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.