Showing posts from August, 2018

Playing Games Part 6: Going Off the Reservation

Once I made the decision to step out of the box on D&D and see other RPGs, I was something of a “loose” GM, if you know what I mean and I think you do. I figured out pretty quick that some games were better at simulating specific genres than others. I eventually amassed a shelf full of RPGs in boxes and books, and also plastic Ziploc bags and paper envelopes, and clamshell boxes…it got out of hand. I would venture to say that about one-third of the games that I owned I never played, because they were stupid and horrible. We didn’t have the word “crunchy” to describe “lots of rules, many of which are largely not needed” in the 1980s, but we made do with the more elegant, “This sucks.” Others on my shelf were games that people wanted to play, but I didn’t necessarily care about. I ran them, with mixed results, and then never went back to them. Here’s a few of the games I spent a modest amount of table time running for others:

Artisanal Craft Dice Part 5: Grading the Dice

This is what I'm going to do: I have a lot of dice, and I want to talk about them. Whenever you see this logo, it means I'm going to be all chatty and catty about the dice I have (or dice that I ended up with). If you like the reviews, that's awesome, and you should probably tell me. If you want me to review something specific, drop me a line at Finnswake at Gee-Mail Dot Com. If you send me dice to review, I will totally do that. Just make sure you want me to review them. I will thank you for free dice, and if I don't like them, I will say so. In print. But I will also explain why, using the system below. That will make my reviews useful to people who regularly read them, because I have a cut and dry criteria to judge dice with, or I'll explain why it gets a pass.

I know, I know. I think about stuff waaaay too much sometimes.

Over the years, having gone from one extreme to the other on this whole thing, and having been involved at every level of dice manufacturing…

Playing Games Part 5: Brand Loyalty

We tried to be good consumers, us GenX-Latchkey kids. We really did. It stood to reason that, since Dungeons & Dragons was this really cool thing that we were all into, it stood to reason that the other games in the TSR line would be equally awesome, right? I mean, a couple of these games were mentioned in the Dungeon Masters Guide as possible crossover fodder. Like in a Marvel or DC comic book. Okay, TSR, you had our attention. What do you have for us...what’s that? Boot Hill? Are y’all high or something?
We tried every one of the TSR major releases, up to and including the board games, each time thinking, “It’s going to be different! This time, it won’t be bad!” And, like a latchkey kid whose deadbeat father promises to pick him up for the weekend and then never shows, we trudged back inside the house at the end of the evening, our hopes dashed, but ever-willing to forgive and maybe even forget, and try once more. Here’s what we played, or tried to play, and what I thought of t…

Artisanal Craft Dice Part 4: The Dice, They Are A-Changin'

A lot of things happened in the twenty years since I was role-playing with any grace or consistency. It was all part of that larger emergent Geek Culture we heard so much about. The World of Darkness games went away. We got three Lord of the Rings movies. Print-on-Demand and PDF markets suddenly became a thing. The Big Bang Theory happened. Marvel movies suddenly became a thing. DC movies stopped being a thing. The Board Game market exploded. The OSR movement happened. Every neckbeard in an ill-fitting game convention T-shirt started a blog. The height-weight proportionate ones started a YouTube channel. Dungeons & Dragons turned 40. Celebrities, and also Vin Diesel, came out (sorta) as lifelong gamers.
Seemingly overnight, everyone was gaming again, this time propped up by these tastemakers and outliers from the Maker and DIY culture. 

Playing Games Part 4: Call of Cthulhu

There were three names that leaped out at me from Appendix N, and you can probably say them with me: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft. I had heard of these guys from other sources and now that they were intersecting with Dungeons and Dragons, it was time to run them down. I had read a couple of Lovecraft stories in various horror anthologies along the way, so it was a natural for me to dive right into Arkham and Innsmouth and Dunwich. I've spoken at length about Robert E. Howard. And while I read most of my Clark Ashton Smith in a brief flurry, he never really stuck with me like Howard and Lovecraft.

