Monday, December 30, 2013

Gygax Magazine Issue #3 Review

After receiving issue #3 of Gygax magazine I decided I must dust off this old tome of a blog. Between work, raising kids and running several active RPG campaigns I’m a busy guy. That said I enjoy Gygax magazine so much I felt compelled to write a review in support of it.

Back when the magazine was first announced I immediately jumped on board. Just the thought of having a real RPG magazine to thumb through again was exciting to me. Back in 1983 when I was a fledgling gamer obtaining an issue of Dragon magazine was like unearthing a great mythical treasure. 

When Dragon magazine (and its sister Dungeon) went digital copy only it was a blow to the hobby. For me the tactile nature of the publication was part of its charm and allure. It was akin to feeling dice in your hands or that worn lucky pencil which has seen you through several harrowing adventures. That void has been filled with a the magical Gygax magazine and I must say improved upon.

Gygax magazine issue #3 arrived with a wonderful piece of cover art by the legendary Clyde Caldwell.  What a fantastic way to proclaim the arrival of this third issue of RPG goodness. Caldwell’s art has graced the works of Dungeons & Dragons for years and just draws up nostalgia immediately. 

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the magazine is articles crossing multiple RPG systems. I absolutely love that Gygax magazine is brave enough to do this. The market is saturated in role playing games and everyone has an old or new favorite. Having a publication which is not afraid to go down many paths will have my subscription forever.

As a GM of thirty years I love looking at different systems and game designs. In fact some of my best inspirations over the years have been obtained from glancing over other games. Additionally being exposed to other systems could introduce a reader to a game that they never knew even existed.

To the right is an example of the contents page of issue #3 just so you can see the vast myriad of articles spanning multiple game systems.

My favorite part of the issue without a doubt is The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat’uul by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and Benoist PoirĂ©. No sooner than opening the map and reading the background was I warped back to my earliest days of gaming. 

After thirty years of various iterations of the D&D game and hundreds of sessions, reading The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat’uul was like riding an old bike. Everything from the style of writing, presentation and awesome artwork of Jim Holloway – this is a gem. What a great adventure which has all the best aspects of the old school but is polished enough for the new school. 

I can hardly wait for the module HSD1 – THE HOBBY SHOP DUNGEON, to be published by TSR in late 2014. I think the best thing about Gygax magazine is it has created another chance for new gamers to discover the hobby.  Just seeing my 7 year old son pick up the magazine randomly one day and ask relentless questions about it is proof positive.

Classic Holloway Art
In the future when people have “unplug” parties and there is a renaissance to have real social interaction we can all chuckle. But in order to make the chuckle come from the heart we need to do our best to pass table top gaming on to the next generation. That includes supporting this wonderful publication known as Gygax Magazine. I feel so inspired I plan to write an article in the future (or two) and submit them!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Save vs. Stereotype

I loathe stereotypes of any kind. This holds especially true if they relate to anyone’s hobby. RPGs have been battered and beaten over the years by all sorts of stereotypes. Titles such as  geek, basement dweller, nerd, and other unsavory and unfair handles. I have always argued against this sort of behavior especially when it pertains to my favorite past time.

June 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of my campaign world Ultanya. That is an accomplishment that still has not really hit me yet. This is a world that 37 real people have adventured in and shared their imagination with over the years. Military veterans, IT professionals, bartenders, college professors, medical professionals, mechanics, construction professionals, etc. 

When I take a step back and look at the vast array of amazing people that have gathered around my gaming table it’s truly awesome. There is no “box” that they fit in as everyone of them is a unique person. Quite honestly I think anyone would be hard pressed to even guess any of us were such stalwart RPG junkies. Even to this day the ignorant of the world seem shocked when they learn that I not only play D&D but proudly Dungeon Master it.

Fun time if you give it a try
Social Media has done wonders for the RPG world in demystifying the stereotypes. That said TV media still takes cheap shots at the hobby. I was excited to see the cast members of the Big Bang Theory playing D&D until they suggested that girls do not. I’m not sure about other groups but ours currently has two very active female players. My very first experiences in gaming were with my cousin since she had all the basic sets already. I find it absurd that female gamer stereotypes (in popular media) suggest they are only there because they were somehow forced to be. I hate to break it to the naysayers but girls have great imaginations and play games too.

Sure the RPG and War Game tables have been primarily male dominated over the years. And yes there is beer drinking, random poop jokes and other occasional crude behavior. But again the modern female is not June Cleaver and can hang with the boy’s just fine. In fact I prefer the diversity at the gaming table and the varied perspectives on story and imagination. 

Stereotypes are everywhere and unfortunately still plague the RPG world. Sure there are socially awkward people who play RPGs just as there are socially popular people who play. To cast a wide net on any hobby based on inaccurate observations is doing everyone a disservice. My favorite thing to do when I meet someone being snarky about D&D is to invite them to a game. What’s the old adage, “don’t knock it until you try it?” And hey you never know…you may just like it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Polyhedral Sacred Cow

Polyhedral dice are the sacred cow of the RPG universe. Although I remain a huge fan of Kickstarter and all the fun ideas which emerge from it I have my limits. Between dice rolling apps, jewelry and digital bracers I felt compelled to write this. Although all the former are interesting nothing will ever replace gaming dice. There is no substitute for the clack they make when striking the table!

As a young boy I will never forget my first set of dice from the D&D boxed sets. Some were baby blue, puke green, bright orange or yellow. I had to fill in the numbers with a crayon and it was so much fun. The idea that the dice were shaped like semi-precious or rare gemstones was mysterious and cool. Soon I would find my way to the hobby shop to be awed by the endless sea of colors and choices. And just as some small children collected marbles my dice collection started.

I remember very fondly one summer when the D100 (Zocchihedron) was released. Our little gaming club raced to the hobby shop just so we could all claim one for our collections. Dice have been used in gaming for thousands of years and really are a timeless tool. There is just something about the randomness and tactical nature of holding and casting the dice.

Artifacts of the 80s
The polyhedral sets are so unique to the RPG experience I just cannot imagine not using them. My young son already has a small collection which I have used to sharpen his math skills. I see the excitement in his eyes I once had when we visit the hobby shop together. That curiosity and wonderment is something you will never capture with an app on your IPAD.

I work in technology every day and dice are one of those things I would never replace. Although I may be accused of being a Grognard by the next generation I will never waver. All new gamers should have multiple sets of dice to collect and use with their favorite RPG. Keep playing and keep rolling those dice!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Adventurer's Mascot

Raccoon of Awesomeness +1
My neighbor runs an animal shelter and always has all sorts of amazing little critters around. Today she walked over to show our kids a baby raccoon which was found abandoned. It was only two weeks old and still had not opened its eyes yet. Perhaps the most amazing thing was how harmless and cute the little guy was. The kids were fascinated with it and wanted to hold it (did not happen because daddy cannot cast remove disease) and help it in any way they could.

Almost immediately the idea of animal companions popped into mind. Over the years there have been plenty of rangers and druids around the table. Add to those wizards with a plethora of summoned familiars.  The one thing they have always had in common is the companion or familiar became nothing more than an add on. Even in most online games they are very helpful in the early stages and then become something that just follows you around. My wife’s creature handler in Star Wars Galaxies may disagree but even the Rancor pet stunk.

This blog entry however is less about game mechanics and more about flavor. Making our furry or scaly friend more fearsome is really the purview of the GM. It remains very campaign and game system dependent because of balance issues. The last thing any new adventuring party needs is an animal companion which tanks better than the party fighter.

So what would happen if for example the party found a baby owlbear and raised it? This being completely independent of any class ability. What if this owlbear became an NPC which was similar to the party dog? I really like the idea of the group having a joint animal companion which grows with them. It creates a familiar bond and mechanically all the players could take turns controlling it. And in the event of a disabled PC there is still something for that player do in the short term.

But perhaps most important of all its something the players and their PC’s have accomplished together. They have raised this ferocious beast which is outlawed and normally hunted and now call it friend. The role playing opportunities are abound and there is plenty of adventuring hooks. Imagine if their owlbear became lost, captured or ill and needed a special poultice created to heal its wound. Maybe the Owlbear comes of age and heads out to start its own family. Now the PC’s have a whole litter of cubs and even bigger problems!

I think a party animal companion solves the problem of the beastie being completely over shadowed by the PCs. With a full party of players interacting, looking out for or even running it as an NPC it will come alive. Old Yeller the Owlbear may make it all the way to Epic level in the right campaign. So next time you are looking for something new for your players to loot add a fantastical baby creature. It could generate endless adventures or hairballs depending on your mood!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Raise the Dead

I have not blogged in what seems an age but for good reason. Most blogs which fail their save versus death are the result of work, family and just life in general. I obviously fall into this category since my blog is covered in the dust of the ancients. 

This summer our local circle of gamers (several dozen of us) will be running our 2nd private CON. It will be a story driven event which combines over three decades of my campaign world. That alone has virtually gobbled up my time just in preparation for the event. However I was able to cobble together an entry for the One Page Dungeon Contest which you will find below. I decided to go with a wacky idea I had years ago which I also submitted to Dungeon Magazine. 

Of course I received a rejection letter which stated my ideas were too outlandish for Dungeon. I was basically told by the editor that they wanted more vanilla adventures which could be inserted into any campaign world. I live outside the box so that of course left me with a raised eyebrow. Alas, was it Asimov who had his apartment walls covered in rejection letters? I often think of that as inspiration. Nevertheless below is a very condensed version of the original idea:

I was going for an old school feel with my blue map and title play on words. The adventure has to be system neutral hence the lack of mechanical information. I just found out this year about the contest and Alex Schroeder, et al deserve a big salute for putting it together. 

In other news a friend of mine and regular in our gaming group, Daniel Ireland went to Reapercon and scored a Bronze Medal for his entry. I just wanted to give him some extra kudos because I know how hard he worked on this miniature (the picture does it no justice).

The miniature is based on one of the characters in our epic 4E campaign known as Grimm.