Archive for August 2010

Inception–Is Life Just a Dream?   3 comments

On Sunday afternoon, August 15, 2010, my son James and I went off to the Harkins Theater at Scottsdale Fashion Square to see Inception.  I had been hearing about this film for weeks, and the choice Sunday was between Inception and Scott Pilgrim. Both are special effects movies, but Inception seemed to have more meat to it. At age 63, it’s kind of hard to get excited about the romantic struggles of some air-headed 22-year old–sorry, Scott!

Inception turned out to be about a team of Dream Extractors who have to get into a man’s mind and plant an idea so deeply that it will be acted upon in real life.  Like all good caper movies, this involves a complicated plot, pulled off at great personal danger.  This leads to chases, explosions, fights–all the action any action junkie like me could possibly want.

Without going into any detail about the plot, which can scarcely bare any examination, I will say that I liked the movie after it finally got going.  For the first 45 minutes I was in serious danger of falling asleep there in the theater. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion, but seeing the characters repeatedly fall asleep made me want to fall asleep also.  Things finally got going and I stayed awake for the last hour and a half of the film.

The best thing about Inception, imho, is that it is a movie that can make you think. It certainly roused all kinds of thoughts in my mind.  The worst thing about is was, paradoxically enough, the special effects.  It’s hard to explain, but state-of-the-art computer effects, when pushed too far, just look fake.  There was a burning car. For several seconds a violent flame washed over a parked car, but the car remained totally unharmed.  There was lots of flame, but no smoke: the upholstery on the seats didn’t char and disintegrate; the paint didn’t bubble and burn off the car; the vehicle didn’t rock and shudder to the impact of wild winds and eddies of air caused by the blame.  The special effects artists could have put these things in, but they didn’t think of it. I have seen fire. I have felt the hot wind that comes from an open flame.  This was fake–just an image of flame superimposed over the image of a car. And the movie was just full of these fakeries! I could go on for pages talking about all the fakey things the movie showed us. Buildings collapsing and exploding, hundreds of bullets being poured into a vehicle in a high speed chase without even causing that van to wreck, and many more.  The zero-gravity scenes were fun to watch, but real–no way!

My son said, “Of course it’s not real, Dad, it’s a dream.”  Well, my dreams don’t work that way.  Do yours?

Another thing that bothered me about these movies was that the dream worlds they entered were so incredibly sharp and realistic in appearance.  They seemed like perfect replicas of real life.  From my own experience, I know that is not how dreams are.  Dreams tend to be short, fragmentary, and to wake you up in those places where you wish they would most continue.  Real dreams are often full of intense emotion, and the dreamer knows things the same way we remember things in reality, but they are rarely full of detail.  The dreams people have in deep rem-states are not like the imaginative visions a person constructs while awake.  They can be very intense, but you simply don’t get the kind of controlled action that the film gave us.

One disturbing idea that the movie planted was that we awaken from our dreams when we die in them.  Have you ever actually died in a dream and woke up?  I did–just once in my life. I dreamed I was target-shooting with a rifle, and I missed and got a ricochet that came back and hit me right in the chest.  I felt the impact.  I felt myself fall, and the world around me went black. I remember thinking that I’ve killed myself.  I remember thinking that I was dying, and then I remember my fierce rebellion against the fact, and how I told myself over and over that I couldn’t die–I was just dreaming, and I knew I was dreaming.  Gradually, or at least it felt gradual, I woke up, soaked in sweat with my heart pounding like a drum. I remember how important it seemed to me that I not allow myself to die in the dream–if you die in a dream, really die, then you’re dead in the real world, too. 

The people in the movie took dream death as nothing. It was just a fast way out of a dream that wasn’t going their way.  That just seemed wrong to me.

I wondered if there will be a wave of suicides from people who see this movie.  Are you tired of the dream you’re in?Just kill yourself and wake up.  I don’t advise it, folks. If life is a dream, you want it to last as long as it can, unless your life is really, really terrible.  We all have good times and bad times, but remember, the good times will come again if you can just endure.

One thing is certain–this dream we call life will end when we die.  But is life a dream?  I don’t think so. It doesn’t feel like a dream.  Hang in there, people.  There are waking dreams that are far superior to sleeping dreams.  Thngs can be dream-like and still real.  Those dreams that you make true in reality are far superior in quality to those that just happen when you close your eyes.


Posted August 17, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

GenCon 2010–People I Met   6 comments


For my final GenCon report, I’d like to just acknowledge a lot of the people that I saw at the show.  My number one reason for going to conventions is to see people and talk to them. Seeing all the games is really cool, but that’s not why I go. Playing T & T or Lost Worlds or some of the other games I played is always fun, but that’s not why I go.  Selling my games and trying to promote Tunnels and Trolls is an excuse to be there, but that’s not why I go.  Just seeing and talking to friends that I don’t see in my daily life—that is why I go to conventions.

Here are some of the people that I got to talk to at GenCon this year.


Joe was a good T & T player, a fascinating guy to talk to when he explained what’s been happening with NASA the last few years, and a good father. His son, who you can half see in this picture, looked like  a happy kid to me.


Christian Lindke is a very sharp fellow. He was very quiet. We never really got a chance to talk, but I got the impression that I really had to be on my game to impress him.  I don’t know if I quite measured up to his standards for what a trollgod should be.  He is Dupin in Trollhalla.


W. Scott Grant was the friendliest guy at the convention.  He shared water with me, and kept me from dying of thirst. He knew the Tunnels and Trolls rules better than I did, and was enthusiastic about teaching them to new players.  He bought supper for Rick and me on Thursday night. Scott has written a monumental  solo adventure for T & T called FINAL EXAM which is about graduating from Wizards School.  I have played it a couple of times now, and run a version of it on Trollhalla, and, as a dungeon crawl it works very well. There’s a lot to it, and you need to dedicate hours of your time to play it. I tried to run through it quickly, and it couldn’t be done.  Scott’s dungeon is available here at



I talked about my chat with Jolly Blackburn in an earlier blog.  The man is everything a gamer should be: smart, funny, gracious, talented and generous. 



Matthew Stang is the main man at Mongoose Publishing. His British company is keeping some of the old games alive—games like the original Runequest and Stormbringer and Paranoia. I got to talk with him a lot in Las Vegas a couple of years ago—not so much this time at GenCon, but it was good to see him again.



The redhead with the biggest grin in the middle of the picture is Tom Loney. I’m sorry but I don’t remember the names of the others in the picture—that is their real names.  Tom is a game designer, enthusiastic game master, publisher, and all around pleasant fellow. (Watch out, though—he can also be sarcastic and a bit abrasive—he has a hard time dealing with stupidity.)  This pic comes from a Saturday morning Tunnels & Trolls session at the Hyatt that I managed to crash. I had to leave before the grand finale, but I heard that the bad guys were no match for our stalwart band of watch members. Tom also contributed a great deal toward my nutrition during the Con. Thank you, Tom. Come back to Phoenix and I’ll buy lunch for you and Robin.  Tom, I know you’ll read this. How about identifying the other people in this picture with a comment?



Paul Haynie  and his wife made a long journey from Wisconsin to show up Sunday at GenCon. Paul is wearing both a T & T shirt and hat created by my friend Jeff Freels. (Jeff is known as Grumlahk on Trollhalla, and is a fantastic artist—Trollhalla attracts some really good people.) Paul is one of the most intelligent members of Trollhalla where he is known as G’noll, and he writes some of the best poetry that I’ve ever read. Alas, I was off gaming on Sunday when he arrived and I only got to shake hands with him, and talk very briefly. I regret that I did not take a picture of his totem animal sock puppet.



Here’s a shot of me with Paul. I’m grinning on the inside, but I have found that showing too many teeth in photos tends to make me look dopey (or is that dopier?). A few pictures of me were taken at the Con, but this is the only one that I have.  The Hat looks good, don’t you think? From a distance you can’t tell that it is possibly the most battered fedora currently in use in America.



A publisher never has a moment to himself. This is Mark Reed of Heroic Journey taking a phone call. I don’t  know how he could hear anything.  The noise level was a dull roar at all times inside the Exhibit Hall at GenCon.  He is Mahrrkk in Trollhalla, and he really ought to login more often.



Chris Carter, the big guy in red, is one of my editors at Heroic Journey publishing.  No, I don’t  give all my writings to Rick Loomis at Flying Buffalo. Chris is getting my novel, ROSE OF STORMGAARD, ready for publication, and I hope to see it released before the end of the year. Chris, don’t add any adverbs to the text please!  (It would probably be best if an author never saw what an editor has to do to make a manuscript ready for publication. We work so hard getting it just right, and they come along and cut it to shreds. Whimper. Grin.  Do your job, Chris!)



I don’t know the young lady playing Magic on the big screen here, but this is what the convention is all about–learning new games, selling them, buying them, playing them!  Just being there!

GenCon is a gigantic party for gamers. People come from around the world to be there.  I talked to a man from France who sat down at a gaming table with me. His English was not so good. My French astounded him—apparently I can say “Como taillez vous?” very well. Alas, I only know about 20 words in French, so that conversation didn’t  last too long. I also saw some Japanese journalists going around taking pictures of everything. I know the type. They speak English very well, but go around with an interpreter anyway—just in case. Matthew Stang and his lady friend were flying the British flag.  These were the ones that I recognized from other countries, but I know there were many, many more.  It is also a great party for us in the USA. I’m glad I was able to go one more time.



P.S. This city of cards is one of the Wonders of GenCon that I didn’t find a place to talk about elsewhere.  No people are visible, but it is very much a People thing.  Uncountable numbers of trading cards—most of them Magic, but anything will do are available at this booth in the external hall of the Convention Center, and anyone can sit down here and build a house of cards.  Look at the fantastic and elaborate structures that gamers made!  Not only is this something to keep the kids busy for a while, or to satisfy the budding architect in all of us, but it’s also done for a worthy cause. On Friday night people come and knock it all down by throwing coins at it—that money is collected and given to charity. This is what being human is all about in my opinion—building  your house of cards, knocking it down again, and doing it all for a greater good. I take my battered old hat off in tribute to the people who build the GenCon City of Cards.

Posted August 15, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

GenCon 2010–Too Much Good Stuff   6 comments


Incredible model dungeon built by hand

My title says it all. There was more good stuff at this GenCon than I could even see. I brought very little of it home with me. I didn’t even get into any of the tournament halls, or the 24 hour a day gaming auction. I didn’t see every booth, didn’t admire every artist, didn’t talk to every writer. My friend Michael Stackpole was at the convention. I saw him twice. Hi, Mike. Bye, MIke. We didn’t even have a chance to talk.

This was also the Con for hall costumes. Back in the day, gamers simply wore their most outrageous t-shirts to cons. There is still plenty of that, but now is the era of fabulous hall costumes. Superheroes, furries, sci-fi characters, zombies, elves, monsters of most delectable appearance, they all roamed the halls of GenCon, and were a delight to see. I hope the people who put on the costumes had as much fun showing off as I did in watching them. Most of the rest of this blog is going to be my pictures of the coolest costumes that I saw.

And it’s mostly pictures from here on in because I spent most of my time behind the Buffalo table waiting for people to give me their money for Tunnels & Troll, Lost Worlds, and Nuclear War.  After a while, I just sat there hoping that someone in a great costume would come by and let me take their picture.

Steampunk Girl. Steampunk seems to be gaining in popularity--it's everywhere now.

I wonder if Phil Foglio’s epic work on the Girl Genius web comic ( is driving this enormous surge of steamy popularity, or if it’s just another symptom of our desire to return to a past that never was but should have been.  Or, perhaps, it is the rise of the costumers. Have you noticed that there seem to be more and more people selling all kinds of costumes and weaponry at the cons lately? Yes, there have always been some, but now their booths are everywhere. And, if you buy a great costume, or make one for yourself, you are certainly entitled and encouraged to wear it and show it off.

Harley and the Joker stopped by to say hello. He must have been in a good mood--he didn't kill me.

Why don't women dress like this in the real world?

White Wolf didn't bring games--they brought booze. Their hostess was very alluring, but not quite human--look at her eyes.

White Wolf brought a party to GenCon–one that I didn’t get to attend. I wasn’t dressed for it–no hall costume for me. They played their music so loudly that it drowned out almost everything else at the Con. Sometimes it was okay, but mostly I hated their music. I dreamed about organizing a stampede to rush their booth, knock it down, and stomp all that decadent luxury and noise into shards and flinders.  Didn’t do it though.

Storm Trooper and Mandalorian--they should be blasting each other instead of walking around like buddies.

Hello, Sailor! You are just too cute.

Kirsten, our busty Buffalo booth babe. Her help and dazzling personality did a lot to make the trip successful for Flying Buffalo, Inc.


Tank Girl had to leave her vehicle in a parking lot like everyone else.


These blue babes had horns and tails. I'm not sure if they're Pandorans or simply new creations. They were so fabulous that I sent Sligo to track them down and bring them back to me to be photographed.


Dark elf with slave in tow. At first I thought Drizzt do'Urden had paid us a visit, but he kept insisting he was not a nice guy, and I wasn't about to argue with him.


These slaves were wandering around without their keeper. They wouldn't let me keep them either, but they did pose for the man in the battered hat.


Their were plenty of elves at the Con. This one was quiet, modest, and utterly beautiful and perfect.


Wonder Woman came by a few times. Neither trolls nor Nuclear War suited her fancy, but she has a great smile.


Mr. and Mrs. Livingstone, I preseum. What great outfits for exploring the jungles of GenCon!



The Minions of Cthulhu were everywhere at GenCon. Mostly humanoid, they had wiggly green tentacles where there chin should have been.


Steve Jackson didn’t come to GenCon this year, but his minions were hard at work showing off Cthulhu dice and Zombie Dice and all their other great products. It’s always a pleasure to meet with Jackson’s Men in Black.


And that concludes my review of hall costumes at GenCon.  My final report will focus a bit more on people that I saw at the Con.

(to be continued) 

Posted August 13, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

GenCon 2010–Being There   Leave a comment

Where do they get these fabulous displays? Ah, the glories of GenCon!

How quickly we forget! It was only a week ago that GenCon actually started. Rick and I had breakfast at Denny’s. I went for the all-you-can-eat pancakes for $4.  Four was all I could eat. Indiana pancakes are huge.

Yum! Denny's pancakes in the morning.

As I look at the pictures I took, (no, I didn’t take a picture of my pancakes for breakfast–I just grabbed that off the web.–heh) I remember that I actually did something else on Wednesday besides set up the booth.  Rick and I made the long walk to Union Station–it’s a hotel where a lot of roleplaying is set–to run demo games of Lost Worlds and Weapons of Mass Destruction.  On our journey, we passed this guy. In fact, we passed this guy dozens of times during the week.

Red Dragon looks more curious than hungry, I think.

We found our room, grabbed a table, and waited for victims–I mean gamers to show up. With nothing of my own scheduled yet, my plan was just to help Rick demo things.  While there I met Dave Mattingly who was running a Champions demo. He came over and played Weapons of Mass Destruction with Rick and me for a while, and then I went and played an alien superhero in his Champions demo when his players finally arrived. Good fun–it has been over two years since I last played Champions with Steve Perrin and the California gang.  This fellow was one of our superheroes, and he came in costume.

Two swords are better than one.

When I got knocked out of the Champions game, I went back and helped Rick demonstrate Lost Worlds Fighting Fantasy.  It is one of Flying Buffalo’s main product lines, and I always wind up playing/demoing it quite a bit, which is okay with me because I like the game.

One of the first Fighting Fantasy characters, Skeleton with sword and shield is Rick's favorite demo book

( There really is a space between these pictures, but WordPress is not giving me the same formatting that I put in the rough draft. If you see some bad formatting below, blame it on WordPress. I did everything I could to keep things symmetrical.–Ken)

Tunnels & Trolls got the Lost Worlds treatment. This fellow, Umslopogaas Scorpion-Tail is a black fighting wizard, and one of my earliest player characters,

 Ugh!  That’s Trollish for hello, again.



Times change. Today’s fighting fantasy characters come from a Japanese anime series called Queen’s Bridge, and they are all delectable female fighters. Sexism is alive and well in Japan.All three of the books pictured above use the same gaming system and can fight each other. We talk a good battle about how the Japanese books can fight each other, but in truth, I’ve never seen anyone use them for anything more than art books.  The pictures are so very pretty.  But let’s get back to Thursday.  This guy showed up at the Flying Buffalo booth on Thursday morning and wanted to know if I was running any Tunnels and Trolls.

Joe drove his family up from New Orleans to attend the Con and play T & T.

 I should have had a game at 9 a.m. that morning, but it didn’t get into the program book, and nobody signed up for it.  I arranged to run a game at 2 p.m. that afternoon if we could get two or three people to show up.  In fact, we got several more players including two members of  Trollhalla–Sligo and Dupin.

Sligo, also known as W. Scott Grant in the mundane world, was the friendliest and most helpful of all the people I met at GenCon.

Dupin is the well-respected blogger whose real name is Christian Lindke. He played a very intelligent game and when the time came to meet his fate, he stepped up and met it bravely.

Joe, Scott, Christian and his friend Eric who can be seen to the left of Chis in his picture were abducted from GenCon and sent to Trollworld to retrieve a magical maguffin for an old wizard. They had to chase a party of marauding goblins into Uncle Ugly’s Underground to get the maguffin back. It was just a short adventure, but they killed a giant spider, and devastated a peaceful (except for the occasional marauding band) community of goblins, and although half of them died horribly–yes, there is some character death in Tunnels and Trolls–they got the maguffin back and were all returned to Earth when it was over. I had a good time with these guys, and I hope they did, too.

That was the important part of the Con for me, and it came early–the first day. I got to play another game of T & T in Tom Loney’s game on Saturday morning, and that was fun, too, but I’d rather be the Game Master.

Jolly Blackburn in his native environment

One person who I very much enjoy spending some time with is Jolly Blackburn, he who created the Knights of the Dinner Table.  Jolly is a consummate gamer, a great storyteller, and a generous guy.  The only freebie, not counting meals, that i got at the Con came from him–the Bagwars Saga graphic novel.  We talked for about 20 minutes–not long enough. Kenzer and Company has a great corps of friends running their busness. It’s a group I’d love to join, but I have my own group.

And that’s probably a good spot to stop this blog for today. Many other things happened on Thursday, but I’m having a hard time remembering, and anyway, I’m back in the real world now, and have real world things to do–like eating breakfast, and going to work. There is more to tell and it will come in a day or so.

(to be continued)

I am so jealous. Jolly has his own comics empire, and it's all great funny stuff.

Posted August 12, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

GenCon 2010–Part 1–the Journey   1 comment

Least expensive airline may be least comfortable too.

I used my longest vacation of the year to go to GenCon in Indianapolis. Rick Loomis and I left Phoenix early Tuesday morning on August 3 and arrived in Indiana about 4 p.m.  The flight east was about as pleasant as riding in air steerage can be.  As I entered the plane, I looked for an aisle seat–I am a big guy, not huge, but big enough to feel crowded in the usual air seat, so if I sit on the aisle I can at least lean away from my seat mate. There was a man sitting by the window in the row I chose, a twenties-something American Indian. I introduced myself as Ken and learned his name was Steve, and then I said we would save the seat between us for someone young and beautiful, or at least, thin. He laughed and agreed to that. 

Many more people shuffled onto the plane, including a whole platoon of U.S. Army servicemen (44 men in that platoon–I asked, and 43 of them on the plane). As the seats in the back half of the  plane filled up, along came a beautiful, dark-haired young woman in a low-cut black dress.  She had big hoop earrings, and a beautiful pendant around her ncck. I smiled at her as she approached and told her that we were saving this seat just for her. She looked a bit surprised, then smiled and sat down with us.

Now, if that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!

Rick Loomis had the aisle seat just behind me.  He leaned forward and said, “Lucky.” I leaned back and told him “No luck involved.” 

I’m sure you all know how airplane flights go. Mostly you sit there and read, and try not to bother anyone. I chatted with her a little bit, learned her first name was Nicky, and she was returning from a modeling tryout in Los Angeles. I could believe it.  She was a perfect ten.  But she told me she was only 5 feet tall–too short for the real glamor assignments.  I told her she looked dead solid perfect to me.

A couple of hours into the flight, Nicky pulled out her cellphone and started gaming. But she grew bored with that fairly soon. I told her she looked bored, and asked if she’d like to play cards. I just happened to have a couple decks of the Flying Buffalo poker deck in my carry-on bag. She said she only knew how to play Uno. I offered to teach her blackjack. There was no betting–a friendly game–we played for points. If you beat the dealer, you got a point. If the dealer won, he got the point.  Steve, Nicky, and I played blackjack for half an hour and had a good time.  When that palled, I asked if they would like to try a new game that I created called Ogreocre. I told them it was short and funny.  They agreed to try it.


I had to teach the rules without the book.
We played a round of Ogreocre. The lead shifted several times, and when the last magic (face card) had been played Nicky was the winner. The plane intercom interrupted to say we were starting our descent to Indianapolis, and that made me put the cards away. Steve said he liked my game because it was short. Heh! Less is more, eh?
I told Nicky and Steve they’d be in my blog, and they are. I wish I had pictures of them, but it’s hard to get a camera out and take pictures inside a jet.  We landed and went our separate ways.  It was a pleasure flying with them, and I wish them well.
After gathering our luggage, Rick and I headed off to get our rental car. On the way out we passed through this rather futuristic bridge between airport and parking garage. I had to take a picture of it, and although the Indianapolis airport is a beautiful place this is my only image of it.
Just follow the blinking lights.
I do not intend to bore you all with the squalor of our out-of-town hotel. We had a place to stay outside the city and it sufficed. After leaving our luggage we went into the city to find the convention hall and where our booth might be.  It is a very big place. It was quiet and mostly empty. The dealer’s hall was like some big old dungeon cavern, but it was hot inside. Hot and dark!


We dropped some boxes off here and then hiked a quarter of a mile to the closest Steak ‘n Shake–the gamer’s favorite restaurant. Good food, great shakes, reasonable prices.

Steak n Shake Counter and Logo

After a delicious and uncrowded meal, Rick and I went back to the hotel and got some rest. On Wednesday we would return to the dark cavern shown above–the Indianapolis sauna–and melt away any overeating we may have done just setting up the booth. Flying Buffalo had one of the smallest booths in the show, about 100 square feet.  It wound up looking something like this:

This is where I spent at least half of the week.

Next time, I’ll show you some people and talk about actually getting to play Tunnels and Trolls a couple of times.

(to be continued)

Posted August 11, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized