Dec 30, 2011

The State of Dungeons & Dragons: Future

Greg Tito over at the Escapist Magazine wrote an interesting article on the state of Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension the roleplaying game business in general.

There are several quotes by Mike Mearls scattered through out, a man largely responsible for 4th edition. Mike is a smart talented designer but I have to disagree with some of his assessments of the problems with 4th edition.
"Mearls admits 4th edition might have gone too far in creating a perfectly balanced game." 
No, I don't think that's the problem. Setting aside the impossibility of creating a perfectly balanced RPG, a task harder than catching a unicorn in real life, the real problem is how far it strayed from D&D and the fact that it is weird - and not weird in a good way. Mike was actually closer to the problem in a later quote:

"You don't want a situation where someone comes into a room and says 'Hey guys, I'm playing a Shardmind Seeker' and the response is 'What the hell is that?'" he said. "I know what it is because I worked on it, but it's not even in the Player's Handbook. If you [publish] too much, that shared language, it just evaporates."

The production values of 4th edition are great, and some of the products are really impressive. In particular the Map Tile sets are spectacular, and the board games based on it are wicked cool. It is a fantastic game, if they had just called it anything but D&D.

The best summary of the problems with 4th edition I heard was at Gen Con the year it was released when a (well rounded gamer) friend came back from a demo session with a puzzled look on his face and all he said was "what the hell was that?". That pretty much encapsulates my whole experience with it. It was like something from some strange outer dimension called Left Field.

The solution is given at the end of the article, and this is something I wholeheartedly agree with:

"Let's just play D&D," he said. ... [Let's] get back in touch with what makes role-playing games great, what makes D&D great."

I think the OSR is busy doing that.


Dec 22, 2011

Prometheus Trailer

Like I said, 2012 is shaping up to be the most amazing year ever for movies. (I hope!)

Dec 20, 2011

The Hobbit - There and Back Again

2012 is shaping up to be one of the most amazing years ever for movies!

Dec 19, 2011

Map Monday - Narnia!

When I saw the Hobbit cartoon by Rankin & Bass in 1977 (I would be 8) it introduced me to the particular flavor of fantasy that would inspire and lead to a career as an artist and game designer. The next day I went to the school library to get the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The librarian with good intention steered me towards the Chronicles of Narnia as a more age appropriate series.

I will readily say that I fell in love with Narnia as much as I did the Hobbit (possibly more so), it was several years later before I finally read LOTR.

For me Narnia is still as compelling, but in a more innocent simple way than Middle-Earth. I love both series for similar and for very different reasons. Both are filled with strong messages. Narnia evokes a dimension-spanning sense of wonder and magic. While Tolkien's world carries a weight, a gravitas of history and lore.

This map of Narnia is aesthetically pleasing because it is wonderfully hand-drawn. Something that is refreshing to see these days when we are inundated with perfect digital images. I'm not knocking digitally generated maps, they have their own appeal, and have allowed many creators to be freed to pour their imagination onto blank pages with more ease for us all to enjoy.

Dec 17, 2011

JCOM - tv spots

As March 9th gets nearer, the Disney marketing machine gears up. These two tv spots show us that if nothing else John Carter will certainly be visually rich. This time I'm not hearing any complaints that it looks like Star Wars Episode 2.

John Carter is still in his Earth duds. He definitely does not arrive on Mars butt-naked like in the book.
I really like how visually distinctive the Warhoons are from the Tharks.

Dec 14, 2011


Ridley Scott is one of the greatest hit-or-miss directors of all time. When he hits, he hits big. One thing he rarely gets wrong is the visuals. Even his worst films are often visually compelling. Take for example Legend. The antagonist "Darkness" is one of the greatest villain designs of all time (played by the equally hit-or-miss brilliant Tim Curry). I admire what Ridley was going for: a fairy tale style story. Anti-Tolkein in it's aesthetic, more like an Arthur Rackam or Lord Dunsany style fantasy. But Legend missed so badly, as much as I wanted to like it even Neil Gaiman's "Stardust" captured the spirit of this old world fantasy much better. I recently watched the 'director's cut' and it was unimaginably worse. I still admire many of the visuals though. And Mia Sara is stunning as Lili, the love interest to Tom Cruise's insipid and demoted main character Jack. (it is interesting that Legend came out the same year as Top Gun)
Mia Sara as Lili

Tim Curry as Darkness

When Ridley Scott hits he hits better than almost any director out there. Rivaling Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, or even Peter Jackson on their best days. The two best examples are Alien and Blade Runner. Epic films that inspired generations of artists and directors after them.

Now Ridley Scott has decided to revisit the universe he created in Alien, a prequel called Prometheus. Fans of imaginative fantasy and speculative science fiction can only rejoice - so long as we get the brilliant Ridley Scott of Black Hawk Down and Matchstick Men not the dull director of such misses as Robin Hood and Kingdom of Heaven.

Perhaps it is a pseudo prequel, or only distantly related to Alien. The message isn't very clear on exactly what this film represents. Whatever it is I always admire Ridley Scott's craftsmanship, he is one of the best film directors and producers of all time, even when he makes a lackluster film the art and craft of the film itself are admirable.

