Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

We in Canada have only one holiday, Remembrance Day (celebrated November 11) to honour those who fell in battle, fighting for Queen and Country. Happy Memorial Day, to those American readers who are celebrating the first of their two "Veteran's Days".

We spent our two-day weekend cleaning house, gardening and attending a dinner party at a neighbour's house at the end of the culdesac.

As you can see, the weather has improved significantly. Much improved, compared to the last time I did a weather post.

Happy Freedom Day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Canadiana: Spaceship Superstar

You'd think many of these songs would have been written and performed by patriotic American stadium-rock bands.

Credit where credit's due... a Cancon band out of Vancouver, Canada, by the name of Prism.

Prism - Night To Remember

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Intelligent Swords

"Among magic weaponry, SWORDS ALONE possess certain human (and superhuman) attributes. Swords have alignment (lawful, neutral or chaotic), an intelligence factor, and an egoism rating (as well as an optional determination of their origin/purpose). These determinations are made as follows:" - Original Dungeons and Dragons, Book 2, Monsters & Treasure, page 27-28

Another feature of old-school Dungeons and Dragons that has been lost along the way: Intelligent Swords.

The possession of an intelligent sword was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you had a powerful sword, with extra abilities that benefitted yourself and your party. On the other hand, there was the possibility of a battle of wills between the sword's possessor and the sword itself.

In ODnD, swords with an intelligence of 7 or greater also had an egoism factor. The egoism factor was the will of the sword. Swords with high intelligence and high egoism had a chance of dominating the possessor, thereby subverting the will of the player to pursue his own objectives. For example, a dominating sword might demand that the possessor encrust it with rare gems and beautiful filigree, fight certain monsters, surrender itself to another more worthy fighter, or mount a quest in keeping with the sword's purpose.

Considering the potential battle of wills between the player and the magic sword, some may wonder whether the advantages outweighed the drawbacks. It should be understood that an ODnD magical sword, possessing the same bonus, was more powerful than those of later editions. See my earlier post on magic swords for a further explanation. Because the advantages of magic swords were considerable, and because many players relished the challenge of owning an intelligent and willful sword, I don't recall an instances where intelligent swords were not retained by the player.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Canadiana: My Girl (Gone So Long)

This Chilliwack song was lampooned quite hilariously by the SCTV crew.

Chevski And Mis-Alignment

Of late, it seems more than a few of us have been plagued with fits of nostalgia.

While perusing my Dragon Magazine collection I came across Issue No. 105, January 1986, infamous for the musings of a certain Pope of OSR-town, who waded into the morass that is character alignments. Thankfully, twenty-five years later, character alignments are no longer the contentious issue they were back in the 1980's.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tomb of Horrors


Tomb of Horrors is one of those modules that is spectacularly misunderstood by those who never played or ran it, and those who began playing Dungeons and Dragons after the advent of 2nd Edition AD&D.

That the Tomb of Horrors is misunderstood will come as little surprise. The infamy of Tomb of Horrors, along with that module's relative scarcity to the uninitiated (at least prior to the advent of usenets, eBay and other resale markets), means that this module has become surrounded with a mythology not supported by the facts.

Both oblivious and informed role-players regard Tomb of Horrors as a killer dungeon. Absolutely true. But it is a killer dungeon almost entirely bereft of monsters. Tomb of Horrors is a killer dungeon not because of fell beasts, but because players fail to attend to the clues provided via the boxed text and module illustrations.

In the module's introductory paragraphs, Gary Gygax has this to say about the Tomb of Horrors:

"This is a thinking person's module. If your group is a hack and slay gathering, they will be unhappy! It is this writer's belief that brainwork is good for all players, and they will certainly benefit from playing this module, for individual levels of skill will be improved by reasoning and experience. If you regularly pose problems to be solved by brains and not brawn, your players will find this module immediately to their liking."

The uninitiated often assume that only uber-powerful characters, loaded to the rafters with magic weapons, items, spells, and skills, can last for more than a few seconds in, and successfully navigate through, the Tomb of Horrors. The truth is that it is not magic and CHARACTER skill that is needed to complete this module: rather, it is PLAYER skill. You get no perception checks. No daily powers. No pushes, pulls, marks and combat synergies. Just good old-fashioned player cleverness and problem-solving.

You can potentially complete the Tomb of Horrors without once engaging in combat, if you are careful and observant. Even the ultimate encounter with the Demi-Lich, Acererak, can be completed without a single spell thrown or weapon unslung:

"All that remains of Acererak are the dust of his bones and his skull resting in the far recesses of the [treasure] vault. If the treasure of the crypt is touched, the dust swirls into the air and forms a man-like shape. If the shape is ignored, it will dissipate in three rounds, for it can only advance and threaten, not harm....[however] if any character is so foolish as to touch the skull of the demi-lich, a terrible thing occurs..."

There is no need to kill the end boss guy in the Tomb of Horrors. In fact, if you choose to engage the skull of Acererak, you are more likely that not to be on the grinning-skull end of a Total Party Kill.

To defend the artificial nature of modern D&D mechanics and adventures, some have argued that the Tomb of Horrors is equally artificial, as the Tomb exists merely to be looted, just as modern adventures exist merely to award accolades and experience for monsters killed, quests completed, and synergies optimized. To argue thusly is to completely misunderstand what original and early versions of Dungeons and Dragons is about. Original Dungeons and Dragons was designed to allow players to emulate the sword & sorcery fiction genre, without a script. There is no predetermined plot in the Tomb of Horrors; no story; no lofty goals. Only those created at the game table by free agents (players and DM alike), rather than ones foisted upon the participants by the adventure's author.

As for the metagame argument that Tomb of Horrors exists for the sole purpose of being looted, that is also true. In early versions of Dungeons and Dragons, experience is earned primarily through the recovery of treasure. Just like the characters in sword & sorcery literature, those characters are no heroes: they are mercenaries and grave-robbers. Their motivation for entering the Tomb of Horrors is wholly transparent. They are looking for loot, and have heard that it can be found in Acererak's Tomb.

Canadiana: Lunatic Fringe

Lunatic fringe, know you're out there
You're in hiding, hold your meetings
Can hear you coming, know what you're after
We're wise to you this time, won't let you kill the laughter

Lunatic fringe, in the twilight's last gleaming
This is open season, but you won't get too far
'Cause you got to blame someone, for your own confusion
We're on guard this time, 'gainst your final solution

Red Rider

Monday, May 23, 2011

Slain By An Elf

In support of Chevski's latest post, I give you "Slain By An Elf."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Canadiana: Lunatics Anonymous

Forget about Rebecca Black's "Friday".

"This Beat Goes On", by the Kings, is the ultimate weekend and road-trip party tune. It blows Loverboy's song, "Working For the Weekend", out of the water.

I have lots of friends that I can ring at any time
Mobilize some laughs with just one call
Like a bunch of lunatics, will act up til way past dawn
Sure we'll be rockin til our strength is gone
Yeah, this beat goes on, and on, and on and on ...

I don't give a hoot about what people have to say
I'm laughin as i'm analysed
Lunatics Anonymous that's where I belong
Sure, cause I am one til my strength is gone
Yeah, this beat goes on, and on, and on and on ...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Original Dungeons And Dragons Is A Role-Playing Game

This advertisement appears in the Chainmail Rules, the Dungeons & Dragons Collector's Edition, and at the back of each of the OD&D Supplements.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dragon Mirth And The TPK

"See guys, Balrogs ain't so tough!! We won!!"

Even as far back as 1980, the Total Party Kill, or TPK, was a regular feature of many a Dungeons and Dragons game session. This cartoon, of a near-TPK, appears in the Dragon Mirth section of the March 1980 Dragon Magazine.

It is illustrated by one JD Webster, who also illustrated the Finieous Fingers cartoon series. The central character in this particular cartoon looks eerily like a fighting-man clone of Finieous. Behind the surviving fighting-man are 12 fellow adventurers, all dispatched by the same Balrog the fighting-man is referring to.

Since it seems unlikely that the DnD group consisted of 12 players, some or all of these dead party members must be henchmen or hirelings.

My favorite corpse is the Magic-User, plastered against the far wall.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scorpion-tailed Manticore FTW

In a previous post about The Arduin Grimoires, I mentioned my affection for scorpion-tailed Manticores.

I was pleased to see a scorpion-tailed Manticore featured on the front cover of one of my recently-acquired Appendix N books, A Spell For Chameleon, by Piers Anthony.

The idea of a poisonous sting is far more interesting than mere iron spikes flung from the Manticore's tail.

The illustration on the front cover of A Spell For Chameleon almost suggests a sphinx-like role for the Manticore, acting as the gate-keeper into another area of the megadungeon.

The important role of riddle-master has been largely discarded from recent versions of DnD. Players of modern versions of DnD want atmosphere and menace, and monsters that are meant to be vanquished and robbed.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the Displacer Beast, i'd love to see monster placements that were intended to elicit role-playing, rather than experience point and treasure acquisition.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Appendix N Score

Every year, our local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio station sponsors a charity booksale, in support of childrens' literacy projects. This is the second year of my attendance. Again, I came away with a nice collection of Appendix N science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. Here is a list of those paperbacks, for which I paid a buck a book:

  • Anderson (Flandry of Terra, Flandry-Agent of the Terran Empire, Flandry-A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, The Man-Kzin Wars, Three Hearts and Three Lions)

  • Anthony (A Spell For Chameleon)

  • Aspirin (Shadows of Sanctuary, Face of Chaos)

  • Burroughs (Tarzan of the Apes, Return of Tarzan, Beasts of Tarzan, Warlord of Mars, Gods of Mars, Thuvia Maid of Mars)

  • Carter (Flashing Swords #5)

  • deCamp (Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Adventurer, Conan the Buccaneer, Conan the Warrior, Conan the Usurper, Conan the Avenger, Conan of Aquilonia, Conan of the Isles, Conan and the Spider God)

  • Doyle (The Lost World)

  • Eco (The Name of the Rose)

  • Eddison (A Fish Dinner in Memison, Mistress of Mistresses)

  • Foster (Splinter of the Mind's Eye, The Time of the Transference)

  • Glut (Empire Strikes Back)

  • Haggard (The World's Desire, Heart of the World, People of the Mist)

  • Howard (People of the Black Circle, Hour of the Dragon, Marchers of Valhalla, Swords of Shahrazar, Skull-Face, Red Nails, Black Canaan)

  • Jackson (Fighting Fantasy)

  • Harrison (The Stainless Steel Rat)

  • Lee (The Book of the Damned, The Book of the Beast)

  • McCaffrey (Dinosaur Planet)

  • Moorcock (Legends from the end of Time)

  • Moore (Jirel of Joiry)

  • Norman (Slave Girl of Gor, Tarnsman of Gor, Time Slave)

  • Norton (Quag Keep, Lord of Thunder)

  • Nowlan (Armageddon 2419 AD)

  • Offutt (Sword of the Gael, Demon in the Mirror)

  • Perry (A Warlock's Blade)

  • Saberhagen (Empire of the East)

  • Smith, E.E. (Triplanetary)

  • Stasheff (The Warlock Wandering, The Warlock is Missing, Warlock and Son, The Majesty's Wizard)

  • Van Vogt (Quest for the Future)

  • Vance (City of the Chasch, The Dirdir, Big Planet, Galactic Effectuator, The Blue World, the Anome)

  • Zelazny (Hand of Oberon, Dilvish The Damned)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Clubbed To Death

Because i'm certain i've awakened from this dream many times before, and because I find this video clip unsettling, in a vaguely Clark Ashton Smith / 12 Monkeys / They Live! way. Time is the killer, according to the poster in the background.

And something a little more upbeat, The Shamen, from the 90's. This video remix incorporates clips from some of my favorite movies.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Joining The Grindhouse Gang

I'll freely admit, i've been jealous of those of you whose Lamentations Of The Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing Grindhouse Edition has already arrived. My jealousy has since turned to joy: My Grindhouse Edition arrived today!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dungeon Design Elements: The Portcullis

Those of you that are familiar with Hirst Arts will be aware that one of their Gothic Molds includes an iron gate, that can used as a portcullis feature in your dungeons.

Bruce Hirst, the owner of Hirst Arts, has this to say about the inclusion of the iron gate on one of his molds: "I placed the iron gate on this mold because I thought it needed one badly. Most crypts, graveyards or cathedrals have gated off areas to keep people out of the holy places or to protect relics."

Portcullises and bricked-up passages are two dungeon elements that get nowhere near as much play as they deserve. In those few instances where portcullises are used in a dungeon, they are typically employed as a trap, with a portcullis dropping behind the party after they open a false door at the end of a long hallway.

Few people think to use a portcullis in lieu of a door. In some ways, I think a portcullis is actually superior to a door. It impedes transit in the same way as a door, but entices characters with a glimpse of what is beyond, while frustrating attempts to search or navigate the area. And because there are harsh rules for bending bars and lifting gates, it is more difficult to bypass a portcullis.

Under the AD&D rules, successive attempts to open a door are permitted. Failure simply increases the danger of wandering monsters, and alerts those beyond the door to your presence. A bend bars/lift gates roll, by comparison, can be made only once: failure precludes further tries. This heightens the tension around the table when a bend bars/lift gates roll must be made. The worst that can happen with a failed open-door attempt is that the monsters beyond the door cannot be surprised. With a failed bend bars/lift gates attempt, you may never gain ingress to that area; an area important enough to have a portcullis guarding it.

When including portcullises in a dungeon, it's important to provide some mechanisms to unlock or otherwise bypass them. Dungeon Module B1, In Search of the Unknown, contains just such a mechanism, found in a storeroom filled with implements. As the DM rhymes off the items in the storeroom, she will eventually announce the existence of four hacksaws. I'll bet your party didn't think to bring those into the dungeon, particularly if they aren't listed in the miscellaneous items for sale.

Other options for bypassing portcullises include levers, found elsewhere in the dungeon, that lock or unlock certain portcullises, depending on their position. The important thing here is to allow the resourceful player to bypass the portcullis, either with a pre-determined dungeon element or through the employment of some clever stratagem (think of Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, using leverage to dislodge the door to his prison cell, for example).

If portcullises suggest something worth protecting, walled-off or bricked-up areas suggest something that characters need to be protected from. Ghouls, vengeful ghosts and other undead immediately come to mind. Bricked-up areas can be even more player-maddening that those defended by portcullises. Clearly, those who built the wall were fearful, embarrassed or ultra-protective of whatever lay beyond. With a portcullis, the builders imagined that they would want to eventually access the blocked area. With a wall? That sends a pretty clear signal that the builders have little intention of ever returning to the area so blocked. Are the characters willing to break out the mattocks and shovels, dig through the wall, and brave the potential horrors beyond? A delicious conundrum, don't you think?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bunnies & Burrows RPG

Bunnies and Burrows was published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1976, just two years after the publication of the original Dungeons and Dragons little brown books.

B&B is a 36-page role-playing game of intelligent rabbits. When I first learned of this game's existence, in the late 70's, I initially presumed that it, along with Tunnels and Trolls, were published as some sorts of satirical pokes in the eye of D&D.

B&B is anything but. While it takes its inspiration from D&D, it was designed to be played "straight", by emulating the real world, as seen through the eyes of rabbits. The game is frustratingly open-ended: it provides little in the way of suggestions as to what sorts of misadventures your Bunny alter-egos may become entangled in. A B&B gamemaster, and the players, will have to be imaginative to come up with compelling situations and challenges.

Not surprisingly, considering the publish date, the illustrations appearing in Bunnies and Burrows are not unlike those in the original D&D LBB's. Amateurish. Here we have a representation of one of the Bunny character classes: Seer. Ahoy there, mateys, have ye seen me spell components? This Bunny looks like a cross between pirate and magic-user.
Here we have another Bunny character class: Scout. Apparently these Bunnies have the advantage of riding other Bunnies, as they perform their scouting duties.

This next Bunny is a Herbalist, and is testing some herbs to determine their effects. B&B has a rather complex set of rules for adjudicating the effects and uses of various herbs. It predates by several years the AD&D medicinal herbs rules found in the DMG, yet the B&B rules are just as detailed.

Empaths are the Jedis and Clerics of the B&B universe, being able to both heal other bunnies and deal empathic damage. Capes are optional.
Storyteller Bunnies are the extroverts and leaders of the burrow. They have an improved chance of pursuading other Bunnies, and get bonuses for mating. Apparently Does like Bucks that can make them laugh.
I can't help but notice that this next Bunny is wearing a backpack. I'm not sure if the creature he has discovered is a rat. Now would be a good time to have a dagger or other weapon handy.
B&B includes eight different Bunny classes, or professions. When adjudicating combat between Bunnies, the following chart is used to determine the effectiveness of an ability.
The above illustrations are by Charles Loving. The two illustrations, below, are by Jeff Dee. The illustration below accompanies rules for adjudicating the effects of pests and diseases upon a burrow.

B&B also includes rules for avoiding and springing traps. Here we have another Jeff Dee illustration, of a Bunny narrowly avoiding the effects of a beartrap.

Bunnies and Burrows has its own character record sheet. The influence of D&D can be seen here, with the inclusion of the six standard attributes, along with two additions, Speed and Smell. Smell, of course, referring to the ability of the Bunny to detect scents, not the reverse.

Friday, May 6, 2011

DM Says You're Gonna Die, Roll A D6!

Wormy Collection - David Trampier

Here are several panels from David Trampier's Wormy cartoon, these from the February 1980 issue of The Dragon magazine. Wormy ran for roughly 100 issues before Trampier withdrew from public life.

The story (or at least the speculation) of Tramp's mysterious disappearance is well-known among old-schoolers. Several years ago Tramp briefly resurfaced, as a taxi driver. My thoughts turn to Tramp now and then, particularly when i'm looking at some of the D&D artwork from the late 70's and early 80's.

Here's an interesting tale about one fan's encounter with Tramp in 2002. This story is completely unverified, and can be found near the bottom of the second page of a thread on the Paizo website, here.

I'd like to think that the story is true, if only because it is comforting to think that Tramp still retains the rights to Wormy, and has additional pages of Wormy that will, someday, be shared with the world. Take the story, below, with a grain of salt, obviously.


Hello all,

I stumbled on your Trampier discussion and, as someone who recognizes your hunger for news Tramp, have decided to contribute some information. Essentially this comes from my own experience with Tramp from about five or so years ago.

I do respect those of you who believe in letting sleeping dogs lie, respecting Mr. Trampier's privacy, etc. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have done this, and I am deeply sorry if I did cause Mr. Trampier any agitation.

Here's what I can tell you. I managed to track Trampier down and got in contact with him. At the time I was collecting original fantasy art and I really wanted to buy some original Wormy pages from him. The good news is that he wasn't selling any because he still is attached to them and still has the dream of publishing them all someday. So if any publishers are reading this, I know Trampier has a rocky past history with TSR, but in all likelihood a publishing deal could be worked out to reprint Wormy and he still has all the originals to print from (save 3, see below). At least as of five years ago he still held out that dream. While I don't know if he truly finished the second story arc (there were two - the first ended with the Wizard Gremorly and Solomoriah the winged panther's failed attack), he does have finished pages that were never published (which I never saw but he told me about). Even an incomplete trade edition would be a classic.

Trampier said he does own the rights to Wormy, completely. He said his self-published compilation never happened because he couldn't raise enough money to make it happen.

Trampier's voice is exactly how you might imagine it to be - gravely and warm with the smoky flavor of someone who prefers to "roll his own". At the time that I called Trampier was involved in trying to set up a tobacco shop, but I have no idea if that ever panned out.

Trampier is a big Pogo fan. He cited Walt Kelley's classic strip as the primary influence for Wormy. This isn't entirely surprising, given the art style and political subtext of several Wormy strips. In a way the Wormy material is a classic American retelling of slavery - just read the episode where Rudy has a long conversation with a caged troll if you don't believe me. Wormy isn't as heavily political as Pogo, but it's there.

I noted that there were no female characters in the strip and asked him why (although this isn't unheard of in many boy's adventure comics - women are kept at a bare minimum, say, in Tintin). He said it was because an early strip with Irving dreaming of a bare breasted female centaur made TSR uneasy about offending readership, so as a joke he decided to remove women altogether. I don't own that issue of Dragon myself, but I've seen it online and it does seem to be the only episode with a female character.

The only pages of Wormy that Trampier does not own, so far as I am aware, I own. I purchased these from a former TSR employee. When I called Trampier I told him about the pages and offered to return them, since I wasn't sure of their provenance (i.e., purchase history.) Trampier graciously allowed me to keep them, which I am grateful for. The three pages in question feature Otis and Rudy looking in a river cave mouth for trolls, then getting spooked at the thought that a kraken might be lurking. Afterwards Catfish and Bender (the Salamander) pole through on the back of a belly-up, dead Long-bellied Mudsucker fish. If anyone ever does want to publish the run of Wormy and needs these pages to reproduce (with Trampier's permission, naturally), I am entirely willing to lend them to the cause.

I'm bringing up the art because, frankly, it's gorgeous. Trampier used a special kind of magic marker to color his work (I can't remember the name he told me, but apparently that brand is no longer made), but the way he used them made his work look like it had been painted with watercolors. If you've ever looked at original comic art, even the big names will "cheat" using white-out, etc., so that often the final printed product looks more perfect than the original. Not so with Trampier. Every line is perfect, every color vibrant and nary a corrected mistake visible. I've seen a fair amount of original comic pages and I haven't seen anything to rival Trampier's sheer craftsmanship and painstaking labor. The pages practically glow like stained-glass windows.

Trampier confirmed to me that he had had a falling out with Mohan and company at TSR, and was surprised to learn the company had been purchased by Wizards of the Coast. He was entirely unaware of the interest expressed in his work on the internet, as he didn't have a computer or an internet connection at the time. He was happy to hear that the interest was there. Incidentally, at the time someone was posting Wormy pages and had stirred up controversy for doing so since they are Trampier's intellectual property and this person (not me, no relation, etc.) had not obtained permission. By the time I called Tramp they had capitulated and taken the images down. Trampier's words to me were that "I WANT people to see Wormy" and that this internet posting sounded fine. For the record.

The first call was really magical. Trampier was good humored, informative, and appreciated my compliments, and there I was, talking to a legend who had really impacted my childhood. Frankly I pretty much subscribed to Dragon back in the day just for the Wormy strips.

Things sadly went downhill from there. Without getting into it too much, Trampier withdrew, and stopped responding to my letters and inquiries into work that he had previously stated he was willing to sell (at the time, the pencil drafts for the Wormy pages, not the finished pages. And if anyone is curious, he doesn't have any of the classic Monster Manual drawings. Artist Tony DiTerlizzi does have the original of the Pseudodragon, but the rest are currently in oblivion. Apparently Trampier never got those drawings back from TSR, unlike the Wormy pages.) From my experience I do believe speculation that Trampier has some personal issues is likely true. I also want to stress that Trampier was never anything but polite to me when we did talk.

People can make of this what they will. I hope at least that this satisfies some curiousity about the David Trampier of five years ago. I understand why this could be read as a cautionary tale for would-be seekers, but I do hope that someone at TSR, paizo, etc will seek him out with a serious offer to collect and publish his Wormy material. He may have his quirks, but those strips are some of the most accomplished ever produced, they have a powerful base of nostalgic fans, and Trampier himself still holds the material, the copyright, and the will to have it published. He probably could use the additional monetary support too, frankly. It is certainly worth inquiring.

How to track him down? I'm sorry to say that you are on your own. I've moved, had several computer crashes, and no longer have Trampier's number or address. But I found both the old fashioned way in the first place, and so could anyone, no detective experience required. Personally, I hope that a publisher WILL contact him and at least make the attempt while it could still benefit Trampier himself - who knows what will happen to the Wormy material after Trampier does pass on. It could be lost, sold and scattered, or destroyed (Tramp's wife doesn't really seem to appreciate that part of his life). Simple fans just wanting to pay homage like I did should probably tread more lightly.

So there you go. That's my story. I hope it was helpful to you. And somebody, anybody, one way or another, please publish this classic of American pop culture.

By the way, for interests of privacy, my email address is bogus. I will try to respond to questions posted here for awhile if anyone has any, but I think I've already told you everything I know.


I have a respectable, if incomplete selection of old Dragon magazines, so I don't need to pay for a Wormy Collection. But if Paizo somehow convinced Tramp to allow them to reprint all of the Wormy cartoons, along with any other artwork he has stored away, i'd be buying that. Particularly if the proceeds went to provide a comfortable annuity for Tramp. Anyways, here's my $100, waiting to be spent on a Wormy Collection.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Blog Is About You

An excerpt from an interview between Rudy Kraft and Gary Gygax, appearing in Gryphon Magazine, Issue No. 1, Summer 1980:

Kraft: We've seen some criticism of TSR in particular by people who write in the Amateur Press Associations. What are your feelings towards the Amateur Press Associations?

Gygax: I probably have articulated this a number of times. I basically think that it's a very low form of vanity press. They needn't necessarily be that way but people who can't get anybody else to publish what they write can always type it up and send it in themselves and therefore get up on their soapbox. I think it has about as much validity as someone standing up on a soapbox in a public square and talking about whatever they feel like talking about. The concept of APA's is a relatively interesting one which could be quite valuable to the creative gaming community; whether they were creative as players or as authors and designers is immaterial. I'm not sure what the overall effect has been, frankly, but in my own judgement I think it's been rather a waste of everybody's reading time. At one point, I took Dave Berman to task about his amateur publication called "The Apprentice" out of Canada because in my opinion it was a really bad magazine. He recently sent me a copy of a newer issue and it was superb. It is verging on the professional side. It is what you call semi-pro right now. He picked up the gauntlet when I tossed it down and whacked me across the face with it, so to speak. He benefits. I benefit because it was a good magazine. It was well worth reading and the hobby benefits.

Kraft: So you're not against all APA's, just the bad ones.

Gygax: Basically true. The problem is that I have only seen a couple of them. The idea is fine. In application it hasn't been working out very well.

Kraft: What would need to be done to make it work better?

Gygax: I know that in theory an APA provides everybody with a chance to say whatever they like. However, having a little more editorial control to make it something that is a little more useful would probably not only benefit the readers but also expand the readership. An APA which is filled with cross-talk saying, "Gee, I like your ideas, Bozo, but on page 39 you make this error" and a lot of other banal cross-talk and chatter and then some ridiculous propositions or suppositions regarding this, that, or the other thing are a waste of the reader's time. To have to wade through 70 or 100 pages of oft-times badly written material in order to find one or two good ideas is rather counter-productive to the interested individual. They would be a dandy training ground for the creative people if there was a little more editorial control over them.


I don't subscribe to the above arguments, particularly as regards the blogoverse. Participation in the OSR blogging community should be encouraged, as it provides a low-cost way of soliciting feedback, making suggestions, sharing alternatives, promoting role-playing, and, yes, hawking one's wares.

The problem of editorial control in the OSR is that every editor is biased, and can make mistakes. Once you put someone in charge of being the gate-keeper for the OSR, that will inevitably lead to the culling of ideas, approaches and products that might otherwise develop into the next big thing.

I hear complaints that much of what is being churned out by OSR bloggers amounts to white noise, self-promotion and navel-gazing. Well, you know what? Democracy is noisy, too. Yes, having to wade through the output of 400+ bloggers (and growing) is a challenge. But if the alternative is having someone else tell me how to play, who is worthy of attention, and what official tools to use, i'll stick with the current OSR blogging community model.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fantastic Treasures

Fantastic Treasures is a two volume catalogue of magical and mythological items from folklore and legend, printed in 1984 by Mayfair Games, under its Role Aids line of gaming supplements. Role Aids is an uneven line of supplements, with adventures like Evil Ruins and Lich Lords (both are decent) interspersed with less stellar fare.

The Fantastic Treasures catalogue includes several hundred magical items, each one paired to a black and white illustration. Even though Fantastic Treasures is, by definition, derivative, since it uses myth and folklore for its inspiration, it is the presentation of this catalogue that I find appealing. And i'm not just talking about the Boris Vallejo art that graces its two covers.

Paging through the AD&D Monster Manual, you will find most D&D monster descriptions accompanied by an illustration. That is never the case for magic items in the Dungeon Masters Guide. I can recall poring over the 1979 DMG, bewildered by such unfamiliar items as censers, periapts, phylacteries, and scarabs. Without an illustration, and therefore a mental image to draw upon, I found it difficult to describe those magical items to the players.

In contrast, each of the magical items described in Fantastic Treasures is accompanied by an illustration. Admittedly, unlike the mysterious periapts or a phylacteries, I don't need illustrations of thimbles, horseshoes, or boots, to visualize or describe those items. But there is something immediate and meaningful about seeing an artist's depiction of an item, even if you don't end up describing it as illustrated.

While some of you will be familiar with a broad cross-section of myth and folklore, you are bound to find several items in the Fantastic Treasures catalogue that are new to you. The usual suspects are included of course, like cloaks of invisibility, magical pendants and gems, musical instruments and the like, from Greek, Norse, Chinese legends. But some interesting and obscure African, Indian and frontier American items are also included: Paul Bunyon's Axe, anyone?

Perhaps I am drawn to this catalogue due to my own interest in the development of generic item and treasure cards. I appreciate these economical magical item descriptions, paired with perfectly serviceable illustrations. If only they came in card form!

Fantastic Treasures is a one of those gaming supplements that does something just a little bit different. While i've seen other magical item gaming supplements that claim to provide fresh magic items, few of their entries are accompanied by illustrations, and few items are truly campaign-ready, unlike the tried-and-true vanilla items from myth and folklore.

Collecting such a wide range of magical item tropes, and pairing each with an illustration, makes this supplement 'game-night ready'.