Monday, September 2, 2019

Zoa Space Fantasy Design Notes #1

I'm in the early stages of creating a Troika!-based sci-fantasy RPG. The working title has always been Zoa Space Fantasy, but that is subject to change. An alternate title I have on the table is Hellion Cross, which is the name of a specific sunrealm within the larger setting of the Coz.

Here are a couple of design choices I'm currently wrestling with.

1. Should this be a Troika! setting or a standalone RPG based on Troika!? My inclination is to make it standalone. My only reason for entertaining the idea of making it a setting is that it would be slightly easier to pull that off. Of course this game has precious few rules so really we're not talking about a huge amount of work to make it a standalone book. The benefit of going that direction is also that I can incorporate "house rules" directly into the actual rules.

2. I had this notion that the Backgrounds would either be in 3 sets of 36 or 6 sets of 36. I feel like 6 sets is a little overkill. It would be fun to create that many, but maybe that would make choosing a Background a little harder. Rolling for it would be as easier either way.

3. How much of the setting is implied by the Backgrounds vs. explicitly described in other sections? What I love about Troika! is that the Backgrounds do in fact give you a sketch of a setting and that's really all you need in order to get a game going. From there it can go anywhere. So here the conceit of the world-builder comes into conflict with the game's very simple aesthetic. The more I enforce the crunchy details of this world the less room you have as a player to be playful and creative. I have always gravitated to things that give me more room to play and be creative, so why would I want to create something that hinders people?

What I'm leaning toward right now is to have the vast majority of the setting suggested within the Backgrounds and maybe give the broad setting an Isle of Dread-style treatment... brief little paragraphs describing the major concepts and places - information that would fit on a couple of pages at most.

Ultimately I'd like to make this a fairly visual book, saddle-stitched and in the realm of 48-64 pages. Probably in color, like a 70s comic art album. A thing that inspires role-playing more than directing it.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Blue Wizard (finished)

I posted the sketch for this guy a while back. Here's the finished art. The version appearing in The Hole in the Oak is cropped a bit.

Back in my day, sonny, we rolled our only d6 up hill in the snow. Both wa-- well you get what I'm sayin'.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sorsha Corvette

Here is spacer chick Sorsha Corvette written up for Troika! RPG. I'm diving in hard and fast to work on my game Zoa Space Fantasy!

Sorsha Corvette

Skill 6
Stamina 20
Luck 12

Advanced Skills

3 Laser Musket
2 Hand to Hand Combat
2 Hand Canon
1 Pilot
2 Nuclear Karaoke


Zot Laser Musket (2,3,6,8,10,15,20)
2 Plasma Packs
RIG 77 Hand Canon (2,3,4,5,6,8,11)
3 Rig Rounds Cartridges
Siperion Hyper Screen (2 armor)

But what the actual fuck is Troika!?

Right. So mostly this blog has been focused on material compatible with old D&D, particularly the 1981 Basic/Expert variety. My most beloved and magical friend. Hell, the title of my blog includes the line "adventures for 1st to 14th level characters"... a direct reference to B/X D&D.

Troika! is not D&D. And yes, the "!" is in the title.

Troika! is an RPG written by Daniel Sell. I believe he had help from Jeremy Duncan, who did art for the game. Like Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry are "clones" of old D&D, Troika! is a "clone" of Fighting Fantasy, a British RPG that evolved from some choose-your-own-adventure books in the 80s.

(Here I am in unfamiliar territory. While I have become an armchair expert on classic D&D I am an armchair idiot with regards to Fighting Fantasy.)

So, the broad strokes of Troika! are as follows.

It is a very simple game. It uses d6s only. Characters have Skill, Stamina, and Luck as well as a collection of Advanced Skills and Possessions. That's pretty much it. You roll 2d6 vs. your Skill + Advanced Skill (where applicable) to do stuff, trying to roll under. When opposed, you roll vs. and try to roll higher than your opponent. When Stamina is reduced to zero you die. You are sometimes asked to Test your Luck - rolling under it to avoid some fate or another.

When you use Advanced Skills you can put a tick mark next to them on your sheet. Then, when the time seems appropriate, you can roll to see if you improve them.

There is little more to it than that. And it is quite a beautiful thing. I ran a short game of Troika! set in the Zoa Space Fantasy universe a few months ago and rather enjoyed the shit out of it. So I'm actively working on a full RPG. More later.

Bad Bunny Landing

Here's a re-colored version of an old drawing. I like this much better. More atmo!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Priest of the Upper Ocular Cavity

This is a character background for Troika!, an RPG based on Fighting Fantasy. Imagine that... a sort of "clone" that isn't based on D&D! Whhhhaaaaa??

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Hole in the Oak Adventure Module

The Hole in the Oak, an official adventure module for Old School Essentialsis now available at DriveThruRPG. I illustrated this adventure, which was written by Gavin Norman and published by his imprint Necrotic Gnome.

A hole in an old oak tree leads characters down to
a maze of twisting, root-riddled passageways, the
chambers of an ancient wizard-complex, and the
banks of an underground river where once a reptile
cult built their temples.

A classic dungeon adventure for characters of 1st to
2nd level

Babies. They're going to get you.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Artin' All Over Myself

I really like this old sketchbook page.
Today I have been spending a lot of time just going through art files. I have a lot of them. I have many that I forgot about drawing. Some of them are good, some bad. Some really good. And some really quite bad.

Which of course is entirely subjective, like all art.

Unsurprisingly, at least 40% of my art is in the genre of the pinup. That is to say... saucy. Sexy. Busty. Etc. I've been drawing pinup art since about 1991 when I was 21 years old.

Well... let's think about that. One of my first D&D characters was Catina, a warrior woman in a tiger skin bikini. I drew lots of pictures of her fighting and posing.

So I guess I actually started doing pinup art when I was a teen... the same time I found D&D, Tanith Lee, Conan, and girls.

Sifting through art is a great way to gauge your skills and shortcomings. I had a spell that lasted several years between 2008 and 2012 where I was cranking out shitty art. Like, some of it was just objectively bad. I was learning how to draw digitally and often falling into the pitfalls of sloppy digital work.

Turns out the secret to drawing digitally is the same as any other drawing.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Work in Progress: Re-Entry is a Bitch

Here's a thing I was working on before going to Mexico. As soon as I knock out some commissions I'm going to finish her up!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Barbarians of the Ruined Earth!

Barbarians of the Ruined Earth Kickstarter is live! Come game in the far-flung ruined future where fabulous sun swords and super science reign supreme! Mohawks, dinosaurs, laser beams, battle axes, and mutant pigs!

Game by the infamous Mike Evans, art by myself + a bevy of super talented weirdos.

The Death of JWARTS.COM

Quietly in the night my website died. I let it die. I didn't ever really love it anyway and nobody really gave a damn about it so why keep giving money to Go Daddy? I mostly post on FB, Instagram, and this blog these days. Seems legit to me.

Goodbye, website with the goofy name.

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.

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 than 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."