The First RPG I Ever Gamemastered

rpg02When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, I was the gamemaster. It was 1979, and there weren’t a lot of options. I will say that I was thankful for The Keep on the Borderlands, the adventure included in the boxed set. More than just learning the rules, it gave me some idea of how to structure an adventure and create a setting. I had a home base for the player characters, the ability to trade and purchase goods, and excuses to beat up monsters. My first fantasy game world sprung up from the missing pieces and unanswered questions in the micro-setting, as I added nearby towns, villages, menaces, and political situations in an attempt to make the world more real and hold together in some logical way.

Two books heavily influenced those first games. The first was Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber,, the first volume of collected Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. I’d found it in a bargain bin, brand new, in a grocery store of all places. The cover intrigued me. I read it cover to cover on the plane during a family vacation to Florida. When I first started playing D&D, I had no idea of any connection between Leiber and the game. I was thrilled, though, when I finally got a Dungeon Masters Guide and saw his name listed in Appendix N. I felt like I already possessed some secret knowledge.

Leiber’s stories informed my idea of what fantasy fighters and thieves were like. It led me to the other volumes of Lankhmar stories, which in turn colored my world view of what wizards and clerics were like, and their relationships with fighters, thieves, and normal, workaday people. It made me create my first fantasy city, just so I could explore those dynamics and have an excuse to emulate the fiction I enjoyed. None of my players ever complained that we fought fewer monsters and engaged in more conflicts and rivalries with humanoid non-player characters.

The other book that influenced my early gamemastering was The Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler. I’d read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at that point, and was working my way through The Silmarillion, which had recently been released. I’d bought the Encyclopedia for reference, to get all of the connections between the books and to help me keep track of the vst sweep of Middle Earth history. In my game, I used it for ideas, taking places and characters from it and tweaking the names. It was also the first time I skimmed or “shemped” monsters, taking creature statistics from D&D and changing their appearance and their names and making them into more Tolkien-inspired monsters.

What I ended up with was a world where the wilderness was more folksy and breezy and even fairy tale-like based on the Tolkien influence, and a lot grittier, more cynical, and filled with dark humor in the cities based on Leiber’s influence. It worked. What I ultimately learned was how to assimilate various influences and pay the homage, while crafting something that was uniquely my own. I think that had I just been a player I would have tired of roleplaying eventually. It was the creativity of gamemastering that got me hooked on the hobby.

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The Putin Thing, Explained with Puppets

putinOkay, no actual puppets, but I’ll try to explain this situation for my friends back in North America as simply as I can, based on what I understand of it.

At least 3 times in the past week, Russian planes have violated Finnish airspace. That makes Finns not happy.

Finland has a long tradition of trying to stay neutral in disputes between Russia and the NATO nations (pretty much the US, Canada, and most of Europe). There are a lot of economic ties between Finland and Russia that are vital to the Finnish economy. Finland is part of the European Union, but not a member of NATO.

Finland is signing an agreement with NATO that will allow NATO troops to train on Finnish soil, and to allow those troops to enter Finland for rescue missions and offer emergency support if Finland requests it, but Finland is still not a part of NATO.

So what Finland has done, basically, is let Russia know that it’s not picking sides, but that NATO will have its back if they decide to play grab-ass up here the way they’ve done in Ukraine.

Am I worried? Not really. The Finns aren’t worried, and they’ve got a better handle on the situation than I do.  Most people seem more upset about letting NATO troops train here than about a few Russian planes violating their airspace.

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A Quick Update on My Health

Since we arrived here we’ve been doing a lot of walking. That’s both because we don’t have a car, and because we’re not living in a car culture, where you’re judged by what sort of vehicle you drive and how new and shiny and big it is and you’re considered some sort of a freak if you’re an adult that doesn’t own a car. Sorry, that slipped right into editorial there, didn’t it? There’s also good public transportation, but mainly we walk. That alone has helped me immeasurably.

I’ve had no respiratory issues since we’ve been here. Well, I had a slight cold for a couple of day, but that doesn’t count. No asthma. No allergies. Because New Mexico has to be one of the dustiest places on Earth, whereas Finland has moisture in the air and green stuff growing on the ground so the dirt doesn’t blow away.

No digestive issues, partially because we’ve been eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and not a lot of processed food. Real, raw food is relatively cheap here; the more it’s “stepped on”, the more expensive it gets, unlike in America where the more fake and plastic the food becomes the lower the price drops.

Very little pain. The hip flairs periodically when I’ve done  lot of walking, especially I’ve I’m carrying a heavy load of groceries or walking up a lot of hills, but not too badly. And the more I walk, the less that bothers me. No real arthritis pain at all. Very little stiffness in the joints when I first wake up, unlike New Mexico where I would get out of bed feeling like a wadded up ball of aluminum foil and spend an hour trying to un-crumple myself.

Yes, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling very good indeed. I don’t have a scale to weigh myself, but my clothes are looser. Finland suits me so far. And the better I feel, the more I feel motivated to do in terms of diet and exercise. This could work out very well for me.

Of course, in addition to the diet, exercise, and climate there’s also the fact that I’m no longer in New Mexico. That’s not a slam. The situation there was causing me a lot of stress. Stress causes pain, and makes me not want to engage in a lot of physical activity. I’m also  stress eater, so I overate. The pervasive culture of poverty, the crime, the social injustice, the way Katie was treated (dare I say, abused?) as a teacher, it all just kept punching my last nerve, day after day, week after week. Being away from situations I could do nothing about has done wonders for me as well.

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The First RPG I Ever Played

rpg01The very first tabletop roleplaying game I ever played was the 1977 printing of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic boxed set, better known as the “Holmes” or “Blue Book” edition. I got it in 1979, when they were having the infamous dice shortage, so my set came with the cardboard chits and a coupon for polyhedral dice when they became available again. I remember sitting outside in my friend’s yard on a picnic table, and use picking chits out of a paper cup. I also remember, once we got dice, sitting in coloring them in with crayons. Those dice were crap. They chipped a lot, and I remember my friend dropping one and it splitting in half.

My first exposure to the idea of a tabletop roleplaying game, though, was through comics fandom. I remember sending away and getting my very first fanzines in the early/middle 70s. One was a Legion of Super-Heroes fanzine, and one was a Justice League of America fanzine. This is how fans communicated in the days before the internet. They wrote articles, drew pictures, made copies, stapled them together, and sent them through the mail. I recall getting both of those zines at about the same time, and one of them had an ad for the original “White Box” D&D. I wanted it very badly, but I could not afford it. It would have meant less money for comic books.

We didn’t play Holmes for very long. Within a couple of months we had 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. I don’t even know what happened to the boxed set. I probably gave it away because hey, who needed basic when we were playing advanced, which was obviously much cooler and made us far more badass, right?

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Green Ronin Designer Tryout Submitted

rpg04Green Ronin has been seeking new freelance talent, so I put together a submission and sent it in. I’d really like to do some work for them, not just because they make amazing game products but because they’re very cool, very nice people. I’d be very proud to add them to the list of companies I’ve freelanced for.

I was getting worried that I wouldn’t get around to crafting something I felt reflected my potential before the deadline, what with the move and school and other freelance work, but I’m happy with what I handed in. I designed what I think is a unique Mutants & Masterminds character, in an effort to not only demonstrate my familiarity with the rules but to demonstrate my creativity as well. Let’s hope they like it!

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Confessions of a Solitary Writer

work-blogKatie begins school tomorrow, with an orientation that will have her on campus all day, every day this week. This makes me happy, because this is what we came here for; it’s the actual start of the actual journey. It also means that my productivity will go up, because I am very much a writer that thrives on solitude.

The truth, which has nothing to do with Katie in particular, is that I get more done when she’s not around. It’s not that she’s a distraction, or that she willfully prevents me from getting work done. It’s all me. I feel quilty, as if I’m somehow ignoring her. I’m one of those people that gets into a flow state when I’m writing and can’t hear anything going on around me. She’ll say something, and I won’t hear her. If she does manage to get my attention, I tend to get grumpy because my train of thought has been interrupted. I am, admittedly, kind of a jerk when I’m working.

I don’t like this for reasons beyond the fact that I don’t enjoy being moody or shutting out my beloved wife. It means that I can’t really get much done under other circumstances. I can’t really write anywhere, at any time. In spite of the fact that I’ve done a lot of work in coffee shops and libraries where people (sometimes loud, noisy people) are around, I dont really ever interact with those people. I’m not especially flexible in my work habits.

The upside is that when I have this chance to be super-productive, which means getting more done and, honestly, increasing my opportunities to make money. It also means that the emphasis switches to the quality of the time I spend with Katie, rather than the quantity. I’m pretty much insistent that we each breakfast together in the morning and have dinner together at night, as much as her school schedule will allow. I know that once her actual classes begin, she’ll be wrapped up in studying and reading and writing papers and won’t really be present, other than physically, on a lot of nights and weekends. She’ll be in her own flow state, her one zone, with her own work to do.

This is a good thing, ultimately. We work as a couple because we do have separate lives, as well as our life together. It keeps things fresh and gives us new things to talk about. We don’t get the chance to get sick of each other. It allows us to be a team, without becoming codependent. It makes the quality time more precious, more valuable. And I get to write. A lot.

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Help Us Stay in Finland

gofundmeMy wife Katie has started graduate school at the University of Jyväskylä, where she’s pursuing her Master’s in Education. We worked for two years to get here, because it’s such a fantastic opportunity. Katie gets to expand her skills as a teacher at the original teaching college in a nation reknowned for its education system.

I’m self-employed as a freelance writer and author-publisher, and our sole means of financial support. My income fluctuates a bit from month to month, but I make enough for us to get by. Finnish immigration doesn’t see it that way, and would like us to have a bigger cushion in our savings account. Without it, they’re likely to deny us our residence permits. Without residence permits, we could get deported. That would suck. 

And it wouldn’t even be money we could spend, because a residence permit is only good for a year, and they’ll want to see that cushion sitting in our savings account next year as well.

So, I’m starting a GoFundMe project to raise money that I’m not going to actually do anything with, other than sit on it so that we can stay in Finland legally, and my wife can get her Master’s in Education.

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September in Finland

IMG_20140825_064708As we head into the month of September, it already feels like fall. It’s been in the 50′s (Fahrenheit) and raining quite a bit. Early mornings have been misty, but it burns off by about 10 am. Days have been overcast, but the sun does peek out from behind the clouds occasionally. 

Throughout the month of September, I’m told,  daytime temperatures will generally reach highs of around 12°C,  about 53°F. At night the average minimum temperature drops down to around 5°C, or 40°F.

Back in Albuquerque it’s still in the 80′s and 90′s this week (around 17 or 18 Celsius for my non-US friends). I know that I’m no unpleasantly hot and boiling inside my own skin. I’m finding it to be very pleasant.


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Pinaattiohukainen: Those are Spinach Pancakes


We saw these in the K-Citymarket, in the meat section, and had no idea what they were. They were only about 1,50 € so we decided to buy a package. When we got home we used Google to translate and discovered that they’re spinach pancakes. It’s a Finnish thing. They serve them with lingonberry jam or sour cream, and are more of a lunchtime thing, as I discovered later.


Not knowing how to prepare them, I just put some butter in a pan and warmed them up. I served them for breakfast with some fried onions and scrambled eggs. They’re not bad. I’m used to making veggie omelets, and make spinach omelets a lot, so spinach for breakfast isn’t weird for Katie and I. Theyre not bad. They’re pretty tasty, actually. I mean, it’s a pancake with spinach in it, and that’s what it tastes like.


Now that I know what they are, I can make them myself from scratch. Still, they’re cheap. I may keep a package around just to nosh on for lunch or snacks while Katie’s at school.

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