Tuesday, March 31, 2009

100 RPGs to Try Before you Die

The good folks over at gamesinfodepot.com have put up a very nifty "100 Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games You Should Play Before You Die" list on their site. It's very nice, broken out into different categories, and includes a whole bunch of games I've never even heard of before. There's actually a post-apocalyptic role-playing-game where you play a mutant cockroach? Sweet gorilla of Manilla!

Some of the descriptions are rather perfunctory, and others are downright brief to the point of being dismissive (c.f. the entry for Gamma World, which states rather snarkily, "You fight mutants instead of orcs."). (Which brings up the inevitable question, why Gamma World rather than Metamorphosis: Alpha?) And for some incomprehensible reason, they chose to link a post from this blog to the entry on Hackmaster, rather than the actual Hackmaster site. Much as I appreciate the compliment, it's a bit bizarre (unless, as the cynical side of me keeps insisting, it's just a gimmick to get more traffic on their own site, but I must keep a better opinion of humanity, or so I keep telling myself), but certainly welcome. Perhaps they simply had too many links to Kenzer games already, and needed something else for variety.

For all my silliness, it's really a great list (they give much-deserved recognition to 2300 AD, my own current favorite scifi RPG), and well worth the time to check it out. I will definitely try to peruse some of the lesser-known items thereupon myself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage March Release Now Available!

Ah, the end of another month approaches, and so I have the pleasure to present the next installment of my Castle of the Mad Archmage project; Level 4, "The Lower Dungeons".

This one is actually a smaller download this time, despite having more pages, oweing to the fact that the hand-drawn maps for levels 2 and 3 have been replaced with the "classic blue" maps done by the talented Joe "Jaerdaph" Bardales. His maps are much smaller than my scans, so the overall file size is smaller. The maps for Level 4 itself are still the hand-drawn versions, and I think that's how we'll keep it for the time being. The new maps will be the hand-drawn scans, which will be replaced in the following release by the classic blue versions. That allows those folks who prefer the hand-drawn maps to have access to them (print 'em out and put 'em in a binder, perhaps), while those who prefer the classic blue only have to wait a month. Once the poster map is done, though, I'll put it up here without delay. My apologies if having two types of maps in a single product is jarring; logistically this is the best, methinks.

This level was challenging in a variety of ways. It's very different in nature than the first two, in that it is a "live" level, with the vast majority actively controlled by various factions with the exception of a couple areas in the periphery. Explorers are very likely to get swept up by one of the four factions and pressed into service in the Arena; I hope that nature of the level came through in the text. I was also struck by a horrendous case of writer's block; it wasn't until I came on the idea of having the Arena still in use that it all snapped together. Once I had that epiphany, it all pretty much wrote itself. I'm particularly fond of the new monster-- the earwig-- although it doesn't exactly have a prominent role in the level.

I hope you all enjoy this latest installment. Now on to Level 5, The Deeps (after a brief pause for another project which will be coming soon)!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage Poster Maps

Given that the next release of the Castle of the Mad Archmage will be happening in the next few days, I thought I would treat you to some of the extraordinary mapping work that the extremely talented Joe "Jaerdaph" Bardales has kindly consented to contribute to the project. He is producing the "classic blue" maps that will now be found in the WG13 pdf modules, but in addition he has created poster-sized maps of levels 2 and 3; amalgamations of the hand-drawn maps that I created and he re-drew electronically.

So here, to whet your appetites for what is about to come, are levels 2 and 3 of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, in poster format. Click on the thumbnail to get the large version.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Specialty Products of the Flanaess, Part I

It's always nice to give a little "local color" when describing particular items. When the characters are served a drink at the Inn, it's always more fun to say its Celene ruby wine or Aged Special Urnst brandy, rather than just "ale" or "fine mead". The same goes for other things as well; certain lands are noted for certain products, and by dropping such names in descriptions, the DM can add a little bit of campaign flavor with minimal fuss. With that in mind, I give you some notable products from different lands and regions of the Flanaess. Use these to liven up your merchant caravans, taverns, treasure hoards, and marketplaces. Compared to local fare, these items might command 2x or even 4x the value, just by virtue of their reputation and rarity. Some of this comes from module T1 "The Village of Hommlet" while the rest comes from p. 45 of the "Guide to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting", which details what nations have what notable exports in a general sense; I've filled in the details, with, of course, a lot of poetic license...
  • Keolish Golden Wine
  • Urnst White Wine
  • Celene Ruby Wine
  • Sundish Lilac Wine
  • Furyondian Pale Emerald Wine. Pressed from the grapes that grow on the endless gentle rolling hills in central Furyondy, this light-green-hued wine is famed for its gentle fruity flavor.
  • Velunian Fireamber Wine. A white wine, fortified with a reddish distilled liquor which gives it its famous hue and firey flavor.
  • Keoish Brandy.
  • Aged Special Urnst Brandy.
  • Ulek Elixir Liqueur.
  • Medegian Tartan. This is popular in the various provinces of the Great Kingdom; each pattern is representative of a particular Aerdy clan.
  • Sulwardian Fine Teak. Largely a misnomer; the huge logs are brought from Hepmonaland and processed in Sulward (in the Lordship of the Isles), and exported thence to the rest of the Flanaess.
  • Hoolish Wild Rice. Grown in the large slave-labored plantations in the Hold of the Sea Princes. it originated in the marshes, but its cultivation has since spread throughout the land.
  • Ulek embroidery. This is especially very popular with elves in various locales in the Flanaess.
  • Traskish Chequered Cloth (from the towns and villages along the Trask river in North Province). This cloth is also popular with the various Oeridian folk in the Flanaess, particularly those in the eastern half of the continent.
  • Crystal River Cheques (from the local folk along the Crystal River in Furyondy). The Crystal River patterns are often held in heated rivalry with those of the Trask, with the former dominating the western Flanaess and the latter the eastern. Prices adjust accordingly, as the one is more rare in the other's dominant market.
  • Franzish Linen. Both the County of Urnst and the Kingdom of Nyrond hold this to be the best of their fabrics, and there is a friendly rivalry between the growers on either side of the Franz River as to who produces the finest and most luxurious cloth.
  • Pomarj Black Wine. Tough purple-black vines cover some of the sunny hillsides of the Pomarj, whose grapes are turned into a highly alcoholic wine highly prized in some quarters.
  • Tenha Beef. The cattle of the Duchy of Tenh are prized for their subtle flavor and exquisite texture. The Palish also export identical meat, but it is known by the general name "Tenha Beef" (much to the chagrin of the Theocrats, who once tried to market their own cattle as "Lightbearing beef" to general derision and no real effect).
  • Bisselian Angora. The cultivation of the long-haired angora rabbit (from whose soft hair the angora fabric is spun) is commonplace in Bissel, the creatures originally imported from the Baklunish lands. They are found throughout the Flanaess, but nowhere as common as Bissel.
This list is, obviously, not exhaustive. In fact, a sequel might be in the offing on this very blog in the not too distant future.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Minifigs Pics

A bunch more of those Minifigs World of Greyhawk miniatures have been on eBay lately, so I was able to add a lot more photos to my annotated listing here. The Steadfast Pike, the Overking's Elite Guard Cavalry, and more. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best... Protest sign... evar

Not to throw in a political or religious post, but when I saw this I just had to share. Turns out this girl was part of an anti-Westboro Baptist Church protest. They're the same folks who wave the "God hates fags" signs at soldiers' funerals and other lunacy.

If you can't bury them alive with scorpions in their mouths, mockery is, I suppose, the next best response.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Throw Down My Half-Assed Glops and Scratches

Warning to my hothouse flowers. This post has Teh Swears.

Apparently, James Raggi over at LotFP has a bug up his ass about some of us in the RPG blogging community. Apparently, we've been Doing It Wrong, and James has kindly condescended to set us on the straight and narrow path. Behold the words of The Great Raggi:
I've glanced at a lot of people's projects that are happening on the web so far. And it seems that the scratches they're throwing online are it. Not a first step in development, not a statement of intent, just glops thrown out half-assed (it doesn't matter how big it is if it's just a sketch and some notes) and accolades taken in.

I don't care. They're not finished.
Perhaps I am being somewhat presumptuous, but I can't help but think that The Great Raggi has taken a peek at my own efforts and is lumping them in with those of Amityville Mike and the forthcoming project of James Maliszewski (which apparently was the impetus for The Great Raggi's post in the first place) as the object of his wrath. (Apologies if I'm overlooking anybody's projects; it's an exciting time for such things. EDIT: I just realized I forgot Sham's excellent "Dismal Depths" megadungeon!) And he apparently doesn't like the fact that (at least in the case of what Mike and myself have done, and from the descriptions we have, James will be doing), we are presenting our works a bit at a time, in easy-to-digest chunks. How dare we! Proper modules should spring forth from the brow of Zeus fully-formed, with all the levels in place and every page to be had.

Except, of course, that doing so would essentially mean telling folks, "Hey! I'm working on this great megadungeon project. But you can't see it. It's not done yet. Come back in a year." But what, exactly, is wrong with seeing things in pieces? You play so much that you can't wait a month for the next level? More power to you. And that's even assuming that such a project would ever truly be considered done. Gygax's original Castle Greyhawk wasn't. Ever. At any given time there were at least two levels being worked on, expanded, or added. So... work on that dungeon forever, but don't you dare publish it in partial form, because...
They're not finished.
Heavens, what heresy TSR committed back in the day by publishing D1, D2, and D3 as separate modules. And all those encounter areas in the Depths of the Earth unkeyed! That's not finished! Therein lies Problem The First, in the eyes of The Great Raggi.

The Great Raggi continues...
If the Old School Renaissance is going to amount to little more than rules clones, limited-scope "single quest" or "dungeon bash" adventure modules, and pdf-only huge maps with scarcely any detail... what's the point?
Problem The Second; we aren't putting enough detail in our unfinished dungeons, damnit! Huge maps demand huge encounter keys! Paragraph upon paragraph of rules embedded in stat blocks; what, is the DM supposed to actually crack open a Monster Manual during play!? What the hell are we thinking!? And how, just how is anyone supposed to run a game if the complete motivation of every single monster in the dungeon isn't laid out, the complete inner workings of the rivalries between groups, notes for every contingency in a trap spelled out in excrutiating detail? What if the player's poke at a covered pit trap with a 10' pole!? "YOU HAVEN'T TOLD ME WHAT TO DO", seems to go the lament! After all, there's "scarcely any detail" for the DM to use.

Except, of course, that that is the entire POINT of this sort of module; recreating a minimalist style that encourages-- nay, demands-- the DM become actively engaged in the creative process himself. The notes don't say what the relationship between the wererat and the hobgoblins is? Make it up your own damn self, assmunch! The players are poking around in the empty room and there's no paragraph of text to tell you how many chewed up bones are in the corner? Roll the first die that hits your hand or just make it up! That's what old-school DMs do. If you want to be hand-held through every possibility, and need someone else to "do your imagining for you" and give you exhaustive detail for everything, I hear there's a great game that just came out just for you. It's called 4th Edition.

But The Great Raggi continues, and informs of of the wants, needs, and desires deep in his "secret place"...
I want books. Actual, in my hands books, that people have put their heart into and maybe believed and invested in a little bit so they aren't just thrown up on Lulu at no risk while some third party makes any profit there is to be made. There are things out there that are good, are ready, but they just sit on a website.

Call me old fashioned (I love hearing that from people deep in the "old school") but I believe things that are only online don't count for shit and might as well not exist in the end. (does anybody else here back up their blog content in case Blogspot or whoever is hosting your individual blog has an "oops" or a complaint and wipes your shit out?) I consider this blogging exercise one of communication and idea-exchanging, perhaps a way to test some concepts out before moving forward, not in anyway useful for actual content.