Here is the teaser poster for Prometheus. May it be as great, or greater than Alien and Blade Runner!

Dec 12, 2011

Map Monday - The Big Map Blog

Some great vintage real world maps to appropriate for your fine gaming needs at The Big Map Blog!

Dec 1, 2011

Apple and JCoM

Apple made a really beautiful John Carter site. Lots of cool stuff to look at.

Nov 30, 2011

Nov 29, 2011

JCoM Poster

The images for John Carter (of Mars) have been pouring in lately. This poster is a very striking image, but if I didn't know better I would get the impression this was an animated film. Particularly with the placement of the Disney logo and the overall treatment. I like that it feels very pulp with a modern sensibility to it. I'll be curious to read the reactions as this image makes its way around.

Also, several great stills have been released. They are all very consistent with previously released images, no surprises here really. Woola looks almost exactly as described in the books except he looks to only have six legs instead of 8 - that could just be the angle of the shot but I don't think so. I expect him to be animated well considering Stanton's background as an animation director.

Nov 23, 2011

New John Carter of Mars image

Entertainment Weekly scored a new image from the JCOM movie. I think it shows off the naturalistic visual style Andrew Stanton is going for, instead of a CG environment. Giving the effects artists real world background plate to match their CG creatures against. This should give the movie added realism.

Oct 13, 2011

Oct 8, 2011

More John Carter Images

A flood of new images for John Carter of Mars directed by Andrew Stanton have appeared online.

My general impressions: tharks look great, the movie is going to have a very "naturalistic" feel (not as computer generated looking as Avatar was for example), woola looks strange but accurate, costumes are pretty cool. I'm not that wild about the ship, but the glimpse of it from the trailer makes me think it will look alright animated.

See more here:

Oct 2, 2011

A Fire & Ice Remake?

The Frazetti/Bakshi movie Fire & Ice is interesting. It is a movie I really wanted to like. There are some powerful visual elements, but the story could be stronger. I still enjoyed it, even when I recently rewatched it.
Now Robert Rodriguez (of Spy Kids fame) is going to do a live action remake.
One of my favorite artists James Gurney did many of the backgrounds for the original (he has been posting quite a bit about it lately). Now another favorite artist, Justin Sweet, is doing some concept work for the remake.
The interest to the OSR is obvious as Frazetta epitomizes much of the fantasy genre that inspired the original dnd.

Sep 25, 2011

Mouseguard RPG boxed set the Unboxing

Seems like boxed set RPG's come fewer and farther between these days. I was surprised to find that Mouseguard RPG, one of my favorite RPG's to come out recently, was being released in a boxed set. So I had to order it and wait patiently for it to arrive.

The wait was worthwhile. The components are gorgeous. And unlike the recent "red box", this set isn't a large box filled mostly with air. It is packed with quality parts: a softcover version of the original rules book, a 48-page supplement with adventure scenarios, a GM deck of 12 Action Cards, two Player Decks of 12 Action Cards, Condition Cards, Characters Sheets, GM sheets, a GM screen, Mouse Dice, Mouse Playing pieces and a Map of the Mouse Territories.

That's a lot of value in a surprisingly deep box. From pictures I thought it would be much smaller. And the square format is quite novel and pleasant. Everything is gorgeously designed the layout, the art, the typesetting. I'm looking forward to reading through this and hopefully convincing some friends to play!

Sep 15, 2011

The Complete Tome of Horrors

The third party 3rd edition "d20" products varied widely in quality and usefulness. The vast majority of them deserved no better than a trip to the landfill. There are a few exceptions though, and the Tome of Horrors was one of them.

The Tome of Horrors, of which there were three in total, brought back the menagerie of monsters from D&D's dusty past and updated them for the d20 system. The beauty of it was that the updating was so well done that little effort was needed to run them in your own classic D&D game.

And now Frog God Games has brought back this classic trilogy for the Pathfinder system. While I am fond of Pathfinder in many ways, I much prefer the original in my own game sessions.

Paizo is running a limited time offer to get all 3 Tome of Horrors in one monstrous 800 page book! I have long since lost interest in such encyclopedic volumes, but I do love it in PDF format for my iPad - which I have migrated as much of my collection to as I have been able to. I love being able to bring this one thin lightweight device to the gaming table that also provides instant search.

I've already purchased the PDF and have been enjoying reading through it. Adventure ideas leap out at every page!

