Close Encounters of the Gaming Kind

Due to venturing out of the UK to bake myself in the summer sun and then my daughter’s graduation and moving her back home, this has not left me a great deal of the right sort of hobby time.

Rather than remain silent, I thought I’d post a bit of a retrospective piece.

Now, I’ve been a gamer (on and off) for nigh on 40 years and as I came into the hobby via tabletop RPGs, I’ve not only played many, many systems (including several that my friends/gaming group made themselves), but also attended several gaming conventions.

As a Brit, this was mainly Euro GenCon (when that was still a thing), although I did get the opportunity to go to actual GenCon in 1992.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If you attend a gaming convention, you do, on occasion, get the opportunity to interact with “gaming royalty.” I’m not talking about attending a seminar with Larry Elmore, where he discusses his artistic technique and creates an original piece of artwork before your very eyes (which I have done and was very cool), but those random encounters with famous gaming “celebrities” that give you geek cred when you tell your mates what happened – sort of geek “claims to fame.”

So, as I have a couple of anecdotes regarding this, I thought I’d share these with you all – because at least you guys will know who I’m talking about.

So, we’ll start with the aforementioned GenCon ’92…

Second day of GenCon ’92 and the guys I had come with were all off doing other stuff, so I was wandering around the main hall, looking at all the stalls, minding my own business, when I was stopped by a bloke who had noticed my t-shirt (“Die Laughing – Terry Pratchett’s Discworld”) and wanted to know if I’d bought it at the Con, as he wanted one the same. I regretfully advised him that I’d actually purchased it in the UK and not bought it at the Con. Then I looked at his name badge… it read “Mike Pondsmith.”

As in THE Mike Pondsmith, big cheese at R. Talsorian Games, responsible for Cyberpunk 2020, Castle Falkenstein and Dream Park (which was released at GenCon that year). My response to him, once I realised who he was, was “I just bought a copy of Dream Park,” for which he thanked me. Being a little shell-shocked, that was the extent of our conversation.

Still, it was pretty cool.

Rewind to (I think) Euro GenCon 1990. This was held at Pontin’s Holiday Centre, Camber Sands in the UK, between 30th November and 2nd December and was my first real gaming convention – and also the first EuroGenCon, which I didn’t realise at the time. The Ravenloft campaign setting had come out earlie rthat year and I was a big fan, so signed up for a one-round Ravenloft tournament, which as it was a newish setting, they’d brought a couple of the TSR staff from the US across to run this scenario. This was Bane of the Shadowborn, written by William W. Connors, who was one of the guests running this scenario. However, as the scenario was pretty popular, they had two sessions running, and I ended up with the other guest DM. Which was Jim Ward…

Yes, THAT Jim Ward, he of Drawmij’s Instant Summons, designer of Metamorphosis Alpha, co-author of the original 1st edition Deities & Demigods, etc. etc. Basically, a gaming legend.

And he killed me.

Well, he killed the entire party, but that’s because we were rubbish and hadn’t got the necessary stuff to defeat the Big Bad. But we had so much fun – I mean, this was one of Gary Gygax’s original players, so this guy knew how to run a game. I distinctly remember various players stating what they wanted to do, and Jim’s response was invariably “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that…” with a little twinkle in his eye.

So, two gaming geeky claims to fame – Mike Pondsmith liked my t-shirt and Jim Ward killed me.

But let’s finish off with an actual, genuine 100% geeky “claim to fame,” which can be proven to anyone who owns a copy of a particular TSR product, as if you peruse the credits section of Domains of Dread, which was effectively the third iteration of the Ravenloft campaign setting published in 1997, under the ‘Special Thanks’ section you will find MY name!

Obviously my contribution was enough that I was named, rather than being relegated to the “countless others” section. Look at me, sandwiched between Skip Williams and Steve Winter, both of whom I’ve heard of. I think it’s safe to say they have NO idea who I am…

Right, enough grandstanding from me. I’m sure those who’ve been indulging in our wonderful hobby for roughly the same amount of time as I have, have similar anecdotes, so I’ll open the floor to you all. What geeky claims to fame do you have? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be gaming related, so if you’ve had a pint with Patrick Stewart, then share your story.

Monster May(hem): Lost in the Mists

I can’t quite believe that I haven’t posted on here since March…

Whilst what time I did have spare has been used for hobby-related pursuits, it’s not been miniature-based and not really stuff that could be posted about.

And no, Keith, I’ve not been battling sky-pirates on Barsoom, clad in an outfit that would put Sean Connery to shame…

I was actually scooped up by the Mists of Ravenloft and have been spending my time negotiating the tangled history of the Demiplane of Dread, in order to make some sense of it…

In other words, I finally got my arse in gear to start typing up my revised version of this setting for AD&D Second Edition, picking and choosing the bits I liked from the setting (supplemented with fan-created content from The Fraternity of Shadows website) and revising those Darklords that I thought were a bit weak or incomplete.

Obviously, this is a pretty major undertaking and one that I’ve been planning on doing for a while (although some of my musings on revised Domains is available on the Café du Nuit forum on the Fraternity’s website, should anyone be at all interested – the Crow flies to many places…).

Anyway, as June is looming ever closer, which means Forgotten Heroes is on the horizon (yes, it will be back again this year), I needed to get my hand back in, so decided to take part in Keith’s annual Monster May(hem). So naturally, I needed a monster.

As the “Straw God” is actually a creature in Children of the Night: Demons, a fan-created netbook available at the Secrets of the Kargatane website and I happened to have the below languishing in a box, I decided to combine the two:

So, first order of the day was to plaster the base with Milliput, texture this with a rolled up bit of tinfoil, then jam the figure’s feet into this to set. I then attempted to attach the arms, initially with Milliput (didn’t work, as would have required me to sit there holding it in place for far too long), then Loctite Multi-Purpose Strong Adhesive. The latter is, quite frankly, rubbish – unless you want to cover your model in stringy bits of glue that stick to everything, but fail to stick together what you actually need it to.

So, we went with the old faithful – Wilko’s own brand ‘power bond adhesive’, which is the cheaper equivalent of No More Nails. I should really use this first, as I always end of using it and it works… Seriously, forget your expensive superglues in their tiny tubes – get some of this stuff. Squeeze a little out on to a spatula and spread as you please. Sets pretty quickly and as it’s designed to attach skirting boards to walls, etc. it’s pretty damn strong. And you get 300g for £2.60, which is cheaper than a 20g tube of superglue. It’s a no-brainer really…

Anyway, the base was looking a little empty, so some suitably snapped coffee stirrers and cook’s matches were snapped and distributed to reprsent broken fencing and we had a figure almost ready for painting;

However, I do have a plastic box somewhere which has some small white plastic birds, suitable for either pigeons or crows depending on how they are painted, which were from a model railway site. The idea is to add one or two of these as ‘crows’ to either the base or perched on his head and/or shoulder, but I couldn’t remember where the box was…

So, I may not have set the bar particularly high for myself (compared to others taking part), but I’m hoping that I will end up with a cool model that I’ll be able to use in my upcoming Ravenloft games… just don’t tell my players.

That’s all for this post, but rest assured I will be posting a little more regularly over the next couple of months.

Age of Unreason – Fun with Flags

The problem with the Ravenloft campaign setting, from a wargaming perspective, is that whilst it provides a wealth of detail to enable a DM to craft suitably chilling adventures to challenge a group of role-players, if you want to engage in a skirmish between the soldiers of Falkovnia and one of the neighbouring Domains you run into a few issues.

Wargaming is both a physical and visual medium, wherein the opposing forces usually have a distinctive look or uniform to differentiate the troops on either side. Vague references to ‘the crest of the von Zarovich’s’ or militia wearing ‘the Dilisnya colours’ are all well and good, but without a physical description or definition of what these actually are means that the budding wargamet doesn’t know what colour to paint their uniforms or what banner they fight beneath.

So, in order to field military forces for what are, effectively, ‘Imagi-Nations’, you have to resort to some in-depth research…and a bit of creative licence.

In other words, you make it up.

Now, as I have a smattering of knowledge regarding heraldic design, I do have a slight advantage in knowing the ‘correct’ colours, metals and furs to use, along with the official terminology for the objects and creatures that are commonly used.

However, whilst my artistic skills aren’t too bad, the prospect of coming up with and illustrating twenty individual coats of arms for the nations of the Core, along with uniforms for the dozen or so Domains that have standing armies, was somewhat daunting.

So I decided to cheat.

After a bit of Internet searching, I found an online coat of arms generator that not only has the correct tinctures of traditional heraldry, but also has a library of the majority of the divisions and charges commonly used. For a glossary of heraldic terms, I recommend which should provide nearly everything you need to know about heraldry in an easily searchable format.

However, to actually create your coat of arms, go to the ‘Uplink Heraldry Creator’, which can be found here.

Click on the button “Create Coat of Arms” and away you go. It’s pretty intuitive and selecting specific ‘charges’ (i.e. objects or creatures) does give you multiple options, such as whether the lion is rampant or passant.

Once you’ve finished, you can save the completed coat of arms as a PNG file or a PDF and then do with it as you wish, such as uploading it to your blog, like so;

So, above is the coat of arms of the nation of Falkovnia, the official ‘blazon’ (i.e. description) of which is;

Argent, an eagle displayed sable armed and crowned or.

And now I have the coat of arms, I know that the uniform of the Falkovnian army will be black, yellow and white and can paint my troops appropriately.

So, should you wish to provide a coat of arms for a particular lord, an Imagi-nation or even yourself, why not give the online generator a try. It’s easy to use, makes professional looking designs and is a lot of fun.

Until next time…