Lamentations of the Grognard

Irregular musings on Role Playing Games and the Role Playing Game industry and culture. Including reviews, reminiscences and ramblings.

It was summer break, 1988 Hesperia California. I was 16 years old. We had just returned to my friend Jason’s house from the mall after purchasing the brand new Metallica album, “…And Justice for All”. Listening to the cassette in his room and analyzing the finer points of their discography, the conversation turned to the “Ride the Lightning” album, and an epic instrumental track, “The Call of Ktulu”.

I hadn’t given the song in question much thought, it was a sweeping orchestration piece that held little to interest the mind of an average 16 year old metal fan. But that’s when Jason told me something that I didn’t know, something that would literally change my life in a very dramatic way from that moment forward.

It was based on a book. Continue reading

Cyberpunk High Tech Low Life in the world of 2013

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Neuromancer by William Gibson. This book takes place in a dystopian near future and was, for many, the defining piece of a new and exciting genre, Cyberpunk. Of course Philip K. Dick had already been doing the dystopian thing since the 50’s, and Blade Runner came out in ’82 based on ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ written in the 60’s. But it wasn’t until the 80’s that the phenomenon took off and was given a name. Of course, it wasn’t long after then that role playing games would come calling on this world of high tech low lifes. Continue reading

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In the mid 90’s I watched with horror as the hobby I had devoted half my life to at that time, died a slow painful death by attrition.

Twice a month we were meeting at Mike’s, who was our dungeon master in those days. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition wasn’t new, and some could argue that it was already starting to wither, with the re-releases and reprints of the same material since ’89, the game was set for something dramatic to happen, good or bad. But we were die-hards who’d bought every supplement and new edition or revision since the early 80’s.

That’s when I started to notice it.
The creeping infection grew like a brown mold, feeding on the warmth, and leaving nothing but cold in its wake.

A new game was taking the hobby industry by storm in those days, a fantasy genre card game that was inexpensive and fast to learn and even faster to set up. We were, admittedly, fantasy junkies. We would devour anything in our genre, no matter how cheesy or ridiculous. So it came as no surprise that this game would be a hit. Since it only needed 2 players, and everyone had some of the cards, it became the #1 pastime for the early arrivers to each game night. With the first couple of players throwing down a quick round before the rest of the party showed up.
If only that had been the end of it, I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Slowly, the card game players became less inclined to wrap it up once everyone was there, and the later arriving players became more inclined to just join in the card game. And so the dice bags and monster manuals sat, unopened and neglected, with increasing frequency. It wasn’t long from there that the campaign began to dwindle and eventually stall out. I was, to say the least, disappointed. The group continued to get together to play cards, eventually getting involved in tournaments at the local comic book shop. The company behind that card game became a huge success, and the company that made my beloved Dungeons and Dragons began to collapse. The end was near.

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When I was young, my friends and I would spend lunch break in the library. Why the library? Because it was the safest place in the school. The one place we knew we wouldn’t encounter ‘Them’. In the library we could discuss role playing games or look at comics or discuss sci-fi movies / books / TV shows without fear of judgment, harassment or even abuse.

See, it wasn’t uncommon for any of us to be physically assaulted, have our very expensive books or treasured comics taken away, thrown around and belittled in public while we futilely pleaded for mercy or assistance. While different bullies may have different styles or different motivations for bullying, the one thing they shared back then was a socially accepted segregation against those who participated in ‘bookish’ hobbies and were so preoccupied by these hobbies that they suffered at other endeavors, like sports, fashion or dating. Society was against us. We were outcasts who didn’t fit in and those who did had no interest in understanding our point of view, or finding out why we loved these hobbies so much. This obsession became a self-perpetuating cycle after a while as the shunning would push us farther away and deeper into the fantasy worlds we created on Saturday nights around the dinner table, or the heroic action world between the covers of our favorite comic books.
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In 1984 Chick Publications released the Dark Dungeons comic pamphlet. Chick had been in business for 10 years at this point making religious themed comic strips with 22 panels on various subjects, intent on helping the reader avoid damnation. The comic pamphlets were known as Chick Tracts and covered all manner of threats from Rock and Roll to LSD use. Dark Dungeons was intent on protecting us from the dangers of Role Playing Games and the secret agenda to initiate the players into the world of Satanism via D&D. The fake game in the comic is Dark Dungeons, although the characters refer to it as D&D, waving away the possible confusion of the real subject while still avoiding a lawsuit. Younger readers may not realize this but, once upon a time, playing fantasy role playing games was considered evil and dangerous, an invitation to Satanism, drug use and suicide. With daytime talk shows devoting episode after episode to the subject and even “serious” news programs like 60 Minutes getting in the act. CBS even aired a made for TV movie starring a young Tom Hanks called Mazes and Monsters.

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Summer break 1983, a 10 year old boy sits at a card table in a basement. His mace does only 1D6 points of damage, but if he can kill these kobolds, hopefully the other boys, some of them in high school, will invite him back to play next week. The basement in question belongs to the parents of 13 year old Craig Brown. The game on the card table is the 1983 edition of the red box basic Dungeons and Dragons game. The kobolds in the Caves of Chaos have been harassing the good people of the Keep on the Borderlands. The 10 year old boy is me.

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