Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Trivial Pursuit

My wife won’t play Trivial Pursuit with me anymore since she can never beat me. If we ever played with a group, she would probably insist on being on my team. In college, I once played a game of Trivial Pursuit where I must have got every questions where the answer was Hamilton.

I can’t help but pick up random bits and facts. I see connections in things that no one else sees, and sometimes have a hard time articulating how I got there. My wife will roll her eyes when I mention something I was thinking, and she’ll ask me what made you think of that. My explanation of how I got from here to there reads like a story treatment for an episode of the old PBS show “Connections”.

In high school, my brother Robert, would make fun of my knowledge of esoterica, and after I mentioned something at the school lunch table we shared with out friends, he would pound the table and proclaim loudly, “Yet another entry in the ‘Book of Worthless Facts and Useless Information’!” I think I’ll use that for the title of my autobiography, or at least a chapter. 😉

How Do You Pronounce Paladin?

When we first started playing AD&D and had the new character class of Paladin, we had never encountered that word, so we did not pronounce it correctly.

We said it “pAl – a – din”, like “Aladdin”. We said it the wrong way for a long time. I am not sure which of us found out the correct pronunciation.

We were too young to see the original “Have Gun Will Travel”, and it was never in re-runs when we were growing up. It might have been my mom who corrected us, because she remembered “Have Gun Will Travel.

I do not think there was any other terms that we mangled so badly. We were all well read, and had read “The Hobbit” and “LotR”, and many others, so words were something we knew.


My brother, Robert, is my favorite DM. He can improvise almost anything, and never seems to be surprised or disappointed with the actions a player has his character make. He has had what I would classify as four campaigns. The first campaign was the generic catch-all, different dungeons and modules.

His second campaign, was a desert campaign that centered around Abdul’s. Abdul’s was basically a giant shopping center for the adventurers. One could get anything at Abdul’s if you had the gold.

Abdul’s was inside  a giant mesa. If one looked up, they could see a Constellation class starship hanging from the ceiling.

I remember having to roleplay equipping our first level characters. I ran a thief, who foolishly asked for thieves picks and tools, and had to avoid the law.

Robert invented a couple of creatures, one was a mount called a quast. It was a fast-running desert creature that needed little water. It ran fast enough that a human rider could cross a large stretch of desert and not have to worry about dying of thirst. The other creature was a flying creature. I do not remember what he called it, but they came with a special saddle that had the commands on the saddle, and the word “avaunt” which meant to take flight.

One time two players had these new gizmos, basically Chinese repeating crossbows that could fire 10 bolts a round. They went to a cave and were trapped by a huge hoard of orcs, and rather than rely on our new weapons as Robert, the DM, thought we would. We instead drew our swords and died, a TPK becuase we did not rely on the tools the DM let us have.

Another incident we had in the desert was coming to an oasis and stumbling across a dimensional rift where a bunch of French Foreign Legionnaires were fighting desert tribesmen.

Abdul’s became a crutch for the players in this game and the DM had a great solution. Abdul had done something to offend some ghostly host that one night came and took away Abdul’s piece by piece, and we all watched it disappear. This was a transition to a new campaign Robert called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”.

Two Interesting Posts at Sandbox of Doom

I just discovered Sandbox of Doom. He has two interesting posts, one on open ended versus ongoing campaigns, the other on a comment on a review of old school gaming.

All the games I have played in have all been open ended campaigns, either with no stated objective, or no real plan/cohesion to the setting. My Brother, Robert, did run a campaign he called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”, but it was short lived, and we never got to a level requisite with questing for artifacts. Robert’s current campaign, has been going on for about 25 years, and is one that continues to give enjoyment to his siblings, friends, and his wife and children.

I think the terminology is one where some approach it from a different perspective. Campaign in the historical sense refers to a series of battles in the larger war. For example, the Normandy Campaign lasted from D-Day until the Normandy breakout, several weeks later. In this sense the campaign ended. For gamers, we are routed in historical/military terminology, so for many campaign indicates a series of related events (adventures) that come to and end.

I found it odd that all of these bloggers would put so much into a campaign having an end. I can see their point, if there is a stated goal, like in LotR to destroy the One Ring. Once the ring is destroyed, the “campaign” is over. That does not mean that the same characters cannot continue to adventure in the same setting. If one views the story telling of the campaign as merely a book with a clear beginning, middle, and end, I can see how this would limit a campaign to a clear end.

However, one could argue that such an approach is railroading. What if the players want to keep playing their characters? A clear agreement on the outcome would have to be reached. To me, it makes more sense to have a series of events that may tie up some loose ends, but expose others for future adventures. Just as life is not clear cut/black and white, so too the life of an adventurer is not neatly bookended/compartmentalized. Some old foe that was not dispatched, could return.

Having a clear end to a campaign makes sense if the GM is not available after a certain point in time to continue the campaign. Some groups rotate the role of GMover the same setting, so that each GM’s “turn” constitutes a campaign, there can be many successive campaigns in the same setting.

Back to terminology, one thing we picked up from the books and/or Dragon Magazine, was milieu. We understood milieu to be the world setting for the game, such as Greyhawk. We understood that a milieu would support multiple campaigns. Over the years, we tended just to say, Robert’s Campaign, The Campaign, or Robert’s Game. These phrases all referred to the AD&D game setting developed by Robert as the DM and enjoyed by all of us players.The campaign will continue as long as Robert does not lose interest and there are players willing to play.

In the end, we might quibble over terminology, but the main point is to have fun, and both players and GM need to be in agreement whether the campaign is limited or open ended.

Back to the article referencing old school gaming, I think that Victor at Sandbox of Doom hits the nail on the head when he points out that the rule set one uses and the ability to add or remove that which does not work, is what makes old school (0eD&D/1eAD&D) gaming so versatile. We take out that which does not add to our enjoyment of the game.

Some argue over the limitations of magic-users and clerics only having so many spells in a day, but it is balanced. Those spells can drop hundreds of opponents in the right circumstances, and kill or slow the high level fighter from reaching them. There is balance there. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses. One can try to be a multi-class demi-human, or a human the does one class for awhile and then adopts a second class. There are still limitations. multi-class characters have to earn two or three times as many experience points, and thus take a lot longer to get as powerful as single class characters. A human dual-class character has limitations on what they can do with their original class until they surpass their new class. It is also not just about the numbers. Players should use the numbers to help inform them how to play their characters.

Characters with higher range ability scores can make it easy to skip the roleplaying, as they are more like Superman without a weakness to Kryptonite. That is where a good back story comes in. Those players with more average ability scores can still be the great heroes of the game, if they live long enough to advance to greater skill levels. Again it is all about having fun, and how a group of players and GM can merge their collective knowledge, experience, and story telling into something new and entertaining.

Software I Use For RPGs

I use a dual-boot Windows XP Home and Ubuntu Linux system. My computer is very old for a computer nerd, nearly 8 years old, but since I mostly use Linux, it runs a LOT faster than Windows and does not slow down with age. (This may be the year we get a new computer.)

My number one tool is the programmable text editor, NoteTab Pro. It is a Windows program, but runs just fine in Linux via Wine. I keep text files and outlines with lots of my information. I also have customized clips (NoteTab scripts) for generating random names. I used another tool to generate 1,000 names for each of a variety of cultures, real and fantasy. My clip then uses those lists to pick a random name. I have it try again until it picks a name I want. I also have clips to help me build NPCs, Kingdoms, etc. I keep adding to the capabilities of the Clip Library, but it still has too many rough edges to share. It is hard to find enough time to build the campaign — I get caught up in building the tools.

Next would be Open Office. I mainly use Calc, the Excel equivalent, to do what I need with spreadsheets. Open Office is available for Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac. It can save directly to PDF, which is handy if you have to use Windows. I saw two interesting articles on using spreadsheets for timelines, in this case Googledocs, and for maps (floorplans), just in the past week.

On Linux, one can print to a file, and choose pdf without having to set up another driver to do this like in Windows. The easy way to do this in Windows is with CutePDF. It is a free print driver that lets the user save a PDF of anything they can print, to the directory  of their choice.

For graphics it is Gimp, the free graphics editor, which is available for Windows and many other OSes. I have fiddled with my campaign map which I got on the computer using my camera on a tripod, since my scanner is broken. My camera is now out of commission. It is over 6 years old. I can get a 5 megapixel camera for a lot less than I paid for this one. (Sometime after summertime expenses for the family.)

For web browsing, I use Firefox. It too, is a program with native versions for many OSes. I like its tabbed interface, which I have used for over 11 years with NoteTab. I often end up with a few dozen tabs with the various topics I research. I like the ability to save a group of tabs together, so I can re-open all of them at once. It makes it easy to go on the side tracks of research, but not lose your original place. I also like the customizability of all the add-ons. NOTE: I switched to Chrome a few years ago, due to speed issues with Firefox. I was reluctant, but don’t miss it.

I have a couple of one-page wikis, such as ten foot wiki, that I am evaluating to help organize my information. Using such wikis online requires having them secured and backed up regularly to prevent malicious or accidental loss of information. The nice thing is that they can be used locally for the DM to keep all his notes in one place if he has a fast enough computer to handle it. The drawback is no power. The advantage of pen and paper is that you can play by candle light, or the light of a campfire, as my group did in high school, when we stayed at a friend’s house “in the country”. We would beat on each other with sticks for swords. We learned about padding our weapons from an SCA guy at the local Renaissance Festival, and had a few less bruises.

When I started with Basic D&D in 1978, computers were a novelty no one I knew could afford. The well-to-do families had the first Atari game systems. My high school had one Apple II, that we occasionally got to play a Star Trek game, there might have been a couple other games. And we had to write a ten line program to do square and cube roots. It was either my junior or senior year in the 1981-83 time frame that we finally got a TI 99-4A. In college, I was in the first group of freshmen that did not have to use punch cards. It was not until the mid 90s that I had a computer of my own that I was able to type up all my character and other information. I still do maps by hand. I suppose if I had a Wacom Tablet, that might meet my needs. The one thing about us “old-school” gamers is that we can spend a lot less money to have fun. If I had all the game systems and other fancy toys my boys have, I would never have gone outside as a kid. I certainly would never have been bored.

My brothers and others in our game group talked about having computers networked together so that each person only saw things from his character’s perspective, but the GM could see it all. We should have patented that idea, since WOW and others have done it. Oh well. Since those online games require a monthly infusion of cash, I have steered clear of them. RPGs are a big enough time sink if one is not careful. It is all too easy to lose track of the time when engrossed in a project on the computer.

The nice thing about using computers with gaming is that you can consolidate a lot of information in a small space and still read it, all without getting writer’s cramp. I am slowly consolidating all my information so that I only have one binder for my characters, and another for my campaign.

Now there are all kinds of programs for running RPGs online. It is hard not to have that face-to-face. I think I could do a game like that if I could do it with the group I used to play with all the time. If you know each other, such things would be easier. I do have online friendships with people around the world, but playing an RPG online seems quite difficult. I may give it a try sometime, since finding a local group has not yet born fruit. The one benefit is that you don’t have to worry about your wife not approving of the people coming to your house. My wife is not OK with the whole gaming thing, so I have not introduced my kids to it. I think after all our years of marriage, I have finally convinced her that it is not evil, in the sense of all the sensationalism of the 1980’s. The only kinds of games my wife likes are board games and card games.