Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My World

Many, many moons ago (like 25 years worth or so) I drew a map.  It was the map to a fantasy world that I swore was going to be the next Krynn or Forgotten Realms.  I carved a niche out for just about every kind of culture I could think of, including Native Americans.  Cuz, ya know, they were in Dragonlance.

I think I still have the original somewhere, but here is a cleaner photocopy I found tonight.

Looking at it now, I can't help but giggle at some of the names I came up with.  Pretty generic and unoriginal.  Still, I also can't but wonder if the whole darn thing isn't salvageable...

Maybe some tweaking here, some renaming there, I could have a playable world to set my D&D games in.  You know, the ones I doubt I will ever get to run?  But, it's ok  to dream, right?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday Memories: Stitch

I am a divorcee who is happily remarried, and I have a daughter from my first marriage. She is my baby girl, and my pride and joy. When her mom and I first separated, my daughter was very young. Custody amounted to me having visitation every other weekend, and for the full Summer, as well as alternating holidays. Pretty standard, as most divorced dads probably now.

Anyways, when she was about 8 or 9, I was very much active with my gaming group. At the time we were working our way through AEG’s The World’s Largest Dungeon. We started off playing at my house, but eventually moved to other locations. Long story. We played every Saturday, including the weekends I had my daughter. At first, she was content to watch TV, or do whatever entertained her.

At this point I should probably give a bit of background on our party. When we first entered, we had a human fighter, a gnome wizard, some kind of psionicist, and two dwarves. My character was a dwarf barbarian named Brak. During our second session, I was unable to play, so I had the other dwarf player run Brak for me. Somehow, during the course of the session, Brak opened a door that had a fireball trap (we were barely 2nd level at this point, I think), leaving a smoking ruin. Incidentally, the other dwarf was also killed on accident by the fighter during the same session.

During that week, I had to come up with a new character, and one that could be from within the Dungeon. At the time, I was all about this website a guy had where he was making orc-only classes for 3E. So, with the DM’s permission, I created Gortek, an Orc Warrior. We worked out how he joined the party, and went from there. I have to say, I was enjoying Gortek more than I had been Brak, so I wasn’t too butthurt for long.

So, back to where I was going with my daughter. After about month and half of playing, she became interested in playing as well. She had dabbled in D&D before, and was an avid CCG player (we played a lot of Raw Deal and Warlord). So, the DM and I came up with a character for her, and built in a reason why she wasn’t always present.

I imagine Stitch looked something like this.
Stitch was a goblin rogue who had gotten lost in the Dungeon and was surviving by hiding and scavenging (incidentally, my daughter never even considered making her character a girl). When he met our party, he latched on to Gortek, seeing something familiar in the orc. Gortek immediately liked the little guy, mainly because he picked on the gnome, who was a right little bastard (and now a necromancer). So Stitch became Gortek’s little companion, who often wandered off for days at a time, and then suddenly show up again (thus a reason for him not being present on weekends when my daughter was with her mom, or wasn’t interested in playing with us). All in all, it worked out great, and Stitch soon became our mascot.

My daughter is 18 now. She’s all grown up, and (sadly) isn’t all that interested in D&D or RPGs. But she still remembers those games, and we sit and joke about them to this day. I can smile with pride at this, because it was a bonding that her mom never understood, and would never truly appreciate. My kid is an avid reader, and loves fantastical stories. Even though she has moved on to supernatural romance (she’s an avid Twi-hard), I can appreciate that her love of reading came from me and my own example.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Get yer minds outta tha gutters! I mean as in being at the end of my rope. Mentally. It has been a long week. Mainly due to the weather, but also some illness, and a few other factors. At least I get to game tonight, after almost a month off. Oh, did I mention we are having a guest player tonight? Yeah, some guy named Ernie Gygax. I hear he’s a big deal in the D&D universe.

Yes, Ernie will be joining us at our lowly gaming table tonight. It’s kind of a long story, that involves one of my friends getting to know a lot of people in the gaming industry that are relatively local, including the guys who put on the recent Gamehole Con here in Madison, WI. Anyways, Ernie is in town for some big local to-do tomorrow, and is staying as a house-guest of my afore-mentioned friend.

Of course, there’s the self-conscious part of me that worries he will think I’m “doing it wrong.” Silly, I know. But, in geek circles, he’s kind of a celebrity. Even royalty, if you will.

Either way, I’m just looking forward to gaming. We’re at the point where we are trying to find a tear in reality that will allow us to enter Perdition. Why go there? Well, apparently some demon lord has a plague that will only effect the rat-creatures that are spreading a very different plague in our reality.

I had briefly considered ditching my main character for a bit, and taking over his NPC follower as my main character. My main is a half-orc follower of the God of War. His follower is a Dark Elf (not a Drow) wizard. But, after some thought it seemed kind of selfish to remove our only real tank when we are about to confront all manner of demons and devils. So, Ahnuld stays. Incidentally, Ernie might play my wizard. We have a plethora of NPCs, and he said he would just play one of them.

On my own writing front, I have been trying to concentrate on the fiction project I have going. But I keep chipping away at Mutants & Marvels. I have a government organization like SHIELD, as well as a terrorist organization (nothing terribly original, I fear). I’m also going to work up some other villains, and maybe a sample adventure. I have a few people taking a look at my playtest rules, but so far no concrete feedback about specific likes and dislikes.

And that’s about all I have in me to write right now. Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Memories: Magni

Magni - drawn in pencil, and
colored in Photoshop by me.
It all started when my old gaming group, FUBAR, decided to do a Mutants & Masterminds campaign. My roommate Chris (who was also the resident DM/GM/referee for most of FUBAR’s games) and I were coming home from somewhere one evening, and we were discussing the upcoming game. I had been stuck for ideas, since I didn’t want to just recreate one of my old characters from other supers games. But I was kind of stuck on the idea of a mythological figure, like Hercules and Thor. That’s when Chris suggested I pull out his old 1e copy of Deities & Demigods, and see if anything struck my fancy.

Well, a lot of things there did, and I was having a hard time picking just one. Until, while browsing the Norse pantheon, I came across Magni and Modi. The twin sons of Thor, Magni was revered as the God of Strength, being even stronger than Thor himself, and Modi was the berserker god, which was cool, but didn’t appeal to me at the time. I was stuck on the God of Strength idea. So, Magni it was!

I made him as strong as possible for a PL10 character, of course. And he was extremely tough, being an Asgardian and all. One of the other elements outlined in the D&D book was that Magni had a supernatural ability that allowed him to catch and throw back any weapon or object thrown at him. That sounded cool, so I even built that power into the character.

We played a few adventures with these characters, and I recall practically begging Chris to put us up against giant robots. Well, he did. But the robot he threw at us was about the size of a Gundam. A bit bigger than I had been hoping for, and it was almost comical to watch Magni try to tackle an 80-foot robot. But, we won, and I found myself a new favorite character.

I would later write some vignettes about Magni, draw some pictures of him, and even made him as a character in City of Heroes. The funny thing is, in CoH, the name “Magni” was already taken (big surprise), so I named him Thomas Magni, as a sort of homage to my favorite 80’s PI TV show (though I didn’t give him the epic stache). Well, that name stuck in my head, and later became the name of a pulp-inspired sci fi hero that I started writing about. I have the first story about 75% done, and I plan to finish it ASAP.

I love the character. In my head, my Magni was the son of the Marvel Thor, but as he should have been, and not how he was portrayed briefly in the comics. Thor was sitting on the throne of Asgard, Odin having gone missing. Magni came to Midgard to learn about humility, teamwork, and maturity. As I lived in San Diego at the time, I decided that Heimdall had provided him with appropriate clothing, including a jersey for the Chargers' Center at the time.

And, because I like to reuse a lot of ideas, Magni will be one of the “iconics” for Mutants & Marvels.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Bit on Sword & Sorcery

Taking a break from thinking about supers to talk about another genre that is near and dear to my heart: Sword & Sorcery.

I probably don't need to go into detail about what that is. If you don't know, why are you here? That being said, I came into the genre via the same door that most fans do. Conan the Barbarian. I started with the 1982 film (which remains one of my all-time favorite movies, and I have watched it at least 100 times, including once just last week). I then moved to Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan, and then to the Lancer/Ace editions. I currently own almost all of the Del Rey editions of Howard's works, and the Conans are my favorite. I've also read a lot of others in the genre, including Lin Carter, Gardner Fox, and Fritz Leiber. And finally, I have even written some in the genre myself.

In fact, about the only thing I haven't done with the genre is played an RPG. Well, aside from a session of Mongoose's now-defunct d20 Conan RPG (which was really well-done, btw). Which brings me to my point.

I was looking through my backlog of blogs I follow, and noticed that Chuck over at They Might Be Gazebos! has put up his homebrew OSR S&S game, YARC. I downloaded it, and perused it. Looks pretty good! It borrows from other OSR retro-clones, so there are some things that are a bit foreign to me, yet it all makes sense. But what struck me was that I had completely forgotten something I had done a long time ago.

Many, many years back (about 14 or so), I sat down and wrote a completely original RPG from scratch. It was a universal system I called EGO: Endless Gaming Options. I never played it, or playtested it, though I did have one guy download it so he could use it for a homebrew Zelda game.

Anyways, about five or six years ago, I dusted EGO off, cut out all of the parts that didn't pertain to a Sword & Sorcery game, and proceeded to create a complete S&S RPG, which I called Age of the Sword. I littered it with a lot of pilfered art, mostly from Frank Frazetta, and created a bare-bones setting highly influenced by the world in the film Fire & Ice. And then I sent it out to anyone who showed any interest. To date, no one has gotten back to me. And so, AotS has languished on my flash drive ever since.

Well, today I am saying screw it! I'm going to put it up for download on my My Products page above. If you like S&S, and all that goes with it, have a peak, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sorry, no art yet

For anyone who noticed, I didn’t get a chance to do Monday Memories this week. I didn’t really have any ideas to talk about, anyways. Though today I thought of something, so I’ll probably take it back up next week.

I’m still chipping away at the Mutants & Marvels game. It’s coming along nicely. The rules all make sense on paper (to me), and I have edited out some inconsistencies. Most of my focus right now is on the setting I am including. I have all of the “iconic” characters made (because every RPG needs those, right?), and all I need to do now is a 1-2 paragraph origin for each.

I made some changes to the line-up of my characters as well. I have a tendency to create characters with ties to mythology. One of my favorite characters I ever got to play was Magni, son of Thor (see next week’s post). And since half of my team was turning out to be from that kind of origin, I decided to make that the theme of the whole team. So, now each character has a tie to myths from various cultures.

One of my recent rules additions is a simple Experience system. As originally presented, this game is meant to be pretty static. You build your character, and you play them. Throughout their careers, comic book characters tend not to change much. They don’t often improve their abilities, or gain new powers. I mean, sometimes they do, but it’s usually the result of specific story elements. So I framed the whole idea of Experience in that light.

But, what if that’s not enough? What if the players want some kind of progression, as represented in more traditional RPG’s? Well, I came up with a simple, level-based system that I think would work. I’ll be interested to see if anyone else likes it.

Other than that, I am still struggling with artwork. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know this is a pretty typical problem for me. I’m a decent artist, but I don’t think I’m good enough for publication. Yet, I can’t afford to pay a good artist to do some drawings. So, I either have to figure out some kind of barter or commission system, or man up and do the art myself. Of course, if I did it all myself, it would probably give the whole thing a good “OSR” feel.

Once I work up the character designs, we’ll see. I have a couple of friends who said they’d be willing to donate some drawings, if I like. In the meantime, I used to do a lot of stuff using templates made from the drawings of Bruce Timm (Batman TAS) and Steven Gordon (X-Men: Evolution), so I will probably use those as models for character and costume designs. I’ll be sure to post some of those for your opinions.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Moth to a flame

Every time I think I can just walk away from some project that I feel I have put enough into, I get drawn back in. Yep, I'm back to fleshing out Mutants & Marvels. But, thanks to comments from the one person who showed interest, I am now working on making it more generic. "Filing the serial numbers off" as it were.

I've already purged it of references to licensed products, more or less. The introduction still references the origins of the ideas, but I have added the appropriate "TM" to each licensed name. I figure the words "mutant" and "marvel" can't really be copyrighted unless using them to specifically reference a licensed representation of an idea.

I've even started working on artwork to replace the pilfered pictures I have. I'm going to try to maintain the basic idea behind each picture, but in an original way, with original characters. And speaking of which, I had the brilliant idea of integrating a Supers campaign idea I had as a setting included in the game. This gives me a stable of original heroes to use throughout. I say "original" because they aren't characters you've read about in the comics. Some of them are based on characters that I and my friends had created for other games, including the now-defunct *sniffle* City of Heroes MMO.

All-in-all, I'm kind of excited to be working on this again. I thought I was done. But really, when it comes to writing RPG material, I am coming up short on ideas in other areas, so why not? I mean, I would love to write a series of fantasy modules. But, whenever I try, I lose steam too fast. At least Mutants & Marvels apparently has some staying power in my head.

So, expect some updates in the near future as this project progresses. My next post about it will probably include some original art.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lemming time!

So, over on his blog, fellow gamer/blogger Charles Akins had this to say:

Way back in June, 2008 James Raggi came up with a brilliant challenge for every blogger involved in this hobby: ". . . name the primary influences in your personal game, so we get a flavor not of what set of rules you decide to use, but what kind of game people can expect to play with you! Minimum five. No maximum. Plus include what people might assume influences you that you actually reject . . ." (Media Influences).

Well, here are my main influences. Because, I'm a follower. And as much as I like the idea of the daily blog thing that I did back in September...well, this seemed more doable for a raccoon like me.

1. Robert E. Howard - I discovered Bob through the 1982 Conan film. I was 13, and my mom let me watch it because she knew I was into D&D, and she thought it was similar enough. Well, she was right in some respects. But, what it really did was open my eyes to reading for pleasure that I hadn't really explored. As I've said before (on my other blog, I think), I never got into reading genre fiction as a younger child. Howard was the first author that I chose to read, and I was hooked from the beginning. I love all of his characters, but Conan has a special place in my heart. It's no accident that a large majority of my RPG characters are muscle-bound warriors with a rough sense of chivalry.

2. Tom Moldvay - As I have stated before, I started D&D with the Moldvay book. Many of the passages describing how the game worked were committed to memory for a long time. I have only recently returned to those roots, and it astounds me how much influence those early games had on my over all gaming experiences since then.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien, by way of Rankin/Bass - The animated film of The Hobbit was my very first introduction to the world of high fantasy. When I first started playing D&D years later, that film was my only viable inspiration. I didn't even read the book until I was in my 20's. As much as I like the LotR movies and books, The Hobbit is still my favorite of his works. And Bard the Guardsman formed the archetype for many of my initial fighter-type characters.

4. John Buscema - I am a huge comics fan, and always have been. And even before I began reading Conan stories in the Ace paperbacks, I was reading Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan. And among those artists, John Buscema was my favorite. His portrayal of Conan is how I see the character in my head, no matter what I am reading. His dynamic story-telling in pictures infused in me a love of action and motion that has translated into my movie tastes, my RPG choices, and my own story-telling, whether it be as a GM or as a writer.

5. Don Pendleton and his successors - I discovered Mack Bolan in 1984, and have been a fan ever since. Although I have gone months at a time without reading a Bolanverse novel, I always manage to come back to them. The way action is presented in those books is the ideal. Never relenting, always in the thick of it. When the story starts to get too cerebral, someone starts shooting. That's how I run my games, regardless of genre. There is no rest in my games. And if I am playing in a game with too much RP, my character is the one who will instigate some kind of action.

6. David Morrell - When I want action with more cerebral story, I hit up Morrell. I have corresponded with him personally on occasion, and he is very personable. But, what really sets him apart is his accuracy and research. Whenever I am creating a story or game, I always want to have his level of authenticity. As well as his level of characterization and suspense. Over all, among the modern writers still writing, David Morrell is my absolute favorite.

7. Frank Frazetta - I probably don't even need to say anything more. His artwork has inspired me for years. Even the stories he helped develop based on his art still influence me (Fire & Ice and the Death Dealer novels, for instance). Whenever I run a fantasy game, I always want it to look like a Frazetta painting.

Monday Memories: Ranger Tom!

When I was in the Army during my first enlistment, just after Desert Storm I think, my roommate was obsessed with the HERO system. He thought it was the best system for an RPG ever designed, and he made it a point to convert every game he ran, and every new game he bought, to that system. One of those games was a short-lived Twilight 2000 game.

For those who don’t recall, Twilight 2000 was a modern military game set in Poland, with the premise being that WWIII didn’t end in nuclear holocaust, and a lot of Western military units were stranded in central Europe, behind enemy (Soviet) lines, and they had to band together, salvage what they could, and make their way to friendly territory.

It was a cool game, with a unique premise, and it promised to be unique for us, as we were all active-duty Army dudes. The game was high on technical realism and accuracy. But when it got converted to HERO, it took on a bit of the “heroic” as it were.

When we decided to play, we all figured we would play ourselves. But the characters would be as we saw ourselves in 10 years (it was 1990 or so when we played). For myself, I decided that, my wife and young child (we didn’t actually have children at the time) had died in a car accident sometime after I got out of the Army. So, not wanting to deal with it, I had re-enlisted, and volunteered for RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program). When the war broke out, my Ranger battalion was in Europe, and I somehow got separated and captured. So, the game began with the rest of the group rescuing me from the back of a deuce-and-a-half (truck).

The game didn’t last very long after that. I think we all realized that we wanted to play something a bit further from who we actually were. We had a fun couple of sessions, but I think we abandoned it for a Star HERO campaign instead.

I still have my Twilight 2000 books, and I do recall being disappointed that our game was using the HERO system, instead of the system in the books. I don’t recall what that system was like off the top of my head, but I do remember thinking it sounded pretty cool.

Apparently, once the game was outdated by the passage of time and real-world events, it got a reboot in Twilight 2013, as well as an earlier offshoot in Merc 2000. It also served as the pre-history of GDW’s 2300AD game.

As a side note, if you are wanting to run a modern military campaign, even using some other system, the Twilight 2000 books are a good resource for technology, equipment, and military organizations. If you can find the books. I think Twilight 2013 is still in print, though the company that had acquired the rights and made it went under a couple of years ago.