About Me

Saturday, June 11, 2016


A couple of days ago, Noisms posted an interesting article in his Monsters and Manuals blog. It deals with the cultural context in which D&D emerged in the U.S. in the 1970's and 1980's and measures it against the cultural kitsch of the Tiki escapism. The post is here.

I just want to add, that Tiki was not all kitsch to the California people, who enjoyed it. This was late 1940's and 1950's, those dudes fought a horrifying and a brutal war in the Pacific, and when they came back, they got engineering degrees on the G.I. Bill and took on well paying engineering job in the Aerospace industry. In the meantime, they were enjoying themselves, and their social privilege, such as that they had, and having money and enjoying the world of sex, shiny cars, booze, and tobacco. And escaping into Tiki bars, lifiting weights on the muscle beach, and surfing, and martial arts and occasional bouts of eastern philosophy, that was just staring to take hold on the left coast. To their hippie offspring, they became squares, but they themselves were simply enjoying life after not dying in the horror of the Pacific. Skip a few years into the future, and you get a fairly decent, I enjoyed it, article about the context of D&D, and then Noisms wrote about his unique context of his D&D in 1994, and I got to thinking about my 1994 and the context of my D&D, The Midlands, and here it is:

D&D was on an eleven year hiatus for me in 1994. I started playing in 1981 with the Tom Moldvay Red Box basic set, when I was 13. It was a model hobby shop that sold it to me. I had no idea what it was, I ran a newspaper route for the guy, little did I know that I worked for next to nothing. The guy sold me the Basic Set and went out of business the next day. I heard of D&D scare among the parents and teachers and knew nothing else. By 1985 I was into Gygax’s AD&D 1st Edition.

I went to seventh grade at the IS 145 in New York, and they had a temporary building to handle the overcrowding. Someone painted a mural along the entire length of the temporary building facing he school playground. It was a mural depicting a panorama of the gray lakeshore and heavy pine forest featuring dark greens and browns. There was a silhouette of a castle in the distance against the backdrop of grey mountain peaks, and there were dragons! There was Red Dragon, and there was a Green Dragon, and there was a Blue Dragon and a Black Dragon. They were not life-size dragon drawings, as the temporary building was only one story tall, but they were definitely larger than man-size. In one corner, instead of the artist’s name, someone signed it simply as “Dungeons and Dragons”. The year was 1979-1980. I looked at it and was mystified, every time I went to that playground during lunch. So, to me, D&D was always about the Wilderness, the Exploration, and the Mystery, and dungeon building and room stocking was a guilty pleasure. That is why I always write my own adventures and settings to DM.

I quickly got disillusioned with D&D, because it did not have a realistic combat system, combat is never linear, and moved on to other games. I owned pretty much everything that came out between 1982 and 1988. AH Runequest, Man Myth and Magic, Espionage! Gamma World, hated Top Secret as unrealistic, Escape From New York was my favorite movie and Aftermath and Twilight 2000 (first edition), were my favorite two games. Also had Call of Cthulu and Chill! which was like Cthulu Lite. Somewhere there also were the Illuminati card game, and Car Wars and Battletech, both quasi-RPG’s. Met dedicated martial artists in high school, who were religiously playing the Iron Crown’s Character Law, Arms Law, Claw Law, Spell Law series of books, each was hard bound and cost a fortune, I couldn’t afford, so I never got into it. In the military I ran into a bunch of much older guys playing GURPS and talking how Steve Jackson’s ex-wife was driving him nuts and taking his money. By 1992 I got my college degree and found my first professional job. Idiot that I was, I gave away my treasure trove, thinking I will have a career and not enough time for D&D!

I never really stopped playing CRPG’s at home late at night, starting with the Gold Box games, and moving on to the Baldur’s Gate and Fallout, when they first came out. When Fallout 3 came out, it was transformed into a first-person shooter, and I didn’t like it any more. In 2003, I found some friends and decided to start gaming again. I thought for a while, decided on D&D, though a while longer, decided that between all of the versions, I will get into Gygax AD&D first edition, but it will be mixed with Runequest skill system and Vancian Magic had to go – not enough action for the Magic Users, also MU’s can learn the sword and the light crossbow, if they spend skill slots on them. Historically, the crossbow was the rule changer. It took a British Yeoman a lifetime to learn the Longbow, but the crossbow can be taught anyone in 1-3 days, and a mere untrained man can punch through a knight’s breast plate at a close range. For that reason, Crossbows were banned in the British Isles. Magic User with a Crossbow reflects that reality. I got everything ready and ran the first session in 2006.

Regarding music, it is a part of my writing process as a soundtrack to a movie. I have invented stories for songs, and found songs that complement the story. The first D&D Midlands campaign ran from 2006 to 2009, and I made a music CD for the with the songs to match the key moments in the story and in the game. It is an eclectic mix of obscure stuff and some unreleased cafĂ© bardic music. I like all of the songs, naturally; the players inevitably found a song or two that knocked their socks off, but did not like as much the collection as a whole. Notable songs on it were – Ashes to Ahes, live, by Steve Earle; Rainmaker, Sand and Blood, The Amulet by Planet P; Take Another Look, by The Cars; Still I Am Sad instrumental version by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow; Ice by Medeski Martin and Wood; Black Blue White by Wang Chung, and Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme) by The Tangerine Dream (that’s a 1977 tonka truck jungle adventure movie, not anything magical. This music sounds so scary and unsettling, I matched it to the moment, where the players burst into the Necromancer’s laboratory and discover evidence of human experimentation. One of the major treasure troves in this adventure was a set of antique silver vivisection tools that could be worth a small fortune to a Necromancer, unfortunately if the players were to get caught in possession of said tools, it would be the hangman’s noose for them. It never crossed he players’ minds, that the surgical tools can be valuable, and they did not take them.)

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