A blog about games, gamers, and various and sundry geek culture-related ephemera and paraphernalia.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive"

Christmas Day, 35 years ago - 1981. I imagine there were more gifts than the three I recall clearly - most likely a variety of Star Wars toys, very few of the origins of which I can mentally track due to the sheer volume I've collected over the years. But these items were the big three that year, two of them still see semi-regular use to this day, and the first one is the greatest Christmas gift I've ever had the good fortune to be given:

The D&D Basic Set ("Moldvay" Basic)
Where it all started for me. This was my introduction to the rules of the game, and will forever be what first comes to mind when I think of D&D. Clean and concise, easy to understand, and oozing with character, the Moldvay Basic rule book is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of D&D evolution. I'm sure that opinion is based upon a good amount of nostalgic bias, but you have to at least agree that the "red book" is a worthy entry into the game's pantheon of rule books. Every time I play another form of the game, no matter how much I'm enjoying it - be it AD&D, the Rules Cyclopedia, 3.x, 5E, or even one of the retro-clones - I find myself occasionally having to suppress the urge to ditch what I'm doing and pull out that beloved red book...

Grenadier's "Denizens of the Swamp" Set
Prior to Christmas that year, I'd discovered that a local store carried a small variety of Grenadier's AD&D miniatures. I'd never seen game miniatures before and - being in the early stages of D&D mania - found myself coveting each and every set in stock. I managed somehow - I've since forgotten how - to score a set called "Specialists" before Christmas. As the holiday approached, I recognized the need to provide opponents for the heroes in said set, and that's how "Denizens" ended up on my Christmas list. Out of the box, one of the lizard men refused to stand, the basilisk's horn was broken off, and I thought the troll was too goofy for words - but I loved the set, nonetheless; especially the gnoll with the cross-dagger! Alas, I parted with many of these minis several years ago, but I still recall them fondly.

Milton Bradley's Dark Tower
What can I say? Dark Tower rocked, plain and simple. I recall suffering near unbearable angst as my brothers attempted to repair the game Christmas morning; it didn't work out of the box. This was a recurring theme for my childhood Christmases and birthdays, so by 1981 I was more or less used to this scenario. Fortunately, they successfully repaired it. (Much more successfully than earlier Christmases, where such repair efforts often left toys scarred or barely functioning, and less than enjoyable to play with.) When our first attempt to play D&D resulted in a boring session of murdering and looting the bodies of residents of the Keep on the Borderlands, this was the game that we turned to. It was - and still is, when I can get it to function - an immensely enjoyable way to pass the time with friends and family. (And the game's artwork still inspires me.)

I've had the good fortune to have enjoyed many good Christmases as a child, but none seem to stand out so clearly as this one - the "D&D Christmas" of 1981...
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(Last photo borrowed from gamehermit.com)

Here's hoping your holiday marks as wonderful a beginning for you, as well.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator

The saga of Fred Carter continues with today's installment, Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster:  There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator

Who is Fred Carter? You can find the answer to that question here.

What's Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster? That one's answered here.


Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
Part 3: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator

I thought for sure I was done for as the lizard-gator-man-thing prepared to clamp its massive, tooth-filled maw over my head.

Then, just as the thing was about to bite my head off, a machete seemed to appear out of nowhere and embed itself deep in its neck. A gout of black, brackish blood spewed upward and splashed across the bare fluorescent bulbs above. The beast reared back, a gurgling hiss issuing from its mouth. It let go of me as it started flailing at the blade. Its head rolled to one side, as half of the muscles that held it in place had just been cleanly severed.

I rolled away, and realized that the machete was attached to a man: the bruised and battered archaeologist dude.

As the creature frantically attempted to simultaneously halt the spray of blood that had begun spurting from its neck and keep its head from flopping to the side, the dude worked the massive blade loose and brought it down, again. This time, the thing's head fell right off. It stood there for a couple of seconds, flailing at the stump, then dropped to its knees and fell in front of me - spraying me again with the dark ichor that passed for its blood.

I stared at it for a moment, then heaved a heavy sigh of relief, as I realized that was the last of the monsters. As if in response, the headless body lurched up, and a massive, scaly skinned arm reached out for me. Its hand curled around my leg, and the corpse jerked forward as if to pull itself on top of me. I beat it with my fists and kicked it with my free leg, but it held tight.

The dude jumped on the thing's back and brought the heavy blade of the machete down on it again and again and again, chopping its hands from its arms. Then, its arms from its body. Finally, he up-ended the blade and drove it straight down between its shoulder blades.

The corpse twitched twice, then lay still. Its severed hand was still tightly wrapped around my calf.

"A little help here," I said to the dude as I tried to force the  disembodied hand to release my leg. He knelt down and the two of us began removing the hand, one broken finger at a time. Fortunately, there were only three of them.

"Colorado Jake," he said, helping me to my feet.

"Carter. Fred."

Jake looked around, found his brown fedora. I looked around, found Jeanine. She was sitting - dazed - against the side of the Honda, where she'd fallen when she tripped. I helped her up.

"You okay-"

"Look what you did to my car!" she snapped. She pulled herself away from me and punched me in the chest. "You wrecked it!"

"In my defense, we were being chased by swamp monsters," I said, not that I thought it would help much.

She didn't seem to care - she stood looking at her car, her back to me. She shook her head.

"I just made the second payment," she said. "Now look at my baby."

"You must be Jeanine," Jake said, extending his hand.

"This is as much your fault as it is his!" she barked, slapping his hand away. "If I hadn't come looking for your missing ass, none of this would have happened."

She turned and went to the beast she'd capped. She kicked it in anger and turned again to face us.

"And what the Hell are these things? Huh? Frickin' swamp creatures? What's up with that?"

Suddenly, her expression changed, as her brain switched gears - from stress-induced anger to sudden realization of what had just happened. Then, her eyelids fluttered and her eyes rolled back into her head. Jake and I caught her as she wilted to the pavement.

Continue reading...

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Monday, October 17, 2016

A Lesson in Humility

We wrapped up our Beyond the Supernatural adventure Saturday night: a cosmic horror was trying to force its way into our world, and our intrepid heroes stopped it in its tracks with a liberal application of psionics, magic, gunfire and dynamite.

At the climax of the game, It became visible and tangible, and any player character looking upon it had his or her sanity pushed to its limits. Madness was a real possibility.

So, I asked each player who decided to look (three out of four) and whose character failed the abysmally high Horror Factor check (all of those who looked at it, as it turns out) to make a roll under their character's Mental Endurance score.

The first made it with a critical roll (a natural 1, since they needed to roll low); the second failed and would face temporary insanity; and the third, well... herein lieth a lesson, my children:
Player: I automatically pass - my ME's 23. 
Me: Nope - you still have to roll. You could roll a fumble - a natural 20. 
Player (rolling his eyes and rolling the die): Not a problem!

Every person at the table - including the player in question, who - too late - recognized his hubris - knew from the moment the die fell casually from his fingertips what the result was going to be:

To add insult to injury, in a game where a natural 20 is usually an awesome thing, this was the only natural 20 he rolled during the entire game session.

The moral of today's lesson: the Dice Gods giveth, and the Dice Gods taketh away. And perhaps most importantly: the Dice Gods do not suffer hubris lightly.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Start the Engine!

The saga of Fred Carter continues with today's installment, Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Start the Engine!

Who is Fred Carter? You can find the answer to that question here.

What's Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster? That one's answered here.


Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
Part 2: Start the Engine!

I just sat for a moment as my brain tried to process the scene before me.

Jeanine, however, had gone into full-on journalist mode. Meaning she'd lost all situational awareness as her camera flash went off like a strobe light as she snapped photo after photo... and walked straight into the path of the now-blinded dude and his linebacker-looking pursuers.

I saw this and my first thought was to get her out of the way. Unfortunately, as I tried to open the car door, I discovered that she'd parked within inches of the hydrant, effectively locking me in. All I could do was yell for her to:

"Look the fuck out, Jeanine!"

She must have heard me, because she left the zone and lowered the camera. She glanced over her shoulder at me, then at the oncoming wall of flesh. She dove out of the way just as one of the thugs caught up to the dude - stumbling and half-blinded, thanks to Jeanine's camera flash - and hooked his leg. It sent his large frame spinning though the air like a G.I. Joe.

Jeanine barely ducked under the flying man, diving to the pavement in front of the car. A taxi jerked to a stop - thankfully having been slowed by the traffic - just short of her head. The dude hit the hood of the Civic with a "crunch," and bounced off. He landed on the pavement right next to Jeanine.

I watched, helpless, as the costumed thugs stopped. Two of them were rubbing their eyes - a bizarre sight to see - as the third stepped to the curb and glared down at Jeanine and the stunned dude. Then, he looked around, as if searching for something. I was just beginning to wonder what he was looking for when he moved to the passenger side of the car, knelt down, and hooked his hands under it.

That's when I understood that what he was looking for was something big to crush the dude and Jeanine with. And I just happened to be sitting in that something.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How About Kult? Anybody Still Playing this Game?

While we're on the topic of niche 1990s role playing games, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to this one: Metropolis Ltd.'s Kult.

Kult is one of those games with which I have a deep love-hate relationship. In this case, that means that I love the game and I hate the fact that I haven't been able to spend more time enjoying the Hell out of it.

I discovered Kult at a time in my life (1991-92) when I was really embracing the horror sub-genre that I like to call modern dark fantasy (which would probably get lumped under "urban fantasy" these days). I'd recently been introduced to DC Vertigo's Sandman and Hellblazer comics, and was working my way through such Clive Barker works as The Books of Blood, Hellbound Heart, and Imajica. (The latter book I wanted very badly to like, but I started it four times in two or three years, and I could never get more than ten percent of the way through it. It just never hooked me.)

Around that time, I was also toying with a World of Darkness mash-up featuring characters from Werewolf, Vampire, Mage, and the Vampire splat book, "Hunters Hunted." That particular creation only saw play once, but it was a memorable game session with a few memorable characters. Also, by 1991-92, my group was solidly entrenched in our Bureau 13 modern horror campaign. We played at least once every weekend (more often, it was two or three times) so we had plenty of time to try out new material, and we were way into the horror genre.

When the group's other primary game master introduced me to Kult, I was at once entranced by the setting and repulsed by the game system. It was a clunky system (granted, far less clunky than our beloved B13) at a time when system design was undergoing a renaissance and moving away from clunky, toolkit-like systems toward sleek, focused ones. It was that, more than anything, that drove me away from Kult, initially.

Furthermore, given Kult's built-in setting (which is where it really shines) it wasn't likely to become a contender to replace our existing horror campaign. It was just too dark. (Which, interestingly enough, is why the brief campaign I ran a decade later crashed and burned: too nihilistic, according to the players.)

So, in honor of a game that I would really love to have played more but never did, here's a character sheet for Metropolis' first edition of Kult:

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Does Anyone Still Play Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic?

Today, I have another Halloween gift for you: my most recent Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic character sheet.

This game has probably gotten more play in our game group in the last 25+ years than any other. It's not that it's a particularly brilliant game but it seemed to sit well with all the players and GMs.

I don't imagine there are more than a handful of people who play this once award winning game. It's long-since been surpassed in terms of system design and graphic design, with rules layout and clearness and illustrations that can invoke TSR's original Dungeons and Dragons and Holmes Basic. And a lot of people could never get past the tongue-in-cheek vibe the cover, interior illos, and fluff, or the toolkit-style presentation of the rules. If they had dug a little deeper, though, they'd have found a nifty little game that allows for a lot of character creation flexibility and that can be played completely "straight" - as in: not in a humorous vein - to great effect. My group found that it offered a nice balance between the nihilism and hopelessness of Call of Cthulhu and the "super heroes fight monsters" feel of Beyond the Supernatural.

It also gave us The X-Files and Delta Green over a decade before these were even conceived.

B13 players will notice that some of the stats are missing - that's a result of a house rule that removed combat abilities from character attributes and turned them into skills, where our group generally agreed they belong.

Enough chatter - here's the sheet:

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Don't Look under the Bed!

Since I'm going to be running a first edition Little Fears game sometime this month, I needed a character sheet. Unfortunately, there are very few options when it comes to that edition. The sheets I've found for it are generally poor quality, and they seem to be all made from the one in the book, which - thanks to the crumpled-paper look the designer was going for - aren't very conducive to readability.

So, I slapped together my own sheet. I figured I'd post it here, in case anybody else out there is looking for 1E Little Fears character sheets and would like a couple of options.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: In Search of Indiana Jones

I mentioned last week that I'd be expanding on the first adventure of my favorite player character, Fred Carter. Well, here's that expansion - albeit much larger than I thought it would be. I expected it to be a single article, but once I started writing it, I discovered that there's a lot more here than I'd initially thought.

So, here's part one of the tale - the remaining parts will be coming along, probably once a week. Enjoy!

Part 1: In Search of Indiana Jones

Is that thing recording? Oh. So... I'll just start, then?

Okay. Let's see...

I'm still not quite sure how I ended up in a pirogue in the bayou in the middle of the night... fighting lizard-men. Or gator-men, maybe. I'm still not sure which. Either way, I'm as surprised by it as the next guy.

I mean, it all started out innocently enough: my girlfriend at the time, Jeanine, had gotten an assignment from the rag she worked for - a tabloid called The Midnight Sun - to track down this missing dude - an archaeologist or something. He'd been on the trail of a snake cult or some-such weirdness when she'd first spoken to him, but he'd suddenly called her and left a cryptic message about having to go into hiding. She'd finally located his hideout and talked her boss into sending her there. To New Orleans. During Mardi Gras. All expenses paid.

So, yeah - when she asked if I'd go with, it was a no-brainer.

Bright and early on Monday morning, we packed up her sparkling new Civic CRX and hit the road. (The Civic was a cute car, but not my style. I prefer something that can handle rougher terrain and take more of a beating. Maybe if Jeanine had been a little more concerned about durability and a little less about cuteness, her car would have survived the trip.) It was a bit of a haul from Arkham to Louisiana, but I was so jazzed about getting a free Mardi Gras vacation that it seemed to fly by.

Now, I was stationed in the south - at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to be precise - for almost a year before I got shipped over to West Berlin.

(Yes, I said West Berlin. The tale I'm telling you now took place in '89. The Wall was still up, and up to just six months earlier, I'd been in Berlin, helping Uncle Sam keep an eye on the Russkies. And don't take me calling them "Russkies" to mean that I have something against 'em. Heck, one of my best friends is an ex-GRU agent. She saved my bacon more than once. I remember this one time outside Cairo - Oh, yeah. Mardi Gras.)

Let's see... where was I? Oh, yeah: Even though I'd been close enough to take a weekend there, I never made it to New Orleans.

And let me tell you something, kid: New Orleans during Mardi Gras is a sight to behold.

The city was absolutely crazy. You could feel the electricity in the air. I'm sure it would have been hard enough on any normal evening to find the flea-bite motel Jeanine's company had booked for her, but in the madness of Mardi Gras, it took us almost an hour. When we'd finally checked in and gotten to the room, I was ready to hit the bed and chill for a couple hours.

But Jeanine wouldn't have it. She wanted to hit the bricks and start looking for the dude. You have to understand something about that girl: she was a five-foot-one spitfire, and she was a complete pit bull, especially when she was on assignment. You didn't want to come between her and a scoop. I imagine that's why she got all the good, expense-paid gigs - because the paper knew she'd stop at nothing to get the story and they'd more than make back the money they laid out.

I didn't argue. I knew that the sooner she found this guy and got the rest of her interview, the sooner we could clock out and join the festivities.

So I grabbed my Auto Mag from my bag and- Huh? What about the gun?

Oh, yeah. I guess some people might question why I was toting around the hand cannon.

Continue Reading...
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What the Omens Portend for the Coming Month's Game Sessions

Here's what's on the docket for October:

Little Fears (1st edition, from Key20)

Beyond the Supernatural (1st edition, from Palladium)

Chill (1st edition, from Pacesetter)

Dark Cults (card/story-telling game)
One other game - don't know what, but hopefully I'm playing - not running!

. . . . .

Monday, October 3, 2016

What I Did This Weekend

On Saturday, I introduced some new friends to an old one: Beyond the Supernatural:

It took a while to get through character creation (partly because of the system, partly due to the fact that we can't keep from going off on wild tangents when we get together) but once the game began, the pace never slowed. (That's one of the things I love about BTS: there's plenty of room for role playing and  action.)

This session saw four monster hunters go in search of a fellow hunter who'd gone missing: Fred Carter.

While on Carter's trail, they've traveled over most of the continental U.S., gotten into a melee with a couple of alligator-men, and were nearly blown up. When we left them, they had just come under attack by even more gator-men. The team's currently split up, battered, singed, and possibly outnumbered by upright-walking gators who can use weapons and are extremely hard to kill.

What will happen next session? Will they all make it out of the coming fight alive? Stay tuned...

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Halloween Season Is upon Us! To Celebrate, here's a Ghost of Octobers Past

[From an older post:]

So, fall is upon us and the crisp October morning air portends the coming of Halloween. My thoughts turn to ghoulies, ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties; to black, moonless skies above decrepit Victorian mansions, abandoned and forgotten cemetaries, and silent, fog-shrouded woods. (Well, my thoughts often turn to these things, but now even more so than they do the rest of the year!)

It's ironic, considering how much such things freaked the Hell out of me when I was a child, that I should now have such fond feelings for them. As I mentioned in the flashback post I'm resurrecting today, I was terrified by spooky things when I was younger. But at the same time, I was inexplicably drawn to them - I couldn't turn down a good horror movie if my sanity depended on it. Which it very nearly often did.

Take for instance the movie I watched with my fiancee this past weekend: Amicus' The Skull, starring one of my all-time favorite genre actors (and fellow war gamer) Peter Cushing. A finely written (it was adapted from a story by Robert Bloch) and filmed Gothic treasure, it's a movie I haven't seen since I was maybe 10 years old. I recently purchased the DVD, having been meaning to do so for several years, and was instantly reminded how it affected my younger self. For a long time after first viewing The Skull - maybe years! - I was terrified to turn around or look over my shoulder when I was alone in my family's old farmhouse. I just knew there was a disembodied floating skull directly behind me, and that to turn and face it would bring my instant doom and eternal torment!

I distinctly recall one night sometime after this, when I was still afflicted with the dread of the Skull Over My Shoulder - a late autumn wind storm was buffeting the old farm house, and woke me from a nightmare-ridden slumber. The wind wailed and moaned, and my bedroom windows rattled incessantly as the wind whistled through the cracks around them. I bore it as long as I could, but finally could take no more and fled to the living room. I had spent many nights there, sleeping with a light on. My bedroom was no sanctuary, as I had been tormented by creatures there on many nights, and had even been dragged into the abysmal black depths of my closet, through the evil hole in the wall therein. All in nightmares of course, but we all know how fine the line is between dream and "reality."

Unfortunately, on this night, the lighted living room would offer no reprieve: I had just settled in when the lamp above my head went dark! I rose warily and tried the light switch again and again, as the wind wailed and beat at the picture window behind me. My muscles stiffened in fear, and with each "click" my every movement and thought became equally labored as the dread spread throughout my entire body. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I moved as quickly as I could - which seemed unnaturally slow, as if moving through molasses - to the stairs, hoping to reach the safety of my parents' bedroom on the floor above before that protective barrier of glass gave way and admitted entrance to the Thing Outside That Wanted To Eat My Soul. I trudged up the stairs, forcing my frozen legs to move, step by agonizing step.

Continue reading: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Wanna See Something Really Scary?"

Since we're on the topic of things that are scary, I think this is a perfect time to introduce the side project that's been filling my brain of late. (Well, one of them, anyway.) It's one of my current writing projects: Scary Things.

Scary Things is about a bunch of kids from different cliques who, upon hitting adolescence, find that they suddenly have supernatural abilities. It's as much about discovering the full extents of these abilities (not to mention their origin) and the new reality they open up for the kids as it is about them having to transcend their social boundaries and biases to learn how to work together - which they'll have to do to survive in their strange, scary, new world.

And before we get to the meat of this article, let me head off something at the pass: the title, "Scary Things," is not in any way inspired or influenced by NetFlix's (awesome!) series, Stranger Things. Nor is its concept.

Scary Things actually began its life as the title of a set of miniatures skirmish game rules I was working on, shortly after I released New World Disorder. (In my former life as an indie game designer.) It was to be a horror-themed variant of the NWD rules, but it never got beyond the play-testing stage. The name later found new life as the title of a rules-lite, horror-themed role playing game concept I very briefly tinkered with.

Then, a few years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night and - as so often happens when I'm laying in the inky blackness, wide awake - ideas started pouring into my head for a story about a bunch of teens who are endowed with supernatural powers. It was an off-shoot of my quarter-century long horror RPG campaign, which I've considered turning into a series of books for almost as long. (Which, as of last year, I've finally begun to do, with my Fred Carter adventures.)

I knew immediately what the title of this story would be.

Thus, Scary Things, in its true form - the form that feels like the name deserved all along - was born.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, allow me to introduce to you: Scary Things.

. . . . .

Scary Things, Part One: "Endings and Beginnings"


Maria had just finished her rounds of the nursery when the hospital lights went down for the night.

She stood in the doorway of the nurse's station and took one more moment to scan the room, thinking to herself how pleasantly quiet it had fallen. With the lights down and the half-dozen infants sleeping like, for lack of a better word, babies, the nursery was blissfully - and uncommonly - tranquil for this time of the evening.

She turned and went to set her clipboard on the desk at the station. As she did, she bumped the large orange and white cup of coffee she'd set there at the start of her shift. For half a heartbeat, she wondered how it had gotten so close to the edge of the desk. Then, it toppled over and, as she dove to catch it, hit the arm of the chair and seemed to explode - some into her face and the rest all over the front of her lime green scrubs.

She opened her mouth to curse but caught herself in time - realizing that the current tranquility of her evening shift was a fragile thing, susceptible to breakage by such things as a loud torrent of expletives. No spilled cup of coffee was worth the risk of filling the rest her shift with six screaming infants.

"Madre de Dios," she muttered under her breath, snatching up a nearby towel and wiping in futility at the cold coffee that was rapidly saturating her pants from the knees down.

It only took a few wipes to become clear to her that this wasn't going to be an easy cleanup. She glanced again over her shoulder at the nursery, as if something there might have changed in the few moments that had passed. She thought for a moment - a very brief moment - about calling someone from Maternity to come down the hall and watch over her charges while she went to clean up her mess. It's what she would normally have done - she took her responsibility as the infants' caregiver and protector with utmost seriousness.

But tonight the peacefulness of the sleeping babes seemed to fill her with a sense of security. She felt they would be all right. Just lock the door, her inner voice - the one that hardly ever led her astray - told her. They're sound asleep. They'll be fine.

She didn't give it a second thought - she went into the hall, closed the door behind her, and locked it with the key dangling from the rubber bracelet on her right wrist. Then, whistling a half-forgotten lullaby her grammy used to sing to her, she went up the hall to go get some fresh scrubs.

She didn't notice the human-like figure that moved up the hall behind her, cloaked deep in shadows that none of the hall lights were casting. Nor did she hear the same lullaby being softly whistled from the figure's lips, the bottom of which was swollen and split, causing blood to well up but not to run.

The shadowy intruder stopped at the locked nursery door and watched Maria as she continued down the hall, remaining still until she turned the corner and was out of sight. Then, it turned to the door, still cloaked in unnatural shadow. Its head, covered by a blood-stained silk scarf, bowed as it focused on the door handle. Its hands - also smeared with still-damp blood - reached toward the handle, but instead of grasping it, simply waved over it as a few words softly issued from its bloody lips.

A strange light played across the door handle and it turned easily. The figure raised its head and hands as if to push the door, which opened without being touched. The figure took one glance up and down the hall before it slipped into the nursery. The door swung silently shut behind it.

[Continue Reading...]

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Scanning Project: Meet Fred Carter

October descends upon us this weekend.

To kick off the Halloween season, I thought I'd take you on yet another trip down memory lane. Except this time, the lane takes a turn into the depths of a lonely forest, where the trees squat threateningly close to the path and block even the pale light of the gibbous moon on the horizon...

I've mentioned before that I was a sensitive youth, and that I was horribly afflicted by nightmares through most of my childhood. (My earliest memory is actually of my mother coming to me after I'd awakened, screaming, in my crib, and of the nightmare that caused me to do so. Talk about "setting the scene.") But, believe it or not, I also loved spooky tales and horror films, despite the frightful effect they always had on me. I couldn't keep myself away from them if I'd wanted to.

I was a living, breathing paradox.

I've also mentioned before how I made my first foray into horror role playing in 1985, using a mash-up of TSR's Top Secret, Pacesetter's Chill and FGU's Villains & Vigilantes. I only got to play a couple games of this creation before I retired from playing RPGs for several years.

When I returned to role playing at the tail end of the '80s, it was to the old stand-by: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I played this with a couple of people (my later-to-be-ex and one of her friends) who were only marginally interested in gaming. They were both still in high school, and I later discovered that they had a couple of school mates who, apparently, were part of a regular gaming group. I expressed interest, and they arranged for me to run a game of AD&D for this group.

The group in question consisted of the youngest brother of my childhood best friend (and someone whom I hadn't seen in almost a decade, but who would soon become my new best friend for the decade-plus to come), a guy I worked with but didn't know all that well, and couple of other guys, brothers, I'd never met. I was nervous, having never run a game for strangers before - I had no idea if it was going to flop, or - worse - turn into one of those RPG horror shows one would occasionally hear whispers of back in the day.

But it was a blast!

That game was the birth of what would be - with the occasional membership change - my core gaming group for the next twenty years.

But that's not the topic of this post. This post is about the foundations of my horror gaming history, which - despite that mid-eighties game - was really born with this group of people.

You see, I was invited back to join that group for the following week's game. Their existing game master was going to be running a game of his ongoing horror campaign, using a system I hadn't heard of: Palladium's Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS").

This session would turn out to be the first of scores of horror role playing game sessions. The bulk of these took place between 1989 and 1996, but the campaign setting that grew from the first games is the same setting (including characters) in which we've played as recently as last year (2015). I would have never imagined that this first step for me into an unfamiliar game system with a new group of people would spawn something that would last a quarter of a century. It still boggles my mind!

And it all started with this character: Fred Carter.

Yes, you read that right - his name's Fred. I suppose an explanation is in order.

As I said, BTS was a new system for me. I had never even laid eyes on the book prior to showing up for that night's game, so I was completely overwhelmed by it. But I needed to make a character fairly quickly so we could get to the game. Not being able to immediately grasp the nuances of the multitude of character class options available to me, I was lost. Then, I saw a picture in the book of a spiky-haired man blazing away with an assault rifle at an unseen enemy and decided that would be my character - a gun-toting, paramilitary type. So I opted for the Physical Genius P.C.C. (That means Psychic Character Class, for you non-Palladium readers.)

Here's a free tip, kiddies: if ever you get the chance to give BTS a go, steer way clear of the Genius character classes. There's not much there you can't already pull off with a smart selection of skills; the perks you get for taking the class are next to useless, and that's about what your character will end up being, as a result. In the meantime, all your fellow players will be playing super heroes.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a hot tip from a hip, popular gaming-geek blogger to warn me off the class, and I compounded poor ability score rolls with a poor class choice. Followed by mediocre skill selection. Topped off by a poor roll on the background table.

In short, I ended up with an average meat bag. A coffin stuffer of completely ordinary proportions. A mook. And one who had formerly been institutionalized ("All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi.") for - get this - fear of the dark. In a game full of proto-super heroes - martial artists of profound physical ability, mages who can step into shadow and throw fireballs, and psychics who can see into the past, read minds, cause spontaneous combustion, etc., - I had a character who could walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. On a good day.

Disappointed, I gave my everyday guy an everyday name: Fred. (And I topped it off with a nod to my favorite story by my favorite author: "The Statement of Randolph Carter.")

But the thing is, being a total non-hero was the best thing that could have happened to the character. And to me as a player.

You see, while everybody else was running around finding out what the monster of the week was and how to defeat it, I got to play a character who didn't have to think, didn't have to interrogate NPCs, didn't have to read books. All Fred had to do was be the meat shield for the group's "useful" characters. For the real heroes.

Fred quickly rose to be the protector of the group. It was a role that totally suited me. I could turn off my brain, which - as someone who's usually the game master - was a brilliant thing. I didn't have to be "on" all the time, like I did when running a game. What's more, I had time and energy to spend on developing Fred's personality.* (And the residual fear of the dark added a nice touch that let me delve even more deeply into role playing him.)

It was a the most fun I'd ever had playing a character. Or ever would have.

As time (and games) passed, I left Fred behind to try some of the other character classes available to a BTS player. I settled on a parapsychologist - Fred's uncle, I believe - who suited my intellectual side, and let me be a little more invested in the mystery behind each game session's lurking Big Bad.

Before long, the group moved to playing TriTac's Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic (or "Satlking," as we call it). It seemed to suit us better than BTS, and we played many more horror games in that system (but with the same campaign universe and NPCs). Everybody made new characters for the game - except me.

I went back to Fred.

I remade Fred, and this time had better luck with my ability score rolls. Not only did he come out a little more buff (and not so ugly!), but he rolled a high enough "PSI" score to make him an "Anti-PSI," meaning his presence made life difficult for psychic beings, and his touch drained them of their power. This made Fred the Protector even better at a job he'd already become very good at, and to this day, I revel in every chance I get to play him.

Which, sadly, is next to never.

So, in honor of the character I've played in more game sessions that any other, here's to Fred. Fred, the mook. Fred, the goofball. Fred, the guy who dives in front of bullets so the guy who can save the day doesn't get taken out. Fred, the guy who pisses off fellow PCs when they forget he's an Anti-PSI and try to use their psychic powers around him. Fred, the guy who punches the monster in the face and gets punched back while the witch casts the spell to banish it.

Here's to Fred Carter, the coolest nobody I've ever met.

P.S.: Watch for an upcoming post in which I share the gory (not just figuratively) details of Fred's first BTS game.

P.P.S.: I love Fred Carter (and his adventures) so much that I'm working on an urban fantasy novel/novella featuring him. Hopefully, the first of many. If you're interested in that sort of thing, keep an eye on my writing blog: christopherbrackett.com.

*In case you're interested, I played Fred's Intelligence score of 14 like it was 9. And I played his personality as a cross between two of my all-time favorite film heroes: Jack Burton and Ash Williams (as seen in Evil Dead II - Army of Darkness had yet to be made!). He can be a little annoying (or so I've often been told) but everybody knows that when the poop hits the proverbial fan, he's all business. He leaps into danger when his friends are in trouble - with even less thought than usual - and would give up his life to defend an ally or an innocent. I figure that allows him some latitude when it comes to being a bit of a wise-cracking meathead.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Does Anyone out There Still Play Beyond the Supernatural?

In the coming days, we'll be indulging a bit more in some nostalgia involving the scary side of role playing, including Palladium's horror-themed RPG, Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS"), first edition.

To get everyone primed for these meandering jaunts down memory lane, I thought I'd re-post my last BTS-specific creation: the character sheet my game group's been using since 2009 or so.

Which, unfortunately, means we haven't used it much at all - I can probably count on one hand the number of BTS games I've played in that time. TriTac's Bureau 13 just had more traction with my group, so BTS was always sitting on the sidelines, watching and hoping to get picked first next time.

That's really a pity, because BTS is a really fun game. It's not perfect, of course, but there's really nothing like sending in your proto-super hero to smash some nasties in the face (be it literally or figuratively). We'll cover that ground a little more in the aforementioned posts.

Anyway, here's a simple sheet for a simple (but fun) game from the days of yore, for those of you who keep the torch lit...

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Wait... Does This Mean Wil Wheaton Is a Hydra Agent?

Did anyone else happen to notice this at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier?

I may be mistaken, but those look suspiciously like Wesley Crusher uniform surface-to-air missiles. Weaponized Wesley? Wow - that Strucker was even more of an evil ass-hat than we'd ever realized...
Exactly, Wes. Exactly.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scanning Project: M.U. Corman Tech Building

Here's another old map/floor plan from ages ago.

If I recall correctly, I drew this one up while watching Re-Animator on videotape, rented from the video store right after it was released to video. (If you're of a certain age, the latter half of that sentence may confuse you. Come to think of it, the former half might, as well.) I loved the movie and wanted to throw a version of the story into my Call of Cthulhu/Chill/Villains & Vigilantes mash-up. (This never saw use in those games, but it did finally get used a few years later, during my Beyond the Supernatural campaign.)

So, I drew up a map of what I thought Arkham and its envrions should look like (which I'll share later) and this, the "modern" sciences building of my version of Miskatonic University: the Corman Tech building.

(And yes, the building's name is a nod to the director of some of my all-time favorite films.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Scanning Project: Stilman Institute

October's right around the corner, and that means that Halloween is imminent. And that means a series of horror gaming-related posts is also imminent!

As a prelude of what's to come, I thought I'd share another piece of my handmade gaming paraphernalia. Specifically, the grounds map and floor plan of the Stilman Institute, home to a sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, of the player characters in my Beyond the Supernatural ("BTS" to my group) game.

(For those not in the know, BTS is a really fun little game from Palladium. It pits characters who are essentially low-powered super heroes against all manner of supernatural beasties. You could do worse than to give it a try - just stay away from the incomplete second edition. Stick with the all-in-one rules set with the inspirational Richard Corben cover.)

The Institute is a group of federally funded psychic researchers. (The term "paranormal investigators" had yet to come into vogue when this map wa created - sometime in the very early '90s.) It's led by wheelchair-bound Ezra Stilman and his daughter, Maya. (I believe I have character sheets for both of these characters - if I can find them, look for them soon...)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Even More Dice Lovin'

Carried on from yesterday's article:

My first set of non-standard (read as: not just six-sided) polyhedral dice came in my Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons set in 1981. I didn't know it at the time, but these were apparently uncommon colors for the TSR dice: they were a combination of solid red dice and pink-and-white marbled dice.

Unfortunately, although I still have my first dice, they are tattered and worn, having fallen victim to a poorly conceived dice-bag-as-hacky-sack affair sometime in the mid '80s. I was bummed out, but not distraught over it. I had mostly moved on to playing Top Secret at that time, and I had several other sets of "Dragon Dice" that fared far better in the aforementioned incident and which could take the place of the damaged dice. Also, by then, my first wave of gaming had almost reached its end, and my renewed interest in the hobby wouldn't arrive until the end of the decade - by which time, dice were no longer hard to come by. (And were better made and came in more interesting variations.)

So I never really felt at much of a loss over my D&D dice - until the last several years.

Over the course of the least eight years, I looked every now and then to replace these dice. And although I was able to locate many Basic and Expert sets with their dice sets intact, I was unable to find any like the ones I had originally owned. I hadn't realized when I was in my late teens just how hard it would be to replace the damaged dice. (Isn't that always the way?)

Finally, last year, I found a Moldvay boxed set on eBay with a set of dice that was almost exactly like mine - they were all marbled, unlike my mixed set of solid and marbled dice. But having spent so long looking for a set even close to mine - with no luck whatsoever - I barely hesitated to pay the rather hefty price for the boxed set.

I've now mostly replaced my original set of dice, and that makes me happy.

New dice on the left, original dice on the right
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Speaking of Dice...

While looking for a good image to use with the Zen and the Art of Dice article, I stumbled across some images that reminded me of my old TSR dice. These sent me on a short journey down memory lane.

I blame the following products.

I can't look at the wickedly cool, stylized imagery of these old "Dragon Dice" packages without feeling a deep pang of nostalgia. They're just so cool, and seeing them instantly transports me to 1982, where I'm standing at the counter of B. Dalton Booksellers and agonizing over which ones to buy. (Ultimately, I bought a set of each of the ones below, plus a couple differently colored sets. Yes, my dice addiction started early.)

I still have all of them - including some I added in the past few years and those that came with my Gangbusters and Star Frontiers boxed sets, and even those from my Moldvay Basic D&D set. (More on these, tomorrow!) I don't use them anymore - as much as I love them, they really aren't the greatest dice - but I occasionally take them out and admire them, recalling fondly the period of my life they represent.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Zen and the Art of Dice

I know there are people who see dice as unbiased (as long as they're balanced) randomizers. To these people, they're just tools of the trade - simple devices that behave in a mathematically predictable manner. Such an idea as luck or mind over matter having any bearing on the outcome of a die roll is nothing more than an artificial construct that superstitious humans force upon their perceived reality to make sense of what they believe to be statistical anomalies.

I'm not one of these people.

Mind you: I'm an extremely rational person. While I do believe there's more to "reality" than we'll ever understand, I approach life with what I like to think of as a healthy degree of skepticism. I also firmly believe that it's human nature to ascribe supernatural causes to effects we can't otherwise explain. Although I have my own experiences that cause me to question certain things, I take second-hand tales of "unexplainable" occurrences and the like with a huge grain of salt.

That disclaimer aside, I've seen enough people rolling dice in the last five decades to come to believe that it's possible for a person to "warp the curve," as they say.

Take my fiancee, for example. She has a true talent for consistently blowing the statistical bell curve toward the high end with any dice she's given. I've long-since disproved that this ability has anything to do with uneven,  biased dice - she can do it with any dice she's handed; her dice (which she changes frequently - she's truly embraced the gamer's dice addiction), my dice (which roll like crap for me, generally - more on this, below), our friends' dice, and even the communal dice - including my Zocchi and Game Science dice.

Interestingly, there are times when she blows the curve to the left - toward the low end. And this almost always happens when she's sick. Her focus weakens and she her dice rolls show it.

When she's healthy, though, watch out.

(And don't even get me started on her characters' ability scores. Sheesh. I've actually had to make her re-roll her scores when creating characters because her scores were so insanely unreasonable that I felt it'd be unfair to the other players. In fact, in a game where the other players get to roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die to determine their scores, I usually make her roll a straight 3d6, just to keep things fair.)

I'm different. When I'm rolling for myself, I almost always roll toward the low end of average. Not enough to say that I warp any curves, but definitely enough so that my play experience is awfully rough. I therefore try to avoid "going to the dice" as much as possible when playing rather than GMing.

When I'm rolling as the GM/DM, though, things change. For every crit I roll as a player, I easily roll 10 as a game master. (I make about five times as many rolls as GM, so I'd expect the numbers to reflect a similar ratio.) My players have repeatedly remarked how they want to smash the twenty-siders I use as a GM - the same ones I use when I'm a player.

It all seems to come down to focus. When I'm playing, I don't have the focus on the game that I do when I GM. I don't have the sense of control, either. And that mental state - believe it or not - affects the outcome of my dice rolls.

You may scoff at this perspective, or you may be sitting there going: "Right on, dude!" Either way, I know what I've witnessed.

Over the years, I've gamed with many people who - like myself - have terrible luck when it comes to rolling dice. From these folks, I've learned that there are a few simple rules you can follow when using your dice that will (hopefully) mitigate the adverse effects of forces outside your control:

First, always prep new dice before using them in-game. Never roll them straight out of the package! New dice must first be allowed time to mingle in your dice bag with your existing dice for a day or two.

Second, never use new dice, even after they've been acclimated to your dice environment, or dice that have proven themselves hostile to you, when playing a character you love. The risk is too great!

Third, try using "dice rituals" to ensure proper behavior from your dice. Such rituals include:
  • Keep your readied ("on the bench") dice critical number face-up so they're ready to roll their best numbers.
  • Before rolling, "spank" the die. That is, hold it with its critical number face-up and smack the bottom side on the table. The harder the surface, the better - so aim for exposed wood and the like. (But be sure not to dent your host's table.)
  • Cup the die in your hands and blow on it before rolling.
  • Be sure that any other players who may jinx your roll (opponents or players with a history of bad dice rolling) aren't looking when you roll.
  • Be sure to get a good, hard drop and bounce when releasing the die. Don't just limply drop it, or send it sliding sideways across the table.
  • Always roll on a hard surface - avoid rolling on books, character sheets, play mats, etc. Again, aim for exposed tabletop.
  • Keep the die in your "zone." Don't let roll into another player's zone, or - worse - onto another player's character sheet, or - worst of all - into another player's dice.
  • Be sure to keep multiple types of any given die nearby ("the second string") so the dice on the bench know that they could be pulled out of the game if they don't perform as expected.
  • Always put your best-performing dice on the bench first - don't mix up the starting lineup between games. Dice like to be rewarded for being top performers.
Fourth, don't be afraid to use negative reinforcement as a tool to correct bad behavior in a die that rolls bad several times in a row. (Never punish a die for a single bad roll - we all screw up once in a while, even when we try our best.) Some suggestions:
  • Send the die to timeout. Put it aside, behind the bench with the second string dice, and put a die from the second string in its place on the bench. But only keep it there for a few rolls. Once you feel it's sat out enough of the game, switch it back to the bench.
  • Send the die to the second string. As above, but keep it out of the game until its replacement lets you down, then give it a second chance.
  • Pull the die from the game. Put it back in the dice bag, possibly after admonishing it for its lousy performance.
  • Send the die for re-education. Set it aside; after the game, perform one or more of the resetting steps (below).
  • Banish the die. Pull the die from the game, but don't put it back in your dice bag. Put it in a backup dice bag, or - better yet - put it in the communal dice pile, if you have one.
  • Publicly execute the die. The "public" in question here doesn't refer to the other players, but to the other dice. Surround the offending die with its peers and smash it with a hammer. Or melt it in a pan. Or any other creative and meaningful form of dice execution you can devise. (Just be sure to take proper care not to injure yourself, family pets, or anyone or anything other than the offending die.)
One caveat: DO NOT throw a bad die, even if it's just at a wall. It could bounce and hurt you or another player. Or, worse yet, one of your other dice!

And, finally, the last, Golden Rule of Dice:

Never, EVER, touch another player's dice, or let another player touch your own. 

Touching other players' dice is just bad form. Don't engage in this barbaric behavior, and don't suffer fools who do.

Seriously, you don't want your star die to become corrupted. It can take days, months - even years - for that sort of bad mojo ("dice cooties" is, I believe, the technical term) to wear off.

In the event that another player does bad-touch your dice, immediately separate them from your other dice. You don't want the contagion to spread. Keep the contaminated dice away from your other dice until they've been reset to default. Here are a few steps you can take to reset them:
  • Wash them in warm, soapy water.
  • Set them on a window sill and let them charge in the sun for seven days.
  • Wrap them in foil and bury them on the night of a new moon; dig them up on the next full moon.
The number of steps you take is up to you, but should be appropriate to the situation. For example, if your dice have been compromised by another player whom you know to be egregiously bad at rolling dice, I recommend performing at least the first two steps - if not all three!

After they've been reset, the dice will, of course, need to be re-attuned to you. Be sure to follow the previously mentioned steps for preparing new dice for their first use.

Follow these simple rules, and you'll be sure to prevent as many outside forces as possible from contaminating your dice rolls. All that will be left to deal with is your own poor luck/karma/mental focus.

And I'm sorry, but I can't help you with that. But many people make careers out of that sort of service, so I'm sure you'll be okay.

Are you a true dice fetishist? Not if you don't have at least a few of ThinkGeek's dice-lover's products!

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Final D&D Game, or "Eat stirges, hoser!"

I was trying to think of a good story for a blog post, so I started scraping at the back of my brain to see what was hiding beneath the layers of dust and cobwebs.*

(*Warning: I do not advise you do this without extensive preparation. The things to be found there can be dangerous and hungry!)

There, lurking in a dark corner, I encountered a memory - or at least a fragment of one - from my earliest days of playing Dungeons and Dragons, circa 1982, with my high school buddies. If I recall correctly, it was of the last game we ever played together. It's hard to see it clearly and it's tattered at the edges - much like my original D&D dice from my Moldvay Basic set are today - but I think I recall enough of it to regale you with it.

What follows is a cautionary tale of three high school geeks (technically, we were nerds back then) and what happens when they get a taste of too much power. First, a little back story:

My high school friends and I lived and breathed D&D throughout the year of 1982.

As I've said before, my best friend, Brian, and I received the Basic D&D rules for Christmas of 1981. (He, the Holmes set, and myself, the Moldvay set.) But that was just the gateway drug that led us to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. By late summer, we had each assembled a hodgepodge collection of Basic and Advanced books and we were playing a game that was essentially Moldvay Basic with the classes, spells, and monsters from AD&D tacked onto it. (Judging from what I've read and heard from other gamers of that era, this was the standard format for many D&D players.)

Due to my living so far from town, we didn't game together frequently. Brian, I believe, gamed semi-regularly with our other friend, John, and a couple of other on-again-off-again players. I played semi-regularly with my nephew. But at school, D&D was one of our prime topics of conversation. We'd discuss things such as the content of the latest issue of Dragon magazine or what impossible "heroic" (read as: "murderous") exploits our player characters had undertaken within our respective gaming groups. (You know: fighting and killing a god out of the Deities and Demigods book and looting its corpse like it was a dead goblin. That sort of thing. Good stuff!) The number of games I actually got to play with my high school friends could probably be counted on one hand, and all but the one I'm about to relate have completely faded from memory.

It was November or December of '82, and it was one of the rare occasions that I hosted my friends. Whether it was due to their parents' reluctance to cart them to my house in the boonies, or my parents' reluctance to have a bunch of teenage boys in their home, I don't know. But most get-togethers were at my friends' homes, most often, Brian's. (This often meant supping on his mother's "spaghetti pizza," which he and his brothers loved. But - sorry, guys and Mom Z. - that stuff was gross. It's why I usually tried to avoid being at the Z. house at dinner time.)

On this particular occasion, Brian was acting as Dungeon Master. John was playing his Barbarian (a new character class from Dragon magazine? Yeah, baby!), Thorbeorn, and I, my Elf fighter/magic-user, Moordow. Both player characters, under different DMs, had slain at least one god - in fair and totally unbiased combats, free of DM fiat, I assure you. We were in a dungeon the origin of which I've long forgotten. I don't recall there being an oh-so-familiar TSR module cover/DM screen present, so I'm leaning toward it having been a dungeon of Brian's own design.

(It should be noted that John and I did not have a great relationship. He was part of our trio of friends, but I never bonded with him the way I had with Brian. I found him to be goofy and extremely pushy, and he probably found me to be a bit of a critical dick. We were probably both correct in our assessment of one another.)

Here's the entirety of what I recall from that session:

Brian: The corridor ends in a heavy wooden door. It's not locked.

John: I open the door.

Brian: It's dark on the other side, but you see stairs descending into the blackness. As you strain to see into the dark, you see shapes flying around and hear strange, squeaking noises. Suddenly, something dives out at you - stirges! Roll initiative.

John (rolling higher than Brian on his 1d6): I slam the door shut!

Brian: Okay, you close the door and all of the stirges are still on the other side.

Me: Why'd you do that?

John: So we don't have to fight them.

Me: But that's the last door on this level - we obviously have to go down those stairs to get to the next level.

John: I'm sure there's another way down - we don't have to fight the stirges.

I immediately started getting upset at the thought of spending the next half-hour or more of precious game time scouring every previously explored hallway for a secret door that may or may not exist.

Me: What're you? Chicken?

John: I'm not chicken. You're not the leader.

Me: You're not the leader, either.

John: We're not going this way. You can't make Thorbeorn go.

Me: No? Well Moordow could kick your ass and make you go.

John. No he couldn't. And I'd like to see him try.

We began lobbing ability scores and names of readied magic items - including more than a few god weapons and artifacts - at each other. Brian sat in silence, watching the serve and volley.

Me: Fine! I kick open the door and shove Thorbeorn into the stairway.

I think it was Brian's first in-game PVP situation. He just rolled with it.

Brian: Um. Okay, roll initiative. (We rolled - John rolled a 1.) Thorbeorn's surprised. He doesn't get to act this round. (To me:) Roll your attack.

I rolled my not-yet-battered -and-unreadable red TSR twenty-sider. I don't remember the result, but it was enough.

Brian: You shove him into the stairway.

Me: And close the door.

Brian looked surprised. John turned red.

(Mind you: our characters were both level 19 or higher, and we'd both destroyed super-powerful, immortal beings; to this day, I have no clue why either one of us would be concerned for a moment about a pack of stirges. Hey, I never said this tale was going to make sense.)

John: Oh, yeah? Well, I open the door and attack Moordow with Ma Yuan's stone. I'm turning it into a vorpal blade. I'm gonna cut his head off.

Brian: You're surprised. You'll have to wait until your turn in the next round. Moordow gets to go first.

Me: I lock the door.

Brian: You can't. There's no lock.

John smiled at me.

Me: Fine. Then I cast wizard lock on the door.

John glared at me.

John: Yeah? Then I break it down using my 18/00 strength. And I have gauntlets of ogre power and a girdle of storm giant strength.

Brian (starting to feel like he'd lost control of the situation): Um... (thumbing through the Player's Handbook) I don't know if you can break down a wizard locked door...

That was it - John had hit his breaking point.

John: You're stupid!

He threw down his d20 and shoved his goldenrod character sheet and dice away. It was my first ever experience with a D&D rage quit. (I'd seen many other rage quits in board games with my siblings and my nephew. In fact, it wan't an uncommon thing with my opponents, so the behavior wasn't totally unfamiliar to me.)

And that, as they say, was that. I never played D&D - in any form - with my high school friends again.

Now, I could say that this conflict was the sole reason for that, but I don't think that's true.

No, it may have been why we didn't play again for the short term, but the real reason this was the final game, ever, is much more complex, and involves more factors: John's moving away from role playing games, which he was only marginally interested in to start with; Brian and myself moving on to other TSR games (Top Secret was about to eclipse D&D in a big way, especially for me); and jobs, girls, and the impending end of high school - not necessarily in that order.

But it was the last game of D&D I played with anyone other than my much younger nephew or my much older brother-in-law while I was a teenager. It was the last game with my peers, at the zenith of my pre-adult years.

And that's a shame.

We were young, dumb, social misfits, prone to petty squabbles that seemed to be anything but petty in the heat of the moment. If only we could have seen those game sessions through the eyes of our future selves, with the wall of adult responsibilities and adult concerns rising ever higher between us and our teenage selves. If only we could have known how much the memories of them would come to mean to us later on in life. And how hard it would be to keep them from simply slipping away.

Maybe we'd have seen how fleeting our opportunities to enjoy that sort of totally carefree time with our friends would become.

And maybe we'd have enjoyed the hell out of them, even more than we did.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Speaking of Swords, Sorcery and Pulpy Goodness

I thought I'd share one of my favorite sources of inspiration for my old-school science fiction and fantasy gaming: The PorPor Books Blog. It's a lens through which I'm once again able to view the books and periodicals (and their often awesome cover art) of my tender years.

If you're not familiar with it, you should really check it out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Swords, Sorcery and Little Metal Men

In keeping with the pulp, swords and sorcery theme of recent posts, here's a PSA:

For you dice-chuckers out there that love tabletop miniatures games as much as role playing (or for those who haven't discovered the awesomeness that is a miniatures gaming addiction, er, I mean, hobby) there's a great little home-brew game on teh interwebs called Crom. If you like fantasy minis gaming, or just looking at really awesome pictures of others' minis games, you should check it out:

(While you're there, you could do worse than explore all of the other cool stuff Matakishi has on his site.)

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