Sunday, May 21, 2017

Class Alphabet Art

I contributed the Ape Ascendant class to David Coppoletti's Class Alphabet project for use with DCC RPG. Here are two images I also contributed to the upcoming book. These are both digital works.

The Tenacious D-fender class was written by Forrest Aguirre and the Flesh Forged was written by David Baity.

Tenacious D-fender!

Flesh Forged!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

To Hit or not To Hit...HIT!

Ok, so one of the types of RPG mechanics that is most vilified is the table mechanic. That is, a resolution mechanic that actually requires you to look at a table for an answer. The classic example is D&D's to-hit or attack matrix. In modern games this type of mechanic is absolutely despised and considered to be akin to writing a game for Commodore 64 in 2017.

When I was young I just took those tables as a given and developed quite a fondness for them. Years later I started thinking about simpler mechanics and I went through a hardcore anti-table period. I even remember ranting against descending AC as recently as 2012... just weeks before I dived headfirst into Labyrinth Lord and rediscovered what I loved about gaming in the first place.

A lot of my character sheets include an attack matrix. In my opinion, the only reason you might dislike these tables is because you have to go to the rulebook to look up your attack values. And that is a pain the ass, I agree. But when those values are on your character sheet I just don't see the problem.

YES... it is an extra step between the attack roll and knowing the outcome. If the target number to roll is equal to the AC, it's much easier and faster to know if you hit. But by using that method you have to rely on a lot of modifiers if you want to model any kind of character progression. Thus we end up with characters that have a +13 to hit. Which is something that bugs the snot out of me.

The attack matrix eliminates that modifier bloat problem. And how god damn hard is it to tilt your head down and look at a number on your sheet?

But hey, I realize these little things matter and you might be a person who HATES IT. I get it.

Anyway... I was fiddling with the attack matrix idea in a new game design. The idea is this:

You have three types of dice rolls for dealing with all possible actions. Each roll is made on a simple matrix identical to the to-hit table pictured here. But the values on the table never change. There is no level system, no progression. So if you start with a 10 at the top slot (roll a 10 to hit AC 9) then you will always have a 10. Thus no messy pencil marks and erasing and no need to reference a rulebook. It's on your sheet in black and white.

(As an aside... the game would encourage "advancement" organically. That is, finding cool stuff that gives you an edge. Learning from super secret tomes of lore. Being blessed or cursed by gods and demons. All of these things would be represented by modifiers... albeit without the bloat. Therefore if you do end up having a +2 on an attack roll it's a big deal. But the only reason you'd ever see +13 is if the group just let things get out of hand. Or WANTED a superpowered game. Whatever.)

Just thinking out loud here. I realize the concept is not going to be appealing to everyone. But a very stubborn part of me wants to do it anyway, just because. And since it is represented visually, it adds to the rule of cool for the game design. The character sheets would LOOK great.

And god dammit... it does NOT slow things down to glance at your sheet when you make a roll. And since the numbers on the sheet will not change... you'll have that shit memorized pretty fast.

Judy: I slice at the animated monkey with my scimitar! (clatter... Judy glances [GLANCES] at her sheet... maybe) I hit AC 4!

Judge: Your steel bites deep. The monkey screeches in pain and begins to vomit fire! But first, roll some damage.

You get the idea.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Paralyzing Perfection

I have always struggled with this weird inability to focus on a single thing long enough to see it finished. It isn't a crippling problem, though. I can finish things. But the things I finish and show to the world are few compared to the many things I dream about or even pour my work into. My old folders (both physical and digital) are filled with partial ideas, even finished comic book pages that never saw their endings (or even their middles). When I was in my 20s I did a comic book series called Anomalic, which I published in the small press arena of the 90s and traded with many awesome creators. I finished five or six issues of Anomalic over the course of about two years. It was an epic fantasy story based on my early D&D campaign ideas and the many characters I created but never really played.

But even though I cranked out a handful of issues the story was simply going nowhere. It was supposed to begin with the meeting of a lost girl and a man with no memory. Then it would unfold into a huge story about a world wide war and - you guessed it - a dark lord villain. But I meandered. I indulged in exploring the setting and lingering on scenes so that by the last issue the two main characters had barely made their way back to the city where the story proper was to begin. I think at that point I just didn't have the spirit to soldier on. And it was because I have this insane idea about perfection.

When I was in 8th grade I had a teacher who was very cool. She was kind of hip. In fact, I'm pretty sure she was a legit hippie of some kind. I don't know. But she was sarcastic and funny and scathing in her humor and attitude toward students... especially the ones displaying a lack of depth or understanding. She once told me that the Greeks had this idea about perfection. She said they believed that the idea was always perfect and each step in the process of converting an idea into a thing reduced its perfection. She even put numbers to it, probably in an effort to get my young mind to grasp the concept. She said the idea of a statue is 100% perfect but the statue itself probably cant' be more than 80% perfect, if that.

I understood. Each time you translate something from one form into another it loses a bit of its original self. Or it gets changed. Like the old analogy of a person calling on the phone to tell a rumor and the rumor being repeated by a dozen people until it makes it way back to the original source. By then the rumor might not be recognizable. Of course, the teacher was referring to ideas such as Plato's forms and probably the cave of shadows, but I didn't know any of that stuff and she didn't elaborate.

Yet the idea drilled into my head and stayed there forever. It was at this time that I discovered D&D and RPGs. I was drawn like a thirsty dog to a bowl of beer. And I believe the thing reason RPGs resonated so completely with me is that they represent potential. They are perfect. When you concoct an adventure to run, that adventure feels perfect. It isn't until you actually run it that the adventure loses that sense of perfection. It gets translated from a potential thing into a real thing. It becomes defined, and in becoming defined it loses most of its potential elements and gains new actualities that are imperfect. It's still a beautiful thing, of course. Or at least it can be.

So I suspect a big part of my frequent inability to finish things is because of this notion of ruining the perfection of an idea. I dislike choosing. Back in the days of video rental, I could spend more than an hour browsing the racks for a movie. I genuinely felt pains at having to pick something. The "but what if" question loomed large. What if that other movie is better? I'll miss out. What if this movie really sucks? I'll waste my time.

And its the same with projects. I have this idea about a sort of quasi-space fantasy realm composed of many worlds. It's really just a fantasy realm, albeit with empty space (or weird space ichors) separating individual cities and forests. So instead of traveling by foot between two points you would travel by boat or ship or magic. Anyway, the idea turns me off at some point because infinite worlds are unappealing. If they are infinite, it seems like a cheap trick. Like you are saying "my setting has everything". But at the same time, a finite and defined realm feels limiting and small. So I bounce between the two concepts, never quite happy with any of it.

Over the years my good friend Cyd and I have discussed these ideas over and over and we have this sort of artistic battle cry: FINISH IT. This bumper stick philosophy comes from the mouth of Neil Gaiman who told Cyd (at a comic con) that the best advice he could offer an aspiring writer is to "finish it, cringe later".

That advice feels like a silver bullet. To reduce indecision, you get in elbows deep and do the work while the work is dominating your mind. Another way of saying it is to "strike while the iron is hot". Do the thing while the thing is alive. Put pen to paper while the idea is still bursting forth. Don't wait too long. Don't wring your hands and worry that it isn't quite right. It'll never be quite right. If you want to do things, finishing them so that others can see, then you have to DO THE THINGS.

Maybe some of you are gifted with great patience and endurance and can work on the project for years at a stretch without losing it. To you I say huzzah. But I'm not like that. If I don't get in there and knock it out fast, it will likely never get knocked out.

I'm pretty sure it was Pablo Picaso who said that to finish a work is to kill it. I hope to slay a lot more ideas before I'm dead.

A page from Zoa Space Fantasy, a comic I never quite finished.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


In the mid-90s I got a subscription to Shadis Magazine. From there I ordered FUDGE, and from FUDGE I got SLUG. Looking back on my notes and scribblings from that era, it is very clear that FUDGE and SLUG were huge influences on how I thought about game design. My designs prior to that were hacked up riffs on D&D, Star Frontiers, and perhaps a bit of Bushido. I think it was probably seeing SLUG that planted the seed in my mind that an RPG system can be uber simple and still work.

I never ran SLUG and I kind of didn't love it. The reason was that I craved some kind of metric for deciding just how awesome a PC is. Not just having the player declare it, but having a way of measuring it or giving it a nudge in game. SLUG can do that, of course. The GM can assign modifiers. But there's no inherent way for a SLUG character to have a modifier. Clearly O'Sullivan intended for the characters' descriptions to provide that element. But I've got just enough crunchy bits in my blood that I need a little more.

The Pool is influenced by O'Sullivan's games. He even uses the term "traits", which I tended to use all the time from that point forward.

As an aside, I never ran FUDGE. But owning that game and reading it and understanding that it was open source (I'm not sure what the term was in 1994, but it opened new doors for me) made me want to create content for it. I took my older game idea for a fantasy world called Midaka - up to that point being ran via GURPS - and started fudging it up. But alas I never managed go get a game together.

But by 1995 or so I was running games (infrequently, randomly) using a personal system not unlike SLUG (in spirit). I called it the "ROC System" for a while. This was based on my comic publishing imprint Random Order Creations. The system was this:

1. Describe your character. Use an image if possible. I suggested using art cards, which were all the rage at the time.

2. Write down some traits based on the description and/or image.

3. Distribute 20 points between the traits as you like. All traits need at least 1 point. Each point is expressed as a +1.

4. In play, when a conflict arises you roll 1d20 + your trait vs. some target.

That was the entire system, start to finish. I never developed any sort of crunchy bits from it. No damage or death system. I think I gave players 1-3 points after a solid adventure and they could add them as +1s however they liked. That notions probably came from playing Star Frontiers.

The new game I'm working on uses this rudimentary system as its basic unit, but with some important differences. But I'll get into that later.

Meanwhile, FUDGE or SLUG it up!


SLUG Character Sheet

The Pool - Videos and Thoughts

I wrote an RPG called The Pool back in 2001 or so when I was a regular at The Forge. Ron Edwards promoted the game through discussion because it was among the only games at the time that explicitly explored what I would call shared narrative control. That is, an RPG in which the GM and the players both have some authorship of the game's shared creative space. The Pool allows for this by controlling the creative powers. That is, it has rules for who gets to author and when they get to do it.

Anyway, the game has enjoyed a lot of discussion over the years and I'm proud to have created it. I'm glad that it might have influenced other designers to create even more impressive games. Because frankly, nobody creates anything new. I certainly don't. I'm the guy who assimilates ideas over time. I hear or see something that leaves an impression and it eventually shows up in something I create. The more impressed I am by the thing, the more obvious it is that I'm channeling it. That's why people often comment that my art reminds them of Vaughn Bode or Richard Corben.

And the game itself got a tiny facelift recently from my friend MattHildebrand who put it into a printer friendly digest PDF.

I'm working on a new game. For the past few years I've focused 100% of my efforts on doing OSR material, which I dearly love. But in January I had a bit of a break from it as an OSR project I was working on kind of fell apart in my head. Possibly this was more related to my mother's health problems and less to gaming. But still, it caused me to step back and start looking at all my junk. Which caused me to flit back and forth between projects. And now I'm at this place creatively where I have an old, potent idea I'd like to explore for a time. It isn't OSR. It's also not a story game. But it does have elements of both those modes of play. Again, this is just me doing what I like to do and not thinking too much about it.

Hell, I don't even want to say what it is because tomorrow I might abandon it. I'll say that it grew out of working on an updated Rabbits &Rangers, but it is not R&R. More later.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Meandering Commentary on Dwarves in My Campaign World

I was never a huge fan of dwarves. Or at least that's what I said. But when I started peopling my gaming world of Yria (Old Gnarl) I quickly realized that I must love the bearded bastards. When I ran my first Labyrinth Lord game dwarves turned out to be a key component.

The dwarves of Yria are of two varieties: western Rock Hardy dwarves and eastern Lightning Spire dwarves.

The western mountains are the Rock Hardies and those are populated by redneck dwarves who love to fight. Each mountaintop is dominated by a clan and the clans stage elaborate battles with one another over unclaimed hills and mountains... or just for fun. Dwarves here, a place just south of Frimmsreach (where the Ice Forest would be found), have names that are fun to make up. Here are some names of dwarves that appeared as NPCs in my first LabLord campaign:

Boomer Earthcleaver
Zapper Earthcleaver
Shank Earthcleaver
Bart Barrackbomb
Loots Doorbreaker
Brickwallow Stormshot
Tankfellow Stormshot
Hulktall Stormshot
Bruiser Barrackbomb
Killminster Barrackbomb
Urfnozzle Doorbreaker
Nabby Doorbreaker

Brickwallow Stormshot was the leader of the dwarves. I think only 1 or 2 of them were still alive by the end of it, but there was a cool episode in which the party's dwarven cleric, Frothgar, summoned the slain spirits of this party of dwarves for an epic battle against an army of trolls and giants.

Now, the eastern dwarves dwell in the great Lightning Spires, a range of thunderous mountains that dwarfs the Rock Hardies (pun intended). These are your aloof, snotty dwarves. They have high standards. They have culture and learning and are exceedingly concerned with craft and tradition. They don't actually interact much with the rest of the world and thus I have no fun things to say about them. But they would have names like Dalan of the Silver Sky or Myyra the Masterworker. None of this Doorbreaker bullshit.

On my good days I think about doing a comic strip series to explore the world of Yria. And in fact I've stuck my toes into that water more than once. Having done a lot of comics and comic strips over the years I'm stymied by one great obstacle... comics are a lot of work.

Seriously. If you know a person who makes a lot of comics or manages to do a "regularly scheduled" comic, you need to give 'em a big hug. If you are that person, here's a virtual hug: [hug].

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Goblin Character Class

Req: None
Prime: None
HD: d6

You are a green-skinned black-heart. You are about 3' or maybe 4' tall and fifty pounds soaking wet. Your people are known for murder, mayhem, and cannibalism. Maybe you are different? Maybe not.

You can use any weapon except those requiring two hands (they're just too much). You can wear any kind of armor that fits you (steal some halfling bits if you need to). Adorning your duds with skulls, bones, and symbols of evil makes you feel tough (+1 to hit and saving throws for 1 turn per day, per level). You make saving throws and attacks like a thief.

As a creature of the darkness, you ain't scared. You gain +1 to save against Fear spells.

You have sneaking skills. You can burglarize non-magical, non-fortified abodes such as houses and cottages.

At first level, you must choose 1 of 3 possible goblin paths: sneak, sniper, or goon.

Sneak: Add your Dexterity score to all your sneaking skills, including burglary.

Sniper: When using any ranged weapon, add +2 to your hit rolls.

Goon: You get +1 to hit and damage in melee.

Goblin Lord

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Gary Con IX GM's Shirt

For the last two years I drew the GM's tee shirt for Gary Con. I'm very proud of this and I hope I get a chance to do it again. I'm honored to bring a little something to the con, even if if attending it is extremely difficult for me to do.

Here's the Gary Con IX tee shirt design... the beloved (well, dreaded) Demogorgon!

Black Pudding #2

Did I mention Black Pudding #2 is available in PDF or print?

The Story Since 2012 (or so)

Through my life I've published a lot of books. Mostly little zines and comics. My earliest memory of doing this is roughly 1980-1982 when I was between 10 and 12. I folded pieces of paper in half (digest size) and drew comics on them, stapling them together if they were more than a single sheet. It was always some Marvel character like Spider-Man. A few years later, as I got into RPGs, I created one-sheet adventures inspired by D&D and Fantasy Forest (remember that boardgame?).

I don't have any of those anymore and only a few of them ever manifested. But that was the start.

Later, in high school, I teamed up with friends and made "proper" zines that we photocopied at a parent's workplace (stealthily on the weekend) and sold at school for 50 cents a copy. That was Fast Lane Comics, and it started me down the path of comics and self publishing that persisted steadily through the 90s and the whole Factsheet Five era. In the 2000s I transitioned more to RPGs, which I had been doing all along but not publishing. And in 2012 I dived into OSR stuff.

This pic is all the stuff I've published into print since connecting with the OSR and embracing my RPG passion more fully. I'm proud of this work and I want to do more.

Right now, I've got Black Pudding #3 and Doomslakers Adventures #3 both on the drawing table. Other projects, such as Dead Wizards and Rabbits & Rangers RPG, are stewing on the back burner.

As an aside, it would be a real brain explosion for me if I could gather up all my various printed junk from over the years. I doubt I have 50% of it in my collection as I'm a TERRIBLE HORRIBLE archivist. But to see all of it gathered into one photo would be pretty neat. And scary. Probably really god damn scary to be honest. I mean... holy crap now I'm remembering projects better left forgotten...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rabbits & Rangers RPG

While working on the new R&R document I keep noticing little errors and omissions from the first book. For example, I just realized I mention Hawks having the ability to see 80' in the dark but I failed to actually list them with Night Vision. Hah.

I don't actually have any idea how far a hawk can see in the dark in reality. I just know they are good at it. But that's a repeating theme I keep running into when doing research on animals for this game. A lot of animals have a reputation for a certain skill but finding hard data on just how good they are is not always easy. Swimming is a great example. I actually encountered instances where the same animal was described as being a good swimmer in one text but in another text it was said to NOT be a good swimmer.

So all of these descriptions are my best effort at distilling an animal's talents down to simple OSR style modifiers that must be weighed against other critters to make sense. I mean, everyone knows how agile cats are... but have you watched fossas climb trees? Makes me want to wear a "team fossa" tee shirt.

Oh... I guess that also means I'm working on a new R&R. Not sure if I posted about that yet. This is a standalone RPG. I started with basic OSR and I'm building from there. But more on that later.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Update on Life and Thoughts on Rabbits & Rangers

Since my last post I've been struggling with family health issues. My mom is sick. She has liver disease and diabetes and lots of complications as a result. She's doing "ok" right now, but it's always tentative and I'm in fear of the worst. So I've been a bit flighty and only sporadically productive.

I did manage to start my Dead Wizards campaign, though it was in the middle of all this personal stuff and I haven't given it the tender care it really deserves.

What I have been thinking about lately, in the creative realm, is Rabbits & Rangers. Specifically a standalone RPG. I'm quite proud of the book I created in 2016, but I've always wanted this to be a game of its own. Here's what I know right now.

• It's going to be OSR. Possibly a clone of B/X, with animalized changes.

• It'll have 100 animals instead of 50. The babirusa and pronghorn have already joined the ranks, along with a handful of others (horse, lemur, etc.).

• I hope to publish some modules/adventures for the game as well. I have a big fat list of ideas, many of which are parodies of existing modules. Last year when I playtested the rules I ran Sheep on the Borderland and Castle of Count Drake-Yulla... so those need to be written up and published for sure.

• The possibility of a Kickstarter is on the table. But right now it's only a distant notion, not the actual plan. I include this as an option in my planning because I'd like to see a nice physical book I can provide that would be a step above print-on-demand. We'll see how things shake out first.

I have no timeline for this. There's far too much work to do before I get there. It might be a summer thing or it might be a 2018 thing. I don't know yet. But it's probably going to be a thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tanith and Stuff

Warning: I say naughty words and talk about sex in this one.

Haven't posted too much on ole G+ in recent days. So what have I been up to, besides hitting FB with political posts? What's the status? What's the scoop?

I haven't dived into Black Pudding #3 yet. I have 7 or 8 finished pages that MIGHT go in there, but they MIGHT go into their own book. I haven't made up my mind. It's part of a sandbox setting that would not fit in an issue. Maybe I'll dish it out one part at a time. I don't know.

I'm doing a bit of commission work and thinking about slowing down on it so I can focus on my own stuff. I'm always happier when I'm doing my own thing. Call me selfish. I like to do what I like to do and I don't like to do what I don't like to do. And while commissions are fun and I love getting my work out there to more eyes I sometimes feel hemmed in or dragged down when I have several on my plate at the same time. I've never been cut out for that kind of work like so many other great artists seem to be.

My good friend Cyd is running a Penny Hack for us on Mondays, which is probably wrapping up soon. At that point I will ask my cohorts to indulge me once again and dive into a campaign that is largely inspired by mixing up Tanith Lee, Robert E. Howard, Frank Frazetta, and Richard Corben. Some good ole S&S in a project I've been calling Dead Wizards (or Kanebok... not sure how it will appear yet). I ran this once before and it was nice but this is a totally revamped version. Trying some ideas. Breaking the old game down and working from its bones to make a new toy. If all goes well, this will be one of my 2017 publishing projects.

And, while I'm on it, I just gotta say Tanith Lee is fantastic. And queer as fuck, as my friend put it. I read Death's Master when I was 14. Have you read Death's Master? Homosexuality, attraction to cross eyed people, necrophilia, and a sex-shifting hero. It's no wonder I was so comfortable in my 20s drawing boobs and bits. Any inhibitions I had about whether or not sex was an appropriate topic for fantasy were destroyed by Lee's verbosity.

I'm currently enjoying Night's Master (the first book of the Flat Earth series) on audio. It's been many years since I read it. I had forgotten just how twisted it could be. You get demon-on-mortal sex right there in part one and then a dwarf-like demon (the Drin...sort of like duerger I think) fucks a giant spider. Yeah.

I mean, these are not porn books. They are not titillating. They don't get you off. These are dark, twisted faerie tales. Lee weaves wondrous, luscious, beautiful tapestries in her books. Each tale blends into the next, linking characters across space and time. This is where I got my great love for mythological or fable-like settings. IN my own broader fantasy setting, for example, there are a set of core entities. There are 12 of them, more-or-less. They are the gods and demons of the ancient world and they show up in nearly all my work. The Worm Witch, mother of 100 Dooms, was in Pan-Gea and again in a little sci-fi comic I did called Red Path. And she has been mentioned in numerous Labyrinth Lord games I've ran. When I run little one-offs I talk about Black Wing, the Bringer of Death. Or Hunter-Raven, also known as Frimm, God of War and the North. I talk of Nexus the World Tree and Sun and Moon. All of these beings linked together in a single narrative but split across many worlds.

This I owe to Tanith Lee's brilliant Tales From the Flat Earth series. Dark and delightful they are indeed.

Lots more to say about Tanith Lee's influence. But not tonight.