Jim Kramer 7 of the Best

Jim Kramer’s 7 of the Best

Written by Jim Kramer

Growing up an introverted child, I had a very small group of friends; less than half dozen regulars who I hung with in school and after school, and only a couple of these I hung out with on weekends as well. Then, there were the satellite friends of friends and a few acquaintances of those who I saw and spoke with only enough to offer a casual ‘hello’ to while walking the school halls between classes. But in the summer of 1978 things changed. I was at one of my regular friends’ house and he was working on what he said was a map. “A map of what?,” I asked. “A map of a dungeon,” he says. “It’s for a game.” At the time, I totally didn’t get it. This friend is now a City Planner in southern California.

Fast forward to later that same summer. In the home of a different ‘regular friend’; three of us were there gathered, and the other two proceeded to “teach” me how to play D&D (“D&D? What’s D&D?”). Two of us went into a bugbear lair (“bugbear? What the hell is a bugbear?”). I had a first level magic-user whom I named Jixjox. (Why? Why the hell not? It’s as good a name as anything else I could think of off the top of my head.) As I recall these bugbears had ballistae which they ran around with inside their cave complex. Three hours later, Jixjox was a 10th level wizard. (Seriously.) I was hooked. I was still ignorant to the actual rules of the game, but I was hooked nevertheless. These two friends are now a high-powered and influential Real estate professional in Washington state, and the other an award-winning freelance TV Editor in Los Angeles. Both remain my best friends to this day.

The next day (probably not truly the “next day,” but that makes for good storytelling), I rode my bike 6 miles from my house to the Competitor’s Castle in Reseda, California. I picked up a Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual (both of which I still have), and I started immediately creating adventures and monsters of my own. (My first monster was called a ‘bidarmion’; a two-headed horse-like creature that had tentacles and was possessed of 36 hit die. Yes. 36. It was never revealed at the game table.) I kept at it over the intervening years, and I like to think I got better at it. As I enjoyed the process of creating, I tended take the role of DM more and more frequently. This in turn got me in touch with other gamers, both at school, through friends and while hanging out at the Competitor’s Castle. My introverted self began to emerge from a self-imposed cage.

Over the years I found inspiration in the following resources:

STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE
I was a very impressionable 13 years old when Star Wars (no subtitle at the time) was first released in theaters. Over the years I have obtained or gifted several collectible items I hold as my most prized possessions to this day; a George Lucas-autographed copy of the unedited Stars Wars script with original storyline, a Hamill/Fisher/Ford autographed movie poster, a Revenge of the Jedi movie poster, a film reel of the actual teaser trailer for Empire Strikes Back, a lampshade made of 70-mm film strips of SWIV, and a framed set of large format first edition Star Wars comics. As for other films in the SW franchise, I love them all (a few less than others, unfortunately), but Episode IV will forever be at the top of the list.

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings/The Silmarillion
While I enjoy the Peter Jackson movies (all six) and the Ralph Bakshi animated feature, it is the novelizations I devour regularly every 2 or 3 years since I was in Middle School. The novels are singularly responsible for opening my imagination to the fantasy genre. When I first began playing AD&D and creating my own adventures (c.1978), my manuscripts were always peppered with names of places and personalities torn directly from the books and appendices.

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams)
Second only to LotR in reading experience. I mostly enjoy stories with clearly delineated good versus evil scenarios and the redemption of the good who were led astray, and MST has both. However, I think what keeps bringing me back to this book series is its primary story arc involving the young kitchen scullion becoming embroiled in the struggle between princes and peoples through no fault of his own; in the end becoming one of the heroes. In fact, MST was the primary inspiration in the creation of my first adventure campaign series, The Bone-Hilt Sword.

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DEATHSTALKER II
A campy 1980’s fantasy film, fun to watch…once. However, what I really enjoy about this film (starring John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle and Toni Naples) is the “fabulous DVD commentary”; 90 minutes of production insights, peppered with the irreverent tone of the movie makers. I think this serves to remind me that RPG’s should always be fun diversions, and not taken too seriously.

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SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER
A young Jane Seymour dressed as a 1970’s idealized Arabian princess? What 13-year old wouldn’t enjoy that. Plus, it has Ray Harryhausen special effects. In fact, include anything with Ray Harryhausen special effects in this list. Particularly inspirational for me in this film, was the idea that the antagonist at one point has not enough polymorph potion left to change her completely back to her human form, and is left with the foot of a seagull. I worked the spirit of this idea into Yrchyn, the tyrant with the Pewter Ring of Hobbit Sense, which curses any non-halfling wearing the ring with…what else?…large, furry hobbit feet.

The Collective Artworks of Boris Vallejo
When my parents found a copies of The Fantastic Art of Boris Vallejo and Mirage, I am certain they did not think to themselves, “Hey, look, Jim is interested in art!” I am sure it ran more the gamut of, “Well, at least it’s not Playboy.” But quite honestly, it was Boris’ collection of works which were instrumental in forming my interest in becoming an artist and/or designer. I learned composition, color theory and the interaction of light by studying his paintings. Alas, I found I hadn’t the chops for painting, however my interest in design (and art appreciation) has stayed with me.

The collective works of the Dark Tower by Stephen King
As is witnessed in my OSRIC expansion, Revolvers & WizardryThe Dark Tower novels impacted me creatively ever since I first read The Gunslinger in the summer of 1982. It amazes me still that King could not realize the completion of Roland’s quest for 36 more years. The culmination of my interest in this series of books will come in the final book of Usherwood Publishing’s The Tower of Mysteries campaign which is currently under development and began with the adventure, The Door of Infinite Portals. And just like King himself, I have no idea yet what my Tower is, or what it represents. But each book in the cycle (6 are currently planned, but may expand) will reveal a little bit more information. However, I don’t think I have 36 years left in me to finish my Tower as King did his (I would be an overripe 86!).

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