Showing posts with label Ken St. Andre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ken St. Andre. Show all posts

Friday, August 07, 2015

Sorry Gaming Paper, But The Game I'm Most Pleased I Backed on Kickstarter Is...#RPGaDAY2015 [Day 2]

The first "patron" project I ever backed was Wolfgang Baur's first  Kobold Publishing product. There was a time that I backed every one of Baur's projects, but as he continued to publish primarily for D&D 3.x and Pathfinder at the same time that my bookshelves overflowed with material for those games I moved on to supporting other projects. I missed out on some excellent products, but I'm only going to play those games -x- times and I have more material then I will ever need.

I backed my first Kickstarter project in 2010 and in doing so began a fandom journey of directly supporting projects that I believe in before they are published. I became a non-profitsharing venture capitalist. I decided to be more than a consumer and to support the companies and creators I admire by backing their projects. Note the word I used there, backing. I didn't say "pre-order" their games because that isn't what Kickstarter really is. Yes, that is often what it ends up being for some companies, but that isn't the only thing a backer is. I'd have backed some of the projects I did solely for a T-Shirt or button that proclaimed I was a backer. That first Kickstarter project that I backed was Erik Bauer's Gaming Paper Adventures project. With it Eric left the realm of selling gaming accessories and entered the realm of game designer. Erik is one of the nicest guys in the industry and a natural salesman. I've called him a gaming huckster in the past, and I meant it in the nicest and most William Castle way. In addition to being a great salesman, Erik is a great guy. I'm proud to have supported his project. It's probably the "product" I'm most pleased to have backed, but since it's a supplement it isn't technically a game . So it isn't the game I'm most pleased I backed.

The game that I'm most pleased to have backed is Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls. There are so many reasons that I'm pleased to have backed this game. First and foremost is that Tunnels and Trolls, along with various Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf game books, was the vast majority of role playing game play that I participated in as a kid. Without those and Bard's Tale, I likely would have stopped playing games after my first session. My first experience had been with a "killer DM" and it hadn't been much fun, then I encountered a Ken St. Andre solo module and it was salve to my wound.

Don't get me wrong, Ken St. Andre is a "killer DM," his adventures don't suffer fools and they don't suffer the wise either. They are brutal, but they are never cruel and never seem unfair. When Ken kills one of your characters in a horrific fashion, you end up laughing with him at the absurdity of the situation. The worlds of Ken St. Andre, and his fellow Trolls, are imaginative to the point of psychedelia. They are a patchwork of everything wonderful in fantasy. They are Michael Moorcock meets Disney meets Harryhausen. They are creations of pure joy and excitement.

Add to Ken's literary patchwork the wonderful artwork of Liz Danforth and you have a perfect example of why role playing games caught on in the first place.

For a long time, the 5th edition had been my "go to" version of the game. There had been a 7th edition published by Fiery Dragon that updated some rules, and had a nice packaging, but it lacked a little of what made the original so magical. That little bit was the touch of Ken St. Andre's imagination and Danforth's editing and artwork. Liz Danforth edited the classic 5th edition and was brought back for the new Deluxe version of the game. It's taken a few years for this version of the game to be fully developed, but what I have experienced so far captures that early magic.

Tunnels and Trolls was the second role playing game to be published and it laid the foundation for today's OSR movement. Whenever I buy a new OSR product, I'm reminded of Tunnels & Trolls and that's a good thing. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#RPGaDAY #3: First RPG Purchased -- Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition

It happened approximately one month before the Great Sweet Pickles Bus War of 7th grade. My friend Mark and I had been competing over who could purchase the most Michael Whelan covered Elric novels and who could purchase the most obscure role playing game. Given the number of game stores in Reno, NV at the time and the purchasing power of 7th graders, the phrase "obscure roleplaying game" is better defined as "a game not published by TSR."

Mark struck first with his purchase of the Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition rules from Flying Buffalo. I was really impressed when Mark showed me his copy and I knew that I had to find my own copy - and get some of those "solo dungeons" that used the Tunnels & Trolls system. It didn't take long for me to find the rules and copies of Arena of Khazan, City of Terrors, and Beyond the Silvered Pane. Before I knew it, I was enjoying hours upon hours of role playing fun. I had a file card case full of combatants for Arena of Khazan, and a handful of characters who survived long enough to become precious to me.

While there are some detractors of the Tunnels & Trolls game system, I have always thought that the game was not only enjoyable but also innovative.

  1. Liz Danforth's art and editing in the 5th edition of the game set it apart from many other publication of the era. The 5th edition is a truly professional edition and prior to the soon to be released "Deluxe Edition" it has been my go to edition of the game.
  2. Ken St. Andre's version of the Saving Throw as presented in T&T has had a deep influence on the gaming industry. Where D&D at the time had saves for "spells," "poison," and "rods, staves, wands" T&T had a system that used a character's attributes against a target number. It took D&D several generations before they adopted something similar with the 3rd edition rules set, and completed the transition with their own 5th edition. Prior to 3.0, stat checks in D&D were typically "roll stat value or less on d20" and 3.0 changed that to roll d20+stat modifier vs. target. T&T's system uses a simple formula [15 + (level of challenge x 5)] - Statistic = Target Number on open ended 2d6. Dan Eastwood does a nice statistical breakdown of the system here.
  3. The concept of exploding dice was new with T&T and though T&T explodes on doubles where some other games explode on largest value, it isn't hard to see the influence of T&T.
As I mentioned earlier, Moldvay Basic was the first rpg game system I owned, but T&T 5th edition was the first edition that I spent my own allowance on. It was my first purchase, and it is still one of my first loves. I might just crack open that file card case this evening.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mongoose Publishing Releasing "Classic Chaosium" Michael Moorcock RPGs in PDF

I am happy to see that a number of publishers are using digital publishing to keep old and out of print games in the marketplace. In the modern market, there is no excuse for not having old products available. All you do is feed a secondary market and feed digital piracy. While digital pirates will still steal products that are made available digitally for sale, more honest purchasers have a way that they can support the games that they love. It allows new players to be introduced to historic games, and it allows people who own physical copies to keep those in more pristine shape and use the digital copies instead.

Mongoose Publishing has long been using the digital distribution stream, and they have now made the classic Chaosium Michael Moorcock inspired Basic Role-Playing games available for purchase. This includes the excellent first edition of Stormbringer by Tunnels and Trolls' own Ken St. Andre.

I know there are some who have mixed feelings about Mongoose Publishing's business practices during the early d20 boom. No one can deny that Mongoose looked at the upcoming releases of other companies and rushed out versions of similar products that were released prior to those of their competitors. This often led to inferior product by Mongoose and diminished sales for the original company. I share these mixed feelings regarding Mongoose and d20.

That said, I have been impressed with Mongoose Publishing in the Post-d20 marketplace. They have done quality editions of Traveller, and adapted Judge Dredd and Hammer's Slammers to that system seemlessly. I am also enjoying their -- slightly overpriced -- new Lone Wolf role playing game.

Regardless of what you think about Mongoose, you might want to consider what Michael Moorcock had to say about Chaosium in Kobold Quarterly #5:

"Or course, Chaosium turned out to be crooks, paying no royalties, ripping me of, behaving in a dodgy way. I tried over the years to get the stuff away from them, but it wasn't until Mongoose made a serious offer to Chaosium, plus an offer to me, that I was able to switch. Mongoose have proven a completely trustworthy firm... Gary [Gygax] told me he wished he'd known the circumstances, since he had other ideas for EC games. I too wish I'd signed with GG, who seemed a pleasant and agreeable guy."

Quite a different picture than one might have imagined. Chaosium is one of the venerable and trusted names in gaming, and most early vitriol regarding "game publisher greed" were aimed at TSR. Those anti-TSR flames were often fanned by fans of Chaosium, so if Moorcock's claims are true it puts the early days of the hobby in a different light.

I don't know the truth of Moorcock's anti-Chaosium claims, but I'll take him at his word with his pro-Mongoose praise. If purchasing the pdfs means the good author gets royalties, then count me in as a customer.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Indie Game Designer James Maliszewski Interviews Role Playing Founding Father Ken St. Andre

The Role Playing Game hobby is approaching its 40th anniversary. Like any phenomenon that has been around for any good length of time, the hobby is beginning to see the passing of its founders. Over the past couple of years, several of the founding fathers of role playing have passed away: Gary Gygax, David Arneson, and Tom Moldvay to name just a few.

It is odd that Cinerati did a blog post for both Gygax and Arneson, but not for Moldvay. It is true that Gygax and Arneson invented Dungeons and Dragons, and thus the RPG hobby, but it was Tom Moldvay who made the game fun to play and was among the first designers to show me that D&D could be about more than "kick down door, kill monster, loot stuff, repeat." His design work on Isle of Dread too the adventure out of the dungeon and into the world, it also added more "story" to the experience. Then came Castle Amber, maybe the single most important module in D&D history. Without this module, there would have been no Ravenloft and Mystara would be a much less interesting world. Moldvay used the works of Clark Ashton Smith as an inspiration for the module and demonstrated completely how a module could be used to tell stories. Player's of the module are even treated to a nice "Fall of the House of Usher" moment. Moldvay's career in gaming was an important one, to the hobby in general and to me in particular.

It was an oversight that I didn't blog a nice obit for Moldvay, it is unforgivable that I never wrote any posts praising his work -- a situation that will be corrected soon enough. We too often forget to write about those who work in the gaming industry while they still live -- I have yet to find a recent update or post on the internet regarding J. Eric Holmes who wrote the first Basic Dungeons & Dragons book. In today's information age, it is baffling that we don't keep better track of gaming's founding fathers.

This is what makes James Maliszewski's recent interview with Ken St. Andre for Escapist Magazine such a treat. Where Gygax and Arneson are the founding fathers of the tabletop roleplaying hobby, Ken St. Andre is arguably the founding father of the roleplaying game industry (a title he likely shares with Rick Loomis). His Tunnels and Trolls was the second roleplaying game published and its publication turned rpg gaming from a monopoly into an industry -- that's quite an achievement. St. Andre's Tunnels and Trolls has, like D&D, gone through a number of editions. While it has never achieved the popularity of the flagship of rpg gaming, T&T still has an active and loyal group of followers -- many of whom meet up at Ken's Trollhalla website to chat about gaming, play online games, and generally geek out.

Ken St. Andre is still very much with us, though he did just finish a series of treatments for prostate cancer, and will likely be around for years to come. This is great for the members of Trollhalla, like me, but it is articles like Maliszewski's that expose more gamers to the thoughts of Ken St. Andre. I don't agree with all of Ken's design philosophies, but he is certainly one of the game designers whose contributions I return to again and again.