Friday, May 13, 2016

Further Updates from (far) Beyond the Borderlands, Part II

(Continuing from the last update:)

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, it was a surprise to no one that Orchid - a founding member of the adventuring company and Hildy's beloved former employer - was "The Hag" that had been tormenting the Keep's residents for nigh on three months.

The group stood atop the Keep's gatehouse and steeled themselves as The Hag Formerly Known as Orchid rapidly approached on her flying broom, cackling maniacally enough to put Magaret Hamilton to shame. They had prepared as well as they could for the imminent attack, and all able-bodied men and women were manning the Keep's defenses, as the Curate and Brother Zogustus stood guard in the Chapel over those residents who were unable to fight.

On the grounds around the outer walls of the Keep, figures moved in the moonlight: the Hag's animated minions - skeletons, zombies, ghouls, and wights - rushing forward to smash against the worn battlements like a silent wave of shadowy death.

As the PCs readied themselves for the coming onslaught (fighters readied their swords, clerics prayed to their gods, and magic users prepped their spells), The Hag flew close, pointed a finger at Brother Zogtavius, and spewed a bilious curse. A sickly green ray extended from her finger and touched his breast. He clutched his chest and blanched, then fell dead to the earthen inner courtyard below!

At this point, I don't know what the reaction of the characters was, but that of the players was decidedly one of disbelief. "He's dead? Dead dead?" They'd lost many PCs and NPCs in this campaign, but none that had reached more than second level. I don't think they expected me to let one of these established characters die so abruptly. But, hey, I told them when we started the campaign that I wasn't going to pull any punches as Dungeon Master.

"Yep," was my answer. "'Dead' dead. Now what will you do?"

After a few moments of disbelief, confusion, and panic, it was decided that one of the PCs would run to fetch Brother Zogustus to see what he could do for his fallen master-clone, while the other PC and their NPCs would lay down a ton of hurt on Hag Formerly Known as Orchid for what she'd just done to their favorite zealot. (It should be pointed out that it was a little unnerving how quickly everybody forgot that The Hag was really poor, possessed Orchid once first blood was drawn!)

Then, as if to add insult to injury to the panicked defenders of the Keep, a roar sounded out from the skies above - followed by a rain of acid the laid low many of the men at arms. The PCs were still reeling from the loss of their spiritual leader when a black dragon descended from the moonlit skies above...

[To be continued...]

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Your Wizard Can't Use a Sword...

Or, at least, why he or she can't use one as effectively as he or she can a staff or dagger... Briefly explained in narrative form:

Blackstaff the Wizard, Necromancer of the North, Watcher at the Wall, Keeper of the Crimson Journals, wasn't always Blackstaff. Nor was his teacher always Blackmane, nor his teacher's teacher always Blackheart, nor his abysmal disappointment of a pupil always Blacktome, etc, 
No, these epithets are a product of a tradition going far back, back before the recorded histories of the Realms were put to parchment. The wizarding traditions were laid down by the first families to unlock the secrets of spellcraft and have been followed with very little alteration since. 
Thus, when Blackstaff - before he was Blackstaff - began his training, the course of that erudition was so old and ingrained into the tiny magical community that none questioned that he should forego his gods-given name for that of simply "Adept." Nor did they question that his first three years of training would include nothing more than menial labor - no magicks would be taught him until his fourth year, And then, only the simplest spells, including Read Magic, were taught, so that he might learn and master  the fundamentals of spell casting.
Also, when the Adept reached his fourth year, his teacher began to train him to fight with the same weapons his teacher had taught him - the staff and dagger. Thus it had always been, thus shall it always be. 
And so would the training continue, in the prescribed manner, for no less than five more years and until such time as the teacher felt that his pupil was ready to take his name. That name would bear the teacher's name mark, just as his had borne his teacher's name mark, and so forth back through the ages. Thus did all the great wizards - Whitehand the Weird, Greymule the Redundant, Bluesmoke the Bereft, etc. - come by the names by which they are now known.
And so would they - not one of them - be much good with a sword. At least, that's why in my game...

I look at some of the apparent oddities of B/X Dungeons and Dragons as challenges. Instead of seeing things like Magic User weapon restrictions as limitations (put in place to serve a rules-based purpose) I try to think of them in game terms: Why would such restrictions exist in the context of the game world? What sort of opportunities for storytelling do they offer?

The key is to think beyond the written rules. When game rules that are perceived as arbitrary limitations are woven into the tapestry of the game world, they can exceed their humble beginnings and become a creative force acting upon that world and a key element of the story of the characters.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Oh no, it's...!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Happy Star Wars Day!!!

May the 4th be with you, always.

Monday, April 11, 2016

No, The Rust Monster's not dead yet

...although, from the dearth of posts, it may seem like its pulse is weakening and its breathing has gotten shallow.

Over the past couple of years, I've given very little thought as to why this is, so I've never addressed it. But, for the benefit of those who have followed this blog (and to maybe help me understand my own motivations a little better), I thought I'd engage in a little self-reflection and offer some insight into why it's in the state it is:

1) Work. In 2013, I was finally cut loose from my position with the not-for-profit I'd been with for over a decade. This wasn't a surprise, by any means. The 2008 economic fiasco hit the not-for-profits harder than it did most for-profit businesses, for a number of reasons. And the one I worked for was always just kind of hanging on, to begin with. So for five years, I watched as the organization struggled to reposition itself, from changing its image and focus, to selling off assets, and - finally - to cutting the workforce. (All the while, paying its CEO a quarter mill a year. *sigh*) When, in 2012, the decision was made to furlough employees (basically, one forced day off every two weeks, which equated to a 10% reduction in my pay - which was already below industry standards) I started looking for a new position elsewhere.

Unfortunately, in the post-2008 world of central New York, there weren't a lot of positions for a web monkey like me. During this period, I was caught up in a fair amount of depression over my situation and my apparent inability to improve it, a state that was exacerbated by undiagnosed health problems (see below). I still hadn't found anything when the organization took its most drastic step yet and cut over 20% of its workforce in one fell swoop.

Fortunately, I was out of work for less than two months. I landed a job in IT management with a stable - in fact, growing - company, and I've been there since. But with that awesome new opportunity came new responsibilities, and a lot of refocusing of my own personal goals. I found that my point of view on many of my life's goals changed when I went from being a worker bee to being a leader. And I found that I just didn't have as much room in my life for thinking and talking about (mush less engaging in) gaming as I had in previous years. (When gaming was my way of leaving work at work, and a much-needed escape from the daily grind..)

Nail one in the coffin.

2) Health. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with extreme hypertension and acute hypothyroidism. I already knew something was up, because in the year or so leading up to that, I'd felt really... off.

What I didn't really realize, until looking back on it later, is that these two issues - especially the thyroid problem - were making me not really give a crap about doing things I'd once been passionate about, like gaming, or writing about gaming.

Nail two.

3) Competing hobbies. Once the health issues came (mostly) under control, and I started to feel human again, I found myself returning to other things I'd loved in my younger years (with the help of my fiancee, who really reintroduced me to these interests): guitars and photography. And last year, I started rekindling the true love of my pre-gaming youth: writing fiction. As I've spent more of my free time and energy on these, I've felt less inclined to spend time or energy on gaming, or even writing about gaming.

Nail three.

4) Same old, same old. I've been gaming for 35 years - nearly two-thirds of my life - in one form or another. And much of that has been with the same core group, playing the same games, in the same play style. When I went through my Gaming Renaissance of the early 90's, it was a Golden Age for role playing games, with new and interesting games coming out every other week, or so it seemed. My gaming buddies were also new, so there was a seemingly endless amount of unexplored ground to cover. And, believe me, we covered a lot of it in the decade that followed.

