Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Excellent Travelling Volume

Got some sweet zines from James Maliszewski. I don't really know a lot about Empire of the Petal Throne. But I did a drawing for James' The Excellent Travelling Volume (#11), rendering Srükárum, servant of Sárku and lord of the Legion of the Despairing Dead.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

GOZR Creatures

Here's a sample of the creatures from GOZR. Still a work in progress, but the stat block is very simple.

THREAT: This number ranges from 0 to 7+. It is the number of times the creature can make additional attacks or other actions or force re-rolls.

DEF: Defence is the number subtracted from damage. Always a minimum of 1 point dealt on a hit.

HP: Hit points.

SIZE: Small, gooz, large, giant, and huge. The creatures of this world will lean to the large size. Lots of megafauna. Also, creatures are assumed to be of animal intelligence. Intelligent monsters are not a thing, generally. But you can get some interesting behavior just looking at the animal world.

DMG: How many hit points of damage dealt per attack. Generally based on size, but varies.

Beyond that, I'm avoiding an obligatory description as each will have art. Instead, just going to include some bullet point notes about behavior, special attacks, defenses, etc. I'm also including tables for creating creatures on the fly.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Slaying Time!

Here's some new pinup art I did. You can see the color version and other pinup art at my Blood Red Pinups blog. But of course I'll still post some of this content here as well... just not much.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

GOZR Mechanics


The mechanical interface for GOZR is like this:

You have three stats and each stat is a target number. When you do an action, you roll 1d20 vs. your own target. Then you follow up with whatever results are called for, such as damage.

And this is fine. This works. But I wanted to simplify and reduce dice rolls so I was strongly considering taking an Into the Odd approach and eliminating the action roll, going straight to the effect roll.

But I'm also taking a cue from The Black Hack and making the players do all the dice rolling. So when you are attacked by a monster, what do you roll? It doesn't make a lot of sense to roll your sword damage in that case. But the original three stat mechanics do work just fine for this since you're rolling against your own target, regardless of the weapon or attacker.

For now, I'm sticking with three stats as targets because in every case I've thought of so far this works, especially for a game where players make all the rolls.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Blood Red Pinups

I created another blog called Blood Red Pinups where I plan to post my pinup art. I marked it as mature because I have a ton of stuff that is absolutely rated-R and doesn't fit here on Doomslakers.

If you like my pinup work and/or you like the "genre", follow the new blog. Tell your weirdo friends about it too. I don't know exactly where it will go but I know right now I'm keen on pumping a lot of energy into it.

Strike while the iron is hot, as they say.

But James... why are you doing this? (you ask).

The short answer is I like cheesecake.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ranting and Raving About Discworld Covers

This is a mini-rant from a 49 year old man who likes the stuff he likes and doesn't like the stuff he doesn't like... but who understands when he might be full of shit. And he usually is.

Terry Pratchett. Discworld.

I'm one of those nerdy types who isn't a total geek. Like... if you asked me who was in the C3P0 suit I'd say "there was someone in the suit??" Also, I'd say I don't know where the hyphen goes in C3P0, or if there is one. I also have never watched more than 2 or 3 original Star Trek episodes and I haven't bought a Marvel or DC or Dark Horse comic book off the shelf since the 90s. And I consider myself a comic book lover!

In short, I don't obsess over most stuff. I'm big on ideas and wee on details.

So I don't really know anything about Terry Pratchett other than he was a British author who wrote Discworld and he was, by all measures I can tell, a good man.

My discovery of Pratchett's Discworld came via an illegal download of the first few books in audio format. Wonderful stuff. Not just the books themselves, but the performance of the reader. And see... I don't know who the actual fuck read them. Some British dude* who gave such wonderful life to the characters. And they had this cheeseball echo effect on Death's voice. I loved it. I wouldn't want to hear them any other way.

Josh Kirby killing it.

But this isn't a post about the content or the audio. This is a post about the covers. Remember those deliciously cartoonishly evocative Josh Kirby (RIP) covers? No? See, I posted one here, right above this paragraph, for your enjoyment. I fucking love these. They make me want to pick up the book and read.

Now, I do want to acknowledge something important that seems to bug a lot of people. Kirby's covers don't seem to accurately reflect what's inside the pages. For example, famously, Twoflower is a bespecktacled tourist. He has "four eyes" because he has glasses. But Kirby painted him literally with four eyes. But, because Kirby's art was so dense and kind of hard to parse at first glance, this doesn't really bug me. Of course it might be because my exposure to Discworld came through audiobooks and I wasn't even looking at the covers**.

These covers were published, as far as I can tell, for the original editions of the paperbacks up through maybe book 26, The Thief of Time. That was 2001. Looks like Josh Kirby died in 2001 at the age of 72. I really had never known his work since I had no exposure to these books as a kid or even as a young adult. It wasn't until I was around 35 that I found them. In a short time, he has shot to the top of my favorite artists list for sure. With a bullet.

Anyway. Let's move on from 2001. I'm not going to discuss the next cover artist, Paul Kidby, because I'm not familiar with the work. What I'm going to talk about, and what is the focus of this rant, is the direction the publisher took with the reprints.

They fucking suck. I mean seriously. Look at this shit. We go from these whimsical, wondrous, fantastical paintings, lush with detail, to these spartan, plain, dull, lifeless, center justified pieces of crap?

"For the new covers let's go full 1995 CD-ROM, who needs delicious art?"

Sigh. I know. It's the god damn digital age. You need to think about how people interface with book covers. The spines of books, which used to tell us the title and author so we could pull them out and then be wowed by the covers, are now just the fucking covers. Because you need to see that title and author clearly in a tiny thumbnail on your digital device. There's really no need for a lush cover anymore. Fewer people are picking this up off a shelf and running their fingers over the art. It's just the reality in which we live. And I accept it.

But I don't have to like it, motherfuckers. And I don't.


Here's a video I found randomly where a guy is bitching about the same problem, but with horror covers. I feel ya, pal. I feel ya.

*His name is Nigel Planer. If you didn't think he was British, now you god damn well know it.

**Interesting point, actually. Am I so easy on Kirby because I just love his art and I have no particular connection between experiencing the stories and looking at his paintings? Maybe for others this was more jarring.

An RPG Folder You Once Smooched

Another chapter in this unfolding story.

How this works, for the record: I open random PDFs (I usually close my eyes and click) in my gaming folders and I snip the title, then I give a very quick, short, off the cuff response to what I see. Usually this means I haven't read the thing completely if at all. Sometimes I dive deeper, sometimes I just say a sentence or two.

So here goes another batch.

Paragon: Universal Role-Playing Game by Sean Boyle. Right off the bat, the title isn't going to grab me. But this is only because a) I'm not a huge fan of superhero games and b) I'm not a huge fan of universal systems. Those are my biases going in.

Not that this is a supers game. It's universal. But that cover art by Adrian Reece (which is a bit too early-age digital for me) screams SUPERS.

Um... you need d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12. So no d20 on this bad boy. Plus you need a deck of Paragon cards. A PDF of the cards comes with the game so you can print them out. They're simple black line art so that's no biggie. The cards are like special effects, such as Lucky Break. That type stuff.

Oh man... there are 13 stats for a character. There's a max load table (lifting I guess?) with decimals. So those are not giving me a warm and fuzzy. There's a list of backgrounds and weaknesses, which feel like GURPS-style Adv/Disad. Which is totally fine, of course. It's an intuitive concept and I don't know why people shit on it sometimes.

There's a beefy list of mental disorders, which is a huge callback to classic RPGs that tried to model everything. And this game is definitely in that lineage. It wants to simulate everything it can so you can play any genre you like. Of course, from a game design nerd perspective, this is a fool's errand and no one should endeavor to do it. What you usually end up with is a textbookish set of all-things-being-equal rules that might fit well in an empty white playing space but is clunky and uninspiring when you try to use it in a genre or in a very person setting.

Not poo-pooing this game at all. It's a fleshed out labor of love. But generic systems are just not inspiring to me anymore and I don't believe they accomplish the task they want to accomplish, in the end. At least not for anyone other than the game designer and those few people who for some reason love the blank white space of such a game.

Hypertellurians by Frank "Mottokrosh" Reding is a sci-fantasy RPG... and I really really love me some sci-fantasy. It is a Creative Commons game, which is rad because you can make your own Hypertellurians content and put it out to the world.

The text says it is compatible (more or less) with most old or new adventure games. I'm not sure what that means since game mechanics are pretty disparate between games. But it does look like the game has six character classes or types, so maybe it's got some strong D&D DNA in it?

The text says that the rules use "natural language" so there's lots of room for interpretation, which is good. But also I can see that the characters have numbers rating stats. So it's a mix.

A big portion of the charsheet is inventory slots. One of the key principles of the game is that what you carry defines you. This is certainly a strong callback to old school D&D in which the thing that differentiates two level 1 fighters is that one has a club and the other has plate mail and a sword. Big difference. Also, games like Knave and Into the Odd certainly put a high premium on inventory. I'm also doing this to some degree in GOZR. Anyway, I like it.