...

I want books that can inform my overall game, not just adventures that take up a session or three. I want things that will survive the current fad of "retro gaming," no matter if it goes on to its previous oblivion or becomes corrupted by eventual commercial success. I certainly don't want a notebook full of net printouts. I certainly don't want POD jobs (whose companies double-dip, as you know the starting print price includes a cut for them, plus they take a cut of every sale...) from people who take so much pride in community participation that they treat shit submissions with the same respect as magnificent ones (I'm seeing that sort of attitude in some quarters).
Problem The Third: we aren't sending people stuff in the mail, personally, from the big pile of boxes in our garage. We're either lazy fucks, or Selling Out to Capitalist Pigs, or something...

We have committed a further sacrilege; we have incurred no risk! Fiends that we are, we have not put forth any of our hard-earned lucre where our proverbial mouths are, and simply vomited forth whatever hackery came forth from our monkeys-banging-on-keyboards design process and expected folks to just come along and download it. For free. What were we thinking!? And woe betide the person who resorts to print-on-demand! Such evil witchery will doubtless earn us a place on the stake when the Old School Inquisition visits our far-too-humble abodes. Real Designers don't just invest time into their work-- thou fool!!-- they invest a token amount of money into printing it out themselves, and then pour their heart and soul into the visceral act of stuffing envelopes and schlepping said envelopes to the local post office. Because print-on-demand services aren't really a way for self-publishers to take their work to the masses efficiently; they are the tool of Asmodeus, the Demon Prince of Capitalism, and must be evil because they dare to make a profit on the hard work of others. Infamnia! Taking the time to hand-write an address on a Tyvek envelope is vital to the act of connecting with your readers! Take heart that each and every one of them will know that you care. All twenty of them, but it's not numbers that count, but heart.

Except, of course, that this working-class-hero bullshit is just that. I could easily print out a bunch of copies of Castle of the Mad Archmage at my local Staples, and mail them to folks who send me a couple of bucks. But what the fuck would anyone gain out of that? Do you really think that anyone who wants a hard copy of my module, or Mike's, or anyone else's, can't slap it onto a USB drive, hie their asses over to Staples themselves, and get a very nice copy printed out on 17"x11", saddle-stitched, with a cardstock cover into the bargain for less than it would cost for me to send it to them, if you factor in the shipping? Is there some magic about the fact that I am doing the printing and the stapling, rather than you? Unless we're talking 3-color printing, or a hardcover book (and you can get those on POD sites, too), this is such a strawman that it's hard to even knock it down without wondering why everyone doesn't realize the fact. And guess what? Some people actually prefer to read things on a computer. *GASP!*

You want "actual, in your hands books"? Print it out your own fucking self, James. You want something "that people have put their heart into and maybe believed and invested in a little bit"? Buy a Bible.

And, finally, The Great Raggi gives us a parting piece of advice...
But to do that, we need to give people (at least the option for) things that they can use at their table, things they can read sitting on the can, or on the bus, and not things that require them to be in front of their frickin computer all the damn time.
It's called a printer, fucktard. Buy one. Until then, feel free to do yourself the favor of not downloading those half-assed glops and scratches that I have heedlessly thrown down. They're obviously not meant for you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Next-to-the-Top 10 Genre Films

Inspired by the recent spate of "top ten monsters" posts around the blogs, I thought I might post one of my own. Being a contrarian by nature, however, I decided that I'd take a stab at listing my favorite genre films (which includes science fiction, fantasy, and horror). Some of these have had an overt influence on my gaming over the years, but most have not. I was originally going to post a top ten list, but in compiling it, I discovered that all the Usual Suspects* were there, and that what I had to say about them had been said a million times before. So here I present my top genre films of all time, numbers 11-20, which I think are actually a more interesting and varied list than the top ten.

20. Rollerball. This is perhaps one of the most thoughtful social-commentary science fiction films ever made, and yet the brains were mostly overlooked because of the spectacle of the violent game itself. The idea that the nations of the world are bankrupt and no more, and the planet is run solely by a group of large corporations (Food, Energy, Communications, Transportation, Luxury, etc.) is a powerful one, and one which could have some bearing on contemporary events, come to think of it. The social implications of such a world order are artfully explored here, from the naming conventions (executives are always addressed as "Mr.", while non-execs only seem to have a first name, with the sole exception being "Jonathan E.", who exists in his own in-between world, above the level of the common proles by virtue of his skill at Rollerball, while still under the thumb of the executive class, one of whom took Jonathan's wife from him) to the fact that knowledge itself is under assault because the executives don't care about anything except running their businesses. "Poor old thirteenth century" indeed.

19. Forbidden Planet. One of the all-time classics of the genre, and one of the early "serious" science fiction films, plus the one that introduces Robby the Robot (who would then go on to appear in dozens of science fiction movies and TV shows, including the original Twilight Zone and Lost in Space), plus Leslie Neilson in a wonderful non-comedic role. Even setting aside the special effects (which still stand up pretty well even today) and the very fetching eye candy (Anne Francis with a habit of not wearing a whole helluva lot), this film has a very important theme at its core. No matter how sophisticated we become, no matter how urbane and rational on the outside, deep within our cores we are still animals, with the passions and needs of animals. In the case of the Krell, they had forgotten this simple truth, to their doom.

18. Beneath the Planet of the Apes. This is actually my favorite of all the 'Apes films, probably because it seems to me to be the most science-fictiony. What strikes me is that the natural reaction of the mutants beneath the ruins of New York should be to see the astronauts from the past (Brent and Taylor) as allies. After all, they've all got a mutual enemy in the apes, and even if the astronauts don't have the mental powers of the mutants, they're still fellow humans, right? WRONG! The mutants treat Taylor and Brent as completely inferior, no better than the feral humans who populate the land and raid the apes' crops. They aren't "Children of the Bomb", so they're not worth dealing with on any sort of an equal basis. For all their veneer of civility, the mutants are just as haughtily unconcerned with humans as the apes are. That realization comes as a punch to the gut that the nightmare just won't get any better-- you think you've found some allies? Oh, boy, did you think wrong...

17. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. I am a sucker for these Ray Harrihausen movies, and this is my pick of the litter. It edges out Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger only because I think Prince Kura (played by Tom Baker of Dr. Who fame) is a stronger villain than Queen Zenobia, and so often these sorts of films are defined by their bad-guy. This one doesn't have any subtle meaning or deeper purpose; it's flat-out adventure and a showcase for amazing stop-motion photography. I can't help but think that this would have made a great adventure module, perhaps for Al Qadim. The quest, complete with puzzles to be solved, the monsters, some controlled by the villain and others a danger for both sides, and of course the great treasures to be won at the end. Textbook.

16. Westworld. I am not, as a rule, a fan of Michael Creighton. As a technophile myself, I find his attitude of scare-mongering about every possible technological advance to be not only tedious but downright dangerous. However, this is a terrific movie, and a terrific concept. An immersive amusement park with period role-playing for adults? I am so there. (And for the record, put me down for Medieval World, with Roman World a close second.) Between this and Dream Park, my head still swims with the possibilities. I think I like the first half of the film better, when the park is actually running as it should, and we not only see it from the POV of the guests, but also the behind-the-scenes action when the park closes down at night and the robots are taken underground to be repaired and otherwise fixed up. The last part of the movie, when the robots go on an unexplained killing spree, is less cool in my estimation, but it's a fair treatment of the "humanity wins because the human spirit is unbowed" theme. It also has, as far as I know, one of the earliest "he's-not-dead-yet" endings, which we see used to such great effect in Friday the 13th and The Terminator. Skip the entirely dreadful sequel, Futureworld, though.

15. The Incredibles. I'm not quite an Objectivist, but boy do I agree with the main point of this movie. If people aren't allowed to excel using their innate talents, then the world is doomed to banal mediocrity. Or, as the film's villain puts is oh-so-well; "Because when everybody's super... nobody will be." It is the story of the straining of the super-able against the constraints imposed upon them by the world at large. They are not content to simply keep their heads down and conform. Even among the supers we never see, we are told by inference that they all jump at the chance to use their powers once again and help defeat Syndrome's robot (of course, they didn't know it was a trick and a trap, but that's not the point; they still agreed to go). Dash, the super-speedy pre-teen, is the voice of that theme; he chafes at not being allowed to go out for the track team, even if he promises to "only win by a little". At the end, though, the supers come through and the populace seems to finally have gotten over their fear and need to constrain them, so there's a happy ending.

14. Soylent Green. Looked at purely in terms of story, this is a pretty straightforward police-detective story, with the twist revealing a corporate conspiracy to deceive the public. But neither the story nor the characters are what shine in this film; it is the setting itself. The unimaginably crowded city of New York (which has grown so much that it has completely overwhelmed New Jersey and now shares a border with Philadelphia!) and the exquisitely-crafted vision of a planet in the final throws of an ecological and economic crisis. Unemployment is the norm, greenhouse effect warming is in full effect (a rarity, considering this was made in the early 1970's, way before the global warming scare, and indeed at a time when the same folks now complaining about warming were worried about global cooling!), food is rationed for the masses and even barely available for the topmost echelons of society (a former member of the board of directors of the largest corporation in the world can barely get a piece of what we would consider raggedy beef) and assisted suicide is free and tacitly encouraged. The whole effect bears down with an oppressive feel, and that is the point. The viewer feels tired at the end, weary in the way the inhabitants of this world must feel. Once the terrible secret is revealed, nobody in the church really seems to care all that much, and you get the impression that "going home" is about the only thing left to do.

13. Halloween. This is one of the scariest damn movies ever made, and one of the least gory. It's a very Hitchcockian piece of work; you, the audience, know that Michael Meyers is out there, in the stolen station wagon and in his old house, but WHY DON'T ANY OF THE PEOPLE SEEM TO NOTICE!? Can't they hear that terrifically spooky music playing in the background? They're just going about their ordinary, hum-drum lives. Going to school. Babysitting. Watching scary movies on TV. Trick-or-treating. Pumpkin carving. Unprotected underage sex. Normal everyday stuff. The film does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, keeping you going because you know something is going to happen and you just don't know exactly when it's going to happen. And then their normality is shattered, particularly that of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), when a psychotic killing machine shows up apparently at random. They make an attempt to tie Michael and Laurie closer together in the sequel, but it's both unconvincing and unnecessary; I think the random angle makes him all the scarier, because it could happen to you even if you aren't the long-lost sister of a psycho. The fact that the grown-ups are either Keystone Kops-level incompetents (like the sheriff) or actively refuse to help (the house that Laurie goes to after Michael takes his first stab at killing her (pun intended) turns their lights out when she bangs on the door).

12. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddie Krueger is one of the great villain characters of all time. He's completely unstoppable in a supernatural sense, but never just goes ahead and kills his victims. He takes the time to make elaborate set-ups specifically to maximize the terror of his victims. That his attacks all occur during the one time our species is both absolutely helpless and absolutely cannot avoid-- sleep-- makes him all the more horrific. His penchant for pithy one-liners adds a dimension of humor to the character that is absolutely essential. A Freddy without the comedic undertones (but which deftly avoids straight-out comedy, at least in the first film) would be a much less interesting character, perhaps critically so. The teenagers that do populate the film are only there for the slaughter; no amount of heroism on their part will save the day (unlike in Halloween, where Laurie is able to fight off Michael). The shock ending of the film, which reveals the dream-within-a-dream recursive presumably to infinity, demonstrates that Freddy always gets the last laugh.

