Thursday, July 29, 2010

I went to Comic Con

About 35 years ago. Yeah, haven’t been there during the modern heyday of Comic Con, but in the 70’s I totally got to go two years in a row as a kid. My parents took me, and dropped me off at the hotel it was held in to hang out all weekend while they went and partied in San Diego proper.

It was held pretty much in the basement of the hotel. I don’t remember which one or if it is even still there, but it was all pretty low rent compared to today’s con. But it was amazing to me. I had yet to go to any kind of con, so I was just blown away by all the merchandise and stuff. Then it wasn’t a huge venue for film promos, but comic book companies were there, and always big names for the panels. I loved Captain Sticky. Cap was a big fat bearded guy in a superhero costume, and he had a Batmobile type care parked out in front of the hotel. The car was even more awesome than Batman’s car, because it shot peanut butter out of a turret on the roof! Captain Sticky was a real life local celebrity, because he had some kind of comic book cable show down there. He was an everyman hero, aiming his heroic sights on crooked car rental companies and other modern villains of day to day life.

But in reality, my best experiences were meeting Stan “The Man” Lee, and also Mel Blanc. A small group of us gathered around Stan (no crowd would be small around him these days, back then nobody but a diehard comic collector would have recognized him), asking questions about Howard the Duck and other stuff. But I got to spend close to an hour by myself talking to Mel! It was by the pool, and he was sitting down most of the time because he had broken a leg recently horse riding and was quite old. He did all the Looney Tunes voices for me, and sang a song for me in Speedy Gonzales’ voice. It was the most amazing celebrity moment of my life (although David Lee Roth giving me a hit off of his whiskey bottle backstage at a Universal City Walk concert in 2002 was a pretty nice highlight too).

Comic Con looks amazing these days, but I want to be honest, I don’t have a great love for crowds, especially crowds of super geeks. The smell of Dork-ass in huge quantities is like Kryptonite to me. But every year, as I watch some of the con coverage on G4, I remember those great little childhood memories of the early con days.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Alphonse Mucha: non-fantasy fantasy artist

I don’t know art, but I know what I like. Today Google reminded me that it is the birthday of Alponse Maria Mucha, a Czech artist born 150 years ago.

I discovered Mucha not all that long ago. When I have an NPC coming up in my games, especially a female, I tend to do general searches online looking for particulars (young-girl-brown hair-flowing dress, etc.) that match my image of the NPC to show players. Unfortunately, I personally can barely draw the proverbial straight line. So that is how I found his stuff.

Mucha’s most prolific time was in the late 1800’s, and they for sure have that classic time’s style. But what struck me is how lots of his images seemed to be women dressed in a sort of timeless quality. I know some Ren Faire hippy girls who look and dress a lot like some of these ladies from Mucha’s art (give you another idea why I still work Faires and hang in the World folk music scene). And the look of so much of the art fits my vision of parts of my fantasy world, from English derived societies to far flung foreign lands. Queens, princesses, ladies of the court, peasants, gypsies, serving wenches, sorceresses. So many of the drawings could have multiple meanings.

Hey, don’t take my word for it, Bratty! Just Google him, look under images, and fall in love. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Fridays: The Sundered Veil

(above image is fan art for this story found online)

OK, with scheduling conflicts and so much going on right now, I won’t be running any of my game stuff for the group for a few weeks (I don’t do my main 1st edition campaign if anyone is missing, and the alternatives I do also depend on who is there). I’m going to let regular player Ben do his D&D next week for those of us available.

But without actually GM’ing, I lose a little inspiration for my blogging (so you have an idea what will happened if my group falls apart). So I thought that at least for Fridays I would keep myself inspired, and hopeful that I will get to do a CoC campaign for my group at some point, that I would do regular homage’s to stuff related to Lovecraft, which I have been reading a lot of stuff on lately.

OK, so recently I have been rereading the first two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Graphic novels, and then some. In them, Allan Moore shows an even bigger love of the Wold-Newton stuff than Phillip Jose Farmer himself! It seems like almost all of literary fiction exists in the world he has set up. Forget the laughable Sean Connery film (shame it was one of his last) based on The League, I think Moore’s LEG is one of the greatest triumphs of modern comic/lit genres. The amount of stuff from fiction created since the dawn of man that he has included is just astounding. Entire books have been written to act as a guide to the people and places he references.

