Saturday, March 29, 2014

I'm With A Great Woman

I’m going to break from my usual scribbles on here about games and entertainment media to acknowledge my wife.

There is that tired old phrase, “Behind every great man there's a great woman.” Well I don’t consider myself great, but I sure as hell consider my wife great. She’s not "behind" me either. If anything, I’m behind her.

Yesterday my last post on here up and vanished, likely due to some anomalous glitch on blogspot. All the links to the various communities I posted the article on were broken. I was having a small fit. To make matters worse, the post had somehow reverted to an earlier draft version of mine. The pictures I added were gone and the text was in its earlier unedited version. My wife, (an extremely accomplished writer and editor) edits almost all my posts before I push them live. Why I was not backing up these articles on my computer, away from blogspot, is a complete mystery my shortsighted brain is now recognizing as foolhardy.

So after realizing I had lost the edited version my wife, Kathy, sat down and edited my article again. As a writer I somehow manage to construct these half-assed, sometimes cogent blog posts on gaming, films, and whatever else I deem worthy of mention. She then edits them.

Kathy edits my fast writings and corrects all my thoughtless errors. I’ve gotten better over the years (comma) but she is there (no comma) always working behind the scenes to make sure my ideas don’t come off as ridiculous due to careless grammatical and spelling errors. Often times she points out that concepts I’ve written about don’t make sense and I’ll reword a sentence or two to make it clear. She’s not an avid gamer like I am, so her lack of gaming knowledge actually brings a mountain of straightforward comprehension to otherwise muddled gaming concepts. In my downtime I daydream of her writing the ultimate RPG handbook with me—one that can be easily understood by anyone. Cough, cough — Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I am looking at you! :) 

Kathy writes and edits science, language arts, and social studies textbooks for grade school and middle school students. We run our very small business right from home. Her accomplishments are many. I’m not going to list them all here as she’d surly distain the spotlight if I shined it too directly, but I will just give you a taste of what she’s accomplished over the years.  She’s managed to support this family in addition to putting up with me, my difficult and demanding artistic sensibilities, as well as being the most amazing mother to our two beautiful boys.

Here is one book she wrote for National Geographic a few years back…

National Geographic Kids Everything Weather: Facts, Photos, and Fun that Will Blow You Away. She worked on that book with the late storm chaser Tim Samaras, who was sadly killed chasing a tornado with his son in the spring of 2013. Kathy then received The Louis J. Battan Author's Award K-12 from the American Meteorological Society for her excellent writing in that book. Tim Samaras was also given the award posthumously.

More recently Kathy has worked on National Geographic Kids Ultimate Weird But True 2: 1,000 Wild &Wacky Facts & Photos! She wrote ½ of this entire book last year.

When she is not working on high profile books like these, she is tirelessly writing and editing children’s textbooks for various markets around the country. Both our boys have benefited greatly from having a mother so well-educated, continually working to help create the books that are used in our schools to teach our nation’s children.

Another great book Kathy authored was her children’s picture book, Flower Girl. The book was published by Viking back in 2003 and illustrated by Pixar’s Harley Jessup. The book is wonderful and Harley Jessup’s delicate and colorful illustrations bring Kathy’s wonderful words to life in a way only few picture books ever manage to accomplish. The book is still for sale on Amazon to this day if anyone wants to pick up a copy.

Flower Girl by Kathy Furgang & Harley Jessup

So I’ll end here with a simple and humble “thanks” to my lovely wife, Kathy Furgang. She is the great woman alongside this very humble and thankful man.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Goldilocks and the Overly Complex RPG Game Mechanics

At the table in the kitchen, there were three RPGs. Goldilocks was excited to play.  She tried the RPG from the first box.
"This RPG is too complicated!" she exclaimed.
So, she tried the RPG from the second box.
"This RPG is too simple," she said.
So, she tried the last RPG.
"Ahhh, this RPG is just right."

I'm not sure why I thought of Goldilocks when I was kicking this idea around. It just came to me and I thought the joke illustrated the personal taste aspect of what it means to play different types of RPGs.

First of all, everyone comes to the gaming table as an individual with their own ideas about what a good RPG should be. As someone who had a Grand Canyon-like gulf of time between childhood gaming and adult gaming, I know for sure that mechanics-heavy game systems tend to irk me. There is a paradox here with me though, as I do find myself compelled to understand certain games, even complex ones. I want to wrap my head around game mechanics, absorb them, ingest them, and know them fairly well so when I do finally discard them it's with knowledge and understanding, not ignorance.

Fourth edition D&D was the first game mechanic to have the honor of me stubbing my adult toe on. I was frustrated that I found it so maddeningly complex to learn, and exactly when I was trying to get my then 11 year-old son into the game in general. How could I foster my son's interest in a game when the complex mechanics seemed to be the overriding force of the game, not the role playing? I knew deep down I never played D&D even remotely correctly as a kid, and so to just wing it as an adult and play in some half-assed way, never truly knowing how to actually play, seemed wrong. As a dad I wanted to be able to answer my son's questions. And if we were going to break the rules I wanted to know them first before doing so. I remember one of my great teachers back in my freshmen year at art school. He gave great advice and I've tried to keep it with me ever since.

I'm paraphrasing what I remember him saying.

"You will all be given a tremendous amount of information this year. It will certainly be overwhelming. Much of it you may not even fully understand at this time. Much of what you will be learning now will seem odd and out of place, especially as it relates to the creation of art in a larger context. My suggestion is to soak up everything like a sponge.  Absorb, absorb, absorb. Take it all in and then every so often purge and wring out the sponge, discarding only what you don't want or need. In a few months, or a few years, you will know what information you need and you can discard or carefully store the rest. Just remember to not let all this information overwhelm you and bog you down. Don't let it get in the way of your creation of art. Let it serve your creation of art."

It was some of the best advice I ever got. I was learning color theory, 2D design, composition, drawing, etc. It was a lot to learn. Lots of mechanical and technical processes seemed very far away from the sheer bliss of creating art. Often these technical instructions and concepts got in the way. When they did, just as my teacher suggested we do, I'd discard, ignore, or otherwise break the "rules" for the good of the art.

Art, great or otherwise, need not be entirely beholden to rules of composition, perspective, color theory,  or realistic rendering. In the same way, an RPG game should not suffer as game mechanics take over and swallow games whole.

So as frustrated as I was with 4e D&D and some of the people we encountered at Encounters who were playing it, I muddled through the books, learned (well enough) the maddening concepts, the daily powers, cards, all the crazy races and classes, slow combat, and even powers that were useless. It was a game that had all the ingredients for greatness but it seemed hopelessly mired under 50 feet of crappy IRS-style rules. I pressed on, played D&D Encounters weekly with my son, and we both learned a lot. At home we tossed so much of what we were learning right out the window. Complex game mechanics had no place at our game table. We drew maps, told stories, killed large monsters, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We did so by understanding 4th edition D&D and what we disliked about it and then playing with what we did like.

The very basic D20 mechanic is king here at home for running games. It's elegantly simple. It works and we are not bogged down with endless rules. The games we play are mostly done on the fly. "Let's play D&D!" someone says and, BOOM! We're off and running. If a monster needs HP and AC the DM will use a d4, d6, d8, d12, or d20 to generate fast stats. Usually most games are just a DM and a player. If we waited around for a well-balanced party of 4, 6, or 8 we'd never play at home. Ever.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Over a year ago I stumbled on the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game at my local Barnes & Noble. $100! Yikes! That's a lot for a starter set. It looked so damn cool. The world looked cool. It seemed different than D&D. Darker, dirtier, more wretched and vile. I so badly wanted to be in the world so I gave it a shot and bought the game.

Traditional Warhammer, from what little I know, is basically a tactical war game. It's all mechanics and no RPG story—please forgive me right here and now if I'm wrong about that. There are many games out there today like this. Heroclix comes to mind. Mechanical or tactical games where there is no roleplaying beyond the fact that you might be controlling tanks, a group of heroes, or some rules spelled out on a card. The player is not playing a role and directing story with their choices and participation. But Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was different then traditional tactical Warhammer. It was Warhammer for people who did want to role play in that gritty dark world. As with 4th edition D&D I was late to the party. This is the third edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game. And as I looked online about the game I could see already there were many conflicting opinions. Older editions were considered better. Some people thought the current edition was amazing. Whatever. I now owned the core set for the 3rd edition and that was the one I was going to learn absorb, and hopefully play.

Once I opened the box I realized I was in way over my head. Inside were funky dice, a zillion cards, sliders, and more bits than I had ever seen in a game, ever. I carefully organized everything neatly into little plastic cases, separated all the cards, and rubber-banded them up. Then I set out to reading the books. That's when I became lost. The mechanics were such that I could not quickly and conveniently grasp them and just start playing. With my kids too, I knew the game was way too bits-heavy, card heavy, and mechanics heavy for any fun to truly be had. Setup would likely take a while. Character creation would be complex. Everyone would need to carefully keep track of their characters cards, bits, etc. No. It was just not happening.

Still I pressed on. I owned the game. I continued to read and enjoy, somewhat, the idea that I might play some day. If we found an experienced group, maybe. This was a niche game in an already niche game world. There were no Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay groups for me and my two sons. Sigh. I read some more. I eventually stopped reading and I continued to play D&D with my kids and the game stayed abandoned on my shelf. I kept looking at it from time to time. It was like the One Ring. It wanted to be played. Hehe.

Fast forward to a few days ago in this lingering cold weather. I decided to once again grab the basic rules off the shelf and begin anew with attributes. I started reading again, right from the start. With another year or more or RPG under my belt it did not seem as complex anymore. It was still busting at the seams with bits, but I decided I was not reading to play, I was reading to comprehend. I'll read the rules, gain a decent grasp of the concepts, and then decide if I want to discard the entire mechanic, keep some, or do whatever if and when we get down to actually playing.

Then I started to think about game mechanics in general. What is the deal with RPG game mechanics? Why do some games feel the need to have such maddeningly complex mechanics for the game to run? I kept reading and I kept thinking.

Why are the game mechanics important? I asked myself.

The game mechanics, I decided, were there as a substitute for "chance" in real life. The news was on. A huge building was burning insanely out of control. A man was trapped up on the top floor. Too high to jump without death or serious injury. A fire truck with an outstretched ladder was approaching, but not fast enough. What would the man do? He climbed to the ledge and carefully lowered himself down and swung, miraculously, to the ledge on the floor below. Then the fire truck with the outstretched ladder arrived. The man climbed on. A huge section of the upper floor of the building collapsed. The man made it to safety. I went back to my WFRP reading. Then it hit me. That man was not a Fighter, Rogue, or Wizard. He was not trained to do what he had just done. He was a construction worker. He just decided what he needed to do and he did it. That was real life. His personal skills, life experience, fear, other men with a fire truck, and a lot of luck all combined to save him.

In RPGs we are not in reality so when we tell the DM what we are doing we use our character sheet to determine the outcome. Are you tall? Are you fast? Are you smart? We use numbers to determine these real world attributes we rarely give a 2nd thought to. That man on the building did not consider his strength, wisdom, dexterity, and charisma as he escaped the burning building. He just acted. In RPGs too, a player acts by telling the DM what they do. The DM is the universe, fate, and non player character/monsters all rolled up into one. The DM uses dice too to determine outcomes. He is bound by the same laws as the player but unlike the players who must accept the dice rolls, the DM does not. He can fudge a little. That is why there is a screen in front of him. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Hehe.

I thought more about game mechanics. All RPGs need some sort of game mechanics, otherwise it's just make-believe playing with minis or communal storytelling. But some game mechanics become so complex that the game being played gets lost in the process. Or in the case of the WFRP game, not played at all.

Why are some games so complex? I suspect some game creators get off on the mechanics. They work for these companies and they are trying to distinguish themselves away from D&D. But 4e even was a reaction to become different than previous editions of D&D. If you work somewhere and you are tasked with making a new game you can't just say everyone rolls a d20 to determine outcome and let the players and DM tell the story. Now pay me. Haha. That would be a great job. There needs to be a balance. Too simple and it might not feel like you bought a game. Too complex and filled with bits and cards and you will have created a game that might sell, but sometimes, like in my case, just sit on a shelf unused, unplayed. A useless system? I'm not sure WFRP is a useless system yet. I'm still reading. If I ever do play it I doubt I'll be doing so as instructed. Like D&D 4e I want to wrap my head around it somewhat and then take out an adventure and do some storytelling and, hopefully, play with my kids.

Any RPG needs a mechanic as a substitute for reality. That is why the mechanic is there. The mechanic alone is not all that's necessary. If it were, we'd not need a DM. Playing an RPG without a DM is not the worst idea either. I've often considered that concept and I do know that games exist that do just that.

Ultimately it all boils down to personal taste. Are you someone who gets excited by crazy complex game mechanics, or do you more enjoy a good story with a mechanic that does not get in the way? I am most definitely in the latter camp. Still, I do like to understand game mechanics, even complex ones, before wringing out that sponge and using only what I want.  I'm pressing on with my reading of the WFRP game rules. Whittling them down, already, does not seem like it's going to be too hard. It's just a mechanic and not the game. The game is role playing. No one goes out to buy a new mechanic.

Wizards of the Coast recognizes that the mechanic is only there to serve the game, not the other way around. 4e might have stumbled but I believe any D&D adventure from any edition can and should be played as long as you don't let the mechanics take over your game. D&D Next Encounters games now have more story and they move faster. The mechanic is not in the way as it was in 4e. Now I want to stress that I do not dislike 4e. I enjoyed many 4e games. I just think some of the game mechanics were extraneous and unnecessary. They are there to be used or not used. This is how I'm approaching WFRP. I will either use something I like or disregard mechanics I don't.

If you are the DM, open the adventure. Any adventure, from any game system. Start reading. Get your players engaged in the story and use whatever mechanic best suits you all to help determine outcomes.

Remember the mechanic is just a stand in for fate and real-world attributes. Remember the guy jumping from the burning building. The mechanics of the universe and his real-life attributes did not get in his way. He acted and there was a fast outcome. Sure he could have slipped, but that would have had a quick outcome too. Had his mind been bogged down overthinking the mechanics of the situation he would not have acted at all. He might have died due to inaction or, to put it another way—slow game play. He could have wound up like my WFRP game—still sitting unplayed because of the complex mechanic and zillions of bits.

Escape from the burning building! Play the game. Enjoy the game!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Three Generations of Moral Panic in Pop Culture

After watching Mazes & Monsters several times, I continued to think about the "moral panic" that Dungeons & Dragons caused back in the 80s. The varied responses many of you gave regarding parental restrictions of Dungeons & Dragons as a result of the film, and responses about news back in the day got me thinking about my own parents and what exactly, if anything, they considered when the D&D controversies were in full swing.

I called my dad (a second time) and asked him if he remembered back in the 1980's when I was playing D&D.  Did he remember the news that D&D might be influencing young kids to commit suicide or violence as a result of playing the game?

He remembered. Vaguely.

I asked if he gave any thought to restricting D&D or taking the game books away from me.

"No," he said. "It never crossed our minds."

"Why not?" I asked. I was curious as to how he could have dismissed such news without even giving it a consideration. As a dad myself now, I know I have restricted violent video games for my older child until I felt he was mature enough, and I also put limits on the amount of time spent playing video games because I know how much time they can often suck away, with little to no obvious benefits.

"Because of all the nonsense with the comics code back when I was a kid," he said. "I had already been through that nonsense myself. We read other things too. Monster and horror comics were not all I read anyway. There was Little Lulu, Donald Duck, science fiction comics, Captain Marvel, strange adventures. Comics of that type."

"The comics code," he went on to explain, "was formed in 1954 to police monster & horror comics." He went on to tell me how back when he was a kid there was an even greater moral panic over comic book content and their alleged influence on kids reading them then there was over the D&D panic. The code was formed and restrictions put in place that homogenized and toned down most of the comics of the time. Mad magazine, (a favorite in our house while I was growing up) was formed as a satirical magazine, in an effort to move away from the humor/horror comic format that its early issues had. According to Wikipedia, Mad switched from a comic to a magazine to bypass the code after issue #24 in 1955. He was 10 when the code when into place and the restrictions started.

I asked him a few more questions.

