About Me

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Not much to say for 2014 as far as my gaming is concerned. This was the year when I didn't run a single D&D session. When this year was new, the Gristaad's Vagabonds, players, not the characters, were no more. The game ended in the Autumn of '12 for all the usual reasons - G/F moved in, I got promoted and a new job fell heavily on my shoulders. The sinkhole that was my dungeon campaign finally ended with a minor disaster and I wasn't up to writing the new material at the time. The disaster with the season finale was as advanced and it was unexpected. I ran the same campaign for two groups of players one after the other. I wrote most of the campaign material as I went with it the first time from 2007 to 2009. The last session was a victory celebration, that was one of the best sessions in that game. It was a culmination of the interaction of the players with the story and with each other. The Agency and the Chemistry was so perfect, that it did not seem like anything at all happened in the game, but it was as eventful as it seemed calm, and the players were totally absorbed in it, and the session was over, the adventure was really over, territory covered, and everyone was ready to start the Chapter 2, except, that there was no more D&D gaming by consensus. It was August 2009 and in the real world people were getting laid off, people were breaking up, and none of those players wanted to play D&D or any other fantasy game any more. September 2009, I was gearing up for getting a new group, I was struggling with logistics of finding a place to run the game, when things broke my way and I easily drifted into the second incarnation of the game. First, I found a pretty sizable game scene, come Christmas I moved on, moved along by an egotistical octopus or two, who were dominating the scene, and which blindsided me completely, because in the group, I found a gaming dynamic, completely different from mine, and I found their gaming unfulfilling. Come January 2010, I easily found a new group of players, and a second incarnation of my Midlands campaign had begun. It was much better running it the second time around, since I could improve my narrative and game mechanics. It was fine until the last game session in September 2012. The final session, the Victory Tournament, introduced the players to the local gentry and set the stage for an expanded sand-box campaign, but alas, it was a different group and the dramatic tension was not there. I should have re-written it for the current player characters in the game, but too much was going on in the real world outside, and I didn't do it. One of my players was getting ready to move on, and the mortal and mundane world outside was intruding on me as well. During that game session I received a text message that ended the friendship with an old buddy of mine in the world outside the game, and then everything else, and I couldn't get back into writing, which is not so say that I stopped writing the D&D stuff, with all the other things going on, I couldn't organize or get it completed. I tried maintaining the group, by running board-game night get-togethers, much as I do with the previous bunch, but the group did not hold, and this fellowship ended in January 2014. This is not to say that I stopped thinking about the game world or resuming the Season TWO of my campaign in it. Not a day goes by, when I don't think about some aspect of it. It would be nice to get a notebook and start writing down the random thoughts and concepts, and so if I concentrate, I might get this game off the ground yet again.

Monday, September 1, 2014


I dig complexity so that the player doesn't have to. All s/he has to do is Role Play. Perception type checks are done in secret to keep players in suspense. I based the PC stats on true life research, and added a few derived ones to reflect the latest research in psychology etc. Some of them are derived, and I used non-linear algebra to derive formulas to model those to match the real world relationships between different abilities. The real world basics are as follows: Physical abilities can be trained so you can (and has been done since Middle Ages) have STR, CON, and a version of DEX all 18 in a few years of training. Real Life abilities are: Physical Strength, Endurance, and Agility (really measures Flexibility and not tight rope walking etc). Intelligence based abilities, the FIVE forms of human intelligence ARE a zero sum game - you CAN NOT train to be 18 in all five. Genetics will hold you back. ALSO, there is a measurable genetic trait called HARDINESS. It determines how well you resist emotional trauma and psychological depression, resist colds and fevers in the arctic environment and how quickly you recover from strokes and heart attacks. Hardiness. Not quite CON. The 5 forms human IQ are as follows: 1 - Reading Comprehension and Math ability, measured by the IQ test, INT in D&D; 2 - Ability to take apart and put back together mechanisms - wrist watches and automobile engines. Thinking in terms of putting things together, Manipulative IQ or D&D DEX; Then there is the  3 - Tumbling Ability - ability to be aware of one's body in space - to be a gymnast or an Acrobat - what I call AGILITY, a derived stat in the game from STR and DEX, because to be agile in real life, you have to be both STRong and FLEXible. 4 - Drawing Ability - ability to accurately represent ratios and objects when drawing in three dimensions. I called this one ART and it is a non-linear derived stat. 5 - Interpersonal Intelligence - Ability to read peoples' non-verbal cues facial expressions and the effect on the person's life is the same as CHA. There is a part of the brain dedicated to reading faces in both humans and other animals. The difference between a cougar and a house cat is that the house cat's portion of the brain dedicated to face reading is 15 times the size of the wild cat's.

Friday, August 15, 2014


I went through a foot high stack of my D&D papers yesterday. This were all my notes and work on the Midlands campaign going back to 2003. There were rules mods, computer projects, game running notes and adventure materials etc. My campaign got swallowed by a mega dungeon, but I needed that learning experience. Of course, there was no way to take players from the start to level 12 at the terminating end of the campaign in 2 or three years anyway. Midlands campaign is unique because I have a beginning, the middle and the conclusion fleshed out. What makes it a sandbox is that the players are free to choose and act as they wish while the time ticks and runs through its course. There is no railroading or a story arch; what we have instead is the sweeping flow of events, like a war, but not quite, that will wash everything away or now; so that characters may never come across the antagonist, or they may, or they may join forces with it.

I am almost ready for the game. I have two dungeon sites in mind, those are easy. It is fun to write out the story line, and that itself is an adventure for me, without combat or hex exploration, or the dungeon crawl. I had a four hour one on one game session, with one of my players, whose character almost got killed, who spent a month in game time recuperating in a village, almost no hit points and no capacity to fight. These were all role playing encounters of meeting people, befriending them or not, and making decisions about what to do. I just laid out a social encounter table and a bunch of NPC's and the story took off on its own. The player had the excellent common sense to avoid all of the scripted pitfalls, and then some, and did quite well for himself. He paid the local smith a good sum for a high quality blade, then went to look for some bones (were used for their calcium to make high quality steel during the dark ages), and by a dint of a randomly generated event, he risked his life and found some special stuff that made for a magical weapon, in the creation of which the player role played participation. So, that part is the only one that needs doing before I can run the next session.

Then there is the trio of the humongous projects that I got:

1- I want to do a system, where all the game data is inputted, and the computer configures and prints out a character sheet with a stat display configured to a specific character class. I have laid out a DM's display, where each character's skill checks and to hit and be hit rolls are pre-figured and laid out with all of their unique bonuses and penalties applied, so I just need to look up the stat and roll as I am telling the story. Still working on it.

2- I am creating a database of all the monsters from MM1, MM2, Fiend Folio and all of the AD&D 2nd supplements. It is searchable by level, terrain type, and creature type.

3-I have yet to start doing a similar thing for all of the spells. Different spell groups (Magic User, Illusionist, Wu Jen) and schools of magic will be tied to specific regions and cultures of the game world and specific wizards guilds etc, for the players to have to search for via adventuring.

I already have some sort of a computer generated character sheet, so I am good to go, if I relax my perfectionism and desire to have everything completed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Getting Back in the Game

I have a bunch of candles. All different sizes, different ornate candle holders, frozen candle wax in intricate flows and rivulets frozen in time. I haven't lit them in quite a while, because I hadn't had time. Two very important activities in my life is writing and D&D. The latter being a form of the former. I hadn't had time to write, except at work, and poetry disguised as routine texts with my girlfriend. I have a blog that nobody reads, least of all my players, for whom this thing was initially set up to give background reading for the game. Game ended when the girlfriend moved in. That had something to do with it, but coincidentally, the campaign completed its two year and a half year life span at the same time, one of the players moved on, I got promoted and reassigned at work. It wasn't a perfect storm, but things have changed.

My homebrew AD&D campaign is something that I could never publish - a derivative syncretism of the others rules and work from about 20 years ago. I could salvage a fantasy novel based on the setting and only some of the events, and could potentially write a ground breaking fantasy role playing game supplement, but that's not the point. I was drawn and mystified by the D&D illustrations of the fantastic world full of magic on the edge of reality with its unexplored forests and mountains looming in the distance. This was akin to the concept of the musical album cover art from the seventies. Whatever the music, whatever the artist, the album cover featured a high quality drawing of a concept or illustration designed to get the record sold. Very little of the musical recording matched what was on the cover. It was a difficult venture for a kid spending a small fortune of ten dollars for a record that in all likelihood will sound awful. World of D&D was similar - it promised the romance of the exploration and of the unknown, but featured all too human combat, monsters, and treasure, even the magic in the game was mundane and functional, especially, when compared with the genuine eastern mysticism.

