Jun 29, 2020

APoM Design Diary #15 - Woola

Armor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 6/40hp
Move: 120' (360' burst)
Attacks: bite
Damage: 2d10
No. Appearing: 1
Save: F5
Morale: 12
XP Value: 600
Str: 18 (+3), Dex: 18 (+3), Con: 13 (+1), Wis: 9 (+0), Int: 5 (-1), Chr: 12 (0)
Equipment: n/a
Woola is a calot and the loyal hound of John Carter and his family. Calots are about the size of a Shetland pony, with ten short legs and a frog-like head, and a small amount of bristly "hair". They are the fastest creatures on Mars. He can perform bursts of speed for 2-8 rounds of 360' per round, and requires an hour of rest before performing a burst again.

Woola was once a guard-dog for the Tharks at Korad and was assigned by Sola the green martian because she feared for Carter's safety since Korad was infested with white apes. Carter misunderstood Sola's intent and attempted to run away and was startled to find Woola was faster than him. So he leapt to a second story window, but was grabbed by a white ape. In the struggle he was pinned down by the ape and was about to be smashed by another apes cudgel when Woola intercepted and tore at the massive creature. Carter returned the favor by grabbing the cudgel and smashing the monstrous ape's head in and saving Woola.

Carter showed affection to Woola by petting his head, and never before having experienced kindness Woola became his loyal companion. After John Carter was forced to leave Mars, Woola became Carthoris's pet and later that of his younger sister Tara.

Jun 27, 2020

Dragonlance the Musical!

Dragonlance seems nearly forgotten in all the recent 80's nostalgia. The original series called The War of the Lance ran from 1984 to 1987. Exactly the years I was in high school. So I was in the prime demographic for the adventure modules and novels.

Margaret Weiss posted an image on her Facebook and mentioned it was from the Russian Dragonlance Musical. That was immediately intriguing. So after hunting down more information about it I came across the entire play on YouTube. And found several images online. The costumes  are clearly recognizable and not too bad. The set though is very minimal and relies on lighting to hide that fact.

Turns out there are several versions of the musical you can find videos of, each with different actors performing the parts. I didn't do an exhaustive review to see which was the best as I enjoyed the first one I stumbled across well enough.

Wizards of the Coast seems to have pretty much forgotten the Dragonlance line and nothing new has really come out since 2010 as far as I can tell. In retrospect the novels aren't necessarily the greatest literature of all time and is highly derivative of Lord of the Rings. At the time the novels were immensely enjoyable, though they come across as a little naive and cliche by today's standards. But I do think the second trilogy, the Time of the Twins is much more original and tells a rip roaring story of a mage and his quest for power. Despite it involving time travel, which is annoying enough especially in a fantasy novel.

Its kind of funny to think that most of the performers probably weren't even born yet when the books came out. That makes me feel old.

The musical is interesting, a Netflix series with high production values would be even better. You can watch the entire musical with subtitles on YouTube. It's not that bad and has some really good moments if you don't mind opera:

Jun 26, 2020

APoM Design Diary #14 - Air Plant Keeper

Air Plant Keeper
Red Martian, 1st level Fighting Man
Armor Class: 10 [9]
Hit Dice: 1/6hp
Move: 120'
Attacks: shortsword or pistol
Damage: 1d6 or 1d12
No. Appearing: 1-4
Save: F1
Morale: 12
XP Value: 100
Str: 11 (+0), Dex: 10 (+0), Con: 10 (+0), Wis: 9 (+0), Int: 13 (+1), Chr: 9 (0)
Equipment: shortsword, pistol.
Air plant keepers are skilled in the operations of the great air generators that maintain the breathable atmosphere of Barsoom. They are dedicated to their job and will defend the plant from hostile forces that may harm it.


Some things are switched around in the stat format. This is similar to the classic B/X layout. Still considering what would be the best format. I like the brevity in the Warriors of the Red Planet rulebook, but feel it might be a little too minimalistic.

One of the common criticisms of WotRP is that it mentioned Social Status as an attribute, but doesn't provide much more information. I discussed Social Status a bit in this thread odd74.proboards.com/thread/14144/social-status-lurking-ability-stat

Social Status is a very important part of the Barsoom novels and deserves more extrapolation. So maybe Social Status should be added to these NPC entries?

Jun 25, 2020

The Lost Art of Staggered Squares

In Alarums & Excursions issue 15 Gary Gygax notes "...I do not bother to place adventurers on any sort of graph if the group is three or less...more than three persons are in a party, we always require that they align themselves in a march order, the leader be in the front rank...when combat takes place we sometimes use miniatures...my favorite grid for character positions in combat is a large sheet of staggered squares covered with acetate." That is some interesting lore from way back. 

I was curious what the pros and cons of staggered squares might be over a square grid or hexes and not having much luck finding a good one online I made a sheet in Photoshop and printed it out large to test at the gaming table. It has some very interesting properties. Basically it works the same as hexagonal paper, but with the straight edge alignment properties of squares. The play test went really well, and you don't have that weird move effect where you move further relatively per square diagonally on a square grid.

Square grids and hexagons are ubiquitous in games, but when was the last time you saw staggered squares? I first became aware of the staggered squares grid when reading a copy of TSR's first sci-fi game Star Probe and its sequel Star Empires which has a map of the galaxy on a staggered grid.

Here is the grid I made, you are welcome to have and print out to try at home:

APoM Design Diary #13 - NPC Roster

These are the 22 NPC's gleaned from the text of A Princess of Mars to be described in the adventure.
  1. Air Plant Keeper
  2. Bar Comas
  3. Dak Kova
  4. Dejah Thoris
  5. Edgar Rice Burroughs
  6. Gozava
  7. James K Powell
  8. John Carter
  9. Kantos Kan
  10. Lorquas Ptomal
  11. Matai Shang
  12. Mors Kajak
  13. Notan
  14. Sab Than
  15. Sarkoja
  16. Sola
  17. Tal Hajus
  18. Tardos Mors
  19. Tars Tarkas
  20. Than Kosis
  21. Woola (calot)
  22. Zad

Jun 22, 2020

APoM Design Diary #12: Bar Comas Jeddak of the Warhoon

I compiled a list of about 22 NPC's for the Princess of Mars Adventure (unless I missed some in my multiple read throughs). I'm thinking of illustrating and designing the stats for each character. So it will be a pretty hefty section of the book. Some might only need a brief stat block, while some of the more important ones will need quite a bit more. Here is the first one on my list:

Bar Comas
Green Martian, Warhoon, 6th level Fighting Man
CR/XP 6/320
Size L (12’6”)
AC: 5 [15]
HD: 6+6
Atk: longsword, and shortsword or pistol or tusks
Dmg: 1d8, and 1d6 or 1d12 or 2d4
Save: F6
Move: 120’
Str: 17 (+2), Dex: 13 (+1), Con: 18 (+3), Wis: 12 (+0), Int: 10 (+0), Chr: 8 (-1)
Equipment: longsword, shortsword, pistol (x2).

Bar Comas was the Jeddak of the Warhoon tribe of Green Martians. He was regarded as weak and not strong enough to rule by his lieutenant, Dak Kova, who killed him over a disagreement about what to do with John Carter after the Warhoons captured him. This resulted in Dak Kova becoming the Jeddak.

"He will die as Bar Comas, your jeddak, sees fit, if at all," replied the young ruler, with emphasis and dignity.
"If at all?" roared Dak Kova. "By the dead hands at my throat but he shall die, Bar Comas. No maudlin weakness on your part shall save him. O, would that Warhoon were ruled by a real jeddak rather than by a water-hearted weakling from whom even old Dak Kova could tear the metal with his bare hands!"

Jun 17, 2020

Making Sense of the OD&D Elf

Much has been said about the 1974 OD&D Elf, it is a bit of a strange class. On one adventure it is a Fighter on another it is a Magic-User, but it can't be both at the same time. It is awkward and somewhat unwieldy when running an OD&D game. How can we make a better version that also remains true to the integrity of the system? The core idea is you have a character with good fighting ability and some magic ability. Sounds a lot like a cleric, so perhaps it has similar spell progression. If you give an Elf the combat ability of a fighter and also spells there will need to be a balancing factor, so what if it had the experience progression of a Magic-User, and is limited to the 8th level? With this in mind we can give the Elf attacks and saves like a fighter full time.

How do you give level titles to an Elf? OD&D doesn't even address this. The authors of Basic simply smashed Fighter and Magic-User titles together and ended up with this:

  1. Veteran-Medium
  2. Warrior-Seer
  3. Swordmaster-Conjuror
  4. Hero Magician
  5. Swashbuckler Sorceror
  6. Superhero Necromancer
  7. Lord Wizard
  8. Lord Wizard 8th

These titles sound epic and compelling in a generic fantasy sense, who doesn't want to play a Superhero Necromancer! However, these titles don't really fit an Elf and are a bit strange. What can be done about that? Besides the obvious problem of race-as-class, which is only murkily suggested in OD&D and codified in Basic, level titles are always a bit awkward. And yet they unquestionably add flavor to vanilla fantasy. I don't have an answer yet, I'm still mulling it over. So for now Level Title is: Elf.

With all this in mind I present the 1974 OD&D Elf Class:

Elves are at once Fighting-Men and Magic-Users and thus they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and weapons usable by either Fighters or Magic-Users. They select spells from the Magic-User list.

Elves with a Dexterity of 14 or more reduce enemies' attack rolls by 1 per point of Dexterity over 14.

