Sunday, March 31, 2013

A-to-Z Challenge Day 0: Catacomb Entrance

Entry 0 for The Lost Catacombs of Kadmos

You come to the spot marked on the map by the letter "kappa," but see nothing more than pile of rocks set against the hill. You recite the incantation from the map and the stones disappear, revealing a recessed area with what appears to be some sort of door. Above the door is the name ΚΑΔΜΩΣ. Set in the middle the door is a relief sculpture of a face with its mouth open, as if it is trying to speak to you.

Access to the catacomb is gained by speaking into the mouth of the face and spelling Kadmos’s name (as it appears above the tomb entrance) using the Greek names for the letters in his name: kappa, alpha, delta, mu, omega, sigma. Once spoken, the face will “collapse” into the stone of the door, and the door will slide away to the right (facing from outside the catacomb). It will remain open for 1 turn, at the end of which, the stone will slide back into place and the face will return. An identical face is located on the “inside” of the door. Exit is granted by spelling Kadmos’s name backwards using the Greek names for the letters in his name: sigma, omega, mu, delta, alpha kappa.

Any time someone says the name “Kadmos” in the presence of the face on the door (interior or exterior), the face will speak one of the following phrases (roll 1d10):
1. I am Kadmos—father of the alphabet.
2. I am Kadmos—combiner of consonants and vowels.
3. I am Kadmos—brother of Europa.
4. I am Kadmos—brother of Phoenix.
5. I am Kadmos—husband of Harmonia.
6. I am Kadmos—killer of Ares’s dragon.
7. I am Kadmos—founder of Cadmea.
8. I am Kadmos—bewitcher of Typhon.
9. I am Kadmos—teacher of men.
10. I am Kadmos—master of astronomy.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Couple of Cool Estate Sale Finds

Many of you know that I'm constantly mining texts at for public domain fantasy art, particularly for my series of posts entitled "Really Old Old-school Art." It's always cool when I come across one of the vintage editions in the "real world," especially at a bargain.

My wife and I went to an estate sale this morning in the home of an antique dealer who is leaving the state and getting rid of absolutely everything. So I picked up the the two books pictured above for about eight bucks total. As I'm writing this, I realize that everything was supposed to be 50% off today, and they charged me full price! I don't care, at 8 bucks, it was still a bargain.

King Arthur for Boys is an edition of Arthur stories that I really had to dig to find electronically. In truth, I stumbled across the digital copy after an exhaustive search through a list of hundreds(?) of Arthurian collections by various authors published in various years. The Illustrations in King Arthur for Boys are by Frances Brundage, and have a naive, gestural quality to them (see the first two images below for an example of what I mean). Here's the thing... Frances wasn't really known for this type of work (gestural "boys' stuff"). She was better known for her idealic renditions of Victorian era children, particularly cherubic girls. But, hey! I guess work is work.

Fairy Tales from Baltic Shores is a book I've known about, but an electronic edition (especially suitable enough for image mining) has eluded me. So it was nice to find the analog copy this morning. The illustrations in Fairy Tales from Baltic Shores are by Jeannette Berkowitz. The bottom image below (of the magician reading the woman's palm - actually the goddaughter of the rock fairies) was the first image I saw when I flipped through the book this morning, and became quickly enamored of Berkowitz's style. I really wish I could draw fingers and facial features as delicately as Jeannette.

I think what's interesting to me is the dichotomy of the two women's styles, and how each of the two styles seems particularly suited to the subject matters (Arthurian legends vs. Baltic Fairy Tales).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My A to Z Blogging Challenge Concept
(or "I know I'm going to regret this.")

If you want the details of why blog won't be officially registered with this years A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, you can read about that here. If you want to know why I'm going to regret this, keep reading...

Long story short, I'm going to be creating an introductory level adventure titled The Lost Catacombs of Kadmos, themed around the hero/god Cadmus/Kadmos, credited by the ancient Greeks for introducing the alphabet. The idea came to me while teaching my History of Communication Graphics class earlier this semester (during the class where I discuss the origin of the Latin alphabet via the Greeks via the Phoenicians). However, instead of using the English alphabet, I will be using the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and so on) for my room names. As usual, it will be statted in such a way to adapt easily between Oe/1e/BX.

I'm also going to apologize in advance for the fact you will most likely be getting the text descriptions only, and not the maps and supporting illustrations (a la Tomb of Horrors) that are really required for players to best understand the sort of "thinking" dungeon (ahem... catcombs) I have planned.

I will be traveling the first week of April, and my work/teaching schedule shows no signs of lightening up until mid-May. It's bad enough that I'm way behind on finishing The Valley of the Five Fires and editing d30 Sandbox Companion. In addition to my "life load" reaching critical mass, Welbo recently started a new job which is sort of doing the same thing for his "life load." And I promise that the Community Geomorph Project is not dead; a couple of tough re-draws "daunted" me temporarily, then that "life load" kicked in.

So now, I'm going and doing something idiotic like jumping into the blogging challenge. Like I said, I'll be traveling next week, and I'm hoping that I'll have some Starbucks time (while my wife is at her conference) to knock out the month's worth of posts (minus the maps/drawings). The room concepts are all there, and many of them are already written (I tend to have time to kill on campus between my arriving early to beat traffic/parking and the time class begins), so I've gotten a bit of a head start.

I'll start on Sunday (March 31st) with the catacomb exterior, and launch on April 1 with the "alpha" room. If all goes as planned, the 24-letter alphabet will work nicely for four consecutive weeks of M/Tu/W/Th/F/Sa postings (with Sunday a day off). At least I have to do two less posts than the regular A-to-Z'ers, and while I have to do zeta and xi, I don't have to do Q (that one sort of "went around" Greek alphabet developments before working its way into the Latin alphabet).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Before and After: Stupa of Divine Madness

It's always interesting to me to compare my initial sketches with my finished work. The images below are both of the "Stupa of Divine Madness" location from The Valley of the Five Fires. The image on the left is my "2nd" initial sketch and notes (I didn't have my original sketch when I found time to detail the levels and worked from memory), and the image on the right is the final map page from The Valley of the Five Fires

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Morbagallicus: Patron and Tormentor of the Syphilitic

Since I'm still playing around with the new pen, I thought I'd draw something that I could work up for the Petty Gods project. And since there is a need for more chaotic and lawful deities, I introduce to you the petty god Morbagallicus, patron and tormentor of the syphilitic (chaotic, of course).

Due to some personal and work commitments, I probably won't get around to the description/stats until Wednesday, so maybe I'll have this worked up to post by Thursday morning. I'm also considering working up a description for yesterday's "old man" drawing as the petty god of staff and cane makers (lawful). I'm thinking that I might redraw both; I feel like they both need some refinements.

BTW, if anybody has any petty god ideas for the bearded thing from yesterday, feel free to work it up. Let me know, though, so I can arrange to send reproduction art with the description submission.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

V5F Preview: Steppe Shaman Class

So here's what keeps happening... I have a page or two I need to fill in The Valley of the Five Fires, and by the time I've filled it I've actually created 4 or 5 pages (which throws off my page count, which puts me back where I started... having a page or two I need to fill.)

I had only planned on putting some basic shaman class information, the experience pt./HD/spells by level info, and the list of spells by edition. So I started researching, and realized I needed two types of shamans, black shamans and white shamans... so that doubled the number of charts. And I'd planned on just referencing existing cleric/druid/MU spells, but realized I needed to create some shaman-specific spells for OGL purposes.

And that's how the 2-3 intended pages became the 7 pages below.

Now the debate becomes... do I include it in the module (upping the total page count, probably to 56 pp.) or do I work this up as a free download in support of the module?

