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Hobby Games Recce

Features & Noteworthy News on Hobby Games

Blog Housekeeping: Consolidation, Best Posts
This is the last blog entry for both my Hobby Games Recce blog at LiveJournal and Schweig’s Game Design Journal at Blogger; I’m porting everything to a new hybrid blog – Hobby Games Recce at Blogger – where I plan to continue posting missives about the adventure gaming hobby and game design every Tuesday. Bookmark the new Hobby Games Recce blog site for updates; the old sites will remain, though this will stand as the last entry.

HGRLogoWhen I split my efforts with the two blogs almost a year and half ago I’d intended to use the Game Design Journal as a more personal insight into my creative efforts rather than the general survey of news and features in the adventure gaming hobby in Hobby Games Recce. While this broadened my scope, it restricted me to a general theme each week, one that sometimes oozed from one blog to the other. It also split my efforts between two blogging platforms which took time to transition between. Although the Game Design Journal enabled me to explore some interesting game design issues, it wasn’t really inspiring the interactive discussions for which I’d hoped (though the few discussions it did engender were rewarding).

I garnered several revelations from the experience. It makes more sense to focus all my blogging efforts in one place, both for my ability to navigate blogging interfaces and to direct people to one place for my gaming missives. It offers me the freedom to cover general adventure gaming hobby issues with occasional intrusions of personal game design when so inspired, without the self-imposed, every-other-week restriction on content.

I also realized, reluctantly at first, that I prefer Blogger as a platform better than LiveJournal. It didn’t crash as often, gave me more control over the look of the page (as you’ll see from keeping the Game Design Journal template), provided more information on my posts (specifically page views and +1s), and interfaced nicely with my other Google-based applications.

I intend to merge all the old posts from both blogs onto the Blogger Hobby Games Recce site for easy reference and to provide a continuous record of my past blogging exploits. While Blogger made things easy transferring Game Design Journal entries to the new Hobby Games Recce site, LiveJournal did not make a similar transition easy at all; so this may take some time to transfer several years' worth of entries locked up in LiveJournal’s byzantine interface to the new Hobby Games Recce site on Blogger.

In looking back on the 37-entry run on Schweig’s Game Design Journal, several posts stand out as ones of which I’m most proud:

“Admiring Interesting Game Developments” might easily have come under the purview of Hobby Games Recce; it allowed me to examine two games that recently caught my eye with some innovative game mechanics.

Posts about my random dungeon experience tied to my development of Schweig’s Themed Dungeon Generator included “Thoughts on the Random Dungeon” and “Revisiting the Random Dungeon with Themes.”

“Charging Off on Another Diversion” allowed me to indulge a sudden inspiration in using 54mm plastic soldier minis in a basic game in which a refreshing “horde” charges a fixed position of defenders.

“The ‘Pay-What-You-Want’ Experiment” offered my impressions of the sales trend encouraging customers to offer a “tip” for otherwise free online material.

“Oracle Game Engine Dice Mechanics” outlined my original die-rolling and reading mechanics for an upcoming fantasy roleplaying system I’m developing, based on “The Allure of Dice in Fantasy Games” post noted below.

My examination of the “D6 System Core Rulebook” garnered the most +1s from readers on Google+.

“The Allure of Dice in Fantasy Games” won the prize for most views.

Schweig’s Game Design Journal has enjoyed a good run during the past year or so, with some engaging entries that inspired a few encouraging discussions and a lot of self-examination. I’m looking forward to exploring more adventure gaming issues in the newly relocated Hobby Games Recce. Happy gaming!

Want to offer feedback? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

Sails of Glory Versus DIY

My interest in the Napoleonic era has always been fleeting, whether I’m reading its history, trying to engage it through fiction and media (such as the Sharpe novels and television dramas or Aubrey-Maturin novels and the related Master & Commander film), or immersing myself in wargaming. I have a few Osprey books on campaigns, Emil Ludwig’s epic about Napoleon (many times started, never finished). I even own a copy of Avalon Hill’s Hundred Days Battles mini-game I acquired and tried playing in my earliest years in the adventure gaming hobby.

SailsofGloryI’ve heard wonderful accolades for Ares GamesSails of Glory, a naval miniatures game building on the basic concepts of based minis with movement template cards the company pioneered with Wings of War and the relaunched Wings of Glory games covering aerial dogfights in World War I and II. While the rules (available online) seem a bit more complex than the games predecessors, they still follow the model of presenting basic, full, and advanced rules to gradually bring players into increasingly intricate levels of mechanics. The four miniatures included in the base game seem to have the same high level of detail as the other games’ aircraft miniatures. But being only an occasional dabbler with wargaming in the Napoleonic era, I’m deterred by the princely $89.90 price tag. (I’m also dismayed with the current unavailability through regular distribution channels in the United States, although I’ve heard the company announced it’s reprinting the starter sets for release in the spring.) Typical of these kinds of expansionist games, Sails of Glory also tempts gamers to further invest in the game and purchase more vessels from its solid roll-out of additional ship packs with price-tags nearing $20 (though similar “ship expansions” for other games based on this model, such as WizKids’ Star Trek: Attack Wing and Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game offer such expansions at around $15, with larger ships closer to $25 and $30).

I don’t mean this as a condemnation of Ares Games or its Sails of Glory game – from what I’ve seen it’s an amazing product at all levels, with a price to reflect the high quality of components – it’s just that, for me and my level of interest, it makes more sense to dabble in the period from the do-it-yourself perspective.

Sails of Glory focuses primarily on playing out small naval skirmishes in this period, usually two or four ships (as offered in the starter set); I’m interested in replaying a specific battle with many ships, namely the Battle of Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, where Nelson’s Mediterranean fleet surprised the French fleet that brought Napoleon and his army to Egypt in 1798. Nothing quite as involved as fighting Trafalgar, but still, such massive engagements call for streamlined rules to handle such a large number of vessels to play out a battle within a reasonable amount of gaming time.

I've found several resources on the subject (including the Wikipedia entry on the battle), but rely primarily on the Osprey book about the battle for details like ship names and compliments. The Junior General website offers a variety of period ship pieces to print and assemble (though trolling the internet might offer additional images to use), as well as a basic yet playable system for Napoleonic naval action as outlined in the Trafalgar scenario. Rather than buy into an expensive – albeit well-produced – game I might play once or twice, I can satisfy my historical interest printing off some ships and playing a battle in an afternoon’s time.

This reflects an overall trend in the adventure gaming hobby across the spectrum of board games, miniature wargames, and roleplaying games: although many consumers purchase and support professionally produced products, many, thanks to technological advances and new means of distribution, take the route of free or do-it-yourself materials. This follows a longtime tradition in the hobby, from gamemasters creating their own adventures and settings to wargamers tinkering with rules and drafting their own.

I’ve previously discussed the dichotomy of publishers producing professional products versus hobbyists creating their own material and occasionally sharing it across the internet. For many of us dabbling in different historical periods or gaming genres, buying into a professional game release to satisfy these small, often passing yearnings seems extravagant when we can explore such gaming possibilities under our own efforts. Those who take the do-it-yourself path gain inspiration from the professionals; yet they sometimes turn to those companies, or others in the adventure gaming hobby, when they discover products that engage their other gaming needs. Ares Games does that for me: while I’m unwilling to invest in Sails of Glory to satisfy a tertiary interest in Napoleonic naval battles, I have and will continue to support their fine Wings of Glory aerial combat miniatures lines, games which satisfy my far greater interest in World War II and early aviation.

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World War II-Themed Games

World War II has always held some appeal for me, inspired as I was at an early age by my father’s Life’s Picture History of World War II (I’ve since acquired my own copy). I fueled this interest at various periods in my life through films, books, and games of the roleplaying, board, card, miniatures, and board-and-chit variety. It’s led me to develop several game projects with World War II themes, including a roleplaying game sourcebook for Raiders of the Lost Ark; Pulp Egypt and Heroes of Rura-Tonga, two system-neutral sourcebooks for the pre-war years; and the solitaire wargame Operation Drumbeat (not to mention a few gaming and fiction projects on the back burner of my mind).

Build for NavyMany complex games cover aspects of World War II. The venerable wargame company Avalon Hill produced a host of World War II games, including such titles as Breakout: Normandy, Victory in the Pacific, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, the solitaire B-17: Queen of the Skies, and Squad Leader (with its other iterations, Advanced Squad Leader and the card game version, Up Front); the company also published more basic, introductory wargames, many now sadly out of print. The late, lamented West End Games got its start producing wargames (purportedly ones covering battles the owner wanted to play), including such World War II titles as Against the Reich, Eastern Front Tank Leader, the solitaire RAF, and Rommel in North Africa. Although several well-established miniature wargaming rules exist, perhaps the most popular – and most exhaustively supported – remains Battlefront’s Flames of War rules and miniatures. But these cater more to hard-core gamers than newcomers, people from wargaming backgrounds with an understanding and enjoyment of the complexities of the hobby, whether immersing themselves in a rulebook, setting up chit-and-board wargames, or painting armies of miniatures for tabletop play.

Those who have a strong interest in World War II without a gaming background – or even knowledge that such games exist – might find more complex and hard-to-find wargame options intimidating or limiting; but “gateway” games can more easily draw such aficionados into the adventure gaming hobby, satisfying their interest in re-playing the war’s significant engagements and tempting them to further channel their enthusiasm into gaming endeavors.

A number of gateway World War II games remain on the market today. They merge factual elements with game mechanics to provide a gaming experience grounded in some degree of historical accuracy (as much as manageable in an abstract representation of warfare largely removed from reality). I’ve compiled a short list of such gateway games, most of which I’ve played myself and have satisfied my own interest in World War II:

axisalliesboxAxis & Allies: Possibly the most complicated gateway game on this list, Axis & Allies was a longstanding and much-played title from Avalon Hill. Since Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro acquired Avalon Hill the company has released many iterations of the game beyond the basic one covering the conflict at a global, strategic level. I recommend the basic world-encompassing game of Axis & Allies since it offers the global perspective, merging economies of production and scientific research into military technologies with the actual movement and clashing of armies, navies, and air forces. Granted, the rules remain quite involved compared to other gateway games, and a full session of Axis & Allies can take many hours, or even days. But it remains high on the list of games that simulate the war’s comprehensive military actions and economic factors. The game also benefits from its availability in the toy departments of mainstream stores like Target and Walmart.

Other Axis & Allies Games: The other board iterations of the main game focus on individual theaters of the war. While I haven’t seen or played them myself, I’m sure they have good play value based on the brand, it’s high-quality components, and a rationale of rules that don’t quite tread into the realm of complex wargames. Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro also released several collectable miniatures games with the Axis & Allies branding covering land, sea, and air engagements at the tactical level. While I love the pre-painted miniatures and the clean, intuitive rules (particularly War at Sea), these games have passed out of the primary hobby retail market and into the realm of collectors. Besides, the collectible miniatures sales model distributed packs of random minis, providing an expensive challenge for gamers who wanted to play in specific theaters or with certain forces. Nonetheless, for those who can find acceptable forces from these games, they provide a good gateway into the miniature wargame hobby.

Wings of Glory WWII: Originally released as Wings of War: Dawn of WWII and retooled as the compatible Wings of Glory, this game enables players to recreate aerial combat scenarios using authentic aircraft models on stands and decks of maneuvers keyed to each airplane’s historical performance parameters. Each turn players choose a maneuver card which, when revealed, they place in front of their aircraft model’s stand and move it according to the arrows describing the maneuver. Any enemy fighters within range and field of fire receive a damage token tallied against their overall strength; a very intuitive, easy to teach system that simulates aerial combat well. (I’ve discussed the World War I version – which uses very similar rules and movement systems – at Hobby Games Recce before.) The range of aircraft available includes many early war models from most nations, primarily fighter craft but also medium bombers. I’ve managed to collect enough models for engagements simulating combat from the Battle of Britain and the Flying Tigers, with a few other models for good measure. The game has a thriving online support community over at the Wings of War Aerodrome, with plenty of rules options (including solitaire), new missions, new cards, and other accessories, along with engaging forum discussions. Alas, this game has seen limited release in the United States (in both iterations), with rules sets and miniatures found almost exclusively at supportive hobby stores (or, in my case, from dealers at wargaming conventions).

spearpoint1943Spearpoint 1943: This game combines deck building set-up with card game mechanics and dice rolling to create a fast-playing, head-to-head skirmish experience. Set during the campaign to overrun Italy in 1943, it pits German units against American forces, each represented by a host of cards. Using a point system to build a small skirmishing force including infantry, tanks, artillery, even aircraft, players then deploy available units in head-to-head encounters. Don’t let the unit card appearance fool you; it might seem complex at first with various numbers to hit different targets with available weapons, but it all works quite intuitively and the rules concisely explain what might look like numerous fiddly bits. The archival photos add an authentic touch to each card. Since tanks, artillery, and aircraft require separate crew cards to deploy, players must rely on the luck of the draw to bring units into their hand and then deploy them to the tabletop skirmish. Players can also enhance deployed cards with advantages from command cards. Damage cards offer different effects for various unit types printed along one of each of the card’s sides, adding an extra dimension of limitation for those surviving combat from one turn to the next. The variable nature of each force – as created from the overall pool of cards based on a point value for each battle – ensures a varied game experience with solid replay value. I discussed the game elements in slightly more depth over at my Game Design Journal blog. The Russian front version of the game – Spearpoint 1943: Eastern Front – recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign, breaking several stretch goals that significantly enhanced the game...five-card additions for both the German and Russian forces, and a 50-card heavy weapons expansion (25 cards for each side). Collins Epic Wargames no doubt has future plans for additional versions of the game covering other theaters of the war.

