Tag Archives: memoirs

This Gaming Life

Forgot to mention, my third column for UK Roleplayers was published a couple of weeks back.

http://www.ukroleplayers.com/columns/baz-king/this-gaming-life/

There’s three there now, and it’s planned to be a monthly feature. It’s a kind of memoir, all about me and my gaming history, but it seems to have tapped into a lot of folks memories. I love that. Hope you drop by and comment (here or there, not precious)

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Why not Runequest?

I’ll do this totally from memory, no cheating and looking things up on the internet. 

My first exposure to Glorantha was with the GW imported RQ2 back in the early 80s. I’d not been in the hobby for very long, but even then I could get a sense of elitism. RQ was more serious than D&D (and a lot more than Tunnels & Trolls). I got a feeling it was for and by grown ups. This sense was heightened by White Dwarf, which was my only real view of the wider RPG world (apart from going to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford St). In WD, Glorantha looked mysterious and exotic. It got it’s own departments in the mag, with contributors like Oliver Dickinson and Dave Morris (later of Dragon Warriors fame). I read the Griselda stories and thought they were pretty cool. Grittier than the world TSR presented, almost Leiber-esque.

 

So a plunge was taken and I stumped up for the box set. As a 12(?) year old that’s a pretty big purchase. I thought it was well worth it, purely on quantuity of material. There were the rules with that female greek looking warrior fighting a lizardman. Great pic. On the inner covers was loads of errata. I took that as a good sign, and it added to the ‘grown up’ feel I got. The book was cool enough, and I enjoyed the saga of Rurik the Restless, but I didn’t get any sense of excitement of vim from it. Glorantha itself was described in really broad strokes IIRC. I liked the idea of it being a lozenge. The cults sounded weird, like they were for dirty old men. (I never got any of the old Satanism vibe from D&D, but I almost did from RQ).  

It was the maps that blew me away. First the world map which had a tiny boxed out area. That referred you to the map of Sartar and Prax towards the back. Pure distilled awesome. They still stand up today. It made my imagination spin, and at the same time I was intimidated by it. What was the Block? How would I find out? Certainly the core book didn’t give me any help.

 

The rest of the box had clues. There was FANGS, a set of monsters that were done on a dot matrix printer I think. I remamber Walktapus, the Jack O Lantern, the Broo, Scorpion men, and Aldryami. And Dragonewts and Trolls. They were very ‘Harryhausen‘ to my mind. No pictures that I recall. The Monster Manual had it beat.

 

Then, the scenario. I’ve always used published scenarios. I use them to help me get a grip on the setting and to help me understand how to put together my own adventures. Apple Lane was awful. The Village of Hommlet was bare bones, but Apple Lane seemed almost childlike in it’s sketchiness. The nearby dungeon was the Rainbow Mounds. It had corridors with turns so sharp you could cut yourself. Fling. 

I didn’t mind the ducks. I was reading Howard the Duck comics back then so I could visualise wise cracking feathered characters. I rolled one up and called him Killmallard. 

I still own that boxed set, and I’ve never, not once, played Runequest. 

I think many people did go down the RQ route, maybe ending up with Stormbringer, or Cthulhu or whatever. I think Glorantha left me cold, or intimidated by it’s scope, one or the other. But I chose the other fantasy path, the one with hit points, not hit locations. I think I made the right decision.

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The last 5 years

My old friend Gaz asked a great question recently over at UK Roleplayers.  I responded there, but wanted to also let my readers here know where my gaming journey has taken me in the last 5 years.

He asked:

Frequently in job interviews and such you’re asked where you want to be in five years, when actually what you’re interested in is getting a job right now. How often do we look back and reflect on how things have turned out though and what you’ve achieved or not?

Look back at yourself five or ten years ago. Not pretty is it? However, get over yourself and describe how your gaming has changed since then – if indeed it has. Do you now GM? Are you a Dirty Left Field Indie Hippy? Do you exclusively play D&D after swearing you’d never go back? Do you attend conventions? How has your style or preference changed?

