Friday, November 27, 2009

[Save vs. Sketchbook] Otter Guard

Occasionally I feel the urge to get off my duff and crank out a character sketch. Strangely, this urge usually strikes strongest when it comes to drawing other people's characters in campaigns I'm running. I guess when I'm on the player side of the table I've got my own character pretty well pictured in my mind. Or maybe drawing someone else's character is a way for me to butt in share in the creative process?

At any rate, I'm currently working on some such sketches for my bi-weekly Wilderlands D&D game. First up is what is turning out to be the group's de facto leader, an Otterkin ranger named Rumple Wumpkin (no, I am not joking).

Modeled on Mouse Guard, the redoubtable Rumple was tweaked from the original C&C ranger class with a couple choice additions from the AD&D 2e Beastmaster kit (at my suggestion). As such, she has already amassed a small gang of animal followers, most notably a badger named Conan. Standard combat operating procedure has mostly revolved around Rumple charging into combat, flinging Conan at her target to throw them off balance as she brings her morning star crashing down on their skulls. Last session, Conan even managed to lay the final death blow on one opponent!

More sketches to follow as I get them finished...

(Oh, and a note on the broken pole--as I mentioned in a previous post, Rumple's 10-foot pole became a 5-foot pole when she tried to use it trigger a revolving door trap.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

In Praise of the Troll Lords

I just wanted to put a word out in praise of Troll Lord Games and their customer service.

About three weeks ago I decided to put in an order for the latest printings of the Castles & Crusades core books (the "Fourth Crusade" as it were). My copy of the Players Handbook and Monsters & Treasure both date from the decidedly lackluster 1st printings, and I rather like the new covers, to say nothing of the improved layout and interesting rules tweaks featured in the latest printings. While I was at it, I decided to plump for the new Deities & Demigods Of Gods & Monsters book too. All in all, it was a big order, but since C&C has officially become my go-to system for D&D fantasy, I felt it was time to take the plunge.

You can imagine my disappointment when the order failed to materialize after one week...then two weeks. I had ordered from TLG before with no problems, so I dropped them an email looking for an update on the order status. No reply.

A week went by, and then I read that TLG had been at a convention the previous week, so I decided to drop them a follow-up. This was last Friday afternoon. I got an immediate response promising to check things out and get back to me ASAP.

This morning I received an email from Steven Chenault, saying they sent the order out two days after it was placed. D'oh! This wouldn't be the first time my local post office bungled a package delivery. In fact, I think the only thing they're actually good at is redefining the incompetent mail carrier stereotype.

(And I say this as someone who enjoyed years of competent, at times very satisfactory mail service at other locations I've lived at.)

But here's the thing: Mr. Chenault went on to tell me that, as the order will probably wend its way back to TLG in time, they went ahead and sent me the order again today so I don't have to wait around any longer! I really, really hope they get that first order back. I'd hate to think that my lovely letter carriers have not only cost me needless weeks of waiting for my goodies, but TLG the cost of a shipment!

At any rate, here's to Troll Lord Games and their outstanding customer service!

::rubs hands together in anticipation of new books arriving::

(As a postscript, I'd just offer one critique of TLG's mail order system: they use USPS Priority Mail, so they don't have tracking numbers. If they used tracking info, this whole mess could have resolved itself much earlier, and perhaps at no extra cost to the Trolls!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Late Roman Awesomeness

The image above is of a late Roman standard bearer carrying a "draco"-style windsock standard.

I'm always on the lookout for inspirational imagery of warriors/armor/architecture from history to steal and integrate into my fantasy games. The late Roman period is a goldmine for these sorts of things (and nicely fits into my historical fetish for transitional periods that I wrote about in my Riverworld post, but that's just me). It's got a somewhat medieval feel to it, yet it's still rooted in the ancient world. Plus, since all the attention tends to get focused on the glory days of Imperial Rome, most people aren't the least bit familiar with later Roman imagery.

Back to the standard bearer, I especially like the literal "facemask" look of his helmet. So creepy! Great stuff. I could easily imagine knights of the Invincible Overlord sporting masks like that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on Riverworld, Mad Max, and Other Such Things

So as I indicated in an earlier post, my recent revisiting of the Mad Max trilogy gave me some interesting food for thought.

Primarily, I hadn't realized what a profound effect those films (well, the last two really--I didn't see the original Mad Max until years later) had on my young psyche. I definitely robbed several set-piece scenes more-or-less wholesale in my later GMing, and without even realizing I was doing so!

One of the reasons the films struck such a chord with me is that they spoke to my love of anachronistic technology. As a student of history, I find myself most fascinated by those "transition periods," when new ways or technology are beginning to displace the old but haven't done so completely. The early Renaissance. Sengoku-era Japan. The First World War (my original obsession; I used to take a book on WWI out of my school library on a weekly basis and pore over the photos of lumbering tanks and biplanes and horses with gas masks on...and I was probably about six years old!).

So naturally, I love all things in a post-apocalyptic vein. Witness my retooling of Rifts to make it more overtly post-apocalyptic, getting it into that "sweet spot" of old, familiar tech existing alongside newer, devolved tech (for lack of a better term).

All of this got me thinking about GURPS Riverworld, one of the first GURPS setting books I ever bought (50% off at the Gamekeeper at the mall!) and still one of my favorites.

I was unfamiliar with the book property it was based on at the time (and indeed didn't read any of the Riverworld books until a few years ago), but the image of a steamboat being escorted by biplanes down a massive river valley was enough to hook me in right away.

The setting is like ambrosia for me, touching on my anachro-tech fetish while scratching my history nerd itch at the same time--you can cross flint swords with anyone who's ever lived!

Having said that, Riverworld was one of those campaign settings that I think I get more enjoyment out of thinking about than actually playing. One of my stumbling blocks was that I wanted to spring it on my unsuspecting players in the event of an inadvertent TPK in a historically-based campaign. Trouble was, we tended to not play those sorts of games at the time (hardly do now, come to think of it--even games set in the "real world" tend to have some level of urban fantasy vibe going to them.)

I tried running a pure Riverworld campaign back in high school, but it quickly devolved into silly adolescent hi-jinks. Another attempt shortly after fourth edition GURPS came out got off to a promising start (link to an actual play summation), but was unfortunately cut short when one of the two players moved away.

So it goes. After watching the Mad Max films, I dove back into my copy of GURPS Riverworld and had some quality hours with an old friend. At the very least it's a fun thought exercise to imagine how I'd want to run a campaign were I given another chance. (Of course, nowadays I'd run it using BRP.) At the very least, it's always there as a fall-back in case of inadvertent TPKs in a historically-based campaign....

Something else I was reminded of during my re-read was how much I like Larry MacDougall's art. According to the Pen & Paper Database, this was one of his first jobs as an RPG illustrator; presuming he was fresh out of art school, and the size of the project, I think the variable quality of the art can be forgiven. The rough, almost doodle-like quality, whether intentional or not, actually evokes in me a feeling that these are sketches executed in charcoal on treebark by a resident of the Riverworld working from life. And anyway, by the standards of GURPS illustrations at the time, the guy's practically Larry Elmore! I've called out my appreciation of his work in the original Rifts book in one of my art posts, and I thought I'd share some more of the love here with some selections of personal favorites from Riverworld.

Unfortunately, I read that GURPS Riverworld will not be seeing a release in PDF form thanks to the license lapsing. But if you're a fan of anachronistic post-apocalypse and you have the means of picking up an old copy, by all means do so!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Street D&D: Guerrilla Activism

This is one of the most hilarious things I've seen in a while. Jason Thompson, author of the forthcoming King of RPGs manga series (which I blogged about back in August) recently took D&D to the streets. Here's how it went:

I am a method Dungeon Master. As reported by Laughing Squid, I recently took the next step in delivering role-playing games to a greater audience: running a live D&D game in downtown San Francisco on Saturday afternoon! Players were found (some of whom had never played RPGs before), we were out there for close to 5 hours, and the game was a smashing success despite a few incidents.

Incidents indeed, I'm sure. I know that area pretty well, and it's not unusual to have an, uh, eccentric person accost you even under the best of circumstances. Kudos to Jason and his group for having the guts to engage in some activist gaming!

(More photos of the action can be found here.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I was horrified recently when I discovered, in the course of chatting up standard Cyberpunk tropes--and making the analogy that for rural America and nomads, just think the first Mad Max movie--that Des had never seen any of the installments in the Mad Max trilogy! How does this sort of thing happen?

I felt a bit remiss myself, as this discovery served only to make the trilogy's absence from my DVD collection even more glaring. I rectified that as soon as possible, and a couple weekends ago we spent a couple evenings happily screening Mad Max, Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. This was the first time I'd watched any of these movies since my childhood/early adolescence, and there was much food for thought generated by returning to these movies 20 years later. But that's the subject for another post.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share a movie poster I ran across today that, I think, perhaps sums up classic "retro-Cyberpunk" nomads even better than the first Mad Max. (For my campaign, especially, since I'm explicitly setting it in an alternate history 1980s.) Observe:

If I ever have to explain nomads to a Cyberpunk newbie again, I'll just produce a print-out of this poster and silently hand it to the questioner.
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