Had I picked up the Moldway red box set and played right there and then, I may have seen what the game really was, as it was played, left it behind and moved on, but I came from a small town, population of 1500 smack into the middle of New York City, and it took a while for me to find friends, and even longer to find a D&D game. In the meantime the seed grew, picking up, where memories of my small town, Bradbury like, in places, ended. Back then, we would walk around between our school, and our homes, the movie theater and the single strip mall that we had, and we talked of the mysteries of the space and of the UFOs, ancient civilizations and archeological dog sites, and wars and politics, and nuclear weapons and of dangerous criminals, competing in story-telling and in playing war, and out all that ball of beeswax something approaching a long term live action role-playing game emerged. It had no formal rules, but it HAD rules, you couldn't make too outrageous claims when role playing some imperial grand duke, and pissing contests were a no-no, and there was even a single six sided die, that was used when the game took on the form of playing with the toy soldiers.

I had a pretty decent success recreating the same atmosphere, if not the mood, at my AD&D game table. By dint of the lack of experience, I let a mega dungeon get in the way of the developing campaign. It was the equivalent of the trench warfare in the art of the tactical troop movement in more ways than one. And so, D&D is part of my soul and I will get the game running again. Getting a player a two is no big deal, getting a steady group of six is almost an insurmountable challenge. Developing a story to play is easy, dungeon even easier, but the underground adventure grown like fungus, and if left unchecked, can consume your campaign story setting like cancer. That is, if you are like me, and have a grand mysterious world outside the dungeon. The real challenge is getting the D&D done in the face of other priorities and activities in your life.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I love D&D. I love D&D world building, adventure writing, running the game, recruiting the players. The whole thing! For the longest time I could not find the game to join or the players to run my own game. Then again, having spent 19 years in a career field, what is having discovered the game at 13, having first false starts and spurts at 14, and 15, and having found the first game 8 years later and being done with it the first time around 4 years hence in 1992? CRPG's were my first real introduction to fantasy role playing. Remember the Pool of Radiance era and Wasteland Gold Box text-based RPG games? I skipped over the Bard's Tale, Ultima, and Diablo.

How time flies. I got my very busy real job and then in 1998 I went to Comp USA (remember those?) asked around, and walked out with the copy of the Baldur's Gate I spend about $90.00 on. Five years later, having played through Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Icewind Dale and its expansion, Arcanum, I strated reading Gary Gygax's Players Handbook again, this time very carefully and from cover to cover, sitting on a park bench and watching Manhattan in the rays of the setting Sun from some overgrown dunes. Three years later I started playing D&D again.

Now the tide has ebbed and I am getting ready to start a new game. It just so happened that I went out and bought the complete compilation of those early games - BG 1 + 2 and its expansions, Icewind Dale 1 + 2, Planescape: Torment, and Temple of Elemental Evil, the real reason I got that boxed set. I have grown addicted to BG1, and now am in better control of my passions.

Seeing BG1 with the jaundiced eye of experience, I am amazed at the quality of the game! When I played for the first time, I had no internet, no spoilers, and I muddled my way through and later completed the Tales of the Sword Coast, after I defeated Sarevok, and screwed up part of that story two by not saving a critical junction in the game, not retrieving a critical piece of equipment, and hence leaving one of the four quests permanently locked. Same reason I did not finish the Planescape: Torment - I found a weakness to exploit, and then the game punished me by not letting me finish the quest.

Playing the game again, I was able to make a better sense of its cultural influences. There are two major commercial settings for D&D - Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk, and the post- Gygaxian TSR's Forgotten Realms. These are two very different settings. Both are a hodge-podge of the real world's cultures in the D&D's funhouse mirror. Gygax's Greyhawk reflected the cold was and the 1970's, and featured a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Apparently inspired by the medieval continental Europe and the Low Countries, it featured Elfin and Aryan Sueli, who unleashed a plague on their arch-enemies - the generic Asian and Middle-Eastern Bakluni, who retaliated with the rain of colourles fire, very much like a massive thermonuclear strike, that left behind a Sea of Dust. That world also featured the red-skinned Flanae indigenous people, who seemed most like Native Americans. The Forgotten Realms setting, by comparison, seem to have been inspired by the post-cold war Balkans, with the miniature enclaves of the various peoples and real world cultures. Baldur's Gate is set in Forgotten Realms, and to me it had the exotic feel of the Baltics, from that opening movie with the tower, and the knight in a Teutonic helmet, and the main story of the protagonist trying to kill off all of his half-siblings so that he may be the only heir to the throne. The game has definite East European overtones, with the Berserker Minsc of the Roshemon and with half-Elven Jaheira speaking with a Slavic accent and being an émigré daughter of a land-owner driven off his land by revolting peasants.