As for me, I’ve been Indie-Curious for a while and have now gone from dipping a toe in the Sea of Hippiness to being in there up to me nadgers, and then wading back to shore again. I can see the benefits and attractions of some small press games, but still abhor others. I look with surprise and pity at those who cling to the long outdated BRP system, yet from the same era, I have run more Pendragon in the last 2-3 years than any other game (bar Savage). I’ve probably got a much better appreciation of what different groups of people want from a session having run several games at half a dozen conventions a year – and yet with that breadth of knowledge am probably more clear on what I want from a game and narrowed my focus.

I’ve also learned that it takes more for me to think a session is Good than it does your common or garden roleplayer. The other side of the coin being that I perhaps don’t have to beat myself so much about some of the games I’ve run, because even though I’m hyper-critical of myself, most other people got more out of a particular session.

From GenCon Manchester in 2000 I learned that you get more out if you put more in, and I’ve spent the last decade proving it.

What about you?

My gaming life has completely changed in the last 5 years (as has my personal life to be honest). It actually came about by design.

I’ve been playing, mostly GMing since the late 70s, and I was getting to the stage where no matter how I tried, I felt like I was getting less and less fun out of gaming. I was often bored, especially in con games. I was still excited reading the books, and planning sessions, but in play, there was a strong feeling of adequacy at best. With that, came the growing realisation that I wasn’t getting any younger. I had 100s of books and systems, some had been waiting on my shelves for decades, just for the right time and group to come along. It was time to make a decision. So I sat down and had a long hard word with myself about what I wanted from my hobby.

My starting point was to think about the games I’d enjoyed most in the last 30 years. WFRP Enemy Within, Shadowrun mega adventures, Earthdawn, Orpheus one shots, Dragon Warriors campaigns, AD&D Desert of Desolation, D&D3 Banewarrens. The common theme was fantasy, that seemed to be my favourite genre, and the one I was happiest running. I also took a look at my player pool. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that the group as a whole has to be on board. There’s no point me running my beloved Supers games if my players want to treat it as something it’s not. My players, back then, were a mix of my Uni mates who I’d played with for 10+ years and their WAGs, who were newbies. I tried Trail of Cthulhu as a hobby reboot, thinking that the invisible system and familiar world would help. It didn’t, but that’s another story.

Back to the drawing board and I picked up with my old Castles & Crusades game I’d been running. It was cool stuff, but I knew my players wanted more mechanical juju than C&C offered. So we messed around with D&D3.x for a while until we ran into the same issues as many gamers do when they get past 10th level.

And then 4e was announced.

Overnight I became a born again D&Der. It was like coming home after a long time away settling for less. It was (and remains) the system I’d been looking for all this time. It made my life as DM easier, without sacrificing the detail I like. It was perfect for my old buddies who frankly, like hitting things with swords. And for the newbies, it was surprisingly easy to pick up, and they loved the tactile nature of the game.

Fast forward to today. We play every week and our regular game has just hit 20th level. We play another game with one of the newbies as DM, and it rocks. We love the kit that comes with it, it’s a complete hobby. It’s got me blogging properly so I can indulge my writing with an appreciative audience. I can roll up to a con with a great game in my bag that I’m happy to run for all sorts. They’ve given me great feedback.

I’ve really not played much else in the last couple of years. I picked up Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, and Eclipse Phase. They went back on the shelf soon after. Same with cons. With a young family I can’t get away as much as I used to. But honestly, I don’t think I’m missing much. The ‘net means I’m more connected to the gaming community than ever. I don’t miss 4 hour endurance tests playing godawful Cthulhu one shots where nothing I do matters. I do love blogging, and the feedback I get from that is enormously gratifying.

I’m a happier gamer now than I have been in some time. It’s like when I was 11 years old and drawing dungeons in my maths books. Except this time I’m not hanging around. I’m playing games right now, not waiting for the mythical perfect game or group. I’m fighting dragons. I’m foiling dark rituals. I got the girl and killed the baddie.

