Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Original LoreMasters

This article is not meant to infringe upon an IP that may currently exist using the phrase.

That out of the way, a seldom seen but welcome to any game session in the early '80's was the role of Lore Master. Now more often referred to as an assistant GM, the Lore Master was a walking organic library. There were those who had a deep love of the game but who had no desire to GM and with their knowledge proved a fast way to unbalance a game as a PC. You couldn't really blame a person for this when you usually knew in advance that the person is more than versed in the subject. They were more like a Mentat from Frank Herbert's Dune. A walking human computer and library. From the history of the Dark Ages to being fluent in Elvish from Tolkien (and I mean they could write and speak in it fluently and at will) every monster stat and what they didn't have memorized they had well marked in the books they carried with them.

Almost freakish in nature, rules lawyers melted like a candle in the desert at high noon in their presence. They understood above all that the GM was the final word on all outcomes. They remained impartial and simply imparted information to the GM and in some cases to the PCs themselves.

Today it would almost be unimaginable to think of someone existing like that. With so much material in the hobby now they would truly be a super genius.

Do you know some like this? Or maybe in the past? Relate their story if you like. I've always wondered how widespread this concept was.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Likes, Dislikes and Edition Wars

An old grognard I may be but understand, whatever game you find to your liking is all right with me. I talk of the games that first caught my attention the same as others will talk of theirs.

You will find a lot here about the old school but don't think that's all I like or follow. A visit to my other haunts will show that I like cutting edge experimental material just as much.

It's the spirit of gaming that always stokes the fire that runs the engines for me. From the small publisher putting together their first project to the established mega-house putting out a steady stream of their best efforts.

This is a rich heritage and anyone involved in gaming does well not only to remember that but to take advantage of it. Try your hand at one of the retro-clones if you get the chance. Ask to see that original boxed D&D set that you heard that someone has stashed away and think how this was the first moment when this big crazy hobby first took root as we know it.

May all your gaming be filled with fun and fire and may your dice always roll true.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The Diceman is a novel written by Luke Rhinehart about a psychiatrist who discovers a new form of therapy, dice therapy, by creating lists of 6 items and then rolling a d6 to see which he would do. The rules were simple:

(1)Never put anything on the list you are not willing to do.

(2)At least one item must involve some personal risk.

(3)Whatever you roll you do. Period.

The book fell into our hands quite by accident and spread like a virus. For a group accustomed to throwing dice several nights a week we found it perfectly normal to take it to the street.

I would recommend the book to anyone but with a warning. It can change your life forever. I never looked at the world quite the same way again and I have read a metric f*** ton of books. It is one of maybe 10 that had that effect.

Many took the concept too far. I found it to be a great way to relieve stress and handle everyday activities with not only ease but a fun and exciting nature as well. Wonder what to wear to work? List 6 and throw. What to do that night? List 6 and roll. I did it for everything. I kept journals of material I generated. What to eat...what album to play next...what book to read next.

And yes, I wrote a few danger lists but found it counter productive to the whole idea of the benefits I listed. Others however, well, let's just say they had other ideas.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Welding involved the mixing of various elements to create something new and unpredictable in play. Often players would 'cheat' by reading the Monster Manual and DM Guide on the sly and know the proper way to quickly dispatch it.

With welding you never quite knew what to expect. A seemingly harmless bunny rabbit might be a blood thirsty killing machine. A magic item may be a fake or made from something poisonous.

The first time I remember seeing it in action was at a session where the DM had acquired Monster Manual II.

We had all loved the Fiend Folio when it came out (seems that's not a view held by many, but all three DMs concurred that if they could only have one Monster book they would choose FF every time), but we were all a bit skeptical at the collection of monsters in the new volume. Finally one went out on a limb and purchased it. It was underwhelming to say the least. When asked about it a week later he was kind, but obviously disappointed, in his review of the tome.

Not being very impressed with many of the creatures he started blending features and making creatures that people couldn't identify right away. Soon we were all doing it.

From then on your paranoid ass better be armed and ready. Who knew if that cute little squirrel sitting on the tree limb was real or just an illusion cast by a mad man who lived in the forest and didn't desire any company. Usually when the squirrel breathed fire you knew it was on.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot - The Frog God Games Debacle

The recent announcement by Frog God Games of its union with Swords & Wizardry has sparked quite a debate within the OSR community and I must admit they did come off a little to WOTC.

And just so I'm clear on this I left tabletop gaming because of WOTC. I far preferred the 'hand drawn maps' and 'clip art laid out by amateurs' approach by the pioneers of the hobby to the endless flood of pretty and expensive rulebooks that seemed to have a new edition every 15 minutes.

And let it be clear also I have never purchased one of these products. It is these 'amateur' productions that brought me back to table top gaming after spending years trying to find the flavor in video games that never quite hit the mark.

So the fiasco that started here (Now Updated To Exclude The Inflammatory Remarks)


and turned into this





and slid into this




and started cooling off here



Made me remember a post from back in May from here


In a nutshell, the industry is not only in trouble, as we now know it, but all but on the way out. When large companies produce product they do everything they do for one reason-money. Not enough money, move on to next product. Not a value judgment, just a statement of fact.

Watching a video the other day of Erik Mona, publisher at Paizo Publishing, delivering the keynote at GamesU 2009 (at around the 38 minute mark) I think summed it up best-at its peak in the '80s products that would normally sell 50k to 150k copies now might be expected to sell only 5k to 15k. Earlier in the video he had mentioned the numbers that Dragon magazine would have at its peak in 1984 with its highest subscriber base of 126,000 which when the print version ended had shrunk to about half as many. Meanwhile, the cottage industry side of the hobby has been steadily gaining traction.

Gamers have had a chance for all the pieces to fall into place at just the right time to show what the future of not just gaming but creative entertainment will look like down the road. Much like the MP3 and file sharing changed the music industry we have entire communities no longer looking to the outside world to get things done but taking up the old punk DIY attitude and getting it done for themselves.

In my own life most of the new music I experience comes through web labels, the films I watch, shorts especially, come from their makers via the Internet. The same goes for books, games and just about every other thing that I have usually went into a retail establishment in the past for.

But when I felt like I was being made a chump for paying $18 for a CD that I hadn't even heard yet, maybe a couple tracks, and realizing I had wasted my money I started looking for other ways. And the Internet has provided them.

The funny thing is, just when the Internet is set to be changed into just a venue for corporations to shill through to the masses a new form is rising that will truly change the future once and for all. Look up ad hoc wireless computing sometime and then think where things are going to go when millions of computer owners no longer answer to anyone and are free to discuss and disperse whatever they please to whomever they please. It's a new world coming...froggy better get a jumpin' :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Blending is using two or more similar products in conjunction and adapting stats as need be to make the fit. It would also include using any material from outside an official product line to enhance gaming. Often this was done with OD&D material and AD&D 1e material but also included using 3rd party generic items and books like Lord of the Rings.

The first example of this in my gaming experience was from my first DM. He loved the Greyhawk setting but thought it lacked a little bite. So he picked up the Judges Guild City-State of the Invincible Overlord and made that his capital and primary urban setting, surrounded by great forests and craggy mountains full of dwarves, dragons and gold and fueled by the legends of Greyhawk.

It worked. He was a master at this type of blending and it was always his strong suit. The stories he could weave in those locales (with a bit of help from various modules and supplements) was always entertaining. This was also the first time I saw how you could recycle EVERYTHING. Got a used dungeon map? Flip it and change the entrance and items. Voila! New map :)

The materials blended in kept getting wilder with each passing session until finally nothing was off limits. I think it finally broke down when people started pulling real weapons on each other (I actually had someone come at me with a knife).

Blending is one thing...slicing and dicing...fellow players...quite another.

Next up: What is 'Welding'?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The 3rd Wave

The 3rd wave was probably the most short lived and confusing period in my personal gaming history. It probably did as much harm as good. The reference is one I have used for years as both the end of one style of gaming (having been grounded in chess, wargames and an obscure game from 3M called Feudal) and the birth of another (free form, all but structureless role-playing full of heavy rules modifications,etc).

And we absolutely LOVED it.

Comprised of 1st (OD&D) and 2nd wave (AD&D) rpg players and materials, the 'welding' process, 'blending' and 'freestyle' rose to the top as THE primary way to create and play a role playing game. Add to that the first use of home computers in tabletop gaming sessions (of the three DMs in the group 2 had computers-a Vic-20 and the other a C-64) and you have the makings of a Frankenstein Monster that seemed powered by cheap beer, creative one-ups-manship and New Wave music through the peak period of 1983-84.

Most of this was reactionary. The early rule sets were nearly hieroglyphic in nature (not a value judgment) and resulted in many interpretations of the rules. I, unknowingly, had bought 3 items to start that were unrelated (the Blue Book box, an AD&D module and an issue of Dragon magazine). The whole stack made no sense and after giving it a good look over I filed it on the shelf and probably wouldn't have picked it back up if I hadn't met my first DM. When I showed him what I had he kinda chuckled and said it was no wonder I was confused. He went to his bookshelf and pulled down his collection-Player Handbook, DM Guide, Monster Manual, the Greyhawk setting and the City State of the Invincible Overlord. That day it clicked. All the pieces fell into place. 3 years later I would be running my first business-a mail order supply house for AD&D and thousands of other products. How things can change in just one day.

But something like that can't last. It's too inbred and ritualistic. You almost had to know someone playing to be able to figure out this new gaming concept (remember, this is a time when only certain groups of people were even playing OD&D). I think TSR soon realized it would lose its way if it allowed this type of gaming to continue. They needed to keep their customers on a TSR path, on message so to speak, and thus was born the concept of the pre-made campaign settings and supplements. No longer would modules just be disconnected adventures. They would take place in specific settings. Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and so on.

No more would players enter the game through those already playing and playing a variation, very likely, at that. They would have a path to follow, a set of rules and settings where anyone could play just by buying the right sequence of TSR products. Mind you, I'm not calling them out on this. I think the concept is solid (and is something I practice myself) but the execution over the years left a lot to be desired.

Almost as quickly as it came together it fell apart. But from those ashes a multitude of games and gaming styles would be born. A love of video games would soon mix with frpg and lead us to the early crpg. People would move away, the circle would be broken. But the spirit was never lost. For a very short time tabletop gaming had become the wild west, where you could do absolutely anything.

And yes, there are days when I miss those 12 hour sessions very much. I've never had that much fun gaming since. Here's to brave new worlds of imagination and the energy to make them come to life.

And that's the mission statement of this blog. Kickin' it old schooly no fooly :)

Next Up: What is 'Blending'?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Just to trace lineage.

Playing CHESS at 10.

Playing FEUDAL (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/847/feudal) at 12.

Playing and modifying the rules to CHOPPER STRIKE (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2446/chopper-strike) when I was 13.

Playing STARSHIP TROOPERS (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/670/starship-troopers) at 14

(I was notorious for blending parts of different boardgames together and writing new rules-not popular with the purists :)

Started with rpgs at 17-Dungeons & Dragons.

Continued with wargames:

DUNE (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/121/dune)

The Arab-Israeli Wars 1956-'73 (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3218/the-arab-israeli-wars)

The East is Red: The Sino Soviet War (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10472/the-east-is-red-the-sino-soviet-war)

Got into the business and bought more than I can possibly remember. Remember loving Chaosium's RINGWORLD and Game Designers' Workshop TWILIGHT 2000.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Gaming Roots

PLEASE NOTE: I speak only for myself and the group I played in during the 1980-'84 time period. It is in no way considered definitive of all players during the time period. That is what made it great. Everywhere and everyone was different.

These are my experiences and theories that I continue to practice to this day.

Your Mileage May Vary :)