Sunday, August 11, 2013


After some time together, playing various war simulations, Dave Arnoson decided to set his next game in a small medieval hamlet, and, instead of a large troop moving scenario, it was a series of "door to door" encounters. The player wouldn't be a general (off the field) giving orders, he'd be a lone operator (or a leader of a crack team) that would have to infiltrate the town and find the damsel in distress, or the bad guy, or the monster with the treasure, or whatever, through rolling the dice and role-playing your individual character. (Side Note: I go into this aspect of the game in my MIND GAMES entry). He used the Chainmail rules to resolve close quarters combat, and it was a hit. Gygax loved the idea, and started running his own lone adventurer games, heavily based on the pulp fiction he grew up with in the 40's, namely Conan the Barbarian's sword and sorcery stories, HP Lovecraft's Horror mythos, with a sprinkle of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings thrown in (which were very popular at the time). They started publishing their games under the banner Tactical Studies Review (TSR) and shipped them off to other gaming clubs, and BOOM, by 1974, Dungeons and Dragons was born. Story goes Gygax got the title of the game from his 10 year old daughter, who, reportedly, is quite a good gamer.

Gary Gygax admitted to reading HG Well's instructions and ran TSR games with the understanding it was, essentially, 'public domain' material. Not to bore you with too much detail, back in the early 70's, TSR took Well's articles on miniature war gaming, and built those generic castles and towers (Blackmoore, Greyhawk etc) into detailed city states, fantastic locations and so forth. Ten years later, these imaginary locales became the primary game boards for thousands of avid role playing fans.

TSR games would give you a map of a town , with a background history, and tell you it was run by individual governors, lords and wizards, with their own agendas, powers (life bar, inventory , skills, and political alignments), enemies and allies, and then you (the Game Master) tossed your players into the mix, inventing the first "sandbox" game, where the player's choices would trigger a series of built in consequences (tables of 'random encounters' are included just to keep things interesting). So, effectively, you can play this one game (ex. City State of the Invincible Overlord) over and over, and there will be variations, because of the element of chance (dice rolling), and the choices of the players (role playing) will be different every time. And since it's different every time, you, the Game Master (the guy running the game) will need to use your imagination, because there are things players will do that are not covered in the rules, because you can't anticipate every outcome. In essence (and this how we get away with this now-a-days), the Game Master will have to make up his/her own rules (or versions) to the game. To some that ran in my circles, this was the birth of game theory, DARPA, and legal plagiarism.

Remember George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove, as the general, running around the war room, saying nuclear war heads were launched, and are real, because "it's on the big board..." ? In that movie, it's easy to understand the psychological shift from a WW II grand scale view of the world, to a personal local pride (even an imaginary hamlet). Because, really, in the game of life, there are no rules. But in a game that mimics a fantasy life, there are rules...lots of them...and one of the rules is "make it up", because as long as it's "on the board ", it's real.

True, military generals (Genghis Kahn had all his maps and spies) and people running RAND (standing on a bulletproof glass floor with a blinking world map, showing how much fuel is moving across the Atlantic Ocean, using toy warships) have been running these types of scenarios for years. There are tons of files marked "What if ? Then this !" in government agencies across the globe.

But none of them were really examining the rapid decay and deforestation of Sherwood Forest after the death of Robin Hood. Or if the Joker did in fact poison the water supply before Batman could stop him, and took over Gotham City. Or what would happen if the Universal Movie Monsters from the 30's and 40's grew fifty feet tall and attacked New York. Here's a scripted example:

"Can you imagine how many people they would need to eat to stay alive...Wait ! I'll look that up in this 1970's Game booklet, under the listings gargantuans / titans (50 ft and up). It has a bunch of stuff here... How much they can lift, how long they can travel, how much damage they do and... how much they weigh..."

The reader, back then, was assumed to be a genius gamer, (or shunned outsider, depending on what photos your looking at) and can therefore extrapolate how much food it would take .Sometimes they'll say, like in the dragon listings, "eats 4 donkeys in a sitting", but you'd still have to look up the weight of the donkey (it's listed) and then decide,"how often do they eat?" Before you know it, your writing up new rules (sometimes referred to as 'house rules' ) for the daily dietary needs of giant monsters.


Just for fun and flavor: Giant Dracula must drink three swimming pools worth of blood a day, preferably through a giant straw, or begin to diminish in power, and slowly, painfully die, at heightened levels of insanity, (he is 50 feet tall) in say, 100 years from now. Nobody was running that game scenario, except these guys...and they'd have down to the milliliter, just to appeal to their British counterparts. Yes, Dungeons and Dragons is big in the UK,  France, Germany, Australia, and Russia etc...Special shout out to all my readers there...Thanks for tuning in...


Thursday, August 1, 2013


In the free wheeling 60's, "gaming clubs" started popping up around college towns. The gist of these gaming clubs (which I gravitated towards) was to re-enact famous battles in history and try to come up with an alternative strategy, where the losers would end up being the winners (Don't Give Up The Ship, The Battle of Lake Erie, was one of the first Gygax / Arnoson games that toyed with this notion).

An expirament into alternate history. Gygax 'reinvents' HG Well's minature war gaming rules, printed as a mini press fanzine, called " Chainmail ", with his gamer buddies (Jeff Preen) at the Castles and Crusades Society in the late 60's. I know that some folks at the Vintage Wargaming site might take issue with this, but for the sake of berevity, I'm hoping they'll over look my rapid fire abridgement to the history of stragety games. Remember, these articles are not about how things were...They are about how things were for me and my group(s)...Anyway, back to Chainmail. I got my copy back in 1976, then had it stolen in 1982. Then my brother got a copy at a garage sale back in 1992 (with a brown grocery bag loaded with early Dragon magazines). Honestly, the last time I looked at it, was when I visited him back in 2004.

It's kind of a dry read, but it's interstesting. It's a big inventory of midevael weapons (ex. the number of damage points they inflcit, the length of time it takes to load, the distance it reaches / travels etc) and new rules on running large scale combat for your minature soldiers, using the included weapons listings. In other words, your soldier has 5 life points (or hit points), but he's armed with a crossbow that inflicts various amounts of damage, depending on the distance (ex. at point blank range the crossbow does more points of damage, than at 200 feet).

Chainmail also added more dice throwing to the game. If you rolled higher than, let's say, a four on a six sided dice, then your soldier hit your opponet's soldier with a weapon, one strong enough to possibly knock his life/hit points to 0 (death) and out of the game (or field of battle). It's interesting, because, this tiny mini-book had a huge impact on some of my gamers. What they liked about it was...well, how can I explain it?  Hmmm....There used to be a TV show on the History channel...I think it was called Deadliest Warrior), that interviews different weapon's experts, and presents them with a hypothetical battle. The fan favorites are: If a medieval knight fought a samurai - Who would win? Or a Ninja vs.Conquistador or an Viking vs. Zulu. You get the idea. 

The experts explain the battle readiness of each side ( strengths and weaknesses of their technology and culture), then present their opinions, based on 'scientific demonstrations of force, speed and impact of various weapons'.Then all of this information is punched into the show's super computer, which calculates the incredible amount of damage a skilled knight or samurai would inflict with their weapon(s), measurably demonstrated by the experts. How?  Computer sensors are hooked up to a watermelon, a piece of wood, and an animal bone. The samurai expert chops them up with a samurai sword, the knight experts chops them up using a two handed long sword. The computer tallies up all the minutia (the number of pounds per inch of the wound, how deep each blade cuts, the speed of the attack and so on), and calculates who would win.

That's kind of what Chainmail did, 40-50 some years ago. The difference (for my group of gamers) between Chainmail and other fanzines at the time? They'd draw up a section on fantasy armies as well. So, back in 1976, if you asked, "If there was a battle between the Ancient Egyptian army and the US Calvary of 1876, who would win?"'d use Chainmail as your 'weapon's expert' to extrapolate what weapon would do what, and then calculate and compare each armies firepower, and convert that into a number you'd have to roll on the dice. You essentially acted as the computer, to figure out all the minutia, then get a die total. If your roll of the dice is greater than your opponets, you win. The better your weapons, the better your chance at winning.

However, unlike the TV show, if you have a good stragety (and a little luck of the dice) you can still win. You can, with the roll of a die, (and an oppurtunity to capaitalize on an unfolding outcome), invent an alternative, unexpected result. Those moments got addictive.
I lost track of how many times we put ninjas up aganist other historical armies (the huns, the nazis, and spanish pirates). If we knew that games like NINJA vs. NINJA were going to be so popular back then, we would've kept more of that stuff lying around.