Archive for the ‘Game Design’ Category

Origins 2014–Lots of banners   Leave a comment

I spent June 10 to June 16 in Columbus, Ohio for this year’s Origins convention. It was a good convention for the gamers and merchants–nothing memorable for me. There really wasn’t much in the way of hall costumes. So, this year I’m devoting the blog record to the merchants and the signs that marked their booths.


I’m just gonna show some of the best booth banners and maybe a few other things that justified a photo.


Looking at the main concourse lobby on Wednesday morning befor the crowds arrived.

Looking at the main concourse lobby on Wednesday morning before the crowds arrived.


A distinctive feature of the convention center is this gigantic staircase that is seven aisles wide–three escalators in the center and two wide stairways on either side. When I felt strong, I climbed the stairs, averaging about 5 flights of stairs per day.

The Exhibitor's Hall before anyone gets set up.

The Exhibitor’s Hall before anyone gets set up.


HackMaster was just across the aisle from Flying Buffalo. Dave Kenzer is standing by the HackMaster Banner. I just wish Tunnels & T rolls had a banner like this.

HackMaster was just across the aisle from Flying Buffalo. Dave Kenzer is standing by the HackMaster Banner. I just wish Tunnels & Trolls had a banner like this.


Jolly Blackburn, creator/artist/writer of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book poses heroically.

Jolly Blackburn, creator/artist/writer of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book poses heroically.


My friend, Jolly, personifies all that is best about gamers at Origins. This is the single nicest guy in gaming, even nicer than me, and I’m as easygoing and friendly as you could ever wish. Jolly is better.

Here begins the great banners of Origins.

Here begins the great banners of Origins.


I’m not going to comment on most of the banners.

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I told these guys I expected some tribute because I’m the Trollgod, but it didn’t happen. They even stole my acronym, T&T.


Heh, I'm using this cartoon as my background on Facebook right now.

Heh, I’m using this cartoon as my background on Facebook right now.


Fantasy cartography is getting pretty great, but not for Mac owners.

Fantasy cartography is getting pretty great, but not for Mac owners.


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Ya think something might be epic around here?


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James Ernest is still the mastermind behind Cheapass Games. I had a good talk with him at a later time.

James Ernest is still the mastermind behind Cheapass Games. I had a good talk with him at a later time.


I demoed this game. It was kind of fun, like a g-rated version of Las Vegas.

I demoed this game. It was kind of fun, like a g-rated version of Las Vegas.

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This is a beautiful educational game that looks like a lot of fun to play. The designer and his family will be thousands of dollars in the red, and unlikely to appear again at next year’s Origins. Sad, but true. That is still the fate of most self-published books and games.

This guy is a talented artist. A lot of artists come to Origins. I don't know why. Gamers are mostly not interested in buying or commissioning art.

This guy is a talented artist. A lot of artists come to Origins. I don’t know why. Gamers are mostly not interested in buying or commissioning art.


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2014-06-11 19.05.18There was some great steampunk costumery stuff. You had to be rich to afford it.  $80 vests. $500 coats.

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2014-06-11 19.09.03Technically, this is more of a toy company than a game company, but you could certainly use these toys in games.

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2014-06-11 19.09.41Henry Lopez (seated, white hair) is a man who produces quality games. His Witch Hunter 2nd edition rpg is one of the few things I brought back with me from Origins.




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2014-06-11 19.16.14I’ve played King of Tokyo. It plays fast and is good fun. Brilliant game!

There were a lot of zombies at the show. Zombie games remain popular.

There were a lot of zombies at the show. Zombie games remain popular.


Steve Jackson games was there, of course, doing their highly irritating "Exact Change" song and dance whenever anyone paid with cash in the exact amount asked for.

Steve Jackson games was there, of course, doing their highly irritating “Exact Change” song and dance whenever anyone paid with cash in the exact amount asked for.


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Will Neibling Sr. is a Hall of Fame game designer with a deep interest in World War II and military simulation. He still runs his own game company.

Will Neibling Sr. is a Hall of Fame game designer with a deep interest in World War II and military simulation. He still runs his own game company.




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It was a big panel and took 2 photos to show it.

It was a big panel and took 2 photos to show it.





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3D open dungeon on display at the Kenzer booth. The pieces are modular, and can be built into any pattern you wish. Great for miniatures, and so pretty.

3D open dungeon on display at the Kenzer booth. The pieces are modular, and can be built into any pattern you wish. Great for miniatures, and so pretty.


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Where do they get those marvelous toys? I'm not in the Exhibitor's Hall now. I'm off in open gaming where the mini-gamers have set up.

Where do they get those marvelous toys? I’m not in the Exhibitor’s Hall now. I’m off in open gaming where the mini-gamers have set up.


If I had a lady, I would buy her one of these gamer jewels.

If I had a lady, I would buy her one of these gamer jewels.


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I do so love fantasy art featuring warrior women. Not sure I wanna be married to one tho in the modern world.

I do so love fantasy art featuring warrior women. Not sure I wanna be married to one tho in the modern world.


A good thing about the dealer halls these days are the many demos going on. Tired? Sit down and learn a new game.

A good thing about the dealer halls these days are the many demos going on. Tired? Sit down and learn a new game.


Speaking of warrior women, there weren't very many hall costumes, but this woman had the best one of all. Awesome to look at, and a killer smile when I talked to her. I wanted her so much.

Speaking of warrior women, there weren’t very many hall costumes, but this woman had the best one of all. Awesome to look at, and a killer smile when I talked to her. I wanted her so much.


This is what the main concourse looked like after Origins had ended on Sunday afternoon.

This is what the main concourse looked like after Origins had ended on Sunday afternoon.


Finally, a selfie picture of me just to prove I was there. Crom! I look more like a gnome or a goblin than a troll these days. Maybe it will look better if I grow my beard back.

Finally, a selfie picture of me just to prove I was there. Crom! I look more like a gnome or a goblin than a troll these days. Maybe it will look better if I grow my beard back. I started working on it for the whole week of Origins travel and show.


And that was my look at Origins 2014.  If you were there, and have a comment, please leave one. What did you like best and least about this year’s Origins?


Dwarves and Dragon   1 comment

I design games. It’s what I do. And not just role-playing games and scenarios. I can make any kind of game, out of virtually any kind of material. Before the end, I would like to show the world some of my other game designs.

Another TrollCon is coming up at the end of July.  20 or 30 people will get together in Scottsdale to play Tunnels and Trolls and other games and just have a good time.  I’ll be there.  This year I wanted to do something a little special for the people who come from other parts of the country to game with me.  So, I created this game.  I’ll give it to you if you come to the con. Otherwise, I’ll sell it to  you.

It's a simple game. Steal the dragon's gold!

It’s a simple game. Steal the dragon’s gold!

This one isn’t a complicated roleplaying game. It’s snatch and grab.  Cunning versus Power.  Would you like to try it out?  Are you clever enough, swift enough, to steal gold from a dragon?

The game will be available in pdf at the beginning of August.  In the meantime, if you’d like to have a hardcopy, send me an email.  The price will be $8 in the U.S.A, or $12 in any other country, and I’ll cover the postage and have it autographed by the artist and me.  Need a birthday present, or a Christmas gift for a gamer friend?  This could be a good option for you.

I’ll demo the game at GenCon, and we (meaning Flying Buffalo) will sell it there.  In the meantime, if you’d like a copy hot off the presses, send me an email:  Or just paypal some money to me at that address.

If you’ve ever tried to steal gold from a dragon, or if you think stealing is wrong, why not leave a comment?


Two days later, and I’m back from the post office. I’ve just sent off some 42 copies of Dwarves and Dragons to the first people who were kind enough to order it. Those who are close to me should get their copies tomorrow, further away by Saturday, and the rest of the world before the end of next week.

If this game came in a box from Z-man or some other good-sized game producer, I might have included some extra components.  The game needs 1D6 in order to play. I didn’t put it in.  Who out there doesn’t already own dice?  Now that production is done, and I have a chance to think about it, it could be fun to make a couple of custom D6s for it.  I could have a Dwarf Die with a pair of eyes on it where the one should be indicating invisibility for the Dwarf when he rolls a 1.  I could have a Dragon Die with a Dragon head on it instead of a six to indicate when the dragon is breathing fire.  You don’t need special dice for this, but it would be nice.

There’s another component I expect the players to provide on their own: coins.  Three or more pennies can serve as the dragon’s hoard. Everybody can produce a handful of copper or silver to use as treasure pieces.  Or I could have designed some cardboard gold coins.  It’s another non-essential that would have driven production costs up.  If the game becomes very popular, which I am not counting on, it would be fun to design some fantasy coins for it.

Miniature lovers, Dwarves and Dragons is the perfect opportunity to use your minis in play.  If you have dwarf minis, you should use them; if you have a dragon mini of about the right size, you should use it.  You could also use the transparent stones/counters used in Magic and other card games for the boulders in the cave instead of the cardstock counters that I provided.  By taking the game out of the realm of cardboard and cardstock, and pushing it into the realm of realia, players could get even more fun out of it.

It’s sort of like using a fancy chess set versus using a plain chess set.  The game is the same, no matter which set you use to play it.  The fancy set is kind of distractiong at first, and you might not play your best game when admiring  your crystal queens and rooks and things.  I’d like to see it fancy, but I’m happy to see the game as it is.  It’s a start!

My 50 signed and autographed copies are almost gone.  Don’t let that stop you from buying one from me.  If I need more copies of the game, I will get more.  And I’ll sign and number them for  you. However, this first release is special, and I’m making the price as low as I can to encourage people to get one, and to reward those who support me at the beginning,  When the first 50 are all gone, the price will go up to what it really ought to be.  So, it’s a case of EARLY BIRD GETTING WORM, or early buyer getting a deal.


RinCon 2012   2 comments

39 years ago I helped start LepreCon, the first sfnal Con in Arizona.  At least if anything else preceeded it, my friends and I had never heard of it, though we knew about cons in California and back east.  Since then the number of cons has increased tremendously, and it reached a point where cons weren’t just for science fiction any more–they spread out into all sorts of related fields, like Gaming.

It all blurs together after a while, but I don’t remember going to any gaming specific cons before the 1990s.  However, once the idea caught on, it became quite popular.  This year, I have attended three Gaming Cons here in Arizona–VulCon I, Conflagration 1, and RinCon 2012.  In addition, I have spent most of my con time gaming at DarkCon, LepreCon, ComiCon, and CopperCon.  And those were just the cons in Arizona, which I tend to attend because they are close and don’t cost me much money.  Out of state I went to Origins, OSRcon, and GenCon.   And I’m planning on LaughingMoonCon on Oct. 20.  That makes 8 weekends minimum spent at conventions, mostly gaming–slightly more than 1/5th of the year’s weekends up to my neck in cards and dice mostly.

Last week, Sept 28-30. I was in South Tucson for RinCon 2012.   This southern Arizona convention is about 5 years old now, and I have attended it once before.  This year the Con committee made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (a hotel room for my stay at the con–I’m easy, folks, you can have me for as little as a place to stay while at the con (grin)).  My son and I went to the Con.  I played Tunnels & Trolls twice, and a few other games.  I was on two interesting panels with John Wick and Mark Truman who were the other major frp people at the con.  We talked about such things as GM technique, things to keep in mind if you want to create your own frp game, and how the sport of role-playing has developed and is likely to continue developing.

I took my little camera along and took a few pictures, which I will now share with you.  They don’t really make a story this time, but it should give you an idea of what it was like.

There was plenty of function space at the Airport Holiday Inn in South Tucson. About half of the gaming took place in this large hall. The dealers have an area down at the far end.

I broke a rule, and actually played That Other Game. Jim McKenzie, the big guy on the left ran Pathfinder for most of the weekend, and I sat in on a game Friday afternoon as a wizard. Had to leave after about an hour of play, and I got back just in time for the grand finale. My wizard wasn’t missed, and got to throw one magic missile in the whole game.

Although you will find I prefer my own Tunnels and Trolls to all other frp systems, I am willing to play other games from time to time.  Really, it isn’t the system that matters.  It’s the role-playing that counts and having a good time with others.

That evening, Jamie, the cutie on the right taught my son James, the blurry fellow on the left, and me how to play the World of Warcraft CCG. James won–twice. I prefer Magic ™, but if one were a WoW player (and I’m not), I could see how one might grow fond of this game.

James Ernest was the Guest of Honor at RinCon. James is an amazingly smart game designer of mostly board games, but he could do anything. We know each other, but don’t mingle that much. Here he is having breakfast at the hotel buffet on Saturday morning. Bacon, eggs, and orange juice–yum!

The major Event of the convention was a GM conference on Saturday morning from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m.  5 game designers including me down front and 20 to 30 people in the audience at various times.

Audience, right side, Matthew Nielson down in front.

Audience, left side.

John Wick sat to the right of me. John pretty much dominates any panel he is on.

John said he had designed 10 rpgs this year already.  I said, big deal, designing them isn’t so hard.  Getting them published and out to the gamers in an attractive format is the hard thing.  John amended his statement to say he had published 10 rpgs already this year.

Mark Truman sat to the left of me on the panel. Mark is a game designer on the rise.

You won’t see any pictures of me at this Con, at least none that I own.  I was always pretty much at the center of the action and looking out admiring the great works of other people.

RinCon pays its GMs in RinCoins–tokens that dealers have agreed to take as part of the purchase price of games. Alas, I spent my RinCoins buying more Magic.

This BEN HVRT (clever play on Roman letters and a movie title) looked like a lot of fun. It represents all the great games I saw at RinCon but never got the actual chance to play.

After 2.5 days of gaming goodness, RinCon came to an end on Sunday afternoon.  While I was there I participated in a Pathfinder game, 2 Tunnels and Trolls sessions, a Settlers of Catan game, several rounds of Magic with my son, a WoW demo, a game of Gloom with my son, and a long session of Legacy the other t & t game (time travel and technology).  It was a good weekend for gaming.

If you were at RinCon, or some other gaming convention recently, why not leave a comment and mention your exploits there?


The Game of Amber, c1984 by Ken St. Andre   8 comments

Amber, the true foundation of Reality, lost its way when King Oberon disappeared into Shadow.

Being a game designer is a lot like being a writer.  It’s not so much that you want to invent new games, just like writers don’t necessarily want to write.  You can’t help it.  You can’t stop.  Game designers design games because they can’t NOT DESIGN GAMES.  Writers write because they can’t not write.

For every game that gets made and becomes a success, who know how many there were that never got made, never got played, and were only a flash of ideas?  Below the line of stars begins the actual rules that I typed up in 1984.


The card game for Amber was conceived during the seventies when I was GMing a vast play-by-mail simulation of the Amber novels.  At the time I thought this would make a good science fiction game, but couldn’t rouse much enthusiasm among muy circle of friends.  They weren’t much into card games.  The outline for the rules has languished in a desk drawer for several years.  I’m going to write it  out now so I can throw my notes away, and possibly get this game published somewhere.  I believe it deserves to see print.  (Comment from 2012:  never happened.  I typed up what follows, and it went in a box, only to be rediscovered after I moved and started going through all my old stuff.  I wonder if I should throw these pages away, or offer them up for auction somewhere, or donate to a university.  Why would any university care?)


To play the Game of Amber you will need a complete Tarot deck, paper, and writing implements.  You should have at least 4 players, and the game is better if there are 9 or more.

Set Up.

Divide the tarot deck into 3 sets of cards: the Chaos deck consists of the 22 numbered Major Arcana; the Encounter deck consists of the 16 Court cards; and the Shadow deck consists of all the numbered Suit cards.  Shuffle the Shadow deck and the Chaos deck and set them aside.  Spread out the Court cards.  Each player should choose one card to represent him or herself.  You may use either names from the Amber books, or make up your own names.  Supplement One matches the Court cards with the major characters of the Amber novels.  After each player has taken a Court card, the rest are shuffled and placed face down.  Before starting to play, deal each player 2 cards from the Shadow deck, face down to represent their unknown resources in Shadow, and one card face up to represent their known powers.  Set the unused part of the deck to one side.


Oberon, immortal founder of Amber and its true ruler, has vanished, leaving no designated heir to the throne.  All of his offspring believe themselves to be worthy, and each is maneuvering to gain the support of enough of the others to take the crown and hold it.  In game terms, anyone who can take the throne and successfully hold it for 3 turns will be the winner, and perpetual ruler in Amber. While this internecine strife engulfs Amber and the Shadow worlds, Chaos is also making its move to destroy Amber and the Pattern so that chaos may rule supreme.


Before beginning to play the tabletop is designated as the City of Amber (assuming now that the players are seated around a table in order to play a card game), and the center of the table is the Throne.  The Chaos deck is shuffled, and one card is placed face down on the Throne which is known as the Siege Perilous. (The Thorne has that name, not the card.)  The first player to actually place his card on the Throne turns over the Chaos card and must take the consequences of the card. (See Chaos table in Supplement Two for meaning of the Chaos cards.)

All players start in Amber with their Court card and one Shadow card face up on the table.  They also have 2 cards face down.  There is a 5 minute Diplomacy round in which players may seek alliances among themselves.  During this time they may show their face down card t the other players or not, as they choose.

At the end of the Diplomacy turn, each player must take a slip of paper and secretly declare an option.  All options are revealed simultaneously.  There are 4 options possible:  1. wait in Amber (this is neutral and makes no move), 2. seize the Throne (If only one Player seizes the Throne, he/she gets it and we move to phase 2.  If two or more Players try to seize the Throne, there is Civil War, and the game moves to phase 3.  If no one seizes the Throne, the game remains in phase 1.), 3. attack another Player.  (See attack and defense rules below), 4. move into Shadow (or if in Shadow, return to Amber)  Before any player moves into Shadow, all remaining Chaos, Court, and Shadow cards are shuffled together into one deck and placed face down on the Table.  Each time a Player moves from Amber into Shadow, he must take the top card off the combined new Shadow deck.  If it is a Chaos card, he must play it face up and take the consequences (usually that will indicate some sort of Chaotic move against Amber which would jump the game into phase 4 (Attack on Amber).  If it is a Court or Shadow card, he may conceal it.  The Player then surrenders his own Court card which is placed on the bottom of the Shadow deck.  Each other Player then cuts the Shadow deck once without looking at the result, effecting a new shuffle of the deck.  From this time on, whenever a card is played, it will go into a discard pile which will be cut back into the Shadow deck after each round of play as was just described. Players may only take one Shadow card for each trip into Shadow, and must return to Amber before they can move back into Shadow and take another card.

Phase 3: Civil War

Whenever there is more than one claimant for the Throne, there will be Civil War.  Civil wars are fought by playing Shadow cards against the other players.  Each suit has a special meaning and may only be played to accomplish a particular thing.  Swords are the cards of Attack, and may only be used to attack and capture the other Player.  Wands are the cards of Defense, and may only be used to defend against a Sword attack.  (If a higher numbered Wand is used against a lower numbered Sword, it is a counter attack, and the defensive Player may capture or defeat the offensive Player.)  Cups are a suit of Compulsion and may be used to force an alliance.  They are useless against Swords, however.  Pentacles (Coins) are the suit of economic strength and may be used to block compulsion by Cups.  In addition, there are several special cards with specific meanings and powers that will be described below.  No matter who wins a Civil War, no Player will succeed in taking the Throne of Amber on that turn.

Combat occurs by playing one card against another until one Player is unable to continue.  Cards are played face down and simultaneously–then revealed to see what the results are.  Any one card of Wands can counter any Sword attack excpt the Ten of Swords (see special cards).  Any Pentacle can counter any Cup.  In the event of mutual attacks with no defense, the stronger attack will win.  The loser in such a conflict, unless slain with the Ten of Swords, is banished into Shadow for the number of turns that represents the difference in the combat (i.e. 9 of Swords vs. 5 of Swords sends the Loser into Shadow for 4 turns) without being able to make any play or draw any Shadow cards until he has come back to Amber for at least one turn.  If the battle is in compulsion and not force, the Loser becomes the vassal of the Winner, and forfeits one Shadow card up to his entire stock for each point by which he was beaten.  Each card played in a Civil War is placed face down in the discard deck, shuffled with all other discards at the end of the turn, and cut back into the Shadow deck at the end of the turn.  Players may play any number of cards in the course of a Civil War, up to everything they have.

Phase 2:  Seizing the Throne

Eventually someone will seize the Throne without a Civil War.  That Player must then turn over the Chaos card that has lain there face down and accept the consequences for either good or evil.  The Player who occupies the Throne has great resources to draw upon and may draw two cards from the top of the Shadow deck each turn, but must leave them face up in front of him in Amber so that everyone can see them.  If he holds the Throne for 3 complete turns after taking it, the game is over and he has won.  After phase 2, move to phase 4.  A player who is on the Throne may not initiate a Sword attack against any other player, though he may use Cup (compulsion) attacks if he wishes.  He may use Swords if he is attacked by a Rebel.

Phase 4:  Encounters in Shadow

If a Player is banished into Shadow as a result of losing a Swords combat, he gets no turn until the time limit expires.  He may still condust Diplomacy with other Players during the next Diplomacy round.  After his time limit expires, he may take one Shadow card and return to Amber if he wishes.

If a Player has gone into Shadow voluntarily, he surrenders his Court card and takes one Shadow card in its place.  There are then 3 possibilities.  If he draws a Chaos card he looks at Supplement Two, the Chaos table, and follows instructions for the cards there.  This must be done openly so that all Players can see.  If he draws a Court card, he may either conceal it for a while, or give it back to its Player.  If he keeps it, nothing happens, but if he returns it, he may either use the return to initiate combat, which moves the game into phase 3, Civil War, or demand a ransom of one other card face down in its place from that Player.  If the Court card does not represent an active Player, then the Player ma ally with it by playing it face up in Amber in front of him.  He will then draw 2 cards from the Shadow deck face down to represent the strength of the alliance, and that Court card will be taken out of play for the remainder of the game.  There is one other thing that can be done with a Court card.  If it has not been revealed or played, and the Player who holds it is in Amber, it may be used to summon that other Player back to Amber and force him to reveal all his Shadow cards face up for all to see.

If phase 4 ends without reverting to Civil War, then one complete turn is over, and the Players begin the next turn with phase 1 where each Player selects anoption and reveals it simultaneously after no more than 5 minutes of Diplomacy.

Special Cards

There are 5 special Shadow cards with only one meaning.  They must be used for their special meanings and not for the general purposes of Attack, Defense, Compulsion, or Protection.

They are:

Nine of Cups–the Wish card.  Whoever it is played on (and you may play it on yourself or another Player if you wish) automatically gains the Throne of Amber.  The former occupant, if there was one, forfeits all the strength of the Throne, and goes back into the general population of Amber.

Seven of Cups–Betrayal.  Whoever it is played on loses all alliances, and must forfeit 1/2 of his Shadow cards to person who played the card on him.

Ten of Swords–Death.  Whoever it is played on, unless protected by the Ace of Wands, dies.  His Player card is removed from the game for the remainder and all of his Shadow cards go back into the discard pile.  The “dead” Player is out of the game.

Two of Pentacles–Defeat.  Whoever this card is played upon, even if it is the King of Amber, loses all Shadow cards to the discard pile immediately.

Ace of Wands–Protection.  This card when played, protects the Player on whom it is played from Death by the Ten of Swords.  It will not protect against death at the hands of the Forces of Chaos.


Combat is always conducted by using the Shadow cards.  Each card represents a source of power that is effective against two of the other sources and ineffective against one of the other sources.

Swords:  physical force on the attack.

Cups:  magical compulsion.

Pentacles (Coins):  financial strength (suitable for hiring either mercenaries or magicians)

Wands:  Defensive strength (fortifications and the support of the common people)

Swords may attack Cups and Pentacles but will be beaten if a higher numbered card is played.  Any Wand played against a Sword negates the attack.

Cups may be played against Pentacles and Wands and will be beaten if a higher numbered card is played.  Any Sword played against it will negate the attack.

Pentacles may be played against Wands and Swords.  Any Cup played against a Pentacle negates the attack.

Wands are strictly a defensive card.  They can do damage in a counter attack when attacked by Cups or Pentacles, but you cannot initiate an attack with a Wands card.

Combat is always conducted with one Attacker and one Defender.  In the option phase or during the Shadows phase one player will initiate combat by declaring his intention to attack another.  Multiple players may attack the same person if they wish, but only one at a time.  In the event of more than one Player initiating an attack, they can flip a coin or roll a die to decide who gets to attack first.

Other Players may not help an Attacker with his attack.  However, when all Players concerned are in Amber, they may choose to help a Defender with some of their own Shadow cards if they wish.

In combat the Attacker plays a card first.  The defender must then respond with a card, or give up.  Attacks are decided by the numerical value of the cards, high value winning except where the defensive card just nullified the attack (such as a Wand against a Sword or a Sword against a Cup).

An attack with Swords always causes physical defeat and retreat so that the losing player cannot move for the number of turns by which he was beaten.  In the event of ties, Players may either break off the attack in a stalemate or continue by playing a second attacing card.  If a player cannot respond to an attack he must surrender and acknowledge defeat.

An attack with Cups always reduces the loser to the state of vassal to the winner.  The loser must give the winner Shadow cards equal to the number he was beaten by, or all of his cards, whichever is the greater number.

An attack by Pentacles may be either one or the other as specified by the Winner.

A counter attack with Wands against Cups and Pentacles has the same effect on the loser as an attack would have had.  If the counterattack succeeds, the attacker must either retreat out of play into Shadow or give up cards.

Defensive plays when successful inoutpointing attacking plays cause the combat to end for that turn, but leave both players where they are.  Most attacks will only last one turn., but may go on for any number of rounds (1 round equals 1 card from both attacker and defender) as long as both players have cards.  (Example:  Eric attacks Corwin with the 8 of Swords. Corwin replies with the 2 of Wands, negating the attack.  Eric comes back with the 6 of Pentacles.  Corwin plays the 7 of Wands, defeating Eric on the counterattack by 1 point.  Corwin wins.  Seeing that Eric has one card left, and not having any himself, Corwin (the Winner) declares Eric must be his vassal and give him one card.  Eric reluctantly hands over his last Shadow card and the combat is over.)

After combat is over, it then moves to the next Player who has an attack chosen as his option.  If, in the example above, Corwin had chosen to attack Fiona, he would then initiate his attack.  Since he has only the 3 of Cups that he just took from eric, he would use that to attack her.

These are the Rider-Waite Court cards, but any deck except possibly the Amber itself or Lovecraft tarot decks would work.

Supplement 1: The Court Cards

You may either play Zelazny’s characters or make up your own names.  If using Zelazny’s characters, these names are associated with the following cards:

King of Swords:  Benedict

Queen of Swords:  Fiona

Knight of Swords:  Corwin

Page of Swords:  Brand

King of Cups:  Julian

Queen of Cups:  Deirdre

Knight of Cups:  Blaise

Page of Cups:  Merlin

King of Wands:  Gerard

Queen of Wands:  Flora

Knight of Wands:  Caine

Page of Wands:  Martin

King of Pentacles:  Eric

Queen of Pentacles:  Llewella

Knight of Pentacles:  Random

Page of Pentacles:  Moire

Supplement 2:  The Chaos Cards

0.  The Fool:  Chaotic Forces intervene.  You lose all Shadow cards (to the discard pile).

1.  The Magician:  Mastery of Chaos.  You may hold this card and play it at any time to gain any object except the slaying of another player.  (Example:  You may use this card to negate another Player’s attack, or change the outcome of an Attack.  You may play the card to force another Player to give you a Shadow card.  You may play the card to save the life of a player attacked and killed with the Ten of Wands.  When playing this card, you are the Master of Chaos for one brief moment.)

2.  The High Priestess:  Mystic forces attack Amber.  Draw 10 cards from Shadow deck without looking at them.  Play them to attack Amber.  All Players in Amber must defend against this attack.  If Amber falls, the High Priestess takes the Throne.  If she holds it for 3 turns then all players lose.  While she is on the throne treat Her as rules of Amber with all rights and priveleges and powers of the ruler, including the right to replenish her forces from the Chaos deck.

3.  The Empress:  The Player marries (a princess of Chaos) and gains strength.  Draw one Shadow card face up on each return to Amber from Shadow.

4.  The Emperor:  You have encountered Oberon in Shadow.  Draw 3 extra Shadow cards to represent his support.  If the card starts on the Throne, everyone wins except the Player who turned it over.

5.  The Hierophant:  Mystic forces attack Amber.  Same as for the High Priestess but Chaos only gets 6 cards.

6.  The Lovers:  Player is distracted by Love.  Lose 2 turns (no actions except Diplomacy permitted) and return to Amber.

7.  The Chariot:  Armies of Chaos attack Amber.  All Players in Shadow return to help defend the City.  Chaotic armies back off, but each Player must discard 1 Shadow card.

8.  Strength:  You have found an unexpected ally in Shadow.  Take one extra Shadow card.

9.  The Hermit:  You have encountered Dworkin.  He’s crazy and no help to you.  You may declare him as a Scion of Amber when returning to Amber and play him face up to gain two allied Shadow cards.

10.  The Wheel of Fortune:  Discard all your Shadow cards.  Draw the same number from the Shadow deck to replace them, all face down.

11.  Justice:  When this card is played, it forces the abdication of any Player who has the Throne if that Player has ever attacked another Player.  Otherwise, no effect.

12.  The Hanged Man:  Misfortune.  Lose 1 turn and 1 Shadow card.

13.  Death: Forces of Chaos have intervened and slain your Player.  There is no defense and the card may not be played on another Player.

14.  Temperance:  You gain two Shadow cards in exchange for this, but you may make no other play this turn.

15.  The Devil:  Chaos makea a total attack on Amber.  All Players gain  2 Shadow cards and return to the City to help defend it.  Chaos gets whatever is left in the Shadow deck, shuffles it, and then attacks randomly by laying down the top card of the Shadow deck.  If all attacks are not turned back then Chaos takes the City and wins.

16.  The Tower:  You have been captured and imprisoned by forces of Chaos.  If your Court card is not already in the Shadow deck, put it there.  You remain helpless there until some other Player draws your card and uses it to summon you back to Amber.

17.  The Star:  This card may be held.  A Player may use it to bring some other Player (not himself) back from the dead, or to stop and cancel any Chaotic attack on Amber. (Example: The Devil has been played.  Chaos is making an all out attempt on Amber.  A player holds the Star card.  That player may stop the Chaotic attack and end the turn and the battle at any time by playing The Star. When the Star is played, every card that has been played goes into the discard pile and gets reshuffled back into the Shadow deck.

18.  The Moon:  Demonic forces attack Amber.  They are weak and get only 3 Shadow cards, but only Players currently in the City may defend against them.

19.  The Sun:  Your character gains in popularity.  You may name any other Player in the game as your vassal to help out during a combat phase (except the Player attacking you)

20.  Judgment:  Forces of Chaos attack Amber with the first two Swords cards turned over out of the Shadow deck.  Only the King on the Throne may defend.  If there is no King, all players are banished to Shadow for one turn, and the Throne remains empty.

21.  The World:  You have walked the Pattern and gained control.  You may replace the current ruler in Amber and add his forces to yours while he is exiled to Shadow for 2 turns.

Attack on Amber

There are several times in the game when the Forces of Chaos may attack Amber.  Forces of Chaos may be played by a dead player or a non-player.  They draw the specified number of Shadow cards to use as weapons.  Any further Chaos cards drawn or turned over during an attack are discarded without being used.  When Chaos is attacking, all 4 suits count as Swords only.  The Ten of Swords, if played by Chaos, will slay whoever holds the Throne at the time.  If played against Chaos, it ends the attack instantly and Chaos is defeated.  If Chaos wins the attack, any Players still in Amber will be slain and removed from the game, unless the attack was solely against the King.  If only the King was attacked, and he is beaten, then he dies, and the Forces of Chaos leave other Amberites unharmed and the Throne empty.

After an attack on Amber the game always reverts to phase 1, Diplomacy and option selection.

The End


During the retyping of these rules this morning, I did not copy the exact words I used in 1984.  It is 99% the same, but I couldn’t resist adding a few clarifications and improvements.

I believe the game as explained above is both deep and playable, and that it would be better with more players instead of fewer.  I’d like to actually try it some time, so I guess playtesters are wanted.

If you are now or ever were a fan of Roger Zelazny’s epic fantasy Amber series, feel free to leave a comment.

DarkCon 2012: A Report   43 comments

DarkCon, a Steampunk science fiction convention for Arizona.

The fannish new year of 2012 started off very well for me with DarkCon in Mesa, Arizona.  I live in west Phoenix, and it was a long drive back and forth, but still less expensive than getting a hotel room.  The Con Committee invited me to the show as a guest and were extremely nice to me.  Look at the great gifts they gave me, and the other Guests just for showing up.

This bag was packed with food, drinks, jewelry, the pocket watch you see, a treasure chest, a calendar, a special Dark Ones shot glass, and other goodies. The name tag isn't paper in a holder--it's a golden plaque. Wow! I have never been treated so nicely in my life, and other guests also got great stuff.

DarkCon ran from Thursday afternoon at about 2 p.m. until Sunday night.  They had 7 notable professional guests this year.  First was Jacqueline Carey, the Author Guest of Honor.  She has several fantasy epics to her credit, and I have to tell you all I consider her writing to be a little kinky–I like it.

Jacqueline Carey graciously took this picture with me on Sunday.  The lady in the blue sweater in the background is actress Meg Foster, and we are at the Wrigley Mansion in Biltmore.  You can see Camelback Mountain in the background.

There were 2 media guests: Ernie Hudson and Meg Foster, an actor and an actress, and they shared their experiences making such video entertainment as Stargate and Masters of the Universe.  These three people were the true stars of the convention.

Gaming guests were John Wick and Ken St. Andre.  Tod VanHooser, the master of the Laughing Moon system, was also there.  All three of us ran games for fans who wanted to play.  We also collaborated on a panel about Game Design on Friday afternoon.  The panel was well attended.  Many thoughtful questions were asked and answered.  John Wick and I wore our hats, and we advised Tod to get himself a signature hat if he wanted to make it big as  a FRP game designer.

John Wick and I are trying to look dynamic. We are good friends, and admire each other's work--at least I admire his.

Tod VanHooser in the Superman shirt is running a Laughing Moon adventure for some of his devotees. In addition to the game, there is Laughing Moon fantasy fiction available from him as well.

Artist guests were Madame M, and Mark Greenawalt.  Madame M was promoting her new book: CREEPY LITTLE BEDTIME STORIES.  Mark Greenawalt did a body painting exhibition that was most entertaining.  Alas, I had very little to do with the artists as I spent all my time gaming.

DarkCon is the brainchild of the Dark Ones, a Phoenix fan group with Steampunk and media connections.  Jeff Jennings and Nola Yergen are two of the ringleaders in that group–they are the two that I know best, although I really don’t know any of them very well.  The Dark Ones are an intensely social group, well known in Arizona for the great parties they throw.  Although there were parties every day, I really only attended the opening party on Thursday night and the Sunday Brunch at the Wrigley Mansion.  The food, drink, and conversation at both parties were truly excellent–I’d tell you more about it, but I don’t want you thinking I’m some kind of gourmand, and I don’t want you to be jealous.  (grin–but I will say I was treated to champagne with orange juice at the Wrigley Mansion–first time I’ve ever had champagne for breakfast.  Yum!).

Brunch at the Wrigley Mansion--living the good life! The empty chair in the foreground is mine. The two ladies on the extreme right are Jacqueline Carey and Nola Yergen. The man in the orange shirt is Chris Colbath, a friend of mine who helped make the con a lot of fun.

I really can’t tell you too much about the Con.  We held it in the magnificent facilities at the Marriott Hotel at 200 N. Centennial Avenue in Mesa, Arizona.  There was a huge space allotted for gaming, and we filled it up with every kind of tabletop game you can imagine.  There was computer gaming in a separate room, but I never found it, and frankly, I didn’t miss it at all.  In addition to the two games of Tunnels and Trolls that I ran,  I also got to play Ticket to Ride (Europe), Settlers of Catan, Thunderstone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me as the evil Master, Last Night on Earth (Zombies and Martians and Monsters, oh my!), Apples to Apples, and an ancients naval miniatures game with quinquiremes (for which Jay Nash and I made up a whole set of alternate rules–game designers tinker with everything–especially if we can see a way of doing the same thing that makes more sense.)

Jay Nash taught me how to play this game, and then I made him rewrite all the rules for it. I'm the guy in the hat.

Jay and I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon together, first playing his game, and then just hanging out during a meal at the hotel restaurant.  I showed him where the free Con goodies were at the DarkCon suite and the Green Room, but he preferred to buy something, and he bought me lunch too. Thanks, Jay.  The reason I mention this is because Jay is one of the chief organizers of Vul Con, a pure gaming convention which will be held Feb. 25-26 at the Phoenix Convention Center, and I will be a gaming Guest of Honor at that convention also.  (If you live in the Phoenix area, come say hi, and maybe game with me.)

Let me just rave about my enthusiasm for DarkCon for a moment.  Gaming!  That is what I like, and Gaming was well represented and attended at this Con.  The Arizona Men in Black (who promote Steve Jackson Games) were there, and running excellent games continuously.  I got to play The Stars Are Right, and had victory assured on my next turn when Jason Youngdale (who took most of the really good photos in this blog, and who is also setting up a gaming convention here for June called Con-Flagration) beat me to the punch.

Just one of the tables maintained by the Men in Black. This group, under the leadership of Jesse Foster, consistently runs high quality gaming events at Arizona Sci-fi and gaming conventions. Not only do they provide the games, teach people how to play, but they offer free prize support for them all. I love these guys! (in a purely platonic way)

The Arizona Guise Knights were also running games at the convention, and I played with their members more than once.  This is an indenpendent Arizona group not associated with a gaming manufacturer in the same way that the Men in Black are.  Excellent and friendly gamers however, and a credit to the gaming community.

Tiffany Branum ran the Game Room and did an excellent job of it.  Signing up for games was extremely easy.  She and her staff smoothed all obstacles.  Phoenix area gamers owe Tiffany and her husband Chris a lot for all the work they do in creating great gaming environments.

I gamed with the Guise Knights more than once, but Jason never got my photo with them.

If you look carefully at the pictures, you will see that many of us, including me are dressed oddly for a science-fiction convention where the usual attire is jeans and sf t-shirt.  The Dark Ones have an affinity for Steampunk–Nola Yergen is an expert costumer,

A beautiful young lady who I met at the Thursday night party in one of Nola's many amazing costumes.

and her work is often in the Steampunk genre.  I put together a modest steampunk outfit–vest, pocket watch, hat with goggles on it, and if you look carefully a demon-head pin that identifies me as a member of a secret magician’s society.  There were many better costumes than mine–in fact, most of the true costumes were better than mine–look at the Guise Knights picture again for an example of true elegance.  Such fannish conventions often feature costumes, and always have a masquerade in which the best of the costumes are displayed for admiration and prizes.  I’m sorry, but I missed the masquerade.  I missed the Memorial Barry Bard movie previews and free goodies dispersal also (and I really like to go to those just to keep my t-shirt collection fresh.)  I missed a ton of great stuff at DarkCon, and I was still as busy as I could be with the stuff I did.

Chris and I model the magnificent lanyard badgeholders provided by the Con Commitee for VIPs (him) and Guests (me). I am steampunk. He isn’t.

Much more happened at the Con than I am able to convey in this blog.  I spent part of my time hanging out in the Green Room–a hospitality room for volunteers and guests.  The food and friendliness in that room kept me going even when I was tired, and especially when I was hungry.  I played Texas Hold’em on Friday night with a great bunch of riverboat gamblers.  I never won a single hand, but it was fun while I lasted.  I took some weapons training from the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship–those guys really know how to use all kinds of swords, and thanks to their training, I know a bit, too.

I had a lot of fun.  I saw and talked to a lot of friends.  If you were there, you probably had a great time also.  If you weren’t, then you missed a really good time.  You can look up the Dark Ones, the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship, the Men in Black, the Arizona Guise Knights, and just about everyone else that I mentioned on Facebook, so I’m not providing any links.  This is going to be a great year for conventions in Phoenix.  I recommend that you try to attend some of them.  I will be there–you can count on that!

I like to spend time by water. It's so symbolic. (grin)

(a note about the photos and pictures used in this blog:  some of them are my own photos, others were taken by the stalwart Jason Youngdale, and a couple were lifted from Nola Yergen’s DarkCon page on Facebook–copyright and ownership of all the photos and pictures belong to the original creators.  I recommend searching DarkCon on to find many more pictures of the convention–it was a fantastic place and time for us.)

If you were at DarkCon this year, or wish you had gone, why not add your own comments below?


REAMDE   1 comment

Boring cover, but an exciting book

I’ll admit that I was fooled by the Science Fiction label on the spine.  I read Snow Crash by Stephenson and really enjoyed it.  But, Reamde isn’t science fiction–it’s a thriller, and only a couple of years in the future.  There isn’t much happening in the book that couldn’t really happen in our own hyperfrenetic 21st century.
Reamde, which Stephenson pronounced as Reem Dee, but which I pronounce as reamed–which gives the whole title new meanings–has a special attraction for me because one of the main characters is a troll.  He calls himself Troll–he’s an internet troll and a hacker, and my general feeling about such people, especially if a virus they created has victimized my computer lately, is that they should all be hunted down and slain, or at least lobotomized so they can’t do it again, but the truth is that Marlon the Troll is a pretty good guy, and one hell of a computer whiz.
This is a thriller about an abducted girl, named Zula, who gets involved, as hostage, with first the Russian mafia and then Islamic jihadists.  She shows a lot of courage and brains, and makes some good friends along the way.  A large part of the plot deals with a futuristic MMORPG set up as an even better version of World of Warcraft–that’s where the Troll comes in.  It’s a super pk-er type of environment.  I wouldn’t last a minute there, but it’s fun to read about the characters that thrive in such a virtual world.
There’s a lot of plot, a lot of characters, a lot of action.  The book is 1042 pages long, and took me a week to read.  I’m not going into too much detail about it–better if you look it up for  yourself.
Back in the Day before the computer ruled every other waking moment, I read a lot–usually more than 100 books a year.  Alas, there is only so much time, and that is no longer true.  Now I finish maybe 10 books a year.  I’m not keeping a book log any more, so I’m not sure how many real books I finish–more than five, less than twenty.  There are also more comics than ever, especially since I can get graphic novel versions of stuff I didn’t buy.
If you re-arrange the letters in Reamde, you’ll get Read Me.  Good advice in this case . . .
If you’ve read Reamde or anything else by Stephenson, I’d love to see your comments.

GenCon 2011   4 comments

I spent most of last week–Aug. 2 through Aug. 8–at GenCon in Indianapolis.  Thirty or forty thousand gamers, dealers, exhibitors, models, musicians, and cosplayers were also there.  What a scene!  I talked to a lot of people, sold and signed a lot of Tunnels and Trolls stuff, and got some incredibly kind words and compliments from nearly everyone I met.  I had a blast.

Last year I devoted my camera work to people in costume.  The costumes were abundant this year also, but I’m not going to do that again.  This year, I just took a bunch of pictures, and each one reminds me of the fun I had.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

Rick Loomis and Corencio are having supper at Steak and Shake near the convention center.

Rick Loomis, Mr. Flying Buffalo himself, is my principal publisher and patron.  I go to big conventions like GenCon and Origins with him to help man the Buffalo booth and to promote Tunnels and Trolls.  This year I brought along my son Corencio to help with the heavy lifting.  We arrived late on Tuesday, set up the booth on Wednesday–that’s a miserable job as the convention hall is not fully air-conditioned before the show starts–and it’s 90 degrees and 200% humidity inside.  After setting up we all went over to Steak and Shake to have supper–yum!  I do love those double fudge shakes, and this is the only place I ever get them.

Three Amigos--Grimtooth, Shrek, and Trollgod.

Later in the day, I ran into my friend Steven Crompton, and Corencio took this  Three Amigos picture for us.  I didn’t expect to see Steve at the show, but he came to demonstrate his new Powers superhero trading card and sticker game.  Steve is an amazing artist–and the creator of Flying Buffalo’s Grimtooth the Troll character.  Steve is an Arizona boy from Scottsdale, and also a member of my <a href = “; Trollhalla </a> web fanclub for Tunnels & Trolls fans.  That gigantic ogre is really a foam rubber creation and lighter than it looks.  He was extremely busy taking pictures with Con attendees for the whole week.

Rick and Corencio teach retailers how to play Nuclear War.

On Wednesday night before the show we went off to demonstrate our games for retailers at Victoria Station.  We showed a few people how to play Nuclear War and Lost Worlds.  Wizards of the Coast hogged most of the visitors with their lavish spread and demonstrations of Magic ™ and their Dungeon Assault version of Dungeons and Dragons–not available for purchase, but playable by groups in game stores that sell their products.  Steve Jackson Games and Mayfair were also there in force.  I ignored the big companies pretty much–I’m there to see what the little guys are doing.

Typical of the small exhibitors was this company with their pirate miniatures game. Very nice toys they had.

Explorers back from the Center of the Earth.

When the show opened on Thursday morning I went around and talked to some of the dealers.  I most admired the ones who came in costume and wished I had more than an old Tunnels and Trolls t-shirt to wear.  Before it opened on the first day was the best time to see what was at the show–after it opened it was a shoulder to shoulder crowd scene most of the time.  That’s great for dealers, but not so good for rubber-necking game designers.

The Flying Buffalo booth number 501 just before the doors opened to the public on Thursday morning.

Flying Buffalo shared 1/8 of our booth with a small company this year that couldn’t get their own booth.  Studio 9 does small fantasy-themed card games.  Last year they released Treasures & Traps; this year they came out with Villagers and Villains.  People in the picture include Cameron and Lisa in the light green shirts, Bill who helped us in the booth, Rick in the command chair, and Corencio hanging around the back.  One of the few games I got at the con was the T&T card game.  I liked the initials.

Christian, also known in Trollhalla as Dupin, stopped by to say hi.

Death wandered around during the convention. He didn't seem to be taking anyone with him, though.

The Olde Guard was there in force. Here I am with colleagues Robin Laws and Ken Hite.

A member of Trollhalla demos my new DewDrop Inn solo adventure.

Trollhalla member Brrrennt gives A TRAVELER'S TALE a thumbs up plug.

Trollhalla member Kopfy shows off the latest two publications from Peryton Press–Elder Tunnels–Tunnels & Trolls fiction and games that don’t come from me and Flying Buffalo.  I think it is very good to have some outside support for my game.

Perrryton and Aarrra'aghaa are both members of Trollhalla.

Classic profile of a winner--later in the afternoon, Perrryton came and whupped Corencio, Brrrennt, and me in a game of Magic.

Brrrennt explains some of the finer points of the game to Corencio.

The convention center provided a couple of good places to simply sit down, eat, relax, play your games.  I spent a fair amount of time in this area gaming.  It wasn’t as noisy as the main halls, and food was close at hand in the form of small convention center cafes just out of sight.  I ran my one game of Tunnels and Trolls at this table on Friday afternoon.

I had to walk a mile for my supper on Thursday night.

When the dealer room closed on Thursday, Corencio and I joined some friends for a Mexican supper.  Afterwords, we went to their domicile for a Call of Cthulhu game–everyone died, but no one went mad.  Thursday was actually the first and the best day of the Con for me.  Flying Buffalo had a very good day for sales, and most of the friends I actually wanted to see at the Con came to see me that day.  Then we finished it all off with a game.  Can’t beat that!

Fast forward to Friday . . . We had so many helpers at the Flying Buffalo booth that I couldn’t actually stay there all the time.  In one way that was bad because some of the people who came to see and meet me actually missed me.  In another way it was good because I got out and saw more of the Con.

Friday morning found me at the Namaste booth where I went to see my friend Liz Danforth–she who is the very Goddess of Fantasy Illustration–and the creator of the classic Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition cover.

Dungeon delving is a blast.

Aaron wants to revolutionize MMORPGs. I'll help him if I can.

I’m in the picture here with John Harmon who is one of the artists at Namaste games.  He spent some time explaining their storyblocks system to me.  They brought Liz Danforth to the con for the first time in ten years, and signed her up to do concept art for the mmorpg they are creating.  I demoed their system, and I like it–very story based, and not so much twitch gaming like most of the runner/shooter computer rpgs you see these days.  I hope they succeed.

Liz Danforth (in purple) is talking to some of her fans.

It was great to see Liz out on the convention scene once again, and apparently having a good time.  On Saturday night Liz had supper with me and Rick and Corencio and Steve and Rick Roszco at the High Velocity Sports Bar in the Marriott.  That’s living the high life, folks.

Arch geekery with Steve Jackson.

Liz and I connected with the ever reclusive Steve Jackson at the Namaste booth.  Twas really good to see Steve again–it has been more than a decade since our paths last crossed.

LIfe-sized Robo Rally.

When I wasn’t in the dealers’ room trying to sell stuff or talking to people, I hung out in the convention lobby a lot.  In once place they had a life-sized Robo Rally game going for the whole convention.  It attracted a lot of attention and was beautifully produced.  Where do they get those fabulous toys?

Steve came by and talked business with Rick later in the day.

Richard Roszko is the Nuclear War apps developer for Flying Buffalo.

One of the people who helped out at the Buffalo booth was “Nomad” Rick Roszko.  He created the spinner map for Android cell phones for Nuclear War, and is working on a complete Nuclear War app.  The two Ricks think that if Apple Computing would only approve these apps, they would soar to undreamed of heights of popularity and richness.  C’mon, Apple, get off your butt, and approve the Apple I-phone version of the Nuclear War spinner.  Later you can approve the T & T cell phone interactive stories we intend to do.  Nomad took us all to dinner on Friday night at the Claddagh Pub.  Thanks, Nomad!

Saturday was Shadowfist Day!

On Saturday Corencio and I spent a lot of time playing cards at the World Championship Shadowfist tournament.  You may see me write about Magic a lot, but my real favorite collectible card game is Shadowfist–the game of Hong Kong action science fiction movies.  My son, Corencio, is currently the Arizona State Champion of the game–though I think he was lucky when he won that–and we tried our hand at the World Championship.  Now this is sort of typical of my life in gaming.  Here I was, competing for the world championship in a game, and there were only 14 other competitors.  Neither Corencio nor I even came close to winning–we didn’t even make the finals–but we had a good time, and saw some great players in action.

Do these guys look like kung-fu killers to you? The Shadowfist Championship tourney.

After the Shadowfist tournament I went back to the Buffalo booth for the afternoon.  Rick went off and ran a Nuclear War tournament at 4 p.m.–he had 30 players.  Ha!  He should bill it as the Nuclear War World Championship tournament at GenCon.  He might get 100 players if he did that.  When the hall closed a bunch of us went off and had supper at the High Velocity bar.  What  a feast!  But what will forever stick in my mind was the fact that they had television monitors in the Men’s restroom.  You could stand there doing your business and never miss a moment of whatever game was currently playing.

Sports TV heaven and the food was good too. I could not say the same for the Champions Bar in the other Marriott hotel down the street where I had lunch on Sunday.

We parked across the street from the football home of the Indianapolis Colts. The whole stadium is enclosed within this gigantic brick building with huge neon lights on the outside.

The City of Indianapolis has a lot of bizarre and impressive structures in it.  I would have a good time just riding around and photographing strange places.  The football stadium is one of them.  So is the church that follows.  I wish I had time and a local guide to get to know these places better.

Twin Towers--the top of the cathedral across the street from the convention center.

Go for baroque front facade of the church across from the convention center.

The church was so massive I couldn’t get it all into a single photograph.  Likewise for the stadium, and I didn’t even try for a photo of the power plant or the convention center itself or the state Capitol buildings a block to the north.

Some Uruks got lost in the Dealers' Room on Sunday--three of them.

Did I mention that the hall costumes were incredibly great this year?  They were spectacular and none were better, imho, than these lost uruks.  The leader, above, had this harsh rasping voice you could hear halfway across the hall, and yet he was the soul of courtesy and couth.  I tip the trollgod’s battered fedora to the Uruks of GenCon.

Looks real to me.

This fellow had an axe to grind--luckily not with me! I'd sign him up in a hearbeat to guard the trollcave at Trollhalla.

Sunday was the least eventful day of the trip.  I had lunch with my Trollhallan friends and said goodbye to them.  Perhaps we’ll meet again some time.  By 6 p.m. the Con was over, and we had packed the stuff we didn’t sell and were ready to head out.  This concludes my tale of GenCon Indy 2011.  It was the best I’ve ever attended.  All the dealers seemed to do well, and the gamers, cosplayers, etc.  all seemed pretty pumped up and pleased with it.  My congratulations to Peter Adkisson for running a great Con.  Long may it continue!

Goodbye to Indianapolis!

I know thousands of you were at GenCon with me.   There were a million other things I could have mentioned, but I’ve been working on this blog for half the day already, and I have to stop some time.  What did you enjoy most at GenCon?  I’d welcome your comments for this blog.


City of the Gods Revisited   Leave a comment

M. Scott Verne stopped by TrollCon last week, and played a game of Tunnels and Trolls with me.  In his honor, I winged something using a deck of Magic ™ cards and his latest project–the City of the Gods Map Pack.  When we were done, he gave me one, and asked if I’d review it.  Since this is a very handsome gaming accessory, I, of course, agreed to do so, and here comes the review.

If you don’t know about The City of the Gods by M. Scott Verne and Wynn Mercer you should take a moment and check it out.  They have a website for their book at, and the book is available on  I also reviewed the book in an earlier blog–you can see that here:  The map pack is not available at Amazon yet.

Although the book is epic fantasy, this map pack is planned as a gaming supplement.  It’s a generic product that could be used with any gaming system.  If you are the kind of Game Master who is chronically short on time and/or imagination, these generic products can be a real boon.  They provide settings and npcs that can be adapted into almost any campaign.  I should mention here that City of the Gods Map Pack is a Catalyst product from Flying Buffalo Inc.  ( As such, it is the latest in a series of products that included City books and Traps books, and you can learn more about them on the Flying Buffalo web site.

This module contains several different pieces.  First, there is a very handsome map of the city itself, printed on medium grade cardboard in full color.  Here’s a look at it:

How many quarters are there in a city? I'm counting at least 18.

The color is absolutely gorgeous, and you’ll be amazed at how much detail can be crammed into an 8.5 X 17 inch map.  The main attractions of the city are the major temples.  I mean, what are gods without their temples?  It’s almost like Where’s Waldo?  How many different famous buildings can you identify in this map.  The Great Pyramid of Gizeh dominates the lower left quadrant, but can you find the Parthenon, the Colisseum, the Taj Mahal or the Forbidden City?  Can you distinguish the different cultures and mythologies represented here?  For those of us with an interest in world mythology and history, the map alone is like a referesher course in the history of the world.

(As a side note, Mr. Verne pointed out that I have had an influence on the city.  If you look in the Egyptian quarter you will find the Sphynx of Nebthu, which was never mentioned in the novel FORGOTTEN.  It appears now because I mentioned the sphynx as the temple headquarters for Sekhmet the Cat Goddess in a short story that I wrote for an upcoming City of the Gods anthology.  Mapmaker and artist extraordinaire Steven Crompton liked the idea, and crowded it into his metropolitan design. Heh!  Of course I like the map–a little piece of me is in there.)

The biggest part of the module is a 20 page guidebook to the map.  If you look carefully at the map, you can find little blue circles with numbers in them.  Each numbered location, all 105 of them, is described and explained briefly in the guidebook.  Study them all, and you will really know your way around the city of the gods.  The guidebook also has a section that lists and describes the 18 character cards–all done in full color–that come as part of the package.  Each character is meant to be used as an adventure hook for a G.M. wanting to set a game in this environment,   The cards give the reader some idea of the appearance and powers of the different non-player characters that might be encountered in the city, and where one would be likely to find them.

The back cover of the book shows the extended map for the realm of the gods.

Eighteen character cards, each with a full color portrait, a listing of abilities, a probable location, and a deity allegiance are included in a separate little packet.  They would be ideal for showing players in a rpg just who they are dealing with.  Most of the characters are gods and goddesses, but there are a few that are just mortals or heroes.  Oddly enough, D’Molay, the protagonist of the City of the Gods, is not included as somene that you might meet.

trading cards of the gods

There is also an 8 page pamphlet in black and white with short excerpts from the first novel.  There is a 2-sided CotB bookmark featuring D’Molay and Aavi.  And there is a full-length comic book created by Steven Cormpton and Debra Kerr–Pantheon number 2.  The Pantheon comic features some of the same characters as City of the Gods, but in earlier incarnations–so to speak.

The whole map pack is very handsomely printed and a delight to the eyes and mind.  It is designed to appeal to gamers, and to lead them back to the novel, and to the sequels that are planned for that novel.  With a suggested price of about $20, this is a high quality gaming product.

I have only one criticism.  For someone who has already read and enjoyed the novel, there is really nothing new here.  The art is recycled, and the prose in the booklets and on the cards simply summarizes and condenses what we learned about the city in the book.  (That’s not strictly true–there are some places on the map that were either never mentioned, or mentioned only briefly, in FORGOTTEN, and that info should be new–but it’s obviously background material that the authors created for the main project, and it will probably be featured in the sequels.)  One of the first rules of film making is “Reuse your footage.” and that appears to be a rule of the City of the Gods project as well.  It is very fine footage, and well worth re-using, but it isn’t really new.

In a normal review I’d say this is a very fine product, perhaps four stars out of five, and recommend you purchase it, but this is Atroll’s Entertainment.  I make comments and critical remarks here without any recommendations.   The map pack amused and delighted me, and I was able to use it for a Tunnels and Trolls session–I’m glad to have it.  You might like it, too.


Dragons and Goblins and Trolls   1 comment

Creating fantasy games, reading fantasy novels and comics, and thinking and writing about such things are all things that I also do for fun.  Here are some slightly chaotic thoughs inspired both by Tunnels and Trolls and also by the card game known as Magic the Gathering.

Muscular Tunnels and Trolls goblins deal with a tentacled horror that lives in their lake. This picture was painted by and used here with the permission of Simon Lee Tranter. You can see more of his work, and possibly engage his services at

Dragons and Goblins and Trolls!

Oh, my!

Dragons and Goblins and Trolls!

Oh, my!



I think that I’m likely to die.

Oh my!

With a tip of the Trollish sombrero to A. A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh . . .

Yesterday I was talking a little bit about my latest Magic ™ deck–modified from the Dragons and Knights set.  Today it won some games against my son’s decks–lost some too.  I felt it did well, and the modifications were successful.  I still need to try it out against a variety of other decks.  Here’s a picture of my favorite dragon in the deck.

Voracious Dragon gets its power by devouring goblins.  I wonder where the card designers over at WotC got that idea.  To the best of my knowledge I have never read any fantasy story that used the idea of dragons eating goblins.  The great archetype for all fantasy role-playing games was Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Tolkien used both goblins and dragons in his book about THE HOBBIT, but they didn’t eat each other.  In fact, they were widely separated geographically.  The Hobbit started out as bedtime stories of John’s son Christopher, and featured trolls first, goblins, second, and Smaug the Dragon for the grand finale.   When Tolkien got serious about his fantasy, the goblins disappeared, and the main bad guys became Orcs.  Tolkien invented the Orc.

I’ve read a ton of fantasy–probably hundreds of different novels and stories.  I’ve never read about dragons eating any goblins.  If dragon’s eat anything, it’s usually domesticated animals, or the occasional human army foolishly trying to slay them.  But the very imaginative card designers at WotC came up with the planar world of Jund–a place where the two most common Kindreds are–you guessed it–Goblins and Dragons.  Dragons have to eat something, so why not have them chow down on the most common other critter in the landscape–namely, Goblins.  It makes perfect sense.

Dragons don’t seem to spend much time eating Trolls in fantasy literature either.  As far as I know, I’m the first person to even postulate the idea of a massive war between Dragons and Trolls.  I set it at the very dawn of Trollworld history.  Even then, Dragons wouldn’t eat my Trolls.  My Trolls are made of living rock–they would break the teeth of even the mightiest dragons.  Granted, the Dragons could melt my living rocks down into slag, but T & T trolls certainly aren’t good to eat.

Dragons and Goblins both feature prominently among the cards available for playing Magic.  There are dozens of varieties of both.  On the other hand, Trolls are few and far between, and not very interesting.  The only power the Magic designers have given Trolls is regeneration.  They all regenerate.  Kinda boring, really.  And there is something called Troll Shroud–the immunity to spells and effects cast by the opponents.  It’s a nice power.  I’d like to see it used more often, and more creatively.

Magic Trolls all seem to have been inspired by Dungeons and Dragons.  They are all what I call Meat Trolls–that is they are made of flesh just like you and me.  They may be big and mean and regenerate like crazy, but there aren’t any Trolls that I have found in Magic the Gathering that are actually made of living stone.  I protest!  Tunnels and Trolls is being unfairly slighted by the world’s greatest collectible dueling card game.  (grin)

Well, Dragons don’t eat Trolls, and Goblins don’t eat Trolls, but guess what . . .?  Trolls are more than happy to eat both Goblins and Dragons given the opportunity.  They especially like the crunchy calcium bones.

Dragons and Goblins and TROLLS!

This rock troll in a stone boat was drawn by David Ullery and is used by his permission and that of Trollhalla Press.


The Stylish Blogger Award

A couple of days ago i was given the Stylish Blogger Award by two of my blogging friends who both run excellent blogs.  It looks like this:

This award is making the rounds.

While I appreciate the honor that my friends offered me with this award, it comes with conditions.  I’m supposed to link back to those who gave me the award, and I’m supposed to tell you all seven true things about myself.   However, I’m kind of grumpy and contrary today–I’m not accepting any conditions.  I don’t want to list seven true things about myself?  Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus “What is Truth?” and I repeat the question.  Nobody knows the real me.  I don’t even know myself.  I’m not going to do it.  I guess that means I’m not a Stylish Blogger.  To Hell with it!  I never aspired to that title.

To some extent WordPress controls what I can do in these blogs.  They limit me by the tools they provide.  I accept those limits in order to put my messages on the internet for anyone to read/see.  If I were more savvy about the tech, I could do more than I do with the WordPress tools–I really don’t know much–I can put up words and pictures.  Sometimes I can’t even get that simple format to come out the way I want it.  I’m a pretty lazy guy.  My motto is K.I.S.S.  Keep it simple, Stupid.  I’m Stupid.  I like things simple.

So, WordPress can limit my blogging form because the site is making the whole blog possible.  I don’t see why I should accept any other limits on what I choose to enter.  I’m only accepting my own self-imposed limits on what I share.  Just because some yahoo thinks up an award and it starts going around on the internet doesn’t mean I have to follow his rules for what I write.  I reject it.  I write what I want to write–tell you what I want to tell you.  You read what you want to read, and think what you want to think.  That’s our bargain as blogger and reader.

If you want to know more about the Stylish Blogger Award, and perhaps find the many stylish blogs that have accepted it, then Google it.  I’m opting out.

(The civilized and courteous thing to do with the Stylish Blogger Award, other than complying with its restrictions, would have been to simply ignore it.  Well, I choose to express myself on how I feel.  I’m neither civilized nor courteous today.  I am Atroll.)


Everybody Wants to be a Game Designer   1 comment

And . . . everybody can be.  Game Design isn’t Rocket Science.

Some games automatically turn their players into game designers.  Role-playing games are pretty good at this.   Once you have gone adventuring in someone else’s dreams and ideas, you inevitably want to be the person in controll.  Thus you will make up your own scenarios, and your own rules variations–that is, you will if you have any creativity at all.  A good role-playing game for testing your wings as a budding game/scenario designer is Tunnels and Trolls.

If y ou do not change the rules at least a little, you are not really playing Tunnels and Trolls.

But there’s one game that really makes game desiners of us all.  It’s a card game–you’ve probably heard of it.  It’s called Magic ™.  It was designed originally by Richard Garfield, a math professor in his secret identity, and it was published by a small company called Wizards of the Coast.  WotC became a big company after its card game became the most popular game in the country and perhaps the world.
Saturday I took my son off to Walmart to buy some blue jeans.  On the way out he spotted the Magic display, and, being gamers, we of couse had to check it out.  The best thing there was the Knights vs. Dragons duel decks–two complete decks in one package with the classic fantasy theme of Knights and Dragons–natural enemies.  He talked me into buying it.  He took the Knights; I took the Dragons.

What a pretty, pretty knight!

We played three game using the decks just as they came out of the box.  The Knights won two of them by crushing margins.  I barely squuezed out a victory with the dragons in game two of the set.  While we were delighted with the rare cards and mythic rare cards that came with the set, neither of us were very happy with the original decks.  So we modified them.
I felt that the Dragon deck needed fewer goblins, more kill spells, and a knockout punch.  It also needed some way to get the big guns out faster.  I added swamps, poison goblins, and kill spells like Go for the Throat and Terminate.   The deck as released by WotC was weak.  Too much land, too little actual magic, everything on the theme of flame.  Themes are great, but they don’t often win games or tournaments.  What wins are killer combinations.

Big, nasty, powerful--just like Dads are supposed to be in our real world.

What I did, in essence, was design my own winning scenario in Magic.  I’m thinking of beating those pesky knights, but I want it to beat everything.  Everybody does that with Magic.  The game invites you to use your own creativity.  It sells you the parts–cards with various strengths and weaknesses and abilities, and then you have to put them together to make a playable deck.  This is a real test of your game-designing ability (and cash).  How good is the deck you make?  Does it win or lose?
Regular card games like Poker or Bridge don’t make game designers out of the players.  The decks are the same for everyone, and so are the rules.  Creative, imaginative play will help you succeed in playing those games.  But you don’t design anything.  You don’t really create.
Collectible card games like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, Naruto and others turn their players into game designers.  To make a deck you have to think about such things as Game Balance and Pace.  You want a fast deck to knock out your opponents before they can get going.  The Dragons had the greater power in the original sets, but the Knights were faster and deadlier.  To beat those Knights, I had to change the way Dragons fight.  Have I succeeded?  I don’t know yet, but I’m eagerly looking forward to a rematch.
Once you start thinking in terms of Game Design, it’s hard to stop.  Everywhere you look you will see pieces that can be turned into games and contests. 
After that comes the really hard part of the Game Designing life–convincing others to play Your game instead of Their game.  Somehow, your game has to be more fun than their game if you want to make any converts.  Good luck with that! 

We Game Designers all want to be dragons--powerful, influential, and known far and wide. But, we mostly wind up as goblins, and goblins are dragon food.