Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Illustration of the Week: New Starmasters Creature

Another of the creatures from Starmasters. This one is, as of yet, unnamed.

Image ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. These images are NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Look Back: Games Inside Books That Aren't Technically Game Books

THE BOOK: The Book of Medieval Wargames
THE GAME(S): The Joust, The Tourney, The Melee, The Battle

The title of this book by Nicholas Slope is a little misleading if your a gamer as a bit more than half the books is just a history of knights, chivalry, heraldry and medieval warfare done in a sort of "light" version of a Time/Life Books kind of way. But, per the title, the most interesting part of the book are the four "board games" (Harper Collins's words) and I think both Harper Collins and the author realized that; the book actually includes a full-color, three-dimensional "pop-up" medieval joust diorama, chance and hazard counters, stand-up player counters, and player stat cards. IMO, the coolest mechanic is from "The Melee" game, in which each player chooses to defend either high, middle or low, and attack either high, middle, low, or attempt to disarm, then roll for their attacks. It's a very nice mechanic for resolving sword and shield combat. For example, if you choose to disarm and your target attempts to parry, you automatically disarm them.

THE BOOK: The Complete Book of Wargames
THE GAME: Kassala

From the editors of Consumers Guide and Jon Freeman comes this tome (285 pages) featuring information and reviews for over 150 of the most popular wargames on the market in 1980, including data on publishers, prices, playing time, packaging, game scale, size, balance, key features, playability, rules, realism and degree of complexity. There is a chapter on RPGs (I'm planning a future post on this chapter) and a chapter titled "Computers ad the Future of Wargaming." The book includes Kassala, an introductory wargame portraying a battle between Christian Ethiopians and invading Moslems in 1541. Since these styles of wargame have a rather "limited", situational- and geographically-based ruleset, many enthusiasts will tell you this game still holds up. You just don't get actual cardboard counters or a color gameboard; you have to copy the black and white art for them out of the book.

THE BOOK: The Complete Guide to the World of Lone Wolf & Grey Star: The Magnamund Companion
THE GAME: Dawn of the Darklords

Okay, in all fairness, anybody who knows Lone Wolf should really have expected this (a game inside the book, I mean.) After all, this is the "world companion" book to a series of gamebooks that used a simple action resolution mechanic as part of a "choose your own adventure" combat format. The solo adventure in the book is just a stripped down version of what was inside all of the actual "novels." For tabletop miniatures enthusiasts, the book also includes instruction on modeling Magnamund and building your own "fantasy buildings," skyriders and fantasy fleet.

BTW, Lone Star author Joe Dever has offered to allow some of his books to be downloaded free on the internet, so give a visit to Project Aon. (Aon is the universe where Magnamund and the other planets in the setting are located.)

THE BOOK: Dicing with Dragons
THE GAME: Fantasy Quest solo adventure, FQ1: Eye of the Dragon
YEAR PUBLISHED: 1982, 1983, 1986

There are a bunch of different editions of the book (mine is the 1983 Plume paperback pictured at left), but I assume the game inside stayed the same. Check out The Fighting Fantasist's post for info on this one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Samurai in Space

So the other day when my co-consipriator David Welborn and I were testing the Starmasters combat system, the only minis I had handy were some Reaper Minis samurai figures from the mid-to-late 90s designed by Bob Charrette. Coincidentally, Dave's been testing the mechanics (Starmasters shares some basic combat mechanics with The System, The System: Expanded, and my new d30 project Magic, Men, Mutants & Machines) to see how they work to simulate Samurai battles. It was never an intention to specifically include any sort of Samurai genre into the Starmasters setting, it just so happens that the various playtesting is overlapping. That being said, as part of our planned Starmasters playtesting this week, Dave's anxious to see how the system works for some actions specific to Samurai combat (particularly a riposte action.) On the other side of things, I'm now inspired to work in a Samurai pastiche to one of the Starmasters alien races while trying to keep the obvious influnce Japanese rather than Jedi. (After all, everybody knows Star Wars is really just a rip off of Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress.)

Just a reminder, Starmasters doesn't use a d30. I just had it handy from testing the d30 sytem, and felt like including it in the picture because it looked cool.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vintage Game: Super Deck! (by Marc Miller?)

Every once in a while, I look back at some of the stuff in my collection to make sure I didn't miss anything good or interesting. I'm glad I did. I had written off Super Deck! as one of those awful "me too" CCGs. And, in some ways, it is. But in just as many ways... it isn't.

First, it was produced in 1994. Even MTG didn't hit the market until 1993, so that puts Super Deck! as one of the earliest. With MTG being the only CCG released in 1993, Super Deck! was only 1 of the 9 produced in 1994 (along with SJG's Illuminati: New World Order.)* 1995 saw 42 releases, with subsequent years averaging about a dozen.

Second, it was designed by Marc Miller. Yes! Traveller Marc Miller. Now, to answer the question, "Is there anything special about the design?" Well, I'm not a CCG guy so somebody else will have to hit me about this, but... aren't they kind of all the same anyway? Really, aren't games like this about weird power cards and killer artwork rather than the system mechanics? Neither Super Deck!'s art nor the powers/concepts are nearly as tongue-in-cheek as Stuper Powers!, though they're trying to be. So when you put that case together, Super Deck! the game seems like an obvious attempt to quickly get a super hero CCG to market before anyone else.

What I just said about the art aside, that brings us to my third point... the deck features art by several artist who would go on to become fairly noteworthy. First, Eisner Award winner Brian Michael Bendis, who wouldn't really start to make waves in the comics world until 5 or 6 years after this game came out. Second, Emmy award winner Dean Haspiel who, among other endeavors, collaborated with Harvey Pekar on some of the American Splendor series. Third, Green Arrow artist Phil Hester. And finally, Frances Mao and alt comic artist Josh Neufeld.

When dealing with vintage items, the inevitable questions arise: 1) "Is it worth anything?" and 2) "Is it worth buying?" As for the answer to question 1, take a look at this item on eBay and you tell me. (To save you some time, "No. Not really.") As for question #2, if you collect CCGs or are trying to design a CCG, then sure. Why not? If you collect comics (particularly Utlimate Spider Man, Daredevil, Green Arrow, American Splendor, or Sonic the Hedgehog), then sure. Why not? If you're a collector of World Trade Center/Twin Towers memorabilia (and I don't mean Tolkien's Two Towers), then sure. Why not? (Take a look at both the "Twin Towers" and "Robot Rampage" cards in the image above.) If you're looking for a CCG that only has 160 total cards available with very little chance of ever seeing any expansion packs so you don't get addicted to keep putting $$$ in the pockets of WotC, then sure. Why not? If you're looking for a fun, battle-style card game, check out some of these invented card games using standard playing cards.

* All statistics including release dates per Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite... Artists! (OSR, of course)

In no particular order...

Russ Nicholson
Loved Russ's stuff in the Fiend Folio, but really started digging his work when I read the book Dicing With Dragons and the Fighting Fantasy game books.

Erol Otus
If there's one artist who typifies old-school art to me, it's E.O. To this day, the AD&D Monster Cards are one of my favorite items in my RPG collection. And just in time for Christmas, the old-school game box adorned with Erol Otus art.

Dave Trampier
It wasn't Wormy that did it for me. (I actually felt like the Wormy strip, while interesting, was space in Dragon that could be used for other stuff more applicable to my gaming; no offense.) It was images like the mouth in the dungeon wall, or the cover of the PHB. Now, he's a 12th level Cabbie. (Does anyone know the prime requisites for that class?)

Jeff Dee
The reason I started playing V&V was because of all those great little ads in Dragon feature J.D.'s art and characters stats. It's an atrocity that TSR threw most of Dee's early D&D work in the trash. But if you're interested, Jeff has already more than doubled his kickstarter goal of $2,500 to recreate the Egyptian Art from Deities & Demigods. And he's got 9 days left to go!

Alan Hunter
Alan's work is an acquired taste. That's probably why he is one of the lesser known names, but I guarantee you remember his work. He's the guy behind the Crabmen, Dire Corby and Hook Horror illustrations from the Fiend Folio. (Please don't hold the actual concepts and content of the FF against Alan. He didn't create the monsters. He just drew them.)

Dave Billman
Billman's another one you might not know as well. He was the guy behind most of the Lords of Creation art from Avalon Hill. Like James over at Grognardia, I regret never playing the game. Billman still does illustration, but in a more commercial/popular children's vein, but also has a full time in-house graphic design gig.

NOTE: I had a really hard time deciding which piece of art to showcase at the top of this page. Out of respect for all of the folks mentioned in this post, this is my first blog post (since I started the page) with no graphic at all.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Starmasters Update: Rockin' Combat System

Just had an awesome day of playtesting the combat system for Starmasters with my co-conspirator David Welborn. We've officially traded in the old wargame style action sequencing (i.e., 1. All Move, 2. All Ranged Attacks, 3. All HTH Attacks, 4. Non-attack Actions) for a new phased system that really supports the fast-paced style of the sci-fi action. However, the core action mechanics ("to hit" rolls, combat modifiers, damage, etc.) haven't changed, just the way movement and actions are handled within "close-action time."

We play-tested some some 5-man free-for-all combat situations (with each character being one of the 5 primary races from the game) and, so far, it plays really smoothly and seems really balanced (even when some of the characters entered combat with archaic blade weapons). Each situation played rather quickly (if you don't include the stop/starts for game theory discussions of the actual rules, etc.) and resolved itself within about 30 seconds of game time (but if everybody has a blaster, and the blasters are deadly, that should be the case.) BTW, I know I just mentioned this, but I'll say it again... combat is VERY deadly, so bring plenty of Redshirts with you.

Another pleasant surpise is how well the adaptations from my recent d30 Feature postings have worked out considering Starmasters uses only d6s and a d20. These adaptations include a damage determination system similar to the d6 Result by Rank chart, and slot-based attribute generation which REALLY worked out well, producing balanced characters with attribute strengths and weaknesses appropriate for their race in the context of a "roll for your stats" mechanic.

The real "game changer" moment of the day came from the way that careful aim (in lieu of making any movement) worked. It was deadly when it should have been deadly, but reasonably forgiving in the context of a fast-action situation.

One thing we've still left to work out... where a plasma cannon blast should go off when it misses its target, but handled in such a way that it doesn't bog down combat resolution. Hmmm...

I know Friday is normally by d30 Mechanic of the Week day, but somehow I feel still like this still counts. After all, we wouldn't have made some of the leaps in the system mechanics that we did had it not been from my recent d30 obsession.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm Thankful For... FREE RPGs!

Pictured at left, a Louis Rhead illustration from the 1916 edition of John Bunyun's Pilgrim's Progress.

Among all of the things that I'm truly thankful for this Thanksgiving (including my beautiful nerd-loving wife, our 2 dogs, our families, our collective health, the other blessings God has bestowed upon us), I'm thankful for the bountiful cornucopia of free RPGs available via the interweb (which, BTW, includes The System, and will hopefully at some point also include The System: Expanded.) I'm also thankful to the people who host them, tend them and/or cultivate their interest!

John Kim's Free RPGs on the Web
John is the man when it comes to organizing them so you can find what interests you. He's got a "new" section, a complete alphabetical listing, and also has them categorized by key words (long, rules lite, preview, supplement, online, open-license, universal, and genre) and genres (fantasy, horror, modern, post-apocolyptic, sci-fi, superhero, and traditional.) While you're there, don't forget to browse the headers up top (including RPG theory, system design, and convention reports.)

1,000 Monkeys, 1,000 Typewriters, and a Ton of Free Games
The man in the kitchen behind 1KM1KT is its benefactor (and Web developer/host/creator) Keeton Harrington, while the face at the front counter (and all over the forums) is Rob Lang. A lot of the free RPGs at 1KM1KT are entries from the contests they sponsor, but not all of them. Even the contest entries are pretty freakin' amazing considering many of them were written and laid out in 24 hours. Granted, many are rules light, but that doesn't keep them from being truly inspired and impressive.

Chris's Compendium of Free RPGs at
Eric "Chris" Garrison adds the RPGs as he finds/is emailed about them, so the organization is a simple "newest on top" comprehensive list. It's not searchable (other than the "find" command on your browser) or organized by any other means, but it's fun to stroll through. The order never changes (newest adds first) so remember where you leave off and you can pick back up there the next time.

The Role-playing Text Archive at
This is an archive of texts from old FTP sites and bulletin boards (from before everybody had the Web Wide World on their computer boxes)--something host Jerry Stratton calls "The Elder Pages." I actually encountered FUDGE for the first time back in 1995 on a BB somewhere and still have a print copy (somewhere) of that ascii text version. A list of the freeware/shareware games from those archives is located here, but you have to copy and paste the text into your browser's address bar (as it isn't "clickable.")

Other Resources
There are plenty of other resources for free RPGs (or free lite/artless versions of other RPGs) available from places like DriveThru RPG, Lulu, and directly from publishers like RetroRoleplaying, but compiling a list like that gets a bit cumbersome and I don't have the patience of John or Keeton or Rob or Chris or Jerry to undertake something like that (and so... I say, "Thanks!")

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mazes, Minotaurs and Modules (or "Dungeon Crawl Clichés: the Minotaur's Maze")

My recent minotaur illustration and my chance meeting on the same day (yesterday) with a $2.99 copy of The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth at Half Price Books got me thinking... is the minotaur's maze the most overused cliché of the dungeon crawl? While it can be argued that in some way most dungeon crawls are actually labyrinths, I'm referring specifically to maze-like designs that feature an actual minotaur (or minotaurs) in them.

Well, let's take a look, shall we...

(Spoiler alert: Yes, I know it's been about 30 years since many of these adventures were published, but the following descriptions do give away pertinent details of the referenced modules, on the chance that you haven't read/played them yet.)

1980 - Module Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Designed by David C. Sutherland and E. Gary Gygax as a tournament dungeon for the Origins '79 game convention, the published edition came out in 1980 and was intended as the final adventure in a series of 7 by E.G.G. (as a sequel the G- and D-series). The "Web" levels of the dungeon feature a series of intricate geometrical interwoven passageways (i.e., "labyrinth") that would make Frank Stella jealous. But before you even get into the pits, the minotaurs show up as WMs in Lolth's Forest. Then, in the pits on Web Level 1, the Gnoll Barracks (3) feature 3 minotaurs. Additionally, spells function differently in the pits and the Druidical spell of reincarnation can actually bring a dead character back as (among other things) a minotaur! (When combined as a single adventure with the rest of GDQ series, this module was voted the single greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004.)

1981 - Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands
Again, from good ol' E.G.G. himself comes this classic from the Moldvay red box that introduced so many of us to the original fantasy game. If you're introducing the game to newbies, why shouldn't it have a labyrinth with a minotaur? And if you're trying to bring the classicism of the original myth as well, then of course there should be a direction confusion spell misdirecting the party. Honestly, trying to work your way through this baby as a first-time player seems worse than continuing to type "N, S, W, SW..." and constantly having that damn screen tell you, "You can't go that way!" while playing the Colossal Cave text-based computer adventure. (This module was ranked the 7th greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.)

1982 - Module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
This is another adventure written by E.G.G., and while published in 1982, it was originally a tournament module written for the 1976 WinterCon V gaming convention. In the context of the module, the "Dark Labyrinth" located at the grotto numbered "9" on the "Greater Caverns" map is really more of a magical trap, suddenly appearing in front of the party, closing off the entrance behind them and forcing them through the maze to exit the labyrinth and get back to the main caverns (facing two minotaurs on bullback in the process.) In the context of the rather deep content of the adventure (32 pages of encounters in Book 1, plus 32 pages of new monsters, magic items, spells and pre-gens in Book 2), this is really just a single encounter. If that's a single encounter, what does that say about how deadly this whole adventure is? (This module was ranked the 22nd greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.)

1982 - Module N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God
Written by Douglas Niles, this novice module was written in four weeks from an existing brief. While it does feature a maze, that maze is occupied by an ogre (not a Minotaur.) The real classic here, though, is that a printing error in an early edition had the maze with NO EXIT! (This module was ranked the 19th greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.)

1983 - Module MSOL2: Maze of the Riddling Minotaur
Finally... an entire module devoted to a maze and a minotaur! This solo module by Jeff Grubb invited players to "Explore the Maze of the Riddling Minotaur in an invisible ink module that you can play by yourself or with a group of adventurers!" Utilizing a seemingly incomplete map and an invisible "A,B,C" choose-your-own-adventure style mechanic, a special pen revealed pre-printed invisible ink to produce the results of encounters as the character(s) worked through a classic "rescue the princess" plotline. Designed for use with Moldvay B/X, the module contained "two" versions of the adventure, 1 for solo play, and an "expanded" version, that essentially just adds wandering monsters to the same maze, as well as a few brief encounters outside of the main solo adventure location for a group storyline.

So let's recap: Over the course of 3 or so years (technically 7 if you include the pre-published/tournie dates), that's 4 TSR modules (out of about two dozen published those same years) that prominently feature mazes and minotaurs (+1 with a maze and an ogre), and 4 of those 5 are in the top 22 adventures of all time.

So what's the verdict?
Well, I think we can say for sure that it is a cliché, but the "most overused one?" Honestly, D&D is wracked with clichés (see the name of the actual game for two of them.) The entire game is founded on clichés (heroes, magic, et al.) But if you're okay with that, so am I.

Pictured at top: Minotaur and Dead Mare before a Cave Facing a Girl in a Veil, Pablo Picasso.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Minotaur

I was watching the Minotaur episode of Clash of the Gods on the History Channel and was inspired to do a Minotaur drawing for this week's Illustration of the Week. I also decided to throw it into a mock cover layout for a module inspired by the same episode. May or may not ever get around to writing it, though.

And check out the starbust on the cover; it says simply, "Kill the monsters and find the treasure!" It doesn't get any more old-school than that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Brief History of Polyhedral Dice

This is something I've actually been wondering for a while, but was prompted by a question from my co-conspirator David Welborn to investigate.

Pre-2600 BC: d4
The Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur (a.k.a. "Game of Twenty Squares") is a board game that dates to the First Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia, and is quite possibly the oldest board game equipment ever found. It appears to be a race game of some sort, played with two sets (one black, one white), seven markers and three tetrahedral dice. (That's a d4 to you and me.) It is believed to be a precursor to the game backgammon.

305-30 BC (Ptolemaic Egypt): d20, d12
Icosahedral and Dodecahedral Dice with Greek Markings

Located in the Louvres are several icosahedral (d20) dice from Egypt during the Ptolemaic period, having a letter of the Greek alphabet from A to Y on each face. Also found during the same discovery (by E. Michon?) was a dodecahedron (d12) with the first 12 Greek letters on its faces. There are plenty of surviving examples of cubical dice (decahedrons/d6s) from before this time, many of which are from Egyptian games. Most of them, however, are marked with pips as there was no common numeration system at the time. Even Arabic numeration wasn't becoming a common practice until about 200 BCE, and it would be several centuries more until Roman numeration started to gain a foothold. So it's not that far of a stretch to assume the Greek letters were actually representational of numbers (rather than syllabic sounds.)

2nd century AD: d20
The Roman Icosahedron Die

This die (pictured at top, now in the British Museum) is made of glass and features markings that seem to be neither Roman or Arabic numerals (they actually look Greek-based or alchemical to me; maybe an attempt to turn the Greek alphabet into a numeration system?) but are probably markings that indicate some specific options as part of a game of chance. (I wonder if it came uninked.*)

1283 AD: d7s and d8s
The Libro de los Juegos ("Book of games") is Published

The text is a treatise that addresses the playing of three games and includes the use of both seven- and eight-sided dice in order to speed up play in chess variants. The invention of these dice is credited to Alfonso X of Castile. A four-player variant pits each player against the others as one of the four elements and/or four humors and the green, red, black and white pieces are moved based upon the roll of the dice. (Another variant entitled "astronomical chess" is played on a board featuring seven concentric circles divided radially in to 12 areas, with each division associated with a constellation of the Zodiac.)

What follows are some of the earliest recorded (available) U.S. patents for the various polyhedrals. In most cases, the standard, numbered forms we're familiar with don't seem to be patented (as they were probably too common/widespread as a whole) to merit a patent.

1898: d10
U.S. Patent# 614,524: Poker Dice

Issued November 22, 1898 to J.O. Yardley as "Game Apparatus." This is a sort of barrel-shaped oddity featuring miniature versions of playing card visuals, rather than the double-conical numbered version that's become the standard. (From looking at it, it wouldn't seem the "top" and "bottom" faces would get equal % results compared to the other "sides.")

1900: d12
U.S. Patent# 645,112: Poker Dice

Issued March 13, 1900 to V. Mapes as simply "dice." This is actually a patent for "Poker Dice" with various suits and numbers/face initials interspersed over five total dice in the game.

1912: d4
U.S. Patent# 1,030,554: "Skeletal d4"

Issued June 25, 1912 to S.E. Wharton for "a game." This version is more of a skeletal drawing of the inside, than the flat-faced version we've come to know.

1917: d8
U.S. Patent# 1,223,365: "Rhomboid" d8

Issued April 24, 1917 to E.N. Breitung as simply a "die." This is a slightly more "rhomboid"(?) version of the standard d8, featuring a combination of 4 triangles and 4 "kite" shapes, with pips instead of Arabic numerals.

1925: d20
U.S. Patent# 1,555,447: d20 with Letters on Faces

Issued Sept. 29, 1925 to H. Bernstein as a "gaming device." This is pretty much the d20 we've come to know and love, but featuring the letters M(x5), A(x4), K(x4), E(x3), J(x2) and the words "Honest Abe" on the other 2 faces.

And now on to the gaming...

1950s: Wargames
The Roots of the RPG Industry, but not its Dice Usage

Some sources will generically state that the early 1950s sees the blooming of the wargames industry, and their adoption of the various types of dice. Part of that seems to be true... the blooming of the industry. Historically, many wargames featured either simultaneous hidden movement or responsive movement, and often didn't use dice at all. In H.G. Wells's Little Wars (1913), the only mention of dice is for determining size of armies, and casualties are determined by player agreement. Even Kriegspiel, a German wargame originally created in 1813 for training of officers during the Prussian War, only used dice for "friction" factors outside the hands of the officers, including morale, meteorology, the fog of war, etc. The majority of the most popular early wargames (published by Avalon Hill, SPI, etc.) seem to mostly use d6s, when they use dice at all.

c. The Early 1970s: Polyhedrals Meet RPGs
Meanwhile in an Educational Store Somewhere in the Midwest...

So the story goes that in the earliest days of TSR, one of the founders found these odd-shaped dice in a store specializing in teaching tools (many of the patents held on polyhedral dice are actually educational in nature), and D&D was adapted to use all these odd dice. This makes a ton of sense. Look at Chainmail. It generically refers to "die" and "dice." When it does reference more than one type of die, it's in color only. Now, take a look at the Men & Magic white box book. Where does it say you can get polyhedral dice? From your gaming shop? Noooooo! From TSR! (Ah, so it's a profit deal.)

1981: A True d10
The Moldvy Basic Set Introduces the d10 to the D&D Milieu

The 1977 Holmes Basic boxed set came with a d20 numbered 1-10 twice and included no d10 proper. Through the use of a second determiner die (or crayon coloration), the d20 generated a result of 1-20, or doubled up generated a result of 1-100. It wasn't until the introduction of Moldvay Basic in 1981 that the box included a true d10.

1982: d30
The Armory Pushes the d30 on the Public

The d30 was originally the brainchild of John Handwork, a college freshman at Virginia Tech who,
in 1982, sold the idea to toy and game entrepreneur Roy Lippman of Baltimore, Maryland, USA. For those who don't know, Lippman's company was The Armory, the great rival to Lou Zocchi's Gamescience. As a distributor and publisher, the Armory really got behind the d30 and put out several publications, mostly to give gamers a reason to buy a d30.

1985: d100
The Zocchihedron Debuts

After three years of design, and three more years of production development, Lou Zocchi finally unleashes the d100 onto the world. Rather than being a true polyhedral, it's more of a ball with flattened planes and is sometimes referred to as "Zocchi's Golfball." Tests by Jason Mills in 1987 and published in White Dwarf magazine showed that at least one of his dice designs for the Zocchihedron had a significantly uneven number distribution. The "improved" Zocchihedron II has generally replaced the original design, as its free-falling teardrop shaped weight allows the new version to "settle" much faster. (BTW, the patent that protected the look of the original Zocchihedron expired on 19 September 2003, in case any of you were looking to start producing your own d100s.)

Honestly, there are some other stories behind dice like the d5, the d34, and crystal dice, but for the sake of this discussion, I don't find them that important, or interesting honestly.

Over at, there's a nice gallery of old dice that shows some nice images of many older dice that have been discovered.

*Joke contributed by David Welborn for all you Gamescience fans.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mac Map c. 1985/6?

I recently found this map I'd created on my friend's Mac 512K back around 1985 or 1986. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing in the world (at the time.)

I still think there's something cool about it. I just wish I could figure out a way to get the same look now. (Somehow, the computer's become too smart and powerful for me to figure out how to get it to not look so smart and powerful.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

d30 Mechanic of the Week: 1E Class Ability Score "Slot" Generation Method

This week's d30 Feature is a d30-based method for generating D&D character class ability scores. It's based on my class attribute score generation method from Magic, Man, Mutants & Machines, the d30-based RPG I've been working on.

I'll admit, this is a tad unbalanced as it tends to generate attribute scores of average and above, but should be comparable to methods like "roll multiple times for each and keeping the highest score for each," and the like. More importantly it bypasses the extraneous dice rolling in those methods.

To download a free PDF of today's chart/mechanic from MediaFire, click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How the Industrial Revolution Inspired the Original Fantasy Game: A Brief Timeline

As a graphic designer and a teacher of graphic design history, I've been familiar with William Morris (no, not the Hollywood agent) for quite some time, but only recently discovered his connection to the roots of the original fantasy game. What follows is a brief timeline of documented connections that links the Industrial Revolution to the birth of RPGs.

c. mid-to-late 1800s: The Industrial Revolution
Due in great part to the development of steam power (fueled primarily by coal), many jobs that were previously performed by manual labor become mechanized. And, as it seems to go in "industrialized" nations, the continuing goal is to get costs (and prices) lower and lower. The long and short of the Industrial Revolution... speed goes up, costs go down, and quality gets thrown out the window. (There's a saying in the business world, "Good, fast and cheap. Pick two.") Like many other products, book design becomes a casualty in the growing world of mass production.

November 1888: Emery Walker Gives an Illustrated Lecture on Printing
Present at the lecture was William Morris who, though interested in printing for quite some time, was inspired both by the lecture (focusing on a return to the quality and dedication to the craft of pre-Industrial Revolution printing) and Walker's collection of 16th century typefaces (from the masters at the birth of the printing industry as a whole.) This evening became the catalyst for Morris's founding of the Kelmscott Press.

1891: William Morris Founds the Kelmscott Press
More important (for this discussion anyway) than Morris's contributions to book and typography design (like the typeface Chaucer), was the subject matter of the books Morris published, some of which were written by Morris himself. In this context, the most important of them is The Story of the Glittering Plain (written and published by Morris in 1891), which is possibly the first modern fantasy story to unite the ordinary world with the supernatural. More importantly, by doing so, Morris broke with a tradition in these types of books, in that they were previously based in real worlds and time periods. Morris was one of the first writers to have his novels take place entirely in a land of fantasy.

c. 1910s: J.R.R. Tolkien Takes Up Writing
Among his many inspirations in poetry, prose and subject matter alike, Tolkien cites the work of William Morris. It was some of these works from which Tolkien took hints for names like "Dead Marshes" and "Mirkwood." Tolkien particularly cites The Well at the World's End (sounds like the name of a module, doesn't it?), written and published by Morris in 1896.

c. 1937/1954-55: The Hobbit is Published/Lord of the Rings is Published
If you're not familiar with this part, you've either been living in a cave under the Misty Mountains or you never venture further than the edge of your shire.

1966-1970: Chainmail, Gygax, Arneson, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda
And this is the part where everybody else comes in.

FOR FURTHER READING (I feel like Lavar Burton should be here for this):
The Story of the Glittering Plain - William Morris, 1894 Kelmscott Press edition
The Well at the World's End, Vol. I - William Morris, 1896
The Well at the World's End, Vol. II - William Morris, 1896

Pictured at top, a Walter Crane illustration from The Story of the Glittering Plain (1894 edition.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A OSR Look Back at "Game Design Vol. I" by Nick Schuessler and Steve Jackson a general rule, the more factors are explicit (that is, separately represented), the more charts and tables you will have, the more "accurate" your game will be, and the less "playable" it will become. If most factors are implicit, your design will be cleaner, play will be faster... and you will have more of a "game" and less of a "simulation."

Written in 1981, Schuessler and Jackson's Game Design Volume 1: Theory and Practice was compiled mostly from columns and articles that ran in The Space Gamer from 1980-81 and, as related by Jackson himself in the introduction, looks at game design from both the practical and theoretical sides.

As far as the balance between wargaming and role-playing, the bulk of the content is very wargame heavy, with the first 11 chapters covering, among other things, historical backgrounds, mapping and movement, terrain, combat and play sequence and components. Only the 3-pages of chapter 12 (out of the book's total 46 pages + ads in the 1st edition) are solely focused on RPG design. Truthfully, though, less than a decade into the life of RPGs as we know them, many of the role-playing games at the time were obviously founded in the industry's wargames roots, so no faults to mssrs. Schuessler and Jackson.

The real point I'm trying to get to here, though, is what's really contained in the italic lead in to this post, and the reason I think a lot of gamers have moved back to the simplicity of some of the earlier game systems. This is actually reiterated even in the tiny RPG chapter in statements like, "The more detail a character-generation system has, the less manageable and more realistic it will be." The other statement that really seems to hammer my point home is, "D&D, with a combat system so rudimentary as to laughable, has proven immensely popular." (I love that... "laughable.")

In 1981/2 when I was getting into D&D, I bought both the BX boxed sets, as well as the AD&D PH, DMG and MM. But when I DM'ed, I usually DM'ed BX for two reasons: 1) it was simpler for my friends and family to "get" (my sister loved playing elves as a class), and 2) it was simpler for me to run. Now, had I bought the AD&D GM screen and stopped needing to flip through the DM guide constantly, maybe this would have been different. I remember specifically running module U1 under BX, rather than 1E as was intended.

In looking back, I think part of the reason I started to fall away from D&D and started "falling into" games like Marvel Superheroes is because I felt like D&D was getting too "burdensome." I started to feel that way about almost every RPG coming out at the time. There were too many rules. And the books were getting thicker! And there were so many volumes and world books! (To this day, I have an aversion to almost every Palladium book I've ever seen for this very reason!) More importantly, it's why I've been so enamored by and overjoyed with the OSR.

In my day, we didn't have 400-page sourcebooks for every freakin' character sub-class... AND WE LIKED IT!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Fight On! Preview

I've contributed a couple of illustrations to the upcoming edition of Fight On! magazine. Editor Ignatius Umlaut is putting together what is certain to be an interesting issue that (I believe) will be featuring a Ken St. Andre solo T&T adventure called "Battle School" and an article (adventure?/source material?) for a place called "Fungus Falls" (which I believe the illustration at left will be accompanying.)

BTW, the illustration is a "a wasted druid hooked on psionic mushrooms."

Monday, November 14, 2011

d30-based RPG Update! (or "Some Old-school Love for the King of Polyhedrals") and "The Nice Price!"

Okay... I know that's a lot to absorb in one blog post title, but I've got a lot to cover, so let's get to it!

First, some old-school love...

So for any of you who read my post on Friday, you know that I mentioned making a great leap forward on my d30-based RPG. I'd been toying around with a form of that mechanic in furtherance of the idea that most pulp heroes are just that... heroes, able to quickly vanquish hirelings and henchmen, and performing most tasks with larger than life artistry and aptitude.

As part of another blog post, I was working on a set of 1E-inspired tables to create "Mutant Humanoids" (hawkmen, crocodile-men, rat-men, et al.) akin to that beloved Saturday-morning cartoon of "savagery, super-science, and sorcery." Now... combine those two thoughts (a d30-based pulp RPG and an OSR approach to that Saturday morning cartoon), and you get "Magic, Men, Mutants & Machines: The d30 RPG of the Mutant Fantasy Future."

And now, the d30-based RPG update...

The game is tentatively retitled Magic, Men, Mutants & Machines (or MMM&M for short, or 4M for shorter. FYI, in the book I use MMM&M as it seems much more tongue-in-cheek.)

The introduction and the character sections are done. There are six character classes: 1. barbarians (men only); 2. Amazons (women only); 3. sorcerers/sorceresses (that's a mouthful); 4. technologians (aka "super-scientists); 5. Stonians (muscle-bound rockmen); and 6. Florm (amorphous utilitarian shape-changers.)

At this point, I expect the combat, magic and technology sections to be simplified/modified pickups/reworks of some the Starmasters* and The System: Expanded content, and I'm hoping to have a beta playtest version in a couple of weeks. (I'm still debating whether to include psionics rules, but I'm leaning towards "no" as they seem out of place in this setting for some reason.)

*On a side note, my co-conspirator David Welborn has been leading the charge on playtesting the Starmasters character and combat rules and it seems to be coming along nicely.

And finally, THE NICE PRICE!!!

I've sized the book a bit smaller than letter size so that it can be printed at Ka-Blam!. I'm planning on selling it at just a fraction above the hard costs, which means you should be able to get a 36-40 page rulebook (and that's a fairly dense copy layout; see the image above) with a B&W white cover for $3.50! If you want the color cover version, it will cost you $5 (+S/H in both cases.) Now, when's the last time you bought a printed RPG rulebook for five bucks? Hell, that's what the original Holmes D&D Blue Book (48 pp. + cover) cost when it came out in 1977! (To keep it truly old-school, I'm considering not releasing a PDF version. Thoughts?)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

OE/BX (Cthulhu-inspired) Module OE1: Call for Playtesters

From the upcoming OE/BX module
OE1: The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond

"The statue stands about twelve feet tall and features what appears as a bipedal elephant with bat wings, an eye on the end of its trunk, a pair of tentacles in place of each of its tusks, and human hands with long claws. It is a truly disturbing vision."

I'm getting closer to having the playtest version ready, thanks to my co-conspirator David Welborn. In general the module is a fairly light one (16 pages + cover/maps) but intended to be an introduction to a longer series (the 2nd of which will be a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl with a big clue/revelation at the end, leading to the showdown in #3.)

Interested in playtesting a free copy? FYI, the module is generally written to accommodate OE (White Box), Holmes Blue Book, B/X or comparable clone rules. Drop me a comment and I'll put you on the list (first come first served; Save vs. Dragon followers get preferred position in the queue), and I'll contact you for snail mail info when I've got beta copies ready. Also, let me know you're preferred ruleset (as it will most likely have a great influence the 2 intended followup modules.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Old/Obscure/Rare RPGs: Oddities from My Collection

In continuation of my weekend postings regarding vintage RPGs and used books stores, (and since most of you guys are too busy gaming to read any meaty blogs until Monday anyway), I've decided to do a short post with a few obscurities and oddities I've managed to end up with my collection of RPGs. I bought Space Infantry new when it came out in the early 80s, but most of the others were picked up used sometime between 1991 and 1999. In general, they're rare, but not impossible to come by (except maybe that 1st edition of The Official Superhero Adventure Game.)

SJG's Killer is currently available in a new print and has been through several editions in several languages. The 1st edition from 1982 (below) used to be much harder to come by, but I've seen several copies floating around ebay lately. The 2nd edition from 1985 is a bit more common. (I think they may have re-published to ride the coattails of the movie Gotcha that same year.)

The 1st ed. of Mechanoid Invasion (below, Palladium's first real RPG) is also a little hard to come by, but the collected Mechanoid Invasion Trilogy is fairly readily available.

As for Omnigon, it's not terribly obscure, but not widely known. Honestly, if it weren't for games like Spawn of Fashan and World of Synnibar being so widely known for being so bad, Omnigon might be better known.

On a side, but related, note if any of you live in Austin (or nearby): A guy from one of the Half-price Books there (S. Lamar location) said that about once a month a woman from Steve Jackson Games comes in an dumps a bunch of old RPG stuff from their archives. (Don't forget to check the vintage/memorabilia section, not just the game shelves. And let me know if you pick up anything cool. I'd already spent my limit the last time I was there, or I would have bought The Compleat Adventurer and The Compleat Alchemist.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

d30 Mechanic of the Week: d6 Result by Rank

This week's d30 Feature was inspired by a combination of the Marvel Superheroes Universal Table and the Fudge adjective scale.

A few days ago when I was prepping this chart/post, the scope of this chart seemed rather limited in that it only represents the effect result (e.g., damage, distance, etc.) as determined normally by a roll of 1d6. It does, however, provide a curved result product based on the "potency/effectiveness" of the acting character and the "resistance" level of the opponent by providing higher results against weaker characters, and lower results against stronger characters (reducing the active character's "effectiveness.") For example, a Legendary (rank: 14) character would normally score 6 pts. out of 6 possible pts. 65+% of the time (on a normal d30 roll on his Legendary "row.") However, a Legendary character has an effective ranking of Feeble (rank: 1) against a Masterful (rank: 13) character, allowing the Legendary character no more than 1 pt. of effect (instead of 6,) and only about 10% of the time.

The more important thing here, however, is that this mechanic inspired me toward making a great leap forward with my d30 Pulp RPG project! Unfortunately, you'll have to wait for Monday's post to get an update on that.

To download a free PDF of today's chart/mechanic from MediaFire, click here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New OE/BX Monster: Dobharchú, Lesser (Water Hound)

MOVE: 12"//18"
% IN LAIR: 20%
DAMAGE: 2-5/2-5/2-12
ALIGNMENT: Neutral (evil)
SIZE: Small (2'-2'6" long)

These nasty creatures often described as "part dog and part fish," dobharchú are actually more akin to dogs and otters rather than fish, and range in color from dark brown to black. In fact, while swimming, they are often mistaken for standard otters, but are far from it, having the strength and ferocity of a much larger animal, and the speed and temperament of wolverines, only faster and more temperamental.

They have a particular taste for the flavor of humans, and will attack them specifically (in deference to other races) for food. They prefer to latch onto their prey with their clutching teeth, then drag a victim into the water until it suffocates, leaving the dobharchú with an inert feast to be devoured.

If discovered in their lair, there will usually be 3-5 dobharchú -- 2 adults, and 1-3 pups/young (40-60% grown.) If a human intruder is present, all will attack. If no human intruder is present, only the adults will attack, but the young will defend themselves.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More "Old School" Art

I just wanted to post a few more John D. Batten images that I love,
all from Indian Fairy Tales published in 1892 (and, no, that's not a typo of "1982.").

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Elbin's Tower

From the upcoming module
OE1 The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond,
an introductory OE/BX OSR adventure
for characters level 1-3.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an old map I'd found that I did in high school in the 80s for a Wizard's Keep. Inspired by that map, as well as the Undertemple map I posted the week before, I decided to write an OE module around them called "The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond." That's where the various new OE/1E monsters have been coming from, including the guardian bramble, canine flesh golem, and (the most recent) stone skeleton.

The maps themselves have been cleaned up and altered slightly (an understatement on the undertemple - which looks completely unrecognizable now.) It includes 4 new monsters (the 3 noted above, plus another) and 12 pre-generated characters. More importantly, it's a "thinking" dungeon (more along the lines of Tomb of Horrors rather than Keep on the Borderlands.) I'm working on all the illustrations now and should have a playtest copy ready in the next couple of weeks.

From the title page: "Something dark and sinister is going on in the area of Fairmoor. A strange mist is descending upon Lightwick Haven and stealing away into the night with the young and innocent women of the village. Rumors are beginning to circulate that an ancient cult, thought to have been long absent, has returned with its sights set upon the destruction of the world. This strange force, whatever it is, must be stopped, and an end put to the nightmarish reign."

Monday, November 7, 2011

New OE/BX Monster: Stone Skeleton

From the upcoming module
OE1 The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond,
an introductory OE/BX OSR adventure
for characters level 1-3.

% IN LAIR: 100%

Stone skeletons appear as standard skeletons and are animated in the standard fashion, but the bones of the corpse have fossilized. This fossilization of their bones gives stone skeletons a slightly higher armor class and and a bonus to their hit dice over standard skeletons, but it also makes them slightly slower.

As per normal skeletons, stone skeletons are undead and, therefore, immune to sleep, charm and mind reading spells, and can be turned by a good cleric. Similar to golems, their commands can be suspended and "triggered."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

d30 Bonus Edition: "Vintage" To Hit Area Chart (1983)

So while looking through some of my old gaming materials (and by old, I mean early 1980s,) I came across this beauty... a d30 Hit Area Chart I developed sometime during my freshman year of high school. The timing is fairly ironic since one of my recent d30 features was a hit-area determination chart. It's more interesting to see how my thought processes are hauntingly similar nearly 30 years later. (It could also be there's only so much you can do with a d30 hit-area determination chart.)

The old chart has some obvious shortcomings. First, the attacker's height roll adjustments should probably be broken into more than 1' increments. Second, it only accounts for a target of average adult human height. Third, the 2nd direction should probably read, "If different parts of the body are armored differently, the attacker should roll for hit area first, then roll 'to hit' based on the AC of the target area, then roll for damage if a successful 'to hit' roll is made." And fourth, I should have probably added rules (based on damage per body part) for losing use of the part altogether vs. 1d4 minutes. But, all-in-all, I wouldn't say it's too shabby for a ninth grader who didn't even have his learner's permit yet.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: Stan Lee's How to Draw Comics

So I saw this book recently at my local gaming/comic shop and thought I'd do a quick review, so here it is...

I give this book five fingers (all middle.)

I can sum up everything Stan Lee knows about drawing comics books in seven words - "Hire great artists. Keep all the cash." It's as simple as that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

d30 Chart of the Week: Off-course Determination

This week's d30 Feature presents charts for determining off-course navigation (could be for sea, land or sky/space; depending on your system and setting.) Although the chart shows a hex base underneath, it should work equally well for any square-based mapping (e.g., Traveller.)

To download a free PDF from MediaFire, click here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Discovered Dungeons: Wolvesey Castle - Ground Floor

Today's Discovered Dungeon is again, not a dungeon, in that it's a castle, and not so much discovered (per the first two posts in this series) as it is "interpreted." It's my interpretation of the ground floor of the caslte, based on the actual ruins of Wolvesey Castle near Winchester Cathedral in the UK, and the scale of the drawing should reflect the dimensions of the actual castle (where 1 square = 10'.) I'm planning to finish this out at some point with a parapet level, as well as an in-ground level, and below ground (i.e. "dungeon") level, the latter two of which will be completely invented.

To download a free PDF of this map from MediaFire, click here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Really Old Old-School Artist: John D. Batten

Okay, before you read any further, any guesses as to who did this illustration?

It does have that Larry Elmore juno se qua, doesn't it? Well, it's not Larry's.

The old school artist who did this illustration of the fairy tale "The Wooing of Olwen" is John D. Batten. He was born in 1860 and died in 1932. That makes him a REALLY old school artist.

I discovered Batten's work while trolling Wikimedia Commons searching for images for The System earlier this year.

This image is from The Book of Wonder Voyages, a volume by Jason Jacobs, a collection of English, Celtic, Indian, and other European fairy and folk tales.

Just look at this baby... it could have been an OD&D module cover alongside the original 2-color Tomb of Horrors, or the early G Modules.

This one is another one from The Book of Wonder Voyages, and looks like it's straight out of the 1e AD&D Monster Manual.

You can probably see why I relied so heavily on so many images from Batten when I put together The System. It was a way of inexpensively achieving an old-school illustration look by going really old school.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Illustration of the Week: 2 Starmasters Creatures

These are actually creatures from the Starmasters old-school sci-fi game I'm working on, but I'm considering adding OD&D/1e stats for them and posting those in the next couple of days.

Both images ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. These images are NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!