Friday, December 30, 2011

Oriental Adventures Minis for Trade

As mentioned in my last post, I'm going through my miniatures collection looking for things that need to be culled or repainted. I've got several pieces up on the chopping block and I thought I'd see if there was anyone would like to become their new proud owner. I'd be interested in swapping these lots for items of equal or lesser value (or greater weirdness). If you've got something you'd like to get rid of and these look interesting to you, please comment here or email me at poleandrope (AT) gmail (Dot) com. I'm especially looking for plastic or metal miniatures, either of common monsters or truly strange ones. I'll leave these guys up for a week and make a decision on who to swap with after everyone's had a chance to make an offer.

The first lot is a collection of Ral Partha minis hailing from the days when Oriental Adventures and ninja films were all the rage. Some are missing weapons and all have been poorly painted. Since my purpose is to clear out the dead wood in my collection, I'm swapping this as a lot rather than individual sets. However, I'm open to negotiations if you want a few pieces and somebody else wants the others.

Oriental Adventures Lot (Ral Partha Bushido Miniatures and Grenadier Fantasy Lords First Series)

Ral Partha 53-909 Kappa

Ral Partha 53-904 Budoka and Yakuza

Grenadier Fantasy Lords First Series152 Ninja Hit Squad (all missing weapons)

Ral Patha 53-908 Oni

Ral Partha 53-911 Dai-Bakemono & 53-912 Dai-Oni (Dai-Oni missing naginata)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Ware the Chaos Giant!

The end of the year saw me engaged in a little miniatures inventory, refurbishing, and preparations for painting in 2012. As part of this process, I came across the box that once contained my only membership in Grenadier's Dragon Lords Giants Club: The Chaos Giant. Although the giant himself is long gone, I still own the obelisk and the guy about to be smooshed under the Chaos titan's foot.

I almost threw the box away as it's in pretty poor condition, but decided to retain it for nostalgia's sake. On a whim, I pulled up the foam padding at the box's bottom and was astonished to find that the insert that came packaged with the box was under there. Since that's the kind of thing well old schoolers apparently jones for, I've scanned it and posted the images below. Click to embiggen. I think it's pretty safe to assume that there's now going to be a Helwaste somewhere in my campaign world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lord of the Rings Miniatures Terrain Question

To those readers who are/were either fans of Games Workshops' Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game or just followed the GW production schedule in general, a question:

Did GW ever produce this statue as a stand-alone piece or was it always part of their Lord of the Rings Terrain Pack? I could have sworn that I once saw it for sale as a single piece, but all my searching seems to indicate that this was just something I cooked up in a fever dream rather than an actual sighting on the Web. I know for certain that I'm not thinking of a Thomarillion production (although those are quite cool, too), but this particular sculpting based on the statue that appears in the films.

I re-watched the trilogy over the holiday and absolutely love all the little background scenery Jackson sprinkles throughout the films. It does a wonderful job of imparting a sense of history to Middle-Earth and that's something I always shoot for in my own games--successfully or not.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wildwyck County Map

If you don't follow my spottily updated Secret Antiquities blog, you might not be aware that I'm doing a series for Fight On! magazine that introduces a 1920s historical horror setting for use with GORE and other percentile-based rule systems. The premier article covered the history of Wildwyck County and provides an introduction to the area that will be elaborated on in further detail as the series progresses. Due to what I assume was space restrictions, the black and white map of Wildwyck County that Ravi created was not included with the first article in my Wildwyck series in issue #13 of Fight On! The back cover of the magazine does feature Ravi's aged version of the map in glorious sepia-tone, but I thought that readers might like a clean black and white version for reference and playablility as the series develops. You can download the high-quality version of the map here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What the Heck am I?

Anybody recognize me? I'm a mystery miniature from Mike's youth (as you can tell by my hideous paint job). I have scratched on my base "© 82" and the initial "P" but no other identifying marks. Heck, I don't even look like anything in the Monster Manual. Can someone identify my maker and what the hell I'm supposed to be. I don't seem to be on DnD Lead and that place has everything.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Old School Art from DCC RPG

Goodman Games has been releasing a series of sneak previews featuring the work of various old school artists that appear in the forthcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Even if you have no interest in the game itself, perhaps names such as Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Diesel LaForce, Russ Nicholson, and the late and sorely missed Jim Roslof can entice you to stop by the website and see what these fine artists have done lately.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lulu Coupons All Holiday Long is offering 12 separate coupons through the holiday season. Some may be useful, others maybe not, but if you'd like to check them out each day and see if there's an offer that appeals to you, you can point your browser to  Daily Deals & Holiday Specials. Today is Free Ground Shipping (in the US, I believe) with the code 17DEC. I'm hoping the new issue of Fight On! is released today as planned so I can take advantage of that coupon myself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Paizo

Dear Paizo,

Greetings! It’s been a long time since we last communicated and we’ve both gone through many changes since then. You’ve left the shadow of Wizards of the Coast to pursue your own efforts to produce enjoyable game products for one of the more fickle recreational audiences imaginable, while I’ve gone back to the roots of this hobby and rediscovered my love for the simpler, and often times rougher, systems of the past. We’ve both been quite successful in our endeavors and this has put some distance between us. I nevertheless understand you’re doing well.

