Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Blog Watch: Tolkien’s Heavy Metal, Gygax’s Genius, and Mark Herman’s Mental Block

“Box illustration by Rodger MacGowan.”

Post-Apocalyptic (Aggregate Cognizance) My Metric For Presenting In Character Or Out of Character Knowledge — “The players should be able to roleplay their characters figuring out how it works. The words, ‘What is this weird metal cylinder with glass set in the end?’ should be coming from the players and not the GM trying to play some kind of lame game of Charades.”

Wandering Monsters (Deep Delving) Spicing up randomness — “What I basically aim for is to convey both hints on the nature of the creature and it’s general power level if possible – it’s great if clever players can use this foreshadowing to plan their delve and make preparations.”

Motive (Open Culture) Raymond Chandler’s Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel — “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish….He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Gaming History (Baen) Dungeons and Dragons: The 40 Year Quest for a Game that Breaks All the Rules — “Gary Gygax’s genius wasn’t in logical game design, writing, editing, or even business. Rather, it was in fusing the trappings of popular fantasy literature, board games, and miniatures games into a storytelling procedure just coherent enough to inspire players to make it better.”

Adventure Design (Hack & Slash) On the OSR versus TSR eras. — “One of the best things about this table is how it avoids the obvious. Even ordinary things here are extraordinary in some way, or at the very least a great lead-in to an encounter or an adventure. It feeds naturally into your worlds, and references all kinds of material, but could easily be used in any weird sewer.”

Heavy Metal (The Silmarillion) “Then all the hosts of Angband swarmed against them, and they bridged the stream with their dead, and encircled the remnant of Hithlum as a gathering tide about a rock. There as the sun westered on the sixth day, and the shadow of Ered Wethrin grew dark, Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in his eye, and all the valiant Men of Hador were slain about him in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.”

Space Gaming (RPG.Net) A Review of Encounter Critical — “I drew a map and came up with as many ridiculous, awesome, and ridiculously awesome location names as I could think of. I wrote an average of 3 – 5 sentences for each place. For a place called ‘Tribalistic Gibbering’ I wrote, ‘A petrified forest where orange-skinned natives live and hunt. They’re cannibals, of course. Crashed starship with old power cells still functional. Humanoids strung up against petrified trees, first as sacrifices… then as dinner. Ha-koota is the tribe leader.'”

That’s One Way to Put It (Illuminating Games) A Distant Plain — “Like Andean Abyss, A Distant Plain is a complete-information whack-the-leader and be-ahead-at-the-end game with simple and open scores.”

Wandering Monsters (Ten Foot Pole) SG1 – Hill Giant Hall — “‘2d6+6 orcs’ is not an exciting path to adventure. It’s boring. It sucks. How about ‘2d6+6 orcs planning to rescue their leader Graxar from area xx.’ Now that’s an encounter! Or Harpies, spying for Queen Isabelle the Cursed, attacking only if provoked … or the Wolf Keeper looking for escaped orcs … or … you get the idea.”

Voice (The RPG Corner) March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Four — “I didn’t get a chance to read classic ‘high Gygaxian’ prose, coming into the hobby when I did, until many years later. But Siembieda was very much in the same vein, not so much in technical terms but in the way that you felt like, when you read one of his games, he himself was sitting there explaining it to you in person.”

Wargame Design (C3I Ops Center) My Philosophy Behind Card Driven Game Design by Mark Herman — “Back in the late 20th century, I had the good fortune to publish We The People, the first of the Card Driven Games (CDG) genre. Through my study of the American Revolution certain critical design elements crystallized for me. I felt these elements must be in a game on this subject if it was to be a faithful historical design. In particular there was the nature of guerrilla warfare, and its impact on conflict, that challenged the way I approached this game design. Guerrilla warfare illustrates how to leverage political context through a superior application of military deception to confer strategic initiative and victory. It was upon reflection, and years of real world experience, that I came to understand that these factors were dominant in all warfare, not just guerrilla conflict, and they were missing elements in most game designs.”

Deception (Board Game Geek) Help – Your opinion on a game ethics situation — “Here is what happened. I was playing the Scots. During my turn I played a 2 move card. For my first move I acted like one of my units was the Norse and made a sea move to an open location…. I then hemmed and hawed for a couple of minutes on my other move. Finally I ‘changed my mind’ on the first move, took it back, and instead did two army marches.”

Fire in the Lake (Mark Herman) Bungle in the Jungle — “As the game moves into final development Volko, Paul, and I used our holiday to playtest the NVA solitaire ‘bot’ in the 1968 scenario. This was not as much a competitive session, but an open interaction to make sure that the NVA ‘bot’ did reasonable things when mixed in with three humans…. I have to say the ‘bot’ got solid tuning over the course of this session.”

Gaming History (Point 2 Point) WBC 2013 AAR and SuperMegaPost! — “Mark Herman had been working for years on a Vietnam War game dealing with the political subtleties of the war (the joke was that it was to be entitled Against the People, the nominal sequel to We the People and For the People). But it seems that Volko Runke’s COIN system really seemed to break the mental block. According to Andy Lewis, Mark designed something like 75 events within the first few days of joining up with Volko. A prototype was at the con, and it looked exciting. Can’t wait for this one.”

Monster Games (Hiew’s Boardgame Blog) Paths of Glory — “I feel that in this game every decision will come back to haunt you. There are implications further down the line that you will concretely feel. Sometimes you regret, sometimes you feel justified. Sending reinforcements to one front will help you do well there, but it means another front is getting less support and will probably suffer. When I play, I feel that successes are because I have made wise decisions, and failures can only be blamed on myself.”

Gaming Theory (Defense Linguistics Research) Zeroing Out the Space — “The pain is evident in the retelling, in the rush to the words and the evident effort to get out as much as possible before language implodes under the burden of its objects. This is certainly part of history, but it usually gets grounded out. One reason why I’m continuing this project in wargame form is that I think the medium brings this out better than written histories. Games create affective bonds even as they evoke something of the intellectual challenge faced by historical combatants.”

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5 responses to “Blog Watch: Tolkien’s Heavy Metal, Gygax’s Genius, and Mark Herman’s Mental Block

  1. Chris Mata March 10, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Wargame Design (C3I Ops Center) My Philosophy Behind Card Driven Game Design by Mark Herman

    Great article.

  2. Yora March 10, 2014 at 7:13 am

    The German metal band Blind Guardian actually did make “Nightfall in Middle Earth”, a whole album about the main events of the Silmarilion. One of their best in my oppinion, and I know a couple of people who are not usually into metal who really like it.

    “The iron crowned Is getting closer; Swings his hammer down on him;
    Like a thunderstorm he’s crushing; Down the Noldor’s proudest king.
    Under my foot, so hopeless it seems;
    You’ve troubled my day, now feel the pain!”

  3. Ethan McKinney March 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Why’s the Mayday cover there? I was hoping for something about the game …

    • jeffro March 10, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Some of the most important innovations in gaming from the past couple of decades are coming from GMT Games. Rodger MacGowan is at the heart of this… running this blog and doing artwork for countless games. I chose the Mayday cover to illustrate the post in order to highlight how far back he goes… and to show his connection to a classic space themed game.

      • Ethan McKinney March 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        That Mayday cover is a classic photo of an F-111, posterized and with some components chopped off and some greeblies added, plus markings.

        RBM did a lot of nice design work, but I don’t know of any original art that he’s done. Still, a LOT of games had attractive covers because of him.

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