Next 5 years? More D&D. And I hope to bring my kids into this glorious hobby. Wednesday nights are hero nights round mine. May it be ever thus.

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2009 in review

It’s been a great year for gaming,  possibly the best ever. All year long I’ve been up to my ears in D&D, 4th edition to be specific. If I’ve got my maths right I’ve DMed 55 sessions this year alone. My home group are nicely into the paragon tier, and still loving every minute of it. I’m getting lots of reviewing done, both here and at RPGnet. WotC have been very busy too, and I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the highlights for the release schedule in 2009.

I’m a collector as  well as a gamer and I think I’ve bought just about every release for D&D from WotC this last year. Exceptions being The Best of Dragon and Adventurers Vault 2. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the relentless release schedule. I can just about hold on to the book releases but I hardly ever get the most out of Dragon and Dungeon despite being a subscriber. In fact, one of my resolutions for the coming year is to only pick up the DM books as I rarely play and the DDI can help me out when I do get the chance. I guess that’s why I passed on AV2 in the end. In fact, the 3s for next year are going to have to be really impressive to get me to pony up for them. It’s not that I dislike them, I don’t, but I’m not getting much mileage out of Primal Power (for instance) simply because none of my group play a primal class. Character death is rare these days, so it’s even less likely I’ll see the newer classes at my table. Shame really.

Back to the topic. My picks for 2009 are going to start with a cheat. The best adventure I’ve yet seen for 4e was part of Dungeon 161 which hit our screens in Dec 08. It’s The Temple Between by Ari Marmell. This was reviewed in 4 parts on this very blog as well as over at RPGnet as part of my ongoing series. Ari himself was kind enough to join the conversation and I was delighted to be able to tell him how highly I rated his adventure. My review is available right here.

Speaking of adventures, this year I wrote two, the Fey Team and the Night Riders, both for Furnace. I don’t write many and I really took my time over these. Thankfully I got the luxury of some time at the keyboard whilst on my summer holidays and WotC really came to the rescue with the best digital app of the year, Adventure Tools. Finally I could export decent looking stat blocks to a word processor. Not only that but I could delevel and raise monsters in a second. I can’t wait to see what else they add to this, it’s only going to help the beleaguered DMs like me. I may even put my adventures up as PDFs if I can find the time this year.

When it comes down to it, I’m old fashioned and like to have solid books on my shelf. WotC delivered quite the assortment in 09. They finished the H/P/E series of adventures (which most groups are years away from finishing… sheesh), they kept the Power books popular, they dropped in some very well recieved 2s for the core books, and then of course there was Eberron. Eberron never really grabbed me in the previous edition, and I’m still not sure why. This time round I got all giddy and bought up loads of old stuff on ebay for pennies. Pick of that bunch was City of Stormreach from very late in 3.5′s cycle. I really enjoyed DMG 2, it had real effects on my games and made me see things in all kinds of new ways. When you’ve been running games for 30 years that comes as a surprise. But my winner for the year is the book I keep coming back to, the single best read in the 4e catalogue, Manual of the Planes. Every page has something extraordinary on it, yet it’s not overwhelming. It manages to balance inspiration with aspiration. You never get the feeling it’s someone elses universe, every little bit is for your group to use as you see fit. It was the inspiration for my own world where the Feywild and the shadowfell are at war, and the world is the battlefield. A great book. 

Finally, there’s the supplementary things that actually for me make the whole game come to life. Minis. The decision to repackage the minis with the RPG foremost in mind has really worked for me. Now I can get all my monsters, some of which I know about in advance, some I don’t. Better, the players can see their own picks and I don’t have to worry about supplying everything. Then there’s the tiles. I don’t use tthem every single week, but whenever I do they’re well recieved. My fave was Sinister Woods, a really inspirational set that manged to combine the wilderness with the dungeon beautifully.

So there you go. A great year for seperating my money from me, but all worth while because i’ve gotten some awesome gaming out of it. 2010 is looking good too, I’m eagerly awaiting Hammerfast and the Ravenloft board game.

