I didn’t go to Gen Con this year. I missed the big announcement. I missed all the hoopla (except for, of course, the Internet hoopla) and to be honest I was a happy about that.
You see, before I started working in RPG R&D, I worked down in the Organized Play department of Wizards of the Coast, as the RPGA Content Manager, position now held by my buddy, Chris Tulach. And when you are doing that job the summer convention season becomes something akin to running the gauntlet. By the time it is over, you feel emotionally drained, more than a little beat up, and you realize the whole summer has passed you by in a whirl of fighting fires during 16-hour days of making sure folks have a bang-up time playing D&D at this show or that. I know, it sounds a lot like, “listen to the guy with the job in the game industry whine,” and it wasn’t terrible for me, given my passion for games, but for my wife it was aggravating, to say the least.
But she loves me, and she was a sport for six years of that. She was more than a sport; she was an absolute angel, even during the weeks that I made it hard for her to be one. During the time I worked for the RPGA, Sky put up with me missing her birthday, sometimes coming along to work the WotC booth (once just so that we could spend our wedding anniversary together) and the weeks of long hours, and distraction and grumpiness on my part, while I was preparing for this show or that. Keep in mind that Sky is not a gamer. Sure, she plays the occasional game of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and even BattleLore or the occasional miniatures game but RPGs just aren’t her thing. Except for World of Warcraft…she started playing WoW…all I can says is…wow.
Anyhow, when I left my old position, I promised her that we would do fun things in the summer. She deserved it. And I have kept my promise. After all, we live in the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve never been here, this part of the country is awesome, nay, awe-inspiring. There is a diversity of geography in this part of the country that’s an absolute feast for the senses.
Last summer we went hiking numerous times and took a trip on the Washington’s Pacific shore. Starting with a stay over in Ocean Shores, we went up the coast and on to Cape Flattery, the furthest northwester point of the contiguous United States, and traveled all around the Olympic Peninsula by the time we were done. There are sights on that peninsula that put the special effect in The Lord of the Rings to shame.
This year, even before Gen Con weekend, we had already done paint ball (first time for both of us…I loved it, Sky didn’t), white water rafting on the Wenatchee River (first time for Sky, she loved it), and a return trip to the beaches of Ocean Shores.
For Gen Con weekend, we wanted to do something a little more adventurous; something out of the state…we decided to explore interesting sites in Oregon!
Now, just because I am on vacation, it doesn’t mean I stop thinking about gaming. And Sky often laughs at me for geeking out over something we do on our trips, for bringing up some D&D connection to the things we see and do. Okay, sometimes she rolls her eyes rather than laughs, but you get the idea. But it was my tendency toward this proclivity, coupled with the fact that Wizards, via Gleemax.com was encouraging to start keeping and updating a blog, that I came up with the idea for “Delve” and its overriding focus. RPG design, development, and general musings are not just things done in the harsh florescent glow of a cubical, or through gnashed teeth in meeting rooms. D&D as an act of fantasy fiction finds its appeal as a reflection of our own world, forged from our own myth, tempered through the imagination and gumption of those who engage the game. And by exploring, having adventures in, and learning more about our world will only serve to enrich the act of gaming.
Okay, that and I like to travel and game, and I can write about both in one blog. Sky likes it because she’s hoping we will go on more vacations.
So next week, I’ll start giving up the details of my Oregon trip and how it relates to D&D. I leave you with some hints. By the time I am done with this particular series of blogs, we’ll visit the Age of Worms, talk about Elemental Evil, and enter the Neverland of Dungeonland.
So some of you are scratching your head; I can see it through the Internet (I have special powers that way). What the hell is this joker talking about? Isn’t he going to tell us about what he did today in this meeting or that? Isn’t he going to give us tidbits on what we are going to see in 4th? WTF?
Maybe. Sometimes. My “Delve” posts will come later in the week. I’ll do supplemental posts early or in the middle of the week that may sing more to my day-to-day life and the various development and other projects from other folks. That’s just not how I roll (role?).
Oh, and BTW, I also simulcast this blog on my Live Journal (http://delve-srm.livejournal.com/), so I can do links, and pictures and stuff, at least until we get some full blog functionality.
