Monday, June 20, 2022

Session Zero


I prefer ‘session zero’ happen at home, through emails, in the head, or as a memory. This is simply my preference. Everyone handles session zero as per their desires and goals so it would be impossible and wrong to assert that “x” is the only proper manner in which to handle a campaign’s beginning. My preference, having gone through many a campaign (short and long), many hundreds if not thousands of characters, and nearly forty years of play, is simply to begin the game with a bang or near bang. I like to begin the game with a hand grenade thrown into the midst of the party that may or may not go off - so to speak.


So this is how I roll. The players will let me know before the game begins what type of character they would like to play. I sometimes place limitations on race, class, background, etc. but this is rare. It must be setting specific though. I then encourage everyone to come up with some background. It can be specific but I prefer it be somewhat nebulous so the background can be developed in play. I sorta want the character’s past to grow backward as well as forward at the same time. This meshes well with my philosophy that the past never really exists except in how we remember it rather than what it may have actually been. So big points are important but details are not.

To wit, a few answers to a few questions are all that I need to move an adventure forward in a meaningful direction. I base may adventures of the player’s characters goals and fears rather than off something I have designed sans their input. Some questions are; What are your character’s life goals? What are your character’s greatest fears? What does your character hate? What does you character love?

If possible or seems reasonable, I will have one or more of the characters know one another prior to the beginning of the adventure. It is not necessary that they do know one another through. What is important is that a series of events leads them all to one place at the same time. This is where it becomes a little difficult because I have to design a session zero encounter that is confined in space and time where some action occurs requiring the players to act together to overcome a challenge or even survive. 


The players, in session zero, are asked to describe their character’s appearance. Nothing more than appearance is necessary. Personality, life events, etc. are not what I am after. Personality comes out in play rather that descriptive preambles. Personality is expressed in appearance as well. The character’s past or pivotal moments in their life are not described, those reside in the character’s memory and only brought forward in roleplay or as necessary. This actually allows the characters to grow their characters backward fairly well and gives me (as the person running the game) fodder to work with and develop with the player over the course of sessions, week, months, and even years.

So where do the characters meet? This is always different and sometimes the most challenging part for me. I have placed the characters in a carriage, barge, caravan, that gets attacked or has a problem requiring the characters to fix. I have placed them in guard towers, frontier posts, mines, and even a besieged city. In all cases, the characters find themselves together, confined somehow in that moment and in space and are faced with a challenge within roughly twenty minutes of the game’s beginning. I have not started a game in a tavern in decades, though I might give that a try one day again – with a bar fight.


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Over River Hanging Empty Unplayed

The dark waters of the Prut begin deep in the Thelknet Wood. They move slowly, following an ancient course south before they turn north and east and then back again to the confluence of the Spring River. The channel is deep before the spring, the water seems still and quiet with a calm born of a windless dusk hanging over it. Tales relate that in the Days before Days that Ealor would rise from the sea and court Ea-Ranae, the moon, and here upon the banks of the Prut they sat and frolicked together. Whatever the truth of that the Prut is home to fey of wonderous beauty and the elves haunt the woods here, seeking signs of the moon before the sun rode high in the sky. 

The forest grows thick, all the way to the loamy banks of deep grass that hang like curtains into the water’s edge, housing what dark secrets in tiny caves few can tell. The fish are large here, swim deep and feed upon one another as fish are want to do. Strange birds dwell in the trees and wolves lope to the water’s edge in quest of water. At times there are stairs with no landings that lead into the water or swings from branches hanging empty and unplayed or bridges that rope in the two banks, bridging two worlds. The “Prut above the Spring” is a saying in the realms of New Aenoch and it is like to magical realm that few understand, or if they do, they choose to keep their understanding to themselves. It is a lonely, quiet river, the Prut.

After the Spring it picks up speed and deepens still and the dark waters turn a shallow gray, shrowded still by forest trees and linked by hidden paths. At last, they tumble into Udunilay and broaden that mainland tempest before it enters the Opens and the Sea beyond.

From ~ The Barachian Coast, Aihrde Expansion, The Prut River Entry. Aihrde

Monday, June 13, 2022

Experience the Experience of No Experience

I am toying around with rules again. I really like this notion I have of not having to track experience. I do not like level grinding or even the semblance of level grinding. So i plan to take it off the table. Experience would be accrued differently and would not require much math. Really no math. I really can't say much more on this until i have a final draft of the work in hand, present it to play testers, and move to the next phase of development of The Dragon's Crucible.

This is another of the projects I am working on. The Inzae setting material is going to be expanded and presented in a different format, much along the lines of the World of Airdhe setting. Along with the setting there will be rules that are setting specific. The rules are being designed to capture the flavor of that setting. That said, the formatting will be seamless with Castles and Crusades so one can pick and choose which rules set to use. 

Of the big rules changes there will be new combat, advancement, and ability development/growth whatever. I need to finish this up quickly so I can get the draft into the hands of play testers to see if even the nascent ideas work. If they do not, I will likely scrap and start over or just stick with Castles and Crusades. But as those of you who know me, i really like fiddling with rule and if nothing else, Castles and Crusades is made for fiddling. I just can't help myself.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022


To appear real. I think maybe, over the years, the appearance of real has shifted. I don't mean this in a grand scheme of things rather within the genre of role playing game. What seemed real in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and on has been altered. By and large, fantasy fiction (in its multifarious forms) has grown significantly. Tolkein's stories have rooted themselves via Peter Jackson's fantastical vision, the Harry Potter series has rooted the idea of magic as an everyday affair, and JRR Martin's series seamlessly meshes magic within a pseudo-medieval setting. Set against this are shows such as Vikings that are grounded in the real world. The latter is a world without magic and wizards and monsters. 

Verisimilitude is a very important aspect of role playing games. The game, as played, has to seem real, believable, manageable.... predictable. If anyone has ever played in a game where nothing seems to make sense, you know how frustrating that can be. It is difficult to make decisions unless one has some semblance of predictable outcomes. Otherwise the decisions become meaningless and random. Most people prefer some level of predictability in their games. 

Even more, there has to be an understanding of the world and the manners in which it works. That has to be lensed through our everyday experiences. We have to drink water, eat food, sleep, buy materials, and we have cultures, economies, governments etc. Forests, trees, mountains, lakes, and a natural environment are a must. With that comes histories, geographies, and mythologies. The world one adventures in has to appear real. It is from that point that players and the person running the game can leap forward into the fantastical introducing monsters, celestial beings, magic, and other races of beings.

And this is where it gets interesting. 

So it seems to me that the 'real' has shifted. What, in my youth, was considered fantastical and difficult to fathom, is now codified as normal. Magic and its various applications is more or less common knowledge or within the realms of the real now. I suppose being raised on movies, books, and television shows where magic is common, zombies flourish like spring flowers, gods walk among us, and monsters creep and hide around every corner shifts the idea of what might be real, if ever so slightly. It is almost the case that without the fantastical the world one plays in does not feel real or at least, monsters and magic are the  starting point for creating the real. 

It is as if the nature of the first question has changed. Previously it would have been, 'how does magic fit into this world?' to 'how does the real fit into this world of magic?' 

So the book that really brought this home to me and from which I draw much inspiration is "100 Years of Solitude." Check it out


Monday, June 06, 2022

From Old Mexico to Heaven's Dust and Back Again Pt 3

Be sure to read part 1 Off to Fort Davis and Texas and 2, Dry Sands, Industry and Old Mexico, below.

As stark and beautiful as the Guadalupe Mountains were, time began to press, so loading up we headed north to the Observatory. We stopped for a chat with some bored park rangers, bought some snacks and then continued on. Up 18 and through the deeper mountains our path led, heading first to Alpine and then Fort Davis. We passed massive ranches, huge spreads of thousands of acres but saw only a smattering of cows. Small herds of a dozen or more. It was strange country for cattle, coming from Arkansas which is lush and green this time of year, and a few acres offers enough forage for herds of cattle larger than any we saw. But the fences slide along the highway, following its every twist and turn and ranches clearly marked with symbols and words, offered no answer to the mystery.

As I marveled at the ranches and wondered how they cut a living from the dry earth, we began passing small homesteads. Dozens, scores of tiny homes nestled in the desert mountains. Some were sheds with extended roofs, others small barn like houses, but all were homes. Each sat on an acre or more with little else to offer for shade or shelter. This kept my mind occupied as I pondered how they lived this far from water. It seemed too dry for ground water, and no tree or brush lines marked the path of river or stream. Upon closer inspection I realized they had large holding tanks, huge plastic affairs, attached to piping from their gutters and metal roofs, catching rain water. These cisterns made it possible to live here in the desert, made it easier – if one allows oneself such a word in this part of the world. But still I wondered why out here? Why so far from anywhere?

But we all know the answer to that.

That mystery, that was no real mystery, lay unresolved in my mind as we lumbered into Alpine and continued up to Fort Davis. The road, 118 now, pushed on up into the Davis Mountains until it unlocked in the small, sleepy town of Fort Davis, nested at the feet of a high bluff of daunted cliffs. We arrived about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and settled in the Limpia Hotel, an old building that housed out of towners since the 1920s. It was very cool, with an old-world taste. Two stories, ancient floors and a creaking stair case covered in thin carpet. A friendly staff  checked us in and we tumbled into the room, somewhat road sore.

Kathy took a nap and Wilson and I took an hour to wander about. We hit old Fort Davis, a fort built in the post-Civil War days that housed troopers of the Ninth US Cavalry, the famed Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers joined in the latest round of wars with the Apache nations, a people that included the very famous Geronimo of the Bedonkohe band (though his fight was further west in Arizona, New Mexico, and Old Mexico). Originally founded in the 1850s, abandoned and then reoccupied and adorned with new barrack, mess hall, officers’ quarters and houses for the locals who worked the post. Those remain today, a standing testament to a time long past that an ever-growing minority of people even cast a wayward thought toward.

We wrapped this up with gigantic ice cream cones at a little ice cream shop inside an old train caboose. As we ate, we drove around and soaked in the architecture of the town and mused on all the history. For some reason, I cannot say why, I felt I was at the end of the world. That if we crossed through town and over the mountains to the west that there, upon the summit, would be the end of all things and just a Void laid out before me. It was comforting, that feeling of the finite.

After resting some and eating dinner we packed up and headed for the midnight viewing and star watching at the McDonald Observatory, the target of our journey. We had booked a spot on the 36-inch telescope and were anxious to get up and see the heavens. The clouds threatened us for quite a while and gave us some worry, but by the time the shuttle driver showed up and took us up the mountain the skies opened and all the heavens hung above us.

They rank that observatory and hill as one of the greatest dark sky areas in the country and it shows. You can see beyond forever up there. A blanket of sparkling dots of light, smudges of star systems and galaxies and whatever else crowds the night sky. The viewing in the telescope was wilding, we saw a galaxy, or was it two, some nebula and other objects that threw their light at us so long ago. It occurred to my turgid mind that even if we could go there, to one of these distant stars, it may well be to find it snuffed out, for knowledge of it came to us so long ago. For the briefest moment I toyed with the distances between points of light in our own galaxy and trouble in traveling to them, but what doubts I had about ’47 faded in a series of mental gymnastics that would no doubt meet the half lidded, approving nods of my primeval ancestors that first mused on the stars in the wilds of Hardar and the Tugen Hills.

Note: apparently dark sky is becoming harder and harder to attain as cities and people leave their lights on all the time. Give the heavens a break and turn the porch light out.

Bad news hit us during the viewing as the telescope went offline and cut the star gazing with bionic eyes a little short. No matter, we gathered outside the dome and watched the stars and the night sky for an hour or more. The astronomer answered our questions and pointed out constellations that I only just barely began to make out. The expanse was comforting. Its limitless so great that the mind wrestles it into a manageable size. We could see the dark smudges of the Milky Way, like a painter whose sleeve brushed across the canvas. It was wild and a sight I had never seen before.

After a while, about 1 A.M. or so, we made our way down the mountain and everyone scattered to home but the three of us. The astronomer that dropped us off warned us of a bear in the area and we promised to keep an eye out. Kathy hikes in Montana every year and the knocked over trash cans were a clear sign to her that we were not alone.  No matter, we pulled Wilson’s telescope out and set it up in the very dark night and began casting out at celestial objects. We were not there long however, and he had just set up his camera to take pictures of some cluster, when we heard a ruckus up at the completely dark visitor center. A metal can bouncing on brick or concrete. No wind to speak of and not a human in a quarter mile. The bear no doubt. Not desiring to contest the evening’s tranquility with a young or old black bear, we loaded up in the truck and bugged out.

We set up again later, in Fort Davis, about 2 or so and watched for a bit, but fatigue was settling in. We’d been up since 7 in the morning and crossed wild deserts, lonely mountains, meandering rivers and all the weird human that lies between. We at last packed it in and headed back to the hotel and cast weary heads on small pillows and rushed off to sleep.

The return trip was quick and uneventful. We tracked up through the Davis Mountains, through small, quiet rancher towns, broad desert valleys, on and out to the northern plains and the oil industry that I am now convinced is run by some AI located in some far of nebulous web portal. There we picked up 20 east bound and raced for home. Kathy had it in her mind to stay somewhere along the way, and return on Monday. But Wilson and I voted her down so off we raced, determined to complete the 12 hour drive in one sitting, which we did, crossing the border into Arkansas in a huff or rain. She called me “Barn Spoiled”, a name I proudly wear, for as much as I have enjoy these meanderings (and there are more to come, up next is MUFON symposium in July), I love my comfortable home where my reading chair and tv couch invite propped up feet and Dr. Pepper, properly chilled.

Dry Sands, Industry and the Road to Old Mexico Pt 2

Be sure to read part 1 Off to Fort Davis and Texas and 3, From Old Mexico to Heaven's Dust and Back Again, below.

The second day of the journey to the McDonald Observatory begins in west Texas, at Midland where my wife, youngest and I gathered our gear and hit I20 west. Though headed for Fort Davis, we decided on a small detour so hit the road around 8 am headed down Mexico way. This day would not end until about 2-3 am, so I will split it into two, as there was so much we saw and did.

It took us a little longer to resupply than expected. Wilson developed a bit of a cold and we needed some mess from the grocery, ice and coffee and the like. Once secured, we scooped up some cheap breakfast at a fast-food joint and ate in the car as we ambled out onto the interstate. We skirted Midland and headed west, passed Odessa and cut south on small Highway 1053.

Midland is an oil town, or so I gathered as we lumbered through it. Everywhere you look there are signs of the industry that drives the entire world. It beggars the imagination. At first your mind begins to take in the pump jacks and electrical poles everywhere, then the collecting tanks, then processing plants, refineries, and the trucks. The trucks constantly moving, hauling gear, huge generators, giant iron boxes called “sandboxes”, mining blades, other vehicles, module offices or homes or whatever those large pods were. All this trucked to industrial complexes spread out over scores of miles. There are small cities too, trailers everywhere. Sometimes a few out in the desert in a fenced lot, at other times scores of them in rows and lines. Long distances lie between some stations, a dozen miles or more of empty desert, and as your mind begins to absorb one, out springs another from the desert hills. One crowds the other with jarring imagery, blurring what was with what is and jumbling the whole epic scene. In many ways its small, all this work and industry, tiny against the vast desert and never ending sky. But too it is immense. The work of men, creating a world all its own that feeds the rest of all of us with the energy we all need. Men, dwarfed by the jumbled world of pipes and valves, towering stacks, tanks of all sizes and metal, metal, and more metal. It beggars the imagination.

Mixed in with all this were the vast windmill farms. Huge, towering structures, holding the horizon in check, pinning the earth to the sky with slow spinning blades so large that they seem unreal.

It was like something out of science fiction story. All we need now are huge harvesters, rolling slowly across the plains…but that lies in Kansas and my next trip to the MUFON Symposium.

1053 rolled south for many miles until we seemed to leave the oil and gas lands and the country became broken desert. Rolling dunes of sand covered by brush and grasses with occasionally, an old adobe house, long abandoned and in ruins, standing as a reminder that once someone tried to cut a life from this harsh world. Buttes began to loom in the distance, whispering promises of the mountains to come. We passed through Fort Stockton, heading for Big Bend National Forest. Kathy wanted to see it and it seemed a good way to kill the hours before the trek to the observatory.

We arrived in the park in the off season. Most of it is closed this time of year. Too hot I suppose. We paid the fee and followed the road down to Panther Junction and then cut off on a small, winding park road that took us deep into the Guadalupe Mountains. We got it in our mind we wanted to see the Rio Grande. It only made sense, weeks before we had headed to Niagara and the Atlantic. The Rio seemed a logical destination.

