31 March 2011

Three Sentences from My Players

Last post, I described my sandbox, player-driven idea to add setting details: make each of them come up with three sentences about their character.  Each sentence had to contain a proper name that wasn't their character name.

Last night was our first session.  Here are a few details before I get to each player's three sentences.

My group consisted of two professors (Ph.D. in experimental psychology and sociology), a freelance nature educator (who works with schools and other groups to help them incorporate things such as gardening into the curriculum), and a Jeopardy champion (seriously.  This person won three nights in a row a few years ago).  There are two more prospective players who could not make it last night because of work.

They rolled characters.  I gave them two options: 3d6 arrange any way you want OR 4d6 drop the lowest in order.  Everyone opted for the later.  We're using a Labrynth Lord/Menzter/Moldvay mash-up, essentailly using mostly Menzter but incorporating some things from the others as we see fit.  We're using cleric spell progression from LL, for example, mainly because in Mentzer clerics don't get spells until second level.  What emerged was a thief, an elf, a cleric, and a fighter.  Once everyone got the stats squared away, I then asked them to write the Three Sentences on an index card.  As an example, and a way of setting the stage, I read them the three sentences I posted yesterday.

Here's what my smart-alec players came up with:

Raymond is the Count of Tripoli.
He earned Best in Show and Mr. Congeniality at the Battle of Acre.
He seeks a hermit: Herman the Malodorous.

Pithia is a priestess of Xena, the Warrior Princess.
Several weeks ago, she tried to rob Glibd Blibdi, but only retrieved a pitiful love letter from him; feeling sorry for the elf, she became his protector.
Long ago, her great-grandmother Mabry of Dinkeyton became a legendary fighter and country music sensation.

Glibd was disowned by his Blibdi relations for "unnatural relations with a prize Hrim goat" -- a charge that is false -- and is making his way to Weyland to meet his third cousin Ledewan Brightflower before traveling to Hrim or possibly Mariq to make his fortune.
Glib, like great-grandmother Blindi Blibdi, searches for the Orb of Zog.
Glibd finds non-Hrimi goats to lack personality, produce inferior wool, and display a common and weak aspect.

Remy is the son of Castile, head of the Aldejas Thieves' Guild.
His greatest heist was the Emerald of Azule.
His brother, Lokus, is a shame to the family as he became a magic-user rather than a thief.

I'm not really sure what else to say!  I suppose some might be annoyed at the silliness, but I recognize my players really are there to have a good time, first and foremost, and so plan to run with it.  You can bet there will be some surprises in store.

Bonus points if you can match the player with the class with the three sentences!

I'll give the full play report once we finish the adventure (Knowledge Illuminates by Tim Shorts), but it's proving to be a lot of fun so far.

30 March 2011

Three Sentences to Begin A World

The university group will game tonight!  We should have at least four players, with a fifth likely to make it if he can switch his work shift.  I am excited!

With no real way to tell how long this game will last and with spare time at a premium for everyone, I am loathe to invest lots of time into setting design.  Yet, I love world building.  Thus, I am going to get my players to help me a bit, in an organic and improvisational way.  I'm calling in Three Sentences.

One thing I always love to do as a playeris to improvise small world details at the table; I've been known to just throw out names of kingdoms, powerful long dead mages, ancient artifacts, or local inns while speaking in character.  The best DM's I've gamed with love it; they try to then incorporate those things into the game, at least as window dressing.  As I DM, I love it.  It gives me more grist for the setting mill.

With character creation happening tonight, I am going to ask each player to write down Three Sentences about their character on an index card.  Not so unusual, but I am also going to mandate that each sentence include at least one proper noun (that's not their character name).  Thus "I'm a fat dwarf who likes cheese" would not be acceptable.  "I'm a fat dwarf from the Caverns of Vrain who likes the cheeses of Rogest" would.  I'll then take those persons, places, and things and use them to sketch out a setting.  The players are already invested, since they came up with this stuff in the first place.  The nice thing is, there's no real pressure to develop everything about everything all at once.  We already know something about Rogest: he/she/it makes cheese.  Other details can follow as needed and as I or the players have more time to develop them.

I now feel compelled to provide three sentences for my players.  Here they go:

The Sultan of Mariq looks east, over the Grim Peaks, now that he has dealt with the Ferazzi Nomads.
The Grim Peaks, indeed all the Border Range, are honecombed with caverns and tunnels left behind by the Peoples of Hrim.
Here, in the town of Weyland, one waits weeks for carvans from Aldejas to make their way along the bandit infested Rotter's Road.

29 March 2011

I may, in fact, game tomorrow.

My trip to St. Louis went reasonably well.  The conference was good.  I gave a decent response to a good paper, heard some other interesting work, networked a bit, and saw some friends.  The weather was not so good, however.  It snowed 5-6 inches, which made seeing much of the city, including FLGSs, difficult.  Next time, St. Louis!

It looks like the "professors gaming group" may be reforming.  I gamed for a bit last year with a few professors and staff from my university, exploring Stonehell Dungeon using Labyrinth Lord.  We're going to try and get together tomorrow night.  We'll make some new characters and I hope to run Tim's Knowledge Illuminates using some Labyrinth Lord/Mentzer Basic hybrid.  I've got a cool idea for some collaborative world building with the group, which I hope to share here, but I am trying not to get too excited.  The academic-life, semester rhythm makes it difficult to get too invested in a long term game, or at least it's been that way so far.  As of now, I am just happy to be getting together with some friends, eating some soup (our hosts always make a pot), and running what looks to be a cool adventure.  I'll let everyone know how it turns out.

24 March 2011

Anyone know of a game store in St. Louis?

I'm headed out today to a conference in St. Louis, so if anyone has any recommendations for game stores, restaurants, or general cool things to see, let me know.

This means my posting will be light for the next few days.  We'll likely have to wait until Monday to meet Aleena. :(

23 March 2011

"Your first adventure" -- Mentzer reflections part 2

I'm skipping ahead in the red Basic book a bit, mainly because I find myself with a quiet house for a few hours tonight.  The kids are asleep (though my poor daughter is sick) and the wife is out with some friends.  Now is a great time to run through at least part of "Your First Adventure," which begins on page three.  I'll go back and talk about the "How to use this book" and "dedication" sections later.

Now, I've got my dice, a piece of paper, and the Basic book. So let's see what this Dungeons and Dragons thing is all about.

Who am I?
I am a fighter.  A strong hero.  I am famous (yeah!) but poor (boo!).  Day by day, I look for monsters and treasure in the unknown.  Sounds a lot like a job.  I think it's interesting that, while I am a "hero", my primary motivation is looking for monsters and treasure.  There's very little here at this point about "doing good".

My fighter has abilities (17 Str, 11 Dex, 9 Int).  I write those in the middle of the paper as instructed.  I have all the equipment I need to survive in the wilderness.  And, interestingly, a "beautiful sword."  Also, chain mail and a dagger.  I'll say my fighter is a male named Ragnar.  Let's go!

The First Adventure is, essentially, a solo module.  There is boxed text that gives plot points and scene descriptions. These boxes are followed by rules descriptions.  The first box gives the basic setting: a small town, surrounded by hills with caves.  Here, we also meet one of the most infamous men in all of fantasy -- Bargle.  That SOB has been terrorizing my town!  Reading the text, I venture into a cave and am instantly attacked by a goblin.  Time for combat.

My first role is, no joke, a 20.  Take that, goblin!  (I needed an 11 or better to hit).  That causes the goblin to run away.

This section is very low stakes -- the goblin can't hit me and I get to keep rolling until I hit him.  This introduces the concept of "hitting" and, subsequently, damage and hit points.  Ragnar has 8 hit points.  Hit points, long a sore spot for many critics of D&D are simply explained here.  They are how much damage it takes to kill a creature.  Hits are not necessarily physical contact, but any physical blow that gets through a character's protection.

Next the Constitution ability is introduced, with a brief note about how it influences hit points.  Ragnar has a 16 Con.  Then, the adventure continues.

In the next room -- er, "chamber" -- I am set upon by a ten-foot-long rattlesnake.  Using the new concept of hit points, I roll for both the snake and myself.  Of course, I roll a "1" first for myself, missing the snake. The text then says the snake hits me, so my 8 hp are reduced to 7.

The book then says "when playing a D&D game by yourself. . ." which implies that the game CAN be played by oneself.  Interesting.  I guess that's what I am doing right now, but the possibility of solo play isn't one I expected to see mentioned.

Of course, it's a snake, so now's a logical time to introduce the idea of the Saving Throw.  I fail my saving throw, rolling a "9" (I needed a 12), so I take 2 more points of damage.  In this combat, I get taken down to 2 hit points between the snake's fangs and poison.  Fortunately, after the second pass (I don't know about rounds yet), the snake can't hit me any longer.  Emboldened by my invincibility, I roll a "12", "16", and "17" and dispatch the snake.

Now, the treasure!  The snake was sitting on a pile of coins, so I learn about electrum and platnuim pieces.  I also learn to search rooms -- er, chambers -- because when I do I find a pearl in a corner.  The book then reminds me that I am hurt and I should probably run away if I find anything else too dangerous, but that "I shouldn't run away just because of a little fighting."

I keep going and hear a voice.  Then, well, Aleena waits for me in the next room.  *insert wistful sigh here*

22 March 2011

"Read This Book First" -- Mentzer Reflections, Part 1

The cover has officially come off the book itself, and the front and back are clinging together by a sliver of thick paper stock.

But inside that cover is a "Preface" and a "How to Use This Book".  That's where I'll begin.

The opening lines of the preface are charming and a little ridiculous, at first glance:

"This is a game that is fun.  It helps you imagine."

I say ridiculous because of the first line.  What kind of game isn't fun?  Isn't that the whole point of games?  But when you read those two sentences as the beginning of, well, a sort of argument designed to show that this particular and unique sort of game is fun precisely because it helps you imagine, then they begin to make a lot more sense.  The rest of the preface is Mentzer's attempt to say what sort of game this is and why it's fun.  It may, in fact, "be more fun than any other game you have ever played."  That's a bold claim, but one Mentzer supports with a basic description of the interactive, collaborative, and open ended nature of D&D.  It's interactive because "you can write the stories."  It's collaborative because it "is a way for us to imagine together."  It's open ended because "it will keep going as long as you like" and "You're the one making it up!" 

The game is also different and, to some extent, difficult.  Even though the preface says "it's not hard" it also says "it takes a little reading and a little thinking", as well as " a bit of time."(1)  The preface also implies that the game takes skill: "It's fun when you get good at the game."  I think this line, in particular, is interesting because it reinforces the old school idea that player skill matters.(2)  The next two lines about knowing about kobolds and dragons also suggest that "metagame knowledge" is somewhat expected.  How else is my character to know what sort of dragons are good and which are evil?

There are also interesting elements in the preface that show the revised Mentzer editions are designed to maintain and expand the popularity the Holmes & Moldvay engendered.  It claims that the game is "nearly the most popular game ever played" and suggests that millions of people have already made it a hobby.  I wonder if that's not, fundamentally, how to view these boxed sets - -maintaining and expanding the popularity of the game by splitting it from AD&D.  Thus, it's made into an introductory game ("basic") while at the same time expanding the game's reach.  I wonder what sort of expectations the TSR folks had about folks reading this book, then eventually moving into AD&D.  That's what we did, sort of.  I can't remember at what point we discovered that there were hardback "advanced" versions of these rules, but I do remember that, at some point, both these boxed sets and hardbacks were at use around our table.(3)

(1) A bit, Frank?  I wouldn't call 12 hour marathon gaming sessions in John Floyd's garage a "bit of time".  But that's my own problem, I guess.  You did say that "you will probably want to spend more time" on the game. :) Yeah, like the REST OF MY LIFE!
(2) I think the argument could be made that current incarnations of the game also involve player skill.  Even with the 3.0 to present editions' emphasis on balance, there were clearly mechanically better ways of making characters than others.  Thus, the idea of "builds."  I'd say that old school games emphasize player skill during actual play, while newer versions of D&D emphasize player skill during character creation -- different skill sets.  I am much better at the former than the later.
(3)  Holy crap.  Did I just write 600 words about the preface?!  With footnotes!  At this rate, I'll get through the BECMI books sometime in 2053.  Something is wrong with me.

21 March 2011

Mentzer Reflections -- Prologue

According to Cyclopeatron, I am a 3rd Generation D&Der.  I grew up with the Mentzer sets, with my mom giving me the red box for Christmas in probably 1986 or 1987.  I was in 6th grade and has just discovered Tolkien.  The same Christmas break that I unwrapped the Red Box, I was reading The Two Towers, literally begging my mother to buy me Return of the King after the cliffhanger ending of "Frodo was alive, but taken by the enemy."  I brought the Red Box back with me after the Christmas break and introduced my friends to the game, beginning with Sean and Michael.  The rest is my gaming history.

I've recently uncovered two of my Mentzer sets.  While randomly looking through my gaming material, I stumbled across the black Master's books.  Those are special, because I don't think they were actually mine.  They belonged to Sean, but I ended up with them.  That story will get told at some point, I am sure.  That discovery prompted a post about the catoblepas and some serious nostalgic longing for the red Basic books.  I thought those were actually gone for good.  I did not remember seeing them the last time I boxed up gaming material for the attic, nor could I pinpoint the last time I'd actually read them.  Turn to last Friday, when, in a serious moody funk, I (again) was randomly picking through another shelf of gaming books, looking for who knows what.  I found my two red Mentzer basic books.  It's hard to describe the feeling I got when I pulled those off the shelf (right next to Labyrinth Lord, fittingly).  Nostalgia, for sure, but also a recognition that This Is Where It All Began (for me, anyway).

I don't, for a second, think the OSR is merely about nostalgia.  But I do think nostalgia plays a role, in the same way that adults who play baseball love baseball partially because they played it as a kid.

Flipping thought the red Basic book I was just as surprised by how much I'd forgotten, or overlooked, as by what I remembered.  In that spirit, I am going to spend some time (and, likely, lots of posts), taking a close look at these books that, without exaggeration, changed my life.  I am not sure what these posts will look like yet, or how systematic I'll be in my examination, or even how far I'll get (I'll have to find the Expert and Companion books somewhere), but I think it will be fun and educational.  I invite everyone to follow along and join me in the conversation.

18 March 2011

Spring Break!

This week is spring break at my university.  You'd think that would mean lots of time off, but not really.  I was in the office for most of the week.  Yesterday was my wife's birthday, so I spent the day with her and the family, shepherding kids so she could get a massage and shop.  Today it's a family trip to the zoo!

I hope to get a gaming related post up tonight or tomorrow, but if not things will get rolling again on Monday.  I hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's Day and has a great weekend.

16 March 2011

BECMI/Mentzer/Rules Cyclopedia Reflections and Resources?

Does anyone know where (or if) there is a retrospective and/or other serious looks back at the BECMI boxed sets?  What sort of retro-clones have been done for these?  What additional resources have been developed?

(And I know that pretty much all the other OSR stuff will work with these; I am just looking for work or material on these specifically).

I am thinking about a series of posts focusing on these sets, as that's where my personal gaming roots lie, but don't simply want to go over well-trod ground if there are lots of things already out there.

15 March 2011

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- "Finding a Familiar"

 Another in a series of commentary posts about Katja's Diary.

Pseudodragon by "Ceredwyn Ealanta" at http://www.elfwood.com/~ceredwyn/Pseudodragon.2614629.html

My notes about the meeting with the pseudodragon family say "Think of 1950's family or That 70's Show: gruff dad, friendly mom, vain teenage daughter."  I thought it was a clever way to play some intelligent monsters, but this may have been a time when my cleverness got in the way of things.  It would have been easier just to tell Orion "you summon a pseudodragon familiar" and get back to the main plot of the game.  But I tried to see it from the dragon point of view -- why would any intelligent small dragon want to ride around with a wizard who is more than likely going to meet a bad end? So the dragon-dad protested and Emily, the dragon-daughter, sort of "went off to college" with promises to return in a month or so.

Note: had the party been more successful at wooing the parents, Emily would have just gone with them.  I don't remember if there were botched roles or just poor role playing or some combination of both, but they caused enough reservation on dragon-dad's part to demand that Emily return.  And, given that dragon-dad had a friend that was a full sized dragon, he wasn't one to be messed with.

The only other thing of note in this session was a bit of information given by Vincellus that was never followed up.  To quote the diary:

To my inquiries about the Silver Huntress, the Greyleaf could only give me the name of a sage in Duma Fafne, Bartolus, who studied such things. I was given a slightly magical oak leaf to serve as a token. And this Bartolus was also supposed to know of the priests that fled the Oghma temple.

I really, REALLY wanted the party to follow this up.  Not only did I have some cool city adventures planned, but this guy would have been full of clues about the Oghma Temple and the Silver Huntress.  Duma Fafne was not that far away -- maybe a week from Harcomb.  Given that the party had just spent weeks of game time in an adventure primarily so the wizard could get an almost-familiar, I fully expected them to set off on an adventure that actually directly connected with the campiagn premise.  Cest la vie.

Does this happen to anyone else?

14 March 2011

Karol Wojtyla -- Priest and Protector

This is another in a series of posts where real historical figures from World War II are slightly tweaked for a mystical Weird War II game I am slowly developing.  This entry features someone many people, myself included, venerate.  No disrespect is intended by fictionalizing some of his early history.  He was heroic enough without me adding to his legacy.

In 1938, an 18 year old Karol Wojtyla arrived with his father in Krakow.  He soon enrolled in university, studying languages and philology.  Within three years, his country would be occupied by the Nazi's and his father would be dead of a heart-attack.  Karol held a series of jobs to avoid deportation to Germany, but his father's death moved him to join the priesthood.  His courses were taught in an underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Krakow.  Karol, after being hit and almost killed by a German truck, spent the rest of the war studying for the priesthood and hiding from the Nazis, who sought to round up all able bodied men after the Warsaw Uprising.  He is credited with personally saving the life of a Jewish refugee and helping to protect many other Polish Jews.  Karol was ordained as a priest in 1946 and assisted in reinstallation of the Stoss Altar at the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, despite the occupation of Krakow by the Soviet Army.

We all know Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.

You don't even have to go Weird to use the young seminarian Wojtyla in a WW2 game.  Protecting Jews in Krakow, speaking nine languages, participating in an underground seminary -- there's lots of drama there already.

But if you posit that the SS was after the Stoss Altar for embedded clues to the whereabouts of fragments of the One True Cross, or that the looting of Krakow's religious artifacts occurred not merely due to Nazi greed, but instead as an attempt to decipher some of the Vatican's deepest secrets, then a young seminarian acting to help keep those secrets could provide an interesting character in a campaign.

11 March 2011

I really need to game.

Not in the best of moods today, due to some penny-anny (is that how you spell it?) tasks at work that take up way too much time.  Oh, and a bunch of meetings scheduled for the Friday afternoon before spring break.  Not. Cool.

I also think some of my down mood is the realization I had this morning that I haven't really gamed very much in the past seven months.  There was Old School Hack on my birthday.  Two great sessions at NC Game DayA Lady Blackbird one-shot.  But that's really about it since last summer. 

I've had good reasons -- my son was born six months ago and I've had some new responsibilities at work.  The former is joyous but results in substantially reduced sleep.  The later is interesting but involves more time and something of a learning curve.  Due to this, I've had to quit the regular Pathfinder game I was a part of.  The DM was great and most of the players were, too.  But the Friday night schedule and drive were going to be unworkable for me, so I turned my baby-hiatus into a complete withdrawal from the game.  I don't regret my decision, but I miss the gaming, if that makes any sense.

So I shot off an email to another professor here whom I've gamed with in the past.  We had a semi-regular thing going last summer, but it died due to some player drama (a divorce).  I asked about getting something going again.  We're going to get a drink next week (spring break!  Whoo-hoo!) and plan for something to start at the beginning of April.  He and his wife both play and have an alternating Wednesday night commitment, so we may play ever other Wednesday.

But what?  My gamer ADD is horrendous.  I certainly want to keep up the Weird War II stuff I've been thinking about.  Hopefully, that will take off into at least a PbP game.  I'm not sure, though, this face to face group will have much interest in that.  My other interest right now is in a BECMI game, something that will last awhile.  And Old School Hack still lurks about; it would be nice to see how suitable that is for longer term play.

We'll see.

10 March 2011

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- The Bastard Thomas Dunn

This is the next is a series of posts that serves as a "commentary track" to Risus Monkey's Katja's Diary. It comments on session 10 of the D&D 3.0 game we played in the early 2000's.  I know I am way behind the actual write ups, but I hope to catch up soon.

I think all DM's can look back at games they've run, point to a session or two, and say "YES!  That is it.  I want all my sessions to be like that."  My philosophy guy, John Dewey, says these things are called "consummatory experiences", where everything comes together and builds in a natural rhythm to it's own fruition, without external interruptions.  These things stand as AN experience, one we return to time and time again for emotional sustenance and to use to help us have these good experiences again.  This session was one of those.  As Risus Monkey said, we had plenty of fun after this, but in terms of sheer one-session awesomeness, this was it.

Strangely enough, one of the thing I remember most about this session was where it was played.  Bob (who played Boaz) and Jane (who played Orion) had just built a back deck and gotten some new deck furniture (from Cthulhu's Librarian at Plow and Hearth, no doubt).  It was an amazing Sunday afternoon -- warm, breezy, sunny -- so we decided to play outside.  It was great to do this, but it created a bit of incongruity with the actual scenario playing out, as the Dunn's castle was a cold, undead-filled fortress in the middle of a lake.

Why was this the Best. Session. Evar!?  It's hard to put my finer on all of the reasons, though I'll try.  I'm sure the day was part of it.  Even though it didn't fit the setting of the story, it was hard NOT to feel good on such a nice day, sitting outside, with your friends.  Killing zombies.

Second, everyone contributed.  Katja had come into her own as a cleric and the first real encounter saw her turning undead.  Boaz not only did his cleric stuff, but took control of the situation and everyone (mostly) followed his plan.  Kreed did a lot of undead decapitating.  Sunny and Orion dealt with minions to give the big guys room to take out the Dunn.  And Bix, well, Bix charged in heedlessly and was all heroic -- both of which were very in character.

Third, the adventure had cool encounters and villains.  I pegged the encounter level just right.  The Dunn was a wight, which proved challenging but not too difficult.  I also gave him some Boots of Striding and Springing.  Although that particular magic item would come back to bite me in the ass (I don't use the term "broken" much, but those things were very, very broken in 3.0 D&D), they gave the big villain some added spice, as he bounded up stairs and across rooms.  There were enough secondary minions to add to the drama but not get in the way of the main encounter.  I also thought those minions were, at least occasionally, used in a cool way.  I especially liked the skeletons rising out of the muck.

Forth, the setting had atmosphere.  The Dunn's castle wasn't anything special.  I just sketched it out on some graph paper (I'll try to get a scan up soon) and gave myself a rough layout of the monsters and furnishings.  But then I added some nice atmospheric touches, like the birch trees forming the palisade that looked like bones.  Katja's diary does a good job of adding to the bits I placed in the game.  I thought everyone bought into the smaller details I placed and appreciated them.

Fifth, there was heroism and sacrifice.  The party won the day without anyone even going unconscious.  But Bix got whacked by the wight enough to loose a couple of levels.  That was sobering and costly enough so the party didn't feel like it was a total rout.  The fact that Bix suffered mainly because he was keeping the Dunn occupied so that others could move into position and take him out just added to the heroism.

Finally, there was still mystery and plot remaining.  This session certainly stood alone as a major victory for the party.  But there were other elements which could have led to more adventures.  The first was the ghost of Garym Ultaugh.  Katja was right to be suspicious, as he was a nasty assassin who had been imprisoned by the Dunn before the Dunn was cursed.  The party let him go.  Had the game not taken the major detour it did months later, they would have heard about him again (and, presumably, realized what they'd done and taken steps to fix it).  The second was the gold.  But that comes up in future sessions.

I hope everyone has lots of sessions in their games as good as this one.   

09 March 2011

Martin Heidegger -- Nazi, Astral Traveller, or Both?

This one, the next in a series of posts tweaking real world figures into a Weird War II context, is a little tricky.  Not only is it the first one about a Nazi, it has a bit of a personal connection.  I've read and written about Heidegger; I find his work challenging and fascinating, even as I find his Nazism deplorable.  Given that work, however, it's easy to imagine a Weird take on the philosopher for gaming purposes.

Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher, born in 1889.  Through a long career of lecturing and writing, which included his mammoth, seminal work Being and Time and later essays such as "The Question Concerning Technology", he had a profound effect on 20th Century thought.  He is strongly associated with phenomenology (the study of conscious experience) and is considered a forerunner of existentialism. Being and Time explores the possibility of Being -- the reasons and methods of existence itself.

Heidegger became a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Freiburg in 1928, based largely on the success of Being and Time, published the previous year.  In April 1933, he was elected Rector of Freiburg.  He joined the Nazi party on May 1st.

Heidegger's full involvement and intellectual sympathies with Nazism are still debated.  Given the timing of his party affiliation, it's easy to see his Nazism as personally and politically expedient, rather than the result of a deep intellectual commitment to Nazi tenants; this is, perhaps, no less deplorable.  As he grew older, he tried to justify his Nazi involvement as an attempt to defend the university from Nazi anti-intellectualism.  He helped his Jewish mistress leave Germany prior to the war.  Overall, his involvement with the Nazi party has certainly stained his intellectual and personal reputation.  (My great undergraduate philosophy teacher called him "a great thinker but a crummy human being").

That's what we know.

What Really Happened is still unknown.  Being and Time is a dense, almost incomprehensible text -- if one reads it as straight philosophy. Buried within it's pages, particularly if one reads it in the original German, is a code, a method for personally transcending the limits of both Being and Time.  Existence becomes dependent on Thought.  Time can be manipulated by Will.  Some postulate Heidegger was a fully committed Nazi, working with the Ahnenerbe and Nazi intelligence to train Nazi soldiers to venture into the astral and temporal frontiers.  There are rumors of Nazi agents materializing from thin air in Britain with copies of Being and Time among their gear.  Others defend Heidegger, taking him at his word that he was a Nazi only to save the university.  They point to the disappearance of almost the entire occult collection from the library of the University of Freiburg in 1934, shortly before Heidegger was removed as Rector.  Did he thwart a Nazi attempt to gain a copy of the Necronomicon?

08 March 2011

A Short Thanks

Finishing a response to a paper today (on John Cage's 4'33"), but wanted to publicly acknowledge another great issue of One Square Equals Five Feet, with special bonus material from lapsus calumni!  Thanks to both of those guys for making cool zines and helping us all get good mail.  I sent Christian a book of stamps as a token of my thanks for all the zine goodness; my only regret is they weren't cool comics stamps. Or Katharine Hepburn.

Thanks, guys.

07 March 2011

Why does Frank Mentzer hate the catoblepas?

Straightening some books, I randomly pulled the Master's Level Dungeon Masters' Book of the shelf, seemingly at random.  I started flipping through the pages, came upon the monsters section, and then saw the "Nekrozon" (page 35, if you're keeping track).  I skimmed the entry, noting that the nekrozon "resembles a huge buffalo with a long neck and a boar's head."  It also has a death ray gaze attack.  I thought "this sounds like a catoblepas"!  Then I saw this sentence:

"Ancient lore calls this creature a 'catoblepas,' though this term is not in current use."

I found this very interesting, so I pulled out my AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual, where this thing sits on page 13:

The Masters' Set was published in 1985, whereas my Monster Manual was published in 1978.

I am not nearly as knowledgeable about the history of our hobby as many of you, but does anyone know why this monster was renamed for BXCM D&D?  I suppose it could have been to further differentiate D&D from AD&D, repackaging the same  monsters with different names.

For the record, I don't think I ever used or fought one of these things under any name in any D&D game.  The instant death ray gaze just seemed too, well, mean.

05 March 2011

Thwarting Nazis In Ireland -- John Betjeman

 John Betjeman was a British poet, journalist, broadcaster, film critic, and architecture enthusiast.  In the 1930's, he coauthored a series of travel guides (underwritten by Shell Oil) to Great Britain.  In 1939, he was rejected from active military duty but soon began work helping to make films for the British ministry of information.  In 1941, he was appointed press attache to the British Embassy in Dublin, where rumor has it he was involved in gathering intelligence for the British government and was targeted for assassination by the IRA. Betjeman had published four books of verse by the end of the war. 

That's what we know. 

What Really Happened was Betjeman, with his knowledge of propaganda, was sent to Ireland to run a counter-intelligence ring against Ahnenerbe agents.  The Ahnenerbe showed considerable interest in Ireland, due to the presence of both Norse/Ayran artifacts left from the Viking raids and the older relics of the Tuatha de Danann.  Rumors persist of Ahnenerbe agents trying to summon Balor of the Evil Eye in an attempt to overrun Ireland and use it as a base for an invasion of England and to strike at trans-atlantic shipping.

04 March 2011

Two Interesting Book Notes

My brother is a graphic designer and gaming newbie (he's currently playing a West End Games Star Wars game, his first RPG ever).  He pointed me to this cool Harry Potter Infographic , titled the Daily Prophet and made to look like an old broadsheet.

The other news has to be taken with a grain of salt, even though it's reported in EW.  There's a street date for A Dance With Dragons, the next Game of Thrones book.  I've certainly grown much less interested in this series due to the delays and what I regarded as the lesser quality of A Feast for Crows, but I will likely buy this book on July 12th.  

Hmm. . . I am certainly not as well-read in the Appendix N material as many are, but I wonder what comparisons could be made between Martin and some of those folks.  Would Martin go in a contemporary Appendix N?  Just thinking. . .

Edit to add there's also a new, full length trailer for the Game of Thrones HBO series.  

03 March 2011

Hemmingway Keeps Cuba Safe from the Nazi Menace!

A week or so ago, I posted a small factoid about Tolkien's almost-involvement in WW2 code breaking.  it inspired a number of comments and fun discussion.  I'm also slowly but surely developing some material for an alt-history World War Two game I'd like to run.  In that vein, I'm going to keep looking for some real history bits that, if tweaked ever so slightly, could be dropped into a pulp or WW2 game.  I didn't have to do much tweaking for today's entry.

That's author Ernest Hemmingway, with his Cuban fishing buddy  and guide Carlos Gutierrez aboard Hemmingway's boat, Pilar, in 1934.  Hemmingway lived in Cuba for much of the 1930's and 1940's.  When America entered WW2, President Roosevelt asked for volunteers to patrol the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, looking for German U-Boats.  Papa Hemmingway joined up, but set out to do a little more than just spot submarines.  He stocked up the Pilar with a Thompson machine gun and a bunch of hand grenades and went looking for Nazis.  Of course, he never found any, because if he had, he probably would have ended up at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Hemmingway was awesome, but even his Tommy gun isn't going to do much against a U-Boat.

Unless, of course, he was armed with some experimental weaponry.  Using his own brute force and cunning, perhaps Hemmingway was the sole reason Cuba did not fall into Nazi hands and used as a staging ground for their inevitable invasion of the U.S!  Aided by deciphered codes from a British source known alternately as J., Ronald, or Ruel, Hemmingway was able to track down and sink no less than four U-Boats almost single-handed.

02 March 2011

Voice Thread as online gaming space

For the past two days, I have spent considerable time and energy making a short Powerpoint for the online course I teach.  I'm actually having my students read a graphic novel, so I put together a presentation called "Comics in 10 Slides" that is supposed to serve as an introduction to the medium for the uninitiated.  That took awhile, largely because I made it very image-heavy and had a hard time boiling it all down to ten slides. (Thanks to Cthulhu's Librarian, who keeps graphic novels in his library of otherworldly texts, for his help).  I wanted to also provide some narration for the presentation, since the course is 75% online.  I then remembered VoiceThread, a really cool online collaborative tool that allows you to upload media, arrange it as a slideshow and post comments to each slide.  Viewers can also post comments, which allows for asynchronous collaboration.  When I uploaded my Powerpoint to VoiceThread, it did some weird formatting changes (note to self -- save slides as .jpgs next time before uploading).  But I also discovered a presentation a long time ago I made that talks about the gaming possibilities of VoiceThread.  As it turns out, you can now also embed these presentations in a blog. So, for your perusal: