Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Predictions

At great risk, with the likely result of being completely wrong on all counts, these are my predictions for 2011.

-Hasbro sells off all rights to D&D.

-OSR continues to grow and more innovative products continue to be produced by the fans.

-more local hobby game stores close

-Obama's college transcripts are opened and it's revealed he was president of the college D&D club. (meanwhile birthers claim this proves he was really born in Greyhawk)

There is only D&D...

All other RPG's are just variants.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Races systemetized

Some time ago I had considered what basic classes might have looked like if they had received the same Gygaxian systematization that much of the other elements of OD&D had gotten. I was a little surprised at the positive response to that post and thought I'd try my hand at doing the same thing to races.

Well, I don't think the races map nearly as well, or maybe I'm just not doing it right. Here is a diagram to illustrate a first pass at the idea. Maybe you have suggestions to improve this or think it is too ridiculous an idea to even attempt.
There is definitely some wonkiness with mapping the six attributes to the basic races.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dungeon Master Fatigue and Why Petty Gods is such a Cool Idea!

Anyone who has had the task of being Dungeon Master for any period of time knows what Dungeon Master fatigue is. Players will drain your mind and spirit given enough time. Week after week you dredge your brain for cool ideas to bring to the game table and night after night players take the game in directions you never expected forcing you to be quick on your feet and constantly come up with cool new ideas to keep everyone entertained. It is demanding, but rewarding work. Penny Arcade has recently featured this idea in their typically brilliant humorous way.

When the eloquent and verbose



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Swords & Wizardry Complete Released

I've been looking forward to this since I heard it was in development. Since S&W is my retro-clone of choice I will definitely be getting a copy - as soon as their servers are no longer overwhelmed...
Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Concentric Alignment

In my youth I thought the alignment system in AD&D, with its vaguely pseudo-Judeo-Christian viewpoint, was a brilliant summary of morals and ethics in a systematic way. Of course adulthood has a way of wiping away the simplistic views of youth as you learn how complicated morals and ethics (philosophy) really is. Also, in college my philosophy professor was a Zen Buddhist. Talk about adding a twist to the whole question of philosophy!

One of the things held against basic D&D was that it's alignment system was too simple (and of course that race-as-class wasn't as cool as race + class).

But now I appreciate the elegance of original D&D and the general line of "basic" D&D. I think one of the best things it had going for it was that the management at TSR didn't pay much attention to it, so Frank Mentzer and co. were allowed to go their own creative way. And I really like how it pays homage to the original set. Still I like to ponder how to improve the alignment system, as unrealistic as it may be.

One approach I am mildly fond of is Palladium where different alignments are given specific names. It adds flavor: Principled, Anarchist, Diabolic, etc. With that in mind, and in the spirit of Gygaxian systematization here is another way to look at alignment.

What if we added another layer to the axis of Law/Chaos, Good/Evil and added Zealotry/Indifference. So someone could be mildly Lawful Good, or ZEALOUSLY Lawful Good! This chart would look something like this with concentric circles radiating out from Neutrality, the innermost circle representing Indifference and the outer circle representing Zealotry.

Now, I don't know if this is a really good idea to add to your game. It is only a thought, but an interesting one I think.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Unlimited Potential

One of my favorite paragraphs in the original edition is this little gem in Vol 3 about Other Worlds:
There should be no "natural laws" which are certain. Space could be passable because it is filled with breathable air. On the other hand the stars could be tiny lights only a few hundred miles away. Some areas of land could be gates into other worlds, dimensions, times, or whatever. Mars is given in these rules, but some other fantastic world or setting could be equally as possible. This function is up to the referee, and what he wishes to do with it is necessarily limited by his other campaign work. However, this factor can be gradually added, so that no sudden burden will be placed upon the referee.
One of the things I lament about AD&D is the way it codified what the Dimensions were. I mean I love the concept for a specific campaign world, but rather than every campaign world being unique, the infinite Prime Material planes in AD&D suggested that every world must fit within the Gygaxian concordance. You can see in the original edition there was a much more free wheeling spirit to the whole concept of worlds, cosmos, and other dimensions. This single paragraph inspires me perhaps more than any other in the original booklets.

I enjoy collecting images that inspire ideas for other cosmos ideal for a fantasy campaign:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mars Sketches




Drawing of some Tharks threatening some red martians, when you really consider the scale described in the books, the green martians would tower over the other martian men.

Also some rough sketches of Thoats.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Down in the Dungeon

I've never heard of Down in the Dungeon before, but it is one of the most "old school" things I have ever seen.
Searching around on the interwebs I see this has been discussed before here. I'm really enjoying this art! It is all pre-Elmore/Parkinson/Caldwell/Easley influenced D&D art. Though definitely some Frazetta inspiration going on. There is something about the fan-made crudeness I like about it.

More here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mystery Map Tutorial

By request, here is a step by step of how I made this week's extra-dimensional Mystery Map. Note, this tutorial requires Photoshop (I'm using CS4, but any version since 7 should work).

I used the Chaos Circle brush set available from Qbrushes.com

Step 1. Splatter some random watercolor onto a piece of white watercolor paper:

Step 2. Scan into Photoshop

Step 3. Invert image (yeah, pretty awesome huh? this is where the "magic" happens!)

Step 4. Load Chaos Circles brush set and on a layer set for screen make some random brush stokes with Chaos Circles (or not so random if you have specific ideas of placement). What screen does is show the image only in the light areas and not in the dark. You could just play with transparency.

Step 5. Using Symbol font (which makes Greek text - very cool looking!) label various circles with English words. For example I used: Pandemonium, Abyss, and Element

Step 6. Do a Google image search for Stars and find a cool hi-rez image of stars and set that on a layer Set for "Lighter". (or you can splatter some ink on a page and scan that in, then invert to get white dots on black, which is what I did)

You now have a really cool extra-dimensional map. For additional coolness you could make dotted lines connected various "spheres" or overlay a grid.

Time Bandits

Time Bandits, if not in my top 10, is certainly in my top 20 favorite movies. The director Terry Gilliam, who was the artistic genius behind the interstitials in Monty Python's Flying Circus, is a brilliant visionary. If nothing else, the imaginative sets, props, and characters in his movie are a wonder to behold even if the pacing and story aren't always perfect.

The idea of traveling through various time periods is a compelling one. I've generally had no success in running a time traveling campaign. Once I tried it with GURPS and the game was an utter failure. I think the burden on the GM to populate multiple periods of time is too difficult. I'm sure a better GM could handle it where I couldn't.

But, if I was to try to run a time travel game again I think I would try to emulate Time Bandits. "Evil" is a great villain, and the "Supreme Being" a great foil to the whole adventure.

When making this week's Mystery Map I must have subconsciously been channeling Time Bandits. Certainly the map in it is a great prop, and quite a compelling "McGuffin" in the story.

Mystery Map: Other Dimensions

Playing around with a way to create arcane looking maps of other Dimensions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mars Flyers

Sketches for 1-man flyers and a green martian of the Red Planet.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not So Self-Explanatory

The description for Ship Captain appears on page 22 of Vol 3 The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. This is what it says:

Ship Captain: a self-explanatory role.

Hmm, I don't think it is particularly self-explanatory. The description for Seaman says "All ships must be manned by a crew of Seamen under a Ship Captain". Unfortunately nothing is explained about what happens if there is no Ship Captain. I fully understand the spirit of making it up as you go along, but in this case it could have been tied into the Command Control rules on page 32. Perhaps it would affect morale, or in times of trouble (like a storm, a monster encounter, pursuit, or navigation) to not have a Ship Captain.

There has been some discussion on Grognardia about the venerable Sage's Advice column in Dragon magazine. Rereading the LBB I can see how a need for a column like Sage's Advice came to be. It's unfortunate the 'rules lawyer' mindset was so prevalent (I remember it being that way too in middle school), but the LBB's certainly do lead to a great deal of confusion by their generally poor organization and scant explanation. So much is assumed, and I think those assumptions were probably overwhelming even for the hardcore wargaming crowd at the time.

Of course looking back at those books, it is charming that OD&D was so rough, and have just enough description to light the fire of imagination. The ambiguities lend a tremendous amount of mystique, and I have little doubt helped the popularity of these great little books.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OD&D Construction Confusion

Page 21 of Volume 3: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe I'm just dense, but there are some ambiguities I can't figure out.

Gate House & Gate cost 3,000 gp but Gate House costs 4,500 gp?
What is the 9000 next to the drawing on the top left?
Towers: what does it mean "to shorten 10' -10%"? To shorten from what?
What is the difference between Barbican 14,000 and Barbican 20,000?


This feels like the illustrations came in late and the text didn't jive with it and some quick changes were made at the last minute or something. This page just isn't layed out well (in a booklet that isn't exactly a paragon of layout to begin with*).

*note that a huge part of the charm is the hand made feel of the set, so this is not a complaint.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Latest Acquisition

I've been trying to get a complete set of the Frazetta illustrated hardcovers of John Carter of Mars. Finally found a set at a reasonable price.
Can't read these enough times! Every time I discover something new and interesting I hadn't noticed before. Since I had recently reread the Dune series, I noticed a lot of similarities between the Fremen and the Tharks. Both with their hard lives in the desert, neither culture sheds tears, and combat is a way of life. I have little doubt Frank Herbert got some inspiration from Burroughs.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Art Prints?

Found this interesting little offer on page 6 of Strategic Review #1
Just imagine, for a pittance of $2.50 you could own such works as the mighty Dwarf:

The mysterious and powerful Elementals:

And the masterpiece, the sexy Amazon!
I love it! I wonder, did anyone every actually buy any of these prints? I noticed that by Strategic Review #2 these prints were no longer being offered.

what I really want

I have been reading through the entire Original Edition Dungeons and Dragons. I realize that what I want is the entire original edition republished in a professionally edited cyclopedic version. What I mean is this:

1. Professionally edited: all grammar, spelling, capitalization, and terminology made correct and consistent.
2. Organized: everything alphabetized and organized by topic.
3. Professional art and production values.
4. Comprehensive: everything from the boxed set to the supplements to the Strategic Review and Dragon articles compiled in one edition (maybe even some of the Judges Guild stuff.

But I don't want any changes made to the game. Everything as originally designed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mystery Map

Trying out a technique to make a quick Dungeon Geomorph.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Number of Players

I have been recently re-reading the entire original D&D books (the "LBB") for a little personal project that may be revealed someday. It has been enlightening to say the least. So many wonderful little gems of gaming wisdom, and surprisingly tight and excellent design work I hadn't notice before (like Cleric's continual light spells being "like full daylight", unlike Magic-User's version. And you realize why when reading through monsters and seeing the ones affected by full daylight...)

One thing that jumped out at me immediately:

Number of Players: at least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ration should be about 1:20 or thereabouts.

-Men & Magic, page 5

That's FOUR to FIFTY players. And the recommended ratio is 1 to 20!

Can you imagine even finding 20 player's willing to play a campaign nowadays? Even for a one shot at a convention you'd be hard pressed to pull that many together. Wow, those were the days.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Fantasy Path Tile Updated

Looking through my Fantasy Path box set and enjoying the quaintness of the graphics I struck on the idea of seeing what they would look like updated with modern graphics. A quick scan into Photoshop, some manipulated photo textures and some other Photoshop tricks and here is how it came out:


For comparison here is the original tile:
Enjoy, happy Friday!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dark Sun

Long ago I purchased the original Dark Sun setting when it first came out. Unfortunately its release coincided with a time in my life I quit playing DnD. Basically 2nd edition turned me off and I only played intermittently from 1987 until the release of 3rd edition in 2000.

I had always been intrigued by the Dark Sun setting and did enjoy reading it and admiring the art. Brom really blossomed as an artist during this period.

It was with some trepidation I purchased the recently released Dark Sun campaign setting for 4th edition DnD. I must say so far so good. The production values are extremely high. The art is excellent, and it is making for some engaging reading. It remains to be seen if I'll make an attempt to run a game in this setting as my current Swords & Wizardry campaign (which has morphed into a Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition campaign) is still going.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Look Back: Fantasy Paths

In 1981 Chaosium published a series of boxed sets of map tiles. This is the first of them called Fantasy Paths. The tiles were sturdy and printed on both sides. They are crude when compared to the slick dungeon tiles recently produced by WotC. Aesthetically the art wasn't great, but it had a charm to it much like the early 70's DnD art did with monochrome printing: brown, blue and black on an off-white cardboard. And each was numbered for convenient reference.


Fantasy Paths included 28 tiles:
6 small 2" by 4" tiles
4 rectangular 2" by 8" tiles
12 square 4" by 4" tiles
4 long 4" by 8" tiles and
2 large 8" by 8"tiles (rooms)
While the interesting features such as planks over a chasm or a stone circle in the center of the room make the tiles nice to look at, such specificity makes using these generically a bit harder. Furthermore the attempt to create the illusion of depth by including the walls looks nice, but eats up considerable usable space making these even less utilitarian. Yet these flaws also give them the same charm that many products of the 70's and early 80's had. They retain a hobbyist feel, rather than being a slick mass market product.

Unfortunately I missed out on these in my youth. Chaosium products were exceedingly rare where I lived (I only knew of Call of Cthulhu from ads in Dragon magazine). But I picked up the entire series on clearance at a convention once and have quite enjoyed them since.

They included a little 4 page adventure designed to use the tiles and numbered chits that could be used as a randomizer (psuedo dice) or as markers for the locations of characters and items. Also included was the introductory basic role-playing rules booklet, as it seems every Chaosium product of this era did. Making this box set a 'complete' RPG.

Afterthought. BRP (Basic Roleplaying) is considered one of the best RPG's written and is still well supported online, in particular basicroleplaying.com has a lot of excellent and free resources. Chaosium tried valiantly to create the ultimate generic rpg rules yet never quite had the success that GURPS had. I suspect one problem was the name: Basic Roleplaying. In middle and high school my friends and I wanted little to do with anything called "basic", which is partly why Advanced DnD was so appealing. Had it been given a catchier name and more widely appealing products, who knows how much more successful it could have been.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WotRP: more ship designs

Back after a long hiatus. Straight out of my sketchbook here are some rough ship sketches I did for the excellent Warriors of the Red Planet RPG which may someday be completed. I wonder if anyone can recognize which Ray Harryhausen film inspired some of these designs.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Re-envisioning Conan

I stumbled across this image, a cover of an early edition Conan book by an artist only identified as EMSH. What I find most fascinating about this image is there is no influence whatsoever of the iconic Conan created by the immortal Frazetta (and perpetuated by Barry Windsor Smith, and other Marvel artists). I can only assume the artist was either given some scarce description by an art director, or barely skimmed the book himself.

There are hints of Roman and comic-book superhero influences, and that mocking laugh as he points is not like any image of Conan I've ever seen.

It makes me wonder if it is possible to re-envision Conan. Perhaps by researching real barbarian dress forms, and seasoning it with a bit of REH's imaginative descriptions. And if you did that, could anyone recognize it as Conan? Or is Conan's form permanently marred by the common perception of who he is?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogs Worth Checking Out

Some of my favorite blogs:
I love old-school d&d themed dandddoodles.blogspot.com for all the wonderful maps and characters that CrazyRed draws and posts. Plenty of inspirational material here for any system you use. He also has a Cthulhu inspired blog that isn't as frequently updated.

Those of us old-schoolers who loved, and still love, the original Fiend Folio will appreciate artist Russ Nicholson's blog where he posts plenty of drawings that still look and feel as great as they did back in the early 80's.

Speaking of Cthulhu, if you like a little Yog-Sothothery in your Swords & Sorcery, this is the blog for you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Swordmaster of Mars

Martian Chess scored an interview with Kev McCurdy, the swordmaster who is training the actors for martian swordfighting on Andrew Stanton's Princess of Mars movie.

Makes for a fascinating read and gives some small insight into where the film is going.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Original Edition Combat + Chainmail

Combat in D&D has often been complicated or confusing as described in the original rules, yet simple in principle and in action. When I first acquired an original white box set it was always the combat that seemed most challenging to wrap my head around. If there is any flaw to the original set (other than the delightfully chaotic organization) is that it required Chainmail in order to properly use. It is strange to me Gygax's decision to not properly cover Combat, one of the cornerstones of any adventure, in the original rules.

The reasons for the omission of combat only become clear when you understand the cultural context of the white box set: that it was aimed at the existing war gaming hobby crowd. They didn't need rules for handling combat, they already had a good understanding of that, what they needed was the form and breadth of the concept of role-playing in general.

Over the years I have collected bits of wisdom and information on how combat was handled by players in those precious early years of D&D, with some intent of formally organizing them into a legible document. Fortunately

Using Chainmail Combat with OD&D.

I particularly like the way Aldarron gathered information from Swords & Spells, combined with published Q&A's from Gygax, and the Chainmail rules all applied to OD&D into a legible format. If you've ever tried to make heads or tails of Swords & Spells you will really appreciate the work that has been done here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Illustrations that tell a story...

...and demonstrate a real game mechanic are my favorites. Jeff Dee wasn't always my favorite D&D artist, but I really like this one, and also some he did in the A "slaver" series. And of course his paladin in the Rogue's Gallery was epic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bryan Cranston interviewed on his part in John Carter of Mars

Everything I've read reinforces my opinion that Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon have written a great script to shoot the John Carter of Mars trilogy with. I think it will be faithful to the spirit of the books, but shape the first 3 books into a compelling narrative fit for the big screen. Here is Bryan Cranston who plays a Civil War Colonel in the movie:
Q: And then you've got Andrew Stanton's "John Carter of Mars."
A: Cranston: "John Carter of Mars" – Another fantastically-written film. This is based on the book "Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burrows, which he started writing way back before "Tarzan" and wrote eleven novels following the exploits of John Carter, who's kind of a rebel from Virginia during the Civil War time. My character is a Northern Colonel and wants to and needs to recruit him into the cavalry of the northern army to help settle the Arizona territories because we're having tremendous difficulties with the Indians. He refuses and I keep grabbing him and forcing him to come into the fold. There's a whole bunch of exploits and he goes to Mars. He finds a portal to Mars, which is fascinating. Then the story takes places on Mars with all the creatures that Disney is so wonderfully and incredibly expert at creating, and then it also takes place back in the American Civil War time.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Star Blades and Dune

Star Blades is an RPG compatible with original d&d. It evokes the vast universe of the Dune series, and I've been enjoying reading through it. While it does not attempt to clone Dune, it is better described as "inspired by" Dune, and you can see hints of other science fiction and science fantasy in it, even a little bit of Star Wars and maybe some Traveller.

I'm not sure I'd play it as is, but I think it is a good starting point if you wanted to play a Dune style campaign with OD&D rules.

Star Blades assumes you are playing a human (though an addendum adds other races) with the choice of 5 different classes: Empath, Face Dancer, Mentat, Telepath and Star Warrior.

Empath is a healer and defensive class. Roughly analogous to a cleric in traditional D&D.
Face Dancer is a thief/assassin. If you've read Dune Messiah you will recognize the inspiration from the character Scytale.
Mentat: is a human computer
Telepath: is a sort of psionicist
Star Warrior (Fighter): this is basically a catch all for a Sardauker or Fremen warrior type character

The odd character class choices don't quite fit, where is the Bene Gesserit class? and Fremen warriors should be different from Sardauker or Harkonnen troops.

Some characters have access to Powers. These are described much like spells in classic D&D, and even many of them are identical to spell descriptions.

There is an enjoyable section near the back called "In the Halls of Power" which attempts to simulate the political intrigue for imperial control like in the books. I would like to have seen the great houses described in game terms.

Art
Unfortunately most of the images are clipped from a hodge podge of sources such as screenshots from Star Trek or the Dune movie, giving the product an inconsistent feel. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to picture in my mind's eye while playing.

One thing I like about the rules book is that it is similar to Swords & Wizardry in its brevity and conciseness.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dune would make for some great old school

One of my prized possessions is the Dune roleplaying game published by Last Unicorn Games. More specifically it was published by Wizards of the Coast after they bought LUG. It was a limited print run of something like 1000? copies. I got it at my first Gen Con where I snagged 2 copies (1 for a buddy and the other for myself). I had high hopes of a series of Dune rpg products, but apparently the relationship soured between the Dune licensors and Wizards.

I have recently reread the original and am working my way through the sequel Dune Messiah. I recall not caring for Dune Messiah when I first read it as a teenager. My opinion isn't moved much, but I do like it ever so slightly better than I did. It certainly requires a more mature understanding of politics and life in general to appreciate. Still, it is an ephemeral shadow of the remarkable original. Recollection tells me that Children of Dune is better than Messiah, which about half way through gets really good, nearly to the level of the original. And I do remember loving God Emperor, Heretics, and most of all Chapterhouse Dune. So I'm looking forward to seeing how they hold up for me now over 20 years later.

I didn't find the various spin offs done by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert to be quite as compelling.

My first exposure to Dune was the 80's David Lynch film, which I liked so much that I was compelled to get the books. I suppose if I had read the books first I'd hate the film, however now I think of the movie as the "Visual Guide" to the book (with very little else to do with it).

It occurs to me how very old school Dune could be as an RPG. It has classes, races, and levels, and a spirit to it that I think would perfectly fit in a modified Swords & Wizardry game. As great as Dune is I wish it had been exploited more as an IP. I could happily fill my house with Dune products as much as I love that universe.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Advanced Edition Companion

We've begun using Goblinoid Games expansion to Labyrinth Lord: the Advanced Edition Companion. So far so good, I'll have a longer report once we get a feel for it. I like the tone of the writing and the content, but my first observation is I'm not a fan of the various inconsistent modifiers for different stats. This is one thing I think AD&D got wrong and wasn't fixed until 3rd edition. So we are ignoring that, and using the standard modifiers as presented in Moldvay basic D&D. I don't know what ramifications it will have on "play balance", but we'll compensate as issues come up. Oh, and I don't care for the gothic "flavor font" being used on headers and in too many other places. But that is just a quibble, the rest of the graphic design and art are perfectly retro feeling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My antiquated RPG is now retro

As early as jr. high school I was trying to design my own RPG. One of the brilliant things about D&D was the way it inspired many to become game designers in an attempt to tinker, "fix" or improve on the original. Not long ago I uncovered a box in our garage that stored those booklets I had made way back then. It brought back a flood of memories, I could see in them the earliest seeds that would one day become Dungeoneer, my first published game.

While attending college I worked at a print & copy shop where I had access to desktop publishing equipment, and in my spare time I retyped and laid out my first RPG into a larger format. One of the challenges to finishing this RPG is that I've always been as interested in the art as in the words. Since I have a little skill as an illustrator I tended to spend as much time, or more, making illustrations as in playtesting and writing. So the going was always slow, and I never managed to quite complete the RPG. To this day I'm still working on it!

I have long since lost the data for that edition of the RPG, and I only had one printed test copy. I recently took the copy apart and scanned it in so I could have a digital version for safekeeping. Here is a page from the monster section:

In the late 90's this design was becoming very dated, and I lost interest in finishing the RPG. Instead becoming excited about making a card game version. But here we are 14 years later, and contrary to being antiquated, the design is actually quite retro!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Passing of a Legend

Frank Frazetta created some of the most powerful images ever put on canvas. He was an inspiration for myself and so many artists.

 He joins his lovely wife Ellie, but he'll be greatly missed here.