Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

My favorite Christmas Carol. Enjoy. And Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Old-School Monsters: Catoblepas

This Dave Trampier illustration appears in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, circa 1978.

It is the Catoblepas, which makes it's first appearance in the 1977 AD&D Monster Manual. The Catoblepas is not an original creation of Gygax and Arneson, as it is referenced by such people as Pliny the Elder and Leonardo da Vinci. Both Pliny and da Vinci report that the Catoblepas is a shaggy beast with a head so heavy that the creature can barely lift it. A good thing too: it's glare turns you to stone, or it's breath poisons you, depending on which ancient or medieval source you believe.

I find this illustration of the Catoblepas notable for a couple of reasons. First, the picture it is illustrated from the viewpoint of the Catoblepas, not the characters who are battling (or fleeing) it. I think you will be hard-pressed to find many modern fantasy rpg illustrations that are framed from this perspective. Most modern fantasy illustrating focuses on the characters, not the monsters they are battling. The alternative perspective employed here diminishes the importance of the party, and puts the Catoblepas in the foreground of the picture frame, elevating it's stature and importance.

The other notable thing about this illustration is the characters look like run-of-the-mill types, not Paladins in gleaming armour, Amazons in scale-mail bikinis, and Wizards bursting with magical energies. No, these are farmers-turned-adventurers, and they are clearly outmatched by the Catoblepas. In modern heroic rpg art, the super-characters would instead be closing in for the kill, not hesitating, fleeing, or screaming non-sensically.

Perhaps i'm simply worshipping at the Altar of Tramp, but to my way of thinking, there is something far more interesting about an illustration where the outcome of a battle is in doubt, where the Mountie doesn't get his man, where the adventurers turn and run away so they can fight another day. Tramp and the other old-school artists got it right, whether it was portraying the adventurers involved in absurd and humorous situations, losing battles, or partaking in mundane adventuring activities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Timelords and Ringlords

This is indeed a strange coincidence. Jimmy Cauty, one half of the discordian band know alternately as The JAMs, The Timelords, and The KLF, was also an accomplished artist, and created two posters, for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in the late 70's/early 80's. Though I never owned either of those posters, I remember them well. I think one of my middle school buddies had one or both of them, as he and his mum were huge Tolkien fans.

I was heavily into acid-house music back in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Two of my favorite 1980's Calgary dance clubs, The Banke and The Republik, had a DJ who was in a University class with me, and he would cut us tracks from the latest Chicago and English acid-house band releases while he was DJing. The KLF was my favorite acid-house band. It didn't hurt that The KLF politics bordered on the anarchic and their antics were gleeful social and cultural disruptions.

The KLF's The White Room album was sheer genius. Too bad The KLF's follow-up album, The Black Room (a planned collaboration with the heavy metal band, Extreme Noise Terror) was still-born.

These LOTR and Hobbit posters are incredibly intricate, and the Gandalf in Cauty's Lord of the Rings poster is among my favorite renditions of the character.

I just think it's odd that Jimmy Cauty, one of the original Timelords -- Doctorin' the Tardis -- should have also been a fan of Tolkien's Ringlords.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Ivy over at The Happy Whisk, was asking me what a Chinook is. Here is the answer to that question, courtesy of wikipedia, along with a picture of a "chinook arch" over downtown Calgary. Click picture to embiggen.

A "Chinook" is a wind from the Pacific ocean flowing over the Rockies into the interior regions of southern Alberta (ie. Calgary and environs). A strong Chinook can melt one foot of snow in a day. The snow partly melts and partly evaporates in the dry wind. Chinook winds have been observed to raise winter temperature, often from below −20°C (−4°F) to as high as 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) for a few hours or days.

The ch digraph in Chinook is pronounced as in French (i.e., shinook). This is because the French-speaking voyageurs of the fur companies brought the term from the mountains.

In Lethbridge (south of Calgary), Chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force (120 km/h or 75 mph). On November 19, 1962, an especially powerful chinook there gusted to 171 km/h (107 mph).

In Pincher Creek (also South of Calgary), the temperature rose by 41°C (from -19°C to 22°C) in one hour in 1962 - trains have been known to be derailed by chinook winds there. During the winter, driving can be treacherous as the wind blows snow across roadways sometimes causing roads to vanish and snowdrifts to pile up higher than 1 meter. Empty semi trucks driving along Highway 3 and other routes in Southern Alberta have been blown over by the high gusts of wind caused by chinooks.

Calgary gets many chinooks - the Bow Valley, in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, acts as a natural wind tunnel funneling the chinook winds.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If Two Strength-13 Fighters Arm-Wrestle, Which One Wins?

Is there a D&D mechanic to simulate this sort of contest, or would each of you simply roll a d6, high number wins?
What about if a Stength 14 fighter arm-wrestled a Strength 13 fighter? Would the Strength 14 fighter win every contest?
I ask because Dying Earth RPG has an interesting dice-pool mechanic, where your attribute score is the number of dice you receive. Potentially, in that circumstance, a lower strength character could beat a higher strength character, if the former was lucky or the later unlucky.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Laws Of Magic

There was a question the other day regarding how a certain new spell that I posted operates. To answer that question more generally, I point you to this excellent article on the Laws of Magic. While you may enjoy reading that article, here is a brief summary. The following notes should assist in the creation, and prediction of the effects and limitations, of spells employed in Dungeons and Dragons (understanding, of course, that those spells are simply game mechanics, and are not real...).

Law of Mind Over Matter: This Law holds that the mind controls the body and the physical environment. Put another way, every physical creation is preceded by a mental creation.

Law of Belief: this law states that in order to command or perform magic, you must believe in it, and your power to control it.

Law of Knowledge: knowledge is power. The more you know about a person or phenomenon, the more powerful you magic can be in relation to them or it. Spell and Character "levels" in D&D try to account for this law: for example, higher level characters can use higher level spells of the same type that are more powerful (think of the power word spells, or the various fire-control spells).

Law of Self-Knowledge: Nosce te ipsum -- know thyself. Those who are self-aware and know their abilities are better able to use them.

Law of Names: knowing the name of something gives you power over it. The more specific the knowledge, the more power you have. For example, Maple heartwood is more specific that wood; Thomas, son of Donald, is more specific than Thomas, is more specific than Man.

Law of Association: this law states that things that are associated with each other can effect each other. An obvious example of this law would be a voodoo doll: a pin poked into a voodoo doll will injure the person the doll is associated with.

Law Of Similarity: this is a sub-law of the Law Of Association, which posits that effects resemble causes. For example, pouring water on the ground will make it rain, or striking a match will create a fireball.

Law of Contact or Contagion: this law states that things that were once in contact will continue to act on each other once the physical contact is severed. A good example of that is the "Leap Of Logic" spell that I posted the other day: the stone that the player throws, continues to be "connected" to the player after it is thrown, allowing the player to leap to the same location as the stone. The author of the above article uses another example, of a warrior eating the liver of a lion, in order to gain the strength of the lion.

Law of Words of Power: Words of Power are such things as "abracadabra", hocus-pocus, Jehovah, Pope, Vizier, or the proper name of an infernal Lord. The power of the Word is tightly bound to the weight to which others ascribe to the Word, or the person using it. This is why it is important that magic-users garb themselves in sufficiently arcane and fearsome attire, that way, their use of the "power word" spells will have greater effect.

Law of Identification or Imitation: this allows someone to assume the characteristics of another, for example, shape-changing, contact other plane, or divination spells.

Law of Synthesis or Opposites: this law states that two opposing viewpoints can be synthesised into a new viewpoint that is not simply a compromise between the two.

Law of Polarity: this law states that everything can be separated into two polar opposites.

Law of Balance: this is an exhortation to be even-tempered, flexible and open to alternatives

Law of Infinite Data: this law says that there is always more information out there.

Law of Finite Senses: while data is infinite, our capacity to receive and process all that data is limited by our senses.

Law of Infinite Universes, Law of Pragmatism and Law Of True Falsehoods: these three laws are inter-related, suggesting that, since everyone sees things differently, one should be flexible and accepting when your views conflict with the views of others.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Valley Of Graven Tombs

Along the slow-moving river Scaum, between the towns of Viliyat and Doomerth, lies the Valley Of Graven Tombs. The Valley Of Graven Tombs is yet another interesting locale in The Dying Earth, along with Tunnelsmouth.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Spell: Larodrm's Leap Of Logic

Level: 2
Components: V,S,M
Range: touch
Casting time: 1 segment
Duration: special
Saving Throw: none
Area of Effect: creature touched

The arch-mage Larodrm, known for his laziness and fear of riding beasts, created a number of leaping and travelling spells to allow him to journey long distances with minimum effort. In addition to his Leap Of Logic spell, he also created the 9th level spell, Leap Year, which allowed him to leap, continuously for a year. Behind his back, the other arch-mages derisively named his Leap Of Logic spell, *LOL*, since the sight of Larodrm's leaping never ceased to fill them with great mirth.

Larodrm's Leap Of Logic spell allows the spell-target to leap a great distance. It is similar to the first level spell, Jump, but the distance leaped is equal to the throwing range of the creature affected.

The distance that can be leaped by the target is equal to the spell target's strength, times 10 feet (or yards, if outdoors) to a maximum of 140 feet (or yards, if outdoors). In order to use the Leap Of Logic spell, the target must toss a rock (properly ensorcelled and covered with runes) at the location he intends to leap to. The spell-target then leaps to that same location. The material component is a bag of ensorcelled rocks, with runes etched upon them.

This spell is similar to the 3rd level Cleric spell, Leap Of Faith, and the 3rd level Enchanter spell, Lover's Leap. The Leap Of Faith spell requires that the arrival location is in visual range and that the departure point is prepared with symbols of the deity of the person leaping the distance. The Lover's Leap spell requires that the person leaping can see their Lover to whose location they leap. Otherwise, the range is limited to the leaper's strength, times 10 feet (or yards, if outdoors) with the same maximum distance as the Leap Of Logic, and the leaper must imagine that his lover is at the location being leaped to.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Magic Item: Death's Door

It is unknown whether Death's Doors were created by Sorcerers and Necromancers, or by the infernal powers themselves to tempt mortals to their doom. No two Death's Doors look the same, and some are sufficiently non-descript that there is no outward clues to their true identity and function.

A Death's Door, when placed into an doorway, functions as a passage to the Underworld. The Underworld to which Death's Door opens depends on the user, so the Death's Door could open to different infernal planes for each person attempting ingress.

Death's Doors can weigh several tonnes, but because they are magical, regardless of the weight of the door they can be carried by two or more people, or transported in a cart or wagon.

The standard use of a Death's Door is to attempt the recovery of a fallen comrade or lover from the afterlife. The term "hovering at Death's Door" refers to the hesitance of the users to pass through Death's Door, for several reasons. First, they must brave the dangers and horrors of the underworld. Second, once the comrade or lover is located, every demon, devil or other denizen within range will be alerted to a mortal's presence, and will make every effort to capture the interloper(s). Third, there is a chance that the deceased will refuse to accompany the searcher back to the land of the living, as they are quite content where they are or feel they have no reason to return to a mortal life.

Once placed in a doorway, a Death's Door cannot be removed by infernal creatures. That, along with the fact that the users of the Door will unerringly know in which direction the Death's Door is located, provides some assurance that once an individual uses the door, they will be able to find their way back. However, non-infernals can move the door, and if that is done, knowledge of the Door's location is lost, and the person(s) previously using the door may be trapped in the underworld, unless the can find another Death's Door location or other passage to the land of the living.

To operate the Death's Door, the user must think of the deceased person, and recite an incantation that asks the Death's Door to find and allow passage to the person being so located. The Death's Door will typically open a passage to the underworld that is within one mile of the deceased, although, being a somewhat capricious form of magic, the door may open above a lava flow, chasm, vacuum, or other deadly location.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Magical Swords In ODnD

Magic swords in Original Dungeons and Dragons were far more potent that most people give them credit.

That is doubly true when using the Chainmail combat rules, rather than the "alternative" (d20) combat system. That alternative, d20 combat system diluted the power of those magic swords, and it, along with the innovation of hit points, were a baleful influence on future versions of D&D.

Remembering that the Chainmail combat rules were ODnD's original, default rules, this quote from Chainmail gives some indication of how magic swords were first viewed by Gygax as he penned ODnD:

"Magic Swords: because these weapons are almost entities in themselves, they accrue real advantage to the figure so armed. In normal combat they merely add an extra die. It is in fantastic combat the magical swords are most potent. Besides allowing Elves to combat certain fantastic figures, they give a plus 1 to the dice score when employing the Fantasy Combat Table, and Magical Swords shed a light of their own over a circle 12" in diameter (6" radius) which dispels darkness but does not equal full light. Excalibur and other 'super swords' would give a plus two or three!"
-- Chainmail, p.38

"Merely" adds an extra die? In mentioning the addition of an extra die, Gygax refers, of course, to the use of d6's, in Chainmail's normal (mass) combat rules, to determine the chance of wounding one's opponent. Using Chainmail's normal (mass) combat rules, and assuming both combatants are "armored footmen", either combatant needs to score a 6, on a single d6, to wound his opponent. The combatant with the magic sword, who adds an extra d6, needs to roll a 6 on either of his 2d6, and therefore has a 31% (11/36) chance of wounding his opponent, while the combatant, without the magic sword, has a 17% (1/6) chance of doing the same.

Put another way, that +1 sword, in ODnD, is actually a +3 sword, if you were to convert the odds of wounding over to the alternative, d20 combat system (you need an 18+ on a d20 without the magic sword, or a 15+ with the magic sword). Add to that, the 3% (1/36) chance that the magic-sword-weilding-combatant will score two wounds, and that humble +1 sword looks potent indeed!

Gygax's reference to the "addition of an extra die in normal combat" is more problematic (and potentially powerful), when you consider its application to Chainmail's man-to-man combat rules. Taking the "addition of an extra die" at face value, you could interpret this to mean you roll 3d6, instead of 2d6, when consulting the man-to-man combat table. Again, assuming the employment of our ubiquitous +1 sword, against an opponent with Plate Armor and a Shield, our odds improve from 11+ on 2d6 (3/36 or 8%) to 11+ on 3d6 (109/216 or 50%).

Again, converting this to the alternative, d20 combat system, that +1 sword actually improves my chances of wounding my opponent, from 19+, to 11+. My +1 sword just became a +8 sword!

Even if you dismiss that extreme interpretation, in favor of a more reasonable +1 to the dice score on the man-to-man table, your run-of-the-mill +1 magic sword is still very potent. Against Plate, your odds of wounding improve from 17% to 28%. Against other types of armor, your odds improve from 42% to 58%. Those odds turn that simple +1 sword into a +2 or +3 sword, when converted to the alternative, d20 combat system.

I see no evidence in ODnD that magic swords were considered to be anything but the puissant and dangerous items suggested by the Chainmail rules. In addition to the above combat bonuses, there was a 50% chance that a magic sword would have sufficient Intelligence to have a Will of its own, which it would attempt to impose upon its wielder:

"Swords: among magic weaponry, swords alone possess certain human attributes. Swords have an alignment, and intelligence factor and an egoism rating .... If the Intelligence/Egoism of the sword is six or more points above that of the character who picks it up, the sword will control the person ...." -- D&D Volume II, Monsters & Treasure, p. 27

This was the case, even of the lowly +1 magic sword. Indeed, those +1 swords had a 50% chance of having some special power, a 25% chance of talking, and 17% chance of reading magic or having some other extraordinary ability.

The most powerful sword bonus in ODnD was +3, and for good reason. A +3 sword would truly have been the equivalent of an Excalibur or Stormbringer, particularly if the sword had high intelligence, ego, and several extraordinary abilities to boot. The dilution of the magic sword, first, by the introduction (without adjustment of the odds) of the alternative, d20 combat system, and second, by the introduction of hit points and accompanying applications of 'bonuses to damage' instead of additional wounds, along with a host of additional features to add "granularity" to D&D, led us to the current morass of +16 Swords of Valiant Smiting and Characters with 40 hit points at first level.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where To Begin A Dungeons And Dragons Game?

Beginnings are always difficult. This is no less true for a Dungeons and Dragons game we've planned for this weekend, to celebrate American Thanksgiving with some friends.

I've two places from which to begin the adventure: one, a decadent, crumbling city in the throws of an economic slump; two, a small town on the borderland, surrounded, on several sides, by ancient ruined cities and temples. Depending on which place the game starts will affect the tone of the game. If it begins in the city, we start with a bustling, urban feel to the game. If in a town, the tone is bleak, windswept, insular and isolated.

The city gives us more opportunities for rumours and varied character backgrounds. But the town provides more focus, as is easier for me, the DM, to manage and circumscribe the adventure options.

The outdoor map, above, is a small slice of the 1981 Dwarfstar Games Barbarian Prince game map. Barbarian Prince is one of the microgames that I always wanted to own, but found far too expensive in the resale market to justify purchasing. Fortunately, you can download a free digital copy from the above link, courtesy of the games licenseholder, Reaper Miniatures. Over at Sigils & Sinews, the author is running a solo Barbarian Prince game which I am following with interest.

The Barbarian Prince digital map is one that I can appreciate and would prefer to employ in my games, since it uses the sort of mapping style that I prefer, and the digital map can be printed at a resolution that makes it easy to add notes and icons to the map for quick reference. The Barbarian Prince map also uses a hex id system (similar to the SPI or traveller subsector maps) that allows one to keep separate notes on the contents of each hex.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Megadungeons In Four Dimensions

"Dwarves may opt only for the fighting class, and they may never progress beyond 6th level (Myrmidon). Their advantages are: 1) they have a high level of magic resistance, and they thus add four levels when rolling saving throws (a 6th level dwarf equals a 10th level human); 2) they are the only characters able to fully employ the +3 Magic War Hammer (explained in Volume II); 3) they note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls AND NEW CONSTRUCTION (emphasis mine) in underground settings ..."

- 1974 Dungeons & Dragons, Volume I, Men & Magic, page 7

I've been giving a great deal of thought, lately, to the design of a megadungeon. One of the purported features of a megadungeon is that it is a "living" dungeon: it is constantly changing, both in its inhabitants and construction. Adventurers come and go, and as they do, killed monsters are replaced by new ones, and conflict between the denizens continues. In addition, new areas are opened up, either through new construction, magic, or perhaps primal forces at work, warping the environment.

In OD&D, Dwarves have a unique and powerful ability: to detect new construction in underground settings. How far -- through time; the fourth dimension -- does that ability extend? Can dwarves estimate the relative age of the dungeon construction, and techniques employed? One of the beauties of unanswered questions like this, is that most of us felt free to come up with our own answers (god forbid we send that question to Sage Advice).

My interest in the Dwarvish ability to detect new construction is related to my megadungeon musing, since my dungeon design assumes a multi-staired and passaged nexus point, from which the dungeon flows in many different directions. One of the possible clues to the connections between areas is similarities in construction, which should help the players guess who the original designers were, and for what were those areas used. The related difficulty of using this feature, in my megadungeon, is in making it meaningful, recording it in some way on my own map, and providing related visual or descriptive clues to the players.

I have not yet arrived at a satisfactory solution to my mapping problem. Perhaps different wall colors on my map, or modifying the fill behind the walls to signify different construction? However, I am leaning towards using different Hirst Arts floor and wall tiles to signify different construction areas to the players.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eye Contact Is Important

This is the "other" reason why eye contact is important: the players in your Dungeons and Dragons game are relying on you to deliver the critical parts of the adventure environment. The visual (non-verbal) feedback you gather from the players is crucial in ensuring you are communicating your adventure environment clearly.

If you are looking at something other than their eyes (i'm referring here to the boxed text, folks) you're probably missing some important information.

Boxed text has always been a bugaboo of mine: I don't like when it is read to me. First, I can read it faster that you can say it, so just hand me the text and i'll read the damn thing myself. Second, the delivery is often mediocre, so I tend to tune out while it's being read. Third, boxed text sometimes delivers information that is superfluous to the encounter, so you just wasted my time and yours. Fourth, the reading of prepared text seems artificial and therefore interferes with player immersion.

I disagree with those who think that information about the environment must be pried from the DM. The DM acts as your eyes, ears, and rest of your senses. Therefore, when the players first enter an important area, any information that is easily noted (particularly if it is relevant to the area or encounter) should be immediately and clearly revealed. Again, eye contact is important here: the players will give you non-verbal feedback as to which parts of your delivery were processed and which parts were not. I'm never shy to repeat something, if I don't think the players processed that information, the first time around.

It is trite to say that people only hear 20% of what they are told. This axiom applies when a great deal of (or very complicated) information is supplied. That is, the more information you communicate, in a continuous stream, the more difficult it is for the receiver to keep all of that information in the forefront of their mind, and sort out the extraneous from the important. That's another reason why I dislike boxed text. The players sit there, passively, while the DM reads, and reads, and reads, and reads. Without eye contact, you can't tell when the players are beginning to tune you out.

When drawing dungeons, outdoor environments and other adventure locations, my preference is to include little bits of one or two-word reference text, and small icons representing certain features, on the map. This allows me to quickly confirm critical details, so as to spend as little time as possible looking down at my papers, and as much time as possible looking at the players. That way, I can easily assess whether I have successfully communicated the environment, and anticipate what additional information is needed to help the players navigate the adventure.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Medieval Castles As Adventure Locations

I've been searching around, trying to find a suitable nexus floor plan for a mega dungeon entrance, without much success. However, in the course of my wanderings, I came across a website with a plethora of imaginary castles, many designed in the Harn-esque fashion of Castles of Harn. Sadly, the author of the website passed away in 2006. Someone has maintained the site, presumably in tribute to his creativity and imagination. I did a google search for "castle floor plan", and came across several other castles, including some really huge modern homes.

I like to use real castle and catacomb maps upon which to base my own dungeons and adventure environs. Doing so gives me some assurance that the environments are structurally sound and believable. Now, the castles from the above site are not real, but they are designed in such a way as they could be.

What I also like is when the layout appears to have been added to over time, giving the map a labyrinthine feel. This tends to give me an opportunity to have several areas that are more difficult to access. If the map has secret passages, staircases and the like, so much the better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Magic Goes Away: Esteban Maroto

My Copy of Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away" is the mass market, paperback edition, with the Esteban Maroto interior artwork. The novel is roughly 200 pages, but nearly 70 of those are Maroto illustrations. The principal characters are the Warrior, the Witch, the Warlock, the Medicine Man and a living Skull (all shown in the above art).

We meet the Witch and the Antagonist (both in the above illustration) early on in the story. Her hair turns from white to black as she finds sufficient magic to refresh her youth spells.

I'm partial to black and white illustrations, and I don't think it's merely because my earliest introduction to D&D art was from the original collectors edition set. I prefer black and white as the illustrator must dazzle me with technique rather than color.

Here's a picture of the Witch holding one of here travelling companions, the living Skull. Even when employing the starkness of black and white , Maroto is able to capture a feeling of softness and voluptuousness.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weather, Politics and Religion

There are three topics you are supposed to avoid in polite company: weather, politics and religion (why they don't include sex in that list is beyond me). Yet it seems I engage in discussing all three topics on this blog. Here's another instance of my bad behaviour. This photo is a view of my street at 9:00 pm last night. Pretty dismal, I know. We've had a couple of snowfalls already this Autumn, (the last time being October 26) but this time it's the read deal. The weatherman's predicting cold and snow for the next five days, at least. Winter has finally arrived.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Magical Item: Sword Of Laban

Another magic item drawn from Mormon mythology: The Sword Of Laban. This 2500-year old sword has a hilt of gold and inlaid gems, with a blade of enchanted steel, that never rusts. Upon the blade, in ancient script, is the following saying "this sword shall never be sheathed until all the kingdoms of this world are united under the true king's rule."

The Sword of Laban is similar to Excalibur: it is a symbol of true kingship, and among those who know the sword's history, the possessor is alternately viewed as the true king, or a vile pretender to the high throne. Thus, anyone, not already a king, who presents this sword in a civilized area, where the sword would be recognized, has all of their reaction rolls adjusted upwards or downwards by at least two digits, by the DM, depending on who the sword is presented before.

When presented before commoners, make the 2d6 reaction roll, and any rolls of 7, or below, are adjusted downwards by two; any rolls of 8 or more are adjusted upwards by two.

If the Sword of Laban is presented before anyone in authority (town guards, clergy, guild masters, nobility, princes, etc.) adjust the 2d6 reaction roll down by two; a reaction roll of 10 becomes an 8, and so on.

The wielder can use her Charisma bonus to adjust the initial reaction roll.

Because the Sword is the symbol of true kingship, natural and modified reaction rolls of 12 or more cause the person so encountered to rally to the cause of the wielder, so long as the wielder takes efforts to care for and protect his new follower. Conversely, those persons for whom a natural or modified 2 or lower is rolled will believe the possessor is a vile pretender to the high throne, become violently opposed to the wielder, and will join with others who feel likewise.

The Sword of Laban is a reputed to be a vorpal blade, as well as having additional Demon and Giant slayer properties. It is not known to be an intelligent sword, and the DM is free to assign whatever attack and damage bonuses seem appropriate to the sword in the campaign.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Magical Item: Urim And Thummim

Another magical item from Mormonism (borrowed from ancient Israelite culture). A Urim and Thummim is a set of magical spectacles. They act as both read magic and read languages spells, thus allowing the user to read magical and foreign writings.

A Urim and Thummim can be a set of spectacles, two precious gems or stones set in a frame of silver or other precious metal, or a leather or metal breastplate, to which is attached a viewing apparatus.

Prolonged use of a Urim and Thummim can cause blindness or temporary insanity, particularly when used by Fighters. For every 10 minutes of Urim and Thummim use, roll a d20. If the result is greater than the characters Intelligence or Wisdom (plus the character's level, if a Magic-User or Cleric, or half the character's level, if a Thief) the character suffers some mental affliction. For every 10 minutes of use, per day, after the first 10 minutes, subtract one from your combined attribute and level score.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Magical Item: Holy Compass

I mentioned yesterday that I was familiar with Mormon mythology. One of the magical items mentioned in the Book of Mormon is the Liahona, a holy compass.

The Liahona will only work for a cleric of the appropriate faith. If carried before the cleric, it acts like a permanent "find the path" spell, allowing the cleric to lead others along the shortest route to any location or object. It also gives the bearer the ability to roll two dice, instead of one, every time he attempts to search for something (traps, secret doors, hidden treasures, etc,). In addition, once per day, it can be used as a "commune" spell, to obtain direction from the deity.

The Liahona only works if the cleric is leading a group to achieve an objective considered appropriate to his faith.

If the cleric does something to anger his deity, or if his companions are not of the same faith, or have lapsed, this magic item ceases to function.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Book Which Kills

"All three died, because of a book which kills...
or, for which, men will kill!"

A chilling line from the movie The Name Of The Rose. And an interesting plot hook for a Dungeons and Dragons game. What is the book? Why does it kill? Why are there men that would kill, to keep its' contents secret?

Celebrating Milestones

As I mentioned earlier -- in my post about Dying Earth RPG character creation -- I recently reached my 200 followers milestone, a humbling event indeed. One of my lucky readers was to be awarded a copy of The Dying Earth RPG. Thanks to each of you that responded, your responses were very well done!

My unstated intention, was to give something to each of the responders, in addition to The Dying Earth RPG going to the winner.

The winner of a copy of the Dying Earth RPG, selected randomly, is shimrod. Congratulations! Email me your mailing address and I will post that RPG to you. To the other six of you, feel free to select one of the following items, by responding to this blogpost: items are on a first-come, first-served basis. Once you have responded, please email me with your mailing address so I can send your item along. And thanks to everyone for playing, again, the responses were superlative!

1. Working Copy Of the Ready Ref Sheets
2. The Fantasy Trip's Death Test, Death Test 2, Grail Quest
3. The Fantasy Trip, In The Layrinth
4. Swords & Wizardry - Core Rules
5. M.A.R. Barker's The Man Of Gold
6. Fritz Leiber's Swords & Deviltry and Swords Against Death
7. My "Working Copies" of the first Three Arduin Grimoires
8. deCamp & Pratt's The Compleat Enchanter
9. Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword
10. Castles & Crusades Players Handbook
11. Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid Games)
12. TSR's Star Frontiers (no box)
13. FGU's Starships & Spacemen
14. The Fineous Treasury
15. TSR's TM1 & TM 2, Trail Maps, Western & Eastern Countries
16. Jack Vance, The Dying Earth

I also have several 1st Edition AD&D Hardcover volumes, including Legends & Lore, Oriental Adventures, Tome of Magic, Dungeoneers and Wilderness Survival Guides and Dragonlance Adventures. If any of those appeal to you, select them instead.

I'm already scheming about how I will celebrate my 320th follower milestone...

Inspirational Art: Arnold Friberg

My earliest Dungeons and Dragons experiences were heavily informed by Mormon mythology. My brother had several friends who ran a D&D campaign, set in a Book of Mormon milieu. All of the characters had names like Archaeantus, Coriantumr, Irreantum, Lachoneus, Paanchi, and Rameumptom. We found an underground passage beneath one of the city's temples, and hunted down the Gadianton Robbers.

I am familiar with, and fond of the art in the Book of Mormon. The illustrated panels meant little to me, at such a tender age, so I was free to give them meaning independent of the actual scene being portrayed. This particular plate was imagined to be some youthful sorcerer, testing his mettle against an enemy city.

On July 2, 2010, David J. West, the author of the blog Nephite Blood, Spartan Heart, posted a memorial to commemorate the passing of Arnold Friberg, the illustrator responsible for most of that Book of Mormon art. The endless dragon and pumped-up warrior and sorceress art that is splashed across countless Dragon Magazine covers hold less appeal to me that these mysterious illustrations by Arnold Friberg.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Would You Pay $25 For This Art Book?

I saw The Art of Dragon Magazine at my friendly local second-hand book shop today, along with a copy of the 1st edition Fiend Folio and some other vintage Dungeons and Dragons books. The Fiend Folio was priced at $15. This book of Dragon Magazine art was priced at $25. Now, I'm not saying that it's not worth that much money (to someone) but for my money, I'd rather have the Fiend Folio, what with all the gorgeous Russ Nicholson art it contains. The Art of Dragon Magazine contains, predominantly, Dragon Magazine cover art, most of which is rather forgettable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Name Of The Rose: Three Dimensional Labyrinths

The Name Of The Rose is one of my favorite films. Besides starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, two fine, accomplished actors, it is set in the 14th century, at a medieval abbey gripped with fear due to a handsome monk's recent and unholy murder. More murders follow. Connery and Slater's characters arrive at the abbey shortly after the first murder, and attempt to solve the crimes. The abbey is the site of a massive library, off-limits to visitors: its contents hold the key to revealing the motive behind the mysterious deaths.

If you have never seen this movie, or have not seen it in some time, you are strongly encouraged to do so. As inspiration for a murder-mystery adventure for fantasy role-playing, this movie has few peers. There is little in the way of combat, but if you like atmosphere, fantastic sets and elaborate puzzles, this is sure to appeal to you.

One of the set-pieces of this film: a labyrinthine library, filled with octagonal rooms and rising and decending staircases. The two principles become separated and lost within the library, and use their wits to locate each other, retrace their steps and eventually find egress. It's commonly held that dungeon labyrinths are a bore, when it comes to rpg adventuring. I'm sympathetic to that view. Imagine your typical dungeon labyrinth, but now in three dimensions. Doesn't seem that appealing, does it? But, instead of being a labyrinth, what if that many-staired and chambered space was rather a nexus-point, a convergence of stairs and passages, going up, down and across, and giving the players a plethora of adventuring alternatives?

That has been on my mind the last couple of days, as I search for a way to design and develop a dungeon environment which provides maximum latitude to the players to strike out and pursue their own dungeon-delving interests. One of the constraints on the full enjoyment of a campaign by role players is the suspicion that they are being railroaded. What could be more freeing, for both the DM and the players, than that the mega-dungeon have a nexus-point, leading to a myriad potential adventures, with easy access to the surface and the dungeon-locales which most interest the players?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dying Earth RPG Character Creation

It's common knowledge that I possess old-school character-creation sensibilities. My preferences lean towards the 3d6-in-attribute-order method. I'm suspicious of those who avail themselves of the ability-score adjustment rules, and consider the use of 4d6-drop-the-lowest to be needlessly decadent. Don't even get me started on point-buy systems.

Knowing that about me will be of assistance, then, in understanding why I experienced some initial resistance to The Dying Earth RPG character creation system.

The Dying Earth RPG (DERPG) is a deliciously punctilious role-playing game adaptation of the fantasy world conjured by Jack Vance bearing the same name. The introductory chapter to DERPG sets the tone for Dying Earth campaigns, by promulgating the following admonishments:

1. If you're in a fight, something has probably gone horribly wrong ... far better to gain the upper hand through cunning, wit and treachery;
2. Characters are more or less alike ... Dying Earth characters have lightly characterised, streamlined personalities;
3. Killing? How uncivilized ... the accepted way to defeat an opponent is through humiliation, impoverishment and slavery; and,
4. Your character will inevitably suffer reverses. Try to enjoy it ... since character improvement comes from entertaining the other players and GM, look at dismal and ridiculous predicaments as opportunities to use your creativity.

Having been properly forewarned in the introduction, the second chapter of DERPG dives into character creation. Like most role-playing games, every character has certain attributes. In the case of DERPG, there are six principal attributes, which I will equate, roughly, with a D&D equivalent:

Persuade (Charisma) -- this attribute determines how convincing you are
Rebuff (Wisdom) -- this determines your resistance to being hoodwinked
Attack (Strength) -- this determines your combat ability
Defence (Dexterity) -- this determines your ability to avoid blows
Health (Constitution) -- this determines your capacity to absorb damage
Magic (Intelligence) -- this determines your magical aptitude

I use those purported equivalences only as a blunt instrument, to provide some conceptual signposts. The actual employment of the DERPG attributes differs significantly from the use of the cited D&D attributes. Each DERPG attribute, above, will have a score attached to it. In combination with that score, each attribute has six styles. For example, I might have a Persuade score of 9. In addition, I will have one of the following persuade styles: glib, eloquent, obfuscatory, forthright, charming, or intimidating.

In addition to the above attributes, DERPG characters utilize a "faculties" system, that encompasses attack styles, skills, relationships, retainers, possessions, and temptation resistances.

DERPG uses a point-buy method of character creation. Between the six principal attributes and the additional "faculties", each player begins with 60 points to distribute between the attributes and faculties. If players are prepared to allow their attribute 'styles' to be generated randomly, they are awarded an additional 6 points for each attribute style so generated. Since the Health attribute has no related styles, a player could have as many as 90 points [60 + (5 attributes x 6 points)] to distribute between the attributes and faculties.


Points can be allocated to the following faculties:

Attack Styles: there are six attack styles, with each style costing 2 points from the player's pool. Each attack style comes with a melee and missile weapon skill.

Skills: there are 23 skills (Appraisal, Athletics, Concealment, Craftsmanship, Driving, Engineering, Etiquette, Gambling, Imposture, Living Rough, Pedantry, Perception, Physician, Quick Fingers, Riding, Scuttlebutt, Seamanship, Seduction, Stealth, Stewardship, Tracking, Wealth, and Wherewithal). More than one point can be allocated to a particular skill, so a player may give his character a "gambling" skill of 4 -- thus increasing his chances of success should he engage in a game of cards, for example.

Relationships: players can assign points to relationships with certain notable figures (a prince, famous wizard, captain of the watch) giving them the possibility of enlisting their aid.

Retainers: the cost of those depend on how loyal the retainer is expected to be, whether they be diligent (expensive), unctuous, or recalcitrant (cheap).

Possessions: points must be spent to furnish yourself with worldly goods. Whether it be a foppish hat, fashionable cloak, a length of rope to bind a deodand, a treatise on edible plants, or a good stout cudgel to subdue your foes, each possession costs at least one point. Extra points can be spent to ensure you and your possessions are not easily parted.

Resistances: DERPG characters are notoriously susceptible to temptation, whether it be through arrogance, avarice, gourmandism, indolence, pettifoggery, or rakishness. Players who wish their characters to resist those temptations during the game must spend points during character creation to do so.

There, then, is an overview of the DERPG character creation system. As I mentioned earlier, i'm naturally pre-disposed to dislike point-buy systems, and just as equally resistant to skill systems (despite my affection for Traveller). I will grudgingly admit that this works for DERPG, insofar as the game itself presumes that "characters are more or less alike". Thus, it stands to reason that the character creation system is going to provide roughly equal points to each player. Still, I can't help but wonder whether the DERPG attributes themselves could not be randomly determined ... but there again, my old prejudices rearing their heads.

Several days ago, I passed the 200 followers milestone. I am humbled and honored. There seems to be a tradition in the blogging community (albeit imperfectly observed) that the affected blogger celebrate the occasion by running a contest. Since I have recently become infatuated with The Dying Earth RPG, it is only fitting that I should award a copy of this illustrious RPG tome to one of my wonderful readers. Therefore, from those responders who comment on this post, I will select one, randomly, to which I will bequeath a relatively unblemished copy of that RPG. I ask only that, in your response, you use a Vancian phrase, or Vancian language. From those who respond in the requested manner by 11:59 pm, November 12, 2010, one will be randomly selected and will be mailed the RPG, at my expense.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Still More Swashbucklers For Dying Earth RPG

These beauties are the Alexandre Dumas musketeers from the swash buckler line of Old Glory miniatures. I'm a sucker for foot and mounted versions of miniature figures, so this particular set is very appealing to me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Swashbuckling Minis For Dying Earth RPG

Trollguts was kind enough to post a link to some Old Glory miniatures that might do for portraying Dying Earth RPG characters. While the hats are not as ridiculous as I might have hoped, these figures certainly fit the bill when it comes to swashbuckling! This set appears to be from Old Glory's "Three Musketeers" line of figures.

The Dying Earth RPG: Kaiin, The Old Town

Here's a tiny portion of the map of The City of Kaiin, one of the largest cities of The Dying Earth.

This portion of the Kaiin map shows 'old town' -- crumbling ruins which lie north of the city proper, just outside of the city gates. It is the the haunt of Chun the Unavoidable, who wears a robe of eyes. Gary Gygax drew his idea for AD&D's Robe of Eyes from The Dying Earth tale of Liane the Wayfarer and Chun the Unavoidable.

Several of the crumbling structures in Old Town were built to resemble the people who commissioned the buildings.

The Dying Earth RPG's world, regional and city maps are absolutely gorgeous, with lots of visually interesting detail, buildings and ruins. Kaiin itself is ancient city, filled with cynical, obtuse, selfish residents, who are not above swindling, murdering or enslaving naive visitors.

I've been giving some thought to Pat's Red Box Calgary campaign, and would love to use old town as the site for my adventures, since it is largely undeveloped, but its numerous ruined locales suggest mystery and adventure.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Does One Celebrate American Thanksgiving?

We're planning on having some friends over for dinner and Dungeons and Dragons the weekend of November 27. Since a couple of them are Americans living in Calgary, I thought it would be nice to celebrate American thanksgiving at the same time. Their extended families are both in Texas, and the spouse recently remarked that she has never actually prepared thanksgiving dinner, only enjoyed those her mother or mother-in-law prepares. Since I enjoy cooking, I thought I would do the honors. My question, is there any difference in menus between American and Canadian thanksgiving? Is there any special decorating or rituals that normally accompany the American holiday?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Emirikol The Chaotic In Rhodes

About six weeks ago, Rob Conley, from Bat In The Attic, posted the above comparison of the Street of the Knights, in Rhodes, to the Emrikol the Chaotic illustration in the original AD&D Players Handbook. I find the comparison of those two pictures endlessly fascinating. Did Tramp actually go to Rhodes, and while there, snap a picture from which he drew his inspiration, or did he find this image in a travelogue of some sort, and use that to set his scene?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Looking For Miniature Figures For The Dying Earth RPG

I have several packs of miniatures from the Foundry. They have quite a few miniatures that would fit into a swash buckling milieu such as Dying Earth RPG.

Anyone know of some other lines of miniatures the combines foppish outfits and hats with swashbuckling weapons?

Gary Gygax On Jack Vance And The Dying Earth

"The Dying Earth is a marvelous, dark far-future world setting. The earth is no longer our world, just as the sun is no longer the Old Sol we see. It is a planet so ancient that its earlier history has been lost and forgotten. Of the later ages, a staggeringly long series of epics, information is revealed only in tantalizing snippets. All of its places are striking in that they are strange yet somehow familiar, and there is no question that something startling and new will be revealed at each turn. To my thinking, this milieu is creative far beyond the bounds of what has been offered in any material previously written....

In considering the Dying Earth milieu, one must be prepared to accept some differences between it and the standard world of fantasy derring-do. While much has been forgotten, the whole of the race of mankind has matured and grown ancient and cynical. Naivete there is aplenty, but behind it there is cynicism, duplicity, and treachery ... So the milieu is one where Machiavelli would be considered the norm in civilized places, while in the hinterlands the oddest of things are to be expected....

Does this mean that the Dying Earth can not expect some altruism, bravery, even a sense of wonder in its leading characters? Hardly! While such are rare enough here and now to be remarkable, these traits are definitely human, will persist as long as Homo sapiens in whatever evolved form remain extant. The trick to survival for such individuals on the Dying Earth must be cunning....

The Dying Earth is the perfect place for a sophisticated, whimisical, and enthralling fantasy campaign. It can be on virtually any scale, and feature whatever the participant group enjoys most. Combat and magic? Of course. The same is true of story and intrigue. To be forthright, the milieu is so broad as to invite any and all aspects of the RPG into play, and those in whatever mix and degree of emphasis is desired. Simply put, the Dying Earth milieu is just about a perfect one to transfer from fiction to game. The caveat is, don't think along 'conventional' fantasy lines. It is a place where long ages have altered things, even magic and the human archetype to some degree."

-- Gary Gygax, "Jack Vance and the D&D Game", from The Excellent Prismatic Spray, Volume 1, Issue 2

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Diablo: Claustrophobia And Fear

I was on hiatus from Dungeons and Dragons during the 1990's, so I was only vaguely aware of the TSR death-spiral, ascent of Magic: the Gathering, and eventual sale of TSR to Wizards of the Coast.

Most of my game-time was filled with computer games, my favorite being the original Diablo, released sometime around 1997.

This game scared the crap out of me. I seem to recall that the backstory was revealed intermittently throughout the game, and so for me it was a game of discovery, albeit a rather bloody, monster-laden one. I loved that there were dark shadows around the edges of the screen, and that the music instilled a sense of dread, horror and foreboding. The game-play was very claustrophobia-inducing.

I never got into Diablo II. Some of the mystery of the original Diablo was lost. It may have been the different music, or the fact that you knew what to expect, having played the original Diablo, but Diablo II didn't give me the pulse-pounding experience of fear that I got from the original game.

How does Diablo relate to old-school gaming? Like Diablo, part of the fun of role-playing games is not knowing what is going on, having incomplete information, not knowing if the monster is killable or not, and not knowing whether or not you will survive.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cunning, Comedy, Casual Cruelty?

If your answer to this question was The Dying Earth RPG, you'd be right.

The Dying Earth RPG is a role-playing game intended to emulate the world -- and words -- contained in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series of novels and short stories. You'll note that I did not include "Combat" in my alliterative title. I did this for a very simple reason: The Dying Earth RPG actively discourages you from engaging in mortal combat, and the game system reinforces that by making combat very deadly. You only need to take a couple of blows before your character is out-of-commission, or more likely, dead.

What then is The Dying Earth RPG about? It's about clever repartee, social combat, cunning subterfuge, laughter, and casual cruelty.

Clever Repartee

The principle game mechanic of nearly any role-playing game is the system governing the accumulation of experience points. Experience point award mechanics are important in role-playing games, as they are the mechanism permitting character upgrades. The experience point mechanic of an RPG is thus a powerful communicator of what is expected of a Player. In The Dying Earth RPG, experience points are ONLY awarded for clever repartee. No experience for combat. No experience for treasure. Just witty dialogue, elegantly framed in the Vancian style, and delivered with impeccable timing. Therefore, The Dying Earth RPG is a game like no other: it is a role-playing game to its very core.

Social Combat

I'm not a big fan of social combat systems. My reasoning is that those combat systems either encourage conflict between players (PvP conflict typically happens as a matter of course, but i'm not interested in encouraging it) or govern the interactions between player and DM (in which case, as a "fair" DM, you should be able to judge when you have been verbally bested and concede defeat, without having to resort to a die-roll). The Social Combat system in The Dying Earth RPG is based on dice pools. Each player (and any encountered NPCs) has a dice-pool made up of d6's, and can continue spending dice from their pool until they or their opponent has exhausted theirs. Scoring a 1-3 means failure, while a 4-6 means success, with the 1 and 6 being catastrophic failure and incredible success, respectively. Depending on your roll, your opponent may have to expend more, or fewer dice, to respond to your success or failure. This mechanic feels artificial to me, as I would rather engage in the actual role-playing, of two combatants trying to convince the other of the superiority of their position, but the dice-pool is a reasonable substitute, for those who are uncomfortable "talking with funny voices".

Cunning Subterfuge

Like the characters in Vance's Dying Earth books and short stories, each of the Player's characters are lazy, self-absorbed, covetous, avaricious, and arrogant. So are most of the NPC's they encounter. Therefore, the game resolves around the planning and execution of cunning strategems to gain wealth, comfort, power, prestige, fineries, and delicious food, with as little effort and risk as possible.


As was mentioned earlier, experience points are awarded for clever repartee. This is accomplished through a mechanism whereby the DM provides several Vancian phrases to each player, prior to the start of the game session. They must weave those phrases into the game at some point during the session. For those who deliver their line, at an innapropriate time, no experience points are awarded. For those lines delivered when appropriate, but eliciting no positive response from the other game participants, one experience point is awarded. But when the line is delivered, and elicits positive responses, propels the adventure in a humorous or unexpected direction, or garners laughter from the other players and DM, two or even three experience points are awarded by the DM. Therefore, Players are encouraged to ham it up, directing the in-game conversations in such a way as to allow for the delivery of their appointed lines.

Casual Cruelty

Casual Cruelty, or "man's inhumanity to man", is a common theme in the tales of the Dying Earth. You see this in the Liane the Wayfarer stories, or in Cugel's treatment by, and of those he encounters in "The Eyes of the Overworld". The author of The Dying Earth exhorts the DM to insert scenes of casual cruelty (sparingly), establishing the nature of the cruelty, and allowing the imaginations of the players to fill in the horrifying details. He opines that a successful scene of casual cruelty will nag at the players after the game, as they think more fully of the implications.

The Dying Earth RPG allows you to run the full gamet of emotions during a role-playing session, from hilarity to horror. The Dying Earth RPG is clearly not for your typical hack-n-slasher, and is more appropriate for your more cerebral gamer. What I love about this game is its respect for the Vancian source material, and its overt discouragement of mortal combat, which is a refreshing change from the direction Dungeons and Dragons has recently been drawn to.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Red Box Calgary - Inspirational Art

Pat, another Calgarian, and the blogger behind Ode To Black Dougal, also has a little site called Red Box Calgary. The purpose of that site is to promote B/X Dungeons & Dragons games in Calgary, an objective I heartily endorse. He has proposed that we start up a new B/X campaign this Fall.

One suggested setting for that upcoming B/X campaign are the dank and horror-filled catacombs, crypts and tunnels beneath an ancient, sprawling and corrupt city. This setting possesses a certain appeal to me, as I am currently reading several of Jack Vance's The Dying Earth novels, and that setting reminds me of Kaiin, a crumbling city, whose abandoned outskirts and underground tunnels hold mysteries and danger. The idea behind the campaign is that the DM duties will rotate amongst the participants. If the other participants were up for it, that would allow each of them to develop their own portions of a shared world, and link them all together in a more-or-less coherent framework.

Another option is to create a Caves Of Chaos styled campaign, where each DM takes one of the cave entrances in a box canyon or valley, and develops it, allowing for later linkages between the complexes. The above art is inspiration for the later suggestion. The art is by Michael Komark, and is from the D&D 3.5 Players Handbook II.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another Snow Day In Calgary

Brrrrr! It was yet another pre-Halloween snowfall yesterday. The temperature was sufficiently cool that my neighbour decided to leave his car running to warm up. Tsk tsk, that's an environmental no-no!
While the rest of Calgary shed its' snow by mid-day yesterday, we're at a high enough elevation that the snow in our neighbourhood failed to melt.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Microgames Collection

With only a week left before Halloween, it's time to dig out my Microgames collection, dust off my copy of Transylvania, and give it a spin. Published by Mayfair games, Transylvania is one of several horror-themed microgames published in the early 1980's.

I have a extensive, but incomplete collection of Microgames. While I own the vast majority of the Metagaming titles, I don't own a single Dwarfstar title. The Dwarfstar microgames are the creme-de-la-creme of microgames. While they may or may not have the replay value of some of the earliest Microgame titles, the production values of the Dwarfstar games are top-notch.

I have wanted to get my hands on original copies of Dwarfstar's Star Viking and Star Smuggler games for some time. Star Viking appears to be a game based loosely on H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, while Star Smuggler seems to be a Han Solo-esque game of smuggling and trade. Both are expensive on the resale market, and I have not yet justified paying the prices demanded. Reaper Miniatures apparently owns the rights to the Dwarfstar games, and have kindly allowed these games to be distributed digitally, but there's something about a professionally produced copy, no?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sayonara To Synnibarr

My copy of The World Of Synnibarr is off to Andreas Davour of The Omnipotent Eye.

I have mixed emotions about Synnibarr's departure. At 475 pages, it is far too long to qualify as a game of imagination, since that many pages of rules and setting sucks the imagination out of any game.

Instead, it is better thought of as a historical document, representing the imagined universe of Raven c.s. McCracken, flawed though that universe may be.

Still, letting go is hard to do, as Synnibarr is a signpost in the history of role-playing games.

Admittedly, that signpost is buried deep in a dark and boggy valley. Raven's own personal history is also rather storied, which is why i'm hesitant to throw any large rocks at him, or his game.

But both the World Of Synnibarr role-playing game, and most of the accompanying art, is pretty mediocre.

There seems to be little that is novel, either in the game design or in alternate visions represented by the artwork.

But before letting Synnibarr go, I thought I would capture the best of the artwork to share with my readers. Others have highlighted the worst of the worst when it comes to Synnibarr artwork, so there's no need to cover that ground again.

Below is my favorite illustration from Synnibarr, and it is so incongruous, next to the rest of the artwork, to merit special consideration.

The illustration shows to combatants, locked in battle, in what appears to be a very conan-esque scene. The illustration is out-of-place for two reasons: one, this is a highly visceral, raw, action-packed illustration, with a great deal of motion and emotion. You can almost hear the scream of the axe-wielding warrior, the sing of the other warriors blade, the crash of sword against shield. This illustration is out of place, as the rest of the artwork in Synnibarr is overwhelmingly static or science-fiction-y.

Two, I have seen little in Synnibarr to suggest that it is a swords & sorcery role-playing game. I'd love to know which of the stable of credited Synnibarr artists produced this: it is one of the few pieces of Synnibarr art that I truly love.

Here's another piece of art from Synnibarr that also warrants recognition.

I call this illustration two moons (in reference to the two moons in the sky, and not for some other less tasteful reason). It shows two Amazons, being surprised by a black panther. This illustration is notable for the same reason as the other illustration, in that it has a very ancient greek vibe to it, which is not in fitting with the assumed setting of Synnibarr, which is a planet/spaceship, includes modern weapons and science fantasy and super powers. This illustration also possesses some interesting energy, as if the two Amazons have been caught quite unawares by this large cat.

There you have it. The above are, in my opinion, the only notable illustrations in the World of Synnibarr game book.