Elves are able to locate secret passages  and hidden doors on a roll of 1-4. They sense any secret door they pass, a 1 or a 2 indicating that they become aware that something is there. Elves have the ability of moving silently and are nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks, reduce in half any chance anyone has of detecting the elf. Elves armed with magical weapons will add +1 to dice rolled to determine damage, i.e. when a hit is scored the possible number of damage points will be 2-7 per die.

Elves on foot may split-move and fire: move half their normal movement, fire an arrow, then move the balance of their normal movement. Mounted Elves may not split-move and fire, for they are not naturally adapted to horseback. Finally, Elves are able to speak the languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls in addition to their own Elvish and the other usual tongues.

Alternate Combat System:

As for the Level Titles what can be done? I dunno. Adolescent, adult, village elder? Forest Warden. Nature protector? Orc slayer? Low elf, mid elf, high elf? There probably is a good approach. If I hear of one, I'll update this post.


Jun 11, 2020

2020 Vision Map

This is an update to current projects in development.

First is my major ongoing Norse Mythology project, currently being called the Book of Valkyries. It has several components to it including a bestiary and maps. The text is largely written, now I am focusing on the artwork and layout. I provide regular in depth updates on my Patreon as well as exclusive content. On the current trajectory it looks like there will be an OSR version, a 5e version, and a literary (non-gaming) version.

Second is a supplement for Warriors of the Red Planet. A Princess of Mars adventure is a translation of the classic pulp novel into an OSR rpg adventure. A design diary of sorts is posted here and on the ODD74 board. Large parts have been written, I am currently working on the maps which are a fun challenge.

Third is the fantasy world of Hawkmoor. This grew out of the flavor text of the Beasties books, and a homebrew campaign I've played off and on now for years. It is a self contained OSR RPG that is also my take on original white box DnD with streamlined rules, better organization, layout, and art. Patrons also get updates and bonus content.

If there are other projects you've heard mentioned here that aren't listed it isn't because they've been forgotten. I am using a technique I learned about from a talk by Warren Buffett called the 5/25 strategy. Where you list 25 things you want to accomplish, choose 5 to focus on. The other 20 are things you must avoid spending time or energy on at all costs, so they do not distract from the 5. As you complete the 5 you can consider adding those (or others) to your current 5 priorities.

So these 3 things (and 2 other personal goals) are my current priority.

It doesn't mean there won't be occasional odds & ends posted here, or made available on DriveThru. I have many interesting tidbits to release here and there. The hard part for me is my head is always exploding with ideas most of them not good or worth wasting time on, but once in a while there is a good one. Like last night I couldn't sleep because my brain was churning through some concept for a grimdark fantasy setting so I had to get up and write it down to get it out of my head and onto paper, because it will become one of those projects I need to avoid. For now.

Thanks for checking this out. Stay tuned for more.

Jun 10, 2020

Geiravor the Spear-Bearer

Here at the Denmark household we've been playing a Norse themed campaign with 5e D&D, of course giving it a little OSR flavor. This is in conjunction with a project that has been in development for a couple years; a Book of Valkyries. While some Valkyries are only mentioned by name research reveals a fascinating variety of details beyond just the evocative name for many mentioned in Norse Mythology.

In terms of a D&D campaign there is a lot of room for interpretation and extrapolation by digging deep into the lore. Here is my first attempt at doing a 5e style layout with one of the Valkyries; Geiravor the Spear-Bearer:

This Patreon is a place to get Norse Mythology inspired art as well as related gaming material.

Jun 3, 2020

Midnight and Mistborn

16 years ago I painted covers for the Midnight role playing game by Fantasy Flight Games, and even won a Silver Ennie for the core book cover. At the time I didn't appreciate how important it was to the company. To me it was just another commission I was happy to work on. But the feedback kept coming in and the revisions and all the push back got harder and harder to work on and it slowly donned on me this was serious business.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy book that comes up regularly on recommended reading lists. I finally got around to reading it last year.

What a great book.

What does it have to do with Midnight? As it turns out the premise of both Mistborn and Midnight is essentially the same: what if in The Lord of the Rings the Darklord won? The world is repressed under the might of his forces. The characters are struggling under an oppressive regime.

The details work out quite differently. While I do have a certain fondness for Midnight, I have to hand it to Brandon Sanderson for his excellent authorship of Mistborn. In particular he created one of the most compelling magic systems in a fantasy world.

Still, that is no knock on Midnight. It is a very well realized world, plays with some fantastic dark and evocative themes, and is quite well written, designed, and produced. If you can get a copy I highly recommend it.

These are the three books I did the covers for, and I also drew almost exclusively all the interior illustrations of the first edition core rule book. I didn't know it or appreciate it enough at the time, but it was an honor to get to work on it.

They are available on DriveThru here: