Tuesday, 21 June 2016

My Entry for the First Round of the Thought Eater Essay Contest

I like talking to a friend, my son calls Kügel, because he can’t pronounce his name well. He is a long-term philosophy student, gamer and avid reader of cheap fantasy novels. Today I talk to Kügel about “Evocation vs Imitation vs Emulation in adapting literary source material to RPGs“, my topic for the first round of the Thought Eater essay contest.

We have some difficulties defining the three terms, maybe because English isn’t our native language, maybe because we are not that smart. “To emulate“ seems to have two meanings.

1. imitate with effort to equal or surpass

If this essay is supposed to find out which of the three forms of adaptation is the best, emulation automatically beats imitation. Per definitionem, says Kügel.

2. The other meaning of “emulate“ is more interesting. A program can be emulated on a computer, it wasn’t originally written for. What the original program and the new program do looks very similar to the user, but the programs are actually different. Emulation in this sense works best when a text is adapted from one system to a similar system. The fairy tale “Hänsel und Gretel“ can be translated from German to English, for example. German and English are both languages. But can the story be emulated as a film? Or as an RPG?

At first, we understand the difference between evocation and imitation, but talking about it for a while, we get lost. To imitate means to copy superficial elements, all the details of a text. To evoke means to create a similar atmosphere, to write in a similar style, to copy essential elements only, like the more important parts of the plot or the structure.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre“ is a clever adaptation of “Hänsel und Gretel“. You have a group of young people getting lost in the wilderness. You don’t have two children abandoned by their parents. You have cannibalism, but no witch. You have an isolated house, but it’s not decorated with ginger bread. Both stories create a scary atmosphere.

Thinking a bit more about evocation, imitation and emulation, the lines get more blurry. Most texts which “evoke“ other texts also copy some superficial elements and emulation just seems to be a more accurate or better form of imitation, depending on how you define it. Kügel says the topic is unclear, because the terms we deal with are too similar. “And what is literary source material anyway?“, he adds. “The plot? The characters? The style of writing? The world the story creates?“

I propose to work with this: Playing an RPG, you can refer to a text in different ways. One extreme way is trying to imitate as many elements of the text as closely as possible. MERP springs to my mind. The other extreme way is to refer loosely to the text, in an abstract way, and only copy elements you find essential. “A Red & Pleasant Land“ does this. You could call both forms of adaptation “imitation“, the first one “emulation“, the second one “evocation“.

Kügel says: “Your essay will be disqualified. Let’s think about this in a different way. Try to be original. What works best for a GM?“ Kügel doesn’t like to work if he can avoid it. He says: “Which way needs less preparation?“

Well, if you are good at seeing the structure of a text, picking up elements that interest you, changing them, combining them with other elements and filling the gaps, a concept like “evocation“ works for you. If you are good at memorizing lots of information and reproducing it, a concept like “emulation“ works for you.

Kügel says: “Remember. ‘Opinions differ round-up‘, and ‘Well it’s a balance‘-style essays will be disqualified.“

Ok. Here’s another, more personal way to look at it. As an experiment, I wouldn’t mind adapting “Hänsel und Gretel“ as an RPG and stick to the original as closely as possible. Of course, the first thing that would get lost in the process is the plot of the fairy tale and with the plot a lot of other elements would transform. Being an improvisational effort of a group of people, RPGs open up texts anyway. Because of this, one could argue, when adapting a text, a concept like “evocation“ works best with Role Playing Games. It gives enough space to improvise.

But there is something else. I usually don’t feel too comfortable with people who stick to all the details of a given game world and obsess about it. I live in Germany, a country populated by square headed people.

“You said, we were playing ‘Hänsel und Gretel‘, so why did we encounter a wolf on the way through the forest? This is not ‘Little Red Riding Hood‘, is it?“

“It was just a wolf, an animal. It didn’t say anything. It ran away.“

“Why do we keep finding little bones and wooden objects where we left the breadcrumbs? Where is the gingerbread house? And why did Hänsel just disappear? That wasn’t supposed to happen. Where is the witch? I don’t like this.“

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Hamburg Tactica 2016 / Part Three

Here are my impressions about the Tactica 2016. Please check out the first and the second part of my text about the excellent wargaming convention in Hamburg as well.


carthago

On Sunday we had one more game, starting at 2 PM. In the morning I went around taking pictures. While I took a picture of a model of an arcane port, a young man started to talk to me. "Is this a 35 mm camera? A Leica?" "Yes", I said. "That’s cool." Jörg, who was standing next to me, said: "Yes. But it’s not a Leica M4. The M4 is really valuable. This one isn’t." I said: "It’s my father’s old camera. It’s valuable to me. My father died a long time ago. He loved to take pictures with this camera." The young man said: "It’s cool that you take pictures with your old 35 mm camera." "You could get one on Ebay. It’s not expensive.", I said. "The M4 is really expensive.", Jörg said. The young man said: "I wouldn’t know what to do with it." "It’s not difficult. Just try it.", I said. "No thanks. That’s a hobby on its own."



hamburg tactica 2016

nagashima

nagashima

dead man's hand

Krüger and I went to the Foundry booth. I bought the "Foundry Miniatures Compendium". Krüger bought eight warrior women from their Darkest Africa range to use in our Waltrop campaign.



disuq

In the afternoon we played a game presented by the German club THS. "Skirmish at Disuq - Egypt 1801." The scenario was designed by the fantasy author and wargamer Bernhard Hennen, using a variant of the ruleset Lion Rampant, published in the April issue of Wargames Illustrated. This is the introduction to the scenario, in Bernhard Hennen’s words:

"It’s spring of 1801. Napoleon has left Egypt a long time ago. British troops have landed successfully and are marching on Cairo.

First skirmishes are taking place near Rahmanieh on the left bank of the Nile between the British expeditionary force, supported by Ottoman troops. In a coup-de-main the French occupy the small town of Disuq on the opposite river bank. The British react swiftly and strongly. With a tenfold superiority they attack the French. But what is the real objective of this fight off the main battle site? This skirmish scenario will give an adventurous answer."



stefan, teemu and jörg

Our game master Sunday afternoon was Stefan. Jörg played the British, Teemu from Finland played their Ottoman allies, Krüger played the French soldiers defending the town of Disqus and I played some French treasure hunters. The table was very beautiful, the atmosphere of the game playful and relaxed. Thanks, THS. There is a post with more pictures on the blog Monty’s Caravan. Check it out!


In the train, on our way back to Berlin, Krüger and I talked about fantasy literature and how the internet changes how it is published. After 30 minutes a woman said to Krüger: "Shut up! You bother me. You talk like children."

Well, this, of course, leads to the question what is an adult which I might discuss in another blog post.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

74,54 m² / One Page Dungeon Contest

This is my entry for the ONE PAGE DUNGEON CONTEST 2016.


74,54 m²

1 To enter this dungeon you need to open a heavy wooden door guarded with two locks and a chain, either forcefully or using your mad lock-picking skills. There are a lot of shoes on the floor. Don’t trip. Coats and bags hang on the walls. It’s a mess. You see a vacuum cleaner and a washing machine.

2 A room cramped with pots, dishes, spices, rice and noodles, flour and tea. There is an oven, a large blue fridge and an old table with five chairs. The fridge is filled with milk, cheese and eggs, carrots, zucchinis and apples.


3 A very small bathroom with a bathtub and a shower. According to Phil Barker the Sumerians believed that Mukil-resh-lemutti, winged demons with the head of a lion, preyed on humans in washrooms, hiding in the latrine. The demons of headaches. Here you will only encounter some silverfish, fleeing to holes in the wall.


4 There are three small beds in this room. Cupboards and colorful boxes are filled with clothes and toys, part of the stuff made its way to the floor. A large pink plush dog with purple stars on its paws looks at you with googly eyes.


5 A large bed, an old fashioned closet, a clothes horse, more toys. Newspapers pile up on a piano.



herr zinnling

You are attacked by a man wearing a green T-shirt and orange boxer shorts. He woke up by the noise you made breaking into his house and uses a Japanese kitchen knife and the lid of a pot to defend himself.

6 Two desks, several shelves, framed pictures of a Greek port, a lot of books, board games, CDs, envelopes and cartons, a wet towel hanging over a conga, a red locker filled with 263 painted and 321 unpainted miniatures, a Commodore video monitor (model 1701), photography equipment, an orchid, a plywood double bass and several computers.

7 There is a creature hiding in this room, smoking an electric cigarette. "Well. The One Page Dungeon Contest? What is this all about?", it says. "I like the idea of the man with the kitchen knife. But that’s the only original, entertaining idea I find here. How about including some classic D&D monsters? Like an owl bear, a carrion crawler or a thought eater?  What is this anyway? An instruction to break into a house? Well. Go back to room 6 and steal some things or to room 2 if you are out of food. And stop bothering me."


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Hamburg Tactica 2016 / Part Two

Here are my impressions about the Tactica 2016. Also check out the first part of my text about this excellent wargaming convention in Hamburg.

boat

The second game the Kurpfalz Feldherren presented this year was a skirmish game using the ruleset "Donny Brock". After the Swedish soldiers had lost the battle of Lesnaya in 1708, they were supposed to destroy supplies which the Russian troops wanted to catch. Jörg and I decided to play the Russians, basically because playing the Russians we were allowed to control a toy boat, quite a beautiful model. Krüger and another man played the Swedish. The other man wasn’t the same other man Krüger had played the battle of Lesnaya with. He was yet another man and was the commander in chief on their side.


the battle of Lesnaya

This game, too, worked with a card deck which organised whose turn it was and on which side reinforcements would arrive. The scenario worked this way: at the beginning both players had the same number of troops, but the quality of the Swedish troops was much better. During the game more and more Russian troops would arrive. So as the Swedish player, you had to act quickly, destroy objectives and get your troops over a river that divided the board. (I quite like the scenario and would like to use it in one of our games.)

Krüger and the other man managed to destroy several objectives in the first rounds, but then the Swedish commander in chief decided to wait, instead of crossing the river with a wagon. This made Krüger nervous. While Krüger spends a lot of time patiently waiting in real life, he prefers to act quickly as a wargamer. More and more Russian reinforcements arrived. Jörg and I were able to make up for a bad start. We secured several objectives and finally won the game.



church

Jörg enjoyed this so much, that he bought the ruleset "Donny Brock". He also tried to buy some 28 mm Swedish tin soldiers from Wargames Foundry, but they were sold out.

Saturday night, we met one of Jörg’s friends who wanted to show us St. Pauli. We ended up in the bar of our hotel Superbude. While the others were talking about smart phones and trying cocktails with funky names, I sat in a comfortable chair, drowsing and thinking about our first day at the Tactica.

People who present participation games at wargaming conventions spend a lot of time doing so, I thought. They invent rules, paint models, make a board, model trees and little houses. Then they transport everything to the convention, prepare the game, explain the rules to the players, over and over again. Large games take about two hours to play and involve four to six players. As a game master you can run about three games a day, I suppose. So they do all this for a handful of people who play their games. And there is no money involved. That’s great, I think. Ok. A lot of people walk by, look at the tables, take pictures. And many more people look at the pictures when they are later published on the internet. Thinking about it, some people might go to conventions because of the amazing participation games and then buy stuff from the vendors, so there is some money involved, I guess. Anyways. I believe people who present participation games at wargaming conventions get a lot of respect from the wargaming community. Well, they should. Hell, they get my respect!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Hamburg Tactica 2016 / Part One

This year I decided last minute to go to the wargaming convention Tactica in Hamburg. After some discussion that started a couple of months ago about who would come along and who wouldn’t, I went with Krüger and Jörg.


Jörg

Jörg had already booked his train ticket half a year ago and started to bother us around Christmas with his plans to travel to Hamburg. (Jörg goes to the heavy metal festival Wacken every year, where you have to book a year in advance to get a ticket. So German metal heads are not the most spontaneous lot, I guess.) Krüger arrived at Bürgerhaus Wilhelmsburg with his old fashioned suitcase Saturday at noon, rather spontaneously. Why did I go in the end? Being an obsessive collector of miniatures, maybe I wanted to get the free miniature that came with the ticket. Hamma, prince of the Lombards, sculpted by Frank Germershaus. I already have Adolf III, Noble Lord of Schauenburg and Count of Holstein and Stormarn, (2015) and Bishop Ansgar (2008).


DBA

What I enjoy most about the Tactica are the participation games. On our arrival we went around looking for games to join. We found a table in the Rome theme room where two friendly people, Rob and Karl-Heinz, presented the ruleset DBA 3.0 on three boards. You could play the army of the Roman Republic or of one of its enemies. The results of the battles had some effect on a campaign map, hanging on the wall. On one table they had a beautiful piece of terrain, an ancient city on a hill.


BUA

I had a game of DBA 3.0 with Jörg on Saturday morning, Later Carthaginian versus Polybian Roman, and another game with Krüger on Sunday, Gallic versus Polybian Roman. Both games were fun. Thank you, Rob and Karl-Heinz!

In the afternoon we joined two games organised by the wargaming club Kurpfalz Feldherren. Their theme this year was the Great Northern War. Apparently in 1708 the Swedish King Karl XII tried to invade Russia and failed. Czar Peter the Great won the war. I must admit I heard about this conflict for the first time at the Tactica 2016.


the battle of Lesnaya

One table presented a simulation of the battle of Lesnaya, using beautifully painted 20 mm plastic miniatures, imported from Russia and not available any more. The rules were derived from DBA and might be published on the club’s website later this year. The game used a card deck, so players could boost their troops or damage the troops of the opponent.


the battle of Lesnaya

Jörg and I played the Swedish, Krüger played the Russians with another man. First I thought he was from Belgium because of his strong accent, but Krüger and Jörg thought he might have been from Bavaria. Not that this matters much.



the battle of Lesnaya

After two hours of gaming there was a time limit and the two game masters ended the game, inventing a horrible snowstorm. We had a chat about how long it takes to prepare a participation game for a convention and about the games we play. We started to talk about Warhammer Ancient Battles and the games that evolved out of it, when GW closed down WAB, like "
Hail Caesar" and "War and Conquest". I asked one of the game masters of the battle of Lesnaya which of these ancient rulesets he could recommend. I added, I don’t go to clubs or shops to play with random people, nor do I care which game is popular at the moment. He recommended WAB 2.0, but with the old army books, like "The Age of Arthur" or "Alexander the Great". So the oracle spoke to me. And gave me the answer I had hoped for. I wonder why I need somebody to tell me that it’s ok to play an out of print ruleset anyway.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Waltrop Campaign / Day 10 / HotT Battle Report

Day 10 of our Waltrop campaign was fun. Normally our HotT games are decided quickly, but this time the armies were broken up and there was lots of interesting movement on the battlefield.

The Greeks under the command of Fibos invaded hexagon 39 on the campaign map. Krüger played the orcs with this list:

Warband General, 5 Warbands, 1 Hero, 2 Beasts, 2 Shooters

He was the defender and placed the terrain. Since the battle took place in the jungle where the orcs live, he filled the tabletop with tropical forests. I think he used all the area terrain and model palm trees we have.



αρχαίοι Έλληνες οπλίτες

I played the Greeks:

Spears General (officer Fibos), 5 Spears, 2 Riders, 4 Shooters

Krüger deployed one part of his army, the hero and the beasts, on his right flank and all his other troops on his left flank, in front of a very large forest.

I deployed all of my army on my left flank. I placed my block of spears opposite to Krüger’s hero and his beasts and I placed 3 shooters opposite to Krüger’s block of warbands.



orcs

Krüger moved his warbands into the large forest. It took him several rounds to get near my shooters. Also, he had an element of shooters all the way on his left side. This element wasn’t able to do much during our game.

Early in the game my spears destroyed both of Krüger’s beasts and one of his shooters.



ancient greeks versus orcs

I went with my general for Krüger’s hero, which was kind of risky, and with my riders for his base camp. Krüger avoided fighting my general, though, and my riders weren’t able to destroy the camp.



my daughter watching us

My daughter had been watching the game and started to play „I put … into my suitcase“ with Krüger. A toothbrush, a doll, a car key, a barbie DVD, a Greek figure, Greek dice, a robot with mustard, a camera.



ancient greeks versus orcs

When the orc warbands got into close combat with my slingers, they destroyed two of them. I had my revenge, killing two warbands with an element of shooters, with the help of two elements of spears as side support. Krüger’s orc warbands killed a third element of shooters, but then my last remaining element of shooters destroyed another one of Krüger’s warbands, with the help of some spears giving side support.



ancient greeks versus orcs

Having destroyed two elements of beasts, one element of shooters and three warbands, I won the game after two hours. Well done, officer Fibos. Now the Greeks occupy hexagon 39.



campaign map

By the way, I keep getting asked if we use 28 mm, 15 mm or 6 mm miniatures. I assure you these are 28 mm miniatures. The terrain we are using isn’t your usual wargaming terrain though, I guess. It’s more abstract. Let’s call it old school, if you need to put it in some category. Maybe it looks odd to you. The reason why it looks the way it does is that I like glueing coloured paper on objects. I seriously don’t know why. Might be some mental disorder. But as you can see, it’s pretty harmless.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The first 9 Games of our Waltrop Campaign

On Sunday I played Badminton with Krüger. He forgot to bring his sports clothes and couldn’t buy shorts at the club. So he played in the clothes he came with. After half an hour he said: “I’m all worn down. I don’t know why.“ I said: “Maybe because you're playing Badminton in your winter clothes?“ Well, he won all the matches anyway. The best score I got was 14-20.

Afterwards we went to a Greek tavern. The waiter brought two shot glasses of ouzo. I started to talk to Krüger about the Waltrop campaign. We have already played nine games, so I was interested if he wanted some changes or if he was happy how the campaign was going.



the imaginary island waltrop

I showed him two maps, a map of the imaginary island Waltrop and our campaign map. Krüger doesn’t like the taste of anise, so I had both shots of ouzo and felt drunk already. Krüger suggested that we should eventually start a second campaign phase, with stories like: the Greek hoplites under the command of Foibos lead an expedition into the jungle to discover an orc village. I thought: “In which way is this different from what we are already doing?“  I suggested to play out special scenarios using a role playing game like GURPS, an idea we had when we started the campaign about a year ago.


I said: “In general, I’m happy with the campaign. I like the theme. Orcs versus Greeks on a Caribbean Island. At first I thought: Why Orcs? But now I like that a lot. We could add some trolls in the mountains. Savage orcs in the jungle. I could also play the Aquarians when the orcs meet small groups of them as random encounters. I just need to add some fantasy elements to my Greek army. Like giant crabs, a water elemental, a sea hag, deep ones, Merman, silverfish …“ Krüger said: “I should finish my Cannibals in Masks HotT army. I just need to paint a couple more miniatures.“ We talked about where we could place the cannibals on the campaign map. I suggested the mountains, Krüger said they could come from the jungle in the West.



campaign map

“There is one thing I don’t understand“, I said. “One thing that bothers me. Why don’t the people involved in this campaign write background material for it? Or at least comment blog posts like reports of battles they participated in? I mean, I get interesting and friendly comments on my blog from people I don’t even know.“ Krüger started to sweat because what I said bothered him.

“You know, I don’t like social media“, he said. “Ok. You don’t like social media“, I said. “And we talk about the campaign when we meet. Like we do now. But how about Jörg and Sven? I wrote a battle report about a game you played against Jörg. No comment. I mean Jörg has ‘social media‘ written on his business card. I know this is just a hobby. A lonely hobby, my wife says. But still. It’s ridiculous. I talked hours on the phone with Sven to find a name for a blog that was supposed to document our campaign. A place to exchange ideas about it. We ended up calling it Beyond the Pillars of Heracles. The name is a bit pathetic. But what the hell, I thought. And now? Nothing. The blog is dead.“ “Well“, Krüger said, “Sven looses interest easily.“ “You know“, I said, “Sven has a book with notes about the campaign, with maps and names and whatnot. He asked me if I have a notebook like that. 'Just read my blog', I said.“ “Why doesn’t he share his background material with us?“, Krüger wanted to know. “It’s not ready. I asked him to show a picture of his notebook at least.“ “If you want to get him involved again, you need to change key elements of the campaign. Big game companies do that all the time.“ “Yeah. Like I’m a big game company. You know. I don’t care. There is no interesting communication going on here. They say the internet creates echo chambers where like-minded people meet and tell each other how cool, excellent, amazing they are. But this feels more like a funeral home.“

Krüger said: “When I started to play fantasy games, I used to write pages of background material. In those times I would have written a text for every hexagon on our campaign map. But now I think it’s better not to go into such detail. It leaves more space to improvise.“ I said: “It would be cool if you could come up with a name for your general, the orc warlord, at least. Or if you could write short background texts for the hexagons occupied by the orcs. 20. 29. 30. 38. 39. 68. 78.“ “Why are you so angry?“, Krüger asked. “I don’t know“, I said.

We asked for the bill. The waiter brought two more shot glasses of ouzo. I drank one and a half. I said: “Καλό βράδυ!“  The waiter said: “Καληνύχτα!“ (I started to learn Greek because of our campaign.)


On the way home I thought, I should just ask for orc names on google+ and stop bothering Krüger.