Sunday, January 31, 2010


"The 2 May 1991 issue of The Washington Times reports that Randy Bird of Portland, Oregon is attempting to revive the "dime novel" paperback. He plans to publish 12 novellas each month, including pulp-type science fiction.
Bird's company, called DimeNovels, will pay $2000 for a completed manuscript plus 2% of the gross. He plans a press run of 100,000 copies per book.
DimeNovels has written guidance for wannabe authors. Who knows where this could lead!"...

This was a short-lived publishing attempt 1990-1992 that issued 18 imprints only.  They reprinted two novellas by the great Robert Sheckley: "Mind Warp and Alien Starswarm."  A selection from their covers:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Black Festival Going to Press

I am proud and excited to offer our first Swords & Sorcery fiction in the form of my novella, "Black Festival."

My Barbarian Frank, Wolfar, dominates this tale of 20,000+ words along with his off-and-on companion the rogue, Thekela.  Written in the style of Gardner Fox's and REH's Kyrik and Conan tales, I know that this will satisfy.  This will soon be available from Noble Knight games (link above).  We are only issuing 150 impressions and they will be signed and numbered by myself.  Be looking for a *specific* release date in the next 2 weeks from myself and NKG.

If anyone has questions, feel free to ask away.  Here's the prolog and back page matter...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gary Con II, Honoring the Memory of The Father of Role-Playing Games

Greetings Seekers,

The Gary Con II Event catalogue is posted on the website ( Check out the Distinguished Guests (including Robilar himself!) and the featured events. Everyone that pre-registers will be able to reserve 2 slots before the doors open. Featured events will fill up quickly- so don't delay.

For those that don't know, Gary Con II will be held 19-21 March at the Lodge at Geneva Ridge in beautiful Lake Geneva, WI. Go to the Gary Con website to pre-register ( It is only $20 for all three days!

I look forward to seeing you all there, playing games and honoring the memory of The father of Role-Playing Games.

Luke Gygax

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Another great author of both fantasy/horror-fiction and non-fiction, and a superb book that I am reading of hers--The Encyclopedia of Amazons--and well worth the time spent for inspiration regarding woman warriors, past to (near) present.

Also note her website here which is a treasure trove of information (including extensive essays) on fantasy, legend and the supernatural.  Thanks Jessica (and all of her friends and associates)!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

From the Desk Top: The Pursuit of Good Game Design

Some Principles of Good Game Design

irbyz said here: "Indeed, but avoiding wholesale re/conjuration of one's campaign world on a regular basis or because of poor decisions in its development that cannot be easily papered over is still perhaps worthwhile being wary of?"

The above quote is yet another starting point of thought on designing games/game scenarios/and world-crafting.  The overall idea might be recast in this way:  what we adhere to can or will force us upon a path.

Embarking upon game design involves many choices and tough questions.  Of course we know that the end result must be fun for the player(s).  But beyond that, and more importantly as the front matter to this, designers must ask these questions:  Who?  What? Where? When? Why? and How? before, during and after the design has been prototyped. For published RPG adventures this tenant is most important as it points to areas where they are weak and in need of improvement.  Designers, unlike fans of their games, must stand aside and let critical intercourse take place in order to effectively achieve their creative ends.  If this is not apparent in the initial process, or worse, if the chosen model  is a worn one, then it will not push the boundaries of design but will merely imitate something, with varying results.  This raises the question which should be at the heart of every designer to begin with:  Why?  If the answer is less than the sum of the reason for providing a new idea which has worth in standing apart from other models, then more questions need to be asked to pinpoint their 'why'.  If this process is outright ignored then good design will be ignored; and if one cares not for good design then ultimately they do not care for those who they design the games for and they or their fans must therefore question their artistic morals and/or reasons for proposing or accepting such designs to begin with.

Basing designs on past models is a practical approach and is used in most game designs over the history of games. Let us assume that we have a design proposal for an underground adventure emulating EGG's "D" series.  In fact, let us further propose that the designer "loved" them and wishes to cast his or her design in the same light.  All fine and good, but what is the purpose of said emulation? Why must there be emulation?  Fiction writers and fine artists face the same questions.  I love Hemingway.  Picasso was the best.  Emulation is in itself a flattery; but as our past publishing history has shown, not many unique designs spring forth from strictly limiting creative efforts to wholesale emulation.  When basing one's designs on past models designers must in course properly identify the overall utility for doing so; and while atomizing these parts there may be, in the best cases, found a base of tools for them to work with in creating something unique. These are components, like structure, theme, narrative transitions, dialog, style, design weight, creative range, and so forth.

Short Example:  The Theme. The "Theme" is about an underground adventure. Thematically this has been done a thousand or more times in fiction and RPG.  What will set yours apart from the rest?  Nothing as good as defining if the model has been much overused from the onset:  look around, if you want a unique design, one that will actually challenge your artistic fiber rather than just add another coal to a fire which everyone is throwing said lumps upon, then don't do what others are doing, that simple.

This then begs several questions, such as, "Are the models which precede our own designs unworthy or broken?"  The answer to that is simply no and/or maybe.  What one designer brought to bear on a theme is of consequence in considering ultimate design goals but all of these components are just guides.  But if you find yourself a mere imitator, or worse, only a shadowy part thereof, then the emulation is not worthy in any case, for it takes what is a good example and exalts it with faint praise, while in turn lowering the design standard.  Take for example the imitators of Tolkien's LotR for a good comparison.

The next question is, "Then what am I to do as a designer if faced with insurmountable choices of models to draw upon?"  In answer, one can design their own models.  It is similar to asking what car manufacturers ask every year in their competition with each other.  How will we make a better car that is more attractive to consumers?  More mileage, sexier, more room, drop down seats.  In essence, "Features."  Does this make each separately branded car better? Or is each just another car as every manufacturer is doing the same thing? We are now in a very general area of concern that rarely perpetuates truly unique designs but instead more often roots them to a mocking principle. Specifically, designers must look at their designs to add non-competitive features to them.  That is, do not look at the models beyond the fact of initial realization.  I have a car.  I have an underground adventure.  By peering too long at the path of others' designs, one will eventually walk these paths for better or worse. And as with car manufacturers, more often a designer will then be but a "tweaker" of what already is and has been done, and this is not unique design.  By adding non-competitive features to your design, it will start to grow in uniqueness and sooner or later, through nursing that growth, you'll have something that stands apart from the rest.

Free Form Expression and Thinking as a Tool to Excellent Design.

Note here a recent exchange on this blog that became, and still is, a free form exercise allowed to define its own limits.  What started as a speculative post by Journalizer takes upon multi-dimensions of exchange.  In essence, it becomes free from constraints and expectations.  There is fun in this participation as there are no set limits of proportion or form.  In essence this is ART.  It is at the same time PLAY.  And overall it is a real example of possibilities when one does not confine themselves to a box but instead plays with ranges of expression.  All good designers do this, and more often they do this out of need to continue separating the thought process from the here and now, to stay in the abstract playground of creative expression so that anything can, and will, eventually happen.

As a designer one must ask many questions to promote the idea of an expressive design to successful completion.  What am I expressing here? And why?  How will I best achieve that? If your "base" answer to the second question is 'My Expression should be unique' then you have won the first battle against mediocrity, one which otherwise destroys any long-lasting success at design.  It then remains up to you, the creator, to find a unique ground on which to express and build your creation.  But remember this:  I can express myself by driving a BMW, but that does not make me unique as there are thousands of them out there (and as a car salesman friend of mine once added to this, "Yeah, and even then it doesn't much matter for expression if they are leased...").  Same for any type of design.  Just because everyone is driving them indeed makes them the SAME, and therein should be found the glorious contradiction which puzzles and challenges all those who wish to create anything which reaches beyond these predefined limits.

As I began this article, so will I end it, with a quote from a Scotsman, this one from a letter written by Robert Louis Stevenson:



"I am Philistine enough to prefer clean printer's type; indeed, I can form no idea of the verses thus transcribed by the incult and tottering hand of the draughtsman, nor gather any impression beyond one of weariness to the eyes.  Yet the other day, in the CENTURY, I saw it imputed as a crime to Vedder that he had not thus travestied Omar Khayyam.  We live in a rum age of music without airs, stories without incident, pictures without beauty, American wood engravings that should have been etchings, and dry-point etchings that ought to have been mezzo-tints.  I think of giving 'em literature without words; and I believe if you were to try invisible illustration, it would enjoy a considerable vogue.  So long as an artist is on his head, is painting with a flute, or writes with an etcher's needle, or conducts the orchestra with a meat-axe, all is well; and plaudits shower along with roses.  But any plain man who tries to follow the obtrusive canons of his art, is but a commonplace figure.  To hell with him is the motto, or at least not that; for he will have his reward, but he will never be thought a person of parts." 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Re: Creative Stirrings. What is that metallic ball that has a sponge-like substance within it?

Spheres discussed on LotGD post called Creative Stirrings referring to JournalizeThis post The Problem with Science

The following is text from an article summarizing several accounts of Mystery Spheres Baffle Nasa:

A balanced and concentric ringed mystery spheroid

The riddle of the rotating spheres, that rotate completely, twice a year, on their own axis – "baffle NASA scientists"

Man and rock. Stones, which are billions of years old and rotate on their axes, while in a vibration free environment, captured the attention of Mr. John Hund of Pietersburg fifteen years ago. Review previously published reports about Hund's journey to the Gestoptesfontein mine near Ottosdal in the Northern Province where he found a stone just like the one he read about and saw in the Klerksdorp museum.

While playing with the stone on a very flat surface at a restaurant one day, Hund realized it was very well balanced. He took it to the California Space Institute at the University of California to have tests done to determine just how well balanced it was. "It turned out that the balance is so fine, it exceeded the limit of their measuring technology and these are the guys who make gyrocompasses for NASA.

The stone is balanced to within one-hundred thousandths of an inch from absolute perfection," explains Hund. Nobody knows what these stones are. One NASA scientist told Hund that they do not have the technology to create anything as finely balanced as this. He said the only way that either nature or human technology could create something so finely balanced would be in zero gravity.

Here is an extract of Mr. Hund's letter:

The existence of the sphere came to my attetion ca 1977 while removing endangered rock engravings from the site where pyrophyllite or "wonderstone", as it is commonly known in the region, is mined on the farm Gestoptefontein (meaning plugged fountain) near the little village of Ottosdal about 110 km from Klerksdorp in South Africa's Northwest Province.

I was intrigued by the form of the spheres, grooves around the middle and the fact that they are as hard as steel, while the material (pyrophyllite) in which they are found, is as soft as limestone with a count of only 3 on the Moh scale.

As you probably know, pyrophyllite (Al2 Si4 O10 (OH)2) is a secondary mineral and the deposits were formed by a process of sedimentation. On Gestoptefontein volcanic activity was responsible for the forming of outcrops varying in height from about 10 to 100 meters. The smooth and relatively soft surface on the slopes were ideal for the prehistoric dwellers (San) to make their engravings of animal and abstract designs.

On Gestoptefontein these outcrops were "swan" into huge pieces by means of twisted steel cables running zig-zag on pulleys for several kilometers. These blocks were then cut by the same method into more manageable pieces of about 500 x 500 mm. Occasionally the "sawing cable" got stuck on one of the metal spheres embedded in the pyrophyllite.

They vary in size from " 30 – 50 mm in diameter and have perfectly concentric grooves round the center as if they were molded. Inside the hard "shell" some have a spongy substance, while in others it resembles charcoal.

When only partly embedded so that they can be seen on the surface, they are not all spheres, but some are also oblong in form.

According to Professor Andries Bisschoff of the University of Potchefstroom (retired some years ago) they are limonite concretions. Due to the relative scarcity of the spheres and the almost impossibility for outsiders to obtain samples from the mine, his conclusions have not been verified by other scientists.

It is very strange that the grooves are always and only round the center. Mr. Credo Mutwa, a notorious witch doctor from the city of Soweto was brought to the museum by a TV – team some years ago and he as well as some amateur archaeologists believed the spheres to be from outer space. It is also hard for me to believe their theory. The original sphere exhibited in this museum was stolen by a white sangoma (witch – doctor) - not Mr. Mutwa, for its supposedly magic qualities and was never retrieved.