11. Alien. Perhaps one of the more obvious selections on the list, this is still a film I will stop channel-surfing for and watch all the way through. It's a sort of "anti-Star Trek"; everything is grimy and worn, only the most tight-assed crewman even bothers to wear a uniform (and even that turns out to be a subtle cue that something-ain't-quite-right-with-Ash). Volumes have been written on just how cool the alien itself is, and how effective the technique of never actually showing the beast except in the briefest, shadow-gloomed glimpses. It's a very Lovecraftian way of approaching things, leaving the rest to the imagination, which will always-- always-- be worse than anything you could possibly show on the screen. As the crew of the Nostromo gets picked off one by one, you really feel the loss, because the characters are so well-written. Every piece of dialog is packed with meaning and character; whether its as foreshadowing or simply to engender empathy. I personally find the "director's cut" to be somewhat lessened in its effect than the theatrical release, and so, apparently, does Ridley Scott. If you have a chance to choose when watching the DVD, skip the director's cut.



* For the record, the top ten were, in reverse order, The Terminator, Spiderman 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aliens, Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, LotR: The Two Towers, The Matrix, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Ho-hum.

Has It Been A Year Already?

It hardly seems so.

It's a truism to say that I owe Gary Gyax many thousands of hours of fun. If it wasn't for him, and the game he created, my life would definitely have been the poorer. He and I traded emails off and on, and posts on message boards, but I did meet him a couple of times at gaming conventions. I think the best way to remember him is to, well, remember him.

I think it must have been GenCon 16 or so, and I saw Gary at one of the bars in the hotel I was staying at. This particular bar offered yards of beer, and I scraped up what little money I had left after hitting the dealer's room for 2 days straight, and bought Gary a half-yard of "whatever your best beer is" (I was underage at the time, and had to convince the bartender that it wasn't for me, but rather that "I'm buying it for that guy over there; he's Gary Gygax, you can watch me take it over there and give it to him"). Gary and I chatted for a few minutes, with me completely starstruck; to this day I haven't the foggiest idea what he and I spoke about.

But what I do remember is his incredible generosity with his time. There I was, a gawking fan come bearing gifts, and he treated me like a person that he'd known for years, and that just made such an impression on me. He was just... gracious. That is what struck me in our email and message board correspondences over the years as well. He seemed both acutely aware of the fact that he had fans who really cared what he had to say, and that he was not elevated on some higher plane because of it.

You're missed, Gary.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Of Bugbears and Burgundians

Is there really such a big difference between a hundred gnolls armed with spears and a hundred French spearmen? I've been really enthused about the Field of Glory rules from Osprey Publishing since I bought them, and I am thinking, naturally, of how to apply them to battles in the Flanaess. I can think of nothing more exciting than to see a host of the troops of the Overking arrayed on a table against the combined forces of the Iron League, and I think Field of Glory would be a great rules set to use, even if it is not designed for use with fantasy.

If we look to the descriptions of mass combat in Greyhawk, they don't read all that different from mass combat in Europe, and this is not surprising, given Gary Gygax's background in medieval wargaming and general interest in military history.

My thinking is that it should be able to get most of the "fantasy" units described in real-world terms. Orcs and hobgoblins are drilled, gnolls are not drilled (the former being lawful in alignment, the latter being chaotic), and matching armor and weapons should be easy enough. The Overking's Elite Guards are easy enough to classify in an army list, and overall parallels between the Flanaess and medieval Europe should be easy enough to make. The point being, there doesn't need to be a special set of rules just to deal with non-human troops. A few special exceptions may exist, but no more than are needed for real-world troop types (skeletons are only half as likely to be affected by swordsmen and the like, for example, and never have to check morale). Details such as armor class, hit dice, etc. are easily taken care of by using armor type, quality and training, etc.

That leaves the impact of specifically magical effects such as dragons, elementals, and high-powered spellcasters. That's a little trickier, but I think that delving back to the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement or Swords & Spells might prove beneficial. More when I have a chance to do a little digging.