Category: Fluff/Inspiration


As GenCon goes, some of mine are just grand and some so-so. I’ve never had a bad one, so like pizza I can rest assured that no matter the quality, it is still GenCon. 🙂

After my first day of putting in some solid work volunteering, I put in a whole lot more work over the course of the weekend. Of course, my time was about 1/2 of what the “full-timers” were putting in at about 40 hours. These guys (and gals) floor me. I don’t know how they do this and get anything else done. I’m not sure they did get much else done.

The Auction was absolutely packed at times this year, especially for the Charity auction Saturday night, but I’ll get to that in a minute. One disheartening realization with the Auction this year was a smaller quantity and variety of RPG material. A lot of the old favorites are just not being sold anymore and there’s less and less each year. Is this hobby really fading, or is more of the used material just in the hands of the online stores and ebay? For example, I heard of only one copy of the 1992 Greyhawk’s “From the Ashes” being sold and I watched it go for a decent, though not obscene amount. If you want obscene, look what the book dealers are charging for it on Amazon.

As the years wear on, fewer of these products survive and they appeal to fewer still gamers, but they are no less desired by those who want them or want a spare copy. However, Auction still has the deals. Consider the companion piece to the one sided above, the year-older “Greyhawk Wars” which went for just $15, but which you’ll find on Amazon again for no less than $40. Naturally I have them both. I love Greyhawk material and the world was my first real non-custom fantasy setting that I explored in depth. Despite my interest in the Mystara setting and campaign that Frank Mentzer created, it was actually some years later that I explored it. Still to this day love Greyhawk and with the Realms I’m always looking for new information for it. I liken it to finding a new novel from your favorite author and setting to expand your understanding of his/her worldview. Speaking of, in fantasy for me lately that’s been Scott Lynch. Somebody needs to get him tied down to his computer and forced to type cuz the boy’s got work to do. If you haven’t read his stuff and you like low/rare magic fantasy settings, do yourself a favor and find his paperbacks.

Ok, let me talk about the Charity Auction a little. Remember this is the last event of the Con and these guys are worn out by this point. That they’re a little loopy is a tremendous understatement. Right before they do this they auction all the unclassifiable crap that gets dumped on them over the course of the weekend. The “mystery” box this year was a box of porn. I kid you not. Someone dumped a volume of vintage VHS porn on them. Amazingly or perhaps not so, it sold for $150. As was noted by a dear friend of mine “They do know you can get that free these days on the internet, right?” Perhaps, but I’m not willing to pry.

I have to say I was impressed by those who still had money Saturday night how willing they were to spend it for charity. There were so many older gamers and gamer couples there all willing to shell out serious cash for sometimes minor stuff. Some of it was not so minor of course, with custom-painted dice bags worked up by some of the best artists in the industry (I didn’t see one go for less than $50) and a medallion Frank put up for Auction for the Gygax family’s new Con that if I’m not mistaken went for around $450. Impressive. I can’t wait to see the numbers.

I passed on Sunday for many reasons, but one was that I was emotionally, physically and financially drained. Plus, people I would have rather attended the Con with were unavailable, which reduced it in some ways for me. It’s not as fun if you can’t share it, as some of you likely understand. When you’ve seen it all before, what’s the big deal?

I’m hoping in the podcast to go over old stories and memories of GenCon’s past. My first was by far the most eventful and my first exposure to a lot of new aspects to the industry. I went as a volunteer for a gaming company I eventually ended up writing for, and got to see the best and worst of downtown Milwaukee (best – tie between Saz’s hamburgers in the mall and the Safehouse/ worst – panhandlers…frickin’ panhandlers).

For now though it’s off to catalog my new (used) purchases and to see if once again I’ve bought duplicates of anything. I know of at least one. I ended up with an extra copy of Harpoon. I love the game but this is I believe copy three. Any takers? 🙂

So I survived my first full day of volunteering at Auction. Most of it consisted of my playing gate keeper at the Auction Store. It was a bit of a torturous thing. You’re _that_ close to all those games and can’t touch. Can’t thumb through them. I did meet a lot of interesting people, though and many had a variety of comments regarding my not letting them in as quickly as they wanted.

One guy asked “Oh so you’re the sheriff huh?” I replied “Look buddy, I’m just the guy they got standing at the entrance.” No, I don’t have an inflated sense of my own importance. Sorry to disappoint.

Although some people were difficult to deal with, most readily handled the waiting, bumping and annoying hassles. I was a little rough myself getting started, but I finally figured the pace of things and kept the line moving. Of course, I had my share of hassles. I had a couple difficult souls and I had a couple of emergencies. Kids wandering far away from their parents (please don’t let the 10 year old lead the other two younger ones away to find mommy in some nondescript nearby location!) were one crisis and a woman trying to buy a truckload of games for her 3 year old (all under $5 – if you’ve got kids, you know how critical it is that they have variety and that it’s cheap for you), but needing her husband who had the list and cash to pay for them waiting for 30 minutes while he took his time coming over to the room.

Customer service at a Con. Have I been reduced to this? 🙂 Everyone else was a blast. There were some interesting people and hey you still get to bid on anything that comes up. I certainly did. I fought for a shot at a nice collection of FASA Star Trek books. It was a lot of the Intel and Romulan/Klingon guides mixed in with the original rules in an old rules box set. Bidding went over $40, which I didn’t really want to spend, but I should have. It was a nice collection.

There weren’t that many RPG’s this year, which is sad. The used book industry in that area seems to be diminishing. I’m sorry to see that trend accelerating. It sucks. I miss tabletop RPG’s more and more every year and mourn the lost companies.

Hey on the bright side I did get to meet Frank Mentzer and chat a bit with him. The guy’s a legend, but of course he wants to be treated like anybody else. He’s very cool. I botched my mentioning to him that his Basic Set revision was my first gaming product. I imagine it’s easy to do. I’m not a fanboy for much, but gaming is definitely one of those things.

The staff’s outstanding. These guys are a well-oiled machine. They’ve been doing this a long time and it shows. Not much gets missed and product just frickin’ moves. A nice side benefit has been to peak into the collectibles room. It’s like walking into a bank vault. You’re afraid to touch anything…and you know, you shouldn’t. Old gamer books are fragile. 🙂

I did get to stop in for a bit of the NSDMG lecture on the Cold War. Wish I could’ve stayed for Mark McDonough’s talk. The brothers were always entertaining. I never did hear the official on what happened to Dan. I imagine it’s not good. I miss his stories at the NSDMG. That was a very funny individual human being.

Well that’s the first day and I’m tired as hell. I’ll be back tomorrow with more amazing insights into the phenomena that is GenCon.

With the explosive interest in the paranormal as a hobby, many forget that such trends have been cyclical and that times in even the recent past RPG’s were there to exploit that interest. Many games came out of the period just before and during the interest in the paranormal sparked by the series, The X-Files. Dark Conspiracy was in my opinion on of the very best.

The game was released from the long-lost Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1991, the brainchild of Lester Smith. It posited a near-future setting for a horror/conspiracy RPG centered on a decaying and failing United States and an encroaching and growing supernatural threat. Players took on the roles of those who stumbled upon this encroachment or who were pushed to that end and chose to fight it. The career-choices offered were varied and could be expanded upon, as the whole game was skill-based using the GDW House System.

Any discussion of this game will dwell on the amount of available equipment. In typical GDW fashion, there was a lot, even to the point of an entire book being released dedicated to new gear for the game. The reason for this was rather obvious. First, the GDW guys were gearheads and old wargamers. They liked equipment and they liked equipment variety. Look at any of their other games (Traveller, Twilight 2000, 2300AD, even Space 1889) to confirm this. If you’re a gearhead (and I am) then you really appreciate this level of detail, and if you’re not, who cares? You just ignore the extra pages.

I used the GDW House System for years in the various GDW games, but I was often frustrated by its limitations. It had a modest vehicle combat system, which almost no game at the time had (or likely still has), but I wanted more detail. This is why GURPS’ system eventually won me over in that regard. Want to make an eye shot or shoot the hand? Not so easy in GDW’s system. The skill set was good and expandable and the character career choices were quite acceptable. They expanded this as GDW lengthened their product line.

The back story was a real treat for me. It was just detailed enough to leave you wanting more and GDW added to it considerably with a major array of adventures and source books. Still, they left it open enough that you could customize it with considerable ease. No two conspiracies were exactly the same nor did they have to be and the influence of the antagonists was as much and as pervasive as the GM wanted it to be. I will always remember it as a game with an extremely high body count, at least for my campaign. I ran a campaign that spanned I think eight years of real time. Friend and foe alike saw huge kill tallies as I drove home just how brutal and deadly the world of Dark Conspiracy was to my players. They must have loved it, because they kept coming back for more. I might speak more on my campaign in a separate post.

This dovetails nicely into what I liked most about the game and that was that it tackled a genre that to that point had largely been limited to adaptations of existing science fiction/horror works like Call of Cthulhu. Also, in almost any setting such as that to date, monsters were nearly unkillable unless you had a special weapon, spell, etc. Guns almost always were useless. In Dark Conspiracy, bullets worked and boy did my players use ’em. To be sure, there were still unkillable creatures or hard to kill villains, but the run-of-the-mill Dark Minions were surprisingly allergic to copper and lead. This was immensely satisfying to the players, especially when faced with the knowledge that the worst were unkillable. It gave them a sense of hope, an often false sense but hope nonetheless.

As I noted previously, this game had a tremendous array of supporting material, most of which can still be found and at very good prices on the used market. Its mark was evident in the industry in terms of other companies trying their hands. Even Chaosium published “Delta Green” around this point, a similar “minion-hunter” style supplement to their Cthulhu line I think to answer similar concerns those players had. I’m sure Chaosium vets and fans might deny there was any correlation, but that it came out when Dark Con was still highly popular says it all for me. The great game Conspiracy X by Eden followed some years later and had a similar great run of supplements. I like to think that Dark Con’s popularity made such games much easier to pitch and develop knowing there was a market out there hungry for that sort of material.

Again, sadly, when GDW closed its doors, Dark Conspiracy became an orphan. An attempt was made, somewhat successfully, to revive it a few years later through Dynasty Publishing and it saw limited print release adapted from the unfinished 2nd edition rules that had languished since GDW’s closure. I had the distinct pleasure of play testing the second edition some years later directly with Lester (online no less – very high tech a decade ago) with some outstanding players (yeah, that’s a bit of a kissass, but so what?), but the game hadn’t matured with the industry. It was an early 90’s game in a market fast approaching 2000 and a lot of changes in game styles and gamer expectations had taken place by then.

A major rewrite of the system was probably in order, but there wasn’t the will, time or money to accomplish this. The market balked at the relic being polished up and brought out again for sale, but us die-hards bought it. We appreciated it even if others didn’t, although personally I wasn’t impressed with the team that handled its publication. Outside of Lester himself, who was great to work with, the rest of the team seemed almost uncaring in the quality or development of the new edition. That some of these same souls had been involved in the 4th Edition Traveller debacle wasn’t lost on me and I hate that my misgivings were proven to be correct.

One never knows what the future might bring, though and there are those of us who will always keep its memory alive however we can. I would point out three very worthwhile individuals, Mike Marchi, Geoff Skellams and Marcus Bone, who labored long and hard to develop the exceptionally high-quality fanzine for Dark Conspiracy and later all horror games, Demonground. They were the play testers I mentioned earlier and are some of the best gamers (in addition to my local crew) that I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I had the honor to contribute a few articles to that impressive magazine and if you are a fan of the paranormal in gaming, you could do a lot worse than give it a look. The art for the covers alone was mind-blowing. Should you ever read this, know that my hats off to you guys. You’re the best.

So not to finish off with further kissassing, but I did. I have a special place in my heart for this game, which is painfully obvious, but it’s well-deserved. Despite its dated nature and some issues with the game mechanics I still count it as one of the best RPG’s in its class of all time and if you like the paranormal, you should definitely give this game a look.

Twilight:2000, a game of historical fiction produced by Game Designer’s Workshop in the mid-’80’s, stands as one of the most unique platforms of its day and one of the most difficult to maintain. Twilight 2000, for those too young to know better, was not a game of angsty teen vampires and forbidden love. It was an RPG that covered what was at the time poorly developed section of the industry: modern combat environment real-world role playing.

At the time of its inception, Twilight was almost an oddity, born in a market of predominantly fantasy and sci-fi RPG’s. There had been a few other attempts to be sure. Modern combat RPG’s were an interest, but one that hadn’t really taken off. Consider the titles, though.

1979’s Commando was for all intents and purposes a boardgame. There was some RPG action to it, but it was akin to Car Wars in that regard. It was more small unit action than player development. The Morrow Project from Timeline proved a worthy candidate, but its setting was near-future post-apocalyptic with a narrow range of gear and a laughable gaming system. This also was meant mostly as a pseudo-wargame with RPG data grafted on seemingly as an afterthought.

Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited also tried to stake its turf for near post-apocalyptic settings with an almost GURPS-like approach to a “choose your Holocaust” style motif. Although there were a couple of decent supplements, FGU’s horribly overdeveloped math-heavy gaming system I personally believe led it to be less than popular. FGU’s other entrant, Merc, was equally intriguing focusing on the modern “romantic mercenary” figure, but again suffered from FGU’s byzantine game systems.

FASA’s nearly forgotten Behind Enemy Lines (WWII gaming) and the more readily remembered Paladium game Recon (Vietnam gaming) rounded out the early entrants, but none had gained much traction in the market.

Notably, none covered the scenario playing out so frequently in the minds of wargamer geek teens such as myself at the time…the Third World War. Information on equipment and armies for the time was not as readily available as it is now and even bookstores with well-stocked selections of Jane’s directories were scarce. No internet resources existed. If you were fascinated by the concept of the world duking it out instead of going nuclear, there was little to sate your almost hedonistic gaming desire.

This all changed with the older wargamer geeks of GDW. The unique birth of this game is described best from the Guide to Twilight:2000 v.1 you can still get as a free PDF, which itself is excerpted from Lawrence Schick’s “Heroic Worlds“.

The breakthrough came on a long drive back from the Origins Game Convention (Dallas, 1983). In an overloaded rental van, Frank Chadwick, Loren Wiseman, Bill Keith, and Andrew Keith talked for hours about a modern military role-playing game which concentrated on equipment and realistic military situations, and by the end of the trip the concept for Twilight: 2000 was far enough along for specific design to begin in earnest.

This with the enticing description on the back of the original Twilight:2000 boxed set (remember boxed sets?) sold me more than anything. GDW had even solved the problem of hierarchical control by allowing for a limited nuclear exchange combined with significant attrition of command and control to leave player groups (if they wished) practically autonomous.

Twilight:2000 is one of the games that always comes to mind when I’m asked “What was your favorite RPG?” Maybe because I’m a bit of a gearhead and maybe because I loved fiction like Red Storm, Team Yankee and Sword Point is why I keep finding myself going through the old books more than most of my other collections.

Although Twilight’s 1st edition mechanics were unwieldy and combat was difficult (vehicle combat was better and more detailed than most other games however – wargamer designers), the setting, the ability of small groups to make a real difference on the small and large stage and the previously mentioned greatly detailed vehicles and equipment still highlight this as the defining game of modern RPG combat.

Its principal problem, however, lay in its own name. It was speculative fiction, you see. Twilight:2000 was published in the early 1980’s at the height of the Cold War. The events described were plausible and in some cases did come close to coming to pass. However, as history unfolded and the Cold War ended, the history and background of the “origin” story for Twilight became obsolete.

The dilemma here for the game’s original designers was whether they should let the game stand on its own merits as a piece of historical fiction or cater to an audience who truly wanted a game that conformed to modern world conditions. GDW’s fans were nothing if not particular and demanding in that regard. The answer was…a redo. Tune in again for the discussion of Twilight 2.2 and how it was more of a band aid than a cure.

Difficult Players II!

Previously we looked at a couple of the worst instances of difficult players that can invade your gaming group and ruin your best-planned campaign. I’ll continue on with some other of the more common and well-known problem gamers.

For this round, we’ll start with the girlfriend. This difficult gamer has probably been written and spoken of more than any other. She is the running joke of many a gaming group. The iconic image of a GM introducing his girlfriend to the group and then proceeding to either allow her to dominate the game with gear or just creepily throw innuendo her way whilst his players stare on in horror is one I’ve seen repeated time and again.

Personally, those of my girlfriends who were involved in gaming were always involved beforehand. I never tried to introduce a girl to gaming who didn’t seem genuinely interested. Why live through that train wreck? I’ve also seen successful cases where the women turned out to be really good gamers and played really well in the group, but they are truly the exception to the rule.

And of course those gamers who started dating each other (all opposite sex couples in my personal experience, although I’m sure there have been same sex hookups…it’s a big planet) usually turned out ok since both were already gaming. In these cases, though, the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” issue popped up when they inevitably split. Then the rest of us had to take sides and usually we lost a player as a result, not always the girl. I always hated those scenarios.

I remember one girl who rather uniquely fit this image. She was not completely the stereotype, but she was a super-prep and as such was not wholly cut-out for gaming. Still, one of my best friends of the time was dating her and he wanted her to be a gamer. Ok, I says. You know the potential problems here right? He says he does.

Not only did she eventually leave him for another (and certainly more unusual individual of a) gamer, causing that problem, but she was a stuck-up witch wholly concerned for those who would give her attention and doing her level best to ensure that geeks worshipped her at every turn (most of course did not…usually after hearing her harpy screeching voice). She was a lingering girlfriend, even worse than the one who shows up once and then bails. She stayed behind to cause as much collateral damage as possible. I think there’s a festival day among geeks commemorating the day she moved out of our immediate area and thus could cause no further local damage.

Sadly there’s a small category of square peg/round hole types as well. I feel pity for them more than anything, and I don’t judge them harshly for who they are. These are not bad gamers or difficult gamers because of any significant social flaw, not in the sense that they want to be. They’re not deliberate. Some people just don’t socialize well with others through no fault of their own. These poor individuals I wish I could help, but I’m just not a tolerant man. It’s one of my many shortcomings.

I will provide this one example. One of my friends advertised at the FNGS for a new player and we got one. I was against this, had I known, but it wasn’t my call to make. My warnings are rarely heeded in such matters, because I’m seen as too much of a cold bugger to always be taken seriously. Maybe I am. This fellow arrived and seemed amiable enough. Our first warning should have been the veggie tray. Honestly? To a gaming session you bring a veggie tray? But a veggie tray amongst guys? No meat or even crackers. Well, there it was.

This poor individuals’ flaw, in addition to having some abilities socially adjusting to our presence (and I would reiterate that I hold NONE of that against him. We are all geeks and we all have our shortcomings. I am no different, but some tics are worse than others). That we could largely stand. What was impossible to tolerate was his saliva. See, he was a spitter…big time. He spat when he talked. Yes, yes I KNOW there was nothing he could do about it, but think of the people sitting in our few seats who were in the spray zone.

My poor friend Craig, who has a bit of a germ issue anyway, had one leg up in the air seemingly in an attempt to shield his abdomen and his character held wall-like protecting his face between the saliva cannon and himself. The individual in question did not catch on. A mix of the rest of us laughing uncontrollably and poor Craig begging Ben (the one who’d put up the ad) to do something about it through a period of very evil glares brought it to a head. We took a break and Ben sent the poor individual packing as only he could. He fired him. At least, the way I heard it sounded like the poor guy was being fired…from a gaming group. “It’s just not going to work out. We’re going to go in a different direction…No..I don’t think it’ll work.” Something to that effect. I felt really bad, and at the same time relieved, especially when he took his damnable veggie tray with him in a huff.

Sorry again to that person should he read this. Please consider a spit guard or shield or something. Please.

I would be remiss without a discussion of the Con gamer. Oh Sweet Holy Moses the Con gamer. This breed is the reason I won’t play in a Con RPG anymore unless I know and have previous played with every player. I’m a bit set in my ways, if you have not by now surmised. This interesting character is guaranteed to ruin any game you dare try to play at a table amidst 5 to 30 other tables of boisterous, loud gamers.

What does he do? What doesn’t he do? Again so far for me it’s always been a he. Usually he is a power gamer, rules lawyer or equally odious personage. He’d be a stealth jerk/jackass, but he hasn’t the time you see. He only has 4 hours in which to ruin that which the GM has labored over and the players have paid to participate in in some cases.

I have seen all kinds. There were the mild ones who ended adventures on their own terms throwing the adventure to the winds and running off to completely destroy all you created 2 hours shy of the time limit for your session. There was what I can only describe as the Robotech MegaDork who felt smug and assured the he could pilot a Beta mecha (REALLY pilot) better than anyone could pilot any other mecha and that his superior military tactics were guaranteed to win the day over anything some evil GM could come up with. Oh. My. God. For those present, the memory of the sentence “I fire all 60 missles” followed by an actual gesture of his hands to show an exaggerated fake button push (there was, you see, no mecha for him to actually demonstrate this on present) will forever be etched in their brain.

Now, how do you deal with these characters? I will attempt in my next post to finally address this issue, although my solutions may be no better than yours. In fact, this may be something you really want to personalize for each individual. More later.

It’s been suggested to me that I do a short series on players that make it difficult for others to enjoy the game. I might do the same for GM’s if there’s enough material (and there probably is). Suffice to say, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but this sort of thing happens. It’s not like others aren’t talking about it. We’re gamers. We’re not all movie actors, politicians and other highly charismatic people. There are some poorly adjusted souls among our brethren.

The real issue comes in when you have to decide if those of our ilk who are not as socially adjusted interact with us, usually in situations where we can’t so easily walk away. To keep this probably well-discussed topic fresh, my plan is to speak mostly to my experience in this area.

I have played in many groups over the years and run a few others through various games. The conclusion I personally have arrived at, especially at my present age, is that I can only game with friends who are gamers. There are a host of odd personalities amongst my gaming friends, but they all fall within the tolerable norms I’ve come to expect from people. Through trial and error, I have encountered many that fell well beyond the pale of acceptability.

I was going to add that I wasn’t some snob when it came to gaming, but basically I guess I am. The experience is meant to be enjoyed and if you’re around someone who irritates you to the point of nausea, how exactly are you going to fulfill that whole “fun” goal?

It is easiest to discuss the first and most obvious problem gamer for most of us and that’s the “friend of a friend“. This could also be a relative of one of your group. These people were brought in, mostly when I was younger, as someone who “wanted to try gaming out”. Blessedly most of these gamers were one shots. They’d come in, make their character and play ineptly, then leave. Of course I’m not saying this was always the case. Many successful new gamers got their start in just this fashion, but a substantial number were crash n’ burns.

A most notable example for me, and I have to be careful because some of my friends who brought those people read this blog, was very early in my gaming days. One of my players brought a friend who completely wasn’t in to gaming, but he wanted to hang out with his friend. So…he came. Even rolled up a character. Then he promptly proceeded to trash the whole endeavor for the next couple of hours, calling it about anything negative he could think of and ultimately pissing me and the other players off in the process. We ended early, then reconvened later without our now pariah of a friend and finished that module, but it would always color my unease about adding new players.

Then there’s the stealth jerk. Oh wow. I have no problem talking about these morons. They join your group either through association or routing through your FNGS (friendly neighborhood gaming store) like on a bulletin board. They seem a little “odd”, but who isn’t? They are a little extra geeky, but we are playing games right? Then not long into your association with them, the stealth jackass lets loose his volleys. It’s yet to be a her in my experience.

The volleys can have multiple warheads. These could be closet rules lawyers, have serious personal hygiene issues, grating personality disorders or machinations on one of the other players’ significant others or wives. YES, I’ve seen all those. In each case the condition was inoperable and if left unchecked fatal to that individual campaign.

The worst of my experiences were combos of these. One was a wonderful fellow who reveled in his lack of hygiene. He would take off his socks at some point during play and throw them at the wall. They’d stick. He bent rules to the point of bending them over, creating ridiculous characters that made it difficult for anyone else to actually enjoy the adventure. Oh, and he macked on every single damn girl in the group trying to lure them away from their current significant others. He eventually got one, only because of issues in her primary relationship, but I’m still at a loss as to why she picked him. Things must’ve been worse than any of us could have imagined for her to leave her sometimes dick of a husband for this gem. The only bright spot of that issue was…it finally got him to leave the group and move out of state. This was one of my early steps on the path back to believing that there was indeed a God.

And with that small bit of anonymous libel, I’ll cut this post to continue it in Part II, where we will discuss the girlfriend gamers, oddballs and the most dreaded fiends of all…Con gamers. I hope to even discusss a bit more in depth how to survive these “individuals”. Stay tuned!