Inquiries were made from all over the world about this phenomenon. Countries include Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, England, USA, Norway, France and Botswana. Institutions such as the University of South Florida, Miles Price and Associates, the Society for Physic Advancement (S.A), Kokkolan Kaupunchi (Finland), Esotera (Germany) Geologisches Institut der Universiteit Pleicherwall (Germany), the Department of Philosophy UICC (Chicago), Danfoss (Denmark), Illustreret Videnskab (Coppenhagen), Louisiana Geological Survey, Gale Research Company (Michigan) and Search and Research Institute of Florida also made inquiries.

I wrote NASA HQ, to confirm or deny this in 2000, and never received a reply. Mr. Hund's letter was removed from the Klerksdorp Museum page, afterwards, when I checked back some time later, and the page re-designed.


Text from:
Mystery Spheres Baffle Nasa

Off the Record. Ted Loman interviews Micheal Cremo
Forbidden Archeology Secret Discoveries of Early Man
Govardhan Hill Publishing
Closest Natural Mineral to Compare With
The Metamorphic Conjecture of Origin
Manganese Oxide Considerations in Metamorphic Conjecture
Pyrite Nodules Resemblance in Metamorphic Conjecture
Images: Gallery of Mystery

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Welcome Back to the Creative Fold." Extracted from my In Progress Memoirs

Copyright 2010.  Robert J. Kuntz.

"... After I quit TSR I embarked upon a massive self-learning and creative phase, with all the joys and bumps associated with it. This included continued world-crafting of my World of Kalibruhn, creation of related and ancillary RPG matter, fantasy- and science-fiction story crafting and board game design. For the latter I finished three prototype designs:  "Ice Age," "Dragons" and "Magus" with the last to eventually find publication in Dragon Magazine 147.  These were in turn submitted to the Avalon Hill Game Company which rejected them, though with a nice letter of response favoring the "Dragons" game wherein one adopted the role of a dragon.  Since I believed through the play-tests that the strongest one was "Magus," I ventured onward, first to Mayfair Games, who took too long considering it, so I finally pulled it back.  I then decided to take the bunch to the Dragon Magazine and therefore arranged a meeting with its editor (who I shall not name, other than it was not Tim Kask, Kim Mohan or Roger Moore, all of whom I had respect for in their separate runs as editors).

I had been out of sight for a year by then, a reclusive artist banging away at the keyboard and filling boxes in my reconverted attic cum office with reams of material. As I entered this editor's office, he said, "Rob!  Welcome back to the creative fold!"  As I sat down I was immediately uncomfortable.  It was a sixth-sense impression that was gathering steam for what I was to later add to the presumptuous and insulting category.  Here I was, I finally thought, in the Golden Halls of Allah, and with a representative thereof whose very chair he was sitting upon was in part due its existence to my prior work as an employee and designer for the company, and quite some time before his own arrival.

Many would be writers would have laughed off the remark, of course, looking to the future sale.  That glorious sale.  The object of desire.  The reason for being.  Being there.  But it isn't, really.  Now or then.  Being a creator, the aftermath of my undertakings have found various coigns:  in publication, in filing cabinets, in boxes, on a bed stand, pinned to walls, and some unfortunately for their final repose found a lone and unexpected fire, consumed from the indited page but not from my minds-eye of experience.  I thought about this meeting for some time afterwards. My coyness at his questions; and my sudden reversal of intent.  I fairly escaped the meeting by promising to be back in touch when I had polished them some more, and he had not even held the designs in his hands.  The "meeting" lasted less than ten minutes.

In retrospect my sensibilities about the ideas of creator and creation had been offended. Was there only one spot on earth for such artificing? Why yes!  The very spot where it takes place at, so there are many "one-spots". . .  My own experience proved an invaluable lesson.  It was about the work.  Good works will always find a place and time to nurture them.  Under Kim Mohan's  capable leadership not too soon after the afore-noted editor's removal,""Magus" found a home. ..."

Creative Stirrings

Some creative stirrings hither and yon:

1)  I have posted this link before, but cannot recommend enough the diversity of illustration and art contained at this blog.

2)  The Journalizer's blog "Journalize This" raises numerous avenues of thought, expression and dare I say "concern" with her recent post here.  Now what is that metallic ball that has a sponge-like substance within it?  Imaginative, inquiring minds want to know... among other things.

3)  RPG Theory Comprehensive Link.  Some interesting articles here which lead to this quote by jrients at the FORGE:  "Roleplaying reconnects us with our ancient need to sit in a circle and tell stories.  More and more, our culture surrenders our storytelling to an elite who deliver stories to us via TV/movies.  For most of humanity's history storytelling was an active endeavor, today it has become passive..."

Very good! I once commented during a video interview at GENCON that RP is a tribal event with the constant exchange of information, everyone gathered about the elder to hear not only stories, but to assimilate information that might not otherwise be gathered or retained.  It was/is entertainment and learning at once, which is the way education should be, so I feel.

Back to meine Arbeit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Boyd, Jenkinson and Ackerman: 3 Books on "Play"

These are all in my library and are all *very highly* recommended:

Handbook of Games by Neva Boyd

The Genius of Play by Sally Jenkinson

Extracted from The Genius of Play

"The question, “Who am I in this game?” and “How must I be as my new self?” is a major preoccupation for most young players. Through imaginative play, and in particular through socio-dramatic play, children are able to express and explore their own viewpoints and feelings, and as Jane Hislam perceptively observes, they are also able to explore those feelings which are not necessarily their own. (Moyles, Hislam et al, 1994). In the magic of empathetic imitation, which is quite different from copying, children live imaginatively into the experience of “the other.” Then, guided by the inspirational spirit of play, the ability to “read” the thoughts and feelings of others begins to awaken and the journey towards emotional literacy begins.

This capacity, is absent in most children with autism. In his book, The Development of Play, David Cohen argues that although autistic children do play with objects, by moving them around and so on, they hardly ever engage in pretend or imaginative play. He suggests that this is because autistic children find it impossible to develop a theory of the other mind. Like adults with Asperger's syndrome, they might know what tears are, but not what they mean. Most autistic children are unable to perceive what another person might think or feel because, sadly, they are locked into their own worlds. (Cohen 1996:166). Tina Bruce gives an example of a child who begins to explore, through unsentimental imitation, the very different thoughts, feelings, and experiences of someone else.

“A new girl called Jo joined a nursery class. Jo had an artificial arm and two girls, Nadia and Jody were fascinated when she took it off at story time because she did not want to wear it all the time. That afternoon, the children played together and Nadia was Jo. Through her play, Nadia entered an alternative world to her own, in which she had no arms. She used all her knowledge of what arms are for and she came to know about Jo as she hadn't before.” (Bruce 1994: 117)

A society that is unable to live into the experience or feelings of “the other” is one which can be described as culturally autistic. It is my belief that through their own play, children can foster and develop the very qualities which will provide a powerful antidote to the “cultural autism” which threatens our society today."

Sally Jenkinson Publisher Link

Deep Play by Diane Ackerman

Extracted from the Cornell Chronicle...

"Deep Play"

Diane Ackerman is serious about play
  "It is exquisitely human to play; we relish and require it to feel whole. It is our refuge from ordinary life," she told a David L. Call Alumni Auditorium audience.
  In her July 9 Summer Session lecture titled "Rapture, Ecstasy and Play," Ackerman, a Cornell alumna, poet, essayist and naturalist, enveloped the audience in her world by offering prose about love and personal anecdotes to explain her perspective on life's special moments, which she described as "deep play."
  "The language of play has always fascinated me," said the author of A Natural History of the Senses and A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis.
  According to Ackerman, "Every element of the human saga depends on play. Even language is a playing with words," she said. "We, as human beings, require a poetic version of life. All human beings of all ages and all cultures use the elemental poetry of everyday language."
  Swimming with dolphins and communing with nature, she said, led her to the question, "What are we to make of dolphins and humans playing together?" The answer, she found, is that humans and animals alike understand play.
  "Play is ingrained in the matrix of childhood and we take it for granted," Ackerman said. Though children rejoice in play, adults have a "deeper, transcendent form of play," she said.
  The uncertainty and illusion of play can take place in countless venues, she suggested. "We can play anywhere that is set off from reality, whether it be a playground, a field, a church or a garage."
  Ackerman explained there are many ways in which adults engage in deep play.
  "Deep play doesn't have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state."
  Furthermore, she said, "Deep play is an absence of mental noise -- liberating, soothing, and exciting. . . .We spend our lives in pursuit of those moments of feeling whole, or being in the moment of deep play."
  The idea of deep play, Ackerman said, was originated by the philosopher/utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. However, she said, "he despised it and thought it was irrational." He felt that what could be lost far outweighed what could be gained.
  Ancient people had their own forms of deep play, Ackerman said, and termed deep play to be rapture and ecstasy. "Rapture is being seized by force ... rape, ravage, usurp," she explained. "Ecstasy is a Greek word meaning a symbol of standing, or to stand, outside oneself. When you are experiencing ecstasy, you fly out of your mind and watch the known world dwindle in the distance."
  Ackerman explained that one of the manifestations of deep play is love. "Love is a cult of two, full of mysticism, where you romp with your playmate and there is a feeling of ecstasy. When the couple breaks up, their secret world is shattered, leaving the partner disavowed. The illusion and the game are over."
  Another form of deep play can come when one is in a moment of extreme danger, she explained. When Ackerman fell while mountain climbing and had to climb down with three broken ribs, she was in that state, she said. "I had to muzzle into life and drink from the source."
  "Deep play means no analysis, no explanation, no promises, no goals, no worries. You are completely open to the drama of life that may unfold."

Diane Ackerman's Webpage
Buy at Amazon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Tale of Lohengrin, Knight of the Swan: After the drama of Richard Wagner

The tale of Lohengrin By T. W. Rolleston

Can Anyone Tell Me What This Is...?

I mean, is this an implant, or something akin to it?  Its descriptive 'conclusion' is more in laymen's terms.  This appears to be a mind altering device/or model for one, patented, and made or modeled in 1997?

Here's the link.


Has anyone seen this site?  Link.  There's over 2000 pages of that there.  Truly amazing.

A Very Nice Net-Stop

If you like illustration, in French, but just use the translation service.  Link.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Continuing Battle Between Creativity and Conformity in Our Society: Observations and Links

(This is in part an answer to Endymion's post in Up on a Tree Stump #4™ (below) and my continued commentary upon the matter.)

RPG Examples abound--and I  limited the contrasting part of my essay to 3E+.  It is also true that a new consumer market was created with the advent of computerized gaming; just as a new consumer market was created with the advent of RPG; and with the spread of Sc-Fi/Fantasy, with a big boost from JRR Tolkien's trilogy to help with the latter.

The coincidence is that all three of these markets just about occurred at once or very close in time to each other.  Fantasy-Fiction>RPG>Computerized versioning of both.  This has lead to different understandings of "what" out of these three are cross-adaptable markets and how to wean these "whats" into existing or merging ones.  But that is matter for another essay I am currently outlining.

What Endymion said...  >...wonder if the reason players today are perhaps reluctant to indulge in free play of the sort you recall is because the presence of technology itself has contributed to a regimented life that discourages initiative< ... is true.  Of course we have the challenge of built in competition at one of its highest levels in the history of American education and business, and so technology is being manipulated to cut avenues for it, time is being squashed due to societal demands, and children are being routed towards goal-driven futures at an extremely fast pace as everyone seems to a lesser of greater extent to be keeping up with the JONES.  Starting with the introductory link in the Boyd/Spolin post I am further summarizing the already known antithesis of play and creativity.  Also note that this embodies in part an over emphasis on competition (now, IMO, a cultural syndrome) as was negatively commented upon by Neva Boyd almost a century ago:

'At the time, public recreation programs in the main stressed formal sports, calisthenics, and competitive activity, which Neva Boyd found to be constricting and sterile.  She believed that the essence of such activity should be social development rather than mere physical exercise.  Consequently in her play programs she stressed the use of games and activities in which the leader and participants engaged both psychologically and physically, which resulted in improved social relationships.  She believed such activities should be valued for their intrinsic good, not for external rewards.  Applying this to her teaching, she noted:
                "The greed for power, the hatred and dishonesty which have become associated with competitive games are not an inherent part of them but have found their why in them through a false sense of values [emphasis mine].  Prizes separate people, pit them against each other, discourage the less able and set the more able apart."
    Miss Boyd believed in goodness and that the love of goodness must be cultivated.  “Social living,” she said, “cannot be maintained on the basis of destructive ideologies – domination, hate, prejudice, greed and dishonesty.  A society cannot hold together without a good way of life for all….Virtues are dynamic products and cannot be taken over fully developed without being continuously developed.'”

