Category Archives: News Reviews & Culture

Mark Hunt – An Interview – The Return of GangBusters

I knew +Mark Hunt from G+ and just happened to meet him at +John Reyst’s Open Gaming Store booth. I recalled seeing a post about Gangbusters, but it had not clicked that it was back. Mark has a license to the GangBusters game! I first learned of Mark with his prolific postings of items for White Star. Many know him for his DCC setting Drongo.

Mark was signing a Gangbuster’s box, and it had the look and size of what I remember from 30+ years ago. The guy asked Mark to sign it and I was really puzzled, thinking it was an original boxed set, until Mark explained that it was his game.

We talked about collaborating on some things in multiple genres/rule systems, one of them being Gang Busters! Wow! I haven’t played in 30+ years, so I guess I need to brush up on the rules….

I did a phone interview with Mark on Saturday, March 12th. Before I started asking interview questions, he mentioned that he is good for the next 3 or 4 years of putting stuff out on a regular basis.

Interview Questions

When did you get your start in RPG’s?
Summer 1979. D&D Red Box and Blue Box. One day in Jr. High, we talked about it in the  Lunch room & met up after school.

What games have you played?
Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, probably hundreds since then. Powers & Perils, Champions, you name it, I played it. I have played every year since then. I once played Champions two years straight.

What games have you ran?
I have ran pretty much just about every game. Which helped a lot with game design, you have to play games and know what is out there, if you want to make games.

I’ve been running GangBusters since 1983. I have enough stuff on hard drive to fill a dozen books without even trying.

What games do you still play or run?
GangBusters, D&D, Swords of the Empire, DCC, Basic, Swords & Sorcery, C&C, Call of Cthulhu, and boardgames, just games, our group tries to keep playing.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?
Dozens, our first group had women back in 1979, and 3 or 4 at a time all the way to the present. It’s easy.

Does you wife play?
No

Does it cause problems?
No, she plays computer games, some are RPG’s, just not table top.

What does she think of your endeavors?
She likes it, especially when they start cashing in. I take what I make and roll it into producing the next game.

Have you ever had a woman GM?
Yes, a few. They are just like everyone else.  I’ve played all over the world so I had all the kinds of game masters that you can think of.

You played all over the world because you were in the Air Force?
Yes for six years and it included the1st Gulf War. We used to play Twilight 2000 in Germany back in the 80’s. A game where we go to war with Russia and get stranded in Europe when it happens. We used all the strategies and tactics we knew, and we had more authenticity than most people.

You seem to have an eclectic taste in genres and historical periods, do you find it hard to focus with so many different irons in the fire?
No.

Why not?
I like to read all kinds of stuff. I know a lot about this, this and this. If there is something you need to know, read a book. My dad says, They hide things they don’t want people to know in a book. A game designer should always be reading, and learning more stuff.

You got your start, at least in my experience, of publishing ships, classes, and supplements for White Star. Was that your real start?It was actually Drongo, then Planetary Transmission and some free items for White Star.

NOTE: Drongo is a DCC compatible setting.

I know you have a Napoleonic era game in the works, and other things, what can you tell us about that?
Swords of the Empire will be ready by the beginning of next month. People can follow on the G+ page and watch development of it, and see how it has changed and evolved. I revise based on feedback from others’ comments in the community.

The latest project seems to be a runaway success – GangBusters.
Is that a game you played back in the day?
NOTE: See above, he’s been playing and GMing it since it came out in 1983.

What made you decided to go for a license to GangBusters?
It was just sitting there and I just asked if I can use it and it went from there. If I like it, there has to be others that like it. If I can sell enough and it can pay for the effort I put into it, all the better.

Is it an exclusive license, that is, are you the only one licensed to do anyting with GB?
So far, I’m the only one out there. I’m working on several things, just making stuff work. I can’t go into more detail at this time.

How hard was it to get the license to do this?
More or less I just asked Rick Krebs and he was receptive. I can’t get into any details on that either. There is stuff [other famous IP] that people can probably pick up if they put in some effort to research it. It is not impossible, is the best I can say.