But 25 years later, that seemingly endless amount of ground looks much smaller - more like a small-ish patch - than it used to. "New" games no longer thrill, because they're not new in the way they were in the 90's. (New systems keep coming, but the core concepts of the games themselves aren't new, like they were in the late 80's/early 90's.) And, although I don't have anything against the tried and true play style of my core group, that sort of retreading of the same ground doesn't invite passion for gaming. It's more like it's something I do because it's something I've (almost) always done.

I've attempted to revive "the spark" I had found in the 90's by finding "new blood" to game with, but - alas - those attempts have mostly proven useless. It's not easy to find people to game with now as it was when I was 25 years old. Different era, different responsibilities, and a different me have combined to make it a challenge. And given points 1, 2, and 3, above, I don't feel as strong a need to overcome that challenge as I might have when I was younger.

Nail four.

5) Desire. A lot of what's driven me to game, at least since the early beginnings of the OSR, is desire - desire to have fun that I see other gamers having. In fact, I think that was a driving factor even in my earliest days, when I'd see pictures or hear stories of other gamers' experiences and I'd long to have such experiences myself, to join in on the fun they appeared to be having.

Nowadays, I don't find myself envying other gamers' experiences that much. That could be because of my overall reduced interest in gaming. Or it could be that, after pursuing that desire for so long, I've given up hope of fulfilling it. Or maybe it's just that I've finally had enough of my own enjoyable experiences in the hobby, so I no longer feel driven to achieve something based on someone else's experiences.

(In general, one of the personal changes I've gone through in the past few years is learning to be content with what I have and who I am, and to define my own personal improvement goals in terms of what I think they should be, not based on the comparison of my experiences to those of others. It's led to me feeling more comfortable in my own skin, and not feeling as much like I'm missing out on something that someone else is gaining enjoyment from. My fulfillment now comes from internal desires: to be a better leader to my team at work, to be a better guitarist, or take better photos, or complete a new piece of fiction.)

Nail five...

So... what does all this mean for The Rust Monster?

Well, I don't know. Sorry, I know that's not much of an answer, but I can't say definitively that I'm done with gaming. I still get "the itch." And I still semi-frequently pick up and read games and supplements - some old, some new - and think about running them, even if it's just for my fiancee. So the spark's not completely died out - the final nail hasn't been driven in, yet.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering if that itch is really just a habit - if I'm just desiring to game because it's something I used to get a lot of enjoyment from, but that I really don't have a burning passion for anymore. Is the itch more of a phantom limb sort of thing?

Again, I don't know.

I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds. I won't promise a resumption of frequent posting here, since I know that - at this point in time - would be a lie. But I won't say there won't be any more posts, either, since I don't know if that's any more likely to be true.

All I can say for sure is that there's a ton of content on here already, and that won't be going anywhere, if I can help it. Much like the Meetup group I pay for every month just so local gamers have somewhere to find one another, I will make sure The Rust Monster remains here as a resource for the community, even if its content is a little outdated.

One thing is for sure: I have been a passionate gamer and will continue to support other gamers, even if my own passion for the hobby has waned.

. . . . .

Friday, September 4, 2015

Further Updates from (far) Beyond the Borderlands

What? I have a blog? Oh, holy sh- er, I mean, hi! Long time, no see! Sorry about that, dear reader(s?)! There's been a lot of life going on around here, and very little extra time and/or energy for gaming - much less for blogging about gaming!

Anyway, I thought I'd provide an update on the continuing adventures of Brother Zogtavius, Blacktome ("the Great," apparently) and Hildy ("the Witch").

When last we saw the gang, they were in the city of Greyhawk - and on the verge of a meltdown that was precipitated by a significant amount of internal discord. Each of the PCs was happily following their own agenda: Brother Zogtavius to defend the world (and beyond) in the name of his god, Tarak the Defender; Hildy to reach seemingly impossible heights of power, with little regard as to the cost or the consequences; and Blacktome to - well, no one really knows what Blacktome's agenda is; he's playing it pretty tight to the vest. (Although he seems pretty happy to toss out seeds of chaos - in the guise of acts of either charity and capriciousness - wherever he goes.)

As a result of their conflicting goals, there was a lot of sneaking about behind other PCs' backs, using a death god's (the Carnifex from Goodman Games' Jewels of the Carnifex) artifacts and making back-alley deals with other characters, the dead, ghoul royalty, demonic powers, etc. Oh, no, wait - that "lot of sneaking about" was all just Hildy. Such a busy little witch!

So, the game session ended with Brother Zog, having found out about Hildy's dark dealings from Blacktome (who had himself been a part of at least a few of them - gotta love those Chaotic characters!) sitting her down for a candid heart-to-mace conversation.

Would the gang survive? Or would they disband so that each could follow his or her path unhindered? Or would one or more of them end up in a ditch on the Old Greyhawk Road, another PC's dagger(s) buried deep in their back(s)?

Well, the next game session rolled around, and - as it turns out - these questions were to go unanswered. A messenger arrived from the Chapel (of Tarak the Defender) at the Keep on the Borderlands - doom had befallen the Keep! The Lady of the Keep - now the sole ruler of that bastion of humanity on the edge of the wildlands - begged them to aid her against a foul curse that had befallen her subjects. Being, above all else, stalwart adventurers, the gang set their differences aside and made for the Keep with all haste.

They arrived to find the once-bustling Keep fallen into decay and disrepair. Naught but the most loyal (or least mobile) resident remained - everyone else had fled. The Lady of the Keep met them at that gates, haggard and downtrodden. She welcomed the adventurers "home," and told them her tale of woe: three moons ago, on the brightest night of the moon, the Keep fell under the curse of a foul hag. She flew above the Keep on a broom, cackling and waving a censer that issued a voluminous smoke that choked to death all who breathed even a whiff of its vapors. For three nights, her attacks persisted - then stopped.

When she returned on the next full moon, this time in the company of a small horde of undead, those survivors that were able to do so fled for the safety of the lands to the west. A few of the "brave" adventurers that had made the Keep their home since the gang had opened the Caves of Chaos made vows to put an end to the hag's depredations and went into the wilds in search of her. On the next full moon, the hag tossed a sack containing their heads into the Keep's inner bailey before commencing her monthly assault.

That was when the Lady, acting on the advice of the Curate, sent messengers in search of the PCs.

As it happened, the PCs arrived on the first night of the next full moon. A few somber hours of preparation later,and the PCs stood in the all-too-quickly fading light of the midsummer sun, awaiting the imminent attack of a creature they grimly suspected they might all personally know...

Hours passed as though they were days. Finally, during the deepest, coldest hour of the night, they heard a distant cackling and a speck appeared against the giant disc of a moon that floated above the horizon. It grew bigger and the cackling grew louder. One of the PCs cast a light spell and illuminated the rapidly approaching hag. The form was a twisted parody of a living creature, but under its rags and deformed features they saw something familiar...

To their horror but not to their surprise, they recognized the hag to be none other than their former companion, Orchid the elf...

Stay tuned for Part II!

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A Gaggle of Geese, a Murder of Crows and... a Shiv of Goblins?

On re-watching (for the umteenth time) one of the live PAX Dungeons & Dragons game sessions*, I was intrigued by a discussion regarding collective nouns; those mentioned in the game were a "tyranny of dragons" and a "blessing of unicorns." My brain lit up just thinking about all of the potential nouns one could imagine for a fantasy setting, and I realized that my future games could benefit greatly from a little creativity in that direction. After all, little things like that are what really breathe life into a game setting.

So, here's my first stab at a few D&D-specific collective nouns:
  • A shiv of goblins
  • A wonder of trolls
  • A bludgeon of giants
  • A storm of stirges
  • A pip of halflings
  • spite of kobolds
  • A terror of wights
  • A glooming of oozes
  • A seed of bulettes
  • A pall of paladins
  • A sparkle of vampires
  • A flex of flumphs
  • A shame of owlbears
  • A howl of ghouls
  • A glare of ogres
  • A drudgery of green slime
  • A whisker of clerics
Added a few more (8/21):
  • A carbuncle of rot grubs
  • A fret of efreeti
  • A gruff of wizards
  • A snigger of harpies
  • A mote of beholders
  • A sweat of yellow mold
And, of course:
  • A flaking of rust monsters
These are just the ones that shambled off the top of my head. As I think of more, I'll add them - but this a great start, if you ask me. I can't wait to hear my players - possibly in the middle of an encounter -  wondering amongst themselves: "Why do we call it a 'shame' of owlbears??" Maybe that wonder (not of trolls, although that's possible, too!) will even inspire them to dig into the origins of one of these terms... oh, the possibilities for interesting adventures abound!

If anybody out there has any suggestions for other collective nouns in the D&D vein, please do share!

*I believe - but don't hold me to it, as I've re-watched all of them at least once in the last two weeks - that it was this game, from 2014: (BTW, Aeofel needs to return and resume his internship at Acquisitions Inc. I'm just sayin'.)

. . . . .

Friday, February 27, 2015

Well, fuck...

I have no words...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Revisiting the Past... Again

In honor of the rapidly approaching 32nd (yikes!) anniversary of my first real excursion into the hobby of role-playing games, here's a repost of my essay detailing how it all started...

. . . . .

[This is the third part of my autobiographical "Growing Up Geeky" series - click to read "Part I: Prehistory" and "Part II: The Early Years." (I know: the second half of the "Part II" post is missing. I've skipped ahead a bit here, but rest assured: the Star Wars/Atari-years post will be here - some day.)]

A recent post at Grognardia got me thinking about my first days in the hobby. As I get older, I find I have more trouble remembering things, especially the days of my youth. Therefore, I thought it might be a good idea to get this portion of the "Growing Up Geeky" series down - before I lose the memories all together. So, to that end, here's a meandering piece of personal history/nostalgia expanded from my comments on James' blog post:

As with most aspects of my childhood (growing up as a nerd in rural NY) I learned to role play (Dungeons and Dragons, of course) in a vacuum. I was raised in farm country, several miles from the nearest town. I had friends, but they lived in town, so I couldn't just hop on my bike and go over to their houses (and vice versa) whenever I wanted to hang out. Trips to each others' houses were planned excursions, and were becoming more infrequent by the beginning of the 1980's. (This infrequency was partially due to growing older, but also partially my fault, as after being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in December of 1980, I'd suddenly become inexplicably uncomfortable spending the night at my best friend's house. To this day, I can't explain it...)

I had no other friends nearby, as all of the kids who lived closer to me were just that: "kids." (One just didn't consort with a schoolmate more than a grade - two at most - lower than oneself. That sort of thing was simply bad form.)

The seclusion wasn't something I gave much thought to, however. I'd been raised with it, and I'd become very adept at keeping myself entertained. Furthermore, I had my nephew, John, to keep me company on a regular basis through the later 70's and early 80's. Although I call my friend Brian Z. my "best friend," the truth of the matter is that John was my best friend through most of my teens. He spent many summers at my house, and my brother and his family moved next door to us sometime around or shortly before 1980, IIRC, after which I saw John even more frequently. We basically grew up together.

Unfortunately, my memory of 1980 and the surrounding years has grown extremely fuzzy, so exact dates are impossible to determine. For a long time, I had thought that I'd been introduced to role playing games in 1980, but I've realized in recent years that it must have actually been 1981.

And, as I've mentioned before, my first hobby-related possession wasn't a set of D&D rules. Or any other role-playing game rules, for that matter. No, my first hobby-related possession was a D&D module: A3, "Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords."

It was originally bought as a birthday present for a friend. But my mother was curious what "this D&D thing" was all about, so before gift wrapping it she opened it and read it with my nephew and myself. Or tried to read it. I still recall finding it to be full of bizarre, unfamiliar terms and acronyms - kind of like reading a tech manual for a SR-71 or something. But it piqued my interest, and she asked if I wanted to keep it and we'd get my friend something else. (That "something else" turned out to be a "Sick" magazine that had something to do with Star Wars. I know: it's nowhere near as nice a gift. He wasn't that close a friend. :P)

Based on the fact that the aforementioned friend's birthday was in December, and that - according to the Acaeum - A3 was published in 1981, I'm guessing the date of this event was late November or early December of 1981. That crunches the timeline I'd originally envisioned for my entry into the hobby, which I'd thought had run from December 1980 to Christmas of '81. But those years have blurred with the haze of time and age, and I perceived the passage of time far differently as a youth than I do now. The days passed more slowly, then; a month then is like six months now.

Anyway, that enigmatic orange-yellow-covered book with its wonderful maps and imagination-sparking illustrations was my first step into the world of D&D. Mind you, it wasn't the first time I'd heard of the game. I'd seen and been moderately intrigued by the books in KayBee Toys in Riverside Mall*. (I was especially enthralled by the cover of Eldritch Wizardry - go figure.) So I'd known about the game for some time; it had been on my radar, but wasn't something I had any interest in.

For some reason I'll never fully comprehend, my demeanor toward the game changed drastically around mid- to late 1981. With the simple discovery that the aforementioned friend's older brother and his friends (who would have been the "freaks" if my life at that time were an episode of Freaks & Geeks) played the game, I suddenly found my interest in it blossoming. I imagine this was partially fueled by media hype surrounding D&D (the new "fad" was - it seemed - forever appearing in various news outlets back in the day), by the ever-growing line of products for the game, by the growing buzz surrounding the fantasy genre - and probably more than a little by my Hobbit-loving 8th-grade English teacher.

Shortly thereafter - according to the revised timeline - I discovered that the local lawn and garden supply/toy store (yes, they sold toys next to the riding mowers) sold the yellow-box series of Grenadier miniatures for D&D. I bought (read as: coerced my mother into buying for me) my second piece of D&D paraphernalia there: the "Specialists" boxed set.

As Christmas approached, I began to think more and more about the game. I envisioned my character (before I knew that term, as it pertains to the hobby) - the paladin from the Grenadier set - descending into a valley on a narrow path through a dense forest full of giant mushrooms**, a beautiful princess at his side as he used his gleaming sword to hew his way down the vine-choked stones. He was an elf prince himself, called "Moordow."

So, when C-Day came, it seemed like a no-brainer that D&D would be nestled under the tree. I say "seemed like" because it wasn't an unheard-of occurrence to not get what one wanted most for Christmas. Parental concern and other factors could always trump youthful desire, and such statements as "You'll shoot your eye out!" or "You'll become a Satanist!" could easily supersede a child's "I want that!" Sure enough, though, it was there - in the form of a lurid pink box bearing a brilliant Erol Otus cover.

I spent a good portion of the following days delving into the red rule book that lay within, whose fantastical illustrations made most of those in "Aerie..." look mundane by comparison. I devoured the rules, and was ready to get to playing within a few days. (It would have been less, but I also received Milton Bradley's "Dark Tower" that year, and it was a serious contender for my post-Christmas attention.)

My friend Brian had also gotten a D&D box set for Christmas, and during the Christmas break we planned for him to come over to my house so we could play our first game. I think it was either shortly before his arrival that day or the day before that my nephew and I rolled up our first characters. (I don't recall Brian being there, although it's possible my hazy memory has failed me yet again.) We made a pair each, and Moordow was of course my first.

When Brian came over, it was agreed that he'd be the Dungeon Master, as he'd read B2, "The Keep on the Borderlands" - the adventure module that had also come in that lurid pink box - and I had not. (It wasn't until many many years later that I was comfortable running prefab modules. I always made my own - I think I was afraid of screwing something up if I tried to run someone else's material.) Our four characters, and two of Brian's, embarked on their first adventure...

And it was an abysmal failure.

The newness of the idea of role playing, Brian's lack of familiarity with the role of the DM, and our uncertainty about what our characters should be doing led to the game being an awkward exercise in theft, burglary, and murder, as our characters robbed and looted everyone in the Keep. It would be several weeks before I read the module myself and discovered that we were intended to go outside the Keep and kill things... (I also think that Brian's version of the rules were part of the problem he faced as DM: he had been given the Holmes' basic set, and I did not realize at the time that it differed so fundamentally from my Moldvay set. I'm sure this contributed to the challenge he faced as first-time DM.)

We abandoned our first session of D&D after a few encounters, slightly disillusioned (at least in my case), and opted instead - I think - to play Dark Tower. But it didn't matter. My imagination had been ignited, and it would take more than a bad initial game session to deter me from enjoying the Hell out of the game. Subsequent sessions with just my nephew and myself - with me as DM/co-player, running "modules" of my own creation - fared far better.

My foray into D&D that began with an alien "adventure module" could have ended if that book had gone to its intended owner. It could have ended if I'd not received the game for Christmas. It could have ended after an initial game session of criminal mayhem.

Despite all of these possibilities, it blossomed into a lifelong hobby...

[More to come in the next post in the series: Growing Up Geeky, Part IV: The TSR Years.]

(*Ah, Riverside. Gods, how I miss that place. It was our first mall. And my first mall. So many of my late-70's childhood memories spring from within its walls. The mere mention of its name brings to mind a flood of memories: from trekking up and down its brown-tiled floors - up ramps and down stairs, past fountains and the giant clock; to lurking in Kay Bee Toys while my mother conducted her business in Ormonds, Barbara Moss, or some other woman's clothing store I couldn't stand to be in; to choosing an iron-on transfer to be steamed onto a t-shirt while we waited in Montgomery Ward (Yes, kids: transfers and tees used to come separately, and you could mix and match at will. Those were the days!); to playing my first video games in the video arcade; to taking the leisurely stroll the length of the mall, which seemed to take hours, as we shopped and window shopped, stopping at the near-halfway point to eat at Burger King. The mall was laid out in one long strip, and the concept of the food court had not reached this area prior to the mall being designed and built; food establishments were scattered around the place. My favorite was "the pizza place," but it was inconveniently located at one end, on one of the entrance wings. Thus, the more centrally located Burger King (before it became "BK" and the king went from a short, cute cartoon character to a creepy "real" person) was the establishment of choice for the lunch break on our Saturday strolls through "The Mall." Riverside was supplanted by a larger, more logically designed mall in 1980, and at the time we all thought the newcomer was better. The Mall died a slow, painful death as a result, and today it has been mostly torn down and replaced by an eyesore of a strip mall. Its rival still stands, but holds far less nostalgic value for me.)

(**I'd equated giant mushrooms with fantasy for many years, long before I'd even seen the cover to B1. In fact, I recall the exact moment when my interest in writing was sparked. It was sixth grade, and the teacher - Mr. King - assigned us a project to write our own piece of fiction. Prior to that moment, I'd never considered that as a possibility. Surely, I'd thought, writers are consummate professionals, and only achieve their status as "Writer" after long years of education and training. But suddenly, I could be a writer. And I would write science-fiction/fantasy. (The two were pretty much synonymous in those days.) In my mind's eye at that very moment, I envisioned vividly a colorful forest of giant mushrooms sprawled out beneath a black blanket dotted with glittering white stars. Yep, giant mushrooms meant fantasy, even then. Maybe it was some lingering Alice in Wonderland influence - although I'd never read that book...)

. . . . .