Mem44compMemoir ’44: This hefty boxed game from Days of Wonder provides everything for playing out major tactical battles from the Normandy campaign, including the rulebook with numerous scenarios, large board, terrain tiles, cards, dice, and a host of plastic miniatures for Allied and Axis infantry, tanks, and artillery. The game board offers a graphically impressive sight, not simply from the numerous plastic figures but from hexagonal tiles enabling players to customize the terrain to particular scenarios. The rules use the tried and true Command and Colors system designed by Richard Borg; command cards enable units on the battlefield’s left, right, and center (or combinations thereof) to move and attack, with combat resolved by the roll of special dice. With a box packed with quality game components, 15 scenarios in the main rulebook (and many supplemental scenarios available online), and several additional expansions for boards, terrain, pieces, and scenarios, Memoir ’44 offers fantastic replay value. The basic game remains available in many hobby gaming stores and occasionally finds its way into the toy departments of more mainstream retailers.

These games all have far more comprehensible rules for newcomers than traditional wargames of both the board-and-chit and miniature variety. They vary across the many theaters of global conflict, though any World War II aficionado should find at least one of them catering to their interests.

Some relevant gateway games have regrettably fallen out of print and hence remain hard to find among the various collectable venues. These include two Avalon Hill classics that haven’t (and probably won’t) see any redesign or re-issue from Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro anytime soon – the very comprehensible board-and-chit wargame Victory at Sea and the wonderful solitaire B-17: Queen of the Skies (which I’ve discussed before and inspired my own solitaire Operation Drumbeat). TSR’s old Sirocco board game deserves mention; it’s a classic “dead game” from a sadly long-gone company, but one that did a nice job of presenting basic and advanced rules for numerous skirmishes in North Africa.

No doubt I’ve overlooked a few pertinent World War II gateway games. Let me know what I’ve missed. Want to offer feedback? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

A Confluence of Gifts

My holidays were blessed with an abundance of well-chosen gifts from my family and in-laws. I’m often at a loss when gift-giving occasions arise (usually my birthday and Christmas, conveniently located at opposite ends of the calendar) and people ask me what I’d like; this year when I couldn’t think of anything, I simply referred folks to my Amazon.com wish list. It yielded some surprising and satisfying results.

I’ve maintained my Amazon wish list partly as a tool for reminding myself of various books, games, soundtracks, and films I’d like to add to my collection (and often forget about) and as a means of communicating with family and friends both specific and general ideas for gifts. They haven’t always used it in the past, but it offers both a means of buying exactly what I’d like as well as a guide to my general interests when buying other gifts. Sometimes they order directly from Amazon, other times they find the items in brick-and-mortar stores.

TrekAttackWingThis year my relatives unknowingly conspired to outfit me with a nice starter package for WizKids’ Star Trek: Attack Wing miniatures game. My parents – who usually manage to find a fun game-related gift for Christmas or my birthday – got me the game’s basic set. My in-laws ordered the Miranda-class starship USS Reliant and my brother-in-law’s family got me the Klingon IKS Gr’oth (D7) cruiser. We’ve already played a few games using the quick-start rules with the Little Guy, but I’m also looking forward to playing the full game using the more versatile standard rules (though it remains to be seen how well the mechanics translate from its Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game origins to the Star Trek universe).

I suppose it helps I’m also vocal in my interests. Most folks know I enjoy learning about World War II. My in-laws have for several years renewed a subscription to WWII History magazine; while some articles cover familiar ground for me, each issue offers glimpses into new aspects of the war about which I’d not known or only heard about in passing. They (with some help from my wife) bought a book I’d noticed about a little-known tragedy: the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The German cruise ship served as a transport evacuating military and civilian refugees fleeing the Soviet advance in January, 1945, but was torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet submarine. Death on the Baltic sheds some light on this obscure but tragic event, which by some accounts claimed more lives (an estimated 9,000) than the Titanic disaster (which claimed about 1,500 lives). Unknowingly playing on this theme of German maritime disaster, my brother gave me two DVDs: the equally little-known Titanic film the Germans made in 1943, and a History Channel documentary about the making of that movie and its ironic behind-the-scenes drama.

The holiday season – which also includes our son’s birthday – also proved that we are passing on our interests to the Little Guy. Among the gifts from my wife’s friendly co-workers were a bulbous yet extremely plush Cthulhu and a gift certificate to the recently opened Friendly Local Game Store in town (he went and purchased an expansion for King of Tokyo, which he enjoys immensely).

While one might argue gift-giving is an art form in knowing individuals and intuitively identifying meaningful gifts, our Internet Age and such tools as Amazon’s wish list can help both those seeking to give gifts and those hoping to broadcast their wishes on items to receive.

Want to offer feedback? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

The Season for Fantasy
[Note: December’s always far too busy in our household between preparing for the holidays and our son’s birthday. So I hope regular readers will excuse me reprinting -- with some updated sentiments -- a blog entry from two years ago appropriate for the eve of one of the major winter-solstice-based holidays. Enjoy.]

Around this time of year I’m reminded how the holiday season always seems to herald a time ripe for fantasy across the full spectrum of books, games, films, and television shows. For adventure gamers who feast on many of these similar mediums, the holidays remain one of the prime periods of the year for indulging in our  hobby.

GamingPresentsThe general spirit of the December holidays (which really begin around Thanksgiving) contributes to the illusion that anything is possible despite the darkness of the days and the times. Let’s face it: the notion of a jolly obese fellow flying around on a reindeer-driven sleigh delivering gifts to everyone around the entire world in one night is sheer fantasy unto itself (and I’m not even touching the nativity story with a 10-foot pole, though obviously un-American and heretical skeptics might classify elements of that tale as hopeful fantasy, too).