Did your parents restrict you at all with what comics you bought, especially after the comics code was in place?
No. They had no idea. No concept of any of it. They were completely oblivious and it was just something they paid no attention to at all.  

Back to D&D. Any thought on it? Memories?
No. We never gave it a thought. No one paid attention to any of that.

What about heavy metal? Worries about any media having a negative influence on me as a child?
None.  You will always find someone who is negatively impacted by something. Tiddlywinks. Marbles. You will always find something, anything, that could somehow have an influence on someone.  In any upsetting case there could possibly be something to point at. People want to blame something external. Today it's violent video games or violent filthy rap music lyrics. 

Then after we chatted I kept thinking and I remembered a few more things from my own childhood. One was when I was 10. He took me to see Saturn3, my first R-rated film, in 1980. It is a horrible science fiction film. I think Farrah Fawcett appears partially nude in the film. So I was 10 and I remember the thrill of being allowed to see this R-rated film with my dad and then he goes and lets my younger brother come along who was 6 at the time. The privilege became empty to me once my brother was allowed to come. Now though looking back, I see he knew there was no problem even for a 6-year old kid. He knew who we were and he knew we could handle it. And if we couldn't, he'd have been there to help.

In recent years my son told me he was only allowed to bring PG films to school on the day before winter break for the kids to watch as a reward and celebration. Jokingly I suggested Barbarella. The film is PG and opens with Jane Fonda floating around her space ship nude. Obviously standards have changed. See nude PG Barbarella here.

Another such example is Kramer VS Kramer from 1979. In that film, also PG, we see a nude JoBeth Williams standing in front of a little boy. See picture here.  Link has gone bad. Just Google JoBeth Williams Kramer VS Kramer nude to see what was not big deal back then. PG rated films like these today would surely cause an uproar. I personally could care less and never could see the deal with hangups on nudity. Once I went to art school seeing nude models became common. I'm still amused by people's hangups and aversions to nudity. 

My bedroom from the 80s. Notice the Dead Kennedys poster
in the upper left with a blue border. 
I thought more about controversies of my younger years, and remembered when I got the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist it was supposed to come with a H. R. Giger poster called penis landscape. Some restrictions kept the poster from being distributed with the album but inside was an address you could mail away to to get the poster. I remember getting my mom's help with sending out for this art. It eventually came and neither of my parents ever even noticed what the poster was of. The repetitive pattern of the art along with my chaotic room kept them from ever batting an eyelash at it. I remember waiting for them to notice and take it down but they never did.

Today, like my dad said, it's video games and music getting the bad rap. Cell phones and mobile devices are often criticized too. Music it seems, has the most staying power overall as seeming to have alleged influence over the youth. To be sure, music is important to teens. It helps with forming identities and taste. It is an outlet for rebellious behavior, even if only vicariously.

Ultimately though I have yet to know of anyone who was influenced in an overtly negative way due to music, movies, comics, video games, or even Dungeons & Dragons. That is not to say no one could be negatively influenced, but a myriad of factors, I'm supposing, not just one thing, is often to blame with troubled individuals.

I am no stranger to suicide either. I lost my best friend from childhood to suicide. We listened to the same music, watched the same films, both played D&D, and ran with the same crowds. In the end it was drugs, not anything else, that led to the suicide.

Drugs, I often tell my kids, is the worst thing in the world.

And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is drugs that is the worst. Staying away from drugs is pretty much the best decision a person can make. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most recent prominent example.

I'm sure some form of media will be scapegoated as the possible catalyst in horrible situations going forward. Some accusations may even have merit, and as the world becomes increasingly complex and our lives ever busier, it is not a bad idea to have ratings systems, and different forms of restrictions in place to help people make decisions on behalf of young people.

Here at home we put limits on video games, especially restricting and/or policing the violent ones. Maybe in another 20 years this will seem as ludicrous as I think the comic or D&D restrictions are now. We can only do what we feel is best, and not having everything you want whenever you want it is certainly an important part of any good childhood. Like I wrote in an earlier post, I still have yet to see Blood Beach and I'm in my 40s now.

We all know the TV babies/kids/pop stars in the media and how they behave with unlimited money, and have no restrictions. I won't mention any names. A few restrictions can benefit anyone.

If you are interested, check out: The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You To Read. The comics and art are awesome and the book gives some great bits of information about restrictions long ago.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dwarven Forge's Caverns - Dwarvenite Game Tiles Mini Terrain

For those of you not in the know, Dwarven Forge produces the finest RPG/D&D gaming terrain in the world. Sure you can play with pen and paper, or printed maps, but the times change and even though we can still embrace old school ways, we can sure embrace the new as well. No need to chose. Do both! I do.

So from what I understand—although amazing—the old Master Maze dungeon terrain is more expensive to produce, heavy, and breakable. The new Game Tiles are cheaper to produce, nearly indestructible, and lighter. It travels well too. I already have some from their last Kickstarter campaign.

So today over at Kickstarter they are launching their newest campaign for: Dwarven Forge's Caverns - Dwarvenite Game Tiles Mini Terrain.

There are lots of different pledge levels open. You can get painted and unpainted terrain sets for different price levels.

Here are a few shots of the set I'm backing. The more people pledge, the more stretch goals get unlocked for people pledging for 2 sets or higher. Day one pledgers get "a special icon under their Dwarven Forge Forum avatars if they pledged within the first 24 hours."

What are you waiting for? Do it!

Dwarven Forge's Caverns - Dwarvenite Game Tiles Mini Terrain.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Basic D&D Pre-gens, Character Generators, etc

For those of you who do want to create a D&D character—regardless of the edition—the solution is simple: Get the PHB of the edition you want to play and read through the book. Rolling dice for stats, picking a race, class, etc, is pretty much what is required for each and every edition. Read up on the specifics of the race and class and learn all the ins and outs. Easy, right? Well sort of.

Not everyone wants to go with the above route though. Creating your own character from scratch can be a complicated task. After all, there are many editions of D&D now, and with a new one on the way taking the time to learn the complexities and minutia of whichever existing edition you are exploring/playing is often beyond the time and abilities many of us have to spare. There are many other reasons that reading rules and creating a character by hand might be a hinderance.

• Friends & spouses may want to play but don't want to bother with character creation. At least not until they decided if they like the game.

• Little kids want to play but are not yet sophisticated enough to create a character. Character creation is also boring for young kids who just want to start rolling dice and get playing.

• DMs want to get a play group going for people who might be on the fence and want to try the game out.

• DMs need playable characters ready when someone shows up with little to no knowledge of how to play and creating a character would slow things down.

• People who want to explore different editions and the mechanics of game play from older editions.

• People who want to learn by playing.

• Lazy people, (guilty) who find character creation somewhat tedious and often overly complex.

There are likely many more reasons why pre-gens can be helpful. I'm not going to bother listing more though. Here is a resource list for pre-gens or fast character creation that simplifies the mechanics while still giving you choices.

If Wizards knew what was good for them and their business they would make basic character generators similar to these for each and every existing edition. Wizards, you have been advised.

Here are the links. Although I searched for OD&D, B/X D&D, 1e D&D, I still listed other generators here too. The old school stuff was hardest to find. I hope this is all helpful.

Wizards Red Box Game Day Old-School Character Cards (Wizards does have some) Old-school RPG Character Generators  This is a link that leads to other links.

Every time you click this link a new character is generated: 1974 D&D characters

Holmes D&D Characters (basic)

B/X D&D Character Generator

OD&D Character Generator

1E D&D Character Generator

2E Character Generator

Beyond the Crystal Cave Pre-Gens! (4e)

Dungeon's Pre-Generated Character Library

D&D Next Pre-Generated Character Library

Character Sheets by Dyslexic Studeos

Character Generator

Thursday, March 6, 2014


New Website Discovered will be a new blurb on going forward as I seem to need a new reoccurring and  recognizable tagline to showcase great sites I find, am introduced to, or stumble upon. I'll make a graphic for this soon.

Google+ has been a constant source for new connections, tangential introductions, and web wanderlusting, often with me finding virtual pots of gold at the end of rainbows. That happened again just now.

Today after posting my article on Mazes and Monsters I received many great responses. While checking out peoples profiles I found this great site: LEARN TABLETOP ROLEPLAYING GAMES.

On the sites homepage under What's This Site About? it states, "Whether you've been playing tabletop roleplaying games for years or are just getting started, there's always something new to be learned. This site was created to introduce newcomers to tabletop RPGs and help veteran gamers get more enjoyment out of the hobby."

The website is a great resource for seasoned gamers and newbies alike. I'll be giving this site a much closer look tonight.

Check it out...


Mazes & Monsters Film Review

Mazes & Monsters is a made-for-TV film that originally aired in 1982 about a group of friends who engage in a Dungeons & Dragons type game called Mazes and Monsters. The film stars a then 26 year old Tom Hanks. It seems like this film might have been the linchpin that started his career, as it was the first feature he front-lined before Splash which came out 2 years later in 1984. As a made-for-TV film Mazes and Monsters seems to be the transitional role in his career that led him away from TV to feature films. In the film Tom Hanks character, Robbie Wheeling—a troubled kid—takes the game too far and confuses fantasy and reality leading to dangerous consequences. You can buy the film on Amazon here. It was based off a novel by same title by Rona Jaffe.

Also in the film is Chris Makepeace, who you will likely know as Rudy, the ostracized kid from Meatballs. He was also in My Bodyguard. A few other notables in the film are Murray Hamilton, best known for his role as the doubting Thomas skeptic mayor from Jaws. His role here as an investigator is very similar. Wendy Crewson plays the female lead and I kept thinking she was a young Kelly McGillis but I was wrong. Vera Miles from Psycho is also in the film.

My interest in the film came about recently with my desire to read and absorb any and all D&D and RPG related material. AD&D and anything from my 1980s youth has been of particular interest for me, mostly because of the nostalgia factor but also my desire to play the old AD&D game. I vaguely remembered the existence of Mazes and Monsters, but I'm not sure if I ever actually saw it. If I had, I did not remember any of it.

The film is pure 1980s cheese. It's bad. It's poorly written. The acting is, mostly, bad and overly affected. Still, whatever the film was in the 80s and whatever its intended audience and/or message, today, I see the film much as I do when I watch other old B films—as totally charming and sentimental. Clearly my current frame of mind and nostalgia for the 80s is clouding my take on it, but perspective is everything. Films are almost like living things, and what we bring to them is almost as important as the construction of the films themselves.

Older Tom Hanks on the DVD
despite the fact that he was 26
when he made the film.

So now, here in the year 2014, 32 years after the fact, I greatly enjoyed watching this ultra-bad mess from 80s TV. I found it charming in a way I'm sure was never intend by anyone. I mocked up a wacky module style poster (see above picture) and posted it on  a few of the Google+ D&D groups I belong to. The responses regarding the film were varied. Some people were amused by memories of this old oddball film. Others were not so amused. Some had bad memories of the film as it swayed their parents to limit or destroy their D&D material back in the day. This was the most surprising thing to me.

You never realize how good you had it as a kid until you hear someone else tell you the torture they endured to put things in perspective. I know everyone has wacky shit their parents did. My childhood was no exception, but I do have my father to thank for teaching my brother and me to think for ourselves. He never liked others telling him what to do and then blindly complying. Thankfully he instilled that in us. With kids of my own now I try to teach them as he taught me. And I always question what is being communicated from authoritative sources like the news, government, etc. Also back in the 80s everyone was aware of the D&D paranoia, the suicides, the satan crap, the dangers of Heavy Metal music, etc. I'm not sure why none of our parents ever reacted. Maybe it was because myself and almost everyone in my community was Jewish? Jews don't give much thought to satan or satanic influences as a general rule. I also lived in Queens, and while NYC is no utopia to be sure, NYC, at least then, was a progressive and open-minded place. This is all speculation though, of course. I'm not sure about any of this. If anyone from any background wants to share D&D restriction/parental paranoia stories or speculate, please, post away. I'm curious. Despite there being no D&D or RPG restrictions for me or my friends, I was not allowed to see Blood Beach, or go to a Def Leppard concert. My childhood was far from perfection.

Original CBS Ad for
Mazes and Monsters
Mazes and Monsters came out during the height of D&D popularity.  This also coincided with the parental paranoia over D&D that resulted when a few troubled kids committed suicide.  Back then anything negative that a kid did that was tangentially associated with D&D seemed to equal D&Ds full culpability in the matter. There were more than a few controversies over this back then and the game was even toned down and Gygax grilled a bit on the subject.

60 Minutes did a segment on it. You can find the segments here. If they seem dated now Imagine how our news will seem to people in 30 years. Paranoia continues today but with D&D off the hot seat video games and electronics are the new pariah.

In addition to the Mazes and Monsters film/novel there was also a book called Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. The Mazes and Monsters novel seems to be based of the book, and the book based off the paranoia. It's all wacky. Naturally I ordered both books.

Here are a few articles/blogs on the D&D nonsense at the time:

Dungeons & Dragons controversies

The great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic

The Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons (in 1985)


Revisit the Very 1980s Moral Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons

12 Nutty Dungeons & Dragons Media Mentions From the 1980s

Here is part 1 of Mazes and Monsters on youtube. I'm not sure how an entire copyrighted film can be posted on YouTube. Maybe it's because no one cares about this film.  All the remaining parts are on youtube.

Remember perspective is everything. What once caused the country to flip out can hopefully now be looked at lovingly. Enjoy!


I just found this on another G+ members page. Over at Blog of Holding there is a Mazes and Monsters RPG. Of course. Seems obvious now. For all we know, the TV movie might have started LARPING

So check out this blog post on a Mazes and Monsters RPG. Supercool. Just remember not to take it too far! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

D&D Next Release Dates, MSRP, & Complaining

Barnes and Noble has a few links up that point to when D&D Next will be coming out. This link here shows that the D&D Starter Set will be out on July 15th for around $20. Another link I found for the players handbook is already broken and I'm not going to bother to post it. The info from the source over at states that the players handbook will be out August 19, 2014, $49.95. This news of a Gen Con release date was already known.

Did Wizards change the name of D&D Next to simply D&D? Will the PHB be $50? Who knows. D&D Next would sound silly if D&D 6 ever comes out so who knows. I also know that B&N consistently has near everything they sell at or just below the MSRP while Amazon will sell a book B&N charges $49.99 at around the mid $30 level.

I also know that typically most gaming releases hit my gaming store sometimes 3-5 weeks before Amazon and B&N will sell them. Gamers, all I can suggest is go ask your local gaming store. I'd rather pay full MSRP to my gaming store than B&N anyway. You cant sit and play D&D at B&N. Well actually maybe someone should try that. Hehe.

I already am reading some grumbling about the $50 price for the PHB. Gamers love to bark at the moon and grumble, often over the most petty things. It's my least favorite thing about gaming. If you can not manage to set aside $50 between now and August for the Players Handbook then you might want to consider another hobby. Wizards has been working on this game for years. People who work there and run that company want to make some money for their efforts. That's not illegal. And we already have access to the rules. It is conceivable to just write your own adventures and not spend a dime. Complaining? No. That is not conceivable.

I want to hear laughter and cheers people!

If you feel like complaining I have a video for you to watch.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Play Generated Map & Document Archive

I just stumbled upon this no more than a few minutes ago. There is something very synchronistic to just Goggling search terms and words in different combinations and seeing what comes up. I was looking for more D&D pre-gens. I also searched for OD&D, and hand drawn D&D. That's when I struck gold.

When something is made by hand, even by a small child, there is an energy to it that can not be equaled elsewhere. The Play Generated Map & Document Archive is a trove of hand drawn D&D and RPG ephemera. You can help too. Add your personal work to the archive to become a part of history.

Below are a few of the wonderfully delicate creations you will find over there.


Paizo Sells Miniature Singles. Who Knew?

A few weeks back I ranted on here that blind box minis suck and companies should stop that. Then I recently stumbled on the fact that Paizo sells miniature singles on their website. I have no idea how long this has been going on but I'm guessing that I was wrong with my assumption that those selling blind boxes only do so that specific way.

If anyone knows how long they have been selling minis as single let me know. Not every miniature from every set is available. I'd have ordered a few if that was the case. But still...they sell singles!

Bravo Paizo.