Monday, July 1, 2019

Kanebok, the City of Dead Wizards

Following up on this post, here is the original blurb about the cit of Kanebok, the setting of Dead Wizards. I wrote this blurb several years ago and it is presented here mostly as it was, unedited. This will not be the final introductory prose but very close to it as I am keen on keeping this vision as pure as possible. Comments follow the blurb... imagine it being read aloud by Mako Iwamatsu.


From the cataclysms of wizard wars crawled Kanebok, the City of the Exalted Prince. It squats on the edge of a cliff over which spills the dark waters of the River Uth. It is flanked by a desert and perilous badlands. Many old roads converge at its gates and queer vessels from queer lands arrive on the waters.

The Moyirs run the city. Dozens of them compete with one another, cunning and dangerous, backstabbing and plotting, always looking for the angle that will put them in the Mojab’s favor… for the Mojab is the boss of the Moyirs and the de facto ruler of the city. From his Marble Tower of Time he rides a resplendent palanquin of gold and jewels carried by sinewy slaves. The Mojab is the mouthpiece of the Exalted Prince, who is himself a child of the gods. All must answer to the whims and decrees of the immortal Exalted Prince, Supreme Ruler of all the Land, high in his Palace of Glass. Though he is rarely seen, his merest gaze can strike a man dead and his desires are law. On the rare occasion the Exalted Prince enters the city streets he is carried in a glowing howdah on the back of an immense three-headed elephant called Gaj’Uth. A brigade of his arcane guards go before him to clear the path, crushing those who refuse to move and demolishing structures so that not even mighty Gaj’Uth is made to touch the dirty city and its dirty people.

They say to be crushed by the feet of that great beast is to ascend immediately to heaven and be done with this life.

Few are willing to risk it.

You have come by fortune or fate to the city gates, their grisly faces grinning as you enter. Inside are streets of dirt and stone, malodorous, cacophonous… at once a nightmare and a dream. The city is never asleep. It is never still. They say the foolish or brave can find paradise here, if they aren’t swallowed up first.

This is going to be an interesting night, at the very least.

/end blurb

So yeah. Kanebok is meant to be "exotic". I am aware that my whiteness and Westerness means that I am coming from a very particular perspective and that many or most people in the world will have different perspectives on what that means. It's the curse of being human.

Anyway, while not being a direct representation of any culture, this setting is inspired by Arabian Nights types of fantasies, Hollywood-filtered Egyptian fantasy, and various African and East Asian images and ideas I have sponged up over the years. It's a melting post of this stuff... along with a lot of Western baggage, of course. It's the kind of shit a pulp hack writer would slam into their typewriter.

Speaking of which... in my head, Kanebok is the hub for a series of pulp adventures. Each gaming group is like a hack writer crafting their yarns in a shared universe... not unlike the way many authors contributed to the shared universes of Thieves' World or the Cthulhu Mythos. I was chanelling a lot of The Black CompanyConan the Barbarian, and Tales From the Flat Earth when I came up with the idea. I'm not trying to pave new terrain, just running on a feeling here. I hope the end result is something evocative and deliciously pulpy... warts and all. We'll see.

More on the setting and system later.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


Here is Srükárum, servant of Sárku and lord of the Legion of the Despairing Dead... for James Maliszewski's Tékumel zine, The Excellent Traveling Volume #11, which is due out very soon.

I am not an aficionado of Tékumel. I never even heard of it until around 2012 or so. But I do remember seeing ads and/or mentions of Empire of the Pedal Throne, probably in old issues of Dragon Magazine. Here I wanted to keep with the sort of bat creature theme from the Book of Ebon Bindings. The text describes horrible fumes and smells so you can see that coming out of the nostrils and the mouth of the prince himself. And yes those are sacrifices tied together in the summoning squares, per the explicit details of the ritual from the Book of Ebon Bindings. Now you can summon demons too!

Gaj'Uth the Three-Headed Elephant

Following up on this post, here's more of Gaj'Uth. Now, this piece is actually part of a larger piece of cover art for the Dead Wizards RPG I am writing (I don't know when I will be finished, but hopefully this year).

This whole project was born out of a desire to make a pulp sword and sorcery game. Not a narrative game in the strictest sense, but one with more narrative sensibilities than OSR games in general. The system started out as a pure riff on OD&D and I ran a playtest or two with that version a few years ago. But it has morphed quite a bit since then. The second iteration used the descending AC to-hit tables as the primary "core" mechanic, which I still believe is a really cool idea... but I ditched that idea for Dead Wizards and am now working toward an original system that bears some OSR artifacts (there is a saving throw, you use d20 rolls vs. a target).

But the whole point was to make a sword and sorcery game in which you "play through a pulp yarn". The basic unit of adventure role-playing is the adventure itself and in DW that unit is called a yarn. It's a story and it emerges from game play. It's really important to take in that sentence and understand what I mean. You would play this game as a game and whatever kind of lucid, weird, disjointed, harmonious, violent, beautiful, dreamy, or fucked up series of events that emerge from it would be the yarn, or story, that you created. I am not saying this is a "storytelling game" in the sense that many people mean that phrase. It is going to be a game with a game master (I use the term "Judge" because it's the best term - fight me if you want) and while the players do have a lot of impact on their world it is not a shared storytelling game in the strong narrative sense that you'd get from most story games. It's an adventure game with strong narrative flair, not a story game... just to be clear.

Once you complete your yarn by dealing with your characters' needs, you could continue playing more yarns with the same characters or not. I'm designing the system so that it isn't zero-to-hero. Like in most heroic fantasy stories, the "heroes" begin as larger-than-life figures. They are already better than most people. So there isn't any need for balancing or a sense of scale, mostly. This is the kind of game you could run fairly quickly with low prep, depending on how comfortable you are with being creative and judging on the fly. I cringe a little at using the term, but it's a fairly "rules lite" game.

I'll post more soon about the setting and the game system.

Animate Dead - Color Version

I decided to color this piece of art I did for Daniel Proctor's Advanced Labyrinth Lord. I think it turned out pretty cool.

Cover Art: The Hole in the Oak

Here is the cover art I did for Gavin Norman's adventure module The Hole in the Oak, part of his Old School Essentials Kickstarter (formerly called B/X Essentials). You can pre-order this adventure and all the Kickstarter stuff from that link.

So yeah... evil babies! That should be a fun encounter, right? Screw all this talk about ork and goblin babies... let's have actual babies that kill you! What's the Lawful character to do? lol

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Victorious One

Here's a doodle I unearthed among my files. I had essentially forgotten a bunch of art (some of it for the better). I kinda liked this one.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Albumart Maximus: JC Guerrero's Sagan

I will be posting more varied content on my blog because I'm not a one trick pony and I have interests that I think intersect pretty well with my art, gaming, and comics life. Here's an example of what I'm talking about: I like rock album covers.

Sagan is a "protospace" rock band. It's a new genre I wasn't aware of!

This is killer art by JC Guerrero. We have two astronauts on a mission who suddenly become aware of their third companion's ill-met fate... soon to be their own?? It has this really nice old comic book vibe complete with blood and gore juxtaposed against a kind of realistic space backdrop. But you can see all that, can't you?

Music isn't bad. Sort of riffy instrumental rock in the stoner tradition.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Labyrinth Lured: A Place For Lost Stuff

I'm thinking about taking my collections of Labyrinth Lord detritus and transforming them into a monsters & treasures type book. I think I'll call it Labyrinth Lured because it's clever. Then later I might do one that's more saucy and naughty and call it Labyrinth Lurid. Because that's also clever in an annoying way.

Here's a mock up of what the cover for Labyrinth Lured might look like. Just imagine it in stunning 256 million range Technicolor™ for the full effect. Picture an interior chock full of nasty boogers and gaudy baubles. Maybe some of the LL character classes I've been far far too lazy to do for Black Pudding, such as the Dazzler and the Mentalist.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Drawing Gaj'Uth the Three Headed Elephant

I have circled back around to Dead Wizards, having taken the very long way to get here. For those who might not remember or care, Dead Wizards is a sword and sorcery tabletop RPG I have been "working on" for a long time now... how long? Let me just go and check...

The earliest post I can find on my blog is 01/22/2017. But I believe I was posting about this on G+ (long may it dance in the Happy Fields of Memory) before that time. I know I ran a playtest of a Swords & Wizardry version of the game at least 3 years ago.

So I have been in a bit of a creative slump lately. I haven't been getting streams of new ideas like I used to. I was beginning to worry that my idea well was dry or I was just so old and jaded I didn't give enough shits anymore to make the pump work. But I was driving home from Indiana on a work trip and I had this amazing 4 hour long brainstorm. Normally I listen to podcasts and audiobooks on journeys but on this one I just let some music play the whole time and I let my mind go nuts. Essentially, I wrote the core of the game on the road.

Because I didn't have a "game" yet. I had versions of a game and I had playtested a few of them, but wasn't really satisfied. That's why I kept thinking I might just make it an OSR game and stick with old D&D mechanics. But now I feel kind of liberated from that idea. The setting could work with those mechanics, but there's really no reason it should have to. I haven't written a standalone RPG of significance in years. Many years. The Questing Beast was probably the last one. It's high time I got back to the work.
Gaj'Uth is not amused by life

Which brings me to drawing Gaj'Uth the Three-Headed Elephant. I mention the elephant in the opening tone-setting for the game thus:

"On the rare occasion the Exalted Prince enters the city streets he is carried in a glowing howdah on the back of an immense three-headed elephant called Gaj’Uth. A brigade of his arcane guards go before him to clear the path, crushing those who refuse to move and demolishing structures so that not even mighty Gaj’Uth is made to touch the dirty city and its dirty people."

For context, the game is inspired by Arabian, Indian, and African mythologies and concepts. It is absolutely not a representation of any particular culture or people at all and is filled with all sorts of feverish fantasy flizbits from my brain that aren't even part of the three influences I mentioned. So it's kind of tricky to decide how to describe it, how to "market" it, and so forth. I'm doing it for my own pleasure and satisfaction, as I usually do everything for that purpose. I want to make something cool and wicked and evocative in the vein of pulp fantasy stories as filtered through my own head. So that means as much or more Tanith Lee as Robert E. Howard.

But I've said all this before. I even presented some mechanics from previous incarnations of the game on G+, generating some nice conversations and debates about how the game would work. I believe in those iterations I was enamored of using the descending AC to-hit matrix as a core mechanic for all game actions. While that's still a sexy idea in my book, I do not believe that's the way I'll go with this game. I have a pretty clear schema in my skullpan that I feel like makes some kind of sense. It's a theater of the mind approach for sure, with less emphasis on game tactics (such as blow by blow combat) and more emphasis on the bigger picture... the life's work of a character and the juicy way they fit snuggly into the game's setting.

And it does have a setting. I'm not shying away from that here. I have often tried to keep things loose in terms of setting so my work can be picked up and dropped into existing game campaigns. Not here. This is a very specific place with a specific ethos and way of existing with it. Not too complex, mind you. I don't like games with a huge wall of text or series of novels I have to read before I can "get it". I don't want to make that game.

Ah see now I ramble as is my wont. Stream of consciousness eat your heart out.

I will post again down the road a bit, probably discussing the mechanics. And I'll arrange some playtesting with my Monday night friends as soon as they will indulge me.

Until then, be kind and enjoy your moments.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Pool vs. The Questing Beast

Ron Edwards has another Pool-related post up, with a video. I love reading Ron's insights into the game. I try to remember my thoughts at the time I wrote TQB and why I made the changes I did, but I fail to remember. This is because I tend to do everything more-or-less while inspiration strikes and very often if I think too long about it I just won't do it.

Anyway, if you want to understand The Pool and The Questing Beast, go check out his post. Read the comment section for a clear explanation of how the games work.