Friday, February 16, 2024

Authentic Thaumaturgy: Ponderations


I got this little gem on digital media, a bit unusual for me, but nonetheless one of my better PDF purchases. If you haven't had the pleasure of digesting this bit if gaming magic, I summarize. It is an attempt to put real world magic into game terms. Yep, you read that right. And I'm not talking about David Copperfield/Kris Angel Illusion magic. I'm talking about real life, shamanic, witchcraft, Voodoo, Solomonic Ceremonial summoning and binding magic. Magick with a K courtesy Aleister Crowley. 

And the author was no stranger to such esoteric subjects, nor gaming. Isaac Bonewits was a practising "magician" and a college educated scholar of magic. 

He knew of what he wrote. Bonewits' degree was from UC Berkley in, you guessed it, Magic Studies. Albeit a B.A.. he was still one of the first degree holding individuals to be able to claim he studied magic at university. The Book itself was based in solid scientific study of what forces may be behind magic. In short, parapsychology. And Isaac wrote a book that actually makes Authentic Thaumaturgy much more understandable. 
Real Magic was a layman's exposition of the psychic abilities that are likely related to many of the paranormal effects that some people claim are magic. By the way, such a study is not just a part of the wild and wooly 60's and 70's. 
No less a professional PhD that Dean Radin, lead scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences wrote a very similar book. Radin, a long time academic parapsychological researcher lays out in his Real Magic the hypotheses of psychic phenomena and how what most call "magic" can tap into them and allow "normal" muggles to harness what is a very "Real" magic.

And if you're the skeptical sort, just take some time with Radin. He has several well written books that cover the foundational scientific research behind these apparently magical laws. This phenomenon has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt and replicated countless times. In fact in a recent interview Radin pointed out that most parapsychologists today no longer perform replication studies to prove the phenomena, that has been done to death. What they are interested in now is how these abilities and "powers" can be pushed in the service of humanity.

It may sound all a little too X-Files for some, too Professor X to others. But I find it delightful that a book like Authentic Thaumaturgy sought to bring reality back into fantasy with what is, for all intents and purposes, real fantasy. It's not alone in this endeavor now. Some far stranger things have been done in this name. And I'm sure it is all enough to have given the Satanic Panickers of the past fits of possession. And I also am not surprised it was Steve Jackson games that published it. They were always pressing the boundaries of reality and fiction--as the FBI raid on their studios when they published the cyberpunk source material.

Any intersection of the real and the imagination fascinates me. For the two are not nearly as far apart as we might think.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Creating a Movement About Gaming


I have felt a little down for the past year or so. My regular gaming group was family based. We had a friend who gamed with us, but the rest were me and my three kids. However, kids grow up, get jobs and significant others. Life changes. Seems the story of my gaming life. 

I grew up gaming with the same core group of three or five friends. I had been the first to find AD&D, and I sort of did exactly what Derek Sivers talks about in the video. I stood up at our junior high bus stop and did the crazy gamer dance, and I had them hooked before we were driving out of my block to school. That first group of friends carried me through almost a decade of gaming. 

Of course those were tempestuous times. I was not the most level headed teenager, nor common sense young adult. Things changed. We got lives, jobs, significant others, and things change. Which for me meant a hiatus from gaming from about 1995 to 2005. Oh, I missed it, believe you me. But things happen when the time was right, and enter 2004 or so and I realized the kids I was teaching at my new junior high were playing third edition. I didn't know much about it, but I knew how to start a movement!

I put up flyers, did my crazy gamer dance, and thus entered into the second best gaming time of my life: running the junior high school gaming club. We ran through 2012. I had as many as 30 students in the club at one time, many of them first time gamers. I would say the club introduced gaming to literally hundreds of kids, many of which I still see today as adults who still game, or remember it fondly and wish they could start again. 

In 2012 I took a job as a school principal and the sheer investment in time was too much to try and run a game club. So my gaming was seriously curtailed. However my kids brought me the 5e books the Christmas after its release. Thus was born our home game which continued for some years afterwards. We gamed more or less through until 2018 or so when my oldest went off to college. We didn't stop entirely, gaming a lot with her over Roll 20 or the like. But as she graduated and job a full time job, and also her own gaming group closer to her home, things slowed down. My other kids grew up, got jobs, and the gaming slowed to a trickle. So our family friend found other gamers to play more regularly with. 

And here I am today. The last year seeing very little in the way of gaming. I have reached out to a few online, but I just can't get into a full online game. Maybe I'll resign myself to that one day, but not yet. Thing is I do remember how to start a movement. It's really not the hard. I just have to have the courage to get up and risk being seen as silly until I find some friends who want to be silly with me. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

KODT, HackMaster 4e and the TSR Ethos


If you haven't read Knights of the Dinner Table, or HackMaster 4e/1e (and to a lesser extent HackMaster 5e/2e), you likely aren't familiar with the over the top, tough as nails, unapologetic Gary-Speak that is at least a part of it's success. And if you weren't gaming during the AD&D first edition hey day of the 80's  era, you are less likely to realize how much KenzerCo got it right.

Back in 1996 when KODT first appeared in Dragon Magazine I was taking a break from gaming, had been for about two years. I never ran into the strip in the intervening years between then and 2004. It was about then that I got back into gaming and discovered first KODT and then HackMaster. At that time, I was deep in the throes of nostalgia for the lost age of TSR. I was aware of 3rd edition and even tried to play it for awhile, but everything seemed to have changed, and for the worse (at least in my opinion at the time). 

Dragon Mag 226, First KODT strip

Knights of the Dinner Table spoke directly to my soul. It's funny that this was the case, as I always took my gaming so seriously. What was in essence a cartoon (at least initially) had managed to speak directly to what I so longed for in my gaming. It as as if it spoke out of the past to my gaming heart. The adversarial approach between GMs and players, the hard nosed competition to outdo each other, out think each other. The high stakes, the danger, the strategic maneuvering in the game to get what you wanted. The death trap dungeons, let the dice fall where they may, and the sweet scent of player death on the air. I can't even really capture the essence of what it was, but Gary Speak had a lot to do with it.

This was what it felt like back in the day. All of these things--it was a very real ethos. Hard Eight and their cut throat tactics and from on high pronouncements. KODT captured it perfectly. I mean it was clear it was satire. The jokes were all the more funny because they were true! Yeah, they were occasionally amped up to eleven, as Spinal Tap would say, but they were soundly based in real gaming truth of the time. 

I was so excited to learn about HackMaster I nearly wet my gamer smock. It was an amazing effort to not only capture the game that the Knights played, but to also create a homage and natural successor to first edition, that should have, in truth been the 3rd edition we all wanted. Second edition AD&D had been so sanitized and made pretty for the BADD moms and Satanic Panic mongers that it had strayed from the original soul of the game. Though truthfully, that era of TSR as emperor of the gaming world persisted through at least the mid 90's. 

What we really needed was a return to the glory days of hardcore rules and hardcore play. We needed HackMaster to be the next iteration of the game. an innovative return to the glory of yesteryear. But the IP passed onto WoTC and other things were to be. In fact we owe a huge debt of gratitude to WoTC (preHasbro) to allowing KCo to produce the game in the first place. It could have never happened otherwise. 

But my point today is just this. If you really want to get a taste of what a certain phase of D&D, and gaming generally, was all about pick up an issue of Knights of the Dinner Table. Or give HackMaster a read. -- preferably the 4th edition as it is a real attempt to recapture what AD&D was. 5th edition still has lots of classic GarySpeak, but so innovative rules developments that it steps a bit further away from a strictly AD&D chassis.