Mail Call!

I received two bits of game-related mail in the last couple-four weeks, one of them markedly more welcome than the other. The first, which arrived sometime ago, shortly after the start of the new year, was a letter from Wizards of the Coast. Dated December 27th, it came in response to the physical copy of the email in which I originally expressed my displeasure with the warping tiles found in the new printing of Betrayal at House on the Hill — and yes, that date stamp is correct; I sent that email-letter combo back on October 25th.

Sadly, the letter didn’t have much to say, beyond apologizing for the problem and that they hoped to get the replacement tiles sometime in the first quarter of 2011 — i.e., now. Elsewhere on the web, namely Boardgamegeek, one European player reports that the customer service representative with whom they spoke said the tiles were available for shipping. So if Europe’s getting them, that’s a good sign for the US.

The much cooler piece of mail was Christian’s new handwritten zine, One Square Equals Five Feet. It’s a neat, two-sided, one sheet zine with adventure seed material to plug into one’s fantasy campaign. What I really dig about this is it really is handwritten the whole way through. Christian says that’s in part because he needs the deliberate process involved in making a zine, as opposed to bashing out blog posts as so many of us do.

Once again, Christian’s example gives me ideas and wishes that I’d like to live up to. As that happens, I start to perceive what may be a part of what Christian describes: in writing blog posts, you don’t do as much as you might have.

Happy Birthday, Held Action!

Today marks the one year anniversary of Held Action‘s first publication, from the day I made my post of introduction and reported on local Free RPG Day activities. Those posts actually date from the brief period of time when I blogged on Dreamwidth. A couple weeks later, I got tired of the limitations of the cloned LiveJournal interface and crossed over to WordPress. That also pushed me to think of a name for the blog, and it wasn’t until I had thought of something I liked better than “Tyler’s Game Blog” that I bought the domain and set up this blog on

What a year it’s been. First I chose a schedule to keep myself to, then I had an enormous spike in things I wanted to say, then I fell back into the more comfortable schedule I’d originally chosen. I’ve run through most of the material I wrote in other times and contexts, so now it’s all fresh, usually sparked by something I’ve read or heard elsewhere. And that’s what I wanted in a gaming blog: a place to publish the thoughts and ideas I had that I didn’t feel like putting in someone else’s discussion forum, but still wanted to make public.

According to, here are the top ten most popular posts of the last year, least to most. It’s amazing what the viral bump can do to hit counts, isn’t it?

  1. National Library Week 2010 Drumming up enthusiasm for an endeavor that inspired Saturday gaming at the local library.
  2. The Art of Board Game Storage When I get a game room of my own, I’ll use this technique.
  3. Game Master Mistakes: Not Really Listening I know enough to fess up when I make mistakes.
  4. A Screen for Every Game Promoting my favorite GM screen, the customizable sort.
  5. Physical Evidence Extolling my enjoyment of Propnomicon‘s Lovecraft-inspired creations.
  6. Labyrinth Lord: Downward to Adventure! My actual play report for International Traditional Gaming Week.
  7. The Lurker at the Threshold Expands Arkham Horror One of my inconsistent moments of pseudo-journalism.
  8. Scouting and Dungeons & Dragons Most mind-boggling is this one posted last week and it’s already number three in terms of hits.
  9. The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide One of those wonderful moments of blogging came when I saw someone else recommending this post on Ah, gratification.
  10. How to Make a Pamphlet Prop I really do intend to get back to making that Ghostbusters proper suitable for download. Honest.

Scouting and Dungeons & Dragons

Followed shortly by specialities in trap-finding, spellcrafting and min-maxing.

WJWalton linked to this find: an official Dungeons & Dragons activity badge from the UK Boy Scouts program. At some point in time, it seems, there was a version of the Hobbies activity badge, intended as a catch-all for those pastimes Scouts already pursued that didn’t fall under the aegis of another activity badge. As commenter darrell explains below, this TSR-sponsored version of the  Hobbies badge was awarded to all scouts, regardless of whether their hobby focused on Dungeons & Dragons.

So there’s some precedent for the Video Games badge Cub Scouts can earn. Really, there’s nothing untoward about either. Scouting’s always been about encouraging well-rounded development in all areas, outside and indoors. There are badges for studying architecture and nuclear science (!), as well as pioneering and personal fitness.

Between this and Walton’s take on a role-playing advocacy badge (scroll to the end of the article), I’m interested by the idea of having embroidered merit badge-like patches made up for general distribution.

For another perspective on role-playing and scouting, check out A Scoutmaster’s Blog, in which a Minnesota scoutmaster comments on his experiences role-playing, both as a player and a Scout and later a GM for his troop.

Cecil Adams Comments on Dungeons & Dragons

My friend Brennan passed this on to me: Cecil Adams, writer of The Straight Dope, explains What’s the deal with Dungeons & Dragons? I’m not sure if it’s new, old or in between — it’s dated 1980, but the article refers to Gary Gygax leaving TSR in the mid 80s — but it’s certainly worth reading for Cecil’s wry take on role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.

Consider this passage:

The concept seems simple enough. It’s the application that throws me. There are two main problems: (1) there are one billion rules, and (2) the game requires nonstop mathematical finagling that would constipate Einstein. The rule book is laden with such mystifying pronouncements as the following: “An ancient spell-using red dragon of huge size with 88 hits points has a BXPV of 1300, XP/HP total of 1408, SAXPB of 2800 (armor class plus special defense plus high intelligence plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die), and an EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon plus spell use plus attack damage of 3-30/bite)–totalling 7758 h.p.” Here we have a game that combines the charm of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. I don’t get it.

Not being an aficionado of early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, I have more or less no idea what the hell Cecil’s quoting. BXPV? SAXPB? EAXPA? Those remind me more of HERO‘s mechanical abbreviations than anything else. Cecil’s reaction, however mocking it may be, makes me think about the general accessibility of the gaming hobby and barriers to entry to the various sub-fields, as expressed in technical jargon and self-referential slang.

Every hobby and field of interest builds up its own vocabulary that’s opaque to anyone on the outside. Baseball fans converse about RBIs and ERAs. Musicians have diminished fifths and tone color. And so gamers have XP and action phases. Most hobbies can seem to repel newcomers, if the verbal shorthand and procedure-oriented interactions accrue.

The Scent of Dried Herbs, the Sight of Calipers and Scales

Over on wod_lj, a World of Darkness discussion community on LiveJournal, a poster recently shared a gallery of photos from an apothecary museum in Kiev — watch out, the photos are huge, but worth the wait. Until recently, the poster’s LARP group used the museum as the venue for their campaign. That’s a pretty awesome backdrop for one’s game, especially considering the group based itself around a Tremere chantry, which would naturally be littered with all sorts of arcane instruments and exotic ingredients.

It’s an pretty swanky place to play and really, a museum for vampires is too fitting. Reminds me of that other highly thematic game space that made the rounds a few months back.

Geek Week 4.0 Kicks Off in Montpelier’s Langdon Street Cafe / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Langdon Street Cafe in the afternoon.

Tomorrow marks the launch of the Langdon Street Cafe‘s fourth annual Geek Week, eight days of workshops, musical acts and other activities to stimulate the mind and satisfy any craving for the silly, fantastic and downright obscure.

Of particular interest to gamers may be the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition workshops and the Geek Week Game Con, on Sunday, March 28th. Last year, I didn’t get to do any role-playing — as I recall, they went old school with an original red box or something similar looking, whereas Ben Matchstick’s gone current in 2010 with the fourth edition — but the Sunday game day / con was fun. The game-playing community’s grown in the last year and I think Geek Week’s exposure has increased, as well, so I think this will be an even better year. Personally, I can’t decide between devoting the entire day to an Arkham Horror session or participating in the usual game day butterfly dance.

Also, my colleague in nerdity TK-3220 and one or more of his trooping comrades from the New England garrison of the 501st Legion patrol the cafe premises, keeping the peace of Geek Week for Friday evening.

Langdon Street Cafe is located at 4 Langdon Street in Montpelier, Vermont. Geek Week 4.0 runs from Wednesday, March 24th to Wednesday, March 31st. The cafe’s online calendar includes a schedule of geeky events throughout the week, as does their Facebook page.

Spelljammer: “You Got Your Bug in My Feature!”

Spelljammer is one of those settings that gets an unreasonable amount of stick. Monsters and Manuals recognized this. The Cloakmaster Cycle was the second set of tie-in novels I got into without understanding they were attached to a game of some kind, although the original Spelljammer boxed set, AD&D in Space was probably my first role playing supplement. I received it for Christmas, had no idea what to do with it due to a lack of Dungeons & Dragons experience and brought it back to Waldenbooks at the Burlington Square Mall to exchange for store credit — which I probably spent on more Dragonlance novels. I was a weird kid.

Regardless of how I started out, I still hold the grief Spelljammer gets is largely undeserved. Let’s count the reasons down.

The Giff

Some folks hold “militaristic space hippos” are silly. And I hold “Um, why?”

Continue reading

To Impulse!

In the spirit of carpe jugulum, this afternoon I spontaneously decided to tag along with a crew going to TotalCon next month. I just got done going through the online registration process. Fingers crossed I haven’t missed out on everything I signed up for.

My wishlist of games includes:

  • Abduction: CE4, one of Brad Younie’s paranormal investigation adventures using his game The Unexplained.
  • Curse of the Betrothed, a Call of Cthulhu adventure.
  • Spirits Among the Ruins, another Unexplained adventure, centered around a lithic observatory in the New Hampshire woods.
  • Palace of the Vampire Queen, a Basic Dungeons & Dragons game run by one of the venerable old men of the hobby, Frank Mentzer.

TotalCon uses a ticketing system, so apparently whatever games I don’t get into are substituted for by a generic ticket. I’ve never been a convention that uses tickets before, so we’ll see how that goes.

Why Would Anyone Say No?

When I first seriously started nosing around roleplaying games in 2002 or so, one of my first stops after Sorcerer’s Place’s Baldur’s Gate sub-forum for pen and paper games was Wizards of the Coast’s own forums. I didn’t delve deep or for long, because most of the discussion was opaque to me, not being familiar with the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. A few things leapt out at me at the time, and still stick with me as being curious.*

One example in particular came up in the section meant for GMs to discuss their tricks and quandaries. A poster related the story of how, during play, a player asked if their wizard character could tear a spell out of their spellbook and cast it as a spell scroll — i.e., it would burn up or fade away or whatever it is scrolls do when they’re used. In the context of the story, it was an emergency, last ditch effort. At the time, I thought it was a wonderfully creative thing to do and didn’t understand why anyone would object to such a notion.

To be honest, I still don’t fully understand the reasoning behind the objections at the time. Yes, it sets a precedent of casting spells one hasn’t prepared by ripping them out of one’s tome of eldritch lore, but it comes at the cost of not having the spell anymore, as well as having damaged the repository of your arcane might.

I probably still don’t fully understand the economies of spells and spellcasters in Dungeons & Dragons, but at that time and still now, I think it’s a fantastic idea and would totally want to be able to say yes to a player who’s got that gleam of desperately grasping at any straw to pull victory from the maw of ignoble failure.

* Another thing I didn’t get then and still don’t get now were the myriad objections to the so-called SPUM, or Spell Point-Using Mage.

Roleplaying in Your Local Public Library

With National Gaming Day approaching, it seems like a good time to write about games at your local library, A while back I ran across a post at RPG Diehard about roleplaying in a library setting that reminded me of an article by Gordon Dritschilo published at, “Night of the dragonslayers.” It’s an oldie, but a goodie about Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, VT hosting overnight Dungeons & Dragons sessions. The piece kicks off like this:

In a top floor lounge area of Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, a group of teens is poring over colorful tomes with even more colorful titles like “The Draconomicon,” “The Book of Nine Swords” and “Magic of Incarnum.”

A floor below them, a band of young adventurers has just reached the entrance of a hostile fortress.

Another floor down, a different group of adventurers examines the dusty contents of an alchemist’s worktable.

It is late in the evening of March 14, the library’s first all-night Dungeons & Dragons marathon. Volunteers have been running weekly sessions of the role-playing game at the library for two years as part of an after-school program. The game is so popular in Middlebury that the library had to turn people away from the all-night event.

It only gets better from there. Checking Ilsley Library’s calendar, I see they still host Dungeons & Dragons Tuesday afternoons. I’m glad to see that, because not only do roleplaying games encourage players to build strong reading comprehension and reasoning skills, but it gets the hobby out in the public, helping to demystify it and make joining in more accessible. However, Liz Danforth’s post on tabletop roleplaying in a library notes some drawbacks as well as benefits to the trend. From the GM’s side of the library gaming experience, you can read Gnombient’s thoughts on his own library game.

On a side note, Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library hosted a four-session D&D campaign that recently drew to a close, as well. They also put on the Ace of Games program this past winter, to great success from what I heard. It’s great to see libraries in Vermont are encouraging the tabletop gaming hobby. With National Gaming Day approaching, a friend of mine is making inroads at the Fletcher Free to get some space for tabletop games in addition to the video games they’re hosting.