Thursday, 29 November 2018

Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana

I recently bought Dungeons and Dragons, Art and Arcana, a huge book full of images of D&D paraphenalia and a concise history of the publishing history of D&D in its various incarnations over time.

I've never been a (A)D&D player. When I started playing roleplaying games in the mid-eighties, I was totally addicted to Warhammer, and hence Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was my preferred system. I gamesmastered every single adventure that was published, and The Enemy Within campaign still is the pinnacle of my GM career. The only other game I played regularly was Call of Cthulhu. All other game systems were limited to a single adventure lasting only a few sessions, and that also included some (A)D&D adventures. The original Ravenloft module is still fondly remembered.

That doesn't mean I didn't own any D&D material. I used to buy a ton of roleplay related stuff in the 80s and 90s as inspiration for my WFRP campaigns, and that included a fair amount of D&D books and adventures. I sold most of them again after a few years, but still have some of the basic rulebooks, spread over different editions.

It's hard to say why we never really got into (A)D&D. I guess we felt too sophisticated as roleplayers. preferring the Lovecraftian setting of Call of Cthulhu, or the dark medieval setting of Warhammer, rather than the somewhat fancy, high-fantasy settings of (A)D&D. Personally, I always felt that the settings of (A)D&D reflected an American view on what a medieval fantasy world should look like, as compared to a more grim and realistic view favoured by Europeans, whose history it all is based on. There is a certain dose of down-to-earth realism that you get when a real medieval castle is literally around the corner, instead of only having heard about it or having seen it in romanticized movies.

But anyway, the Art and Arcana book is an excellent book for anyone interested in the origins and development of roleplaying games. It shows a host of products, books, modules, spin-off products, along with many of the adverts and covers of gaming magazines that are very recognizable and bring back strong memories.

It is also enlightening to read about how business decisions were made by TSR (does anyone remember when using T$R was in vogue on Usenet?) or Wizards of the Coast to gain marketshare in the broader gaming market. Indeed, the popularity of Magic the Gathering during the nineties, or computer games, or Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, and the response to those, are all nicely explained.

(A)D&D has never been, and probably will never be my primary choice for fantasy roleplaying, but this book is a must-have for anyone who wants to take a trip down memory lane. Highly recommended!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

"Piggy Bank" scenery

A nice find in the local 2nd hand shop ("Kringwinkel"), 3 buildings that are really piggy banks, for 1 euro each. When I find the time, I might repaint them and give them a somewhat less brown/gray/dark appearance.

28mm figures, and 54mm figures are shown for size comparisons.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

CRISIS 2018: Impressions

I already posted about CRISIS 2018 before (our own game, and da loot), but here I will give some general impressions about the show. I have attended all CRISIS show since 2001 (and one in 1997, I missed 3 years because I was living in the US at the time), and our gaming group has run demo- and participation games every year since 1997. So, my views are mostly through the eyes of a participating club member, and not a trader, a visitor, or a member of the organization.

As we have come to expect from the organizing club TSA, the organization was very professional and flawless. From the time I entered the parking lot around 8.00 till the time I left around 17.30, all members of TSA were friendly and helpful. This is often visible in small things: pointing out where you can park the car to unload, a small friendly chat during the day, the staff manning the bar, or the people running the food stand. Especially the food stand is something many other conventions should be jealous about: pies, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, ... and this year even a classic Belgian dish, vol-au-vent with fries! So a big thank you to all people involved in the organization.

As for the show itself, there was a good mix between traders and games. There was a good atmosphere, and overall a very friendly setting, as it should be. However, there were a few things I noticed (and these are personal impressions, so other people might feel differently):
  • A big show such as CRISIS tends to become a shopping mall rather than a meeting point for wargamers. As someone told me: "It seems more and more people are here to pick up their pre-ordered stuff, and then they're gone." And someone else: "People were already leaving around noon - I never saw that before." I also noticed this in my small circle of wargaming friends. It used to be many of them would come and hang out for the day (sometimes even helping out with the game we're running), now most of them come by for an hour of two, do some shopping, say hello, and that's it. Perhaps this is an unavoidable trend, but it makes you wonder what the real purpose of a wargaming convention is. Don't get me wrong, it's still fun to talk to many old friends, but somehow, the intensity of it has changed. I also felt there was less of a "buzz". Attendance seemed lower compared to previous years (especially Hall 1 felt less crowded), but that's perhaps due to a better lay-out plan?
  • As a side-effect of the above, it becomes more difficult to talk to other visitors. We always try to engage with "strangers" taking a look at our gaming table, but over the years, I have noticed that people are not really interested in chatting anymore. They simply want to take pictures (which is ok) without interacting (which is less ok), and then they're quickly gone. Of course, there are still people who want to chat, but again, the focus and intensity has shifted somewhat.
  • It's very interesting to see how gaming interests shift over the years. This year, I barely saw any GW games, as opposed to let's say a few years ago, where you could still see Warhammer or 40K games. It seems people have moved on from GW, although many traders till have piles of GW stuff for sale.
  • The demo and participation games have reached such high levels, that it is almost becoming ridiculous. We have run games for many years (and have won a few prizes), but what some gaming groups are showing, well, that's something we can never accomplish given our time budget. On the other hand, it's also clear that some demo games have so much money invested in them, that they cease to become a wargame "you can play at home". I always felt a wargame at a show should be something you have designed and built yourself, not something you simply bought off-the-shelf by throwing a lot of money at it. There is a grey zone, of course, but it's obvious some gaming groups are putting huge amounts of time and money in their games. Now, such games are a joy to look at - so much detail, so many figures, so much work - but they really are dioramas, moving dioramas at best. It's hard to imagine such games are something you can try at home.
    There's of course a philosophical issue here - what's the purpose of a show game? Showing the best hobby as to offer visually? That certainly makes games gravitate towards the visually spectacular. Demonstrating lesser known game systems? Or showing novel and original gaming mechanics? The latter becomes very difficult at a show were people only want to spend a few minutes at your table (however, see our CRISIS 2013 Red-vs-Blue game which was designed around the idea of micro-participation!). I guess only the future will tell.
Personally, this CRISIS did not feel like a top year to me. Overall, it was a still a positive experience, but somehow, I didn't have the same positive vibes I had in previous years. Bart and I (our 2-man gaming group) were pondering whether we should still run a game next year - maybe doing it 22 years in a row has been too long, and we are experiencing CRISIS-fatigue? - and I want to experience the convention from the point-of-view of a visitor one day: spending enough time at each of the booths, spending time at the other game tables, doing everything at your own pace rather than having the pressure of manning your table all the time ... something to think about!

I took some pictures of the games (but certainly not all, and sorry, I didn;t write down the club names), but for a very extensive photo report, see Tomsche's blogpost.

Crisis 2018: Da Loot!

A show such as CRISIS is always a good opportunity to get the wargaming juices flowing again, and buying new things is definitely part of that.

So, here's my pile of loot I hauled back home:

In no particular order of importance:
  • Black Powder, version 2. We have played a lot of Black Powder games over the years, so it was sort of a given I would buy the new rulebook. However, as I explained to many people I chatted with when we ran our game, we don't really care about an 100% correct interpretation of the rules. We modify all our rules according to our own uninformed opinions anyway, so I have no clue how "true" we still are to the BP rules as written. But anyway, nice book!
  • Refighting History, vols 4, 5, 6. Once you start a collection of books, it's hard to stop. I really like these books, they are a tremendous source of inspiration for the gentlemen-wargamer. In due time, they will be added to the Magazine Index.
  • Strontium Dog, starter set. I posted about this before.
  • Wargamer's Annual: same remarks as Refighting History ...
  • Naval Secrets of Wargaming Design: the 8th volume in a series that reprints the artcles written by Wally Simon. Very inspirational, especially if you're more of a wargamer-tinkerer rather than a wargamer-consumer.
  • War Games through the Ages, Don Featherstone: picked it up for 13 Euro, and a nice addition to my library of classic wargaming books.
  • 2nd hand scifi minis: great for our Antares campaign - which reminds me that we should get this fired up again.
  • Some minis from Brother Vinni ...
  • And a bunch of blisters with old fantasy miniatures. I'm a sucker for the classic fantasy lines, and if one can pick up a bunch of blisters for 2 euro a piece, I'm always there to scoop them up.
I also sold some things:
  • An unpunched version of Avalon's Hill Afrika Korps.
  • A bunch of old roleplaying materials, mainly Runequest,  ICE, and Pendragon stuff.
Selling such old and classic gaming materials always results in fun conversations filled with nostalgia and stories from the good old days.

Battle of Landshut at CRISIS 2018

Yesterday we ran a demo-game at CRISIS 2018. The game was based on the battle of Landshut between Austria and Bavaria, 1809. This was our 22nd consecutive game we staged at the CRISIS show.

I'll write up my show impressions in a future post, but here are some pictures of our own game. The theoretical pan was to run the game using Black Powder rules, but in practice we kriegs-spieled the game, suggesting developments and then jointly attributing a probability to it tod ecide the subsequent flow of events. This is usually a better format for a non-participation game at a con, since the game is meant as a starting point for discussions and conversations about wargaming, and not a classic game as you would play at home.

The figures and scenery are all from Bart's collection, apart from a few small scenery items and animal figures which came out of my "farm scenery" drawer.

Initial setup
Austrians trying to cross the bridge - defended by Bavarians.
An overview of the Isar river.
Another overview of the initial setup.
A view from the Bavarian lines.
Bavarian columns marching towards the battlefield.
Bart explaining the game.
The game is proceeding at a leisurely pace.
The windmill was a central piece of scenery on the gaming table.
Austrian reiniforcements marching across a pontoon bridge across the Isar.