Friday, December 30, 2016

Gross Revelry Over Spotted Stash!

Greetings, gamers!

Real life has been far too hectic for me to continue blogging on a regular basis at this time. I am happy to report that my wife has joined the fold, as she asked me to create a stable of PCs back in the summer. We have been gaming on and off ever since. It slowed down with the new school year and our son's hockey season, but is still active and (best of all!) discussed regularly.

In other news, some may know I have been looking for my Top Secret RPG box, known to have been stored at my parents', for a long while now. Well, I shared this with my Tabletop Role-Playing Games groups on Facebook and want to share here for those who played TRPGs but do not partake in the FB groups celebrating them:

At last, I have found the rest of my old TRPG collection at my parents' house, save a character sheet here or there that may be interspersed with papers belonging to my siblings. After a summer jaunt into their attic proved too hot, my older son and I were able to visit the attic again on 12/29 and take home what we could not previously find. Thanks to my mom for finding the boxes that eluded me before. The last of the collection features Dragonlance Module DL2: Dragons of Flame, Marvel Super Heroes RPG Advanced Set, a few Marvel SHRPG modules, books to the original MSHRPG box set that had been in the Advanced Set box, the map to the Lankhmar city supplement I found last time, AD&D PC Record Sheets, the Avalon Hill RPG "Powers & Perils," and -- the holy grail for me, as it was what I'd most searched for in the last 5+ trips -- the Top Secret RPG and various modules/supplements.

Lastly, I added in my Dungeon! board game picture because my older son (14) and I treated my younger son (3) to his first game of it this evening after dinner. He had a blast being a "Hero" and fighting monsters for treasure. Add to this the arrival of the El Raja Key DVD Archive in today's mail and all in all, it was a great Old School Gaming day.

Until next time, Happy Gaming!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gamer Requests Other Sensible Solutions

There are things I would like to see come into being in this life, but have no idea how to do it myself. So, if necessity is truly the mother of invention, what a mother she is....

Um, here are three inventions I want or have need for, but no means to produce:

1) Scrapple Parmigiana. I love scrapple. I love chicken & meatball parmigiana dishes and sandwiches. Scrapple seems like the next meat that should get the parm treatment.

2) Creamy Iced Tea. They make hot coffee, hot tea, and iced coffee with cream and sugar. Why does iced tea get no cream and sugar love? I make it myself this way and it is magical.

3) Family friendly web series of tabletop role-playing games. Critical Role is the king of web series featuring role-playing games being played amongst friends. The 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons' episode of "Community" (the TV series) was the best episode of its six season run. Acquisitions, Inc. and Harmonquest are also web series that feature tabletop RPGs (TRPGs). None of them are family friendly.

The first two are easy enough, so for the purposes of this blog, I will tackle the last.

If we want the OSR to grow... If we want to gain new players, some of whom do not have TRPG-playing parents... If we want to use the best technologies available to spread the word of how much fun and enthrallings TRPGS can be...

Then why do we have no family-friendly web series of TRPGs?

Critical Role is brilliant, funny, and exhibits much of what makes TRPGs fun. The same can be said of the Acquisitions, Inc. and Harmonquest series. What cannot be said is, "I would be willing to let my child between the ages of 4 and 12 watch this series."

I am a Dungeon Master/Castle Keeper/Game Master/RPG Referee. I have some acting and voice skills I would love to put to use (I have been slowly working on reels for eventual upload to Behind the Voice in the hopes of landing some roles). I have no way of making this happen anytime soon, but I do believe kids that have access to YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, and the like could watch a D&D-based or Star Wars RPG-based show that would be to TRPG Web Series as Kix are to cereals: "Kid Tested, Mother Approved."

That's all I am asking. Sites like those of The EscapistGeek Dad, and Geek Mom tell me I am probably not alone in finding such a show needed, enjoyable, and acceptable.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

G.R.O.S.S. - Gamer Resolves Ossification from Saturday and Sunday

Last week, I said I was planning on writing weekly. That appears to be more of a goal than a plan, at this time, but hopefully writing more will mean being able to write more frequently, in time.

This past week, I read the AD&D Monster Manual, taking notes in an old notebook that I had unearthed on one of my gaming shelves. I was pleased to find inside my old brainstorming notes and clarifications from my time writing on the Yggsburgh Rivergate district project. (That project being what was supposed be one of several districts fleshed out for The Free Town of Yggsburgh book from Troll Lord Games, leading up to the eventual release of “Castle Zagyg,” which is E. Gary Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk in everything but name.)
Anyway, on Friday night, I became drowsy after making it about halfway through my article, so I hit the hay in mid-stream. I told myself I would finish the article on Saturday before our planned family day-trip out to Lancaster County, PA. That did not happen, as I found myself stuck. So, I told myself I would plug away at it when we got home Saturday night. Instead, I found myself in the same spot as Saturday morning. Sunday became my new target date to finish, either before or after my brother-in-law and his wife came over for some tabletop gaming. More mental paralysis visited instead. Perhaps reeling off a Monster Manual glossary explaining statistics and characteristics was a mistake? So, I set it aside and decided to start afresh today.
Saturday was our first summer Saturday where we had nothing planned for several weeks in advance, so we decided at the end of June that July 16th would be “the day” we take a trip somewhere. The destination would depend upon where the weather was nice. Our first choice was Lancaster County and it worked out nicely. Not only have I enjoyed visiting many sites in the area over my 40+ years, there is an awesome gaming store nearby in New Holland, PA. More on that soon….
My wife and I picked The Amish House and Farm to visit, as it would be both educational and fun for all of us. Our daughter, 1, is too young to fully appreciate the tour, but we knew she would like seeing the animals and hearing the sounds they make. Our younger son, 3, is right in the wheelhouse of enjoying the farm portion as well as the playground. Our older son, 13, would get an educational presentation in the Amish House as well as the fun of sharing in his siblings’ fun outside. My wife, a history teacher by trade, and I have long enjoyed visiting places like this together. Our 11:45 AM tour of the house featured a lesson on the daily life of the Amish people, their history, their adapting to America, their own tradition keeping, and their future in the US, Canada, and portions of South America. The farm followed and we did what we could to beat the 95ยบ heat. We kept the youngsters well-watered, coated with sunblock, and in the shade as often as possible. They enjoyed seeing the horse-drawn carriage, the plastic cow you could “milk” for picture opportunities, and the turkeys, pea fowl, sheep, donkeys, alpacas, and (especially) goats with their youngster bounding around energetically.
We left the farm just before 2 and headed to the car for a late lunch trek. We settled on Kitchen Kettle Village and dined at the Cafe there. The air conditioning felt so delightful as the heat had been quite palpable once again as we exited the car. After eating lunch, the two youngest were ready for naps, so we decided not to shop further but instead head to the aforementioned gaming store in New Holland.
Six Feet Under Games has a vast selection for tabletop games, whether role-playing, card, board, dice, or anything else. The games were fairly priced in most cases -- but I was pleasantly surprised at the price of the older RPG works in stock. I mean, I found games and accessories for games that I had never seen except in Dragon advertisements growing up: GURPS, Runequest, Mayfair Role Aids for AD&D, Paranoia, and more that escape me 24+ hours later. I found a copy of Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG, TSR’s AD&D adventure module OP1: Tales of the Outer Planes, and Palladium’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness (Revised Edition)” -- all for less than what I had seen when I had priced each of them online(!).
The grognard in me was happy with these findings and purchased them. The dad in me was pleased when my older son picked out a set of Runic dice he wanted from Q Workshop. My wife and I were able to purchase a cool kids’ game, “My First Orchard” from Haba Games, for our younger son to play -- and our daughter could play it, in time. With the knowledge that my recently-received copy of “Hero Kids RPG” sat at home awaiting my younger son to get a little older, I saw in the future “The Plan” to get our younger two into RPGs like our oldest son already is. This would hopefully be followed by “The Other and Best Plan” where my wife caves and decides to try role-playing games with the rest of us, at long last.
Anyway, the staff at the store were friendly and helpful, as they had been the two prior times I visited -- especially (this time) to those who were running Magic: The Gathering and other games at the tables. I would guess there were about 40 players inside, most playing Magic, but I was surprised to see a GURPS game going on. I say surprised only because I do not have much experience with it and have never seen it played. I wanted to watch it, but I am actually quite shy when first meeting folks and I had my daughter in my arms so as to prevent her from causing havoc or getting hurt because of her halfling-like size. She was excited to see the foam dice like what we have at home and was pleasantly noisy pointing them out. Each time we visit Lancaster County, I now make it a point to stop at Six Feet Under Games.
When we arrived home, my wife played some “My First Orchard” with our son before he went to bed while our older son and I went over the rules to the new but not-yet-played card game, The Red Dragon Inn. I bought the original set and set 5: The Character Trove because I loved the idea of one set being a storage case as well as an add-on. We also needed more than the 4 original characters to play because we would have 5 players on Sunday. After the youngest two were in bed, the three of us remaining played one hilarious and fun game of The Red Dragon Inn. This just might be my new favorite game (aside from role-playing games, of course). My older son won the game. It was so delightful to play and see him win.
On Sunday, my brother-in-law and his wife came over for some gaming. We started off with a 5-player game of Red Dragon Inn (I won -- through sheer luck!). Our guests concurred that the game is awesome. Next, we all played a game of Castle Panic (with two add-ons, apparently). This game, *we* had never played before, so our guests showed us how to play. It was a cooperative loss as the monsters defeated us despite our wise counsel and resolute cooperation against the evil tide. Heh. The gaming day wrapped up with my sister-in-law playing “My First Orchard” with our younger son upon his waking from his nap while the rest of us played “Alien Dice.” This was a neat game where the object is to collect cows, humans, and chickens for points, avoiding tanks from the defending human race. It was easy to learn and quite enjoyable. My brother-in-law won that one while my younger son and sister-in-law were successful in beating the raven to the fruit to win the game of "My First Orchard.”
So, my weekly blog changed course, but I think that the Lancaster County visit will help inspire my RPGs in future with different examples of interaction and culture that I can use in my own DM writing. The gaming material I purchased will prove a fun read (as RPG books always do for me). Finally, an FLGS (“Friendly Local Gaming Store”) that is just too far away for us to be considered regular customers or to dive into games there shows it is still the wonderful and friendly store it was during my two earlier stops in. Lastly, I scored some great gaming reads that I plan on consuming soon!

Happy gaming,

P.S. For those interested, here I am providing links to the places we visited, should you have opportunity to visit yourselves:
  1. Six Feet Under Games:
  2. Kitchen Kettle Village:
  3. The Amish Farm and House:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Further Introduction - Gross' Recall Of Something Serious

Welcome back, readers!

As my Original School gaming is remembered, I have been reaching out to my fellow gamers, "old" and new alike, in the hopes of recording their characters' names so that I might add them to my World of Greyhawk campaigns. As much fun as having the likes of Mordenkainen, Tenser, Melf, and Robilar showing up in my Greyhawk games could be, being the sentimental guy I am, I like giving a nod to those who shaped my gaming persona. Thus, I privately asked some friends with whom I have gamed or talked gaming to lend me their old PCs' names or a substitute of they preferred not to share. I am contacting folks little by little, so I don't overwhelm myself trying to remember whom I have sent requests. If you are interested in allowing your PCs of old to be added to my game, feel free to say so in the comments below! If I know you but you have not yet been asked, be assured I plan to do that in the future.

I have two eras of gaming history. I hope to only ever have two. The first was that to which I alluded in my last blog, which lasted from 1980 - 1990, when I went off to college. After a 10-year gaming hiatus from summer 1990 through summer 2000 , my brother and I resumed gaming with the advent of the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons (AKA 3e). That coincided with my brother's return to civilian life after 8 years of service in the US Marine Corps. He called and asked me about the new game. I had heard about it and checked it out at the (now-defunct) gaming store at the Deptford Mall. I purchased a pair of Players Handbooks and we were gaming again. Instead of his adventuring solo, my brother and I brought our sister and my first wife into the hobby.

We had a fun time,  at first, as we all learned the new iteration of D&D. My brother & I tried to align "how we played back then" with the new game. The original party consisted of a monk (my brother), wizard (my first wife), sorcerer (my sister), and an NPC barbarian. When the monk recklessly threw himself into battle against some ogres and perished before the remainder of the party could join the melee, the dynamics of the campaign changed. My brother was happy to have tried a monk but relieved to change tack. His new character choice was a dwarven fighter. It was decided by my sister that the wizard was a better spellcaster than the sorcerer and her PC was redundant. So, she said her PC's mother had turned ill and the sorcerer had to retire from adventuring. She was replaced by my sister's halfling thief ("rogue" in Third Edition, but too often spelled "rouge"). Finally, the NPC barbarian, good friend of the monk, took news of his friend's death back to their native lands in the West (Bissel). He was replaced by an NPC cleric. I provided the name for this worthy, Zudrak, and that has been my screen name on almost all gaming fora ever since. My first wife's wizard was joined by these three and adventuring resumed.

As the campaign went on and the PCs increased in level (much faster than I remembered in AD&D, but most of our books were packed away in our parents' attic). The adventures became less and less fun to prepare as the mechanics of the game compounded as the PCs leveled up. It was at this time 3.5 Edition came out and we all pitched in to buy the newer books, hoping it was the answer to fixing the DM's malaise. Instead, the game continued on as before, only I was getting burnt out.

I ended up visiting EN World and asking questions of Col_Pladoh there. Col_Pladoh was the screen name used by none other than E. Gary Gygax. I had emailed Gary several years prior about the Lejendary Adventure game. I mentioned that when I asked him about the current state of gaming and the issues I was having with the current version of D&D. Gary -- along with gideon_thorne, AKA Peter Bradley, artist for Troll Lord Games (TLG) -- steered me towards the Castles & Crusades game published by TLG. I ordered the Player's Handbook that day and soon was treated to a refreshing take on the d20 system, reconfigured for more of an "Old School" feel and a lot less number-crunching. It put  the rules and rulings back in the hands of the game referee (Castle Keeper/CK in C&C, Dungeon Master/DM in D&D, Game Master/GM just about everywhere else except for judge, administrator, and referee).

I did not get to play the new game for some time, though, as my first wife fell ill around the time the book arrived. She was diagnosed with CUP (Cancer of an Unknown Primary) in March 2005, after months of thinking she had something else. Eventually, after trying and then changing oncologists, she felt well enough to game again in summer 2006. She only made it to one game, felt that the game was enjoyable enough for her liking, but never was able to sit long enough to play again. Mary Gross passed away in May 2007.

(I am loathe to turn the blog this way, because my faith and her faith are/were such that we believe we will be reunited one day in Heaven as brother and sister in Christ, but I did not want to simply skim over the time in my blog, either.)

Our son, 4-1/2 when his mom died, needed some help learning his letters in time for his first school year, 2007-08. I ended up creating a game using C&C and wooden blocks to help him. In time, he would play, too, and soon my sister, her boyfriend, my brother- and sister-in-law, and my first wife's mom were playing C&C by 2008. It was a way to all get together and heal together. My brother found it difficult to play, but he chipped in as a sort of caterer. The man can cook!

My mom introduced me to my wife and I remarried in June 2010. Circumstances and availability have changed the gaming groups to those I mentioned in the last blog. As time has gone on, though, and as I have had time to reread the original Advanced D&D Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Masters Guide, my preferences have begun to regress to those I last had in 1990: a house-ruled Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game at my table. The difference being that it is totally influenced by my experience with 3e/3.5e (mostly in what I do not want to do) and Castles & Crusades (in what I want to do via the borrowed ascending Armor Class from 3e and the saving throws from C&C's "SIEGE Engine" [or "SEIGE Engine," as it is too often (mis)spelled]). My hope is that, one day, I will succeed in convincing my wife to try tabletop role-playing games with me. She has played console video games like Fallout (3, New Vegas, 4) and The Elder Scrolls (Oblivion, Skyrim) as well as the very cool Munchkin card game -- so that's a start!

Currently, I am reading my AD&D books in the order they were released while taking notes. I am doing this for two reasons. The first reason is to reacquaint myself with the rules, but this time in the way the original fans of AD&D had to learn them: Monster Manual first! The second reason is in honor of the 10th Anniversary of OSRIC (Old School Reference and Index Compilation). I want to go over the OSRIC book after the three AD&D books and suss out where they differ. It's an exercise in curiosity, mainly, but maybe it will help others, too.

I plan on writing blogs weekly, as that seems to be the frequency at which I am able to write, at the present. In the coming blogs, I hope to touch on my findings of reading the AD&D books, my thoughts on Groo the Wanderer and Snarfquest (from Dragon magazine and beyond), and my current gaming campaigns.

Until next time...

Happy gaming,

Friday, July 1, 2016

G.R.O.S.S. - Gamers Realizing Original School Success


Hail and well met, Internet traveler!

My name is Michael Gross. Welcome to my G.R.O.S.S. blog. As a fan of both puns and acronyms, I am throwing my Gross hat into the blogosphere and hoping it catches wind. Or people's attention.

I have created this blog to talk about Original School Role-playing Gaming, both in general and specific to The World of Greyhawk, as written by E. Gary Gygax, in both its 1980 Folio and 1983 Boxed Set forms. Therefore most of my experience & enjoyment from these games fit squarely in the hole pegged as "OSR," what is known as Old School Role-playing. (Note that the R in OSR has been rendered to mean Renaissance, Reference, Retro(active), Role-playing, and many other R words.)

I prefer the term, "Original School" to "Old School," because some worthies playing role-playing games never stopped playing the games that were released prior to the year 2000. 2000 was the year that the company Wizards of the Coast, in its pre-Hasbro ownership days, released the Third Edition of the world's most popular role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

Many folks did not hop aboard the new iteration of the game, preferring to play Original D&D as created by Dave Arneson and E. Gary Gygax (1974), the 1977 D&D Basic Set with the rules revised by Dr. J. Eric Holmes, the 1977-1979 Advanced D&D rules by Gygax, the 1981 D&D Basic & Expert Sets revised by Tom Moldvay, Steve Marsh, & David 'Zeb' Cook; the 1983 D&D Sets revised by Frank Mentzer, the 1989 Second Edition of AD&D, the 1991 D&D "Black Box" and Rules Cyclopedia versions of the original game, and/or the revised Second Edition of AD&D released in 1995. All of these were released by the company, TSR, Inc. (Tactical Studies Rules).

I am also a fan of the Groo the Wanderer comics by Sergio Aragones (along with Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai, Tom Luth, and others). It is my hope to have fun and learn while discussing role-playing games, classic Greyhawk, and Groo. Like Groo, I expect to frequently err.

I have long enjoyed playing in and talking about The World of Greyhawk, whose planet is called Oerth. Oerth can be pronounced however one likes, to make it one's own. Gygax, its creator and co-creator of role-playing games with the production of the original Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game in 1974, liked to pronounce it, "Oith." He felt that it annoys those who take fantasy worlds too seriously. I prefer the two-syllable pronunciation, "O-erth," myself (as it was pronounced in the Atari PC game, "The Temple of Elemental Evil"), but I appreciate Gary's humor.

I currently have several World of Greyhawk campaigns going (albeit sporadically, as time allows) and one on hiatus. The one on hiatus is the oldest and longest. It is taking place on the border of The Pomarj and The Principality of Ulek, where I have set The Keep on the Borderlands as well as the A series of modules from Troll Lord Games (TLG) -- namely, modules A1 - A4. Coincidentally, these are not all that far from the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) "A series" of modules from TSR since they occur in The Pomarj, as well. The next-oldest campaign takes place beyond the Flanaess, far to the west of The Sea of Dust, where I have attached The Haunted Highlands campaign setting authored by Casey Christofferson and produced by TLG. Oddly, the players wanted to have their PCs travel east to pick up where their other PCs left off, so the last session of this campaign featured a portal that led to the Pomarj/Ulek borderlands. Finally, the most recently-started group campaign began this past autumn, in November 2015. It is set on Lendore Isle of The Spindrift Isles. It features the classic "L series" of TSR modules for AD&D. The most recent solo campaign is set in Idee. I have this set up so my son and I can play at a moment's notice but also I am running it strictly in AD&D so I can brush up on the game I had to stop playing when life changed for me upon graduating high school in 1990.

I have set my fantasy RPG games in Greyhawk more than in any other setting. It is the setting that caught my eye when it was released in its box set form in 1983 and even prior to that as players & DMs were given glimpses of it in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and various AD&D adventure modules. (It still amuses me that I first saw it in a card store, of all places, as the store sold TSR modules and role-playing games from an end-cap display. They never carried a lot, but they had the newest modules out, without fail, until the mid-to-late 80s.)

Upon receiving the 1983 box set not long after its release, I dove into the Glossography and Guide books while keeping the map -- composed of two HUGE pieces -- unfolded and at the ready for my referencing on my bedroom floor. I became enamored of the Sheldomar Valley, Keoland, the Ulek states, and of course The Free City of Greyhawk. Together with the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, the box set inspired me to run adventures and to long to be an adventurer on Oerth. I had already been doing both in our unnamed hodgepodge world of adventures since 1980 (as I did not know about the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio until several years later), but giving the adventures of the past, present, and future a common ground with a storied past made them all the more entertaining.

I look forward to sharing more soon! If you are also an RPG, AD&D, and/or Greyhawk fan, I will see how we can interlink pages/blogs since I am quite new to blogging.

Happy gaming,