3/27/15

Five for Friday 34: A Stack of World War 2 Books

My most recent World War 2 reading has taken me a bit off the beaten path. As near as I can tell, I have read about 100 books on WW2, going back to childhood. I am still as fascinated as ever by the single biggest (and worst) event in human history, but I am more interested now in the cultural and political aspects of the war and less interested in the actual combat. Here are my latest five books (in alphabetical order):

  • The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II by John Keegan. I am a John Keegan fan and picked up this book used. Keegan has a great recommended reading section at the end of his book, The Second World War. The Battle for History is an expansion of his recommended reading with more background on the academic debates around certain concepts and theories. I found it to be a quick and enjoyable read.
  • Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel by Richard H. Minear. A forgotten side of Dr. Seuss. Some fascinating things here: (1) Before the U.S. entry into the war, Geisel was a liberal who advocated intervention against the fascists; and (2) Geisel wasn't perfect but he did a pretty good job of avoiding racial and ethnic stereotypes in a medium where it was rampant during WW2.
  • The Red Orchestra by Gilles Perrault. I picked this book up used some time ago and finally read it. He focuses on the Brussels and Paris circles of the Soviet WW2 spy ring known as the Red Orchestra. The key figure here is Leopold Trepper and Perrault's book is based primarily on face-to-face interviews with former spies and spy-chasers. The book is flawed and subsequent research, using then unavailable documents and records, highlights the flaws. 
  • Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra by Shareen Blair Brysac. Again, another book picked up years ago in a used bookstore. I read it after reading Perrault's book. It is well-written and sympathetic treatment of Mildred Harnack, an American woman executed by the Nazis, at the personal direction of Hitler, for her part in an underground resistance and espionage circle. It is very well-researched and balanced. I was surprised to find out that Mildred's husband, Arvid, was a cousin to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and theologian. Bonhoeffer is popular in a variety of Christian circles because of his role in the German resistance movement and his execution by the Nazis shortly before the war ended.

Previous World War 2 related posts:
My Favorite World War 2 Books
My Latest World War 2 Reads
More World War 2 Books
Even More World War 2 Books
Yet More World War 2 Books

3/24/15

Playing D&D 5e in the Majestic Wilderlands

My blog posts have been less frequent, as I have had to focus on real life stuff. My gaming has been a bit inconsistent as well, although I am playing a human fighter, Aevin Steelhand, in +Rob Conley's (Bat in the Attic) Majestic Wilderlands setting. In our current campaign, we are using D&D 5e. I have also been playing Ben Monday, a history teacher turned supernatural sleuth, in +Tim Shorts' (Gothridge Manor) Wednesday night game, using The Esoterrorists as our rule set.

+Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic) has an excellent blog post, Majestic Wilderlands--Do You Hear People Sing?, summarizing our last session. Rob has some interesting posts about his use of feudalism in his setting. As a player, you have to know your station and who you are talking to. It is one my favorite aspects of playing in Rob's setting. Here are links to Rob's posts:

3/16/15

Monday Moodsetter 67

"Secret Harbor"
RPG Rorschach: What's the first gaming thought that pops into your head?

3/14/15

The Esoterrorists and GUMSHOE: After Three Sessions

I have now played three sessions of The Esoterrorists, with +Tim Shorts (Gothridge Manor) as GM. Tim wrote a blog post about our third session, so I am not going to attempt to recreate the session here.

I am really enjoying the game and the GUMSHOE system. Once the GUMSHOE premise clicked with me, the rules really faded into the background and it has felt like we are investigating paranormal activity. Tim has done a great job of mixing a very real small town, with some actual horrifying events, with a series of paranormal events. The system and style of play are well-matched with Tim's approach to GMing and his ability to weave open-ended narrative.

As I noted above, a key to this is accepting the premise of the GUMSHOE system. Wikipedia has a nice summaryThe premise is that investigative games are not about finding clues, they are about interpreting the clues that are found. So, instead of searching for clues, we are trying to understand the importance of the clues we have and their relationships to each other. Even so, we have investigate and interrogate, in order to have the clues at our disposal. The system comes into play when we can use our skills to help us understand the importance of the clues we have found.

While we are getting close to discovering the most important clues (and thus making sense of the pages of color-coded notes I have taken), our last session ended in a bedroom with twenty or so Ouija boards madly carved into the floor. We look up at the closet door, only to see it slowly open...

3/11/15

Team GMing

So our gaming group has had a few end-of-session conversations about doing some sort of team or collaborative GMing. I remembering trying a variation on the theme back in high school, with a common set of characters flitting from GM setting to GM setting. Each session featured a different GM, using the GM's own setting, but the characters had the (unexplained) ability to move from world to world. I also played in a session in college where the GM tasks rotated from moment to moment during a single session--it was one of the better gaming sessions I have played in, but it was also the only one for me that involved a significant amount of alcohol.

It turns out that Wikipedia, the final arbiter of knowledge in our current age, has an article on this, calling it the Troupe System. Wikipedia summarizes the Troupe System this way: A Troupe system is a way of playing role-playing games which spreads the game master's responsibilities among each of the players. The term was coined in Ars Magica. It is also known as collaborative role-playing, a term used by other games with a similar mechanism.

Thanks to +Chris C. (The Clash of Spear on Shield) for sharing the Wikipedia link with me, as well as a few other links. Here are some other links:

Troupe System (Wikipedia)

Troupe Style GMing and the Gaming Charter (Gnome Stew)

Troupe Style (Project Redcap)

Starting To Collaborate (Collaborative Roleplay)

And my own blog post from yesterday was a lead-in to this post: Microscope and the Books of Bardo

3/10/15

Microscope and the Books of Bardo

Back in the days of disco and feathered hair, sometime in spring of 1979, I happened to attend a small and very tame high school party. It was a nerdy party and heavily chaperoned, so the two wildest activities were me playing guitar and the group playing a story-writing party game. The story-writing party game started with each guest having a sheet of paper. Each person would write one line of narrative on their sheet of paper and then pass it to the person on their right. The next person would write the next line of narrative and then fold the paper so that only the last line written was visible. The papers were passed to the right again. This continued until our original paper made a full circuit and was returned to us. We then each read our stories.

Fast forward one year to the spring of 1980. My high school class was on our senior trip, which was a 10 day trip to Florida, including time at Disney and a 4 day cruise all for under $400. We rode on a chartered bus with a series of sketchy drivers, from Michigan to Florida. To pass the time, two of my friends and I passed around a notebook where we each wrote a line of narrative to create a story. All three of us had been at the 1979 party, so we knew the drill. We had a lot of time to kill and the story, later known as the First Book of Bardo, became a rather lengthy tale of conspiracy, political intrigue, torture by disco, and all out war. Several years later, one of the two friends and I penned the Second Book of Bardo through the mail. Our interest waxed and waned and eventually died in the early 1990's, leaving the Second Book of Bardo unfinished.

Enter Microscope RPG. Microscope is not a story-telling game. Rather, it is a history-telling game with opportunities for more traditional role-playing sprinkled in here and there. Lame Mage Productions describes their game in this way:
You won't play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope. 
You have vast power to create... and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it. 
Mock chronological order.Defy time and space.Build worlds and destroy them.
The rules for Microscope are sparse and simple. More than anything, they remind of some of the more complicated strategic planning workbooks I have seen. Lots of structure and process to guide group decision making. The group sets a direction and some basic parameters at that start, then players take turns adding bits and pieces of narrative history.

The rules specify that it is a game for 3-5 people and it seems that anything above 4 might be tough. I have been searching for examples of solo play and have found a few bloggers taking brief stabs at running it solo. I think it could be done, but the game would lose some of its magic.

While a small group could create a narrative world history without Microscope, having the Microscope rules back in 1980 would have led to a very different First Book of Bardo. The final pages of the First Book of Bardo tell of a universe destroyed repeatedly only to be miraculously reborn each time. One of the guys on the senior trip bus (not me) tired of the story and sought to end it, only to have to reborn by time the notebook made its way back to him. With Microscope, we all would have agreed upon an ending at the start of the session.

2/23/15

Monday Moodsetter 66

RPG Rorschach: What's the first gaming thought that pops into your head?