Category Archives: heroes

Role-Playing Games in the Classroom


Zeus, the god of Storms and the Sky

In the early 90’s a fellow teacher became acutely aware of the effect the role-playing games I was playing at home after school had on the cognitive abilities of the fatherless boys I was constantly entertaining.  She suggested that maybe, if it was working at home with a few students and former students, it could also work in the classroom with all students.

This, of course was a daunting classroom activity to carry out, but enough of a creative challenge to my story telling abilities that I simply had to try.

I began with a cheap RPG book about adventuring D&D style with characters from Greek Myth.  This was an opportunity not only to play adventure games, but to teach a little bit about history and a lot about mythology.

So I created generic character sheets using my own personal copier, my own copy paper, and my own overhead projector plastic overlays.

I created adventures that could be conducted on the overhead with dice and each kid having their own set of skills and useful items.  We conducted Olympic games and included mythological creatures like Tritons and Centaurs as player characters.  We learned about the city of Olympia, the city of Argos, the city of Corinth, Athens, Sparta, and even Atlantis.

I let students draw their character from a hat on strips of paper that contained a boy option and a girl option.  I even let students trade for the character they wanted and we learned negotiating skills along with problem-solving skills.


                                                                                     Demeter, goddess of fertility (which you can’t say in a junior high classroom, so goddess of crops and farming.)

Most of the stories were driven by a kidnapping where the beautiful daughter of one of the players was kidnapped immediately after the Olympic medals were awarded.  The villain would take her to his evil island base, and the players would have to work together to buy or steal a boat.  Gods and goddesses could be called on to intervene, and sometimes they actually did.  Another story line began with the sack of Troy, during which the players either murder or witness the death of a young Trojan boy who just happens to be Heracles’ son.

That story took the players on a quest of penance to visit the underworld and retrieve the boy in the same way that Orpheus tried to rescue his lady love Eurydice.  Potentially, Heracles would even join the quest himself if none of the player characters were the actual killer.  And, of course, all sorts of encounters with monsters would ensue.



I ended up using about as much of my personal resources as a story-teller and a cartoonist to create those adventures as I had available.  But I had students tell me that the week of classroom time spent playing that problem-solving myth game was one of the most memorable learning experiences they ever had.  I never tried it with a high school class, only middle school, and then mostly with 7th graders.  But I think the experiment was very successful from about 1992 to 2004, and it taught me even more about teaching than it ever taught them about mythology.

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Justifying The Existence of Aeroquest

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The question may arise if anyone who wasn’t forced to read the novel Aeroquest because they have the misfortune of being my relative ever actually reads the book, “Why did you ever write such a gawd-awful thing?”

The truth is, I didn’t write it, not by myself at any rate.  The essential plot of the novel is such a jumbled mess because the story is lifted directly from a game of Traveller, an RPG from Game Designer’s Workshop.  The basic characters in the novel were all player characters.  Their design and personalities are created by adolescent boys in the 80’s and the paths they chose in the story strongly reflect the chaos of youth.

The Aero Brothers, Ged and Ham were both created by one of my favorite students of all time.  I will refer to him here as Armando Carrizales, though that was not his real name.  I am trying to explain the novel here, not mortify an adult former student living somewhere in Texas, or even elsewhere.  Armando’s idea was to use Star Wars characters.  Hamfast Aero was actually Han Solo in the game.  And when Armando wanted to create an all-powerful psionic character, he created brother Ged Solo, using the first name of Larry Winslow’s character Ged Stryker (And Larry did not know how to spell “Jed”).  Because I really liked Armando, and he was bright, creative, and a good problem solver, I eventually chose his characters as the main characters of the novel.  He was good at organizing expeditions, collecting gear and matching it to the purpose in the adventure before him.  But you do need more than heroes for an adventure game, or for a novel.

Emilio Jalapeno was a very different kind of kid, but also Armando’s real-life best friend.  He was a skinny kid with a goofy grin, and was always ready with a joke or prank that would either make you laugh, or make you palm your forehead and consider murder.  His first Traveller character lasted all of fifteen minutes because he decided he wanted to take his shiny new pistol and kill everyone on the entire planet they were on.  That character, whose name I have forgotten, was actually gunned down by his own adventuring party.  So Emilio had to start again.

He created the character Trav Dalgoda.  He got the name from the first syllable of the Traveller game and a name he spotted on the cover of a magazine laying on the table.  Trav was simply Emilio in an RPG form.  He wanted to have an eye patch like a pirate, but he wanted to have two eyes.  He wanted to wear wide ties with messages on them, like a cartoon screw next to a baseball.  And he dearly loved to blow things up.  A time would come in the adventure where he had access to really big weapons, and we had to let him experiment with killing everybody on an entire planet.  This, then, was the needed comedy relief that kept us laughing through shared adventures.  And Trav’s ability to get into really big trouble would eventually drive the plot forward.

Sinbadh the Lupin, a dog-headed humanoid alien, was also Emilio’s character.  The fact that he based his entire character on talking like a pirate from Treasure Island was a source of endless hilarity.


Tron Blastarr, the scar-faced villain, was created by Armando again.  There was a time when Larry Winslow wanted to create a villain character in the most desperate way possible.  But the evil villain Mantis, who was really just a living head on a robotic body, and the enigmatic psionic Xavier Trkiashav never really got their chance to be truly villainous.  One became a laughable boob while the other became a hero and the leader of the Psionics Institute.  Tron, however, was a perfect pirate.  He led the band of adventurers on merry chase after looping, curling space chase, eventually becoming the first player character to get married and have children.  He retired as a villain with a fleet of stolen space ships, and a planet (the airless world Outpost1) as his pirate treasure.

So, to claim I wrote the novel Aeroquest on my own is to completely overlook my collaborators.  It is a mess of a comedy sci-fi novel that I am still trying to iron out and rewrite, but it is also a story I shared with some who were very near to my writer’s heart.

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Little Metal Men I Have Made


Today’s post is basically a picture post.  Every metal (or Plasticine) figure displayed in this post was painted by me with Testor’s enamel.  Most of the figures were painted back in the 1980’s.  Most of them were sculpted by Citadel Miniatures Co.  The Indian boy I repainted as a young storm giant was made of an inferior quality Plasticine that melted a bit with the paint’s more caustic ingredients.  That’s why looking at him closely makes him appear like a burn victim.


Not all of the figures are from Dungeons and Dragons games.  These are figures I used in the Traveller RPG.    I also owned the Indiana Jones role-playing game, but the figure was used as a Traveller hero.


These figures were used to play Call of Cthulu as well as Traveller.  Cerebus the Aardvark made appearances in both the Dungeons and Dragons game and Traveller, which was fairly true to the character as he appeared in Dave Sim’s underground comic.


I am proud that my arthritic hands once allowed me to paint the tiny details on these miniature sculptures.  But the red dragon I wanted to display in this post, that I have pictured before in this blog, is missing for the moment.  I spent most of the morning trying to find him.  Oh, well…  I still got to show off my mini-painting skills.

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For the Love of Korngold

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When I was in Cow College at Iowa State University I spent most of my study time listening to KLYF Radio in Des Moines.  They would eventually transform into an easy-listening music station, but the time I truly lived a K-LYFe was when they played classical music.  And it was there that I first fell deeply in love with the Saturday Matinee stylings of  Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the first incarnation of John Williams of Star Wars fame.  Yes, movie music.  Classical movie music.  And it seemed, mostly movie music for Errol Flynn movies.




My sister was always a lover of Errol Flynn movies, and when KGLO TV Channel 3 would play one on the Saturday Movie Matinee in the early afternoon, we would have to watch it, the whole thing, no matter how many times we were repeating the same four movies.  Nancy would memorize the lines from the Olivia deHavilland love scenes.  I would memorize the sword fight scenes with Errol and Evil Basil Rathbone (Good Basil was Sherlock Holmes, and we had to watch those too.)  Early evenings on those Saturdays were all about playing pirate and Captain Blood adventures.  Or better yet, Robin Hood.




But the music of adventure was by the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  He did the sound tracks for Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and the Sea Hawk.

I sincerely love the corny old movie matinee music because it was not only genius-level mood music and story-telling in a classical music instrumental masterpiece, but because even now it takes me back to the boy I was at twelve years old, playing pirate on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm.   Making Robin Hood bows out of thin tree branches and arrows out of dried ragweed stalks.  Sword fighting to the death with sticks with my cousin Bob, who was always Basil Rathbone in my mind. while I’m sure I was Basil Rathbone in his mind.

To be honest, there is much more to Korngold than I have relentlessly gushed about here like a hopeless nerdling fan-boy in the throws of a geeky movie passion.  He was a musical child prodigy like Mozart.  He wrote a ballet called Der Schneemann (the Snow Man) when he was only eleven, and became the talk of the town in Vienna, Austria in 1908.  He became the conductor of the Hamburg Opera by 1921.  He wrote some very fine classical music in the 20’s that still rings through orchestra halls to this day before coming to America in the early 30’s with film director Max Reinhardt.  He scored his first film in 1935, adding music to Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  He was fortunate to escape Europe just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, and also at the right time to team up with new movie star sensation, Errol Flynn.  He won his first Oscar for the musical score of the movie Anthony Adverse in 1936 and he won his second for The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938.  He died in 1957, a year after I was born.  But I promise, I didn’t kill him.  I was in college in the 1970’s when his music underwent a revival, complete with renewed popularity.


His music was pure gold to listen to in the fields of corn in Iowa in the 1970’s.  It was just as good as that last pun was terrible.  So, in other words, really, really, spectacularly good.  It was the music that scored my childhood fantasy adventures.

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Setting the Scene

As a rabid Dungeons and Dragons player, I have labored for years to build up my collection of miniature figures.  Now, like the action figures and the dolls, the collection is growing so fast it may eat the house.  So, in order to play with them and get some use out of them, I built a cardboard castle, complete with grid for playing D & D.  It is a scene that can be used to play the game, but it is also a place to display my collection.


Toy companies have recently started putting out collectible miniatures in an almost D & D scale.  They only cost about a dollar apiece.  That makes them cheaper than candy bars.  And I am diabetic, so I can’t buy candy bars.


I like to position them in my D & D background and take pictures of them, even though DC Superheroes are not D & D figures.  I can work them into the story of the next RPG sessions.  Batman is a paladin.  Aquaman is a sea-based druid.  Wonder Woman is an Amazon.


Adam West Batman is really, really cool.  Wham!  Pow!  Sock!


Killing a dragon is a big event in a D & D campaign.  And I can do that now with miniatures.



The Flash can rescue Jessica Rabbit from a mad goblin in the Skull Plaza.

So, I reached a point in setting the scene for the game that it has become almost cinematic.  And I like taking pictures of it as I continue to play with all  of it.  Forgive me.  I will forever be twelve years old in my head.



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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, illustrations, making cardboard castles, photo paffoonies

Making Metal Miniatures


Being a sort of amateur artist with extremely artistical tendencies, I naturally love to paint. My daughter also likes to paint.  So one way to combine our love for sloshing colors on stuff with paint brushes with our love for playing nerdy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons is to buy and paint our own miniatures to play with in the game.  I used to do this a lot when I was a single goofer with time and money on my hands, so I have boxes and boxes of painted little people and little critters made out of lead or pewter or plastic.



When doing these dastardly deeds of nerdling paintery to little metal people, we have to choose how we are going to go about it.  Different paints work in different ways.  I like to use brightly colored enamels like the Testors stuff I have used since the 1960’s.  The Princess prefers acrylic because it is less permanently messy.  Once you laminate your fingertips with enamel, you have to wear blue and green and brown on your hands in school for most of a week as it wears off.  Acrylic is less socially mortifying, in that it is removed more easily as a water-based paint. Even after it dries on your hands, it still comes off with a little scrubbing and you don’t have to use turpentine.



Finding new figures to paint is not as easy as it once was.  You used to be able to locate such things easily in the nearest comic book shop or game shop.  Hobby Lobby and Michael’s used to have sections where you could find the figures as well as the paints.  Now that those things are becoming extinct and increasingly rare, you have to take advantage of serendipity.  We discovered a magically preserved and timeless game shop in a dying mall next to the movie theater where we recently went to watch Jumanji.  I bought the elves above in that shop from the young elf running the place all by himself.  An elf bard with a fiddle and bow, and another elf with a crossbow.  I also found two exquisite sculpts of children which I haven’t even removed from the card yet.  All that is left to do now is argue over who is going to paint what.  And that can be a difficult thing.  I am older and cannier than her, but she outweighs me by ten pounds.  The decision has not been made yet.


I am finishing this essay on painting nerdling painter-deeds with a look at two finished works from my glorious nerd-painting past.  Ganser the Wizard of Gansdorf is actually painted in acrylic, while Anya the Amazon is painted in enamel.  I did them both in the 1980’s.  We shall soon see if I can still do as good as I used to do.  And if the Princess can match me or surpass me.  It is not actually a contest, but I still hope I win.


Filed under action figures, artwork, Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, homely art, humor, old art

Aeroquest… Canto 10

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Canto 10 – Planetfall

      Once back at the docking port on Frieda, Ged noticed that the new space ship Goofy had asked Frieda to make was gone.  His concern spiked like an EKG from a surviving victim of electrocution.

“Calm down, Ged,” soothed Ham.  “Goofy is unpredictable, but he hasn’t gotten me killed yet.”

“You know what he’s doing, don’t you?”


Ged Aero

“He’s going after those artifacts the alien computer was talking about.”


“Ham!  Ancient devices with unfathomable powers?  In the hands of a pyromaniac and lunatic?  Don’t you see what comes next?”

“Well,” said Ham, looking down at his spaceship controls, “I do kinda see a disaster looming, if that’s what you mean.”

“Exactly what I mean!”

Ham Aero

“Oi believes ye need to track yer shipmate down, what?” offered Sinbadh.

In minutes the Leaping Shadowcat was docked and the three teammates were aboard Frieda.  In the main control room, they found the Nebulon Princess in a red jumpsuit, her small son sitting on the floor at her feet.  She smiled beautifully at Ham as the two brothers entered the room.

“I… am… free…” she announced in halting, yet clear Galactic English.

“Ah… Good,” said Ged.  “Goofy at least started the task I set him.”


“I… am… love…” added the Princess cryptically, moving directly toward Ham.

“Err… What?” stammered Ham.

“Oi thinks ye have an admirer, me bucko!” said Sinbadh helpfully.

The Princess reached up to touch one of Ham’s blond curls.  “Nebulonin?” she cooed.

“Wha…?  No.  Human!  Definitely Earther.  I just have yellow hair.”  Ham pinched the skin on the back of his right hand.  “See, no blue!”

“Yes, blue…” she said smiling.

“Oh, what does that mean?”  Ham blushed furiously.

“Your Nebulon slave girl has been set free by Trav,” supplied Frieda.  “She means she is grateful.  Your on-board library suggests she suffers from something called Stockholm Syndrome.  She believes she is in love with you because you were her captors, but have been nice to her.  She was apparently violated numerous times by those who held her hostage in the Imperium.”

“Erm, thank you, Frieda.” Ham said.

“Frieda,” said Ged, as if he had at that moment realized something, “Where did Trav Dalgoda go?”

“I supplied him with coordinates to find the Hammer on the surface of the planet.  He went down there to find it.”

“I knew it!” swore Ged.  “We have to beat him to the thing!  Come on, guys!  We go now!”

“Can we leave the Princess here?” asked Ham nervously as the Nebulon girl looked at him lovingly.

“Sinbadh?  Can we trust that your corsair friends won’t come back?”

“Nah.  Them buccaneers is moighty unpredictable like.”

“Everybody goes aboard the Shadowcat, then,” said Ged.

“Dang!” swore Ham as the Nebulon Princess took one hand, and her little boy took hold of the other.



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