BTW, the illustration is a Nicholas Roerich drawing (you know Roerich... he's the guy whose images I used for the post "Classic Rock Song Titles I'd Like to See as D&D Modules").

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dragon's Eye: Jerome Bixby

Although many of you may not know the name Jerome Bixby, there's a good chance you're familiar with the man's work.

Remember that Billy Mumy episode of the old B&W Twilight Zone? (Okay, there's actually three episodes of tTZ in which Mumy starred, so I'll be more specific). Remember that Billy Mumy episode of the old B&W Twilight Zone in which he possesses certain "magical" powers which allow him to read minds, control others, et al? Sure you do. Spielberg remade it as part of his Twilight Zone movie. Well... Bixby wrote the story on which the episode/segment were based. It first appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No.2 from Ballantine Books in 1953 and, in 1970, was voted as one of the 20 finest science fiction stories ever written by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

In addition to his work as a sci-fi writer, he was also editor of Planet Stories from Summer 1950 to July 1951. Planet Stories was a the pulp mag offshoot of Planet Comics, and was actually funded by the comic's success.

Given Bixby's background as a writer and editor, it was interesting to find the illustration above (obviously penned by him) in issue 61 of Planet Comics over at the Digital Comic Museum. Especially considering it accompanied a short story by Thornecliffe Herrick, the writer of the comic's The Lost World series. Although Bixby's illustration was published during the summer of 1949, I think it captures the same essence of the art of the earliest generations of RPGs from the early 1970s... art done by those who weren't always/necessarily professional artists, but with capabilities enough to execute those cool ideas. It just sort of "works."

BTW, it took me a while to realize that was probably a human space explorer of some sort clutched in the beast's fist.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Preview Illustration V5F Armor Types

This is a preview of the illustration from the Armor of the Steppe page from The Valley of the Five Fires. I know what you're thinking... "the Mongols didn't have plate armor!" Actually, in the later years, a form of partial plate/partial chain made its way into Mongolia from other parts of Asia. But then again, the Valley of the Five Fires is not technically supposed to be Mongolia. It's a "mongolian-inspired" steppe setting.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Yeti Illustration Redo

As Welbo and I have been finishing up Valley of the Five Fires, I started to really hate the Yeti Illustration (which I originally shared back in mid-December), and realized it needed to be revamped. So now that we're close to finishing, I decided it was time to get the damn thing done. And I'm glad I did. I think the new version kicks the old version's ass ten ways to Sunday. It was also a chance to put some mongol/steppe-specific details on the armor and weapons. (After illustration on top, before illustration on bottom).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Update: Old-School Adventures™
Module VA1: Valley of the Five Fires

Like many fellow OSR bloggers, my posts have been thin here due to the demands of the real world. But fear not, work is continuing on the d30 Sandbox Companion, and I'm getting much closer to finishing up Old-School Adventures™ Module VA1: Valley of the Five Fires.

What was looking like a 36-page count back in January when I announced it, is now 48 pages! Since then, I've added 2 pages of weapons and armor information, and 2 new detailed adventure areas (which actually accounts for 5 pages), and the OGL. It was actually the need to include the OGL (which I somehow freakin' forgot) that led to figuring out what to do with the 3 other pages (since it's all about 4-page signatures in a saddle-stitch book), that led to adding 8 pages total. Welbo and I have a bit more proofing/editing to do, but we're VERY close.

Details to come.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Monster: Tiddy Mun

These spirits of the bog appear as old men that are approximately the size a three-year-old child, with long tangled hair and a matted beard. They make their homes in fen (a type of wetland fed by mineral-rich surface water or groundwater) and their laughter resembles the warbling call of a lapwing. Their gray-green robes make them particularly difficult to see in boggy areas at night, providing them a -2 bonus to their AC under those conditions.

Tiddy mun are guardians of nature, often becoming malevolent toward those who harm or destroy it, inflicting them with misfortune and pestilence. They can, however, be forgiving, becoming benevolent toward those who try to right any wrongs they may have inflicted upon nature.

Tiddy mun can use the following druid spells twice per day each (casting as a 7th level druidical cleric): predict weather, detect snares and pits, detect magic, purify water, obscurement (mist), create water, cause disease (pestilence), plant growth, and water breathing. They are also able to speak with plants, as well as speaking dryad, elvish, pixieish, and sprite. Tiddy mun do not usually carry weapons, but will take up a club if forced to defend their self or their surroundings.
MOVE: 9"
% IN LAIR: 70%
ALIGNMENT: Neutral (good)
SIZE: S (3' tall)
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 90'
DAMAGE: See below
SAVE AS: Cleric: 7

Monday, March 4, 2013

Really Old Old-School Artist:
Morris Meredith Williams

On the heels of my post about The Highest Level of all Fantasy Wargaming, I thought I'd post some really old old-school art from Scottish artist Morris Meredith Williams. I haven't had much luck in finding anything too detailed about him on the interweb. He doesn't even seem to have a Wikipedia listing. And if you don't use quotes when you google his name, you get a lot of William Morris results.

Now, you're probably asking, "What do these illustrations from the 1910s have to do with the bizarre wonderment that is The Highest Level of all Fantasy Wargaming?" (And yes, I do expect you to use the words "bizarre wonderment.") Let me go ahead and answer that question in two words... Lawrence Heath.

There's something about Heath's compositions and line work that reminds me of Williams. Check out the link on Heath's name above to view Mike Monaco's posts with some of Heath's work, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

from The Northmen in Britain

from The Northmen in Britain

from The Northmen in Britain

from The Northmen in Britain

from Scottish Fairy Tales

from Scottish Fairy Tales

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Dungeons": A Strange Sameness

I recently acquired a second copy of Bruce Galloway's The Highest Level of All Fantasy Wargaming. I've had a copy of the larger quarto (letter-sized) since it came out in the states back in '82, but the new copy is the octavo (hardcover novel sized) put out through Science Fiction book clubs. It's been a while since I cracked this open, but when I opened the book to insert the receipt before leaving the store, it serendipitously opened on the following passage (p. 103)...

Designing a "dungeon" or adventure
... The basic idea. Surprisingly for games that are claimed to have infinite possibilities, the design of "dungeons" seems to take on a strange sameness: a deserted or ruined building, a secret entrance, a number of levels inhabited by monsters and containing traps, treasures and magic in various forms."

He really just goes on from there to tell you how to make things more interesting. He references Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Wizardry, and R.E. Howard's Conan story Red Nails, and makes some general mentions of legends and myths (as categories for inspiration, but nothing particular). Yes, I know what you're thinking... Bruce selected 2 individual books that were each included in an entire series mentioned in the DMG's Appendix N. But cut Bruce some slack; what he presents in the next few pages is a sort of checklist for GMs, telling them to (in my words) paint both the broad strokes (the setting, the society, etc.) and the finer details (e.g., trap mechanisms) in order to create as many vivid role-playing opportunities as possible. Now give Bruce some credit, he was developing what would become THLOAFW during the late 70s, about the same time the 1E hardbacks were being published, and given the lead time on writing/editing/typesetting/printing in those days, it's entirely possible this section was written before Bruce ever saw a copy of the 1E DMG.

In 81/82, Bruce abandoned gaming for other interests, and died tragically in an accident in 1984. I encourage you to read Mike Monaco's very long and detailed post about THLOAFW from back in October of 2010 (or re-read if it's been a while). It's got some wonderful insights from Bruce's friend Nick Lowe (one of the writers and shared copyright holders on THLOAFW), and a "Cover to Cover" review of THLOAFW by Mike.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Another EO Image Inspiration?

Continuing with my illustration inspiration discoveries (see my "Sit, ubues. Sit." and "I Found Another One" posts), today's post features a Willy Pogany illustration from Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales and Erol Otus's troll illustration from Saga: Age of Heroes, the TSR mini-game.