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Dungeon Master Zero

Tags: Timothy Burke and I, Napoleonic miniatures on acid, the first Dungeon Master, God versus the Metric System, the Lost Tribe.

Timothy Burke and I at the AHA in January:*

Me: It seems like 2006 was the year that a lot of academic bloggers came out of the closet as online gamers.

Tim: Definitely. There used to be a real social stigma attached to gaming in academia, but now with World of Warcraft and Second Life and so on, it really can’t be denied that online roleplaying games are a social phenomenon worthy of serious critical study.

Me: I’m just waiting for the same thing to happen to tabletop roleplaying games.

Tim: You mean like Dungeons & Dragons?

Me: More or less.**

Tim: Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen… loser.

It’s not much of a secret, if you’ve read my LiveJournal or just triangulated from my other interests, but from 1980-1990 and then again from 2001-2005, I played a lot of roleplaying games. Which today are called tabletop roleplaying games or pen-and-paper games, in the sort of prefix addition (think dial telephone, snail mail, liberal Democrat) that generally implies the object in question, while once the norm, is well on its way to the boneyard.

I’m writing something on the history and pre-history of tabletop RPGs for Jonathan Walton and his excellent journal Push: New Thinking About Roleplaying. You can see my original sketch of the article at the top secret Push forum, but it keeps getting longer and weirder than I’d planned. And although I just emailed Jonathan to tell him I’m going to miss his already generous deadline, what follows is something I’m not sure I can fit into the article and that I wanted to share right away. Read more

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Old is the New Hope

Tags: “I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”

He's the Jedi, I'm the Wookiee.

Today, or this week at least, Star Wars turns 30: it’s the anniversary of the opening of the movie we’ve been retroactively instructed to call Episode IV: A New Hope. Word has gone out on the global sub-neural geek-net that we are to blog about Star Wars today. Indeed, The Constructivist cajoled me for a guest post on the subject at Mostly Harmless. While T.C.’s a fine fellow who somehow manages to maintain half a dozen worthwhile blogs, I’m not feeling the Lucas today. For one thing, this week is also the 2nd anniversary of Revenge of the Sith, the 5th anniversary of Attack of the Clones, and the 8th anniversary of The Phantom Menace, considerably more dubious occasions. And for another, isn’t every day kind of “blog about Star Wars” day?

But I’m not above recycling some old SW-content from my archives. There is, of course, the classic Alec Guinness story, from which the tag at the top of this entry comes:

The bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. … Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode. [read more]

And, in a similar vein, Matthew Baldwin‘s Darth Vader Made Me Cry:

As we walked away I was filled with combination of terror, relief, and exhilaration. … I immediately began to proactively gloat, thinking about how jealous my friends would be when I showed them Darth Vader’s autograph. But then, just before I closed the cover, I noticed something else… [read more] [expanded special edition]

And my buddy Chris has made great pseudo-historical stew out of the Steampunk Star Wars meme:

When the French Revolution began in 1789, the Jedi were slow to respond. … While the Order bickered and debated how to respond, Napoleon Bonaparte quickly rose to power by manipulating a dispute with the British over a trade embargo on the French colony of Naboo on Ganymede. When he unveilled his “Armée grande de la République,” which was composed of soldiers made from re-animated corpses, there was great concern within the Jedi Council over the properness of backing such a method. But unbeknownst to the rest of the Council, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order was squarely in Napoleon’s pocket and he compelled the Order to support the Solar Republic in their gruesome war against the British Empire and their Automaton armies.

I still think it ought to have been (p)remade as a singing cowboy serial with Gene Autry.

Edit: That’s no moon! Check out the giant collection of links at Edward Copeland’s fully operational Star Wars blog-a-thon. Also, the T-Critic (yes, I read blogs about t-shirts, doesn’t everybody?) lists his Top Ten Star Wars T-shirts (and then some).

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Namu Yoda Butsu

Tags: I picked up a box, I lifted some rocks, while I stood on my head…

As a historian, I have a complicated relationship with the History Channel. As a Gen-Xer, I have a complicated relationship with Star Wars. But after a lifetime of doodling Tie Fighters and Death Stars on notepaper how can I not respond to these ads for the History Channel’s special, Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed?

Yoda as Buddha

Now, where’s the one that shows the evolution from Stepin Fetchit to Jar Jar Binks?

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Top Gear

The History News Network, purveyor of quality online history and history-related accessories, has a bi-weekly feature called Top Young Historians, which profiles “interesting scholars who are making their mark on the profession.” I cannot tell a lie: years ago, in my own callow youth, I sometimes raised an eyebrow at HNN’s definition of “young.” Today, however, it is their definition of “top” that seems all too generous: they’ve picked me as their latest “top” “young” historian. Thank you, HNN. I’m pleased, flattered, and not at all sure I belong in such company.

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M is For the Million Things She Gave You

I see I’m getting some traffic from people Googling the history of Mothers’ Day, so here’s a link to the post I wrote last year about Anna Jarvis and the tragic story of the Mothers’ Day apostrophe: (Cliopatria readers, note the amusing exchange between Ralph Luker and my Mom, in comments.)

Jarvis and Howe organized Mothers’ Days, in the plural, as vehicles for organized social and political activity by mothers, not the private celebration of a mother’s services within the home. In the migration of the apostrophe one letter to the left–from Mothers’ Day to Mother’s Day–Coontz sees a declension both grammatical and political. After Anna Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, began lobbying for a special day for mothers. The idea caught on, but not in the way Jarvis had hoped… [read more]

Word seems to be getting out. My wife, daughter, and I just got back from the park, where we saw a Mothers’ Day rally for peace. A quartet of slightly dotty-looking ladies were leading the crowd in a little ditty to the tune of “Frère Jacques”:

What has happened, what has happened
To Mothers’ Day, to Mothers’ Day?
It used to be a protest, it used to be a protest
Change it back, change it back

“We Shall Overcome” it ain’t, but I went to college in the 1990s, so I’m just happy to hear any protest “song” that is more than another variation on, “Hey hey, ho ho, [eight syllable thing we’re opposed to] has got to go.”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

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