I’m writing you today to bridge that distance. The occasion for this is that I recently purchased one of your products. I admit that I’ve not be a supporter of your efforts financially in the past. Previously, I purchased your Classic Monsters Revisited after reading a positive review of that book (and I concur with that review), and some months ago I purchased your Pathfinder Core Rules thanks to a large discount and a gift card from the now-defunct Borders Books. I’ve paged through one or two of your Adventure Paths, but these were loaners, not purchases.

My impression from these books was that your designers are obviously very passionate about the game and world you’ve created. Your artists do a wonderful job of breathing life into this setting (even if I do find the occasional rendering of a barbarian with a sword the size of her own body more laughable than cool) and more often than not I find an illustration that really leaps out and says “Don’t you wish your character encountered/did this?” So, although I’m far from a rabid fan, I do appreciate your hard work even if Pathfinder itself is a bit bloated for my tastes.

Make no mistake—it is bloated. You did a good job cleaning things up from its predecessor, but when my preferred game systems have rule books that number between 64 and 128 pp., it’s a little difficult to get excited when confronted with a rulebook the size of my local telephone directory. As interesting as I’ve found Pathfinder and the adventures you’ve produced for it, rules of that length are simply a deal-breaker for me.

That brings us to my recent purchase: the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Like Classic Monsters Revisited, I heard a few surprised murmurs amongst my colleagues regarding this product recently. And, finding myself confronted by the box at my local Barnes & Noble with a gift card in my wallet, I decided to pays my money and takes my chances. After exchanging $38.00 and change (tax included), I took the box home. Hours later, I opened it.

Perhaps the greatest compliment of my own I can give you is this: I’d play this game. Hell, I’d even run this game! After even a brief overview of the set I could see that you fine folks at Paizo really, really get it. This product is obviously created by gamers with a love of gaming. Folks who at least had some familiarity with old TSR boxed sets, even if they weren’t the gateway into this hobby for all of you. Having seen the Dungeon & Dragons 4E “Red Box,” I can say that the Beginner Box is a vast improvement in comparison.

My immediate impression was that of the old Holmes’ basic set. While the Pathfinder Beginner Box (a name of which I approve of) is not a complete rules set, neither is it “crippleware.” Obviously, it serves your business model to steer newcomers to the game towards the more complete and pricier Core Books, but you’ve nevertheless packed enough material into the Beginner Box to not only allow gamers to extract a sizeable amount of enjoyment from the set, but, for the mad homebrewer or those who prefer a “rules lite” game, you’ve provided a solid skeleton for these types to build their own worlds upon. You deserve both accolades and respect for that. A truly, excellent, excellent job.

A suggestion: If you were to release an Expert or Intermediate Box in a year’s time or so, one that covered levels 6-10 and introduced 3-4 new classes along with new monsters and spell, I think you’d have another hit on your hands. I for one would gladly purchase such a product, as would some of my compatriots amongst us older gamers. You’ve certainly generated some goodwill with the Beginner Box and, given its “Pathfinder lite” rules, may even win some converts from those of us who enjoy simpler and smaller game systems—ascending Armor Class notwithstanding.

Paizo, you stand at this moment the king of the roleplaying heap. You’ve wrested the title from your former masters simply by understanding your audience and respecting them while still turning a profit. The Beginner Box is another step in the right direction and your exalted position in the eyes of both the gaming community at large and the industry is yours to lose. As a friend and a fellow gamer, I offer you this heartfelt advice:

Do not fuck it up.


Michael Curtis

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wanted: Boot Hill (3rd Edition)

I'm looking to get my hands on a physical copy of TSR's Boot Hill (3rd edition, 1990 TSR7005). I own an older edition, but I've had some odd ideas lately and a 3rd edition copy that I could peruse at my leisure would be very useful. I'm looking to trade swag for it and it need not be in pristine condition. If you've got a copy taking up space and have no need for it, maybe we can come to an agreement. I've some gaming stuff cluttering up my shelves and  other odd swag I'd be willing to part with. Drop me an email at the addy listed to the right or leave a comment and we'll see what we can do, pardner.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Holiday Savings (30% of!) on Stonehell Dungeon and Others keeps the discounts coming this holiday season. Until the end of day tomorrow, you can save 30% on all orders with the code WINTERSAVE305 at checkout. And although you can’t combine the offers, if you don’t get your order in by Wednesday, remember that you can save 25% off the price of any book with the code BYMYBOOK305 until December 14th. ‘Tis truly a great time to be stockingup on OSR books!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thank You, Shoppers

Yesterday was a banner day for StonehellDungeon. As is normal for a book that’s been on the market now for just over two years, sales have slowed down. However, thanks to both the holiday season and Lulu’s CyberMonday sale, I moved a lot of books yesterday. I’m very thankful for that as I have my own spending to do this coming season and the belt remains very, very tight here in the Curtis Tower. Lulu does not provide information on who bought what and how many, so I can merely offer a blanket and hearty “thank you” for everyone who bought a book, both yesterday or ever.

Lulu’s cybersale continues another day and if you want to get in on the Stonehell selling frenzy, you can use the code CYBERTUESDAY305 to save 30% off until November 30, 2011 at 11:59 PM PST.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CyberMonday Sale

Today and today only, is offering 30% off your purchases. Use the code CYBERMONDAY305 at checkout to enjoy the savings. You know where to start your shopping...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Sale at Lulu

From now until December 14th, 2011, enjoy a savings of 25% on your purchase of Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls or other fine books over at Simply enter the code BYMYBOOK305 at check-out to receive the discount. And even if you don’t buy something of mine, help out the other fine OSR authors out there trying to make ends meet this holiday season. Thanks!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Dungeon Alphabet Question

I’m very pleased to announce that The Dungeon Alphabet is heading for a third printing. Thanks to the interest of not only those who pitch their tents in the OSR camp, but to gamers of all ages and stripes who enjoy great art, useful tables, and low sticker prices, The Dungeon Alphabet remains a commercial success. I’m very pleased that so many gamers have embraced the book and consider it to be one of the better resources to have come out of the OSR in recent years.

To mark the occasion of a third printing, Joseph Goodman and I have been tossing around some ideas to make the next print run unique. But before anything is decided on, we thought we’d see if the readers who made the book a success had anything to say. So our question to you is “Readers, what would you like to see in a third printing of Dungeon Alphabet?" Some options are already on the table, but we’re interested in hearing from you before we forge ahead. Please feel free to use the comments section to leave your input or drop me a line at the email addy listed to the right. Thanks!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Here's Brian Blessed as M.C. Escher

I'm cleaning out the old hard drive and I found this. I'm sure I had a purpose for saving it, but for the life of me cannot remember why. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share it with you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Psst! Wanna Know a Secret?

I'm shilling again. is offering a Secret Sale from now until the end of November 18th. During this time, you can buy one book at the regular price and get a second for 50% off. You don't need to know the handshake needed to get this deal, but you will have to enter the code SECRET305 when you check out. You obviously need to order two book for the promotion to work and you can only use it once. Hope on over the, start here, and then fill in your OSR library with another great book from any of the numerous titles dedicated to this thing of ours.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Help Bail out the Warden

As some of you know, legendary designer James Ward has been dealing with health issues that have placed a severe financial burden on him and his family. To that end, Jim’s friend and former TSR co-worker, Tim Kask, has established Friends of Starship Warden to help defray Jim’s medical expenses.

This past Tuesday, Jim underwent a “coronary procedure” that turned into a triple bypass. As of tonight, Jim is in the ICU, recovering. Tim Kask reports:

This just in from Jim's friend: Just a quick update on Jim as of now (Thur. evening)...he is still in ICU, but his doctors feel he is doing well. The surgery went well -- he had several large blockages which would almost certainly have caused a heart attack in the near future had they gone unattended. When I saw him earlier today he was still a bit groggy/drugged, but in great spirits and very appreciative of everyone’s prayers and positive thoughts. Keep it up. At this point, he expects to be in the hospital until Monday or so.

Suffice to say, the operation was a costly one that will add to Jim’s financial difficulties. For those of you wishing to help Jim out and help pay back the man for the many hours of entertainment he’s provided down the years, please consider visiting the Friends of Starship Warden and making a donation to help Jim and his family pay down some of medical bills.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Say What You Will About RPG Blogs, But...

They seldom make me contemplate gouging my eyes out with a spoon or make me feel as if my I.Q. dropped thirty points from stupidity contamination. That's something that I can't say about most of the RPG-related forums out there on the ether. Ey-yugg.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Visit Stonehell for Halloween and Save 20%

Between now and October 28th, Lulu is offering 20% off on all orders, allowing those of you who've yet to purchase Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls, its second supplement, Buried Secrets, or  Realms of Crawling Chaos a chance to save some money. And that's no trick! So why not treat yourself by entering the code BURIED305 at checkout. OK, enough with cutsey shilling. Go buy a book and help keep the bill-collecting trolls from my door this season. There's enough scary monsters out there as it is.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Horizons

I am without a doubt undergoing a sea change in my gaming preferences. I’ve lost all enthusiasm for level-based fantasy games in the last few months and I now realize that I’ve hit my saturation point. This doesn’t mean I’m done with them for good, but it will be some time before I’m running D&D in any of its myriad forms again. Playing the game is fine; running it is another story.

This also doesn’t mean that I’m finished with writing for them either. In fact, I just finished up my work for another level-based fantasy game and have another contribution in that vein on my schedule. However, when it comes to my personal life, it’s time to change things up.

The downside of this realization is that Stonehell is effectively in stasis for the foreseeable future. I hate to do it, but my lack of interest in writing dungeon adventures is blatantly obvious when I look over what I’ve written so far. I have high expectations for the sequel and I’m not meeting them. I’ll come back and write the second book once I can get excited about the dungeon again. My apologies to those of you who’ve been looking forward to the sequel, but I’m not going to take the sleazy route of writing a piece of shit and asking you for your money for it.

“OK, Mike, if that’s how you feel, what’s next?” I’m glad you ask.

Unless something gets changed (which is entirely possible), the next issue of Fight On! will feature the first of a series of articles I’ve written aimed at “modern” horror and fantasy. I use quotation marks because the default period is the 1920s (all the better to fit classic Call of Cthulhu) rather than the 21st century. I’m extremely proud of this series, more proud of it than anything I’ve done for my own enjoyment in some time. The article features a map (a glimpse of which is below)done by cartographer Ravi Shankar who I met over at the Cartographer’s Guild. Ravi does some excellent work and I encourage you to check out his portfolio—especially if you’re looking for a good cartographer.
The series details a quaint little portion of upstate New York located in the Hudson Valley region. In real life, the Hudson Valley has a great deal of folklore attached to it. One finds stories of everything from headless horsemen to Bigfoot to UFOs. After I’m done with it, there will be even more weird goings-on reported. The purpose of the series is to present a sandbox setting in which referees can place their own historical horror games. Tired of Arkham? Come visit Wildwyck County. If I do my job correctly though, the place can be used for more than just Call of Cthulhu. It’d make an excellent Colonial Gothic campaign if you roll the clock back or a World of Darkness setting if you advance the timeline ahead. One could even remove all the serial numbers and turn it into a fantasy-based campaign using Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Realms of Crawling Chaos.

The series has personal connections for me, which is one of the reasons it has me so excited. Wildwyck County is based on real life portions of New York State where I had many happy experiences. The chance to return to that place (even in a fictionalized and highly spookified form) is a great pleasure. In fact, it’s even inspired me to return there in real life for a few days to engage in some R&R&R (rest and relaxation and research). I plan on taking some photos to use in future articles to support the artwork I’ve already contributed (chosen, but not created by me, thankfully) for the initial article. 

Connected to the ‘Wyck (as the locals call their home)are the eternal autumnal lands of the October Country. I’ve been rambling about and designing for the October Country for over two years now on the blog Secret Antiquities and it represents my second big project. I’ve got enough material to begin playtesting the setting and I hope to assemble the finished material into a book once I’ve worked the kinks out. If I had to pick a work that I’d consider my magnum opus, the October Country would be it. I call it my Rosetta Stone setting because any story I want to tell—fantasy, horror, intrigue, pulp, or weirdness—can find a home in the October Country. It’s a personal place, but one I hope has enough common touchstones to be universal.

I’m not sure how I’ll handle that setting in the future. I’d like to see it in print, but I’m not certain I want to go down the road of self-publishing again. I’ve gotten lazy and like it when all I have to do is string the words together and let somebody else worry about the art, the editing, the layout, etc. Unfortunately, I’m hesitant to relinquish ownership of the material, so self-publishing may be the only course. But that’s all carts far, far in front of horses for now.

This brings me to my last concern: the future of this blog. My original plan was to keep it up until I released the Stonehell sequel and then quietly retire it. Now, with the sequel on hold for the foreseeable future, I’m at a loss at what to do. I have no interest in writing more about fantasy games like D&D here for now, but this blog draws a lot of traffic and has a robust following. Do I mothball the blog until I come back around to level-based fantasy games again or do I repurpose it to reflect my new interests? And if I do that, what happens to Secret Antiquities? Frankly, I don’t know.

That’s my future, folks. One which may or may not be of interest to you, but I thought you deserved a heads up as to where I’m headed. Things have been very, very quiet here as of late and this is the reason why. I hope this glimpse at where I’m going and my future plans sparks some interest and you hang around here or follow me where I’m going, but I understand if you’re more comfortable remaining where I’ve been. It’s all good either way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Question Authority—Especially if that Authority is Me

I’ve noticed something about my own players and several others that I’ve shared a table with over the last two years, a phenomenon that I’ve not been able to deduce the whys and wherefores of. It might be a strictly local trend, one that doesn’t occur elsewhere, but it could also be indicative of the way the game has changed after the release of the 3rd edition. Maybe you’ve seen this happen too.

My players don’t ask a lot of questions in-game. This is completely alien to me because that’s all I ever do when I’m playing. Maybe it’s because I’m a referee or a designer or simply because I play these games to temporarily lose myself in the fantasy we create and becoming invested in the shared world makes it easier to do so. Most of my players, however, and others that I’ve gamed with are seemingly content to lay back and assume a completely submissive role in the play experience. Unfortunately, this can be fatal to their characters.

Here’s a recent example: I was running a quick filler game using the material I created for my Out of the Box campaign. It got off to a good start with the players going to the tavern and one making an inquiry about any recent goings on in the area. The barkeep revealed that some settlers had been attacked on the road recently, and had been kidnapped by forces unknown. I was happy. The guys were interacting with the campaign world at large, which was a big step forward for some of them. But then old habits kicked in.

They learned that the local temple couldn’t provide any healing potions, but heard a rumor that a witch in the woods might be able to. Rather than ask any more questions, they figured they’d just stumble around in the woods for a while and run into her. Things got worse after they decided to leave the safety of the keep and go dungeon-crawling. There were three options on a map that a local had, all of which were merely names on a paper. The party picked one at random and headed for it, not even pausing to see if anyone knew anything about the site they had chosen. As it turned out, the dungeon they picked was scaled for 3rd level characters and the expedition resulted in a massacre.

The same tendency occurs during the actual adventure. In my Stonehell game, the PCs occasionally encountered phenomenon or items that they didn’t recognize. Occasionally a player might ask something like, “Does my magic-user know anything about this?” or “As a dwarf do I recognize that?” When I answer “No,” they seem to take that as “No and you never will.” The thought of seeking out an NPC expert doesn’t even occur to them.

Compare this to my approach in the Labyrinth Lord game I’m participating it. We were running through the Village of Hommlet and the party, after learning of the Moathouse, decided to head out there and loot it. Immediately. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I cried. “Let’s see if we can’t learn a thing or two before we go out there.” My magic-user asked around town and learned of the backstory behind the Battle of the Moathouse and talked to a few soldiers who had been there that day. In doing so, he got a rough sketch of the exterior and learned that there was a single known dungeon level underneath the fort. He also got Rufus to kick in some troops and offer up a bounty for exploring the place. Sometimes knowing these little facts and whether you’re bound to run into goblins instead of orcs can save lives, especially fragile, 1st level lives.

After a bad run in with the frogs, my magic-user consulted with the local druid, thinking that if anyone could offer some advice about giant frogs, he’d be the guy. This lead to us getting a magic orb that created a cloud of monstrous flies and helped draw off some of the big batrachians in our path.

Maybe I’m just an exemplary player or perhaps reading all those “advice to the players” articles in Dragon back in the day stuck in my brain. Whatever the case, I’m just not seeing this trend in the gamers I’ve been playing with and I’m wondering why. Is it merely because they are “poor” players or is this symptomatic of a larger cause? Have video games that feed the players tidbits of information at predetermined points made gamers more passive? Did including a “Gather Information” skill make players think that the only way to get important information was to make a skill check and when that skill is missing from their plate of options they believe that information is unavailable? Am I a sucky referee who runs a game that provides no impetus for the players to peer beyond the surface? I really don’t know.

This had been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because I’m re-examining what types of games I enjoy running and because of some changes in my regular group. I look at Jeff Rient’s Twenty Questions and part of me wonders if it’s even worth answering them if nobody’s going to make those inquiries in the first place. This also explains my request that folks interested in play testing not “lay back and think of England” but get excited and get involved. A great deal of my lack of enthusiasm for continuing to run Labyrinth Lord comes from this absence of investment in the shared world we’re supposed to be creating around the table.

I’m not trying to be harsh or rude to my players, but it’s something that I have noticed in the year and a half we’ve been together. Not from all of them, but enough that it affects me and my own interest in running a game. And with my plan to introduce a new setting/game that I consider to be my most personal and immersive campaign ever, these concerns make me think that this is not the right time or group to do so.

Am I alone in noticing this trend in gamers, especially younger ones? Is this a singular phenomenon or has this affected your own games as well? I’d really like to diagnose this affliction and see what might be done to address it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I the Emperor proclaim
Us the masters we rule the game

Those of you located in the Long Island area may be interested to know that I’m in the process of putting together a play testing group in order to stress test a few projects that are fast approaching the end of their writing phase. One is my own construction, another is a new game for another publisher, and a third will be an adventure written for a soon-to-be released game system.

I’m specifically looking for people with the natural inclination to take a setting or rule system and run with it rather than lay back and think of England while I have my way with them. I’m never going to figure out if the project is going to hold together unless you help kick the tires with ideas or situations I’d never think of. If you’re interested and on the Island, please drop me an email at poleandrope (AT) gmail (dot) com.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dave’s Day

I’d make a lousy reporter. I simply lack the ability to observe events as they occur, preferring to participate whenever possible. This means that any attempt I make to provide a comprehensive picture of what occurred at a function or event is doomed to failure. The 3rd Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day is no exception, so please forgive any oversights I might commit in the following paragraphs or names I might accidently misattribute or misspell. I’ll leave the task of providing a wider, more accurate account of the day’s events to another.
After waking at the crack of dawn to make the drive into Brooklyn, I finally managed to find a parking spot a few blocks away from the Brooklyn Strategist. Entering the space, I immediately met John, the mind behind the Brooklyn Strategist and its operator. The Brooklyn Strategist is not so much a game store as it is a neighborhood resource. It shares time in a community space and serves as “a unique, community-based, interactive board and card-game center, cafĂ© and social club.” Open Tuesday through Thursday every week and on first and third weekends of the month, it provides a place for game enthusiasts of all ages to get together and share a common love for games of all types. In addition, they run “Game Modules,” weekly series of games with common themes (Ancient Strategy, Sports, Empire Building and Civilizations, etc) that run several weeks and introduce players to games of increasing complexity as they grow familiar with the Game Module’s theme.
For those who can’t commit to a regular Game Module, the Brooklyn Strategist provides a four hour block of play time for $10 dollars. Slap your money down and choose from any one of the many game available for play. If you don’t know the rules, the staff is more than willing to get you familiar with the game so you can play. That’s an excellent way to give a new game a shot before plunking down the $50 a high end board game goes for these days.
The space is clean and open, although the lighting could be a little brighter. Tables are sawhorse affairs surrounded by folding chairs. The entry way serves as business counter, game display, and game sales, and the place is wheelchair accessible. As we gamers know, gaming and the munchies go hand-in-grease-covered-hand, and the Brooklyn Strategist has you covered there. They operate an on-site concession stand, Strategic Snacks, which is stocked with comfort foods made from scratch. The mint lemonade and chocolate chip cookies were both excellent. I really can’t recommend the Brooklyn Strategist enough. If you’re in the area and looking to play a game that doesn’t involve renting shoes or paying a table fee in a snooker hall, the Brooklyn Strategist is worth a visit.

 After getting acquainted with the Strategist, I got down to the game floor to see a few familiar faces. Tavis Allison was already up and running a Blackmoor hex crawl for a group of children and adults. This was the second time I’ve met Tavis and I was again amazed at how effortlessly he keeps young children engaged and focused on a game with complex rules. He had a “hex map” laid out on the table constructed from Heroscape Terrain, which struck me as a brilliant idea. If somebody out there could produce a series of hex-shaped markers illustrated with classic fantasy cartographic symbols that attached to one another quickly and easily (maybe magnetically), they’d probably make a mint from gamers. Just a suggestion to would-be entrepreneurs...
Also sighted was James Carpio of Chapter 13 Press. I met James earlier this year at ICON 30 and got the opportunity to chat with him and Frank Mentzer after the con had ended. James was at the Strategist to run Death Race Z, a new game from Chapter 13 and had artist Ben Morgan with him. Together, James and Ben are the creators of Spookybeans, the gothic comics RPG. Imagine roleplaying in the world of Charles Addams and you’re halfway to understanding Spookybeans. James and Ben have been playtesting the game for five years now and are finally getting ready to publish it. I had a gander at the game in a rough form and it looks interesting. Ben’s art really sets the mood for the game and with adventures with names like “Dave of the Dead” it seems to have a built in audience with anyone who enjoys Chez Goth, the quirky worlds of Tim Burton, Shaun of the Dead, or just likes poking fun at heavily eye-shadowed folks with too much spider-themed jewelry.
I grabbed a table after greeting everyone and catching up with what was going on for the day. Unpacking and unwinding after the drive in, I talked with John from the Strategist who gave me the information I reported above about the place. I promised I’d snap some more pictures once the place got busier, but unfortunately I only got the few I posted in this article. Before I knew it, things were happening all around me and I forgot to try and document the day in photographs.
With more people trickling it, some of whom were children, Tavis gathered the kids together to introduce them to Blackmoor and Adventurer, Conqueror, King. The two adult players from Blackmoor drifted over to my table to make room for the kids. These were Mike R., who turned out to have a strange synchronicity with myself besides just a name, and Tim H., the mind behind the Play Generated Map and Document Archive (

Since a few more faces were needed before I could break out the special Dave Arneson Stonehell adventure I’d written for the day, the three of use sat down to play InSpectres, refereed by Tim. It was my first experience with the game and it was a tremendous amount of fun (I’ll have more to say about it in another post). In short, you play the employees of a Ghostbusters-type paranormal extermination service. Game play is fast, simple, and very much in the new school of game design. Players have almost as much say in the game narrative as the game master and a session can be wrapped up in an hour or so.

Halfway through InSpectres, we got a new player, John, who turned out is a regular reader of this blog (Hi, John!). John took up the mantle of Sally the Intern and saved Mike and I when we got imprisoned in our own mystical glyph like a pair of mimes stuck in an invisible box—an invisible box surrounded by goats that had tasted human blood!

When the game finished (triumphantly for the players, I might add), I asked James and Ben to join us and we sat down to play Labyrinth Lord run by myself (Do I need to submit a detailed report for my Labyrinth Lord Society XP, David?). The tournament/demo style scenario involved the plundering of the Hidden Vault of Evaders Noan. The five players chose from a stack of pre-generated PCs and, after getting the background, entered the vault in search of three extremely valuable gems. Not long after they entered, two more players came over and asked to sit in. That’s how Andrew (a newcomer to Labyrinth Lord and old school RPGs) and Dave (another reader of the SoTPR) joined the party. I’ll have more to say about the scenario in another post, but the party was largely successful (one of the gems was recovered) and I’m pretty happy with the debut of the adventure. It needs a few tweaks, but it might become my convention/on-the-road Stonehell adventure of choice.

It was 3:30 when the Labyrinth Lord game finished up, and after enjoying some compliments on my refereeing, I took a look around the room to see that it was filling up nicely. Tavis had finished ACK, many of the panellists had arrived and were chatting with acquaintances new and old, families were playing board and card games at the tables around the Strategist, and someone (I think it was Paul Hughes from Blog of Holding) was running 4E D&D with a bunch of kids in one corner of the space.

I had some time to kill before the panel started at 5 PM and I largely spent the next hour and a half chatting with people and sampling a snack from the concession stand. These conversations included:
  • Talking with Tavis and Darren Watts, President of Hero Games, about Dave Arneson, Braunstein, and the simple, but radical idea Dave had about playing games where your “piece” got better at them thanks to the experiences had in previous games.
  • Having Luke Crane of Burning Wheel and the Mouse Guard RPG remind me of the Milton Bradley board game Conspiracy, a game that I had completely forgotten about and must now acquire at all costs.
  • Comparing notes with Tim H. on Dwarf Fortress, its complexity and usefulness, and the fact that it lacks any sort of intuitive introduction to game play for people like me.
  • Chatting with Darren Watts out on the sidewalk about Kenneth Hite and how the mark of a good designer is the ability to compartmentalize your own creations, especially when creating for different systems owned by different publishers.
After grabbing a quick bite of Mexican at the Fast Burrito Deli, it was time to grab a seat, for the panel was about to begin. A film crew was on hand to record the discussion, but due to audio issues with the microphone, it’s uncertain if any of the footage will appear online as intended.