Sep 11, 2011

The Two Towers

In 2002 the best of the LotR movies came out. History often seems to have interesting parallels to it, who could have imagined that the themes in good professor Tolkein's mighty trilogy would tie so directly to events surrounding the release of these movies? Film critic John Mclaren in his review of The Two Towers puts it well:
The screenplay explains (with barely disguised contemporary resonance) what we are protecting in Western civilisation when we defend ourselves against those who would wish to destroy it. When Sam tells Frodo that there are "some things worth fighting for", when Merry tells Pippin that there "won't be a Shire" unless they do something about it, when King Theoden laments that "the sun has gone down in the West" this film could be entitled not the "Two Towers" but "the Twin Towers". It is Miltonic in its scope. It is cinema as art.
I love Peter Jackson's interpretation to film of LotR. Each film is unique and wonderful in its own way, and work remarkably well together as one giant 9+ hour movie. But of the 3, The Two Towers is my favorite, and is the only one that wasn't improved by the "extended editions". The theatrical release was perfect to me. The pacing, the framing devices, the epic clash of good and evil so well drawn. And it also had an eerie relevance to what was going on in the world at the time. (ok, I could have done without Legolas surfing down steps on a shield, but that is the only thing I didn't like, and that is only a minor annoyance).

Sep 6, 2011

Estebon Maroto's Lizard Men

Pretty cool take on lizard men. Maroto's art is one of the original inspirations for D&D art.

Sep 5, 2011

Shortsighted TSR

When D&D exploded into my middle-school world I had no comprehension of the history of the game. I searched desperately at bookstores for copies of the DMG and MM, to no luck. I do faintly recall a bookstore in Tucson AZ that had some unrecognizable D&Dish books, but they weren't the droids I was looking for. In hindsight I think they were Judges Guild products, but it was so long ago I can't be sure.

It took some time for me to get the core books, though I did get a few Dragon issues early on (the mighty #83 being the first, and still my favorite, if only for nostalgia's sake).
It was only later that I discovered that the PHB was really intended to be the gateway drug for AD&D. And it was one of the last of the hardcover books that I acquired back then!

TSR always seemed embarrassed about the original D&D. What I mean is they were constantly trying to make new RPG systems to get away from it. Classic D&D seemed to be the neglected orphan as the company went on to AD&D and AD&D 2nd edition getting further and further away from the elegance of the original game that was such a huge hit.

For a short time I was enamored with GURPS. Looking back now I don't understand why TSR didn't take the original D&D and adapt it to other genres to become the first true universal RPG. Instead they made various RPG's that bore little resemblance to their breadwinner. Boothill, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Top Secret, Marvel Super Heroes, and the infamous Indiana Jones RPG and so on.
I'm all for innovation, but when you have the best and best selling RPG in the world, why in the world do you do everything in your power to run away from it? Why weren't these game designed to be fully compatible with the original D&D? There was obviously more going on at TSR than good creative direction. What a sad state of affairs to end up being bought out by an usurper like WotC! All because you don't "get" your #1 product.

When I look out at the OSR landscape I am blow away and inspired by the creativity and passion for this beloved game. But, I see a little bit of the short sightedness that blinded TSR. Why are so many trying to copy, to duplicate -literally- the original edition, when there are so many frontiers left to be discovered that the original edition can be adapted to?

Aug 15, 2011

John Carter Exclusive Footage Report

Empire Big Screens reports on exclusive footage they were recently shown of Andrew Stanton's John Carter movie.

Even though Stanton pointed out the footage wasn't fully rendered, it was still mightily impressive. The photography is naturalistic, the CGI subtle - it looks expensive. Comparisons must be made with Avatar, as it has a similar epic feel. Although John Carter the film appears to have a drier sense of humour - Tars is going to be quite the character. The green-skinned Tharks are fascinating creatures with expressive faces, so look forward to seeing them in all their glory.

Follow the link for more:

Jul 11, 2011

A Real First Look at John Carter

The marketing machine is starting to kick in and Andrew Stanton is showing off and explaining the work he and his team have been putting into bringing John Carter to life.

Jul 5, 2011

Tramp Tuesday


I've been MIA lately. Sorry, but I'm busy relocating to a better abode, and busy working hard at a studio that is helping define the future of gaming. Also, I have been busy writing (and illustrating!) the next innovative RPG that will be coming out of Studio Denmark which will be published by Atlas Games.

And, of course, working on the great Warriors of the Red Planet that the amazing Al is designing. So, please forgive me if my posts have been spotty of late. I will have a ton of stuff to post for you in the near future.

Oh, and also I delivered the final hi-rez image of the Petty Gods cover to James last week. :)


Jun 18, 2011

Working on Layout

The final document for Dungeoneer Deluxe, simply called "Hero's Guide" is now in layout. There are still some loose ends to tie up in the back end of the book, various things like using other Dungeoneer sets with it and some optional rules. But I can really start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a huge milestone in the long saga of developing this game.
Still have some illustrations to finish for the cards themselves. By some of course I mean lots. :)

Jun 17, 2011

John Carter Concept Art

Finally some concept art from Andrew Stanton's version!

Read the article here.

Mistress of Illusion

One of the fascinating things about product development is refining the components that will come in that product. There are a lot of factors, not only the game design which is the primary motivation. But also the cost of materials, the opportunities for higher quality components if you just adjust the design a little, and any number of other little things.

Since Dungeoneer Deluxe has been in development for so long, I've reached the point where I really want to publish it and get it out to you! I don't like the word compromise, I prefer to think of it as practicality, but I have been focusing on taking this design that has been worked on for so long and making sure it can be published. What this means is that instead of being "vaporware" it will someday, soon, be a real product.