Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where have all the good men gone!

I sit in my chair, at this moment, struggling with the idea of how to even start this topic.  Men are in crisis in America today.  I say America not because I am trying to bash on my own beloved homeland, but because it is the only country I can speak definitively about with any real clarity.  I am the last person to puff my chest out and say "I am a man's man.  While certainly able to stand up for myself and my family, my country and my faith, you won't find me buying a gun every 5 minutes, roaring at a football game, or chugging beers.  I am trying to become more handy, but lets just say I should have been paying more attention to my dad when we were doing projects instead of having my head in the clouds thinking about dragons and treasure.

So let me examine what it is to be a man these days and where I think we are failing.  I think the BIGGEST crisis area is fathers.  I was raised with the ideal in mind, that if you produced a child in this world, they always came first from that point on.  I think that is something men have really lost sight of in the last 20 years.  We went from the father who works 60+ hours a week to put food on the table but still came home to bounce his child on his knee, show his son or daughter how to do different tasks, to fathers whom hide from child support, spend all their money on their own pursuits leaving nothing for their family, or worse yet bail and never even try to take part.  When I would hear stories of guys like this as a kid, they were few and far between, and most of the community in general treated any man who acted this way as the lowest type of human being.  Now as an adult, I have seen so many examples of this, in my own life and immediate social circle that it truly sickens me.  Without getting to personal, I have seen that even the most loved child in the world is still impacted with at least the curiousity as to why a father would do this.

I think the first link to this shrugging of responsibility comes from societal and generational change.  Simply put we know there is a crisis of entitlement in the United States now.  The Golden Agers grew up through the depression years having to deal with having nothing to very little, but being grateful for any little convenience they had.  As such even when a lot of them started getting better pay by the 1950's, they were fearful and frugal because you never knew when the hammer was gonna fall.  Their children, the young adults of the late 60's and 70's came into a world where they saw booming commerce and industry, and could not fathom why their parents were so frugal and penny pinching.  To add to this, most of the men in the Golden Age era were Veterans of War that left intangible scars with which they returned back to the USA. There was no discussing or treatment for them it was just suck it up and move on.  They came back half hollowed men, keeping their pain inside, or masking it in alcohol.  So by the time we get to the 60's and 70's, the generation most of our parents grew up in, those young adults were done with this stoic, depressing way of life.  They had grown up in a prosperous time that only the cloud of Vietnam could put a damper on.

Vietnam era Veterans returned from a war every bit as horrific as World War 2, but while being aware of how much better life was, they tried to make sense of the horrors they had seen versus the everyday life they were returning to. Still we did not have any kind of social understanding of PTSD and its effects, so these Veterans were turned loose in a fast paced world that did not seem to care about their pain.  Divorces during this time skyrocketed as many of these men, unable to get answers from their own fathers on how to cope, who were themselves damaged, internalized their pain, because unlike their fathers they did not come back waving a flag of victory.  Now drugs and alcoholism were even more rampant, and these men checked out.  Now do not get me wrong, many of these men would find the strength by grace of god to find stability, though sadly, often enough not at the hands of the society that should have supported them.  These men instead felt abandoned and as such began to stolidly "look out for #1".

It is easy to see with the backdrop of war, depression, yet booming economy, where signals began to get crossed.  By the time we reach the mid 70's into early 80's we have the baby boomer generation fully coming into its own.  They work good jobs, with good wages, good medical insurance that allows them to get treatment and care for their loved ones.  Life is good and as such, our parents, wanting us to have more then they ever had begin to buy and make sure their kids want for nothing.  No longer would their kids be refused that toy, or that game, because by God, my parents could never afford to do stuff for me "So I am gonna make sure my kids live better then I did"  Corporate entities of course seized this opportunity by the throat and squeezed for all it was worth, mass producing, toys, games, comic books, baseball cards you name it.  It became my generations expectation that if they want something they should have it.  I think the only saving grace for us were the few parents whom took the Golden Ager's lessons of working for what you want, saving to buy something instead of charging it to heart.  Sadly it just was not enough.

What this did to men in the United States is slowly break down the fiber that made us the shepherds to our families.  No longer was the expectation that you turn 18 you find a job, now we got to party down and live it up in college till 21 or 22 before having to come to grips with being an adult.  In fact statistically speaking, a good chunk of us did not even start lives coming close to resembling our parents history until most were in the late 20's to early 30's.  We were raised to think of ourselves first and foremost, because after all, our parents did, shouldn't the whole world be the same way.  Even now when I look around, I still have classmates and friends from other walks of life,with kids no less, amply suckling from the teet of their parents labors at 40 something years old.  Do not get me wrong, sometimes you just need a hand up.  Some families are very close and like to keep together, but as our parents reach retirement age and even begin to pass away, our inheritances become debt, fuddled financials and lost sense of security that frankly most of us should have outgrown decades ago.