The panel consisted of Darren Watts, Luke Crane, Brian Driotcour, David Ewalt, Ethan Gilsdorf, and Nicholas Fortugno, whose credits can be found in this post rather than reproduce them here. The discussion was interesting and very respectful of Dave Arneson’s contributions to the game industry (even in light of the occasional turkey like DNA/DOA). The entire industry of gaming –be it tabletop or digital—would be in a completely different state if it hadn’t be for Dave’s simple yet radical idea. Listening to the panel reminded me exactly how much we gamers owe to Dave and reinforces the sadness that he’s not better recognized for his contributions. As many people there admitted, they came into the hobby through D&D, but had no clue about who Dave was or what role he had in the game that Gygax’s name dominated. It’s a shame that Arneson is only now beginning to gain the accolades he richly deserves at a time when he’s not around to enjoy them. Tavis (and the rest of the organizers) are doing a great service to the hobby, the next generation, and Dave’s memory with these annual Game Days and I hope they endure for many, many years.

The panel ended, leaving me with not only a renewed respect for Dave, but a few laughs (I thought I was the only one who considered the mathematical formulae for explosion damage in Twilight 2000 to be a point of high mockery), and the realization that role-players vary much more than I imagined (apparently the Danes have attitudes about roleplaying that Americans would find almost alien, but that’s one of the beauties of the hobby and the mindsets of those who play it).

It was 6:30 PM by this time and the day was winding down for me. Between only a few hours of sleep in the previous 48 leading up the event and a full session of gaming under my belt, I was feeling pretty beat and facing an hour and a half drive home. There was also uneven ratio between game masters and players, and since I had already run a session, I thought it best if I let someone else run something instead. I had one person, Eric, another reader of this blog and owner of The Dungeon Alphabet, come down looking to play Labyrinth Lord with me at the helm, but I was pretty wiped out and I had to disappoint him (sorry about that again, Eric). I gave him my copy of the Hidden Vault of Evaders Noan as a small consolation prize because I always hate to let somebody down.

A little after 7 PM, I collected my things, said my goodbyes and walked back to my car. To my delight, it was exactly where I left it, free from parking tickets, and I made my way back into the quiet suburbs of Long Island, tired, happy, and proud to have been a part of the 3rd Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day. I hope to be there again in 2012. Maybe you’ll be there too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

New Realms of Crawling Chaos Review

It has fallen out of public view in the past several months, which is only natural given the sheer amount of good stuff that's been coming out of various OSR publishers (professional and amateur), but I've seen signs that people are beginning to give Dan Proctor's excellent Lovecraftian supplement for Labyrinth Lord another look-see. People still seem to enjoy my paltry contributions to the book as well.

A new review of Realms of Crawling Chaos is up over at Reviews from R'lyeh. Swing on by and give it a read if you've been wondering if this might be the book to spice up your old school D&D game.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thanks, Dave

I just got home from the 3rd Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day. It's been a very long, but very entertaining and sometimes enlightening day. I'll have a little more to say about it during the week ahead, but I did not get nearly as many pictures as I had hoped and things were still going on when I left.

Suffice to say, none of that fun would have been possible without the contributions of Dave Arneson. Thanks so much, Dave. You changed the world with a simple idea. Thanks also to Tavis Allison for organizing the event and to all the game masters and panelists who came down to help out. It was well worth braving the wilds of Brooklyn and getting up before dawn to do so.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More on the Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day

As I mentioned previously, I’ll be one of the guest referees at the 3rd Annual Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day held on October 1st, 2011 at the Brooklyn Strategist. The day runs from 9 AM to 11 PM, so if you’re in the vicinity, please come down to share in the fun and honor the memory of Dave Arneson. The following kind souls will be providing adventuring opportunities to attendees:
  • Tavis Allison will be judging a mini-campaign in which players attempt to rebuild Blackmoor Castle and clear out its dungeons, using the Adventurer Conqueror King system. Tavis is one of the developers for ACKs, and will have a new "Men and Magic"-style player book of its character creation rules.
  • Joseph Bloch will be running dungeon expeditions using Adventures Dark & Deep, of which he is the designer. Joseph will have a never-before-seen version of the Bestiary at the Gameday.
  • James Carpio will be running demos of the forthcoming Death Race Z. James is the game's designer (as well as one of the Gameday's organizers), and will be contributing works from his company, Chapter 13.
  • Luke Crane will be running one of his favorite Shadowrun modules, DNA/DOA, which was written by Dave Arneson. Luke's session will use his long-awaited "Mouse Run" hack of his game Mouse Guard, and he'll bring copies of his new Burning Wheel Gold to sign and contribute.
  • Michael Curtis will be refereeing adventures in Stonehell Dungeon using the Labyrinth Lord rules. Michael is the creator of Stonehell and will be signing copies of its Three Castles award nominated first installment, Down Night-Haunted Halls.
  • Paul Hughes will be running adventures of the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, using the wandering monster charts from the original edition Arneson co-authored. Paul will have these posters of these charts illustrated in his inimitable infographic style, instantly recognizable to fans of his posts at Blog of Holding.
  • Jeff LaSala will be running the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure The Transmuter’s Last Touch he wrote for Goodman Games, which he will specially convert to the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons as an introduction for new gamers.

In addition, there will be a panel discussion “The World Dave Made: Arneson's Legacy in Modern Culture” featuring:

  • Luke Crane is one of the most influential role-playing game designers working today and an outspoken advocate of self-publishing. His participation as panelist and game-master affords a chance to see both theory and practice.
  • Brian Droitcour is a staff writer at Rhizome--an organization supporting art that engages emerging technologies based at the New Museum--and a regular contributor to Artforum. He is currently organizing an exhibition titled “Big Reality” that takes role-playing games as a starting point for considering how consumer technologies have integrated fantasy and play in everyday life. He will offer some thoughts on the place of role-playing games in contemporary culture, and examples of how it is reflected in the work of some artists.
  • David Ewalt is a senior editor at Forbes Magazine, where he reports on the game industry, and is writing a book about Dungeons & Dragons, which will be published by Scribner. David will be sharing insights from his interviews with people in all walks of life who were influenced by roleplaying games.
  • Nicholas Fortugno teaches the Game Design and Interactive Narrative program at Parsons New School for Design and is the co-founder of the NYC game design studio Playmatics LLC. Nicholas will be talking about why learning to play Dungeons & Dragons was simply the most influential element of my childhood and has profoundly shaped his career, his identity, and his life.
  • Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, his travel memoir investigation into fantasy and gaming subcultures. He also blogs for’s Geek Dad, and writes about movies, books, and pop and geek culture for, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times.

More information on the panel can be found on here on Facebook.

A Kickstarter effort has been launched to help cover the costs of the Game Day and a suggested $10 donation at the door goes to juvenile diabetes research. Additional information about the event and what’s going down there can be found on Facebook at the Third Annual NYC Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day. We hope to see you there, but if you can't make it, please consider pledging to the Kickstarter effort and be sure to spend Saturday, October 1st remembering Dave with fun and games amongst family, friends, and even complete strangers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Shield?

I’m currently sorting through my old minis to determine what needs to be stripped and repainted and what needs to be culled completely. Amongst them, I found one knight who is missing his shield. I’m not sure who produced Sir Aegisless the Exposed, but he obviously hails from the period in the mid 1980s when mini companies decided to mold their figures separately and include plastic shields to attach to a boss on the miniatures’ arms. I’ve looked online to find a replacement, but truth be told, I just need a single shield and not an entire sprue of them. Does anyone have a spare they’d be willing to pop in an envelope and mail my way? I could probably rig a replacement from a washer and some green stuff, but I thought I see if anyone has some extras lying in the bottom of their mini box first.

Here’s Sir Aegisless so you know what I’m talking about:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Visitors from Nowhen

As much as Stonehell Dungeon has become a commercial venture, at its heart it remains my own personal dungeon and that means I oftentimes add things to it merely to please myself. Take the following:

It is not widely known that deep in the belly of Stonehell Dungeon stands a certain cave mouth. It is not a particularly interesting cave opening. It is rather narrow, no more than a cleft in the rock face in which it stands. Many adventuring bands have passed it by without a second glance.

Of the handful that have entered it, none have traversed its entire length. The cave is merely the mouth of a long, long, sinuous tunnel that seems to stretch for miles. One brave soul who ventured farther than any other reportedly encountered the tunnel’s guardian: a portly, faceless demon dressed in nondescript robes and bearing a number of glowing, green eyes in its otherwise featureless hood. He fled before the guardian could challenge him.

Although none have passed through the tunnel from Stonehell, there is a tale that says two persons once emerged from the cave, obviously arriving from whatever strange lands lay at the opposite end. The peculiar, mismatched duo became involved in several convoluted schemes in the cities of Ilrahtyr and Xultvar before eventually vanishing from sight. Some believe they returned to the weird lands that birthed them; others proclaim they set sail on the Western Sea and have never been sighted since. Perhaps one day the two will again be encountered in Stonehell by those who probe the dungeon’s deepest mysteries…

Fritz Leiber's tale, "The Adept's Gambit," is a blessing to we referees who love his work and want to include a taste of Nehwon without necessarily setting our campaigns there. Thanks to the magic of Nin's cave, the Twain can show up for guest apperances just about anywhere. I've long had the idea to have Fafrhd and Mouser visit R'Nis, staying just long enough for the PCs to get involved in whatever scheme the two are planning (or perhaps rescuing the Twain from their own ill luck). With that idea in mind, I picked up an appropriate set of minis for the Boys from Lankhmar. Recently, I finally got around to painting them

The Fafhrd figure is Reaper's Fafnir Of Kjord. You must admit the likeness is uncanny.

My Gray Mouser is also a Reaper figure, Kurff The Swift. The match isn't perfect, but it's close enough for my purposes. The gray paint job and crouched stance help maintain the illusion.