The aforementioned, when coupled with many other salient facts as I've previously noted, notes challenges within our society to the very notion that play is important to begin with.  That is why I posted Boyd's theory, then, in posting order, that codified theory in practice as contrasted between two historical versions of D&D, and then Brown's applications which incorporate free-form play in practice in the realm of design.  Within the comparisons derived from OD&D and Brown's POV, we see both stressing open exchange models as paramount and as the very route to abstract expansion, and all of this taking place within a constantly readapting and self-regenerative system.   What we as RP(game) designers are in essence creating are combinations of rules which when transferred from the imaginative play ground of thought to a pencil and paper game, or to other real-time environments, that must be codified to a certain extant to be understood in a base form.  This is what Brown asserts as the "Serious Side."  Beyond that designers run the risk of over-structuring and thus turning the sword back upon the original intent of keeping exploratory paths open in their RPGs.  OD&D/AD&D also asserts this in keeping the rulings open to DMs, in encouraging player/DM inputs and in open and free-form play and creation.

Non-abstract thinking players often see this free form style as hocus pocus.  "I cannot see where the result is derived from." Thus a DM is sometimes viewed as fallible or even unreliable in such games where the reliance is upon absolute rules structure.  Contrast this give-and-take to a playground game where a group of children are playing and adapting as they in turn input to the ongoing real-time design and you may find that there is what I call a missing link somewhere in the transiting stages of growth from child>young-adult>adult.  Also note these links, 1,  2,  3.  We see a growing reliance on the rational mind as compared to the abstract and a diametric shift away from what is wrongly considered "chaotic play" as we grow older and adapt to the rigidity of societal forms; and this leads us back as to why, and which in part we have already noted and answered.  Tim Brown asserts that finite and free-form wholes are not mutually exclusive parts.  He correctly notes them as interdependent due to their use when needed.  Thus when we strip all structure from an RPG we are back to parlor games or the playground.  If we add too much structure we are at the finite board/miniatures game.  OD&D/AD&D creatively bridge finite and free-form concepts, and actually on many levels given the medium, merges them, which is quite a creative achievement if one thinks about it.

A computer game (and thus the contrasting perspective of DM<>Computer as DM, or even by extenuation, RULES as DM) is not often if ever seen as fallible in that regard (even though these are programmed by humans, and thus the overall view is false to assume so, as such fallibility when it exists will not come in the output stage (results from pressing a button or keys, etc) but is still present in the initial data and programming stages, all of which I touch upon in another upcoming essay, "Illusory Ground.").  These are accepted for what they are as they can be no more than what their data allows for.  Thus games which emulate them are what they are and provide a comfortable feeling of sameness and security of understanding.  Computer gaming is in fact similar to shopping methodology:  you can take time, you can PAUSE, you can retrace your steps (SAVE GAME) and you can start over in case of disaster (I LEFT MY WALLET AT HOME), not to mention the inevitable LIST of goodies sought.  During breaks from the computer game, players can plan to overcome its more often static environment which has not changed during that interval (or very little depending on what has been programmed into it, or what has been reduced in the meantime as in online games). Players can numerically figure it all out while retracing their steps many times before then to derive what is for the most part the one correct answer, or even a series of one correct answers.  This in turn corresponds to what is prevalent in our educational systems today (and which is noted in the above links, 1,2,3) and which is stifling creative thinking at that level. Finding correspondences to the above example in OD&D's design and play is difficult, as a DM has the ability to recreate situations on the fly and at a pace far out distancing and out creating what is possible for data dependent computers.  All that must prevail is the willingness on the DM's part to do so and a perceived need to continue working on their creative ranges.

This may have also contributed to an interesting cultural/psychological nuance:  that when consumers of these many computer games find ones that are distasteful they express their distaste more often in terms relating to the named game itself and not often to the company, or to the person(s) who programmed these.  "Ork3 sucks." But when we have a pencil and paper game, or even a board game to a lesser or greater degree, the finger is inevitably pointed at the designer, especially in our niche industry.  What should be important to track at all levels--quality of design and who(m) is manipulating it for consumption--at some point becomes obscured as its dissemination reaches mass market proportions.  I have not found this so in fiction, illustration/art nor with movies, and in these cases there are readily apparent reasons as to why this is not so.  The relevancy of such may lie in the fact that people disposed to mass intake have less demand for satisfactory return on all levels and this too may be a contributory reason for lack of creative need as many people are used to accepting the good alongside the bad and mediocre.  In retrospect, I have always found the American expression, "It wasn't that bad," to be a result of this thinking process; and of course in return to those saying such I always respond:  "I'm sorry..."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tim Brown on Creativity Link

A very inspirational video that touches in part upon role-playing near the end.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up on A Tree Stump #4: The Value of D&D's Early Creativity, Improvisation and Play

Up on a Tree Stump™
(or) All I Know about D&D™ I Learned From Life

The Value of D&D's Early Creativity, Improvisation and Play

©2010.  Robert J. Kuntz

{An edited first draft extracted from my combined essays}

There was an acute difference in game-rules being used in David Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign and in our corresponding Lake Geneva Campaign under the leadership of EGG and myself and their participants. As has been historically noted, each "Campaign" had different rules, those at first initiated by David and his players, then as revised and rewritten by EGG as we play tested the D&D game in its soon to be published form.

Though there is a distinction of how the adjudications evolved in each game group, there is a thread of similarity in both which ties them tightly together:  they both relied on improvisational and creative play.

As there were no rules, but only notes and whatever existed in the minds-eye of each creator (or DM), spontaneous play WAS the course served.

The (role)-play tests evolved to reform the rules as published, and to this day folks may still believe that this was necessarily the form we adhered to during these play tests. To that I will say:  yes and no.  Partial rules were always being implemented and added as the play tests discovered a new set of challenges and areas as yet uncovered, and this lead to a furtherance of the rules as written by EGG to cover these circumstances, until, one might say that he, sitting back, finally said:  "This is enough, this is the core of what we’ve experienced and what is needed for gamers to experience what we just played."

So, what we experienced during the play tests was the growing act of Being and Doing.  The play test was a promotion of ideas that had various forms given to it by the acts themselves that varied inside our group conception of interchange.  This of course continued to free us as the actors and designers within the play; and this, more importantly, allowed for a constant progression of creative and playful nuances to occur.

Let me pose a simplified example of what occurred many times in that manner. Imagine wanting to climb a wall and there are no rules for it, as there were none for accomplishing this in-game task then.  Let’s take a look at how we may have handled that circumstance then during the course of play (the following is a recreation only):

R:  1) "I want to climb the wall."  NOTE:  The need is established here but not the instrument (the rule is not yet understood, and that is in turn understood on the surface by the player, as their PC has no such ability but assumes that he may be able to accomplish the feat notwithstanding).  This may have been couched similarly: 2) "Can I climb the wall?"  Both instances beg the DM's adjudication.  The DM is the arbiter of this event as dictated by the inputs forthcoming in interchange...

G:  1) "How do you accomplish that?” NOTE: or 2) "Yes, you can try." This is the first input field.  This establishes "yes" it is possible, but not HOW, as we have not as yet deduced that from the inputs.

R:  1) “Well, I look for jutting spots on the escarpment to cling to as I climb and I shed my armor. I climb slowly and use the hammer to lodge spikes into the wall to create perches.  I proceed cautiously.  Before ascending I tie the rope about the armor and attach its free end securely about my waist.”

G:  “Okay.  What's your Dexterity?”

R:  “12.”

G:  NOTE:  This is where the DM makes adjustments (+1/-1 to the inputs).  As the escarpment has been described as 80' high and straight up with some protrusions, we now have a base for ascertaining an on the fly ruling.  Here the DM decides to use 2 six-sided dice to ascertain the difficulty range, though in different circumstances in the LG Campaign this choice was easily substituted for different types and numbers of dice to expand or contract the numerical ranges.

+0 for dex
-1 for length of climb (would have been higher if the PC had not noted that they were proceeding slowly and cautiously)
+0 for armor being shed.  This may have been an extremely high minus if it had not been shed

Thus a +1 input on 2 six-sided dice.

G:  “The base is 7 and you need an 8 or better on 2 six-sided dice.”

R:  Rolls:  “9.”

G:  “You make it to the top of the cliff, but your armor is still below, which I imagine you pull up.”

R:  “Yes.”

G:  “That takes a minute--there you go.  Well done.  Give yourself 100 experience points for good planning.”

Note that this probability sequence, once used and re-used, became second nature with us.  In this instancing exchanges occur quickly and deductions become normal in respect to inputs.  This progresses matters for which there are no steadfast rules, or in turn belays the use of books and their referencing, expediting in all cases the action of the event and the participation of the players (both DM and PC) on a primary level.  This creative improvising can be tracked from these first occurrences during play to their printed forms in the DMG’s many tables, but in my opinion, the latter provides an incomplete idea of how we in the LGC conducted such matters and to which EGG never totally adhered.

…The New D&D:  The Lessening of the Play Experience

The built in safety net in the newest RPGs only exemplifies what is already known in that regard: Even if the rigidity of form is adopted, as in numerical expressions and tables and endless charts for myriad events or perceived game driven engagements, even if the players "feel" that there is fair and equitable treatment being proposed, in the end, the DM, however rigid and defined the system may be, can always call upon the fantastic if he or she is unfair or unyielding or selfish, breaking all barriers of pretense with but one summoned monster from the ether which demolishes said party of PCs anyway.  Players may scream in the end about equality of CR levels or what not, but done is done.  In retrospect OD&D assumed a standard of fairness of adjudication as its core principle in DMing the game.  Thus I find that this sacrifice of play in the new D&D—and supposedly in answer to player demand or a perceived design need--has never held water with me; and it appears beneath the surface as a red herring implemented to justify new rules favoring a finite structure that in turn explode PC-dominant positions within the game.

In turn, this new RPG “safety net” creates and sustains a totally manufactured and assumptive way of imagining a player and thus their regulated environment, making sure that they are not over-wounded (disfavored) in the game.  This of course does not present a realistic portrayal of any event driven fiction (role) and its backlash is the need driven participation of the player to succeed time and time again.  When faced with challenges or loss, they can point back at “balance or fairness,” the very things that have in fact been worked out of the game play due to structuring it in this manner. In essence, the apparent reason for this conceptual deletion of value-driven accomplishment is due to marketing and grooming of the play environment to keep players, like in computer games, happy as larks with their perceived rewards and gains.

Now let's take a look at a different way of viewing this from the other end of the telescope.

Immersive play furthers creative thought.  When a player substitutes intuition and creativity for game mechanics only, they are not immersing themselves in a growing experience through which they become better decision makers or strategists.  This very lack summons a ground of clay that makes any stance for learning or achieving beyond a redundant and non-immersive pattern impossible. Such participants instead comfortably root to where and when they will choose to implement powers and repeatable set in stone strategies.  They may reach for dice with the knowledge that they have achieved a numerically advantageous position as they have before them all of the inputs in print to arrive at that calculation, so they are assured in most respects of a positive outcome.  This is like opening a door.  It takes little thought or planning.  It's like eating a bowl of noodles.  Some may dangle, but the fork can rearrange them.  It is in a word boring; but the consequences for those who limit play under such a premise is more than just boring, it's frightening.

If we attempted to construct a specific mechanic for each or any one of our real world actions and/or specify or attach relative times and other values for doing so based upon a multitude of raw and variable inputs, we would soon need a computer to arrive at such extrapolated deductions and also a wave of corresponding experience to make fair assessments in arriving at the derived principles.  That is not possible as we are not the sum of human knowledge and worldly existence, so we must seek comparative improvisation to reach expansiveness in play rather than seeking models with built in limits that bar such creative extrapolation.

The further one closes off their mind to experience, the less they participate and in turn the less value they derive from such experiences.  Only value-added achievements spur growth.  EGG used to welcome players at conventions to test their metal in Greyhawk Castle, especially those who claimed to have higher-leveled and well-appointed PCs. These types who were never challenged to produce efforts equal to gains in their DM's campaign soon found, much to their consternation, that their flimsy "strategies" were nullified in a DM's game where real thinking was involved.  This close-mindedness often, and unfortunately, always goes back to the DM, for it is he or she who sets the examples and difficulties for their players.

A closed, or oftentimes, routed mindset, allows very little expansion for abstract thinking.  The more one sides with a finite approach as opposed to an open-ended play environment the more one will become reliant upon a structure that codifies itself within a box.  This is fine with many game designs as all reach superimposed limits at some point, but when applied as a model on top of an RPG which in its conceptual range is based upon playing out broadly expanding fictional situations and forms, it is anathema and is in contradiction to the inherent honesty of design relating to the matter overall and on sundry understood levels.

Within an open model as OD&D presents, players and DMs can choose what they need and ignore or discard the rest. They may even change what they need from within the selections and even come back to those they did not think worthy at first to re-examine them.  There is always a creative flow at work within the mutable parts. Attempt to do that with closed models and their static forms are always broken if not challenged as their entire event and statistical stream must be re-imagined and re-codified.  Once an RPG loses a model of play oriented expansiveness it, in my estimation, becomes at best “role assumption,” as the PLAY in the most inclusive and creative use of the term is no longer considered important to its titular description.

Thus each game/rules form dictates the mode, the mode dictates the expression, and this as a combined cycle dictates the outcome. Within these there may be variances, such as what to add to any given sequence, but if these particles as a whole are on the front end designed in to perpetuate the ending cycle, then outcomes are assured no matter the available sources for input (re:  as in a computer program). This is true with all devised systems.  OD&D’s system was there to implement and to improvise as one experienced it. This remains its absolute strength to this day.

In summary one might break down the aspects of the D&D game in its initial stage, and then the D&D game in its current stage, thusly:

OD&D 1973 play test and forward: Play grows out of games and play-fiction.  War games>miniature games>parlor games>make believe>story-telling.  Rules mix with play but do not burden them.  Play becomes the focus, to the point where EGG discards major rules as published to concentrate on his home-brew style that we both adopted in the play test version. In bringing the game to consumers this aspect is stressed more than once as a fundamental theory as there is no way to "formally" adjudicate every instance of play as play is seen as forever open-ended. Through AD&D 2nd edition this finds purchase and is on many levels adopted, spurring creative implementation of home-brew rules even in the face of TSR's attempted rules codifications for IP reasons.

3rd Edition onward to present: The game goes through drastic changes producing a new rules structure and eliminating in-house rulings.  The play aspect is foreshortened, being replaced by skills and feats.  The creative aspect of playing and thinking is routed into a statistical mode of balance siding with the players.  The DM's use of rules improvisation is depleted as rules dependency becomes a reality due to overt, formal structuring.  We no longer have open-ended play but what is now a semblance of a computerized flow-chart implemented on the table.  Part miniatures game, part role-playing, but with no real extenuation of imaginative input as this is all deduced up front for the player and the DM.  We now have a formula-based RPG.  ADA has arrived.


I climb the wall.

Roll your dice...

I succeed.

OK, you're up.  And with your feat of quantum carrying, you did so with your armor on.

Don’t I get experience for negotiating that very deadly obstacle?  It says so here in the book.

Right.  Is 500 enough?...

…RJK (Somewhere near Betelgeuse)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creative Play "IS" The "Thing": Boyd and Spolin

I am a firm advocate of no-holds-barred, creative and open play, imagine that...  But look here and at Viola Spolin's interview below, then assess what has been going on with computer games and other RPGs which imitate them.  The history of the disintegration of play in our recent society is mind-numbing.  All the more reason to stand firm in the trenches with what the earliest versions of Dungeons and Dragons promulgated and what is still the most expressive and imaginative form of play being engendered in RPG today.

Viola Spolin was the advocate of Neva Boyd's Theory of Play.  Below is a rare interview of her.  Note that this site and the papers and research contained there is a great resource on Boyd's modern evolution of play as then founded at the Hull House, Chicago, Illinois.  That this forward step then is now being challenged in our society today is not only a great leap backwards but threatens the very notion of intuitive growth in children, fore-ordaining them to prescriptions for the mind and limiting choice (sound familiar??)  Boyd's and Spolin's tenants:  Spontaneity, Heightened Awareness and Transformation. These are the very cornerstones of the open-ended OD&D mindset.  Take a look at her interview:

From the Original Campaign: Citadel of the Fire Lord

In between breaks from writing Castle El Raja Key and attending to other matters with the blog, research, etc. I actually get to organize various projects.  There are several in the works that keep me at the grindstone for the most part in various stages of completion and development. Andy Taylor is drawing some illustrations from items and monsters I had created back in the day for a high level adventure, "Citadel of the Fire Lord."

Here's an item--rough draft--from that upcoming adventure (sometime year 2010).  I also mocked up the cover from Andy's superb art.  Reference for this adventure can be found here.

The actual adventure maps were sold at auction many years ago but still exist as color, electronic files that will be re-rendered for the project.  Enjoy!

Hrugash's Familiar Brand (minor artifact)

This appears as a normal brand of some length (varying at first sight from 3-5 feet).  For all intents and purposes it is a largish torch, which when grasped, alights, and seemingly has no end to its flame.

Its primary magical power is to adopt the properties of other flames that it is touched to.  Thus, if it is wielded when a fireball strikes the user, the wielder is transfered the fireball's properties, in essence making him or her immune to that particular fire.  The immunity, once instituted, lasts 1-10 rounds and then dissipates.  During that time other fires can damage the wielder, for these cannot be assimilated into the magical matrix and transfered.  The immunity is useable indefinitely as long as the brand is held.