The mountains here are astounding. They crawled up slowly from the plains north, buttes creeping up on the left and right, the road snaking up grades barely noticeable into plateaus of dry dust, dirt, and rock. The deep, dark earth of southern Arkansas had given way to the red soil of central Texas and now the red soil gave way to dry yellows and browns, hot and baked. Cacti abound here and other hardy grasses and a few shrubs. Hills of jumbled, fractured rock rose all around, some so twisted it looked like the hardened clay of a mad giant’s handiwork. The air matched the soil, and the heat promised more in July and August. I have read a small mountain of books on the early Apache, their way of life and their wars with the Mexicans, Spanish and Americans. They lived and fought from and in these and other mountains like them further west. I could not help but dwell upon the hard life it was and the power of that people then and now. If I closed my eyes I could just him, squatting in the broken rocks of a low bluff, in his breechcloth and long-legged boot like moccasins, the sun beating down on him, wondering what strange vehicle passed through his country.

We at last came to the Rio Grande Village and Campground, but drove on to the Nature Trail in the camp ground itself. We wanted to see this river more than ever for some odd reason so cut up the trail. In short order we stood upon a small bluff at the foot of a larger one, looking at the small, winding Rio Grande and beyond its banks, old Mexico. It was beautiful. And right out of any number of westerns.

Note: I like to say Old Mexico, because in the movie Young Guns, Billy was always saying it and it makes it sound more romantic in the playground of my mind.

The valley we were in, or whatever it was, was immense, with towering hills all around us. It is a hard country here, one I think that it would be difficult to etch a living out of, even if you were raised in it. On the other hand, the towering bluffs, with cliffs of jumbled rock, the scorching sun and wind blasted soil would keep most interlopers out and make for a peaceful living.

Its well worth seeing if you find yourself meandering the southern plains of Texas or northern plains of Old Mexico. An empty country filled with mountains, sky and wind blasted plains.

Be sure to Check out Part 2

Damage is Simple - but I can do Better

Damage in The Game is fairly simple. There is a small range of dice to choose from and most damage delivered by an attack stays within this range. There are five dice; d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12. From a basic perspective, all damage cause by weapons and other attacks can stay within that range without really effecting game play, or at least keeping it within the bounds most people have come to accept or are familiar with. To wit, this is how I will begin assigning damage for weapons in the upcoming Arms and Armor book. 


1d4        Knives, daggers, small clubs

1d6        Maces, axes, spears, polearms,

1d8        Swords, large axes, polearms

1d10      Two handed weapon, large weapons

1d12      Typically reserved for monsters

I have to consider natural weapons as well. By that I mean the claws from a cougar to the claws of a dragon and other things between. There will be simple damage for that as well. Nothing more really need be added to that but, being who I am. I will add to that. 

So, in addition to a simple weapon weapon damage there is to be an advanced weapon damage. The latter is for those who prefer to have a distinction between weapons that is meaningful in game play rather than just an aesthetics of the character. These damages will vary greatly. I will also add multiple dice to the mix, and add or subtract modifiers. Generally the weapon categories remain the same.

1d2 up to +1        

1d3 up to +1       

1d4 up to +2          2d2

1d6 up to +2          2d3

1d8 up to +2          2d4 

1d10 up to +2       

1d12 up to +2        2d6

Finally, some weapons, not all but some will have specific utilities such as disarming, tripping, keeping at bay, reach, bonuses to hitting certain types of armor etc. I am moving costs to silver pieces though converting to gold when necessary.


Saturday, June 04, 2022

Off to Fort Davis and Texas Pt 1

Be sure to read part 2 Dry Sands, Industry and the Road to Old Mexico and 3, From Old Mexico to Heaven's Dust and Back Again, below.

This is the second of hopefully three long drives I’ll take this Summer. My wife, youngest son and I are all headed to the McDonald Observatory to have a gander at some galaxies far far away. It will be a quick trip, day out, day there, day or two back again.

We loaded up and set out on the 12-hour journey to the Observatory about 10 am Friday morning. We had no real destination for the day, just driving until we got tired and found a place to rest. We hoped for 8 hours at least.

Beginnings are always easy; they seem to be more a jumbled chaos of motion, back and forths, more so than actually traveling. Tossing bags in the car, arranging phones, getting water or drinks ready, settling in with this, that or the other. You roll out and the road opens up and you cruise along, dodging traffic and settling down. This trip was no different. We were several hours on and sliding through the south western part of Arkansas before we knew it.

This part of the state is dramatically different than the eastern half, that which you see when you come from Memphis. The flat croplands, so often inundated with standing water give way to a broad belt of forests, with a healthy dose of both pine (loblolly I think) and hardwoods (mostly oak, but a little hickory, sycamore and the like). Western Arkansas is one huge forest with some crop land and grazing acreage throughout. Its rich in deer, boar and all manner of small game. It is amazing how much of the state seems to be slipping back to a primordial time.

This carries on into eastern Texas. You cross the border at Texarcana, and cut into the ever-flattening countryside. These rolling plains of east Texas are a wonder to behold. Gentle hills that rise in slow motions and level out equally as slowly. All green with deep earth, all covered in a haberdashery of trees in pockets and clusters for the forests here have given way to more open space. I like this part of the world. It seems very calm. It seems worthwhile.

I must confess, I prefer the flat open land to hills, mountains and forests. I want to see the sky merge with the earth in some indecipherable moment.

Even as the land flattened out, Dallas loomed into view. This monstrous city sprawls for miles in every direction. We passed down 635 heading to Interstate 20, hoping to bypass the whole mess. It was not to be, as we were soon snarled in traffic that slowed us to a crawl. It reminded me of New York, or New York City, I should say, in that exaggerated southern accent Hollywood enjoys so much. We passed through the edge of the Big Apple not long ago and got snarled in traffic there as well. In both cities, seemingly endless lines of traffic moving with deliberate purpose in both directions and others besides. Dallas and New York City are a bit too crowded for my taste.

Passing out of Dallas we hit the Great Plains, the southern extent of them. Here the land changed, the verdant greens gives way to reddish brown soil and smaller trees, bluffs that rise up from the plain and washes that cut it away. Cottonwoods abound, at least I think they are cottonwoods, smaller trees that grow in the drier clime. These are the trees the buffalo ate during long winter months, or the bark from them leastwise.

Here the sky really opens up and the horizon seems without limit. Clouds in layers pass overhead and the blue sky seems bluer somehow, contrasted perhaps with the rusty, dry dirt. We passed by more windmill farms. I’m no fan of these things. Though I understand the discussion, they break that wonderful horizon, creating a forest of twirling, lazy arms. If I’m to enjoy man made artifacts, I far prefer the pumpjacks, that are everywhere here, many sitting still, but as many slowing rotating their apparatus to pump oil form the earth. Their motion, languid and constant, pleases my mind for some unknown reason. Maybe it’s the smooth, effortless motion, that teases us with the promise of an easier way.

By this time, 8 hours in, we were getting pretty hungry and the beginning was long washed from our minds and the drive become a little onerous. We scouted up a place to eat called Circa 1880, a hole in the wall restaurant in Baird, Texas. An old town with a long main street with covered walks and a host of abandoned store fronts, each with their own unique architecture. An old train station with caboose added to the town that felt as American as Rural Retreat (see entries on previous trip). It was America once again. We plopped down in the dining hall and I ordered a cheeseburger and Kat and Wilson some chicken, fried pickles and cheese rolls or some such. We ate like starving people and I must say that burger’s meat melted in my mouth. It was delicious. No Tatum, but easily a match for the Main Street Tavern up in Ohio (again see posts on previous trips).

Once again, I was struck by how much people were just going about their lives, enjoying their food and work and families, not so concerned with the fall of mankind that the news seems to be plastering on their billboards every day.

We posed in front of a giant Drink Dr Pepper sign and soon after hit the road, pushing for Midland, about a hundred miles further on, and some much needed rest. Kat found us a Fairfield Inn and booked us a room for the night. I love not knowing where I’m going to sleep each night.

To the north the sky darkened, threatening to blot out the setting sun. Sheets of rain began to fall, far in the distance, hazy curtains of gray that dimmed the fading light. Lightening forked down from time to time, or scattered through the dense clouds above to freeze for a second like some child, caught unawares whose extremities freeze and eyes bulge wide before they unleash the fear and flee in frantic haste to nowhere.

Even as we settled into the room, the storm unleashed. Massive winds buffet the tree outside the window and rain comes down in waves. I’ve always loved the rain and storms. It cleanses the day of its toil and promises a new tomorrow.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Compressing Time and Game growth - and maybe not

I wanted this to be about gaming. It turned out not to be the case.

There is a theory about time travel. My personal theory is that we are all time travelers. We all travel into the future every day, every hour, every minute, every second, with every tick of time - whatever that is.... The theory of which I spoke rather refers to the creation of a time machine. The theory suggest that a time machine can be built but, a road for travel has to built to time travel on. The road could only be built into the future, not into the past. However, once the road is created, travel up and down that road becomes possible. 

Meaning that once the time travel machine is created, as one moves forward in time, travel back down that road of time travel into the past along that road would be possible. Traveling back to where there is no road would still be impossible. At some point, as time travel develops and more and more roads come to exist, time ceases to have meaning or only has relative meaning. It's is an interesting concept and not likely to be realized (if ever) in my lifetime. 

Think of time like space. If there are ten people on a football ball field all moving around at the same time, their spatial relationship constantly changes. On any slice of time one can fix their spatial relationship, but as time slices progress that spatial relationship constantly changes. Their time relationship never changes (this is not exactly true as that changes as well depending on gravity - if ever so slightly). Now what if time travel roads existed, one's temporal relationship to one another changes as often as ones spatial relationship. Past, future, and present would quickly lose their meaning, or it would be reinvented. And produce a lot of problems of cause and effect I suppose. 

What the theory posits is that the past is the past is past prior to the invention of said time machine. That past is immutable, unchangeable, and ca not be traveled to. Yet, we all know we travel to the past all day, every day, and every minute of every day. our future course of actions is influenced by our past course of actions. Interestingly here, our conscious or unconscious visitations of the past and not chronologically oriented. The past, for our brain, is a single moment, a flat plane so to speak. All its information and interconnections are positioned in one moment, this moment. There is no past to visit, only a storehouse of information with neural relationships.  

So all this is in response to Stephen's post yesterday. I was trying to make chronological sense of the manner in which our games evolved over the years and was going to post on that. Well, I could not decompress the past and could only create a semblance of a chronology. I was seeking to understand what events led to what outcomes. What were those points in time, those experiences, which led to 'X' game style/preference developing. I can't really say anymore. I can guess but that would be off the mark. The truth is, the brain and memory, working from a single pane simply picked and chose which events to connect to other events to produce 'X' outcome and it did so without relation to time or chronology. 

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Early Dungeons & Dragons, The Dwarven Glory & Me

Time and memory are not equal partners. The former begins where you are now, stretching as far in front of you as you can see and beyond, even beyond your mind's eye. The latter fixes itself to the former, trying to hold on to moments that no longer are and can never be again. Memory tries to recreate time and it does it imperfectly.

Years ago Davis and I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, using the small brown books though I have only the vaguest memory of them. We sat on the floor of our shared room (I had a trundle bed, that rolled under his), and played out scenarios. They were almost all combat in those early days. Go into a room and fight something and mostly die. We didn't have screens or even a table. He made the characters on little sheets of paper and gave them to me. It wasn't until later that I made my own. I would barrel to whatever he had ready. 

These are the original brown books we had. Not sure what the X means,
Davis couldn't remember either, But his notes are scribbled through the books.

This never became an obsession with me. I played with lots of toys in those days. GI Joes, Apache Mountain, farm animals, matchbox cars (I had no time for hot wheels), read comic books and was reading Tarzan and John Carter novels. I had a gang of knuckleheads ... lets see, Jimmy, Chad, Christy, Lizette, Marco, Teresa and a few others that have faded from memory ... that I ran with. D&D was just another thing to do. Though it did push out the wargames. Davis and I had been playing Avalon Hill games and D&D seemed to me much quicker to set up. 

A quick aside: we always flipped my mattress off the trundle bed and set the war games up on the springs of my bed. I don't know where I slept during these games, probably on the floor.

But Davis, who had a paper route and more money than me, was forever buying things. Comics, games and as D&D unfolded, D&D stuff. We went to some really hole in the wall, basement type comic book shops where he bought weird and rare stuff. I have boxes of it, tattered copies of old books and games he bought and used in the woebegone days of the 1970s. 

That's how we ended up with two books that skyrocketed to the top of my favorite list, so much so that when I see them these days I'm a bit overwhelmed with an unanchored nostalgia, related to some mostly forgotten memory that clings to the shreds of yesterme: The Dwarven Glory and The Misty Isles

Both of these books were put out by Wee Warriors Productions. We knew nothing about them and didn't care, they looked just like D&D books so far as we were concerned. They are small, digest sized, saddle stitched with detached fold out maps. They are printed on a parchment type cover stock, brown with black and white covers. The content and production were very raw, good for those days, but the art was something else. The art on these two books is amazing, detailed, equipment and armor and people doing normal but extraordinary things. They are depicted as I saw these fantasy characters, not with grandiose armors and massive weapons hurling themselves through space, but rather as people on the road to adventure with all the encumbrances that requires: armor, pouches and belts, staves and ropes, shields and scabbards. The detail is amazing.

These came to us before the AD&D books I believe. I'm not going to swear to that as memory and all that, but that is what I think. It was sort of the wild west of gaming, we had very little idea of what we were doing or supposed to do. It was all new, on par with skate boards and bell bottoms.

I vaguely remember playing in The Dwarven Glory. I remember something about a really long tunnel with rooms, but more than that I remember the dwarves on the front. This amazingly beautifully articulated scene of three dwarves enjoying the spoils of adventure. There they sit with their mismatched gear, atop a mountain of gold and treasure, in their armor and with weapons drinking from tankards! This captivated me. I stared at this art for hours, soaking in the small details and living the lives of these three dwarves. I'm fairly certain it is what instilled in me a love for dwarves, which I still carry in every game I run or play. It gave them a personality all their own. A love of treasure, but one possessed not of greed. They were not comedic, but were filled with mirth. They were strong, but not dour. The perfect combo. And if you look at dwarves today, in my own world of Aihrde, you cannot help but see these three dwarves, if it pleases you.

The Misty Isles is different. I remember it more. Traveling between islands encountering weird and wild stuff. This is where Kain first entered the fray. Kain the Godless was his eventual name. But at first level he was just Kain. He started way back then, adventuring on the floor of our room. There was no world yet, that was forming for Davis, just adventures and scenarios. Kain plundered the isles. What epic battles I fought and won or lost I cannot say, but I do remember taking a machine pistol off of one dead dude, and three bullets. 

Gaming in the '70s was wild and untethered to preconceived notions, so the gun made as much sense as a fire ball. These were in the high days of Ralph Bakshi and his movie Wizards was on everyone's mind. Fantasy had not completely left the genre of sci fi, and it was all just a bundle of 'what ifs." Its hard to explain those days. There was no real genre marketing, Tolkien was only just being rediscovered, and the lines were wonderfully blurred and anything went. Just watch Wizards, and you'll get an idea of what I'm on about.

Notice the elf with a rifle.

Aside: Kain was my favorite and highest level character. He made it to 18th level the last time Davis and I played. He was chaotic evil, a fighter and carried a +5 vorporal blade in the end. I loved that guy and all the mayhem he caused to Davis' scribbled notes.

The Wee Warrior stuff is rough, patched together dungeons that have only the vaguest back story and content but more than enough to start plundering those misty isles for dwarven and other glory. The company did not survive however. AD&D started releasing about this time and Davis scooped up the books as they came out, as everyone did, and the game changed and moved on. Davis began developing his own dungeons and scenarios and eventually world and the battered copies of The Dwarven Glory and The Misty Isles got tossed in a box and sat there for decades. But the memory of them remains with me still and conjures the shades of past glories where I conquered alone and plundered as desired - lost now to all but a remembrance that desperately seeks to hold time in place.

Post Script: In later years, Kain ran afoul of a god from the Deities and Demigods from TSR. It was none other than Arioch (Davis's copy had the Melibonean gods in it). I remember this particular encounter very well. He was my patron, but being far less couth than Elric, I mouthed off at him. I could see another death in Davis' eyes so I pulled out my secret weapon, stolen so long ago and hidden in the meandered scribbles of my character sheet: my machine pistol and three bullets. I opened up on Aricho, firing a burst of three bullets at the Knight of the Sword. It gets blurry after that, my memory, but I do know I had to resurrect Kain in the next session.

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