Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

White Apes of Mars

Ape (White)


No. Appearing: 2-8, Armor Class: 6, Move: 12", Hit Dice: 10, % in Lair: 10, Treasure Type: C, No. of Attacks: 5, Damage/Attack: 1-6/1-6/1-6/1-6/1-10, Alignment: Neutral.



The white apes of Barsoom are very much similar in appearance and build as the Green Martians (see Thark), having six limbs and of tremendous size. The head of the savage creature is like that of the African gorilla and a shock of thick, stiff-bristled hair runs from the back of the skull and neck to the upper shoulders. The white apes are found everywhere on Barsoom, but frequent the dead cities which provide them with shelter and hunting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

John Carter of Mars movie plot details revealed

The official casting call has gone out and we get a little peak at where Andrew Stanton's version is going to go. Here is the plot synopsis:
A damaged civil war veteran finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars where his involvements with warring races of the dying planet force him to rediscover his humanity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Plant Man

Of the various creatures of Mars, the plant men who infested the Valley Dor always creeped me out the most. ERB conjured up a particularly vivid and hideous creation with these little lovelies. Here is my interpretation for your viewing pleasure, or displeasure as it may be.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What is a roleplaying game?

It has been over 30 years and we still don't have the definitive definition what an RPG is. Reading through the original white box set isn't much help, the closest thing to a definition of what the game is can be found in the introduction:
These rules are as complete as possible within the limitations imposed by the space of three booklets. That is, they cover the major aspects of fantasy campaigns but still remain flexible. As with any other set of miniatures rules they are guidelines to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign. They provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity — your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors, and the fact that you have purchased these rules tends to indicate that there is no lack of imagination — the fascination of the game will tend to make participants find more and more time. We advise, however, that a campaign be begun slowly, following the steps outlined herein, so as to avoid becoming too bogged down with unfamiliar details at first. That way your campaign will build naturally, at the pace best suited to the referee and players, smoothing the way for all concerned. New details can be added and old "laws" altered so as to provide continually new and different situations. In addition, the players themselves will interact in such a way as to make the campaign variable and unique, and this is quite desirable.
What we get from this is something about a fantasy-medieval theme, a campaign (what's that?), and rules that can be changed on a whim. A confusing definition to say the least! A more complete definition is found in the Holmes' Blue Book version, which is my favorite representation of original D&D (if you consider the Moldvay red box as a branch to "basic", a sort of .5 edition):
Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up. Each player creates a character or characters who may be dwarves, elves, halflings or human fighting men, magic-users, pious clerics or wily thieves. The characters are then plunged into an adventure in a series of dungeons, tunnels, secret rooms and caverns run by another player: the referee, often called the Dungeon Master. The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils. As the players engage in game after game their characters grow in power and ability: the magic users learn more magic spells, the thieves increase in cunning and ability, the fighting men, halflings, elves and dwarves, fight with more deadly accuracy and are harder to kill. Soon the adventurers are daring to go deeper and deeper into the dungeons on each game, battling more terrible monsters, and, of course, recovering bigger and more fabulous treasure! The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.
The Dungeon Master designs the dungeons and makes careful maps on graph paper. The players do not know where anything is located in the dungeons until the game begins and they enter the first passage or room. They create their own map as they explore. While only paper and pencil need be used, it is possible for the characters of each player to be represented by miniature lead figures which can be purchased inexpensively from hobby stores or directly from TSR Hobbies. The results of combat, magic spells, monster attacks, etc., are resolved by rolling special polyhedral 20-sided dice which come with this game.
Dr. Holmes' normally succinct writing style is a bit long winded on this point. It seems that even 3 years after the printing of the original D&D what exactly this genie was that had been let out of the magic lamp, was still a mystery.

Let's leap ahead 30 years and see what Wizards of the Coast's best attempt at defining RPG is. I pulled this from Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition for Dummies, presumably the friendliest definition if you will:
Everyone played make-believe during childhood. Whether you played cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, superheroes, or firefighters, you opened up your imagination and pretended to be something other than yourself. Dungeons & Dragons is a game of the imagination, a roleplaying game where players take on the roles of amazing heroes in a medieval fantasy setting. It's just like make-believe, only more sophisticated, grown up, and fun. D&D gives form and structure to your imagination, creating a leisure activity that's more interactive and open-ended than any movie, novel, or computer game.
Just like the original we have something about medieval and fantasy, but this definition is more coherent. I like the comparisons to movies, novels and computer games and how D&D is more interactive and open-ended.

Many have tried their hand at defining this elusive thing called roleplaying game. There are wiki articles, forum discussions, the Oxford dictionary, and many others. I think the reason the ultimate definition has yet to be made is that RPG's are too many things to too many different people.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

John Carter of Mars

The keys to a successful blog are timely posts and quality content. I'm failing miserably at timeliness, and not so sure about the quality. But I've been busy researching, drawing, and painting John Carter of Mars so this blog has been suffering. Over the next couple of months this blog will become the ERB Mars blog more so than an Original Edition Fantasy blog as I post art I'm doing for Al's excellent Warriors of the Red Planet RPG.

Above is our intrepid hero defending his beautiful princess while battling a green martian! This is what I envision the chapter heading splash pages to be like. While the print edition of the book is likely to by B&W I painted this in color just for fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dream Cover...N C Wyeth

What if NC Wyeth had illustrated the original classic fantasy role playing game?

If there is an illustrator who has influenced modern fantasy art more than Frank Frazetta it is NC Wyeth. His ability to convey the key moment in a scene was rivaled only by his ability to capture the personality of the characters involved. He had no fear of leaving the brush mark exactly how it came off his brush - wasting no time blending or "noodling" the paint. Frazetta has often mentioned how much he was inspired by NC Wyeth, and it certainly shows in many of his luscious oil paintings.

I didn't discover NC Wyeth's work until I started art college back in 1991. The school had posters of his work on the walls, and I couldn't believe how good they were. I didn't even know it was possible to make paint on canvas look so amazing. In someways I felt robbed that I hadn't seen his work before, it certainly would have influenced my artistic development during my high school years if I had.

This picture, taken from the classic Legends of Charlemagne book, while not necessarily his best, was the most "D&D" feeling illustration of his I found. It is fun to speculate how different the game would have felt if he had illustrated it.

(I inverted the title of the classic fantasy roleplaying game in order to avoid any...imperial entanglements, no challenge to anyone's copyright is intended, this is merely a parody)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Martian Ships

More drawings of Martian ships. I can't wait to see what the stats on these ships will be. I hear aerial combat is going to be awesome.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Soldier of Adventure: the Thief class

As I assured you in the last post, the writing in my first RPG was even worse than the art. As evidence, I've scanned in the pages describing the Thief class.
A wily character indeed! Hey, I was in jr. high, so maybe the bad grammar and juvenile writing is forgivable.

Considering how many times I've seen attempts at making a suitable Thief class for OD&D, I think this one could be as good a contender as any. I kid.

The infrequent postings of late are due to a number of life factors. Last week I went to Montreal Canada to visit the fine art museum there for a showing of my favorite artist J.W. Waterhouse. Second, I've started a new job - well, really an old job, since I worked there before. And third my computer is getting unpredictable. Time to upgrade.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My First Roleplaying Game Design

Shortly after discovering D&D in Jr. High sometime around 1980 while living in Marana Arizona, my parents moved to Reno Nevada. This was a period where I had no one I knew who played. All I had where a basic set, a few modules, the DMG, PHB, Deities & Demigods, and Fiend Folio (it was sometime before I finally got the Monster Manual). So I took to using the solo rules in the DMG - and found them basically unplayable. AD&D was just too complex a beast to boil down to a few random tables. So I took to making my own simpler version called Soldier of Adventure!
There were 5 hand typed booklets on 3"x5" cards, with plans for an additional 10 booklets!

Characters: this created your Soldier of Adventure character
Soldier of Adventure: this created the solo dungeon crawl adventure with random tables
Treasure Trove: dozens of magic items you could find
Dungeon Denizens: a monster manual of sorts
Princess Captive: an adventure module

Yeah, the art was terrible. I hadn't learned anything about anatomy or composition yet, and didn't have anything to go by other than the art in the D&D books (I'd seen a Frazetta book once, and I may have had a Boris Vallejo book). Rest assured, as bad as the art was, the writing was even worse!

This rules lite "RPG" was an auto-adventure generating game. Characters were based on classes and levels. Advancement was your tried and true XP system for killing stuff and taking its gold. It was all firmly rooted in old school gaming.

The interesting part of this is that Soldier of Adventure, after many, many iterations finally ended up as the game Dungeoneer published by Atlas Games. I've often considered polishing up the last version, before it became a card game, into a bona fide RPG.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's in a name?

In an embarrassing oversight I made the faux pas of using the term "retro-clone" far too loosely, when I really meant "rules based on old editions of D&D".

How could such an amateurish mistake have happened? Certainly someone who has been playing D&D since 1980 would know better?!

Well, allow me to explain. I'm relatively late to this retro-clone party, and missed out on some critical early syntax development. Now, visiting the old school boards has become a part of my routine. I've been downloading and reading every free old school game I can get a hold of in order to mine for any precious gems usable in my own campaign.

Maybe its not 100% accurate to say I'm late to the party, since this is how I've always played D&D. Since photocopying pages from Dragon magazine in high school, using a mish-mash of D&D and AD&D rules, with heaping teaspoons of my own imagination and friend's ideas into the mix. We had guidelines for your character to achieve deity, dungeons that ran across pages of graph paper with room after room of kobolds, gelatinous cubes, drow, and red dragons.

Maybe now I give a little more consideration to reason and believability as far as that is possible in a fantasy game about wizards and dragons. But the spirit is still the same. Rules lite, improvisation rather than slavishly holding to detailed rules, and all in a spirit of fun. Those are the kind of games I meant.

I looked through a folder on my PC called "retro clones" and noticed the hodgepodge I'd collected and had this idea of updating this here blog with a handy link list of all the free RPG's that have been made by those, like me, who loved and longed for those days of classic gaming. Well I see retro clones was not a good name for that folder after having read Dan's definition. What I really wanted to say were "games similar to all editions of D&D before 4th edition". But that is too much of a mouthful, so I'm just going to call them Free Retro RPG's. Links now posted to the right for your benefit.

Free Retro Clones

I'm compiling a link list of all the available free retro clones of note available on the interwebs. I'm sure I've missed quite a few, so if you can point me to more I'll be happy to add them to the link list.

So far I've got:
Thanks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Martian Cities and 9th Ray Ships

Haven't posted here in a while, but I have a really good excuse. I'm beginning work on a major original edition fantasy project: an ERB Mars inspired RPG

I'm working with a fellow writer who is known in the original edition circles, and whose design work I've seen so far is very inspiring.

To kick start this here is a tiny taste of some early concept sketches I've done, which in no way represents what the final art looks like. This is just my way of "getting into" the project.

First some martian city sketches:
Next are some ideas for how the 9th Ray-powered flying ships could look. I wanted to get away from the Return of the Jedi skif look. These are just early sketches, I'll probably explore a variety of shapes, perhaps some sailing ships or galleons:
Here is a quick color treatment on another martian city sketch:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Geek Do

To RPG's what boardgamegeek.com is to boardgames

http://rpg.geekdo.com/

I highly recommend registering, then go rate Swords & Wizardry.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Best and Worst of TSR

I disagree with some of the choices, but Teague Bohlen posted an interesting best/worst list on his rather enjoyable Topless Robot blog.

Inevitably Indiana Jones is on the worst of list. My high school gaming group and I must be the only people who enjoyed this game. When we got the Judges Pack accessory and were able to roll up our own characters we had a blast. The system was light, fast, and captured the movies effectively enough. The modules were particularly well done.

TSR 10 Best, 6 Worst

I'd never put Boot Hill on any best of list.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dejah Thoris

How do you draw the most beautiful woman on two planets? This is my feeble attempt using my regular technique of combining reference from several sources. Most notably Olga Kurylenko, but also some other models and a dose of my imagination. I'll probably do several more studies before I settle on a version I'm happy with, then I'll do the full color treatment on her.

Dejah Thoris
Princess of Helium
20th Level Alien Noble Red Martian
Lawful Neutral

Str: 9
Int: 13
Wis:11
Dex: 14
Con: 12
Chr: 19

BHB: +11
AC: 9
HP: 47
Saving Throw: 6

SA:
Retainers: 14 (Morale 10)
Make Request 98%

Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, Daughter of Mors Kajek, Jed of Lesser Helium, and granddaughter of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of all Helium. "I am the daughter of ten thousand jeddaks...I trace my ancestry straight back without a break to the builder of the first great waterway."
Captured by the Tharks, she was rescued by John Carter, only to fall into the hands of Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga. She was again rescued by Carter, this time with the help of the Tharks, and, shortly after, became the wife of the Virginian. When Carter disappeared (his involuntary return to Earth), she waited and searched in vain, eventually setting out on a pilgrimage to the Valley Dor at about the same time Carter found himself back on the Red Planet. After a long series of adventures ranging from the south pole to the equator to the north pole, the two were reunited and returned to Helium. All this is covered in the first three books.
In the next four books, Dejah Thoris plays very minor roles, but in Swords of Mars she is kidnapped and taken to Thuria, the nearer moon of Barsoom, by a Zodangan scientist and an assassin, only to be rescued again by her husband. Later, she is seriously injured in an air crash and Carter has to enlist the services of Ras Thava, the Master Mind of Mars, to restore her to her former self. Some years later, both the Warlord and his princess are captured and taken to Jupiter, where the Morgors of that world attempt to secure information toward the conquest of Barsoom. Unfortunately, our chronicles end at this stage and, until further communications are received from Barsoom, we are unable to state just how Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars, was returned to her beloved Helium. (-from A Guide to Barsoom by John Flint Roy)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Skills vs. Classes


The first RPG I was exposed to that used a skill system was GURPS. We played quite a bit of it while I was in the military. Because of the circumstance of being stationed at a base with a bunch of other guys and a LOT of free time a lot of gaming gets done. This was during the long dark period of 2nd edition - which had caused me to virtually abandon D&D.

On the surface a generic RPG that does everything sounds like a great idea. Well, so does a spork, which is neither a good spoon or a good fork. I thought at the time that a skill based RPG was superior to a class based RPG, it modeled real life better after all, right? And it allowed more specific customization of your character so it must be better. The skill system in GURPS turns out to be quite granular, and it has a complicated web of if your proficient at this then you'll be kinda proficient at that.

If I have skills in battle axing then I should also be able to use a mace or swing a sword to some degree, right? So I have battle axe level 3, and mace and sword around level 2.

In a class based game I'm a level 3 warrior. I can use any melee weapon as a level 3 warrior.

On a d20 this means using a mace my skill based character misses 1 in 20 times more often. This is a negligable 5% difference that in practical gameplay has little meaning for considerably more complication.

The only benefit I see is for those who like the post and pre game noodling of their character. Fiddling with all the possible choices. But, if like me, the fun for you is in the actual playing of the game a class based system is arguably superior in addition to being less complicated.

I can see the fun in endless customization choices for your character. I enjoyed 3rd edition's various prestige classes and feats quite a bit, until after the 30th supplement when the combination of choices became astronomical, and stat blocks practically became one-pagers (the OSR crowd can describe an entire dungeon in that space!). And to some degree the balance of class and skill was ok, though the skills were unnecessarily numerous. Bluff, climb, listen, move silently, search and spot covered 90% of skill use (YMMV).

I've come full circle on the issue. With my first RPG experience playing D&D, then migrating to GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Champions, Deadlands, L5R, several "indy" games, and so on. I can say D&D was the most fun to be had in general. (the one exception is a Pendragon game I played once that was probably the best gaming session ever experienced)

Skills are not superior to classes. Where the rubber meets the road: actual gameplay. Classes do the job admirably well.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fight On 6

Fight On 6 has a particularly good cover. It's a pretty exciting issue, I recommend getting it.

Table of Contents
Variant Races (Calithena)
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)
Git ‘R Done (Will Mistretta, Mátyás Hartyándi, M.J. Harnish, and Northrundicandus)
Hell-Grave of the Tveirbróđur (Jason Morningstar)
The Tribe of Rorvash (Erin “Taichara” Bisson)
Sandbox Preparation (Michael “Chgowiz” Shorten)
Welcome to Slimy Lake (Jeff Rients)
Knights & Knaves (Timothy J. Kask)
Chaos Monks of Kthulhu! (Jeffrey Talanian)
Creepies & Crawlies (Lee Barber, Shaine Edwards, and Geoffrey McKinney)
Blocks of Quox (Tony Rosten)
Summonings Vile and Dark (Matthew Slepin)
Esoteric Arts for Wizardly Know-it-Alls (Baz Blatt)
Old School Game Determination (Michael Curtis)
GBH (Peter Schmidt Jensen)
When I Was a Girl (Lee Gold)
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox)
Stone Gullet (Gabor Lux)
Wasteland Travellers (Gabor Lux)
A Few for the Road (Michael Curtis)
Enharza, City of Thieves (Santiago Luis Oría)
I Need a Dungeon Right Now! (Jeff Rients)
Dungeon Modules (Geoffrey O. Dale)
Oceanian Legends (Del L. Beaudry)
The Devil’s in the Details: Ahoggyá (Baz Blatt)
The Darkness Beneath: Lower Caves (David Bowman)
The Petrified Forest (Del L. Beaudry)
World Creating as a Hobby (Lee Gold)
Interview with Lee Gold (Maliszewski & Grohe)
Naked Went the Gamer (Ron Edwards)
Merlin’s Mystical Mirror (Zach Houghton)
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Mo Mehlem & co.)
Overland (Mikko Torvinen)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Princess Points

I can't get enough of Burroughs' Mars. I've been enjoying the books even more now than as an adolescent. I've been on an out of control John Carter of Mars collecting spree. Comic books, novels, art, board games, old RPG's...

My most recent acquisition is this little gem:Is this book called Adventure Gaming Handbook? Not a particularly good name. Perhaps it's Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter and the subtitle is Warlord of Mars? The graphic design doesn't really clarify the situation. Anyway, this has been an intriguing read. The writer could not decide if he wanted to be serious or silly. Heritage Models Inc. actually got permission to make this pseudo RPG, Unlike the ill fated Warriors of Mars by TSR.

The first half is a sort of light encyclopedia of Burroughs' Mars, while the last half has stats and mechanics for a light wargame that kinda sorta wants to be an RPG. It encourages a style of gaming (later labeled "troupe" play by Jonathon Tweet in his seminal Ars Magica RPG) where you play multiple characters. These rules have some real gems amidst this crude RPG published in 1978. One laugh-out-loud feature is your character's "Princess Points". The game assumes you are playing a red-blooded warrior on the make for a beautiful princess, so this is one of your core stats.

"The fateful, or fatal moment has arrive. You have met the Princess, you have turned on the charm, maybe you have fallen into a fountain or out of a chair, but whatever happened, this is it. It is time to see what she thinks of you. Hold your breath. You gaze into her eyes; you lay your sword at her feet...you wait."It appears the desired result is "HUBBA HUBBA!!!"

So with this renewed passion for Burroughs' thrilling Sword and Planet tales I've found myself drawing lots of John Carter inspired art lately.

The best news is I've found a partner to make an old-school Mars RPG with, someone whose work I admire and that inspires me. So expect a lot of Mars art to be posted over the next couple of months...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pathfinder First Impressions

As a teenager I thought size was a measure of quality in an RPG, but these days anything beyond 128 pages doesn't hold my attention unless it is particularly well written.

Pathfinder is 576, that's nearly 600 pages of fine print.

To be fair it is effectively a DMG and PHB combined in one tome, and what I've read so far is perfectly fine writing. Yeah, much of it is reference, spells, magic items, stuff. But still, thems a lot of words there.

I like the Art. A lot. Paizo is in a tight spot. Traditional D&D would be far too conservative, and modern fantasy like Warhammer is way too outrageous for their audience. And they have to distinquish themselves from Wizards - while using the same artists Wizards uses. They did this by returning to the subject matter of 80's Dragon magazine covers, but with contemporary styles. What I mean is the illustrations depict scenes of what you might actually do in the game. The cover, instead of being some characters facing you trying to look "bad ass", they are engaged in an epic battle with a dragon located in some ancient ruins. This asthetic is apparent in almost all the art inside the book. Except in the character generation section, appropriately, most of the illos are full action scenes in interesting locales.

They've allowed Wayne Reynolds to let loose with the detail and stuff he is so well known for, in ways I haven't seen before. I've read complaints on forums that the art is "dungeon punk", sure its completely unrealistic, but so is casting a spell, fighting a dragon, or drinking a magic potion.

Monte Cook writes a nice intro. In my opinion he is the "Wayne Reynolds" of RPG writing, that is to say his writing is insanely detailed, and he does a lot of it. It is most appropriate that he gives kudos to Pathfinder here.

The layout is good, font choices are good. Everything is legible despite how many words appear on each page. And the graphic designers still managed to get quite a bit of decoration in the headers, footers, and gutters in an aesthetically pleasing fashion without infringing on the text. Nice work.

The Getting Started chapter does a lot of explaining, but I can't imagine this RPG is for a beginner. And an experienced D&D player doesn't need this much intro, it is a bit overkill. It's almost a dictionary/glossary before the Character Generation stuff even begins. Really, all this could have been moved to an appendice.

Creating a character is familiar, but there are a couple things different. Each step has included optional rules in the text, not as a sidebar. Ability scores can be rolled for or purchased. The purchase option includes four methods from low fantasy to epic fantasy. To my design aesthetic this is playing it a bit too safe. I'd prefer the designer stick to what he thinks is the best rule and relegate options to a sidebar or appendice. It would make the design speak with a stronger voice, it would demonstrate confidence.

The ability modifiers stick with the 3.0/3.5 scale. Personally I'm most fond of the range in Moldvay's basic/expert rules as expanded in Wrath of the Immortals. But for Pathfinder's design goals it uses the obvious and most sensible scale for their audience.

The races are presented nicely, if somewhat blandely. This is the danger when trying to make generic templates - the results can be bland. We have the classic line up: dwarf, halfling, elf, human, gnome, half-orc, and half-elf.

I find that the presentation of the classes is much stronger than the races. The writing is more engaging and the illustrations are intense and filled with the potential for great adventure. As always happens though with more flavor comes more specificity. This is a very particular flavor of D&D. I like the line up here: barbarian, bard, cleric (I like the domains), druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, thief...I mean rogue, sorceror (very cool bloodlines), and wizard.

Skills are slightly condensed from 3.5, I think they could have been simplified more. My biggest complaint with 3.0 was the way skills rolls replaced what players used to puzzle their way through.

There are a lot of feats in this book. Too many. Not a good thing in my opinion.

The weapons section is nice, illustrations and descriptions are effective. This is one of the more successful sections of the book I think.

Alignment. This is one thing I think 4.0 got right, by eliminating problem alignments like Chaotic Neutral, and simplifying it just a bit. But, Pathfinder sticks with the classic AD&D moral/ethic axis we are all familiar with.

The additional rules section is 10 pages of encumbrance, movement, age, height/weight, vision, mounts, and object AC. Considering all the detritus 3.0/3.5 collected over the years this is fairly succinct.

But then we get to 26 pages of combat rules. No thanks.

The next three chapters are magic, spells, and prestige classes: arcane archer, arcane trickster, assassin, dragon disciple, duelist, eldritch knight, loremaster, mystic theurge, pathfinder chronicler, and shadowdancer. Prestige classes are one place I depart with many of my OSR colleagues. I really like them, adds a lot of flavor to the game, and creates interesting options for players as the campaign develops. Keeps things from getting stale. I'm not sure this is the list of prestige classes I'd choose for a core rulebook, but these look fun.

The rest of the book is basically the DMG. Looks like plenty of advice, plenty of treasures and magic items. This review has already grown much larger than I intended, so I must skip it. I haven't read any of this section yet anyway.

In summary, if you like 3.5 you'll probably love this book. It's a bit like 3.5 on steroids. One thing I do like is that it tries to stay true to D&D without abandoning the roots of the game. I'm not likely to ever play it, but I don't regret purchasing it. It is a finely crafted work.

I'll close out with one of my favorite illos from the book, the header for the Gamemastering section:

Samantha Morton as Sola

More John Carter of Mars movie news.
Samantha Morton, who you might recognize as the key psychic in Minority Report, will be playing Sola. I think this is a good choice, her voice has the kind of empathy needed for this important character.

Also Dominic West will be playing Sab Than, I think he will do just fine as the guy we don't want Dejah to marry. And Polly Walker will play the merciless Sarkoja.

Full story here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The New Sword and Planet

My excitement for Andrew Stanton's John Carter of Mars movie cannot be over emphasized. It looks like we'll be waiting until 2012 for this flick to hit your local screen. In the meantime James Cameron has done his own contemporary version of the Sword and Planet genre.

Avatar!

Burroughs' fans will recognize the story: an earth soldier falls in love with an alien princess. I expect this to have all the thrills and suspense Cameron is known for, and of course gorgeous visuals.

In addition, judging by many of the recent posts on OSR blogs, it seems the new era of the Sword and Planet genre are upon us!

Here is a little drawing I did of John Carter and Tars Tarkas fighting some Barsoomian lions.If any of you aspiring writers/designers are looking for an illustrator for a collaboration on a John Carter retroclone I might be persuaded...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lake Geneva Building Gygax Memorial!

http://gazettextra.com/news/2009/aug/01/plans-under-way-memorial-gaming-icon-lake-geneva/

Hope they include a bronzed DMG and d20.

Dejah Thoris

Lynn Collins was cast for the part of Dejah Thoris. I have no opinion about her, I haven't seen Wolverine or any other movie with her in it. I assume she must be good because I think Andrew Stanton has good taste. But, I don't know how Hollywood studios operate internally, there are likely a lot of factors other than a director's wishes that goes into the casting process.

But, if I was the casting director there is little doubt who I would cast:
Yes, Olga Kurylenko, the Bond girl from Quantum of Solace. Not only is she devastatingly beautiful, but she has incredible screen presence and comes across as strong and smart. Her accent is "exotic" to American ears. And it is easy to believe John Carter would battle hordes of martians across the face of Barsoom to rescue her.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ode to Judges Guild

Sometime around 1981 I would go to a very interesting bookstore in Tucson AZ (wish I could recall the name) that had a small section of RPG related material. Most of it was quite arcane to me, what I was really looking for were those neat hardbound D&D books I'd seen the other kids have. Little did I understand what The Judges Guild was all about.

Fast forward to the release of D&D 3. I had left gaming for a period roughly between 1987 to 2000 - the prime years of 2nd edition. Left is too strong a word. I actually played a lot of 1st edition D&D and also GURPS in this time. It seems D&D 3 brought a lot of old gamers home who had left during the 2nd edition era (and I believe 4th edition is completing their journey pushing many to the OSR). Well, this homecoming seems to have revitalized Judges Guild. I noticed at Gen Con one year their booth and they had stacks of these really old magazines: The Dungeoneer, The Judges Guild Journal, and Pegasus.

I have since made a point of picking up any copy I see at game stores, or flea markets at gaming conventions, or occasionally on eBay. I can't get enough. They are like fascinating museum peices, preserving the way the gaming community thought and played the game caught in amber. But they are also full of really cool freewheeling ideas. There seemed to be no boundaries. Everything from articles by evangelical Christians defending their enjoyment of the game to a dungeon crawl based on the Tower of Babel. How to handle the 5 senses in D&D to a treasure column called "All That Glitters..." with such cool magic items as The Dearth Sword which absorbs knowledge of spells from its victims and transfers them to its weilder, and The Horn of Battlesongs (usable by Valkyrie and Berserker classes!) which improves morale of allies.

What I love about The Dungeoneer, The Judges Guild Journal, and Pegasus magazines is their "text dump" feel - no frills here, homemade art (the aroma of fan participation), and cheap newsprint. And best of all the page after page of no holds barred creative ideas. It contrasts so much from the order TSR was trying to impose on D&D at the time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Carter of Mars Production Listing

Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars series is one of the inspirations for OD&D. So the news that a blockbuster movie is on track to being a reality, directed by the astounding Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E), is reason to celebrate.

This movie has been in development hell for so long, and has had so many false starts, it's hard to believe it may finally get made. Another important milestone has been reached, it has a production listing and is scheduled to begin shooting in January 2010.
John Carter of Mars (Sci-fi). Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter, a Civil War soldier transported to Mars, where warring races vie for control. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Casting: Marcia Ross, Marcia Ross Casting, 500 S. Buena Vista, St. 210-D, Team Disney Bldg., Burbank, CA 91521. Shoots in January 2010.
One thing I find interesting about this is the title, this looks to be a trilogy (and by all reports will be). John Carter of Mars: A Princess of Mars is likely to be the full title of the 1st movie.

This has deep personal meaning to me. Iain McCaig was a principle concept artist, and he was very influential on my development as an artist after he gave a lecture at my art school and left many originals on display. He is simply one of the best living draughstmen IMHO. Also the Burrough's books are classics in the genre - fast paced, packed with imagination, and a thrill ride.

Andrew Stanton knows story and knows how to deliver on an emotional level. Just watch the intro to Toy Story 2 and try to tell me he can't make an epic sci-fi flick.

Mystery Map 1

A long forgotten tomb of a powerful ruler. He paid his court magicians well to protect his everlasting burial place with powerful enchantments. No thief has yet managed to spoil the riches held within.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grognard

Grognard is French for "grumbler". It is not necessarily pejorative and is sometimes used as a compliment. Historically it meant a soldier of the Old Guard in Napoleon's army.

Grognard is slang for someone who likes playing wargames.

According to Jim Dunnigan, former editor of Strategy and Tactics magazine "The term 'grognard,' as applied to veteran wargamers, was first coined back in the early 1970's by John Young. He was, at that time, an employee for [the board] wargame publisher SPI, and the use of the term around the office (and among the local play testers) soon led to 'grognards' being mentioned in one of SPI's magazines (Strategy & Tactics). Several hundred thousand board wargamers picked up the term from that publication and it spread to computer wargamers, as the the board wargamers (the ones with PCs, of course) were the first people to snap up computer wargames when they appeared. "

The OSR has picked up the term to mean old school gamers, or a version of D&D that was more wargame than the storytelling style of RPG that arose in the 90's, or the analog MMO that seems to be where the game is now.

If grognard meant wargamer, maybe it still does in some quarters, today it means someone who subscribes to a style of gaming that doesn't require metaplots or railroad adventures. It's a little more flying by the seat of your pants. Doesn't require the 400 page detailed world encyclopedia of some else's imaginary world. Is relatively rules lite, or as detailed with home brewed and borrowed rules the participants want to make it. In other words, it is how we played D&D when I was in high school just before Dragonlance came out. And to be clear it doesn't mean any other kind of gaming style is wrong or bad, inferior or superior, it is merely a category defining a person who enjoys a certain "old school" way of playing RPG's.

This actually came up at work yesterday as a serious discussion informing product development. I thought it was incredibly interesting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I like the 4e DMG

I don't know how so many of the OSR bloggers manage to post so frequently! I have a full time job and I come home and do illustrations for commission and personal projects. In addition I write and design games. So time posting here is precious.

I was looking through my 4e D&D books - I only ever purchased the 3 core books - and realized I don't dislike 4e, I don't feel anything for it really (other than some admiration for the quality of writing, graphic design, and art). I'm just not the audience for playing it. You see I played World of Warcraft for 14 days once. It was one of those free trial things. I realized at the end of the trial that I really should not play anymore. Because I have a life. Not to say that people who do play don't have a life, what I mean is I have a lot going on in my life. A toddler, A wonderful wife. A fun job making art for video games. Freelance work. And my own personal creative projects. There just isn't time for WoW. Besides, I'd rather play an actual role-playing game the old fashioned and best way: face to face.

It has been stated so many times that 4e is like an MMO I don't need to repeat it here (oops, I guess I just did). So in that sense it really is a "modern" RPG. The game has to evolve and grow and necessarilly change in order to remain vital, relevant, and alive. I understand that. So I admire what they've done, from what I understand the sales numbers remain strong.

But what I really admire is the 4e DMG. I think they hit that book out of the ballpark. the original DMG was my favorite TSR product, it was my introduction to the world of D&D. I despised the 2nd edition, my dissapointment cannot be measured. It felt like a cheap pamphlet in comparison to the original. Then 3rd and 3.5 editions of the DMG were pretty good, but I wouldn't think of them as great or classics, merely pretty good. But this 4th edition DMG is quite a piece of work. It is filled to the brim with excellent advice on running a game, good solid pointers on how to make the game fun. It works almost sans-system as a generic RPG advice book. For example I think it's description of the DM's job is on the mark:
Most games have a winner and a loser, but the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game is fundamentally a cooperative game. The Dungeon Master (DM) plays the roles of the antagonists in the adventure, but the DM isn’t playing against the player characters (PCs). Although the DM represents all the PCs’ opponents and adversaries—monsters, nonplayer characters (NPCs), traps, and the like—he or she doesn’t want the player characters to fail any more than the other players do. The players all cooperate to achieve success for their characters. The DM’s goal is to make success taste its sweetest by presenting challenges that are just hard enough that the other players have to work to overcome them, but not so hard that they leave all the characters dead.

At the table, having fun is the most important goal—more important than the characters’ success in an adventure. It’s just as vital for everyone at the table to cooperate toward making the game fun for everyone as it is for the player characters to cooperate within the adventure.
That's pretty good stuff. Not enough to get me to fire up a 4th edition game. I'm too busy with my Swords & Wizardry game, in addition to some personal game projects I'm playtesting out. However you have to give credit where it is due.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Late to the Debate

I just became aware of this raging debate on RPG.net called "Old School: Freedom Or Fascism?".

The basic question is the OSR (old school renaissance) looking at OD&D through rose-colored glasses, or was OD&D really all that great?

The correct answer is no we are not looking at it through rose-colored glasses and yes it really was (and is!) that great a game.

I only recently discovered this thread because Mr. Lizard updated his website and posted it on there. It looks like an interesting site with some interesting RPG related topics. As far as I'm concerned this world is big enough to include all types of gamers, all types of fans, and all types of RPG's. Personally I love the "cutting-edge" independent RPG's as well as slick modern RPG's and everything in between. But my heart is really in that period just before the release of 2nd edition D&D, when it felt like I could participate in the creativity of the game. I didn't have to have a rulebook that spelled everything out. I didn't need a fully-fleshed out campaign world with modules that had the story all worked out for me. That mid-1st edition era is the sweet spot for me. Dragon magazine from issue 1 to 100 was a consistant level up in quality. Before the trending down of the 2nd edition era. (Oh, there where some bright spots in that period too. Dark Sun was very interesting, and Planescape was extremely imaginative).

Of course, all of this is my experience with the game. Everyone had a different experience. And really to call anything better or worse is based more on personal taste than on anything we could remotely call objective.

But from this vantage point, 35 years after the game was first published, looking back at it all. I can say there have been a lot of variations, a lot of interesting ideas, but that original boxed set of 3 booklets contained the essentials of RPG's and have yet to be bested. Polished, tweaked, better production values? Sure. But the basic set-up has yet to be improved on: a DM, players with defined characters, some rules that were more common guideline than law, a set of odd dice, your imagination, and a destination filled with adventure and mystery.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Top Ten Round-Up

1. Dungeon Master's Guide (1e)
2. Player's Handbook (1e)
3. Dragon Magazine #83
4. Village of Hommlet
5. Ravenloft
6. Gamma World (2e)
7. Rogues Gallery
8. Dragonlance: Dragons of Desolation
9. Star Frontiers
10. D&D Expert Set

Runners up: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, Against the Cult of the Reptile God. And it's a travesty I didn't squeeze the Rules Cyclopedia in. In many ways it deserves the number 1 spot since over the years it has grown so much in stature.

I thought doing a top 10 was a great idea to buy time while I got ahead on the Monastery Ruins project. Instead it turned out to be incredibly hard to sort out what my favorites where - and in the end I realized that it is really impossible to categorize these beloved products in this manner. Even now I would probably make a very different list.

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #1 Dungeon Master's Guide

Here we are, #1. Should be no surprise that it is the original Dungeon Master's Guide. I've mentioned before how this book was my first exposure to D&D. I had no understanding of how the game played but this book evoked a fantasy world and a mystery that intrigued me deeply.

Some of my favorite things were the explanations of unfamiliar words like milieu and campaign. Expert hirelings - for some reason the sage was interesting to me. Aerial combat. The sample dungeon! Stronghold construction and siege - something sadly lost in later editions. Artifacts, in particular Baba Yaga's hut and eye/hand of Vecna of course. Random Dungeon generation - which inspired Dungeoneer. The random city encounters table is particularly good. Alphabetical monster charts - which I'd read before ever seeing the Monster Manual. All those wonderful random charts in the back were inspiring and useful.

Then of course were those great illustrations. There is no honor among thieves. Darlene's scratchboard illustration on the page discussing infravision/ultravision. The guy trapped in a flooding room with the skeleton coming towards him. Sutherland's footer illustrations under the random dungeon generation pages. Emerikol the Chaotic!

This book still holds an enchantment on me and just looking at it stirs the imagination.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mouse Guard the RPG

I just got back from Comic Con, what a great show! This is the first year since the 90's I have gone not to work an artist's table, but as just a fan enjoying the show. I forgot that the convention is actually fun, not just work. I saw so many great things, but there was one in particular that really inspired me:

David Petersen's Mouse Guard.

Mouse Guard is a sort of medieval Secret of Nimh (one of the best 2d animations ever btw), where the courageous Mouse Guard protects the trade routes between the mouse cities in a dangerous world where everything is larger than them and wants to eat them. It is a tale of bravery and character and of loyalty and treachery - all the stuff that happens to make for a great role playing game. I consumed the entire first collected series while on the plane back from San Diego and am hungry for more. If you like good graphic novels, heck if you just like good stories, get Mouse Guard!

While this blog is an old-school RPG fan blog, allow me to indulge in the part of me that still geeks out on new, exciting role playing games - especially of the independent flavor. I have long been impressed with Luke Crane's Burning Wheel RPG system and in particular its adaptation to Christopher Moeller's Iron Empires universe in the inspiring (and dense) Burning Empires RPG.

Luke Crane has taken his keen writing and game designer's sensibilities and applied them to the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game, co-written and illustrated by David Petersen. It is really a gorgeous book. The writing is sharp and it looks really fun. I hope to get a chance to play it soon.

Yeah, I have a thing for artist-driven RPG's.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #2 Player's Handbook

It's almost a cliche' to even mention this, one of the greatest RPG books of all time. The Player's Handbook!


Hey, wait a minute...something's not right here. I don't even recognize this book! Where did it come from?

Ok, ok. Here it is. The TRUE Player's Handbook!
Words fail to describe the awesomeness of this masterpiece. Gygaxian rambling, I mean prose. Ability tables that have modifiers all over the place. But what made this book really special was the shear ambition it encompassed and the flavorful character it possessed. Full color hard cover, 128 pages, profusely illustrated was unheard of in it's day for the burgeoning RPG market. Instead of me telling you about it, look for yourself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

D&D art that could have been

The passing of Ellie Frazetta has gotten me to thinking about a particular era of fantasy art that holds a special place in my heart. And one of my favorite artists from that time was Jeffrey Jones.
What if Greyhawk looked like this?

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if Gary & co. had different taste in art and had access to different kinds of artists when D&D was first published.
From 1967 to 1976 Jeffrey Jones worked as a freelance illustrator, starting in comics and moving to novel covers, many of them fantasy. His style of fantasy, to some degree inspired by Frank Frazetta, is best described as "romantic fantasy" a style considered quaint by today's standards. Yet a type of art I am still very much enamored by. Though I dare not let a hint of it show in my current work if I want to still get commissions.
Jeffrey Jones left working commercially in order to pursue "fine art" in 1976, joining a studio with Barry Windsor Smith and the great Michael Kaluta. The aesthetic of these artists is radically different from the kind of fantasy art that was being published by TSR during the same time period. I'm qualified to say their work was considerably more sophisticated in terms of their design and technical skill.
Of course there is so much nostalgia tied up in that old D&D art that today it is difficult to separate feelings from the equation. And as with all discussions regarding beauty the eye of the beholder reigns supreme. Still, there is one painting Jeffrey Jones did that it is remarkably easy to make a side-by-side comparison.
In these strikingly similar compositions it is easy to imagine what the original books could have looked like. (Though the intensity and darkness of this piece is unlike most of Jones' work.) Jeffrey Jones has always been one of those artists who other artists admire tremendously, but he never saw as much commercial success as this admiration would seem to warrant. An excellent compilation of his work was published a few years ago that I highly recommend.
Imagine if Gamma World looked like this.

I confess that Frank Frazetta would be my dream artist for old D&D, but he was already too famous by the time D&D was invented. Jeffrey Jones was just at the height of his commercial work at this time, and I would have been happy to have been influenced by his work as a young developing artist. I didn't discover him until well into my 20's.

The one edge, and really the most important edge, that the D&D artists had was their sense of narrative - their ability to convey what happened in the imagination of D&D players, as the cover of the 1st edition Player's Handbook so elegantly demonstrates. However I have little doubt that given the same task Jeffrey Jones could have risen to the occasion and delivered that special imagination and artistry of his own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #3 Dragon Magazine #83

The greatest issue of Dragon magazine ever published: #83
It also happens to be the first issue I ever bought. I strolled into Kay Bee Toys, which had a meager selection of TSR products - and they just happened to have a stack of the latest issue of Dragon magazine. I had seen earlier issues of this magazine before. Fleeting glimpses of other kid's copies seeing just enough to be intrigued as I nervously got on the school bus, hoping for a decent seat. It took all the allowance money I could muster $3...and it was mine!

This cover was filled with rich imagination, done before Dragon covers were about pushing a particular product line or IP. Den Beauvais was one of the greatest artists to ever put paint to the D&D world. I think he was just as much an influence on me as the late, great Keith Parkinson was.

The contents of this magazine still stand up as some of the best articles to see the late magazine.

The ecology of the stirge. By this point the ecologies were a fairly regular feature, but this was the first time I'd seen or read one. To think of a simple Monster Manual entry in such rich, detailed terms changed my view of the nasty little bloodsuckers forever in my mind.

The test of the twins. Our first glimpse of the Dragonlance world. I enjoyed this story, but it was "A Stone's Throw Away" by Roger Moore in issue 85 that lured me into Dragonlance (the tale of Tasselhoff and Demogorgon).

The Dancing Hut. This is the reason #83 is the greatest. This is my favorite adventure published in any of the TSR magazines. Roger Moore brought Baba Yaga to life and made her one of the best arch-villains of all time. The map was based on a tesseract - a purely mathematical construct - which can be best understood as a polyhedron layed flat, each "side" is a room, but the sides still connect the same. Roger Moore's work in Dragon is some of the finest to grace the magazine.

How to finish fights faster. A much better unarmed combat system than the one described in the DMG (which was nearly unplayable). We tried this a few times and it worked fine, but really, unarmed combat didn't happen in our adventures all that much.

A look at AOK's. An article for Top Secret, a game I never played.

SF/gaming convention calendar. This was how I discovered that groups of D&D fans got together in conventions and played! It was years until I was finally able to go to one (Dundracon in San Ramon, CA being my first).

Good evening, Mr. Bond. A review of the 007 RPG. This review made me want to get the game, but I never saw it in stores. It intrigued me far more than Top Secret ever did.

Wormy. So great, so well drawn.

What's New? The hilarious Phil Foglio doing what he does best. This was one of the few that didn't mention Sex & D&D. Still funny though.

Snarfquest. My first exposure to our long-snouted friend, to this day this is still one of my favorite episodes. Willie "the duck" is awakened from Suthaze's spell and remembers she is Kizarvexious! As much as I like Elmore's early D&D paintings, I loved his pen & inks even more.

It's not all highlights though. There is a rather mundane article on gems with information any encyclopedia set could provide.

Thumbing through my copy I smile at all the old ads. This was when D&D was just about to hit its widest audience and there were so many hopefuls advertising their products in this mag. I see Avalon Hill promising their new gaming mag "Heroes". I've never seen a copy.

Witch Hunt. Man, Myth & Magic. Other Suns. Compleat Fantasy. Space Opera. Aftermath. Bushido. - I remember these ads but to this day I don't think I've ever seen a copy of the actual game.

To this day the magic still lingers on my copy of old #83.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #4 Village of Hommlet

The Village of Hommlet. It is to AD&D what Keep on the Borderlands was to Basic. The start of so many adventurer's careers. I remember it being one of my first times playing D&D. We raided a peasant's hovel and I felt horribly guilty. This pulled me into the adventure emotionally and I felt the need to right wrongs and defend the village from the evil out there. Personally I always loved this version with the Dave Trampier cover over the later green cover with Jeff Dee art.
There were nefarious individuals, plotting, planning evil things in the 'innocent' little village. The nearby moathouse (yep, ruins, the best place for adventures) held unknown dangers and treasures. And the suggestion of a still greater evil unwakened - the mysterious Temple of Elemental Evil - it seemed like we waited forever to be published, and boy did it not dissapoint! The first of the "supermodules", packed with more entertainment for your dollars than any book or movie could deliver.
This is the highest ranking module on my list. It was hard to choose, there were so many great contenders. The honorable mentions are:

WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, which has a special place in my heart. While most of the adventure was typical, it was the weird lower levels where Tharizdun was imprisoned that made this adventure so special. And the art was appropriately strange and unlike any other thing TSR published.

The drow series is so famous I hardly felt the need to mention it. N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God had an incredible - nearly impossible - ending "boss" monster and the lead up to it was scrumptious. S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth felt like Gary Gygax mercilessly unleashing his imagination, it was such a great adventure and it had the best sourcebook included. I could go on.

But as great as all these other adventures were the Village of Hommlet will always rule my imagination and memories as the best module I ever played and DM'd.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #5 Ravenloft

Those maps. That villain. The random plot generator. The gothic mood before goth was in. This is nearly my favorite adventure module of all time, there is only one better. But that's for a future post.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #6 Gamma World

Gamma World is the first RPG I played that wasn't D&D. I was introduced to GW with the 1st edition, but the 2nd edition was the first one I owned, so that edition is Gamma World in my nostalgic mind.

Gamma World is very similar mechanically to classic D&D: hit dice, armor class, abilities (wisdom changed to "mental strength"), it's all there with only classes, levels, and elves removed. To this day I don't understand why TSR kept trying to make new RPG systems when they already had the world's best - and best selling - RPG: D&D! How much more fun if Lolth, Cryptic Alliances, Yzarians, Spiderman, and Indiana Jones could exist together. The imagination boggles at the possibilities.

This was in the 80's. We had the cold war and Thundarr the Barbarian. So in a way Gamma World made sense then, though it seems ridiculous by today's standards.

Thumbing through my old copy I recall it was the first time I'd seen the 3-column layout used, which TSR became addicted to for a while so they could cram more words on the page. Also, Elmore did a lot of drawings for this game. I do so like his pen & inks. And Keith Parkinson was just starting to find his voice as an artist.

If I was to grade the editions I'd have to say 1st and 2nd edition where the high water marks. It went downhill from 3rd on. TSR fell in love with the Marvel Superheroes "column shift" system and slapped it onto Gamma World and it didn't fit well. 4th was a bit like 2nd edition AD&D, which wasn't all bad, but the book felt rushed and incomplete as did 5th edition. 6th is an abomination, I don't even want to talk about it.

Jonathon Tweet probably caught the spirit best in his "Omega World" tribute to Gamma World in the hallowed pages of Dragon magazine.

Occasionally I daydream about starting up a classic Gamma World campaign, but I feel it's one of those things probably best left in my warm memories.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #7 Rogues Gallery

Ok, I have to redeem myself for that last post. While Dragonlance has a warm fuzzy place in my heart, I realize that likely readers of this blog in general do not hold such introsive, heavy handed story-railroading in very high regard. In my defense I did try to focus on the art (I consider many of the DL covers to be stunning) not the plot.

#7 on my list is The Rogues Gallery. There is little I can say that James Maliszewski hasn't already noted. So I'll try to avoid being a "me too" post (an impossible task).

The first 2/3rds of the book is not particularly exciting, just lists of numbers. It did have some utility for those on-the-fly npc's that are often needed in the heat of running an adventure. Especially as player's tend to do the unexpected. It was the last 3rd of this book that really shined and makes this product rank #7 in my favorites.

After the rote spreadsheet-style npc lists, we get some interesting and useful things like sages, merchant caravans, and monsters like ki-rins and liches kind of detailed out. But the best part was the individual npc descriptions in the very back, making this product special. It had classics like Tenser and Mordenkainen, but for some reason it was Phoebus the lizard man, and Talbot the centaur that intrigued me. They had similiar stories in that they'd each died and due to lack of ressurection availability were instead reincarnated. Talbot was the most appealing to me because his story was tragic. Whereas Phoebus was able to embrace his lizard-manity, Talbot was lonely and an outsider, unable to hang with the centaurs, but no longer feeling comfortable around humans.

This book is monumental in my memorie and imagination and it was one of the most useful D&D accessories from that period.

Of special note, regarding the art, the cover is strange and compelling as to be expected from the illustrious Erol Otus. But this book has the best (and some of the worst) examples of Jeff Dee's drawings. In particular, next to A Paladin in Hell by the late Sutherland, this is one of the most compelling compositions of a paladin:
Doesn't it still make you want to play a paladin? Like right now...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Top 10 favorite TSR products, #8 Dragonlance

Dragonlance. For grognards the very name conjures up images of characters being railroaded through a storyline. The beginning of the end for "old-school" gaming. Considered to be mediocre derivative fantasy at it's worst by some.

For me, being the visual person I am, Dragonlance was the most compelling thing I'd seen in all my (then) 15 years on this planet. I've mentioned before that J.W. Waterhouse and Herbert Draper (19th century painters) were my inspiration to become an artist. It was Keith Parkinson, and specifically his Dragons of Desolation cover that made me want to become a fantasy artist. When I saw that ominous flying castle my mind was sufficiently blown.

For a moment, let's look at the first few Dragonlance modules not as the railroad stories they are, but as adventure locales - and you can see they really are compelling, even from an old-school perspective.

In DL1 Dragons of Despair, it had a village in huge vallenwood trees. It had a dungeon that was a collapsed, sunken ancient city. It had a mysterious elven forest. And the draconians, though almost a cliche now, at the time where new and interesting foes.

In DL4 pictured above it had a flying-freakin'-castle that was an ancient tomb! That is cool in so many ways. Or as we would say in the 80's, it was "rad"!

As a kid I did think the series got quite strange, and practically unplayable, sometime after DL6 Dragons of Ice (with the exciting ice boats), and I don't remember playing any of the others in the series except DL11 which turned out to be a wargame (I played the draconians and lost, badly). I recall being quite surprised it was not actually a module after excitedly buying it at the game store and bringing it home to open.

But, DL4 Dragons of Desolation still conjures up those deep feelings of nostalgia everytime I see that cover. It brings back memories of drawing characters for the other players, reading the novels, and our gaming sessions being nothing like the books - but much more fun in my opinion.

Interesting side note: that Dragons of Desolation painting came up for sale on eBay once. I had just gotten a bonus at work and had just enough, it was going for about $3000. My friend warned me that I would regret the purchase. It was a hard decision, but that was a lot of money, so I let it go. He was right about one thing, I do regret - but not in the way he thought, I regret not having purchased it.