Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Look Back

For nearly a month now, I have actually been planning a 2013 retrospective post for today. I guess we all find ourselves at that same place, given the number of similar posts I've seen over the last few days. Following are some of the highlights of my blogging year 2013.

Just a disclaimer: although below you'll see me talk about some products I released, one thing on which I've learned not to concentrate is sales and downloads. If they happen, I'm happy and gracious they do. And being in a creative field (graphic design by trade), my skin thickened to a natural (descending) AC of 0 some twenty or so years ago, so bad reviews or lack of interest don't phase me... much.

d30 Sandbox Companion
Of all the things I've done in the past year, the thing I'm easily most proud of is the d30 Sandbox Companion. In fact, it may be the thing of which I'm most proud since launching this blog. But I have to give props where props are due. I can 100% most assuredly say that if it weren't for Welbo's assistance, this might not have happened. If you can find a statistics-savvy, obsessive compulsive editor, I highly recommend it. It might mean things take a little longer to get done, but it also means you can feel safe that you've thoroughly thought through the end-user experience and how 30-sided math backs that up, not to mention editing content so that my sometimes semi-Gygaxian prose actually makes sense. I also have to thank all of you for this...

I can disclaim all I want about the numbers not being important to me, but... damn, that makes me feel good (no pun intended about the #2 listing in the image above).

Valley of the Five Fires
I'd like to think that everything I do is a passion project, but Valley of the Five Fires was almost more of an obsession project. I started back in 2012 with a couple of Mongol-inspired monsters for William Dowie's Mongol-themed adventure contest, and before I knew it, I was creating a Mongol-inspired sandbox setting complete with new armor, weapons information, a bunch of new monsters, pre-gen NPCs, background info on the region, and a bunch of smaller, self-contained adventures. This was really one of those things that just got out of hand very quickly and, like a painter and his painting, I just sort of had to see it to its end. I'm also extremely proud of this, even though I realize that anything that steps outside of the Tolkien-esque world of most RPGs is not everyone's cup of tea.

The Ogress of Anubis
I'll be honest. I really don't remember how the hell this thing started. I got back from the North Texas RPG Con revved up from the experience, and was waiting on proof print copies of Valley of the Five Fires, and just sort of banged this out. I ran a quick playtest session, made some tweaks, and released it. Imagine my surprise when I saw a post on the RPG.net forums listing Ogress of Anubis as one of his favorite 3 OSR adventures/modules. I've put some preliminary work together on a continuation adventure tentatively titled Viziers of the Shadow City, but I'm guessing it will be 2015 before it sees print (though I imagine it will see some tableplay late in 2014).

And so on...
This wasn't everything, of course. I published my first zine (albeit digital only), I put out a whole bunch of new monsters, and I continued my goal of featuring artists from the golden age of illustration. Not to mention, at the North Texas RPG Con, I got to play in a test for Michael Curtis's RPG Shiverwhen, and I survived (and got killed) by James Ward.

I've also got a bunch of stuff planned for 2014. But if you want to find out about those, you'll have to wait for tomorrow's post.

Monday, December 30, 2013

d30 Sandbox Companion Now Available in Print & PDF

Yes, Virginia, there is a d30 Sandbox Companion, and it is available now (December 30, 2013)
in print from Lulu.com at an introductory price of $9.86 (on sale from $10.95),
and as a PDF from RPGNow.com at an introductory price of $4.95 (on sale from $5.95).

The special pricing above will
be good until January 30th, 2014.

If you buy a print copy,
send proof of your Lulu.com order to d30SBPrint@newbigdragon.com
and I'll send you a free PDF copy
(via RPGNow).

The final came in at 52 pages,
and below you'll find the complete
Table of Contents.

Using This Book
Wilderness Mapping Key
Hex Crawl Worksheet
Settlement Worksheet
NPC Record Sheet

Adventure Generator Tables I
Adventure Generator Tables II

Prevailing Weather Conditions
(by Season, Climate, and Terrain)
Weather Events (by Precipitation Class)
Off-course Determination
Foraging & Hunting (by Terrain & Season)
Natural Features & Phenomena (by Terrain Type)
Natural Features & Phenomena Definitions
Settlements & Inhabitation by Population Density
Ruins Generator
Temple Generator
Cult Generator
Magical Places Generator
Pilgrims Generator
Road Encounters
Castle/Keep/Stronghold Generator I:
Owner and Patrol Size/Makeup
Castle/Keep/Stronghold Generator II:
Type, Size, and Construction
Heraldry Generator
Expanded Heraldry Charges/Sigils

Settlement Background
Assorted Settlement Encounters
City Guards, City Watch, Border Patrols
Methods of Torture & Execution
Settlement Suppliers by Size of Settlement
Shop & Shopkeeper Information
Tavern Name Generator
Tavern Accommodations, Features,
Reputation, and Food

Classed NPCs: Class, Race,
Sex, and Level Determination
Classed NPCs: Quick Ability Score Generation
Classed NPCs: Quick Character Inventory
Classed NPCs: Quick Magic Item Determination
NPC Occupations
Nobles and Noble Household Personnel
Sage Generator
NPC Physical Traits
NPC Persona & Behavior
NPC Background, Eccentricities, and Talents
NPC Language Determination
Henchmen/Hirelings Recruitment
Reactions to Offers of Employment
Henchmen/Hirelings Recruitment Modifiers
Retainer Loyalty


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Obsolete Simulations Roundup:
The Official Superhero Adventure Game

The Obsolete Simulations Roundup is the brainchild of Tim Snider of the Savage Afterworld blog. For an overview of this bloghop, read Tim's initial post that kicked it off. I also encourage you to hop on over to the other participating blogs (links to which may be found at the bottom of this post).

In the 90s, I was picking up used RPGs left and right at Half Price Books. Not only did I score copies of the original three LBBs for about five bucks total, I also picked up a little beauty known as The Official Superhero Adventure Game for $3.98 plus tax. Though I know of a handful of people that own this game, I'm not sure anyone has seen a copy of this game for sale in the last ten years. About a year-and-a-half ago, I did try to track down the original designer of this game (Brian Phillips).

My goal was to convince him to let me scan the book and help him re-release it (a la Wizards' World), but to no avail. I do have a new lead I'm pursuing and, should it bear fruit, you will all be the first to know.

Okay, so enough rambling about my extreme luck in acquiring this now extremely rare item. Let's get down to the nitty gritty... the game itself.

As it's been noted in a couple of other reviews (reviews from the game's original release noted in a blogpost by Christian Lindke), TOSAG is light on the role-playing and heavy on the combat. But this should be expected of designer Brian Phillips, whose greatest game design fame really came later with the 1988 publication of his Napoleonic wargame rules In the Age of Napoleon.

Even from a character and powers standpoint, the rules are pretty stripped down. Compared to Villains & Vigilantes (which predates it by 3 years) and especially Champions (which predates it by 1 year), the selection of powers and the limits of what they can do seem downright "pulpy." Even the heroes and villains created for the game by Phillips and his "Creative Consultants" (as they're listed on the title page), feel more like the ones you'd find in Golden Age pulp comics, especially as envisioned by artist David Ruhe, who brings them to life in the pages of TOSAG.

In some ways, the book feels more like a glimpse into the campaign world created by Phillips and his compatriots, rather than a game written to be played by others. But it's that homebrew feeling that gives TOSAG its charm. With hero names like Atomic Man and Mask (who, BTW, looks a lot like the Watchmen's Rorschach, only without the patterns on his face) and villains like Black Angel and Fascist Gladiator, that pulp vibe I mentioned earlier is reinforced. The production value supports this as well, with the entire thing appearing to have been typed on an IBM Selectric.

Given all the above, you can see how this game just couldn't grab a foothold. Yes, it was part of the first wave of Superhero games, but it was late to the game. Add in the lower production value and its focus on combat, and it's easy to see why it didn't stand much of a chance.

There was talk a few years back on a miniatures board by one of Phillips's friends that a second edition was in the works (playtested, ready to go, and in need of an artist and production help), but I fear the only interest in this game name now would be as a reprint of the original (much in the vein of Wizards' World).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Post #500!!!

When I started this blog back just 2 years, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days ago, I had no idea I would find myself writing post #500 so soon.

I want to thank all of you for following, reading, commenting, lurking, or whatever it is you do that feeds the spirit of this blog. I know there are more than just the 152 of you following via blogger, and I want you to know your patronage does not go unappreciated.

I was going to get into a whole "State of the Union" thing here, but I really don't want to detract from my appreciation, so I'll save all that for a new year's post, or individual posts over the next few weeks, and just tell you that I'm proud to be a part of such a cool circle of folks that provide a mutual appreciation, admiration, and support of one another.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Popular tales and romances of the northern nations

I'd like to point your attention to a neat old public domain book (more properly "books") I came across while scouring through Archive.org entitled Popular tales and romances of the northern nations. It's a 3-volume set of stories collected from Germany, translated and published in England in 1823 (links to each volume via the column headers below).

The Treasure-seeker
The Bottle-Imp
The Sorcerers
The Enchanted Castle
Wake not the Dead
Auburn Eggbert
The Spectre Barber
The Magic Dollar
The Collier's Family
The Victim of Priestcraft
The Field of Terror
The Tale
The Fatal Marksman
The Hoard of the Nibelungen
The Erl-King's Daughter

Volume I starts off with a story titled "The Treasure-seeker" (an illustration for which graces the title page of the volume). The story begins as an old man recounts a story from his earlier life. He was a destitute child--a begger--to whom appears a spectre calling himself "the Treasure-Keeper of the Harz." This spirit requests the storyteller follow him to find a treasure. Tell me this passage doesn't sound like something right out of a game...

"Proceed...towards St. Andrew's mountain, and there enquire for the Black Kin's valley; or as it now called, the Morgenbrodsthal. When arrived at a brook, named the Duder, follow its track, against the current, until thou reachest a stone bridge, hard by a saw-mill. Pass not, however, over the bridge, but still continue to advance with the stream on the right hand, until thou seest before thee a steep rocky crag. A bow shot distance from this, though wilt perceive a hollow, resembling a grave prepared for a dead body. Do not fear, but clear it without apprehension, although thou wilt find it no very easy labour: thou wilt perceive that is has been filled up with earth intentionally. Having now discovered a stone wall on either side, proceed manfully in thy work, and thou wilt soon meet with a square flat stone, built into the wall, and about a yard in height and breadth. This being wrested out, thou wilt be at the entrance of the vault where the treasure is deposited."

The spectre's description goes on to pretty much flesh out the vault for the DM, noting where the wrong turn leads to vipers, and where not being prepared will extinguish lanterns, etc.

Not to mislead you, the entirety of the story is not like this. Nor are all of the stories. In fact, an 1823 review appearing in Blackwood’s Magazine described Popular tales and romances of the northern nations as "a disappointing publication more likely to do more harm than good to the cause of German literature, there being no discrimination in the choice of the pieces...and little sign of competence in the [anonymous] translations."1 But, from what I've read so far, there are some okay reads here, and the occasional kernel of an idea for game use. Note, however, some of these stories appear in better versions elsewhere (e.g., "The Treasure Seeker" appears in Andrew Lang's Crimson Fairy Book, and is a much better-written version, not to mention it's illustrated by OSR-public-domain-favorite Henry Justice Ford.)

1. De Quincey's Gothic Masquerade. By Patrick Bridgwater. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. 2005.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Clearinghouse Post #2: Moving Beyond the Terms "Old-school" and "Renaissance"

As I near my 500th post in the next week or so, and in an effort to get rid of a few draft posts that will give me an inaccurate count of published posts (which I'd rather not count in that 500), I'm running a quick series of blog posts as attempt to "clean house." These posts may not be fully formed, or even make total sense, but did not want to delete/dismiss them entirely.