Having done some additional research, I discovered that there really is a Baldur's Gate, in the Baltics! In a place called Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg (King's Castle). It is a decaying Russian enclave surrounded by the thriving Baltic States. During WW2 it was an SS fortress based on a medieval castle. While occupying the Russian royal family's summer retreat in Pushkin, the Nazis ripped off all of its artwork, that was not evacuated by the Soviets, including the entire contents of the "Amber Chamber". It was a room all finished in genuine amber. Nazis ripped all the valuable stone panels off, literally, 180 square feet and 6 tons of amber and precious stones worth 142 Million in today's dollars, boxed it, and shipped it all under guard to Konigsberg, from where it disappeared. Rumors had it that the SS hid the crates in the catacombs under Konigsberg castle, and before they fled, they flooded the catacombs with the Baltic seawater, sealing them forever and killing off the forced laborers and prisoners that they kept in the dungeons under the castle. An investigation by a British journalist conducted in 2004, claims that the amber room either burned after a bombing raid or burned after the looting Russians set the museum on fire, which is highly unlikely, since Stalin and the Soviet intelligence knew about the location and wanted the amber room.

So, a bit of a historical mystery and a bit of a historical conspiracy and the awesome, wonderful CRPG Baldur's Gate, that is based on the same location, and I love it how all of the identified magical items in the game include their provenance, like the expensive art and antiques in our own real world.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


I got my first D&D rule set in 1982, when I was 14, and I been into pencil and paper fantasy role playing games ever since. That doesn't mean I played, since then, of course, finding other players was the hardest part. Creating worlds was easy by comparison. I started playing almost immediately, rolled my first character as soon as I brought the books home. I took me an hour and a half and it was a Magic User. I played my first game with my dad and my brother within that month. It was a disaster, I didn't get a number of game mechanics and managed to turn off both of them to the game. There were two games I played in while at high school. First lasted 15 minutes at the high school library, when a librarian threw me out during my lunch period. It was one of the small feats of petty axxholedness on part of a teachers assistant that have greater repercussions down the road - that game was nipped in the bud. I played with another fellow, a future prominent poet and a songwriter, it was one on one, I played in his world, he played in mine.

I started playing in the days before the internet and the whole D&D thing was mysterious. The people behind the books in hobby shops, obscure game supplements, hard cover books and game modules that I couldn't afford, the game designers, like mysterious overlords. I played by all the rules, inquiring at the local library and at the hobby shop about games, and eventually found two games. I was in college by then. I didn't last very long in either game. In one, I was a bit older than other kids and we got another player, a construction guy who was, like 35 to my, maybe 21 years to other's 15 and 18 years of age. The game got rid of us, no doubt thanks to the influence of the parents. The other game was humongous affair held at the local public library that involved sixteen players and had a middle aged mad philosopher of a DM, who thought that Catholicism was a Lawful Good religion with evil tendencies. That game was an exercise in boredom: We sat around a huge conference table, and waited 20-30 minutes until our turn came to see what we were doing, which was mostly waiting. Everyone created their own back story and a character, which didn't really matter, for we all were standing in line in front of the dungeon entrance and it took us 3 hours of real time enter the dungeon, advance thirty or fifty feet down the corridor, and find the mysterious writing on the wall that nobody could read. The game was a failure, but it served as a meeting ground for several small groups to start their own games. The game was like a committee of inquest, but in reverse: In a matter of seconds, an accident occurs, that takes some lives, and forever changes others. In the aftermath, boards of inquiry and committees sit in long meetings recreating the tragic events in excruciating detail. Ina large D&D game the reverse happens: A group of players led by DM sits in a long sessions, hammering out what actually happens in a few minutes of intense combat and exploration. That aspect of D&D is also reminiscent of one other dynamic. In post WW2 military adventures and before arrival of the ubiquitous choppers in Vietnam, patrols were done by large and long columns and convoys of vehicles. The front of the column of the side might be ambushed and attacked by the enemy, and that sector would be involved in combat, while the rest of the column would spend hours just smoking and waiting for the vehicles to start moving again.

Some in D&D gaming is a predictable cliché of D&D as a psychological coping mechanism. Here I was, a large dude, driving a truck to pay for college, boxing and playing war-games with real weapons in my national guard unit, having my D&D character pistol whipped by barbarian giant, played by a tiny little 13 year old from a broken home hiding behind thick specks. Less predictably, I got thrown out of a game, after my thief was attacked by another player character, thief drew knife and managed to kill the attacker with a natural 20. I was not invited to that game again, because I fight with and I kill other PC's. True to form, the douche bag of that DM didn't know that I knew and carried on as if he was my friend. There were two  ore interesting things that clued me in, that there was more going on in the game, than just D&D. I ran a brief game, where players filled out their character sheets with the biographic details of their alter egos. Fifteen years later, these biographic details became real, for most part, contrary to their own and their families' expectations. Much later, I was sitting in a patrol car with a grizzled police sergeant close to retirement and I explained D&D to him. And he exclaimed: Those guys are playing an armed robbery! Open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure! Force your way in, shoot the victim, take the money!

Friday, February 7, 2014


The game is on hiatus. Season ONE is done and Season TWO is in Production. It did not have to ground to a halt, but it did for all the typical reasons. I was running the game with about a session every two or three weeks while working 50-60 hours per week. I took vacation days to prep for play, fell asleep while DMing once or twice, but I managed. Then the love of my life moved in with me and I got a promotion, that put a dent. One of my players quit because of added job pressures and family obligations eating more of his time. Typical so far. I ran the same dungeon previously and came to the point of completion and a new adventure needing to be written. No time to write/writer's block. The end of the dungeon had a last game sessions, the reception of the heroes by the grateful Baron and the political intrigue that set up the next adventure. It went wonderfully the first time, but fizzled and I had to stop during the second time around, because there was a very different group dynamic among the player characters and NPC's, and I had to stop to rethink the events and conflicts of the final sessions. At the time I wrote it, I forgot how rooted it was in the interpersonal dynamics of the players at the time and I needed to rewrite it.

Then as I started working on the next adventure for the campaign, I realized that I have created a bunch of new game dynamics, and that those needed a review and an integration in to my DMing style. Then there was an issue of the computerized character sheet I use. I developed software so that the character sheet takes on a configuration appropriate to the character class you pick, i.e. it changes its layout based on what you type into it, and I needed to review how I display my information so that I can streamline my heads up display. Finally, I wanted to review and integrate the mass of Dungeon Master's Guides I have from First to the 4th Edition.

Essentially I have a whole Unified Theory of AD&D to work on, and this is a pure labor of love, since there is no potential for any real world application or publication in it.

Friday, January 24, 2014


The first time I read the words Dungeons and Dragons, it was not on any book that had anything to do with the game. I was in 7th grade going to the Joseph Pulitzer Middle School in Queens, NY. There was a temporary building that housed the 6th grade. The whole side of the building was painted with the motif of four life sized dragons, their scales done in Exquisite detail, I remember the Red Dragon, a Green Dragon, a Blue Dragon, and a Black Dragon against the background of a lake, a rocky shoreline, pine trees, a mountain and a distant castle, silhouetted near the top.

It looked unusual and mysterious, and later someone told me that D&D is a special kind of  a game and about the same time we heard about the suicide of someone, who played D&D. That same year my parents pushed me to play sports and I opted for a karate school, found a Ninja school, and then a kid who took Taw Kwon Do told me that Ninja school wasn't a karate school, but an art that might take a lifetime to master, and wouldn't tell me any more, and so I ended up wearing a black gee and kicking a punching bag at a school that had Gary Busey's brother Robert as its head sensei. The year was 1981, I was 13, none of this signified at the time, and I started on my life-long journey, that led nowhere. Sometime before that, I entered a local hobby shop with trepidation and bought a brand new Moldway Red Box Basic Set.

It took a while after that, before I played my first game, and it paled in comparison with the expectation of the great and magical and the mysterious, which that painting inspired in me. I couldn't get enough and between 1985 and 1990 I collected every role playing game and every Avalon Hill fantasy game that I could get my hands on. I drove a truck to support my habit and to pay for my college. Enlisted to pursue the dream of the man at arms walking along he shore towards the burning city in the distance. Had no time for friends OR D&D between working two jobs, going to school full time and participating in my reserve unit. But I wrote, dictating stories and term papers into my portable tape recorded as I drove on long hauls and I dreamed of D&D. It wasn't the world of the AD&D game modules, none of which I could afford at the time, but my own world, and there was that longing to play.

I played some, in college. It sucked. I tried running my own games set to my own stories having more to do with the subject of the "Escape From New York" the movie, "Dawn of the Dead", and Survivalism. I fascinated two or three players with my stories, told over 2 - 4 hour session as beginning briefings for campaigns that never materialized. I graduated in 1990 and at that time I was lucky enough to have found an engaging and original homebrew D&D campaign. Later I came to realize that all D&D campaigns are homebrew. DM moved away shortly after I got out of college, I gave away all my play things in anticipation of the adult life and in preparation for chasing other goals, what a mistake THAT was. I didn't get back into D&D until 2003, when I decided to make sense of the phenomenon by reading the Players handbook from cover to cover. Three years later I ran my first campaign with players who never been exposed to the game.