Everyone’s tempted toward fantastic hopes for expected and presented gifts, holiday displays and decorations, plans for parties and feasts, and the overall joyousness of the season. Our unrealistic gift expectations are inspired by an increased flood of commercials, catalogs, and sales for toys (both grown-up and child-level) and manifest in requests (sent by mail or in person at the mall) to the aforementioned jolly obese fellow for unrealistically fantastic gifts. Fantasy of all types abounds.

Enough pontificating; suffice it to say that the holiday season already predisposes everyone toward fantasy, and gamers in particular gleefully indulge in this excess.

The holidays bring a host of fantasy related media into our homes. Every year visions of our favorite holiday-themed tales waltz out of the television, from the stop-motion delights of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town to mere animated fare like Frosty the Snowman and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. New holiday-themed movies premiere in theatres at Thanksgiving and play relentlessly until Christmas (and often beyond); former holiday film releases, like Will Ferrell’s delightful Elf, run constantly on television.

But holiday-themed fantasy offerings often pave the way for more traditional fantasy material at this time of the year. While the summer, and particularly Memorial Day, has been the territory of action and science fiction film releases, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has recently brought a horde of fantasy movie premieres. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and the first two Hobbit films were released in theatres in the weeks before Christmas. Although only four of the eight Harry Potter films were released in November (the others hit theatres during the summer movie season), several usually appear around the holidays on a major television network (not to mention cable).

Rankin/Bass’ animated version of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was first broadcast on Sunday, Nov. 27, 1977, on NBC, at the tail end of the Thanksgiving weekend that year. Such science fantasy fare as Star Wars was not immune. Though the films all released on prime summer movie weekends, the three made-for-TV specials all first aired around Thanksgiving: CBS first broadcast the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special on Nov. 17, 1978; ABC aired Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure on Nov. 25, 1984; and that same network broadcast Ewoks: The Battle for Endor on Nov. 24, 1985.

The holiday season also brings a break for kids -- both high school and college -- when they spend time at home with family and friends they can subject to such frivolous and fantasy-themed time-wasters as roleplaying and board games. Unlike the summer, that other “season of gaming” when kids have loads of time and friends around (yet often balanced by family vacations or summer jobs), the holidays offer time off without many expectations for productive use of free time, especially when playing outside remains limited by one’s ability to withstand intense cold.

I fondly recall my first Christmas after discovering Dungeons & Dragons, for I received such appropriately themed gifts as module A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, Grenadier Miniatures’ Wizard’s Room miniatures box, and the soundtrack to ET the Extra-Terrestrial, which I found as inspiring as almost any other John Williams score at the time.

As a young gamer I reveled in the two “seasons of gaming” throughout the year: the holiday fantasy season and the summer vacation (it also helped that the bounty of gaming-related Christmas presents was balanced by a host of gaming-related birthday presents for a boy born in July). Christmas always seemed a bit more festive for me as a gamer; call it a combination of the magic of the season, the infusion of game-related gifts, and the immediacy of a shorter break that didn’t linger as tediously as the hot summer days yet required. I have blurry memories of visiting with cousins during the holidays and engaging in gaming activities: one Christmas I attempted to run an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, the daunting A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, no less, using the pregenerated characters provided; another year a cousin tried to teach us Avalon Hill’s formidable Dune strategy game right out of the box!

As I somehow manage through middle age, however, I find my child-like ability to revel in the holiday season’s fantasy appeal challenged by the responsibilities and anxieties of adult life. While I vicariously relive my sense of wonder through my toddler’s experiences, I have difficulty re-capturing my own delight and satisfaction with the adventure gaming hobby pastime. This might become a bit easier as my toddler grows and can share in more of my interests that, right now, aren’t quite appropriate. Maybe next year….

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Holiday Game-Gift Recommendations
I don’t have many gamers on my holiday gift lists; most folks just get one of my stollens (a German holiday bread I bake in several massive batches). But I like to think I’m qualified to make a few recommendations to those seeking gifts for people on their list who have enough of a casual interest in games to draw them further into the adventure gaming hobby.

GamingPresentsI’ve previously discussed several games suitable for borderline gamers and a few we’ve tried (or would like to try) as supervised games with young children. After reviewing those lists, I’m still convinced they’re right for casual gamers seeking a more involved play experience.
Here are a few additional suggestions to add to the long lists from those other posts:

Gift Certificates: Gift certificates allow recipients to browse on their own and select something that interests them first-hand. Get one to a Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), if one exists nearby; or to Amazon.com, which enables one to order from a broad range of game products or, if all else fails, an interesting book (or book download…). The FLGS gift certificate exposes them to a deeper slice of the adventure gaming hobby since it gets them into the store and focuses their browsing (and purchasing) on concrete items they can explore by reading sales copy, talking with staff, and in some cases even trying demos of games that pique their interest.

Books: Several books come to mind that might interest casual gamers and help them think differently about the adventure gaming hobby. A.C. Bell’s classic Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (which I’ve featured before) offers an exhaustive study and catalog of traditional games from different historical periods and geographical regions, with discussions of the games’ origins, explanations of typical and alternative rules, and diagrams showing boards and demonstrating gameplay. Game scholar Professor Scott Nicholson summarized his research and analysis on both analog and digital game experiences in libraries in Everyone Plays at the Library (another title I’ve previously discussed here). The book offers a framework for evaluating and discussing games in a social context to help determine what kinds of games are idea for different audiences and venues, including many game suggestions. Those interested in the origins of the miniature wargaming hobby might enjoy one of the seminal works on the subject by one of the fathers of science fiction, H. G. Wells. His Little Wars (and the associated Floor Games) in many ways laid the foundation of modern miniature wargaming (along with the Prussian Kriegsspeil). While the text remains available for free online and in the public domain, several good print editions exist that are worthy of any wargamer’s library. Those seeking a suitable magazine gift might find a copy of Wargames Illustrated to tempt the history-minded reader with gaming possibilities, good cartography, and fantastic photography. Single copies often occupy the magazine racks in miniature wargaming-heavy game stores (particularly stocking Batlefront’s Flames of War supplies) and subscriptions are available online.
Euro-Style Games: More big-box retail outlets like Target and Walmart have started stocking more sophisticated board games than the usual fare of Candyland, Sorry, Risk, and Monopoly. Such popular games as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Smallworld, and Forbidden Island (or Pandemic, its more darkly themed cousin by the same designer) remain familiar to adventure gaming hobby enthusiasts but are still slowly breaking into the mainstream cultural consciousness (I’ve even seen the Star Wars: X-wing Miniatures Game at the local Target alongside Settlers of Catan.) The aforementioned games remain high in popularity among gamers (and retailers) and consist of what amounts to my list of “top” Euro-style games I’d recommend to friends seeking to dabble in the adventure gaming hobby.

