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Things that caught our attention in the gaming world of late...


Return of the Jedi

We couldn't let this issue go without mentioning the biggest and hugest cultural event of the decade (and no, we don't mean The Matrix. Sheesh!). We're talking of course, about the release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Obviously this is old news now, so we'll just say that if you haven't seen it yet, you're really missing out. Though there are a few tiny hitches, it is an amazing movie which totally lives up to its expectations. You can read a more complete review (sans spoilers) here.

The Media Reacts

To more serious matters. Just a little while after we published our last issue, a terrible tragedy occurred in Littleton, Colorado. We won't go back over the events again, the media has already laid them out in excruciating detail in glossy, full-colour pictures and interactive websites. Rather, here we will purely concentrate on how the case affects roleplayers.

As soon as something like this happens, scapegoating is inevitable, and the targets of the witch-hunts never change: computer games, arcade games, movies, TV shows, rock music, and of course, RPGs. What's really disturbing here is that nobody has ever really mentioned whether the people involved actually owned these so-called violent computer games, or watched these violent movies, or, most importantly, played these violent RPGs. They were involved in some aspect of a culture which is not entirely mainstream in its appeal, and therefore, any such culture can be to blame. It seems the very existence of these dangerous elements in the atmosphere is enough to inspire violence in people.

What's even worse is that RPGs have been included almost as an afterthought. The hysteria has chiefly been targeted at computer games and movies, with roleplaying games kept out of the limelight. But any decent pogrom targets everything its orchestators find distasteful; it saves time in the long run if you can burn roleplayers along with the computer gamers.

To be fair, RPGs where only tacked on to the list of scapegoats in a few instances. The first comment appeared in the Associated Press, on April 23. The article "Summoning emotion, a prosecutor speaks out", by Ted Anthony included the following quote:

Dave Thomas is the local district attorney in Littleton CO. He gave an emotional speech, calling for an end to violence. The Associated Press review stated "He said America isn't taking care of its children. He wondered aloud about video games, movies, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and how they influenced young people."

Lacking subscriber access to the Associated Press, we could not secure this full article, or find out anything further about the quote. Far more disturbing, however, was the article in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher. This article was a monumentally ignorant and terrifyingly irresponsible overt attack on Gothic culture, labelling it as a cult-like obsession which encouraged the idolisation of death and killing, and thus implicitly to blame for the tragedy. Fisher also included the following remark:

"Inspired by fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Gothic has become a fascination of many American high schoolers, some of whom simply dress and paint their fingernails black while others immerse themselves in a pseudo-medieval world of dark images."

We wrote to Mr Fisher and to the editor of the Post, politely requesting some sort of explanation for this bizarre and dangerous jump from D&D to Goth, but as yet have had no response. If you'd like to complain about this, you can email Marc Fisher or the Post.

However, it is worth remembering that these were only a few small comments amongst a nation-wide witchhunt. Roleplaying has thus come out of this relatively unscathed. This may be a product of the now much diminished power of the anti-gaming movement, and our increased acceptance into the mainstream, or perhaps just a consequence of low media attention. Whatever the case, this is not the time to be screaming blue murder against an imagined pogrom against all roleplayers; this will only reflect poorly on us.

That doesn't mean, however, that you should let anyone tell you that you shouldn't be wearing a trenchcoat (as happened to one of editors), or criticise whatever other freedom you choose to exercise. Never relinquish your right to free expression, just make sure you fight back intelligently and calmly. Anger and rage, as we all know, lead to the Dark Side.

A collection of interesting comments, columns and reflections on this issue can be found at Uncle Bear.

And the Nominees Are...

The nominees for this year's Origins Awards have been announced. Origins is a USA-wide gaming convention run by GAMA, at which they present awards to the best roleplaying games, board games, card games, war games and associated paraphenalia that was released in the previous year, as well as inducting some games into the Hall of Fame. The nominees are decided by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (also part of GAMA), but the winners are voted for by the public! So get on over to the site, download a pdf version of the voting sheet and have your say in the Oscars of gaming. If you really liked a game, this is your chance to make sure it gets the recognition it deserves, so don't be shy!

Maelstrom Minutes

Last month, one of Brisbane's biggest conventions was held at the Moreton College of TAFE. Our man on the scene, Kevin Powe, had this report:

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first Maelstrom convention, and I have to say that it was quite an experience!

The first thing that struck me about the convention, confirming what most people told me, was the SIZE of the thing. The Maelstrom convention pretty much has the run of the campus for the weekend, excepting TAFE students foolish enough to still walk the grounds. When I got to the dealer stands, they were, BIG. The entire cafeteria was filled with dealers, clubs and societies (including a bunch of hard looking people with swords patrolling for Bamboo Bandits). Maelstrom conveys an impressive sense of size, and of community. When you walk up from the car parks to the roleplaying rooms, you pass at least two or three buildings full of wargamers, and the board gamers are out and about too.

And it is this community aspect that is one of the most impressive things about the people behind the Maelstrom convention: they've managed, through their own blood, sweat and dealings (and perhaps a dash of opportunity and luck) to get parts of the community involved in the convention that people don't normally associate with gaming conventions:

They are on good terms with Amnesty International, who man their registration desk (along with John Collins, of course) and help things run smoothly. They're on good terms with Brisbane computer game company Auran, evidently, and have managed to procure a sponsorship deal for the Moreton TAFE campus that allows people who couldn't normally foot the bill for registration to turn up, thanks to their flat $14 registration fee. Last year they got press coverage from the ABC over the weekend, and were (I believe) on the 7:30 Report, however briefly.

They've used their heads, and managed to create an amazing support network for the convention. The venue is also amazing, and it's great that someone like Paul Martyna is there to help with the whole thing. The cafeteria ran over the entire weekend like clockwork, and the food was great (well, great for convention food. It was cafeteria food, and that was enough for me).

Their prize support is just amazing: those lucky bastards who took out the Shades of Grey roleplaying tournament (Care Factor Zero) receieved the gift of an AD&D boxed set each. It was great to see the return of player packs, too: the characters for Shades of Grey were mailed out before the weekend to teams registered for the event, which was great. And, finally, it was great to see the Maelstrom Bigness carry through to charity support as well: around $1200 was raised through Pass the Pigs for charity. Wow!

The community aspect of the convention branches out to their gaming as well: rather than focussing on the usual Big Three (roleplaying, wargaming and card gaming) they offer less standard events like Monopoly, Scrabble and Go as staples (they've also got more convention-familiar stuff like Settlers of Catan and Talisman). Obviously, they're not the only ones to hold these events, and they're not the first, but they've done very well out of it.

It also helped create an entirely different flavour of convention, a more social one. Their choice of roleplaying games this year was a little slim, although I still managed to fill up my sessions. For me, this meant a chance to branch out into other things, but the lack of choice did limit appeal somewhat. Similarly, there was an hour break between sessions, and unlike most conventions, this break is almost religously taken, rather than being played through. While this was great for the first day, getting a chance to peruse the amazing trade stalls, for the rest of the weekend it represented more a break in momentum. More gaming, less chatting would have been preferable.

Though in short supply, the RPGs were top quality. Over the weekend I played in Shades of Grey (an AD&D game by Terry Krause), A Hero's Heart (Babylon 5 by Travis Hall, the last of his great trilogy) and The Wild Regrets (CoC by Nigel Bell). The highlight of the weekend for me was definitely Travis' B5 module, which was set just before the climax of the Civil War, but I thoroughly enjoyed the other events as well.

Apart from a few tiny glitches, the organisation was pretty smooth. We all knew where we were going, and when, and all the GMs who were supposed to be present were there with time to spare. Overall, it was a complete success. If you get a chance to go to Maelstrom, go! It's a great con, and with Brisbane's support it can only get bigger. It would be great, and not just for the warm and fuzzy value, to see ALL of Brisbane's gaming groups, getting behind one convention, and seeing how far we can run with the ball.

As for this year, roll on ConJure '99!

A Fun Day of Slaughter for the Whole Family

Glen MacDonald writes to us of his medieval enthusists group "The Adventurer's Guild", now operating in Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia. The group concentrates on medieval weapons training and battles.

Glen says "The training is done with padded (yet realistically weighted) weapons, including sword, sword-and-shield, battleaxe, spear and many more. The techniques are taught in a coherent, organised manner, and is great for anyone interested in medieval weapons. The lessons are not done for profit, and even the equipment can be had (or made) very economically."

Glen concluded by saying that the training would appeal to anyone who is at all interested in fantasy or medieval times, and everyone who lives in the area should come out and give it a go. We couldn't agree more - there's nothing more fun than spending a day learning how to carve up your friends with battle axes. If you'd like more information, simply email Greg.

And the Winner Is...

The great PTGPTB Reader survey has come to an end (but if you only just got here, please fill it out anyway - see last issue). And the winner of the grand prize - a complete boxed set of the card game "On the Edge" is ...Shane Russell, of Brisbane (and no, we didn't fudge that). Congratulations Shane!

Meanwhile, we have collated the results of the survey. Over 80% of you think the zine and its content is either great or excellent. The design faired slighlty less well, with only 30% of you rating us so highly. You tended to think the articles were by far the most important part of the mag, and your favourite. Those sections that earned your disfavour varied, but the links and local news pages were at the forefront. Said pages have now been minimized, so we hope you won't object.

40% of you were new readers when you filled out the survey, the rest of the times being evenly spread. Your favourite issue by a long way was Issue 6, followed by Issues 3, 1, 5, 2 and then 4. 60% of you loved the History, the rest liking a variety of pieces. As for what you wanted to see in the zine, Game Resources and Reviews were by far the most common request, followed by more industry news, and scenarios. We'll see what we can do.

Now, for the demographics. 80% of our readers are aged between 20 and 40, with the peak (50%) between 26 and 30. Not surprisingly, most of you had thus been playing for 10-15 years or so. But we had a gratifying amount of newbies and old-timers as well. Less than 10% of our readers are female, alas. Most of our readers come from Australia (40%) or the US (35%), but between you all there was a large amount of different countries: Canada, England, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Norway, and more.

Most of you play either once or twice a week, but over 20% of you play rarely or not at all. You tend to GM more than you play (65%), and you play a variety of systems. The name that came up most often was AD&D, but homebrew systems were also very popular. Finally, you spend an average of 25 hours a week on line, an impressive investment indeed. Still, as long as you spend some of that looking our way, we don't mind.

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