Category Archives: playing with toys
They came in the mail every November in the 1960’s. Particularly important was the Monkey Ward’s catalog because there was a Montgomery Ward Catalog Store in Belmond on Main Street. Mom and Dad could order, pay for, and pick up things there, particularly Christmas and birthday gifts. The four of us; my little brother, my two younger sisters, and I would argue about who would get to look at it next for hours at a time (the catalog, not the store… although the man who ran the store sold tropical fish in the back, so I could look at that for hours).
I, of course, dog-eared different pages than my sisters Nancy and Mary did. And David was eight years younger than me and was into baby toys, blocks, and books.
I am amazed at how cheap things were back then compared to now. Of course, things were more easily destroyed because of the cheaper plastics and simpler ingredients and materials common in the 1960’s. So, it is truly amazing how many of those toys I still have. And how many survived me only to be destroyed by my own children.
And it often wasn’t enough to look at just the Monkey Ward’s catalog. (Grandpa Aldrich always called it “Monkey” instead of “Montgomery”, a pretty standard old-farmer joke in the 60’s). Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich always got a copy of the Sears catalog. And we would pour over that to find treasures that Monkey Ward’s didn’t have. That was inconvenient for Mom and Dad. The nearest Sears store was in Mason City, 50 miles northeast.
Just the mention of Christmas catalogs of old when discussing with sisters flashes me back to the time when I was in grade school and Christmas time was all about being good for Santa because… well, toys.
And old Christmas catalogs still fascinate me. I love to look back through ten-year-old Mickey-eyes at a simpler, kinder time. Although, if I’m honest with myself, it probably wasn’t really any better than now. I just choose to believe that it was.
There is so much I need to get done. I need to finish mending my yard’s retaining wall before the city decides they can no longer put up with my old-man, do-it-yourself stubbornness.
I need to do my taxes. My wife insists we do them separately now because Trump’s new tax policy costs retired people so much more than previous years that she can no longer put up with my crippling tax burden. I need to know how much Uber-slavery I will have to do to make the IRS less miserly.
My status as a wizard is called into question. A wizard should be able to solve problems and overcome anything.
A dragon is ravaging the suburbs? No problem. I can imprison it in a fire-proof giant soap bubble. Aliens invading the DFW metroplex? No problem. I just show them my psoriasis sores and they will worry about getting infected from eating Earth people so they will run back to Zeta Reticuli as fast as their spaceships can fold space.
The problem is, it is raining. My old diabetic and arthritic bones are aching from the cold Texas rain. I can’t Uber-drive today. I can’t work on the wall, or let my son work on it either (wet bricks are too easy to drop). I can’t even eat pretzels and write blog posts. My pretzel jar is mysteriously empty. So, you can see, I have no choice but to stay in the nice warm bedroom and play with my dolls… er, action figures. They like posing for photographs and are really good at holding still while I snap the pictures.
You cannot cleave a ghost in twain with a cast-iron fireplace poker. Throwing snowballs at vampires will not keep your blood from being drained. And bugbears don’t really have an aversion to little girls in pink dresses (except for little Tessie Trueheart of the Green Dale; that little booger has a temper as large as her love for the color pink).
To go adventuring in Mickey the Dungeonmaster’s dungeons, you need the right equipment. Of course, whole books full of weapons and armor and adventuring doodads have been published. Some of the stuff we use in the family games comes from the game books, as exemplified by the items pictured above. The Blue Wood Armor of the Forest Guardian is a collection of items put together from the books published for D&D by Wizards of the Coast Publishing.
My daughter’s favorite weapon is a sentient throwing knife that always flies back to its current master after being thrown. It also never misses, adjusting its own flight to always strike the target for the greatest possible damage. It has a mind and intelligence of its own. It became sentient and alive in the middle of an epic combat with a magical giant golem who hit it with a spell that went disastrously wrong for the caster. This item was created on the spur of the moment in the midst of a published adventure, based on a disasterously low roll of the dice for the monster side of the combat.
Some items in the game are actually treasures from the published adventure scenarios I like to use. Instead of simply selling off items when they are discovered in the cold, dead hands of defeated evil druids whose dreams of conquest and tyrannical rule you have thwarted, you can take them for your own personal use. I have a tendency to embellish what is described in the pages of the adventure with both really good powers and effects, and really insidious concealed curses. The Legendary Black Blades are both demon-laced and deadly. And both, though fatal to your enemies, will eventually darken your own heart and possibly shorten your adventuring life the hard way.
Not all equipment is made of swords and armor. The Evil Heads of Dr. Zorgo are a collection of living zombie heads that can impart wisdom and information (allowing characters to add skills) and can also direct you to places of adventure and great treasure. Of course, they are evil. There is always that little factor to consider. But come on, how can you not be tempted by treasures talked about by the Ghost Elf’s head when you tried to ask her for the time of day in her native land?
So the point of this post is that I am really proud of my drawings of D&D equipment and wanted to show them off. This post is merely an excuse for doing that. I have one more to show you, though I must confess, while I drew this one, it was designed by number one son to be used for his character, though as soon as he got it made, he sold it for lots of gold to use on the next project.
My family Dungeons and Dragons game has always been enhanced by my vast collection of miniature figures that I have collected and even painted over the course of almost forty years. But I am always ready to collect more. I even still have a large number of unpainted minis to finish. But Walmart recently started selling collectible metal minis in box sets for $5 apiece. So, that has brought Harry Potter to the Cardboard Castle.
These metal miniatures are a little larger than the usual scale, so Ron doesn’t quite fit through the tower door on his right. And I don’t have character game statistics on these particular wizards, but that won’t take me long.
So this week’s D & D post is about metal miniatures. It shows you how bad this old man has gotten when it comes to playing with his toys.
Being retired for health reasons and unable to work, I would be dead already without my writing and art endeavors to fill my time and keep me sane. I can do some work, as proven by my attempts to patch and repair the swimming pool this summer. But my limitations drive me crazy, as proven by the fact that I did about half of the work on the pool wearing only sunscreen and a hat. My kids are not married yet, and two of them are still in high school, but they are not much interested in toys any more. And I don’t yet have grandkids to spoil. So when I go the Resale Store or Goodwill to shop for old toys, I am basically buying them for myself.
The Princess of the Korean Court Barbie was lying on the bargain shelf for $3.49. I bought the ceramic wishing well behind her for $5.00. So the bargain-hunting gene I inherited from Scotch ancestors was duly satisfied. But I had to do more with things like these than merely own them. Toys are for playing. And what does a 60-year-old man do with dolls when he is playing? Besides being a bit creepy, I mean? Well, this photo is the answer. I use my toys to create pictures and artwork.
Here’s a creation using the ceramic wishing well again. It is apparently, on closer inspection, actually a candle holder. But it serves to make my Walmart Clearance Sale Disney toys happy. Here you see the pony-brushing party held by Minnie Mouse with Daisy Duck and the gay snowman from Frozen.
Here you see the metal miniatures I got in a pack from Walmart as they visit the cardboard castle. Two of the lead figures on the ground are hand painted by me in days long ago. The entire cardboard castle was printed and glued on cardboard, cut out and put together entirely by me. Mickey, Minnie, Alice, Stitch, and Kermit are the metal miniatures not painted by me.
So, my days have not been overwhelmed by boredom and frustration and problems with city pool inspectors (he doesn’t even know about doing the repair work in the nude, so he can’t give me a ticket for that.) I have been filling my time with toys and creative play. I have been mostly a good boy… err… old man.
Kids like me need to play with toys.
Even though I am sixty-plus-years-old, I am stressed enough by everyday life that I need to take some time to get the toys out of the toy box and play with them, making up fantastical stories in my head and pretending the world is the way I want it to be.
I mean, why can’t fire-fighter Barbie fall in love with the Black Panther?
The two of them are so very different. One is a vivacious young working girl ready to put out fires, while the other is a dark and moody superhero dead set on bringing justice to villains, no matter how powerful they might seem. Shouldn’t they be able to find happiness together despite what the drummer bear may think about the appropriateness of two such different plastic people being in love?
And money woes, deteriorating health, recent car accidents and ratcheted-up premiums on car insurance melt into the background. Especially if you hum to yourself as you pretend to make them kiss. “Love is a Many Splendored Thing…”.
Not all the toys are new. In fact, only the double-headed dragon is actually new to the over-all collection.
It’s good that the dragon can so easily make itself at home in the cardboard castle.
It would be good if it didn’t decide to eat the cardboard castle.
Wonder woman, sitting on my underwear drawer is also new. Maybe I am buying too many toys. But in my defense, I am in my second childhood, and sometimes I just need to play with toys. It solves a lot of problems that I am too old and tired to make go away otherwise. And it also makes a good short post when the idea bag is short on short topics and the time for writing is limited.
In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world. You have to be them. You have to think like them and talk like them. You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them. They become real people to you. Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.
But there are actually two distinct types of characters.
These, remember, are the Player Characters. My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood. They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.
But there are other characters too. In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters. And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads. I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.
Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways. Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.
D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience. In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place. You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack. There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword. And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.
Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.
But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted. He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side. And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties. He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat. He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.
Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however. In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.
Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks. Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way. And Dru was a complex character from the start. Her fire spells often went awry. When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia. Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once. She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire. She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers. And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that. More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru. There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.
The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations. They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures. And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords. Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.
But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I will have to draw it all to a close. There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game. They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity. But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.
Today I go to pick up the family at the airport before noon. They have been visiting my oldest son in Virginia since last Wednesday. Not exactly a larkish vacation in the middle of the school year, they went there to be with him while he had surgery on Thursday. The trip caught me at a time when I am simply not well enough to travel, even by airplane. My arthritic back problem doesn’t allow for long periods of sitting. So I got to stay at home and take care of the dog and do what housework I could… You know, the stuff dads are expected to do when they get left out of a family vacation… again. So, I washed some dishes… but not all of them. I laundered some bedding… but only my own. I cut some grass… but only the tall stuff behind the house. I did enough work that the boss shouldn’t be too mad at me when she returns home. I did get her car’s oil changed, though I don’t do that myself any more.
But while the cat’s away…
It’s not what you are thinking…
And why are you thinking THAT?
I broke out the paints and HO Model train stuff that needed painting, updating, and repair.
Fun for me may be defined differently than it is for you.
I put snow on buildings with white puff paint where there was never snow before.
A real whee of a time, I know. But it’s not like I could go out dancing… or singing in the rain. My life and my jollies are a bit slower and more sedate than they used to be.
I also wrote a bit more of my werewolf novel re-write. And soon I must go to the airport, so enough of fast and silly Paffooney-making for me.
(**Note** Paffooney is artwork made by my hand and connected to writing. It’s not what you were thinking. And why were you thinking THAT?)
I believe I may have mentioned in recent posts that part of the joy of cleaning the garage after a long illness left it in a nightmare shambles of boxes and old toys and stuff we really need to throw out, is that I found the boxes with the remnants of my old HO model train layout. Now I am busy rescuing, repairing, and photographing the pieces of Toonerville that I have dug out of the trash piles.
In the picture from Mountain Station, you see the billboard boxcar and the old caboose I managed to pluck out of one of the boxes that heavy stuff had been tossed on top of.
The two Pullman train cars that I rescued from the same box as the billboard boxcar are both built from kits back when I was in college and had my train set in the basement at home in Iowa.
You may have noticed the mysterious mansion up the mountainside from the Methodist Church that gives the mountain its name. No one knows for sure what the two weird, big-nosed men currently living up there are up to, but lately there has been a lot of barking filling the air. The lights are on in the mansion currently. Maybe someone brave should go up there and investigate.
I bought the Super Chief engine at a train show in San Antonio in the middle 90’s. The passenger cars I have had since I was in high school, circa 1974.
The blue F-9 is the same kind of engine as the Super Chief. It was originally part of the set my father bought for himself when he retired. He intended to build a layout in the basement at the farmhouse when he moved back to Iowa. He finally gave it up, though, and gave it to my sons and me as a gift. I found it in the box in the garage. It looks like it probably still runs. The Union Carbide lumber car was on the back porch in the mess left behind when my father-in-law’s house burned down and he piled the salvaged stuff there. It was in a box with old salvaged kitchen goods that managed not to burn. It still needs serious cleaning. My caboose is missing its back wheels and the trucks the wheels ride on is broken.
Of all the many things I have to get done before I schlepp off this mortal coil stage right, rescuing my HO rolling stock is probably not the most important, but it is definitely one of the most satisfying.