“To see this age! A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turn’d outward!” - Twelfe Night, Act III, Scene 1.
My mother is a Shakespeare nerd (and a Dickens nerd, and a genealogy nerd). She gets that same pathetic, glossy-eyed expression, and pedantic, rambling voice pattern while talking about these thing as I get talking about D&D, miniatures, fantasy, and whatever new and exciting shiny intellectual babble I discover on that dirty floor we call the Internet this week.
She is also moving back to Colorado (her childhood home) after a few years of living out here doing her thing and having too infrequent dinners with Sky and I. And I we’ll miss her. So before she’s through filling her U-Haul with a ton of books and knickknacks of this genealogical adventure or that, Sky had the idea of taking her to see the Seattle Repertory Theatre production of Twelfe Night, which opened on Thursday.
My wife’s a smart lady, even if she can’t figure out how to walk through doorways in World of Warcraft.
It really is an outstanding play. And the Seattle Repertory Theatre did a marvelous job in their presentation. Special honors go to the art direction (David Esbjornson) and the performance of Charles Leggett as Sir Toby Belch. Though purist may complain about the Western twang he affected (and they would complain about the entire production that took delightful liberties with tone and theme, and even dialog), he absolutely nailed the role.
And like almost any play from Shakespeare it’s full of the various things that we take for cliché, but figure that originated, and thus forgive him for. The funny thing is that often he didn’t originate them or the story. Viola’s plight in Twelfe Night was the nearly the exact plight of one named Silla in Barnabe Riche’s (Riche his) Farewell to Militarie Profession, almost 20 years before the writing of Shakespeare’s play, which is based on a story of Sienese origin that popped up 50 years before that. My guess is that it’s older that that still.
Ah, but here’s the rub. (To paraphrase.)
The brilliance of the Bard was not his originality. Hell—in the abstract he wasn’t very original at all; he did plays about Julius Caesar and English kings, and various other stories that his audience knew the basics of, if not the whole darn story. It was the wit of his presentation, his ability to entertain, delight, and even surprise in the details of the performance. But that’s only half of it. It’s also his ability to meld that into characters that seem real to us; they suffer the same fears and anxieties that we do and triumph in our hopes and successes. The plays are chocked full of characters that are really just bookmarks for our emotional inner selves; the ones we shy away from showing at work as to appear too naive, too emotional, or just flighty, and shy away from in relationships so to not show weakness or give up the semblance of control.
It may seem strange to us now, suffering through the seemingly stuffy language, but Shakespeare is vital entertainment. Not vital in the sense that it is a thing to be worship in the halls of academe as some paragon of form, as it often is and wrongly so; as form in literature is transitory. But in the sense that it is robust…punch…real. It is obvious that the people who wrote Shakespeare knew what it was to be human, and that is the true substance of those plays.
I guess the lesson I took away is that brilliance lies above and beyond the surface. The surface is the expectation. People don’t like it when expectations are changed—this is what we might call the marketing of an item—but being witty in the specifics, and instilling a sense of communitas in the universals may be the very things that create great entertainment.
My brother, Luc—a fellow gamer and geek—is out to help mom pack up her U-Haul and head back to the wilds of Colorado. Luc is more a Games Workshop nerd than a WotC nerd, but I’m the fella who taught him how to play D&D and Warhammer 40K and paint miniatures (which he is also very good at), so it’s no one’s fault but my own that he chose the wrong game to focus on.
(GW fanatics—don’t let me fool you, I have a few GW armies; and I am very proud of my award-winning Black Templar army, which I’ll probably post pictures of sometime in the near future).
His GW bias aside, he does play a rather martial and sarcastic cleric of St. Cuthbert named Luthor in my online Age of Worms campaign (using Fantasy Grounds II and a VoIP). See, he’s not all bad, just…well…a creature of habit—as the initiated can tell by his character’s name, and can likely guess the surname.
After spending some time catching up about work, life, and games, Sky, Luc and I headed out to a local mall that features a pretty diverse food court (Korean BBQ, Russian, Thai, Indian, and more all in one place). And of course it featured a game store. One of a nice local chain of game and puzzle stores called Uncles Games.