Most gamers remain well-connected to internet resources, particularly venues like Amazon.com where they can maintain “wish lists” with relevant products. You don’t have to order from those online venues, but they offer a glimpse into what kinds of games -- generally and specifically -- gamers might want…just see if you can find them at the FLGS before ordering online.

Want to offer feedback? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.

Competing Game Sources: FLGS vs. Online Retailers
Where do you buy your games? That’s one of the contentious questions that can easily fragment the broad gamer community. Do you buy exclusively from your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) or from online retailers; and do you back Kickstarter game products? In discussions we often veer toward extremes to make our point. Some folks loyally shop only at their FLGS while others assert online vendors offer better deals and a greater range of available product. Although Kickstarter provides some unique opportunities for new games across genres and styles, it certainly can’t cover all of a gamer’s needs, though it might siphon off money otherwise destined for the other two sources. What’s best for gamers and what’s best for the game sources?

We Want YouIt’s a challenging balancing act between three sources and the diverse interests of gamers. On one hand you have retailers (and creators/publishers in the case of Kickstarter) trying to survive and succeed financially. On the other you have consumers trying to satisfy their gaming needs for the best price…or at any price to loyally support their sources. All considerations have their merits.

FLGS: Local establishments offer great incentives for gamers, including in-store gaming space, a face-to-face gamer community, a chance to physically examine games (sometimes even offering demo copies to try), the opportunity to purchase and possess an item without delay, and discounts for frequent customers. While they might not stock every item gamers want, most seem willing to make an effort to special order particular items for customers. They can’t always offer the deep discounts some online retailers provide, but they make the most of their physical location as a community hub for gamers -- game space, copies for review, special events, friendly staff and customers -- all of which contribute to the overall play experience of the games customers buy.

Online Retailers: Ordering merchandise online offers more convenience and discounts to many modern shoppers, and gamers are no exception. The internet helps expedite finding products, comparing prices, and ordering, though this alternative often includes additional shipping charges and a wait time for delivery. But not everyone has a FLGS within reasonable travel distance, nor is the local game store always the supportive, friendly place gamers expect. Some material -- particularly PDF gaming product -- is only available through online venues like DriveThruRPG.com. Online retailers are part of the free market competition inherent in our economy, though some claim a sale online takes money away from the FLGS.

Kickstarter: This model throws an odd wrench into the debate between online and FLGS sales. Individuals pledge to back projects in development, paying only after the campaign has raised the requisite funds (and not paying if it doesn’t reach its goal). Stretch goals and add-ons offer more goodies should a project exceed its funding expectations. While management claims customers are backing projects and not “purchasing” items, per se, project developers are essentially marketing product directly to consumers. In some cases Kickstarter-funded games remain exclusive and unavailable through the general retail stream (online or FLGS); but most use Kickstarter to fund an initial run of a game (including set-up costs), offering backers an early copy of the game before general distribution to the public. Kickstarter projects cater to a very narrow spectrum of gamers; matching gamer interest with affordable backer levels keeps these games from breaking too far into the mainstream…but they still siphon off money gamers might otherwise spend on either online or FLGS purchases.

I sometimes see some pretty intense animosity between advocates of one particular game source. Understandably the FLGS, being a brick-and-mortar entity, might see online retailers and Kickstarter games as taking money from customers who might otherwise support their store with those dollars. Gamers buying through online vendors might argue such websites offer deeper discounts than they might find at the FLGS. Proponents of Kickstarter projects enjoy many benefits from backing projects they like, including purchasing the newest and shiniest games before they’re available elsewhere (if at all) and supporting creators and publishers directly, with all the interactive experience Kickstarter offers.

As a gamer I spread my dollars primarily between my FLGS (two stores, since one just opened within 10 minutes of my home) and interesting Kickstarter game projects. I sometimes save up to purchase from vendors at conventions I attend, though I consider this an extension of the FLGS model. I rarely use online retailers; although I maintain a wish list on Amazon.com, I do so more for the benefit of friends and family members looking for gifts and to remind myself of games I’d like to acquire. I back game-related Kickstarter projects that combine interesting subjects, engaging gameplay suitable to my style, and an affordable price point to acquire a physical copy of the game. This isn’t a detailed financial analysis of my game spending habits, but I’d ballpark my game spending at about 80% FLGS and 20% Kickstarter.

Where do you stand? Take the Hobby Games Recce poll on the subject (assuming it works -- this is the first time I'm using LiveJournal's poll tool...), head over to Google+ and start a discussion: share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment, or look for my post promoting this blog entry.

Poll #1945185 Where Do You Buy Games?

Where Do You Guy Games?

FLGS and Kickstarter
Both FLGS and Online
Both FLGS and Online with Kickstarter
Online Retailers and Kickstarter
Online Retailers Only

Holiday Gaming with the Kids
As we rapidly descend into the Vortex of Chaos caused by the American holidays (typically including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanza, and New Year’s), thoughts turn to gatherings with family and friends…and games. I’ve reminisced about games at the holidays before: the sense of fantasy inherent in the season, the gaming-related gifts, the time to play around with one’s hobby, new toys, and friends. As my son nears the four year-old point and the coming holiday season, I started thinking about gaming with kids.

HistSWGameBy “kids,” I mean preschoolers in the three- to four-year-old range, possibly as old as five or six. Some of these insights might help parents introduce older “kids” to the adventure gaming hobby, but by those ages they’re reasonably bright enough to know what engages them and thus dive into anything (like gaming) with the possibility of challenging fun (and opportunities to best their parents). I’m limiting my own discussion to board games, since, at this young age, the only roleplaying activities I expect them to show any interest for remain creative play options with toys, even if those toys are PlaySkool Star Wars figures, Disney’s Cars toys, and other normal-play fare.

Gaming with kids presents a wonderful opportunity for family time together, not simply sitting around basking in the feel-good glow of the holidays, but interacting in positive ways that can have lasting effects on behavior. We’ve established a weekly “family game night” with our Little Guy, trying some of the fare listed below; he looks forward to it every week and seems open to trying new, appropriate games. Whether he’s really understanding the games at this age, we’re still making important gains:

* We’re spending family time together without the constant distraction of electronic devices.

* He’s reinforcing lessons from preschool: following instructions, identifying numbers, letters, and abstract gaming symbols (okay, he’s not learning that last one at preschool…), realizing his actions have results and influence other people’s actions.

* He’s learning some basic gamer etiquette, such as being careful with food or drink around games, following game instructions, taking turns, re-rolling dice that tumble off the table, respecting game components, and generally learning to take advances and setbacks, victories and defeats in stride (or at least without tantrums).

My general tips for gaming with youngsters usually fall back on gentle, encouraging parenting. Some games require simplification of rules. Some require an adult to offer a good deal of assistance simply to get through a turn, though our experience has shown kids quickly learn for themselves and eventually refuse offers of help. Use games as “teaching moments” to learn numbers and letters, right and left, turn-taking, and good behavior. As adults we join games as regular players; while we sometimes give the Little Guy an advantage (playing the Millennium Falcon in the X-Wing Miniatures Game, for instance), we don’t usually hold back during games to let him win outright…he has to work for it.

Games We’ve Tried

While I have visions of my son several years from now sitting down to face his father over such games as Memoir ’44, Ticket to Ride, Smallworld, Sirocco, Axis & Allies, Carcassonne, and Ra -- not to mention the possibilities roleplaying games offer -- I realize he’s capable of only limited game challenges right now, as are most kids in the three and four year-old ranges. We’ve tried a number of games with the Little One over the course of many family game nights and a few games on weekends or with friends…and most have proved successful:

Dino Hunt Dice: This affordable, fun little game from Steve Jackson Games lets kids enjoy rolling dice and then identifying the three kinds of dinosaurs, the leaf result (dinos hiding), and the stomp result (dino hunters stomped!). Kids love dinosaurs and the game theme of hunting them tricks them into learning to identify the symbols, count their captures or stomps, and decide whether to continue and press their luck. It’s a much more thematically acceptable alternative to the game’s cousin, Zombie Dice (I’ve discussed our experience with Dino Hunt Dice in greater depth before).
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game: After seeing it played at Historicon, the Little Guy wanted to play it himself. He’s seen enough Star Wars toys around the house -- and finally saw Episode IV A New Hope (it’s just good parenting) -- so he knows most of the major characters, locations, and plot points. We bought the starter set and a few (okay, more than a few) extra ships, including the Millennium Falcon, which is “his” (it also helps that it has a 360-degree field of fire, unlike other fighters that have to maneuver to line up shots). The extremely basic quick-start rules included in the game provide a practical set of rules he can follow while still keeping the adults interested. We’re hoping we’ll eventually graduate to the regular rules to enjoy more of the game’s complexities, but we occasionally work in some advanced rules, particularly those related to asteroids (though we’ve played with a basic, programmed Imperial shuttle intercept scenario, too).

King of Tokyo: The Little Guy inherited his mother’s love of kaiju movies, so this game -- with its push-your-luck dice mechanic, monster stand-ups, and power cards -- seemed a good one to test the bounds. Initially he needed some guidance in determining what he wanted to do with his dice and getting through the turn sequence, but he quickly caught on and rejected all assistance. Heck, he won the first two games we ever played! Although it’s not always apparent he’s actually using a strategy, he enjoys rolling gobs of oversized dice and collecting enough energy cubes to buy monster power cards with cool illustrations (again, without really exhibiting any strategy beyond the exciting appearance of the pictures). His favorite monster? Cyber Bunny.

Pizza Party: I found this in a local teacher store and thought the Little Guy might find it interesting, especially considering I make homemade pizza once a week, a ritual with which he often helps. It’s less a game and more an exercise in matching dice-rolled toppings to pizza cards; but it still keeps the Little Guy engaged and hones his skills at matching symbols (and rolling dice). I’ve modified it to focus solely on him rolling dice, identifying the symbols, and matching them to slices. I have some doubts about the game -- shrimp and sardines figure prominently as toppings, while olives and onions were not included -- but, using a similar competitive mechanic as Roll for It (see below), it might have more promise.

Star Wars: Escape from Death Star: The Little Guy saw Kenner’s classic board game high on a shelf in my office -- a relic of my earliest days of board gaming and sci-fi fandom -- and insisted we try it. The cardboard stand-up pieces have seen better days, the spinner often landed on a line between numbers, and the cards seemed quite arbitrary, but we all had fun bumbling around the Death Star trying to get the plans and shut off the tractor beam before escaping to the Rebel Base. I recall frequently playing it with family and friends in my youth, the first manifestation of my love for Star Wars. The Little Guy took to it easily, though he had some trouble navigating the board.

Games I’d Like To Try

Several games wait in the wings to try with the Little Guy. Some we’re just waiting for an opportunity to introduce, others we hope can push his bounds a bit further when he’s ready:

Wings of Glory: The forerunner of the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game engages my interest in World War I and II and has miniatures that capture the Little Guy’s eye. The one item he insisted I buy for him at Historicon was a “cow bomber,” the Heinkel 111 plane for Wings of Glory WWII in arctic camouflage, white with dark green blotches, looking somewhat like a holstein cow’s coloration. The game’s use of cards for movement and maneuvers seems more intuitive and less complex than the full X-Wing Miniatures Game. Should we try this I’ll streamline the rules and simply have each participant reveal a maneuver card simultaneously (using only the slow maneuvers in the WWII version) before resolving shots and damage instead of plotting out two or three cards at a time. The Little Guy has requested we play “Daddy’s airplane game” sometime, so this remains high on our list.

Dungeon!: Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro re-released this classic fantasy board game with new artwork and components, and my parents -- who’ve nurtured my interest in sci-fi/fantasy and adventure gaming from the start -- got it for my birthday. It seems fairly straightforward as heroes explore the dungeon, defeat monsters, and take their treasure. The rules offer a very basic gameplay, though I’d expect adults might have to guide youngsters through the more involved procedures like traps and spells. While the board artwork seems impressive, I’m not sure it clearly indicates corridors and spaces well enough for a three year-old to navigate during gameplay. Many of the numerous components are quite small, including the illustrations, which normally remain key in captivating a kid’s interest. We’ll see if the box, board, and card artwork tempt him enough to at least start a game.

Roll for It: A copy of this recently arrived in the post as a backer reward from the game’s Kickstarter campaign. Players roll dice and match them to cards showing different combinations of results. Match all the die faces and take the card to score. The basic gameplay allows multiple players -- each with six dice of the same color -- and offers a nice balance of random die results, resource management, and press-your-luck. The Little Guy likes his dice and makes a great show of rolling them, so this one’s high on my list of new games to try.

Whatever the age of your kids, we encourage you to shut off the television, turn off the tablets and phones, and sit around the table this holiday season to enjoy some face-to-face gaming and make some fond family memories.

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Dabbling in Civil War Games
These past few years I’ve dabbled with various games focusing on the American Civil War to varying degrees of success and satisfaction. Several games have caught my eye, with some acquired and played, while a few remain yearned-for yet too-expensive additions to my game library. My experience is in no means comprehensive, nor does it encompass the vast panorama of Civil War-related games available over the years; but a few come within my realm of experience and touch on elements I enjoy or admire in games.

BobbyLeeI’ve always nurtured an interest in the history of the various places I’ve lived: Ridgefield, CT, site of the Battle of Ridgefield during the American Revolution; Honesdale, PA, birthplace of American railroading with the first steam engine to run (briefly) on rails and once the staging point of a vital canal system supplying New York City with coal; Williamsburg, VA, colonial Virginia capital and living history restoration; and Culpeper, VA, a central Civil War location between the Shenandoah Valley, Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields, and site of its own engagements at Cedar Mountain, Brandy Station, and Culpeper Court House. (I discussed the subject of local history a while back in another blog post.) My interest in some of these locations sometimes inspired my game-related activities. I’ve long hoped to find a system and medium to replay the Battle of Ridgefield (and might have found one in my Charge! rules under development). Living in Culpeper has certainly spurred me to find some means of playing out small cavalry engagements -- Buford’s crossing of Beverly’s Ford as the opening move for the massive Battle of Brandy Station, Mosby’s raid on a train at nearby Catlett’s Station, and, of course, Custer’s action against the artillery and cavalry guarding the Confederate withdrawal from Culpeper Court House.

Over the years I’ve acquired a meager collection of Civil War-themed games; now that I’ve lived in Virginia for more than 10 years and currently live in a nexus of many related historical sites, I’m drawn more to investigating this period of history through games. I regret I sold my boxed set of West End Games Civil War wargame titles long ago when money was tight; though I’ve rarely had the time, attention, or interest for indulging in complex “chit-and-board” wargames (despite owning a few).

My interest in Civil War games has ranged across several resources and titles, some I’ve acquired and played, others remaining on my “wish list” for future investigation, though the material I’ve seen so far intrigues me:

Junior General: The website offers Civil War gamers several scenarios for miniatures battles and a few other games (card and matrix/map battles) for the historical period. Scenarios for First Bull Run and two segments of Gettysburg (Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge) provide very simple rules and well-researched historical notes (though a familiarity with  miniatures wargames can help understand some of the basic gaming concepts). Although the materials on the website seem intended for adults to find resources and run games to help students explore history, it’s a treasure trove of materials for wargamers dabbling in various periods. Browse the site’s vast archive of military units to print out, assemble, and muster on the gaming table using the well-researched scenarios. Junior General remains a great starting resource for wargaming any historical period.

Sundered Union: Several years ago a new game company, Gordon & Hague Historical War Games, published a full set and then a quick-start version of Civil War tabletop rules to support its line of 10mm period miniatures. Both versions remained available as free PDF downloads from the company’s website until recently; a full-color, soft-cover printed version was briefly available for purchase, and I’m thankful I managed to obtain a copy from one of the vendors at Historicon 2012. While far from perfect and nowhere near as comprehensively complex as other, well-established miniature wargaming rule sets for the period, Sundered Union provided a basic framework for Civil War battles and included rules for most of the generally accepted tactical elements for these engagements. The quick-start rules -- at a concise four pages -- streamlined the main game further and offered newcomers to wargaming (or those of us who prefer lighter games) a more simplified yet gratifying experience. Regrettably Sundered Union is no longer available as a free PDF download from the Gordon & Hague website in either the full or quick-start versions. The game served as a solid platform for the company’s short-lived line of pre-painted 10mm Civil War miniatures and could easily work with its upcoming line of pre-painted 15mm minis. The company recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for a massive board wargame using accurately illustrated top-down counters or the pre-painted 15mm minis, both of which, alas, remain beyond my own rational budgetary allowances.
Battle Cry: Board games packed with hordes of pieces, dice, tiles, huge map boards, and cards seem the norm for everything from light wargames to Euro-style games these days; Battle Cry is no exception. It uses the Command and Colors system developed by Richard Borg for simplified wargames focusing on a deck of command cards and custom dice to determine the outcome in combat. I have no direct play experience with this game, though I’ve perused an old version of the rulebook. I have played Borg’s engaging Memoir ’44, a World War II Command and Colors game incorporating many similar elements: a large hex board easily customized for scenarios with terrain tiles; plastic pieces representing different units and their strengths; left, center, and right flank card-based actions; specialized dice to resolve combat; and an easy means of creating or playing historical scenarios. Like it’s World War II counterpart, Battle Cry comes with a box filled with the aforementioned goodies (board, terrain tiles, plastic soldiers, dice, cards) as well as the understandably high price tag of $60 retail.

Dixie: At the height of the collectible card game craze of the mid-1990s Columbia Games jumped in by adapting to card play mechanics the designers ported from the tactical portion of the Bobby Lee block wargame (which I realize in retrospect thanks to the Kickstarter campaign mentioned below). Each deck of Dixie contained enough cards to run a battle, with cards depicting infantry, cavalry, and artillery units -- each with an original illustration of individual soldiers in uniform -- as well as generals, terrain features, and special conditions to modify the battle. Like the tactical combat in Bobby Lee, players deployed units on their left, right, and center, with forces held in reserve. Units revealed themselves advancing against and engaging the opponent’s positions, resolving combat, and taking ground. I can’t recall how I acquired the few decks of this game I possess (two of the Battle of Bull Run edition and two Gettysburg edition); possibly as a giveaway at a game industry trade show, maybe purchased at a convention or game store. They impressed me as a basic, card-driven means of refighting battles using historical units and some degree of tactical accuracy.

Bobby Lee: In 1993 Columbia Games also published a wargame covering the Civil War in Virginia (including Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, to include Antietam and Gettysburg). What seemed like a conventional “chit-and-board” wargame -- complete with a nicely-rendered map-board, detailed rules, and numerous pieces for various military units -- actually moved beyond those bounds by including two innovations Columbia Games incorporated in its many wargames: pieces on wooden blocks and a tactical battlefield combat to resolve engagements between forces meeting on the larger strategic map board. Each block represents a unit, with the usual wargaming stat information on a sticker; when stood on its side, however, the blocks enable a fog-of-war mechanic allowing a player to see his own forces but hiding the opponent’s armies from view until encountered in battle. The game combines both strategic action across the campaign theater map-board and more focused tactical engagement resolution on a separate skirmish board utilizing gameplay similar to that of Dixie (and probably derived from games like Bobby Lee). Columbia Games is funding a revision of Bobby Lee through Kickstarter; the campaign ends on November 11, 2013. This looks like a good game -- with tighter rules than the original -- for someone dabbling in the period. The $75 price tag seems quite daunting, considering many high-end Euro-style board games come in around $50. Still, the components look good, the map is huge, and I’m very interested in the fog-of-war mechanic with pieces using blocks.

These titles are the ones that come to mind or have formed my experience playing Civil War games, though I know more exist and I’m sure the Hobby Games readership has its own favorites and suggestions.

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Pulp Island-Hopping D&D
I’m not thrilled doing two nostalgia pieces in a row, but an idea from the Dark Corners of Role Playing blog (sister site to the fun and resourceful Swords & Stitchery blog) challenged me to consider my recent pulp roleplaying game material in a nostalgic framework; what if the island-hopping pulp adventures for Heroes of Rura-Tonga transposed themselves into a B/X Dungeons & Dragon Sea of Dread island exploration campaign?

Both blogs recently highlighted several of my free/pay what you want adventures for my two system-neutral pulp setting sourcebooks, Pulp Egypt and Heroes of Rura-Tonga. The latter -- heavily inspired by such 1980s television fare as Tales of the Gold Monkey and Black Sheep Squadron -- focuses on a crew of a Grumman G-21 “Goose” amphibious aircraft island hopping around the South Pacific, encountering strange phenomenon, exploring ancient ruins, and avoiding entanglements with forces from the nearby Japanese Mandate in the late 1930s. Most of the scenarios in the sourcebook and those featured for free/pay what you want at DriveThruRPG.com occur on islands near the heroes’ remote tropical base.

Among his many complimentary comments, Eric at Dark Corners of Role Playing wrote something about Gift of the Gods (one of the free/pay what you want scenarios) that hit that inspiration chime in my imagination:
“It could be with little work be done as an OD&D style game.”

So I started thinking about my own early experiences with Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons long ago, how many Heroes of Rura-Tonga scenarios involve the heroes travelling to and exploring islands, and it all started drawing me back to the Sea of Dread….

The Summer of D&D

The summer after I discovered Dungeons & Dragons was spent exploring the possibilities opened by the Expert Set and its rules for above-ground adventures beyond the dungeon-delving action of Basic D&D I’d explored that spring after getting the Basic Set as an Easter gift from my parents.

While the Grand Duchy of Karameikos opened up an entire kingdom for adventuring, the map of the known world included in module X1 The Isle of Dread -- much of which was covered with the vast Sea of Dread -- seemed far more enticing for adventure possibilities. As a fledgling gamemaster I quickly populated many of the small islands strew across the sea with isolated adventure seeds of my own; unfortunately the only one I can recall was an island with a settlement of centaurs on one half which was constantly at war with the cyclops lurking across the mountain chain that split the island. I’ll freely admit it wasn’t terribly imaginative and was awfully derivative; obviously my island of the centaurs and cyclops was inspired by such Ray Harryhausen fantasy fare as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (which I’ve discussed before). Nonetheless the neighborhood kids who played D&D with us had some fun chartering a ship, hiring a crew, and wandering from one island to the next seeking excitement, fortune, and glory.

The Sea of Dread also served as the setting for the wonderful solitaire adventure XSolo Lathan’s Gold, which used a combination of wandering monster charts and programmed adventure format to enable the player to explore various islands and accumulate enough gold to ransom his betrothed. I’d played the adventure several times in my younger days and enjoyed it for the vast range of encounters, dangers, and results it provided. (No doubt it fueled my interest in solitaire adventures.)

I’d never really considered returning to that potentially rich setting of the Sea of Dread until Dark Corners of Role Playing mentioned the Heroes of Rura-Tonga scenario Gift of the Gods might port to D&D.

Flying Across the Sea of Dread

Although Heroes of Rura-Tonga focuses on the crew of a seaplane flying among and exploring remote South Pacific islands, the general concept -- and elements of many of the scenarios I’ve produced for the setting -- could easily port to a fantastic D&D campaign centering on the Sea of Dread or a similar environment.

Give the heroes some independent means of exploring and traversing the vast expanses of an island-filed ocean: a ship of their own, a gnome-built dirigible, or even a magical skyship akin to those from the Spelljammer setting. Use the Empire of Thyatis to assume the Empire of Japan’s role as the main political antagonist -- its principle role in Heroes of Rura-Tonga -- with other kingdoms taking the place of political rivals and potential allies/patrons for the heroes. Populate the region with nuggets of self-contained scenarios focusing on single islands: the pirate base whose leader “kidnapped” a princess who secretly loves him (whose father hires the heroes to rescue her); a long-abandoned temple containing primeval horrors and hidden knowledge; a dwindling settlement of centaurs waging a desperate war against cyclops invading from over the island’s mountain range (okay, that’s still “meh”). Aside from wandering wilderness encounters on land and sea, the heroes must also steer  clear of the galleys of the Empire of Thyatis intent on conquering neighboring kingdoms, extending its reach across the sea, and seeking resources and magical items necessary for its plans of fantasy world domination.

Looking at the free/pay what you want scenarios I’ve offered for Heroes of Rura-Tonga, you could easily port major concepts to a D&D setting: heroes chase an adversary or seek supplies/treasure on an unstable floating island (the premise behind PBY SOS); an island settlement seemingly tore itself apart after discovering an antediluvian pit with something sinister lurking at the bottom (The Paranoia Pit); seeking an otherworldly treasure guarded by fierce tribesmen brings the heroes in contact with friendly spies and adversaries intent on hunting them down (Gift of the Gods). And that’s not even considering the five adventures in the setting sourcebook itself.

Eric’s comment from the Dark Corners of Role Playing blog inspired me to break down the setting definitions of these scenarios and re-imagine them -- and the Heroes of Rura-Tonga campaign -- in a completely different genre.

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