BF update: Dyson’s Deathtrap*

The last few Basic Fantasy sessions have bene brutal. A harpy killed the henchmage Brown Julius, along with the torchbearer and pack-bearer. Then the elf was killed by a hell hound — which also brought two other PC’s to death’s door. This week, a medusa surprised the party, stoning the half-ogre, his young ogre apprentice, the gnome MU who was the elf’s replacement, the cleric, and the fighter/bard. Only the dwarf and halfling, and the halfling’s and bard’s retainers, made it out.

This reminded me that there really aren’t any guidelines on the cost of getting spells cast, but Flesh to Stone (and it’s reverse) is damn high level. They do know of a few higher level NPC magic users (the masters of the late elf and Brown Julius, and also Brown’s older and more popular brother Orange Julius) so that is not totally out of the question, but the players seem content to roll up new characters.

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*I wouldn’t really call Dyson’s Delve a deathtrap BTW. It certainly poses some tough encounters but most of the deaths were due to failed saving throws. It’s been fascinating to see how challenging some of these have been, while other encounters that looked like potential TPKs to me were defeated handily. There is definitely a shift in the dangers posed by monsters around the 4 HD mark. Armor Class protected the front line against the lower level foes but area effects, saving throw attacks, and so on make a big difference.

Published in: on September 10, 2021 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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BF Session # something or other: There’s always room for gelatinous cubes

Although the last session report was in June, the Basic Fantasy game has in fact been rolling along on a weekly basis. It’s been great to be back to in-person, but given the state of pandemic I think we’ll be moving the game outdoors, which may be a bit of a shock to my neighbors.

Since the campaign started we added another player, who hasn’t been at the table with us since…I don’t know, 2010? The first Telengard campaign probably? He created a half-elf Druid to join the party. In the meantime since the last report the party hired a a pair of pack bearers and a pair of torchbearers, who seem to related to EVERYONE in town. The sage who IDs magic items, the locksmith, and so on.

They also recruited some henchfolk: the dwarf paladin brought on a human magic user, Brown Julius, and the Bard recruited a half-orc assassin, Clemenza. The druid also befriended a black bear.

So this session the dwarf player was absent, and I teased the group that they better figure out how they’ll survive a foray into the dungeon with the dwarf carrying them.

In the event, the party found a pair of rooms with a “hung ceiling” some 15″ off the ground. It was the lair of 10 kobolds who were mostly avoiding other monsters on the level…like the gelatinous cube that the scout discovered while the party was dealing with the flaming-oil hurling kobolds.

How it went down was: the party probed the hung ceiling, provoking a barrage of flaming oil from the kobolds (who had lots of camouflaged hatches to allow for raining missiles below). This took out both the lantern-bearers and injured several PCs. (An aside: BF rules for flaming oil are pretty deadly. The players voiced a concern that the kobolds were payback for their use of flaming oil in prior sessions but I’m actually following a module. I might look at making oil a little less effective.) The party retaliated by setting fire to the kobolds’ platform, and eventually by sheer force the party of 6 3rd-4th level characters managed to defeat the ten kobolds. Meanwhile the scout found a gelatinous cube, which he couldn’t really see until it was right on top of him. He wisely withdrew, but the cube managed to reach and paralyze him. There was a fair amount of arguing about who should try to rescue him, and eventually the cube too was defeated. Thoroughly whooped, the party retreated to he surface again. They had very little to show for this expedition in terms of treasure or XP, but did find a magical staff inside the cube. Huzzah!

Published in: on August 6, 2021 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Compleat Orc’s Lair

At long last, I’ve finished painting my collection of Grenadier AD&D orcs! I got the original “Orc’s Lair” way back in the 1980s when it first came out, and as I recall the shaman was broken, but it had an extra axeman in the box, so no complaints. An “Action Art” set acquired some time later had another orc captain (which for some reason I remember having a more ostentatious name in the painting guide). Since then, I acquired a few more of each pose secondhand in game shops, in large “job lots” I bought online, in trades, and a few outright gifts from people who didn’t want them any more.  My original crew were painted back in the 80s, and mostly in the bright green used in the box art. For the rest, I decided to paint them in a more muted olive tone, but kept the dominant black and reds used for the originals so they look more uniform.

These orcs are all more ape-like (as drawn by Jeff Dee in modules at the time) than pig-faced (like the Monster Manual illustration), which is also more in line with Tolkien style orcs. They are also considerably less bulky than most orc miniatures. I like the mish-mash of weapon and armor styles, suggesting it is all looted gear.

The crouching short swords men were never my favorite pose. These came in both the boxed Orc’s Lair and separate blister pack of five figures, which may explain why I have so many. They are simply more common than some of the others.

The archers only appeared in the boxed set. I actually have one more who will serve as a crewman on an even older Grenadier war mammoth. 

The two axemen broke fairly quickly after I got them — the axe handle was somewhat thin. The thirc I acquired later was already broken. So all have new weapons grafted on: a plastic axe head, a plastic sword blade, and a broken bit from a later Grenadier goblin figure. The axeman, like the short sword, was both in the box and the blister, so they should be fairly common as well. I have a fourth (also broken, of course) who is also serving as a mammoth crew with a pike.

The swordsmen were in both boxes and blisters, so they ought to be common. It’s a decent pose and would good for wargame stands.

The “captain” should be the most common by far, as he was in the box, the blister, and a large “Action Art” box set of monsters. The one in the center had his axe replaced but the rest are intact. I always liked this pose, and the crested helmet.

The war-club orcs were only in the small box, so it’s surprising that I have four of them. I like the vaguely Aztec theme. One had a broken club and I replaced with a plain, rather than obsidian-studded, club.

The last trooper with a mace appeared only in the blister pack, and is the only one I have just one of. Presumably he’s the rarest of the AD&D orcs. 

The “Command” types are all pretty nice too. The shaman has a skull and some kind of spike club or rattle made from a bone. This club was also break-prone so one has a replacement (on the left) and for the other (on the right), I carved the back of the handle into a a curved knife which you can’t see from this angle. The center shaman is intact.

The standard bearers are both lightly converted. (I was very confused, as a kid, that this fellow was labelled “standard” on the box, since I thought they were saying this what a “standard/tpyical” orc would look. Only a bit later did I learn that a standard was a banner or unit insignia. On the left, I converted the club to a sword for reasons I no longer remember. The club certainly didn’t break off on its own. The other has a standard from a Heritage kit (the Middle Earth orcs with a drum on a cart). I was missing his standard, and this one was superfluous so it was a luck meeting.

Lastly the “leader” types (or in some boxes, he’s labeled the “captain” and the captain above is an “axeman,” and the axeman is a “w/waraxe”). His axe broke on both models as well, so one got a replacement from a Prince August mold and the other has a warhammer from a Ral Partha dwarf (who in turn was converted to hold an axe to match a player’s character in some long ago game). Another very menacing pose despite the relatively small stature of these orcs.

And here’s how they all go into storage in a small bead organizer.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 4, 2021 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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BF Session 2

Undeterred by the PPK (partial party kill) last time, we continued the game this week. At the end of last session, the party began negotiating for a reward on goblins, in addition to the modest reward already offered for rats. They learned that goblin bandits had stolen a tax collector’s proceeds, and the sheriff offered a small sum for its return. The party also decided to hire some lantern-bearers to avoid fleeing in the dark again. Two local youths agreed to tag along. They also met with several adventurers who are new in town — two repalcement characters and a character for a regular who was absent the first session). The group now consisted of:

Gurgi, dwarf paladin (Tom)

Hieronymus Spicywiener, human cleric (Ian)

Dildo, halfling scout (absent this session) (John)

Halitosis, half-human fighter (replacing Cunning Linguist, half-human assassin killed last session, also absent) (Richard)

Alan-A-Dale, human bard/fighter (replacing Urian, human bard/fighter killed last session) (Ken)

The Elf with No Name, elf fighter/magic-user (Seth)

Todd and Rufus, lantern-bearers for hire (NPCs)

The party returned to the ruins of Ballard’s keep, entering through the stairway they found last session. The entry was eerily empty, so the party avoided the wing of the dungeon they know to have hobgoblins and instead pressed deeper into the dungeon, where they encountered two goblins with a leashed giant ferret. The party defeated them and saw a stairway down as well as two doors with ominous skulls painted on them, but wisely chose to clear the first level before going deeper.

This led them to find a passage connecting to the caves they were in last time, and they exterminated the remaining rats, finding a large hoard of copper.

Going back to the goblin side of the level, they got the drop on the sentries posted in the first room, killing them before an alarm could be sounded. They continued deeper and fought some more goblins and hobgoblins — one room had the goblins listening to a hobgoblin play crudely on Urian’s dulcimer. The Elf charmed the hobgoblin and began to disarm him, whereupon the party slew them all. A last room held the hobgoblin boss, who was readily dispatched. He had the tax collector’s strong box, still locked. Feeling a bit bolder the party investigate the doors with skulls on them, which turned out to hold a crypt. The party opened a saint’s tomb, and stole a prayerbook they found inside. They pushed deeper and found a small catacomb, from which a horde of skeletons burst. The party managed to defeat them with no losses due to good tactics. Finally they opened a sarcophagus, which proved to hold an armored zombie. The party dispatched this as well, and returned to the village to count their loot, claim their rewards, and plot their next foray.

Published in: on June 25, 2021 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Weasels ripped their flesh, or, The triumphant return to in-person gaming

This week marked the first day everyone in my gaming group and in my household were fully vaccinated, and we could at last begin to play in person again! I went with Basic Fantasy, an inexpensive and fairly comprehensive old school D&D clone, which feels somewhere in between B/X and AD&D: races AND classes, but simpler mechanics.

I probably should have spent more time reading the rules to familiarize myself with how the rules approach various situations, but it mostly went OK because one player, KO’ed early in the session, helped find the rules as we went.

The party was an interesting mix of rogues: a dwarf paladin, a half-human/half-elf assassin, a human bard/fighter, a human cleric, and a halfling scout. (Of the MANY optional rules available for BF, I decided to just use the Glain Companion, which are optional rules used by the rule’s original author. Hence the nonstandard classes.) They met in a tavern (of course) and were recruited to deal with a giant rat infestation (of course) which lead to a dungeon (of course). No points for originality there, but the players kept me on my toes with unexpected decisions and tactics.

They followed a trail to the apparent rat nest — a cave on the outskirts of the village. There were some larger tracks which alerted them to possible danger, and once inside the cave they were faced with three giant ferrets! The dwarf took the brunt of their assault, as the rest of the party used bows and slings. Two heavy hits from the ferrets (RZZZZZ!) brought the dwarf to negative HP, but the party managed to finish off the ferrets and drag him to safety outside the cave.

The party decided that rather than take the dwarf all the way back to the nearest farm, they’d try to collect some giant rat trophies to turn a quick profit. They tried to smoke the rats out by lighting a brush fire at the cave mouth, which was effective — a half dozen rats escaped the cave, in a panic, to be shot at by the party. Some of the rats escaped but the scout noticed a plume of smoke a hundred or so feet away coming from uphill, and investigated to find some ruins, where a stairway was acting as a chimney for the cave smoke. He went back to alert the party, but was followed by several javelin-hurling goblins. The party returned fire, killing a few goblins and sending the rest into retreat. At this point the party decided to press their luck and descend the stairs.

After dispatching one sentry, the party followed a twisting hallway to find a chamber with several goblins and hobgoblins waiting for them in ambush, firing crossbows. The party fired a volley in answer, and the next round the cleric and scout fled immediately, but the fighter/bard and assassin attempted to stand and fire while the hobgoblins reloaded…except the hobgoblins did not reload and instead charged, swords drawn. Both PCs were injured but not killed, and they decided to flee. Here the simple pursuit rules in BF proved to be the assassin’s undoing, and when the fighter/bard tried to help his companion escape, both were cut down by hobgoblins.

The pursuit rules were fairly simple: when being pursued, roll a save vs Death to avoid any obstacles on your way out (in this case doorways and tight corners). Failing means you are halted/delayed/tripped and the pursuers catch up! The assassin had to make two saves and failed one. Because the bard decided to stay and try to help his companion, both were engaged in the next round of melee and fell.

In fact I was unaware of the pursuit rules, but the dwarf player was helping look up rules as we went since his PC was out of the fray. I have to think the players might not have stood their ground had they know how difficult it is to flee. Lessons learned all around.

The remaining characters took the dwarf back to civilization. Replacement PCs were made, and we’ll give it another go next week!

Published in: on June 18, 2021 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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This Ol’ Dungeon

Just a quick shout out to a new podcast I’ve started following — This Ol’ Dungeon. It’s a podcast that looks at old games and whether they need some updating and renovation, much like the old TV show the title references did with houses. I have enjoyed the episodes so far. When they asked for more information on Lords of Creation (a game published by Ohio’s own Tom Moldvay, and featuring an adventure in a future Akron, Ohio), I was flattered to be asked to appear on the podcast, and you can hear my nasally babbling on episode 7. I share what I can about OmegAkron, an adventure set in Akron, Ohio, after a series of disasters and wars leaving the world a hell-blasted fuckscape suspiciously similar to the hell-blasted fuckscape that was Akron, Ohio, in 1983: the Akron that recently unleashed Devo on the music scene. (It’s a little surprising that with all the Akron landmarks and in-jokes there aren’t any energy domes in the adventure.)

Published in: on January 15, 2021 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft

Did I post about this before? No? I should have. The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick is a hidden gem of Cleveland, Ohio.

The museum represents the personal collection of Raymond Buckland, best known for popularizing Wicca in the US.

His collection includes tons of interesting items, many ritual implements he crafted himself for witchery as well as kitsch and tchotchkes related to the occult revival of the 1960s. I recently went to the museum as part of a COVID-conscious celebration of my second anniversary with my ladyfriend. You can book a private tour of the museum, at a very affordable price. The owner, a friend of Buckland, provides a personalized and socially distant tour, answering questions and giving anecdotes about the items on display. This time I only took a few photos.

Not pictured: lots of cool stuff, including ceremonial items used by Aleister Crowley and Gerald Garnder,

One of the cooler displays is a genuine demon captured in a box. The salt circle around the the sealed box presumably keeps it imprisoned — the story is that Buckland himself exorcised the demon and trapped it in the box as a favor for a friend.

Last summer an artist painted an authentic magic circle on the floor of the museum. At the museum owner’s request, he left out the triangle that any real magician would need to place the censer or brazier that the summoned spirit would materialize in. Therefore the circle won’t actually work, much to the owner’s relief — he worried that otherwise, a visitor or burglar might use the circle to summon something they couldn’t contain.

One wall of the museum is devoted to rotating exhibits of artwork. When we were there, it was an assortment of photos, paintings, and artifacts.

First up, a page from a several centuries old grimoire, apparently signed by Gerald Gardner himself. The inscription on the upper right, which looks a bit like a “666” is more likely a “GbG” for “Gerald Brosseau Gardner.”

Next, an original painting that seems to be copy of, or inspired by, one of Milton’s illustrations for Paradise Lost, although the Satan suggests Dante’s image of the devil eating the worst sinners at the icy center of the Inferno.

The next image I didn’t catch the origins of. I think it’s a demon or spirit of some kind.

Published in: on November 27, 2020 at 11:00 am  Comments (1)  

First impression review: Lion & Dragon

I really like the idea of historically based RPGs. One of the best campaigns I ever played in was a GURPS historical campaign. But I probably like the idea a little more than the actual experience of playing them, because so much of my playing history has been D&D.  Anyway I’m always curious about games that claim any kind of “authenticity” or to be informed by historical research, so Lion & Dragon caught my interest with it’s subtitle: “Medieval Authentic OSR Roleplaying.”

Right off the bat I should admit I am generally turned off by main author, “RPGPundit.” He espouses hateful politics and is the sort of self-promoter who will complain constantly about being mistreated while attacking other people shamelessly. So I definitely wouldn’t want to be around him in real life. But there are lots of people I don’t like. This review will, to the extent possible, bracket my thoughts on the person and focus on the product.

The fact is, it’s a pretty neat game. The rules are relatively concise and the layout is nice. I appreciate games that don’t overdo the graphic design, and this has a mix of new and public domain black & white line art. Nice. The system itself is a mix of ideas, like a heavily house-ruled Moldvay/Cook D&D game. The classes reminded me very much of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with heavily niched areas of expertise. Instead of regular charted progress in class abilities, each time a level is gained the player rolls for a random benefit — a mechanic I’ve seen on several blogs a good 8 or 10 years ago (for example), but one I always thought was a clever way of keeping characters unique. The magic system is significantly different than standard Vancian D&D, with clerics gaining a short list of miracle-working abilities and magic-users (“magisters”) focusing on summoning, alchemy, and similar pursuits. All characters are humans, with northern barbarians and the Cymric being classes in themselves, while other nationalities may choose from the standard thief, fighter, MU, and cleric classes. This all looks good.

Unfortunately the major problems in the game are where it fails, sometimes badly, to fulfill the promised “medieval authenticity.” According to the introduction, the promised authenticity relies on five pillars:

  1. social status is extremely important
  2. monotheism
  3. magic is rare
  4. life is cheap
  5. civilization is survival

The first point had me thinking this was a promising start. Looking back on what I consider the most important attempt at “medieval authenticity,” Fantasy Wargaming, social class was given extremely detailed treatment in both the introductory essays and the mechanics. In L&D, there are just six social classes listed:

  • ex-slave/serf
  • peasant
  • villain (city-born)
  • knightly nobility
  • lordly nobility
  • aristocracy

Clerics, we are told, roll only to determine their origins, but all considered to be of the knightly class on strength of their office. (This is a pretty big departure from medieval authenticity in itself.) A short, vague discussion of how social classes interact follows, and social class will determine a character’s initial background skill and starting wealth. It does not affect how many siblings one has, or how many of them are still alive, or options for character class. It does appear again in the section on law and trials, however.

The description of the “villain” as “city-born” is flummoxing. A villein in medieval England was a rural dweller, with feudal obligations to a lord, and possibly little more than a peasant. If the intent was to have a middle-class type, perhaps “burgher” or “guild member” would be a better fit. This is something other games (like Fantasy Wargaming) handle better by bifurcating social classes and statuses according to ‘estates’ and hierarchies, so that one might compare conscripted peasant to a lay brother to an urban servant to a rich villein, all of similar status but in different spheres (landed/warrior class, religious, urban, and rural). Failing that, the social classes just need to be expanded to a much larger list. People born in a city could range from paupers to Lord Mayor, after all.

Another factor one might expect to impact characters is gender, but apart from noting that females are excluded from the magister collegiums (schools that teach magisters, or magic-users), gender has little impact on a character’s interactions and status. This is partly explained by the fact that the Church of the Unconquered Sun is egalitarian.

And this is perhaps the most glaring problem with L&D. The monotheism of L&D is not Christianity. There are clearly reasons for this decision (avoiding offense to players, opening up more opportunities for female characters, simplicity). But the medieval period was certainly colored by the peculiarities of Christian doctrine and lore, and it is odd that this would be hand-waved. Similarly, L&D adopts the Law vs Chaos moral-metaphysical order of D&D. While this is also described as a equivalent to good/holy vs evil/unholy, the concept of Chaos in L&D includes not just the Poul Anderson-inspired idea of the indifferent or hostile faerie otherworld, but also the Warhammer world’s idea of chaos as a force for mutation. Chaos cults and mutants, and even skaven rat-men are a part of L&D too. This is jarring and odd, but an enterprising DM could make sense of this with reference to the nightmarish art of Bosch and Bruegel and other grotesques as precedent, and to perhaps casting Chaos cults as pagan survivals. In any event the DM will have to determine what exactly mutations consist of, as the rules simply point the Cults of Chaos book for information on that. So in a way, mutations are not really part of the game at all, or at least not the core game. This is a strange decision, but presumably fits in with a marketing plan that requires purchase of at least one supplement to complete the game.

So. not doing great on the first two pillars. How about “Magic is rare?” The strongest part of the game is the magic system. For clerics, the miracle system is enviably simple. For magisters, the magic system is much more complicated but includes a lot of authentic detail. RPGPundit has often mentioned his interest in the occult and it is obvious that much of this section is inspired by occult literature. It would perhaps be quibbling to note that much of this literature is from a later period than the medieval. Having colleges that teach magic seems a little contradictory to the idea of magic being rare, but on the other hand, Toledo and Salamanca were reputed to have the best colleges for magic in medieval Spain. So the Collegium are not totally without precedent.

The aforementioned section on trials is also quite good. The rest of the rules are interesting variant rules for D&D. The combat rules take inspiration from a number of sources, and at times it looks like house-rules for a more combat-intense LotFP.

The companion volumes Cults of Chaos and Dark Albion provide more setting details. CoC is described as offering more detailed information on heresies and cults, including demon-worshipers, as well as rules for chaos mutations. It would appear that the forces of Chaos in the setting are similar to what the medieval Church and Inquisition imagined as the forces of Satan; presumably all heresies are ultimately devil-worship. DA is said to contain more detailed rules stressing the importance of social status, but as it was actually published before L&D it is unclear if these would supplement or simply repeat what is in L&D. DA contains generic OSR material that overlaps with  or contradicts the things covered in the L&D rules such as character classes and magic, based on what I could discern from reviews.

As I haven’t rolled up a character, let alone played this, I can’t offer a final judgement, but my overall impression is that this game suffers from being over-hyped by the author. It looks like a good system with some great ideas, but it tries to be too many things, in my opinion. It tries to be

  • a game for “medieval authentic” play (whatever that means; it is less clear as one reads the rules) in traditional D&D style adventures
  • a game system to use with the Dark Albion setting (which is a sort of mix of the Warhammer Old World with traditional D&D by way of the 100 Years War, with both “serious” and “dark” content mixed with jokey ideas like France being ruled by literal Frogmen) and
  • a game to perhaps challenge similar adaptations of the B/X rules but shift the focus to other modes of play in more historically-based settings, like LotFP and other OSR games that actually push the boundaries of what D&D is.

I feel like it could be used for the first two purposes readily enough: ignore the mutations and frogmen and the Church of the Unconquered Sun for the first mode. As-is it is suited for the second (though honestly I wonder if even the author uses the bizarre Dark Albion setting). But there is really nothing to support a DM hoping for the third option. The DMing sections give no advice on designing adventures, and the “wilderlands adventuring” guidelines are bare-boned tables with a few suggestions for encounters like “bandits” or “wild animals.” Worse, the explanations for the encounters often add nothing useful, such as: “GIANT. This encounter would be with a giant, of the type chosen by the GM as most appropriate for the area and terrain.” And, of course, an entry for Mutants that again points the reader to another book. More information on social interaction-based adventures (such as diplomatic missions, visiting court, travel, investigating heresy, or incorporating the excellent legal system into an adventure) would be most welcome and might actually make the game seem less like a fantasy heart-breaker. Even so, there are some good ideas that might make it worth the effort to polish this into the game it could be.

Published in: on September 4, 2020 at 8:36 am  Comments (3)  
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The RPG reference bookshelf

I’ve been doing some amateur research on role playing games and in the process have acquired a number of books on them. There’s been some serious scholarship on RPGs in recent years, but I’ll limit this to the early days — the twentieth century. Most of these books fall into one of three categories: introductory type “What is a role playing game?”, guides to improve your play, or studies of RPGs from some viewpoint — possibly academic, but most often religious, and almost all of those are part of the literature of the Satanic Panic. Each listing has a short annotation, but it’s been a long time since I read a few of these.

Albrect, Bob, and Greg Stafford. The Adventurer’s Handbook: A guide to role-playing games. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1984. An introduction to RPGs, with particular emphasis on Stafford’s “Basic Role Playing” system which forms the core mechanics of RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and other Chaosium games. The reader is walked through making several characters, and given some solo scenarios to play out with them. The book also includes some reviews of the major games available, suggestions for GMs, and a discussion of accessories like miniatures and magazines. The book as a whole is designed like a school workbook, with short quizzes at the end of each section and art that reminded me of my elementary school days in the 70s. Far out. Overall it’s an interesting artifact.

Butterfield, John, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann. What is Dungeons & Dragons? Warner Books, 1982. A guidebook introducing role-playing and D&D to a general audience. The authors were college students, apparently commissioned to write this book to fill a gap in the mass market. The US paperback has a label clarifying “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a federally registered trademark of TSR, Inc. Use of TSR’s trademarks and the contents of this book have not been approved by TSR.” The book outlines the basics of D&D with a glossary of terms, a sample dungeon, an extensive recommended reading list, and some discussion of other the other games then available, including some board games which might inspire D&D settings.

Craun, Joan, and Ludwick, Rick. (Eds.) GamesMaster Catalog: A comprehensive illustrated guide to games. Clifton, Virginia : Boynton & Associates, 1980. Perhaps intended to be an annual, this was the first attempt to be a comprehensive listing of RPGs, wargames, board games, miniatures, and accessories. The board games covered are specialist/hobby games: no Parker Bros. or Milton Bradley. Each company provided samples and information about their games, which were photographed for this catalog. This is far from comprehensive, but covers a lot of smaller companies, and is a glimpse into the market at the time.

Fannon, Sean Patrick. The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer’s Bible. Prima Publishing, 1996. A reference book that attempts to be an overview of RPGs for novices as well as a source book for experienced gamers. Of note are the extensive glossary, timeline, and extensive notes on gamer culture. The informal writing style may be charming or grating.

Fine, Gary Alan. Shared Fantasy: Role-playing games as social worlds. University of Chicago Press, 1983. A landmark study of D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne gamers from a sociologist’s perspective. At one time this was the ONLY academic treatise on the game and likely to be found in every university library in the 1980s and 1990s. It has garnered some controversy as some of Fine’s subjects say that did not agree to be identified in the book, and felt that their academic reputations and careers were damaged by the quotes.

Galloway, Bruce, et al. Fantasy Wargaming. Cambridge : Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1981. Technically both a game in itself and a treatise, it was noted by Butterfield, Parker, and Hongimann (1982) as one of the only nonfiction works on D&D (alongside Holmes (1981). The book includes both a running critique of D&D and some anecdotes of actual play, along with extensive GM suggestions more appropriate to D&D or T&T than the included game.

Gygax, Gary. Master of the Game. New York : Perigree Books, 1989. Gygax’s book on becoming a better game master, along with suggestions for getting more involved in the industry through conventions, publishing, etc.

Gygax, Gary. Role-Playing Mastery. New York : Perigree Books, 1987. Gygax’s book on becoming a better player and game master.

Hackett, Martin. Fantasy wargaming: games with magic & monsters. Wellingborough : Patrick Stephens Limited, 1990. While the focus is much more on wargames than role-playing, there is some background on RPGs and some of the wargame scenarios presented are really skirmish-level engagements in a dungeon. I’ve always suspect that this was the book Patrick Stephens Ltd. expected Galloway’s book to be.

Holmes, John Eric. Fantasy Roleplaying Games. New York : Hippocrene Books, 1981. Groundbreaking as the first popular work about RPGs, and notable for being written by the editor of the first “basic” D&D boxed set. D&D is not the only game covered, and the extensive photographs of contemporary games, miniatures, and set-ups is a plus.

Larson, Bob. Satanism: the seduction of America’s youth. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1989. Bob Larson was a radio evangelist and now grifts as an exorcist. I remember when this book was new, as I was working my first library job in high school, and we had a sadly large collection of stuff like this. There were chapters on Satanism in pop culture, and the threat of cults, and some hilarious appendices: “A parent’s guide to occult games, ” “A supplemental guide to Dungeons & dragons,” and “A parent’s guide to black metal music.” I don’t remember too much about it after 30 years, so I recently ordered a copy via interlibrary loan. 

Leithart, Peter, and George Grant. A Christian Response to Dungeons and Dragons: The cathechism of the New Age. Fort Worth, Texas : Dominion Press, 1987. An 18 page pamphlet which is a pretty good representative of the Satanic Panic literature. “FRP activity” is linked to “more than a hundred suicide and murder cases” and similar claims are made without citation, although the suggested reading, to be fair, does include two pamphlets published by TSR. 

Livingstone, Ian. Dicing with Dragons: an introduction to role-playing games. Revised American Edition. New York : New American Library, 1983. A sort of popular guide to RPGs, notable for the choose-you-own-adventure type game that fills the first third of the book, with nice illustrations by Russ Nicholson. There are fairly in-depth explanations of D&D, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls, and Traveller, followed by very brief entries on other games available at the time, as well as a listing of accessories like modules for the games. A brief chapter on miniatures has an interesting approach to painting I haven’t seen before. 

Plamondon, Robert. Through Dungeons Deep: A fantasy gamer’s handbook. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1982. A guide for role-playing and game mastering, it also includes a selection of reviews of games. I don’t own this one, but leafed through a copy. It was republished in 2008.

Porter, David. Children at Risk. Kingsway Publications, 1998. Devotes several chapters to role-playing games and their offshoots like Magic: the Gathering and their potential for harm to children. Porter is more “moral concern” than full Satanic Panic, and even recommends games based on Tolkien’s works as appropriate for Christians.

Robie, Joan Hake. The Truth about Dungeons & Dragons. Lancaster, Pa. : Timelee Books, 1991. Another full-throated Satanic Panic screechfest. The cover has a neat looking monster though.

Schick, Lawrence. Heroic worlds: a history and guide to role-playing games. Buffalo : Prometheus Books, 1991. The most ambitious RPG book, period. Schick catalogs every game and accessory that had been produced up until 1990, and gives each a short description. In my other life as a librarian I recognize what he’s doing as an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography, and he even assigns a code to each product. The entries are broken up by occasional quotes from important game designers, ranging from a single line to most of a page on various topics.

Swan, Rick. The complete guide to role-playing games. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1990. It’s fortunate this follows alphabetically after Schick, as it is sort of the corollary to Schick’s book. Not as comprehensive, but much more detailed; no pretense of neutrality, and much more detailed in its assessments, although Swan tends to assess each game without regard to historical context as the ratings are meant to be practical guides rather than an historical review. 

Weldon, John, and James Bjornstad. Playing with Fire: Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Chivalry and Sorcery, and other fantasy games. Moody Press, 1984. A brief book on the occult dangers of playing D&D, and somewhat unusual in that it discusses some of the less well-known games of the time. It at least attempts to cite sources other than the KJ Bible and B.A.D.D. press releases, but is mostly hysterical nonsense fueled by out-of-context quotations.

 

Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 9:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Re-re-post: Old school minis on the web

A longer version of this post originally appeared in 2010, and was reposted in 2017 with updates, but the question keeps cropping up in various forums so here’s another update. Many links in the previous post are broken now. 😦

A lot of miniatures people turn their noses up at old Grenadier and Heritage and Minifigs figures. I will grant that many modern figures, which take advantage of sculpting and molding techniques unavailable to the original manufacturers (and an aesthetic sharpened by the intervening years of fantasy illustration, comics, etc.) are often quite impressive. The level of animation, and the overall quality are amazing. The crisp detail, and the fact the pieces fit perfectly make them a joy to assemble and paint. But I still love the old school minis too. They often have a gritty realism modern figures just lack, and an undefinable sense of character.

Heritage Models has a site devoted to the Dungeon Dwellers line, Dungeon Dwellers info.  If you didn’t know, this line would have been their “Dungeons & Dragons” line, but the license agreement never got signed and instead Grenadier would get the license for AD&D miniatures. There were several Yahoo groups devoted to collecting particular figure lines and they all had some of the original sculptors, mold-makers, or casters present to share memories. The activity slowly shifted to other forums and you might still be able to find groups on Facebook, blogs, etc., but these are all too ephemeral to link any more.

I love and hate Games Workshop/Citadel figures. They are certainly nice looking. The only things not to like are the scale creep and cost. Citadel minis, back in the late 1980s, were the first figures I had that just didn’t quite fit with my Grenadier, Ral Partha, and Heritage stuff. Ral Partha was always a slight bit smaller than the others, but with Citadel I could tell the scale was actually shifting. Of course nowadays, almost all modern figures are a little bigger than before. “28mm”, “30mm”, “heroic 28mm scale”, even “32mm” are bandied about, whereas in the olden days everyone claimed to be making 25mm figures, whether that 25mm was toes-to-eyes, toes-to-tip of head, or just scale of 1/72 (25mm=6′). Confusingly, 1/72 is sometimes referred to as 20mm scale, since most humans were under 6′ in the historical periods they model. Your vintage Ral Prtha might be close to 20mm, while Archive or Grenadier were more like 25mm+. Some of my newer Reaper and Kenzer Co. figures absolutely tower over my old figures. And that is too bad, because no-one chooses a Ral Partha figure any more for their PC in the games I’ve been playing. They just look too runty. In fact we’ve been using a Ral Partha mounted fighter as a Dwarf on a pony, and I’m probably the only one who realizes the figure was “meant” to be a human! Still, when Citadel was making RPG minis instead of exclusively Warhammer/Warhammer 40k/other branded IP minis, they made some seriously awesome figures. And they made so many that there is a whole wiki just for Citadel, which rivals the Lost Minis Wiki! But readers of this blog may be more interested in another site that just focuses on Citadel’s old AD&D/D&D lines.

The Lost Minis Wiki was created in 2009 with the explicit intention of covering all the out-of-production lines and models, and I can kill hours there. Update: The wiki is now also awash in newer and current lines. Mission creep, I guess. But you can still find lots of old stuff. The Lost Minis Wiki has vast amounts of unpainted lead, but we really want to see the painted stuff, right?

Stuff of Legends hasn’t been updated much lately, but as far as I know it was the first site devoted to classic minis. There is also a site devoted just to dwarves.

Anyway I found a legal copy of the Armory’s Buying Guide to Fantasy Miniatures at the Mega Minis Magazine site. There is a stunning array of old catalogs there to drool over, with images of miniatures that you can only hope to scrounge up at a convention or eBay. But if you love classic minis, the good news is that there are both new lines that are inspired by older lines, and a few companies still casting the classic figures. Update: although Mega Minis is out of business, the first link still works. The second is now a link to the Wayback Machine’s backup.

You can find many old miniatures for sale second hand in the usual places buy things second hand, like eBay, Craigslist, and similar, or sometimes hobby shops and thrift stores. (Last week I found some in a Half Price Books store, of all places.) But some you can still buy brand spanking new, often in better metal alloys than the originals. Here are some options:

Classic Miniatures is recasting many Heritage models, as well as some from other defunct companies. It’s a more of a hobby than a business, though, so please be patient if you place orders.

“Minifigs” today is usually taken to mean Lego people, but the original Minifigs company is putting their old fantasy lines back in production. Details here.

Ironwind Metals, which rose from the ashes of Ral Partha, is producing some of the old RP lines, and Kickstarting more. See the details here.

Thunderbolt Mountain, Tom Meier’s company, is producing figures similar to his Ral Partha classics, but in a more “modern” 28mm scale. Update: new site launched in 2018, but no updates since…

McEwan Miniatures, some of which were sold as part of the Masterpiece Miniatures line, are still being produced in part here: McEwan Miniatures.

Mirliton, an Italian company, is producing some of the latest Grenadier lines, including some of  the old Wizzards & Warriors/AD&D lines! Pricey but classics.

Mega Minis produces original figures as well as an extensive array of older lines. They are providing a great service but I wish they didn’t cancel lines after short runs. Update: Mega Minis, sadly, is out of business. Their molds may have been picked up by other companies. Their original stuff is now at Johnnyborg Castings. These seem to be Kick Starters so caveat emptor.

Viking Forge is producing classic Asgard minis … the ones illustrated in the Armory ads in old Dragon Magazines!

Armorcast is producing many old Lance& Laser/Castle Creations figures, as well as new designs in the old school aesthetic.

If you are looking for old Citadel, there have been occasional revivals of some models, but a consistent source is Wargames Foundry, which has some of the Citadel dark ages vikings and Normans here.

A few other companies are also still producing older lines, such as RAFM and Essex.

And others are producing new lines with old school aesthetics.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know about Otherworld Miniatures, which is creating minis directly inspired by the classic illustrations of Sutherland, Trampier, etc. Update: But they are in 28mm scale, not classic 25mm. 

Pacesetter Games is producing some old-school designs originally created for a disastrous KickStarter by another company. They look nice though.

I have some hopes for Satanic Panic which is doing some old style “gnolls” after the manner of early 1980s Citadel “Fantasy Tribe Gnolls”.

Skull & Crown is doing a line of skeletons that follow the aesthetic of Minifig’s Valley of the Four Winds undead, themselves based on Brughel’s Triumph of Death.

No doubt there are more… maybe another update in a few years…

Published in: on February 8, 2020 at 11:34 am  Comments (3)  
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