It must have been geek day at Crossroads, because not only were Luc and I there, the place was inundated with Stormtroopers, Imperial Soldiers, and more Jedi than you can shake your Mace Windu commemorative electrum-plated, purple lightsaber at. I don’t know why there were there. I just don’t ask those things anymore. I just have a strange habit of running into slightly strange things at malls (and disturbed street people always want to put me in movies…no lie). I just purchased my plate of underwhelming Chinese, and went on a rant about how I understand why folks like to dress up as Star Wars characters, but I don’t understand why folks want so much to dress up like Star Wars characters. I was basically in full-on Larry David mode (I grew up in NYC…that kind of observational sarcasm comes in pill form with your 8th-grade standard issue lunch).
Luc, on the other hand, was a little more enamored with the scene. He accosted Darth Vader coming out of the bathroom (who knew that didn’t get burned off…, and got a nice snapshot of him and the faux Sith Lord. Burping orange chicken and dodging the chunky extras in the war against good and evil, we made our way to the games store where I was hoping to pick up a copy of BattleLore. I’d played a good deal of it when I borrowed Mike Mearls’s copy a few months ago, and figured it probably was just the board game for a Warhammer fiend like Luc. Unfortunately not a single copy could be found in Uncles Games (they have a display copy in the window, and I guess it sells out often), but they did have Tannhäuser. Quite a few copies of this particular Hellboy-esque, non-random, pre-printed minis game came back to the office from Gen Con, and it features an ingenious line of sight rule called the Pathfinder System that is a fantastic forward step in tabletop game design. I figured Luc would enjoy it.
My first impression—good game. It’s smart, both conversant and making definite and interesting statements in the argument of skirmish-style miniatures game (not to mention combat games), and it seems to have legs. It sits squarely in the gamist camp of design, which I love, while making an effort to pass what Mearls calls “the logic test” and I call the “BS test.” I’ll be interested to see how my opinion changes or matures with more games and with the released of planned supplements. But for right now Tannhäuser and I are in a nice and cozy honeymoon stage.
Luc liked it too. He also liked the fact that he eked out a narrow victory over me with some very smart play. Of course he’ll go back home and tell all his friends how bad he trounced me in games all weekend, but what can you expect from a habitual Warhammer player. :D
As we packed up the game, and I disappeared briefly to the study to help Sky figure out where she was in the Barrens (she got lost mining in Wow), my friend Jason Bulmahn (of Paizo/Dragon Magazine/Iuz the Old of Living Greyhawk fame) wanting to know what we up to. He had the new Talisman game (which is a repackaging of the old Talisman game) so I invited him to come down for drinking and questing for the Crown of Command.
Welcome back to the mad ramblings of the worst blog’er ever as voted by SavageCheater on the Wizard’s message boards.
When last I left you, my friend Jason Bulmahn, former managing editor of Dragon, and current Brand Manager of the Gamemastery line over at Paizo, came over with beer and the new Talisman game. We dragged Sky away from dying and getting lost in World of Warcraft and my brother, Luc—the consummate Games Workshop fan—was raring to go. Let the quest for the Crown of Command begin!
Now Talisman is one of my favorite—if not the favorite—bad games. I have the original box. I bought it at the ripe age of 13, at the Fantastic Store in Staten Island, New York with saved-up money I got from skipping lunch and doing chores. Luc has hazy memories of me trying to teach him the game when he was only 6. I have the expansions (well except for Dungeon who I loaned to someone once and never saw again), played it a ton when I was younger, but these days I only crack it open on occasions that I drink more than two beers. I skip the expansions, though. My bladder just ain’t what it used to be.
Some of my greatest Talisman memories were playing all night in the Rock’n Dragon games store in Santa Fe, NM with the owners and a small group of friends (a shout out to John, John, Cody, and Marie) or with my D&D group in Denver (Dylan, Greg, Tom, Aaron, and Glen), back before I went to college. In the Denver games we play with my buddy Glen’s set. Glen was (and I imagine still is, though I lost contact with him a few years ago) a fantastic illustrator and graphic designer. He made his own cards for the game with some very funny, often zany mechanics. Every one’s favorite was an encounter card called “Strumpet: miss a turn, lose a gold.” The art on the card featured a gregarious and rather endowed woman with her best come-hither look; nothing sleazy, just cartoony and funny.
I have at almost a full room of memories in my particular palace of the mind playing Talisman. It’s causal enough and screwball enough to transcend its sometimes bad mechanics and game play—and that’s its major strength.
The new Talisman is basically the old game with new art, sturdy cards (maybe too sturdy…try shuffling event cards now, I dare you), and plastic components. There a small number of minor changes, and most major of change involves the end-game and the gaining of craft. Instead of commanding one character to or die while on the Crown of Command, you command all the characters to die; which is obviously there to speed up the end game. You can also gain craft through defeating crafty foes now. In the old game you could only gain craft through defeating encounters*. Overall, the game rules are relatively unchanged from the original.
I have a pretty good win rate at Talisman. I don’t equate this to any amount of skill; I think the game is far too random for that. And even though Jason was first to reach the Crown of Command, my assassin was able to win the battle of the Outer, Middle, and Inner Realms thanks to his trademark ability, the wand (which allowed me to immobilize Jason’s warrior and steal his runesword, not to mention always have a spell to cast…which toward the end of the game frustrated poor Jason to no end), a pile of unused gold and the mercenary, not to mention a bunch of other cool items that I stole when Sky was turned into a toad (sorry I laughed, baby…well, not really:D ).
Still, it was a fairly close game, despite my broken character. Though Sky never recovered from her stint as an amphibian and my cruel larceny, both Luc and Jason made it to the crown. So overall the end of the game was pretty exciting, until we figured out that no one could beat my character in combat (okay, so I thought that was fun…no one else did). I don’t think I’ll be buying the new version, though. I don’t think the rules changes or the components are enough of an upgrade from the old version. And while the new art is well done; I think I’ll keep my Gary Chalk board and cards. I really love that old GW style, and always have. I still collect the Citadel D&D and AD&D licensed miniatures that came out in the 80’s, and love looking through old White Dwarf issues where it seemed like everyone who worked at GW was an ex-roadie for Iron Maiden. Like the artwork of Erol Otus those artist took chances, and weren’t afraid to occasionally fail. From Chalk to Russ Nicholson, to John Blanche; I fell in love with their bold line work in desperate imitations of Durer woodcuts, and I love that they they’ve left a real and long-lasting mark on gaming art. The new art seems sterile, uninspiring, too serious, and makes the game harder to read. Given my advanced age, it’s not just my bladder that’s going (now you, over there, hand me my spectacles, and my chain…have you seen my diapers?). I think I’ll stick to my well-worn box of fine memories.
So while I am not picking up the new box, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Talisman is a classic. And though its design is antiquated (to say the least), it’s still a game that does its primary job—encouraging fun, laughter and good times. But if you do buy it, don’t try to take it too seriously. It’s just not that kind of game…but keep that quiet. I don’t think it knows that about itself.
*If I am getting any details wrong here, keep in mind I did not read the new rules, I am just going on what Jason told me. Who knows, he may have been cheating.
But I did get an email from her the other day, and among other things she asked why I hadn’t blogged in over a month.
Had it really been a month? I guess it had.
Well, there were a lot of reasons, actually. First and foremost I was really, really busy for a while. Not only was development on the Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook kicking my butt; I was getting up to speed on the new D&D Miniatures Game so I could help develop it (which the game rocks, BTW); working with Didier Monin to work out some database kinks; starting a new quarter teaching a class on roleplaying game design for the Art Institute of Seattle. I was also working on the new incarnation of the “Save My Game!” column for Dungeon magazine, which debuted this week; writing and picking out miniatures with Steve Winter (a personal hero of mine ever since I saw his name in the old brown World of Greyhawk boxed set, and just a fantastic guy and fellow minis goob) for a minis in D&D retrospective that’s going up on the website soon; working on getting errata for Magic Item Compendium, Spell Compendium, and Player’s Handbook II out the door (thanks for taking that over, Greg!); settling into my new role as R&D liaison for events; painting a special miniature for Mr. Rob Watkins (a Star Wars Miniatures god…at least to those dwelling in the far-flung reaches of Quebec and other spaces Canadian); going to the Arcade Fire concert with said god-who-walks-among-us, Watkins (that band will just might change your life!); attending Mike Mearls’s wedding (congrats Mike and Heather!); dealing with my wife’s budding World of Warcraft addiction (don’t worry honey, this is what we call an intervention…; eating steak and playing a couple of games of Warhammer 40K with Jason Bulmahn when said wife was out of town participating in the Race for the Cure in Denver; getting a trip to Denver over Christmas shored up; and bring my online Age of Worms game back on track (including updating four sessions of game notes on the campaign Google Group).
Yeah, I was a little busy. Now I just have to do more minis development, Dungeon Master’s Guide development; go speak to at a local library with Bruce Cordell for Teen Read Week; kick off my H1 Keep on the Shadowfell playtest this weekend; plan a trip to Las Vegas next March so Sky can play bridesmaid at a wedding; and prepare for a guest stint at OryCon 29 in Portland next month. Oh, and I just got a slew of upcoming D&D miniatures on my desk for paint masters. So things are slowing down a little.
All that said, I am very excited because this afternoon, after many thwarted attempts, I finally got into my Gleemax account. I’ll be honest with you, I have other blogs done, or almost done (including the first of my Oregon blogs) but I was sick of putting them on the message boards. I wanted to get these suckers up on the new toy, to be part of this new community. I am very excited about Gleemax as a concept, even thought its application has frustrated me a little in the last couple weeks (If I saw that stupid “Unexpected Error” screen one more time I was going to drain the Mountain Dew from that frigg’n brain in a jar!). My passion is games, and it is good to finally have a social networking site dedicated to that passion. So those of you who are new, welcome to my blog…and welcome to Gleemax. Don’t mind all the construction going on around you, and watch out for that bucket of hammers teetering precariously from the step ladder, it’s a fine place to hang out, and will be the Roxzor (or whatever it is the kids say nowadays) when it’s done.
Well that's it for now. My notes on exploring the wilds of Oregon should be up this weekend, and I'll have notes on my Warhammer 40K game with Jason, WoW the addiction (now with wife!), what I learned from talking to teens at the library, and some thoughts on virtual tabletop RPG play from my Age of Worms campaign.
Oh, and I may start a little temple to Rob Watkins. I am hoping that if I mention him enough, one day he will be summoned to Gleemax. Do me a favor, help me out, and mention him (randomly if you have to) in your blog posts. Thanks!
Hey everyone! On the off chance you didn't know this, 3rd Edition D&D is still a great game, and we still play it here at Wizards of the Coast and so should you.
I just needed to say that. I’ve read too many discussions online about how folks are stopping gaming in anticipation of 4th Edition and I’m here to say that’s...well...stupid. I know, that it’s very easy to assume that just because we're excited about 4th Edition D&D--are eager to make it better, more fun, and have it simultaneously be richer and simpler than the last edition--that we are a bunch of 3rd Edition haters. Nothing is further from the truth.
Of the four (soon to be five) campaigns I am participating in, two are 3rd Edition campaigns (one is a Star Wars “Dawn of Defiance” game/playtest, run by the legendary Rodney Thompson, the other two are 4th Edition games). Both of my 3rd Edition games are wicked fun.
The first of those two 3rd Editions campaigns is an online Age of Worms game using the Fantasy Grounds II software.
I started running this game in June of this year for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’d been drooling over the Age of Worms campaign from its inception. A high-adventure, revised-Gygaxian (more brown-boxed set and Gord the Rogue than Castle Greyhawk) Greyhawk grognard at heart, I love the tone, story, and play of that campaign.
