Sunday, January 14, 2018

History, As Wriiten By Somebody Else

Still in print, too...
And very much in print...

A little interlude in my story, if you don't mind. You've probably heard of Jon Peterson's book, but if you're interested in the very early days of gaming here in the Twin Cities I'd suggest reading Gary Fine's book. He wrote is while he was playing at the Little Tin and the Fifth Precinct (which is very thinly disguised as "The Golden Brigade") and out at Phil's. He was there just as the oriignal group split, and his book provides a fascinating look at some of the reasons why we split off from that group.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Beginnings - The Weekly Update - January 13th, 2018

The sign at the second shop - still there, too.

The Dave Sutherland header cards for Old Guard

The Train Of Thought is now departing from King's Cross Station; the mighty 4472, 'Flying Scotsman', with top-of-the-gauge pressure is on the head end with her special pair of tenders and with 375 tones of vintage teak stock coupled on. Settle into your seats, please; the waiter will be around in a moment to take your orders...

First, the terms of reference: I am talking about the years with Prof, Barker that I had from 1976 to 1988, and the gaming that we did during those years. We played a lot of miniatures in his campaign, which would seem to be at variance with statements that have been made by other people who played with Phil; these are also quite correct, as it needs to be kept in mind that Phil ran his campaign from about 1973 to about 2006, with a lot of different players and play styles in those decades. We played a lot of miniatures in our day; for a good view of how his campaign morphed over time, there's a great podcast out there with one of the 1990's players - Scott Kellogg runs it, I think.

I've also noticed, over the past five / six years, that a fair number of the people who champion the 'OSR' movement - for 'old school revival / rules / etc.' - have a tendency to denigrate the use of miniatures in RPGs. The Great God Gygax is cited as saying that "Miniatures Are Not To Be Used!", and Saint Dave The Divine is also cited for saying "Miniatures Must Be Used!" and about all I can say is that Phil and the rest of us cracked out the lead whenever we thought that it might be fun. So, play what you will, how you will; if any of what follows amuses you, then I'm happy - I'm not out to 'convert' anyone to anything.

So, it's the summer of 1975, and I've just arrived in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis - St. Paul, of course) to go to college. I was looking for hobby shops, as I wanted to keep up my model-building, and chanced across The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe located at the intersection of Bryant and Lake Streets in Minneapolis. The store have originally been named 'La Belle Alliance', and located out in the western suburbs; it had just recently opened in the new location.

Now, I'd been doing a lot of war-gaming in high school- all we had were the 1/32 / 1/35 / 54mm plastic models that were widely available at the time, as we were just discovering the 1/72 lines by Roco and Airfix; our options, out-state in Rochester (Minnesota), were very limited. Big games, in big rooms, and I still have my 100' tape measure we used for tank and artillery fire.

The Little Tin, on the other hand, was an eye-opener of smaller-scale figures; some 15s, lots and lots of 25s, and even some 40s and 54s. Being interested in a number of historical periods, I dove right in, and began building and painting my little armies. And you could game there, too! The preferred period at the time was horse and musket historicals, with occasional excursions into tanks and ships; there was a couple of guys who played Ancients, and one guy named Larry Bond who was very big into SF miniatures with "Star Guard". [1]

The historicals guys were all into very complex sets of rules; WRG, by Our Phil's Cousin Phil, was all the rage, as it allowed for more arguments and disputes at the game table then a set of rules like "Chanimail" did. The guys at 'the shop' smoked like chimneys, argued incessantly, and on one or two memorable occasions actually managed to get more then one or two turns into a game. They also had a group that met around the corner at the Minneapolis Police Department's Fifth Precinct, which is where RPGs were banished to so that The Sacred Tables at the shop were not profaned by any of this new 'role-playing' foolishness.

The shop's hard-smoking, hard-drinking, manly men looked down from their heights of historical authenticity at the effete college boys who met at Coffman Union on Tuesday nights; that lot played games like "Chainmail" (Heresy!), board games (Gasp!), and even let women into their games (Oh, the horror!) which was unheard of down at The Shop. (Personally, I think to this day it was because women are usually smarter and better gamers, and found The Boys to be pretty weak opponents.) [2] The University group was stuffed with reprobates like Dave Megarry, Dave Wesely, Dave Arneson, Pete Gaylord, Dwayne Jenkins, Ross Maker, and a few other people that you might have heard of. It was an exciting and challenging group to play in, I can tell you.

The Faculty Advisor for this circus was one Professor M. A. R. Barker, head of the Department of South Asian Studies. I'd seen his name before, on some really gaudy card headers for some plastic bags of miniatures from something called "Tekumel"; he'd written some sort of RPG for TSR, I was told.

I looked at the figures, thought that they were kinda neat, and started buying up the Little Tin's stock of them. The owner was ecstatic - the line was not, I got the impression, A Big Seller for the store. He gave me a nice discount, as he wanted the shelf space back - and I was a very regular customer - and so I got started on painting them. As is my usual habit, I steeped myself in all of the printed materials that I cold lay my hands on for this new world; a copy of "Empire of the Petal Throne", "The Dragon", "War of Wizards", and anything else I could get my hands on.

Phil got to hear about my painted figures for his Tekumel, and I was invited out to his house on what amounted to an interview to be his 'Court Painter To The Petal Throne'. I was (and still am, I've been told) fast and good, and Phil was having issued with poor eyesight and painful arthritis. The deal was, he'd hand me a pile of figures; I'd paint them to his specifications, he'd then choose the half of the figures that he wanted, and I'd get the other half as my 'fee' for doing the work for him. [3]

One thing lead to another, and I started playing in his Tekumel campaign; I was one of the founders of the original Thursday Night Group along with Jim Danielson and Greg Klett, and I would up being hired as 'the Tekumel guy' by Dave Arneson's Adventure Games.

I'm still adventuring in Phil's Tekumel, some forty years' later, and still painting figures. We'll have a look at them, as this holiday weekend goes on...

[1] Yes, that Larry Bond.
[2] I still find this to be true. They are still usually better players and opponents.
[3] After he'd passed away, I did a photo inventory of all his figures; I was very surprised to discover that of all his Tekumel figures, I'd painted just over half of them.

EDIT: Google has just informed me that this is Post #500 on this new version of the blog. I'm a little astonished by that, honestly, and thank you all for your time and patience.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Turning Back Time, As It Were - The Weekly Update - Monday, January 9th, 2018

One of the fights we had out at Phil's - Castle Tilketl
All sorts of things happening hereabouts, as we have a short thaw in the weather, and this will be a bit brief. Lots of questions have come in about what I'm heading into with this blog and my gaming, and I'll have a lot more answers as we go along.

The really simple answer is that I am going back to what I like in gaming, and enjoying that. I've been 'out and about' in modern gaming for a while now, and I have not been all that enthused with the direction I have been seeing the hobby / industry going. I don't feel particularly comfortable - or even welcome, as I've noted in previous posts - in the local gaming scene, and I've really been drawing back from doing things that I don't find particularly entertaining, enjoyable, or just plain fun.

What I have found really enjoyable and encouraging is that I have met a few people - both locally and on-line - who do enjoy the kind of gaming that I find fun and which we had out at Phil's when I was out there working for and with him. So, I am this year making a pretty straightforward effort to stop reinforcing failure and instead reinforce success. I will most likely continue playing in the 5e campaign, as I just found the perfect figures for each of the other players' PCs, so I'll be doing what I love to do - painting figures of the people in the campaign for the people playing in the campaign.

I got started doing this back in early 1976, when I was first invited out to Prof. Barker's to paint figures for him, and would up playing in his Tekumel campaign for over a decade. Our group, the original Thursday Night Group, was always very enthusiastic about using miniatures as our version of a 'tactical display'; we never really worried much about having the absolutely correct figure, and used our imaginations quite a bit as we played. Phil and I enjoyed a bit of a friendly rivalry with miniatures, as he also loved to make and paint them - the people in the group were always amused and amazed when he and I would plop stuff down on the table for games, 'just because'. We were having fun, and it didn't seem to 'ruin the immersion' for anyone in the group.

Over the coming weeks, we're going to turn back time a bit and go back to the summer of 1976 when I first started doing Tekumel miniatures, both for myself and for Phil. Back then, 'fantasy gaming' here in the Twin Cities consisted of big 'wargames' with lots and lots of figures based in units. When RPGs proper came along, we started using more and more figures for our PCs, which - I think - was an outgrowth of our wargaming use of 'personality figures' to represent our commanders. From there, it was a very short step to using them to represent our role-playing characters, and from there another short step to using them in our RPG sessions.

The fight for that small and squalid little mud-brick fort up in Milumaniya was a very good example of this; we had several months' worth of game sessions in Phil's campaign leading up to the actual assault and defence of the place, and we had a grand time doing it. Decades later, when my model-building skills caught up with Phil's ability to tell spell-binding stories, I finally built the place and we re-fought the battle several times. The game is now one of my 'pre-built events', and I can run it any time we get the urge.

So, what's going to be happening is that I'm going to walk you through the years of model-building and painting I did with Phil; my job was, in effect, to make things to put on the table for our games. I'll be starting at the beginning, 'way back when', and I hope you'll enjoy our journey.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Death And Rebirth - The Weekly Update - Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Well, here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. I think, when it comes time to write the histories, that 2017 will be listed as The Year Everything Changed. I had some very good moments this past year, and some truly nasty ones. We have survived, and 2018 will be known as The Year Everything Was Reborn. There have been some pretty massive paradigm shifts around here, much like the one that happened when NewTek offered their revolutionary 'Video Toaster'; we're on the raw edge of a very similar revolution in the way we do things, and I think we'll be looking at a very different history in 365 days. With your indulgence, I'd like to run through the list of what's happening here at The Workbench:

'Remote gaming': We now have the technology in hand for multiple redundant telecommunications paths into the game room. I will be able to host multiple-player RPGs online, and run my campaign games the same way. Full duplex communications, with digtial recording and playback capability, and the ability to upload programming to the Internet for wider viewing.

'Campaign Gaming': I will no longer be doing 'one off' games here at the house. I will be running my campaign games instead, and these will generate the on-table activities. I am hoping to be able to run multiple campaigns, each set in the genres and world-settings I support; interested players will get the information that they can discover, and make their moves from there. Primary inputs will be by e-mail; output will be by Internet video teleconferences.

'Projects': I will be finishing my book, "To Serve The Petal Throne", this year, and players in the Tekumel campaign will be able to participate in the events in the book as it's my intention to illustrate the stories with photos of our vintage figures in game play. This will also lead to the completion of the second edition of my miniatures rules, which will also be profusely illustrated with photos, and which players in my campaigns will be able to play-test along with me.

'Miniatures': I will be 'combing out' the primary Tekumel collection of miniatures to remove any non-Tekumel figures added since 1988. These figures were originally purchased as 'stand-in' figures for items that were not available at the time or since, and have been made redundant by recent developments. In most cases, they will move over into the other genres and world-settings that I support; in a few cases, where they do not fit in with our current and future plans and objectives, they'll be removed from the collections, declared surplus to requirements, and disposed of. A similar process will be used in the scenic and terrain collections.

While this all sounds pretty drastic, we're simply recognizing the current realities of the game hobby. It is very difficult to get campaign-minded players here locally, so we're moving away from what we've had as a local emphasis to a much broader and wider one. People here in town generally have no idea who Dave and Gary were - let alone Phil! - and so we're moving our efforts into a universe where they are still remembered.

So, out with the Old Year, and in with the New! Happy Holiday, everyone! :)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Plastics? Metals? My Take - The Weekly Update - Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

My first plastics. OOP, I am pretty sure.

I'm hoping that everyone had a good holiday weekend; I had four days off, and I've spent them simply taking it easy, staying hydrated, and getting lots and lots of sleep. I have a slight head cold, but that's nothing to what I used to have to deal with.

Plastics or metals? There has been, I gather, some controversy over the relative merits of miniature figures made from both of these materials. Traditionally, it's been metal, as the overhead costs are very low, but the advent of computers and 3-mold milling has changed that. Costs are very different, and the economics of gaming very different as a result.

I've been doing metals since 1975, and got started in plastics almost by accident. Back in Ye Olden Days, the soft plastic 1/72 Airfix figures were all we had; keeping the paint on them was a no-win situation, and when I got my first Hinchcliffe metals I thought I was in heaven. Yes, you had to prime them, but after that the paint generally stayed on them. Metals have been a big part of my gaming life since then.

I originally got the Wargames Factory 'Amazons' as a gift, and didn't much like them. These were first-generation plastic 28mm figures, and I seriously wondered if the company had actually talked to any gamers before they designed the set. I managed to get them assembled, but used the weapons and shields provided as a source of spare parts - they just didn't look right to my eye with the stuff they had, and these figures really didn't come together for me until I gave them GW 'Tomb Kings' shields. After that, they looked a lot better, and I still use them in games today.

Fast forward to this past year, when I picked up the Victrix and Warlords figures I've written about. I really like these, right out of the box, and I think this is where plastics really shine - they provide somebody like me with the 'big battalions' that I like in my games, and at a very good price per figure. Let's face it - some 28s are now topping $10 a figure, and that's just too rich for my blood. So, plastics for the rank-and-file, and metals for the personalities and RPG figures (same thing, really) in my games.

One of the great things about the Victrix and Warlords figures, for me, anyway, is the ease of assembly and the 'spare parts' you have left over after you build 'em. I can always use spare heads, shields, weapons, and other stuff. It makes the rest of my model-building a whole lot easier, too.

And conversions! A lot easier, like with the old Wargames Factory 'Numidians', who can be used for anything. The older versions of the Warlord Roman sets had a couple of figures like this; two guys in scale armor, that I think were supposed to be used as a trumpeter and standard-bearer. I didn't use them that way - I used the guys in lorica, instead - but I think I'll take a cue from that epic film, "Cleopatra" (1963) and give them legionary helmets and drums, to replicate the drummers in the 'Attack on the Moon Gate' scene. As fas as I know, the Romans didn't use drummers, but Cine Cittia certainly did, so the conversion would help me get that proper epic look to my production.

Building the Moon Gate itself is another subject, for another post. I'll have to watch the finl and take notes. Lots and lots of notes...

Happy Holidays!!!