Showing posts with label Alarums and Excursions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alarums and Excursions. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hedgehobbit Discusses VanGrasstek's DUNGEON -- An Early Indie RPG

In addition to work, TA-ing, grading, and working on my prospectus, I've been toiling around with creating rules that approximate how I would have played D&D if I had been an adult when the original Little Brown Books were published. I've been reading and re-reading the Chainmail rules and reading sections of the original D&D rulebooks to get a sense of how I would have understood those rules if I had never played the game, no one was there to teach me the game, and all I had was these physical documents from which to develop a game. It's an interesting challenge, but it's the challenge that many early gamers faced.

I've been a fan of the fanzine Alarums & Excursions since it was first introduced to me by Gary at Aero Hobbies. Gary, who is sadly no longer with us, was a central figure in the Southern California role playing game scene. His gaming group is responsible for the creation of the Thief Class for D&D, think about that the next time you backstab someone in game play. When I walked into Gary's store, I was new to the Los Angeles area, but he quickly made me feel at home in this metropolis and introduced me to a number of wonderful people. He was a one man social network, and the issue of Alarums & Excursions he first handed me was like a social network in print form. Prior to reading this issue, I had heard of the zine but I had no idea what to expect. What I found was that it was like reading the best parts of a very creative discussion forum, a forum where people didn't hastily respond and thus where the worst of forums rarely reared its head.

What most amazes me about Alarums & Excursions is the creativity, this is especially true in the early issues. Reading the first few issues of the zine - and I'll be discussing my adventures reading the zine in detail in a series of posts - I was struck by how varied the interpretations of how to play D&D were. I'm not saying that I was struck by the differences in "house rules," though those are remarkable as well, rather I was struck by how differently people interpreted the rules of the original books. The early 70s was truly a time when everyone was playing a different version of D&D, and that makes the era all that more exciting to me.

So I want to try to capture some of that magic. I want to play D&D as I "would have" played it if I'd been around then to do so. What would my D&D have looked like? In order to help me on this quest, I've read a couple of other attempts to create rules for "Playing D&D with Chainmail" and I'll share my thoughts on those when I share my version of how to do just that. I've also been reading Craig VanGrasstek's rules for Dungeon  written in 1974. VanGrasstek's rules, discussed in the video by Hedgehobbit embedded below, are one player's attempt to reverse engineer D&D from a playing session.

Let me repeat that. VanGrasstek's rules are a reverse engineered version of D&D based upon his experience in a gaming session. That's how explosively creative and desiring of new kinds of play the 70s were, it's also what we see a lot of today in the DIY game community. Reading VanGrasstek's rules have given me a sense of the kinds of things that get "lost" in interpretation, and I'll be keeping those in mind as I design "How I Would Have Played LBB D&D." I think it will be a fruitful exercise, and I hope that I'll be able to convince my gaming group into giving my LBB D&D a try. Maybe we can even see a bunch of different versions of D&D in our group and try them all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fanzines, Blogs, and Circuses

I just received the copy of Alarums & Excursions #236 that I won in the recent auction of some of Gary Gygax's personal game collection.  This issue contains a 'zine from Gary discussing a letter he had written to A&E for their second issue many years in the past.  It's an interesting letter to read for a couple of reasons, but I'll save that discussion for a later post. 

In reading through this issue of A&E to find Gary's letter, I have been having a great time reading the individual 'zines by the various contributors. Though it was alarming to read references to "Christian" Pramas being attacked.  I wonder how he was attacked and was pleasantly surprised to see that a certain Green Ronin and I share a first name...if that is the same C. Pramas.  What struck me strongest about these 'zines were the comments referencing earlier entries by contributors.  Most of the new 'zines featured a section discussing points of agreement/disagreement (often about Alignment in this issue) at the end of a contribution that might have been regarding a completely different topic.   Let me give you an example, purely for illustrative purposes.

In a 'zine by Spike Y. Jones which contains 101 Uses for a Wet Blanket and a review of Shattered Dreams, Spike includes the following:
NICOLE LINDROOS FREIN: Re How Loud And Crowded The White Wolf Party At GenCon Was: But you can remember when WW's party was only loud and crowded because it was being held in a hotel room instead of a ballroom.
I chose this comment at random for demonstrative purposes.  These comments are the conversational part of the 'zine and one of the joys of A&E is reading them.  In many ways they seem a bit like a good blog's comments section.  With one major difference.

As I mentioned before, these are all within other 'zines.  Rather than being like comments sections, they are more akin to post-scripts on a blog with hyperlinks to other blogs.
When I started this blog in March of 2004 (it was called Cinerati in those days), the blogosphere was a pretty young place.  And in some ways it behaved more like the 'zines of A&E than the internet does today.  Certainly, there are great places for rpg conversations on the internet (, Kobold Quarterly, the Paizo and Wizards forums, Grognardia), but they often seem more isolated from each other than the early blogs and A&E.  Earlier blogs seemed to be in conversation with each other more so in the past than today, and that is something that I miss.  I fondly remember writing posts in response to other posts and linking them in my blog.  I also remember joining a couple of opt in social media-esque services that would track your blog and categorize it so that you could see other blogs in your "ecosystem."  It was this kind of activity that led me to meeting several very interesting people in the Los Angeles area.  There was a kind of fanzine communal quality to the blogosphere.  Now there seems to be more of a "major network" feel to the whole endeavor.  I am happy with the number of people who read my blog, and very grateful for those few who comment, but I miss the blog to blog interchange of the earlier days.  They were more community and 'zinish.  In writing my own blog posts now, I'll often delete or postpone something I've written because it has just been touched upon by Grognardia or another blog I follow because I don't want to be seen as a copy cat.

It seems that we are a victim of our own success, by which I mean gamers as a creative force who are able to create so many blogs worth reading that some have become brands.  But I lament the iO9-ing of the internet, though I like iO9. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when people participated in "circuses" or memes like "get your geek on" (which was very recent) with some regularity.  I understand that there are too many blogs to return to them being a small tight knit community akin to 'zines, but I would like to see more circuses about RPG subjects and more "get your geek on" blog marathons.

Let's get together and do this.  And I'm no longer going to let seeing that one of my favorite blogs has blogged about something I've just been thinking about dissuade me from blogging about the very same thing.