Secondly, with the promise of our upcoming digital desktop play, I wanted to become conversant in running D&D digitally. After shopping around a bit, Fantasy Grounds II was the program that interested me the most. It really is a fantastic product. Sure, there are some things about it that bug me, but the pros far outweigh the cons. Consider me a fan. Lastly, I wanted to take a shot at reforming my college group. One of my buddies, a truly drooling geek (and I mean that in the best possible way) named Rob had talked me into starting World of Warcraft about a year ago, and had often brought up on how he would love to play D&D again, but had no group—so I knew he’d be game. I knew I could get both my brother, and the RPGA Web Gnome—Jeff Simpson, now living in NYC—on board (yes, I went to college with both), so that is three out of the I don’t know how many folks who played in my game during collage—not bad. I rounded out the game with some local talent (Lisa and Aaron), and we were off to that crazy little town called Diamond Lake. And since three of the six of us were in different time zones (Luc and Rob in Mountain, Jeff in Eastern), the group would give me some good anecdotal information on how easy or how hard it was to schedule and play games online. Turns out, it has the same bumps in the road that a normal game does. There's really very little difference.
Because one of the players (my brother Luc), is, at best, an occasional player of D&D (he’s a Games Workshop goob, some of you might recall), and Rob had not played D&D since 2nd Edition, we decided to stick mostly to the three corerulebooks, at least to start. After creating a Google group to serve as a campaign website, message boards, and wiki, get the Whispering Cairn adventure uploaded into Fantasy Grounds, and figure out what chat client we were using, we suffered only a minimal amount of tech problems before we were playing each Wednesday night for three or so hours a session after I get home from work. I’ve always been surprised how much I don’t miss having an actual face to face game. Sure, the VoIP client gives us some strange echoing, and yes, there are some times we get booted off the server (but those have been few and far between), but those things are manageable. Overall playing online has been surprisingly similar to playing at my house or at WotC…I just have to do less clean-up after the game’s done.
So far we’ve played 12 sessions. We've finished the Whispering Cairn, and a good chunk of Three Faces of Evil (I have a good time updating Mike Mearls on that game every Thursday morning; Mike sits next to me in the development pit), and a good time is being had by all. The character's have just reached 4th level (after a particularly hard fight with the Hextorian faction of the Ebon Triad temple under Diamond Lake), and are really coming into their own roleplaying- and tactics-wise. While I don’t know where the campaign is going to be next June, I doubt it'll be over. And I don’t think I’ll convert it to 4th, so I’ll be playing at least one 3rd Edition game past the release of 4th.
In my other 3rd Edition game, I'm a player. Chris Lindsay up in Easy Company (my pet name for our wonder E-Commerce and Customer Support team) is running Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords as a Wednesday lunchtime game. He talks a bit about it (and the almost TPK) in his own blog.
In Chris’s game, I play a Chelaxian human knight 2/fighter 2 named Liinaus Sain; a vision-tortured ex-Hellknight (download and read the Player's Guide here, Hellknights are mentioned under the paladin write-up on page 8.), who doesn’t know if his vision come from his old master, Asmodeus, or from Iomedae the goddess of valor and honor (though his companions are fairly certain they don’t always come from the latter). Because of before mentioned almost TPK, this week I played Shalelu Andosana, one of the Sandpoint's NPC sent to save our primary characters from the clutches of Naulia—a demon tainted aasimar who kicked the crap out of us the week before. Though Shalelu doesn't have the charm of Liinaus, the game was a hoot, as Chris came up with a fantastic way to salvage the campaign from a string of poor tactical decisions (on our part) and fantastic die rolling (on his part).
The Pathfinder adventure path has been a blast (hats off to James Jacobs and the rest of the talented and fun Paizo crew). I’ve enjoyed the adventure (though I really dislike the goblin dog's concepts and abilities…sorry James), and It’s always fun to play with Chris (who I’ve had a Spy vs. Spy relationship with for years, as I beat up on his characters in my game, and he retorts soundly in his), Sammy, Trevor, Vincent, and Bernie from Easy Company.
It’s also the first time I’ve gotten to play the knight class, which I like a lot (well I like it after flavoring it with a few levels of fighter). It works really well with a lot of the feats out of Player’s Handbook II, and is really a good and interesting flavor or martial (to use a 4e-ism) character. And is really effective, at least it is after I spend some time warming up my dice.
So, Wednesday are 3rd Edition fun day for me, and will be so for the foreseeable future. Heck if my wife would let me join another game, I would love to wind my way through Expedition to the Ruins Greyhawk too. There is never such thing for too much D&D (unless you are a gaming widow, I guess) so get out there and keep playing!
Fridays and weekends on the other hand are 4th Edition D&D days, so excuse me while I go and review Adelmo, my halfling ranger, who is on the King's Road somewhere oto a place called Winterhaven.
Good gaming, and may rolls end up 20s! Oh…and viva la Rob Watkins.
On Saturday Bruce Cordell and I went to the South Hill Library to talk to folks for their Teen Read Week. We really didn’t know what to expect of this, one of the first visits for Wizards of the Coast’s fledgling library program. When I exchanged e-mails with the librarian, she told me that it could be four people showing up, and it could be 60. That’s a lot of variance.
We ended up with about 20 or so folks, most kids, some interested parents, and at least a couple running a little late because the traffic in South Hill, WA is oddly congested. Heck, I was almost late to this thing. South Hill is about halfway between Seattle and Mt. Rainer, and you wouldn’t think it was a high traffic area, but you would be wrong. The last time Sky and I were in the area we were traveling to a place called Northwest Trek, a very cool wildlife refuge and park, and found the same strange congestion, but figured it was a fluke. It wasn’t. If you ever have to travel through this place, start about a half hour earlier than you normally would.
The crowd was great. There were a handful of teens that have either heard of or played D&D before, but most were video game junkies. Bruce and I told them what we do—and that we don’t design video games. Luckily none of them seemed disappointed by that.
I brought a few things to illustrate the history of D&D and gaming in general. First and foremost was my old basic set—the one I started the game with, compared to our newest one. I even brought some old unpainted metal minis to show them how those suckers have changed since I was their age. Last I brought some minis to give out, and a copies of the new basic game to view and play!
Man, I felt like an old coot, mostly because I could see myself, even across that great divide of decades, in the eyes of these young women and men.
Sometimes gamers, especially D&D gamers that have been playing since the earlier editions, forget what a real revolution D&D was (and still is). Unless you were exposed to miniatures wargaming, there was nothing like it. And even then, the fact that miniatures were just an aid and not a driving impetus of the game, it was pretty revolutionary to those folks too. It was nothing short of the paradigm shift for games, and read testimonial after testimonial from video game designers and a lot of them started with playing D&D.
Hell, there’s a good amount of the New Weird of fantasy fiction that’s being revolutionized by gamers. Works like Perdido Street Station and the City of Saints and Madmen are a testament to that. I had the opportunity to meet Jeff Vandermeer (the author of the latter book) at Seattle’s fantastic Bumbershoot music and arts festival this past year, and in his words he, “grew up on a steady diet of Dungeons & Dragons." (BTW if you have not read his books, do yourself a favor and pick them up, they are nothing short of phenomenal).
Today, so many games take for granted the assumptions and premises that D&D boldly clawed forward into the mainstream gaming consciousness. Those assumptions are the basic rules for game design today.
But here’s the kicker. Those kids and teens who have been weaned on video games are still so receptive to D&D. There is something thrilling about all the arcane lingo, the strange and esoteric formulas, and the idea that an entire world is open to them, anything the DM thinks up they can interact with. It’s not some story that everyone can play; it’s their own unique story, presented in a way that no computer could ever replicate. As I found myself talking to these teen, and playing demo games after our Q&A was over, I could see the excitement of the new and fascinating game that is D&D spread to them. But the time I was done running games, a good number of them asked if I would come back to run the game again. They had always been interested in playing D&D, but had no one to show them how to do it.
I'm hoping to go back and teach them the game (if the South Hill library will have me...hint, hint), just as someone was nice enough to teach me more than two decades ago. Too often I see older gamers blow off younger ones. I get it, there are plenty of reasons to do so. They’re not mature enough, they tell dumb jokes, and they ask too many questions, they like to bleach after drinking too much soda. Young people slow down the game.
Then again, I don’t get it, blow all those lame excuses out your ear! (And by ear, I mean ***.)
D&D has enough barriers to entry...especially in this digital age. It’s not that easy to get into. Don’t make it harder. The game would slow to a craw without them as sometimes even the most dedicated gamer finds she has less time for it after having kids or that great promotion that just made weekends null and void.
And remember, most of us had someone who taught us how to play…or remember one jerk who wouldn’t take the time.