This item has some interesting nuances.  If touched to lava, for instance, this allows the wielder to walk across it unharmed, thus it confers a water-walking on lava ability as well.

If encountered by an Efreet, they will immediately attempt to bargain for the item, perhaps even granting a wish in trade (50% chance).  Failing this, they will always attack the wielder to secure it for themselves.

Red dragons become enraged in its presence and launch all of their attacks against the wielder until one or the other is slain.  Their chances to breath fire while so enraged are enhanced to 75% and such damage is always +20%.

Fire demons will "mark" the user, making him or her glow a fiery red for 1-24 days (no save).  This will alert other fire demons within sight of the wielder of his or her enmity with associated allies or clans; thereafter they will always pursue and attack the wielder to recover the item.

Salamanders flee from this item if it is brandished before them and will only fight if they are cornered and cannot retreat, and then at -1 to hit and -1 to damage.

Once a year the wielder can summon one of the aforementioned creatures if these were slain by use of the brand.  These spout forth as a fiery form and physically manifest in front of the wielder in 1-4 rounds.  They will obey the wielder, but will move no more than 300 feet from him or her, for turns equal to their total HP.  If forced out of the above range, they magically disappear in a gout of red flame.

The brand does 1-8 hp crushing damage plus a bonus of 1-6 fire damage when used as a melee weapon.

After 2 years of use the brand's flame will start to sputter and its immunity power will lessen to 50% thereafter until it is re-renergized in a volcano on the Plane of Elemental Fire (DMs must create this adventure).

All text and imagery content ©2010 Robert J. Kuntz

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

C. J. Cutliffe Hyne

For those interested in lost continents, here's a good one from the author of The Lost Continent.

Lost Continent Wiki.

Reading: Part de ONE

Sometimes I actually get to read things!  Actually I read a lot and much more than I post  of here, but these are some of my favorites right now, and all that I can do in chapters or sections, strung out over weeks.  Part de Two, later...

The Conan Grimoire (The Mirage Press) is top notch, with an introduction by Lin Carter, letters from REH to Clark  Ashton Smith, and various articles from AMRA, including one by John Boardman (of Diplomacy fame).  Edited by DeCamp and George Scithers, so far so good.  The book is a combination of many articles with great range, that is why I dug it out after so many years being stored away.  It has observations on Howard's style, an essay on Eddison, and so many others.  Worth more than a glimpse.  One of the essays actually gave me an idea for an REH-type adventure (Kullish), so Andy Taylor, so very busy working on some projects for me, will get another illustration list for this...  HB.  262 printed pages. 1972.  OOP.

Book of the Dead - Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others (Arkham House).  Personal memories of the pulp fiction authors and editors (primarily those who wrote/worked for Weird Tales) by the famous fictioneer and pulp story historian, E. Hoffman Price.  Price met and knew all of the "Big Three" (Howard, Smith and Lovecraft) and just about everyone else from that era (Kuttner, Williamson, Bloch, Derleth, etc).  Each author gets a chapter devoted to them wherein EHP (yep that's right, he was the Evil High Priest, no, he was Buddhist, actually) delivers detailed and moving remembrances of his fellow fictioneers.  Extensive bibliography and index.  A treat, especially his noting CAS as being the best writer of the aforementioned trio (nice to know that Lovecraft and myself heartily agreed with him...). HB.  424 printed pages. 2001. Introduction by Jack Williamson.  Edited by Peter Ruber. $34.95.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stevenson's Fables

Stevenson's Fables.

Well worth perusal, and do note that he penned a science-fiction story as well.  The illustrations by Ethyl King Martyn are superb.

Stevenson At Play

H.G. Wells published the first commercial wargame rules (Little Wars, 1913).  Not everyone knows that Robert Louis Stevenson designed/played a miniatures war game. Reference:  Stevenson At Play, from Scribner's Magazine, December 1898, describes it:

    This game of tin soldiers, an intricate "kriegspiel," involving rules innumerable, prolonged arithmetical calculations, constant measuring with foot-rules, and the throwing of dice, sprang from the humblest beginnings — a row of soldiers on either side and a deadly marble. From such a start it grew in size and complexity until it became mimic war indeed, modelled closely upon real conditions and actual warfare, requiring, on Mr. Stevensons' part, the use of text-books and long conversations with military invalids; on mine, all the pocket-money derived from my publishing ventures as well as a considerable part of my printing stock in trade.

The article, with Introduction by Lloyd Osbourne, details Stevenson's continued fascination with "childhood" things, with an expanding interest in tin soldiers.  It appears that what started as the usual side vs. side continued to expand as he grew older and soon took upon proportions that included reading text-books and talking with military personnel as well as keeping an extensive note book that not only contained rules and formulas (as in Strategos-N by David Wesley) but actual detailed accounts of many running battles he had played.  The article is heartily recommended for those tracking the history of war games, and in it will be found, once again, a slight creep of RPG that cannot be entirely divorced from such proceedings.

Addendum.  Though research may prevail, a question arises:  Was this Stevenson's work alone, or was he influenced by Kriegspiel, Aldershot or Totten's Strategos (which has similarities)?

The original Scribner's article ends with this clever poem:

    For certain soldiers lately dead
    Our reverent dirge shall here be said.
    Them, when their martial leader called,
    No dread preparative appalled;
    But leaden-hearted, leaden-heeled,
    I marked them steadfast in the field.
    Death grimly sided with the foe,
    And smote each leaden hero low.
    Proudly they perished, one by one:
    The dread Pea-cannon's work was done!
    O not for them the tears we shed,
    Consigned to their congenial lead;
    But while unmoved their sleep they take,
    We mourn for their dear Captain's sake,
    For their dear Captain, who shall smart
    Both in his pocket and his heart,
    Who saw his heroes shed their gore
    And lacked a shilling to buy more!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Origins of War Gaming

A really nice piece at the

...and while I'm at it, a link to a site with a take on "Old School War Gaming."

...and the Castle and Crusade Society article, with the Image (above) of the cover of Issue #13 of the Domesday Book, edited by myself.*

*Wiki article courtesy of Harami.