Category Archives: Garrett

The Dice of Generations

When it comes to geek “cred,” you either have it or you don’t have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as “geek cred”. That’s because the very concept of receiving peer social approval by being able to intelligently speculate on the origins of Boba Fett or recite Monty Python sketches verbatim was only rewarded by a very select crowd, and this was lore spoke of in hushed tones, hurriedly while we were looking over our shoulders to make sure nobody was listening. Lest the jeering start.

Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

So.. when I reference these objects, I’m sure there will be people in the readership of this blog that are going to recognize them. They will know their origins. They will sigh wistfully at the rounded edges, the scratches, the almost vanished grooves where numbers used to be.

It is altogether fitting you should be wistful.  These are the very first commercially available D&D dice, designed specifically to play that game.  I’m not sure of their provenance, but it is likely they were manufactured around 1980 or so.  Sure, they are (technically, an Octohedran, a Dodecahedron, a cube, a pyramid and two Trapezohedrons, but to an earlier generation, these were the spiff.  Dice MADE to play D&D with.  They were a huge hit.  Everyone who played had a set.  So what if they were crappy dice?  So what if the ink had to be reapplied with a drafting pen, until the edges got so warn and rounded you weren’t sure if it was worth repairing?  So what?  These were D&D dice.  These opaque beauties weren’t much to look at but this is “how we rolled” when we were nestled in Jay’s basement, or my basement, or Pete’s house.  I never got rid of mine, but I did put them in my old 16mm film can, and stored it on top of a bookcase in my study when we moved into our last house in 2000, and there it stayed undisturbed.  When a tree fell on my house last October, we had a flooded basement and had to pitch everything.  Including my bookcases and tons of gaming stuff.  I didn’t give it any thought, but the can (and everything else in my study) was gone.

(going back in time for a moment): Many years ago, my son, then in 5th grade, came home all excited.

It’s this game we play at lunch time, dad.. one person sort of navigates with words, the other people kind of go through adventures, by calling them out and then we draw maps… it’s really really fun!

I realized my son was describing Dungeons and Dragons to me.  His very first game of it.  I had never pushed him into playing, or even really talked to him about RPGs.  He wandered there all by himself, and thought he was cool because of his great discovery.  He’s played D&D on and off since then, not every week but on a semi-regular basis.  Now that he’s out of high school, he’s got his first job at a Summer Camp for scouts, as a blacksmith.  I recently got an urgent call from Garrett.  There’s no internet at camp, no cell reception, and he’s bored and so are all the other young men down there.  Would I send him the D&D 5 edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s handbook?  I was tickled, and said, sure, why not, I can think of worse diversions.  Then I texted him back– “need anything else? Do you have dice?  You need special kinds”  He texted back.

“Got that covered. I found this when they were tossing all your stuff in the rollaway”

And he sent a picture of a little steel film can, full of crappy D&D dice from circa 1980.  And a few of the sturdier, cooler Lou Zocchi dice, too, from the same period.   I was speechless.   I realized, then, that these were the dice of generations.  They were kind of rounded and old and probably needed a re-inking, but my son, by himself, had wandered into the same hobby I had loved when I was his age.  He was having the same kind of fun we did back then, with paper, pencils, a good DM with some imagination, munchies… and a can of crappy old dice.  Some things don’t have to be the latest and greatest, when you have an imagination.

He texted me later asking “Hey, I didn’t ask, I just saw them throwing stuff out and the can rolled out.. it is okay for me to use these?  We don’t have a game store near here” I texted back… “Of course it is. That’s YOUR dice collection, now.”

Postscript: Garrett sent me a photo of him setting up for a D&D 5th edition game at the Summer Camp he works at. Note the little 16mm film can full of original TSR dice goodies, still giving good service, 40 years later.


Where have I been for a week? Gaming Camp AAR

Introduction: In case those folks that know me are fearing I’ve dropped off the side of the planet, I spent last week running a Gaming Camp for a local school for a week.  This is a continuation of a project started by onetime HMGS President Del Stover, and the intent was to get children interested in “unplugged” gaming– something outside the realm of Internet, Xbox, PCs and Iphones.   I’ve been doing this for about five years off and on.  Game Camp is an activity that I really enjoy and it has influenced a few kids over the years, I’m reasonably certain.

I did not put on a camp last year; therefore, I was a little late getting into the catalog and that may have kept attendance low– I only had word of mouth and the website to spread the word with.  I only had six kids this year, as opposed to 14 to 20 in years past.  Even with small numbers, we had a great time and in many ways the camp was more efficient.  In fact, I daresay I had a better time than usual as they were very easy to manage, with the help of my son Gar.

This year, I didn’t stress the format too much.  I design a new game (at least one) every year and this year was no exception– OLYMPICA 6mm debuted as a 6mm-ish miniatures game, and there are more details on it in this post.  I had a few arrangements fall through on me for this year so had to do some last minute scrambling to pick up supplies.

The format and structure of camp was similar to previous years in that I procured miniatures for the kids to paint (in this case, 3 boxes of Wargames Factory Storm troopers, 1 box of Warhammer Zombies and some leftovers and donated miniatures from Robert Peipenbrook, (for which they were very grateful).   I was flat out of things by Friday, and I just told them to take it all home with them, which led to an orgy of procurement.  I’m not a particularly gifted painter, but I can, kinda sorta, make things look like they should.  So I went over some fundamentals and they really took to it.  One person in particular, Gage, really did some nice work.

Day One: Really Big Gladiators versus the Undead Legion

I ran a quick game of OZ FLUXX during lunch, just to lighten spirits. It seemed to work!

Game idea: 54mm gladiators versus a seemingly endless wave of skeletal warriors, similar to Jason and the Argonauts (the good version)
Rules: Munera sine Milone
Minis: A mixture of Italieri, Pegasus, Marx, Alpha and a few other onesies and twosies.

I run Munera Sine Milone gladiator games using 54mm gladiator games on Monday, almost every year so far.  There’s a good reason for this.  It’s a great game that is phenomenally easy to pick up and kind of runs itself after a while.   It gets the kids into the spirit of the thing nicely.  This year, I added an undead horde of skeletons to vanquish, which they did rather handily, though I will make ’em tougher next time.

Gladiators versus the Skeleton Horde

Dwarf Gladiators get swarmed.

I got the vibe that they kind of dug it. This was our victor.

Day Two: OLYMPICA 6MM, The UN Attempts to defeat the Web of Compulsion on Mars

Game Idea: UN Raid on Nix Olympica Crater, targeting the “Web of Compulsion” generator and the near-hivemind cult of the “Webbies” on Mars.
Rules: Olympica6mm, written for the game.
Minis: almost 100% Mechwarrior Clickie miniatures from Whizkids, rebased, or kitbashed.  I also bought a radar station for the web generator from Iron Cow.

This activity is discussed in depth in an earlier post. Suffice to say that it looked great and the kids picked up on the game fast enough, but I don’t think they grasped a few concepts easily, so may have to rewrite these. Check the other post for a draft of the rules.

Olympica 6mm setup

Olympica 6mm main battlefield

Olympica 6mm Closeup

Another long view

In general the kids felt that the game was good but the UN players felt like they couldn’t win. Which is weird because I felt the opposite when I played the webbie player back when this was a boardgame. I’m going to make certain adjustments in hit points and movement rates. I did feel like the UN player wasn’t advancing nearly as fast as he could. It’s a work in progress.

While I was setting OLYMPICA up, Gar ran ROADKILL RALLY (this was his first day helping me, Tuesday, and he loved lending a hand). The kids definitely loved this one, and why not? It has everything a kid would love– cartoony violence and a smug sense of humor.


Day Three: Finish Olympica, Set up and Play Uncharted Seas, Battle of the Steam Plume

Game Idea: Multiple Fleets compete to establish foothold on rich island owned by the Dragon Lords.  Alas, there is a large active volcano blocking the harbor, which often erupts a little lava.
Rules: Uncharted Seas (commercial)
Minis: Uncharted Seas, various fleets (commercial)

Wednesday dawned and the kids wanted to finish OLYMPICA 6mm. I pulled another game out of the lineup, which was a rewrite of the old Lilliputtian game I had done several camps ago.

No muss, no fuss. We played OLYMPICA out to a Webbie victory, and then I got Gar to run my favorite boardgame of ALL time, COSMIC ENCOUNTERS (Fantasy Flight Version). Even running the short game with four planets, I was suprised how quickly the kids got through two games of CE.

Packing up Cosmic Encounters after two quick games

Oh well, they had fun and Gar does seem confident running this game. It’s a particular favorite of his.

Day Four: An entire day of Uncharted Seas, much to my surprise.

The setup for the Uncharted Seas game was a replay of The Battle of the Steam Plume, which I have run at Williamsburg Muster and Cold Wars.  I just love having the Volcano.

The rest of Wednesday and ALL of Thursday was taken up with an Epic UNCHARTED SEAS game, which may require an epic narration, so suffice to say, I will break that one out into another post shortly.   I was not surprised that the game went long, but was dumbfounded at how much they wanted to play after literally playing ALL DAY LONG on Thursday.   We did play through to a conclusion.   I ran a lackadaisical Orc fleet just to keep the far end of the board from stagnating, and it worked perfectly.  Gar ran his current favorite fleet, the Shroud Mages, and the Humans, the Elves, the Dwarves and the Undead were also on the table.  More on this later.

Undead and Shrouds get a horrendous critical hit in the last turn of the game…

A lesson in not counting your chickens before they are hatched. The tiny dwarf cruiser misses a ram, gets boarded, and in the ensuing fight to the death with Orc Boarders from the Pillager, manages to kill every last one of them to capture the prize.

The Humans try a Da Vinci boarding attack, from a balloon. It works admirably and they take a Dwarven battleship!

The Elves hold off attacking anyone until quite late.. earning the sobriquet, “The Pacifists” in this fight.

I promote Uncharted Seas as the centerpiece of the weak, and this game was no exception.. big, bright, colorful, with lovely big fantasy models that I have used for many sea fights. I love Uncharted Seas, and I made a fan out of some of the kids. One of them even went and ordered DYSTOPIAN WARS stuff from Miniatures Market based upon this game.

So Thursday’s stuff was packed up and Friday dawned as the last day of camp.

DAY 5: Hey, Hey, it’s Zombietown USA

Game idea: You’re running two SWAT team members in a group that just barely made it back to main camp, only to find it overrun by the undead.
Rules: Zombietown USA, written by camp members a few years ago but still great.
Minis: Mostly HorrorClix Zombies and SWAT team members.

I ran a game that was actually designed by my campers a few years ago and modded by me a little, HEY, HEY, IT’S ZOMBIETOWN USA. This is a dirt simple zombies versus a SWAT Team game, and it went really well.. for such a simple game, it may have been a favorite for many kids.

Zombie Mutants attack. All figures repurposed HORROR CLIX miniatures from Whizkids.

SWAT troopers shake off the zombie horde to run for it, not caring that running makes noise that attracts more zombies.

A hairy moment early in the game where the SWAT guys get surrounded.

Towards the end of the game, many silly things happened, including Garrett discovering a laser-wielding alien that nearly killed him, and Grenade thrown into the foundations of a very ricket building (FROM THE UPSTAIRS) and even more zombies showing up. Not quite a horde, but a lot.

We had to have a winner to close the game out, so we nominated Gage’s SWAT guy as a winner, zipping down the zip line to the helipad. SO long, Suckers! I’m outta here!

The Winner, mostly by decree as he had gotten the farthest to the chopper, was Gage.

And that was camp! We played a ton of games– Fluxx, Cosmic Encounter, The Resistance, and Roadkill Rally board and card games, and Miniatures games of Olympica 6mm, Really Big Gladiators, Uncharted Seas and Zombietown USA. Reaction to the camp was overwhelmingly positive. I had one kid say “This was hands down the best camp all Summer, PLEASE run it again next Summer”
That is very gratifying.

Couple of Paperless Gaming Notes: I didn’t print out Munera Sine Milone on Monday.  We just ran the game from my Ipad E-Reader, and that worked just fine!  Olympica, the same story.  I did work from a rulebook for Uncharted Seas (it’s too complex not to) and used paper.   I only worked from one printout to run Zombietown USA, but it was left over from last year.

I was amazed at how fast the week went. Things went off without a hitch. It was mostly a positive pleasant experience, with a touch of drama here and there. Boys will be boys. I’m glad I threw this this year and I hope I can do it again in 2013.

Farewell! Until Next Year!

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My letter to the Eagle Review Board

Eagle Scout Badge, Type 9

Eagle Scout Badge, Type 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Boy Scouts of America
Eagle Review Board


Dear Sir or Madam:


It is a challenge to write a letter about one’s child without sounding too subjective, but I’ll give it a try.  My son, Garrett Dillon O’Hara, is 13 years old as of this writing; he is applying for consideration to be awarded the Eagle Scout level of Scouting in his local council, and I am happy to write a letter of recommendation for him.  Garrett has been actively involved in scouting since he was a Tiger cub.  “Active” is hardly the adjective for it—he has been proactive in achieving his merit badges, participating in campouts, avidly attending Summer Camp activities and learning safety regulations for scouting.  Garrett’s participation and enthusiasm for scouting came as a surprise to me; Garrett demonstrated a maturity and confidence in his approach to scouting achievements that compared favorably to Scouts that were far older than he.

Garrett, working on the Clothing Drive

I was favorably impressed (and personally moved) by the Eagle Scout project Garrett chose to pursue six months ago.  Rather than work on a project local to us, in Northern Virginia, Garrett wanted to organize a clothing, toy and small appliance drive for disadvantaged families in Appalachia.   Garrett learned that this sounds like a great notion up front, but also entails a vast amount of coordination, logistics effort and creativity on the back end.  There was much to do—finding a ‘depot location’ on the far end that would help us distribute the material to families in need, soliciting donations locally (primarily at our local Moose Lodge, where Garrett discovered a flair for public speaking in front of the crowds of potential donors in his Class A uniform).  Coordinating with a human services organization in West Virginia that provided volunteers and a place to donate leftovers too, arranging for volunteers both in the troop and also with West Virginia Boy Scout troops, borrowing a gigantic trailer to transport the clothes to Romney, West Virginia, and other logistical tasks, up to and including providing the Pizza.  No small effort—hundreds of hours of volunteer hours.  At the end, I thanked him for all he had done.  Eagle badge or no Eagle badge, it was a fantastic effort and it felt good to help 120+ families and individuals that could really use a hand getting through the Winter.

So, in the end, I’m back to where I started from, trying to say objectively what I can’t help but feel subjective about.  Garrett has grown tremendously from his time spent in the Boy Scouts.  Not just in terms of maturity, and skills and leadership, but also ethically and civilly.  He has learned to handle adversity and challenges.. not just from fellow scouts but also from adults.  I’ve asked Garrett more than once what his plans will be when he does become an Eagle Scout.  Will he fade away and become inactive?  Not in the least.  It’s Garrett’s plan to join a troop local to him and participate in a Sea Scouting Venture Crew after he attains the Eagle, so I’d say that Scouting has made a profound, positive and long term effect on him.

As Garrett’s dad, and I’m proud of the boy he is and the man he is becoming.  Scouting had a significant impact on the process.  Please consider him for Eagle Advancement.

Mister Nizz.


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Help some disadvantaged families have a warm Winter this year…

Garrett Hard at work

Garrett Hard at Work. We've filled up one of those trailers in the back of the lot already.

I don’t normally focus on my family in this blog because, frankly, it’s a privacy thing. However, Gar (aka, my son Garrett) is brewing up something big, really, really BIG for his Boy Scout Eagle project, and there might be some time for community involvement, at least locally.   As some of you might know, the Boy Scouts require a community based project as a way of demonstrating your commitment to the community.  A critical element is NOT to do it yourself, but to rally the fellow scouts, organize it, and lead it.  Garrett’s project was unique, at least in my personal experience, which isn’t authoritative.  Rather than paint something or build a bench somewhere, Garrett came up with this idea:  Let’s collect coats (later amended to warm clothing in general) for poor and disadvantaged people in Appalachia and the Blue Ridge area.   I liked this, so we pitched it to the local troop and governing council for the boy scouts, National Capital Area Council.   A distribution point has been found in the Romney, West Virginia area at a Baptist church.  My son’s sponsoring organization, Franconia Moose Lodge (1076) in Springfield, has overwhelmingly committed to the project, with a generous outpouring of contributions and support– not just clothing, but space, facilities, encouragement and volunteer services.  So far, we have had a fantastic turnout.  140 assorted bags, bails, boxes and assorted bundles of clothing have been collected.  We are well on our way to filling up our giant (donated) trailer we will be using for transporting the clothing.  I’m quite proud of how this little idea has blossomed into a major operation with many contributors, both scouting age and adult, pitching in to do the right thing.  Garrett’s initial read on this was right on the mark.. the Baptist church in Romney reports that many families are in dire economic need this Winter and this clothing drive will help out many, many families.

Obviously, Gar’s done a lot so far.  If you’d like to contribute a bag or two of clothing, there’s still time.  Our departure date is 10 December 2011.  If you would like to drop off a donation, our collection point is in the Franconia Moose Lodge, Northern Virginia, near the intersection of Beulah and Telegraph Roads, in Springfield.  Location:  If you think you can drop it by before departure date, we can use ANYTHING you’d care to donate in the clothing line.

 Thank you so much in advance, and happy holidays. 

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Like Sampson.. Gar loses his locks

Young Garrett has been shorn to pre-hippy hair levels and now sports an older style bowl cut. His hair will be donated to wigmakers for making wigs for chemotherapy patients. I’m quite proud of the lad, for sticking it through when we made him comb the snarlys out in the morning, and constantly take care of it, and putting up with being mistaken for a girl. Well done, my boy.

Toady La Poop Poop

Our Version of CalvinBall

“Toady La Poop Poop”

My Worthy Opponent

Hey, G.


Toady La Poop Poop

Toady La Poop Poop BACK!

Toady La Poop Poop BACK on you!

Ya? Well, I’m Jumping backwards, so it doesn’t count!

HA!!! I’m jumping back twice! So Toady La Poop Poop goes back on you!

Doesn’t work Dad!

Why not?

I’m wearing my hat backwards! Take THAT, Toady!

HA! I’m wearing the Nats Hat of invulnerability! You cannot defeat me!

(Snatches hat from head, puts it on) Where’s your hat NOW?????

That makes two hats on your head! Know what this means?

No what?

They cancel each other out!


So? Toady la Poop Poop AGAIN!!

HA! Toady La Poop Poop-no-Toady La Poop Poop BACKS!!!! HA!!

(snapping and clapping) Not when I do three snaps up! CONE OF SILENCE!! And that brings us to….


Toady La Poop Poop!


Our Macho Saturday

bullet rocket

Camp William B. Snyder

Gar and I visited the new CAMP WILLIAM B. SNYDER in Haymarket on Saturday, for their little seminar on shooty-things… archery, slingshots, horseshoes and especially b.b. guns. Garrett was quite enchanted with the concept, and picked it up disturbingly easy.

Private Pyle! I do believe we found something you’re good at! Well done!

Later on we caught the Nats/Os game on Saturday. This was the third in the famous “Battle of the Beltway” rivalry that appears to be shaping up. I think this is a good thing, as it cements loyalty for the teams. A lot of folks (like myself) went to a LOOOOT of O’s games, back in the Memorial Stadium era. We have fond memories of that time period and so a rivarly with Baltimore will probably be a friendly one.

Alas, poor Gar was a little worn out by a day of shooting things.

The game was a real blow out at 8-3, highlighted by extremely mediocre pitching on the part of the Orioles… I haven’t seen anyone take that many balls to the face since the grand old days of 70s porn.

Fortunately we had such diversions as “WHO DANCES BETTER…?”

The Orioles Raven…?

Or the Nationals’ Eagle…?

Battle of the chickens!

A great day to be sure, but we were ready to hit the hay when we got home that night.

Playing Game with Kids

Deflexion Again

I played Deflexion again with Garrett on Saturday.

As you may or may not recall from past posts, Garrett likes chess and checkers (but mostly chess) and has demonstrated an uncanny ability to pick up on chess variants such as Proteus (which he likes) and Knightmare Chess (which he doesn’t). So the grid board of DEFLEXION was rather easy for him to pick up visually.

Deflexion is fairly easy to teach to even a pretty young kid like Gar (age 7) because there are far fewer moves to make and they are all standardized. There are also far fewer pieces. You can move each piece one square in ANY direction, or rotate it a quarter turn. There’s a two-sided mirror piece called a “djed” that can swap places with a pyramid as well. That’s about it.

I basically went over the rules with Garrett once, then pointed to each piece and asked “What can this piece do? What can that piece do?” etc, and was sure he had picked it up right the first time.

DELFEXION is so simple that it may not seem like much of a game, but the elegant beauty of the game becomes very apparent in the last phase of every turn: turning on the lasers. This is the “Oh, Gee Whiz!” element that will have both kids and adults hooked on this game. If the laser “paints” a non reflective piece or the non-reflective side of a piece, that piece is captured. Simple as that.

I’m proud to say that Garrett understood the strategy immediately, and kicked his hapless father’s butt in no time flat. And that’s not just hyperbolic praise.. I could see him figuring it out in his own head without being too obvious about it. We played three games, he won two handily and I won one not quite so handily. The game starts with the laser “painting” the wall of the tray, which is a safe shot. I fell for his trick of setting up the shot at the Pharoah while not moving pieces to ruin “the safe shot”.. it drew me off of what was happening while *I* was trying to set up a little razzle dazzle my own self. Clever little brat!

DEFLEXION gets high marks from me as a family game and creative thinking game. I hope to see more from this company.

Gar, GMU, Kids and Chess

Check and Mate!

I followed up on a link in Alfred Wallace’s post on BEST OF BOARDGAMES recently, about teaching your kids how to play chess. It’s a pretty good little piece, mostly promoting methods in this book:

I liked this little bit here:

I just checkmated my six year-old son. I tell you this because:

* my family was not appropriately congratulatory.
* pumping my fist in the air while chanting “Check-mate! Check-mate!” didn’t go over so well.
* until a few weeks ago, I had no idea how to play chess.

Never mind for a moment that I just beat a kindergartener. He’s good.

Likewise, I am getting Gar interested in chess these days. He’s quite good.. almost ferocious about trying to get a win. He’s been greatly assisted by the Chess Club at his school, which is run by the George Mason University CHESS CLUB. Yes, the same university recently in the Final Four. I love these kids– they charge a nominal fee to bring over a bunch of chess sets, clocks, a giant chess set (pictured below) for big-concept lessons, and a human chess board. I only wish the project (which ended last week) had gone on a little longer.

Since the Chess Club is over for the season, I intend to play a lot of games with Gar this Summer. He’s an enthusiastic (if not careful) player that may wish to progress to the Virgina Scholastic Chess Association at some point.