Moving Beyond the Terms "Old-school" and "Renaissance"

Honestly, this post has been languishing unwritten in my post queue for quite some time. But a post from a couple of days ago by Tim Snider at Savage Afterworld coincides nicely with my "clearinghouse" efforts.

Having been in the business of marketing and branding for almost 25 years, the duty often falls on me to "think beyond" on behalf of both the client and the consumer. That is, I have to attempt to think the way now that others will think in the future. Please don't think I fancy myself some sort of seer or prophet. I'm just a guy who always looks ahead to see where the road his clients are traveling will take them.

Now, I could get into a diatribe here about how anything retro, old-school, or nostalgic has to appeal to a younger audience in a different way for it to survive. I could also talk about how the word renaissance means "rebirth" and what this older style of role-playing needs in order to survive beyond us old fogies is actually a "new birth" (as opposed to a re-hash). Or I could get right to my thoughts on some new or altered terms for what it is we love about the versions and types of games we play.

While I like the term Original Style Role-playing, it doesn't solve my deeper issues with the OSR terminology. I think I've only seen "original style role-playing" used once or twice (e.g., in a review of the recent PDF release of Moldvay Red). I also like the term Proto Style Role-playing. The problem with both of these, however, is that they still imply "old" vs. "new."

So a side story about the name New Big Dragon. It actually began as the name for the design/advertising/branding company I co-founded in 2000 (the year of the dragon). I took a queue for the name from a restaurant in Dallas called New Big Wong (in fact, I used to get phone calls for orders because information would give out our phone number on accident). The intention for New Big Dragon was that it not sound like an ad agency, and that it implied more of a film production or entertainment company (which is obviously where I sort of find myself using it now). I like that the name included the word "New"... because it will always sound new to me, no matter how old it becomes. I've been using this name now for almost 14 years!!! And I still love it as much as the day I thought it up. Yes, I digress, but in an effort to make my point. So back to topic-

I'm about to tell you the same thing I tell clients when it's time to change their tagline, logo, or even name... If you want to find that new and better thing, there can be no sacred cows! So what does that mean for us? I believe the thing we need to be ready to accept as a movement is that we should not be attempting to redefine the meaning of OSR or the words those letters stand for. Instead, we should be attempting to find a new (additional?) term that supercedes the term OSR (which doesn't necessarily have to get lost or thrown away, but simply added to).

I'll tell you a word that I like. I like the word "roots" (like "roots music"). I like that the term "roots roleplaying" affords the OSR RPG genre a mystique akin to musicians that fall into this category from old to new, like The Band and Wilco, respectively. I like that it circumvents the things I don't like about OSR; e.g., OSR implies I'm a nostalgic old fart (which I am); more importantly, it reinforces that stereotype with younger players. I also like that the term "roots roleplaying" doesn't immediately imply "revisiting an old system" or "cloning an old ruleset." I like that it feels pluralist, and includes everything from Traveller to Marvel Super Heroes to D&D (of course), and even RPG style "board" games like Citadel of Blood. I also like that it implies an approach to role-playing, rather than simply a style of rules (you know, everything Matt Finch wrote about in his Quick Primer for Old School Gaming).

So there you go. That's my ¢2... right now I like the term "roots roleplaying."

But I could wake up tomorrow and hate it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Clearinghouse Post #1: The Three Os of GM'ing

As I near my 500th post in the next week or so, and in an effort to get rid of a few draft posts that will give me an inaccurate count of published posts (which I'd rather not count in that 500), I'm running a quick series of blog posts as attempt to "clean house." These posts may not be fully formed, or even make total sense, but did not want to delete/dismiss them entirely.

The Three O's of GM'ing: Obstacles, Opponents, and Objects

Back in the mid-90s, during my anime fascination period, I was working on an Anime RPG originally entitled Gokko (the Japanese word for a game of make believe). I believe that, since that time, there actually might have been a manga produced with the same title, but having lost my interest in the genre, I really wouldn't know. I've written about Gokko before, only it was called by its new title, StoryCode AG. I actually shared the Gokko character generation tables, as well as some sketches for the interior art.

One of the things I was particularly proud of in Gokko (which could still one day see the light of day as the StoryCode AG RPG) was boiling the GM information down into small digestible "chunks." This includes "The Three Os."

The following is from a draft edition...

For the most part, anything a normal-sized character will come up against will be able to be detailed within the characteristics described by the basic GOKKO rules. These things will usually fall into one of three categories: Obstacles, Opponents and Objects.

Obstacles are typically inanimate, or autonimically animate, items that operate of their own accord. Some examples of Obstacles are a slimy wall that has to be climbed, a giant razor trap to be detected and disarmed and an ice-covered lake that must be crossed. (This section goes on to talk about appearance, interaction, and resolution.)

While Opponents take slightly more effort to create than Obstacles, they should seem slightly more familiar. After all, Opponents are simply NPCs that are specifically enemies of the PCs. Opponents fall into three categories that not only describe their importance to the story, but also the relative threat they present to the PCs. The three Opponent types are: Disposables, Baddies and Supreme MVs. (This section goes on to talk about the different types, the challenge level they should present, and the number of each that should appear. BTW, "Supreme MV" stands for "Supreme Master Villain"; I took pride in creating several anime-isms throughout the rulebook... you know... just putting the pussy on the chain wax.)

Objects, as a category, encompasses a number of different types of items that all have one thing in common – Objects are physical items that respond to the commands, or are used by, a character. This ranges from a magic wand to a suit of body armor. (The content in this section is short, but features two examples of constructing mecha; an entirely separate book for mecha and mecha combat was planned.)

So here's the question for discussion...
"Does a modified form of this cover everything that one might find in an adventure on the way to achieving one's goal (apart from the actual environment, which is the meta "container" for the three Os)?"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Congrats to the New Big Recipients of
Tenkar's OSR 12 Days of Christmas

Congrats to Moe Tousignant and Robert Morris for being selected to receive the New Big Dragon adventures I donated to yesterday's 12 days of OSR Christmas over at Tenkar's Tavern. Moe will be receiving a print copy of TM1: The Ogress of Anubis and Robert will be receiving a print copy of VA1: Valley of the Five Fires.

As a super-secret bonus to both these guys, they're going to each also receive a "PRE-RELEASE" PRINT EDITION OF THE d30 SANDBOX COMPANION !!!!!. (BTW, if all goes as planned, the PDF and print copies will be available to all beginning Monday, December 29th!!!)

Moe and Robert, if you're reading this, please go ahead and check in with Erik and send him your contact information (which he'll forward to me). This will let him keep track of who has received what, and make sure everyone is taken care of.


And since the d30 Sandbox Companion should be available to all in less than 10 days...
aren't we all winners?

Friday, December 20, 2013

If you haven't been getting in on all this free stuff,
you need to! (Free d30 Sandbox Companion?)

Hopefully, all of you aware of Erik Tenkar's 12 days of OSR Christmas over at Tenkar's Tavern. Today is day 8 (started last night) and I've donated print copies of my adventures The Ogress of Anubis and The Valley of the Five Fires. All you have to do is go over to Tenkar's Tavern and comment on the post (by 8 p.m. EST tonight) and Erik will randomly pick a winner. This is one of the few print prizes that will be shipping internationally! I also just emailed Erik to let him know that if today's winner is the continental U.S., I'M GOING TO THROW IN A "PRE-RELEASE" PRINT EDITION OF THE d30 SANDBOX COMPANION !!!!!.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I put my name in the hat for Tim Snider's
The Obsolete Simulations Roundup

Tim Snider over at The Savage Afterworld is hosting a bloghop on December 29th entitled The Obsolete Simulations Roundup wherein OSR bloggers "trumpet the praises of their favorite, forgotten, classic RPGs." I'll be covering what might be the most obscure superhero RPG on the planet, Brian Phillips' The Official Superhero Adventure Game from 1981. How obscure? Well, let's just say it didn't make the cut for the History of Superhero RPGs series over at the Age of Ravens blog.

Check out a few other rare/obscure
things from my RPG collection. >>

Read how the obscure Sci-fi RPG
Space Infantry inspired me
to write my own RPG in the mid-80s. >>

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New U.S. Spy Satellite Logo is a bit too
"Cthulhu-esque" for my Peace-of-Mind

I've long been a big conspiracy theorist. For example, I believe the JFK assassination was a plot to keep alien technology gleaned from Area 51 in the hands of government contractors (instead of the public).

So is it surprising that I believe something sinister, nay... LOVECRAFTIAN may be at work behind the NRO? That's just my theory. The new NROL-39 logo does, however, smack of James Bond's nemesis SPECTRE and 1950s anti-communist propaganda.

Read the article here.>>

Monday, December 9, 2013

Feeling a bit nomadic...

Nicholas Roerich. Mongolia. 1938. Tempera on canvas. State Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow, Russia.

I normally try not to post personal stuff, so I'm going to do my best to wrap this back into gaming by the end.

As many of you know, I'm a Dallasite. We, like many others, have been victims of winter storm Cleon. My sister facebooked the other night... "Jim Cantore is in Dallas. You're screwed." I spoke a client of mine in NYC on Friday morning and started the sentence, "Jim Cantore's in Dallas—,” which he promptly completed with “You're screwed."

I was going to give the play-by-play from day-to-day, but I'll give you the Readers Digest version instead...

Friday morning, I woke up really early, and was in front of the computer by 5:30 a.m. I had JUST started scanning and retouching the final illustrations for the d30 Sandbox Companion when the power went out (about 6 a.m.) My wife and I spent the morning at home, then headed to my brother's that afternoon. He lives 6 blocks from me, but still had power. At 6 p.m., HIS power went out. My wife and I scrambled to find a hotel room and get the dogs boarded, so we hauled our stuff (most of which was packed in a big, blue Ikea bag) and braved the icy roads to get to the closest decent place we could find a room (which was not that close).

Since then, it's been a wait-and-see game with electric service folks and the other contractor's they've called from the surrounding areas (including Alabama?) fighting to service what must be hundreds and hundreds of downed lines in the area (due to icy limbs on trees which have come crashing down).

On Saturday night, we moved to a hotel closer to the house. We checked out Sunday morning and hoped for the best. When dusk started to fall, we got word from our neighbor it might be DAYS before power to our orphan of a cul-de-sac is restored. We live in a weird space where many of the lines come in through overgrown back alleys and not close enough to major intersections to warrant more attention).

Sunday night, we went by the house, got my desktop computer (so I could actually continue to service my clients' needs as the week begins) and headed back to hotel numero dos. Same hotel as Saturday night, but different room. At this point, the plan is to stay here at least another day, and hope we don't find ourselves wasting money on leaving past the accepted cancellation deadline. (My wife and I are very lucky to be able to make a bit of a "vacation" out of this.)

I am craving stability. With my wife and my sad Ikea-bagged necessities, my thoughts have been on the nomads of Mongolia.

When I researched and wrote Valley of the Five Fires, I spent a lot of time researching yurts and gers. I trust William over at Ramblings of a Great Khan when he says, “Yurts are kind of a pain in the ass to set up." But he also says, they are the "palaces of the world." They provide this tremendous sense of stability for a nomadic peoples. The door always faces south, the west interior is reserved for the males and tools, the east interior is reserved for females and cooking accoutrements, and the north interior is reserved for elders and others as the place of honor. In the center is the stove that warms them. Around the walls and over the floors are the blankets that insulate the yurt. Everything has its place, no matter in which part of the steppe these travlers find themselves.

Given the last few days, I can appreciate that stability.

My bed faced west on Friday, north on Saturday, and south on Sunday.

At least there's always a coffee maker in the room. That seems to help.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So close...

The weather charts and hireling/henchmen pages have been rewritten/reworked and the index (below) has been completed. (BTW, rewriting one small paragraph on the weather page took about an hour!) All that's left now are a few illustrations, the back cover copy, a round of spellchecking, and a round of proofreading.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Really Old Old-School Artist: A. Garth Jones

Every so often, I get lucky and stumble across a really old old-school artist of whom I've never heard. In the case of (Alfred) Garth Jones, I found his name in a minor entry in Modern Book Illustrators and Their Work—which in a few weeks will be officially 100 years old, so... uh... not so modern now as when the book was published. This is a book I've used before as a starting point for seeking out more really old old-school art. Somehow, I've heretofore missed the mention of Garth Jones. It's no wonder, though. Take a look at the book yourself, and you'll see how much great illustration is in there, and how you could research any number of artist represented therein, and not realize you'd missed a couple.

I happened to get the Google ebook result for this book (as opposed to the Archive.org link above) while searching for another illustrator's work (but at this point I couldn't tell you who that was). A short paragraph that begins on page 11 and finishes up on page 12 speaks of illustrations for "Poetry, fantasy, and romance." Jones's name is mentioned alongside the likes of Edmund Dulac, Byam Shaw, and OSR favorite John D. Batten.

Just a couple of biography bullet points and I'll get on to showing some of Jones's work.
Jones starting using his middle name of Garth (Alfred is his given name) to distinguish himself from artists with similar names. (Although I can't find specifics, I would imagine this includes Edward Burne-Jones, Alfred Roller.)

Demand for his work as a book illustrator declined after World War I. (In an age where folks like Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok were creating new dialects for the evolving language of illustration, I imagine that Jones's style was become a bit unfashionable.)

Compared to the quantity of work Jones produced before World War I, his post-WWI output seems to pale by comparison.

I love the look of the penwork, and how even his pen and ink feels like woodcut.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Tree Wizards... Friend or Foe of Ents?

So the other day, my wife and I were having dinner at the Tex-Mex joint around the corner from our house. And, as usual, we perusing our neighborhood edition of The Coffee News, looking for the little man they hide in one of the ads, when lo-and-behold, I came across this ad. Yes. That's right. The ad for the "Tree Wizards" featuring this little ent illustration. I just have to wonder, what would this ent say if Gandalf were coming at him with a chainsaw?

Monday, December 2, 2013

New Acquisition, circa 1984:
Time & Time Again (Time Travel RPG)

I love when I pick up something old and moderately obscure for next to nothing. Friday morning's find is Timeline Ltd.'s time-traveling RPG Time & Time Again. Timeline Ltd. is the company behind The Morrow Project, the RPG in which players rebuild after WWIII.

The first thing that struck me about T&TA is that game mechanics don't start until exactly halfway through Book I (Book I includes the following: Temporal Physics, Bureau of Temporal Affairs, World Governement, Character Generation, Armed and Unarmed Combat, Skills, and Voltageur's Tales). Literally, on the right-hand page on the spread where you see the staples, the game mechanics begin.

The first half of Book I deals with the background on the setting, including an account of the political and military events of the late 80s and early 90s (written in 1984; have I mentioned my fondness for early 80s near-future predictions where the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are the two superpowers?), an overview of "time translation" and the use of time travel, an overview of the The World Government (the former United Nations had failed its purpose), and information about The Bureau of Temporal Affairs where legions of paramilitary Votigeurs (a name taken from a type of Napoleonic skirmish unit) are sent on time travel missions. There is a lot of care taken in the reasoning behind the game's time translation methods to do as much as possible to eliminate the paradoxes that plague time travel fiction across the board (e.g., theories as to why the past can't be changed but the future can, rules for meeting one's self, "science" to explain why you can't be accidentally transported inside another object, etc.).

