May 19, 2022

Minaret of Ipan the Shrunken

Adventure Module VF3

Quest for the Minaret of Ipan the Shrunken  

A map idea by

May 17, 2022

Secret Mine of the Dugan Bros

 The Dugan Bros were some dirty underhanded good for nothin' bad eggs. They's claim jumpers and took a feller's hard earned gold if'n they could. Jonah, the addle-brained younger brother got drunk and gave away that he and his brother were excavatin' a secret mine up in the hills. And there was some strange goings on.

A sneak peek at one of the many maps that will be in the Gunslinger roleplaying game.

May 16, 2022

My Favorite Monster Manuals

My favorite monster manuals were not published by TSR or WotC.

In 1977 Rien Poortvliet's Gnomes was first published in English, this is the same year the first Monster Manual was published. The book of Gnomes is a masterpiece of imagination and art dealing with fantasy creatures. Written and drawn in a naturalist style, it is as if the artist observed and recorded these benign and fascinating little beings in their natural habitat.  It somehow succeeds in making the fantastic mundane in a charming and engaging way. The book has become a perennial best seller, continually in print since then. Rien Poortvliet is a world renowned artist with several other similarly illustrated books  

Shortly after the publication of Gnomes, two other artists Brian Froud and Alan Lee (yes the great concept artist for the Lord of the Rings films) joined forces to illustrate Faeries, a book that is similar to Gnomes but with even more exposition. Brian Froud went on to partner with Jim Henson to create The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and on other films. While Alan Lee was a principle concept artist on the Lord of the Rings movies who got the job because of his long career of illustrating Lord of the Rings calendars with particular respect to detail and accuracy to professor Tolkien's literature.

Both of these tomes should be in your fantasy literature library as a source of delight and inspiration. With all due respect to the artists of the original Monster Manual these Gnomes & Faeries books are on a wholly next level of artistry and are what I imagine a Monster Manual could have been even back in '77.

Even if TSR couldn't have afforded to publish a lavish full color manuscript of such high quality then, by the mid-80's they certainly had the resources. All of the art from the original Monster Manual had been colored, or redrawn in full color in the Monster Manual cards and those Rub-off Decals. When they rereleased the books with new covers and orange spines how much better if they'd been revised and updated with this full color art and also fix some missing things, like XP values.

Since then there have been many creature collections clearly inspired by Gnomes. There was a series by artist extraordinaire Julek Heller such as Giants.

 In some ways you could say the 5th edition MM is designed much this way.

May 8, 2022

Basic Character Sheet - With a Bit of Norse

Inspired by the best and most iconic character sheet TSR ever made, here is a version with Norse patterns and very slight adjustments for that modern old-school play.

In classic mint, goldenrod, and printer friendly white.

Under Saving Throws the "Average" field is to make the sheet compatible with Swords & Wizardry's single Save system. You can average the numbers together for a single stat. I talked a bit more about Saving Throws here: 

Apr 30, 2022

Wizard Tower of Atok Henald

 Atok Henald seemed like a humble quiet scholar of the arcane arts. Little was it known just how powerful he truly was, and the mysteries he had unlocked in his Wizard's Tower.

Available in both parchment and printer friendly versions:

Mystery Map - Tomb of Solwey

 Solwey was an elven prince whose tomb was lost and forgotten long ago. He was a conquerer and a ruthless warlord who amassed great wealth in his life. He wanted to become a Lich to live forever, but the spells failed. The tomb is said to be enchanted with wards of protection to thwart any would be tomb robbers.

Apr 22, 2022

Spelljammer 2022

 Spelljammer came out at a time I'd lost interest in D&D. It was early in the 2nd edition era. The idea did intrigue me and at some point I picked up the original boxed set. I will say this for 2e, while I didn't care much for the aesthetics of that edition it did have some fantastic Campaign Settings. This new edition looks to be very tempting. I'll add that I like the orientation of that DM's screen, I've always preferred the horizontally layout to the vertical ones. Much more useful at the table without blocking view of the play area.

It is a bit odd that the new Dragonlance and Spelljammer were announced so close together. You'd think they'd space these things out a little more. 

Dragonlance 2022

Even though to some Dragonlance was the end of a golden era for Dungeons & Dragons, it will always hold a special place for me as the first Dragonlance calendar with all that amazing fantasy art made me want to become an illustrator and set me on that path. I don't know how well the current regime at Wizards will handle this world, but I'm hoping for the best.

Apr 13, 2022

Wizard Tower of Gaindrac-Kefas

Gaindrac-Kefas was an apprentice of Dorac the Dreadful. He was a kinder soul, less given to the dark arts and once he achieved the rank of Master he hoped his tower of learning would be a beacon of light. Dorac did not take kindly to his former apprentice departing from the dark path, and so cursed him. Gaindrac-Kefas has not been seen since. 

A two-part tower, the upper section held aloft by strange arcana. A portal connects level 1 to level 4 (and back) if the correct incantation is known to activate it.

Apr 10, 2022

Wizard Tower of Kelon-Süm - Updated

A made a few adjustments to the previous Wizard Tower map to make it a little more legible.

I think I like the underground portions drawn this way, goes with the map better. Originally I was thinking of those great cutaways in the original D&D books with the solid black fill.


Apr 8, 2022

Wizard Tower of Kelon-Süm

 Kelon-Süm was an admirer of the legendary wizard Selta Kolnai. He longed to be as innovative and powerful as that might wizard of long ago. He emulated him and copied his spells to learn how to master the arcane arts. While he was never as creative, he was good at recombining the discoveries of other wizards in powerful new ways.

He built a tower, not far from the draken haunted Shadowhaven mountains, in this tower he gathered some of the greatest works of arcane lore. Deep under the tower he made a shrine to Nakari the goddess of darkness and magic. This endows the tower with the powerful essence of magic energy.

Discussion thread and making of video:

Apr 6, 2022

Gunslinger Update - Strange Science

 Recently wrapped up writing the descriptions for the 200+ Strange Science items in Gunslinger. This was the last remaining major section left to complete, and now that it is done all that remains are the details. As with most projects that last 10% is where the elbow grease really comes in tightening everything up.

Cord of Entanglement: This wand-like device shoots a cord of energy to a distance up to 60’, this uses 1 charge. The wand can entangle opponents. The victim must make a general saving throw or the cord wraps around the victim’s body immobilizing them. The wielder of the wand can pull the victim by 10’ per round towards them. Deactivation of the cord releases a victim held entangled.

Coming up next I am taking a break from writing & designing to spend some time purely on art. I just rewatched a Clint Eastwood classic: Hang 'em High and getting some inspiration for compositions. 

Gunslinger discussion here:

Apr 5, 2022

The Wiz-War that Wazn't

I was once commissioned to redo the art in Wiz-War. So what happened to that edition?

Wiz-War is a classic "Ameri-trash" game designed by Tom Jolly. If you are familiar with it you know Magic the Gathering took many ideas from it. The core concept is great; you are a wizard trying to compete with other wizards to steal 2 treasures in a dungeon and get them back to your home base. You have spells that alter the dungeon, affect opponents, and do all kinds of other mayhem. Each spell is on a card (yeah Magic the Gathering, we know). 

The game passed from publisher to publisher and no real mass market version with high production values really hit retail until FFG (Fantasy Flight Games) got a hold of it and did their thing to it, which was basically to overcomplicate it and change everything good about the game. I like the components but I didn't love what they did to the design.

For a time before FFG the rights belonged to Chessex (yeah, the dice company). After I had successfully launched Dungeoneer in 2002, Donald Reents the owner of Chessex contacted me if I would do a similar treatment to Wiz-War. I was quite excited about the opportunity because Dungeoneer had much in common with Wiz-War. This is a true story: when I made Dungeoneer I didn't even know about Wiz-War, but everyone who played Dungeoneer told me it was a great homage to it. So I tracked down a copy, played it with my friends and fell in love with the game. That aside, what happened to this redux?

I worked hard on Wiz-War for at least a year, pouring over the game, making art, working on the layout. I got pretty deep into it. Then I started getting notes from Tom Jolly and the job transitioned from just making art into a revision including design changes. I didn't understand at the time about "scope" but I was in way over my head. It was too much for one person.

I went back to Donald and expressed the challenges I was facing, his solution was to offer me even more compensation to finish the job. Being a starving artist at the time I didn't turn it down, though I should have!

There was a deadline that could not be moved that was ticking away. Chessex only had the rights for a while and they were about to expire. So they HAD to get a version out before then. I doubled down on my efforts. Organized all the components, was cranking away on art, but to no avail. The deadline was too short and the date slipped by. FFG had zero interest in the work I'd done as they had "a different vision" for the game. I was trying to do Saturday Morning Cartoon, they wanted Magic the Gathering Lite.

The cartoonish art might seem out of place compared to my usual work, but it is a reflection of my fun side. There was a brief time I considered trying to work at an animation studio like Disney, but then I got sucked into games.

Donald apologized to me for the fiasco, and even lent me his apartment in Paris for a week when my wife and I visited there. That was very kind of him, I felt I owed him the apology! 

I still have most of the assets. Some have been lost to hard drive crashes over the years. Occasionally I'll use them as placeholder art when I'm brainstorming a game design. Currently I'm using them as avatars on the new Night Owl Workshop forum, which is what prompted me to tell this story.

I still think my version looks way more fun and reflects the spirit of the game better.

Apr 4, 2022

David C. Sutherland III

April 4, 1949, is David C. Sutherland III's birthday. Dave was the first professional artist to work for TSR in 1975 on Blackmoor. His work was approachable and captured the essence of the game. He continued to work for TSR until 1997 when it was purchased by Wizards of the Coast. In that time he drew many of the most iconic and memorably scenes, and maps for Dungeons and Dragons. Including the covers of the Holmes' Basic, the original AD&D hardcovers, and the Ravenloft maps. He quietly passed away in 2005.

Instead of posting his most well known works, here are some very good ones not as widely recognized.

Apr 3, 2022

Top Secret Warriors of the Red Planet Project

Back in July last year Al Krombach, author of Warriors of the Red Planet leaked this little tidbit on the WotRP blog:

"It seems the Mad Scientist is working on something secret in his laboratory of horrors... I wonder what it will be? Is it anything to do with Warriors of the Red Planet? Something even more nefarious? Stay posted..."

Today I received the Table of Contents.

Wow. Just wow. I can't wait to get this into layout and art. It's going to be a doozy. 

Discussion thread:

Apr 1, 2022

Free Map Friday - Tower of the Amaranthine Wizard

Tobias Ealdwil, known as the Amaranthine Wizard delved too deeply into eldritch lore, his mind became consumed with psychotic thought and he fell into a bizarre nightmare. His apprentice was eaten alive by an alien monstrosity summoned from the unknown depths of the abyss. His tower, once a beacon of learning and progress became infested with unspeakable abominations. Now it sits abandoned and forlorn at the northern edge of the region. An eerie magenta glow forever radiates inside.

Mar 29, 2022

Night Owl Workshop Forums

 I've experimented with various social media like Reddit & Discord. I really miss G+, it was ideal for discussing and playing TTRPG's on, and it had a vibrant old-school community.

I enjoy visiting ODD74 and Dragonsfoot, and a few other forums dedicated to old-school/new-school RPG's on occasion. But there has been a need for a dedicated forum for Night Owl Workshop if the company (or more accurately hobby venture!) is to thrive. At long last here is a forum to discuss Warriors of the Red Planet and the other NOW games:

It is a ghost town now, but if you visit, and bring a friend, it may eventually become a community of like minded gamers. I will be using it to keep customers and fans informed on what Night Owl Workshop is up to, and will participate in the conversations from time to time. Check it out, sign up, discuss.

Gateway to Adventure

 I'm not sure I can put into words the power these catalogues had. Even now looking at them still sparks that sense of wonder and anticipation, what is inside? What new books by TSR are coming out? Which ones will I be able to talk mom into getting for me? Will any of them show up at the game store?

Mar 28, 2022

What If Disneyland Was A Dungeon Crawl?

 This incredible architectural rendering of an early Disneyland design sold for a whopping $708,000 at an auction back in 2017. This fairly high resolution map shows off Walt's vision for the amusement park. Much of it remained virtually unchanged like the Riverboat and the entrance area, while other parts changed quite a bit from this early draft.

Looking at this map it struck me what an excellent DnD adventure map it would make.

In particular this little detail in the bottom right is a useful key for the DM. Now all that needs to be done is to stock it up with monsters and treasures, a few traps, and it's ready to go. Done in the spirit of the classic Dungeonland and Beyond the Magic Mirror adventures!

Mar 24, 2022

Mystery Map - Cellars

 As you walk down the creaking wooden steps the air is stale, but there are also whiffs of herbs and ale. You hold your light forth to reveal a dingy cellar stacked with crates and barrels. The room is relatively small and rectangular, but could there be more to this cellar than meets the eye? What is behind those crates on the south wall?

Mar 23, 2022

Gunslinger - The Engineer

The Engineer class is finished. This class was inspired by John Carter's ill-fated prospecting companion James K. Powell.

You may recall I mentioned this class back in October of last year, while the basic write up was fairly straight forward, designing all their gadgets was quite a project.

If you are familiar with Warriors of the Red Planet you know the Scientist class has a suite of gadgets they have access to that get more powerful with each level. Likewise the Engineer is the Wild (wild) West equivalent.  To put it in classic fantasy RPG terms they fill the roll that a Magic User traditionally has. 

The gadget list is a little large at the moment, and perhaps a bit too powerful. It is as if you were to combine all the Magic User and Cleric class spells into one list, since that is kind of how gadgets work.

While the playtesters are letting me know what gadgets to keep on the list, I am deep in the Strange Science section, which is getting bigger than intended! The ideas won't stop coming. To continue with the fantasy RPG analogy they are a bit like what magic items are in that genre. So as you can imagine the possibilities are endless. 

I'm making great progress on Gunslinger. The RPG is well on track to be completed in June.

Mar 11, 2022

Original Edition Campaign

 This little homebrew retroclone by Erik Johansson is designed as a supplement for the original LBB. It includes some bits from Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Sorcery - mainly in the form of classes.

It is an alternate take on character creation, with some alternate adventuring rules, and DM advice for how to run an old-school Original Edition game.

I've only skimmed it, but the writing is clear and concise. At only 48 pages it is thin and packs a punch. No spells, monsters, or treasures it is a replacement, or enhancement if you will, for character creation. Quality is typical Print on Demand perfect binding. The gutters are tighter than I'd like but I was able to read every page. The proportions are a bit smaller than the LBB's (little brown books) at 8"x5".

I ordered it from Amazon:

I also found it on other online stores:

Mar 3, 2022

Gunslinger Pre-Order

 I've received emails from some who missed the Kickstarter. Can you still order Gunslinger? Yes, pre-orders are available on my store here:

Note, this is the special Kickstarter edition that includes On The Arizona Hills (prelude to Princess of the Red Planet campaign adventure) and an expanded Adventures section, it will only be available until I put the order into the printers. After that the book will only be available as a POD and the adventures will be sold separately.

Mar 1, 2022

Unearthed Arcana II

This illustration by TSR vet Jeff Easley is reminiscent of his Unearthed Arcana cover. It was published in Encyclopedia Magica Volume 2 and was reused for the Amazing Stories #58 cover. 

It was also used as a mockup for an Unearthed Arcana II cover in the 1986 TSR product catalog. Rumors are sketchy that there may have been an unpublished version of this book in the TSR archives.  Is it possible there might be a draft copy floating around somewhere?

Joshua Fritts says "During 2E that there was talk of a second book that was coming out but may have been scrapped for budget constraints if I remember right but I’m old now so who knows how good that is."

At that point Gary was out (or on his way out) and TSR was moving towards 2e.

DM Dave has some speculation on what may have been in a Gary Gygax 2e AD&D such as Mystic, Savant, Mountebank, & Jester classes. It seems reasonable some of these would have made a first appearance in an UA2.

Just another TSR mystery we may never know more about, but how we would have embraced an Unearthed Arcana II! Even though the first one was of questionable quality and use.

Feb 18, 2022

Tower of the Egg

 When the Eldritch Lords stole magic from the Elves, they built mysterious towers of learning all across the lands, usually over a powerful nexus of arcane energy. These towers would attract acolytes desiring to learn the forbidden arts. In time as the Eldritch Lords passed away, or were hunted down for their blasphemy, the towers became abandoned. Still protected by powerful enchantments they are nearly impossible to penetrate, but some few may still contain great treasures.

The Tower of the Egg was built by Joam Trassis the Unnatural in the remote regions beyond the city of Hawkmoor. It was long thought to be destroyed or lost forever, but recent rumors and a poorly drawn map indicate it may yet still stand.

Feb 16, 2022

Gunslinger - Ruins and Underworld Map

 Mysterious ancient decaying ruins uncovered in the deep desert. What lurks below?

Threshold Magazine

 I'm late to the party here, but I've been diving into the outstanding Threshold Fanzine. An homage to the classic "known world" Mystara. This setting is one of the little forgotten (by WotC) gems of old TSR. It's a kitchen sink fantasy world, perfect for the wahoo fantasy style of D&D in the 80's.

The authors recently reworked the first few issues so that they'd be very POD friendly if you wanted to get it printed out at a service like Lulu or your local copy shop.

Feb 13, 2022

The Rings of Power Trailer

 I've listened to The Silmarillion on audiobook more times than I can count, so when they diverge from canon it grates on me. Still, I'm going to be optimistic and hope for the best.

Update: turns out Amazon doesn't have the rights to The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. So this is effectively fan fiction. My concerns about them straying from the novels are allayed. It doesn't matter.

Feb 10, 2022

Terror on the Prairie

Terror on the Prairie, starring Gina Carano, follows a pioneering family in a newly built farm which is being attacked and they must fight against the gang of outlaws that are terrorizing them.

Sounds like the makings for a great adventure for Gunslinger. Just add: Gina Carano finds a stash of advanced alien technology weapons in a mysterious cave and takes down the ruthless outlaw gang...

Valkyrie Overseeing a Battlefield

 Another Valkyrie with no stats yet. I'm deep in Gunslinger, statting out Strange Science devices and working on the Adventure Hooks section. More posts to come soon on that. In the meantime, here's a drawing for you on this Thorsday.

Feb 9, 2022

The Warrior of Llarn - a Frazetta Masterpiece Restored

A while back I was reminded of one of my favorite Frank Frazetta fantasy illustrations and as I recall this may have been one of the very first I saw back in my youth before I knew anything about Frazetta or fantasy art in general. It is a striking piece full of energy and strong eye catching color. It was published in 1964 which was just at the dawn of Frazetta's transformation from one of the best draftsman and inkers to becoming the legendary master of fantasy illustration. So he hadn't quite reached the heights of his fame yet and his artwork was not always returned to him by the publisher. As far as I know the original was long lost which is why we don't see any high resolution reproductions of it anywhere. It is sad to think it may be collecting dust in some forgotten attic or worse tossed away after being photographed for the press. Illustration originals just weren't that valued back then.

After hearing a relatively positive review of the book, and wanting to get a good copy of my own I tracked down a well preserved used one rated as "very good". When it came in I wasn't disappointed, it certainly has wear on the edges but the cover is clean and in very good shape. So naturally I scanned it in at very high resolution. Then using Photoshop's content-aware fill and some elbow grease to clean up stray pixels I restored the cover to the best I could get it. The quality is only limited by the limitations of the original printing.

Now whenever someone does a search for this image I hope they get this high resolution copy that as of now is the best one you will find on the net. I know because I have searched very hard for a long time to get a good image of this and there wasn't one. Until now.

Happy Birthday Frazetta. You were, and are the best.