To cite examples supporting my argument:

1) A father that would rather be homeless, work under the table, and do drugs then support his offspring
2) A father that lets his own daughter be violated by his girlfriend/fiancees teenage son and does nothing to stand up for her, for fear of losing his girlfriend.
3) A Man at 30 years old still living with his mom, whom struggles while he works temp jobs and seasonal work because "Why should I kill myself when I have a place to live for free".
4) Men that spend more on guns, hunting gear and video games then they do their own families well being.
5) Men that will not commit because they are so self centered as to not want to be forced into making a decision that will cause sacrifice.
6) Grown men spending more on action figures of their youth then their own children's toys.

I could go on and on citing examples but I really do not need to.  If you have an ounce of common sense you can look around and see the 30 something cursing foully in public with children right there over something on his phone.  We have moved to this right now mentality we are leading our kids by the nose into following and it is crushing us.  No one has patience for anything anymore if it cannot be achieved on the spot and most importantly we are building crushing piles of garbage because most men have forgotten that at one point we WERE the handymen, the fixers the guys that said okay let me see if I can fix it before I throw it away.  Hell, most guys do not even change their own oil anymore and other then the disposal of the old oil, it is frankly a pretty straight forward process.

 One of my male acquaintances (totally not a friend I just have to deal with him) was commenting upon an old co worker and facebook friend's status update he saw over my shoulder.  He made the comment that man he likes Star Trek that is pretty gay.  So my first issue was with him saying something was "gay" Gay is not a descriptor for something bad.  Secondly, the friend of mine he was discussing just so happens to be gay.  He then proceeded to talk about how he and his Army buddies would beat the crap out of some trekkies especially gay trekkies.  Astounded at his stupidity, I got irritated and said "You know, this "gay" friend of  mine bought a HUD home, and has spent the last 6 years renovating and building that thing from top to bottom, making rooms where there were not any, running plumbing, and electrical for himself.  He and his partner have taken in multiple "charity cases" as you would term it, that were just folks down on their luck that needed a hand up, and have helped them get back out in the world.  In fact when they had a father and his son living with them, and they figured out the father was being physically abusive they had the balls to act to get this kid the help he needed and tried to get the father help as well.  They drove the kid to meet his grandparents several states away so he could have a safe home where he was loved.  They sat and helped him with his homework in the absence of his father.  To boot this "gay trekkie" was physically beaten and abused and excommunicated from his own family for years and yet he still pulled himself up by his bootstraps and does not hesitate to help the very society that hates on him.  Simply put asshole, this guy is more of a man then you will ever be.  So go watch your football game where other men run around and do work while you sit on your fat ass and hurl commentary at the screen."

You need more proof that men are degenerating from men to man children look around at most of our crises.  Since most Stock Brokers and Investment Bankers are men, can we not then easily draw the conclusion that these instances of embezzlement, Investment Bankers stock fraud and scandals all stem from this pervading sense of "I want it, I want it now and I deserve it because I am me" that is destroying us.  I think we can.  I am not innocent in this.  I have bought way too many items I should not have in my desire to have it now.  This is not on my parents.  My parents would get me christmas and birthday gifts but other then that if I wanted something they made me save up and earn it from age 5 on.  I went in the military, where instead of saving Haz Duty pay and being smart about it, I blew it on parties and items I do not even have anymore.  I made those choices and they were bad ones.  I ate things I should not have ate, and no one held a gun to my head and said eat this or else.  I chose the actions that more then likely despite genetic predisposition led to me being an insulin dependent diabetic.  When I got diagnosed with MS, in my head I used it as a excuse to soothe my woes with physical objects INSTEAD of finding joy in the fact I was a father to two healthy children and married to a gorgeous wife.  I thank God every day my wife has the patience to stick with me.  So while I have always strove to be a good father I have made more then my share of mistakes along the way.

But see that is just it folks.  I think the most important lesson men need to learn to really be men is to be able to turn that camera around and face facts.  Mom is not here to save you.  Dad should not have to bail you out.  This is on you, you clean  your mess up, you get out of your parents basement, and you get something positive done.  If you brought a child in this world, YOU GET  YOUR SHIT TOGETHER AND MAKE THAT KID YOUR PRIORITY.  Your mom and dad should not be raising their grandchildren.  They should be able to spoil the crap out of them and give them back to you, the way God intended.  Show your sons how to love a woman by being true and faithful to your wife.  Show your daughters exactly what kind of man she should be looking for by being the example you want for her.  Most importantly show your sons and daughters how to treat a spouse by showing them she is your equal, your partner, your everything, so they will grow up looking for that kind of stability too.  Most importantly...teach them patience and stop acting like a 4 year old whom lost their sucker when things do not go your way. YOU DO NOT NEED that stupid IPHONE 1000 right now.  You do not need to swap things every time a new model comes out when the one you have more then covers your needs.  Look around you, our kids are becoming more and more obese, have no manners and are very self centered and its ALL we as parents fault.  It is not A) the school's fault B) the other parent's fault, C) The president's liberal/conservative Agenda's fault.  It is YOURS.  Monkey see monkey do.

