Thursday, January 16, 2020

Out of the Dungeon

This post might ruffle some feathers. I'm okay with that.

Once upon a time, someone wrote (in reference to Dungeons & Dragons):

We don't explore character; we explore dungeons.

And that is as apt a way of describing B/X-style play as I've seen, at least in relation to (most) post-1980s gaming. As I've described before, the character in B/X is simply one's avatar for exploration; it is the vehicle used to facilitate play. Describing and developing character can be a form of "play" in RPGs (see both late edition D&D and many, many other games as examples), but it isn't in B/X and, for my money, isn't a very satisfying form of play even in other RPGs. And I say that as a person who played a lot of games like Ars Magica and Vampire, etc. back in the day.

Why isn't it "very satisfying" as play? Because the actual play of the game, the interaction with other X factors (GM, fellow players, random chance) is the place where the unexpected and magical happens. It is in reacting to the unexpected that we are truly challenged. Building a character by selecting from a list of options and set values (whether at the beginning of chargen or over 20 levels of development) isn't a "challenge;" it is but a chore, one that some can accomplish with more aplomb and enjoyment than others. And once the chore is accomplished, what are you left with?

For myself, I prefer to deemphasize the chore of character creation and instead emphasize actual play, where the actual challenge lies. Hence, exploring dungeons over exploring character.

And yet, there comes a point at which exploring dungeons ceases to satisfy as well. A point at which, no matter how competent the DM, no matter how exciting the adventure, no matter how rip-roaring the player interaction, there is a feeling of "what are we doing here?" There comes a point when ennui sets in and you wonder why your adventurer (you, in your mind's eye) is doing down in this dank hole of a labyrinth. A point at which satisfaction with the game play requires further context beyond some mission given to you by a mysterious wizard or stodgy duke.

For me, this is the point at which Advanced Dungeons & Dragons begins. In basic D&D, we explore dungeons; in advanced D&D we explore worlds.

For those seeking context and meaning (such as it is) to their fantasy adventure game, Advanced D&D (yes, literally: AD&D, first edition) is the proper jumping off point for creating a fantasy world. Despite a perception of the game as some sort of "generic fantasy RPG," I've long felt that AD&D implies a strangely specific setting. Not explicitly, mind you, but it's there nonetheless. You find it in the class systems, in the appendices, in the original monsters created for the game, in the alignment system and demihuman relationship tables. It's there: a whole strange world waiting to be interpreted by the DM and explored by the players. And it's about something more than just slaying goblins and hoisting sacks of loot.

Yes, there's a world there...one that you won't find in B/X or OD&D. B/X tells you to draw a map...it even provides you with one (and OD&D does much the same by instructing you to use the Outdoor Survival game board).  But a map by itself is nothing: just a random scattering of castles and cities, spread over a random geography, perhaps with a few proper names like Luln or Specularum.

AD&D gives you glimpses of what is going on in the world itself: circles of druidic hierarchy, bardic colleges, guilds of assassins and warrior monks. A manticore is just a manticore, surely...but why do dark elves live underground and why do they worship a spider goddess? Dwarves and elves are well known creatures from fairy tales, but why do they have antipathy for one another? And why exactly do rangers lose all their special abilities if they fail to act contrary to a "good" alignment?

B/X doesn't raise these questions for exploration. Elves are elves, dwarves are dwarves, any class can be any alignment and it matters little...because the game is just about finding treasure and leveling up. Treasure is found in dungeons (and the wilderness is simply the space between the dungeons), and when enough is found, castles may be built. It is a simple game, a streamlined game, a basic game.

The advanced game adds more...much more. And not just in terms of rules and "crunch." It draws from sword & sorcery literature, and yet in most pulps demons and devils are one and the same, whether they are from hell, hells, or some other nether region. In AD&D these are distinct beings and the various nether regions are distinct from each other (whether you're talking the Abyss, Hades, Gehenna, etc.) obeying different laws and following different cosmologies. This is specific setting material, not generic...and the game (AD&D) provides you with the means (through spells and magic items) to explore that setting.

Why must assassins belong to a guild? Why can't rangers operate in groups of more than three? Why don't paladins belong to a particular church or order with a hierarchy like the (lawful) monks? These are ALL specific choices about the game setting...and yet they are only scantily defined, inviting the advanced Dungeon Master to nail down the specific reasons of their specific campaign. Maybe your rangers ARE just wandering Dunedain, descended from the men of ancient Numenor...or maybe they are instead human bugbears living on the borders of man-space. AD&D requires the DM to fill in the details, but the empty cup is already present, waiting to provide context to the in-game action.

It all just struck me like a ton of bricks the other day (i.e. about five days ago) when a reader was asking me about the practicality of including an assassin class in B/X...to which I responded (much as I've written before) that I saw no real need of an assassin in B/X. A party of adventurers has far more to be gained from a thief's bag of tricks than those of its subclass. There's just not much need for disguise (especially if the assassin doesn't speak a humanoid's language) compared to, say, climbing walls and picking locks and whatnot in a dungeon.

In a dungeon.

But what about outside the dungeon...ah! That's another story. And it's the same story for the other Advanced classes: what good is a paladin's war horse in White Plume Mountain? What good is a ranger's tracking ability in Tomb of Horrors?  Does a demilich make tracks? We could follow it to its hidden lair, right?!

No, the advanced game is for when you are TIRED of the dungeon...when you want your game to be about something more than just scurrilous rogues looking for coin. When you want to put your character in context of the (imaginary) world itself: your place in society, in politics, in prestige and rank.

And I do mean "your place." Remember how we don't care about our characters except as a vehicle for exploration? This is the next road on which the vehicle is going to drive...a road for advanced drivers. When I'm done experiencing the fears and exhilarations of the dungeon (or, at least, when those experiences start to pale) I can still experience my place in the fantasy milieu: how do I interact with the hierarchy of my religious (or magical) order? How do I gain rank in my guild? How do I avoid the guild that would shut me down and take my wealth? What gift can I give the local ruler that will get her to look the other way as I march around at the head of my personal mercenary company?

World building is the advanced game. And there are already pieces in place to be explored. Yes, you can add those pieces to your B/X or OD&D or Holmes game...but why would you? Why need you? If you (like myself) are longing to play an advanced game of D&D, then why wouldn't you simply start with the system that gives you the tools you need? Why wouldn't you simply start with AD&D?

I am directing that question as much at myself as at any of the readers, just by the way.

I have run...and loved running...B/X for more than a few years now. I take great joy in designing dungeons, and have felt very comfortable running the game in a "dungeon style:" episodic adventures with one jackpot being followed by yet another. It's comfortable, it's easy. But it's not altogether satisfying. You want to throw a demon prince in your game because it's a cool monster/challenge, and you're forced to invent a good reason for placing such a thing in the dungeon site (cultists of course...duh). It's forced; it's contrived. There's no context without a larger world view/perspective.

When my friends and I discovered AD&D...waaay back in middle school...we switched over from B/X immediately. Truth is, the dungeons had already begun to pale somewhat. The various hints and implications of setting found in the PHB and MM and DMG (from diabolic hierarchies to artifacts and relics) fired our imaginations far more than yet another rope bridge over a lava-filled chasm. Damn...just using the Urban encounter tables while wandering around a medieval town could end up with an interesting adventure! We still went into dungeons, of course: braved the Forbidden City and delved (unsuccessfully) the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. But most of our days were spent exploring the world in which we found ourselves, the villages and towns and river crossings and mountains and NPCs of both high estate and low. Bar maids and barons and druidic hierophants and wandering apprentices and thieving halflings and secret guild halls. When a magic-user's power came from spells and the only method of spell acquisition was thieving a scroll or spending a ton of gold...well, adventure was never far behind.

As I move into the latter half of my 40s (I turned 46 in November) I am just about done with B/X. Just about. I think that was a point I was coming to through most of 2019, but it was (and still is) difficult to confess when I've profited so much by that particular edition. Not just actual "profit" (thanks to all you purchasers of my books) but profiting through wonderful gaming experiences and a renewed interest in all things D&D (as well as a deeper understanding of game design and the hobby's history). I still feel B/X is the easiest way to teach and learn this game called Dungeons & Dragons and, when they're ready, it's still the edition I will use to introduce D&D to my children. But B/X has little left in the tank for me, personally: I'm done exploring dungeons.

Bring on the world.

Sometimes you need a little liberation.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Snowbound

Snowmageddon 2020 (which, in my neck of Seattle, amounts to about 3" or, as I like to call it, "a light dusting") has kept me from posting the last couple days due to homebound children requiring entertainment from their Dear Old Dad.

Today, they are finally back in school, but only for a couple hours...even their after school programs were cancelled. However, I am hopeful that the regular learning will get underway by tomorrow or so, so that I can get back to the bloggedy blog. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Later gators.

[dammit, as I was just about to post this I noticed the sky has started dumping white again. *sigh*]

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Beast of Legend

And speaking of human bugbears...

When I was a kid, I spent way too much time...and way too many quarters...in video game arcades, especially during the first couple years of high school. Upon my death, when my soul has a chance to reexamine this particular life, I fully expect to feel a sense of disappointment in the hours wasted in such idle pursuits. Ah, well..."misspent youth" and all that jazz.

One game I played the hell out of (and whose name I can't recall and don't feel like searching for) was a side-scrolling, multi-player fighting game in which you would collect "power-ups" that would make you burlier and meaner until you finally transformed into a hulking werewolf. Man, I loved that game, though I've always had a special fascination about werewolves (the same way some folks dig on vampires, I suppose). Anyway, it was always a race between me and whomever I was playing with to collect the little glowing orbs...an attempt to see who would be first to enter "beast mode."

[all right, hold on...here's the game: it was called Altered Beast and it's from 1988. There's even a wikipedia entry on it]

No, your video avatar didn't have a big axe (more's the pity), but there was still a visceral thrill to "wolfing out" and absolutely shredding the various zombies and monsters that (prior to transforming) you had to kick to death, a piece at a time.

Watching Marshawn Lynch unleash his own "beast mode" over the years has conjured a similar reaction, in both myself and his fan base (certainly here in Seattle; I assume the same in Oakland). Having him back with the Seahawks for the playoffs is...well, for a team that lost its starting three running backs (two of them in week 16!), it was nothing short of a Christmas miracle. Regardless of what his 30-some year old body can give you. As my mother remarked: "If he gives the team anything, it's more than what you had in the running game, which was nothing." Pretty fair assessment.

I have to say I was damn surprised to see Lynch come out of semi-retirement (again) to play for Seattle, a team that tends to burn bridges between itself and other ex-star players. But #24 is a different type of guy. Most of the hard feelings with guys like Sherm and Thomas came from the clash of the superstar ego against the hard reality of the business that is running an NFL franchise. Lynch has an ego, too, but it is one that exists independently of any particular need to be "liked" or "wanted;" he just does what he does. Leaving the team was his decision, and he came out of "retirement" because he missed playing the game and the 'Hawks gave him another shot at impacting the post-season.

So far, so good.

I expect Sunday's division round game against the Packers will either be a "good one" (i.e. what most folks call "good" football games: a tightly contested match), or else an utter shellacking with Wilson getting sacked fifty times behind a makeshift line and our depleted running game getting bupkis on the ground. But IF the Seahawks can find some way to move the ball out there on the frozen tundra, Lynch is going to need to be heavily involved in the offense...not just running, but catching screen passes out of the backfield and...far more importantly...blocking Green Bay's outside linebackers (the Smith brothers) who combined for 25 sacks during the regular season. 4th string back Travis Homer, God bless him, just doesn't have the beef to take on those guys. We're going to need something a little more bestial.

We'll see if Lynch can add anything to his own legend.

Here's my current, un-retired version of Marshawn, statted up for Blood Bowl. Not as fast as he once was (though he was never much of a burner) but still a beast:

Marshawn Lynch (#24)
Species: Orc
MA: 6 ST: 4 AG: 3 AV: 9
Skills: Block, Break Tackle, Dauntless, Mighty Blow, Side Step
Cost: 220,000 gold pieces
Allowable Teams: Orc or Goblin only (time spent with the halfling Bills might be deemed a "failed experiment" in inter-species team building)

All right, that's enough blogging about Blood Bowl for now. My boy's soccer games were both cancelled for the weekend (too much snow in the passes), so I might have to break out the actual board game and run a match or two (how does one stat Aaron Rodgers these days? Hmm...). Then again, maybe we'll confine the football to the actual mayhem on television. We'll see.

Go Seahawks!

The Number of the Beast



Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Ranger

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time (probably too much) searching the internet for an image that matches the picture in my head. A picture of how I (at present) envision the ranger.

See, ever since I started reconsidering the ranger, my imagination has captured this pic completely at odds to the way the character class is generally portrayed. You folks probably know what I'm talking about: the effete, lightly armored archer type, perhaps with some forest colored cloak (brooding hood included), and...for the males anyway...a light beard or Erol Flynn goatee. Something like this:

Pulled from Pinterest
This is image is what comes up when I google the phrase "typical D&D ranger." Yes, there are a lot of other similar images, many of them equally awful...not bad because of the artwork but  just so, ugh, trope-riddled, okay? And they just don't align with image in my head. None of them.

Because here's what I am picturing: a really beefy bruiser, dressed in plate armor, sporting a beard that would put a Jeremiah Johnson style mountain man to shame. Probably carrying a big axe for felling trees and orcs alike.

But BIG okay? Not slim and trim, but barrel-chested with the increased lung capacity of a cross-country skier. A ranger should be damn near as big and hairy as a bugbear...literally. After all, the average bugbear only has 14 hit points; it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a 1st level ranger to have at least that many hit points in AD&D, given their constitution requirements. And if playing a campaign where the DM awards max HPs to start, the ranger's going to be closer to ogre-size.

Rangers are human bugbears...they're big, sneaky sons of bitches that goblins tell campfire stories about, trying to scare each other. They live and ply their trade on the edge of human civilization, operating in areas the normal army can't or won't operate. Armed and armored to the teeth, they are self-sufficient and fiercely independent...if you find the maximum (3) rangers operating together, chances are they are a married couple and a single child learning the parents' craft. Other than a mate or a student-teacher relationship, there's little reason for rangers to congregate: they value their solitude and while they'll tolerate non-rangers' lack of etiquette in impinging on their space, they won't tolerate such intrusions from their own (ranger) kind, who should really know better.

It was this or
some viking image.
My own ranger would look something like this guy, I suppose. The helmet is a little too fancy for the wilds (too easy to get those antlers stuck when passing through a heavily wooded area), but I like the idea of a character decorating his armor with trophies in such a way as to cut a more intimidating figure. Most evil humanoids should fear the class...rangers are trained slayers of such creatures, and hunt them as they can, with neither pity nor remorse.

As I consider the role of such characters in my campaign setting...especially as they relate to both druids and bards...this is the image I'm holding in my mind's eye. Rangers: the true bully of the wilderness. Bugbears have nothing on 'em.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Random Wednesday World Building

The in-laws left last night...finally. Dropped 'em off at the airport along with the wife, who had to take a last minute biz trip (just a day shot to San Fran...no bigs). So to celebrate, I kicked up my feet (after putting the kids to bed) and settled in to watch something the Mrs. wouldn't normally dig on (as I am wont to do). In this particular case, I chose The Witcher.

This, by the way was partly due to curiosity, but mainly due to the recommendation of my old buddy Steve. I'd already got a bit of a taste of the show from Fr. Dave's blog (he did not recommend it), but Steve-O really sold me on it as "something you would like, Jon." He told me it's "just like D&D" far more than Game of Thrones with all that intricate political scheming and weepy plot/non-fun stuff...just badass monster kicking. While his read of what I like in a D&D game is pretty far off, I was intrigued enough by his enthusiasm to flip it on.

I fell asleep pretty fast. I tried to stay awake, and drifted in and out of consciousness through about three episodes, but my overall impression wasn't good enough to really maintain interest. Like, at all.

Maybe I'm being unfair to the show and I should give it another shake in the light of day, but the impression I got was indeed that the show was "just like D&D"...but bad D&D. The kind of D&D I'm not interested in playing. The kind where heroic (or anti-heroic) characters with little risk to survival, posture and weep through silly backstories of their own creation. Dungeons & Dragons by way of World of Darkness with a setting even more ridiculous that your usual high fantasy Tolkien riff.

Which, by the way, is not to say that a setting for a GAME needs to be a masterpiece of world building, because the game at its best is about the experience of playing, not the resolution of story. But for my FICTION, I want a little more robust world building, even if it does have insane demographic anomalies. And for both fiction AND role-playing, I'd like to see a little less trope when it comes to the main character. Damn, I am soooo tired of action heroes these days, especially outside of the superhero genre. Even the WB and Disney do better at assembling ensemble heroes.

[by the way, I won't say it's a terrible thing for a VIDEO GAME (such as the one on which The Witcher is based) to have an over-the-top badass of a protagonist who looks like a Targaryan-skinned Drizz't the Drow. One player CRPGs are generally exercises in mental masturbation anyway, with no serious challenge and just an interest in playing out some creator's particularly constructed story line in an awesome fashion...they are guilty pleasures and I've played my share over the years. But it's embarrassing for a TV show or film, and shameful in most tabletop games]

So it was around 2:30am or so that I finally dragged myself conscious enough that I could turn the damn thing off, mercifully cutting short some elf bitching and moaning about how humans gave their race a raw deal (gee, never heard that kind of thing before) and thus "we hates 'em forever" ...whereupon I discover the TV show behind the Netflix to be Alien Resurrection, a film I've never before seen, despite generally enjoying the franchise (at least enough to watch the first three films more than a couple times). Not only was it interesting enough that it brought me fully awake, but after 5 minutes of watching I enjoyed it enough that I restarted the movie (ahh...the magic of On Demand television), only forcing myself to turn it off an hour in so that I could get SOME sleep before starting the Wednesday routine (ahh...the curse of On Demand television).

Not that Alien Resurrection is a fantastic piece of cinema by ANY stretch. Spoiler Alert: it shares the same plot as pretty much every film in the franchise (humans underestimate xenomorphic entity and bloody massacre ensues within a claustrophobic labyrinth of a setting). Film doesn't even have the interesting bits found in the earlier franchise installments...loving attention to technophile detail, subverted genre tropes, brilliant character acting...instead being, well, a pastiche of the genre and about what you'd expect (it DOES have great character actors...including Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, and Dan Hedaya...but they're largely wasted in a mediocre script).

However, at least there's an ensemble cast of characters, each on about equal footing in terms of both competence and fragility, and that piques some interest...even if it's only of the death pool variety.

And seeing this, and comparing and contrasting the two (the film and the TV show) in terms of what they both build, and mulling it over last night and this morning, I find myself calcifying some thoughts I've been having a LOT the last couple weeks.

First is this: I am just about done with heroic fiction. I intend to watch the last Star Wars film (for the sake of completeness) but I am about ready to give the whole thing up. Finally. The same way I gave up Star Trek circa 1988...I'm just not interested in it anymore. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ruined the action genre for everyone. Yes, I realize this paragraph makes little sense...it requires a very long, detailed, and intricate rant. One of these days.

Second is this: While I've long been in the "loathe" category for RPGs that seek to emulate the heroic action play style typified of popular computer RPGs (i.e. stuff like late edition D&D), I have now come around to being done with "story type" RPGs of the indie school. I'm just not interested in group storytelling at all except, maybe, as the occasional one-off at a convention or something. Probably not even then: if I want to tell stories, I'll tell stories, thank you very much. While I'm not saying I'm capable of creating my own decent fiction without help, I have zero interest in collaboration when it comes to story-telling: you tell your story and I'll tell mine, thank you very much. And let's keep BOTH our stories off the gaming table, because that type of action is NOT what I want to be playing at. My escapism requires a little more direction.

Third is this: in making a list of RPGs that I would still want to play, I'm finding the list shrinking rapidly to a handful of games all of which are of the EARLIEST variety. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Classic Traveller. First edition Gamma World. First edition Top Secret. Etc. It's not that later games (or editions) don't do good things when they come along, clarifying and streamlining rules, fixing systems that are broken and such. It's just that:

  • Much of the time, the kernel of the game (or the thing that made it great) gets lost in an update. See the transition from 1E to 2E Gamma World or 1E to 2E Heroes Unlimited or 1E to 2E AD&D for blatant examples. 
  • Many of the changes are ones that don't NEED to be fixed; this is especially true with much of AD&D (I would argue that 2E's reworking of the default XP system is the main rule change that "broke" D&D). Many designers, kowtowing to the whining of the masses ("why didn't you include a skill system?") inadvertently ruin their own, mostly solid, games. 
  • Most of the updates are things I could do myself and/or could probably do better. And even in cases where a game's writers are more elegant in their design than myself, I'd still prefer to make these changes myself because they're for MY game and MY needs...the needs of MY table. Plus, I'm more likely to remember and use design changes that I implement myself.

But really, it's just that it's hard to the originator of a subject or game, even when the original game suffers in execution. Would you really try to "out-Tolkien" Tolkien? I probably wouldn't, but even if I did, I hope I wouldn't try to make a buck off it (looking at you, uber-popular genre writers who shall remain unnamed). Yes, 1E Gamma World is ridiculous, but it is coherent and sensible and theme-oriented within itself, and I can adjust its level of ridiculousness to suit my tastes, which may not be to the taste of others; I don't need every new edition that comes out doubling down on the sheer absurdity of the game just to provide "more of the same."

[I've been thinking about GW a lot lately...probably another post needed]

Fourth (and final) thing is this: In any tabletop RPG, the world building is immensely important. It may, in fact, be the most essential element that a GM needs to handle and something to be approached with care and a serious mind (regardless of the seriousness of the game/genre). Knowing the rules, running the game...these things are, of course, super-duper important things to a GM, but you always have the rulebook (and possibly knowledgeable players) to help with that aspect of GMing. World building rests squarely on the GM's shoulders; even GMs incorporating input from players needs to act as final editor of what is included in a world and how it interacts with the rest of the setting. And without a viable world, you lose the ability to have satisfying, long-term game. World building is absolutely essential.

I'm just sorry I haven't prioritized it higher in the past; I'll try not to make that mistake moving forward.

All right, that's enough for now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

First World Problems

I am having stupid, stupid issues with trying to Blogger to interact properly with Safari; this has caused me no end of frustration the last couple-few days (and is the epitome of a "first world problem").

The workaround is, of course, to use the much-reviled Chrome as my browser..."much reviled" by me, that is. But it bugs the bejesus out of me, and I'm having some difficulty adapting. Many apologies to folks...it's interfering with both my blogging and my ability to comment/reply to comments.

My intention is to do some offline writing over the next couple days and hope this issue resolves. It occurs to me that I had this problem (probably related to a Safari upgrade) a few months back and it DID eventually get resolved I suspect it's the OS upgrade that has touched it off again.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Other People's Stuff

Ugh...just spent two plus hours on the phone with Mac and Microsoft support trying to get my MS Word issues resolved...the new operating system didn't support my old Office products which rendered me incapable of opening ANY of my documents...things like, you know, the books and such I'm working on? F***...

But I won't regale you with any (more) tales of woe for THAT stuff...suffice is to say it was resolved (with cash expenditures) and now I can once again access what I've been working on the last couple days: Cry Dark Future.

[more on this in a later post]

Instead, allow me to pour some of my Christmas cheer into your stocking. My family was kind enough to gift me this year with something I really wanted, but really didn't need...in other words, the kind of thing I call "the perfect Christmas gift" or PCG. PCG's are great when you can find them; I pride myself on usually being able to find them (for others), but my family ain't as adept. Here are things that don't rate as PCGs:

  • Things you think I want, but don't (a replica lightsaber one year, for example)
  • Things you think I need (if I needed it, I probably would have bought it...unless it's really expensive, in which case you probably shouldn't be giving it to me as a gift!)

And having to come up with "gift ideas" for people kind of defeats the whole exercise really; do you wrap up the groceries on your shopping list? It's like they don't have a whole lot of imagination when it comes to this stuff; though to be fair, the whole "on-line shopping" thing has kind of destroyed the lost art of mall browsing.

[and just so you know, holiday shopping is the ONLY type of shopping I actually enjoy]

But this year they DID come through with a PCG for me, something I certainly wasn't expecting: the Game of Thrones-themed RISK board game. Ha! I probably haven't written much (or enough) about my love for this classic board game...I've held onto my own copy since the 80s (itself, I believe a Christmas gift...I honestly can't remember), and played the hell out of it, back in the day. But this GOT-box is fantastic...it may be the most beautiful board game I've ever owned. And while I have some gripes about the updates to the system (they're not bad; my designer mind simply has half a dozen ideas for making them better) the maps, pieces, and gameplay are all excellent.

[though've we've so far only had the chance to play one game, it was fun to watch House Lannister (played by me) stomp the hell out of the Seven Kingdoms]

One of Two Map Boards
But...and here comes the real point of this post...I had another, stronger reason for salivating over the game. In working on building a new D&D campaign, I have been considering how best to map out a world, and I was strongly considering borrowing/stealing Martin's geography for my own...or at least for a starting point. And the two large territory maps of Westeross and Essos that came with the Risk game looked to be the perfect tools for just such an exercise.

[previously I had been strongly considering the Evergreen Playground map from Kroll as a possible framework. Heck, I'm still considering it. First saw this one on the wall at my favorite BBQ joint up in Ballinger, Gabriel's Fire]

However, a funny thing happened on my way towards plagiarism...I encountered the migration and demographics blog of Kentuckian conservative Lyman Stone, In a State of Migration. It's not bad reading: Stone appears to be an intelligent, thoughtful human being, his research seems solid, and his writing is excellent, if a bit dry at times. However, he's also a big nerd (as if "migration expert" didn't already suggest that) and his writing sometimes veers into the realms of fantasy world-building, whether based on historic medieval economies and movement, fantasy novelists like George Martin, or the demographics of Star Wars. Here are some of the articles I've really been digging into:

Westeros is Poorly Designed
Why is Planetos So Poor?
Notes on Medieval Population Geography

Rather than bastardize the hell out of Stone's work, I'll simply point folks at his blog and tell you that there's a lot of good food for thought in there regarding demographics, migration, and population density. The links from the links can give you e-surfing material for days (at least, it did with me). For folks who'd rather work on their campaigns than watch playoff football, I'd suggest checking it out.

For my part, I'll say I'm now far LESS inclined to use Martin's world as any particular sort of setting. Still, the Risk game is nice to have.
: )

In related links (yes, I'm being lazy...three hours on the phone today, did I mention?!)...have you seen this cartographers guild site? I must be incredibly stupid, because it appears to have been up and running since 2006 and I'm only now stumbling across it. Even at the risk of tarnishing my (already iffy) reputation, I figured I'd go ahead and mention it for others who might have missed it. Also, I now have a link to it on the blog, so that I can peruse the work of many deeply talented peoples. Maybe at halftime.

All right, that's it. For now.