My History with Role-Playing Games

A few years ago I had never played a Role-Playing Game, but I’d definitely heard about them all of my life. I’d almost gotten to play a game of D&D 4th edition with a friend in school, but it looked too complicated and he/we didn’t find anyone else who wanted to play. I was still interested, but I didn’t feel like I had the energy, time, or money to invest in games with complicated systems that were in 350+ page books that I couldn’t get in any local store (I hadn’t access to Amazon yet). But I was aware of and in some cases a part of the RPG culture for most of the time I can remember.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, when I had moved out, and had been a part of a fairly successful board gaming group for a few years, I was investigating more possibilities of games to play, going in every direction that seemed interesting. At the time Dungeons & Dragons was going through a re-brand with D&D Next, which was soon being released as 5th Edition (which is just called Dungeons & Dragons on the books for some reason). It seemed to be created and marketed in such a way as to attempt to attract new players (but don’t all new editions do that?). It seemed that there would be no better (foreseeable) time to get into the game; the starter set had just come out and there was no convoluted supplements, expansions, or errata to deal with. And if I was going the get myself and a group of people interested in playing that starter set seemed like the best bet, so I ordered one.

I was quite surprised when it arrived (after a bit of a problem with the USPS) that even with my general knowledge of the subject and excited-ness to learn the book was hard to get through. Even this 30-page mini version of a 350+ page book was incredibly boring to read. I couldn’t believe that this product that was created for, and marketed toward, new players seemed so unfriendly to those new players. And after trying and failing a few times to read the starter rules I shelved it. But not before I looked up a few “simple” “1-page” RPGs online. I gave them a once over and thought maybe I’d play them, and if they went over well I’d take another look at D&D (at least I understood the little ones). But in the end my excitement had waned enough that I just put them in the box and forgot for a while. The box sat on the shelf unused. Occasionally I would think about playing one of the smaller games but it always seemed to be in the wrong place. For more than a year I barely looked at and RPG.

But then, when I was moving again, my games were getting shuffled around and I wanted to pick a core set of games to keep in a location where I could play them. In general I picked one game per genre and on a whim I put the only Role-Playing Game I had into the mix. I never got the play it with that group, and I probably wouldn’t have, considering I didn’t finish reading how to play myself, but I though maybe one of those smaller single-page games would hit the table at some time. Even still, just having it around and visible again piqued my interest once more. But, once again, I started looking at the smaller RPGs that were easily accessible and inexpensive. I went to see if any of them had been updated and amazingly some had been, and new ones (at least ones I hadn’t seen before) were floating around. I downloaded some more pages, organized them and started reading the more thoroughly. I really liked how much game was being put into these little packages. And that I could create the world I wanted to play in with them and didn’t feel restricted to what the games’ creators had come up with because of the structure of the game. I do know that I could do something similar with D&D, and create my own world, but when reading about the game or starting to play, the focus on (very) high fantasy and magic is obvious and very difficult to shake. I personally am more of a medium fantasy type of guy and games almost don’t exist in that category, preferring to go from Conan straight to Lord of the Rings. I liked being able to shape the world how I wanted it to be, and even with such tiny games (usually 1-page +”expansions”) I could still take the mechanics I liked and keep them in, throwing out or changing the other “suggestions” the game offered at my leisure. In fact the smaller size made it easier to do that, as I didn’t have to comb through hundreds of pages to find potential inconsistencies.

But still I couldn’t find the perfect one for me. I combed through forums, blogs, and RPG websites to find as many as I could and printed out the best ones (I’ve got 22 currently in the binder) and starting to look more seriously at the systems that were “universal” or just of a somewhat different theme. And there are a lot of good ones out there, but they still didn’t feel quite right. 1-page didn’t seem long enough for me, there needed to be a little more depth to the system, but 10 or more pages was more than a “simple” system could handle; at least I didn’t want to read that much for something I had to print off myself and seemed like it should be flushed out a bit more into a small book. I wanted something in-between. The “universal” games were generally longer in rules, but lacked the focus and mechanics shaped by the scenario that the “themed” games had (RISUS being a great example here). It seemed I wanted something like the “Dead Simple” RPG system. One that was essentially the same from game to game, but had various tweaks with each of the different themes to make it work.

After hours of searching and not finding just the right thing I wanted I got the great(?) idea to create my own system. That way I could control how everything worked and make it, if not the perfect system, just that much closer to the game I really wanted. I had jotted down a few notes previously about how I would’ve liked to improve RPG systems, so went back to those notes and started revising them. I found that with a little tweaking I got something workable in my head, and then that amazing thing that happens when you’re working on a project started happening; things just started to fall into place. The more I worked, the ideas just fit together and kept coming. Of course, this comes with the less-than-amazing part where I have to write it all down. And as I started doing that I found that the project quickly grew in scope. What I had envisioned as a simple “5-page” game that I might go back to and add a few things later became (first a little more squished to keep it 5 pages and) something that looked a lot more like a full game. Not one of the modern 300-pagers but closer to the “classic” home-printed, staple-bound games. Suddenly I had 5 pages of rules, 5 pages of game master guide, 5 pages of monsters, and then extra stuff about potions, spells, hirelings, stores and more. And suddenly I needed more games to research how they handled different gameplay aspects. I didn’t want to copy but I also didn’t want to flail about blindly for mechanisms or balancing. So I looked into a newer, smaller systems I could easily get my hands on to compare, most notably Chris Gonnerman’s Basic Fantasy RPG.

And after a few weeks of working on it I found out about a local RPG group starting up in my area (a rare thing in a small town) and I was able to join and start playing a game. (I had played several single sessions and playtested my system before so I wasn’t a complete n00b) It was D&D, but as it turns out that system is a lot more fun to play that it is to read the rules (I did have a good general idea of how to play before going in, just something I picked up from the internet and the video circles I watch in). It also gave me an excuse to purchase the rulebooks, which actually have way more fascinating information that the starter kit books but are still not excitedly written. Everything was stacking up. I had both smaller and larger systems to use as comparisons and I was working through what was now to become my RPG system and various “supplements”. I called it RPG LTE: Swords and Sorcery for various reasons, but mainly because I thought it was a good name and one that is expandable with other RPG LTEs to come in the future.

My plan was to finish up the “core rules” in three 5-page parts (consisting of: Game Rules, Game Mastering, and Monsters) and then follow that up with several single page supplements and a small book of this “beta” that would be available in limited quantities (I have already printed books with a PoD service, but I had no idea that would be the easiest part). That got all muddied up as I finished most of the final supplements before finishing the “monster” section (when creativity calls, sometimes you gotta follow it). So I printed the beta book and have had it along with several of my other books at the art shows and cons I attend. And, after a few more tweaks, I gave the beta a “soft” release on my website a few weeks ago, to which this is the follow up, and there will soon be a “hard” release with a post that is more focused on the game itself and what it is trying to accomplish.

That’s been my “journey” so far, and I’m sure it’s far from over. Hopefully as I continue to acquire, play, and work on RPGs I can keep this story going, learn more, and have fun indefinitely. It’s always hard, especially in this day and age where people do so much, to get a good role-playing group together and even harder to keep it together. But actually getting the games played, and exploring the world as well as the mechanics is a great experience, and one I will hopefully have many more times, with many more systems in the future.


Any of my Hobbies could be Someone’s Career

As indicated by my Blog, I have a ton of hobbies, and I pick up new ones all the time (Fountain pens, Every Day Carry, and Lock picking for example). And as I move from hobby to hobby (not entirely from, I maintain several that the same time) I can’t help but think about some of the people I’m getting information from about these hobbies, and how for many of them it is a much more central part of their life.

I do do things for years, and I still enjoy many of my older hobbies as much as the new ones. But it is just something I can’t imagine doing to continue with only one hobby, developing skill set, or collection for as many years as I have been with all of my various collections, skill sets, and hobbies. But I am in debt to the people who do and provide me with such a wealth of information. I would never have learned as much about fountain pens, action figures (Jurassic Park, Star Wars, GI Joe, etc), knives, lock picking, and Chinese chess without these people.

I’m certainly the picture of the jack of all trades, and they are much closer to the master of one (I’m sure they have other hobbies and maybe jobs as well assuming they don’t do that for a living) and I certainly can’t say one is better than the other with how much they have helped me. I’ve considered stopping and concentrating on one thing for years but it just isn’t really in my personality. But many people have, and I could, make a career out of one of my many hobbies, and maybe I will yet.

So I’d like to thank everyone who both dedicates themselves to any one task in order to master it and share their knowledge online, and those others like me who absorb information from all over and can precipitate it throughout their social “networks”.

Some Fountain Pen Flaws People Seem to have Embraced

I’m a fountain pen user; I just really like the experience. But the experience for me is mainly in the writing itself. The smoothness and ease of writing a fountain pen allows is wonderful in my opinion. But I know that it isn’t always the best way to write and has its detractors. There are quite a few problems that prevent the majority of people from using fountain pens, and prevent me from using them for all tasks. I still carry around a ballpoint with me every day for any writing tasks that I need, and I would say I write more with ballpoints than with fountain pens, and more with fountain pens than rollerballs.

So it seems strange to me that many of the things that I consider to be flaws with fountain pens are embraced, even loved, by the current fountain pen community. That’s not to say I think they’re wrong; I just find it odd. The first is not a particularly cared for phenomenon, but one that is tolerated more than I would think it would be, and that is nib creep. Nib creep is when ink escapes from the channel through the nib slit and onto the top of the nib due to flaws in the nib slit and lubricants in the ink. This ink, while it doesn’t really affect the performance of the writing instrument, can be unsightly, but even if people don’t mind the look, it is a sign that there is a flaw in the pen. With less expensive pens it’s understandable, but companies who make more expensive pens should know better.


Another thing is ink shading. I know I’m a bit boring when it comes to ink because I use black inks 85% of the time, but that’s because they provide the most consistent experience available. Many other colors of ink “shade” or become more concentrated in certain parts of the line due to a variety of factors, resulting in some parts of writing being dark and some being light. To me this is obviously an ink flaw that many companies have worked hard to get rid of, both in ballpoints, and in fountain pen companies’ main inks. Many pen companies’ inks, like Parker and Sheaffer, are made it seems specifically to eliminate this (and make them easy to clean up). I’ve never been partial to making my writing harder to read and unprofessional looking (again, my opinion) but many people seem to love it. It adds some amount of expression to writing that shows one is writing with a fountain pen (well, 95% likelihood). And it just happens more with the more colored inks that people like these days which also show some more expression and that they’re more than likely writing with a fountain pen. But I just like writing, and I like to make my writing as easy and consistent as possible, and shading just isn’t my thing.

Another thing I’m not a particular fan of is ink on my fingers. Now, unlike other people, it seems I can refill a pen without getting ink on me the majority of the time. I’m not really sure why that is, probably because I spend too long doing things and really don’t want ink on my fingers to rub off anywhere else. But I do know that fountain pens can be messy. And I do get ink on my hands from time to time. But I can effectively remove it the majority of the time using a variety of ways. And that has been what the majority of people have done for the better part of the fountain pen’s existence. I would certainly call it a flaw and an extra hassle. I’m not particularly a fan of broadcasting that one of my hobbies can make my hands look dirty, or bloody. But some people use it as an indication that they use fountain pens or as a badge to show what their hobby “costs” (That’s a bad way to phrase that, but I can’t think of a better one.)

Now, obviously none of these things are a deal breaker for me, and I’m not trying to insult people who enjoy (or don’t care about) them. But I’m just not quite sure why most people don’t consider these things flaws. As far as I can tell they obviously are. And people have spent lots of time trying to fix these things. But I guess if it can’t be gotten rid of, it might as well be looked at in a different light.

Using a Pocket Knife

“Using a Pocket Knife.” I wrote that title a few months ago on a list of things to write at some point. I’ve added a lot and crossed a lot off of that list since then, and I still don’t remember what I was going to write about. Obliviously, the world doesn’t need an online written tutorial on how to use a knife (that would be sad) but I can come up with something.

So I’ll be the first to say (well, maybe not the ‘first”, some people speak real fast) that knives aren’t as relevant in the lives of regular people as they once were. And I really don’t have too much of a need to carry one around. I still do, though, and while I don’t use it every day all of the time, when I do use it I am glad I have it.

I know that most of the tasks I use a knife for could be replaced with the scissors, utility knife, and letter opener I already have. But it is very handy to just have a dedicated thing I can use for all of my opening and tearing down needs. I see quite a few unboxing videos on the internet (because that’s a great content source and it should be exploited more) and most of the people in those use a kitchen knife or something to open a box, which it has never occurred to me ever to do. I did grow up with a dedicated folding knife in a drawer for small tasks and scissors right nearby to cut tape.

But while in general my cutting tasks could be done slightly less conveniently with things everyone already has around, sometimes there are scenarios that pop up where using a knife is the best way at that time. How am I going to cut this string? How can I get this bead out of that crevice? How am I going to cut this hose? How am I going to strip this wire? etc. And it’s super convenient and sometimes the only possible way to do things where I am.

I get that this isn’t as applicable to everyone, and some people use their knives more (like for food preparation, which is another thing I would never have considered: using a pocket or “carry” knife for food) or less (like not at all) often than me. But I think that at some point everyone has a use for a pocket knife or something similar. And it’s probably worth everyone having a Victorinox Secretary, Pocket Pal, or Classic, or something like that around. Knives are useful, for some people more than others, but still useful, and worth having around even in this day and age.


New Odd Dice

I have a dice problem. I have bought far too many for my own good. But they are great. Rolling dice is a very enjoyable activity, and all of the various sided dice are exciting to find and look at.


Of course everyone is familiar with the standard 6-sided die (D6), and perhaps some of the more common others like D8s, D10s, D20s, D4s, and D12s. But those are just the most simple shapes one can make easily. They are all regular figures which should guarantee a mostly fair roll. In making dice that deviate from these shapes, manufacturers must do more testing to ensure fairness, or at least relative fairness. That hasn’t stopped them, though, and all of these oddballs are now being helped by the easy info access from the internet, and are easier to make with online 3D printing services (


Recently I obtained quite a few of these more unusual (but still common) variations. And I have been having an immense amount of fun. The various strange shapes required to make the dice, especially the odd numbered ones, require quite a bit of thought, and seeing some of the creative work-arounds the designers attempted is interesting and fun. Some of them don’t really lend themselves to usability, like placing the numbers across a crease to get them to fit on the odd- sided dice, but some do, like simply leveling out planes on a sphere for any dice number that couldn’t be created with an standard tiling pattern. And, of course, there’s the standard cheat of “just put a bunch of triangles around a center point and mirror it on the other side”. Nevertheless, they are all still functional (even the D1 which I think is tied with the D2 for my favorite of the 3D printed versions)


Now, I can’t find a “practical” application for any dice really; but it’s even harder to find a use for these very odd dice. They are fun, but not really good for games, as most of them tread old ground or use ratios that aren’t necessary or are too complicated. Most people playing games, even complex ones, want the experience to be as simple as possible. There’s no need to add things that will just confuse them, and so these dice’ll sit, unused.

But if you like shapes, or just the feeling of rolling dice, and want to impress your friends (I can roll a random number between 1 and 10,000,000 or 1 and 7) I’d definitely encourage you to grab a few of the more common ones. The 3D printing isn’t necessary, and the plastic is hard to work with, and some of the more expensive ($10-20) will just weigh you down, but a D7, D18 or a D30 are always fun to bust out now and again and may even serve a purpose.