Dragon by Dragon – December 1981 (56)

Ho ho ho – Merry Christmas 1981!

Let’s be honest, Christmas and the 1980’s were made for each other … or at least it sure seemed that way when I was growing up in the 80’s. Christmas had a certain magic in those days that was lost by the 1990’s. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with me growing up, getting a job, getting married and having a child.

Enough of that – let’s see what the Dragon brought us for Christmas …

First, a bit of opinionating from Kevin Morgan

“There is no need to change the monk character class of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.”

So there you go. If you were planning on changing the class, you can stop.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Mr. Morgan in some respects – too often a class is considered “broken” or underpowered because it doesn’t do what somebody wants it to do. Doesn’t mean the class is wrong, just means its the wrong class for the player. In AD&D days, of course, things had to be official, which is why the wrong monk for you meant the wrong monk for everyone, because we couldn’t just have a bunch of different monks running around making people happy. That would be (small “c”) chaos!

Speaking of redesigning classes, the first big article of the mag is “Singing a new tune – a different bard, not quite so hard” by Jeff Goelz. For those new to the old school, bards were once very powerful folks, far more than in modern games. It was a tough class to qualify for and as is mentioned in the article, the revised bard class of the Player’s Handbook took forever to  enter – one had to go through a succession of other classes first. The article here tries to make a slightly less powerful bard that can be played right from first level like any other character.

A couple takeaways: First, the opening vignette has two of the greatest character names ever: Jake Armageddon, half-orc fighter/assassin and Alphonse Armageddon, half-orc cleric/assassin. I salute you Mr. Goelz.

Second, the bard in this article is a great class that is very playable. It won’t be a stranger to many players of modern iterations of D&D – d6 for Hit Dice, some skills, some fighting ability, some spellcasting (illusionist and druid). Good stuff, especially if you’re running first edition and a weird-o like me comes along wanting to play a bard.

Bill Howell follows up the first article with “Songs instead of spells”. Here, Mr. Howell introduces “songs of power” sung by the bard in place of spells, with a complete song list and some details of songs not already covered as existing spells. Here’s one, done up as a spell for Blood & Treasure:

Satire (Conjuration)

Level: Bard 5          Range: Special          Duration: Special

This song is used against a prominent public figure who behaves incorrectly. The target of the spell has his or her charisma score halved until they atone for their misdeeds … unless their deeds are not really misdeeds. If the target’s actions are not truly objectionable in the moral climate of the region, the bard’s charisma is halved instead until they move at least 50 leagues away, and they may not return to the region for one full year.

This spell is actually right up my alley.

“Map hazard, not haphazard” by William Hamblin is one of those articles that has slightly lost its efficacy with time. It concerns using topographic maps in fantasy games – a good idea and a good discussion – but also includes addresses one can use to order sample maps. The internet has made finding maps like these much easier.

A touching sentiment

Gary Gygax’s “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” in this issue covers protection circles (and the like) plus news from the northern Flanaess. It includes some illustrations and descriptions of magic circles and pentagrams, and God knows this article would have run afoul of the “D&D is Satanic” crowd back in the day. I can remember it being included in the old Greyhawk box set. He also describes the Wolf Nomads, Bandit Kingdoms, Duchy of Tenh and Rovers of the Barrens, all of which shows up in the box set as well. Brings back good memories of a wide-eyed kid reading this stuff and realizing that making up a whole world was something you could actually do.

The big feature this issue is a Top Secret scenario called “Mad Merc” – a mission set on a tropical island. It is written by Merle M Rasmussen and James Thompson, and whether you play TS or not, the materials here are super useful and there is a metric ton of it – maps, descriptions of complexes, etc. There’s a nuclear-powered drydock, native peoples caught in the crossfire and a “mad merc” named Strikewell.

The Dragon’s Bestiary this issue features Lewis Pulsipher‘s shroom, which isn’t a mushroom man, but rather a creature that looks something like a thin bear with a dog-like head that can dimension door and prefers capturing foes and holding them for ransom rather than outright killing them.

Shroom, Medium Monster: HD 4+3, AC 14, ATK 2 paws (1d6), MV 30′, AL Neutral (CN), INT low, CL/XP 5/500, NA 1d8, SA-Dimension door, subdue, surprise (4 in 6), hug.

Richard Lucas’ colfel is a big, fearsome beetle from the Negative Energy Plane, which means level drain ladies and gentlemen. Michael C. Reed’s gem vars are humanoid creatures composed of precious stones and created by magic-users. I like all of these monsters, any one of which could be a great addition to a game filled with players who have read the existing monster manuals cover to cover. I think surprises are what makes playing these rpgs fun.

Dragon 56 also has reviews of Task Force Games’ Survival/The Barbarian (positive, but the reviewer thinks they’re too simple for some gamers), Dawn of the Dead (“The game is fast-paced and a fair amount of fun, despite its decidedly macabre nature”) and GDW’s The Argon Gambit/Death Station (very positive) and Fighting Ships: Traveller Supplement 9, which the reviewer found interesting reading, but maybe not super useful for the rpg itself.

There are also book reviews, a holiday gift-giving section focused on books and the continuation of a series that looks at game design.

All in all, not an exciting issue, but I liked the bard class and the bestiary was good.

As always, I leave you with Wormy – have fun and be kind to one another.

You’re seeing Tramp take it to another level here

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The Ur-Thief

Image by Sidney Sime, found HERE

One of the fun things about exploring old D&D is the search for the origins of its many elements. Rangers are Aragorns, rust monsters came in a pack of Japanese dinosaur toys, etc. The thief has often been linked to the Leiber’s Grey Mouser and Vance’s Cugel, but I would propose a different Ur-Thief … Thangobrind the Jeweller.

I’ve been boning up on my Dunsany lately, to help me apply the finishing touches to Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition, and last night read through the “Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller” in his Book of Wonder. I draw your attention to the following passages, which seem very thiefy to me:

HIDE IN SHADOWS

“O, but he loved shadows! Once the moon peeping out unexpectedly from a tempest had betrayed an ordinary jeweller; not so did it undo Thangobrind: the watchman only saw a crouching shape that snarled and laughed: “‘Tis but a hyena,” they said.”

MOVE SILENTLY

“Once in the city of Ag one of the guardians seized him, but Thangobrind was oiled and slipped from his hand; you scarcely heard his bare feet patter away.”

“At night they shoot by the sound of the strangers’ feet. O, Thangobrind, Thangobrind, was ever a jeweller like you! He dragged two stones behind him by long cords, and at these the archers shot.”

FIND TRAPS

“… but Thangobrind discerned the golden cord that climbed the wall from each [of the emeralds] and the weights that would topple upon him if he touched one …”

LISTEN AT DOORS

“Though when a soft pittering as of velvet feet arose behind him he refused to acknowledge that it might be what he feared …”

Okay, not at a door, but keen listening nonetheless.

OTHER SKILLS

“… – now like a botanist, scrutinising the ground; now like a dancer, leaping from crumbling edges.”

“Oh, he was cunning! When the priests stole out of the darkness to lap up the honey they were stretched senseless on the temple floor, for there was a drug in the honey that was offered to Hlo-Hlo.”

Which, of course, means the Thief needs to be reintroduced as a class in its own right into the Weird Fantasy edition, sending the vagabond back to the “subclass” category. This thief will likely have a couple different skills to bring to the table, though.

From Pinterest to Your Campaign

Over the course of the daily annoyances that accompany being a research manager in the commercial real estate business I had a moment where I needed to decompress. For me, this involved listening to some classical music on Spotify and entering the following phase into Google: “I want to see something beautiful.”

Among the webpages returned was a board on Pinterest aptly titled “Beautiful Places”. Below, is the panoply of images that greeted me when I clicked on the link …

Now, I’m actually a pretty early adopter on Pinterest – I’m at least as much a visual person as I am a word person (literal person?), so it works well for me as a source of inspiration and a place to post images I might want to look at later. What I hadn’t considered was how much a single board like this could do for you when you need to cook up a quick region for a campaign you’re working on.

Consider the image above. Now, we don’t have to look at it in a geographic way, but we certainly could. Let’s start with the Moroccan town – what an evocative home base for the player characters. Ancient brickwork, colorful arches, narrow streets and alleys. Bright and beautiful, but plenty of room for a network of thieves and assassins to operate. To the east and west we have deserts. The western deserts support camel caravans, linking the town to the beautiful, rocky coast. The eastern deserts hold ancient monuments and temples – places to explore and loot. Further to the east are the jungles and their secrets. To the north there is a great temple in a cave of bats – could be a temple of elemental earth. Maybe those frozen waterfalls are deep underground and reachable through the partially subterranean temple – what wonders are frozen in the ice? Far to the northwest there is dungeon – a sort of pit – that probes deep into the earth. You could enter from the surface, or perhaps by following a slowly thawing river that connects to those deep, frozen waterfalls. Near the earth temple are the rock pools, ruled over by bikini-clad elves (hey, why not?). In the northeastern jungles there is a fabled city with gleaming spires inhabited either by the undead or the fey – the tales are unclear on this point – and near it a great idol of Law (or Neutrality) protected by a brotherhood of monks (or clerics, if you’re super old school).

You could also use this as-is as a sort of “pincrawl”, representing the players as a game piece and letting them move about from pin to pin (maybe a dice roll, influenced by the presence of a ranger, horses, etc.) could determine what challenges they face moving from one pin to the other (monster attack, getting lost, extreme weather conditions, etc.). They’ll have an idea of what each region holds, but there are many things they won’t find out until they get there.

I imagine there are many more boards on Pinterest that could provide equal amounts of inspiration, for games set in almost any time period. Check it out!

Dungeon of the Apes Art!!!

Now I have the art (by Jon Kaufman, of course) – I’m going to have to do something with it.

Maybe a Blood & Treasure dungeon adventure that is Planet of the Apes themed. I do so many hex crawls, a dungeon crawl might be a nice change.

We’d need radiation, a nuclear bomb, mutated psychos with false faces and psionic powers, Roddy McDowell, a research lab, a half-buried Statue of Liberty …

Action X – Still Ruminating on Classes

In a nutshell -With Action X, I’m trying to do with the Modern SRD what Blood & Treasure did with the fantasy SRD. The challenge – the SRD has a lot of history behind it – many editions of D&D with all the wonderful nonsense that goes along with it. The Modern SRD does not and, even worse, it’s just so damn boring and mechanical. Worse yet – it keeps making my writing boring and mechanical.

So – I bring an appeal to all of the geniuses that read this blog – what are the modern archetypes you’d like to see in a fun role-playing game not set in a fantasy milieu. By “modern”, I pretty much mean from Victorian times to today (or beyond into the near hard sci-fi future or even pulp sci-fi future).

I started with numerous classes, then boiled them way down and now I’m left feeling uninspired by them. Now I’m beginning to turn back to my original idea of a dozen classes that really hit the archetypes of modern action/adventure. I can’t hit every archetype of course, and new classes can always be added, but I’d like to get a strong core of fun classes that will spark people’s imaginations.

Some ideas (some of which are advanced classes in the Modern SRD, but which will need some TLC to make them anything more than collections of dry, boring bonuses to dice rolls) and some ideas for inspiration:

Brute (Mr. T) – hate the name; love Amazon, but that only applies to the ladies

Daredevil (Clyde Beatty, Howling Mad Murdock, Allan Quatermain)

Detective (Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum)

Gangster (Bonny & Clyde, Tony Montana)

Gunslinger (Lone Ranger, anyone from a John Woo flick)

Hacker (they abound in the news these days)

Martial Artist (Bruce Lee) – the name is so boring, though, but ninja and kung-fu master are too specific

Psion (Prof. X)

Scientist (Professor from Giligan’s Island, Spock) – maybe Brainiac would be a better name

Soldier (Sgt. Rock, Captain America, Hannibal Smith)

Sorcerer (Willow, Dr. Strange)

Spy (James Bond, Mata Hari)

I’ve thought about throwing in some odd balls as well – Cyborg, Mutant, Vampire – stuff like that. Almost a “race as class” concept for modern gaming.

So – any additional ideas out there? Let me know in the comments. Dangit – I want to make a fun modern RPG!

My Corner

Thought I’d share a picture of a corner of my study (no, I don’t have a man-cave – I’m sick of this trend of making men appear foolish or primitive to boost the fragile egos of modern women – come on ladies, I’d like to think you’re better than that).

I don’t know if it’s geeky enough (and I don’t care – I’ve never been one for sub-cultures), but it’s where I keep my role-playing game nonsense and a few comic book and comic strip collections I enjoy, as well as my grandfather’s chair, a map of the heraldry of Scotland (Scottish, English and Welsh on my mother’s side, German and English on my father’s), a few prints from Jeff Dee’s kickstarters (Morgan Ironwolf became the source of a husband-wife grudge match not seen since the Old Man got his major award), a globe I got for Christmas when I was a wee lad, a coonskin cap from Disneyland and an old sailing ship that used to grace the old Curtis Mathis in my childhood home.

I guess the funny thing is, I rarely work or write in my study these days, preferring to use my laptop out in the family room with, you guessed it, the family. My study is now primarily where I exercise – the treadmill is just to right of the lamp, and I have a pair of dumbbells and a kettle bell just out of sight by the chair.

Okay – back to work. I have quarterly reports to concoct, an issue of NOD to complete and a NOD Companion to work on.

Musing on the Design of Star Wars

Image found HERE

I just finished listening to some folks talk about Star Wars and its possible future under Disney (main take-away – how can Disney screw it up more than Lucas?). The podcast ended with the tune played by the Cantina band, and that got me thinking about the over 1940’s vibe of the original trilogy, and, more importantly, what I consider the design failure of the second trilogy. Among other problems with the second trilogy, I felt that they missed out on some design cues that might have cemented it into the same universe with the original trilogy.

Star Wars had a significant 1940’s vibe to it – it was very much a recreation of 1940’s sci-fi serials and WW2 movies – with some Akira Kurosawa thrown in for good measure. Okay – the cantina music was more 1920’s, and the 1930’s fills in as well – so maybe we’ll call it a 1920’s to 1940’s vibe. Now, one cannot remove the design of a piece, even a pseudo-period piece, from their own time and place. That makes it an interesting mix of 1920’s-1940’s and late 1970’s design (and boy, can you tell that the second and third movies were designed in the 1980’s). The “seventies meets the past” look was nothing new, really – there was a definite interest in resurrecting the 1920’s through 1940’s look in that era, with a modern twist.

Luke and Leia appear to be about 18 years old or so, so the second trilogy should be taking place about two decades earlier. What I think would have been cool, then, is to make the second trilogy look very 1900’s-1920’s.

I guess what I’m getting down to is this: What might a very “early 20th century” Star Wars have looked like? A very aristocratic Galactic Senate in old fashioned military uniforms – a doughboy vibe to the soldiers and proto-storm troopers – bobbed hair on the ladies – a little more ornamentation on things than was necessary, that transition from the Gilded Age to Moderne – more of an Egyptian style to things – a waxed mustache on Yoda. Perhaps some of these elements were present in the second trilogy.

I don’t know quite what it would look like, but it makes me wish I was an artist so I could explore the look of the thing.

Women, Cars and Spaceships … A Retrospective

While driving to work this morning, I was listening to classical music and musing on the design of cars and spaceships. I don’t mean real spaceships, of course – I mean the kind you see in movies, comic books, pulp fiction and television – the good stuff. I also started thinking about mens’ taste in women, and how the styles of disparate things tend to conflate at different times. With that in mind, I decided I was going to put together some images from different years (or small spans of years) of the top spaceship of that time, the top car of that time and what were considered the top sex symbols of that time to see if they clicked.

Here we go …

We’ll begin with 1929 and Buck Rogers. The spaceship was still in the “could have been designed by lonely housewives” era. Fairly sleek and only a few doodads stuck to the outside of the ship. For our car, we have a 1929 Duesenberg – also pretty sleek, formal and yet also sporty. Whether Buck’s spaceship had leather seats, I don’t know. For our sci-fi beauty, we have Col. Wilma Deering, Buck’s erstwhile companion and drawn as a classic beauty of the era – rounded face and graceful lips.

By 1936, Flash Gordon has burst onto the scene in the first of his film adaptations. The spaceship isn’t much different than Buck Rogers’ craft, though perhaps a bit sportier (check out the chrome!). Dale Arden, as played by Jean Rogers, conforms pretty closely to the earlier beauty standard, and the car isn’t terribly different from the 1929 Duesenberg, though you’ll note the nose is slanted back a bit.

1950 brought the film classic (?) Destination Moon. Destination Moon at least played on being hard sci-fi, though the design was definitely of the moderne period, with the sleek spacecraft. The beauty of 1950, Erin O’Brien-Moore was pretty sleek herself, and shows how tastes were changing at the dawn of a new decade. The car is a bit more compact than in the 1930’s, but in this case it looks like the spaceship designs are beginning to presage developments in automobiles.

In 1956, Forbidden Planet put earthlings in a flying saucer (guess those captured German scientists were finally earning their keep). Beauty isn’t much changed from 6 years ago, and the car, a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, is not yet exhibiting the giant fins that will grace vehicles in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

By 1966, Star Trek has premiered. The Enterprise is unlike any spaceship audiences have seen before, and also notable is that the sole beauty of the cast (unless you include Sulu) is a black woman! Nichelle Nichols typified late ’60s beauty – curves and tall hair. The cars are becoming more slick as well – away from the tail-fins and into the muscle car era.

The next big leap, in this case back in some ways and forward in others, was 1977’s Star Wars (you might have heard of it). For the first time on film, we get a real sense of the “starfighter” – fighter aircraft in space. Yeah, the Star Destroyers were pretty iconic as well, but you really can’t beat the X-Wings and TIE Fighters for capturing the imagination of kids in that era. Our beauty is, of course, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who really found herself thrust into unfamiliar territory in her slave girl costume. The 1977 Ferrari pictures seems to have a similar profile to those X-Wings.

One last stop, and a leap forward to one of my favorite sci-fi series – Red Dwarf. Not American, and played for laughs, it introduced a completely utilitarian (and grandiose) spacecraft in the eponymous Red Dwarf. By 1994, we had maybe my favorite of all the sci-fi beauties introduced on this post – Chloë Annett as Kristine Kochanski (I like my women smart, beautiful and with a wry sense of humor) and the fairly utilitarian Rover. Substance over style in 1994 sci-fi.

Okay, there’s many more I could do – various incarnations of Star Trek, Alien, etc. I’ll leave further explorations to others.

Deviant Friday – It’s a Free For All!

Looking for a quick post this fine Friday, so I thought I’d show off a few recent deviations at deviantArt that I enjoyed. If you like them, be sure to visit the artist and maybe consider purchasing a little something (assuming they’re selling).