In a few words men of the United States, Pull your pants up, put your phones/pads/game controllers down, stand up and quit expecting mom and dad or Uncle Sam to bail you out for your dumb decisions.  Otherwise, frankly, everything is only gonna get worse, and it is our job as the shepherds of our family to protect our flock, not to sit in the middle of the flock and wait for someone else to do it.

Let's be the kind of Men we should be America.
Rant Off

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Grognard and the Gamer

I was standing in my favorite bookstore/gaming store/record store in Colorado, a place known as Black & Read.  At first impression when you enter this store, it looks like a tornado struck the store inside and tossed everything about into controlled piles, but it does not take you long walking around to see that there are treasures to be found everywhere.  As a gamer for 32 years of tabletop genre, this is the kind of place that would have probably preserved my virginity for another few years had I found it in my youth.  In short shelf after shelf of every forgotten and current roleplaying title you can ever imagine.  The only regret I ever have in entering this place is that I know somehow, despite my fervent searches, I will miss some treasure I have been looking for.  I also love the conversations that occur there.

To put it all in perspective, I was in a store that is a little more mainstream, 2nd and Charles, which kind of does the used trade in system as well.  I was standing by their well organized (and dismally small) RPG collection killing time, and saw another younger 30 something approach the games section.  I thought hey, here is a fellow gamer, wonder what they are looking for.  The gamer looked at me like a scared deer caught in headlights and bolted away...like they were busted looking at the forbidden RPG's or something.  I am not a particularly scary looking guy (Yes I am sleeved with Tattoos but they are all movie or Star Wars related..okay there is the Ash and the Evil Dead Tattoo and the zombies in the background...but cmon its Ash, the bloody chainsaw means love right?)  but other then that I am a somewhat overweight balding guy who uses a cane crutch and is clean and showered at all times thanks to OCD and the military.  I was bummed, as well, these conversations about gaming are part of how I enjoy the hobby now that I cannot play as much as I would like.

So I begged my way into a Black and Read trip a few weeks later from my wife, and was happily rolling my 1d6 to search for secret games and hidden treasures, when I heard an awesome conversation.  This gamer, probably 20 something, was as he put it "Looking for the best game system for his group"  Kari the stores Gaming Goddess, was making a few recommendations but the gamer was just shooting her down with every suggestion.  I listened for a few minutes longer as she finally gave him the soft push to just look down the game aisle.  Like a nosey neighbor, when the customer moved on to look at all the games on the shelves, I launched into old fart gamer mode and decided to try to help this young tuck, whom was obviously newer to our hobby from the comments he had made.

I walk over and start looking in a section close to his, pick up palladium fantasy roleplay and begin flipping through it.  The guy looks at the book and says "Hey is that any good?"

Me: "I said well its an older gaming system not quite as old as dungeons and dragons but its been around awhile and its pretty solid mechanics wise I guess.  Palladium in general has a way of one upping itself with every publication, raising the power level higher and higher, but some gamers like that, particularly the crowd that comes to tabletop from MMORPG's"

Gamer: "Well its like every system I try to do with my group they always make me the DM, but like it always ends up sucking.  I toss creatures at them and they get lots of loot but they get bored and I need an exciting system to make them want to play"

Of course as he says this in my head I am thinking, ya here is where MMO's do no justice to the roleplaying industry, as everything becomes stats and how to make them better and quickly lose the point of the fact that there is a story attached.  Love or hate it,in World of Warcraft, there is a story there and it is a fun one, but the reality is most players never see it, instead focusing on min-maxing, skipping reading quest text and space barring through storyline to just grind it out.  His players want to skip from point A to point Z without stopping along the way to smell the roses.

So I ask him what system he is currently using to run his game.  He tells me he has been running 5th edition but prior to that he had run 4th edition.  He says they start games but never finish them out because his friends get bored with just constant fighting.

Me: "So what I am hearing is you have a lot of encounters and lots of loot, but WHY are the going out killing?  What motivation are you giving them? Why are they compelled to go out there and fight the forces of darkness instead of sitting around the tavern in comfort drinking ale?"

Gamer: "Well I had them meet in a tavern and they stepped outside and I like rolled random encounters till they got to the dungeon? They had a tough time so I gave them a chest filled with +2 weapons and armor from the goblins and then they went into dungeon, but they started killing everything right away and got bored cuz the monsters were not dropping anything good and they were not getting levels very fast"

Me: "Wait wait, did you say levels very fast (my head is spinning at this point as I listened to this poor newbie DM rattling off what just sounds like a large load of bad decisions)  and +2 weapons from a goblin encounter?

Gamer: "Ya I should have just given them +2 weapons I know..."

Me: "Okay look, lets discuss a few things.  The most important is this.  A system is a system, while some can be written poorly or have design flaws or issues, ultimately most RPG's that make it to print have something noteworthy about them, but in the end the system is a small factor to a point on the overall fun of a game.  You want to find a system that has what your looking for in terms of pace.  Games like Rolemaster and Runequest have complex rule systems that give lots of crunchy tables for critical hits etc but, ultimately to a new GM or DM can be way to cumbersome to teach new players, leaving them confused and you bogged down trying to do lots of math just to figure out not just if they hit but the quality of the hit.  Ultimately the system is a tool for the true part of roleplaying..the story."

Gamer: "But I do use story I bought a module for 5th that I am running and I use random encounter tables I pulled up on the internet to make it more dangerous.  But they do not like the story they said the parts I read are taking too long, so I want a system that is gonna give me better stories so they like it"

Me: "Well understand that no system is gonna write your story for you and no module is meant to be ran as is.  Do you take the module read through it and write down notes to add things in?  Oh and do you have a session where you just have them make characters so you can kind of tailor the module and story more to what they are playing?"

Gamer: "Umm I make characters that I think are cool and let them pick from them when they show up.  I just read the flavor text and stuff and I look things over an hour or so before we start gaming and then kind of read ahead while they are rolling combat and stuff."

Good lord this kid needs some serious help I am thinking

Me: "Pre-gens are okay if your at a tournament or a convention or even for encounter sessions where you expect to be running things for complete strangers but if it is your group part of what endears a character is to personalize it.  You should have a session before you start a campaign or even adventure module where players make up their characters and have a choice.  It get them invested in what is going on because that character is now theirs"

Gamer: "cool okay I will try that"

Me:"Secondly, look modules are usually pretty good about giving you a background story in the beginning but the flavor text inside is left fairly simple because the intent is for you to put things in your words,  (I reached for Temple of Elemental Evil as it is fresh in my mind and flip it open to the moathouse dungeon area) "Okay look here"(Pointing to the section about room 22 the cells the zombies had come from) "Now it gives little to no detail on the rooms in terms of flavor text, so as my players were making noise in room 18 trying to get the slimes off that had dropped on the barbarians head, I told them "The sounds of conflict echo through out the chamber resonating down halls unseen.  You wipe the last remnants of the slime off your armor, noting the rancid smell in your nostrils, but suddenly a new scent of decay wafts in and the moaning sounds of the undead cause a cold shiver to go down your spine"

Gamer: "Wait, where was that last bit at, I don't see it?"

Me: "I just made it up, its pretty standard fluff but it sets the tone and reinforces the danger, I talk about the slime and remind me that they just got in a fight with half done Jello and oh great here is more...plus I did not throw all the zombies at once, instead had them trickle in all at once, I also used one of them for a plot device...since this is my kids first old school adventure I had one zombie dressed in a little bit more upscale clothing stuck in the first cell.  My players when they got done fighting the zombies and seeing to their fallen comrade and healing him just in time.  It taught them about death's door and the importance of stopping the damage if a character falls to 0. "

Gamer: "Okay so why was the zombie dressed up different and not fighting them?"

Me: "Because of what you just asked.  I made him stick out, so you WOULD ask that exact question and keep it in the back of your head.  You see a couple rooms over there are some trapped merchants and a gnome terrified they are about to be eaten by a rather ill tempered Ogre named Lubash.  The merchants are in fancy attire similiar quality to the zombies, and once they are saved will comment how they are looking for their lost partner who had a rather decent Gem they were transporting as payment for goods they had delivered to Hommlet.  They had heard him screaming, a few days before and thought the Ogre had eaten them.  In my version Lubash had locked him in the cell after tying him to the cell wall where he was bitten by the Zombies in the other cell when he finally passed out from lack of food .  Before all that he had hidden the gem inside a loose brick in the cell well."

Gamer: "Okay but where did all this come from,  I don't see that why go through all that explanation."

Me: "Well, sometimes with new players you need to hone the sword a bit, teach them through subtle clues without giving the whole caboose.  My son and daughter are very logic minded in the thought patterns.  So it took all of two secondsfor them to go, fancy zombie, merchants that are fancy, lost partner with big gem....gem is either with the ogre...which they did not find, or on the zombie...so the Ranger escorted the merchants outside at the the now cleared top section of the moat house, where the Bounty Hunters hunting dogs were guarding the injured druid while he rested with their horses and cart.  As soon as they were out of earshot sniggles the rogue picked the lock and the group killed the zombie, and searched and found the loose brick and the gem."

Gamer: "That's cool, wait ...sniggles? but you made that up?"

Me: "Yup I read and take notes as I go through, I have a cheat sheet with my own notes or twists or story devices tied to each room if I want to modify it.  I use to write out flavor text too but now I just put footnotes and years of experience help me BS my way through the description.  It is all about being prepared, but again all that happens regardless of what system I am running.  I read the module, or I write out my notes if its a self made thing, I look through all the NPC's and give them names and small personality quirks.  Most NPC's that are background follow an environmental alignment based on the area..usually some form of Neutral.  But this is possible no matter what kind of system you use.  I prefer 1st Edition AD&D and the BRP system. The work pays off you get a real good EASY session which lends more energy to playing nefarious villains and monsters.  An engaged DM grows engaged players.  Its contagious, no one finds it fun to have someone sit there and read off sterilely."

Sadly, I had to hurry my wife and daughter were leaving to go to another store and I hate feeling like I am hogging all the time out we have.  I left feeling pretty positive though, and when I left he was reading the WoTC 1st Ed reprint of the PHB.  I told him if he had mmorpg players they actually respond to 1st Edition better or 5th Ed because of its speed in combat resolution.  Also told him I could fit 3-4 encounters of the 1st Edition kind with 9 players in the space 1 encounter in 4th edition would take.  So I think I might have brought him to the Dark Side.  Sometimes. I think it is important to have these conversations with other gamers.  Normally, I steer clear of younger gamers because frankly I like trying to stick within my own peer range, I guess I have reached that point in life,   But I also realized that if I want my hobby to continue, I need to help in bringing in new blood.  After all, I cannot support a company with just my money alone, and there are sooooooo many good games out there worthy of support. One of them should always be the game that started it all, D&D.

To conclude, I would encourage you all, next time your in favorite hobby spot and hear that awkward question asked, or see that troubled tween trying to find the "Perfect system", take the time to expunge some wisdom.  I mean the Grand ol' Sorceror himself spent time every day doing just that on message boards, books, and conventions himself.  The man passed away entrenched in the hobby he loved in some form, We should all be so lucky, I know my dice are getting buried with me....(I keep telling my family that) just in case.

Later Folks

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Departure from the norm to something different? Part 2

So here I was, staring at a web page about a kickstarter for a module being designed by the son of the one and only Gary Gygax.  Not only that, but there was history attached.  Of young Ernie solo manning the counter of the Hobby Shop Dungeon, enticing folks to try out his own creation.  Luring TSR workers from the Hotel Clair above him to abandon their warm cubicles for the dank, dark depths of the unknown.  Not only that, but from what I have been able to piece together, like a lot of us, he carried bits of pieces of this dungeon around with him for decades.  Now that...THAT, I could get behind and understand.  I fully knew the love that can come from building upon something through years and years of play.  How sentimental and like a child that project can be.

Folks, I then began to cry.  Yup, totally not gonna lie, have little to no care how nerdy it makes me, 10:45 at night, my eyes a little bleary from all the reading I had just done, I felt tears well up.  I finally understood.  It was like a light from heaven shined down with Gary's voice above saying the words "There ya go finally, it took you long enough"  I was not crying because of some pent up emotional issue, I was crying because I too had created something that I drug around in 14 Binders and various folders and 17 rolled up poster sized graph pages filled with maps inside an old surveyor's map case.  I had drug it from Indiana, to my barracks to my first apartment to another set of barracks and another apartment after that.  I had ran people from age 9 till I was 27 years old through my world.  There had been deaths, births, marriages, political infighting, an Empire formed, an Empire destroyed, treasures found and evil smited.  In my memory as the DM, these events were almost like real.  Not only could I remember the characters but I could remember the players that had ran them.

Sadly all that was lost to a tornado in 2002 along with most of my 1st edition and 2nd edition materials.  Scattered to the four winds.At the time, I was working at a gas station in Swansea, Illinois, not far from my apartment, and had just left the Air Force while I pondered my next step.  I saw the roof of my apartment, or at least part of it fly over me as I was pulling a branch off of a ladies car so she could get inside to relative safety from the storm.   I remember idly thinking, man I feel sorry for those people.  Well, turns out those people, were me.  But this story is not about that journey so I digress.  It is safe to say, after getting off work and coming home to a pile of rubble, I was sure I would never see Aenarion again.  As I sat staring at the kickstarter page, emotion just welled up inside me.  I was sad all over again at my own loss, but I was also overwhelmed with a desire to not let that be the end of the story.

You see, as I learned more about Ernie Gygax, and Robert Kuntz and others tied to the original incarnation of AD&D, I saw a lot of myself in them.  I saw that 13 year old kid in the basement of the Brown County Public Library, thumbing through the monster manual looking for a creature to terrorize my group.  I smelled the moldy basement, saw the flickering light that was always threatening to go out but never did, heard the clatter of the dice on the old wooden table.  Remembered misty dungeon entrances, dripping with slime and ichor, and most of all remembered the endless hours of laughing (that should have probably been spent doing homework)  and general mirth that ensued with every session.  Ya sure, we were not the jocks of Brown County High School.  The cheerleaders would not even give us a passing glance, and most people were loath to admit how much they did actually like Star Wars (something that still annoys me is seeing folks love on Star Wars now that brutally taunted my cousin and I for wearing Star Wars T-Shirts etc back then.  You know who you are and you don't deserve to wield your plastic colored stick sir!)

