Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wild Men, I Think I Love You

The April 2013 issue of National Geographic contains a fascinating photo-essay by Rachel Shea entitled "Europe's Wild Men." The article briefly discusses a number of folkloristic traditions in which men dress up as monstrous, half-human beings for ritual purposes. That's all fine and dandy, but what really rocks about the piece are the photos (taken by Charles Fréger) that accompany it. Each image depicts a "wild man" from a different region. The picture at this beginning of this post is my favorite: although it looks like Chewbacca with a bad case of megacephaly, it's actually a Bulgarian kuker, a kind of folk exorcist who protects villagers from evil spirits. There are some other great images: the South Tyrolian Schanppviecher, the German Strohmann (mislabeled on the website as an Italian boes), the Scots burryman, and more—all great nightmare fuel, and all wonderful inspirations for new monsters. Check it out!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Fall of Sauron Day!

Hope you're all enjoying a pleasant Fall of Sauron Day! You've got Frodo Nine-Fingers to thank for the day off!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Playing at the World: Wow.

I just finished reading the Kindle edition of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World the other night, and it would be an understatement to say that I'm impressed. Peterson's book is clearly the definitive starting point for any history of RPGs, capacious in its scope and historical sweep. I'm particularly amazed at the dogged character of his archival research: he relies almost exclusively on contemporary documents, describing the birth of roleplaying games as those who were inventing them saw things. Gary Gygax comes across as a much more impressive figure than the control freak I remember from those early Dragon editorials about what counts as official D&D--he has an air of the polymath about him. I also found it fascinating to read about the gender shock that D&D represented to the almost exclusively male worlds of wargaming and miniature gaming; Lee Gold figures prominently in this history. Because of my recent T&T kick, I felt that Peterson's take on the game was slightly unfair—but then he's clearly talking about the earliest editions of T&T, not the Fifth Edition so expertly edited by Liz Danforth.

All in all, I stand in awe of Peterson's achievement and wholeheartedly recommend the book to those gamers who have yet to encounter it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tunnels & Trolls: Down, Down to Delver Town

Sometime in late 1980 or early 1981, I encountered the WaldenBooks in Oneonta's Southside Mall discovered that Dungeons & Dragons was not the only fantasy roleplaying game for sale. There on the shelf in front of me was a large black box with golden lettering that read Tunnels & Trolls and a gilded image of three adventurers about to enter a dungeon portal. (Above is the inked original of Liz Danforth's cover illustration.) I failed my saving roll against T&T's stark yet arty presentation and made my first independent gaming purchase. (My copy of the Holmes Basic D&D set had been a birthday present from my grandparents.)

With interior art by Danforth, Rob Carver (above), and Victoria Poyser, T&T looked a hell of a lot better than D&D did at the time (Dave Trampier's work excluded). Ken St. Andre's text was a better read as well—who wouldn't rather be a delver than an adventurer? I remember being amazed by all the different character kindreds available, and I definitely tried my hand at surviving the solo adventure Buffalo Castle. The one T&T character I remember creating was Prince Gwyn of Dain; I may have done a character sheet for Lloyd Alexander's Gurgi as well.

But I never really got a game of T&T going. My friends were more into D&D at the time, and T&T's combat system (summing up Hit Point Totals for both sides and delivering the difference's worth of damage to the losers) seemed weird compared to the blow-by-blow pacing of D&D. But I never lost my interest in the game and kept up with it over the years, buying the Fifth Edition rules twice more (once in the very nice Blade version and once in the British Corgi version).

Nostalgia played some part in my decision to back the recent Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter. (It was certainly the key factor in my willingness to pay for the extravagant luxury of the personalized wooden replica of the old black-and-gold box.) But I had also been reading a number of forum threads and blog entries in recent years that summarized just how prescient much of T&T actually was.

So I'm going to actually get it together and play some T&T this year. I will be making my own character and putting him through some of the easier solo adventures. In addition, I'm going to run Mike Hill's Dungeon of the Rat for my daughter and a number of her friends. My daughter is very excited about playing a fairy (although we may need to do something about those .25 STR and CON modifiers).