Lastly, a big thanks to my players Claire, Dan, Steve, Jules and Mark and to all those who have stopped by to read my posts and especially to those of you who have left a comment. I’m delighted to report that today has seen the 10 000th visitor to the site. Who knows what the next year will bring.

Cheers!

Baz

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Small, but perfectly formed

I’m very much a born again D&Der. Not in the religious sense, but in the ‘used to play nothing but, then moved onto other things for a while, now found my way back to my first true  love in gaming’ way. When I was consolidating my RPG collection earlier this year I couldn’t help but sort things out chronologically (when I could remember the sequencing) when putting it all onto my shelves. What surprised me was how much D&D stuff I’d bought over the years, especially when you consider how little I actually played with it at the time. For instance, I have the three core books for 2nd edition, yet I don’t think I ever played it, not once. I even have the boxed Dragon Mountain adventure, just in case I suppose.

Now that I’m back in the saddle as such I’m always digging around trying to rebuild amy missing D&D years. What amazes me is what I do actually have, it looks to me like a really high quality collection from 1ed days. Here’s the list:

A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity

A2 – Secret of the Slavers Stockade

A3 – Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords

A4 – In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

D1 – Descent into the Depths of the Earth

D2 – Shrine of the KuoToa

S2 – White Plume Mountain

T1 – The Village of Hommlet

I3 – Pharoah

I4 – Oasis of the White Palm

I5 – Lost Tomb of Martek

I6 – Ravenloft

Q1 – Queen of the Demonweb Pits

U1 – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

L2 – The Assassin’s Knot

And for Basic D&D I’ve got Rahasia.

All of this implies a fondness for Tracy Hickman, which is true enough. I’ve always followed authors, sometimes across game lines. Although I never really got into Dragonlance, I did love Tracy and Laura’s modules.

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Does anyone remember nostalgia?

I’m very much a new school gamer, with a weekly 4e game still going great guns. That said, my RPG roots are in the late 70s/early 80s and I have an enormous affection for those days. Every now and again I have a bit of a wallow in my old books and magazines, just to get all misty eyed about the old days.

Yesterday was a case in point. It was the funeral of an old friend of mine, so I guess that must have kickstarted the ‘looking back’ mood to an extent. It’s also very wintery here at the moment, there’s snow on the ground and Christmas just around the corner. Overall, a killer combination.

So, with the family at the playschool for an hour I nestled up with my original copy of  ‘Moldvay’ Basic D&D from the red box. Just the illustrations are incredibly evocative of being 11 years old again. To complete the mood I dug out a record that, for me, brings back the early eighties par excellence: Pelican West by Haircut 100. Yeah, I know, it’s hardly the coolest choiuce but that doesn’t matter. When I was learning my gaming chops I spent many, many hours sitting on the  floor of my bedroom drawing dungeons in my maths exercise books.   The soundtrack to those years was limited by my tape collection of about 3 albums. I truly loved that Haircut 100 album, even though it’s very much the black sheep of my tastes then and now.  Suffice to say, 30 secounds of Favourite Shirts and I’m back painting that rust monster all over again.

For me, thinking back over gaming experiences is a vital part of the hobby. Mostly that concerns last weeks game but occasionally it can be about old campaigns or gaming groups from decades past. In fact, isn’t that what gaming is all about, the making of memories? I think it is, and so for me nostalgia will always be a joyful thing.

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“and you can just throw them in a box?!”

mmmm, minisContinuing the story of my love affair with maps and minis.

I played quite a bit of 3e when it came out. All sorts of games and campaigns, some better than others. I remember having to really take minis seriously when I ran The Banewarrens. If you don’t know, it’s an awesome adventure by Monte Cook, and it asks a lot from the DM as it kind of assumes you really really know what you’re doing with the whole game. It was also quite high level for me, I’d rarely played in double digit levels before. Also, bear in mind my minis collection was largely Warhammer based, and that doesn’t give you a whole lot of monsters to choose from. Plenty of rank and file soldiery, but not so mantybugbears, behirs or beholders.