I sensed all of that in Ernie's project.  He was going to bring his past back to the forefront and not only that, he was going to share it with the world.  But he was not going to share it in the spoon fed mode, he was going to give us enticing backstory, to spur the mind, relevant background information on the setting but still loose enough it could easily fit into any campaign regardless of the system etc.  Genius, I thought, he is doing it just like Gary wanted.  He is providing the bones and muscle but like his dad he is leaving it to us to flesh it out.  Then it dawned on me, as Benoist kindly answered one of my questions on the facebook page for the Marmorial Tomb project.  I was still asking the kind of questions that all those other folks back in 1979 and even 2006 had been asking Gary.  Why can't elves be druids my son wants to know?   Benoist referenced where Gary got his inspiration from, a little author named Poul Anderson, as a place to find answers.

I promptly found a copy of The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.  I also picked up Jack Vance as well, though for whatever reason it was not my cup of tea, I stuck with it long enough to see where Gygax drew his magic system inspiration from.  From Anderson I understood why he chose to portray Elves the way he did.  They were not Tolkiens haunting beauties that were more Haughty human with pointed ears then fey.  These elves were alien in every sense of the word.  Their motivations were that of someone who lives forever and to which every pleasure was soon boring and trite.   They did things not out of direct malice but out of indifference.  Humans are short lived beasts to them, a play toy to amuse them briefly in the long stretch of endless millennia of tedium.  I then began to think how I portrayed my elves, and realized I too had been influenced by an author, Gav Thorpe, who portrayed his elves as something in between Anderson and Tolkiens view.

So right away I began thinking about  how I would implement this new epiphany into my game...and then I stopped myself.  Here I was conforming, using someone else's idea of how to do things without standing up for my own way of running them for decades.  You see the spoon fed nature I had been bred into was once again working on me.  I was going to change what I was doing just to be like other DM's and conform to a standard that honestly did not need to be conformed to.  After all, Aenarion was MY world, with MY elves and MY story.  How I chose to perceive elves or dwarves or magic was entirely up to my whims in my world.  That is the true gift Gary gave us, was the TOOLS to bring these worlds to life, not to try to be just like greyhawk, or just like forgotten realms, but to make our own story and our own legacy.  He never intended for us to try to run a game exactly how he and Rob use to run Castle Greyhawk.  For one thing, like most DM's from the sound of things Castle Greyhawk was a hot mess of papers and doodles and stats and maps, that changed based on the drive of the story and whom was running it at the time.

I went outside a little later that night and sucked in the cold mountain air of Colorado.  I pondered long and hard (till I couldn't feel my tootsies anymore) on what I wanted to do.  First off Empire of Imagination and spurred me to do one thing.  I was going to run my children through my own Gygaxian inspired adventure.  I had studied up on past player comments from some of his convention days as well as players who plaued sessions with Frank Mentzer as well.  I had always loved The Temple of Elemental Evil and The Village of Hommlet.  BUT, this time I was going to keep a constant journal, and as any opportunity came around for a plot hook I would throw it down.  Soon by the month of December I had named every villager between Hommlet and Nulb, went back and given motivations to a lot of them, and began running my kids and friends through Hommlet.  Not only was it different this time, but it was back to feeling like those days down in the basement of the Library.  Everyone showed up to the game with an air of excitement.  They might die!!!  They might find treasure!!!  It took one or two encounters before all at the table soon were white knuckling dice rolls and lamenting the loss of a favorite henchmen to a Giant toad.

It is not that 1st Edition plays any better or worse then any other game out there.  But what is important to note, is that it was the first.  People argue that one style of RPG is vastly superior to another.  I disagree completely.  I think one GM or DM is better then another.  I think groups of players may be better or worse then others.  I think the game is a tool and nothing more.  The experience is made by us.  I literally cannot wait till the HSD is in my hands.  Not because I am incapable of writing my own stuff, but because this is a project of love that is written from a place I understand.  Someone else who sat at his dad's table and friends tables and thought grander dreams into existence then some folks ever have.  Ernie never gave up, and frankly with folks like Benoist to help him hoist the flag high, I hope he never will.  I know that is what I have learned more then anything. NEVER GIVE UP.

Since Benoist did a video addressing his reason for joining the HSD Project I have also been inspired.  I have began to write my own RPG for the first time...well ever.  My son wanted to work with me and so we bought web space, we registered our domain, and my wife begins working on the website for Rolling Bones Games.  Our first project is something called Precipice and I am trying to create my own science fiction game that gives the freedoms of Traveller but with an original back story straight out of our imaginations rather then tied to any one piece of literature or inspiration.  It has been hard work but its flowing out of my brain a lot faster then it ever has.  Forty Seven pages in thus far and no end in sight.  Even if it never gets finished, it gives me time with my son and my cousin and a few other friends whom want to help with it.  That is the other lesson that Empire of Imagination taught me.  Gary made a few choice mistakes with his family life, I am not perfect either by any stretch, but I think I will take one positive from his life.  I intend to have my family with me for the whole ride.

