Monday, November 11, 2019

Scrum Con 2020 - Register Now!




Registration for the second Scrum Con is now open, as of this past Saturday!

https://tabletop.events/conventions/scrum-con-2020

If you are in DC Metro area considering join us for this one day con on Leap Day 2020 (Sat Feb 29th). This time the event is being held in a larger venue, the Silver Spring Civic Building. This con is brought to you by the Second Saturday Scrum Club, of which I am a member.

Registration is $15, and allows you to sign up for games in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Games are split evenly between RPGs and Miniatures Games; see the Event Listing for a list. Most games start at 10 AM or 3:30 PM and run for 4 hours, but there are some shorter 2 hour games, and a few start at other times. 

Special guests include Zeb Cook, running Star Frontiers (already full, however), Bill Slaviscek running a Star Wars RPG game, and Ed Stark running a 5E Return to the Barrier Peaks

There will also be a flea market for buying or selling your previously owned games: "No hassle flea market! Bring your gaming items ready to be re-homed for our flea market area. Drop it off and go play some games!"

I'll follow up this post in the coming days with more posts highlighting the RPGs and Miniature Games.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Coming Soon: Zenopus 5E conversion




Coming soon to DMs Guild:

Into the Ruins of the Tower of Zenopus, a conversion of the 1977 original to 5E D&D! 

And including notes for using it as the Tower of Zenopus adventure site in Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

It's 16 pages long, with the following pages:

Placing the Dungeon, pg 2
Dungeon Key, pg 3-9
Appendix A: Dungeon Factions, pg 10
Appendix B: Portown Rumors, pgs 11-13
Appendix C: Use with Ghosts of Saltmarsh, pg 14-15
Appendix D: Pre-generated 1st level characters, pg 16

Friday, October 4, 2019

Holmes' FLGS is closing

Gary Switzer, owner of Aero Hobbies, '70s to '00s. Source: A.H. FB page

Aero Hobbies, the game store in Santa Monica where J. Eric Holmes bought his first D&D rulebooks and many of his miniatures, will be closing at the end of October according to this recent news article:

Development Displaces 80-year-old Hobby Shop

A few years back Chris Holmes told to me that "It was very soon after [playing D&D for the first time] that Dad bought the rules at Aero Hobbies, including Warlock, Chainmail and the board game Dungeon". Eric Frasier, who played Murray the Mage, recently recalled that "I loved going to Aero Hobbies back when we were playing in that first D&D group of Eric's/ours. It was some of those visits that inspired my dad's comment to Eric [about the selling of minis] that they'd solved the age-old puzzle of turning lead into gold. :)"


Aero's name comes from from its original location in the same building as the Aero Theatre on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, which is still located there. By the early '70s, Aero Hobbies had moved a few streets away to 1319 Santa Monica Blvd, an address I found in a 1976 issue of Lee Gold's Alarums & Excursions zine.

A gamer named Gary Switzer bought Aero in the early '70s - I'm not sure if this was before or after the move - and it quickly turned into one of the early centers of D&D activity in the L.A. area, along with Alarums & Excursions and Caltech's group that developed Warlock. One of the DMs in the Aero group, D. Daniel Wagner, created the first thief character class, which Switzer famously related to Gary Gygax in a phone call, leading Gygax to create the version that appeared in the Greyhawk supplement in 1975 (Wagner's version used ability lists rather than level-based percentile scores). The thief, or rogue as it is called these days, remains one of the four core classes of D&D, as evidenced by the current D&D Basic Rules.

In 1976 the same group published the Manual of Aurania, one of the earliest non-TSR D&D supplements with new classes and monsters. With Wagner's permission I posted several of these classes and monsters on this blog in 2013 (click on Aurania in the labels below to bring these up). A Kickstarter is now in the works to republish this together with the Libram of Aurania, a unpublished sequel, see the announcement on FB.

Wagner has a Q&A thread over on ODD74 (you will need to be logged in to read this), where he wrote that "[Holmes] had a character named Eric the Cleric. He liked one of my weird classes from the Manual of Aurania. But he usually ran a [demo] game for the kids, he only played with us a little."

Holmes & company used some of the classes of the Manual of Aurania in their games. The copy owned by Eric Frasier - along with his other game books - can be seen in Tales of Peril, and also appears on my Gaming Artifacts Page. On the late Holmes Basic G+ group, Chris wrote that "the Manual of Aurania inspired my Samurai character. We treated his armor like chain mail that weighed less". Holmes' game write-ups in Alarums & Excursion (reprinted in Tales of Peril) mention this Samurai character and also a Beorning, another new class from the Manual. 
This likely led to the memorable mentions of a "lawful werebear" and a "Samurai" in the "Additional Character Classes" section of the original Basic rulebook:
"Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, hobbitish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man" (pg 7).
The article linked above quotes a long-time customer saying that Switzer "had a career painting miniature figurines so I could ask him for tips on painting my armies", and on the ODD74 thread, Wagner wrote: "at the time, Switzer was likely the best figure painter around." Some miniatures painted by Switzer appear in photos Chapter 11 ("Little Metal People") of Holmes' 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games. The Aero Hobbies website once had a gallery of minis painted by Switzer called "Gary's Townsfolk", and although they took it down at some point, I had saved one image; I've heard from a local that these minis are still on display in the store:
One of "Gary's Townsfolk". Source: A.H. website. 

The sculpt is C1019h Gipsy from the C1019 Villagers and Townspeople set (1988) from the Metal Magic line from Hobby Magic, and still for sale (Thanks to DM Carl of Save or Die, a true "Metal Guru", for this info). The magic 8-ball appears to be Gary's touch. 😎

Holmes was still frequenting Aero in the early '80s; his recently republished 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu game mentions a tip for running the game given to him by Switzer.

Holmes left L.A. in the mid-'80s and the other early D&D innovators like Wagner also moved on, but Switzer kept the store running for decades in the same friendly manner. The photo at the top of the column, which shows Switzer behind the register, is likely from the early '90s due to the preponderance of the TORG RPG (West End Games) for sale. 
He moved Aero once in the mid-'90s, but only a little over a mile down the street to 2918 Santa Monica Blvd, still its current location. As described in the article linked above, after his untimely death from cancer in 2006, the store was bought by one of his former employees, who has kept it running in the same tradition until the forced closure due to redevelopment. In 2016 it had a brush with fame when it hosted an HBO Game of Thrones promo:

Maisie Williams (aka Arya Stark) Pranks Game of Thrones Fans

If you live in the area, you have a few more weeks to visit the shop; per their post on FB everything is on sale with increasing discounts each week.

Update: An old friend who lives in the area pointed me to this his business page which has a partial walk through of the interior of the store. They are still using "TSR Adventure Gaming" racks to display merchandise. : )

Friday, September 27, 2019

A Brief History of Tolkien RPGs by John Rateliff

John Rateliff showing off the prototype cover art for TSR's canceled Middle-Earth game

It's once again Tolkien Week, the week containing Hobbit Day (Sep 22nd, Bilbo & Frodo's birthday). Recently there's been some talk on EnWorld and the Piazza about TSR's failed attempt to license Middle-Earth in 1992. A post on the Piazza thread by Falconer led me back to where this was originally revealed: a very interesting talk entitled "The Brief History of Tolkien RPGs" by John Rateliff, given as his guest-of-honor speech at MERPcon in August 2008. Rateliff is the author of the History of the Hobbit and also a former TSR editor and author, where his works included the excellent Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.

His talk is available in two formats: 

(1) A series of posts of the same name on his blog, Sacnoth's Scriptorium. I've been following this for years (since ~2012), but this series is even older (2008) and I'd never come across it before. 

Part IV

(2) A video/audio recording posted on YT. It's over an hour long and is interrupted by many audience questions & comments, but is an enjoyable watch/listen (but if you just listen you'll miss out on some of his exhibits, like the prototype cover for TSR's canceled ME game).

Tolkien Moot 2008 MerpCon IV John D. Rateliff solo speech History of the Hobbit author

http://tolkienmoot.org John D. Rateliff, author of The History of the Hobbit at MerpCon 4 Tolkien Moot 2008. Tolkien Moot is an annual Tolkien convention sponsored by the Inland Empire Tolkien Society for fans and scholars, enthusiasts, and Tolkien role-playing gaming gamers of J.R.R.


* * * * *

Earlier Tolkien posts on this blog that you may have missed:

Green Dragon Miniature (Mythical Earth Minifig)
Gygaxian Orc Tribes (originally derived from Tolkien)
The Endless Caverns of Tu (D&D in Middle-Earth campaign idea)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Bayt Al Azif #2: Unboxing Video



Over on YouTube, MaxWriter* has an unboxing video of the print-on-demand of issue 2 of Bayt Al Azif. He pages through all of the articles, so at 4:33 in the video you can get a glimpse of the reprint of Holmes' 1983 review of Call of Cthulhu and Chris Holmes' new art that accompanies it. For more details see my previous post. 


Purchase link:


(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)

*MaxWriter also has a long-running thread at ODD74, "Role Playing Journals", that details  game sessions he's run.

Bayt Al Azif #2 Unboxing

The second issue of Bayt Al Azif is out and it looks as amazing as the first. It's available as a softcover, hardcover, and PDF. Check it out. Bayt Al Azif Issue #2 - https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/246849/Bayt-al-Azif-2-A-magazine-for-Cthulhu-Mythos-roleplaying-games Hi everyone - I'm Andy and I've been doing Minecraft videos for some time in addition to IRL stuff and tabletop roleplaying games.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu RPG: Rediscovered and republished in Bayt Al Azif #2

Cover art by Jensine Eckwall

A major announcement for Holmes enthusiasts: in 1983 Holmes wrote a review of the then relatively new Call of Cthulhu RPG (by Sandy Petersen), for the inaugural issue of the short-lived Gameplay Magazine (February '83 to April '84), a periodical similar to Dragon but with much more of a general gaming focus. I was completely unaware of this major piece by Holmes ⁠— one of his last in the field of writing about RPGs ⁠— until recently when the long-lost article was rediscovered by Tony A. Rowe of the Cryptic Archivist blog. The original 1986 author bio for the Maze of Peril novel mentions that Holmes had articles in several magazines including Gameplay, but after finding a computer game review he wrote in a later issue (detailed in the Holmes bibliography) I had assumed that was all he had written for that publication. Not so. The review, which is a two full pages as originally published, is written in his characteristic engaging and genre-fan style and includes anecdotes and advice based on CoC games that he himself had run, as well as providing more fodder for a Holmes "Appendix N"

And now, with the permission of Chris Holmes, I am thrilled to announce that this article is once again in print in the second issue of the Cthulhu RPG magazine Bayt Al Azif, along with brand new illustration by Chris of a scene from one of those actual-play stories (!), and a half-page of commentary on the review by myself (bringing the total to 3 full-pages):




(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)

Both digital and hardcopy are available through the above link. This second issue is longer ⁠— 108 pages ⁠— than the the first, and once again includes a wide variety of articles of interest to the Cthulhu RPG enthusiast, including multiple scenarios set in different eras. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents:




Thanks to Tony for locating and scanning the original article, to Chris for agreeing to reprint it and providing accompanying art, and to the editor Jared Smith for accepting it for his magazine and doing the layout.

See also the earlier post about my article for the first issue of Bayt al Azif.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Holmes Games at Pacificon

"Tegel Manor mapping" by Guy Fullerton showing a marked 20-sider in use

Over at K&KA Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, Guy Fullerton has posted a con report from Pacificon Game Expo 41, which took place this past Labor Day weekend in Santa Clara, CA, which includes two different Holmes Basic games he played in.


These included Tegel Manor DM'd by Thom Hall:

Open Role Playing
Fri 7 PM
to 11 PM
(4 hrs)

R-475: Tegel Manor
Presented by Thom Hall

Holmes Edition Basic D&D published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, New to gaming, Characters/Armies Supplied, All Ages
Location: Prospector 1 - A
Description:Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor published by Judges Guild in 1977. Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on the seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days...


...and a Holmes + Greyhawk City State of the Invincible Overlord game DM'd by DF/ODD74 member peterlind, which I didn't see on the event listing.

Guy also ran two sessions of AD&D himself:

Open Role Playing
Sat 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)

R-321: The Mere Beneath
Presented by Guy Fullerton

AD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Prospector 1 - A
Description:Descend a waterfall to explore the watery caverns, and plunder an ancient Hydromancer fortress. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 4-5

Open Role Playing
Sun 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)

R-323: The Garden of al-Astorion
Presented by Guy Fullerton

AD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Monterey - A
Description:Rumors say this secluded valley contains a garden of enchanted fruit trees, and gems the size of eggs. Your party surely has the strength to drive off the primitive beast-men within, and reap the rewards. Classic module by Gabor Lux, aka Melan. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 6-9

Now that you've read the event descriptions, head over and read about how the games went.