Saturday, March 26, 2016

Above and Below





I am an RPG gamer and game designer. I love this hobby with the greatest of passion. That said, it's not always a simple matter to maintain a reasonable level of participation in this hobby. I have turned to board games to scratch that itch. Some recent board game releases have really stepped up to the plate for me in that regard. There's the newest edition of Runebound, Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, and ... Above and Below.

Above and Below is nothing short of a miracle. Ryan Laukat is an inspiration. The one man driving force behind Red Raven Games, he designs, develops, writes, illustrates and publishes everything himself. He is a gaming Renaissance Man. And his games are incredible. And for me the crowning achievement of his gaming legacy is: Above and Below.

The video that I have embedded above does a wonderful job of covering the game. Video game reviewer Gregory Cornell does some amazing stuff himself in this video review, so I will let his video speak for itself, and for: Above and Below.

Regards,

Jeff

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sharing the Love for the Lone Wolf Adventure Game



Firstly, a tip of the hat to fellow blogspotter Anthony Simeone over at Once More Unto the Breach for bringing the Lone Wolf Adventure Game to my attention. I have been out of circulation for awhile and stepping back in to find Lone Wolf waiting for me, was a pleasant surprise.

Back in the 80's Lone Wolf was a series of "Choose Your Own Adventure" style books, but unlike most this book had a combat system, and character creation. It was a little solo RPG. What's even cooler is that the books built upon each other forming an epic campaign. Lone Wolf was really an awesome undertaking and there has never been anything else quite like it.

Apparently, a few years ago Mongoose Publishing built an RPG around the original Lone Wolf books and game system. Now this system is super simplistic and originally designed to be playable solo. That said, evolving the system to a full blown RPG while maintaining it's original systems more or less in tact, proved not only possible, but has resulted in a pretty nice little old school style game system.

Mongoose is no longer publishing the game, and I haven't done the research to find out why. What I do know is that Cubicle 7 has picked up the license, done some work to further streamline Mongoose's original product, added some stunning new artwork, and is now releasing a really attractive boxed set called simply, the Lone Wolf Adventure Game.

Joe Dever the author of the original Lone Wolf books is working hand in hand with the Cubicle 7 team to ensure this RPG maintains the flavor of the Lone Wolf franchise both in setting and system. I am holding the results in my hands and they are glorious.

The system at it's simplest requires that you track only a character's Combat Skill and Endurance. On top of this, there are "Disciplines" which are like special skills, talents, and abilities that you can apply to certain tasks. Combat measures the difference in combat skill between opponents and uses a single die roll to report loses for both sides. It reminds me a bit of Tunnels and Trolls, but I like this better.

It's not all perfect unfortunately. The simplicity of the system sees a lot of duplication and crossover in the small set of example characters, and the way the three books are laid out, it can be difficult sometimes to find the information that you need. I like the boxed set, but maybe a single hardcover source book would be better. I'd like to see this in the future.

The limitation of character variety has already been addressed with a new player book, Heroes of Magnamund: Expanded Character Handbook. The print copy is available for pre-order and the PDF is available now. It's loaded with character options that completely open up the system. This too, looks to be based on a product originally produced by Mongoose. It's actually a bit overwhelming in comparison to the core product, but probably a must have if you wish to make a go at using the Lone Wolf Adventure Game as part of a campaign at your gaming table.

I am using the base system (without all the extras) in a play-by-post game with some friends right now, and I must say the system with it's roots in "choose your own adventure" style solo-play is perfect for the play by post environment. Those looking to run something online who don't want to get bogged down in the rules minutia of other table top RPGs should really give Lone Wolf a look.


Regards,


Jeff

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Should I still be here?

I haven't posted anything here for quite some time. I haven't been working on any RPG projects. I've lost focus and run out of steam. On top of everything else, it seems like "Blogger" as a forum is dying out as well. I have quite the history here. I like it here. But, I've been away for a long time.

So, today I am sitting here and considering my options. I was thinking I wanted to start writing ... start creating again. Can I do that? Is this still the right place? I do like it here. I find Google+ to be way too busy. I am not comfortable browsing there. I prefer "Blogger" in almost every way. And anything that I post here will be automatically cross-posted to Google+ to reach that potentially larger audience so maybe this is still a good place to be. (Assuming the site isn't a heartbeat away from shutting down, which is a concern.)

And then there's me. Am I up to doing this? I would venture that I might win the gold medal for turbulent life changes over the past year. I became a full-time single dad when the mother of my (now 11) year old daughter passed away. I moved to a small town in Kansas to be closer to the support of family, and I just lost the job that I had held for the past 16 years. I am lost, alone, and a bit overwhelmed. So, I've been absent. And my game design pursuits have been non-existent.

I tried passing the torch to another writer, a friend of mine whom I thought might be able to keep one of my more promising creative projects going. But, this hasn't worked out like I had hoped. And things have just stalled. I want to get things moving again. Maybe if I revive my blog, I can prime my creative spirit enough to build some momentum. That would be the hope. So, I find myself here asking the question, "Should I still be here?"

I am going to try to pick up where I left off ... maybe some of that wonderful community that supported me before is still here. If you haven't all moved on then this could work out. I still have one RPG project in development, and I believe that it's potentially my best work. But, it's only half realized. It needs a lot of work to become something great.

Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Whether I "should" be here or not ... this is still my place to create and it's time to get back to it.


Jeff


In Memory of my friend, Robert Briggs – January 4, 1961 ~ February 13, 2011

Five years ago today my good friend Robert Briggs passed away. He was a young 50 years old (the age that I am now.) His passing was a shock and a tragedy, and hit me harder than any single event that I can remember in my adult life. Yet, for myself at least, something good did come from it. For this I am thankful and I am sure Robert would have been happy.

Five years ago I had become so ensconced in my private little world and my personal problems that I had lost all contact with some of the best friends that I had ever made. Robert Briggs was one of those friends. It is sad that it took something as tragic as Robert's passing to wake me up and shake me out of my funk, but it did.

In the years following to today, I have reconnected with past friends and mended friendships that mean more to me than anything in the world. I have Robert to thank for doing that for me. He introduced me to this family in life and brought me back home to them in death. His impact on my life is beyond measure. His is a truly magical spirit.

I wrote some thoughts about Robert upon his death and posted them here originally 5 years ago. I thought it would be fitting to share them with everyone again today.

<< Originally posted on Sunday, February 20, 2011 >>



I want to take a moment to speak out on behalf of one of the lowest ranked tiers on the modern world's tree of social hierarchy: the gamer geek.

I am a gamer geek. On the ladder of social acceptability, I fall pretty close to the bottom. It's not a place I necessarily chose to be. But I reside there happily now, and with some pride.

It happens like this:

From the moment a child enters school they learn to cluster into small social groups. The athletic, strong, and bold children tend to tower over the intelligent introspective children at an early age. On the playground which is a school age child's greatest venue for social interaction, it is he who runs fastest, climbs highest, and kicks the ball the hardest who earns accolades and respect.

The value of things like books and reading has not yet really been recognised. It is not part of the playground social experience and so if a child wants to fit in and grow strong socially, he abandons such things in pursuit of the more physical activities and the social acceptance that goes along with them.

I didn't make that transition. It was never in me to be an athlete. The sad thing is, patterns learned early in life, are hard to unlearn, and once delegated the role of social misfit, that role and the stigmas associated with it tend to stick with a person. And so, I became a social outcast. I had very few friends and grew accustomed to the idea, that for me, this is the way my life would remain.

That is until something special happened to me in high school. I was 15 years old and I was introduced to a game called, Dungeons and Dragons. I joined forces with a few other kids … kids like me, who had been outcasts, who weren't the fastest, strongest, boldest, children on the playground. And if it weren't for this game, we might have remained strangers. Even if we weren't the popular kids on the playground, society had taught us to want to become that, and that meant staying away from the other geeks in hopes of drawing the mercy and attention of the popular kids.

But, this game … it gave us a reason to be together, and the playground … it existed too, in our imaginations. In this game, we could be strong and fast and bold. We created a playground in our minds and we were its heroes. And for the first time in my life, I made friends … real friends. Friendships that survive to this day, 30 years later.

I mention all of this for a reason. I link posts to my gaming blog (this blog) to my Facebook page. So, it's quite possible that someone reading this may be unfamiliar with how a person might come to be a gamer geek. Those of us who lived it, know it's no mystery. It's just a small group of friends united by their uncommon imaginations and the joy found in using their minds to participate in the sports that other “physical” athletes practice with their bodies. Perhaps if more people perceived gamers for what they really are, athletes of mental prowess, the societal preconceptions regarding our ilk might become a bit more friendly.

Anyway … before I forget why I started this post, let me continue. My first and best social interactions began at the gaming table. As an adult when I moved to Tulsa (where I still live twenty five years later) I didn't know anyone and I needed to find some friends. I looked to the one community where I had felt welcome before. The gamer community.

It started in a comic book store, “World of Comics” (Gamer geeks and comic book collector geeks share a lot of crossover. It's all about exercising the imagination to become the best mental athletes that we can. I want to enter “Doctor Who Trivia” in the Olympics.) The owner of the store and I had chatted about gaming a bit (as I was prone to spending my pay checks on gaming books) and one day he approached me about “running” a game at his store. (In role-playing games, one player serves as a sort of auteur /director sort of like the way Charlie Chaplin made films. He presents a scene and allows the other players of the game to react to it, contributing the way the character they have chosen to represent might react or respond within the scene. It's a sort of storytellers brainstorming session lead by a single director.) When Doug (the owner of the comic shop) asked me to run a game, he was asking me to be that “director.”

I agreed, and actually found myself in the back room of Doug's store the rest of that afternoon jotting down notes and forming ideas for some possible scenes and scenarios with which to challenge some players that very evening. And we played that night. The game wasn't Dungeons and Dragons but another of its ilk called Champions. Where Dungeons and Dragons is a game of telling stories about Knights and Wizards in days of yore, Champions was about the heroic battles of superheroes in a modern day metropolis (we were playing in a comic book store after all.)

That first game consisted of myself and Douglas Goodsell who owns World of Comics along with a few of Doug's customers, none of whom I had met before. They were Robert Briggs, Robert Ohlde, and Roland Vogt. So, it was me, the director/referee (called a GM or Game Master) and the four players, Robert, Robert, Roland, and Doug. It was a nice little group and we had a great time. We had such a great time in fact, that each player invited a friend to play the next time, and our little group doubled in size. That's when I met Robert Brigg's best friend, David Crockett. (Yes his name's Davy Crockett … don't make fun, he doesn't like it, and I will hurt you.)

We played in the back of the comic store with 8 or so players for awhile, and it was a great beginning to a new chapter of gamer geekdom social climbing in my life. Doug as a responsible store owner really couldn't in good conscience deny any of his customers who inquired, the opportunity to play. In short order, the group had grown to 25 players and I had to slam on the breaks. There were just too many people to play the game, but despite this, everyone seemed to have a good time hanging around and chatting. Still the game degraded and collapsed under its own weight.

Some of the first and best friends I made in Tulsa, came from that group. In fact, desperate to keep playing, Doug and Robert and David and myself concocted a scheme to play and keep our group smaller and more manageable. Doug really couldn't tell the folks at his store that they couldn't play in his game … but we knew from our past experience that once you said yes, it opened the flood gates to gaming oblivion. So we conspired to meet secretly to game, in a top secret, undisclosed location, the game that no one could know about.

We drove to Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, and gamed in the back room of my sister's house. No one knew where we were, or what we were doing. We had dropped off the geek radar. We were Ninja Gamer Geeks. And the small group of Doug, Robert, Dave, and Jeff had great fun. Unfortunately, Robert, bless his generous outgoing boisterous little heart just could not keep a secret. And word of the Ninja gamers got out pretty quickly. 

Doug at that point dropped out, because he just didn't feel right about running a store and denying access to the gaming group to the various customers that all counted him as a friend. David, Robert and I kept playing. And despite the tiny size of our group we remained exclusive. Not because we were “snooty” or anything, just because the experience at the comic store made us gun shy. At least at first, then after that, it was just habit.

Our little group met once a week for fifteen years, we added a member or two here or there, then I allowed my life to pull me away from the game and for the last five years I haven't played. Although Dave and Robert (with my brother Chris) continued to play.

On February 13 of this year, Robert Briggs passed away in his sleep. I am so incredibly shaken by the sadness of this event, that I can't begin to express it. All I can do, is tell you here about how we met, about the kindred spirit I found in a fellow gamer geek, and about the love and camaraderie two long time friends were able to form from across the gaming table.

I saw so much of myself in Robert. A gamer like me, not an athlete, not one of the popular kids, but a kid like me who dreamed and imagined and lived a world of grand adventure within the limitless confines of his imagination … a mental athlete of the highest degree. At the memorial service, they didn't ask people to come forward, and give testimony. I wish that they had. I feel that I need that. I am going to do that here.

I remember that Robert never walked into a room … he bounded, like Tigger on Winney the Pooh. He shared a lot in common with that lovable character, the exuberance and enthusiasm. I can almost hear him declairing, “That's what Robert's do best!”

He was a gamer geek and he loved to game. But, unlike the rest of us gamer geeks who were well aware of our lowly status as social outcasts, Robert had no such preconceptions. And in his case, this ignorance was truly bliss. We worked together in the same company. (He recommended me for my job there, and I work there to this day.) He would come to work on Monday morning after a weekend gaming session and bounce around the office telling everyone about the dragon we had slain (or as was more likely in a game in which Robert was playing, the dragon we befriended.)

And … I was … ashamed. I didn't feel comfortable telling everyone about gaming. Men were meant to talk about football, and pro-wrestling, and the stock-market, or some shit … I don't know … but, not gaming … not in public … at work! Didn't he know people would laugh at him?

But, I was wrong. I was very wrong … People didn't laugh at Robert, they embraced him. They embraced him because he was open and honest and genuine, more than any person they were ever likely to meet in their lifetimes. And they all loved him. Everyone who knew Robert loved him almost as much as I did. Because genuine people are rare and they must be cherished.

Robert lived his life as nobly as he played the characters in our games. He was as brave as any knight, and as magical as any wizard. If I believed in an afterlife and a place called heaven, then I think that each heaven would have to be custom made for the spirit who dwells within it, and if that's true, then I know that brave sir Robert is up there somewhere casting magical spells, and befriending dragons even as I write this.

Robert you are loved, and there will always be a place for you at my game table.


Jeff