So in summary, thanks to everyone who has documented their journey with the HSD Project.  It has serveed as inspiration to myself and I am sure many others.  Thank you to Ernie for leading me on a unintentional journey of self re-discovery, and most importantly thanks to every fan out there whom rolls the bones whenever able.  Our hobby is one unrestricted by technology changes, bandwidth limits and gas prices.  A few pencils, some dice and paper, a smatter of books and a light source and we are golden!  Oh ya, Imagination required but not included! Also, Aenarion has slowly been getting resurrected.  I may not have my original information intact, but I have contact with several of the 50ish or so different players to run through it over the years and most of the time with little bits of input whole details come back to me.  I made a mock map up for now, and slowly began from the northwest corner to rewrite the story of the lands incorporating past adventures into the official history.  My own personal Hobby Shop Dungeon I guess!

Keep your chin up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Departure from the norm to something different?

I haven't blogged in a few years honestly.  I had every intention too, but lets face it, life happens.  At some point I had desired in my mind's eye to be a writer.  However, I have found that writing is a far more intense effort then I had first expected.  Sure the ideas flood in, you jot them down quickly, but what I have found is that my ideas always come more like a Dungeon Master.  By that I mean, a large story arc, with several small encounters built in, but not a coherent long strain of thought.  I guess the best way to let you all understand is, A dungeon master provides what the eyes see, what noses smell, what the players hear and touch.  He plays every nefarious villain, with alignments to guide "how" that non player character will act.  But he does not write complex dialogue beyond what his creatures and villains need to say.  The innkeeper may seem very verbose, but you can bet if you start drilling me after a bit I am going to stumble,

Taking all of this into account, and examining my very large stack of failed writing attempts, what exactly was my issue.  I could spin a great yarn around a table but could never make it past 30 or so pages in writing a book of any kind before I just lost the drive, lost the thread of thought even with the outline I had produced.  I pondered this question for about a year now.  Was I just lazy?  Was I just making excuses.  Then in November I read a little book called "The Empire of Imagination"  In this book the writer, Michael Witwer, examines the life and inspirations behind Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons.  It is a very honest, and unflinching look at the life of a man whom in his genesis, was not your typical "Nerd"  More James Dean then Sheldon Cooper.  Do not get me wrong, by his late 20's he was firmly entrenched in nerddom and the seeds of what would one day become Dungeons and Dragons were starting to sprout.

Something more important happened to me from reading this book.  I felt inspired.  So many of Gygax's life experiences were mirrored in my own past.  Here is a guy who got it.  He had 1000's of ideas firing around and only a fraction hit paper.  More importantly he understood something that I think a lot of Dungeon Masters miss.  The piece I was missing in my own writing was the dialogue that happens around the table.  The players provide the story through their own roleplaying.  When my son cackles with glee at his nefarious Cleric of Nerull getting away with some evil deed, My daughters roar of triumph when she takes out the orc that was about to kill the druid with a single shot from her bow...those are the details that the players bring to the tale.   Gygax got this early on.  In the late 70's as D&D was hitting the height of its popularity, players and DM's alike began crying out for more and more information relating too Gary's version of Greyhawk.  Gamers have chomped at the bit to find out what the 13 levels of Castle Greyhawk held.  But Gary, while still a business man, felt it was crucial that every game be unique to the group.  That modules be just guidelines and not hard fixed instructions as to how the game was to progress.

I also realized something.  When TSR was helmed by Gary, game products were designed for mostly the DM in mind.  This did not cause the product overload because if you got 6 D&D players usually 1 or 2 maximum are DM's, the rest are all players.  Production was kept to as close to demand oriented as it could be.  Players generally speaking in Gary's Day bought the players handbook, and MAYBE the monster manuals.  Other then that most products were reserved for the DM's eyes only.  This was because Gary did not want people trying to replicate what he was doing in Lake Geneva with Luke, Ernie, Rob, Elise and others.  He wanted us to make our own stories and tales.  In fact, as evidence of this, if you read any of his old responses on the Troll Lord games boards even, he was still answering the same questions I found him answering in 1979 in Dragon magazine.  Do dwarf women have beards?  Why cant elves be paladins or rangers or druids?  Over and over the same litany of questions.  But if you compare his 1979 answer to his 2006 answer, you see a vastly different Gary.

I theorize the difference in the answer is not just maturity, but instead understanding.  You see Gary had come to see his beloved game and what the money seeking harpies of certain companies have become, and what that effect had caused to occur within his own creation.  In order to make money, TSR switched its focus from tools and guidelines to spoonfeeding.  If you look at the product changes from 1st to 2nd edition AD&D, they became more spoon fed and less outlines or skeletons. So now players and DM's alike were not even rationalizing their own explanations for these questions.  Instead they were waiting for someone, anyone to tell them this is the reason why an elf cant do this etc etc.  This was only further egged on by the fact that TSR copped to the demands of the player base and began reversing some of these design decisions.  Suddenly to capture that player market they produced a glut of kit books, and player options.  TSR went after the players hardcore.  But as their business history shows, that was kind of a huge mistake for them.  Instead of focusing on how to increase their market appeal and attract new gamers, they opted to follow the 80's model used in comic books, baseball cards and the like.  Flood the market till it bursts with product.  

I promise this long winded explanation will eventually get back to my writing.  It ties together with the culture I was immersed in.  I was a young pre-teen and teen in the late 80's to early 90's stretch of gaming.  Though I got into D&D around 1982, I was very young and it was the red basic book with holes punched in it for binder use.  I did not graduate to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons till around 1985/86 which is when sadly Gary had been screwed out of his own company by a particularly vicious breed of gold seeking harpies.  I had no idea that 2nd edition did not come from the mind of the man that had inspired me but instead as a ploy in part to further stick it in and break it off in the guy who and invented the hobby in the first place.  I gobbled up whatever I could afford with my chore money and regularly begged my parents for trips to 25th Century five and dime in Bloomington, Indiana to pick up the latest bit of D&D goodness.  I paused over shrink wrapped modules in B-Dalton and Waldenbooks, and when the computer RPG versions hit the market I was the first kid to grab up the golden boxed treasures.  The whole time, much like a hero in a Poul Anderson novel I was being led away from my goal is writing and being creative that Gary had intended and instead being driven into the "don't think for yourself and create, buy buy buy and just regurgitate" medium that our hobby became and nearly died too.

In fact it is fair to say, even though I collect RPG's, I honestly was not collecting out of a desire to learn something new, most of them got flipped through once or twice and then sat upon a shelf, untouched and unused because and I quote "I WAS NOT ACTUALLY USING THEM".  You see even then at the height of second edition, I was still doing things like adapting Arcanum second edition to my game, or writing my own intense plots, that inevitably did not take place in the realms, or dragonlance or even greyhawk, but instead my own world Aenarion.  But I was so blinded to the fact that I was doing the hobby as the creator had intended that instead I still felt like I was doing something wrong.  Now let's be clear.  The glut of D&D products that were made are still high quality fun products by great authors.  I am not in any fashion knocking them, and were I in the author's position and offered the chance to write an adventure my way and get paid for it, or hell even see my name in print, I would have been all over it.  The politics and morality attached to pulling something farther and farther away from the vision of it's creator never once would have dawned on me.

So, fast forward to 3rd edition, I was in the military, and frankly moving quite a bit which made gaming pretty harsh.  I continued to run my world of Aenarion though frankly, it had devolved more into being just Forgotten Realms with touches of my world stuck in here and there...till at last by the time 3.5 was announced, I had completely given over to just running published modules with slight alterations as needed.  I think it was later when 4th edition came out to replace it and I was showing up to these tiny little sessions with me and a handful 14-18 year old kids for a 3 hour encounter adventure that I finally said forget this.  I knew in my heart something was wrong.  I knew now that while these kids had the right spirit, they were lacking the true vision of what the game was about.  It was all meta gaming min/maxing characters as the game became more World of Warcraft and less D&D.  

Now I was a 30 year old man with 2 very young children.  I was a civilian and my dreams of Dungeons and Dragons were just that...dreams.  Coupled with a Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes within the same week and within months of just having a new daughter born and frankly, I was just done.  The spark that was my imagination burned low, and while I still tried to recapture writing adventures and short stories, my mind was spent just trying to figure out my own adventure with all these new challenges.  A few years later I met an on again off again friend named Sergio who also liked to roll bones.  We worked at Sherwin Williams for years together through some hectic times and built up a strong work relationship that just somehow never found its way into a strong out of work relationship.  We started and stopped half a dozen games over the course of the next few years as work and real life always won out.  I just could never get into 4th edition.  Something was missing from it, like a beautiful woman with no soul, I would pour through the 4th edition books and find pretty pictures and jaw dropping concepts but frankly the gameplay was all about dice rolling and not the "ROLE" of the character.  Something was beginning to break loose inside me that wanted answers but they were still a few years in coming.

Fast forward to 2015.  My kids now being pre teens and being extremely smart, loved to be read too.  My wife and I took so much pleasure doing this that at 10 and 12 years of age we are still reading to them even right now.  Not only that but a year or two before that I started bringing them to the table.  My son ,who is very logically minded, began to love the math and tactics of 4th edition.  I kept trying to explain to him how it was just not daddy's cup of tea, but he loved it so much we still ran many a game.  However then I discover this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1709227718/ernest-gary-gygax-jrs-marmoreal-tomb-campaign-star?ref=video

and soon my mind was blown yet again.  I poured over the website, researched the history of the authors and artists and became intrigued.  These were guys from my era making a product that was in the vein of what I remember.  Not only that, they were doing it for a reason I could back, to honor the memory of the man that gave this hobby to me.  I then knew what it was I had to do...but you will have to wait to find out what happened in my next blog entry!