Earthquakes and hit points

Listening to BBC Newshour on the radio this morning, I heard a report about the earthquake in Turkey. At one point, the reporter spoke with a British earthquake expert, and I realized that I know the guy. Well, sort of. I’ve never met him, and I was hearing his voice for the first time. But we actually exchanged e-mail messages a few years ago.
The reasons for this go back to 1979, when I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by friends at the University of South Carolina. If you spent any time in game or hobby stores, you were familiar with a monthly magazine called The Dragon, published by TSR Hobbies (the same company as the D&D game itself). But there was another magazine, White Dwarf, that you could only find in a few stores because it was a British import (published by Games Workshop). Issue 15 (October/November 1979) contained an article called “How to Lose Hit Points . . . and Survive” by a British gamer named Roger Musson. I didn’t see that issue of White Dwarf, because the Columbia hobby shop where I was hanging out didn’t carry the magazine. But a few years later, while browsing in Silver City Comics (a much cooler store in Cayce), I stumbled across a copy of The Best of White Dwarf Articles II, a 1983 compilation of material from issues 15 through 30. I found several of the articles interesting and bought it. The Musson article was included, and I was particularly impressed by it.
Fast-forward to early 1997. A discussion of the hit point rules (and ideas for improving them) was in progress in the D&D newsgroup. I thought Musson’s article was relevant, so I posted a summary. To my astonishment, Musson himself responded, expressing delight that the article was still remembered two decades after he wrote it. I sent him a note praising the article and asking some nitpicky questions about it, which he was happy to answer. In the course of all this, I learned that he was now a seismologist working for the British Geological Survey. In fact, he seemed to be a rather prominent seismologist — at one point, I ran a Web search to see if he had a gaming-related site (he didn’t), and found numerous references to, and quotations from, his research.
So this morning, when a BBC reporter introduced an earthquake scientist named Roger Musson, I knew immediately who she was talking to. BBC World Service doesn’t seem to have an online archive of their radio reports, but this transcript of their report about Turkey’s last major earthquake (in 1999) includes some quotes from him. His remarks this morning were quite similar: he discussed the tectonic forces at work in that part of the world, and the Turkish construction practices that tend to exacerbate the death toll when a quake occurs.
Thanks to the BBC, a great many people heard Musson on the radio today. But how many of them know that he used to play D&D, have a copy of his article about hit points, and have conversed with him by e-mail? I’m such a geek.
(Note: The Dragon exists today as Dragon Magazine, now published by Paizo Publishing. White Dwarf is also still around, and is even still published by Games Workshop. But it’s now devoted entirely to miniatures-based wargames like Warhammer.)
UPDATE: You can listen to the BBC radio segment here. Dragon Magazine‘s print edition ceased publication in September 2007, but the magazine lives on as a part of the D&D Insider website.

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