Category Archives: Tabletop Gaming

Gurdjieff and Games, Part 1

Gurdjieff said “there is everything” in his book Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.1 In addition, this book is subtitled “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man” and has the stated purpose of the merciless destruction of all our long-rooted beliefs and views about everything.

Putting these statements to a small test, I ask a few questions of narrow interest to myself (and I hope others): “What does Beelzebub’s Tales have to say about games? What objective and impartial criticism is offered about games? What ‘merciless destruction’ must our beliefs and views on the subject of games undergo?”

A survey of the text reveals that games are mentioned many times: in children’s games2, in games played at the French fairs3, in ‘games’ played by the Greeks and Romans4, and in the English ‘sport’5. Some games are even mentioned by name: baccarat6, roulette7, and snip-snap-snorum8.

In one line in the first series—I would say throwaway line, but in a consciously written book, there is nothing trivial to throw away—Gurdjieff writes:

“I used to visit them often at their home and enjoyed playing chess with this senator—as is customary there among what are called ‘respectable people.’ ” 9

The character speaking here is the eponymous Beelzebub, Gurdjieff’s representative of a highly developed person with a very high degree of reason. In this line, Beelzebub offers no criticism or dismissal of the activity of playing this game. In fact, he says he enjoyed it.

This is the same Beelzebub who said:

“I decided to carry out the said task [convincing humans to end their practice of animal sacrifice] at all costs and to be worthy, if only by this explicit aid to our UNIQUE-BURDEN-BEARING-ENDLESSNESS, of becoming a particle, though an independent one, of everything existing in the Great Universe.” 10

Beelzebub’s serious task did not carry the cost of abandoning what might be considered by some as a frivolous or idle activity, nor did it make him unworthy, as no doubt his conscience would have stopped him from such an act if it were unworthy. Rather, his was a wise choice, since we are told it was customary among those people to play chess. And in order to carry out his task, it was necessary for him to blend in by observing customs, as Gurdjieff did at times, insofar as they did not violate commandment or conscience.11 

However, this is not a blanket endorsement of games. We must take care not to “make an elephant out of a flea” or be found guilty of proof-texting. While games in general may be innocuous, due to the human condition, games and our relationship with them can go terribly wrong. More on that later.


1 Paris Meetings 1943, p. 234.
2 Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 418.
3 ibid., p. 693.
4 ibid., p. 418-420.
5 ibid., p. 432-448.
6 ibid., p. 100.
7 ibid., p. 100, 350, 693.
8 ibid., p. 693.
9 ibid., p. 1031.
10 ibid., p. 183.
11 ibid., p. 23.

Alabaster Palace of the Dao—Published!

I was pleased to hear the news that Wizards of the Coast was opening up an avenue to self-publish Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition content, called Dungeon Masters Guild, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do when I heard the news—publish the Genie Palace Heist adventures.

So after a few weeks of illustrating, editing, and formatting, I have finally published my first in a series of adventures: Alabaster Palace of the Dao. Here are screenshots of the first few pages.

Palace Map

Page 9: Palace Map

Table of Contents and Introduction

Page 3-4: Table of Contents and Introduction

Tabletop Gaming Setup

This was my tabletop gaming setup from 2011.

It was assembled with the following components:

Background

For 30 years, I used the traditional approach to running tabletop RPGs: drawing maps with washable markers on a vinyl grid mat. Frequently, game play was interrupted by the need for me to erase and redraw the map. So I decided to devise a technological solution.

I considered the original version of the Microsoft Surface (now rebranded as PixelSense), which was a touch screen computer with the form factor of a table. But at $10,000, it was outside of my budget.

Then I considered using an all-in-one touchscreen computer oriented horizontally to display pre-drawn maps. This did have the advantage of a self-contained solution. But the largest touchscreen computer at that time was 27 inches. And I was also concerned the computer might overheat or its components might not work in a different orientation that it was designed.

I decided instead to use a flat screen TV connected to a computer. Since the TV component should also serve its original purpose, I also needed to find a way to tilt the TV to any desired orientation.

Typically, flat screen TVs do use wall mounts; some allow a small degree of tilt, but none of them could tilt 90 degrees. I search for a long time until I found POS monitor stands that could tilt, swivel, and lock in any position I needed. The POS monitor stand could only support a certain amount of weight, so this influenced my selection of TVs. The largest and lightest flat screen I could find was a LG 37 inch. The screen is guarded against scratches and fingerprints by a transparent acrylic anti-glare TV protector. The anti-glare aspect of the protector was an exaggeration on the part of its manufacturer, but its 1/4″ thickness completely protects the screen from flying dice or dropped metal miniatures.

Tabletop Setup 2013

Since last December, I have improved the portability of the setup significantly. I replaced the Mac Mini and Apple Display with a MacBook Air. This required the addition of a Thunderbolt-to-DVI adapter, since the MacBook Air does not have a DVI port. And I use a mid-2012 Mac Pro Server to host to serve all of the content I need for a gaming session (maps, reference books, character sheets, pictures, music) to the MacBook Air.

Now rather than erase and redraw the map, I simply open a new map on my laptop and drag it onto the screen for the other players to see. I also use iTunes to queue up and play music through the TV speakers to set the mood.

What’s next?

Before a gaming session, I use Photoshop to draw maps of the various dungeon, city, and wilderness environments the player characters will experience. Like traditional maps, they are 2 dimensional representations of a 3 dimensional environment. I want to take the maps to the next level, and make them 3 dimensional. I am considering two approaches.

  1. Draw the maps in Blender, or
  2. Build the maps using 3DML.

Blender has the advantage of being a current technology. And it is also free. But to create maps in Blender, I would be required to learn how to use it. While I see knowledge of Blender as a valuable addition to my toolset, it will take time. And speaking of time, I have no idea how long it would take me to build maps in Blender on a regular basis.

3DML has the advantage of its ease of use. It is something I already understand how to use. I could create new maps rapidly and easily with it. It has the disadvantage of being an unsupported technology, which I hope to see revived as a supported and thriving technology.