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 some 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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Victor Garrison: Game Player, Blogger, Zine Publisher, Wannabee Writer, All Around Miscreant


It's me, the guy who publishes this blog. My credits include: an item in the forthcoming Lamentations of the Flame Princess Referee Guide, a massive bestiary of molds. slimes, and crud for DCC RPG called What's This Crap?, which will be published in one of the forthcoming volumes of The Gongfarmer's Almanac of 2016. I also have a website called Necropants'd which is currently on hiatus, and I publish a comix, humor, horror, punk/metal RPG zine called SkullFuck, which is behind in it's publishing schedule right now.


I love talking about the stuff I love, though sometimes it's tough for me to politely describe myself and my interests to others, because of...reasons. If you know me, you understand.

I started playing D&D with a mish-mosh of Basic and AD&D in either 1980 or '81. I then started collecting RPGs but only really continued to play a form of Basic. I GM'd a bit back then and then dropped it all for exploration of Occulture, Chaos Magick, Punk and Industrial music. Eventually I sold my RPG collection and I'm kicking myself for it to this day.

In 2010, I became interested in gaming again and discovered Black Metal. I gravitated towards Lamentations of the Flame Princess, DCC RPG,  and Kingdom Death: Monster. NowI'm back to collecting games, and worshiping the stuff I grew up loving during my teens.

Also, I'm looking for a like minded game group in South Jersey.

(I apologize for skipping last week's interview. Next week will be my final interview for the Summer. Appendix N Happy Meal will go on summer vacation until September 4th. Thanks for your support!)

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).

Victor: Major Matt Mason, G.I. Joe, and Johnny West. I played a lot with dolls (as they were called when I was little). G.I. Joe was my first. I remember having one with a beard and fuzzy hair. At 4 years old I was collecting tons of outfits and accessories. I remember saving up pennies and going to a toy store to buy the deep sea diving outfit with a big deep sea diving helmet that made Joe look like Diver Dan. The cashier was a little overwhelmed about having to count all the pennies.

Around the same time, 3 - 5 years old, I had Johnny West, Geronimo, their horses, General Custer, and Sam Cobra. These were dolls of the wild west. I had fun with these, but since you couldn't change their outfits they weren't as dynamic or interesting as G I Joe was.

Christmas 1968 was the BEST Christmas of my entire youth! I remember seeing Santa that year and asking for all the toys I saw on TV . Some really unique (and unsafe) toys came out around then, like The Strange Change Time Machine and Creepy Crawlers Thing Maker. Santa looked worried while I rattled off the names of these 'new fangled' toys, and he told me he would see what he could do, IF I was a good boy. 

Well, Santa came through, and fortunately I managed to play with the toys without electrocuting myself or burning down the house. But my all time favorite toy that year was Major Matt Mason, along with an assistant figure, and the alien, Callisto, who had a clear green head with a brain inside and a string shooting laser gun. I also got the moon walker that bumped and rattled it's way across the floor with Major Matt Mason getting tossed side to side riding inside the vehicle. I LOVED these astronaut figures and brought them to school all through second grade, playing with them with my two best friends during recess, Steven and Joey.

Special mention goes to Liddle Kiddles Space Alien dolls. I had one and loved it. Big Jim, another action figure who was a camping and outdoors enthusiast. My stuffed monkey, who I couldn't fall asleep without up 'till 4 years old, the Barnabas Collins Board game, Hot Wheels, Whitman board games for little kids, and Rat Fink charms that you could get for a nickel from bubble gum machines. I LOVED RAT FINK!!!

Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite?

Victor: TV - The Monkees, The Friendly Giant, The Mighty Heroes, Diver Dan, Batman, All the Kroft shows from H. R. Puffnstuf through Sigmund the Sea Monster.
Film - Disney's Jungle Book, Planet of the Apes, Yellow Submarine, and My Side of the Mountain, Alice in Wonderland (1933).

Alice in Wonderland (1933) with W C Fields, was mind bending Foo me at 3 or 4 years old. It was like a hit of acid to my little brain. It opened my third eye. I can still remember soooo vividly 50+ years later, sitting on the huge black leather rocker in my Nana's living room in Clark. It was late Spring, sun was shining bright, and I was eating a bowl of cream of wheat. WC Fields as Humpty Dumpty blew me away, kinda frightened, kinda confused, kinda amused until the scene turned into a sheep in a shawl selling an egg or something...I remember a lot of it, but it's all disjointed and crazy. I seriously believe this film had a huge impact on my development and influenced my huge love for psychedelic tinged media and my habit of including psychedelic infused situations in most of my creative output. I spent many pre-internet years trying to track down a copy of the movie, finally finding it on youtube several years ago.

I loved The Monkees and The Beatles as a kindergarten kid (4 - 5 years old). I collected EVERYTHING I could get my hands on that had to do with the Monkees. They were another psychedelic influence on me, as was The Yellow Submarine, and the 60s TV Batman. Even The Mighty Heroes cartoon in retrospect seems to have been created with Big Daddy Roth, Mad Magazine, and a touch of Underground Comix (Vaughn Bode) in mind. Tornado Man, Strong Man, Rope Man, Diaper Man, and Cuckoo Man...that was probably my favorite TV cartoon of the mid sixties.

My Side of the Mountain was another tremendous influence on me, I saw it in '68(?) at a drive in with my family. Everything about the life I wanted to grow up and live stems from this movie. The idea that a kid, just a little older than I was at the time, could leave home and live in the woods in a shelter built inside a tree, surviving on food he foraged for himself, and everything else that kid did, was an inspiration and it reinforced my love of nature and my passion for camping. The Jungle Book (from the same year) was another film that fed into my seven year old dream of leaving home and surviving by myself out in the wilds as a child of nature. Around this time, my Father gave me a book on outdoor survival and I digested every page and diagram from that book. It is my favorite thing that he ever gave me. My desire to attend Tom Brown Jr's outdoor skills classes stem from these films and that book.

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.

Victor: This might be a bit uncomfortable for you, it definitely is for me. There was some emotional/mental abuse from one of my parents during my childhood and I never realized it's full impact on me until decades later. I didn't even understand it to be abuse until late in life. When I became a father at 36 years old, I realized I was still living in fear of the threat my mother made to me when I was around 8. I was told that if I ever shared her secret, something 'very bad would happen'. What she related to me had to do with the nature of reality, and so it created like an alternate reality, a pocket world, that I lived in all alone bearing a reality shattering secret that I was forbidden to share, and if I did, I was told I would bring something terrible to the world. Even though this developed my childhood sense of the real universe, it was still an Imaginary World; just an imaginary world someone else created  and then left me there to live in.

When I was 8 my mother dropped a few emotional bombs on me. Like while we were driving home one day she explained to me that once she turned 35 she was going to commit suicide, because she didn't want to grow old. Around this time I started to feel like somehow I wasn't supposed to have been born, which was confirmed a few years later when she told me that I ruined her life and all of her chances of having the nicer things that she should have had. This emotional abuse continued (and still does) but the devastating secret occurred at age 8, again while riding in the car with her. She told me about something and she made me promise I would never tell anyone. She said that if I ever did, something really bad would happen. I didn't think of this as being a personal punishment I would suffer, it felt more like it was a cosmic threat, like the end of the world or worse, if I dared to utter a word to anyone. And, I never did, not for nearly 30 years. During that time I  thought a lot about what she told me, but I couldn't bring myself to say anything to anyone until my Wife and I had our first child. By that point I had become aware of how this secret had molded who I had become. Now that I was a Father, I had to break the cycle of doubt this thought virus had been causing inside of me for decades. 

What she told me that afternoon driving home from my family's marina in the heart of the Pine Barrens, is that no one in the world really existed; no one but her. She told me about a race of higher beings that were conducting experiments on her. They were creating a reality that was so complex, so well executed, and so comprehensive, that all of the imaginary people she interacted with (like me, my family, everyone but her) actually believed they were real, but we aren't. We are projections (think holograms, though at one point she called us robots) fed directly into her brain. It was sort of like she was telling me that the reality I believed I was a part of was just her dream, or a dream created for her alone. Nothing and no one, none of you, none of our history, none of our passions, our joys, our losses, none of our cultures...NOTHING EXISTS, except her. It is all an elaborate hoax she alone is subjected to. A lifelong experiment being conducted on her by unseen others researching how a human might react to situations.

And when she dies, everything ends, she whispered to me.

Then came the secret threat: If I ever told another person, something very bad would happen. 

No explanation, but it would be a very bad thing.

I was told the experiment concludes upon her death and the projection ceases. Presumably, only the accumulated research data is left. This coupled with being told how much I was unwanted, and the difference between how my brother and I were raised, wound up manifesting as severe self esteem issues that I still deal with today, as well as severe anxiety, depression, and derealization disorder. It is easy to see how this scenario has manifested as derealization syndrome. People with this disorder feel a disconnect with their environment, and they feel as though the world around them is unreal. After my Father died, I asked my Mother if she really meant what she said to me, or was she just joking when she told me about the experiment. Straight faced she told me, 'No', she was serious. I dropped it and don't want to talk about it with her anymore.

The action figures I used to play with made up the imaginary play worlds that I created by myself and with friends. I also used to play act in the woods usually getting my younger brother involved. We were explorers, or pirates, or I was a king directing the construction of my castle in a pond with a walkway, all made out of abandoned steel milk crates. As a child I imagined magical creatures in the forest, and as a parent I imagined these creatures once again populating the forests with them and sharing signs of their presence as I walked through the woods with my children...acorn tops were elf hats...gnomes lived in hollows among tree roots...I miss those days.

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? 

Victor: I was born in North Jersey and lived in a suburban area called Clark, near Rahway, for my first 5 years. I played with older kids on the block, maybe 3 to 4 years older than me. In fact, I spent most of my childhood as the youngest playmate. I started kindergarten at the age of 4, so I've always been the youngest kid in the class. Usually the biggest kid, but always the youngest.


We played Batman a lot and I got stuck being the Penguin all the time. I remember a pond behind a neighbor's house and me and another kid my age dragged a cardboard box back there; in my mind it was a big ship and we were going to sail around the pond. Right now I can recall how real a boat that box was to me. Of course, it immediately sank and we went home, disappointed, in wet clothes. But that's the way everything was back then. Everything I thought became so real, and while I was engaged in an activity, that thing was as real as it could get.

At age 5 my family moved to the Pine Barrens of South Jersey, a rural area that has always reminded me of a perfect setting for a Lovecraft story, with the barren's dank cedar swamps, twisted scrub pine forests, and soft sandy trails that lead you deeper and deeper into the dark woods. I really didn't have many friends to play with, just my younger brother. We would explore the deep woods and pond around our home and bury little treasure boxes and time capsules to be dug up later.I eventually fell in love with the lonely and creepy pine forests and felt more at home alone in the woods than I did with friends and family.

I think it's important to mention that I always hated team sports, but loved being outdoors. Sports made me feel self conscious and played into the anxiety caused by low self esteem. Being the biggest kid probably caused the other kids to expect more from me as an athlete, but being the youngest kid made it all the more difficult to be assertive.

My Mom used to get upset with me because I always wanted to wear costumes everywhere. I dressed as a cowboy, Indian, Superman, Batman, and I would want to go to the store dressed like that. My Nana had no problem with me dressing up to go shopping or to the park. In fact, all of my good memories from childhood are of times I spent with my Grandmother.

Childhood Playtime Impact on Adult Gaming Development

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?

Victor: I think that the world my mother immersed me in at such a young age is what is behind the types of games I strive to create. IMy current projects explore worlds of fractured realities where one must adapt quickly to inside out logic or face dire consequences. PCs must conquer their fears and commit uncomfortable and even disgusting acts to escape the 'others' whose presence is always felt, the 'others' are constantly observing. Also, there's always a lot of time and space shifting, inter-dimensional communication, and puzzling alien technology. 

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.

In the cargo bay you find a container that says it has games from the late 20th and early 21st Century. What do most hope to find in it?

Victor: This is tough. I'm the kind of person who is always carrying around a few books at once because I can't decide what I want to read. I'm easily bored and quickly lose interest in activities I'm involved in. I need constant novelty to keep me engaged, so.....hmmm. Sorry, but I'm going to have to cheat a bit.

Kingdom Death: Monster w/ all expansion kits.
Warhammer Fantasy 8th edition w/ High Elves, Wood Elves, Empire, Chaos, and Skaven armies.
A complete collection of Underground Comix.
A complete collection of Heavy Metal magazine.
A complete collection of Weird Tales magazine.
A Complete collection of Warren Magazines.
The complete works of Robert Anton Wilson. (I had a long list of authors including Leary, McKenna, Crowley, Spare, Hine, Carroll and others, but RAW draws much of their subject matter together well enough for me to be entertained for quite awhile).
Dark Shadows TV show collection.
The complete Planet of the Apes (every version including TV drama and animated shows).
A complete collection of Hammer Films dvds.

Notes:
Necropants'd Blog (on temporary Hiatus): http://necropantspublishing.blogspot.com/
Appendix N Happy Meal (Something tells me this isn't necessary): http://appendixnhappymeal.blogspot.com/
SkullFuck 'zine: Coming soon to Patreon

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tim Kask: Game Designer, Writer and Publisher, First TSR Employee, Editor of The Dragon

Tim Kask has been a part of our hobby since the very beginning. He was hired by Gary Gygax in 1975 as an editor at TSR which makes Kask the first full time employee of the company. He had his hands in many of the projects that we all know and loved while growing up during the early years of Dungeons & Dragons (and still do!), including editor of the first 33 issues of The Dragon magazine.. When Tim left TSR in 1980 he created and published Adventure Gaming magazine.

Currently, Tim, along with Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, and Chris Clarke, are publishing material through their company, Eldritch Entertainment. He's also a contributing editor for Gygax Magazine. Tim can frequently be found at gaming conventions across the country running games in the great 'Old School Tradition' which he was among the first to create and play 40 years ago. 

Before returning the interview, Tim asked me to define my final interview question concerning Desert Island Media. So in honor of Tim's participation I have changed the final question and it is now the Lost In Space Survival Question.

Tim, thank you for participating in this interview! If you ever find yourself back in my neck of the woods again, please give me a shout and I'll set us up with a fishing trip you're gonna remember! I look forward to hopefully sitting at one of your tables at the next Gary Con (which I WILL NOT miss again!).Thanks. 

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).

Tim: Army men from TimMee Toys and MPC, the Blue & Gray play set (with firing cannons) and the Prince Valiant play set with the tin castle (and catapults that fired).

Tons of war movies were made when I was a kid, and my folks took us to the drive-in movies a lot in warm weather. I also developed an interest in military history at a young age. The army-men were a means of recreating battles as well making up my own. The PV set made me love the movies like Ivanhoe and the like, and I recreated them as well. 
The B&G set was an entirely different matter; it had cannons that fired. It was only much later that I learned that I had created my own version of HG Wells’ Little Wars in my younger siblings’ sandbox. One of the cannon types’ bore exactly matched the diameter of a “ladyfinger” firecracker. I had real, although tiny, explosives. If they knocked over a figure, it was dead.

I most played solo. That was a result of several factors, chief amongst them that I went to a Catholic school and had no classmates closer than four or five blocks away. My parents were beginning to get concerned about the time I turned 11 or 12 and was still playing in the sandbox. Not long after, I found Avalon Hill’s D-day.


Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite?

Tim:My family did not watch much TV when I was little. The big deal each Sunday was Disney, so I really loved Fess Parker as both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. My TV was Sat. morning cartoons, especially Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse is probably a prime example of what made PTA ladies campaign against violence on TV. MM slaughtered the evil cats by the literal heaps with tanks, dive bombers, machine guns and artillery. Merrie Melodies and Popeye rounded out Sat morning.  Popeye battled the Nazis and the Japanese. (Those cartoons are really hard to get today.) Then there were the Three Stooges, but you said only three.

What did you identify with about the shows?

Tim:Nothing; they were entertainment.

Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Tim:I loved the historical aspect of Boone and Crockett; they might have led to my eventually teaching History. The cartoons were just fun.


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.

Tim:I made up “battles” (they’d be called scenarios today) all the time. Didn’t matter if it was WWII or ACW; I would sort of stick the men around real quickly for one side and walk away. Then I would come back a little later and do the same for the other side without looking. 
With the Prince Valiant set (my favorite comic back then), I went back in time.


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? 

Tim:I was pretty ordinary as an athlete, not great, not awful. I tended to excel in odd sports; but once I faced pitchers that could throw a curve, my baseball career went up in smoke. I played Dad’s Club baseball several years. I was on my bike all the time, often traveling miles and miles in a day with a buddy or two. I swam, I ice skated. 
I was a class clown; George Carlin lived my life ten years before me. I was also considered one of the “brains’ or “eggheads” (nerds or geeks, today) only for my smarts. I had a glib tongue and a slight issue with authority in the form of rules that just didn’t make good sense.
I grew up in the Quad-Cites; they straddle the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa. In total, maybe 200K altogether back then, but divided fiercely by city limits. There was a high school for each of the cities and towns that made up the area, about 8 in all counting the Catholic HS’s, within 20 miles of each other. They were extremely blue-collar; they were the Farm Machinery capitol of the world, with over thirty factories in their heyday.
My Mom is the reason I love games of all kinds. We played games from the time we were old enough to play Candyland until I left at 18 for the Navy. We played board games of all sorts and tons of card games, checkers, Parcheesi, Chinese checkers and chess. (Which I abandoned in 6th grade when I discovered D-Day.) Her father taught me poker, playing for my milk money; I had more than a few dry lunches until I learned the subtleties of bluffing.


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?

Tim:I had favorite figures in my various armies. I gave them special attributes, like having to be killed twice. Sound familiar? Parallel development is a real possibility.


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?

Tim:As I have no idea if by then they will have little holograms that duke it out or whatever, I will twist your question a little. “In the cargo bay you find a container that says it has games from the late 20th and early 21st Century. What do most hope to find in it?”

With only two possible opponents to play against, I am hoping that there are several games with what I refer to as “infinite re-playability” in which all three of us can play. That would mean games like one of the Ticket to Ride series (hopefully Europe with the Expansion); Serenissima, a trading game in which fighting is a last resort; Feudality, although the bots may not pick up on the humor; War of Kings, a vary re-playable game of conquest and rudimentary resource management; a complete suite of War at Sea and In the Pacific for straight up competition; Fire & Axe, because it never plays out the same; B-17, Queen of the Skies because if the bots get too easy to beat, this is a fantastic solitaire game; An up-to-date copy of Age of Wonders, the best TBS PC game I ever played that I could play against one or both, or against the AI; the complete set of Babylon 5 DVD’s, all the seasons and all the extras; for my last item I hope for a copy of the movie version of Paint Your Wagon, with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.

Notes:
Eldritch Entertainment: http://www.eldritchent.com/
Tim's Blog 'Dragon Grumbles'http://kaskoid.blogspot.com/
Gygax Magazine and TSR Games: http://store.tsrgames.com/