In fact it was the behir that brought me back to the grid, that and a large Chessex battlemat. I remember GenCon UK, going to the toilet and seeing half a dozen grown men washing big floppy squares of vinyl under the taps, with their fingertips all smudged green and red from hastily erased marker scrawls. I was fascinated but decided aginst inquiring then and there, I mean, it was the gents you know?

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Minis: my story in 28mm.

I use minis in my weekly D&D game. I love using them, they add a lot to the game for me and my group. I realise there are pros and cons, as with most things, yet for me the pros easily outweigh the cons. Here’s why I believe that.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Continue reading

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Publish and be damned

I always wanted to be a writer, always. What’s more, when I was growing up the thing I really wanted to be was a games designer. I could think of nothing else that would be as cool, nothing.

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Dunmarren

When I was about 12 years old I frequented a shop called Pope & Smith on Chelmsford High St. It was the closest thing I had to a FLGS back then. Except the two harridans behind the counter were somewhat lacking in the F dept. It was a toy and game store, long gone now, with another branch across the road that did sports equipment. My mum got my p.e. Kit from there. It had a fledgling RPG section. Actually, I’m doing it a favour calling it a section. It was pretty much a shelf. It had a spinner rack with minis, some boxed games like Valley of the 4 Winds, and some stacked up books and magazines. I spent every hour I could in that store, under the basilisk-like glare of the Mary Whitehouse clone in charge. One of the first things I bought was a copy of The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios Vol I. I still have it, and doubt I will ever part with it. It was magical. Even now I can remember the adverts. One was a badly drawn comic strip about an alien invasion. The second part of that was in Best of WD Articles Vol I. An immediate and compulsory purchase.

A whole world of gaming lore was laid out before me. Names of people and shops and books I’d never see in real life, but they were real to me. Many of the articles were by Don Turnbull, from Cambridge IIRC. He prefaced his stuff with references to his home campaign, the ‘Greenlands’ dungeon. It looked incredibly exotic to me, yet somehow still attainable? I loved the fact that we were both playing AD&D, yet his creation merited a name, and was good enough to be published. I’d have given almost anything to have been a player in Greenlands, but Cambridge might has well have been on the moon, and Don was about as approachable as Roger Waters to me.
The answer was to do my own dungeon. My desk was the floor of my tiny box room on Hunts Drive, my soundtrack Pelican West by Haircut 100. I laboriously drew my maps which covered two complete A4 sheets of 5mm graph paper, faithfully going right to the edges, indenting nicely around the 4 punched holes. The first level was quite symmetrical and I could probably draw the first dozen or so rooms from memory now, nearly 30 years later.
You entered down some stairs into a 30′ square room with doors to the north, east and west. I’m certain I marked the central square with the universally acknowledged symbol for a statue. To the west lay a small complex with an altar hiding a secret door with a treasure chest behind that. I wanted this part to be just like the part of Greenlands I’d seen in tha mag. It was to have cool magic sucking monsters, a electrical trap and an animated statue. The rest of level 1 is vague to me now (and then if I’m honest) but I do recall all routes led to a final chamber that contained a dragon, guarding the stairs to the second level. How on earth the dragon got in through those 5′ corridors I’ll never know.
The second level was a step up in sophistication. There were barracks, gladiatorial arenas and, brace yourself, diagonal corridors. (I never fully understood how to draw those on a grid until I read the advice in the 4e DMG last year)
I called my dungeon Dunmarren. I don’t know why. I never fully stocked it, but many maths books died in my numerous attempts. Later, when I’d been lured into playing other games such as Runequest, I changed the name to D^unemarrhan as it looked more like something Michael Moorcock would have come up with. I wrote the title at the top of level 1 in purple felt tip and I’m sure I drew a curly scroll around it. I did that a lot. There may even have been a compass rose shaped like a sword.
I don’t know where those maps are now. I’d never have thrown them out on purpose. I’d love to see them again.

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