Saturday, May 7, 2016


I got some bad news earlier this week. Oh, it's no big deal for folks not from Seattle...and even for folks who are, it won't matter much unless you care about basketball (which I don't) or private investors dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy in the form of jobs, improvements, and infrastructure (that's me). So...well, a bit of a downer.

So to cheer myself up, I started surfing the blogs (as I'm wont to do), looking for something to lighten my mood. Specifically, I was interested in finding info about Paul Reiche's (and Erol Otus's) old FAE supplements The Necromican and Booty and the Beasts. What I found was Mr. Lizard's fantastic gaming blog, and I've spent much o this week reading his archives.

Ian "Lizard" Harac is a very smart, very funny guy who's been playing RPGs since the 70s...a looong time, in other words. A part-time game designer (his latest book has good reviews), he makes no bones about his affection for "gonzo" gaming...his pet project (years in the works) is a GW-style game with a bat-winged, laser-eyed bear for a logo (Earth Delta). He was heavily inspired in his formative years by the Arduin books of David Hargrave, and that's mostly what I've been reading: his series of posts reviewing, detailing and commenting on the three tomes that make up "the Arduin Cycle."

For me, a guy who was never exposed to Arduin (never owned, read, perused, or played in Hargrave's world), Lizard's articles have been nothing less than fascinating. And funny..I often find myself laughing out loud at his caustic observations. I'm a big fan of snark and sarcasm (there are worse failings to have...*drink*), and Lizard is an equal-opportunity offender, sniping at Old School, New School, and Indie gaming wherever his fancy takes him. At the same time, it's obvious the love and admiration he has for these crazy-works, books that have inspired his own gaming for I said, he makes no bones about it.

Not that he plays OD&D or S&W or any other retro-clone...Lizard is a Pathfinder guy these days, and the content he posts on his blog (other than reviews and reflections) is for that game, which he finds preferable with its well-defined limits and boundaries...even if he approaches it in a gonzo fashion. His stance is that "D&D" is more a genre than a system, a genre defined by its kitchen sink, gonzo attitude (not to mention dungeon delving and whatnot), and the system Pathfinder (or D20) provides (with its defined conditions and visual battle mats) gives him the freedom to allow his imagination free reign unencumbered by a system that can degenerate into argument over ill-defined rules.

In fact, Lizard is pretty explicit in his criticism of what he sees as some "revisionist history" among OSR folks. What he is quick to point out (and something I don't disagree with) is that, far from being enamored with a "rules light" or "streamlined" approach to role-playing, real "old school" play was typified by players (and DMs) wanting MORE rules...more systems, more mechanics, more definitions. More clarification of a game that was far from clear. The additional supplements to OD&D, the additional rules published in The Dragon, the larger page count of AD&D, the extra denigrated volumes of the Unearthed Arcana, etc. were all things clamored for by players...players dissatisfied with the Rules As Written.  In addition to Arduin, he points to the other fantasy RPGs that were published back in the day that (with the exception of Tunnels & Trolls) added more complex rules, skill systems, combat options, etc. to what was the basic D&D-ish premise...not necessarily trying to model realism but wanting to model more.

As I said, I don't disagree with him. If I like and champion B/X or other "basic" games these days, it's because they provide something closer to the happy medium I prefer in gaming. Certainly that wasn't how I operated in my youth, when I was a stickler for segments and speed factor and weapon vs. armor and minutia. A Dragon mag that provided new, specific "thieves' tools" (each with their own cost, skill affected, and individual bonus) and random tables for determining what was in the purse or pocket that the thief was picking...that kind of stuff was appreciated by myself and my players. New "content" for the game (whether from the UA or the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, etc.) was welcomed as new "canon" and quickly adapted into our game. It did head off arguments and provide guidelines when a young Dungeon Master (myself) needed some back-up "authority" for my rulings. It's no good saying the objective of a game is "having fun" when different people at the table have different concepts of fun.

Lizard's writing...both about Arduin and his remembrances of the hobby "back in the day"...has really got me thinking and considering my own game, reflecting on how much "gonzo" I want and what I feel are appropriate limits for, well, everything. Level advancement and allowable classes. Magic consumption and endgames. Adherences to genre consistency and allowing the imagination free reign. In my youth, my co-DM and I created all sorts of random tables and systems on par with what one finds in the Arduin books...but we only did so when there wasn't already an appropriate table or system available as "canon" for our games (which was often enough that we had many pages of such charts and tables). In my youth, I stole ideas willy-and-nilly from any fiction, film, or TV show that caught my imagination and while (I admit) I still do this somewhat, it's nowhere near the wild abandon with which I use to approach my "larceny." These days I'm more restrained (I'd like to say "refined" but that might be giving myself too much credit), and I wonder if my concepts suffer a bit from being too conservative and/or staid in my approach.

Well, regardless, it's gotten me thinking (though I have a lot of other things on my mind this week and most of it is NOT gamer related). And it is entertaining reading. If, like me, you had the misfortune to miss Arduin the first-time around, you might just want to take a gander at what Mr. Lizard has to say on the subject. His passion for the material is positively contagious.

"Gonzo" - when practical < awesome.


  1. Say what you want but I read Bruce Harrell's speech and cheer.

    Let all the Chris Hansens of the world build their own damn stadiums with their own damn money on their own damn properties. Maybe if they have to build three separate, tiny stadiums on small properties in three different parts of the city, local league sports will resurge.

    1. @ Alexis:

      In a day and age where sports team owners have a rep for holding cities hostage, forcing communities to foot huge bills to prevent a franchise from leaving, Hansen's proposal is unheard of...a request for a 200 million dollar bond loan, to be repaid by ticket sales, while he foots the bill for the remainder of the 800+ million dollar project (and the bond is less than that if the stadium if only basketball is enticed to the city). He DOES own the zoned for stadium use. It's a good deal, but it was mostly shot down by the local baseball team, who was afraid that gentrifying the neighborhood would suck away ticket purchasers from weekday games in a town where they've already had record low attendance due to more than a decade of subpar performance.

      And I write this as a lifelong football fan who voted AGAINST having a new football stadium built (even though it might mean my team left) just on general principal. Fortunately (unfortunately?) the state legislature ignored the majority vote of the populace and funded the new stadium on the government's dime.

      So normally, I'd agree with you. But at the moment it appears to be moot point.

  2. This post is great JB. Absolutely full of win. I couldn't agree more with the majority of the observations.

    It's a funny thing...when I started out in 1977 I found basic too basic, and eagerly awaited AD&D and more rules. When I got what I wanted, I was frustrated by how restrictive I felt the game had become.

    I never used speed factors. I never used encumbrance. I probably didn't use a good 10-15% of the rules in any given rule book I read.

    As time marched on, and games became crunchier, heaping on more and more complex rules, the percentage number of rules I excluded increased.

    I had to wait for the next round of systems to come out (Paranoia, Star Wars D6, Teenagers from Outer Space, Mekton) before I found what I didn't realize I'd really wanted. Not more rules, but more flexibility.

    As for the Gonzo, Kitchen Sink aspect of Old School gaming, I think that will have to be a post on to itself for my own blog.

    1. @ BA:

      I look forward to reading it. I know you're not a fan of the whole "class" thing, so I can see how the flexibility in later class-less systems (like Chaosium's BRP) would have an appeal.