Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Now More Than Ever, The Role-Playing Game Community Needs Its Harlan Ellison

My interweb buddy Rob Schwalb, author of the fantasy game Shadow of the Demon Lord made a salient point over on Facebook.  To paraphrase, he said "pay what you like" is bullshit, to value your work.  I agree, and I was motivated to quote Harlan Ellison who wrote (and stated) "Pay the God-rammed writer!". And, of course, Ellison is right.  Whether it's twenty five people, twenty-five hundred people or twenty-five thousand people, if you have an audience willing to pay you should get paid.



But this isn't just about my opinion or agreement with Rob Schwalb, or Harlan Ellison.  I thought about Ellison's perspectives on writing, what it is to work in an industry that is fundamentally a con game, within (we make up books about elves and dragons), and without: we do what we do convinced that we're making a huge mark on the hobby, that we might be the Next Hot Thing.

Now Ellison is one of those people you either love or hate but regardless of which it is, when he talks about writing, about the business of writing, of the ins and outs of the whole Damn mess of turning fanciful things into your bread and butter, Ellison is almost always fundamentally correct: Google his "pay the writer" piece.  Especially if you do write.  If you write, you fucking well deserve to be paid for it.

 
Words with sharp teeth, from the documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth.


You may hate Ellison personally; the man surrounds himself with controversy, and for all I know Ellison hates Role-Playing Games, but when you read that, and most anything else he has to say about "the business", he's right.

So to bring this back around...if you think about it, our hobby and our hobby-as-business needs its Harlan Ellison, and we don't have it.  It's not me, God no that's not where I'm going.  But this mess of elfgames and let's pretend needs someone to come along and succinctly remind us not when we're taking ourselves too seriously but rather when we're not taking ourselves seriously enough.

Our hobby is beset by pearl clutching Carrie Nation types who're cut from the same cloth as the PMRC in the 80s and BADD in the 70s, except they're disguised as righters of social wrongs.  Catpissmen of the same ilk who threw vomit on Ellison's pal perennial nice guy of the sf lit world Alan Dean Foster run amok (and always have: look at the letters section in any RPG magazine of note and compare with the letters section from SF publications; they're virtually identical in tone in many cases of the more irate), publishers who'd rob you blind while your eyes were shut, and their fellow-travelers, the folksy aw-shucks-we-were-just-making-up-games types who act as though they're entitled to prostrate throngs of worshipers.

Our hobby desperately needs someone to step forward and grab us by the collar and shake us both as fans and especially as creators.  Until we're willing to step forward and lean into that backhanded slap that only someone who has the balls to say "No, I won't appear on a special comments section of a DVD for free," or, rather, with our hobby "No, I won't consult on your RPG product for free just because I post on a forum a lot." or "No, I won't release a module for free just because whatever your justification that you should have it for free from me is." then we're stuck, permanently, grousing at each other on webforums, paying $2 for 50000 words, and accepting the nth Edition of The Biggest RPG every six years whether we want or not.
And one last note I would make...whomever wants to step forward and say "It's me, it's me!  I'm the messiah you seek!  I'm the Ellison!  The RPG hobby's Hunter S. Thompson!  It's me!" should be studiously ignored.  As I said, it's certainly not me, and I'm not offering up any candidates.  If, God willing, we get someone smart enough, acid enough, someone willing to step up and call us all out on our bullshit, we'll know who it is.  It'll feel right.  It'll  sound right.  I hope it happens soon, and if we don't have the guts to listen then we'll get the embarrassing slide into obscurity we'll so richly deserve at that point.


Original D&D on sale again!

That's right - if you don't already have a copy of Original D&D, or if you do and it's one of the old Bastion Press/Wizards of the Coast PDFs from the early 2000s, now's your chance to get a new, cleaner scan in .PDF form!  Go now and enjoy!

Original Dungeons & Dragons


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Happy 2016!

Thanks for sticking around, those of you who have stuck around!  It occurs to me that since I migrated across several websites I may have "lost" the text of my interview with Gary Gygax from 2002.  Fear not, adventurers.  I still have it, but I'm not sure it's online in an easily accessible form any more (archive.org notwithstanding).  So without further bloviating on my part, here it is in it's entirety!

B: “When you look back at Dungeons and Dragons as a whole, back in those early days did you think to yourself “This is going to have a huge impact,” that is, did you think that Dungeons and Dragons would become synonymous not only with Role Playing Games in general but synonymous with the Fantasy/Science Fiction subculture as a whole?

G: Not exactly.  Matter of fact, nobody was thinking of role-playing as the emerging, soon-to-be dominant form of hobby gaming.  I looked at the D&D game with my partner, Don Kaye, as likely to be the most popular of the various “hobby games”; the military, you know, board games and so forth played with military miniatures.  We were pretty sure that this would sweep through the whole of the wargaming community, and expand then in to science fiction and fantasy fans and the reading audience, too.  And in fact, early ads by TSR did hit many science fiction magazines, and, you know, fanzines. So, we expected that.  Did we have any idea the first couple of years that it was going to become the sort of phenomenon it became?  Not until the end of about 1975 did that really strike us.  We knew it was getting bigger but we had no idea it would reach millions of players.

B: I kind of have to make a confession here – when I was younger and first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, I myself was a little bit confused by the matter of “Basic” Dungeons and Dragons versus “Advanced” Dungeons and Dragons and indeed I kind of labored under the idea that one played “Basic” until your character reached a certain level, then you went out and bought the “Advanced” rules and went from there…

G: Well you could do that!  <chuckles>  Nothing wrong with that!

B: Well, what threw me was the “level recommendation” on the modules – most Basic modules I saw were for characters from levels 1-3 and most Advanced modules I saw indicated 4th and higher levels.  But for some of my readers who may have picked up Dungeons and Dragons in Second Edition or even Third Edition, what was the division there, what was the split between the two systems?

G: The Dungeons and Dragons game was less quantified, it was more rules-light and it was a more freeform and Advanced was more rules-heavier and more restrictive in new character development.  Both could be played, depending on the Dungeon Master.  Either way of course.  But there was more written substance to the AD&D game.  It was more “meaty.”

B: Oh yes…a quick perusal through the Dungeon Master’s Guide proves that out.  A book which, by the way, is a phenomenal work…

G: <chuckles>

B: …which I personally think that, if you’re doing any kind of serious Fantasy gaming under whatever system, a person should go out and grab a copy, whether it’s the PDF available online or a used copy from a second-hand bookstore.  It’s an amazing work. 

G: <chuckles> I still have people e-mailing me saying “Y’know, I reread that book very often!” and I have to confess it’s been a long time since I’ve cracked it to more than reference a chart or two.  Y’know, your own writing is sort of like your own cooking. 

B: Oh yeah, I do a lot of the cooking around here so I know where you’re coming from. 

G: It isn’t that much fun to eat what you’ve cooked!

B: As Dungeons and Dragons, or AD&D, D&D as a whole, matured and you looked down the road and said “Well, we’ve got AD&D.  We’ve got rules spread across Dragon Magazine, Unearthed Arcana, Wilderness Survival Guide, Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide…”

G: Well, those two were really Second Edition products…

B: That’s a good lead in to my next question then – of your own work, how much made it in to what became Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons?  It came out towards the end of your formal association with TSR…

G: Well, other than the fact that everything they used was basically based off of my original design, zip.  I’d left the company. 

B: Looking at the FAQ on your own website, I realize that must have been a difficult time for you, seeing what was your “baby” being taken away from you – not, of course, to detract from 1st Edition’s other contributors. 

G: Yes, the main thing was…well, there were a couple of things.  Number one,  the direction of the company was going off in a way that I was very opposed to, with the cheapening of product quality even before 2nd Edition.  The original AD&D books were double-stitched school-textbook quality; virtually indestructible.  To save a nickel…I said, “Guys, we’re not selling widgets.  We don’t want to make the most profit, we want to build long-term customer relationships with high quality products.  We always do our best,” and that didn’t fly. It was much the same with the corporate organization.  I wanted a more employee-ownership and the people who had controlling shares did not want that.

B: Towards the end there, when you were doing the Dungeons and Dragons Entertainment, Inc., I guess that was out in California, in Dragon Magazine you did mention a few times that there was a Dungeons and Dragons movie in the works.  Now as we know back in 2000, a Dungeons and Dragons movie was released…

G: No, that was not what I was talking about…that had NO resemblance – lord I’m leaping away from that turkey!  <laughs>

B: <laughs>  I saw it and…well, I had a good belly laugh at it.  I felt kind of bad for Jeremy Irons…

G: Jeremy Irons did it to himself!  He played Boris Karloff playing his role.  It was terrible, it was wooden…and who was the character who played the giant dwarf who kept mugging the camera…?

B: Y’know, so many people chewed the scenery it was hard to keep track.
G: The costumes were tacky…it was awful!  What I was talking about back then, was with another fellow who’s pretty well known in computer gaming circles,  we sat down and created a proposal and the script outline and in fact the first act of a movie – the first couple of acts, actually.  We had it ready to go.  I had a meeting with Orson Welles, whom we wanted to play the main supporting character – it was a villain – and we had a great meeting…

B: Did you play a little D&D?

G: <laughs> No, we ate a nice lunch and talked a hell of a lot, for a couple of hours.  He took it, and got back to me on the phone and said “This is great, this is too good.”  We said, “Well, good, it could be maybe a TV movie,” but he said “No no, this has got to be a feature film!  I’d be delighted to take the role.”  So we did a little more and got as far as presenting the proposal to Edgar Gross who was then the executive VP for John Boorman’s production company, who I wanted to produce and direct.  Edgar Gross after some time said, “Well, you know you don’t expect control of this,” and my response was “No, I understand the role of the writer in the motion picture industry – bottom of the food chain.”  I told him I respected that fact but we would want some control over purely game elements, just as I had when we were producing the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.  I had control of the scripts, and would make sure that they didn’t go far afield from the game.  But it was a delight.  The Marvel people and CBS said, “You’re great to work with.”
Anyway, Edgar Gross said, “Okay, I’ll take it to John and I’ll see.” We had a second meeting, and he said they’d take the project but the needed to know more details, but then problems started in Wisconsin, I had to go back and then that was it.  That also ended a spin-off for the cartoon show, too, that was in the works.  There was one script written and another two working. 

B: That’s a shame.

G: Yep.  TSR said, “No, you’ll work with us back in Lake Geneva.”  Marvel said “We’re not interested.” And that was that.

B: Again, that’s a damned shame.  Was your movie set in Greyhawk or any particular campaign world we’d be familiar with?

G: Yes, it started set in Greyhawk with two characters, a main protagonist and his antagonist (also a protagonist in her own right), both hired by the villain (Welles), to bring him the six missing parts (he already had one) of the “Scepter of Seven Souls”, and each was the soul of a world, and when he had them all, he could rule these multiple parallel worlds.  So they were trying to find each part, and each part would of course be found in a different world, and would not immediately be recognizable.  So they would have to search among potential objects, and move in to different genres – not all the action would be fantasy.  That’s all I’m going to say on that topic. <chuckles>

B: It sounds like it would’ve been great, and it’s a shame it didn’t come together.
G: Well hopefully the dialog and plot would’ve been a little better than the [Dungeons and Dragons movie].

B: I doubt if it could’ve been worse!

G:  <laughs> Well there was a left-handed compliment!

B: <laughs> I’m sorry, I guess I could’ve worded that a little bit better!

G: No, that’s all right, I knew what you meant. <chuckles>  Well, no I’ve seen a couple of worse things. 

B:  Not to get too sidetracked in to movie talk, but did you see Fellowship Of The Ring and if you did, what did you think?

G: Yes I did,  and I thought it was the second best pure-fantasy film I’ve ever seen.
B: I enjoyed the hell out of it myself, but that begs the question: What, then, in your opinion is the best?

G: <chuckles> I was waiting for that!  I had just seen Harry Potter prior to that and it just knocked my socks off.  I thought it was really great.  For my taste, The Fellowship of the Ring was just a little too long.  The flute music and the chanting whenever the elves were around was about to drive me crazy!  I didn’t feel they were “Tolkien’s” elves…

B: Tell us a little bit about your projects post-TSR, for example, Mythus…

G: Well, Mythus was a pretty encyclopedic skill-based role-playing game.  The fantasy genre of the Danjerous Journeys system was to be a multi-genre one, in fact we had a horror role-playing game done.  The people involved with the project, the producers that were going to do a big computer game wanted us to launch a fantasy game also.  When I said “encyclopedic”, I mean that the character generation was very complex.  By the time you got it done you were very involved with your game persona, and the rules were lengthy but not mandatory.  You could pick and choose – you could go through and decide if you liked something and if not don’t use it and so forth.  It was just starting to take off nicely and we were moving towards having a demo ready for the computer game when TSR started a lawsuit which claimed that the game Mythus infringed upon Dungeons and Dragons.

B: Oookay…?

G: Yeah, it was a little far-fetched.  It was settled out-of-court, and they got the game rights, and we got a lot of money.  In fact, I said two things, I said “Lorraine [Williams, then CEO of TSR], instead of spending three million dollars on a lawsuit, and then paying us another large sum,” -  which I can’t disclose – “why don’t you just offer me a million up front and I’ll sell it to you.  It’ll put more money in our pockets, and save you a lot more.”  To my delight, I think it’s the cost of that lawsuit that tipped TSR – already well in the red – over.  They sued me into their bankruptcy. 

B: So there’s no love lost between you and Ms. Williams I presume.

G: Oh no…No no no.  She mismanaged the company [TSR] to a greater extent than it was formerly done by Brian and Kevin Bloom.  That’s going to say something, as it was quite a bit in debt when they managed it, and I got back and got it out.  She got in and ran up twenty-six million in secured debt, and who knows, maybe three to four million in unsecured debt.  That was probably one of the most outstanding cases of inept direction of a company I’ve ever heard of.  Until recently, of course!  <laughs>

B: Heck, this would be small potatoes these days!

G: Absolutely!

B: She had no love of the gaming community, either, I’m told.

G: No!  She thought she was above them, she said outright that she thought gamers were beneath her.  That they were her “social inferiors” <laughs>

B: So she was running TSR why then?

G: She said she wanted to show the gaming business world how a company should be run.  <laughs>  There’s more than a little irony in that. 

B: I felt that this money crunch she put the company in was due to the quantity-over-quality issue we discussed earlier.

G: Well, just to step back, with the release of 2nd Edition, approximately half of their gaming audience left, refusing to buy 2nd Edition.  There is still a very large original 1st Edition AD&D community going strong. It was like the New Coke versus original formula business – when Coca-Cola introduced New Coke and saw their business drop like an elevator who’s cable had busted, they immediately returned with Coke Classic.  Had anyone with business acumen, in my estimation, been running TSR at that time, when they saw half of their market disappear instead of trying to sell twice as many books to half as many people, the intelligent thing to have done would have been to come out with new releases of original AD&D, and tell the gamers “Hey, look, you can go either way now guys, we’ll support both of these marvelous lines,” and Dungeons and Dragons, too – why not? 
Further, the people who were doing AD&D Second Edition made a lot of changes not for any other reason than they felt like making them. 

B: On a personal level, did you ever look at 2nd edition and feel that a lot of the changes that were made were made just for the sake of purging your influence from the game?

G: Yep!  You got it.  But hey, if they could’ve gotten something better, then all right.  But at best it was a lateral change, and in some cases I felt it detracted. 

B: Talking about the “nuts and bolts” of the game’s history and impact a bit, when Dungeons and Dragons became as popular as it did, there was a glut of RPGs that hit the market…

G: They’re still there! <chuckle>

B: Right, and almost immediately when these games came along, the majority of them introduced a skill-based mechanic…

G: Mm-hm.  My new system is skill-based.  “Skill bundles”, I should say. 

B: Now, in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, there is a mention of skills – I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, but I do recall it being noted…

G: Secondary Skills.

B: Secondary Skills – that’s it.  Further it goes on to mention that anything the player wishes to do, just roll the dice based on whatever Stat you as the Dungeon Master feel is appropriate and go from there.  So when the games that followed Advanced Dungeons and Dragons came out, did you take a look at the AD&D rule system and say to yourselves, “We need a skill system in our game.”?

G: No.  I don’t think that a Skill-based system and a Character-based system, the exception being Thieves and Assassins with their skills, and Rangers’ tracking abilities.  Within the archetypes themselves, I believe that some skill treatments might have been called for, but otherwise, it is just assumed that you can ride a horse, you can swim a river, you can read, etcetera.  This is a heroic, fast-paced, action game and you role-play as needed, so forget the skills.  It’s a class-based system. There is a way, I think, to combine the archetype, the class-based if you will, system with a skill system.  In the Lejendary Adventure game, I have skill bundles called “Abilities”, and they cover a broad area like Hunting, and some of them overlap, but who cares?  If you have the ability, you can do all of the things covered by that ability, and it’s your ability score, which is a percentile roll.  If some of them overlap, you might be able to add ten percent of the base, so if you have let’s say “Ranging” and “Hunting”, you can add ten percent of “Ranging” to “Hunting”, and vice-versa.  “Rustic” is another skill, farming and so forth, will cross with some of those too. I also have “Orders”, which is if you have a given set of base “Abilities”, people recognize you as “x”, so you can then belong to a guild, so if for example you’re in the Mage’s Guild, “Enchantment” is your first Ability, “Arcana” is your next Ability.  So you can choose to have pretty much an archetypical avatar in the game, or you can select Skill Bundles with your Abilities as you choose and you can be anything you want.  You could take “Enchantment” and “Weapons” and “Chivalry” and “Ranging” for example.  And of course you buy Abilities and can add points to them through gaining “Merits” in the game. 

Merits are given out by the Lejendmaster.  If someone is actively participating in play, they get Merits.  So you might for example want to say someone gets fifty or a hundred for every hour they play, depending on their participation.  Then you give Abilities specific Merits – ten or twenty – based on their successful use, so the upshot is in the end of a four hour session, most players should end up with enough Merits to increase one of their Abilities by a given percentage.  So it’s a long-range game.  You start out, though, with some pretty good scores; you’re at sixty percent with your first ability, then fifty, forty, thirty and so on.  Then you have a default fifth Ability, which is Weapons, if you don’t choose it as one of your four main Abilities. 
So in this way it allows you to get both Archetypes and the freewheeling “pick and choose” type way.  But with the Mythus system and the approach to a whole character-based system should give you a different feel than a skill-based system. 

B: Interesting stuff!  I’ll have to check it out and give it a review on the web-page.

G: If you get a chance, go to www.lejendary.com.  People ask “Why did you put a J in there”?  Simple, it’s so it’s a trade-markable name of course.  <laughs>  What, do you think I can’t spell?!  You’re right! <laughs>  Now I have to remember to not put a “j” in it when I’m spelling it normally.


B: Do you have a favorite non-fantasy based RPG?  Defining fantasy loosely as swords and sorcery and that sort of thing.

G: Oh, yes, I really like Metamorphosis Alpha.  See, I don’t get to play that many, I get to work a lot and be the GM a lot.  I also like Call of Cthulhu, it’s fun.  I would play Paranoia when it was popular.  It saddened me, because I said to [West End Games], “You guys could do more than make this a parody type game and put some depth in to it.”, which I usually won’t do.  It was a simple matter, just say look, it’s a vast conspiracy and behind it there are the “ultra-violets” and you work your way up through it and manage to survive and you’re going to try to depose them, working in other funny plot lines but make that the main goal…

B: There’s a very dark current underlying Paranoia, I think, reminiscent of  Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream or Yoshihasha Tagami’s Grey…

G: Yeah!  I liked to play Top Secret, by the way but TSR never supported that game.  They did a few adventures but they were all over in two hours or three hours.  What they needed was an Administrator’s Handbook to help the game-masters build campaigns 

B: I always thought Gamma World was an interesting game…

G: That’s why I brought up Metamorphosis Alpha, it’s the progenitor of Gamma World.  It’s back out, Forward Entertainment and Jim Ward [Gamma World creator and TSR contributor].  He doesn’t have the second bit out  - I asked him “Jim, where are the mutant humans?” and he said “Oh, you have to wait for the supplements!” so I said we’ll start playing as soon as the supplements are out, ‘cause we all play mutants!

B: There’s another couple of obscure games from TSR that always struck me a bit odd: Boot Hill and Gangbusters…

G: Yeah, my character in our [Gangbusters] game was Stanislaw Glumpke, nicknamed “Big Sausage” <laughs> “Big Sausage” Glumpke; that also could have been a fun game, it just didn’t get the proper support.  Boot Hill needed a little more on the role-playing; we role-played it but the difference was that [experienced] gamers knew how to role-play without a boatload of rules, and we were playing basically an economic game.  In the big campaign we were playing, my character’s name was “Mister G”, owner of the “Rockin’ ‘G’” ranch, so as we were right near the border, I made friends with some of my Mexican compadres, and I’d tell ‘em “If you ever have any extra cattle, I’ll buy them at a reasonable price.  I know sometimes strays get picked up with a mixed brand, so don’t worry about it.” So I was driving huge herds of stolen cattle, and becoming vastly wealthy.  I bought in to all of the local border saloons and I had my own distillery…

B: Sounds like “Big Sausage” may have had a spiritual brother in the Old West!

G: <laughs> Yeah, I won’t say who but someone else was running an opium den for the Chinese railroad workers!  See, we don’t need a stupid work like The Book of Vile Darkness to tell us how to be bad guys!  I was also making heavy political contributions, to make sure nobody raised a fuss about what we were doing.  The game-master had bandits, cattle rustlers and such come in and steal cattle from me, so I hired about fifty hands and a gunslinger – I was terrible at it, made horrible rolls – and of course I had the Indian who was a great archer and he was sending arrows with dynamite on them and so forth.  We wiped ‘em out and were hailed as local heroes for wiping out the bad guys (who were mainly preying on my stock)! <laughs>  So we had a lot of fun.  I want to try to do a genre expansion for the Lejendary Adventure game, a sort of alternate wild-west with maybe some magic in there so you could play either with or without psychic powers and magic and so forth.  In the meantime, I’ve wanted to play some Deadlands, looks like a lot of fun to me. 

B: Didn’t part of the Deadlands event resolution system involve playing cards? 

G: Yeah, you’d have to play like five-card stud, or draw.

B: That means I could probably only ever watch it from afar – I’m a terrible card player! 

G: Well, I go in streaks.  I like to play poker, and whenever I really want to win I don’t, and when I just don’t care, I do.  <chuckle>

B: So of all the non-fantasy types is there an overall favorite?  Sounds to me like it might’ve been Boot Hill! 
 
G: Oh we had a lot of fun there, we also had a game where I had a gang for a while, my name was “Quinto Villalobos”, we had five “hands” overall…”El Tigre” was the coward, and so forth…I had miniatures painted up of them all, on foot and on horseback.  He was pretty good with a gun starting out.  Three of us rode into town, and the Sheriff arrested me of course, being the Mexican, so my two buddies said “Okay, keep him busy, we’ll rob the bank and spring you later.”  So they hear the gunshots going off at the bank, and Don Kaye is playing the Sheriff, and he runs to the window, he had missed when he searched me and didn’t find a knife in my boot, so as he looks out the window to see about the gunshots, I threw my knife!  I rolled the dice and it was a near-miss, and so the game-master said “You throw the knife and hit thuds into the wall next to him.” And I quickly said, <adopts cheesy Mexican accent> “Here!  Sheriff, take my knife, you might need it to help fight the bandits!” <laughs> So all Don could do was give me a dirty look, so as soon as he goes, I asked the game-master if I could try to pick the lock to the cell door with my spurs.  So he said “Okay, if you roll a one hundred.”  And damned if I didn’t roll it!  So I got my guns and helped shoot up the town and rode off with my buddies.  <accent again> “Hey!  We robbed the bank!  Viva!”  So we had a lot of fun with Boot Hill, but probably the most fun was with Metamorphosis Alpha.

B: I recall a neat crossover article in Dragon Magazine – my wife was kind enough to buy me the Dragon Magazine archive CD-ROM set for Christmas – for Metamorphosis Alpha and Dungeons and Dragons. 

G: I myself did one called How Green Was My Martian…

B: This was called Clockwork Monsters and Faceless Men, if I remember right.  And of course in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide there’s Gamma World and Boot Hill crossover conversion tables for taking gunslingers to Greyhawk or Paladins to the ruins of New York City…

G: Well, we did that pretty quickly as we didn’t take the whole thing too seriously.  But in fact, Mordenkainen’s last active adventure was about two years back in the Starship Warden. 

B: By last do you mean just the last time you played him or…?

G: Mm-hm, by last I mean last active.  It was just after he helped some lower level characters against a pair of ancient white dragons.  It was a piece of cake – he used Power Word: Stun on one, and warned them that the other was hiding Invisibly nearby, so they used dispel magic and spotted the other one.  Nobody got lost and they were all pretty happy.  I had to retire him, though, as you get to a high enough level there’s not much you can do, and surely you don’t want to get your best character killed, so you either go on to horrendous adventures or you retire…

B: That brings up an interesting question, I was going to ask you about specific modules.  Some of them were really, really tough – specifically Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits and yet time and again I’ve run in to players who’ve said “Oh yes, well, I one-punched Lloth, jumped on my Chariot of Sustarre and beat it back home in time for ale and whores!”  I myself don’t personally know of anyone who accomplished that feat.

G: <Laughs>  And that’s as it should be!  Well, I used to talk to folks who’d say things like “Well I have a character who slew Tiamat!” and my response was “Really? How’d you get past three or four hundred dragons guarding her?” 
One of my group, when they were in D3 [Vault of the Drow] accidentally triggered the appearance of Asmodeus, and so they Wished that someone of equal power who was opposed to Asmodeus would appear to fight him.  Orcus showed up! <laughs>  Orcus said “Well, shall we join together to get rid of these worms?”  Of course, Asmodeus’ response was “Well I don’t dislike you that much – sure!”

B: <laughs> I guess just file that under “Be careful what you wish for!”  That touches on a subject I’ve mulled over quite a bit.  Regarding Wishes and a lot of other things that might be a boon to players, in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it seems in places that it promotes an adversarial relationship between the Dungeon Master and the players, i.e., “Don’t ever suggest players share spells,” or “Take every opportunity to manipulate the Wish spell…”

G: Well, if you don’t do that then younger Dungeon Masters will start out assisting the players, and then the game quickly becomes a bore…the best way, which I might have said better, is that you must at all times be disinterested in the players [winning].  When you’re playing various roles, you’re either going to be adversarial, neutral, or helpful when dealing with the players in whatever you’re representing.  Nature, is of course quite disinterested in whether or not we live or die.  And there’s the underlying feel that there should always be a rivalry between the game master and the players – he trying to fox them, and vice-versa, because that makes the game a lot more fun.  Not an unfriendly rivalry as it were.  A good game master should feel worse if a great character dies, because a game master gains a deal of greatness by association with good players! 

B: Along the same lines, what about S1: Tomb of Horrors?  The module that strikes terror in to the hearts of the most munchkiny of players…

G: Wait ‘til they try Necropolis!   Well we just needed a good tough module for some of the better players.  There are places that Mordenkainen has decided he wouldn’t go to…well, Robilar actually got in there, and when the skull of the demi-lich, Acecerak was beginning to rise, he scooped everything he could in to his bag of holding and ran away.  Another team went through and got through only losing two of five [characters]…when they got to the lich they got rid of him with tremendous ease by putting the crown on his skull and then touching it with the wrong end of the scepter, poof, he was destroyed and went in to dust!

B: One clever solution I’d read was to turn the pedestal the skull is resting on into mud, then back in to stone…

G: Or Dispel Magic on it…that’s an easy way to undo it!

B: Hmm, I never thought about just doing that.  Huh! 

B: To ask you the sort of People Magazine type of question, being an at the very least semi-famous guy, is there any downfall to being famous?

G: Yeah, if I go to only small, local cons I can get in some gaming…otherwise, because you know people come up to you and they want to talk to you and get autographs and you can’t really play that much.  I really don’t mind it so much, in fact it’s an honor, it makes me feel privileged that someone would want my autograph.  I don’t think it’s an imposition – just when I want to play a game is it an imposition because I want to play, just like any other geek!  <laughs>

B: Along the same lines, I’m sure you may have heard your share of  rumors about Gary Gygax…

G: <laughs> Some of them are really funny! 

B: Hit me with some!

G: Oh…let’s see…that I said that women have no place at the gaming table except to bring milk and cookies to the table, and I said “What on earth!?…” Not only was my daughter one of the original playtesters, and my other two daughters played D&D as well, but I don’t particularly like milk and cookies!  If it was like beer and potato chips, that’d be more like something I’d say! <laughs>  Let’s see…what else, oh yes, I’ve heard that I didn’t write anything at all, that it was all other people.  Well, whoever it is has a really strange style!  Fortunately they’re still around after a lot of years, too.  Oh, and that I’m a terrible egoist and don’t talk to anybody – and yet they see my initials slipped in to drawings and read some of the terrible puns and jokes at myself and think I have a huge ego?  Those don’t fit together very well!  I poke fun at myself, like my online “nick”, Colonel Plah-doh.  I don’t take myself or gaming seriously.  I have a fair perspective on what it is.  Although Gail hates it when I get back from a convention and I tell her “Doesn’t it feel great to be living with the world’s greatest role playing game designer?  It must be an honor.” She then tells me to shut up! <laughs> 

It was really funny because I made some curry the other day and my friend Joe Martin, the artist who does Willy and Ethel came over and said “Damn, Gary, that’s the best curry I’ve ever eaten anywhere!”  So when Gail got home – she makes curry, too – I said “Gail, not only am I the world’s best game designer, I’m the world’s greatest curry chef.” <laughs>

B: <laughs> Well, I hope the couch was comfortable that night, Gary…!

G: <laughs> Ah, she’s used to me by now. 

B: I lucked out in that respect myself – I married a geek girl and hopefully we’ll have a geek daughter…

G: Oh yes, start ‘em out early.  I smile approvingly at all parents wheeling strollers and buggies and such through conventions. 

B: That’s an interesting point – the largest generation of “geeks” is coming in to the point where we’ve got kids of our own.  We have to plan games around feedings and changings.

G: Oh yes,  I see that a lot with the late twenties and early thirties aged gamers.

B: Well hey, we grew up with AD&D.

G: I know some “second generation” guys, their sons are teenagers now who are playing.  I’m not seeing a third generation that much yet – other than me.  I’ve got a grandson who’s playing. 

B: Have you had a look at 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons?
G: Mm-hmm.  Oh yeah, I’ve done a critical analysis for Wizards of the Coast of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
B: Okay, can you talk about that?
G: No, it was just for them.
B: Without launching in to the specifics you said to them, what’s your overall feeling on 3rd Edition?
G: Well I can say that overall it’s an incredibly well meshed system, although it’s rules-heavy, to try and change the system is really virtually impossible.  It’s so tightly done.  In that regard, I take my hat off to them.  There won’t be much tinkering with that system.  I’ve played a character for probably ten or twelve adventures, I think.  Again, it’s a little too rules heavy for my tastes, and they’ve lost the archetype. 
I fear that 3rd Edition won’t have legs.  The character progression is too fast, and the multiclassing and powergaming is going to end up like you’re playing a computer game. 

B: Yeah, it’s got a very Diablo-like feel to it…

G: <laughs> Yeah, that’s exactly the one I was going to mention!

B: Now, don’t get me wrong – Diablo is great fun, and the guys at Blizzard will tell you they grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons…

G: Yes, I was asked to give an endorsement to the original and I passed, but later on I said “Yes, I’ll give it an endorsement!” Then they said they didn’t need it! <laughs>  Day late and a dollar short!  Alex [Gygax], the youngest of the bunch, he plays Diablo a lot and I have to chase him off of my computer.  Thankfully he hasn’t gotten in to Everquest or Neverwinter Nights, though.

B: I’ve had some spare time here and I think I’ve torn through it a few times.  Not gotten too much in to MMORPGs though…too much “r–o–l–l” playing versus “r-o-l-e” playing.

G: Yes, that reminds me of another thing with 3e – too much of the “rule” playing versus the “role” playing in there, too. 

B: Speaking of computers, do you ever bring a laptop to the gaming table with you?

G: No, I find it gets in the way.  Too much clutter.

B: I use one from time to time, mostly to play music.  Any good music at the Gygax gaming sessions?

G: No, I find it too distracting.  Although ideally I’d love to have some sound effects or something cued up for events in-game.  As it is I have to provide all of the voices and effects myself!

B: Well, let me see here…I’ve got one more question for you.

G: Go ahead, shoot.

B: What’s with all the damn polearms?

G: <laughs> It was mostly for differentiation between the various humanoid races, to give them distinctive army formations and so forth – you know you’d round a corner and be face to face with a bunch of Flinds or Gnolls armed with ranseurs or pikes or what-have-you.  That’s all.

B: Well, thanks a bunch for taking time out to talk with me, Gary.  I hope we can do it again some time soon!

G: Any time!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Absentee Note

Hey everyone - sorry I haven't 'blogged in so long, but stuff is in the works.  Yes, I'm still working on the Demon Idol (new 'blog coming about that one very soon), and new videos at the youtube channel and all.  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Demon Idol 'Blog Part 4: Beginning the Beguin

Okay, after having spent a few weekends working on my 1:1 Scale human bathroom, I decided to squeeze in some painting on a slightly smaller scale and work on the Demon Idol.


That's a roughly 35/65 mix of Reaper Pure Black (9037) and Rainy Grey (9038).  I didn't mix up enough to do a second coat (or even a proper first one), much less get the whole miniature done, even with thinning.  Speaking of, it is going on thin.  There's a lot of lovely detail - pits in the stone, cracks, cuts, chips, etc. - sculpted in and I would hate to lose those fine details by gunking it up with too much paint.  So slow and steady wins the race.  Hopefully I can reformulate the mix and his lower body won't wind up too dark, or too light.  After two good coats (or one and heavy retouching), I'm going to ink with Reaper Black Ink.  Then, I'll highlight with rainy grey.  I may stipple with pure black to give it that basalt look, as well.  After that, the brazier, and then I'll consider the highlighting from the fire within same.

EDIT: I said last post, I'd have the thieves started, but I have not yet.  Maybe between now and next week!

'Til next time!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

PDF redux!

If you've been missing the .PDF 1e AD&D books, they're once again available from dndclassics.com!  These are electronic scans based on the reissues from 2012, though, so any persistent errors in those print copies (dwarves having 7 hit dice, for example) are still there, so be aware of that.

Now all they need to do is put these items on Print on Demand and 1e AD&D will be an evergreen product...forever!

Now for original D&D, fellows!

Oh, lest I forget: I haven't forgotten about my painting projects.  I'm still painting!  It's just that right now I'm painting a room rather than miniatures. Oh my achin' back...anyway, stay tuned for more Demon Idol goodness.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Demon Idol Painting Blog, Part 3.

Primed and Ready, Redux

This is just kind of a brief entry; I ended up going with "the brush" for priming for a couple of reasons: chief reason is I don't have any rattlecans left!  I guess I tossed out the last can of "Skull White" GW spray primer a while back, or at least it's somewhere I can't locate it.  That's fine, a 50/50 mix of the aforementioned Vallejo primer and water did the trick. 





Also, the altar itself got a coat of primer.  The standing braziers did not; I neglected to put them on caps for armatures!  So between this update and the beginning of the painting, I'll do that.

There's something...unsettling about the face on the altar.  I can't quite put my finger on it but it reminds me (and not in an amusing or ironic way) of those Jack Chick tracts, when they'd show hapless, "cartoony" devils discussing how to damn people.
Anyway, the next update, I'll have started work on the two thieves.  Oh, and you might have noticed that I have not attached the gemstone eyes; those will likely be put on after I paint the mini.  I know generally, assembly comes before painting but in this case, I want to get the paint job just so before I commit to attaching those.

See you next time!