Sunday, December 30, 2012

Platemail: a new old-school forum

I've started a new forum to discuss old-school gaming in general, and various projects I'm involved with in particular.

PLATEMAIL

I intend to be pretty active on it and hope to get you all involved in discussing all kinds of cool stuff!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Great Family Heirloom

This post over on reddit.com caught my eye.

"About 30 years ago, my dad had his first edition D&D books hand-bound into a single leather tome... it's something of a family heirloom."




This is an inspiring idea, I don't want to cut up my personal copies, but it makes me want to find some old bashed up versions of the core AD&D rulebooks and bind them up in a leather tome like this! Can you imagine hundreds of years from now and some archaeologist digs this up and tries to decipher it...

See the full image gallery here: http://imgur.com/a/RL38O#0

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit. A review.

You've had 75 years to read the novel, so I don't feel so bad mentioning spoilers.

In summary I loved Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and would highly recommend it to anyone even mildy interested in fantasy, adventure, loyalty, and friendship.
The movie is not perfect, and I can't think of one that is, but in the history of cinema I would put The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey in the top 15%.

Compared to Peter Jackson's interpretations of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is certainly lighter in tone. If you've read the book then you'll understand why, it is a children's book. However Jackson did everything he could to add action, danger, darkness, and an adult perspective to the story by pulling elements in from Tolkien's notes, and the appendices from LotR. This movie is not a kid's movie. Depending on your point of view this is generally a good thing, since we live in such cynical and not-so-innocent times. Yet the movie manages to capture some of the naivety of the period that Tolkien penned the tale of one of the most famous novels of our time.

The movie opens to a segue to The Lord of the Rings with Frodo and his uncle Bilbo as Bilbo decides to pen the tales of his adventures. A masterful job is done of making Martin Freeman and Ian Holmes the same person through a beautiful pen & ink sketch and with subtle transitions.

Just like LotR an epic sequence of exposition sets the stage as we learn the history of Ereborn (the last kingdom of the dwarves) and Smaug the terrible. This is done at least as masterfully as it was done in LotR (I'd argue better as the effects and storytelling were better) - but exposition tires quickly, and this sequence is cut mercifully short with us getting the gist of the situation and ready for the story.

Much has been said about how long it takes for the dwarves to have their party at Bilbo's lovely 'hole in the ground' and the actual adventure to begin, but I loved every moment of it. Nearly each dwarf is given a moment to shine and introduce his character, all the time the character of Bilbo is enhanced and developed as he can't bear the idea of an adventure (after all, adventures are terrible things that "make one late for dinner."). The compelling story of the dwarves, and the epic song "Misty Mountains" would make anyone want to join in their ill-advised and impossible adventure to reclaim Ereborn from the dragon Smaug the magnificent - the "greatest calamity of our time". The only thing I could see changing is moving the "blunt the knives and crack the plates" scene to an extended edition.

After an epic song, made mostly of Tolkien's epic lyrics, Bilbo faces a decision whether to join the adventure. He says no, but after a night's sleep he wakes up to an empty home and realizes that he might miss a once in a lifetime adventure and runs after Thorin Oakenshield and company to join their epic quest. After a few gags, some successful, some not, the story moves on.

From here a few exciting moments happen, including a great scene where Thorin Oakenshield acquires his surname - and an epic enemy is described, and a truly memorable scene with three trolls happens. A patrol of orcs is hunting the party and from that point on the story seriously kicks into high gear. The party eventually ends up in Rivendell, where the White Council convenes (one of the few slow, but necessary moments). We get a preview of the dynamics of LotR, and then the story moves on to the Misty Mountains and the Goblin caves.

It is at this moment that I realized I was seriously into this movie. The Storm Giants were true to the book, but not strictly necessary, but they did help bridge the gap from Rivendell and the goblin caves. Once the party ends up in the Goblin caves is when the movie gets into high gear.

The scene with Bilbo and Gollum, Riddles in the Dark, is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history, perfectly filmed. Meanwhile the dwarves and Gandalf mow down ridiculous amounts of goblins and eventually exit the Misty Mountains, only to get "out of the frying pan into the fire" - just as in the book.

In this epic scene, the climax of the movie, Bilbo proves himself and Thorin learns just what stuff Bilbo is made of. The end of the film provides a satisfying conclusion, while promising great things for the next 2 movies.

Two thumbs up.

A few follow up notes:
The look of the dwarves: while some of them are quite ridiculous, after watching the movie again I appreciate the variety, else it would be nearly impossible to tell the difference between them all.

The additions might seam superfluous, upon a second viewing each is important. Even Radagast sets up important scenes that prove critical. And if you are a true Tolkienfile you can appreciate how Jackson and co. delved into the lore to flesh out the story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts on D&D Next

I admire what Wizards of the Coast is trying to do with D&D next. I think the core idea of unifying all the editions, and making a system that accommodates the many factions that have developed amongst D&D players over the years is a noble, if impossible, idea.

I was discouraged when Monte Cook left, it was a bad omen, because he was one of the best designers and writers in their talent pool. But I tend to be optimistic at heart and hope they pull it off. Wizard's recent interest in re-publishing the great products of TSR's past is an encouraging sign.

I wonder what Wizards could do to win back fans old & new alike. I have some ideas...

For the old fans I'd like to see Wizards do a serious reorganized reprint of Original D&D. Take all the books published before the Monster Manual, professionally edit and organize them into a Cyclopedia, and illustrate them in a manner that respects the aesthetic of that era and is still professional. With a nod to great classic artists and illustrators, but without the ridiculous conventions of today with its spiky armor, over sized weapons, cartoonish muscles, and garish colors. I want something a little more believable, something like this:
For the new fans I'd like to see the best of 4th, 3rd, and 2nd edition. Wizards lost me with 4th, but from what I understand it was the game balance and customizable abilities that players liked. It is not too hard to imagine how these things could be added to original D&D without killing the spirit of the original game. If they made this system modular, and these things were optional, it might work.

I've been following D&D next, downloading and reading each version. Play-testing on occasion and remain cautiously hopeful. If you are curious check out the links on RPGGeek here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Big Bad Con: Mouse Guard


Mouse Guard
Of the games I got to play at BBC (Big Bad Con) perhaps my favorite system was MouseGuard, but the adventure was little more than a fight scene, a trek across a thawing lake, and a final fight scene. From my experience with Ds&Ds I would have expected a lot more roleplaying, exploring, and adventure - not so much combat. Though the combat was quite dramatic, I mean 4 little mice against a great big owl is like a hobbit and 3 dwarves against Smaug, I wanted more in terms of the meat of the adventure. Maybe the game session was too short to have a section where we could roleplay and set up the scenario a little better.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Big Bad Con: Stars Without Number


Stars Without Number
This is a game by Kevin Crawford. It can best be described as Traveller meets OD&D.
I must say Stars Without Number has a great to hit system. It is beautiful in its simplicity and faithfulness to original D&D: just roll a 20 or better to hit on a d20. Add bonuses, add opponent's AC to d20 roll. So an opponent with a high (weak) armor class adds more to your to hit roll while strong AC is a low number and adds less to your roll. It is a sort of reverse THAC0. Very clever, easy, and quite intuitive. I want to steal it for every OD&D inspired RPG I want to make. I'll probably use it when I run OD&D henceforth.
The adventure will sound a little familiar now:
You are part of an interstellar enforcement group called "The Enforcers" 
The leader of your group is missing
Track his location down, and find out what happened
We were too late, he was already dead by the time we found him. A battle insued with some strange aliens that at first looked human, but were infected by strange "tentacle" creatures.
We found out an alien invasion of some sort was underway.
There was a stealth satellite transmitting data to the aliens. Through this satellite we discovered the secret base where the aliens were stationed.
We infiltrated the secret island base and destroyed it, thus preventing the alien invasion and saving the planet.
While fun, I must say it shares problems that all sci-fi games have. It is too open ended. Technology makes everyone into super-wizards, so it is hard for the game master to maintain control over the game. Still, we had a lot of fun.
edit: corrected author's name.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Big Bad Con: Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers Playtest


Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers
"Ds & Ds", as Luke jokingly called it, is a new game under development by Luke Crane (of Burning Wheel and MouseGuard fame) and others. The idea is to turn Burning Wheel into an "old school dungeon crawl" game. I will say it has the most clever inventory system I have seen and all RPG's in the future should adopt it, especially if they involve collecting "fat loot" like old school D&D games did. Basically each part of your character's body has 1 "slot" and each item you carry takes a slot. Pouches, sacks, backpacks increase your slots but at an expense. For example a small bag takes up a hand slot, so now you are restricted to one-handed weapons. A large sack takes two hands...
The system is quite heavy (in a good way), I was expecting something more rules light. But Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers turns social interaction and the process of roleplaying into a complex set of steps and modifiers. This is not a bad thing as each piece is intricately designed into the overall system to encourage those really great moments in the game when cool things happen. In particular I like the Goal system where at the beginning of a mission you declare what you hope to get out of the mission. If you succeed you get extra bonuses.
The best thing about the Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers game was the excellent adventure. Which I don't want to spoil for anyone who might get to play it. All I can say is if this game is as polished as MouseGuard when published it will be awesome!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Big Bad Con

Recently I got to attend Big Bad Con, a new San Francisco bay area game convention that takes place at the Hilton Oakland Airport. This is where Kublacon used to be before they moved to Burlingame (to an arguably much better location). Kublacon has earned its place as my favorite bay area game convention with its great mix of smoothly ran events, open gaming, dealer's room, and the people who run it are always working hard to make sure the convention is fun for everyone. Still, I have fond memories of gaming at the Hilton (in particular an epic run through of the AD&D module: Pharaoh) - so it was fun to be able to attend a new game convention there.
Big Bad Con focusses solely on role playing games, though it does have a small open gaming area for board and card gaming.
At most game conventions I either go as a guest or as a dealer with a table. This time I went just to play games. Sometimes you can forget how fun game conventions are! I got to participate in 4 epic roleplaying sessions: Mutant's & Masterminds 3rd edition, Dungeoneers & Dragonslayers (a playtest of  a new yet to be published RPG by Luke Crane), Stars Without Number, and MouseGuard. I will post my experiences with the 4 sessions over the next few days:

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition
The adventure was just average.
The differences from 2nd edition to 3rd edition were subtle in many places, but also really important. Such as Hero points. 3rd edition focusses on positive reinforcement instead of penalties. It is a further distillation of d20 into an original system, in many ways almost unrecognizable from the original.
The adventure in a nutshell:
You are part of a super powered group of investigators and law enforcers. You have a headquarters complete with a super computer and a super van to travel around in (from San Francisco to Portland Oregon in under 2 hours!).
The Leader of the super group is missing, investigate what happened.
Criminal activity was depressed when leader first disappeared, but now is sharply on the rise again.
We hunted down the last known super villain he contacted. After busting a narcotic ring, inadvertently, we found some minions and found their super villain lair.
Once in the lair we beat up the thugs, got to the headquarters and confronted the super villain - who was annoyed we had "broken the agreement". We endeavored to find out what the "agreement" was.
We then discovered our leader and the super villain (along with other super villains) had made a deal because the leader wanted to retire.
We hunted dear leader down, found him drunk in a bar and proceeded to berate him for his nefarious dealings and deception, and told him if he wanted to retire he was welcome to, even though his power gave him certain obligations, and we left his sorry drunk butt where we found it.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Warriors of the Red Planet: Fighting Man


I am continuing to "art up" the Warriors of the Red Planet role playing game. I know it seems to be moving at a snails pace, but art takes time - and the better you try to make it the longer it takes. On average I will spend a full day on a half-page full color illustration like this.

This screenshot from the page featuring the Fighting Man gives you an idea of what the book interior will look like. This is from the full color edition. It looks like there will be two editions of the book: a basic black & white version, and a deluxe full color version. We'll provide more details as we get closer to publication. I hope you like.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

WotRP - The Mentalist


MENTALIST
Mentalists are individuals with unnaturally prodigious mental abilities. As Mentalists gain experience, they hone their prowess and add more options to their suite of powers. Mentalists may use any weapon, though they typically scorn much besides an ornamental dagger or pistol, and wear only the lightest armor, such as basic harness.
Mentalists roll 1d6 for each HD (max 10).

Mentalists may use a number of powers per day equal to their level before needing to rest and regain their strength. Mentalists with a Wisdom of 13 or higher may add 1 to the numbers of power uses per day. This usage may consists of any combination of the powers they know, so long as the total does not exceed their daily limit.

Mentalists with high Charisma may add their Basic Ability Modifier to powers that require a roll to-hit or damage.

Note: Due to the limited number of powers available to any individual Mentalist, one Mentalist may be very different from the next, making them as unpredictable as they are powerful. Upon gaining a level, the Mentalist may choose to “unlearn” a known power and choose a new one of the same level in its place.
Level XP              HD    Title           Powers per day (by level)
1       0                1       Aspirant     1/
2       2500           2       -                 2/     
3       5000           3       Initiate       2/1
4       10000         4       -                 3/2
5       20000         5       Seer           3/2/1
6       50000         6       -                 3/2/2
7       100000       7       Adept         3/2/2/1
8       250000       8       -                 3/2/2/2
9       500000       9       Savant       3/2/2/2/1
10     1000000     10     Mindlord    3/3/2/2/2/1

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Warriors of the Red Planet update

It has been a long time! I must admit the John Carter movie took the wind out of me, I wanted it to be SO good, but it was only 'just ok'. Worse yet for Burroughs fans it totally failed on the character of John Carter himself. The noble gentleman of the South willing to dive into adventure and danger for his beautiful princess was reduced to a gold-grubbing reluctant hero.

The movie wasn't a total bust, but it failed on enough levels that fans and the uninitiated alike were turned off. Bad move Disney & Andrew Stanton!

However, we drive on undaunted to achieve our goal of making the best Sword & Planet RPG every devised by man! The eminently talented Al of Beyond the Black Gate has delivered a document of unparalleled brilliance, passion, and knowledge of this most venerable of science fantasy genres - and I have taken the responsibility of illustrating it with illustrations worthy of its subject matter! So, where have I been?

Glad you asked.

This has been an eventful summer. I've taken the duty of art direction for not just one, but two of Kabam's hit titles: first The Godfather and then Edgeworld. The work of an art director is more than you would think. While the conductor doesn't play First Chair Flute, he must understand every instrument and it's place in the orchestra to make beautiful music. I hope that these games are well art directed.

I have endeavored to make great art for Warriors of the Red Planet, this does not come without the burden of time well spent working on the illustrations. You will have to be the judge of the quality.

I present to you a couple of the fantastic creatures from WotRP. More sneak peeks are forthcoming. Enjoy!

Anthipode
AC: 2[18]
HD: 3
Atk: 1d6 needles
Dmg: 1d4 per needle
Save: F3
Move: 120’
When not cloaked in its illusions, the Anthipode is an unsettling humanoid creature with writhing tentacles for arms and a smooth, featureless face with a single hole in the center of unknown purpose. Typically though, the Anthipode wraps itself in illusions, appearing to be a beautiful courtesan, savvy merchant, or whatever else would further its latest con game or provide its next fresh meal. When unmasked (typically by a physical assault), the Anthipode defends itself by shooting needle-sharp projectiles from its tentacles.

Arodel
AC: 7[13]
HD: 2
Atk: pike
Dmg: 1d8
Save: F2
Move: 90’
The Arodel are a race of crablike humanoids, typically living in tribal groups in the most desolate wastelands, though there are rumored to be a few actual cities inhabited by the creatures. They sometimes trade with civilized lands, though they often have somewhat unique interpretations of standard business deals that occasionally result in the consumption of those they trade with. Arodels favor the use of a motley array of pikes and other polearms.

These are just the black & white drawings. I plan to have all the illustrations in color and provide a low cost b&w as well as a premium color edition of WotRP if all goes well.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Murder of Crows

Not very related to old school games, but a fun game to play between old school gaming! This is my recent published game, a deceptively simple card game where the objective is to spell Murder - doing so tells a story of murder. But the cards have effects that can thwart your efforts or turn the tide of the game. Should be available at your local game store soon.
Publisher: Atlas Games
BoardgameGeek listing

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Speaking of Old Friends

I was cleaning out the garage this weekend and straightening up my gaming collection when I came across these guys. Sadly my Warduke's helmet is a little damaged, but the others are in excellent shape.

Monday, July 30, 2012

1st Edition AD&D Special Edition

This weekend I made a trip to Gamescape, my local game store (and one of the best in Northern California) and spotted the new First Edition AD&D Special Edition books. Without hesitation I snapped them up, took them home and enjoyed looking through them.

The Good
The presentation is stunning. The covers are high quality embossed with gold foil imprinting on them. The tasteful use of the classic original illustrations really make these a nostalgic winner. It felt good to pick up a new product that was 1st edition. The texture, the weight, and the high quality of the printing showed a respect for the classics that was reassuring to see. Also the edges of the paper are gold foil making the books feel very expensive.

Opening the Monster Manual first I see that the end papers are a beautiful shade of brown that compliments the cover nicely. Inside the book is identical to the original Monster Manual in every way - except that the paper is much higher quality clay-coated smooth. It's like seeing an old friend but something is just a little different, he's dressed just a bit nicer, hair combed, maybe a little more fit. But still that same old friend you so enjoy hanging out with.

The advantage of the paper is obvious, everything is crisper and more high contrast. The printing is black-black on ultra white-white. The contrast is so noticeable that it takes a moment to adjust. Then you start scrutinizing and notice that something about the font is different. Very subtly, but just enough to notice.
On the left the original Monster Manual, on the right the new Special Edition

You realize that Wizards did more than just scan the original, run an OCR and call it a day. They painstakingly recreated each sentence word by word. The font is very close to the original, probably as close as you can get in a digital font. I've only just begun to read and compare but I haven't seen any word changes yet. I'm sure there are some as I recall reading that there was some light editing done. One of the advantages of the method Wizards chose to use is that the gradients used in the tables is much smoother than in the original books:

The illustrations also feel crisp (though ever so slightly degraded, which I will get to in the next section). As you can see by everyone's favorite Monster Manual illustration:

Another pleasant feature is the bookmark tassel. I will take advantage of this as I enjoy rereading these books from beginning to end.

The Bad
It's hard to find anything to not praise about these beautiful recreations, but there are always nits to pick, so let's pick away.

While the paper might seem like an improvement, it also makes reading the text much harsher. It is so contrasty, and the paper is slightly heavier. Compared to the originals where the blacks aren't as rich and the paper is much less bright which makes them a little easier on the eyes.

The scanning process didn't favor the illustrations well in the Monster Manual, particularly where there is fine ink lines. Dave Trampier's bold heavy lines survived pretty well, but Dave Sutherlands delicate cross hatching becomes thick and muddy. Fine lines become heaver. For example in this illustration of a kobold encounter the cross hatching mushes together:
On the left is the Special Edition, on the right the original Monster Manual

I suspect this might be in part the fault of the source material, since the Monster Manual is the oldest I'm not sure they had access to the original plates so they scanned from the book. So you can imagine: the original illustration was photographed, then used to make a plate from, then printed and finally decades later scanned by Wizards. So they are at best a 3rd generation copy. For some reason though the illustrations in the Player's Handbook seemed to fair better. While the DM's guide has a few that are just massacred - like Darlene's gem illustration on pg 25 and her stunning scratchboard illustration 59, but her forest illo on pg 48 faired nicely despite the exquisite ink lines. Many of the diagrams held up, but the hexes on pg 47 fell apart (this is one where they could have recreated the hex).


The Ugly
There isn't anything really ugly at all about these premium reprints. The books are all around gorgeous, feel great to hold, and are like having mint editions of the classic. If there is anything ugly perhaps the price? $44.95 for the DMG, $34.95 for the others. But compare that to trying to buy any of these books in mint condition, or even finding a mint condition and the price is pretty great.

Buy if you want pristine reprints or if your old copies are so beaten up you are afraid to open them for fear of them falling apart.
Don't buy if you are happy with the copies you already have.


4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Clang

Neal Stephenson wants to make a swordfighting video game.
Hi, Neal Stephenson here. My career as an author of science and historical fiction has turned me into a swordsmanship geek. As such, I'm dissatisfied with how swordfighting is portrayed in existing video games. These could be so much more fun than they are. Time for a revolution.
Trust me, it is well worth watching the video.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tony DeZuniga

If you read Savage Sword of Conan in the 70's and 80's, and if you read this blog you probably did, then you marveled at the spectacular ink work of Tony DeZuniga. He is probably best known for his art on Jonah Hex. He was part of the "Philippine invasion" into comics back in the early 70's along with other great Filipino artists like Rudy Nebres and Alex Nino, among others.

I got to meet Tony at Comic Con a few years back. He was such a nice guy, he invited my wife and I to visit him at his family owned coffee shop in Stockton CA. We bought his sketchbook and had it signed. I still marvel at his tremendous draftsmanship.

I'd heard a few weeks ago that he was hospitalized, and just learned he passed away. I respect him for his talent and his kindness and wish his family well.

With the proverbial time machine - if I could go back in time and be involved in the art direction for D&D he is definitely an artist I would have commissioned.




Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hind Legs of the Displacer Beast

Dave Trampier is my favorite of the early D&D artists. I always loved this illustration, but the hind legs confused me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dave Arneson's Game Collection Auction

Dave Arneson, the real wizard behind D&D, had an extensive game collection. It is now going up for auction.
http://www.thecollectorstrove.com/site-news/2012/4/29/the-big-announcement.html

5th Edition? Really?

While reading some discussions about which D&D game was the bestselling it occurred to me that the edition numbers are really misleading. In fact there have been at least 25 editions of D&D in the English language alone.

"Basic" D&D has gone through 19 iterations, while AD&D has had 6 iterations (1st edition, 2nd edition, a "2.5" edition - the black covers, a 3rd edition, a 3.5 edition and the misnamed 4th edition - the correct name being "D&D but we really want to be WoW".)

D&D was conceived by some incredibly creative guys: Gygax and Arneson. And this genre defining idea was mismanaged by a series of incompetent doofuses for decades until Wizards of the Coast got a hold of it (to be clear I am talking about the doofus execs who managed TSR, not the hardworking designers). The game was given to a brilliant team of game designers, but I think these designers looked down their noses at the original 3 booklet set. They couldn't see past it's crude presentation and terrible organization to the core of the game which had a unique and brilliant heart.

I can't blame these designers, while I've always enjoyed the original it took the release of Swords & Wizardry for me to truly -grok- the brilliance, elegance, and genius of the original white box set.
What we got in 3rd edition was an overly complicated permutation of 1st edition D&D with a hybrid of Runequest (quite understandable since the chief designer was a long time fan of Runequest). Still, it was a vast improvement over 2nd edition, and to a generation hungry for the game of their youth it was a hit.

Apparently the bestselling D&D set was the Basic D&D Black Box.
Yeah, I'm shocked too. As a geek and collector, this is one of the sets I've had zero interest in acquiring. Perhaps it was a quirk of history with the generation after the D&D cartoon era being influenced by their older brothers?

If "D&D Next" is really 26th edition return to the Original - then you can bet I'll be buying a copy and getting all my friends to play.

If it is another ill conceived piece of marketing dung in the vein of 4th you can bet I won't waste my time.

BTW. I don't think I've ever even seen this version anywhere, ever.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Prometheus Trailer

This one is the most reminiscent of the original Alien. I'd love to play an RPG set in this universe.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free RPG's

Chris's Compendium of Free Role Playing Games.

This has been around for a while, but I was just reminded what a great collection of links to free RPG's this is on 1KM1KT. Everything from Dungeon Squad to FUDGE, and a personal favorite Sorcerer.

Link

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Surtr

Surtr art by Thomas Denmark for Legend of Badass by Ben Thompson

The original Gods, Dem-Gods & Heroes book is disappointing by almost every measure (except that it sneaks in several unlicensed intellectual properties such as Conan and Elric). And the AD&D version of Deities & Demigods is little better than a high level Monster Manual. On a side note I do like the revised name Legends & Lore quite a bit because it is evocative and far more generalized.

The first version of Surtr appears in Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes

Surtur:
Armor Class: 2
Magical Spell Ability: lst-4th Level
Move: 12"
Fighter Ability: 18th Level
Hit Points: 250

Surtur is King of the Fire Giants. As is Hyrm, he is gifted with protection from weapons up to +4 in hitting ability. Holy Swords are the only exception to the rule and they will score double
damage upon Surtur while Swords of Cold will inflict triple the damage done. Cold has the same effect on Surtur as fire has upon Hyrm. Surtur is armed with a normal iron sword of flame (a Flaming Sword) which burns continuously. Anyone struck by this blade will take 2-20 points of normal damage and 2-8 dice of fire damage. Frost giants are automatically slain if this blade hits them, and other creatures of Coldness, of the snows, etc., will flee in terror before this blade. Surtur is served by 3-18 Red Dragons and he may call upon six Class 6 fire demons a year to do his will.
The next version is in 1980's Deities & Demi-Gods
Surtur (lord of the fire giants)
Lesser God
Armor Class: -2
Move: 15"
Hit Points: 380
no. Of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 6-60
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: immune to fire, 1-3 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance: 60%
Size: 1 (20')
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Worshiper's Align: Lawful Evil (fire giants)
Symbol: Flaming Sword
Plane: Gladsheim (Jotunheim)
Cleric/Druid: 15th level cleric
Fighter: 20th level fighter
Magic-User/Illusionist: 5th level magic-user
Thief/Assassin: Nil
Monk/Bard: Nil
Psionic Ability: Nil
S: 25 (+7, +14) I: 19 W: 14 D: 12 C: 25 CH: 20

Most fire giants regard Sutur as their leader and their deity. Deep in Jotunheim, Sutur waits for the day when he can lead the fire giants to the great battle of Ragnorok.
Surtur looks like an immense fire giant, with the crackling flames for hair and eyebrows. He wears heavy iron armor which is hot to the touch (1-10 points of damage to any who contact it with exposed flesh), and wields a 15-foot flaming iron sword. He strikes with this twice per round, inflicting 6-60 points of damage on a hit. Surtur is immune to fire attacks of any kind.
Quite a power leap from the humble original edition version! Still, this is a god that a well equipped high level party of intrepid adventurers could hope to take out in a fair fight. And I'm sure many did back in the day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Monte Cook Leaving Wizards

Last week I decided that I would leave my contract position with Wizards of the Coast. I am no longer working on Dungeons & Dragons, although I may provide occasional consultation in the future. My decision is one based on differences of opinion with the company. 
Too bad. Monte Cook is definitely one of the shining stars for me in contemporary game design, I really enjoyed his Ptolus and Arcana Unearthed books tremendously and was looking forward to seeing what he would do with D&D5.


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Saturday, March 10, 2012

John Carter Better Than Expected

The dreary reviews and terrible marketing have done a convincing job of making John Carter sound like an awful movie.

Maybe by going in with such low expectations it helped, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was filled with great action, spectacular effects, enough of the integrity of the original story, and had compelling enough characters to be worth the ticket price and then some. By pulling in elements from Gods of Mars and Warrior of Mars it helped tie together the episodic nature of A Princess of Mars, which was a compilation of a serial that ran in pulp magazine The All Story way back in 1912.

We could quibble about what was left out and what is added, but the movie felt complete, most of the plot holes filled (no doubt astute observers will still find many), and most of the key sequences from the novel remained mostly in tact. In particular John Carter's advent on Mars was spot on to the book (except that he was clothed).

Having seen this movie it is even more remarkable to me how badly managed the marketing was. You would get the impression that this movie is about a super-human battling monsters in an arena, ala jedis in Attack of the Clones. Nothing could be further from the truth, the arena scene comes in quite late, and serves to propel a key plot point - unlike the senseless and emotionless arena scene in AotC. Most of the movie is heroic battles across the face of Mars, spectacular flying ships, weird science, and fantastic creatures, and above all an inter-planetary romance between the incomparable Dejah Thoris and the heroic cavalryman John Carter.

The book ends of the movie, with Edgar Rice Burroughs as John Carter's beloved nephew, is such a nice touch and so well handled that it all helps ground this really quite ridiculous but fun and engaging story.

4 out of 5 stars.

Here are some scenes I feel better reflect the movie, none of those arena shots should have ever appeared in any primary marketing shots.