In the back of the Volume 2 series (the one where the Martians from War of the Worlds meet resistance from Captain Nemo and the rest of the league), there is a text story (with some artwork) that tells a tale about an astral team-up with Allan Quartemain, John Carter of Mars, Randolph Carter from Lovecraft’s dreamlands cycle, and the Time Traveler from H.G. Wells.

Wow, who could even imagine such a teaming? The weirdo/genius mind of Allan Moore, that’s who. To add to the level of geek cool, here Randolph Carter is a great nephew of John Carter, who of course views his future dreamer nephew as a bit of a wuss.

At the start of the story, Allan Quartermain visits an old mystic friend looking to partake of the Taduki drug from his adventures in King Solomon’s Mines and other places. Passing out and going into a metaphysical trance, Quartermain enters the astral realm. Here his disembodies spirits encounters two other such souls. One is John Carter, his spirit body in transition from earth to his soon to be new home on the Red Planet. Also in spiritual transition is Randolph Carter, the grandnephew of John. As the three wonder the purpose of their meeting, H.G. Wells unnamed Time Traveler and his wondrous machine shows up. The Time Traveler tells them that fate has brought them to him, and they are to help him defeat forces of the Cthulhu Mythos. Awesome.

The quartet is soon attacked from nowhere by motley, primitive beasts that the Time Traveler curiously describes as being known both as Morlocks and Mi-Go. Escaping on the time machine, the group travels to the material world of the far future. It is the sphinx from the Eloi time, but even further into the future than that, when that once lush area is now a desert in a dying earth. Apparently the Time Traveler has made this lasting far flung structure his home base in the battle against the Old Ones. After explaining the problem of ancient Godlike creatures invading the mortal realm, both the Carters realize that they are not bound to any realm and are actually forms destined to other places, so they fade away. John goes to Mars to win Dejah Thoris and begins his adventurers there, and Randolph heads off for his adventures to Unknown Kadath.

Things go from bad to worse when Quartermain is possessed by Ithaqua the Windwalker, and returns to the mortal realm. The Time Traveler is left to his further adventures in the time stream, and Quartermain manages to become free of his possession in the earthly realm. Broken by the loss of his Taduki drug, Quartermain heads off to the Middle East to become an opium addict for awhile before he joins the League.

This team up is amazing, really. To me as a fan of all of them; Lovecraft, HG Wells, and Edgar Rice, this really blew me away. If this sounds good to you, I recommend you get your hands on either the comic issues, or better yet the graphic novels. The story is several pages long in small print, so you for sure get a lot of meat for such a short adventure.

Oh, for extra awesome, the comic book portion of the book begins on Mars, where John Carter, Gulliver of Mars, and other literary Mars figures and creatures gather to fight off the Mollusks from War of the Worlds. Too much cool, man!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Weeee! Me and OD&D!

Before it gets later in the week and into a possible Mutant Future session, I wanted to post about the OD&D game I did for the group last week as a little alternative. My eyes are a bit bleary, as I sat through three full length movies over the weekend in addition to the usual tons of TV, reading, and video games. The Sci Fi Academy happened to have three screenings scheduled, including a 3D screening in a Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive office building Sunday afternoon. So I saw Eclipse (lame as hell with a moment or two of cool, but my +one was a fan so she thought it was the best movie ever – Team Edward, no doubt), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (out on DVD right now actually, the Academy gets foreign films months after they are out, and even if you aren’t a suspense/mystery fan YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. Rent it next time you’re at Blockbuster), and Air Bender in 3D, which despite the 3D adding nothing of value, was actually a pretty good time at the movies. Lots of actions and wild visuals. The setting would make a great game.

Anyhoo, so I popped OD&D on the group. Dan, a total dice-aphobe when it comes to stat rolling, was beside himself at the thought of 3D6 in order. The others took it in stride, and with a slight bit of generosity (I let them roll two sets in order, with the option of a third set rolled, or a best 3 of 4 elimination roll on one of the stats of the first two). Nobody came out a total Elmer Fudd, and a couple of them had some decent above average stuff.

So, I’m doing White Box plus Greyhawk, but even so there are few options. Andy was the only one who did a single class, a human cleric. Desperate Dan worked up a nice little fighter/thief dwarf. Both Paul and Terry did up elvish fighter/mu’s. With Greyhawk involved, I let them operate simultaneously in both classes.

Only took a half hour or so to get rolled up, named, and supplied, and off they went. Now, in my 1st edition games I usually put a ton of stuff into character set-up. I want to know as much as possible about the character before we begin. But for this it was “OK, off we go” without really worrying about where anybody comes from.

The setting is 200 years prior to my current 1st ed games, and that puts it about 70 years before my very first game in that world as a kid. So this is well within my world’s “Age of Dungeons.” I thought it appropriate, because I pretty much started on White Box with Greyhawk, so I set it closer to that retro time when all we did was dungeon crawl in my world. Sort of a full circle via going back in time.

Anyway, I don’t want to give away too many details of the actual gameplay because of the event I’m doing it at next month, but things went by much faster than it in my usual game. Everything just so nice and simplified. Few adjustments, just raw “up and at ‘em.”

After an hour or two I was like “Ok, I could just ditch 1st ed. All together, stop over thinking things, and go simple from now on,” but that wasn’t what I really was trying to do. In the long run, I think I would pine for nice, complicated AD&D. But this was a nice, hassle free change. Talk about phoning it in!

And I even went with a more traditional combat set-up, rather than my going in Dex order method. I basically did a spell-missile-move-melee thing that actually worked better than I thought. It is very possible I will go with that for my AD&D in the future. There ended up being several combats in the actual three or so hours of play, and they all went fast and furious. The party made out ok, getting a few hundred gold, a couple of magic items, and they all survived despite a couple of bites from poisonous foes. What surprised me most of all what the party taking stairs down to the next level as soon as they came across it. They fought a foe or two of higher level, and still came out only mildly scathed. At games end, they did what any old school party should do – they left the dungeon to camp for the night.

It was a lot of fun for me, and I think the gang liked the change of pace from my usual high adventure crap. Dungeon delving for its own sake. Nice. I think things will go well at the event next month, although it will be as many as twice the four players I had for it this time (Ben was out of town, hence the reason for the alternate game). But I have a good feeling about it.

I want to mention that I leaned heavily on the dungeon as mythic underworld stuff to get my player in the right mood, so a big tip o' the old school hat to Philotomy

And wow, the last several months I have gotten to do a lot of alternatives to the usual 1st edition campaign. A year ago I was only dreaming of a chance to do my old Champions game world a bit, and a bit of Mutant Future. I’ve been getting that. Now a bit of OD&D for grins and giggles. Damn, the sky is the limit. Maybe I’ll get to inject some Call of Cthulhu into the group before too long after all! Dream big.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Economics of the Dungeon Age

In a land where multiple dungeons exist (Arduin had dozens), the ultimate financial impact had to be felt by the economies of the kingdoms to some degree.

First, there is the village, and especially the tavern, that are in the dungeon vicinity. Even if a party of adventuring Elmer Fudds only come stay every few weeks, some serious coin is getting dropped even before the dungeon crawl. There is always that supply mercantile with all your dungeoneering needs, from spikes to ropes to ten foot poles. Soup to nuts. And of course a good DM will have his merchants charging big markup. We are practically in the wilderness, you know. An especially well traveled dungeon’s village will perhaps even have a magic supply shop (run by a high level mage, of course) where the parties “Wiggle Fingers” can replenish components and scroll supplies. And that store ain’t cheap.

The local tavern may just fare the best from deep pocketed delvers. The locals know dungeon crawlers when they see them. Word gets around town and in minutes locals are pouring in to see what the fuss is about. Adventurer’s new to the area will know that locals are the best source of info about the dungeon and it’s rumors and legends. Liberal spending, even upwards of 100 gold for endless rounds of ale and meat pies, will not only loosen some tongues, but also guarantee good will from the tavern owner. And that tavern owner knows more rumors and legends than most.

So a party goes to deeper levels, and when they are done the survivors will set out for the bigger towns and cities loaded with wealth. They’ll spend that money in the city, or perhaps higher level PC’s will go off to build housing for their retainers and followers. And if you are playing 1st ed. by the book, then there will be trainers and mentors all over the place profiting from the characters hard fought cash. Magic users will spend much dungeon money, from guild fees to research materials. Clerics will enrich temple coffers (and hopefully the temple leaders will see fit to invest in the local infrastructure) of their favored god. Fighter, thieves, and bards will debouche their money away into the economy in a thousand ways.

The affect of dungeon money upon the economy may depend on your campaign world. Perhaps, as was suggested in a comment in my last post, the Dungeon Age is a time of failing civilization, where these dangerous places are a decaying product of the withering world. In a case like this, an influx of wealth may fall flat in a barter economy, or it may overwhelm the delicate system that still finds worth in coin and gem in small settlements.

In my own game world, I think of the Dungeon Age as a time of great civilized growth. Treasure from dungeon delves flowed eventually to town and city economies, and added to the advancement you find in new, successful civilizations.
In time, The Age of Dungeons mostly passes, these secluded mythic places drying up or falling into ruin. The magic that kept them going begins to unweave and float away into the ether. Mountain and forest towns in the howling wilderlands, once booming from dungeon gold, slowly shrink and eventually fall to ruin and abandonment.

On comes an age of high adventure, when greed and lust gives way to heroics. There are still secluded dungeons like those of the bygone age, full of magic and treasure. But they are now few and far between. Occasionally the greedy seekers of loot hunt down these fabled places, just like the delvers of the past age. But the norm for a hero of this bright new age is not to delve for gold and silver, but to fight in great battles, and to go on great quests, perhaps travelling to faraway lands. More so than in The Dungeon Age, able bodied adventurers set out to evil places not for merely wealth, but to destroy that very evil, or other noble cause.

But do not step into those dark corners of the world lightly, even in this luminous new age. Though the Dungeon Age has passed, there are still dungeons hidden away. Some are still vibrant with hostile intent to those who invade them. But they are there. And they are waiting for the greedy to seek them out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Defining an age: “The Age of Dungeons”

When I first began my long running game world (that is, came up with a name for the land my first dungeon and nearby tavern were located in) that I still use for my ongoing AD&D campaigns, I was around 13 or 14. At that time I was still using White Box, plus had only recently acquired Greyhawk and Blackmoor. Dungeon crawling was still the focus of my games, just like everybody else.

Fast forward around 30 years or so, and I’m still running games in that world, “Acheron” (Yeah, Acheron is the type of name for a world that a kid would come up with alright). But the “time of dungeons” has long past. Some 120 years or so had passed in my game world since those first “tavern n’ a dungeon” games, and the types of adventures had changed.

As my main city, Tanmoor, become more detailed and more adventures took place there, it became the place where most things happened. The city was about to enter a time of Renaissance. Characters went up in level and became famous, hobnobbing with the royalty and other famous personages and NPC’s that were around. There were quests, errands, and sometimes even wars that characters took part in, almost all of it in one way or another connected to Tanmoor and the crown. I didn’t really mean to go the “high adventure” route that newer editions of D&D was shooting for. It’s just that characters being more heroic and epic in scope, beyond dungeon crawls, had become more appealing to me.

In many ways I was running these campaigns like superhero games, with characters swiftly going from 1st level noobs to major, world altering adventurers. As I’ve said before, I think that a combination of girls being in my games in the past, plus my comic book collecting background and love of superhero level antics, led away from the maiming and crippling death dungeons and into a world or more derring-do.

So, as it turns out I’m going to be running a bit of OD&D soon. Not just at the “Minicon” event next month, but it looks like I’ll be getting some practice with it tomorrow night. We need an alternate with Ben still out of town (and the 1st ed. game right now needs it’s resident MU), and Mutant Future is supposed to be for when Terry can’t make it on game night. At the last game Terry and Paul were interested in my tales of good ol’ White Box D&D, so I’m going to try out a session of nice simple “Elmer Fuddist” D&D on them.

Although I really only need a village and a nearby dungeon, I gave some thought to the world this would take place in, and decided to make it Acheron, my long running game world, but set about 200 years in the past of the current time period in games. That would put the new OD&D setting at about 70 years prior to my first Acheron sessions as a kid when I first got D&D. As it turns out, this is pretty perfect. As a kid all we did were dungeons. Nice, nonsensical “mythic underworlds” that PC’s trudged through Fudd-style. So I started to think of a time period when there were more weird dungeons in Acheron. A time when the lands were strewn with them. Money grubbing wannabe adventurers in the lands had their choice of deathtrap dungeons to delve into. That was D&Ding to us when we were kids, so what better time period than the period of my first games?

The current decades are known as a time of great heroes and epic adventures, and I have often described to my players a time period 500-600 years ago that was another epic time, when many of the current gods of my world were still mortal warriors and magic-users. So I decided that the time about 200 years ago was sandwiched in between these more heroic times, and itself was known as “The Age of Dungeons.” Rather than heroic figures, adventurers were more born of a time of greed and lust, when tales of great treasures and glorious magic seeped out of the mythic underworld places. The sons and daughters of farmers, blacksmiths, and even scholars set out with dreams of schlepping out cartloads of gold from the underplaces. Not all of them returned, but enough did to inspire others to delve.

Don’t get me wrong, every now and again in my games there have been and still are weirdo dungeons. They are just rare. Hell, when I started my current group and the current 1st ed Campaign almost two years ago, the whole plan was to get them up a level or two and get them to a dungeon. But, typically, things went to a more epic, politically relevant direction and they ended up in The Night Below setting. Still there. But there are a couple of other dungeons I have that are a permanent fixture In the city of Tanmoor, and will be encountered again no doubt. Both of these city dungeons are based on old Flying Buffalo Tunnels and Trolls solo adventures; Mirror World (a mirror with a dungeon in it), and Naked Doom – not so much a magical dungeon like Mirror World, but a sort of dungeon obstacle course (that you of course start out naked in). But like I said, visits to these places were rare.

Regardless of recent and distant past, I seem to be going through a “dungeon phase” like I haven’t since I was pretty much a kid. I’m gonna ride this pony while I can.

Next: The Economy of the Dungeon Age

Friday, July 9, 2010

Embracing my inner Elmer Fuddist

I recently posted about my views on old school “Elmer Fudd” D&D. You know, poor stated dillhole characters and meanie, sadistic dungeon masters. OK, I wasn’t really ranting or anything. But that kind of pre-1st ed. retro OD&D play just seemed like it was caveman stuff as a gamer, and wasn’t something I really wanted to revisit in any major way. My D&D had long since gone from low fantasy to high fantasy (although as far as reading fiction I still preferred Lankhmar and Cimmeria over Middle Earth). Characters in my ongoing game world became more like champions hanging tough in the face of dangers and horrors, rather than the pathetic, bumbling Fudd’s they were when I started with the little brown books as a kid.

Sometime last fall I had signed up to do an OD&D session, the “White Box” plus Greyhawk, at a monthly game day thing. I don’t really know why I did, but maybe I just wanted to see who would show up for that at an event that more current Pathfinder type games were going on. And hell, I usually practically phone-in my 1st edition games for my ongoing group, so why not try a session of something really easy? Anyway, those plans fell through due to other obligations, and who knows if anybody would have shown interest anyway.

Well, some Southern California dudes in the online gamer community have been putting on a small yearly game day gathering in Anaheim that they are calling “Minicon,” and I threw my hat in the ring to do some OD&D next month. Why not my beloved 1st ed? Well, maybe mostly because I have house ruled the hell out of my AD&D, and I just have a fear of seasoned gamers not being down with my changes for one reason or another. These would be guys who know the game by the book much better than me, and I find that intimidating. I haven’t exactly made a lifelong study of the DM’s Guide or anything. Hell, I probably started most of my house rules long ago because I was too lazy to look some things up.

Anyhoo, my player list for that evening session in August filled up almost right away, so there is no real turning back now. But never fear, despite the irritating lack of any real cohesive combat/movement rules in the White box and Greyhawk, everything else about it is so easy peasy, so I can focus on making the dungeon crawl interesting. I’ll get three times as much actual gaming in with OD&D compared to a typical 1st edition session where so much character crap comes into it, some nights you barely get a combat in. More often than not I try to run it like some weird, greek psycho-drama.

I’m really starting to look forward to a barebones, truly old school session just to see how it turns out.

And I may even get a practice session in. Last night while waiting on Andy’s patio who was running a bit late, I talked to Paul and Terry about the White Box and Greyhaw that I happened to have on me at the time, and spoke on the differences between it and 1st ed. They didn’t know much about those brown books (Terry had some youthful experience with one of the basic box sets from the 80’s, and Paul is pretty new to tabletop altogether), and seemed enchanted by the idea of taking simple, hubris-free characters right into a dungeon grind with little set-up and fanfare. So, with a couple players possibly missing the next couple of weeks, next session may just have to be a quick dungeon delve using the notes I’ve prepared so far for the session next month.

And I’m going to approach it in a Fuddist fashion. OK, I’m not huge on deathtraps (and exploding cigars). That’s for Edgar Allen Poe stories and episodes of the old cheesy Batman TV series. But I’m going to make the characters be rolled with 3d6 in order (mostly), and I’m going to take an “odds are against them” attitude with the other stuff in the dungeon. I’m going to have a humiliating surprise or two in store at the lower levels. Who knows, maybe after decades of coddling the character who enter my world like precious little children, I’ll teach myself a lesson and become a jerk DM again like all of us old schoolers started out. As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts about my ongoing AD&D, I obviously need to give my players a serious bitch-smack. This may be the venue to get back on that road. “Be vewy vewy quite, I’m hunting pwayer characters. - hnn heh heh heh heh heh.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Vasen: The best Music for your game

Last week some friends of my put on a big folk music camp, Golden Toad Music Camp. Several days in the beautiful hills and woods outside of the town of Occidental in northern California (not far from famous Bodega Bay, where they filmed Hitchcock’s The Birds). Lots of my best friends from two decades of California Ren Faires were there as teachers, organizers, and kitchen staff. I worked an easy gig 4 hours a day at the middle eastern themed teahouse in the main lodge.

It was my first such camp, and I loved it. Warms days and cool nights, excellent meals in the huge main lodge, and drinking keg after keg of Sierra Nevada Ale with my buddies and lots of very hot hippy girls.

Teaching some workshops, and doing a Saturday night concert under the stars among the trees, was the popular Swedish folk group Vasen. They were three very funny dudes (think of them as slightly less talky, Swedish versions of the guys from Flight of the Conchords). How my friends got them to do this (I think they are touring the West Coast anyway right now) I’ll never know, but I’m glad they did.

They did a concert on the front lawn in front of the main lodge (area shown in photo above), right there among the tall, dark trees and beneath a bright and swiftly rising full moon. It blew me away. The setting was just incredible – majestic yet still very intimate, with around 150 people in attendance on the lawn and crowding on the balconies of the lodge. It was like being in some faraway place.

Although not on my mind at all times, it was hard not to think of gaming in this setting at certain moments. It’s not like when I was in my 20’s and seeing pathways to dungeons in every hiking area or natural setting I visited. Sure, there was some of that. But among the trees and under the moon in that beautiful setting, hearing that great music, was just so damn inspiring.

Vasen is going to be my main game music of choice. Not for dungeons and caverns of course, but for town, tavern, and green this is what I will DJ for my D&D. Very much the vibe of the Irish tunes you know from stuff, but with an added layer of ancient sophistication. That Nickleharpa that Olov plays is amazing, and lends a sort of special old time Euro flavor to the tunes. Sometimes there are some contemporary sounds, but almost all of it will set the perfect mood for your scenarios when players are above ground in the game.

You might find some CD’s on Ebay, but here are links to their Myspace and personal website where you can sample and buy music. “Vasen Street” is my bottom line favorite by the boys, but they have so much music out there there is plenty to enjoy. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Getting out into the woods for a week was an amazing feeling for me. Never taking more than a long weekend for vacation in the last few years, it did my heart some good. I feel like the Grinch, you know, when his heart got all big and shit? The presence of these three Swedish, dorky Vasen guys really helped me with that. When tall Olov came looking for beer one night, I fell all over myself like I was in the presence of some huge celebrity. I felt so generous of spirit that I actually started referring to my buddies out there as “hippies” instead of “dirty hippies.”

cut n' paste some of these Youtube clips.

The first is my favorite tune “Vasen Street”