What did Rick Krebs say when you asked him, was he excited?
Others had talked to him and it never went anywhere, so I showed him what I can do and he purchased it and reviewed it. When the writer likes it and says keep doing it, that’s a seal of approval.

Why the twist with the “Weird Tales & Paranormal Investigations?
Actually it existed in the original setting. In Polyhedron magazine, they had an adventure with giant bugs that took over a farm. I did not create it out of thin air, it existed in some shape or form in the original game.
The original game talked about various ideas for how to expand it. All I did was expand it. I read all the articles where they mentioned GangBusters. I am making it modular so you can use or not, or expand or not, cause at the end of the day it is still a game of cops & robbers. If you can’t find an adventure after a night of watching TV, with so many police procedurals that are on now, I can’t help you, NCIS, X-files, etc. Warehoue 13, Thin Man, etc. There is so much that fits.
Me – It’s seeing the connections.
Mark – Exactly. I increased the book size to show what you can do with it. It doesn’t have to be just gangsters. You can do journalists. The Incredible Hulk is about new reporter chasing the Hulk cross country. The players  could be a pool of reporters in an Enquirer type organization.
Me – GangBusters is set in the same time period as H.P. Lovecraft was writing.
Mark – I’m staying away from the Cthulhu mythos, there is more out there than just that.
If you want to play Call of Cthulhu play it, it’s a great game. If you want to go in different directions, play my game. Play GangBusters, there is enough out there to keep you busy

I really like the NPC card decks, what was your inspiration for those?
Old police mugshots. I make cards with mugshots, with enough stats to run. I made the first 18, then another 18, and eventually I’ll have a full deck of 52 cards. Literally take a card and you are ready to play. At Gary Con I passed out cards, and said, this is what stats mean and we were up and running in minutes. NPC’s, bad guys, players, etc. They are small and portable. Once you know the rules that’s all you need. Keep it in your wallet and you’re ready to play whenever and wherever. [See this YouTube video for a sample of the cards.]

Me – They make a great tool for a pick up or convention game for pre-gens. There was a lot of buzz from those who played in the games Mark ran.

It’s been mentioned on the G+ TSR GangBusters Community, that you plan to do a Kickstarter. I know that you have a goal to have everything ready before the Kickstarter and to keep it manageable. How much can you tell us about that?
I’m still working on it. Eventually there will be a box set, hard back book, GM screen, and modules, plus add ons will all be figured out and done. So once we hit our goal and are funded, I will order and ship. I did a test run of box sets, and people are impressed with what I have now. Some have shipped to Spain, England, all over world now. I hope a Kickstarter will help it reach a bigger area.

When might we get wind of the Kickstarter?
Depends on when I get done with something in the background – I can’t talk about it – then preparing for the Kickstarter will start to speed up.

What is the secret to your prolific output? I ask, because it is an amazing story that just floored me. I was giving you a hard time at Gary Con to slow down because you’re making the rest of us look bad.
Last year was my last chemo – I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and going through treatments. I said to myself, “If this is my last year, I’m going to do what I want to do,” and I literally drove myself to do these games, even if only 5 words in a day. After a year, I had a lot. I just hacked it out piece by piece. “Never give up, never surrender,” as they say. Marks’ wife can be heard in the background: “He’s not going to do anything else. By Grapthar’s hammer….”
To the outside world it appeared like I was cranking it out fast, it seemed like a lot real fast. As they say, an overnight success is ten year’s worth of work. A lot of games that blew up were simmering in the background and no one paid attention until they got done.

You mentioned you were seeking a license to do a game with a big name, and well-know IP, but it fell through. 
Any clues to other IP’s you have your eye on? (Probably not, since you don’t want to spoil it.)
Exactly. I’m always looking for more stuff, but can’t mention them, so I don’t get scooped. If it’s not being used, why not? A Lot of stuff is just sitting quietly. It’s not hard if you do the work and ask. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Drongo for DCC is mine and I can always go and do a BX version. As long as I don’t compete with one of their [Goodman Games] products it should be OK.

Any hints about projects coming up?
Oh geeze, let me look at my hard drive. I’ve thought about one or two retroclones, but will mention those when the time is right. I don’t want it all at once, that is, I want to spread it out. Cloaked Avengers is a new class for GangBusters in the next month, like the Shadow. You can add to an existing GangBusters game with mysterious powers. I’m also working on a WWI alternate history for GangBusters.  I plan to stage so it’s not out all at once, and do one or two adventures to flesh out stuff  I already have.

Joe’s Diner was 6 or 7 pages, then 18, then 32, then I made little booklets. The PDF is automatically updated, so it’s done. The only way to get it in book form is in the boxed set.
Me – That’s a smart way to drive sales.
Mark – Exactly.

Have you seen all the talk about yesterday’s press release about the new TableTop Library site?
Yes. I’m thinking about trying to sell stuff there, it’s one more avenue for sales.

Anything else you want us to know about?
Hit me up on G+ if you see me, and help out get the word out, Swords of the Empire, GangBusters , Fantasy game – no name yet. Everything is just falling into place so fast it is ridiculous. I might have Boxed sets [of the yet to be named and released fantasy game ] at NTRPGCon.

GangBusters boxed sets and T-Shirts, and Swords of the Empire boxed sets will definitely be at North Texas RPG Con.

– – –

Mark is a really nice guy, easy to talk to, and inviting. Other aspiring game designers were asking him to look at their stuff, and he was looking forward to it. He knows game mechanics. Just wjile talking about general ideas, he had an idea for something. Being in his presence, I couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm for games. If we lived in the same town, I’d find a way to play in his games.

Mark is enjoying life and riding this dream of designing games and having a blast while doing it. I expect to hear exciting things in the coming weeks.

Wednesday Night AD&D on Roll 20 – Session 100!

I’ve been playing a weekly AD&D game, Graveyard of Empires:The Islands of Curabel, for two years next week, and also session 100. We missed two weeks for DM vacation, etc. and one when not enough players showed. 100 represents the number of played sessions. I am the only player who has attended every session, with the same character. There is one other active player that has been at it since session one. On session 98, the rest of us thought his character was dead, so the character is “out of play” for simplicity’s sake, until the character can make his way back to us.

This is very cool, to be on the brink of 100 online sessions. All the more because I know that many games fizzle after a while. I would be curious to know how many Roll20 campaigns are still going this long, or longer?

Our DM, John, does Sandbox style. He has set things planned, with pre-programmed events that happen whether or not we take the bait to go do things. We have surprised him with things we chose to do or ignore. He talks about his campaign over on his blog, Dwarven Automata. He has shared his campaign bible, scripts her uses for generating NPC’s, directions, weather, etc. John has also shared DM notes on player write ups. He only recently started this, so only have a few sessions done.

We seem to have the right mix of players who get AD&D and we have fun. I look forward to riding this out and see what transpires.

I’ll be posting an email interview with our DM when it’s ready. In the meantime, I thought I’d post this and test the waters to see how many other games have lasted so long.

What is the longest running Roll20/other online platform game you have played in?

Not Another Awesome Kickstarter! – New Big Dragon’s Classic Edition GM Screen

The day after I listed all the Kickstarters on which I spent too much money*, +Richard LeBlanc launches another one for his Classic Edition GM Screen.

The video says it all, and if you read the details, you will see that he has it all planned out. The layout is done, and he obviously has a sample and verified the weight, as the two backer levels with physical products have postage built in.

The initial level is just the PDF’s at $7, then a jump to $43, and for two of each physical item, $71. Barring humid conditions he plans to deliver the end of April. For someone as well organized and focused as Richard appears to be, I have no doubt that he’ll deliver.

This is how a Kickstarter should be done, all the work of the product is finished. There is UV protection for the screen to prevent/minimize fading.

It is more than just the two piece GM screen, it includes:

  • An 8 page GM reference document of all the tables on the screen.
  • 8 individual card stock character sheets for the 7 main classes and one generic sheet.
  • A spell record sheet.
  • A character record log.
  • A 4 page cleric spell handout.
  • An 8 page magic user spell handout.

