Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Closest I Ever Came to a Mermaid

Ran across this gal in the bowels of Durham castle. The chapel seemed a strange place for her! The negative here shows the lines better - the light was poor when I took the photo. The carving dates from the 1070's.
If you came here looking for something more exciting, try this.

Fungus Among Us - Paper Minis

This set comes from the OSRIC module "The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom" by Matt Finch, published by Expeditious Press. I'd been meaning to pick it up for a long time and finally got around to it when I saw the "Damaged Copies" sale (the copy I received looks great and was only $4). Formatted for a 4x6" index card - click the thumbnail image below for a closer look or to download the PDF.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Had a dream, I wanted to sleep next to plastic.

So last night I had this dream that I was standing in a kitchen, looking into a dining room where an evil wizard was standing and preparing to attack me. I summoned an earth elemental and it entered the dining room from a side entrance to attack the wizard. The wizard had to turn his attention to it in order to fend off its attacks.

I seldom have any crazy fantasy dreams like this; what’s most interesting to me about it was a small detail that seemed insignificant relative to the action. It seems that I was manipulating a small piece of clay, forming it into the shape that I wished my earth elemental to take on. This sort of makes sense as I often fiddle with silly putty during my actual games, sometimes slapping it onto old Judges' Guild artwork and stretching it into outrageous faces before showing them to a player. Yes, yet another reason why JG rocks - low-fi newsprint, ftw.

The whole thing makes me think about my previous post here about unconsciously creating monsters. I’ve never thought about the material components of a Conjure Elemental spell, nor about what one would do with them, but this dream seems to have brought some unconscious thoughts to the surface. But to what end? I have no idea! Maybe to no end - maybe just to remind me that they're there, and more in charge than I know. My players are all low level and it will be ages (if ever) that they’re able to cast a spell like that. I mean, really. Weird fantasy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My 1st First Person Shooter: Hadron

This game blew my mind when I was a kid. Hadron was released in 1981 by Sirius Software, and was the first "3d" immersion-style game I can remember playing, except for maybe Atari's Battlezone (at the arcade). I'd play this over at my friend Dan's house - fortunately they had a joystick hooked up to their Apple, otherwise I'm sure I wouldn't have had the patience for it. I loved slowly sneaking up on the two robots talking... they seemed to start casting glances in your direction with greater nervousness as you got closer. Then, BAM - you let 'em have it. You could follow the green and white scout ships to the mother ships, or just be patient and one would eventually appear. If you were extra patient after finding one, another two might appear behind the first - and if you were being hassled by an enemy, well, just move them off the screen and you'd erase them. Ah, those were the days.
Here's a short clip of me zapping said robots...

And here's a couple of pages out of the eight page manual...

I like that red on black Traveller-esque text.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our Monsters Beget Monsters

Today I’ve been thinking about how monsters came into being in my campaign setting. My favorite monster creations always seem to grow out of Man - whether they're simply a man acting monstrously, whether they transform into a monster and back into a man, or whether they go over to the other side all the way and permanently become a monster in every respect.

This makes perfect sense since monsters are imaginary by definition, thus they come out of Man consciously or unconsciously. It’s the latter source that’s of most interest to me, since I think it can help steer my game into places I’d like to explore more. Though not a monster himself per se, take for example Claude de Sarlat, the monster eater. This is an NPC who was himself an adventurer, but through a twist of fate, now seeks to eat those monsters that would formerly have eaten him. Turning the tables like this and then stepping back even further, I can see that Claude is an expression of myself, a part of me that’s trying to find out what makes monsters tick, and what my own fears are, then explore them, digest them, and use them in the game somehow. Hopefully with the help of my players and for everyone’s entertainment. As I’ve said before, it’s not that I want to turn the game into a therapy session - just that I think we can plumb some very interesting places for game fodder.

Claude is an example of a man who turns into a kind of monster by his proximity to them - like the good detective who goes bad, becoming an addict and accomplice to murder while trying to root out organized crime from the inside. Another creation of mine, a kind of ape I wrote up, comes into existence when a man consumes a kind of fruit and transforms into the monster. It might seem funny and maybe obvious to others, but only a while after I wrote it did I see certain interpretations and its possible inspiration.

Sometimes a monster is just a generic monster. Like maybe orcs are just ugly, evil men really - generic pigmen. But maybe our game can benefit and we can learn something about ourselves at the same time if we step back and try to see why we choose to use certain monsters in our games - not when we just need a certain hit dice, but why a certain monster really speaks to us. And also why creating our own monsters and thinking about why we molded them in a particular way is such a fun and interesting endeavor. It might help us to role play a monster better, or to create more compelling or frightening ones. I suppose this is why I don’t like the idea of a random monster creator - for me, a monster needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. I like to know where a monster is coming from, and the seemingly random generator upstairs isn’t really so random - it just appears to be at first.

Approaching monsters from another direction then, what if I was to proceed from an understanding that all monsters are just debased and devolved men? Absurd! How can a purple worm once have been a man? It’s not easy to see the monster for the man sometimes, I have to admit. In this case, originally, a spineless man of enormous power and appetite? The doppleganger - a race borne of trapped liars. The basilisk - a self-loathing person with looks to kill? Well, yes, that’s the medusa too. Maybe the mythic underworld causes dungeoneers’ disease - being locations of concentrated evil, they poison those that visit them too often or that become trapped in them for too long. The effect causes even the sanest, most lawful and good people to eventually turn into monsters themselves, each a kind of monster based on their own unique character flaws, and into never before seen monsters if these flaws are unique enough. I suppose some of those so cursed then created other monsters, or bred with them. And so our monsters beget monsters…

Anyhow, thanks for letting me ramble a little here. I wanted to be working on a dungeon for tonight’s game when I started jotting down some ideas and sidetracked myself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Marwencol on Netflix

Thanks to the Kiltedyaksman for pointing this out a while back. I noticed Marwencol was now available on Netflix via streaming and watched it a couple of weeks ago - recommended.
"After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populates the town he dubs "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helps Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds of the attack. When Mark and his photographs are discovered, a prestigious New York gallery sets up an art show. Suddenly Mark's homemade therapy is deemed "art", forcing him to choose between the safety of his fantasy life in Marwencol and the real world that he's avoided since the attack."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ten Second Planet Creation with the GIMP

Here's another one of those great, hidden in plain sight features of the GIMP in case you missed it...

Step 1: Filters > Render > Sphere Designer
Step 2: Fiddle.
Step 3: Press Ok. Voila! Your own planet. Well, maybe it took more like twenty seconds because of the rendering time. Now make a star field layer with Filters > Noise > HSV Noise and own it with a Halo or Trek font...Grab your preferred intoxicant, put on the Floyd, and make like a Magrathean!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hecatha, The Three Headed Witch

In a secluded glade in the lands of the High Druid lives a witch and her two sons. The druid has given them a small cottage and warned the creatures of Marqueyssac to avoid them, for the family has a horrible curse, so powerful that neither the druid nor his associates are able to lift it.

The curse’s effects are obvious - the witch has three heads. As for her sons, they’ve lost theirs completely, though they continue to live. A giant eye finds its place in the center of each of their torsos, and these dart about quickly, never missing the slightest movement.

The witch is known as Hecatha, and her sons she calls Lorb and Morb. Though they have no ears to hear with, they nevertheless do hear their mother and are quick to do her bidding. How the druid came to know the witch and her sons and why he gives them sanctuary is known only to them, but some surmise he may have he found her condition of particular interest because of her split personalities; one of the heads is quite lawful, one very chaotic, and the third diplomatic. At one time the separate heads were able to get along peacefully with one another through the efforts of the central and most neutral one. These days though, the chaotic head dominates the others through her sincere threats to kill herself. The stress and frequency of these threats is slowly eroding Hecatha’s sanity.

Though Lorb and Morb were once human, the curse has given them superhuman strength. They aren’t mindless, but without continual direction from their mother, they tend to sit on the ground and stare at her. They seem quite peaceful in this state, and they’re rumored to be fond of birdsong. Even so, they won’t hesitate to come to the aid of their mother, nor will they delay in the slightest if commanded by her to kill.

Hecatha - Witch 5, HP 16, AC 8[11], Atk dagger d4, Str 9, Dex 12, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 4 (9 if cured, or if you block two of her heads with a hand when looking at her I suppose). Ring of Protection +1, Potion of Healing on her person. Spells: Fear, Fog, Hold Portal, Hypnotize, Mirror Image, Sleep.

Lorb & Morb - HD 2+2, HP 13 and 14, AC 8 (a natural 20 blinds them), Atk 1 (fists for d6), Special: Can’t be surprised, immune to Sleep. If both brothers successfully hit the same target on the same round, they will attempt to tear it apart - no to hit roll required, 2d6 damage per round, Save (with STR modifier) to escape their clutches. They will cease attacking if their mother is killed and literally cry themselves to death over her.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This is not a love song.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Witch and Watchers - Free Paper Minis

Hats off to Telecanter for bringing the art of Beatrice Elvery to my attention - some of her work reminds me of Trampier and seems well suited to reproducing as paper minis. I had to squash and edit these a bit from the originals but I like how they came out. The Watchers seem to have especially benefited, becoming more buff and dangerous looking. I'll write these guys up in a day or two, meanwhile here's some inspirational reading.
Formatted for a 4x6" index card, click image below to enlarge or download.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Tripodero

The tripodero’s telescoping legs allow it to rise above the surrounding chaparral to look for prey, which usually consists of ground squirrels, ground dwelling birds, and rabbits. It hunts by aiming and spitting tightly packed balls of clay and rocks at these creatures. A successful hit can sometimes kill a target, but often only temporarily stuns. This still affords a tripodero the time it needs to retract its legs into itself and scurry through the underbrush to its fallen prey, where it quickly kills and devours it using numerous needle-like teeth. The tripodero’s oversized and heavily muscled tail is used for self-defense and can easily knock down or disarm an attacker.

Tripodero: HD 3; AC 6 [13]; Atk 1 (Spitball d4, Bite d6-1, or Tail d6); Move 12; Save 14; CL/XP 3/120; Special: Spitball range of 60'

Friday, May 13, 2011

Zero Charisma Preview

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Scans for Erol Otus Fans part 2

All from TSR's Rogues Gallery.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TSR's The Book of Marvelous Magic

A while back I picked up a copy of TSR’s supplement AC4 “The Book of Marvelous Magic”on eBay. I couldn't remember ever seeing a copy when I was a kid, and was interested to see the state of the magical arts back in 1986. AC4's a cornucopia of offbeat magic items that might provide some inspiration for creating your own items that fall into the “miscellaneous” category. I suspect Gygax and Mentzer went alphabetically through the dictionary for ideas for some of these. Eye catching entries from the table of contents include anchor, awl, bench, buckle, button, canoe, cleat, desk, fan, fork, gaff, hinge, inkwell, jug, kite, log, muzzle, oar, pitchfork, rake, rudder, slate, sundial, tent, tub, xylograph, yoke, and zither.

I’m trying to recall what my weirdest magic item creation ever was back in the day but drawing a blank. I think I was pretty conservative, probably to maintain any appearance that I knew what I was doing. More recently I’ve written up (and posted here) flags, undead bird heads, masks, a conch, a fruit, and a candle snuffer among other things. The snuffer I later discovered had already been written up in AC4, more or less... of course the supplement has several kinds of snuffers to boot.

There’s more than just a couple of arguably silly items found in this book. Here's two that have accompanying illustrations… (paraphrasing)

The Barrel of Monkeys
This item both contains an albino ape as well as polymorphs anyone looking into the barrel into an albino ape. Also, albino apes will continue to pop out of the barrel every turn until there’s a hundred of the things. It’s not clear here whether they disappear back into the barrel (or into thin air) once everything and everything nearby has been torn asunder. Or maybe they go on to live fruitful lives of mindless destruction forever after. The barrel loses its power if moved, but not if you move it telepathically. Since it’s not clear where the apes go, and also not clear if when a second person looks into the barrel whether another hundred white apes appears, this thing might very well be a weapon of mass destruction.

Wheel of Burning
Dude should have been wearing his Britches of Coolness

There’s this wagon wheel which, when commanded, throws Light ahead of the wagon on which its mounted. But unlike the harmless Wheel of Lighting, the Wheel of Burning will turn on you if anyone enters the light itself that’s been projected - then you'll feel its wrath! The light it projects will shift to become centered on the vehicle and then start to burn any creatures there. Hence the picture above.

So what's your favorite mundane magic item that you wrote up or that your DM threw at you?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creatures of the Lumberwoods Paper Minis

I've got the Squonk statted, but still have to do these other two. The Tripodero is my second favorite from the book. Telescopic legs! Brilliant. I'll have to get to work on that one in the next couple of days... Click the thumbnail below for a closer look or to download the 4x6" index card sized PDF.
Update: I statted the Tripodero here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Conch of the Ancients

One of the often touring relics of the order of the Servants of the Servers is a small conch shell made of unnatural materials and adorned with strange markings. A member once placed it into his ear and found that it greatly amplifies sounds. Stroking the side of the shell allows the volume of incoming sound to be adjusted up or down.

The item is said to have once been worn by the great prophet RMS himself, and that he fashioned it with the aid of the Servers. It’s seldom worn now, although occasionally the Chairman of The Beards (the sect’s ruling council) will make secret use of it in order to root out subterfuge.

It’s also lent to high level members who are questing on behalf of the council. At such times, a great deal of publicity is generated and a demonstration of its powers arranged. With skill, the volume adjustment can be made in such a way that when the hands are cupped around the ear and directed, sounds as quiet as a whisper can be heard very clearly though hundreds of feet away.

Many donations are typically generated in this manner, although the entire spectacle takes some preparation and skill to organize in order to minimize mishaps - one questing cleric was permanently deafened in one ear when a baby began wailing at a critical moment.

There are, of course, many more of these items that were used by the ancients - as The Beards well know. It’s been politically expedient to portray this item as unique though, and likely that the initials of RMS were scratched into it in more recent times.
This “magic” item of the ancients appears to need no power source. It will allow the user, with practice, to listen to sounds as far away as 300’ with some precision. Care should be taken if used in such a way - it will not work in an environment with a great deal of ambient noise, and sudden and very loud sounds that occur can harm the user or permanently damage his hearing. If continuously worn, the volume can be adjusted so that any surprise rolls against the wearer (or her immediate company) will need to be re-rolled a second time to succeed.
Dedicated to my friend Paul, who just received a cochlear implant.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

S&W Sessions Journal: Halfwit Halfling

A new character was rolled up at the start of the last session to replace the dead Agnal. Here’s the result of the 3d6 in order method we use: Str 3 Int 7 Wis 13 Con 8 Dex 9 Cha 11. We laughed, and then struggled a bit to come up with a decent back story for the character. Eventually we agreed that the freshly blinded Kitoth had sent a message to his family, explaining his situation and requesting some kind of help. Instead of the younger cousin he’d hoped would come to his aid, his family had decided instead to hire a weak and rather stupid halfling to send in his place.

There was a successful expedition to the abandoned castle (no deaths or dismemberments thankfully) and this time the party kept the carcasses of the fire beetles they’d skewered to show to their employer, Stebbins. They also looted a couple of books from an old library. One of these looked of possible greater value, and they read short passages to the blind ex-magic user as best they could. Kitoth told them he believed the book had something to do with fortunetelling.

Back at the Inn, they relayed that they’d mostly cleared out the ground floor of unwelcome men and monsters, and were looking for a way into its dungeon. Stebbins was very happy with the beetles and taking Wagstaff aside, he showed him how to cut out the bioluminescent glands from their undersides. He gave Wagstaff a couple of these, and also a sack of gold and a key that he said might come in handy.

There was a lot of carousing in town that night and the next day the party went out to the old castle. On the way, they heard the strange sobbing sounds in the woods again. They stormed through the underbrush in the direction that it came from, but all they found were some days old wolf tracks. They went back in the castle and wandered around trying to see if they’d missed anything.

In one room, they found a trapped chest, which Wagstaff failed to detect. Fortunately he made his saving throw and its noxious vapors evaporated harmlessly around him. The chest was empty, but Pikmit and Skithath thought it looked valuable by itself. Kitoth suggested he and Pikmit carry it so that he could render at least some kind of service to the rest of the party. Eventually, they re-located a locked metal door that had earlier stymied them and were able to open it with their new key.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Have some Ghoul Monkeys

I've always liked the ghoul monkey from the Monsters of Myth book, so I made a paper miniature of it. Click the thumbnail below to view in your browser or download. Formatted for a 4x6" index card.

Creative Writing and RPGs

I’ve been DM’ing a play by email game of S&W with Risus Monkey for a short time now and am a little surprised to find that I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. We didn’t start out with the idea of playing this way, but being on opposite coasts from one another and scheduling video chat games proved difficult, so we agreed to do this in lieu of live gaming until its more convenient or just logistically necessary.

I’ve never played an rpg like this before, and whenever I heard someone say that they were playing via forum post or email, it always felt like a stretch to me. It is playing in the sense that we use the rules to guide the writing and potentially resolve certain matters, but in many ways it feels more like collaborative writing or a kind of exquisite corpse.

As I’ve said before, what initially brought me back to the hobby was really the thought of using it as a tool to jumpstart some creative writing that a friend and I were collaborating on. Since then though, I game less self-consciously and now for the sake of the game’s enjoyment itself. I wonder who else has done something like this - it's hard to imagine Gygax’s own fiction writing not being directly influenced by his games… Have you ever turned your games into writing projects? If so, have any seen print? It seems like it would be a pretty straightforward thing to do. Feel free to pimp your fantasy writing if you’ve got some to share, I’d be glad to check it out.