Voltigeur's undertake a variety of missions, including: 1) initial contact (with cultures), 2) follow-up (after a contact mission), 3) observance, 4) escort, 5) rescue, 6) sojourn (dangerous missions of observance and learning in "bad times" where little contact is maintained; e.g., during the plague), and 7) eradication. That last one is the most interesting to me. In a game where changing past events should be theoretically impossible, there are factions attempting to change the past anyway. Eradication missions send Voltigeurs to deal with these troublemakers. Honestly, other than that last mission type, the majority of the time travel in the game is educational in nature (the World Government is also responsible for being a fulcrum of academic learning). Although the focus on time travel seems to be focused on the past, travel to the future is possible as well.

This brings us to the staples in Book I, and the second thing that struck me about T&TA... the game mechanics use a d200 system. Yes! A d200 system! The book suggests three ways to achieve a result from 1-200:
1) a d20 numbered 0-19 and a d10 numbered 0-9
2) a d20 numbered 1-20 and a d10 (requires subtracting 1 from every d20 roll)
3) two d20s numbered 1-20 (requires subtracting 1 from each of the d20 rolls)
This d200 system doesn't seem to facilitate anything that couldn't be done equally as well using a d100 system. So I have to ask, "Uh... why?" My guess is because they were trying to do use the Chaosium system without obviously using the Chaosium system. Welbo (a fan The Morrow Project) tells me some editions of The Morrow Project directly reference Chaosium's BRP system.

So if the d200 thing wasn't enough, "structure points/blood points" are divided by percentages into 12 total body parts. The 19% given to each leg includes sub-percentages for the thigh, calf, foot, hip joint, and knee! This same set of percentages comes directly from The Morrow Project. Don't get me wrong, I think there are times with this kind of simulationist detail is worthwhile, but here it seems unnecessarily cumbersome.

Book I ends up with some "Voltigeur’s Tales"—a group of first-person stories meant to give you a feel for role-playing a character personality in the context of the various mission types. It shows how even the simplest missions can be dangerous (e.g., an ambush in the dark by samurai armed with poisoned arrows), and sets up where this game can take you.

Book II is really the GM's book. It deals with climate, terrain, animals, economics, technology, transportation, government & politics, and ethics & etiquette. It's part textbook and part adventure recipe book. It gives little hints here and there how even the simplest missions can go wrong (e.g., even if the Voltigeur's are taught a language before they go somewhere, they won't speak it the same way as the people living there). There's some nice stuff here, but it appears to be only slightly less inviting to read than the first edition DMG.

Will I run this?
Not anytime soon. I've got other things WAY in front of it in the queue.

Did I get anything out of it?
Yes. One tiny-little-thing that I think might work for The System: Expanded.

Was it worth the purchase?
Hell yes! It's old and it's cool and it represents a time when putting out anything like this was a major undertaking of time and expense, and I cannot help but appreciate that.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Another 24-Hour RPG Design Opportunity Missed

For years, I've had intentions of participating in the 24-Hour RPG Design Contest. This year's theme "Harder than Granite" was of particular interest to me. With the scale being limited to a pocketmod format, I thought, "Surely, I can find the 4-5 hours I might need to pull this off, since in the past finding 24-hours proved difficult." But, as many of you may have read in yesterday's blog post, life conspired against me. BTW, in addition to the size limitations, the other thing that made this theme "harder than granite" was the rule that the game could not use numbers!

I've had a chance to check out a few of the entries. As subject matter goes, they're seem to be pretty standard fair. Because this year's theme was driven by format and mechanics, that seems to be where the entrants' work was focused. In the past, subject-based themes seem to have proved for more ingenious game subjects/worlds.

A couple of years ago for the "Movie Mashup" theme, I'd plans for writing an RPG mashing up Apocalypse Now and The Blues Brothers entitled Apocalypse Blues, wherein all missions would be missions from God. Not sure what happened to my time that year. Same as always, I'm sure. BTW, The winner that year was The Droog Family Songbook, a mashup of A Clockwork Orange and The Sound of Music; it can be downloaded from this page. >>