All of this is illustrated by images by Arthur Rackham. I assume these area all public domain images, which will keep costs down.

The funding goal is not too large, $4,500, so I suspect it will fund quickly, unless no one really wants such a GM screen. He isn’t interested in stretch goals because he has a product ready to go, and wants it done. More projects should be simple, and at most do stretch goals that fit the overall tone and scope of the project.

$43 seems a bit steep. All the one gets is awesome. I am curious how much this would be without shipping. If it works with all/most original rules and clones, it is a definite plus. I am torn. I want it. The PDF only level is easily affordable, but I also want the physical product. I’ll probably fail my save vs. Kickstarter on this one, but we’ll see. I’ll try to give it a few days.

It would be neat to see a screen only option that includes the PDFs of everything. I’m not sure I would use the character sheets, and it wouldn’t be hard to print the spell lists from the PDFs. I wouldn’t want to write on those fancy sheets. If they were dry erase compatible, then I’d definitely use them.

*Is it possible to spend too much money on RPG materials?

UPDATE: See this article on The Dilemma of Pricing Kickstarters, by Richard LeBlanc, of the above mentioned KS. Very insightful. Those planning their own KS should pay attention. He plans a FAQ on top of this article.

Kickstarter Update – My Backed Kickstarters and Their Status

I figured that I would take a break from my posts on Gary Con and do a long overdue update on the Kickstarters I have backed. The stalled, the failed, the late, and the in process.

My oldest outstanding Kickstarter is City State of the Invincible Overlord. It has a lot of issues, and November, 2015 marked a year that it was behind. Erik Tenkar posted an article on it today, so I won’t re-hash it here. I pledged at the $40 level.

The Great Kingdom is the next oldest project that I backed. It is D&D Documentary #2, that is stalled in legal limbo with D&D Documentary #1. I’m out $50 for this one. If I could, I would give my $50 to D&D Documentary #3, that I wrote about here.

Grimtooth’s Ultimate Traps Collection was slated to deliver in July, 2015, as per the information on the Kickstarter page. It was overly complex in my opinion, as there were multiple hard cover books, each with different content, essentially each a different book. While I have seen pictures on G+ of some who have received theirs, I must be in the group getting theirs with the second round of shipments. While it is late, I’m not worried as others have theirs. I backed at the $50 level.

The Planet Mercenary Roleplaying Game is one I backed for one of the options instead of the game itself. I read Schlock Mercenary, and like the 70 Maxims, so went for the hard back book. As per the last update, we may be seeing that soon.

I backed the Metamorphosis Alpha: Epsilon City at the $95 level. My ability to resist these things is tragically low. If only my blogging or other endeavors matched the outlay for these things…. It was slated to deliver in March, 2016, but it won’t hit that target. I think it will eventually deliver and be an awesome product.

The most adventurous level of backing for any Kickstarter is the Marmoreal Tomb at $150. It was slated for March, 2016 delivery, but is not going to hit that target. Both Ernie and Benoist had the flu and other minor delays. There are regular updates on the Facebook page of The Hobby Shop Dungeon, and the Kickstarter page. I know it will eventually deliver.

The B/X Monster Reference Index is another one by +Peter Regan. It was short, limited stretch goal changes, and I already have it. I’ll do a separate post on its awesomeness.

Fifty Fantastic Functions of the D50 by Goodman Games and the GameScience d50. This was a quick Kickstarter and delivered lightning fast. I got Lou Zocchi to sign it at Gary Con. There are lots of cool ideas in this book.

I backed the original ACKS and hadn’t backed any of their other Kickstarters until now. This time, I went with Lairs & Encounters. I must say, the preview of the lair maps are awesome! I backed at the $50 level. It is slated to deliver in March, 2016. Even if it slips into April, I won’t be disappointed.

I’m not much of one for card games, but the original Dungeon Solitaire rules intrigued me, so I gave into the KS for Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls.  I went for the $50 level for two decks. the art alone is awesome! It is slated for June, 2016 delivery and so far, everything is on track.

Because +Peter Regan is involved, I gave in to the Black Hack. As I was writing this article, I got notice of the need to fill in my survey. The PDF coupon will be sent to my email soon. This is slated to deliver in April. I backed at the 8 pound level, about $13 I think it was. I have no doubt, barring an issue with the printer or mail, I will get it on time.

I gave into the cuteness of the Baby Bestiary Vol. 2 and Vol. 1 Reprint. It funded on March 8th, and is slated for delivery in August, 2016. It was cool to see all the art in progress. I look forward to this. I gave in to the $75 level, since I missed volume 1.

Finally, there are three Kickstarters that are in their final days and weeks.

World Architect Cards are cool cards for building locations for a new world, or running a figure out what’s there style hex crawl. The fund drive ends March 16, so there’s still a couple of days to get involved. I went for the $35 level, which includes all the stretch goals. They need almost $500 for the final stretch goal: Layered Tiff Files Released to all backers at $10 and above.

The ABCs of RPGs – Books and Coloring for Adults and Kids! is a bunch of cool art. I’m a grandfather, so my granddaughter might like this when she is older. I also got one for myself. I hope I can get more in the future, if I am ever blessed with more grandchildren. The two coloring books and two activity book option is $30. The funding for this one is solid. If they get another $40,000, they’ll do it as a board book. Delivery is slated for August, 2016.

Finally, I have backed a gemstone dice Kickstarter, Cat’s Eye Gemstone Dice Polyhedral Sets, d6’s, & d20’s. I went in at the $45 level. The funding drive runs through March 30, and they are not yet halfway to their goal of $12,500.  Delivery is slated for June, 2016. I won’t be sad if this doesn’t fund. Yes, I want cool dice, but I went a bit overboard adding so many new Kickstarters to the list.

The year is young, and I need to hold back, in case there is something I just can’t do without. Just remember, I don’t have a problem….

 

 

A Solo Presentation and Chat With Michael Witwer

Following the presentation, Growing Up Gygax, there was another presentation by Michael Witwer, Genesis: Unexpected Journey of Gary Gygax. The word that this event was moved did not happen, or else I was the only one signed up. There was audio visual trouble, so we just sat down next to each other and he ran the Power Point on his laptop.

Michael identified the correct name of the sanatorium Gary explored as a youth, with its below ground tunnels. He referred to them as steam tunnels or laundry tunnels. At the mention of steam tunnels, I found it oddly ironic about the “steam tunnel guy” in the 80’s.

Gary called it the Oak Hill Sanitarium. It was actually the Oak Wood Sanitorium on Catholic Hill, so Oak and Hill were put together, causing the difficulty. When Gary was young, the building still stood and the steam or laundry tunnels were still accessible. There were also holding cells, very much a dungeon setting.

It was cool to sit down and talk a bit about his book, Empire of Imagination, etc. Recently, the audiobook version came out. Next the paper back is forthcoming and will have additions and corrections. Michael is super cool and a nice guy. He has ideas for other books, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever do another biography. I bought a copy of Michael’s book, and got his autograph.

On Saturday, before I left, I ran into Stephen Sullivan, and got a copy of the color print of his map for the end pages for Empire of Imagination.

I only wish I had the energy and drive to brave the cold and find some of the sights. It’s only fours hours or so away, so I might try when it’s a bit warmer, and make a weekend drive of it.

Stephen Sullivan map for Empire of Imagination
Stephen Sullivan map for Empire of Imagination

D&D Documentary Number 3 – Rebuilding Trust

While at Gary Con, I attended a session titled, D&D Documentary Teaser and Q&A. Pat Kilbane is working on a D&D documentary. It is a third documentary totally unrelated to the other two documentaries now tied up in litigation*.  There is enough about this documentary to impress me, that I decided on the spot to write up a separate article to give it the focus it deserves. In short, I will do what I can to promote it.

My new friend, +Satine Phoenix, is one of the interviewees in the three clips we were shown, and she happened to join in, as she was early for Frank Mentzer’s D&D game in the same room, following this 1 hour session.

I wish I had the foresight to record this. It was a good discussion, and my notes were only on the high points. As more comes along, I will mention it here on my blog.

Satine & Pat after the presentation.
Satine & Pat after the presentation.

The three interviews in the sneak peak were with:

So far, shooting for those on the West coast has been done. Next, while at Gary Con, he is interviewing all the old guard from the beginning to get their perspective. He filmed a session by Tim Kask on the first five years of TSR. I had the honor of asking the last question.

Rather than have yet another Kickstarter for a D&D documentary, when the previous two are tied up in litigation, Pat wants to focus on building trust with the intended audience. His idea is to do small two minute pieces as part of a Patreon to create a track record of delivering smaller bits, until there is enough trust to do some form of fundraiser, such as Kickstarter.

An example of the short videos he envisions is the Gary Con Two-Minute History video, featuring Luke Gygax explaining what Gary Con is.

You can follow Pat’s efforts on the Facebook page, Dorks of Yore.

*Full disclosure, I am in for and most likely out $50 for the second documentary’s Kickstarter, The Great Kingdom. The first film that Kickstarted is Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary, which I missed the Kickstarter altogether. You can find details of the trials and tribulations of these two films with your google-fu. I want to stay positive and show what Pat is doing. As with most of us, I think we just want any film, that is well done, to come out while the old guard is still available.

Quick Interview With Jeff Perren

In my quest to get signatures from all of the special guests at GaryCon VIII, I tracked down Jeff Perren, in the miniatures warfare room.

He graciously signed his blurb in my program.

During the Growing Up Gygax session I had attended just a short while before, Luke mentioned that Jeff Perren had disavowed the fantasy portion of Chainmail, and that it was all Gary. So I asked him if he was getting ready to play Chainmail, at the sandtable where he was sitting, and he said, “No, Cavaliers and Roundheads.” Then he said something I didn’t expect. “I have never played Chainmail by the rules as published.”

He was gracious enough to let me get out my cellphone and let me record his re-statement of what he told me.

I stopped recording too soon. Jeff went on to talk about the last time he played against Gary in 2006. I believe the picture of them together in the program guide is of that day.

NOTE: If I am not the first to ask this question and publicize his answer, please let me know with a formal citation of the source.

GaryCon Day 0, GaryCon Day 1, GaryCon Day 2, GaryCon Day 3, GaryCon Day 4

OSR Is Good/OSR Is Bad

I saw some headlines that indicate there’s another argument on the internet about the OSR. Again?

To which I present this little “poem”.

OSR is Good, OSR is Bad

OSR is Happy, OSR is Sad

OSR is Joy, OSR is Mad

OSR is Fun, OSR is Glad

OSR is three little letters that don’t give a flying #$%^# if you like them or not.

If you like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If you don’t like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If everyone agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

If no one agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

I don’t get why some people live to stir the pot, kick the anthill, mountain climb molehills, and pick arguments when they have thin skin and long toes.

Games are supposed to be fun.

If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

FINALLY! – But Not Quite

The first three volumes of Original D&D are now back on sale from WotC via D&D Classics/RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

These are based on the re-prints in the special wooden box collector’s edition that came out a few years ago. Thus they have new covers and the WotC logo instead of the TSR logo. WotC can’t use the TSR logo, since they let the TSR trademark lapse, allowing for the new TSR to be born a few years ago.

The cover artwork is cool. It is also much sharper than the originals, so not quite the same feel. I don’t know why they changed the cover artwork, but not all the interior artwork. It could be due to the arrangements with the cover artists, or just WotC wanting to mix it up a bit to make it their own thing.

It’s better than nothing, and what I have been hoping for for a long time, but I still wait for all the supplemental volumes. I hope those are forthcoming soon!

Is Chainmail part of the possible PDF’s that WotC might offer in PDF? I seem to recall that was available before they pulled the plug several years back. I had already spent too much money getting PDF’s of all of the AD&D manuals that were available then, so missed out when they got pulled.

Much cheaper than trying to get the originals rules in physical form, other than getting the PDF’s and printing them yourself. I’ve collected a few of the original volumes, and it’s not cheap.

EDIT – in 2015 WotC released the PDFs for OD&D and Chainmail in 2016.