Monday, August 31, 2009

If you dig sandbox campaigns, check out the comments at Ars Ludi

This probably doesn't need to be said, but Ben Robbins' marvelous West Marches series is an ever-evolving resource for players and GMs alike. Do yourself a favor and check back periodically to read the comments (and the timely responses from Ben and his players) that just keep piling onto this fantastic group of articles.

The wrap-up piece, West Marches: Running Your Own, has no fewer than 137 comments, probably more by the time you read this. They're from players and GMs wanting to know more about Ben's fantasy sandbox. He's responded to most queries, which of course prompts even more questions from his readers. You'll even find a few of my own comments mixed in among the discussion.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gamers are social creatures, and so are Cubs fans

For the next session of Chgowiz's The Dark Ages campaign, we've been invited to join a larger gaming meetup group that's congregating at a bar in Chicago. We've been told that there's a decent-sized area full of couches and whatnot set aside for us in the rear of the pub, which is a really nice thing for them to do. I plan to reward this tavern's proprietors by spending freely my hard-earned gold coins.

But the opportunity to rub elbows with the non-gaming masses really piques the interest in my inner sociologist. I mean, this is a bar, and on the night of our game, it will probably be packed with Cubs fans cheering on the home team. This is Chicago, after all. I'd cheer 'em on too, if I had any interest in sports. As it was, our campaign's email list was full of pithy comments like "I'm going to bring my +1 dagger just in case we have to fight off a mob of rowdy Cubs fans. If we can find a bottleneck, they can't flank us..." and "don't worry, I got x4 damage from my backstab ready if they make it through the door."

We've been told that the larger meetup group includes more than a few old-school D&D players from the days of yore, so it's possible we might get a few drop-in players. This is perfect because Mike's campaign is set up to easily accomodate new folks. But what will the non-gamers think? Will they drift over to our table and spill beer on our minis (thus requiring me to LARP a tavern brawl)? Will they be ensorceled by Mike's GM style, with its curious waving of arms and pointing of fingers? Or will we merely be a curiosity, like the guy in the corner who's waaay to into his game of Golden Tee?

Time will tell. I hope to report back after Tuesday's game, with photos.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When the stars are right

Every now and then, things in my everyday life line up in serendipitous ways that make me really pleased that I'm part of this hobby. This weekend held one such event—I visited the Volo Bog, a natural wetlands area about 45 miles north of Chicago.

Bogs and marshes occupy a hallowed—one might say unhallowed—position in fantasy gaming. The haunt of ghouls, specters and wraiths, these watery expanses are created naturally by leftover ice chunks from the last ice age. The ice chunks melt over the course of many years, creating a poorly drained pool of stagnant water that begins to fill slowly with thick vegetation. They're not so creepy in the summer, as evidenced by these non-menacing photos I took, but they're still thoroughly interesting.

I learned from our tour guide that the Volo Bog (is that an RPG name or what?) is the southernmost "quaking bog" in the U.S., so named because of the thick mat of vegetation that grows on the surface of the swamp—thick enough to walk on, in some cases, which causes the whole green landscape to wobble as the waves course through the vegetation. Shrubs, cat-tails and even small trees grow in this organic carpet, which itself floats upon the deeper waters of the bog.

After the tour, my fiance and I were strolling around the visitors center, chatting up some of the friendly naturalists on staff there. They mentioned that each year they host an international bog arts show, featuring an array of artwork inspired by bogs. They also mentioned one standout from last year's show—a painting from a local artist inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "Moon Bog." That got my attention! I've never read "Moon Bog" before, as it doesn't figure into the Cthulhu mythos collections on my shelf. But get this—the staffers actually had photocopies of "Moon Bog" on hand to give out to visitors, and they produced a stapled-together pamphlet of the story for me to take home.

It was really, really cool to spend an afternoon exploring nature and find out that it figures so prominently into the stuff of my hobbies.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Need an extra player at GenCon?

My GenCon plans have changed a little bit: my friend with whom I was going to be traveling had to bail, so I will be heading to GenCon on my own. So, I'm interested in dropping in on some games! Either official con events or hotel lobby affairs, doesn't matter to me. Send me a direct message through Twitter or post here and we can talk.

Bound for GenCon in Mere Hours

I'm not one to foist a crushing GenCon schedule onto myself. I generally enjoy sleeping at night and doing events during the day. Also (as evidenced by this post) I'm not even in Indianapolis yet—but since I live in Chicago, I'm only a few hours away, and I hope to be there by nightfall.

For me, GenCon will be an opportunity to catch up with a cadre of buddies from college and play some games. In particular, I hope to crash Zachary's Microlite74 game and play in my first-ever Castles & Crusades session. I'm keen on investigating a few lesser known games, including Godlike, the Mountain Witch and maybe Don't Rest Your Head.

I've also got my fingers crossed that I'll get to leave with a couple copies of Rogue Trader, the new rpg from Fantasy Flight Games set in the Warhammer 40k universe. I did some freelance editing for this project, and I'm really hoping it's available at GenCon. It looks so shiny!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Follow-up to Gygax memorial story

Last week I had the opportunity to write a follow-up story for the Chicago Tribune about the Gygax memorial planned for Lake Geneva. It was a deadline-intensive piece, and I wasn't able to interview Gail Gygax in time to turn the story in to the editors. I was pleased with the placement, though—page 3 of the Sunday edition.

There are no big revelations in the story, but it does describe Lake Geneva's general attitude toward projects on its lakefront. Plus I got to interview Jim Ward (though just a single quote made it through the final, edited article. Them's the breaks when writing for a specific page shape.)

Memorial of 'Dungeons and Dragons' creator proposed for Lake Geneva lakefront

It's a tiny piece, but it looks good on the page.

Here's the best quote from Ward that I never got to use:

I was picking books out [at the local bookstore], and I went through the rows and picked out my seven books. There was this gentlemen standing beside me who had picked out the exact same seven books. He looked at my stack, which included a Conan book by [Robert] Howard. He said, 'I've got this new game that actually lets you play as Conan!'"

That's Jim Ward, describing his first time meeting Gary Gygax in 1974. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Library D&D: Can it work?

I have a strong desire to put up a simple paper flyer at my local library (4 blocks up the street here in Chicago) and run a pick-up Swords & Wizardry game for whomever shows up.

I probably wouldn't be out of line to assume that I'll get mostly younger players, folks who have probably not played a pen-and-paper rpg—but it's possible I'll draw some older players as well.

I mean, didn't D&D get promoted early on by local libraries as a way for bookish kids to make friends and stay social? Is it possible to re-capture that excitement today? Can the "neighborhood game" be re-created in an era of iPods and video games and reduced attention spans?

Last month I wrote an article about gaming in libraries; it focused mostly on video game events. But everyone I spoke to was enthusiastic about the idea of bringing in kids and showing them how to have some good, clean fun in their local library.

It would certainly make for an interesting social experiment.