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.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Reviews from R'lyeh: Black Pudding #4

Pookie over in the UK has kindlyreviewed another issue of Black Pudding. It's always a real treat to hear how other people view my work. I'm always a little surprised by bits of it. For example, Matthew Pook always comments on how my art is cartoonish. And it totally is! I just don't always notice it myself, to be honest. Even when I try to draw detailed, realistic things they apparently look very cartoonish.

I'm a cartoonist!

Anyway, thanks for the cool review, Pookie.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

OSR Weapon Damage

The topic of weapon damage comes up from time-to-time in OSR discussions. I think this is because we want that beefy fighter to be so very deadly with big-ass swords and we want that wee dagger to be more lethal that it is.

A lot of folks are in favor of straight 1d6 damage per weapon, as it was in OD&D. I hate that idea, but I get it. It means that the dagger is a better choice than it normally is and it allows players to be creative with their weapon choices since there's no mechanical penalty for those choices. But it also means - since all things really are even - weapon choice is virtually meaningless in terms of mechanics. Your skull-tipped mace and my super sharp scimitar both act identically in combat. I dislike this immensely.

Caveat: (Important caveat, no less) A good DM and player rapport will cause the nature of a PC's weapon to enhance play. My choice of a scimitar vs. your skull mace may mean that the Arabic-inspired setting has more respect/acceptance of my PC vs. yours. Perhaps your wicked weapon invites trouble everywhere you go while I can pass through markets and tea houses without excess trouble. Or let's say you choose a straight arming sword while I choose a staff tipped with 3 chains securing large iron hooks. A good DM would allow me to hook-and-pull targets on a good hit roll, but may also hit me with penalties when fighting in tight spaces. Meanwhile, your simple sword presents no particular advantages or penalties.

So yeah. Straight 1d6 can work as long as the group really embraces the narrative elements of weapon choice. I still don't love it, but I'm open to it.

Another idea is damage by class. My ideas below are in this vein, but I'm not a huge fan of the versions of this idea I have seen before because they never seem to leave the existing variable damage as-is for the "middle classes" such as Thief and Cleric. Versions I can remember seeing will apply something like a small-medium-large weapon category scheme and a die step for each based on class. I think this is perfectly logical but also kind of bland. To me, it robs weapons of their character.

Some people even go as far as limiting the Strength modifier in combat to only fighter types. I get that too, but I hate it.

I'm a B/X guy through-and-through because of the versatility of basic rules such as variable weapon damage (an optional rule but let's be honest... almost everyone uses it) and the universal ability modifiers. It means I can play a B/X Magic-User who has an 18 Strength and I can be potentially a better fighter than the party's actual Fighter - at least at very low levels. This bugs a lot of people because of class niches and what-not. I get that too. But I don't care. It lends greater diversity to characters in a game with precious few built-in bells-and-whistles.

Think of that B/X Thief who got lucky with a high Str, Dex, and Con. Give that guy a two-handed sword and you got yourself a bona fide sword-and-sorcery hero.

So yeah. Ideas. There are others too.

Here's a couple of ideas I had that I might drop into my next B/X game (maybe not both). These might have already been dreamed up by some other game nerd so please post a link if you have seen either of them before. That would be awesome. I certainly have not read all the reams of blog posts out there in the OSR-o-sphere.


Your character's class determines the die step used for weapon damage.

Cleric Normal
Dwarf 1 die step higher
Elf Normal
Fighter 1 die step higher
Halfling Normal
Magic-User 1 die step lower (min. 1d4)
Thief Normal

For general use, not necessarily specific to B/X, it would be like this:

Wizard types = 1 die step lower
Rogue/Cleric types = no adjustment
Fighter types = 1 die step higher

Race would probably be irrelevant since race in 1e or Advanced style games confers somewhat less advantage/disadvantage (or should) than in B/X where the class and race are the same.


Some classes get damage bonuses as they level up.

Cleric +1 per 2 levels
Dwarf +1 per level
Elf +1 per 2 levels
Fighter +1 per level
Halfling +1 per 2 levels
Magic-User +1 per 5 levels
Thief +1 per 2 levels

So Idea #1 I really dig because it doesn't mess with the existing damage values for weapons nor does it require new categories to be graphed on. You just have to go a die step up or down depending on class. It makes the dagger more serious for warriors and the sword less effective for wizards.

(I do allow wizards to use any weapon because it's fantasy. The downside is their to hit rolls suck and maybe I make them spend a round drawing or sheathing because of lack of expertise.)

Idea #2 seems like it would also go a long way toward addressing a big problem. Why is it that my level 1 fighter deals exactly the same damage as my level 9 fighter with the same weapon? It just doesn't FEEL right. It's heroic fantasy... I want to FEEL like I'm just god damn better at this shit than I used to be. So a fat +9 to damage with that dagger I picked up on the battlefield would do the trick. I dunno... I'm sure there are downsides but not sure the downsides outweigh the asskickery.

The Questing Beast RPG Revisited

Ron Edwards of Adept Press recently played my old game The Questing Beast at IndieCON and made this video talking about it.

The main thrust of the video is that Ron was concerned about the mechanical difference between the games. Primarily, that The Pool gives players a choice whether to take narrative control where TQB doesn't offer that choice. I designed TQB to be a little more "controlled" than The Pool in the sense that I wanted it to feel complete as a system. I wanted everything to be very clear and well structured. The Pool has clarity as well, but is far more open-ended as to how things can emerge from play. At least in a sense, that is.

Anyway, it's been a very long time since I thought about these games but I'm happy that they still get some traction here-and-there.

You can get The Pool and The Questing Beast for free.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

In Defense of Old School Armor Class

Here's a non-controversial topic about which I'm sure everyone completely agrees.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Random List 'o Stuff

Here's a list of random items I keep on hand when I'm running games. The header is my design but I did not write the list. In fact, I want to know who did write the list so I can cite them. I do not remember.

Still, here's a list. Feel free to use it.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Black Pudding Video and Matt Hildebrand

Oh how much I loved this video that Matt Hildebrand put together for me when I released Black Pudding #1! Gotta dust it off every once in a while and give it a spin.

Matt is awesome. Not only is he one of the more prolific layout folks working in indie RPGs, he's a terrific artist and a genuinely great guy.

BTW, the music is by Witness the Reckoning, a band my brother-in-law was in for a number of years. They disbanded years ago. Hard! He's the one in the blue shirt with a beard.

Zkoth Campaign: Bald Mountain Baddies

Follow up on posts I made about running a public campaign at a local brewery...

We are at least 4 sessions in and the rotating cast of PCs has managed to explore the bald mountain base of a weird alien race and has had multiple encounters with their owl bear soldiers. Next session will see them locked in combat with a host of owl bear guards on their final push to overtake the entire location and secure its treasures in the name of the Jade Prince.

Next session is this Wed.

Thoughts so far on public games:

They are necessarily lite. Without a dedicated core of players and a lot of time to play, it's very hard to develop depth. But this is D&D... and for my money I'd prefer to keep it lite. We can and do develop characterization over time. Some players come almost every game and play the same PCs, so that naturally leads to character development.

It is really cool to get to play with different people. I love the folks that always show up, of course. They are the core. But when I get a random new person I don't even know it's just a cool thing. Doing this is going to challenge my DMing skills to the fullest, I believe. At least in terms of organizing and orchestrating games in general.

So far so good.


I like cool animation. I will start sharing stuff like this on the blog here-and-there, as the mood hits me.

I ran across Steve Cutts' Happiness short and it was super cool. If you were thinking about buying that new car or going on a shopping spree maybe it's happiness you seek...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Tee Shirts and Coffee Cups Are Necessary Things

I cobbled together a little Teespring store with some goodie goodie grumdrop merch! This merch is totally going to make you look sexy as hell and all your coffee will be sweet as pie, bitter as bad butter, and loaded with gasoline.

I think I saw some sticker options on there... gonna add those later. I like sticking things on my face.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Wenching and Carousing

I was talking to my friend Jayne about a potential slutty character class they were thinking of doing. That lead us to Googling for wenches, trollops, hood rats, etc. - all within a D&D context. And of course there are results you can find on a spectrum of quality.

But during that search I found a post on A Wizard's Kiss about wenching. Color me interested.

The post offers a little bolt-on for the carousing rules from Jeff's Gameblog, which itself is a way for PCs to burn gold, earn XP, and get into trouble between adventures.

So the wenching rules add the possibility of love. Or lust, or whatever. Because in pulp stories, the hero very often ends up with a hot dish. And many of those stories are, of course, quite sexist. Or most? Anyway, the author addresses this concern pretty easily:

"Well, let's just get one thing out of the way first: much as I love it, old-school pulp fiction is kind of sexist. The protagonists are almost always men and the women are usually quite passive characters who sit around waiting to be rescued or carried off like treasure. So let's just sweep that aside and take note that from hereon in these rules the term 'wench' shall refer to NPCs of any gender and sexual orientation, so long as they are enthralled by the PCs' wealth and tales of derring-do."

So the way it works is you do the d6 carousing roll from Jeff's blog as normal, then you make a Charisma check, adding the carousing result to your Charisma. If successful, you roll on a medieval booty table to see how you scored. Madness ensues and you get more XP. Results include accidentally paying for it, getting a smokin' hot elf, or possibly twins.

Not exactly the right rules to use for a game with kids, naturally. But assuming your table is populated by adults (at least in age), this could be tons of fun.

Friday, March 29, 2019

If I Want Cheesecake I'll Buy Cheesecake

Often wondered how they got there. And why.
Ah, the scantily clad femme fatale of fantasy. Long have I viewed and dreamed of her. I fondly remember being an adolescent boy and picking up the Savage Sword of Conan each month from a local mini mart shelf. I grabbed issue #104 and spent far too long looking at the delicious Joe Jusko cover, complete with redhead chick dangling from Conan's sword belt showing all kinds of underboob.

Sexist? Oh yeah, no doubt about it. Conan stories in general are sexist as fuck. If you don't believe me, try reading Howard. Check out The Jewels of Gwahlur and note how many times the damsel breaks down in tears or faints. It's classic 1930s hard man storytelling.

Anyhow... I appreciate a good chainmail bikini. There's a rich aesthetic to it... a kind of metal-and-flesh eroticism that stirs the imagination (and loins, natch). You can do it right. You can do it without being toxic. I have preached about this before. A chainmail bikini image does not a misogynist make. Having your female characters constantly faint and cry... well, that's a different story.

So for me it's really a matter of honesty. Own what you are doing. Don't give me 60 pages of tits and ass and market it as a serious adventure story. It isn't. It's a tits and ass story. Own it.

Erotic, chainmail chick, pinup, R-rated... whatever you want to call it. Just eat the god damned cheesecake and stop calling it caviar. And if you want to do a story that is taken seriously, you need to cut way the fuck back on the cheesecake.

She can get cut and scratched, but she's gonna kick your ass.

Hold Critter

The classic Hold Person spell becomes Hold Critter in a world of talking animals.

Friday, March 22, 2019

It's a Red Fiend

Been just sitting at the tablet and letting myself doodle. It's helpful.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Droono Duckshar

In one of the last Rabbits & Rangers games I ran, the PCs went up against Count Drake-Yulla in his forbidding haunted castle. They never encountered his arch-rival, Droono Duckshar the Fowl Wizard!

This was a random thing I drew last night. I am in the midst of a bit of creative blockage so anything I manage to put down on paper (digitally or otherwise) is a boost to my confidence.

This was interesting because the entire time I doodled it I was pondering the direction of the game. As it stands, R&R is a perfectly fine Labyrinth Lord supplement. You can see that I referenced several things from the book on this sheet. But the ultimate question I've been asking since the book came out is what is R&R going to be in the future? Is it a LL supplement or a game of its own? If a game of its own, then I have no reason to stick with pure D&D rules. I've posted many times about this topic. I have written lots of versions of the game that are not D&D-based. But something keeps me tethered to the old rules. It's as if R&R was always meant to be funny animals in dungeons... so why would I use alternate rules? I have no high-and-lofty theme in mind beyond funny animals with swords. I could write this as a standalone game with an original rule set, going the way of Ironclaw or The World Tree. And that would be fine, except I feel like anyone playing it will simply say "this is just D&D with different rules".

And yet there are plenty of people who will look at the current R&R and say "this is just more D&D stuff... with goofy talking frogs."

You can't please 'em all.

When I think about it and let my hair down, this whole thing can be summed up in a simple equation:

Looney Tunes + Conan + D&D = Rabbits & Rangers

So you'll know what to expect when I know what to expect.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Al-Qadim: Golden Voyages

Cover by Jeff Easley drums up deep sea fears.
It's no secret I have a late-blooming, slowly-flowering love affair with Al-Qadim, TSR's 1992 Arabian Nights style setting for AD&D second edition. In my humble opinion, Jeff Grubb knocked it out of the park when he penned Arabian Adventures, launching the setting proper.

I recently picked up ALQ1: Golden Voyages, one of several "sourceboxes" that were produced for Al-Qadim. The set, written by the famous David "Zeb" Cook, was in pristine condition, which always makes me smile. Cook was also the primary architect of the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons... but he will always be remembered by me for giving us Star Frontiers.

Looking at the publication date of 1992 reminded me that in 1992 I was a young man, newly married, struggling in college to make the grade and make ends meet. I wasn't gaming at that time, though I wanted to be. I was out of touch with new games and I was starting to feel strong burnout at the oversaturation of my geek markets. I blame Todd McFarlane and the various pre-bagged alternate Spider-Man #1 comics that still sit in a box in my storage building to this day. I stopped buying comics because of you, Todd. And even though I wasn't gaming at the time I was keeping an eye on mall bookstore shelves. I was noticing the glut of TSR books. I was ignoring them, along with Vampire: the Masquarade and everything else.

(I have a contentious relationship with the 90s. I turned 20 in 1990 so that whole decade should feel warm and cozy to me. Yet it feels alien. And when I say I was "ignoring" things what I mean is I was constantly looking at these books when I was in a bookstore. Just not reading or buying them.)

Anyway... this box set would have been sitting on some bookstore shelf staring me in the face at some point and I probably just ignored it. It's one of those little gems of the past I wish I would have grabbed when I had the chance.

$18? I remember when box sets were $8!
Like the other box sets from this line, ALQ1 is a curious mix of love and inspiration with budget constraints. Or so it seems. Inside the box are 6 booklets, some monster sheets, a large folded map, and a DM screen. The materials are nicely rendered with solid art from Karl Waller, the primary artist for the whole series. The maps are by the great David C. Sutherland III, so they are quite good.

At first, I thought this set had a bit of a sandbox vibe. Each little booklet seemed to describe different islands in The Crowded Sea, also known as Bahr al-Izdiham. But upon further reading I believe this box set lies somewhere on the continuum between a scripted adventure and a wild west sandbox.

Book 1: Home Port is where the adventures begin. We get this curious little bit on page 2:

"Golden Voyages is a special adventure set for player characters using the AL-QADIM™ rulebook and is set in Zakhara, the Land of Fate."

This struck me as odd because there is no "AL-QADIM™ rulebook". The series was launched via Jeff Grubb's excellent Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures book and followed up with ALQ1 and other box sets. It just seems odd that they would use the term "rulebook" in reference to a game accessory.

Book 1 goes on to describe the way the adventures in the box set are designed. The structure is described as having a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is in Gana of the Pearl Cities, where the PCs are meant to be compelled to go sailing the Crowded Sea in search of a great treasure. The treasure itself might be one of several that are described. The reasons may be one of several offered, or something the DM cooks up on their own. In any event, the PCs ought to be on their way to adventure... the middle portion of the set. During this portion we get a genuine sandbox vibe. There is no script. There are many short "mini-adventures" presented in the various booklets. The DM is free to add new material and let the PCs wander as they will. But always there is some degree of pressure to get them to find the great treasure and return it to Gana, thus concluding Golden Voyages.

Naturally you can ignore all of that and just let the magic of the isles guide your adventuring path. The text might gently urge you to stick to the 3-part adventure structure but we all know DMs and Players are gonna do what they like anyway.

Cook seems to understand this quite well as he carefully walks that line between guiding you and scripting you. In the end, all he really intended was for your PCs to enjoy a Sinbad-style series of high seas misadventures:

"Although Golden Voyages has a beginning, middle, and end, very little about it is definite. There are several different ways the adventure can begin, depending on you and your player characters. During the middle section, when the characters are sailing about, there is no set order for the encounters. What the player characters encounter depends on where they sail. Like the beginning, there are several choices for ways to end the adventure. All these things are shaped by the interaction between the DM and his players."

Now, I don't have any complaints about this box set. For me, this is golden, as the name on the tin implies. But if I put on my critical hat for a minute I can comment on one thing about the presentation that might speak to the whole budget constraints comment I made above. And this is a statement that is true of all the Al-Qadim box sets I have seen so far. There is a tendency in these sets, and I believe with TSR in general as the 90s grinded them down, to re-use art. There are images I see in one book of the series that re-appears in another book. In ALQ2: Assassin Mountain, one of the books inside the box features the cover art from GAZ2: The Emirates of Ylaruam. In ALQ1, they just don't bother with covers for the 6 booklets. Which is absolutely fine, really. I just have this sneaking suspicion this is more of a budget thing than an aesthetic choice? Maybe I'm wrong about that.

A dancing fool of an ogrima!
The monster sheets are meant for the compendium binder, an idea of the early 2e era that I think was both beautiful and completely ridiculous. Beautiful because you could customize your monster manual to taste, adding new sheets from all the box sets they were putting out back then. Neato! But ridiculous because it's so ephemeral and delicate. Those sheets will get ripped and destroyed. We old school gamers like our sturdy hardbacks and saddle-stitched formats. Most of the Monstrous Compendium pages have the same format. There is a pic, stat block, and quite a lot of text describing the monster's appearance, habitat, lore, and how it fights. This was a tendency that probably grew out of those Ecology of entries in Dragon Magazine. Whereas B/X or 1e has relatively short, sparse monster descriptions, 2e tended to overshare. Anyway, the monster sheets in ALQ1 are slightly different because the front page gives you the stat block + page of text and the backside of the sheet is usually a full-page piece of art. Some of it pretty neat, such as the ogrima pictured left.

The six booklets. Slim but nice. Easy to navigate.
The booklets are actually really useful. If you only want to deal with running an adventure among the Djinni's Claws then you can just grab that volume and leave the others in the box.

A view of the inside of the screen and the folded map, plus monster art.
 The map is pretty great, as are all the Al-Qadim poster maps. They are large, colorful, and well-rendered to my non-cartographer's eye. They really invite you to explore this exotic land*.

Pretty sexy little DM screen.
The DM screen art is un-credited as far as I can tell. In fact, the only place in the entire box that tells you any credits is on the first page of Book 6: Map Booklet where it only states that Karl Waller did the illustrations. Since no one else is credited for illustrations other than Easley's cover art, I must assume that Karl Waller painted the DM screen. And a fine, fine job he did. As an aside... it's very strange to put the credits on the first page of Book 6. Normally there is an indicia or some kind of front page to a book where that sort of thing goes. But it's fine, really. Just not very clear. Does this mean that the credits are only for Book 6? I'm sure that's not the case, but it really isn't very professionally handled here. Clarity, people. Clarity.

Final thoughts: If Arabian fantasy filtered through Western eyes isn't your cup of tea, you will not like any Al-Qadim products. If it is, then I think you'll be compelled to dig this stuff as I do. I'm not going to argue that this box set or any of the others is flawless. Clearly they are not. There are editing problems, re-purposed art, and in the case of ALQ2 they even got the name of a book wrong on the cover... yikes! But on the whole, this is really solid, fun stuff. Karl Waller's art is quite good, in my opinion. His pen-and-ink work is similar to Easley, which might be why he's the guy doing it here. I have no foundation for that claim other than stylistically he hits the same niche and maybe that was an art editorial directive. Again, the maps are lovely and the overall construction of the Zakharan setting is alluring to me. I can feel the setting in my bones when I read about it. I know I'm bringing a lot of that to the table and reading into it, but that's how I feel about it. Now gimme a scimitar and get out of my way.

*Yeah, so basically Al-Qadim is just a cartoon of actual cultures, stories, and traditions. It isn't representative of those cultures in any meaningful way. It is a Western white dude's exotic power fantasy ala Lawrence of Arabia and, more directly, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad. And that's ok, I think. But it is important to recognize this fact and be sensitive to the thoughts of people for whom the ideas being cartooned herein are part of their actual cultural heritage. I don't believe Al-Qadim is mean or unfair to it's source material, but it is also not genuine to it. And in the pages of Arabian Adventures Jeff Grub makes it pretty clear he is only drawing inspiration from real history, Arabian Nights, and goofy Hollywood fantasies.

I watched Bredan Fraser's The Mummy a dozen times and will probably watch it a dozen more. One of my cherished memories from childhood is watching a Ray Harryhausen movie in the auditorium in first grade. I love this stuff, so I am right there with Grubb in his enthusiasm for the setting and I'm thankful he was involved in the project. I'm happy Al-Qadim is a thing.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Demodyn Character Class

Ah, Black Pudding. The zine you can eat with a fork. The hotly debated, much anticipated, Billboard Top 100 #69 debut pick! Yes, I am still working on issue #6. Off-and-on, here-and-there, when time, inspiration, and ability conspire to allow.

Here is another character class for the issue: the Demodyn, a little demon class. I sketched out the demodyn years ago in my sketchbook and they just sort of lived there, occasionally spitting fire at me until I did something with them.

On a side note... it's been a long ass time since I did comics. I was just thinking how much fun it could be to do a Black Pudding comic book. A fantasy romp wherein all the various character types, monsters, and NPCs of the zine appear. Yeah, that sounds SUPER cool. Main reason I'm not doing it (right now): comics are a lot of fucking work. I mean a lot of fucking work. You ever do comics? I did. I did a lot of them. For years. You spend weeks or months drawing 24 pages that people read in less than 10 minutes and then forget. Which is fine... it's fine, really. It's fine. But I think something kind of broke inside me back in 2010-2012 because I just fuckin' stopped doing comics at all.

Anyway... here's a B/X style character class for your demonic gaming needs. I wonder how these guys would play in S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth?

Sunday, February 17, 2019

G+ Warrior

G+ Warrior as character sheet. Because we should send this guy out like a champ.


Fighter, because that's what I drew. And G+ has been a fighter over the years.

Level 8 because G+ started 8 years ago. It's approaching name level, but will be cut short by about 3 months, thus the XP just shy of reaching level 9.

Stats were a bit random, but I figured if this is a PC that made it they would have some pretty decent ones. G+ has been awesome but not perfect, so it's strong, smart, and definitely tough. But not always wise or agile. What is really excels in, I think, is personality. Because we made it that way.

I rolled the hit points. Because that's what you do. As you can see, poor bastard is almost down and there are no healing potions in the inventory.

+1 sword and +1 shield of course.

Drink stain, natch.

Lots and lots of other ideas could have gone into this but it was just a fun thing I wanted to do. So here it be.

Share as you wish.

"I got 2 hp left and half a can of diet soda... Let's DO THIS."

Saturday, February 16, 2019

G+ Going Down Fighting!

Well, it's going down rather quickly and there's not much fight, but at least people are still posting to the end!

Bring it on, I can do this all day!

Krita vs. PS

She approached the elder ibberlings cautiously...
A bit of doodling in Krita. I enjoy drawing with Krita quite a bit more than Photoshop, however there are certain shortcuts and features in my old PS7 that I miss dreadfully.

Krita doesn't have good macros (yet). One of the macros I wrote for PS7 simply expands a selection, fills it with the foreground color, then deselects it. This is a time saver when doing big black fills and prevents those annoying ghostly white lines showing the edges of your fill area (the expansion of the selection takes care of this).

There's really one giant, huge benefit to drawing in Krita over PS7. I can draw at any scale and the lines are nice and smooth. In PS7 I have to zoom in very close to get the lines smooth. If I draw from a distance, the lines are jagged and wobbly like I have a problem controlling my hand. But that isn't the case with Krita. And I really like that.

Friday, February 15, 2019


I have a lot of random RPG thoughts, most of which are forgotten within minutes and never uttered. Maybe I should make a stronger effort to jot them down. Trouble is most of them are lame.

I was thinking today about the idea that all monsters and all magic in fantasy games should be unique. It's a fine thought. But there is a pretty good counterargument, with regard to playing D&D in particular.

D&D is a game. Specifically, it's a game of exploration, risk, and the accumulation of wealth and power. Reading the rules to the 1981 Basic/Expert game, you are given a clear and concise set of rules for playing the game exactly in that way. And nothing more. It is a game.

One element of playing this game, for a lot of players I think, is that they can learn the game's "playing pieces" and navigate its rules to be better at D&D. When a game is framed squarely as a game, this makes perfect sense. If I have encountered a basilisk before, in another adventure with a different character, then my player knowledge about the creature's gaze attack is a piece of the game I know and understand... why should I not move my new playing piece (PC) in such a way as to avoid the known gaze threat? I'm playing the damn game, right? And this, for me, might be boatloads of helling fun. I'm winning!

Of course this is just one play style and it is extremely focused on the "game" part of "role-playing game". I'm not advocating it as a default style of play or a preferred one. When I play I tend to try to be "in character" in the sense that I move my playing piece in a way that my playing piece would move rather than how I, from a godlike vantage point, would suggest that the PC moves.

I'm quite confident all of this has already been fully explored on a number of blogs and websites. I know it was a hot topic back in the early 2000s at The Forge. I just wasn't paying that much attention. I'm usually 10 years behind the curve, to be honest.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mongar's World

Here's a random thing from 2017 I found on the hard drive. I believe it was meant to be a 200 word RPG entry. "Superirorium" is pretty damn lame, JV.

Mongar’s World

It is 1955. You are on a secret mission to space to find a better source of energy before the Communo-Nazis. Your ship is caught in a weird portal and crash lands on a verdant world of dinosaurs and robots. The planet is ran by a madman called Mongar who collects alien bodies for his wretched experiments.

The planet has a Soviet base, violent talking apes, flying snakes, and sub-zero nightly temperature. Mongar has captured rockets and flying saucers that might still work.

Mongar’s power comes from Superiorium, a liquid energy source from the heart of the planet. It is yellow, acidic, and burns hotter than jet fuel for 1000 hours per ounce.

There is a 2-in-6 chance Mongar will fall in love with a random PC.

Roll 1d6 for each to determine your Smarts and Fitness. Swap them if you want. Roll 1d12 + ability score vs. a target of 9 or 13 (hard tasks) to perform actions. An injury requires a survival roll (9). Further injuries are 13 (hard). You heal 1 injury per day.

Can you survive Mongar’s attacks, avoid the apes and snakes, and escape the planet with the Superiorium?

B/X Character Sheet

Here's a new B/X D&D style character sheet. This will end up on the back cover of Black Pudding #6, most likely. For this one I was going for a cleaner look with only what I think are the bare essentials.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

G+ Running Out of Hit Points

My G+ feed has been dwindling for a while thanks to Google's announcement that the platform would be shut down very soon. Now shit got real because if you'll notice there's no longer a G+ button below my blog posts. Also, can no longer leave comments on my blog via G+ and all previous comments left in that fashion are going to magically disappear in a puff of vaporous nothing. I did run the takeout download to get all my G+ stuff so it's sitting in a zipped archive on my hard drive. I'm not really sure what to do with it, to be honest.

And yeah, this all makes me sad. I know it makes a lot of people sad. G+, for me, has been a hub of creative fun for a good run of years. I also realize that some people didn't love G+ for various reasons, including the fact that the OSR, which was very strong on G+, includes a lot of politically right wing individuals. For some people on the left, a right wing person is a threat to their actual physical safety and having one hosted on a platform sends an unwelcome message to them. It's complicated. Not everyone agrees about it. It's a thing.

I have started using this blog more since the announcement and I plan to continue doing that. I'm also on Instagram and Facebook. I do have a Twitter, but I barely touch it. I also have a MeWe and I'm trying to use it more, but I just haven't gotten the habit of it down and so far it doesn't feel quite as cozy as G+. Maybe in time it will. I don't know.

The bottom line is that G+ is going away very soon and there's nothing to do about it. So no sense whining and wishing, I'm just going to move on and try to find a new groove. After all, Google isn't shutting ME down. Right? Right?!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Void Panther

I used these on the PCs in the first session of Lost Land of Zkoth. They faced 6 panthers in a foliage-dense area in daylight. One of the PCs had a magic eye that allowed him to see the creatures, so there was no surprise roll. They also had a lot of retainers and a couple of beefy NPCs, so I probably should have chucked a lot more panthers at them.

Still, one PC was voided from his left hand all the way to the neck, barely avoiding the torso and head. He yet lives, so don't get out the tissues.

I think these summoned beasts are utilized by the primary enemies of the campaign... a race of strange people from a world far away. They haven't made an appearance yet. I figure more void panthers are on the horizon.

Void Panther

Armor Class: 4
No. Enc: 2d6
Hit Dice: 2+1
Save: F2
Move: 150' (50')
Morale: 11
Attacks: 3 (2 claws/1bite)
Hoard Class: Nil
Damage: 1d4/1d4/1d6 + special
Alignment: Chaotic

Negative space, black as the cosmos, takes panther shape in these sinister summoned predators. No light plays off their form, no glittering eyes or shining teeth - only blackness. They form a pack and hunt their quarry with pack coordination, preferring open landscapes where they can surround or divide the enemy. Moving with great speed and silence, they surprise on 1-3 in 6 in daylight or 1-5 in 6 at night or in darkness. They are able to hide in shadows or darkness with perfect skill, becoming visible only when attacking.

Non-magical weapons hitting a void panther will vanish after dealing damage. A Light spell cast directly upon a panther will destroy it. If the spell is cast in the area, the creatures will suffer 1d6 points of damage, but they will not suffer damage from simply entering a lighted area.

If the creature's attack is successful, the target must save vs. Spells or else the body part that was struck takes on the blackness of the void and cannot be used. Each combat round thereafter, the PC must save vs. Spells or the void spreads to the next adjacent body part. If the chest or head are voided, the PC must save vs. Death or instantly die. Passing any of these saving throws negates the panther's magic and returns the affected body parts to normal. A voided body part is like a ghost and cannot physically interact with the world.

To determine which body part is hit, roll on the table.

2d12 ROLL
Incorporeal, save or die
Right hand
Left hand
Right arm (including hand)
Left arm (including hand)
Right foot
Incorporeal, move slowed
Left foot
Incorporeal, move slowed
Right leg (including foot)
Incorporeal, cannot walk
Left leg (including foot)
Incorporeal, cannot walk
Incorporeal, save or die

Being a Wizard

I often say it's "the process" that really matters in any art. Drawing, writing, comics, RPG design, music, whatever. The end result is just a token or snapshot of what you went through on a journey. To put it in motivational poster cant: it's the journey, not the destination.

But to say "the process" is what matters isn't exactly right either. The process is whatever steps you take in order to put one foot in front of the other to DO art. And that is very important, no doubt. But it's not exactly what I mean when I talk about DOING art.

It's the doing that matters most. My good friend Jayne and I have this mantra we've screamed at one another for decades: FINISH IT. And it's a motivating mantra. But of course while the goal might be to finish something, that's not the real goal. The real goal is to be doing something. Because, at least for me, an artist who isn't doing is going to feel dead inside.

The process, on the other hand, is whatever craft you devise to keep the doing alive. So process does include brushes and paints and pen tablets and software and how you use those tools. But also, what rituals do you perform to get into the creative zone? Coffee in a particular cup? Sitting a certain way, listening to certain types of things? Clearing the room of distractions? These are all part of your process, which should lead to doing art.

I have struggled my whole life with getting to the doing part. I can think and prep and worry all day long and never actually do anything. I cannot express accurately how much time I've spent thinking about doing instead of actually doing. In fact, easily the overwhelming majority of all the thousands of hours I've spent in my 48 years in "creative mode" have been hours spent thinking about, preparing for, and worrying about the thing I want to do instead of actually doing the thing.

I get sick to death thinking about doing. I long to be doing. I long to be elbows deep in working on a thing, to see the thing taking shape before my eyes. I feel powerful in that space. I feel like my existence really matters. I feel like I'm part of the whole god damn universe and not just a nameless speck that will be forgotten. I feel like a wizard.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Lost Land of Zkoth 1

In October 2017 I started a campaign for my local group wherein they were in the service of the Jade Prince, consigned to go on a 7 galley sea voyage to explore a lost land known as Zkoth. We played a few sessions then the schedule fell apart, as it often does, and the campaign went into hiatus.

Recently I was given the chance to run public games a local brewing company called Jarfly. Last night the new campaign began, mostly with the original players, but also open to the public as a drop in/drop out game.

The venue worked out very nicely. It wasn't nearly as noisy as expected, probably owing to the frigid temperatures which kept the crowd down. The proprietor Daniel, also a part time player, and I agreed to do the game every other Wed.

It's a clip art panther!
In this session the players took on new roles, following up on an interesting quest their original PCs discovered. They set out around a large salt lake in the humid, warm country to find a doorway at the base of a low, bald mountain. The creepy lake was still as death, with no telltale signs of fish or other life... except the ubiquitous serpentine form the cleric, Clarus of the Eternal Eye, spotted 100' offshore. But it wasn't from the lake that danger arose. Instead, they were harassed by six jet black panthers. The attacks of the panthers caused "negative energy" to invade bodies and non-magical weapons to be destroyed. The battle was fierce and one of the fighters, Mongore, was badly wounded. But they triumphed in the end, thanks largely to a level 3 NPC who was slated to be played by a random patron of the bar who had to leave early.

They found their secret door and, after dispatching an owlbear sentry (the only monster so far encountered that they recognized as being native to their homeland), they entered a seemingly abandoned rough-hewn temple complex. This lead to a pool of lava, a strange goddess statue, and a black pudding (yay!).

The session ended with the PCs banged up and out of magic power, resting near the temple entrance, plotting their scheme to re-enter and explore the 13 mysterious doors they didn't dare touch while avoiding the black pudding along with whatever thing created the burnt footsteps leading out of and into the lava pool.

Fun times!

Rule set is B/X D&D using B/X Essentials and house rules. All PCs started at level 3.

Monday, January 28, 2019

B/X and Labyrinth Lord Sheet

Blank character sheet for B/X and Labyrinth Lord games, as posted earlier. Hopefully no dreadful spelling errors.

Some of these elements were lifted from other sheets, such as one I did for Andy Solberg's Iron League. So it's a bit of an amalgam. But I really like the balance here. It's not too busy and it's nice and clean. Some things are not represented, such as alignment, but that's easily inserted ("chaotic magic-user"). I added "willpower" to the Wisdom uses because I use the standard modifier in my games for certain on-the-fly tests of willpower.

Hey, I fixed it!
EDIT: I corrected the sheet due to a few errors. Thanks for pointing them out, everyone!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

B/X Ho!

This Wed at Jarfly, a local brewery, I will be running some good old B/X D&D. With house rules, natch. What house rules, you ask? Not too many. In fact I'm keeping the system-wide house rules to a small number that I just can't live without. Crits, luck, death saves, some stuff about magic-users, fighters using monster attack roll table, and of course THIEVES.

I will be employing Necrotic Gnome's lovely re-indexing of B/X D&D called B/X Essentials. I shall put those little books to the test.

Also, here's the character sheet I'll be using. I'm taking about 20 pregens to the table. Several fighters, magic-users, and thieves. A couple of clerics. And some oddballs like swineriders, neanderthals, witches, and summoners (some from Black Pudding, others not). Stoked!

Attack rolls: Those of you paying nerd level attention will note that a level 3 dwarf in B/X should hit AC 0 with a roll of 19, not 17. I decided that fighters and fighter-based classes such as dwarfs should not be hitting at the same rate as god damned magic-users for three levels. So they will be using the attack matrix for monsters instead.

Character sheets: These sheets are a combination of a few different sheets I have worked on in the past. They combine elements of a sheet I did for Andy Solberg's Tales of the Iron League with some other sheet elements I have used here and there. You'll also possibly note that the "special abilities, skills, and spells" type headers are copy-pasted straight from a Dyson Logos character sheet. This is because I had a whole other set of level 3 pregens that were on his sheets. I wanted to transfer them to my own sheets but I was too lazy to redo those bits so I just copied the necessary stuff. It's a Frankenstein's character sheet!!

EDIT: I swapped out the images on this post because the originals had the ability score list screwed up.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Once Again with the Thieves

In a couple of weeks I'll be starting a regular game at a local brewery. I plan to run B/X using B/XE at the table. I want as few house rules as possible. One rule is regarding thief skills... because as written, they really do suck the big one.

This is just a refinement of an idea I've ranted about for years. I believe this is a very simple way to handle thief skills and goes a long way toward correcting the (IMHO) poorly-designed thief skill set without changing the stats or adding too many fiddly bits.

-Thieves roll their skill on percentile dice + an ability check at the same time. If the percentile roll is good, ignore everything else because they have perfectly executed their subtle craft and cannot fail. Otherwise, go with a simple ability check.

-Non-thieves do sneaky stuff on an ability check, usually with Disadvantage. They cannot do super-secret stuff like climbing sheer surfaces or disarming complex traps (unless the player has a terrific plan).

The idea here is to say that thief skills are special. The thief isn't merely trying to be very quiet or trying to find footholds on a wall. They have been trained or have discovered lost secrets or have tapped into natural talents that normal people cannot access. The thief doesn't simply "hide" in shadows, they fucking disappear. If that percentile roll is a good one, the thief cannot be detected. They are as good as invisible, though not in a magical way.

Failing the percentile roll means they have not executed their subtle craft perfectly and they can be detected or they can fall to their doom. At that point, an ability check tells the story. But note that while non-thieves make their sneaky ability checks at Disadvantage most of the time, thieves do not.

And that's pretty much it. I think this method is intuitive when you describe the thief skills as being esoteric and carefully developed. It has logical consistency and definitely helps mitigate those god awful 10% skill rolls.

Saturday, January 5, 2019


Here's a thing I picked up recently on a whim. Here's how it happened:

1. I saw a post on G+ where someone was selling Bushido RPG books.
2. I remembered owning Bushido in high school. It means something because it was the first time I got a money order and mailed off for a book. Special!
3. Noticed the books were not in original box. Nerd mind kicked in.
4. Found complete box set on eBay, sans the wacky tiny d20 that my original set came with.
5. Bought the damn box set.
6. Spent some time looking at it, flipping through the books, reading some bits I remembered from long ago. Smiled.
7. Posted about it.

The box is beat up but it's been 37 years so...
This isn't actually the printing of the box set that I owned back in the day. Mine was all black. I ordered it via a Dragon Magazine ad. I think it was $8 if I remember correctly. I was so excited when that package arrived! I do remember this stuff being in my box, but also a tiny tiny d20.

The good stuff inside!
The box may look like shit, but the books and other contents are in excellent condition. There is some wear on the books, but not much. The map and reference sheet are perfect. Almost as if they were never used... hmmm.

Thing is, I never played this game. I never even fully read the rules. I skimmed it, read bits, stole bits, and got inspired by it. I remember especially being fond of stealing the weapons table and using it for D&D. I even wrote up a budoka character class for D&D and rolled up a few PCs that I never used.

So the thing about Bushido is that I'll never ever run it in a hundred years. I'll keep this box set, mostly on the shelf, and I'll pull it out now and then to look at it. I'll maybe eventually read the whole thing. I'll steal from it and be inspired by it. But I have no illusions about running it. Not gonna happen. And since this is an FGU game I probably would not like the way it plays anyway. The presentation is crunchy and I'm not a big fan of crunch.

Of course if I found a group playing it I might join in at some point. That much is for sure.