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Goodbye, Belinda, and Thank You

Picture a handful of 30-something to 50-something guys sitting around a kitchen table playing board games, war games, and role playing games sometimes till after midnight. We were often loud and silly, like a gang of 13-year old boys. I miss my weekly game nights.

Although I hadn’t gamed with my group in a number of months because of my recent change of schedule, I was and am still very grateful to our hostess, the wife of one of our group. She was always friendly, accommodating, and even forgiving of our sometimes borish behavior. Though she didn’t participate in our gaming, she did talk with us and laugh with us as we revelled in our nerdy pastimes. I respected and appreciated her.

She passed away, of cancer, this week. This saddens me, and my heart goes out to her family.

Goodbye, Belinda, and thank you for your hospitality.


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Uncommon Terms in Old D&D Material

Way back in my earliest days of D&D (age 13-14), I was not especially well read or worldly — I was an average teenager of 1980. An average teenager in a small town, educated in a county public school.

In reading D&D books back in the day, especially those written by E. Gary Gygax, I often came across a reference to some archaic bit of knowledge/information that I had never heard of. We didn’t have the Internet or Wikipedia to easily look up such things, so many times the reference just got missed or given an odd look and skipped.

Usually this wasn’t a serious problem, but sometimes not knowing or understanding the reference meant I had an unclear or erroneous idea of how to handle the information while running a game as a DM.

For instance:

In the module The Keep on the Borderlands, there’s the false rumor that the PCs might have heard:

“Bree-Yark” is goblin-language for “We surrender”!

Later in the module, in the info for the goblin lair:

If there is a cry of “BREE-YARK” (similar to “Hey Rube!”) . . .

I had never heard of “Hey Rube!” I had no idea what this meant. I took the reference to mean that “Bree Yark” was pronounced as “hay ruub” — and this made no sense to me.

Eventually, through talking with other D&D players, I figured out what this reference actually meant, but it was about 30 years after first reading that text that I ever saw any other reference to “Hey Rube!” My oldest son was watching a Scooby Doo episode where the gang is at a circus, and the ring master called out, “Hey Rube!” when a scheme was going down. I remember saying out loud (to my son’s confusion), “So that’s how it works.”

In the module Secret of the Slavers Stockade, the text mentions a “dog-eared deck of cards” on a table. I had never heard of anything “dog-eared,” and since the cards belonged to a bunch of terrible and nasty hobgoblins, I assumed the cards were actually made of dogs’ ears. Fortunately, I didn’t go 30 years before learning what this meant.

Now, I did learn a lot of new words from D&D books (especially EGG’s work), and I started reading more due to D&D. But thinking back, it is kind of curious how the early material (especially EGG’s) seemed to be written for older, better read, and more worldly/knowledgeable readers. It’s like EGG didn’t even consider that 10-14 year old kids would be reading the material (even the Basic D&D material), and wouldn’t get much of the archaic references. (Thank goodness for some of the glossaries.)

Now adays, from what I’ve seen in the current (since 2000) books, things like “Hey Rube” and “dog-eared” would be edited to something like “alarm” and “well-worn.”


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Revisiting the Comic Book Shop

It just dawned on me last week, after driving to work on my current route for six months, that I go vaguely by the comic book shop I’ve mentioned before. So this week I decided to drop in one day on my way home from work.

I wasn’t really looking for comic books, actually, I was interested in maybe picking up some old D&D book; nothing particular, just anything missing from my collection. I entered the store and the two guys up at the counter greeted me. The guy on the customer side of the counter was a young kid, maybe 16, maybe younger, (probably younger). They guy on the employee side of the counter was maybe 20.

I returned their hellos and then turned onto the aisle where I previously had seen a shelf of old D&D books. I stood in the area for a minute, looking around, not finding the books I expected, and then the teenager walked up beside me.

“The best graphic novels are all over on this side,” he said, pointing to some shelves. He added a comment that I didn’t catch.

“I was looking for the old D&D stuff,” I said. “It used to be in this area.”

“Oh,” he said, “that’s all back here.” He waved for me to follow him, and he took me to the back of the store. “This is where I buy a lot of my D&D material,” he added. Actually, he added a lot more — he was a talkative kid — but I wasn’t really paying attention to his jabber.

I’m not a real sociable guy to start with, and I was in the store just to look at some old books, in peace and quiet. I may have come across as rude with the kid. I just tuned out most of his talking. When we were standing before the shelf of gaming books, he pointed out, “I’ve been thinking about getting that set of second edition. I bought . . . ,” I wasn’t really listening.

I saw the AD&D [1st edition] Oriental Adventures book that I’ve been wanting for a while, but the spine was damaged. I took it down, looked through it, and found it also had a bit of discoloration in the pages. I put it back on the shelf. The kid was still talking.

He was a nice guy. He just wanted to talk about something he was interested in. Sadly, though, he was chatting up a guy who’s just ass enough to not really care.

He pulled a pristine AD&D1 Fiend Folio off the shelf. “This is the worst cover art of any D&D book,” he said. The way he said it, he was just continuing his chatting, not really being mean.

I just replied, “That’s the first D&D book I ever bought.” That’s true. It was the first D&D book I bought after the Basic D&D boxed set game. It’s a treasured part of my D&D collection, although I didn’t make my comment in defense of the cover art; I just said the first thing I thought when the kid showed it to me.

The kid froze for a moment, then put the book back on the shelf. He turned and walked away, and banged himself on the forehead with his fist. Damn, I’m an ass, I thought. He was just trying to chat, and I made him think he offended me. He hadn’t offended me, (because he hadn’t meant to offend me), even with a negative comment on one of my favorite books.

Alone, with peace and quiet at last, I continued looking through the gaming books. I found the boxes with old Dragon magazines, and started flipping through the oldest issues. The oldest Dragon I own is #68, December 1982. In the box I found a #62 and #55 for cheap. (There were a couple of older mags, but the marked price was too high.)

I took my choices up to the front of the store, but before checking out, I looked over the selection of new comics on the front shelves. (There were a couple more guys in the store at this point, college age guys — the state college is literally across the street.) Nothing on the comics rack jumped out at me.

I heard the kid and the employee talking about Magic: the Gathering. Is that still in print, I wondered. The employee introduced the kid to Feldon’s Cane. “For one colorless mana!?” the kid exclaimed. He’s pure gamer geek, God bless him.

I took my two magazines up to the counter, and the employee rang them up on the register. I handed over my debit card, and the kid looked over at my choices.

“You’re buying back issues of Dragon?” he asked. I smiled and nodded. “Do they still publish Dragon?”

“Not in paper form,” I answered.

The employee quipped at the kid, “These issues are older than you are.”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling, “number 55 is . . . about 1980.” (It’s November 1981.) I didn’t add, Your parents were probably still in puberty when this was published. I was liking the kid. He was interested and enthusiastic. I can’t fault him for being sociable; it’s a good thing. I felt bad for being a surly old man.

With the purchase complete, I picked up my old magazines to leave. As I started walking away, I turned back to the kid to say, “And you’re right. That cover art on the old Fiend Folio is kind of bad.”

I don’t really think the FF cover art is bad, per se. It’s a very different style than is in vogue nowadays. I might not care much for the style, myself, if it didn’t have a strong nostalgic tie for me. But I threw the kid a bone to make up for being gruff earlier.


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Inglorious Game and Campaign Failure

I had worked up a big interest in Spelljammer from reading the campaign book and a few accessories. I told my Players that I wanted to run a campaign of it, and they agreed. I told them to make up some 7th-level characters (2 each for 3 Players) using just the core AD&D2 rules. Given a week’s delay, I created a crystal sphere including the PCs’ home planet, the Rock of Bral, and 8 or 10 other planets. I was very happy and excited about this coming campaign – it was going to be SO COOL!

I created several encounters to sprinkle throughout the campaign, including ships of pirates, slavers, undead, etc. The campaign would start with the PCs leaving their planet (the first to do so for their nation) and heading for the Rock of Bral. An enemy nation had a ship in orbit to stop the PCs.

Well, when we all gathered for the first game session, things started to unravel immediately. First off, one of the Players had created “illegal” PCs. His two characters were a demi-human multiclass deal that my PHB said were not allowed. He showed me his PHB, and they were allowed in there. So there had been a change during the pub run at some time. I let him keep his characters as they were – it wasn’t a big deal.

The PCs’ ship took off and headed into space. Soon they were intercepted by the enemy ship. The PCs’ ship had only one ranged ship-weapon, and the enemy ship had two ranged ship-weapons (each a little more powerful than the PCs’ ship-weapon). The PCs had only a few crewmen (low-level types, not even in the same league as the PCs), but the six PCs themselves were a formidable force. The enemy ship was loaded up with a bunch of low-level marines.

My thoughts on the encounter and campaign start was that the PCs would close on the enemy ship to fight man-to-man, and then have a fun battle with the enemy grunts. We’d get all the PCs involved in a grand battle. Then the PCs would capture the enemy vessel. When they got to Bral, they could pool their ship and the captured ship together and then buy a really cool ship that they chose for themselves. (They started with a basic flying cog.)

But that ain’t how it went down.

The enemy ship was trying to close on the PCs’ ship (to get in grappling range), but the PCs kept things at range, even though they were taking more damage than they were dealing out. As hard as I tried, I could not get the PCs to see the folly of their tactics, and could not get the ships together.

Eventually, the PCs’ ship was whittled down to destruction. All that was left was for the enemy ship to sail in and capture the PCs from the wreckage. I stopped the game session at that point.

Right after this game session, one of the Players stated his desire to change characters. He said he didn’t realize what the campaign would be like – although I had told them in solid terms what the campaign was going to be like, and he had only seen one encounter at all – and he wanted to choose characters that would work better – his characters hadn’t done anything at all yet because the group didn’t engage the enemy ship except at ship-weapon ranges. So I don’t know how he made a decision that his characters weren’t right for the campaign.

A few days later, one of the other Players had to bail out of the campaign because of work issues. So I just dropped the whole campaign. This was my one and only attempt to DM AD&D2. (Although I played a PC in a many-month-long campaign with someone else DMing.)


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