Mar 30, 2011


As much as I like the name of Pergammos as the name of the planet. Fantasy settings tend to have a more generally evocative name. After some deliberation I've decided to call the setting Emberfrost. There are a few crappy myspace blogs that use the name, but in general it seems to be largely unclaimed. Hard to find these days.

At worst I can call it "Legends of Emberfrost" or "Lords of Emberfrost" or something like that to make it unique.

Mar 27, 2011

Pergammos - a new fantasy world

I love astronomy. If I hadn't decided to be an illustrator for a living I would have gone to pilot school to be a helicopter pilot, but my 3rd choice would have been astronomy! So of course the recent incredible breakthroughs in finding exoplanets has me excited. Any time a planet is in the "goldilocks" zone it makes astronomers get all tingly inside. The goldilocks zone is where the distance from its sun makes liquid water possible on a planet.

Gliese 581 is a planet that is in its star's goldilocks zone.

A fascinating thing about Gliese 581 is that it is tidally locked. This means one side always faces it's sun, while the other always faces away. Fire and ice. This struck me as an incredibly compelling planet for a Fantasy World. Imagine if a planet only had a strip, about the width of California, around it's circumference that was habitable. To the north deserts, unquenchable fire, and uninhabitable lands boiling with magma. To the south a frozen desolate wasteland too cold for any life to bear. But, that space in-between a veritable paradise. A perpetual Hawaii in twilight where life thrives.

Of course Star Wars beat me to the punch with Ryloth. But, Ryloth is mild compared to Gliese 581. And I'm talking about a fantasy world with fire dragons and ice dragons, wizards, artifacts, and mighty warriors!
So I took a little time to develop the idea. I don't know how far I'll go with it, but I'm thinking of making this a publishable fantasy campaign world for use with the Original Edition (and as my previous post indicated, any edition from 0 to 3.5).

Andraxis the bold used a particularly powerful Ethereal spell and flew high above the clouds, higher than any mortal had dared to before, after returning he created this detailed map of what his astonished eyes saw. To the north (left) the world was bathed in fire and blinding light. To the south (right) the world sank into darkness and cold. In the middle the mighty domains of man, elf, and dwarf could be seen bathed in verdant green. Andraxis took months to recover from the ordeal, and swore to never venture so far into the heavens lest he incur the wrath of the immortals. But the sights he saw and recorded has benefitted all the sentient races.
Gondalfar, the world famous cartographer gives us his detailed contour of the world. He drew heavily on the works of Andraxis, and on his own world famous explorations to create the standard map used by the Imperium:
Gondalfar's map looks uniformly peaceful, but it is well known that fire breathing dragons, evil Efreet & salamanders, and intolerant fire elementals dominate the lands to the north. While to the south snow dragons, frost wyrms, and ice devils rule the lands.

A Review of the Original Dungeoneer

In 2003 a little game called Dungeoneer was published. I poured my heart and soul into the game, and it was incredibly difficult to make. I had this idea: a genuine dungeon crawl in a deck of cards. The game was well received, probably what the movie industry would call a "cult hit". It made enough money that I was compelled to create additional sets, but never enough that I could quit my full time job. I was just rereading this review by Shannon Applecline, who has been a supportive Dungeoneer reviewer from the beginning. It brought back old memories and is inspiring me to make the Dungeoneer RPG (which will probably be released as "Dungeoneer Deluxe") the best I can make it.

Mar 26, 2011

Your Dungeon is Suck

Spent some time this morning reading through Your Dungeon is Suck. I came across this sarcastic, foul-mouthed, hilarious blog via Beyond the Black Gate. It is a thoroughly entertaining indulgence, a veritable feast on the worst of the OSR filled with barbs, attacks, characterizations, and poignant digs at all the old-school gaming bloggers. I especially like the ones that hit close to home. I'm guilty of almost all the infractions he charges OSR bloggers with (except I haven't made a retro-clone; yet...).

One point in particular made on YDiS is about the minuscule and barely relevant rules differences between the original set through 3.5 edition. (It is true that 4th edition is just out in left field - a nearly complete departure from the original rules). With barely any effort and a tad bit of imagination you can pull a monster, a magic item, or even a whole adventure from something published in 1974 and play it with your 3.5 edition books. It really cracks me up to read on forums how worked up individuals will get over a weapon that does d6 damage in the Original Edition and the same weapon doing d8 damage in 3.5 edition.
This is the quote from YDiS that really got me:
If you do not have the imaginative gumption to bridge the insignificant mechanical gap between these [editions], then you should not be playing roleplaying games – you should be reading books. If you still need a creative outlet to express the glorious uniqueness that is you, write fanfic.
Ok, I'm going back to work on my retro-clone now. It's going to have the 3 truly true classes, and only the 3 truly true classes, and it will have hobbits, balrogs and banths. Oh, and all weapons will only do d6 damage, because I know you were very concerned about that.

Sometimes its good to laugh at yourself a little. ;)

Mar 25, 2011


Getting printer's quotes. It's getting serious now.

Mar 23, 2011


This blog tends to focus a lot on the art of old school RPG's. With the passing of Jim Roslof I really am at a loss of words. The impact of his art direction has had a deep and lasting effect on my own art and the art of many successful fantasy illustrators today. It is relatively easy to focus on his art, but one of the most important things he did was hire amazing artists to illustrate the world of Dungeons &; Dragons.
He was in charge of the art department at TSR during its most important formative years and he was largely responsible for hiring Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson, Tim Truman, Fred Fields, Brom, and others. These artists went on to not only define what James Maliszewski defines as the "silver age" of RPG's, but a whole generation of fantasy artists. A field of illustration that is still going strong. These artists influenced my own artistic direction. If you do an internet search of any of these artists you'll soon see the impact he had on imaginative fantasy art to this day.
He was criticized for his decision to hire Keith Parkinson, but Keith went on to have a fabulously successful career and influenced a generation of artists.
It took years for me to understand the influence Jim Roslof had on my career and the career of many artists working today. I will be forever indebted. Thanks Jim, and God bless your family!

Mar 15, 2011

Amazing Mapping Tool


WotRP: Zodangan battle ship sketches

Work continues on art for Warriors of the Red Planet. Fresh from my sketchbook are these concepts for Zondangan battleships. Note, these are just rough sketches - I'll take the best designs and do more polished drawings for the book.

Mar 14, 2011

John Carter of Mars - movie concept art

Artist extraordinaire Rafael Kayanan worked on pre-production for a previous version of a John Carter of Mars movie. From what I understand the current director, Andrew Stanton, had a different direction in mind so none of Rafael's concepts are being used. He posted a lot of the amazing concept work he did on his blog. It would have been an interesting and very good take on Burrough's Mars stories.

Mar 12, 2011

Words cannot express...

The shock, grief, and horror I feel for the kind families and folks of Japan suffering through such tragedy. Operation Blessing has long been my charity of choice for international disasters, they are a remarkable organization with the ability to respond and get into tough places quickly and efficiently with urgently needed supplies, medication, and aid. Won't you help them with their relief efforts in Japan? Any little bit helps.

Fractured Dimensions

Fractured Dimensions is a new miniatures company specializing in the "old-school" look and feel. They have posted on their blog a few sneak previews of the miniatures they are working on.

I am particularly fond of the classic looking Orc and Hobgoblin miniatures:

I will be following their blog avidly, and of course purchasing the miniatures as soon as they are available.

Whatever happened to the "pig-looking" orcs anyways? Nowadays they've just gotten...weird.

Mar 10, 2011

Hot Elf Chick!

Hot Elf chick bids you welcome to the OSR.

Top 10 d20 Products

Frog Gods Games just announced the imminent release of Tome of Horrors Complete , since the original Tome of Horrors was one of the best d20 products published (before the tidal wave of d20 crap flooded the game stores and conventions) I thought it would be interesting to do a top ten list of d20 products.

The "d20" period of D&D is special to me because it brought me back to my first RPG love: D&D. I had long since replaced D&D with Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, Rifts, and any number of other RPG's. D&D3 "d20" reminded me of how much I liked the original D&D.

At first things seemed great, the core books wore solid, well thought out, and had some interesting innovations on the original system. But it didn't take long before the avalanche of utter garbage from the "d20 community" and the official published products themselves that I was overwhelmed, and sought refuge in those humble 3 booklets from the Original Edition.

Still, I have to give credit to "d20", it made me once again interested. And, while I don't have as much time these days to play, I still get to enjoy the occasional D&D game and exercise my imagination.
  1. D&D Player's Handbook 3.0. Don't knock this choice, it set the bar for d20 products to follow and opened the gates for fans and pros alike to start publishing d20 products of their own (and really, it was the start of the OSR if you think about it). Among the innovations I like are: removed the awkward "Advanced" moniker, just calling it "D&D" was a good move. Ascending AC, prestige classes, spells organized alphabetically (rather than by class), simplifying all the nasty things that can happen to a character into "Conditions", and removing sub-classes. Sure there was plenty to hate: Feats turned the game into a stat-block nightmare, attacks-of-opportunity were unintelligable, but overall it was a good refreshing of D&D.
  2. Tome of Horrors. This book felt as close to a 1st edition product as anything published during the d20 period. It brought back so many classics from the original Fiend Folio and was both nostalgic and contemporary - a difficult task to achieve.
  3. Arcana Unearthed. Monte Cook's magnum opus of a campaign setting. He pulled out all the stops to show what he thought the original Unearthed Arcana could have been, but wasn't. This book is well worth reading and drawing inspiration from. While I wouldn't play it as is, it certainly has provided inspiration for my own campaigns. (Actually, I want to say Arcana Evolved, because Monte Cook's revision of Arcana Unearthed was superior in almost every way. Really, a great book.)
  4. Call of Cthulhu d20. Of all the d20 books published by Wizards, this one struck me as the best. I love the original CoC and it is my choice of system when running a Cthulhu game, but for pulling Cthulu-esque elements into a D&D game the CoC d20 was the perfect resource. My only complaint is they got too clever with the layout - all the silly diagonal text layout was unnecessary and made it harder to read. But the quality of the writing and the design are superb.
  5. Delta Green d20. During the d20 heyday a lot of publishers would slap the d20 logo on anything, but Delta Green wasn't like that - it was a premium quality product.. The Delta Green supplement to the original Call of Cthulhu was one of the best written, well conceived RPG products ever designed. Pagan Publishing found a way to turn CoC into a sustainable campaign. It was creepy, brilliant, intriguing, and fun. The d20 version maintained all the quality of the original without compromises. 
  6. Midnight. Fantasy Flight Games published a dark d20 setting with a simple concept: what if in the Lord of the Rings Sauron won? Midnight is a campaign world where the "dark lord" won the great battle in the war of good vs. evil, and now the heroes (the players) live in fear and are part of a rag tag rebellion, it is just a great idea. I might be biased because I illustrated the original edition, but the concept was so strong and the setting so well conceived it all added up to a great game.
  7. Mutants & Masterminds. The fact that Green Ronin continues to publish Mutants & Masterminds should tell you something. They found a way to take the d20 system and write, arguably, the best Superhero RPG out there. While Champions my be the, um, champion of "crunch", Mutants & Masterminds took the most familiar RPG system in the world - D&D - and turned it into one of the best superhero RPG systems you can imagine. I just love this game.
  8. Magical Medieval Society. Written as if by serious historians and scholars as if magic really existed during the Medieval period. This product might seem tedious to others, but it takes the proposition of magic seriously and the ramifications it would have on a medieval society. It is one of the most brilliantly written RPG supplements of any period, not just d20.
  9. Iron Kingdoms World Guide. Privateer Press was very smart in how it took advantage of the d20 open license. They published just a few EXTREMELY HIGH QUALITY (yes, the all-caps was worth it) products and sold enough of them to fund their true ambitions: a cutting edge miniatures company. The writing, art, design, and layout of Privateer Press demonstrate a dedication to craftsmanship that tempts me to call them the Apple of the pen & paper games industry. Everything they published for d20: Monsternomicon, Witch Blade Saga, and Iron Kingdoms deserve a place on this list, if only there was room.
  10. Pathfinder. Only because Paizo created something as close to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia for d20 as possible with all the power of modern graphics, game design, writing, and illustration they could muster. I just wish it wasn't in all in 9pt font, wall to wall text. But you still have to be impressed by that core book, it sums up just about everything and the quality is as good as it gets.

And that about finishes the top 10 products of the d20 era. Your mileage may vary.

Mar 9, 2011

Inspirational Image of the Week: Purple Worm!

I always liked how this purple worm looks like an oversized earthworm with a gaping fang-filled maw.

Mar 8, 2011

Dream Cover- Frazetta

Of all the artist who have ever painted a fantasy image, Frazetta is by far my favorite. If I had the proverbial Time Machine, and could go back and design the covers of the original fantasy RPG books there is no doubt exactly who I wish illustrated them. As much as I love what Trampier did for the 1st edition PH cover, these are my ultimate dream covers:

Mar 7, 2011

The Best Graphic Novel You'll Read This Year

Dark Horse comics has released a complete compilation of the John Carter of Mars: Warlord of Mars series into a trade paper back. I have heard complaints that it is only in black & white, but to me that is a feature! I love that it is only in b&w, I can savor every beautiful ink line from masters such as Rudy Nebres (besides, I have all the original comics). Best of all it is printed on smooth paper - the best for B&W reproduction. The quality is excellent.

In addition, the series is excellently written by Chris Claremont with an obvious affection for the master story teller: Edgar Rice Burroughs. I am really enjoying it, and you should to.

Mar 6, 2011

The Awesome Image on the Top Right of this Blog

This is from an old TSR ad in the '70's I think. If you have any other cool TSR ads from the 70's feel free to send them to me. I like collecting them.

Red Seems to be Popular

I think a vast majority of people were introduced to D&D in the early 80's by the Moldvay Basic edition. This makes the red version of the OSR logo the most popular version - as I see it posted on several blogs. (also, that is how it was first introduced). So, here is a red version of the cleaned up (I dare say "professional quality") of the OSR logo. Feel free to use it however you like.

Further Thoughts on S&W Complete Rulebook

Thinking about what I wrote about the S&W Complete Rulebook I can better summarize my thoughts:
1. I don't like the layout
2. I like the writing
3. I wish it was actually more "complete" (or that it wasn't called complete, then there would be no confusion, it is actually Strunk & White's AD&D, in that case it's kinda cool)

The Link List is Growing

I have been adding to the link list on this blog, every old-school, or remotely old-school related blog of quality I can find I add a link. So, do yourself a favor and click on a random link on the right and enjoy.

Bar Wench

This illustration has always tickled me.


Palanthion is the capitol of Dolmaranthuz - the most powerful empire in Tarniss. It boasts the tallest castle-palace in the world, home to emperor Kaelus the great. If you are a citizen of Dolmaranthuz, an "imperial", you are afforded special privileges that no foreigners get - access to the socialized system of the empire.

You may notice some subtle changes to the map card layout. I think it adds to the legibility of the map cards, and makes the game better. (the final Peril/Glory value of the card hasn't been settled yet, so I've left that off. Playtesting, playtesting...this game needs to be awesome).

Mar 5, 2011

Thoughts on Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook

I've had some time now to read through Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, and played a few sessions using it. It is a solid well-written retro-clone, and extremely conservative in it's interpretation of the classic rules. But, for my own personal preferences I still prefer the S&W original core rules.

As readers of this blog may know, I started this blog because I was so impressed by the original Swords & Wizardry RPG. The writing was so efficient, it felt like the Strunk & White's version of OD&D. Yet still maintained enough character that it was enjoyable to read. The layout was clean, the font size ideal, the organization superb. I still use it as my primary reference during play.

I suspect the S&W Complete Rulebook is a reaction to the call for more information to fill the gaps left by the original S&W. What I saw as a virtue of the original I think was seen as a weakness by some critics. And I can certainly see how S&W could be a great foundation for a more complete edition. Which is why I was so excited to get and play it.

The cover was my first indication that something was wrong. While the art itself is perfectly fine, and the logo much more legible, it did not seem to fit the feel of the swords & sorcery world the original evoked. It felt more Cthulhu-esque.

Opening up the book I was greeted with a dense wall of 9pt text. This did not bode well.

I was hoping for an improvement, instead what I was seeing is something that looked less well layed out. Font sizing was unpleasant - body text too small, headers strangely too large, kearning and leading too tight. It all added up to a less pleasant reading experience, and less friendly for use at the gaming table.

The character class choices were fine: Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-User, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Thief. Best thing is the avoidance of the Gygaxian "sub-class" nonsense. And I like that the first person "You are a..." was kept. But in order to cram so many classes into a small number of pages the spacing between paragraphs was removed (for example under Thief Class Abilities).

Races, similar to classes, had a fine set of choices: Dwarfs (I'm so used to Tolkien's Dwarves that Dwarfs sounds clumsy), Elves (why not Elfs?), Half-Elves, Halfings, and Humans. I wouldn't have minded a few more like Gnomes, Half-Orcs, and a personal favorite: Half-Ogres.

The multi-classing rules show where S&W is too conservative in its interpretation of its' source. I think they are still a mess and cause inequalities in character advancement and abilities. We had a Half-Elf Fighter/Magic-User who seemed to dominate the game. And this by a player who is usually a bit timid.

Alignment: this section didn't do much for me, but I loved the illustration on that page! In fact several of the illustrations were quite good.

The equipment section stands out. I like how a few more useful items were added and the list didn't turn into an everything-and-the-kitchen sink catalog.

Weight and movement section was very well written, and concise. This was perhaps one of the best summaries of what often turns into bogged-down bloat in other RPG's.

Combat presents 3 alternate methods, this coupled with the ascending/descending armor class options, makes the rulebook come across as indecisive and too much trying to please everyone, which usually ends up pleasing no one. I would prefer to see the designer choose the best one and stick with it. Optional rules are best left on the cutting room floor, or possibly as a free downloadable expansion.

High Level Adventuring: one of the things I expected from this book was, like the cover says, it would be "Complete". An impossible task for an RPG, but I would think the following things are essential for an RPG to have that moniker: cover all the classic classes, cover all the classic character races, cover all levels of play from beginning to "immortal", cover all regions of play from Dungeon, to Wilderness, to City, to Extra-Planar, and cover all forms of combat from martial to magical to psychic. Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook is far from complete in this aspect.

The last thing I'd want is an 800 page tome written in wall to wall 8pt font in order to be "complete", but I was hoping for something more complete and written in that wonderful "Strunk & White's" concise manner the first S&W RPG was written in.

I didn't mean for this to be a review, just some random thoughts, so I'm going to summarize now.

If this overview was too harsh, I didn't mean for it to be. It really is well written and a great addition to the retro-clones already available. It has a place on my gaming shelf, and I might occasionally pull it down to reference something. But, I don't plan to use it at the gaming table (though since it's on my iPad, I guess I will always have it available just in case).

Mar 2, 2011

Conan the Barbarian Poster

Kind of cool.

OSR Manifesto

Imagine it is summer of 1971. You and your friends enjoy playing wargames with lead miniatures, pencil, paper, and dice. You get this idea to add fantasy elements: elves, orcs, dragons to the game. Then you realize how cool it would be if each player just played one character instead of an army.

Next thing you know you've invented the world's first roleplaying game.

You quickly put together a rule set and get your friends to playtest the heck out of it. Play session after play session you refine and add to the rules while you map out an ominous mega-dungeon. BUT! You know the idea is hot and rush to market. You put together all your playtest notes into a rough manuscript and try to get it published. No one is interested, so you scrape the money together and publish it yourself!

People love the game and next thing you know you are selling copies of the game like crazy! Your company grows from you and a few family members and friends in a basement, to an office to much more!

How do you manage the growth of this phenomenally successful and crazy cool idea?

All right, let's return from fantasy land and come back to reality.

Presently you have the opportunity to add to this quirky and wonderful game. The OSR is an opportunity to re-invision how the original fantasy RPG, and it's children could be. And you can participate with your own designs. ePublishing has made it so easy.

On the excellent Maximum Rock and Roleplay blog, Chad Thorson has given the OSR community a brilliant "OSR" logo.

Here is the logo cleaned up in high resolution format. As a community perhaps we could establish a manifesto that adjudicates the use of this logo. You may freely use the OSR logo on your product given the following criteria:

  1. The product is compatible with the original white box (or wood-grain box) edition of the worlds first and most famous fantasy RPG.
  2. That's it.

I would go so far as to say Blue Box through 1st edition are in most ways an extension, and generally compatible with the original edition. Even 2nd and 3rd edition at least payed homage to the original. So the definition is fairly flexible.

As long as you hold to this criteria you can use this logo on your OSR product. What do you think?

Mar 1, 2011

Hand Drawn Maps are the Best

As much as I love what digital tools can do for us, there is nothing more compelling to me than a map hand drawn from the imagination of some artist or designer or other creative type.
In an era where we see more fantasy maps than we can shake a stick at, it is always refreshing to see a hand drawn map. Especially when they are as well done as these maps by Mike posted on his Sword +1 blog.

Inspirational Image of the Week: Esteban Maroto

If you're reading this blog you probably have an affinity for what some would consider really bad amateur art. The art by Greg Bell in the original D&D books fill you with warm fuzzy feelings. The art by artists such as Sutherland, McLean, and La Force send a thrill up your leg like Chris Matthews watching an Obama speech. Yeah, I know how you feel, I get the same thrill. That warm feeling is called nostalgia, it's a wonderful thing.

Well, interestingly, I only recently discovered Esteban Maroto - the ridiculously talented artist who Greg Bell unapologetically lifted from. Maroto really was a very skilled artist, and I'm surprised it took so long for me to discover his work. This artist has molded my aesthetic more than I knew. Comparing his art to contemporary fantasy artists I'd say he was ahead of his time in many ways, and holds his own quite well. Even in this digital age that has allowed artists to be more prolific than ever.

James Purefoy on "John Carter of Mars"

James Purefoy plays Kantos Kan in Andrew Stanton's John Carter of Mars, He drops a couple of interesting tidbits in this interview for Ironclad (which looks like a pretty cool movie itself). His comments on JCoM is towards the end of the lengthy interview if you want to just skip down.