I thought it would be fun to interview several of your favorite old-school game bloggers, so here's a Round Table with James M. of Grognardia, James R. of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Thomas of Original Edition Fantasy, Zak of Playing D&D with Porn Stars, and Michael of Chicago Wiz's RPG Blog.
BtBG: Introduce yourself and your blog, and what its about.
James M: I'm James Maliszewski and I write a blog entitled Grognardia, which is about old school roleplaying games, with a special focus on those published prior to 1984 or thereabouts. I also spend a lot of time examining the literary inspirations of the early hobby.
James R: My name is James Edward Raggi IV and I write the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog. The focus of the LotFP blog is promoting the publishing work I do (under the name Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and put forth my views on various game-related things. I have this two-headed goal with this gaming stuff - to be able to say what I feel without compromise and get people's pulses pounding. This is imagination! Fire up! Get excited! Go! Go! Go! Of course some people consider that abrasive, but I'm OK with being human sandpaper.
Thomas: Thomas Denmark, artist and game designer. I've illustrated for the top publishers in the game industry: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, World of Warcraft. And I've designed games (www.dungeoneer.net). But my heart is with old-school RPGs. Original Edition Fantasy is a place where I can express my admiration for pre-80's RPGs (and Original D&D in particular).
Zak: Well it (the blog) says "I'm Zak, I live in Hollywood. Most of the people I know in LA I know from work - so they're porn stars and strippers. So that's who I play D&D with." Which is all true. If I had to describe the blog itself, I'd say its a little more often about DMing players who aren't D&D veterans than, say, Grognardia.
Michael: Hi, I'm Michael and I'm a father, granddad, Classic D&D gamer, miniatures painter, ex-amateur stock-car-racer, geek guy. My blog is pretty much a reflection of the gaming I do - centered around OD&D, AD&D, my miniatures hobby, my ongoing solo OD&D campaign with my wife, my ongoing AD&D campaign with a group of people in the Chicagoland area and other stuff that my d30 tells me to write about.
BtBG: Briefly describe the first time you were introduced to RPGs.
James M: In the summer of 1979, D&D was all over the news thanks to its supposed role in the disappearance of a college student, James Dallas Egbert III. My father was very interested in this "strange game" and so my mother bought him a copy of the Holmes-edited Basic Set to look at. As it turned out, my father never even opened the box and it sat in a hall closet until shortly after Christmas that year. That's when I returned home from a friend's house, who'd gotten the boardgame Dungeon!. I cracked it open and tried to make sense of its rules. It took some time (and some instruction from a friend's older brother) but I eventually wrapped my mind around it and have been playing RPGs ever since.
James R: My mother for some reason wanted to paint minis. Being a single mother of two, i think she didn't feel justified starting a new expensive and time-consuming hobby. I already like things like Savage Sword of Conan (I was eight years old, somewhere around there), and she heard about this D&D thing, so we went to the hobby shop and we got some figures and endless quest books.
No clue that this wasn't D&D, no idea what the figure were for in these game books. I got a couple of modules (Keep on the Borderlands and Village of Hommlett, since they were low level!) at my elementary school book fair(!), but still had no rules and no clue. I was gathering friends, setting the Caves of Chaos map out and moving pieces around like board game ("Damn these spaces are too small for normal playing pieces!").
I got the Mentzer Basic box soon after, and oh boy did that clear some things up.
And then soon after my mother found out about D&D causing suicide and blah blah blah, so she made me watch Monsters and Mazes like it was a documentary.
Damn you Tom Hanks!
Thomas: It was in math class when I was in junior high school in 1982. The kid who sat in front of me brought the original DMs Guide to class every day and he let me look at it. It, quite literally, changed my world. I immediately asked my mom to get me "D&D", I got the red box, then Fiend Folio, Deities & Demigods, DMs Guide, and Player's Handbook - in that order. Yeah, a weird order to get them in, but I suspect most people's introduction to D&D was similarly erratic.
Zak: It was birthday. It was before my 12th birthday and my dad gave me this book that was for people who were "12 & up". I was flatterd.
It was Unearthed Arcana, though, so it took a little back-engineering to figure out what the hell the book was.
Michael: I bought the Holmes Basic box set from either Rinks (a long defunct discount store - competed with KMart) or from KMart and was instantly transported to a world that I never wanted to leave. From there, I bought the AD&D core books (or 5 finger discounted in the case of the DMG) and my journey was complete. I stayed with D&D till the mid80s when I started playing Battletech/Mechwarrior.
BtBG: You're all GM's; why? No one else wants to, you like the creative outlet and/or the power;)? Do you think GMing so much affects how you play characters on those rare occasions you get to?
James M: I'm usually the GM because, yes, it's a role most other people don't like to take up, but also because I enjoy creating a world and situations and then turning players loose on them to see what they'll do. There's nothing quite else like it. I'm not sure that being a GM has had a huge impact on my playing style, although I do have a tendency to play quirky and/or humorous characters, perhaps because it's something I wish I saw more of from my own players.
James R: I was the first person I knew to get into gaming, and within my own age group growing up didn’t really trust the others to provide good setting/adventure environments (not that I did at that age either, but…). I was the one recruiting and trying to play. I had some good experiences with older GMs in those days though.
Thomas: Interesting, as much as I love playing I find that I end up being DM most of the time because few others want the job. I can understand, it is a lot of work, but I love the ability to create - and control worlds. Though the DM only has so much control because I find players tend to do whatever they want despite a DM's best laid plans. It is this collaborative experience that makes it so rewarding.
Zak: I hate power. Or, more accurately, I hate responsibility. I try to pawn off GM duties at every opportunity. But my friends want to play and since most of them are from the West Coast, they're too flakey to organize it themselves and I, being originally a New Yorker, pick up the slack.
As for how I play my characters, I think it makes me a little more relaxed about them, since I can kind of see the scenario from both sides. I think I'm a little more willing to
let it go when they fuck up or die.
Michael: I like creating the worlds and presenting them to the players and discovering it with them. I also have not found anyone who GM's the way I like worlds to be presented/ran. So I do it myself. :) I'm sure it does affect me to some degree, but I try to forget about being a GM and just do what the little voices in my head tell me my character should do. :D
BtBG: Youre off to a desert island – what’s the one RPG book you’d bring and why?
James M: Well, if I'm going to be on that island alone, I'd definitely bring the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.
No matter how many times I read it, I always find something new. If I'm not going to be alone, I'd probably bring The Traveller Book, because that single volume contains everything you'd need to play for a lifetime.
James R: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is a box with multiple books, but since it’s one package, so it counts.
Or if it doesn’t… hmmm… HERO System 5th Edition.
Thomas: D&D Cyclopedia. It is the most complete D&D RPG TSR ever made. Though I think the text is tremendously tedious and too often redundant, it is still the best RPG book written. I dream about someday writing (and illustrating) it's equivalent for the "OSR".
Zak: Warhammer, Realms of Chaos, The Lost And The Damned. Because the art is sublime and it will soothe my troubled soul. Though maybe it'd be smarter to bring one of those Top Secret or Cthulhu supplements with Morse code in them. Be Romantic or be Rational? Always a tough call...
Michael: Rules Cyclopedia - although it has a lot of Moldvay'isms and Cook'isms, it is still the best presentation of a complete Classic D&D game. Now if I were allowed to bring 4 books.... the 3 core AD&D/1e books and Holmes.
BtBG: How about the one non-RPG book?
James M: That's harder to answer, because I don't have a hands-down favorite book. For now, though, let's just say I'd bring along my one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings, since Tolkien's masterpiece is a book that repays repeated readings.
James R: Assuming “for entertainment purposes” and not a smart-ass survival guide choice …
The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe. The beautiful leather-bound gilded edition I have!
Thomas: Dune. Best sci-fi book ever written. Though if I was asked for one author's libary I'd say Robert Heinlein's (except Number of the Beast) he's my favorite.
Zak: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow. Though ever since I drew every page of it I get kind of tired of it quicker. Maybe "The Information" by Martin Amis. Or, y'know, the SAS Island Survival Guide.
Michael: Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival by Tom Brown, Brandt Morgan
BtBG: The one album?
James M: No idea. I'm not a huge lover of music, popular or otherwise.
James R: I think I’d rather have none than just one.
But because dodging questions is crap, I’ll say Iron Maiden’s Live After Death – with the bonus tracks. It’s not my favorite album, but it’s long, has good songs on it and a lot of variety, and when I get utterly sick of the sound of it I haven’t ruined any of my favorite bands.
Thomas: Black Sabbath: Sabotage, the first four Black Sabbath albums are Ozzy's voice at his best, and Sabotage, their 4th album, represents their best song writing.
Zak: Eyehategod "Take As Needed For Pain". You'll want something loud so passing helicopters can hear you down there.
Michael: Ugh - you have me there. I can't choose one. One artist/band would be Led Zeppelin - so I'd probably go with a compilation album of their best stuff -- although some of the more non-commercial, bluesey stuff is what I like best.
BtBG: You've all been involved in DIY publications - how do you think your blogging helps get your stuff out there? Do you think self-publication on the same scale would have been an option 10 or 20 years ago?
James M: I see blogging as occupying the same niche that fanzines used to back in the day. They're a great way to share the fruits of your ongoing gaming with others -- and quicker, easier, and cheaper than any of the alternatives available in the past.
James R: The blog helps sell the work (and thus helps the next project be biggerbetterfancier), but it doesn’t really much affect putting the work together in the first place.
I think the history of the hobby is self-publishing. TSR, Palladium, White Wolf, GDW, etc., those were all at least partially creator owned… And their scale was much larger. So yes, it would have been an option.
Thomas: Self-publication has certainly become much easier. The most startling development is the popularity of PDF's. I think self-publishing is the present and future of the RPG "industry". I don't know if blogging helps or hurts because I haven't really published anything since I started my blog, but I intend to soon.
Zak: Well I never self-published, but yeah, obviously, blogging and the internet and cheap graphics programs and printers make all this stuff easier.
My friends who do 'zines used to have to pound the pavement much harder.
Michael: I think it's a mixed bag. It certainly gets the word out to the 137(squared) of us, but it's a closed loop. I think self-publication is probably more today only because of the Internet, but I also think that it's no less/more vibrant compared to the fanzines, gaming clubs and local gamer scenes that have been around. It's far easier to put your stuff out there, but it's also harder to stand out and be noticed.
BtBG: What’s your favorite blog or gaming site right now and why?
James M: I'm not sure I have a single favorite, but I will say that I regularly find myself visiting both Cyclopeatran and The Underdark Gazette, as they both do a better job than anyone of keeping up to date listings of old school blogs and news.
James R: Does Oglaf count as a gaming site?
Thomas: James over at Grognardia has really mastered the OSR blogosphere. The quality and quantity of his posts really surpasses anything else out there.
Zak: Jeff's Gameblog, always. He's so good at being a human being. He reminds me of in Twin Peaks when Agent Cooper gets shot and he's lying there talking into his tape recorder "I wish I had been nicer to people"... Always trying to be better, that guy.
Michael: I visit Troll & Flame's site daily because he has one of the best blogrolls to see what's going on. I have this weird thing that I don't like to fill up my reader with blogs, but I like "overviews" in case I find something interesting to read elsewhere.
My favorite forum continues to be the OD&D Forum - I have a game going there, I'm participating in two games there as a player.
BtBG: What’s your favorite monster and why?
James M: I'm a big fan of the undead in all their forms, particularly intelligent or cunning sorts like ghouls, wraiths, and liches. I suspect my fondness for them comes from my own fascination with death and morbid topics. Plus, I enjoy being frightened as much as the next guy and there's something undeniably frightening about the walking dead.
James R: Man.
Jules Lavesque, Iri-Khan, the Knights of Science, Garvin Richrom, Archibald Kohler, the Duvan’Ku, if you could demi-humans as “people” then there’s the elves of Weird New World and Mâr-Rune. I just think having something identifiable as a “big bad” makes the whole thing more intense than a “slay the monster” kind of thing.
But if you’d like a traditional monster, I’ll pick the Doppelganger (or the customized variation I’ve been using lately). It’s so great for screwing around with the players.
Thomas: The Beholder is one of the best original monsters Gary Gygax ever invented, and he's invented quite a few. Gary's imagination really blows me away - you have to look at the context, before him there were no RPG's. Or the Drow: but I don't think of Drow as a monster so much as a playable character race, though strictly as a monster they are certainly Gary's greatest "monster" invention.
Zak: Flail Snail. Because at first it's silly but really it's disturbing and sublime and weeeeeeird.
Michael: Kobolds. Why? One name... Tucker. 'nuff said.
BtBG: Tell us about the funniest (or scariest) thing that’s ever happened at your game table recently.
James M: I think the funniest thing to happen around my table recently were the extended interactions between the player characters and the various Animal Kings who have set up shop in the central city-state of my Dwimmermount campaign world. The Cat King, for example, is arrogant and lazy and is surrounded by cages filled with mice his minions have captured. He treats humans as his inferiors and the characters needed to tread lightly to gain his help. The Rat Boss, on the other hand, was likely a Hollywood mafioso, right down to the “New Yawk” accent and a coterie of toadies with nicknames like “Specs” and “Johnny.” We had a lot of fun during the sessions involving these guys.
James R: I’ll preface this by saying I really don’t have a lot of sex in my games, because especially here in Finland these perverts have no problem role-playing out (in detail!) a sex scene while six or seven other players are looking on, bored that the focus isn’t on their characters. It gets awkward. Mostly for me.
Recently I was running games for some younger people (though not kids… damn I’m getting old), and I threw in a bit where an inn was run by an old wrinkly woman – 70, 80 years old. And she was horny and was after one of the PCs.
I thought it would be a comedy ha-ha bit where the player went “ooh, gross, old woman, RUN!” but I should remember to never underestimate the desire for players to get their characters laid. My comedy bit was ruined when he went for it. (plus he saved the money for a room that night… players… *sigh*)
We didn’t role-play it out, but I then tell all the other players that all night long they hear screaming coming from the end of the hall. “YES! MORE! OH YES! I LOVE ADVENTURERS! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
We did this at an in-store game, mind you. Our table erupted in laughter there, and I think some of the Warhammer-playing people at the other tables had a momentary interruption as sexual comedy interrupted their war…
Anyway, next morning, the party gathers in the common room of the inn, and all the other players are looking at this other guy really weird…
Thomas: I was running an adventure from Dungeon magazine #73 called Quoitine Quest. There is an undead creature that mistakes the adventurers for her "children". I tried to invent a unique voice for her, and somehow this terrifying shriek that came out of my vocal cords - I have no idea how - freaked the players (and myself) out! The player's loved it, and it was definitely the scariest thing at my gaming table.
Zak: Kimberly Kane got stung by a jellyfish man--so she's out for 1 to 4 rounds. And apparently science tells us that the ammonia in urine
counteracts the poison in a jellyfish sting, so Kimberly keeps saying...ok, well I'm sure you can figure out the rest from there.
Michael: There is always laughter at the table, and I always try to award a "Line of the Game" to someone who comes up with a funny line.
To be continued...
To be continued...