Saturday, August 20, 2016

Forgotten Films: Richard Corben, "NeverWhere" 1969






Yesterday while scouring a local discount book store I lucked onto a collection of near mint bagged copies of early Heavy Metal at four George per copy. I sadly couldn't buy the lot, which numbered well into the thirties, but the copies I did get thrilled me when I got them home and discovered they contained not only Moebius stories but the original Richard Corben Den strips!

Corben was an artist/writer/film maker who really pushed new frontiers in adult comic illustration with his science-fantasy tales that are largely inspired by the old pulp fantasy and sci fi magazine serial stories such as the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now a cultural icon, Heavy Metal, which was actually the American offshoot of a French comic magazine called Metal Hurlant, was in its day, some of the most visionary and influential illustrated science fiction and fantasy stories to grace the magazine stands.





It corrupted...I mean inspired...many a young mind, mine being one of them, since on occasion in the early 80's, depending on the clerk at the convenience store and how new they were to the job, I could act nonchalant enough to walk up with a stack of comics, HM being one of them, and pay for them quickly enough and get out to avoid being told, "You're not old enough to buy this, kid." 

It was one of the magazines my mother would throw out unceremoniously into the garbage if she chanced across it while snooping or cleaning in my room. Though she expressly forbade it, perhaps no other comic had such a hold on my young imagination, but sadly, when I started reading it, Richard Corben was no longer a contributor. I knew his work, however, from some horror comics and aspired to be as good an artist and cartoonist as him.


If you enjoyed the animated 80's movie "Heavy Metal" and in particular the segment based on Richard Corben's Den of Earth serial from the 1977 and onward editions of the Heavy Metal comic magazine, you will either already know about this little gem or, if not, be quite thrilled as I was to learn that it exists and give it a watch.

Just under fifteen minutes, Neverwhere is a novel live action/animation mix with rotoscoping and collage. It is obviously very influential conceptually in the later Heavy Metal film. Thematically and plot-wise, it is also the basis of the entire Lok Nar relic that forms the thread which weaves all of the tales in Heavy Metal the Movie together. And I could swear that the voice of the female actor in the 1969 short film is heard again in the theatre film version.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if you do, you might want to check out Corben's very strange and surreal live action follow up in 1989 called The Dark Planet.

I actually ran a few AD&D 1st Edition games based upon Neverwhere and the Lok Nar. I wanted to get around to mapping out the subterranean halls by which Den gained access to the Queen's palace but never did...perhaps another day.







Monday, August 8, 2016

Blue Book Dungeons and Dragons With Kids!









Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons with kids?

It's definitely different. 

We had a good time! A lady Knight PC(!) and a canine PC named Sammy who has a bite attack every round, a special pee attack twice per day, and all thief abilities except those which require hands...Sammy being based upon a real character who lives in our house and pretty much lives up the pee attack and the thieving.

Explorations of a ruined Castle in search of an ancient treasure, a magical sword, encounters with elves and wolves in the forest, and interrogations of captured goblins. There have also been skeletons, living statues and an encounter with a Wraith who must not be battled until the party obtains the magic sword(since wraiths cannot be harmed by non-enchanted weapons)...the two PC's have been accompanied by a Dwarf warrior named Snorri and a lady Elf who has good spellcasting named Andrea.

I like to run a serious game with a gothic vibe so it's good for me to get out of my comfort zone and run this game--the Sammy character was not my idea but I rolled with it and it turned out to be fun for all three of us!

In my humble opinion the Holmes set remains the best rules for introducing roleplaying games to beginners.

So the goblin prisoners were let go with a warning (after their cohorts were vanquished) and for one of them, it was his second and final chance, because he was encountered in combat a second time after being let loose with a similar warning in a previous encounter.

One of the interesting parts of this encounter was when the kids demanded an explanation of the alignments and it caused  reflection upon ethics and values. They did decide it would be wrong to murder the goblin prisoners in cold blood while tied up...but let them know next time there would be no quarter. Fascinating to be a DM and watch those moments!



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finished Art Project At Last--Down in the Dungeon


Well, it's done at last. I began this piece in October of 2015 and have worked hard at it in intermittent bursts since then. Once or twice I ruined it and then started over on the paints and I wondered if it would ever be done. I will be doing a number of works like this in the future, some smaller in scale, some larger. Hope some Mazedwellers like it!




Monday, June 6, 2016

New Dungeon Terrain; Kazamir


Greetings Maze Dwellers! Model dungeon terrain is not essential to giving your players a good gaming experience, but it can be fun! 



I have endeavoured to construct model terrain for every major encounter or ruin site in my campaign up to the ninth or tenth level of play.


The piece pictured was actually inspired by the illustration in the front of Holmes blue book where you see the party deep underground (apparently) and
meeting the onslaught of an Orc Warband pouring out of a passage mouth.




The Sutherland Illo that inspired my model...



It doesn't take a lot in time or materials to create these type of 3D geomorphs.


The Styrofoam is cast off stuff behind department stores and the paints are .99 cent acrylics.  The work you see is maybe five hours, and it's not done yet, but the time spent was quite enjoyable.


I am very much looking forward to the party discovering the mystery of the ancient pool and dragon statue and their reaction when the arched portal emits a swarm of humanoid enemies!

Please e-mail me pics of your terrain and I will post it here at
the Mazes!









Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Excalibur Rises from the Loch; The Return of Hidden Kingdom. An Interview With Designer Gene Riemenshneider

 
 
  
Some readers of this blog may be old enough (like me) to remember an obscure 
gaming relic of the early eighties known as Hidden Kingdom, an Arthurian setting
role playing game produced by New Rules Inc. I owned Hidden Kingdom as a 
teenager and although I only got to play it a few times, it was a game with a feel
and quality of production which always left with me a wistful nostalgia for it. 
 
The reason I didn't play it more was because I had a hard time finding other gamers
interested in the genre featured in Hidden Kingdom and in the simplicity of its
mechanics which deviated from our customary D&D in many ways, not least of which 
being there was no character generation system, no fantastic PC  races, no classes, and 
a low magic quotient. But I always felt, personally, that for the setting and vision
of Hidden Kingdom at least, these were strengths and not weaknesses.
 
 
The Original Hidden Kingdom Game in Slipcover Box Shelf Edition
Well, magic things happen in the OSR Community, 
and it turns out that Hidden Kingdom is no longer a lost 
relic. 
 
Gene Riemenshneider, one of the game's original designers,recently successfully 
funded a Kickstarter campaign to launch an updated re-release of Hidden Kingdom 
and this unique game is available once more.

Gene graciously accepted my request for some lore concerning the
game's creation and participated in an e-mail interview with me that I think will
be of interest to anyone interested in the how and why of game design, as
well as those who are fascinated by the phenomenon of early-era rpg games.

This game has a lot to offer even those
who may not prefer the genre.
 
There is the coloured hexagonal terrain map of the British Isles that was a hallmark
of the game; terrain is colour coded, and every castle in the setting is featured on 
the map and covered in the rules as to which family owns it, along with encounter tables
in the rules (based on family alignment) to determine what happens when players 
go knocking there. It is a beautifully illustrated map and next to the World of Greyhawk 
(in my opinion) is one of the greatest rpg game maps to ever be produced. With the 
new edition of Hidden Kingdom, a good thing has been improved upon and the old white 
borders that made the maps hard to fit together (there were two) have been eliminated
and the entirety of Britain, Ireland, and satellites are now unified artistically 
(there were inserts before).
 
 




The Updated Map for the Anniversary H.K. Edition
 
 
Then too, there are the interior art illustrations.
These are abundant, fine-line pen and ink illustrations rendered by a woman named Paula
Lamb who apparently produced the work for free because she loved the ideas of 
the designers' vision for Hidden Kingdom. I've owned a lot of rpg's in my life, and one 
must admit that many beloved games were illustrated in a manner leaving somewhat to
be desired. I will state unequivocally that Hidden Kingdom is filled with some of the 
best art to ever grace a game. I hold to a trinity of favourite old school artists-
Trampier, Darlene, and Paula Lamb.
 
But aside from the material features of Hidden Kingdom, I am genuinely impressed
with the effort, love and thought that went into the rules, something I had always felt 
about the game but was certified by Gene's articulations on the game's
origins and milieu. As Gene himself states, there are many approaches to the 
Arthurian legends with respects to rpg's--the entire myth cycle is really,
as he says, a bundle of charming anachronisms. Jon McClellan, an animator/artist
who was one of the principle creators along with Riemenshreider and Stanley Dokupil, 
actually ferreted out EVERY single knight, lord and lady from Le Morte de Arthur 
and other sources--even those whose inclusion amounted to no more 
than a mere name reference--and gave them game stats, magical and combat 
probabilities based on the texts and even heraldry! There are HUNDREDS to choose from
from the least known to the luminaries.

No, Merlin is not a playable character, but Mordred, Morgan La Fey, and all the
Knights of the Round Table are, and we will leave the Game Guide (as the rules name the DM)
to determine how to let players choose or be assigned their character. I'm sure
who gets to play King Arthur will be a contentious matter at some game tables.

Seriously, though, that is but one example of the attention to detail given to 
Hidden Kingdom. That same attention is given in many other areas of the game,
a devotion that is belied by the simple  mechanics of 
the game. There are some quirks (the Dungeon Design system being one) but the 
game is well written, it's mechanics work, and during a time when
nearly everyone else was going for ever more complex rule structure and systems, 
Hidden Kingdom possessed what has become a new trend among gamers if not 
among game designers and publishers-- one of the very first rules-light
systems that understood itself as such without sacrificing logic and excitement. 
  
 
So, here is the text of Gene's discussion with me concerning Hidden Kingdom

(Note: I had difficulty formatting due to computer issues. Apologies)
 
 
 
First, congratulations on your recent successful kick starter
to give Hidden kingdom a return voyage, Gene.

Thank you very much. I am very excited to get this game out again,
to build onto the Hidden Kingdom system, and to get rolling with some other
projects.

So, please tell us a little about yourself.

Well I am a 55 year old Real Estate Broker. I have a background in Private
Investigations, Insurance Adjusting, and risk management. I have 6 boys, 2
in college and 4 home schooled. They are heavily involved in Sports and
Royal Rangers (a Scouting type organization). I am a Royal Ranger Commander
(former Eagle Scout). We play lots of games in our house as a family. Right
now primarily Euro Games (Ticket to Ride, Settlers and such). But we do
some War Gaming, lighter stuff generally but moving to some heavier stuff.
And my kids have been playing Hidden Kingdom with me. 

Were you led to roleplaying games by way of wargaming, Dungeons and
Dragons, or some other game?

Well I always like to play games as a kid, Monopoly, Chess and other such
classics. Me and my buddy were always playing army. Both with toy guns and
little toy soldiers. One day back then, I'm maybe 12, in my friends room I
spotted some boxes with pictures of soldiers on them. Well they were some
Avalon Hill War Games. He had talked his mom into buying them, but got
bored because it was cardboard, not toy soldiers. Well I got him playing
around with those (Panzer Blitz being the first one) and we kind of taught
ourselves and became addicts. And added more and more games.So one day, when
I was 16 or 17, we go to the game store and there is this game called
Dungeons and Dragons in a Blue Box. I had read an article about it and was
curious. We each pitched in $10.00 and bought it. The dice were kind of
weird and I stumbled through the rules. My buddy and another friend each
rolled up a character. We did not have any miniatures, so we moved Chess
Pieces around on the table and made the dungeon out of objects in this
bedroom. Now the thing I thought was cool was my friend (Dave) was fearless
when playing war games, very brave. He would take risk. Now he has a very
personal character and he puts his ear to the door in the dungeon and he
hears something. So what does he do? He runs!! That is the difference with
RPG's; it is personal. 
 
Of course we ended up with about every D&D product we could get. We also
got into Boot Hill, Top Secret, Gamma World, and Traveller. But D&D and
Traveller were the main two.
 
Please describe a bit the gaming community and culture as you experienced
it then in the area where you first got into it.

Well I think the main thing is there were a lot more gamers back then. The
only video game was Pong. I think a lot of kids were into war games and
then drifted into RPGs. There were a number of kids that played things like
Status Pro Baseball and Football, which I think is kind of the same
culture. Berkeley, which I grew up near and would go up there and hang
out, had a huge gaming community and lots of smart people. Games of
Berkeley was like this wonderful store full of war games. Go to game stores
now days and they are all RPG's, Euro Games, or Warhammer type stuff. I do
miss the old War Games. Yet at the same time I think the games (even the
war games) are much better today than 30 years ago.

You have stated to me that there was a definite motivation for the
creation of Hidden Kingdom, the game's backstory as it were; please
elaborate, and tell us about the others who were involved, such as Jon
McClellan and Stanley Dokupil.

You need to understand these people. Stan was the catalyst, but he was not
a gamer. Stan came out of Texas and the counter culture to some extent. He
is a Christian, and a man of incredible intellect. Why he is not teaching
at the university level or still a full time writer I do not know. I
consider myself smart and well read, probably more well read than 99% of
the people I know, but Stan is way beyond me. He often talks over my head,
without meaning to or being pretentious. With this little bit of background
I think that this is where Stan meets the gaming culture. He is geek.
Sometimes he has trouble fitting in. Part of that is because he is so
smart. And I think if you hang out around gamers enough you find that most
of them are very smart, but sometimes have trouble fitting in. Anyway, Stan
was writing for Christian Research Journal at the time. He wrote on
culture issues and such and how these impacted the church. At the time D&D
was getting a lot of bad press, both secular and in the religious
community. Stan was writing an article on it. A mutual friend introduced us
and I played some D&D with him. And he wrote his article.

What he wrote was critical of the game, but not all out unreasoned
opposition. He recognized some very positive elements in the game. We spent
a lot of time talking about it and I challenged him. My basic point was, if
Christianity is legitimate then we should have the creativity to come up
with something better that would address his concerns and have an appeal to
both Christian and secular gamers. He agreed. Some time later he asked me to
come by his office. When I came by he handed me a game that some guy in
Australia had sent him after reading his article. It was the prototype of
Hidden Kingdom. Stan wanted to know if I could make it into a viable
commercial game. It had a lot of rich detail. I did not know a lot about
the subject and started reading a lot of Arthurian literature and playing
the game. I made some suggested changes to the game and suggested the
format of the product. It did not have a map. I also advocated a loose leaf
format with a slip cover. The old Avalon Hill Games came with a slip cover
and it was very classy. Also with RPG's the rules were always changing or
being updated. I felt with a loose leaf format it would be easier for
players to play the game. They could have all the current rules in one
place. 

Jon came over from Australia to meet with us and offer input. But it was
always and off and on project. And no one had any money. I was off busy in
college and Stan called me to tell me he had the game ready to go. I was
surprised but he had finished the game. A lot of stuff I had suggested was
in there and he had taken some of my notes and written them right into the
game. I wish I had had a chance to work on them a little more. But I don't
think any RPG is perfect or ever finished.

There was a lot of back and forth; and as time has gone on I have seen
some of wisdom of Stan and Jon in this regard. 

Jon McClellan was employed in the animation industry during what is known
as it's Silver Age. How did you and he meet and how did you end up gaming
together?

I met Jon when he came to the states to work on the game. After it was
published I also went around to gaming conventions with him to play the
game. Jon was a lot of fun. Very smart and very engaging. He made these
great t-shirts we had to promote the game. I wish I still had mine. I don't
know if anyone has one anymore.

Tell us about the particular vision for the setting, which I believe is
very well conveyed by the mechanics and writing, as well as the underlying
philosophy in this sort of game design.

Well, Jon designed the game on King Arthur and his knights so that kind of
limited us to where the action is. Of course there is a lot more depth than
that. Le Morte de Arthur is our primary source work and guide. There are a
lot of different takes and approaches to the Arthurian Legends, and I think
HK is flexible enough to be adapted to others. Originally Jon had made the
game more modern, based on The Once and Future King which takes place in
the 14th century. Most Arthurian Legends reflect a Norman Knight Culture, which
honestly did not exist at the time of King Arthur; Arthurian stuff tends to be very
anachronistic. But I felt we needed to shroud the game in a little more
mystery so we moved it back to about 450 AD to start the action, although
I think you can pretty much start it where you want. The Romans pulled out
of Britain in 410 AD and we felt that a date just after the Romans pulled out
was a good setting. Also, we backed off on shiny plate mail and such. We
left them knights, but put them in an older and cruder chain mail. I do not
think a genre game will have more popular appeal than a generic system such like
D&D that can be plugged into a lot of situations, but I think it can be
better address the particular genre than a generic system could.

Even though there is a Christian mind set behind the game we did not want
to be seen as the “The Christian” game. We wanted a game that reflected the
real world and can accommodate different world views. And I want to say
(and it is amazing how many people do not know this) Lord of the Rings is 
presented with a Christian World view in a fantasy setting. One of the
themes of the Hidden Kingdom game is the attempt to use Chivalry as a tool to bring peace
between the Christians and the Pagans. 

The game is not bloody. Although it is possible for someone to be killed
very quickly in-game, if you read the stories single combat sometime took all day.
Often they would just beat the opponent into submission. Or after beating
each other half to death they would swear eternal friendship and eat
together. I would also say it is rated PG-13. We use the term Paramour in
the game and it can be a Chaste Love relationship or it can be all out sex;
it probably meant both things back then. But in using the term Paramour we
leave it to the imagination and discretion of the Game Guide. 

Jon very much wanted the game to be a simple game. He wanted it to be
stand alone, that is, no supplements or add on's, which is death for a game in the
RPG market. Jon has said the game is ideal for a computer on-line style
game. I remember 30 years ago (pre-internet) Jon talked about the ideal way
to play the game was a Game Guide seated in the center of a round table so
that he could rotate around and work with all the players on the outer
edge. 

Stan's idea was to also have a game that could be played in one setting
and conclude, without having to play forever, but you certainly have the
option to play more. Although I think it needs to be fleshed out, I wanted
to have a system more fitting for a long campaign. 

Hidden Kingdom has one of the more unusual alignment systems we've seen.
Could you give a brief description?

Well, Alignment has always been a tricky issue with games. I have seen
endless arguments about what it means to be Lawful Good vs the other
Alignments. Generally, the concept of Alignments falls into relativism...a
person defines what is good and then tries to be that – or rejects it.
Generally people define what they do as “Good” and then justify themselves
as good people because they do what is “Good.”

I think most people are conflicted, though. This is certainly something we see
over and over in the Bible. King David was an Adulterer and a Murderer, but
is called a man after God's own heart! God did not approve of the Murder he
committed or the Adultery, but he still had a great relationship with God.
The Apostles Peter, Paul and others struggled with similar issues, as did
many people in the Old Testament. 

Most of us carry around in us some social standards or core...in our post
modern culture there may be more diversity of opinion about what those
social standards should be, but most of us still have a standardized, self
imposed (or peer/family imposed) moral core of things we believe that our
friends and people around us reinforce. Then there is the selfish part of
us that wants what we want. This is in all of us, Christian, Pagan, and so
forth. Often we hide this selfish part behind social convention and
standards, and even use those social conventions and standards to achieve
these selfish goals. Lastly, there is our spiritual side that is seeking a
connection with God, or, you may define it as Gods or Something Else but it
is there. Now we frequently lie to ourselves and deceive ourselves as we
go through life about who we are really serving.

So in the game we wanted to show the conflict within each of us.
 
Characters have two different sets of conflicting goals. First off, they are
either Pagan or Christian; they cannot be both. But then they can choose to
be primarily Chivalrous or True Zealots for their faith (Renunciates and
Powerlords). Everyone tracks Chivalry as a character factor, but the true
believers weigh their goals more toward Power or Faith, rather than chivalry.
 
A character might have to choose between earning Chivalry Points or Faith Points;
and so forth.I want to add an aside. It is not reflected in the game (as it was
not reflected that way in the source books) but Pagans can be highly moral
people with the cultural context they are in...sometimes more “moral” than
Christians. It is not talked about often but Morgan le Faye's bedding of
Arthur and the birth of Mordred were both wise and highly moral from the
Pagan Cultural perspective she was from. King Lot and the other Northern
Kings had good reason to resist and fight King Arthur. His claim to the
throne was dubious ("So, some boy pulls a sword from the stone and you expect
me to buy that?"), he had cuckolded King Lot and he had killed the children of
the northern nobles in an effort to hide his sin with Morgan le Faye.

Rather than control the behaviour of the Players directly we allow them to
make mistakes. They do pay for it in game terms (Just as King David paid
for his sins, even though God loved him). Lancelot (the Renunciate) can
have an affair with the Queen, but God could then let him heal sir Urre of
Hungary. I really do think the alignment system needs to be expanded and
modified and I am headed in that direction with things. Both in how points
are earned and what points can do. (And I think I know how to do it without
much complication.) One thing I would really want to reflect is the Land is
the King and the King is the Land, or as the leader go so goes the people.
This is reflected very well in the early 80's movie Excalibur. One of the
best Arthurian stories told in a single movie. They really summed it up
well in short period of time.

When it is expanded it will tend to play out two ways. For those playing
short month to month Quest and not a campaign game alignment success will
give you some benefit or blessing to use on your next quest. The other way
it will be used is for Players playing a long term campaign and keeping
lands and castles. Alignment success will help them with their lands and
castles.
 
The pen and ink illustrations that grace the pages of Hidden Kingdom game
are absolutely beautiful and wonderfully evoke the Arthurian cycle and the
spirit of the game. Please tell us about Paula Lamb and how she became
involved with the design? Was she a gamer?

I may have met Paula Lamb one time. Stan took me up to Sacramento to meet
with someone about getting art for the game. This was in the early 80's and
I was off school that day. I forget the persons name. As I understand it
Paula Lamb is a friend of Stan and his wife. She has some health issues and
lives in seclusion. As I understand it she is a well Known artist and there
is no way we had any money for anything.I do not know if she is a gamer,
but I don't think so. But she understands the cultural implications of what
we are trying to do and is behind us big time. She prepared the original
art for Hidden Kingdom for free and (as I learned last month) gave Stan the
right to use if for one printing. I did not realize this. When I found out
I stopped promoting her art, but now she has granted us the right to
continue to use the art.

As a young man I did not fully appreciate what Stan was trying to do with
the art. But basically he did not want the standard overly heroic art
featuring muscles and well endowed women in skimpy outfits that is in a lot
of fantasy games, comics and books. We wanted a much more human look and to
a certain extent a peaceful look, although some of the images have some
violence. 

I think they really do evoke the period and the legends; they are a huge
part of the game.
 
 
 
(Image Copyright: Paula Lamb)
 
 
 Some people have compared Hidden Kingdom with Pendragon. Pendragon was
unquestionably more commercially successful and is certainly a great game,
but you have mentioned that Hidden Kingdom was actually a precursor.
 
Yes, we had this concept ahead of Chaosium. I am kind of defensive on this point
as I do not want people to think we copied them or where trying to cash in
on their success. That being said I have nothing negative to say about
Pendragon and I want to be gracious. I can slip into a jealous mind set, “if
only we had beat them to market.” I think we would have been more
successful if we had. But at the same time I think Pendragon opened doors
for us, and we would not have been as successful as Pendragon. We did not
have the business background and made a number of key mistakes that really
hindered us on a business level too.

Greg Stafford and the Pendragon people have been very kind and supportive.

I will make some general statements from a brief review of the 1st
edition. You Pendragon die hards be patient with me if I am off base. First
off, there was a lot of research that went into Pendragon, a lot more than we
did on some levels. I do not know if Pendragon ever put out a resource like
us in regard to Character stats on over 300 Knights. Pendragon is a rules
heavy game, die hard role players tend to like that. There are certain
assumptions about culture built into the game that may or may not be true.
But the entire Arthurian story is an anachronism built around a multitude
of cultures. As a game designer you have to pick and choose which items you
will use and how you will incorporate them. It seems to be weighted toward
Norman Knightly Culture, as is HK, but with Pendragon even more so.

It appears to me that they try to use alignment, value, and culture to
control what a player can do. Whereas, in HK, a character can do what ever a
character wants, but the results in their life will vary based on their
alignment, values, and culture. I like the way they have brought in more
cultural distinction based on race/tribe and so forth and I think that is
something we could do in Hidden Kingdom. Hidden Kingdom is more about the
feel of the game and the story. We really wanted to have the flavor of Le
Morte de Arthur. Knights just riding around and having adventures, often
just for the sake of adventure. But often there is a morality tale buried
in the story or adventure. Lastly, as noted above I could fall into
jealousy, but I am a Christian and I do believe God works through things
for his purposes. I have had 30 years to think about Hidden Kingdom and
games and so forth. I think I am much better prepared to work on the game
now and expand it than I was 30 years ago. The issues in Hidden Kingdom
(cultural and religious clash) are much more prevalent in our post modern
culture today than they were 30 years ago.

What sets Hidden Kingdom apart as a game, and to what sort of roleplaying
game audience is it suited? Is it a good game for young people?

Well we were trying to be the Un-Game and we succeeded so well we became
the Un-Game Company. What I mean by that is we tried to go contrary to the
direction most other people were going; nice art, high production
standards, a full game in one box, a game that can be played in one
setting, a game based on history and literature, a game that reflects real
world issues, and so forth. One some levels we did very well, other areas I
think we could have done better/smarter. I think the thing that sets us
apart from most games is you play a Character that is already
per-generated. This is something some experienced players have trouble overcoming.
But I think we can argue that having pre-generated characters makes
us the first true Role Playing Game. At the time I thought we needed a
character generation system, but over time I see the wisdom of Stan and Jon
in regard to this. There are a lot of reasons.

If you read the legends most knights did not “improve” or advance. They
viewed their Knightly prowess as either divine blessing or a birth right
that affirmed their right to rule and their nobility. This is very alien to
our modern egalitarian education centered culture. I am not saying their
view was right, but then neither is our modern view completely right. I
believe hard work and experience pays off, I think some education is over
rated, and some people are born with a natural talent in some areas and/or
blessed. However, this game was designed to reflect the books. A Character
Generation System would take away from that period feel. 
   
There are over 300 hundred Knights in the book. There are enough Knights
that are enough of a blank slate that a player could take that knight and
play it more to their own character. There are also Knights of all talent
levels. A lot of new players instantly want to play one of the big name
knights they know, Lancelot or Gawain, generally. However, the more they
get into the game the more they want to learn about other Knights and get
more into the feel of the period and the game. With a generation system
this might not happen. Our natural tendency is to want to play one of the
super powerful knights. But many players as they play gravitate away from
picking the toughest knights to picking a character they find interesting
or want to know more about. From a game play perspective I find playing a
mid level knight (in terms of prowess) is a lot more fun. And even a weak
Knight can be fun to play. Again this all fits with getting into the feel
of the game. A player should not view the game as trying to become the most
powerful, as trying to do as much as one can with the power given. I will
point out a similarity with Lord of the Rings here. What makes LOTR
different from other books and stories? Most people never catch this, but
most heroic fantasy is about getting some magical item or thing to help
them overcome some evil. In LOTR it is about divesting oneself of power and
avoiding the temptations of power. In HK take what you are given, be
faithful in service to your overlord, and do what you can with what you
have. 
   
Now thinking back on when this game came into being, there were a lot of
critics of D&D. One of the criticism was is that some kids were
overly emotionally involved or projecting through a fantasy character
and/or unleashing some of their more base issues in the game. Now I think
this is true for all of us to some extent, and even in HK, but most do not
take it to an unhealthy level. By having them play a pre-generated
Character the thinking was to temper some of those issues. Now I have
nothing against games with character generation systems, but I very much
understand why it is not best for HK. 
   
One of our purposes was to drive players into history and literature.
Playing pre-generated characters will help do that.

If you must pre-generate I published rules for that in High Chivalry, our
only supplement published to date in the late 1980's. Or you can just roll
a knight using the Lesser Knight or Black Knight generation system. (You
can get High Chivalry from Fun Quest Games, but it is not Canon to the
system or where I want to take the game.)

Hidden Kingdom is not for any one audience and we want to avoid the
“Christian Game” label. Even those not Christian I think should have an
interest in a historic game that tries to portray Christianity
realistically within the culture. It is an excellent game for kids, it is
an excellent game for those new to Role Playing, it is an excellent game
for those that just want to try something new or different without a big
commitment. It is an excellent game for those interested in history,
literature and historic gaming. I also think as I get more rules published
it is going to be a very good game for those looking for a long historic
campaign. I do not think we can replace D&D or other games people might
love. I certainly have other games I like. But most people have more than
one game system. I think this is certainly one that a discerning game
player would want to own. Playing a game is like going to the movies or
watching TV. Most of us have more than one show we like or more than one
type of movie we like. A game is like a good story. We have a good story
and a good setting.

Rules for warfare are very light in Hidden Kingdom, easy to run but not
complex. As I recall, they do not necessitate the use of miniatures. Yet
the original game did offer a formula to simulate political strife
involving larger forces, though without playing out an actual "wargame", am
I correct?

I really wanted these rules added and made them up. I wish they had been
more complete, they are largely from notes of mine Stan had. There is a
Large Scale Combat Rating formula. My intention was not to publish that,
but for us to use it and figure out the rating for the different knights. I
wanted some factor that took into account all the knights stats and
weighted them to one number. I am glad you think they are simple. I think
they might be a little daunting for the inexperienced, but if you work
through them one step at a time they work pretty well. It also covers
raising and marching an army. You will note keeping an army in the field is
no easy task. This will not be a war game, it can be a geopolitical game
where war is used at times.I have been working to upgrade the warfare rules
by adding new troop types. There are 3 new types of troops in the Knights
of Antiquity Volume 1 Supplement. I will put in more as the game develops. 

One issue with large scale warfare is that knights on horseback were really not
always that effective at it. But the feel and character for the game needs
them to be the most powerful force out there. The books were written for
the nobility (Knights) and they saw themselves as all powerful on
the battlefield. At Hastings most of the Normans were on foot and the
cavalry did not use lances to face the Saxon Huscarls. At Argain Court
the French Knights got whipped. Charging a well prepared defensive line or
a shield wall is suicide but that makes for a poor Arthurian Game. I have
added shield walls with the new troop types, but they are not all powerful.
I will add some archers, but they will be limited and not the Long bowmen
knights came to know and fear. In 1066 the peasants did not carry
bows...peasants with bows would be thought of as poachers and dealt with
accordingly. And a self respecting knight would not stoop so low as to shoot
another noble knight from a distance...well of course they would, but that
is not what the stories portray. I would like to add miniatures as an
option. Both for the Role Playing and the warfare. But we need more volume
to develop our own line. If anyone has ideas or resources about what this
would take I would be glad to hear from you. I have some ideas for Card
Driven Battles, not the CnC system, but on that level of complexity maybe. 
 
Depending on alignment, Hidden Kingdom characters can appeal to miracles
or work magic, although the use of spells is far less prominent than in
other games, and is attended by innate perils. Tell us about that, please.

We call it the Supernatural Intervention Rules. Magic is for the Pagan and
Miracles are for the Christians. There are perils for both magic and
miracles. Both sides are appealing to Spiritual forces for power beyond the
natural world (hence the term supernatural). We viewed the Pagan approach
as either to control these forces or at least bargain with them for their
own own will (the pagan's) to be done or acted upon. The spiritual powers
that be want certain things too. Often there is some price to be paid by
the Spell Caster for obtaining the favour or use of the power. We can see
this in the Druid Practice of making sacrifice, including human sacrifice.
Now we did not want to be so realistic in the game that we have Pagans
conducting ritual sacrifice, but in the real world that is one of the
things that happens. Other things could include loss of self will
(possession), loss of God's (Christian God's) blessing on the land,
physical wear and tear on your own body, and so forth.I will say in
Christianity there is a thing called the Word of Faith Movement that tries
to do the same thing with Christianity that Pagans do with their own belief
system, but that is not how I think prayer and miracles work. Now Christians
do pray for things and sometimes those prayers are answered, however, many
times not. Or they are answered after a time or in a different way than I
expect. Just like my kids asking for things and I say, “no”, “not now”, or
offer something different. It is not a lack of love on my part, it is my
wisdom to see that it is not really best for my child. We wanted the
Christian to have the best chance of successful prayers when they are being
unselfish about it. Hence a Christian Knight has a better chance of healing
his enemy than a friend or himself. We also tried to reflect the concept of
blessing as one moves closer to God's will. I think we could have better
reflected the concept of martyrdom and self sacrifice. The big difference
between the two is that Paganism will be about trying to bend the supernatural
forces to your will and resisting the consequences (or minimizing them) and
Christianity will be about learning to bend oneself to God's will and
enjoying the blessing. Some things I notice about Arthurian legend is most
magic and miracles are behind the scenes and low key. We don't see people
using magic or miracles as weapons in the midst of an encounter as we might
in D&D. Christians often use magical things in the game, but they do not practice magic.
And there are a lot of unexplained mystical or magical type encounters without
explanation. Magical Barges which carry people places, mysterious guardians,
and so forth. I use these in encounters with no reference to established
supernatural rules.

This is a very hard system to work on within the context of this game.
God is unpredictable and impossible to quantify, and yet you need rules and
that is exactly what rules do. They predict and quantify. It is an area I
plan to work on. But I do not see it as as high a priority as some other
areas. 
 
There is provision made in the game for subterranean adventures in and
about the ancient ruin or two, but the emphasis is more on overland quests
and roleplaying in specific encounters, am I correct?

Yes there is. I do not see these rules as being that important to the
game, as I think outside adventures are more to the genre. But I will say I
think there is room for adventuring in castles and such and I think we need
some modules reflecting that. There was a actually a rule put in about
characters making dungeon type adventures for other characters, kind of
weird and for the most part to be ignored.

Are you still involved with gaming on a regular basis, and what are your
thoughts on roleplaying games forty plus years after their popular advent?

Well, about the only roleplaying game I play anymore is Hidden Kingdom. I have some
games on the drawing board, including role playing games I tinker
with. I kind of miss old D&D, but I think the system they use now would be
alien to me. Being a dad has kept me away from many games I used to love.
We push more of the family style Euro games on the kids. I follow their
lead with what is of interest to them; hence an attic full of Warhammer
and 40K crap. I play ASAL on line using VASL and GMT's Great Battles
series. Lots of light war gaming with the kids, Axis and Allies, Attack,
Command and Colors Games, and other light war gaming.

Right now it seems to me there are a few big games that dominate the RPG
market, but there is also a huge space for small and very specific type
games. There are games with all kinds of weird and detailed back stories
and settings. People are buying them and playing them. The computer and the
internet have really brought democracy to the market and allow people to
niche market. Tools like Kickstarter and Drive Through RPG help make it
possible. In a drive to be more “Realistic” people seem to like more
complexity. However, I think this is shrinking the gaming market. I
actually think you can make a game simpler and have a more realistic feel.
And when roleplaying it needs to be about story and feel, not about rules.
It reminds me of the battle between DOS and Mac in the early 90's. The
engineer types like DOS as they felt if gave them more control. But the
masses went for GUI in Mac and Windows. And today our computers do more
than ever for us, alot more than if we had stuck with DOS. There are a lot
of changes in our culture. Video games are replacing role playing games
with kids. Smart phones are replacing conversation. I mean, how many of us
find ourselves playing on the cell phone in social situations rather than
interacting? I think when we work on game design we need to be aware of
drawing in more people to the hobby and focusing on social aspects of
gaming. We can offer far more socially than video games, TV, or movies. It
will be hard to crack the mass market and go big time with a new role
playing game, as they are either very genre/back story specific, limiting
the audience, or they are general enough that the mass market already has
something there. It will take something very good and unique to break that
mass market. I have a few ideas I am working on, but for me there is the
time element. I also want to make the games very social. I want easy rule
concepts, but complex strategy options. Role playing games need to have you
feel like you are there.

Please tell us about the updates you have made to the game; you have
re-released it, is there new art, and is it available as a
hardcover? What else is different now, and do you have future plans for
Hidden Kingdom material?

Well this release of Hidden Kingdom is basically the original game. I
thought about doing a full rewrite, but I felt the original game needed to
be put out and then worked on from there. The original game had an audience
and I wanted to be loyal to them. Now I did make some slight edits and
re-organization to a few things. I did away with the large chart sheet and
the charts within the body of the rules. At the end of the rules I have 11
charts that cover everything that used to be on the sheet or in the rules.
This made the charts easier to use, shortened my rules, and cut production
cost. I updated the map, with a bleed so both sides fit together and I did
away with the inserts to fit Cornwall and the Shetland Islands on at the
top and the bottom. They are just part of the map now. Some of the colors
have changed so you can better tell mountains from swamps. Some of the
borders move slightly. It will be glossy on 100 lbs stock, with two folds
in each half. If you are a die hard I can get you a full map printed on
photo paper and sent to you in a tube. 

This edition is available Loose Leaf, Hardback or PDF. I like loose
leaf as you can deal with rules updates and keep all the relevant stuff
together. Now some people insist that this is tacky and want hardback, so,
they can have hardback. I do not sell a binder, let alone a slip cover. I
would like to offer those if there is the demand and I can get production
going on a cost effective basis. I will sell you a set of dice if you want,
but most people have dice already. I really needed to keep expenses down. Not
any new art so far. A few clips taken from here and there. But I have an
idea to get some quality art keeping the art theme consistent with what we
have done at an affordable price. I do plan to retire the 30th Anniversary
Edition soon and replace it with a 3rd printing that will be the standard edition.
I have a lot of plans for the game.

With this release, you can get Knights of Antiquity Volume I. This only
adds 4 new characters, 3 new soldier types, and some special magic items.
But it is a taste of things I want to add. I want to add some knights that
may have been left out (although it is hard to find anyone Jon missed that
is in Le Morte de Arthur). Mainly, I am adding Knights (or other fighter
types) from history or around the Arthurian Legends. This addition adds
Uther Pendragon, Hengist, Horsa, and Riculf. Don't know them all? Buy the
module and learn!

My Stretch Goal was a Situation Encounter Module. Situation Encounters
involve a description of a situation character come across and then you
roll a d6 to see which of 6 different back stories apply. There are 96
different stories like this in Hidden Kingdom. Normally, they take up a half
to a full page in HK. This module I am writing may be a dozen pages or so.
They are very well written encounters with a good story and feel for the
game and legends. I also added a spell in here. This is a sample of the
sort of modules I want to put out. Here is the tentative plan: the first
advance module will update the combat system with more weapons and a critical
hit system. I will also add rules for using miniatures. Then some charts
and better explanation as to damages when a character maxes out on hits
taken. I want to leave the combat rules very simple, but right now, other
than jousting, a knight can never be killed with one swing of the sword.
Death or sever wound should always be a risk, even if a small one. I also
want to ad some variation to the weapons so you cannot factor up simply the
best weapon to use. In this module I also want to add more troop types and
go over large scale combat more. Maybe a few war/battle Scenarios. Our second step
for revision involves two areas, but they go hand in hand and will probably need to
be done at the same time. This involves upgrading the alignment system and
the political and economic rules. These two things will be tied together so
they need to be done together. Another area of expansion will be magic and miracles. 
There will also be an upgrade to the creature section, adding some things and
adding more detail to what is already there, perhaps create encounters with them. 
There are plans for a game map that includes parts of France and maybe some other areas.
I also have lots of ideas for adventure modules. Full quests, castle encounters,
and a number of situation encounter additions. These will be added on a regular basis and
not wait until the other things are done. This will include Knights of
Antiquity. I have some ideas to really add some good social aspects, get
the Ladies more involved, and to make some solitaire options that work.
There are a lot of other ideas to expand the system and options to go with
it. Some I want to keep under my hat. I also have other types games I would like
to develop. 

In closing, please share with us one of your most memorable game table
experiences from one of those early games.

Wow, that covers a lot. One thing would be when I was with Jon at a RPG
type convention down in San Jose. We had a large game of Hidden Kingdom
going in the open gaming room. There were other people around playing other
stuff or watching. 

I forget a lot of the specifics but a battle developed between two of the
characters. They were great knights and it was one on one combat. The
entire table was watching. People in other games stopped to watch. This was
a duel of honour. People started cheering and pounding on the tables. Each
swing of the sword brought cheers or groans. By the time it ended dozens of
people were watching; everyone was caught up in it.

But what was really going on? It was just two guys rolling dice, no
miniatures or anything, just two guys going back and forth with dice. But
using the game, and Jon being a good Game Guide, a vivid picture had been
painted in the minds of all those around the table. That is what role
playing should be. 

Gene, thank you for taking time to answer my questions, and thanks for making
this game more widely available again!

Thank you, Justin, for allowing me to share. I want to make it clear this is
my perspective and not that of Stan or Jon. And if anyone is interested I
will honor my Kickstarter pricing until we get the game printed and I get
the e-commerce site set up. Of course without the e-commerce site you will
need to pay with Paypal or check.

We can be found at Fun Quest Games and Fun Quest Games has a Facebook page.
There is also a Hidden Kingdom Players group on Facebook. Lastly I can be reached at
CustomerService@FunQuestGames.com