But there was a whole game devoted to Lovecraft! I was slow to answer the Call of Cthulhu, not because I didn’t want to play it; I did. Badly. Desperately. It’s just that, no one else read the same weird shit that I read. Even in my high school, I was an outlier when it came to Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. Everyone else who read those guys were either …

Artisanal Craft Dice Part 3: Dealing With Danish Dice Gnomes

Not only did I get to sell dice to retailers, I ended up helping to make them when I was transferred to Chessex Manufacturing in 1995.I have told this story elsewhere  but I wanted to add as well as clarify a few things from my "in the trenches" side of things. You find out how cheap (or expensive) things are; you have to think about stuff that you never considered as a consumer, such as packaging—those AMAC cubes, for example, and those tiny slips of paper that served as the label all cost money, as well. There were frustrations, like dealing with upper management who had one idea—and maybe not a very good one—and trying to navigate a way to say that without getting fired. I drank a lot in Berkeley, California. For medical reasons.

Classic Mark Finn: Old School Gaming and the New Shiny

Note: this is a reprint of an old Finn's Wake article from Three Years Ago, But It's Still Prescient Today.  My rebuilding of my old campaign continues apace. I'm doing it in fits and starts, as I can grab a half an hour or so to myself. I am vacillating back and forth between dusting off old components and bringing them up to new 5th edition rules, and fleshing out 5th edition to meet my campaign's specific needs. For example, in my world, there are five city-states that wield considerable economic and political power. And one of the themes for this new/old campaign is territory expansion, along with warmongering. Because of the emphasis on this environment over say, a Middle Ages King and court, I wrote a background for Bureaucrat. It's a good background. I may post it later. I am working on a background for an exterminator, as well. Another necessary function of city government that could yield an advantage in a dungeon party.

Whilst I was looking over my old n…

Playing Games Part 3: Villains and Vigilantes

There has been, over the years, an incredible debate over which super hero game is the best. It’s a Ford versus Chevy, Coke versus Pepsi kind of thing. I think it boils down to whichever game you were first exposed to is the best one. That is to say, in the end. In the beginning, all you had to do was look at the art for the two major games, Villains and Vigilantes and Champions. Jeff Dee drew giant rings around Mark Williams. V&V looked like a comic book you wanted to read. Champions looked like drawings from the loose-leaf notebook of your really talented artist-friend.

Villains and Vigilantes came into my life thanks to Dragon magazine (the most important magazine in the world, for a while) and the great ad that ran dutifully in every issue for, like, years, with great evocative artwork by Jeff Dee. Now, I recognized both Jeff’s style and his signature as being one of my two favorite artists from TSR. His stuff had a super-heroic-comic-booky style about it anyway, and now here …

Artinanal Craft Dice Part 2: "You Can Never Have Enough Dice!"

I was twenty four when I found myself working at Chessex Southwest, at the time when the company was growing like Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors and scaring the hell out of The Armory, Wargames West, and anyone who was distributing games and game supplies. Chessex had parlayed its success as a minor game accessories provider to actually selling games themselves. It started small, with Don Reents selling stuff out of the back of his van in the Bay Area, and became a major thing, nationwide, seemingly unstoppable thing. If you ever played on a vinyl Battlemat, or used Dragonskins on your hardcover books, or owned a set or two of Speckled dice, that’s all thanks to Chessex.

Classsic Mark Finn: A Few Thoughts About Role-Playing Games

Note: this is a reprint of an old Finn's Wake article. It's because of this that I started this blog. You're welcome.
Watching the third Hobbit movie got me jonesing to play Dungeons and Dragons again. I know a lot of Tolkien purists hate the films, but I don't, because I'm not. Oh, there's stuff I don't like about the movies; don't get me wrong. It's just that I happen to really like the way they've played fast and loose with Tolkien (two adjectives I'd never use to describe his work, which is why I'm not a fan, per se). Never mind the "video game sequence" that seems to be in every movie. Watch the PCs--excuse me, main characters--fight the wandering monst--I mean, the orc patrols--makes me want to roll to hit in the worst possible way.

Playing Games Part 2: Tabletop Gaming Saved My Life

Okay, that’s a great and terrible exaggeration, but it also kinda isn’t. It’s certainly fair to say that had I not found D&D I would not be the person I am today. Certainly not creatively or professionally. I wouldn't have discovered the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales at the time that I did, for instance. I may not have found my way to Lieber and Moorcock. I had these ideas about wanting to be creative, but I didn't have a focus or a direction. D&D gave me a structure to explore everything: improvisation, mimicry, writing, reading an audience, thinking logically and even critically, and so much more. Role-playing really unlocked my creative potential.

Here’s my Top 5 things that role-playing games did for me, in order: