Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Zzarchov Kowolski - Adventure Author, Game Designer, Publisher, Blogger

Zzarchov Kowolski...Zzarchov Kowolski...Zzarchov....a name full of mystery and intrigue.

Zzarchov Kowolski is one of my favorite adventure writers, if not THEE favorite. His stuff always has that twist, that edge, that resonance, that flavor, THAT STUFF that I want my work to be filled with. But, I guess I try too hard and wind up clumsily waving my ideas around like a lumbering giant with a tree trunk club, you see can see me coming from a mile away. While Zzarchov, sneaky, subtle, adventure twisting, crafty word smithy ninja Zzarchov, he seems to do it so effortlessly and delicately. You don't hear his work bounding towards you like mine, instead his leaves you with a creepy feeling that something is sneaking up behind you that makes the hairs on the back of your neck bristle...but, no, there's nothing there, except you do catch a whiff of something inhuman in the air, but where did it come from? Wait, was that a shadow of a goat on it's hind legs that just sped past the periphery of your vision? Ummm, OH BLOODY HELL! WHAT IS THIS THING!?!? WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!? WHHHHhhhhyyyyy....

Yeah, that's how reading his work makes me feel. I guess you can say I kinda idolize his stuff. But, I have good reason to, I mean after all, he writes the bloody stuff I want to write. I don't mean that I want to emulate his subject matter or style, it's more like he's mining from the same idea mine that I do, except he's hit a much richer vein than I've found so far. Time and time again I come up with scenario ideas and game mechanic ideas which I feverishly begin to explore, taking notes and writing...only to eventually discover...DAMMIT! Zzarchov's already done it and what he's done blows me away more than my idea does...now. Using cards to randomly create a setting...Oh yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. Weird trans-temporal impact from the past on setting dynamics...Oh, yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. That Gnome thing...Oh yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. This guy's a genius.

The weird thing is, I know nothing about him. NOTHING. I don't even know what he looks like despite being connected with him on G+ for a few years. I begged him to let me in on his online games, a request to which he has obliged by keeping me on his invite list, but so far my stupid chaotic life has prevented me from playing a single session with him. Eventually I'll work it out and I can finally make time to sit at his virtual table and get a feel for how his creative mind spins, whirs, and ticks. 

Until then I have Scenic Dunnsmouth, Thulian Echoes, Pale Lady, A Thousand Dead Babies (my all time favorite adventure title), Gnomes of Levnec, and his own game rules system, Neoclassical Geek Revival (green hardcover 4th? edition) to pour over once again and breathe in that beautiful fragrance of pure ingenuity and unbridled creative vision.



Zzarchov submitted this picture as a representation of himself as a child.


Favorite Toys of Childhood


Remember your TOP FAVORITE TOYS of all time. What is it about any of these toys that you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play with these toy? Shared or Solo play?.

Zzarchov Kowolski: When I was in First Grade I received a Boglin which I thought was rad as all hell, it was a rubbery monster.  I thought monsters were cool.  It didn't long supplant LEGO's (along with a handful of random MicroMachines) as my favourite toy, allowing me to play out a sort of proto-sim game.  Building a town and having the inevitable destruction and war befall it. Ideally this was solo play, if it was shared play it was because an outside force would be about to wreak havoc upon this town without my approval.

 When I was 8 I got a steel hatchet,  which while technically a tool, it allowed me to do all kinds of new fun things.  Living in the middle of nowhere in a forest is boring,  but with a hatchet I could build all sorts of stuff.  I usually defaulted to dams, fences, and unnecessary shelters.

When I was 10 (nearing 11) I got a copy of the board game HeroQuest. This was full of possibilities and I loved the whole concept of adventure games, and being able to make your own maps.  I didn't play it all that much mind you, far more time was spent thinking about playing it.

It was when I was 12 (the top end of this timescale) that I got access to a 286 and a horde of completely legitimate floppies that contained a score of games. The games were fun,  but what was more fun was learning to tinker with them and change them.  Usually they just broke because this was before easy access to manuals and guides. It was all blind modding. I accomplished little but it ate up hours dealing with the possibilities.



Favorite Films and TV


Favorite Films or TV of Your Youth:  At what age did you enjoy each favorite? What did you identify with about the shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Zzarchov: As with all people from my generation I had the usual obsession with cartoons designed to sell toys that I absorbed with frantic glee.  Those probably had a very similar impact on me as they did on everyone else so I won't rehash that old gem.  Instead I'll go over the outliers that are a more likely source of variance.

Pink Panther   (age 4-5)
 When I was a little kid I used to be enthralled with the Pink Panther and watched it religiously.  Why?  Couldn't really say, I was young and it was a cartoon with a cat.  But I would say it did have an impact.  The Pink Panther only ever spoke once in any episode that I saw and I can still hear the voice.  If you want people to remember when you say things,  keep your mouth shut most of the time. 

Godzilla   (age 8)      
You what is cool to an 8 year old and has ridiculously large backlog of movies? A radiation spewing dragon that is there to kick ass and then kick more ass. Any chance I to scour a video store I would look to see what Godzilla movies they have and beg and plead to rent one.  Oddly enough I still haven't seen the original Godzilla movie. But I saw a lot of random Godzilla movies where he fights other monsters. I guess the largest impact it had on me was that it lead me to appreciate movies with special effects that don't hold up,  even ones with terrible dialog and weird plots.  That fed a lot into my love of MST3K.

Harryhausen  Movies (Age 10)
When I was about 10 my obsession with Godzilla switched to Harryhausen movies.  The visuals and adventure arcs meshed well with the literature I was into. Even today when I visualize monsters, I often think of how they would look in Dynamation. Fantastic movies.

Road Warrior (Age 12)
Road warrior has medieval combat atop hot-rods in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. That is pretty obvious in its appeal to a kid on the cusp of being a teenager.  I think Conan may have edged this out as my favourite movie over the years,  but if so only by a hair.


Creating Games


Think About Playtime:  Did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? Please give a description of an important original game or play world that you enjoyed. 

Zzarchov: I was big into reading as a kid, so its hard to know at which point a world was mine, versus a mash of other fantasy worlds, versus an alternate reality or alternate history  ("What if the Vikings never left Canada!").  Questions about if the One Ring tapped into the Dark Side were ever present in my brain.


Play Community


As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form?

Zzarchov: I was a scrawny dirt poor kid from the backwoods with obvious speech differences from my peers and an aptitude for books. I did not fit in well. Both preferences and the necessities of being smack dab in the middle of nowhere lead me to spend quite a bit of time alone as a young child.  I did have siblings,  but we all tried to stay as far away from each other as possible with a sort of paranoid disdain that only squabbling siblings and extreme libertarians can muster. As children were not supposed to be underfoot unless they were working, this meant almost all play was self-directed and alone (unless you count the dogs).

Despite how much this is beginning to make me sound like either the unibomber or Wilbur Whatley, I assure you I barely remember anything from Chemistry class and own a dog.


Childhood Playtime's Impact On Adult Gaming


Do you have any thoughts about aspects of your childhood play time that influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created/written as an adult?

Zzarchov: The most common feature is that my "default wilderness" is the forest and hills I grew up in.  The default forests are cedar strewn with massive boulders and exposed bedrock is not uncommon. The hills are covered in juniper bushes and burrs.  But the isolation and the risks of simply being when alone in the middle of nowhere also factor in. Rather than hand waive away the irritants of wilderness travel to focus on the "real" adventure I focus on them.   How one jury-rigs solutions to those irritants and troubles often helps set the stage for the main adventure. 


Lost in Space Media Cache


You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You are the last surviving member of your crew. You no longer remember you're mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format. What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?

Zzarchov: A deck of cards.  Give me that and I can build endless games.



I was curious about what Zzarchov might look like today, so I used age progression filters on the
picture he sent (see above) and came up with the above representation of him as an adult.


Links to Mr. Kowolski's work and blog:
Kowolski's NGR Publishing available on RPGNow: 
http://www.rpgnow.com/browse/pub/4140/Zzarchov-Kowolski
Zzarchov's Blog - Unofficial Games: http://zzarchov.blogspot.com/
Zzarchov's work published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess available here: 
http://www.lotfp.com/store/
And you can find other interviews and tons of reviews of his work online!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mike Evans - DIY RPG Publisher, Blogger, Game Writer and Designer

Between this blog, my long overdue zine, SkullF*#K, and a few outstanding projects, I've been carrying around an embarrassing and weighty sack of unfulfilled promises. Well, I've emptied that sack, I've rooted through it and I'm starting to tackle it all starting with this blog. Sooo...Welcome to Season 2 of Appendix N Happy Meal!


I think the first time I communicated with Mike Evans was just prior to an outdoor weekend game event that I wound up missing anyhow. I was following along with posts and comments about preparations for the event when I ran across an item that sounded interesting. I had never heard of the thing Mike mentioned in his post, but I thought I knew what it was. So since I didn't have access to a tent, I wound up asking Mike if he had an extra one of those banana hammocks so that I could sleep in one...We kinda bonded a bit after that. Honestly, how could you not bond with a guy after asking if you could hang his thong in a tree so you could curl up in it for the night?


Evans is a super familiar face within the G+ OSR and DCC RPG communities. Besides being one of the friendliest guys I know online, the DIY RPG guy is also one of the most prolific. Check out his blog, Wrath of Zombies. You'll find boatloads of material about his various projects including Death is the New Pink, Barbarians of the Ruined Earth, the upcoming High Noon: A Gritty Whitebox Western, and his mammoth and successful Hubris project among others. He's also editing Gathox Vertical Slum by David Lewis Johnson. Mike and I communicate a couple times a week and I'm always blown away over Mike's relentless diligence in plugging away on his projects.


Mike's work is original as hell, flavored with a bucket of brutal and topped off with a thick, fat glaze of 'in your face'. So go grab a plate and the biggest spoon you can find and dig in!
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Death Is The New Peacock. Young Mike moments before getting his eyes pecked out.


Favorite Toys of Childhood


Remember your TOP FAVORITE TOYS of all time. What is it about any of these toys that you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play with these toy? Shared or Solo play?


Mike Evans: I always had a weird mish-mash of toys when I played.  I combined GI Joe’s, Thundercats, Transformers, Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Rocklords (yeah because rock people are so interesting), Battle Beasts, Army Ants, you name it. They all had sides they were on and there were all out wars.  If I had to choose one that was the most prevalent, it’d be GI Joe’s for the win.


My friends and I would play with toys at the same time, but we’d play separately.  I was never a huge fan of playing together during toy time.  I saw way too many fights with between friends who did it to enjoy it…  The whole, “No!  Skeletor TOTALLY beats Optimus Prime” argument always frustrated me- then watching the friends fight, argue and cry.  No thanks.


Favorite Films or TV


What were your favorite movies and television shows of your youth? How old were you when you loved these shows? Why did you identify with these shows and do you think these movies and programs had an influence on the adult you?


Mike Evans: Star Wars trilogy had a profound impact on my life.  Next would be Ghostbusters.  Finally I would say Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
            
Influence? Absolutely.  Star Wars is so near and dear to my heart, it’s crazy.  I get choked up just hearing the music from when Han is being lowered down into the Carbonite machine.  Ghostbusters was just so cool!  These dudes with lightning packs blasting away at ghosts!  And also there was just something so awesome about Bill Murray in that movie.  Even as a kid, I wanted to be like Peter Vankmen!  I think Bill Murray’s humor in that movie oozed into my consciousness.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit was really magical for me.  I was 8 when it came out and I watched it eight times in theaters.  I drove my parents nuts with that one.  I remember thinking how amazing it would be to live in a world where cartoons and humans coexisted; hell, I still do!  Cartoons like the old Disney shorts and Looney Tunes were very influential in my early childhood, and this movie solidified that.  I often am cartoony/animated human being, much to my wife’s dismay.


Creating Games


Think About Playtime:  Did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? Please give a description of an important original game or play world that you enjoyed.


Mike: I usually created my own games and worlds.  One of my favorites was the Forgotten Forest- and the FEW times I did shared toy play, I’d piss my friends off because they couldn’t figure out how to beat the powers of the forest, which was you forget everything that happened when you leave place.  That actually went on to inspire The Weeping Forest of Forgotten Memories in my Hubris setting.  


Play Community


As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form?


Displaying img004.jpg

Mike: I grew up in cities most of my life, until 15- then I moved to Whitefish, MT and had to grow accustomed to a more lowkey-style of living.  It wasn’t until MT that I started playing tabletop games, so that’s a major boon there.  

I’m an only child and grew up pretty fucking spoiled, to be honest.  I was really bossy and in charge when I was a kid.  When I was 10 years old we were playing guns (we make-believing we were in Aliens) and a new kid started playing with us.  He was about 14 and a “cool kid.”  I started my normal bossy spoiled brat shit, and he called me out on it, saying that he didn’t like playing with me because I was bossy.  That really had an impact on me.  No one had ever really called me out on that before and I made a choice from that point on, to be nicer, not bossy, and actually listen to people.  
When I was a teenager I did track and field.  I liked running, but I hate competitive anything… just not my jam.  I did theater for a couple of years until I grew bored with the drama that came along with working with actors.


Childhood Playtime's Impact On Adult Gaming


Do you have any thoughts about aspects of your childhood play time that influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created/written as an adult?


Mike: Oh absolutely.  I touched on that a bit with the Weeping Forest of Forgotten Memories in Hubris.  I grew up loving Star Trek, Star Wars, and all the gonzo weird fantasy cartoons (i.e., Thundercats, He-man, Thundarr, Pirates of Dark Water, etc.) and always played make-believe in those worlds.  All that seems to, at some point, bleed back into my interests with RPGs and what I want to run and write.  


Lost in Space Media Cache


You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You are the last surviving member of your crew. You no longer remember you're mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format. What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?


Mike:
The Original Star Wars trilogy
Thundarr the Complete Series
Complete Big Bang Theory Seasons 1-10
Complete works of Robert E. Howard
Complete Harry Potter Collection
The Black Hack Rules
Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure (hate to plug myself, but I wrote the book for how I want to run things)
Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset
Louis Armstrong Complete boxset
The Complete Nirvana Boxset


Links:
Mike's blog, Wrathofzombie's Blog: https://wrathofzombie.wordpress.com/

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jeffrey C. Dillow: Creator and Author of High Fantasy RPG and Fantasy Novel Series

When Jeffrey Dillow's High Fantasy was originally published in 1978, it didn't capture much attention. Neither did the two subsequent printings in 1979. It didn't really appear on anyone's radar until 1981 when Reston published an expanded hard cover second edition. 

Third printing of the original 44 page saddle stitched edition. This is the edition I first owned in 1980.
Unfortunately, the most important review High Fantasy received for it's 3rd printing of the 44 page softcover 1st edition, which appeared in White Dwarf  in June 1980, unfairly criticized it not for rules or setting issues, but simply for the fact that it was a fantasy RPG. Essentially the criticism read (very liberally paraphrased by me), 'we already have a dominant game, why would anyone play another?'. Unfortunately, the review reinforced an attitude that was pervasive at the time. Even though game play was different--High Fantasy is based on 
percentile dice system, with a hit and dodge combat mechanic for characters and creatures--it was a time when players were still swooning over the new D&D sensation and thus weren't ready to explore alternate rules systems. High Fantasy also had different classes like Animal Trainer and Alchemist, who could create gun powder and use firearms, but despite this there was no way to 'compete' with D&D in the early 80's. Even the strongest alternative games at the time, Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls, and Traveller, were obscure titles to most of Dungeon and Dragon's fad audience. Despite this, the HF still had strong distribution through bookstores as well as hobby shops once the Reston edition came out. Numerous supplements followed in '81 through '83.

Extremely rare High Fantasy boxed set.
I picked HF up in 1980. I was sold on the color cover art of the 3rd printing of the original edition. Sadly though, I never got a chance to play it. No one that I gamed with in the early 80's was...Surprise!....
interested in learning another system. The copy I owned was sold in 1986 when I ditched 90% of my game collection all for $100. All for a slew of records that seemed important to own at the time...How I lament that day.

When I got back into games I often thought of that book. 6 years ago I couldn't find much about it online which made it grow in magnitude as a lost gem that I needed to replace. I tore apart boxes of my old collections at my parent's house hoping it wasn't part of my RPG sale. I kept checking Ebay for copies, kept searching online, and slowly I found info...then a little more...and a little more. Over a couple of years I discovered the other editions and supplements, plus copies for sale that I couldn't afford, and a little biographical info from Jeffrey on a forum. The history of the game seemed to be slowly bubbling up from the murky depths of obscurity. I finally found Jeff's website in 2012(?) and discovered he was publishing novels based on his game world. You really should check the site out, Jeff has lived a very busy and incredibly interesting life. 

In 2008 C.D. Berry left a review of High Fantasy on Amazon.com. The comment was a perfect response to Don Turnbull's White Dwarf review, it's just 20 years late. Berry wrote,

"I will sum it up like this; Faster than Dungeons & Dragons and more in-depth than Tunnels & Trolls. Don't let anyone tell you it's a "knock off" of D&D!" 

I finally made contact with Jeffrey Dillow earlier this year (it's not easy), and I was so over the top excited that he was willing to participate in Appendix N Happy Meal. I'm especially excited to present Mr. Dillow's interview as the first of our new season. Enjoy!

Thanks Jeffrey!


Favorite Toys

What were your favorite toys during childhood? What is it about these toys that you most identified with? What made them so special? How did you play/enjoy this toy? (shared or solo play).

Wizards and Warriors supplement
Jeffrey: My early years were filled with a mixture of store bought and homemade treasures.  One of my most favorite store bought toy was a pair of Johnny Seven guns.  This was a plastic gun that was actually seven guns in one.  It was a pistol, machine gun, rocket launcher, anti-tank extravaganza piece of equipment that fired bullets and grenades and anything you could imagine. I took both my gun and my brother’s gun to my neighbor’s house.  There, CJ (my friend) and I strapped them on the side of two wooden crates.  This was the beginning of a two-seater spaceship that would rival any other ship in the galaxy. 


CJ’s father often visited the Army Surplus stores looking for Lionel trains.  We went with him one time and brought home bags full of 12 volt lights and WWII switches and we used these to create our cockpit and control panels.  We are talking toggle switches, buttons, and large lever switches like Frankenstein used.  We grabbed a spare Lionel transformer and hooked it up to supply the power.  It was magnificent (in our minds).  From CJ’s basement we ventured across the galaxy using National Geographic maps of space to chart our course to different planets.  We fought and flew our way through many solar systems to get to our destination.  Then we would land, jump out of the crates (I mean spaceship), unhook our Johnny Sevens and fight the aliens.  Whenever our ship got damaged we would fly back to our base where we could make repairs and restock for our next adventure.  If we ever encountered civilizations that were too advanced for our ship, we simply dug into our bags of spare parts and invented a new feature for the ship that would even the odds and help us win the day.  I am very proud to say that we were never defeated in all of these adventures.  And I might humbly add, the world as we know it, owes us a debt of gratitude for saving it so many times.

Other great toys included a James Bond attaché case, Strombecker slot cars, and a NASA rocket launcher.  These were great toys, but none of these were my favorite.

My father used to pack all four of the kids in the back seat of his car, attach a trailer, and travel around the country. This was torture for me. Sitting in a car for hours to see something I was not interested in was not great fun.  After all, I had galaxies and foreign lands that needed my help back home.  Along the way, we would make stops at what we called “Junk Stores”.  These were the little road-side stores at gas stations that sold souvenirs.  There I discovered that you could buy, for 25 or 50 cents, bags of Roman, Trojan, or Barbaric plastic soldiers.  These were fantastic, with chariots drawn by up to four horses, bags full of siege towers, catapults, and cavalry horses.  Forget little green army men, this was Hercules, Caesar, and my most favorite ancient of all, Hannibal.  From there on I was hooked.  I begged for quarters mercilessly at each stop until I had multiple armies at my command that followed me across the country.  These armies are still here with me today.


Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV shows during childhood and what age were you when you enjoyed each favorite? What did you identify with about these shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

!981 Reston edition
Jeffrey: I remember being very sick once where I had to be separated from the rest of the family. It was only for a week, but I had a very high fever.  When I started to get better and I could sit up, my mother wheeled in a TV.  Since none of my siblings could come in the room to bother me, I could watch whatever I wanted. I found the movie “Forbidden Planet”. I knew after watching it, I was back and ready to save the world once more. It was a great moment of clarity.  Then I got to eat a big bowl of Chef Boyardee spaghetti (the kind that came in a box not that squishy canned stuff) and watched the Smothers Brothers. They were particularly funny that night.

I am not sure if these shows had a great effect on me or if I was already fully formed by then. I was opinionated and gravitating to the shows I liked and avoiding most of the things I did not like. I hated Gilligan's Island and I was tired of all of the Westerns. There was a time when all three major networks would broadcast competing Westerns at prime time.


Creating Games

Think about playtime, did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? If so, please describe an important original game or play world you enjoyed.

Jeffrey: I think you can tell from question one that we created lots of games. We had two tree houses and a real miniature train you could sit in that ran around the back of CJ’s house. They never let us hook up a gas powered motor to the train Engine, but we did have a railroad handcar that you get on and ride. 


Our games extended to the outdoors where we built real catapults.  We could shoot a metal Hawaiian Juice can filled with water for half an acre. Here we used timber and bicycle tubes (not tires) to run our experiments. Advanced models could swivel and elevate for better aim.

CJ’s dad also had one of the most extensive collections of Lionel trains you could imagine.  A permanent track was set up in the basement that covered more than three ping pong size tables with a train engineer’s control station cut out of the middle. There you could stand surrounded by transformers, switches, and controls for the train crossings and loading stations.  We had many types of trains and cars to choose from and we reenacted the Great Locomotive Chase more than once. We played with these trains, but it was too formal and ridged to keep our attention for long.

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form? 

Jeffrey: I grew up three doors outside of Indianapolis, but I was surrounded by farms. 


This is a difficult question because you have to answer it as a child. I would say I fit in well as a standard reply. I had friends. I was confident and outgoing. It was a fun childhood!  However, I always felt a little different. I was not concerned with most of the normal things. 

I remember trying to build a calculator with my bag of light bulbs and wires. I drilled holes with a hand drill in a plywood board and wedged row after row of lights in them. I was not allowed to use a soldering gun because I was too young, so I punched holes with a nail in aluminum strips and Scotch Taped the wires and lights together. I connected the columns with one set of switches and the rows with another.  I tried different cross-wiring configurations to see if I could get a row and a column to add together and light up in multiples. I powered it with one of our trusty Lionel transformers. I got very frustrated because I could not keep the wires connected long enough to test out my theories. I got so mad I turned the transformer on high and blew up row after row of lights. It was a spectacular end to a project, but maddening nonetheless.

I had no problem playing alone with my armies and I had no problem inviting others to join in. 

I played basketball, baseball, and football.  However, I can say with certainty that my younger years were influenced more by free form play.

I had great male role models around, like an electrical engineer on one side and a mechanic on the other.  The other neighbor built real igloos out of snow.  I mean the kind made from blocks that somehow can be stacked into an Eskimo hut.  He also let us borrow every kind of tool we needed.  Well, let’s just say he left his garage door unlocked.  My time up until eleven was mostly unsupervised.  Grown-ups were watching but not organizing.  They often stopped us when we went too far.  Gas powered things seemed to be off limits.  We wanted to mount a lawn mower engine onto a go-cart frame;  I already mentioned we could not finish the engine for the backyard train.  They also stopped us from using pulleys to build elevators for the tree houses.  I think that was because they did not want their expensive pulleys sitting outdoors all summer long.  Still, no one seemed to mind when we jumped out of trees with an army surplus cargo parachute.  No matter how high we climbed, it never opened.  


Playtime Impact on Adult Games


Do you have any thoughts about any aspects of your childhood playtime that might have influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created as an adult?

Jeffrey: I don’t think I need to go into much detail here.  Once I read Tolkien I knew I could blend all my interests into one exciting adventure. 

I still write and create today.  I have created virtual environments for the American Stroke Association, the NIH, and pharmaceutical companies for training.  What can I say, “I am just a boy who likes his toys.”

Lost In Space Media Cache 

You are the last survivor of your crew. You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You no longer remember your mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format.

What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?

Jeffrey: I cannot answer this one the way you would expect.  I understand that you would like me to list ten of my most favorite things.  However, it is the last part of the question that bothers me… “to keep from dying of boredom.”  Having already flown through space in my early years, I already know the answer.  Without the ability to guide the craft and to engage others in exciting new explorations I would never make it off the launching pad with my sanity intact.

Web Links:
Jeffrey Dillow's High Fantasy Website: http://highfantasybooks.com/
More covers and info about the original game at Wayne's Books:  http://www.waynesbooks.com/HighFantasy.html

Monday, July 4, 2016

Leigh Grossman: Game Designer, Author, Publisher, Wildside RPG

Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to play in one of Leigh Grossman's game sessions. Leigh had left the Atlantic City area by the time I befriended many of the people who were fortunate enough to sit at his table in the early 80s. In a way Leigh was indirectly involved in me getting back into gaming after a few decades. It was through my wife's mutual friends with Leigh on Facebook that I found out about his Wildside RPG Rules System, which led me to investigate the state of roleplaying in 2010, and that led me to get involved with the games I cherish now. Which leaves me feeling guilty over not playing Wildside yet. 

Leigh is a Professor at the University of Connecticut and teaches classes in writing, Fantasy Literature, and book publishing. He has several fantasy novels and academic books published, and he also runs his own publishing company, Swordsmith Productions. Currently Leigh is running a Kickstarter ending August 4th for a versatile RPG app, Wildside Gaming System App: a free RPG tool, that accommodates not only his own Wildside gaming system, but virtually any game system you play. The scope of this app (which can be used on phones, tablets, and laptops) is so extensive that you need to read the Kickstarter page to appreciate the scope of this project. Although it's called The Wildside Gaming System App, there are customization templates that will allow this app to be used with virtually any system. Definitely a tool I'm checking out for OSR / DCC RPG compatibility.

I'm really excited to present this interview from a home town author and game designer, especially since this is a perfect opportunity to introduce Leigh to the Appendix N Happy Meal, and OSR G+ communities. 


Favorite Toys

What were your favorite toys during child hood? Like, the TOP 3 TOYS of all time and pick your favorite of these toys. What is it about any of these toys you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play/enjoy this toy? (shared or solo play).

Leigh: When I was very young, having something to ride on was really important to me. The first toy I remember was a little red fire engine that was left behind when my family moved to the Atlantic City area. (I was two and a half years old.) I don't know if it was a favorite or not - I suppose it must have been - but I felt a keen sense of loss at it having been left behind. I remember I had other riding toys, like a metal horse and later a big wheel (whose plastic wheels quickly wore out from overuse on the concrete sidewalk). Once I was old enough to ride a bike I took it everywhere, biking the length of the boardwalk to look at the old hotels and play at the amusement piers, or biking to friends' houses.


Once my brother outgrew his legos (do you ever really outgrow legos?) I got to use them. I built spaceships, cities, worlds. A lot of buildings that (lego) ships of one sort or another could dock on. I never liked the lego "people" which were just starting to be available in the 1970s because they took up too much space; a limited supply of legos meant things had to be smaller scale. I used small plastic figures that were widely available for my very limited budget - typically cowboys and Indians but it didn't really matter since they were more likely to be space rangers or undersea explorers. Eventually a collection of small plastic soldiers from various wars and nationalities supplanted the legos - they would be arranged in elaborate battlefields, sometimes over hours, and then played out - the kind of visual representation that eventually led me to wargaming and other simulations and then to RPGs. This was very much solo play - this was about learning how to express things in my imagination; when I played with other kids when I was younger it generally was outdoor play, or at their houses.


Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite? What did you identify with about these shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Leigh:The one that made the biggest impression wasn't a favorite, exactly. My father was a film professor, and he built a screening room on the side porch of the house (which would become my brother's recording studio after my father was out of the picture, then eventually the room where I arranged giant battles and later ran RPGs). One night, when I was five or so, he showed the movie Titanic (the 1953 version with Robert Wagner and Barbara Stanwyck). Then, because it was getting late, he sent me up to bed before the last reel. Remember, I was five - I didn't know how the story came out. The iceberg had hit the ship, people were trying to deal with the chaos, it was a battle against desperate odds - and I got sent to bed without finding out how the story ended. I think it was the first time it hit me that it was possible to have a story where you never knew the ending - that not all stories ended with happily ever after or the estranged sister being rolled down the hill in a spiked barrel. (By five I already knew that stories often didn't end happily, but missing endings were new to me, and something that still bothers me.)

We didn't have a TV until I was ten years old, so I didn't really have a favorite show. Even with no TV I was passably conversant with Saturday morning (and afternoon) cartoons, which I would sometimes watch from the neighbor's basement. But books had a much bigger impact on me. From the time my mother read me The Hobbit when I was six (it took a year, and the seasons lined up which gave it a greater impact) I tended to think in longer story arcs. Even TV which did have an impact was book driven - like Star Trek, which I only saw (in syndication or film festivals) after having read the original James Blish novelizations. I'm hoping my daughter grows up thinking in story arcs - she's five now and I've been reading her the Narnia books.

Live entertainment had more of an impact than TV I think. For a few years after my father left there were a lot of really interesting friends of the family in and out of the house - actors and folksingers and people with complex lives. (My mother was co-founder of the Women's Center in Atlantic County and the first rape crisis center in the county was run out of our kitchen.) I remember one family friend singing "Stewball was a Racehorse" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" and being totally caught up in the stories. They were real in a way that was much more emotionally intense than most TV and movies.

Seeing Star Wars in the theater did have an impact on me. It was never a favorite film in a "this is great science fiction" sense - by the time I saw it when I was ten or so I had read a fair amount of much better science fiction. But the lines around the block to see it, a year after the film had come out, and the visual power of the storytelling opened me up to new ways of telling stories. I think that Star Wars did a lot to start me thinking about how ideas had to be expressed in different media, and how you had to work with the strengths of the medium you were creating in, not try to force a narrative into a medium where it didn't work. There are a lot of intersections between how I write, how I run games, and how I teach, but being conscious of how the storyteller needs to adjust the narrative to the audience. The kind of narrative I set up for a game is very different than I use for a novel - in much the same way the way I teach a "live" course is different than how I teach an online course. But they are all related kinds of storytelling.


Imaginary Worlds

Think about playtime, did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? If so, please describe an important original game or play world you enjoyed.

Leigh: I would sometimes create puppet shows or (attempted) parade floats for adults. The worlds I created were mostly for my own use, though. I remember there was a complex narrative involving a family of ghosts and fourteen invisible horses who lived in an elevator somewhere in our house. That was just storytelling, though - I didn't really have a relationship with them or (as far as I remember) think of them as real.

Other worlds were entirely mythological, or set up as scenarios for solo play. I had whole worlds that I would play in when I was playing outside, with improvised props. It was essentially role-playing, but not shared with others until I was older.


Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form? 


Leigh: I was mostly comfortable with adults, though I would be mortified if I said something embarrassing. My brother and sister were much older, and I did not socialize particularly well with other kids. I had friends, but with a few exceptions didn't have a lot of "best friends" who I was completely comfortable around until high school. I was very social but also shy, and very conscious that I was faking a lot of socialization around other kids. I was picked on, but was also an outsider. It was accentuated by physical abuse I was going through - there were things I couldn't talk about, and when I tried to (like with the police during the several times I ran away from home) it was made clear that no one was going to help and telling others only made things worse. Eventually, I learned that the power of words could overcome abuse, or at least lessen it - but by that time, by the time I could consciously plan to put a stop to abuse without any adult help, the feeling that I was always an outsider even when I was at the center of what was going on had sunk in (and lingered for decades).

I don't think it's a simple cause-and-effect with the abuse - my daughter has a lot of play similarities to me at the same age: Loves to explore, plays well with other kids but prefers to play alone or with a trusted adult and prefers creating her own games to following the "rules."


Playtime Impact on Adult Games


Do you have any thoughts about any aspects of your childhood playtime that might have influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created as an adult?

Leigh: Besides the things I've already mentioned, there was another factor that shifted me from solo play to RPG in groups: When there were friends or outsiders visiting, I wasn't abused. Making friends was a survival strategy at first, not something that came easily to me. Once I'd started doing it, having friends was great of course - I still am close with some players in my original gaming group from the early 1980s. One of the things that abuse did was taught me to step outside myself, to be hyper-aware, to slow time down and plan how to react since reacting in just the right way might get me out of trouble. There were times later when that would be a good thing - talking my way out of a gunpoint encounter, for instance - and other times when difficulty relaxing and being in the moment was a liability. But it meant the transition to gaming was a very happy one. Discovering an environment where an ability to create worlds, to improvise on the fly, to convincingly convey drama and danger were useful for something fun, not just for staying alive - that was a revelation.

I discovered RPGs when I was about thirteen, and gamed pretty much every day that summer. A friend brought home a single sheet of paper printed on both sides with a bit about this new game, Dungeons and Dragons, he'd more-or-less learned at camp and we improvised with that until I was able to find first the basic set and then the first edition books. This was the late 1970s and the books were not easy to find - they were carried by the occasional hobby shop, but mostly it wasn't even a niche market yet in the northeast. Once I started high school I had a regular group meeting at least once a week, and had started rewriting rules that I didn't like into better game mechanics. Pretty soon I was writing my own games. I still have those first books, heavily annotated and filled with printed workarounds. Somewhere I still have a box with all the characters from that first summer.



Lost In Space Survival Question 

You are the last survivor of your crew. You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You no longer remember your mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format.

What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?

Leigh: When I was twelve or so, someone visited who was hooked on the Strat-O-Matic baseball simulations, and a lot of my love of baseball and sports comes out of it. I wrote sports simulations of my own (played with friends but never written for publication) and in its final iteration, it made a fantastic game for solo play. I played out dozens of hypothetical future seasons. So some of those Strat-O-Matic games would be great, along with a selection of Avalon Hill and other 1980s wargames. Mostly I think I'd want the means to write new games, though - while playing other people's games is fun, I really like to play in my own sandbox.

Notes:

Wildside Gaming RPG App Kickstarter:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/610865190/wildside-gaming-system-the-free-tabletop-roleplayi
Wildside Gaming: http://www.wildsidegame.net/about_wildside.asp
Swordsmith Productions (Leigh's publishing house): http://swordsmith.com/

I really want to give Leigh a bump to help spread the word about this app within the OSR G+ community (but wanted to keep this part separate from the intro & interview). So, the following is a few of the items taken from the Kickstarter page that highlights some of my favorite functions of the app. I sincerely encourage everyone to take a look at the Kickstarter.
  • Remote Gaming - supports text, audio, and video chatting with other members of your group, either during games or separately for planning sessions.
  • Maps - view and search campaign and dungeon maps created by your GM or purchased as add-ons.
  • Dice - Roll dice either privately or shared with your group
  • Groups - Join a group created by your GM or other open groups (such as groups devoted to spell writing, players of a particular RPG, or finding players in your area). Share messages to the whole group or individual players. (No more making the rest of the group suspicious by passing notes or whispering.) Give equipment or other possessions from your character to another player’s character in the same game.
  • Roll up Characters - create, copy, modify, update, and print characters, archive past characters. Characters may be free-standing or linked to a particular campaign created by a GM in your group. Characters can be rolled up in the app, or copied from existing characters. The Wildside Gaming System is fully supported, and templates for many other popular RPGs are included. Customized character sheets for “house rules” or your own game can be saved and shared with other members of your group.