as a really good example of player creativity. It's the kind of thing that I love about old school gaming. (I really don't see a computer game allowing for such a thing. Do you?)

Anyway, once I've read it I'll post a review.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Featherstone review, part 2

Caveat: I haven't actually read the rest of the book. But I have read much of it and heavily skimmed the rest.

The remaining chapters of the book follow a similar format to Chapter Two, in that they look at a specific part of military history (in Chapter Three, one specific battle), and then describe how to simulate that one the wargames table.

A couple of points need to be stressed here. Neil Thomas's book Wargaming: An Introduction (as I've mentioned before), is a very modern, plug and play kind of wargaming book. It's for two players to sit down and knock some figures together, improvise some terrain, and decide if wargaming is right for them.

Featherstone, on the other hand, is for a club. There is nary a two-player game in the entire book. Each project is for a minimum of three people (assuming one is a referee). In more cases, there are five people (two players on each side and a referee).

Also included are tales from the wargames club (as I believe I mentioned before).

Now, this presents an entirely different picture of wargaming than I've been exposed to. It's more focused on doing it yourself, with the whole club getting involved. The referee is there to settle any arguments, and everybody has a good time whether they win or lose. It is a social thing, with all members drawn together for camaraderie by a shared love of military history, sportsmanship and friendly competition.

This is the exact same sort of atmosphere D&D grew out of. The club Featherstone speaks of is similar to the clubs Dave Arneson and the late great Gary Gygax had.

While I appreciate and enjoy Thomas's book, I'm truly happy to have gotten Featherstone's. And I'm kind of glad I got it now, as opposed to 20 years ago; I really don't think I'd have 'gotten' it back then.

"Where are the rules?" I can hear my 20-years-younger self cry out in anguish. "Aargh! Who wants to put up with all this crap? Just give me some rules and let me get on with it! Ah, screw it, here's a nice board wargame where I can sit down and just play."

The difference, as you can see, is an important one. The Thomas book is for players, who can sit down and get on with things. The Featherstone approach, on the other hand, is for referees, for creators, for those who have the vision to create their own world and invite players to join them in it.

And if it weren't for the Old School Renaissance, I would have missed that point entirely.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Featherstone review, part 1

I've started reading Featherstone and it has been ... interesting.

Chapter One includes a lot of stuff I found strange, given that he appears to be writing for a first-time wargamer. There are sections on military possibilities, chance cards, time charts, and morale, which are all good. But there is also a long section on surprise and how to simulate this in a game, which I found rather hard going. I'm sure it'll be more clear upon re-reading, but it almost seems as if this chapter is a test. "Make it through this," he seems to be saying, "and the good stuff lies just beyond."

If that was his plan, it worked. I made it through chapter one and on into chapter two, which covered American Civil War battles. Here Featherstone gives a brief description of the conflict, points out how well documented it is (making research easy), and goes through a short but complete description of weapons and uniforms of the opposing forces. With this information, one could buy a few boxes of Airfix or other plastic figures and put together (and paint!) their own armies for a fairly small investment (compared to metal figures anyway).

He also includes rules for such games, which run to about three pages overall, although these pages also include an illustration and a sidebar.

Unlike commercial rule sets, this is just the actual rules. Figure out for yourself how to base your troops, and dig up the historical order of battle -- that stuff isn't here.

Featherstone also shows some of the human face of wargaming, in his vignettes "Down at the Wargames Club".

I am struck by how much the "do it yourself" ethic permeates this book.

Now, for a good basic introduction to wargaming, I'd highly recommend Neil Thomas's "Wargaming: an Introduction", which includes rules and army lists for several periods. It covers some of the same ground as Featherstone, but does it in a much more "starter set" way.

As a comparison many of you will understand: Featherstone is D&D, with supplements. Thomas is the Mentzer Basic Set of D&D, with module B1 included.

I like them both, but the attitude in each is different. And that's okay. Differing attitudes make for a broader coverage of the subject. Each book works, in its own way.

Each book also includes glorious photographs, many in color, of miniatures that are painted far better than I'll ever be able to paint them. But I shall persevere and do my best; my only goal is to not totally embarrass myself with my painting skills. And I think I can do that.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Blogged too soon!

Here I was, content that I'd gotten one of my books. And about two minutes after I hit "publish post", the UPS guy came with my Amazon order. Game Night by Jonny Nexus, and Space: 1889 by Frank Chadwick (of GDW fame).

I'm Mr. Happy Guy.

First book arrives

In my last post, I mentioned that I ordered a bunch of books. I got the first one today, and it wasn't even one that I mentioned.

The book is Featherstone's Complete Wargaming, by the redoubtable Donald Featherstone. Published in 1988, the book appears to be a treasure trove of information about the hobby. Now that I've got your attention, I'm not going to talk about it. (Hey, I'm at work, and I only just got it, and I haven't had a chance to even read it yet!)

My gaming, you see, tends mostly toward roleplaying, and that tends mostly to D&D. But I originally wanted to be a wargamer.

The first "adventure game" (to use the broad term) I ever bought was Ogre, by Steve Jackson (yes, that Steve Jackson), published by Metagaming. This would have been in 1979 or so; I'm guessing here because I don't specifically remember.

It would be three or four years before I found someone to play it against. In the meantime, I read what I could in the library about wargames and wargaming. There was a sharp division in print (although I later learned it wasn't that sharp in practice) between the miniatures guys and the board wargamers. I fell into the board wargamer camp because one whole game, complete and ready to play, was available for $20 or less (sometimes much less; Ogre had cost me $2.99).

Whereas with miniatures, you had to go out and

* buy the damned things,
* assemble them,
* paint them,
* base them, and
* find some way of protecting them.

Then you had to do the same for their opponents.

Then you had to beg, borrow or build the terrain for the battle.

And you had to do research so that everything listed above was accurate. (This really would have come first, but I really didn't know what I was doing in those days...)

And then you had to find a place to store all this crap. Yowza.

Well, times have changed. After many, many, many years of "adventure gaming", I'm no longer a footloose wanderer. I have a permanent home, with a basement for my gaming activities, and plenty of places to store stuff. I can even buy or build shelves, should I need them. And because my sweetie is an absolute genius with money, I can actually afford to buy things now and then, like miniatures.

I bought some this weekend. I got a game called Napoleon in Europe at Half Price Books, for $50. It's out of print, so I don't know (or care) what it would have cost new. But it has hordes of plastic figures, around about the 1/72 scale or so.

I can work with this.

I'm finished assembling (but not yet painting) my first complete army. The French Napoleonic army from the book Wargaming: An Introduction by Neil Thomas. Neil presents simple rules for a few different periods and provides army lists to accompany them. The book is readily available (again, at Half Price Books) and seems like a winner.

The only problem was, he uses the "standard" basing conventions for these armies. Close order infantry, for instance, would be four figures on a 40mm by 20mm base, assuming 15mm figures. For 25mm figures, the base frontage would be 60mm.

Well, I just don't have enough troopies to do that. So I tinkered, as wargamers do. I took 3 figures per base, with a frontage of 50mm. They fit, they look okay, and they'll work better on my smallish table.

Plus, I can make two complete armies this way.

I'm going to try some solo wargaming with them, and I'll let you know how that comes out.

And I'll probably review Featherstone's book. Once, y'know, I've actually read it.