Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Village of Hommlet

There are quite a few old-school Dungeons and Dragons players and DM's who have a soft spot for module T1, The Village Of Hommlet.

I mentioned several days ago that David Trampier illustrated the cover of T1. I don't know that this artwork is quintessentially Tramp, but it is somewhat visually interesting, if not terribly inspiring. The antagonists with the flaming eye emblasoned on their armor and clothes seemed Tolkien-esque.

I'm guessing the armored dude is Lareth the Beautiful (yes, for those who did not know where Lareth comes from, he makes his first appearance in this adventure), but I don't every recall encountering a giant lobster. Is there a giant lobster in this adventure, and did anyone have a memorable encounter with it?

I'm off to the cabin in ... an hour and forty minutes. I will be posting while on vacation, but don't be surprised if one or two of my posts are of scenic views rather than gaming-related posts.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Magical Skulls In Dungeons And Dragons

I must admit being annoyed the first time I saw this photo, of a grinning Gary Gygax holding a skull. Being unschooled in the weird and fantastic literature from which D&D was derived, I presumed this picture was both shameless Gygaxian D&D boosterism and evidence that Gary did not understand his own creation. D&D, after all, is not about the macabre, strange or weird. D&D is no horror role-playing game, and is certainly not about skulls. It is about bold adventurers, slaying dragons, rescuing damsels, and generally acting in heroic fashion.


As I continue my own Appendix N project, reading the fantasy literature referenced in the the original 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master, I am struck by the number of stories that involve magical skulls.

Here are three examples, from books I am currently reading, or have just finished.

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, features a talking skull that reveals a secret passage to the protagonists, and who thirsts for a taste of wine, which he exchanges for the information, even though he can't actually taste anything.

The Magic Goes Away, by Larry Niven, features the animated skull of a Sorcerer. The Sorcerer cast a spell upon himself so that he could not die. Thus, even though his body has been destroyed, his spirit still resides within his skull.

Web of the Spider, by Andrew Offutt, features a magical skull, and when you peer through the bejeweled eyes of the skull, you can see the future.

I have not yet read even one twentieth of the Appendix N literature, yet at least three books have featured a magical skull. Is it any wonder, then, that The Tomb of Horrors should feature a skull, as the last intact remains of a former Wizard?

What is odd, is that there is no Skull artifact featured in the AD&D DMG.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Playing Settlers Of Catan

We made a day of it: first to see the new Toy Story 3 movie with some friends and their son, then back home for a bite of supper and a game of Settlers of Catan.

Once again, our luck failed us and we were beaten by Pamela (who was playing the pink pieces) but, as usual, only a few points separated us from the winner.

I enjoy our games of Settlers of Catan. It has a little D&D endgame vibe to it, as each of the participants play a Prince (or Princess) of Catan, competing with each other to grow the largest and most successful principality. If only it had some army-to-army combat rules, it might be a fast-playing empire-building system for D&D. The economics are admittedly oversimplified, but that's what makes it such a quick game to play.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Original Erol Otus Remorhaz

This Erol Otus Remorhaz illustration appears to be signed in 1976. You can find it, and a reminiscence of the development of the Remorhaz here, at the Lord of the Green Dragons blog. It took a little digging to find this image, as the retrospective was posted WAY BACK on March 4, 2009!
Assuming you have a wealth of time on your hands (and who doesn't), or even if you don't, it is worthwhile reading through some of the back posts at Lord of the Green Dragons.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another David Trampier Remorhaz

Trey described the Remorhaz as possessing a fu-manchu mustache. A very apt description of this monster's facial appendages.

This is another David Trampier illustration, based on the original Erol Otus concept. While Otus may have conceived of the original design for the Remorhaz, Trampier has added all sorts of layers of interest. This picture appears in G2, The Glacial Rift of The Frost Giant Jarl, published as an AD&D adventure module in 1978.

Check out the back of the Remorhaz: it almost appears to be suckers or anemones sprouting from it.

A nice additional touch to this illustration that simply screams Trampier: look closely inside the mouth, and you'll see the feet of an adventurer, recently swallowed by the beast.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trampier's Frost Giants

I was surprised to discover two things, as I went hunting for more David Trampier illustrations:

(1) Trampier illustrated the cover of module G2, The Glacial Rift of The Frost Giant Jarl; and

(2) Trampier was not terribly prolific when it came to Dungeons and Dragons module covers.

Trampier did very few module covers: the only one I can recall, other than G2, is T1, The Village of Hommlet.

While Trampier is strongly associated with the AD&D Players Handbook, the Monster Manual, the Dungeon Masters Screen, module T1, The Village of Hommlet and module S1, Tomb of Horrors, Tramp is relegated to back-up and interior artist in many of the other early books and adventures. David Sutherland enjoys more artistic exposure in the AD&D modules, while Erol Otus' art is similarly synonymous with Basic D&D.

I'm saddened by this, since Tramp's style really appeals to me. I wish there was more of his art to appreciate.

There's something special about the cover of module G2. Partly, it's the absolutely non-descript adventurers racing to engage the Frost Giants; this speaks to my image of PCs as average folk, adventuring out of necessity, greed or yearning. And speaking of implied narrative, this is no band of bold and impervious adventurers: we've already got one adventurer down, laying on the ground beside the farthest Frost Giant.

The other thing that I love about this cover is that the Frost Giants appear to be making snowballs: I know it's probably rocks they're preparing to toss, but I laugh that the nearer Frost Giant has a perfectly good sword at his hip. Do the Frost Giants consider mere humans to be pushovers, and are prepared to break into a playful and old-fashioned snowball fight?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Managing My Blog Roll

About ten months ago, I decided to do something a little different with my blog roll: I started two blog roll lists, one for Canadian bloggers, and another for International bloggers. My purpose was two-fold. One, there were several really good Canadian blogs, like Planet Algol, Tao of D&D, and Ode To Black Dougal, that I wanted to encourage people to visit. Since setting up those two separate blog rolls, I have added a dozen more really interesting and inspirational Canadian blog sites to that Canadian list (check out the list, there are some really good blogs there!). Second, there was a little bit of national pride involved in setting up a Canadian blog roll.

That seemed like a sound approach at the time, but recently I've been thinking of merging those two blog rolls back together. Partly, i'm afraid that running two blog rolls is sending a message that I consider there to be two classes of bloggers. For example, while there may be an "A" list of blog sites, whose authors regularly publish quality posts (I wouldn't consider myself among those), the populist -- and Libra -- in me recoils from being the person to make that judgement.

I'm also having a more difficult time managing two lists. There are some Canadian blogs that accidentally appeared on the International blog roll, simply because I didn't know they were Canadian. In addition, there are several blogs that should be included on my blog rolls, but are missing, and i'm wondering if trying to manage two lists isn't contributing to their absence. For example, I just realized I didn't have Lord of the Green Dragons on my blog roll: how the heck did that happen?

So i'm curious: what are your thoughts on the following?

1. Should I merge the two blog rolls?

2. Whose blog sites should I be including on my blog roll? Normally, I include blog sites that are (a) fairly active -- posting at least once per week, and (b) posting about old-school and retroclone rpgs (that includes Pathfinder, and those bloggers who play both 4E as well as older games).

Your responses and suggestions are welcomed, including recommending your own blog sites.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

David Trampier's Remorhaz

Erol Otus was not the only early Dungeons and Dragons illustrator who was capturing the creepy, unworldly feel of the monsters and situations that so many of us consider representative of the old-school D&D game.

David Trampier drew this picture of the Remorhaz. While the Remorhaz never made an appearance in any of the games I refereed, I was a player in a D&D session of Module G2, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. As my son would say ... interesting anecdote: in my younger days, I thought Jarl was the name of the Chief of the Frost Giants, rather than his title. His name was actually Grugnur.
Who knew.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tomb Of Freaking Horrors

"Your sputtering torchlight reveals a very unusual tunnel. Bright, brilliant colors can be seen everywhere, undimmed by the passage of time. The floor is a colorful mosaic of stone with a distinct winding path of red tiles snaking into the gloom beyond. No stonework can be seen on the walls or ceiling: some sort of plaster has been smoothed over the surfaces and upon it, painted scenes of animal-human hybrids going about their business. To your right, two jackal-headed figures appear to be holding a bronze chest. Beyond them, a painting of a barred door is manifest, with a horrid creature trapped within."

If your DM shows you this image, take my advice: run, do not walk, back the way you came, and never return. Welcome to the Tomb Of Horrors.

This illustration, another iconic piece of artwork by none other than David Trampier, again demonstrates what a genius he was.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Appendix N: The Bells Of Shoredan

Roger Zelazny is probably best known (in Dungeons and Dragons circles) for his Amber series and Jack of Shadows novel, as both are referenced in Appendix N of the 1979 Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

Perhaps less well-known are Zelazny's Dilvish the Damned tales.

Dilvish is a half-elf, imprisoned and tortured in Hell for two hundred years. His nemesis is Jelerak, a fallen white wizard who is the author of Dilvish's hellbound imprisonment. Dilvish escapes from Hell, and vows to exact revenge. Accompanying him in his escape and subsequent quest is his new-found mount and companion, a Nightmare that Dilvish names Black.

The Bells of Shoredan originally appears in Fantastic Magazine, March 1966, and is reprinted in Warlocks and Warriors, an anthology of heroic fantasy edited by L. Sprague de Camp and published in 1970, which I obtained at a recent book sale. In 1982, this tale was also published in a Dilvish The Damned anthology of 11 short stories.

In The Bells Of Shoredan, Dilvish and his allies are besieged, and it is up to Dilvish to evade the besiegers and raise a supernatural army. To do so, he must ride to the ruins of an ancient fortress and ring the Bells of Shoredan, which will call forth an undead army.

The fortress is the scene of Dilvish's great-grandfather's death: here he slew the King of the World using the Invisible Blade, before falling himself. It is also the place where the white wizard Jelerak contested with, and was corrupted by, the infernal powers. Now, Dilvish must enter the fortress and ring the bells, for it is foretold that only the blood of him who killed the King of World can awaken the army of the damned. In a ironic twist, joining and aiding Dilvish is a priest loyal to Jelerak!

Dilvish and the priest explore the fortress, and Dilvish battles the same fiend who corrupted Jelerak. Just as it appears that Dilvish will succumb to the demon, the priest distracts the demon, and Dilvish finds the Invisible Blade and slays it. He then rings the bells and calls forth his troops.

What makes this otherwise average tale enjoyable is Zelazny's prose and the melancholy mood, as the priest and Dilvish part company without any resolution to their conflicting allegiances and goals. A fun and brisk read.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Top Ten Favorite Avalon Hill Games

Michael Curtis was recently waxing nostalgic about an old Avalon Hill game, Kingmaker. This got me thinking about my favorite Avalon Hill games, from my youth. Of course, it is self-evident that any top ten list of Avalon Hill games, that does not include Magic Realm, is flawed.

I give you my top ten Avalon Hill games, which you can take to the bank as the most authoritative list of the greatest Avalon Hill games ever created, as it includes my favorite game, Magic Realm.

10. Circvs Maximvs: What could be more fun that competing with your friends in a no-holds-barred, kill-or-be-killed chariot race? The game features a stadium that is the same shape as the actual Circus Maximus.

9. Richthofen's War: I was never a big fan of other dog-fight and aerial combat games, but Richthofen's War scratched my role-playing itch for World War I combat, as you could play the Red Baron or some other fly-boy, and earn your kills and medals.

8. Wooden Ships, Iron Men: Something about those little ship units, and having to take wind direction and speed into account when planning your attack. I no longer own this game, but would love to play it again. It might be fun to use these rules for a Pirates of the Caribbean game.

7. 1830: I'm sure the newer train-games are better than this, but this is my nostalgia list, so 1830 it is. I loved Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon game as well, and these two games just seen to go hand in hand. I enjoy playing Ticket to Ride, but there is something about being a Robber Baron in 1830 that puts Ticket to Ride to shame.

6. Acquire: Stock Ticker was a lot of fun, too (back in the day), but Acquire sneaks past it as my favorite capitalist game of yore. I havn't played this game in decades, but it was sufficiently popular that Hasbro reprinted this when they bought up the Avalon Hill properties.

5. History of the World: Sure, this isn't one of the grand-daddys of the history of Avalon Hill, but its a lot of fun to play with non-wargamers.

4. Kingmaker: I never owned the expansion cards, but the regular game was still a lot of fun. I loved the board of England: it uses what might be the actual county or district borders rather than a hex or regular grid.

3. Advanced Civilization: Oh boy. So many great memories here, sitting around the mediterranean game board. My two favorite civilizations are the Egyptians and the Babylonians: part of the fun of playing them is watching the floods wipe out half of your civilization! I can't recall a game that lasted less than six hours, most of them were closer to ten hours. The front runner is always ganged up on by the rest of the players, but pulls out a win anyways.

2. Squad Leader: While this World War II squad-level combat game is a lot of fun, when playing the various historical scenarios, most of our games were of the build-your-own-forces variety. Selecting just the right officer, who you imagined to be you, made the game that much more intense. Advanced Squad Leader both fixed, and killed this game for me.

1. Magic Realm: How could this not be my all-time favorite Avalon Hill game? The game breaks down after month two, as you have, by then, become so powerful that every monster is beatable, but most games only run for one or two months anyway. The highly deterministic Magic Realm combat system is a refreshing change from the D&D d20 combat system, and the open-endedness for both cooperative and competitive play makes for shifting alliances and exciting end-game planning.

What's In The Chest? Here's My Theory.

C'mon people, it's so obvious!

The fact that the contents are glowing can only mean one thing: inside the chest is Marcellus' soul. Using the wayback machine, Tarantino visited the past and implanted a suggestion in Trampier's brain to draw this illustration, as a teaser / promo for Pulp Fiction.

The dude in the back is Marcellus, and is wearing a full-head bandage. As everyone knows, in the Bible it states that the Devil takes your soul out the back of your neck. The Devil knows this, and took Marcellus' soul, but all that was available to him was a rusty battleaxe and so he botched the job, leaving Marcellus with a nasty head-wound.

The illustration is also performing double-duty as a teaser for Reservoir Dogs. Now that Jules and Vincent have recovered Marcellus' soul, Marcellus is going to torch the two henchmen.

Damn that Tarantino is clever!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dave Trampier And Emirikol The Chaotic

Yesterday, I posted the stats for Emirikol the Chaotic, who makes an appearance in the 1998 Monte Cooke AD&D 2E adventure, A Paladin In Hell.

Emirikol is the much-beloved creation of illustrator David Trampier. Trampier, affectionately known as 'Tramp' by many of the older roleplayers, is an illustrator who, along with Erol Otus and David Sutherland, defined the look of early Dungeons and Dragons. Here is Tramp's Emirikol the Chaotic as he appears on page 193 of the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

Tramp was well-known for utilizing "implied narrative" in his illustrations. He captures a moment in a story, already in progress, and he leaves it up to us, the viewers, to piece the rest of the story together. The subjects in his illustrations are rarely inert: even when pausing, they have a certain energy or tension to them. Look at any of his illustrations and you will see what I mean: even his crouching lizardman, from the Monster Manual, looks ready to spring to the attack.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Emirikol The Chaotic

Here are the stats for Emirikol the Chaotic, as they appear in Monte Cook's adventure, A Paladin In Hell. It would have been so cool had they also provided a portrait of Emirikol, but sadly they did not.

The Adventure begins with the funeral of a paladin, with his body, the attendees and the entire temple being dragged into the depths of hell. The players set off to save the attendees, and recover the temple and the paladin's body, and discover why they were sucked into hell in the first place.

Emirikol acts as the adventurers' patron in A Paladin In Hell, gifting the adventuring party with an abyssal sailing ship, Demonwing, to aid them in their quest.

Why? Play the adventure, and find out for yourself...

ADnD 2nd Edition: A Paladin In Hell Adventure

Yesterday, I was asked where the colorized illustration of A Paladin In Hell comes from, a fragment of which appears in my banner.

It is a painting by Fred Fields, who was a regular AD&D 2nd edition artwork contributor from 1990-1998. This painting graces the cover of the 1998 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure, A Paladin In Hell, by Monte Cook.

The adventure itself has attracted mixed reviews: while it is not my all-time favorite adventure, it's not bad, but I had to buy it, if simply for the cover.

Incidentally, Emirikol the Chaotic makes an appearance in this adventure.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Paladin In Hell From The Players Handbook

Most of us are already familiar with this old-school classic, but here it is again: A Paladin In Hell, by David C. Sutherland, a black and white illustration appearing on page 23 of the 1978 Advanced Dungeons And Dragons Players Handbook (thank you, Akrasia, for the correction). This illustration ranks up there, with Emirikol The Chaotic and a few others, as my all-time favorite D&D artwork.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hazarding Exposure To Call Of Cthulhu

I made mention earlier of the inspiration behind my blog title, A Paladin In Citadel. Part of the inspiration is from the classic Sutherland illustration, entitled A Paladin In Hell, from the original AD&D Players Handbook. The "Citadel" part of that blog title is now, hopefully, also clear.

What about the other part of the blog title, namely, being a Paladin? It surely does not stem from Paladin being my favorite character class, as I never played a Paladin, nor had interest in doing so. I always felt that the Paladin, and other specialist classes, paved the way for stat inflation and character-building systems, which both, in my mind, are anathema to the point of the original "old-school" character creation system -- the challenge of playing a character, based on what the dice present you, rather than what you wanted to play.

No, the reference to being a Paladin comes partly from what we played and how we played it. While there were lots of games we played back in the day, including several boardgames and microgames, you would never have described our gameplay as incorporating either "weird" or "horror" elements. As far as RPGs went, we played Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller, straight up. I was in a pretty white-bread gaming group.

Oh, sure, I was acquainted with Call Of Cthulhu, Arduin Grimoires, Tunnels & Trolls and the other alternative rpgs that sprang up in the late 70's and early 80's. But two things prevented a thorough introduction to any of them: one was cash (or lack thereof, I was in my tweens during the late 70's and early 80's and had neither a job nor regular allowance); the other was arrogance (thinking that first-to-market or biggest-in-market meant best). Until the mid-eighties, scraping enough money together to buy even the core D&D books or the occasional microgame was a challenge. Living in (rpg) poverty and being arrogant about your beliefs = Paladin.

Luckily, my brother did have a job, which meant there were boardgames and rpg books in the house, even if I was technically barred from accessing them (good luck with that).

So I did get exposed to a wide variety of games. But one of the few that I did not have the opportunity to experience was Call Of Cthulhu. Trey, the author of the blog From The Sorcerer's Skull, posted an entry recently, mentioning a Call Of Cthulhu monster encyclopedia, entitled Malleus Monstrorum. He, in addition to several other bloggers, are in the habit of posting interesting tidbits about games weird and horrible, of which many reference Call Of Cthulhu and Basic Role Playing.

While my recent trip to The Sentry Box failed to yield a copy of Malleus Monstrorum, I have come into possession of several other BRP and Call Of Cthulhu resources, which I will bravely hazard exposure to, in the name of all that is good, light and true. They are:

  • Basic Role Playing: The Chaosium Roleplaying System -- this 400 page tome is (as I understand it) the underpinning for the Call Of Cthulhu game.
  • Cthuhlu: Dark Ages -- 175 pages of supplementary material, to allow you to set your Call Of Cthulhu game in the period around 1000 A.D.
  • Cthuhlu Invictus -- a 165 page Cthulhu Sourcebook, suitable for use in running an Ancient Roman Empire based campaign.
  • Masks Of Nyarlathotep: -- Chevski was sufficiently enthusiastic about this particular 160 page 1920's-setting Call Of Cthulhu adventure that I could not pass on the opportunity, when I discovered it on the used-game bookshelves at The Sentry Box.

Do I need to buy the Call Of Cthulhu rulebook, or is possession of the BRP book and the above supplements and adventure a suitably broad introduction to this game system?

APIC And The Missing Article

Considering that when I first posted background explaining the title of my blog, I had zero followers, I thought I would take a moment and again provide some of that detail.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with the original little brown books. It is in the mid-1970's, and I am in grade school. My older brother is a member of several wargaming clubs, at both the local college and university, and is resentful (as elder brothers are wont to be) at being forced to take me along to his weekend club meetings. It is at those club meetings that he becomes first acquainted with Dungeons and Dragons, and he brings the LBB's home, where they are discovered by me.

Several years later, I graduate to middle school, and the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide is published (Editor: In fact, its 1978, and the Players Handbook, not the DMG. Thanks, Akrasia.), which includes the classic illustration by Sutherland, entitled "A Paladin In Hell". That illustration, along with several others in the DMG (and Players Handbook and Monster Manual) captures, for me, the D&D ethos.

The title of my blog, A Paladin In Citadel, is an homage to that classic D&D illustration, A Paladin In Hell. Living in Citadel, a community in northwest Calgary, I have, of course, replaced the word "Hell" with "Citadel" (this is not a comment on what I think of my community ... sometimes a cigar is just a cigar folks).

Someone emailed me, asking why my blog is not entitled "A Paladin In The Citadel", and noted that I am clearly missing the article "The" in my title. I hope the above explanation clears up any confusion about the missing article!

As for being A Paladin In Citadel, I can assure you that I have never played a Paladin, nor do I have any interest in doing so (my disinterest in playing any of the specialist classes -- other than the Bard -- is already well-known).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Paladins Don't Just Rescue Damsels And Slay Dragons You Know

Paladins also have to mow the lawn. Here's another glorious day on the culdesac. What better way to spend your Sunday morning than to be out mowing and watering. Ah, the simple pleasures of adulthood and home-ownership!

The last time I posted a picture of the culdesac was back on December 5. I thought it would be worth posting another photo, to demonstrate that Calgary is not always gripped in the icy clutches of the Winter Warlock. We do get two weeks of summer every year.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Snacks Are Traditional When Playing Dungeons And Dragons?

I always presumed that Cheetos and Mountain Dew were the traditional snacks-of-choice whilst playing Dungeons and Dragons. Is that a manufactured memory, or is this really what the majority of D&D players were eating and drinking when they got together for game-night?

Bridge Mix is, of course, the preferred snack while playing Bridge. For our Settlers games, we tend to have Peanut M&M's, Wine Gums, Jube-Jubes and Skittles at the table (drinks being barred after the great Coca-Cola flood of 2009). We generally avoid greasy snacks like chips during boardgame nights, as chip-grease is not pleasant on the playing pieces and cards.

So what are your traditional D&D snack-foods and drinks for game night?

ODnD And Its Progeny

I was quite pleased to see that my second Swords & Wizardry Whitebox arrived in the mail several days ago. It was accompanied by five extra S&W Character books. That gives me seven Character books and two Spell books for players to share. I had ordered the extra Whitebox on the off-chance (subsequently confirmed) that my 11-year old son would be intrigued and want to read and have these rules manuals for himself.

Indeed, I found him immersed in the Monster book on Thursday evening, so I think his interest has been piqued!

We're off to the properties for a couple of weeks in July. There are eight cabins owned by our extended family, on the Shuswap Lake, all within a 5-minute walk of each other, and most of his D&D-playing cousins and aunts and uncles will be around. Having the extra books will be a boon, as i'm trying to wean my extended family off of the later editions of D&D.

I will also bring along the ODnD Collectors Edition ruleset and supplements, which is the parent of the new Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. This is sure to act as further inducement to join in our little old-school D&D games: who doesn't love leafing through these old booklets while you're waiting for your turn to roll-to-hit!