Sunday, July 27, 2008

Couple cool images

I ran across this on a non-gaming-related site today (say it ain't so!), but is that the Chaosium logo there in the lower left corner? Anyone recognize this? Dreamlands maybe? Or Nephilim perhaps? Even if it's not game-related, holy crap it should be!

This one is just wickedly awesome, and pretty much sums up a lot of the reaction I've seen (and even contributed to) regarding 4e. One thing that always bugged me about the panel where Marcie's swingin' from the rafters: who the hell made a dragon miniature that HUGE back then? No one, that's who! C'mon Chick, do a bit of fact-checking for Chrissakes. How do you expect anyone to take you seriously?

Holy Crap, I think I just died and went to heaven

I'm disappointed that Steve Jackson Games has basically abandoned any sort of regular GURPS publishing schedule (it's understandable, but disappointing nonetheless) but they're still churning out (relatively speaking) some great original PDF products. The latest one sent my heart a-racin':

Journey now to the thrilling days of . . . tomorrow!

After the terrifying war with the Overlord of Jupiter, the Solar Patrol was commissioned to police the interplanetary space lanes, protecting traffic from pirates and the insidious Red Hive! Drawing inspiration from the films, novels, comic books, and radio shows of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol presents an original setting for GURPS. In this alternate future-history, computers use punchcards, the swamps of Venus are home to strange natives, and the mighty Tesla coil has made it possible for humanity to explore and colonize the Solar System.

Get the templates, equipment, and ships you need as a Patrolman in this pulp-science fiction "world of tomorrow"!

This is eerily close to a campaign I've been mulling over for the last year or two but never got around to doing any work on.

Must. Run. This.

I'm also thinking of adapting the Rifts "Phase World" setting to a BESM Space Fantasy campaign. Should be fun. I've never really run or played any sci-fi games/campaigns, so this is all long overdue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Coolest "Game Wanted" Post EVER

I stopped by my FLGS today for the first time in a while. I was reminded of why I stopped going. Their RPG section is steadily shrinking. Last time I was there, they'd gotten rid of their GURPS 3e books. This time their "used games" shelves were MIA.

The staff are friendly enough, but the space is just too darn small and I understand that they need to prioritize space for the "sellers". And there's a sister store about a half-hour north of here that's four times bigger and much better stocked. So I understand. Still, it would be nice to have a well-stocked FLGS on my bus route home from work, as this one could be.

At any rate, the point of this post is not to grouse about the decline of my local game store but to praise something I saw there today. I'm not looking to form a group or anything, but out of curiosity I browsed by their "games/gamers wanted" cork-board. I love these things. Always have. Looking at the different notices, some so business-like and professional, others hand-written and riddled with typos... It's sort of like people watching, I suppose.

But today, oh my today, I saw this little gem:

Wowza. That's a hand-painted sign, folks.

Now, like I said, I'm not looking to form a group. And I generally don't care for 3e/3.5e/3.x/whatever, in case that's not bloody obvious by this point. But holy cow, I'm seriously thinking about getting in touch with this person. I should, if only to give them kudos on the most awesome cork-board post I've ever seen.

Gaming and Fiction

Recently, noisms posted his thoughts about RPGs and fiction, something I've also been giving a lot of thought to recently, so I figured I'd share a bit of what I had to say on the subject.

The first question in my mind is why don't we see more gamer-authors? With a hobby as creatively fertile as RPGs, you'd think you'd see people turning their games into fiction all the time. Yet, as noisms points out, even when you get an author to admit he "used to" game, he's at pains to separate himself from the hobby. Perhaps it's fear of being labeled a hack? That, as a writer, you're expected to come up with your ideas from whole cloth? Or is it the "gaming ghetto" effect, where branding yourself as a gamer has the same stigma in the professional world as it does on the dating scene?

For the record, the book I'm working on right now was directly inspired by a one-shot I ran with Des a couple years ago. Obviously I've taken it in my own creative direction, but the plot line is relatively the same as the game we played back then. If I'm lucky enough to get it published, and I'm lucky enough to see it successful enough to warrant people wanting to talk to me about the writing process, I won't hide that fact. I wonder how many authors have done so. Do their agents tell them to downplay it, or is it self-censoring? Hmmm.

Noisms brings up another point that's often bothered me: are RPGs too much of a creative siphon? In other words, if we didn't have gaming as a creative outlet, would we all have been forced to become frustrated artists and writers in an attempt to exorcise our collective visions? I'm inclined to say yes. But at the same time, I know that RPGs have done me the benefit that hundreds of hours of creative writing courses never could have. I've learned innumerable lessons about plot, pacing, characterization, and storytelling and seen my vocabulary, research, and reading comprehension levels skyrocket. So it can't be all bad, and I certainly feel it's made my first stab at writing a novel go much more smoothly than it might have otherwise.

I guess in the end, all I can really do is pledge to do my part to represent gamers as authors who aspire to do more than mass-produce genre fluff. Then again, at this point I wouldn't say no to cranking out a few dozen Forgotten Realms novels if WOTC came knocking. I'd just need to think of a good pen name...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cover Versions

Well, it's been a bit quiet around here. Not unusual for the middle of summer, I s'pose, although my lack of posting has not been due to any fun in the sun. I've been trying my hand at that "write a novel in a month" thing, and it's working out quite well, but at the same time it's left me with a distinct lack of interest in any extracurricular typing.

But all that will be wrapping up soon, so my semi-regular posting shall resume soon enough.

I just thought I'd check in here with a bit of a rip-off of something a couple other of my fellow bloggers have been up to, namely posting their favorite pieces by select D&D artists. Except in my case, I'm not going by artist but rather by magazine, Dragon Magazine to be precise.

The covers of Dragon were, for me, an early and constant source of inspiration. Dragon, for a time, featured some of the best fantasy art on its covers every month. My retrospective will of course be largely influenced by the period in which I was an active reader and subscriber (circa 1989 to 1995) but as it turns out most of my favorite pieces are from before that era, grown out of familiarty acquired after purchasing the Art of Dragon Magazine many, many winters ago.

So here we go, in chronological order or thereabouts:

First up is a Larry Elmore piece from around the beginning of his tenure at TSR. I've expressed my shameless Elmore fandom here a couple times before, but I should really qualify myself. I completely understand the criticisms some level against him, that his figures are too "posy" and stiff. But I feel that his work while he was with TSR is largely free of that, as much as he can be at least. It was only after he went freelance that his subjects became too studied, I think.

This piece is, of course, classic Elmore, particularly that sweeping landscape. It's also a good demonstration of how 80s fantasy tried to ground its weapons, armor, and equipment in an historical setting. No dungeon-punk spikes here, nosiree.

Clyde Caldwell, on the other hand, I've never been a bit fan of. His style, which makes everyone look like their skin is made of plastic, is a major turn-off for me. And his "Hey, look how good I can paint gems and jewels, so I'm gonna include them in every damn picture I do!" schtick gets old fast. And the man is, of course, the master of the chainmail bikini, and not in a good way.

Yet I have to include this cover, both for its understatement, its simple "call to adventure" and the fact it reminds me of being 10 years old and wanting my character to do enough subdual damage to a dragon so that I could tame it and ride it. A dream deferred, a dream denied.

Ah, our first Jim Holloway piece. Can I just say right now that I think Jim Holloway is one of the most underappreciated TSR artists of the 80s? Sure, he didn't have the technical skill of an Elmore or Parkinson - in fact, I'm pretty sure I read recently that he didn't have any formal training in art at all - but I always found myself drawn to his work, both his cover art and his interior black & whites. His stuff has an organic sense of liveliness to it, and he is, in my opinion, an absolute master of characterization. Every subject in his art seems like a living, breathing character with a fully fleshed-out history and personality, even the dragon in the cover art here.

I really like this piece because it's so 70s pulp fantasy. It looks like it could just as easily be a tour poster for Hawkwind or something. I suppose those are supposed to be some sort of faerie dragon, but I always liked to imagine them as full-sized dragons in some sort of gonzo science-fantasy D&D homebrew setting.

Ah, "Bridge of Sorrows". One of only two of these covers for which I actually know the name of the piece. I cited it in an earlier post about older fantasy art as an example of how to do a compelling, engrossing, exciting action scene without overloading the viewer's eye with the sensory explosion so typical of D&D art today. Plus the idea of a centaur knight/paladin really fired my imagination back in the day. Almost as much as that scantily-clad maiden...

Daniel R. Horne, a.k.a. "the Man". Seriously. Every Dragon cover he did is a favorite of mine, even the April Fool's ones ("Beauty is in the eye of the...oh, forget it!"), but this one is one of my all-time absolute top favorite pieces of fantasy art ever. Every piece of art here tells a story, but this one is just so perfectly rendered: I love how the undead giant is just plowing through the snow, how he's missing a part of a finger (it's all about the details), and of course the question of whether that magical arrow will do the trick, and whether she'll be able to bring her bow to bear in time. Tension! Action! To this day I have a soft spot for campaigns set in the frozen arctic, and this picture is at the root of that.

Another great Holloway piece. I've often heard this cover sited as the all-time best Dragon cover, and you'll get no arguments from me, although it's not my personal favorite (see below). One thing I particularly like about this piece is the arrow sticking through the strip of leather armor. It reminds me of old Japanese prints, where you see crazy-ass sohei charging through clouds of arrows, half of which are sticking out of their clothes, their armor, their staff, their hair...

This is the first issue of Dragon Magazine I ever bought, and it remains to this day my favorite piece of Jeff Easley art. By a mile. If you want to talk about Elmore losing his touch in the 90s, Easley went off the freakin' deep end. But when he was good in the 80s, he was very good, and I suspect my choice of this issue as my first such purchase (I had several to choose from) was influenced primarily by the cover. (Although the articles inside turned out to be pretty good too. I used the article on the Black Death to write an oral report for my 7th-grade Social Studies class.)

I think my love of this cover is sort of the opposite of the Easley piece above, in that it's an old favorite because this is one of my favorite issues in terms of content. It was one of those issues where you find yourself using material from nearly every article at some point or another. But it's also a wonderful illustration in its own right, and perfectly demonstrative of all the things that made fantasy art of this period so damn evocative.

OK, here it is. My favorite Dragon Magazine cover, and perhaps, just maybe, my favorite fantasy illustration of all time. First off, that's another kick-ass dragon. And I love the idea of an elf and a halfling teaming up to rob its horde. I also like that the elf looks "real," not like some ethereal Faerie Queene. But there's just something about the composition that really gets me. I'm not sure I can really put it into words. So I'll just say thank you, Mr. Holloway, for giving us such a great piece.

So now we reach the end of what I consider the classic period of Dragon Magazine covers. Shortly after this cover, another Elmore piece, the logo changed, and with it the quality of the art. It also didn't help that they started going bazonkers with their Photoshop/page layout programs and plastering headlines all over perfectly fine covers (see below). But to this piece: we see the evolution in Elmore's style from his early work, and no, it's not a postive evolution. The posed figures are in full evidence here, yet I still like this cover very much, because it's typical of Elmore's best work in that it tells a compelling story, and catches the action right before (or after) a major event. (And I love the design of that sword, too.)

This is a piece from after I let my subscription expire, but I came across it online a few years ago and really took to it. It's DiTerlizzi, always a favorite of mine, and the full, uncropped piece is even better. I even used it as a cover to a world guide I wrote for a homebrew setting a few years back. But we see the unfortunate tendency to overwhelm the image with a vomiting explosion of fonts and cheap text effects. The magic was gone for me.

The last piece I'm including here not because it's a favorite of mine but because I think it's historically significant. It's the first appearance, as best as I can tell, of dungeon-punk art on the cover of Dragon, a style that would come to completely dominate the magazine's look all the way through to its demise. Blech, blech I say!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Korgoth of Barbaria

Rather unexpectedly it looks like I'll be taking a little trip down to L.A. in about a month for a little mini-reunion with the "old gang" at "the old hideout". So naturally there will be gaming. Lots of gaming. And junk food. Good times.

I'll be running some form of D&D, naturally. Either straight 2e or some sort of C&C hybrid. Whatever ruleset, it'll be in full pulp fantasy, old school style. My inspiration?

Korgoth of Barbaria

I'm actually glad this didn't air back in my adolescence, as I probably would have collapsed from an embolism brought on by the sheer amount of awesomeness contained in this brief half-hour feature. Episode I in particular really captures the feel of how our games used to run.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pyramid Reviews 4e

I hope it's OK to post an excerpt here. For the full review, you'll need to hop on over and grab a subscription to Pyramid if you don't already have one. At any rate, this is the opening couple paragraphs from the review of the Player's Handbook. There's also a separate review of the three core books.

This is not Dungeons & Dragons.

Or at least if Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is Dungeons & Dragons, then it is not the Dungeons & Dragons as the gaming hobby has known it for some 34 years. For a mere five years after the last rules update, Wizards of the Coast have given what is the most well-known, number-one RPG the most radical of makeovers. This is, in fact, even more of a radical redesign than the intellectual property received when it was upgraded from Dungeons & Dragons to the First Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It is, though, a redesign that is more in keeping with contemporary gaming -- more so than with either Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition or Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. For Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is heavily influenced by MMORPGs (Massively Multi-player Online Roleplay Games), such as World of Warcraft, and by the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game.

It is definitely not Dungeons & Dragons in the sense that, although Wizards of the Coast will still call it Dungeons & Dragons, the average gamer will not. With previous versions of the game -- including variants such as Castles & Crusades or Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder RPG -- still offering plenty of viable play, gamers are going to need to identify which version of Dungeons & Dragons they want to play. So to everyone bar its publisher, this is not Dungeons & Dragons, but "4th Edition."

I think that last point is particularly well put. I do not envy the uninitiated newbie trying to get into the hobby on his own in this day and age. It's funny, but I think that your prototypical newbie is better off venturing into a Borders nowadays, since he'd simply be presented with the 4e books rather than the myriad of d20 products he'd find in a FLGS. Is that another sign that the time of the FLGS is passing?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In the Squamous Land of Oz

So noisms over at Monsters and Manuals made a post about doing an Australia-Cthulhu mashup which he titled OzCthulhu. To which I replied:

OK, at first I thought this was going to be a Land of Oz/Cthulhu crossover, which got me really excited...

To which he replied:

Wizard of Oz/Cthulu is genius. Why didn't I think of that? Come on, sirlarkins. You have to do something with that, now that you've hit on the idea.

Well, noisms, flattery will get you everywhere. So I'm officially adding that to my project list. Now...what to use for it? Zorcerer of Zo? Chaosium's Dreamlands? Hmmmm.
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