I just flipped through and saw a power called Magnificent Mucus Membrane. That's a winner.

The game's art is a mix of custom art and what I think are old public domain sci-fi pieces that kick a lot of ass. The cover by Anna Katariana Molla is pretty sharp. I snagged a print copy of the game and it looks not too shabby. It's on the edge of being a little bit too desktop publishing for my taste, but it's pulled back just enough to be good.

The character sheet is fantastic. It's drawn, and there's a painted version. I can't see who the artist is, though. I might be stupid. But there is a Skullfungus version too! And we all love some Skullfungus.

In the Heart of the Sea by Goblin's Henchman is a one page dungeon. Or more accurately, it is a one page seafaring hexcrawl procedurual thingie. It's only one page. Henchie gives us three "hex flowers", which are big hexes with 19 smaller hexes inside. Each day you roll 2d6 and use the navigation directions hex flower to see which hex you end up in. Each hex has some kind of encounter or trouble or other event. It looks like a very simple, fast way to determine sea travel events if you end up on the high seas in a hexcrawl kind of campain. I'm gonna say neato!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

GOZR Rollin'

 Continuing this post right here.

GOZR is an adventure RPG. You roll up a random gooz and go an adventure in a fantasy world at the end of its life. When the world will end is not known, nor is it necessarily part of the game like it is in Mörk Borg. But there are going to be negative things happening due to the end times a comin', thus there is incentive for PCs to seek out a way to stave off the end and heal the earth.

(As I write this, I realize I need to give this bit some more thought. So far in the pages I've created there is next to no discussion of the end of the world. But everything I've created so far is related to character creation and mechanics, so there's still plenty of room to explore the idea.)

Here are some of the game mechanics.

Action Classes: The history of this game design lies in Dead Wizards, back when I had the idea of embracing the old D&D attack matrix as a core game mechanic. I came up with three categories of action and was planning to have them represented on the character sheet as a descending AC matrix. I killed the matrix but kept the three action categories, which I call Action Classes, or ACs (nods). These are your stats. They are Cunning (stealth, charm, skill, cleverness), Prowess (physical action, combat, danger stuff), and Magic (intellect, knowledge, arcana).

I went with these three categories because, per this game's lineage, the idea was to evoke sword and sorcery. And when I thought very hard about how my favorite sword and sorcery characters interacted with the world it was in these three ways, primarily. You don't really need anything else to play this game.

Each AC is a target number, which is generated randomly. When you do an action related to that AC, you roll 1d20 vs. that target. There are very few modifiers and the ACs rarely change. Instead of your ACs getting better predictably, you have randomized and organic character development. Maybe you are blessed by some forgotten deity and your Magic AC is improved by 1, or maybe you find a weird alien device and your Cunning gets a little better when you're using it. Etc.

GOOZ: Every gooz has GOOZ. GOOZ is the spirit of the people, your connection to the Powers-That-Be. GOOZ is a pool of points you can spend to do cool shit. Right now the cool shit list is this:

  1. Pull off an amazing stunt.
  2. Be next to take action.
  3. Second wind (heal a little).
  4. Know a fact from the GM.
  5. Take an extra action.
  6. Add a new fact to the game-story.
So basically GOOZ is your pool of luck or fate points, which no self-respecting adventure game should be without.

Talents: Every gooz PC gets a random power. I have a list of 20, but I'm planning to have alternate lists so there are a lot more of them. Powers include things like having a third arm, a third eye, magical luck, toughness, education, cuteness, psionics, etc. I'm thinking that while very gooz PC has at least one Talent, only about 1 in 6 gooz NPCs have a Talent.

Doing stuff: Pretty simple. Mostly you're going to roll 1d20 vs. your AC. The mods will be low and rare, with the most common being Lucky. If you're Lucky in that type of action, you get +2. Luck stacks, so if you end up gaining Luck on an action for which you are already Lucky, you get another +1. And the opposite is true for being Unlucky.

For this mechanic, I was originally going with Advantage/Disadvantage. But I feel like that clever mechanic, which I do love, has been used to death. Plus it doesn't stack as well. You can have double Advantage and roll 3 dice, but most games don't actually allow that for some reason. Anyway, I'll be avoiding Adv/Dis for GOZR.

Death and junk: I'm using Hit Points. I tried to think of other ways to do this, but to be totally honest I really like the simplicity and utility of HP so I'm sticking with it. When you run out of HP, you choose between Death and Debasement. If Death, you roll on a table or pick a little boon toward your next PC. If Debasement, you roll on a table to see how your PC gets fucked up... but lives. Nothing good comes from Debasement, so dying over and over will inevitably lead to a wrecked character. Which sounds like a hell of a good time to me!

I'm considering an additional mechanic that functions like a saving throw. I am really on the fence about it. Basically it's like the Sand mechanic from Sand in the Bone (these two games share like 90% of their DNA in terms of mechanics). You would roll 1d6 with a target of 6+. You'd add your current GOOZ to the roll. So if you have 4 or 5 GOOZ, you're more likely to succeed. If you've spent it all, you're not. What I like about this idea is that it's another mechanic to utilize, and I'm a fan of games with a few sub-systems to break up the fatigue of rolling the same thing over and over. However, this method does penalize you for using GOOZ... and that is not what I want. I want you to spend the GOOZ and do cool shit. So I'm leaning toward not using this.

I could keep it and just say you can spend only 1 GOOZ to boost the roll. Maybe then the target is 4+ so it's a 50/50 shot. This would be totally a luck/fate mechanic. Kind of a pass/fail, do/die thing. But I'm really not sure about it so right now it's not part of the game. Just an idea.

Um... what else? Random weapons, armor soaks damage, crits and fumbles are a thing (because FUCK YES), and the whole god damn book is table heavy.

Target for this thing is 24-32 pages. It will be a complete game and hopefully will include an adventure or an adventure generating thingie. Beyond that, if I'm still feeling it, I'd love to do a follow-up book of nothing but alternate random chargen tables, and maybe other follow up books to boot.

In the end, this is a labor of love and a project that is all about inspiration. Of course  I want it to play well, but honestly rolling 1d20 + mods vs. a target number is quite well understood and I'm not too worried about running into serious "balance" issues. Playtesting should hopefully reveal any serious flaws.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Still a lot of work to do on this bad boy right here. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

GOZR Rising

I posted a few times about my pet project GOZR. I pick it up now and then, work on it a while, then drop it for a time. I picked it up again recently and I've managed to knock out several more pages. Feels good to make progress. In spirit, this is exactly how I do Black Pudding. In fact, this whole thing could easily be part of that zine except that it's a) not very compatible with old school D&D and b) in color. 

GOZR is part of my grail quest to create an RPG that captures the vibe of fantasy adventure games, heavy on the sword & sorcery, with an original system not dependent on class or level. It's part of that quest to have a game with "organic" character development. That is, characters change and grow through play. You find magic items, get cursed, meet powerful allies, and learn new tricks. Random rolls between adventures add unexpected developments.

Here's a short snapshot of what the game is, right now.

Physically, it will be in comic book format. Now let me be clear: I don't mean it is a comic, I mean the aspect ratio is 6x9ish and the printed book will look and feel like a comic... all floppy and shit. As of right now, there are no actual comics within its pages. That could change, though.

I'm doing it this way because I feel like the floppy comic format is a lower buy-in in terms of price and you can be unafraid to get beer on it. I would get a couple of copies if I was running this at a bar, then just toss 'em down on the table.

The game is about the gooz, a people at the end times of a dying world. The gooz were perhaps once the slaves of, or creations of, the Pretty People. In my mind, the Pretty People are just humans and/or elves and such. Doesn't matter much. They came and went and left behind vast cities and places now in ruin. The gooz dwell mostly in Gooz City and are dealing with having been the "ugly ones" and now they are really the only game in town, in terms of civilizations.

The world is dying. There are references to an angry sun. My idea is that the adventures will offer secrets that could be used to help heal the world. Gooz have to decide if they want to make sacrifices to heal their world, or just murder hobo their way through ruins. I am not drawing analogies between the fate of the gooz' earth and the fate of our own planet. You certainly can read it that way, but it is not my intention. This dying earth concept is 100% inspired by Richard Corben and various end of the world fantasy, such as Jack Vance.

In fact, the gooz themselves are basically all those weird dudes you see in the Den sequence of the movie Heavy Metal. The ones that serve the queen whats-her-face and carry machine guns.

Remember these goons?

Ok. So chargen is randomized. There are tables you roll on. Some are mandatory, others are optional, and others are relative to other results. There are also "high risk" options. These are tables that do the same thing, but have bigger risk/rewards. I love the idea of letting the player decide how much risk to take. So for example during your adventure interludes when you do level-ups you can choose which tables to roll on. If you only want something useful, roll on the safe tables. But if you want something wickedly useful, you'll have to risk some nasty shit.

This is all hand-drawn and lettered. That's the reason it takes so god damned long. I'm composing, editing, and drawing it on the canvas as I go. A terrible idea, but also wonderful and fun. It is a game meant to inspire and encourage creative play, like Black Pudding. I hope it does what I want it to do.

Next post I'll talk about the actual mechanics.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

OSR Nostalgia & Candy Bars

R.I.P. Steve Z
This post is riffing on or continuing some thoughts I had here and here. It's a bit rambly. Skip if you like.

Way back in the ancient times of the 1990s I was deeply involved in the small press comics and zine scene. By the early 2000s the internet had came along and killed that scene almost utterly. Yes, I know people continued to publish and people continue to publish today. But the scene I knew in the 90s is long dead, killed by the internet, rising costs of mailing, and ready availability of cheap alternative publishing methods. Hell, we photocopied shit because it was cheap and we didn't have print-on-demand.

Anyhoo... this is analogous to the G+ gaming scene and the OSR. To me, anyway.

G+ was where it was at. Games, communities, conversations, news, everything. In the 2010s if you weren't on G+ you were not keeping up with the pulse of the OSR and indie games movement. It's a god damn fact. Everyone was there, even if they didn't want to be. And it was fantastic.

That time lasted about 8 years or so, then Google stuck a fork in it. Now it's dead and the OSR and indie scene splintered as a direct result. It's fucking true. Don't argue with me. Yeah, some of you might have been existing on the fringes, ignoring G+, and nothing much has changed for you. Goody gumdrops. You are very special.

So anyway, G+ died and took much of the OSR's mystique with it. Of course it wasn't just the death of
Blood in the Controversy
G+ that gutted the motherfucker. You spend enough time with a group of disparate people connected tenuously by a common interest in a hobby and you're going to develop rivalries, controversies, and enemies. Peoples' true colors come out over time and they are judged for it. Bad shit comes to light, battle lines are drawn, factions formed, actions taken, communities fractured.

It is inevitable. So I'm not really arguing that the death of G+ was what killed the mystique, it was just the final blow to an already bloodied combatant.

When I started messing around in the OSR sandbox around 2012 or so there were a few tentpole circles that I remember. Lamentations, Tenkar, DCC, Dragonsfoot, Story Games, Podcasters... I'm probably missing some. These are just the tentpoles I remember the most. There were smaller ones too, such as BFRPG's community.

Fast forward to 2020 and you still have remnants of these same groups plus new ones that have grown
This got me started, honestly.
in the interim. They are more rabid and polarized now. Some groups have drawn hard lines in the concrete and do not mix with other groups on any level. Lamentations is certainly in a hardcore stance at the moment in response to various controversies. Story Games has morphed a lot and is perhaps more diffused. I have no idea if Dragonsfoot is still breathing nor do I know if Tenkar's corner of the OSR world is still alive. DCC seems to be trucking along much the same, though I haven't heard of any big Kickstarters in a while so maybe it's losing steam? You also have some other smaller groups/circles, such as the Hydra Collective that have amassed some oeuvre since 2014 or so. You've got the Troika! community. There's a pretty robust collection of RPG circles on Twitter, though that's where you'll find the most intense battle lines. The OSR Anchor podcasting scene came on fast and hard and I think is still going. Of course there are the Outer Circles of the movement where we sometimes send the unwanted, and I generally ignore most of that shit because I've got enough on my plate, thank you very much.

A very tasty jam
It's a funny thing to realize that you feel nostalgia for a movement that was itself largely based on nostalgia. And the OSR was most definitely nostalgia-driven. At first I resisted saying that because I didn't want to say that a thing I loved was "just nostalgia". I've come to a different understanding of it now. Nostalgia is as legit and viable a reason for loving something as anything else. It's all about time and space, distance and personal connections. It's also a neutral term, isn't it? You can have nostalgia for Marathon candy bars (good) or for Confederate flags (bad). Nostalgia itself is neutral without context.

Nostalgia for D&D or Traveler or MERP is good, generally. It's fine. It's wonderful.

At this this point I have logged many more hours playing Labyrinth Lord than I ever did with all versions of D&D combined. Hell, I would say I've played more hours of DCC RPG than I ever played of D&D. For me, 2012-2018 was a golden age of gaming. So many wonderful games and books, so many good times, so many new friends.

That era is over. But as with most good things, something new emerges. We're in a new time. I'm still enjoying myself in gaming. I'm still publishing books, which is the great love affair of my life. I have positive vibes for the future, despite some of the negative energy that has pervaded the scenes in recent years.