Monday, March 30, 2009

Now This Is My Kind of Party!

Bring your own wineskin and iron rations...

Thanks to a recent post over on Dungeonskull Mountain, I have been introduced to an "old-school" product I'd somehow missed before now: The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album. (Don't get me started on that title.) I was fairly certain until reading said post that between my physical and electronic libraries, I had every early TSR D&D product ever published. Turns out, the Coloring Album had somehow eluded my notice.

Thankfully, this has been rectified. I'm not only thankful because of what this means for the completeness of my collection, however. It turns out this product is, IMHO, one of the coolest things TSR ever produced for D&D. (Hey, it was even cool enough to inspire a 3E-era knock-off.)

The book was published in '79, which means it predates my entry into this hobby by two years. But it's chock full of illustrations that could very well have been inspired by the exploits of the parties of adventurers my nephew and I marched into dungeon after dungeon back in the day. Flipping through this beauty is like skipping down memory lane - carrying a torch in one hand and a sword +2 in the other, of course.

I'm not here to review the book, to extol its virtues, or to indulge in any sort of critical analysis of it or its ultimate meaning in today's gaming industry. The real reason for the post is to point out the thing that struck me the most about it: its back cover. Or, more precisely, the depiction thereupon of what the book's creators (presumably) considered to be an average adventuring party:


Talk about a difference. The gulf between today's average depiction of adventurers and those of yesteryear is immense. No small, elite unit of buff, quasi-super-heroic types in this depiction - just a large troupe (small army?) of grim, determined (perhaps even cutthroat) meatbags, equipped to the gills for a good dungeon delve; some of whom* look as likely to kill their "friends" and take their stuff as they are to do so to the denizens of the dungeon. And I'm guessing that only the foremost four or five characters are meant to be PC's. The rest - the faceless horde in the back - are most likely the party's retainers, hirelings, and henchmen.

Yep, this is what I think of when I think "party of adventurers."

*Check out the guy behind the wizard - a shifty, untrustworthy type. (You can tell because he's looking sideways.)
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Minions! I Need More Minions!

Ah, who am I kidding? I'd settle for a single starter minion. /smirk

Things are busybusybusy IRL ("in real life" for those who are net-speak challenged), but I feel obligated to post something to keep things rolling around here. Besides: spring is in the air - you know, the time of year when a young man's fancy turns to love (or so They say).

Of course, not being a young man anymore (I wish) and never having been one to put much stock in what They say, I find that this time of year my fancy turns to... horror and madness. Specifically, I'm finding myself ruminating on the idea of running a Call of Cthulhu campaign. (Probably "Masks of Nyarlathotep" - a direction in which I'm leaning thanks to Badmike's recent post on this very topic.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, I'm a big fan of the game, but I like to use the third-edition incarnation of the system. In that post I offered up for your consideration a character sheet to use with said edition. Since I'm also a big fan of consistency, here's Chaosium's "Minion Master" sheet, revised to match the style of the third-edition character sheet:





Friday, March 20, 2009

Growing Up Geeky - Part II: The Early Years

[This is the second part of my autobiographical "Growing Up Geeky" series - click to read "Part I: Prehistory."]

I don't know if I could really have been called a geek in the mid-70's. (Technically, we didn't even know what a "geek" was back then - the standard term was "nerd.")

I was definitely an outsider, though. I'm sure there are plenty of "Nature vs. Nurture" reasons for this, and it's really beyond the scope of this blog to explore the myriad causes that resulted in my status on the fringe of elementary school society. Suffice to say I was an awkward, shy, ectomorph.

And until I met Brian Z, I firmly believed that I was alone in this unenviable position. I don't think I realized it back then, but I was probably predisposed to befriend Brian partially because I saw in him a kindred spirit. (Again, the psychology of this is beyond the scope of this blog.) At the time, all I knew was he liked the same "nerdy" things I did; although I had not yet come into the full realization of my love for science fiction, fantasy, and (much later) the macabre. (I don't think Brian would have been as into that latter field of interest as I was and have remained.)

I think the appropriate term is: "fast friends."

For the remainder of the school year, we hung out pretty much constantly during our free time at school. I can't at this point in time single out any of the interests we shared. I know we both liked drawing, and playing with the relatively limited variety of toys available to young boys in the mid-to-late 70's. Most of the pop culture icons that are so ubiquitous to today's sensibilities had not yet hit the scene. But that was soon about to change.

As the school year drew to an end, and summer seemed imminent, Brian started raving to me about a movie he'd seen. I'd seen the commercials for it on TV, but hadn't paid much attention. It was a science fiction movie, and my experience with those had come entirely from watching the dry, adult-targeted sci fi of the 70's (on TV, where all the best bits had been censored) or the often-campy sci fi films of the 50's and 60's. Anybody who grew up on such fare knows exactly what that means...

But Brian was adamant that this movie was a must-see. So, arrangements were made between the parental units of our respective households for me to go with Brian and his parents (and possibly one or more of his younger brothers, I don't recall) to see this must-see sci fi film.

It was called: Star Wars.

I don't think there's any way to properly explain to someone who doesn't understand it the effect that this movie had on children like Brian and I. Given the exposure sci fi and fantasy receive in today's popular culture, it's really hard to put this film into context for anyone who was not there back in the day. I can explain the dryness, the utter lack of the fantastic that we had been weaned on in terms of science fiction films. But this explanation could never convey the overwhelming "a-ha!" effect that Star Wars had on us. It was like someone had suddenly revealed to us a universe where all things were possible; where evil was Evil (the 70's, from our perspective, was very gray); and where a misfit farm-boy who lived in the middle of nowhere could become the heroic savior of the galaxy.

Oh, yeah - that movie hit all the right buttons for a pre-teen boy growing up in rural America...

Later: Growing Up Geeky - Part II: The Early Years (cont'd)

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!

I'm not ashamed to admit: I'm a huge Call of Cthulhu fan.

It doesn't hurt that I'm also a huge fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his coterie of weird fantasy writers. But I love the game for more than just its Lovecraftian elements. Personally, I think the game does exactly what a good RPG system should do: it lays in wait as the game unfolds, virtually invisible when it's not needed; it's minimally intrusive when called upon to intervene; and it supports the atmosphere of the setting without being dictatorial about it.

My one lament about CoC is this: aside from my fiancee, none of the gamers in my group even come close to sharing my love for the game. This is a bummer for two reasons, the first being - of course - that we don't get to play the game nearly enough. But the second reason is what really bums me out: when we do play the game, I never, ever get to be a player. I'm always the Keeper. (You've heard the saying: "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride?" Well, I'm always a Keeper, never an Investigator. I know - it doesn't sound quite as spiffy...)

Anyway, in order to keep things rolling around here (since I'm too busy with work to take more than a few minutes to post anything meatier), here's a replica I made of the second-edition CoC character sheet. Quality electronic character sheets abound for fifth-edition CoC and later, but I've found myself hard-pressed to find one for my favorite edition of the game (third edition - the one that introduced me to the game, in a nifty hardbound book that is - to this day - my favorite book in my RPG library). Therefore, I recreated the sheet based on the only electronic sheet I could find at the time (from the second edition). I may be wrong, but I don't think there were any significant changes from the second to the third editions (significant being relative - CoC has not significantly changed since its first edition; if it ain't broke, why fix it?). Therefore, I believe this sheet will work just as well for third-edition CoC as it does the second edition (and probably first edition, as well).

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Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Realm": The Story of Arvaltarus, the Dead Sorcerer

[What follows is the background of the biggest mover and shaker of my home-brew campaign setting ("The Realm"). I doubt if this will ever get played, so I'll post it here even though I know that at least one of my players reads this blog. Warning: if you're expecting some epic, high fantasy background, prepapre to be... confused?]

Nobody who knew him would have guessed that Harvey Walters would one day be the savior of humanity and a creator of worlds.

Well, the savior of some humans, and the creator of one, very small world, that is.

By all accounts, Harvey Walters was an ineffectual man. His life was, during its most exciting moments, humdrum, at best. It's a surprise, really, that Harvey didn't die of fright the night he encountered the shantak.

The encounter in question was entirely accidental - the result of Harvey's straying from the group with which he was hiking through the foothills of the Swiss Alps. But that one encounter - which ended with both parties fleeing terrified from one another into the night - was Harvey's first glimpse at the universe beyond the ken of most mortal men.

Harvey never discovered why the beast was roaming the Swiss countryside that evening, but the incident spurred him to lines of inquiry that would take him to vistas undreamed of. At first, he quested only to discover the nature of the beast he had encountered; but in doing so, learned more than he bargained for.

Harvey came to realize, in a way few ever do, just how tiny and insignificant the human race truly is. Mankind, he found, was not alone in the cosmos; and, much to his ever-growing terror, most of man's neighbors are at best ambivalent to his existence - if not downright threats to it.

Thus Harvey embarked on a crusade to save mankind - in the same dull manner he embarked on his daily trip to the mailbox, true, but at least his motivations were more noble than simply picking up the mail.

Harvey's Crusade lasted for eighty-five years before coming to a sudden end. However, not from the man's death at the hands of age, as one might expect. Harvey was, by this time, in his early 100's - but didn't look a day over forty. He had personally taken note of his lack of normal aging some time in what should have been his late fifties. It was yet another of many phenomena for which he was hard-pressed to produce an explanation.

He had several theories, of course, the foremost of which were: his ill-fated first attempt to brew a batch of Leng ale, the product of which left his tongue and gums stained yellow for almost a week; or, the blessing placed upon him by that pretty Romanian gypsy (well, she was pretty to him at least - despite the abnormally large gap between her top two front teeth, and the large, hairy mole that protruded from her forehead); or, the inhuman words the Cthulhu-worshipping Peruvian shaman yelled at him before he died (Harvey couldn't make them out, but he was fairly certain it was some sort of eldritch curse).

Whatever the reason, it seemed that Harvey's aging had slowed to roughly one day for every Earth year that passed. For many people, this would be a blessing; but for Harvey, it was a curse. His slowed aging meant that he could continue his Crusade long after most men would have been forced into retirement. This, in turn, meant that he was exposed to "things man was not meant to know" longer - much longer - than any man should be.

This exposure took its toll on Harvey. He slowly slipped into a state of clinical paranoid obsession. His every waking moment, and most of his sleeping ones, his thoughts were bent on his Crusade to save humanity from the Horrors Beyond. He scheemed day and night to find a way to keep his fellow humans safe from Their depradations.

Finally, in a feverish dream, a solution came to him: he would use Their magicks against them. He would study every arcane tome, every occult parchment, every anitquated tablet, until he had the knowledge necessary to forever lock Them out.

Harvey spent five more years immersed in the writings of occult scholars and madmen. His researches led him to locate and translate the crumbling Tablets of Tharkil, the sanity-stealing Letters from Antaci, the whithered Livre du Froumage, and scores of other works of arcane lore. Finally, though, his quest led him to the fabled university in the witch-haunted Massachusettes city of Arkham. It led him to The Necronomicon.

Within the moldering pages of this infamous grimoire, Harvey believed he had found that for which he had so long searched: a means to forever protect humanity from the terrors beyond its knowing. Like a man possessed, Harvey tore from the book the pages he needed and secured a room at a nearby boarding house. There he began working the powerful, ancient magic that - he surmised - would remove the Earth to a place hidden from Them.

A week later, Harvey completed the ritual. He collapsed, nearly dead from starvation and dehydration, as the world around him shuddered and heaved. The throes lasted only a few moments, during which the sound of buildings being torn asunder and screams of terror fell upon his ears, and the room that had been previously lit by the bright spring sun was plunged into darkness.

Harvey knew, even in his weakened state, that he'd screwed up.

[More to come, but right now my fingers hurt from alll the typing...]
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Word Verification" Character Names - Order of the D30 Edition

As a card-carrying member of the Order of the D30, it is my sworn duty to uphold and extol the virtues of that venerable - if unrecognized - polyhedron. Therefore, I give to you 30 more Gygaxically inclined character names culled from Captcha's word-verification system:

01 Reptur
02 Nudshond
03 Humbehoo
04 Gragess
05 Tonion
06 Unallo
07 Trium
08 Lazinica
09 Alitlo
10 Trobolec

11 Vulter
12 Ostin
13 Distor
14 Nesali
15 Monnag
16 Milisten
17 Thipp
18 Inich
19 Trillyba
20 Undleste

21 Sorsolik
22 Inglysti
23 Comar
24 Quisc
25 Martmer
26 Meogri
27 Aphyra
28 Maddef
29 Endedra
30 Supechor



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[EDIT: For even more 30-sided love (boy, how bad does THAT sound? :P) check out the recent post over on Jeff's Gameblog. Ah, ain't synchronicity grand?]
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Coming Soon: The Dark Tower, a Campaign Setting

Astute readers will already know that I'm a big fan of Milton Bradley's Dark Tower board/electronic game. Since 1981, I've incorporated elements of the game into many D&D games/worlds I've created; but I've never created an entire game world/campaign setting specifically based on the game.

Until now, that is.

I'll admit: some of my best ideas come from fevered journeys of the imagination that occur during my semi-frequent bouts of insomnia. This one is no different. Unable to sleep a few nights ago, my wandering mind locked on to the idea of doing a full-on old-school campaign in the world of Dark Tower. Of course, the game itself has no real background, so it's - IMHO - the perfect starting point for me.

So, in the moments when I've been able to spare a few cycles of the cranial processor, I've been mentally plugging together the pieces I need to flesh out the setting. I've also swiped an hour from my over-loaded schedule to build a map - usually the first piece in place on my way to assembling such a puzzle.

It may be a while before all of the pieces fall together, but I thought I'd give you a little teaser of what I'm up to. It's not in the "old-school style," but this was what my brain saw that night The Muse came to me:

Stay tuned - the best is yet to come!
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