Jul 30, 2021

Herja Valkyrie of Devastation


Valkyrie of Devastation
Demi-Goddess, Medium Humanoid, Chaotic Neutral
Armor Class: 18
Hit Dice: 10 (80hp)
BHB +5
Attacks: 2 × battleaxe (1d8)
Move: 90’ (40’)
Save: D4 W5 P5 B5 S8 (F18)
Morale: 18
XP: 1650
Str: 21 Dex: 16 Con: 17 Int: 12 Wis: 11 Chr: 18
  • Axe of Devastation: on a successful hit creates an explosion of force all within a 25’ radius takes 2d8 damage save vs. breath for half.
  • Axe of Destruction: on a successful hit destroys non-magical shield and armor, or a parried non-magical weapon.
  • Amulet of Protection: +4 AC
Herja (Devastate) is the Valkyrie of Devastation. She is silent most of the time, and soft spoken when she does speak. She lets her axes do the talking for her.

Jul 8, 2021

A Princess of the Red Planet Design Diary #24

Here is the map of Bonita work in progress. Interesting trivia, the saloon here is where Billy the Kid killed his first man. Just 4 miles from this is Ft. Grant where ERB was stationed during the Apache Wars.

This map is for the chapter "On the Arizona Hills". Fleshing out the region for the GM to use as a backdrop for the campaign.

Jun 30, 2021

A Princess of the Red Planet Design Diary #23

On my schedule Gunslinger was to be finished earlier this year. Schedule schmedule. Gunslinger is Chapter 0 of Princess of the Red Planet, and beginnings are a very delicate time.

You see, the name of the adventure has changed to Princess of the Red Planet. This aligns it with the name of the roleplaying game, and further differentiates it from the source material. No worries, it is still a faithful adaptation, but it is also a whole lot more. It has to be in order to provide enough variety for an adventuring party to have a campaign in. Possibly lasting years worth of gaming.

To get back to Gunslinger, here is a rough checklist of what remains to be done:

Strange Science chapter. It's about 50% done.

Maps. This is the tentative list of maps:

  1. Graham County - Done
  2. Fort Grant
  3. Bonita
  4. Bonita tavern
  5. Cave of Gold - Done
  6. Bandit Camp
  7. Apache Camp
  8. Mines
  9. Small town
  10. Spanish Mission

Art. I've been keeping a sketchbook open as I watch westerns and doodling cowboys, natives, towns, and scenes in it. The style is intentionally very sketchy for two reasons, mainly that it conveys action and also it takes less time to draw. As this is sort of a prelude I don't want to get hung up on art (like I did with the original WotRP).

Introductory adventures: as you can see by the map list I have a few ideas for some basic adventures to include. They may not all be necessary. We really only need the Cave and maybe a town and an Apache camp.

Gunslinger is currently 26,379 words. Way more than I was expecting to write.

This is the first time I've written a full RPG from scratch in quite a while. I could have taken the easy route and used Matt Finch's excellent free S&W doc like so many retroclones do. But I wanted a specific flavor and to borrow a few things I've been using in my own games since 5th edition came out.

The Princess of the Red Planet adventure itself is coming together as a multifarious book with cities, dungeons, ships, NPC's, creatures and a host of other parts. The outline is done, the foundation is laid, each chapter is being fleshed out a little at a time.  More on that in the next Design Diary.

Some pages from my Gunslinger sketchbook:

Jun 29, 2021

Magic the Dungeons and Dragons Gathering

 I haven't played Magic in years. I've probably mentioned before (several times even) that my infatuation with the game was short lived. When I played I got really into it for about 6 months. Obsessively so. Then one day I caught myself spending $90 on a rare card for my deck and said wait a minute, this is insane. I quit cold turkey.

I still admire the art, they have a huge art budget and have supported some of the greatest fantasy art talent in the history of illustration. It is really remarkable when you look at the quality of art now compared to the early 90's. As a working illustrator it can be both inspiring and intimidating.

As I only occasionally pay attention these days to new M:tG sets, this one really caught my eye! Do the cards really look like this? If so I will be sorely tempted to buy some packs. Maybe even, heaven forbid, play a game or two.


Update: artists are starting to drop more preview card images and I gotta say, they look amazing. This one by DiTerlizzi.

Obviously inspired by this classic cover:

Jun 28, 2021

Dune RPG Unboxing

The new Dune roleplaying game by Modiphiüs Entertainment arrived on my doorstep today. I'm really looking forward to the new movie by Denis Villeneuve and have high hopes as all the reports so far have been very positive. Though if I've learned anything about movies is not to get your hopes too high!

Likewise I've been following the development of the Dune roleplaying game. My expectations are considerably lower because I admit to not being the hugest fan of the 2d20 system. My experience with their John Carter RPG was less than spectacular. However the miniatures were well done. The Dune RPG appears to be much better, take a look at the unboxing video and see what you think.


Jun 27, 2021

Norse Gods Demigods & Heroes

AD&D Deities and Demigods inherits the same problems the original Gods Demigods & Heroes had, namely poor scholarship. In an amateur publication that is to be expected, it was just some guys in a garage making game books for fun after all. However, by the time we get to the AD&D D&DG TSR was making bucketloads of money and could have afforded to hire knowledgable writers and researchers to lay the groundwork for a better researched tome of myths and legends. The reason this is important is that those AD&D books had an outsized influence on school aged children, many of whom this would have been their first exposure to these world mythologies. I know this is the case for me, though I also had a great copy of Bullfinch's Greek Mythology, and I read the Edda's which filled me with a life long love for my favorite myths; the legends of the Norse. Still, many of the false notions in D&DG cluttered my head for years. For example that Loki is a god of mischief, strife, and fire. 

My second criticism is that it isn't D&Dified enough. This may seem to contradict my first point, because by making it more D&D-like that will necessarily stray from the historical record. D&D is after all a game, so the material should be very gameable, should be useful for the DM to make a campaign based on the chosen mythology or I'd even suggest all of them together in a sort of Mythic Earth gonzo campaign. The real world is the best campaign setting after all.

To reconcile these two points here is what I mean: a solid foundation of reliable scholarship, on top of that the things that will make for a fun game. For example there are hundreds of Valkyries, most of them nothing more than a name, but each one could be fleshed out with game stats, special abilities, and items that are simpatico with their historical counterparts. As long as what is added doesn't contradict what is known, and is complimentary. A Valkyrie of Storms (there is one, her name is Kara) could be given special abilities that let her influence storms for example. Maybe a spear that transforms into lightning.

Part of the reason for the poor scholarship is that the book tries to cover too much. Two non-scholars with a tight deadline weren't going to be able to give each chapter enough depth. Each mythos deserved its own book really. With space to describe the cosmology, world view, gods and heroes of each legend.

I bring this up because it has long bothered me, and it had a direct adverse affect, in as much as misunderstanding who Loki really was can be of any importance. I mean Marvel comics has done more to misinform millions about Norse mythology than any D&D books did. If you want to quibble about it Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and especially Walt Simonson really knew Norse mythology well, they were just adapting it to the quirks of the Marvel universe. Still, there was no reason for the D&DG not to have been more reasonably accurate. 

What am I doing about it? Glad you asked. For a couple years now I've been developing an art book featuring Norse mythology. It started out small (like so many of my projects) and grew in size as I did more research and understood the material more (like so many of my projects). It came time to start actually producing something. I did have a little sketchbook on creatures from Norse mythology that sold well, and part of that is going to become a larger bestiary book with more refined illustrations. The main element of the project is the Book of Valkyries a collection of art and essays on, you guessed it, Valkyries. As I've been working on that I have a pile of sketches and drawings that would make perfect illustrations for an OSR book. With that in mind I've been writing up stats for each Valkyrie to go with the drawings. Expect to see regular posts to highlight that work. Here is an example:

Valkyrie of Axes

Demi-Goddess, Medium Humanoid, Lawful Neutral

Armor Class: 20
Hit Dice: 12 (128hp)
BHB +5
Attacks: 2 × battleaxe (1d8)
Move: 90’ (40’)
Save: D1 W11 P12 B13 S14 (F20)
Morale: 20
XP: 1950

Str: 23 Dex: 18 Con: 18 Int: 15 Wis: 12 Chr: 18

  • Axe of Thunder: +5, when it successfully hits a resounding crack of thunder reverberates in a 40’ radius causing an additional 1d6+1 points of damage to all foes in the range.
  • Axe of Conquest: +5, when it misses she gets a free attack on another opponent within melee range. No more than once per round.

Skeggjöld’s name means “Axe-Age” or “wearing a war axe.” She appears as a tall, athletic flaxen haired shield maiden.

In battle she bears two finely crafted axes thrumuskot (thunderclap) and landvinninga (conquest), that she cannot be deprived of,  if parted from here they will always call to her no matter where they are in the nine realms. 

I don't have a set date the book will be done, but it is very far along.

Jun 23, 2021

John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten

Edgar Rice Burroughs, inc has authorized a new John Carter of Mars novel. 

I haven't read any of the non-Burroughs books they have put out, but apparently this is the 3rd in the series. There was also a Tarzan in Pellucidar novel released not long ago.

It is encouraging that the estate has been making efforts to build on ERB's legacy by turning his works into a Universe. Some of the Dynamite John Carter comics are interesting, but have been received with mixed reactions. I recently picked up the Vampirella meets Dejah Thoris comics that came out a couple years ago, which I have to admit look pretty good to me.

From the press release:

Tarzana, California (June 22, 2021) –The groundbreaking Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe series continues with John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten by Geary Gravel—the third novel in the Swords of Eternity super-arc, a cycle of all-new canonical novels expanding Edgar Rice Burroughs’ worlds of wonder and adventure! Preorders of the book are now available directly from ERB, Inc. Softcover and hardcover editions, as well as a limited Collector’s Edition with a signed bookplate, will be available in a simultaneous release. The novel is expected to ship to customers Late Summer 2021.


Jun 17, 2021

Sedona Arizona and Gunslinger the Weird Science Wild West Roleplaying Game

 The blog has been a bit quiet this week since I've been in Arizona collecting reference for the Gunslinger roleplaying game.

Alright, actually I'm on vacation with the family and we happened to go to Sedona as part of the tour of this great state from the Grand Canyon to the stunning red rocks of Sedona.

While Sedona is considerably North and West of where Gunslinger takes place, the terrain is inspiring and what you imagine the wild west looks like. So I am taking plenty of photo reference for the illustrations to fill in the blank spots of the book.

Jun 11, 2021

Swords & Wizardry Complete Box Set Unboxing


The new Swords & Wizardry Complete Box set just arrived in the mail.

It has 4 booklets, a character sheet pad, a polyhedral dice set, a bookmark, and a letter from Matt Finch the writer. All in a sturdy digest sized box.

While the font was much smaller than expected it is very legible. I've only flipped through it and haven't sat down to read it all yet, but first impressions are it is about what you would expect. Perfect bound digest sized books with the minimalism S&W is known for.

The organization of the combat section was a little confusing, maybe it will make sense once I read it in more detail.

The pages are smooth coated paper which is good for full color printing, but it is printed essentially monochromatic so I don't think it was necessary for the added cost of that kind of paper. So the touch and feel of it are a bit off.

I recorded a video so you can see my first impressions.


Jun 6, 2021

Fight On! Compilations

 I've picked up a few copies of Fight On! magazine over the years, but recently I decided to fill out my collection. When I looked into it I found on the Ignatius Umlaut Lulu page there are compilations of issues 1-4, 5-8, and 9-11  Each issue is packed full of useful material, but when you get the compilations you can really appreciate the quantity and quality. Each article feels passionately created, mostly from direct experience at the gaming table. It reminds me of the best years of early Dragon magazine crossed with some of the best thing about the Judges Guild periodicals. The website seems to stall out at issue 11, but the Lulu store has up to issue 14. 

I'll be digging into more details in the coming weeks as I read through them. 

A message from my dog Loki

Jun 3, 2021

Gamma World 1st Edition Bundle

Next to the Moldvay red box set and the original AD&D hardcovers few other old RPG's hold the same special nostalgia as Gamma World. This was one that when I first saw it I immediately had to get it, but I missed out on 1st edition. Fortunately the 2nd edition is just as good, possibly better and the summer I got that set my friends and I played the heck out of it. 

Even though I have since found a copy of the 1st edition, I like to also have copies in PDF format. And Wizards just put this bundle on sale for a good price. I don't know how long it will last, but I wasted no time in getting and downloading it. The scans are clean and well presented, so I'm happy with the purchase.

The bundle includes the original boxed set, the Referee's Screen, GW1: Legion of Gold (not only one of the best GW adventures, but ranks high in all adventures), GW2 Famine in Far-Go, and GW3 The Cleansing War of Garik Blackhand. That's enough Gamma World adventures for months worth of campaigning.

From the description:

Can you survive in a world gone mad? A world where civilization as we know it has been destroyed in a cataclysmic holocaust? What is left in this world? Find out and encounter such bizarre things as mutated plants and animals more terrible than you can imagine, radiation wastelands that stretch as far as the eye can see, and fearless machines gone uncontrollably berserk . . .

This is the setting for a GAMMA WORLD™ campaign, with players taking on the persona of an individual character somewhere in this forbidding locale. In a quest for survival and in search of a better future, the players adventure across the land, enduring hardships and encountering dangerous obstacles and mysterious foes - never knowing quite what to expect. The result is a game which can go in many directions, but which will be challenging and fascinating no matter what the outcome.

The GAMMA WORLD™ Set includes all the basics needed to set up your own "world": game booklet (packed with terrible mutants, as well as guidelines for creating additional ones of your own), a large campaign map (designed to be easily modified by individual gamemasters), and a full set of polyhedra dice. The only other things necessary are a good imagination and a spirit of adventure! The GAMMA WORLD™ rules are also suitable for use with the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS™ rules.



Bookmark Dungeon: Deathly Cell of Xangarius the Berserk Princess

 Princess Xangarius was cursed by a vampiric sorcerer, and she was imprisoned in an impenetrable cell deep below Fendal castle.

May 25, 2021

Clip Art - OSR Cover Template

 Of all the requests for art I get one of the most frequent is for the page texture and layout I do for my OSR roleplaying game books.

I will say, they look simple but I put quite a bit of time and effort in fonts kerning, leading, and layout and have refined the format over the years. So for those interested here is a ready made template you can use for your own OSR games. It has all you need including font information (you'll have to get those separately), background page texture, and I even made a fun little wizard logo you are free to use to show that your game is OSR friendly. Which to me means it is basically compatible with all the popular retro-clones that emulate the original fantasy roleplaying game.

As a special offer this is half price from what I've sold this template for on my website.


May 24, 2021

Bookmark Dungeon: Monument of Culetol the Raving Guardian

 When Culetol stopped moving the Priests who worshipped him built a great monument as a resting place. Prophecies say that one day we will awaken again.

May 22, 2021

Bookmark Dungeon: Dread Cottage of Farbor the Misty Dog

 Farbor is a reclusive wizard who can transform into a hell hound once per night.

May 20, 2021

Bookmark Beastie: Electric Eel Mermaid 2

 A revised layout for putting a beastie onto a bookmark. This one uses the icongraphy I've been developing to use with a deck of beasties.

For my discussion on creating an ideal "OSR" stat block click here: https://odd74.proboards.com/thread/13995/ideal-od-stat-block

May 19, 2021

Bookmark Dungeon: Obscene Pits of Ekis the Dark

Ekis the cleric of light was tricked by a devil to open pits to the infernal realms. He is now enslaved by the dark powers until the pits can be closed.

May 18, 2021

Clip Art: Elf Wizard II

It has been a while since I uploaded clip art. You know the story, been busy yada yada. Aren't we all?

This is a fun little one I did a while ago, and included it with the OSR Elf Class posted here a while back. Comes in both color and b&w versions.


Let me know if there is something else you'd like to see and I'll consider making new clip art, or pull more stuff from my archives. 

May 17, 2021

Bookmark Dungeon: Deceitful Canyon of Tevil the Deathless Witch


AD&D 1.5 Edition

 A favorite past time among the OSR is criticizing TSR's business practices and elucidating how they would have run the company so much better if they'd been in charge. Yeah, that's me guilty as charged. I mean, it is really fun to do. TSR is such an easy target because they did make colossal blunders, did some really dumb things, and had little idea how to manage the successful properties they had. It was only the wild success of D&D that kept them in business as long as it did. But of course that all ended as soon as a smarter, scrappier, better organized competitor stepped into the space. To be fair this is the history of many businesses.

The criticisms usually come in one of two forms. There is backseat driving which if the backseat driver had been in the seat they'd probably make the same, or different mistakes that would have been just as bad. And there is the 20/20 Hindsight criticisms which can look back and say what they should have done with the nearly 50 years of history to inform. Which of course would have been impossible because no one can predict the future with certainty.

I prefer a more reasoned approach. What did they know, or should have known, at the time given the state of things. And what should TSR have done based on that?

Imagine if a really savvy businessperson had been in charge? With the leverage TSR had they'd own the tabletop gaming market to this day, and be unstoppable. I don't know why I enjoy speculating on this, I just do. It is probably not healthy to imagine the "What If I time travelled to 1970. knowing what I know now?" fantasy. But then isn't that what all the retro-clones really are? So here is my short list.

Some mistakes TSR made they should have known better:

  • Ceding the miniatures market to Games Workshop.
  • Reskinning the AD&D covers without updating the interiors
  • Letting GURPS take the universal RPG mantle
  • AD&D 2.0 as a safe mushy collection of optional rules
  • Not keeping the eye on the ball
  • Marketing driven instead of product driven

Games Workshop (Citadel) took over the fantasy miniatures market because TSR didn't see what a gold mine making high quality miniatures was. Have you really looked at a Grenadier Official AD&D miniature next to a Games Workshop miniature? Grenadier looks like a melted wax glob in comparison. Later Reaper miniatures realized they could make fantastic miniatures for AD&D without the AD&D license and took what was left of the market. You may or may not appreciate the GW aesthetic, but their quality was top notch.

Lumpy Grenadier Model

Games Workshop was in it to win it

AD&D didn't go far enough in revising the original game, but it was undeniably successful. So I'll keep my critique to a minimum. One major issue is they let the books get stale. There should have been more significant updates and revisions to the books but still keep it "1st edition". At the very least when they reskinned the covers with new Jeff Easley covers the interiors should also have been updated. A sort of 1.5 edition. As an example the Monster Manual was painfully out of date and missing necessary information like XP values. One look at the Monster Cards that were published in 1982 shows they had the work essentially done. They had the means to print full color editions by then.

The art and text were done! Just update the MM interior.

It is baffling they didn't make D&D a universal RPG. Why did they keep making all new (unsuccessful in comparison) RPG's with all new systems instead of making the D&D system in multiple genres? A waste of time, energy, and design efforts. (I love FASERIP, so it pains me to make this point) The idea was certainly there, even in the original 1974 D&D it talks about how you could play anything, but they never developed it further from there. Instead they let GURPS take that mantle.

GURPS 1e was published in 1986

AD&D 2e turned off a whole generation of players and eventually led to the bankruptcy of TSR (yes, I know there was a lot of other mismanagement going on). I'm not even saying 2e was bad, just misguided. The one thing that is most touted about 2e is all the optional rules. This is in fact its greatest flaw. The responsibility of a designer is to playtest the heck out of their game. Refine and refine until the very best collection of game mechanics is assembled. Then publish that version. Optional rules are a way for designers to shirk their duties and pass that off to the customer. It is waffling, indecisive, and lazy. You might disagree and love optional rules, in that case an accessory book that offers interesting unofficial rules options is fine. But don't pollute the main stream. It is confusing.

AD&D 2e, at least it wasn't as bad as 4e

This point may sound strange coming from a designer who likes to tinker and create, but this philosophy of delivering a clear finished product does not conflict with fostering tinkering and creativity. RPG's have endless potential because they can be anything. But having a cornerstone to measure from improves everything.

In the 90's TSR lost track of the ball and got distracted by all sorts of things. Magic: the Gathering kind of blew their minds and they didn't know what to do about it. By then it was already too late. The writing was on the wall. TSR thought they just needed better marketing, what they needed was better products.

So let's jump in a time machine. Travel to 1970 knowing what we know now, and see if we can do a better job. Whose with me? 

May 12, 2021

Bookmark Dungeon: Uncovering The Marauder

Something a little different and experimental this time.

1. A weathered and brush covered entrance leads to this cave that was carved out with strange tools. Scraps of metal litter the ground, and the remains of a few corpses. One wall is entirely made out of metal with strange markings and shapes. Two holes in the center and a smaller one off to the left lead into metallic rooms (areas 2 & 5).

2. This cramped corridor has several metal closets each with a strange circular door on them that can be opened by turning what appears to be a small wheel and latch. Each contains an alien specimen, some very hostile if allowed to escape.

3. This little corridor has 3 locked doors that make an audible whoosh when opened or closed. The floor is sterile cold metal. Strange magical white lights illuminate the area with a subtle flicker.

4. strange metal staves are arrayed with odd clothing (laser rifles and space suits). Double airlocks lead to the launch bays (areas 5).

5. This long cylindrical hallway has magic bluish blinking lights that emit no heat. Three small wheel-less carts are lined up that have a seat for one person inside them.

6. Several beds in pods fill this area (crew quarters).

7. Large metal boxes, blinking lights, strange smooth ropes, and all manner of odd gear line the walls and fills this large room. There are metallic men that are hostile to intruders that may be alerted and attack.

8. A giant black window covers the forward facing wall. There are seats in front of a table that is like a metal box with what appear to be glowing gems, metal handles, strange glyphs, and all manner of blinking lights (control room and piloting stations)

May 10, 2021

Bookmark Beastie: Electric Eel Mermaid

 I was experimenting with the bookmark layout I use for Bookmark Dungeons and seeing if I could fit a beastie on there. This is the result. This would work well for most monsters, though I think many of the more interesting ones would get a bit crowded or not fit at all.

May 9, 2021

Beasties: Electric Eel Mermaid

 Electric Eel Mermaid

Medium humanoid (merfolk), neutral Evil

Ecology: subtropical, aquatic freshwater
# App: 2-8 (2d4)
Move: 3”/12”
HD: 6 (36hp)
BHB:  +6
AC: 15 [4]
# of Attacks: 2
Damage: bite 2-7 (1d6+1), claw 1-4 (1d4)
Save: [F1] 16
Treasure: A (water)
Challenge/XP: 8/700

Special: electric shock 30’ radius 2-12 (2d6) damage save for half, electricity immunity, breathe water 

The electric eel mermaid is a highly territorial and aggressive creature. They can emit an electrical charge in the water that affects anyone within a 30’ radius. They require 2-7 (1d6+1) rounds to recharge. This ability only works by touch out of water.

Electric eel mermaids inhabit freshwater river basins, floodplains, swamps, creeks, small rivers, and coastal plains.