Archive for the ‘Trolls’ Category

Treated Like a God   8 comments

Last year Doug Rhea contacted me and asked if I’d be a Guest at NTRPG Con in 2013. (North Texas Role-Playing Games Convention). I agreed when I learned Rick Loomis (my main publisher, CEO of Flying Buffalo, Inc.) had also gotten an invite, it was certain that we would go.  The time came last Thursday morning at about 7 a.m.   The plane was 45 minutes late, but it was still god-awful early in the morning, and I didn’t get much sleep the night before. That was a pattern that would continue.  I didn’t get more than 3 hours sleep any night of the convention.  I’m home now, but Crom, I’m tired.  (Tried to sleep this morning, but couldn’t.)

Me thanking Doug for bringing me to the convention.

Me thanking Doug for bringing me to the convention.

We reached our destination early Thursday afternoon–a Marriott hotel near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The facilities were great.  There was a large open meeting with dealers around the edges and organized gaming in the center along with several smaller conference rooms.  The very comfortable hotel lobby had a dozen medium to large round tables with chairs available for open gaming.  The hotel bar and restaurant was right off to the side.  Rick and I had room 715 on the Concierge floor at the top of the hotel–a long walk down to the gamng area, but very pleasant.  The room was very clean and comfortable.

I spent Thursday afternoon meeting some of the other notables who were at the Con.  There were a lot of the real Old Guard from TSR present including Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, David “Zeb” Cook, Steve Winter, and Jim Ward. Also present was Jeff Dee, Steve Marsh, Dennis Sustare, Erol Otus, and Sandy Peterson.  Other notable guests included Peter Kerestan, Doug Kovacs, Robert Kuntz, David “Diesel” LaForce, and Jeff Easley.  And many others.

Obviously, I brought my camera, but I didn’t really do a very good job of taking pix at the Con.  I missed a ton of the most important stuff that happened, and didn’t even really get many shots of things that I was involved in.  For example, I met William Meinhardt, the Deluxe T & T Kickstarter backer who paid $1000 to get my personal copy of the Tunnels & Trolls 1st edition.  Bill was very laid back and amiable. He didn’t actually get his prize until Saturday morning, and then he just tucked it away, said he was glad to have it, and went about his own gaming agenda.

Rebecca Heinemann and Jennel Jaquays.

Rebecca Heinemann and Jennel Jaquays.

Mongolians hard at work making my supper.

Mongolians hard at work making my supper.

Dinner--Mongolian stir fry--on Thursday night.

Dinner–Mongolian stir fry–on Thursday night.

The highlight of Thursday was going to supper with Rebecca Heinemann and Jennel Jaquays. When I knew these ladies in a former life back in the late 80s they were men.  The food was delicious, and the conversation sparkled.  We caught up with 20 years of missed history.  I learned a lot.  Rebecca and I had worked together (sort of) back when she worked for Brian Fargo of Interplay in 1987 and 1988 when we did the Wasteland computer game for Electronic Arts. Back in those days I wrote story and game constraints. S(he) wrote the code that made it all work.

Jennel was actually at the Con to run Tunnels and Trolls sessions.  She ran two sessions of 5.5 while I was running sessions of Deluxe.  Her players seemed to have a very good time.

Frank Mentzer running That Other Game.

Frank Mentzer talking about That Other Game.

Although there were a number of High Notables from the old TSR present, I didn’t actually spend much time socializing with them.  I sat in and listened to Frank expound upon the importance of story.  He introduced himself and we did talk for a few minutes on Friday morning.  I also listened to words of wisdom from Tim Kask and Jim Ward.  I autographed a 5th edition copy of T & T for Steve Winter on Saturday morning.  Most of the role-playing going on was actually That Other Game and I even participated in a session on Saturday morning (see below).  I don’t believe any of them took part in a T & T game, however, though I invited Time Kask to join my game on Saturday night (which he rather disdainfully declined) (bwa ha ha ha ha!).

Jeff Dee showing two of his newest games.

Jeff Dee showing two of his newest games.

Of all the game designers I met at the con, the one I got along with best was Jeff Dee.  Jeff is both artist and game designer.  He is also a funny and amiable guy who said some nice things about the influence T & T had on him when he was very young.  You can see some of his game credits spread on the table in front of him.  I spent more time with him than with any other game designer, talking to him on Thursday afternoon, and playing in his Cavemaster demo on Friday morning.  He’s a great G.M.  He makes being a caveman fun.  (I wanted a copy of that game and thought to buy one right at the end of the con before I left, but by then he had already sold out of all the stock he brought with him.)  He and his talented wife Amanda promised to send me a copy when they got home from the Con.  We will see if that actually happens.

Sandy Peterson (in the blue shirt and suspenders) running his prototype Cthulhu board game.

Sandy Peterson (in the blue shirt and suspenders) running his prototype Cthulhu board game.

I haven’t seen Sandy in 20 years.  But we were still on easy, friendly terms with each other.  His Cthulhu board game looked like enormous fun, and he was running it for people non-stop every time I saw him.  Alas, I did not get a chance to play it, but I want one.

Serving wenches,d Olivia and Jessica.

Serving wenches, Olivia and Jessica.

NTRPG con had the most wonderful innovation I’ve ever seen at a Con.  I think all small gaming cons should do it.  Serving wenches!!!  I was very pleasantly surprised on Thursday afternoon when Olivia (the dark-haired beauty) sought me out and told me that she was going to take care of me–if I wanted anything (within reason, i.e. food, drink, paper, messages run) that she would get it for me.  I wasn’t the only one she provided with this service–Doug Rhea and Michael Badolato treated their Guests like gods.  They not only paid our transportation and hotel bills, but provided food and drink at the hotel, and these ladies brought it to us.  Sometimes I worked with Jessica, who was also super sweet and nice–the con days were long, and they weren’t both on all the time.  They also provided this kind of mobile support for every guest of the convention, although the regular attendees had to actually pay for their food and drink.

Olivia was super kind and sweet to me, and I fell in love with her very quickly. I admit I flirted outrageously with her during the entire convention.  I made her laugh a lot, but I think I actually impressed her in a contest of skill and will on Saturday night (nothing unseemly happened)  (In the words of the song: Wait a minute, Mister, I never even kissed her.)  I felt like the Frog Prince to her Princess when she was around.  If I could win her love, I would have gladly made her my queen.  On the other hand, I was actually kind of the visiting dignitary, and she was part of the entertainment/service.  She was a gracious hostess; I cannot praise her highly enough, and I truly hope she took my flirting in the light-hearted, friendly, and worshipful spirit that i intended it to be, and not as harassment.  If she felt harassed, she was so professional and good about it that it never showed. She certainly made my convention experience memorable and pleasant, and I suspect she did the same for everyone she interacted with.  Jessica was also very wonderful–I saw her in action throughout (and  you will note that I took the time to learn both of their names and to spend some time just talking to them about more than my next meal or drink) and I cannot praise them both highly enough.

My one stab at playing That Other Game during the Con.

My one stab at playing That Other Game during the Con.

On Friday morning I took part in a Cavemaster demo that Jeff Dee ran.  On Saturday morning I wandered into this game of O.D.&D (Odd Death and Destruction?), where the Game Master (man in green t-shirt) gave me a rather low-powered dwarven warrior to play.  The game was slow, but had its moments of hilarity and fun–as any well-run rpg should have.  I got bored a few times and put my player on standard orders while I wandered around or performed my religious duties with earth and water elementals, but came back for all the good fights.  I called my dwarf Bertinernie.  My moment of glory in the game came when I managed to make a called shot and slice off the living statue’s hand–the one holding the evil staff–during combat, and then destroy the staff itself (which seemed to be sentient) on the following combat round.  Bert was the one who went back out to the flying ship and brought in a wheelbarrow to carry away all the treasure we eventually won.  I was also a voice of reason who argued that having gained a ton of loot, the prudent thing to do would be to retire and spend it for a few years before going back for more.

Doug Rhea presiding over auction.

Doug Rhea presiding over auction.

Late Saturday afternoon the premier event of the whole convention took place.  Raffle ticket were drawn and prizes were awarded.  Various people got goodies.  Old rare gaming stuff brought fabulous sums of money from the mostly middle-aged crowd of gamers present who bought things in the auction.  I bid a few times, but I did not manage to win anything at all.

Jeff Dee with trophy

Jeff Dee with trophy.

My friend Jeff Dee won the Con’s trophy/award for best new RPG of 2013 for his Cavemaster design.  It’s a 5 pound green dragon paperweight that would ornament any game room or fannish home.  When I later volunteered to store it for him, he told me quite firmly that he’d take care of the trophy himself.  I don’t blame him at all.  It was very nice. High quality! As were the other trophies awarded and and prizes associated with this con.

Auction.

Auction.

Auction. Saturday afternoon.

Auction. Saturday afternoon.

Even though I was at a Con, I tried to eat healthy foods. This combo of asparagus, wild rice, and chicken was my supper on the last night while running the Fire Dungeon for 6 players.

Even though I was at a Con, I tried to eat healthy foods. This combo of asparagus, wild rice, and chicken was my supper on the last night while running the Fire Dungeon for 6 players.

I included this picture for the benefit of my trainer, Julie Marsella, so that she’ll believe me when I tell her, that even though I was living the life of a godling with (almost) my every desire being granted, I still did my best to stay in training and eat healthy.

This was the last picture I managed to take.  My Saturday night session of Deluxe T & T where I ran 6 brave adventurers into The Chambers of Z’Tpozz the Mad Dwarf, which is the free adventure provided in Flying Buffalo’s contribution to free RPG day on June 15, ran late, and they failed in their mission to rescue the dwarven princess of the Fire Clan, but they had a great time trying to cope with the blazing challenges of the Fire Dungeon that Bear Peters and I designed especially for the project.

For a huge collection of pix from the Con, go to Facebook and look up NTRPG. I tried to make a link for you here, but it just didn’t work. You might even find a pic or two of me there.

I got to bed about 1 a.m. Sunday morning, I got to sleep about 3 a.m. Sunday morning. I woke up about 5 a.m. Sunday morning, and reached the airport about 6 a.m.  Our flight was delayed (again)  (I’m not very impressed, American Airlines.)  I got back to Phoenix about 10 a.m., and back to the Trollcave a little after 11 a.m., and now with the completion of this blog, the great NTRPG con adventure is over.

There was an odd thing about this con. Although the show was in Texas, the home of Steve Jackson Games, there was absolutely no sign of that great gaming company at the Con.  I didn’t see a single game of Munchkin played during the whole weekend.

Sunday evening is in progress as I finish this.  I’m off to Trollhalla.com to award the weekly bonus of TVP (Trollish Victory Points) to those who deserve them. I get to rest just a bit tomorrow, and get ready for an even greater con adventure that will begin for me on Tuesday, the 11th of June, when Corencio and I will join Rick Loomis on the annual trip to G.A.M.A.’s Origins national gaming convention in Columbus, Ohio.  I’ll be running some Tunnels and Trolls Deluxe while I’m there, and I’d love to see  you at the show.

If you’ve ever gone to NTRPG, or any gaming convention in Texas, or if you’ve ever played the trollish game with me, why not leave a comment?

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Snow White and Brave   4 comments

The last two movies I have seen were both fairy tales.  It is good to know that Hollywood will still make movies that are fairy tales.  They were both what I would call okay.  I rate Snow White a solid B, and Brave as a C+.

Both movies were fairy tales about a princess.  Both movies were swords and sorcery, though actual swords didn’t feature much in either one of them.  Both princesses were courageous and beautiful and firmly in the British tradition.  I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler if I say both movies carry through to a happy ending, but then I told you they were fairy tales.

Brave is a tale of loving conflict between a daughter coming of age and her prim and proper  but oh-so-competent mother.  Mother Elinor wants Merida to grow up, accept responsibility, and behave like an adult.  Merida wants to be a free person and a legendary hero(ine).

Robin Hood has nothing on this girl. She both brave and bow-tiful.

Pixar always does great animation, and that’s true for Disney also.  Everything is technically well done.  But I have to say that I kind of hated the fact that the women are all Disney princess beautiful and the men are all outrageously silly-looking and ugly.  If I were Scottish, I’d be offended by this movie.  The setting is clearly Scotland some time back before the time of William Wallace and Braveheart.  And it’s a comedy with dark undertones of an ancient curse that must be laid to rest.  Let me not go into the plot.  I’m just going to quote critic Andrew O’heihir who sums it up thusly: it’s an entertainment whose good intentions can’t conceal the fact that its story is thin and loopy, its characters (especially Elinor) woefully undercooked and its happy ending slapdash even by Disney standards.  I completely agree with him.  The move was okay.  It made me laugh here and there, but I wanted more of a hero story, and I got a little moral fable on what happens when headstrong children disobey their loving parents.  All packed in with a message that says men are generally silly and self-important, but good-hearted women love them anyway.  As a man, that’s not a message I’m going to subscribe to.  Well, the movie wasn’t made for me, obviously–it’s more for pre-teen girls and their frazzled mothers.

Snow White was better.  Screenwriters Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock took the Grimm fairytale and turned it into swords and sorcery.  They made it grim.  There are no laughs in Snow White, but plenty of death and destruction.  Our Snow White is a true heroine who spends her teen years in prison, fights her way out of a cell, escapes through a sewer, braves an enchanted forest, escapes all pursuit, and leads the rebels on a mad attack to retake her kingdom from the Witch Queen who killed her father and stole the throne.

I actually went to see the movie because I was told (more than once) that it has a great troll scene in it.  As a kind of champion for fantasy trolls here in America, I had to see this great troll.  It is indeed awesome.  The whole scene with the troll is just a short action sequence designed to show off how dangerous the land is, and how brave the protagonists are.  Here’s the scene that lured me into the movie–thanks to youtube.com.

I only have one problem with this fight.  The troll actually hit our heroic huntsman twice–hit him hard enough to send him flying 20 feet through the air.  Either one of those blows would have killed him, caved in his chest, broken his neck, separated head from shoulders.  He’s knocked out for 5 seconds, gets up, walks away without even a wince or a drop of blood.  Now it is the same actor who played the mighty Thor in the Marvel movie, and he must still be Thor, because only a god could survive such a beating.  Just look at what one trollish blow did to that tree stump.  Nope.  Lost me right there.  Huntsman should be dead.  They worked so hard to make this a realistic fairy tale.  Why not show the huntsman dodging every blow, or being merely grazed instead of taking a full backhand swing?

To give Snow White her due, the movie production was excellent.  The sets and the special effects were amazing.  There is a sense of magic and wonder permeating this film that Brave never captured or even approached.  The writers know their folklore.  I especially liked the unique version of the fairies.  Watch closely–they appear for just a second in this Magic Forest clip.  You also get to see the Dwarves, as villainous a bunch of outlaws as you never want to run into.

I enjoyed the Snow White movie, even though there was virtually no humor in it.  The troll was an original and powerful conception, and it was unconquered.  The evil queen’s magic was clearly sympathetic in principal.  Hollywood added an original gimmick–creatures made of chips of obsidian–many parts magically uniting to form a whole.  There is no precedent for that in actual magical tradition–it’s pure Hollywood “look what we can do with computer effects” bullshit.  Very slick effects, but hokier than the natural wonders achieved with the creatures.  I could accept a golem army, or a demon army, but not one made of chips of black glass.  Save that stuff for your nanotech sci-fi thrillers where it might make more sense.

I liked John Carter better.  Still, I’d be willing to watch Snow White again.  I really wouldn’t do that for Brave.

If you like Hollywood fairytales on film, or even if you don’t, leave a comment.

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My Tunnels and Trolls, Part 1   3 comments

I thought it might be fun to lay out a list of the Tunnels and Trolls products that I have personally written and are currently for sale.  So here it goes, more of a catalog than a blog.  These are just the games available on http://drivethrurpg.com.  I’ll also give you a bit of background on each one.

Deathtrap was the first solo I ever wrote, way back in 1976.  So early in my role-playing career, I had already gotten tired of all the wandering around in tunnels and passageways.  It seemed to me that all the action was in the rooms, so why bother with passages.  I give the delver a ring that magically transported him in and out of the adventure.  There were two rings.  The Frog Ring took the delver into a single room in the dungeon.  Solve that room and the player got out with a treasure.  Fail and die.  It wasn’t called “Deathtrap” for nothing.  The four-armed demon on the cover and the blade-handed bandit inside were actually “borrowed” from Marvel’s Conan comics as scripted at that time by Roy Thomas.  This dungeon produced a lot of characters with hands made of living diamond.  It was perhaps the least dangerous trap in the adventure.  The other ring was called The Lion Ring, and it sent you on the Trip of the Lion.  The character had to go through every adventure, one right after the other. I don’t know if any character or player has ever been good enough to go through all the traps and dangers of Deathtrap Equalizer.  Certainly, I could never do it.

The second solo adventure I ever did also shattered a stereotype–the one of the heavily armed adventurer or group of adventurers venturing into the monsters’ lair to  slay vermin and take their stuff.  I was all about shattering stereotypes back in the seventies. (Now, it seems, I may be all about perpetuating them. heh!).  It seemed to me that adventures took too long to get going because the players needed to “buy” stuff and equip their characters.  T & T offered lots of choices for equipping characters right from the very beginnning.  How could I speed that up?  One way would be not to give the character anything at the beginning of the adventure.  It’s a time-honored technique going back to such heroes as John Carter of Mars, who arrived on the planet in his birthday suit.  My artist, Rob Carver, took me at my word and drew the title character in full frontal nudity.  Back in the day there were plenty of books and magazines featuring nude  women in peril.  I figured if it worked for naked women, it should be the same for naked men.  Flying Buffalo publisher Rick Loomis was scandalized and disagreed.  Reluctantly, Rob altered the picture and drew in the loin cloth.  Adventure modules were in their infancy.  I think I may have been the first game designer to throw characters into an adventure with nothing but their wits to save them.  I may have also been first to tie two modules together.  Deep inside the Naked Doom Gauntlet of Criminal Rehabilitation there is a place where the player can find a Frog Ring.  If you put it on, the character was magically teleported out of Naked Doom and into a Deathtrap Equalizer Adventure.  I still like that trick, and you’ll find it again in The DewDrop Inn that was written in 2011.

A short solitaire adventure intended for Tunnels & Trolls. Do you have what it takes to be an Agent of the Death Goddess?  Khara Khang’s Random Rainbow Maze is a simple test for warriors who want to serve their Empress.  Show that you have what it takes by getting through it alive. Two simple strategies will serve you well–Fight! and Flight!  My personal goal for 2011 was to publish as many T & T solos as I could.  I wanted to start with something short and sweet.  I found a simple maze and filled it with simple traps and monsters.  Your task was to go in one end and come out the other.  I had also been dreaming about these walls where the colors faded into each other–orange to red, blue to green, sort of like a rainbow.  I had an idea of coordinating the colors with the difficulty of the traps–red being the easiest and violet the most difficult.  Oh, yeah, let’s tie it into the Khazan mythos somehow.  The result was Khara Khang’s Random Rainbow Maze, a mazingly illustrated by David Ullery.  The printer screwed up the first edition, and just photocopied it all on plain paper.  Grrrrr!  This is a good adventure for people just learning the game.

The classic Tunnels & Trolls supplement that lets the players play the monsters, defending their dungeon dwellings and other holdings from marauding adventurers!  Originally created for Howard Thompson of Metagaming, this twisted variant of T & T in which players were supposed to be the monsters, and to behave as evilly and chaotically as they could, only lasted for a couple of years there until Steve Jackson created The Fantasy Trip.  Not willing to publish 2 different fantasy rpgs, Metagaming decided to lose Monsters! Monsters!  I bought the rights to the game back for $300 and then cut a deal with Flying Buffalo to republish it.  Flying Buffalo did a low budget reprint with Liz Danforth’s beautiful cover reduced to two colors.  Rick sold out of his copies in a year or two, and Monsters! went out of print for at least a decade.  Rick Loomis often made noises about  updating and reprinting it, but somehow there was never enough money for it until about 2009 when a reprint edition finally came back into circulation.  A reviewer has pointed out that this is a Tunnels & Trolls variant, but that it features the original 2nd edition T & T rules.  Heh!  Will it ever get updated to the current 7.5 edition rules?  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t count on it.  So reading and playing Monsters! Monsters! is like time travel back to roleplaying as it was in 1977.  I’d like to point out that my idea of having the players be the monsters predated White Wolf’s World of Darkness monster-based rpgs by about a decade at least.

Well, that’s 4 of my products available at http://drivethrurpg.com.  I was just going to keep going until I had talked about everything currently available from them, but I’m tired of typing, so this is part one.  It is the usual chaotic St  Andre product–in this case 3 oldies and one fairly new item.  Straight chronology is ignored.  I’ve added a few notes that you might not have known about, and certainly wouldn’t have cared about, and when I can’t think of anything else to write about, I’ll probably do part two.

If  you have any comments about these adventures, the early days of roleplaying, or what  you’d like to see me write about next, then please leave a comment.

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Trollhalla–the Board Game   2 comments

About 9 or 10 years ago–it’s hard to remember that far back–I decided to scrap my old Tunnels and Trolls web page and start something new–an online club for all T & T fans.  It didn’t take much thinking to come up with the name TROLLHALLA–a combination of the word Troll with the word Valhalla.  And that is what the place would be–a sort of Valhalla for T & T players–a place to get together with friends, both for fun, and also to promote T & T.

An internet search showed that the name Trollhalla had been used once before at least–for a guest cottage in a tourist resort in Norway.  Not much conflict of interest there.  So, I used the name and for roughly 9 years Trollhalla was mine.

Then Alf Seegert, who had done a  Bridge Troll board game earlier, decided to send his trolls plundering on northern seas, and came up with the name Trollhalla for his new board game. I have Google search words like Trollhalla for me every day, and when I heard about it, I wrote him a pained letter complaining.  He and Z-Man were doing a game that swiped the name of my gaming club.  It’s not a direct conflict, but it’s certainly a lot closer than the guest house connection. Too late!  The game and the boxes for it were already in production.  He couldn’t change the name.

Alf and I made a deal.  He gave me a copy of the game, and he joined Trollhalla as a member (haven’t seen much of him in 2011 though), and he explained the confusion between the names very nicely in a few places around the web.  Ugh!  I’m not real happy with the way that worked out–I kinda feel that Trollhalla is my name, but I didn’t trademark it or anything, and ideas should be free, and he certainly uses the word in a different sense than I do.

Anyway, it’s an amusing board game, complicated enough that it takes some real study, or two or more playings to fully understand it–simple enough that you can stagger through a game and have fun even if you do get a few rules mechanics wrong on the first try.  The trolls in the game are indistinguishable from 10th century vikings–yo ho, yo ho, a viking’s life for me!  Sail from island to island, grab as much loot as you can, try to frustrate the efforts of other players.  An hour later you’re done. Somebody won.  It was probably close.  You had a few laughs along the way.

Trollhalla the board game is fun and funny–at least I enjoyed it when I played it.  Seegert is an accomplished game designer, and board gamers should look for his work for some lighthearted entertainment.

Ironically enough, for a game about ocean-going trolls, it doesn’t stand up to water very well.  The first time I tried to play it, I accidentally knocked over a glass of water, and pretty much ruined half the paper components of my game.  Arrrrgh!  I can still play Trollhalla, but it is certainly the worse for wear.

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If  you have played Trollhalla the board game, or are a member of Trollhalla the gaming society, go ahead an leave some comments here.

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