Thursday, December 31, 2009

Project Complete

It's almost midnight, the guests are downstairs waiting (more friends and family to celebrate New Year's's 11:12), and I have been extremely rude in order to finish my B/X Companion project.

It's Done.

64 pages (minus art). Proofed and formatted. Copyright 2009.

Happy New Year's folks!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you all are having a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Speaking of the Nephews

Forgot to mention that my nephews, S. and Z., of whom I've blogged on several occasions are moving in, the other side of the country.

This is a sad turn of events for yours truly (and my wife, too, to be honest) as we will miss these guys a lot. But their dad got a very good promotion that entails them moving to the Washington, DC area and after February we don't anticipate seeing 'em too regularly. Though you never know...their parents may send 'em west in the summertime.

Oh, and we do get out to the DC area every now and then...maybe every other year or so...but I doubt there will be much time for gaming in our short visits.

Still, I'm pleased I have sowed the seeds I have. The kids love D&D and Labyrinth Lord. The wife and I got to attend S's birthday a couple-three weeks ago, and I got him a new set of dice and four classic B/X modules: B3: The Silver Princess, B6: The Veiled Society, X1: Isle of Dread, and something else I don't remember right now...maybe X2: Castle Amber? I know it was an Expert set module and one that I already owned, but I don't think it was X4, and I wouldn't have given him X5 without the other.

Anyway, both he and his older brother were very excited to get both. I may have mentioned earlier that they've been trying to run Labyrinth Lord but have complained that DM'ing the thing is too hard (or complaining that one or the other "doesn't do it right"). I think those of us that grew up with the original B/X take for granted the inclusion of introductory modules: B2: Keep on the Borderlands and X1: Isle of Dread for the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh rules respectively.

I feel very strongly that these adventure modules help to inform play...that is, they provide a template for beginning DM's, a "how-to" for running an adventure.

Heck, it's possible that some of the ubiquitous "okay your adventurers all start at the local tavern" scenarios descend in part from the tone set by those initial adventures set in B2 (not that the action begins in a tavern, but the tavern of the Keep is a fairly detailed location in the module, providing much in the way of assistance, hirelings, rumors, and of course food).

Anyway, I haven't had a chance to check in with those kids (busy, you know?) but I'm certain this year's winter break has featured at least some LL adventuring for them. And I'm glad I got to show them the ropes...the game is one they can carry with them wherever they go in the future.

Ok...gotta' catach a couple hours sleep now. Today is going to be a HUGE day.
: )

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vindication (For Me, At Least)

I'm starting to see there's some commercial value to elves.

So, it appears I've managed to corrupt yet another of America's youth with the lure of Dungeons & Dragons. This time a teenage girl, age 14.

I should explain that while my wife and I don't have any children of our own (yet!), we have many friends that do, for whom we often act as surrogate parents, baby sitters, or "uncle and aunt." This comes about from knowing our friends for a long time, and their kids since they were just wee little ones. My "nephews" who I've blogged about before are not actual blood relations, though they do call me Uncle even when talking of me in the third person. Hey folks, it takes a village, right?

So yesterday, yet another kid we know and love spent the day with us (well, and the night, too...she's sleeping upstairs as I type) to hang out and be merry and practice her Spanish with my in-laws. One of the reasons we haven't seen a lot of L. (as I'll call her) in recent years is she and her fam moved down to Argentina for a year...but they didn't like it too much and eventually returned to Seattle. Their two daughters (both teenaged) enjoyed it a bit more, perhaps, and did pretty good at picking up the language, but they don't get as much opportunity to practice here as they could. ANYWAY...

We had a great time and stayed up long into the night after a day of exciting fun for the whole family. However, what is pertinent to this post is L. saw my Companion project on the ol' Mac and wanted to know what I was writing. A game, I explained, which completely piqued her curiosity (L likes games) as she had never seen such a weird looking game.

So I explained to her what an RPG is. She knows of World of Warcraft (she has a friend she thinks is silly for the amount of time he spends on it), but she prefers games like Rock Band and Halo, being an active kind of kid (she doesn't tweet, she plays basketball and soccer, and the latter at a high level having gone to the State finals this year). And she's HEARD of Dungeons and Dragons...apparently there's a commercial on TV for the latest version?!!

So I showed her B/X and explained how the game is played as well as the difference between B/X and the current edition and its craziness (I find my old 3rd edition hardcovers are making great visual aids for these kids).

And she's down. Oh, she is totally down. She thinks B/X is super cool, thinks my Companion project is super cool, says I should try to get black and white interior art but do a cool color cover in the style of the original Erol Otus drawings (yeah, kid, we're already on the same page).

AND she wants to play. Hell, she wanted to know if we were going to use props, like costumes! She TOTALLY wants to play an Elf...perhaps with a pet faerie. But the idea that she can play any character (and play a different character every session) and explore a fantasy world has her totally intrigued. The imagination part is what's charged her batteries.

Well, my wife's input about her elf character helped. What is it about girls and elves and fairies anyway?

So now it appears we will be organizing a game with L and my nephews sometime in the coming months so that she can have a chance to play Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe I'll have to buy her a copy of Labyrinth Lord as well.
; )

By the way, quick note to Hasbro/WotC: America's youth does not seem to have the patience to learn to play 4th edition D&D. It is too damn big, complex, and intimidating. If they want something like a video game program, they'll just play a video game. Sheesh!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quick Housekeeping Post

I've got a new email address listed under my profile for anyone interested in contacting me outside of this blog. This is a secondary email address for me, so the frequency with which I check it will correlate to the frequency with which I update my blog (which is to say, "kind of slow over the holidays"). a truckload of in-laws to haul to the Space Needle today, so I'll check y'all later!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Full House

The bulk of our guests finished arriving Friday night, which you might have guessed from my lack of posting. Just taking a few minutes before heading out to the Seahawks game to tappity-tap a few words.

Appears I've fixed the comment seems to have been a problem with my email filters, not Blogger. Hopefully won't be a worry in the future.

Everyone appears to have slowed down somewhat in their blogging...which only makes sense given it's the last shopping weekend before Christmas and many of y'all are roughly the same slacker age as myself.

Anyhoo, with the in-laws in town, expect little from me till the 30th or so. My free time will be spent...well, I don't really have any free time! But if I DO have a chance to get to the computer in the next few, it will be to work on my B/X Companion OR to check out the various art web sites folks posted to the blog...that's the next big hurdle folks.

Have a great holdiday season! I really wish nothing but the best for all of you! And that includes all the folks I've slighted, singled-out, or otherwise bitched about on this blog and others! I could wax philosophical for pages and pages about the application of Christmas Spirit to the healing of rifts and differences between people of all stripes and such...but you guys & gals no the drill.
: )

Prost! Go Seahawks! And if you get snowed in, enjoy it!

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Love for the Blacksmith

Sometimes, it feels like I'm the only one out there that seems to notice these things.

Does no one from TSR's latter days realize B/X was a direct translation of OD&D into a coherent, well-organized format? It seems pretty obvious to me, and yet Mentzer's later BECMI seems to have ignored this in favor of simply making "Basic" its own simplistic animal. I suppose "missing it" is more excusable.

How else can I explain the exclusion of the Blacksmith from the list of specialists for hire.

All the specialists included in the Cook/Marsh Expert set are taken directly from the original Little Brown Books (Book 3, pages 22 and 23 to be exact). The same monthly costs are used for all the specialists (some of the demi-human mercs did get their prices inflated) , and their descriptions are almost word-for-word.

Only one specialist is left out of the Expert set rules (the Assassin...don't worry, I'm putting it back in...). However, while the Smith (aka "blacksmith") was listed in the Cook/Marsh book, its description somehow got dropped off the page (in the biz we call this "errata"). For all those who've ever wondered what their 25 gp per month gets 'em (besides assistants for an armorer), here's the missing text:

"As already mentioned, a Smith is able to assist an Armorer. For every 50 horses or mules in a player/character's force there must be one Smith to maintain them."

Easy, right? Armorer's maintain the men, and Smith's maintain the horses.

But Mentzer leaves them completely out of his book, as does Aaron Alston from the Rules Cyclopedia. They both leave in the smith referencing language of the Armorer specialist ("with two assistants, one of whom must be a Smith") but don't even bother to list the Smith and his 25 gp per month price tag.

Even Proctor's Labyrinth Lord only dodges the issue by simply renaming the Armorer as "Blacksmith," kind of combining the two so the problematic language ceases to be problematic...though now the blacksmith is a crafter of armor rather than horseshoes. Jeez.

I suppose I'm just being grumpy, but little oversights like this annoy me. So easy for those that came later to say, "OH...look, a little something got left out! Let's just put it back." Instead they say, "hmm, once again the old version seems incomplete/contradictory...I'll just gloss over it."

Ah, well. Gotta' run. More later (I'm sure)...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Remembering The Water Weird

I don't really do "retrospectives" (well, in some ways this whole blog is one big retrospective), but reading the ol' Frothy Friar got me remembering and thinking about the most irritating monsters of D&, irritating from a "challenge" point of view not from a "this illustration annoys me" perspective. And I got to thinking of the water weird.

I don't know if there is a historical, folkloric, or fictional basis for this creature, or if it was just another "F You" kind of monster Gygax dreamed up. All I know is that in all my years of playing and DM'ing D&D I've used this monster maybe twice. Maybe.

I remember the damn thing being the cause of at least one TPK or very nearly. Most players simply aren't carrying a purify water spell in their repertoire (well, maybe folks that have been struck by the 'weird in the past). But drowning an entire party? Talk about going out like a chump, stuffed in the bottom of a fountain maybe two-three feet deep.

Heh. I see from the master monster list in Mentzer's Master set that a BECMI version of the water weird was presented in the module B7: Rahasia, but that's one of those I've never seen, even on the shelf. I have NOT added the 'weird to the monster list in my Companion project (no rot grub either). For all my musings over my past as a "killer DM" this is one monster that, even as a young 'un, I felt was a little unfair to include in the dungeon. Still, I would like to see how the Hickman's adapted the killer liquid pipe snake to the old BECMI rules.

Ha! There was a water weird in one of those old "Endless Quest" books, if I remember right...though I don't remember which one. Man...I wonder if I could still pick some of those up from a used bookstore.
: )

A Brief Reprieve

I actually printed up a couple pages of my Companion today to compare to the original B/X sets and it appears I've got some extra room to work margins on top are a little large. Hey, at this point every bit of space I can scrape together will mean more room for adding illos.

Also, the font seems to be the right size, but for some reason Moldvay, etc. were able to cram more lines in per paragraph...maybe I need to reduce it to 9 or 9.5? Some experimentation could definitely be worthwhile.

Talking with the Doctor tonight (my buddy, Kris) I got pretty excited about stuff. But then I went out drinking with my in-laws, and forgot all about the book in the entertainment of the moment. Maybe I'll have some time to work on it tomorrow morning...I don't have to go back to the office till the 29th but I've got a ton of plans between now and then...

Wow...Talk About Advertising...

So just saw that JM over at Grognardia gave me a shout out regarding my B/X Companion project. And whadya' know...I've picked up another half-dozen followers despite posting near nada the last two weeks.

Welp, I can only hope you interested parties stay with me the next few weeks as I go through a low posting patch. For those interested in B/X goodness, rest assured that work on the Companion continues. In fact, I'm about five or six pages from complete. Unfortunately, I've stuffed so much stuff into it that I'm barely leaving room for 4-5 pages of artwork, and my original idea was to shoot for 8 or so.

But what can a guy do? Damn charts take up a lot of space, unless I want to make the font size near illegible. Two pages in Part 2 (completed by the way), two or so pages in Part 5, approximately four pages in Part 7 (but oh so necessary). Assuming I can wrap up Part 3 in three pages (keeping my fingers crossed), I'm still nearly over my page limit depending on how I cut the DM chapter (5 pages written, but a bunch more needing to go in).

Much as I'd like the book to be perfect I understand that there's no way to satisfy everyone out there. But I'd sure as hell like to satisfy myself. And that means more than simply doing an "add-on" of new "goodies." Don't get me wrong...the goodies are there (pages and pages of new monsters, magic items, and spells...not to mention mass combat and dominion rules, some new class abilities, and a new proposed B/X class). But as a companion to the B/X game I want the thing to include some helpful and expanded definitions of certain game ideas, not just be the B/X equivalent of an Unearthed Arcana.

Reading through the Rules Cyclopedia, I come across the following passage describing the difference between AD&D and BECMI (or "D&D" as it is described here):

The AD&D game is much more detailed than the D&D game. It has more character classes, more alignment choices, more monsters, and more rules. Where the D&D rules system may reduce a situation to one die roll or a single variable, the AD&D rules system often has a more detailed rule that includes more variables, allowing it to cover situations in greater depth.

Since I don't necessarily want more crunch, I guess I've made the right choice of chucking AD&D in favor of the simpler rules. However, I can't help but feel like the passage is denigrating "D&D" and its simpler system. Certainly the players I grew up with thought the more complex AD&D was desirable.

This really strikes home for me in the section "Game Differences:"

"AD&D characters tend to have higher ability scores, especially if some of the optional character generation rules are used..."

"The AD&D system separates character class and character race. Different class and race combinations are available..."

"The AD&D alignment system adds a..."

"AD&D game magical items are more complex; many have three or more separate functions..."

The emphasis is mine. More options. More additions. Extra powers. More stuff available. Higher ability scores.

Bigger. Better. More. This is what AD&D has to offer...oh poor little old normal D&D.

I don't know why anyone would buy into that fallacy. Nothing says D&D (or B/X or OD&D or BECMI...whatever) has to be limited. "Simple" does NOT equate to "limited." I can throw a hammer of thunderbolts or cubic gate into my B/X game and it can provide the same entertainment value even without a bunch of extra facts and figures regarding the size of the lightning trail or the planar cosmology. I can write up monsters with weird and wild powers and the sky's the limit.

I think Mentzer wrote himself into a hole with BECMI. I think he tried to create a simpler form of AD&D..."dumbing it down," even as he filled in gaps left by Gygax and Arneson. That's just my opinion, but yeah...that's what I think.

My Companion set also tries to fill in blanks, but not in any limited fashion. I am not creating a closed environment where one goes to level 36, achieves immortality, goes to level 36, and considers attempting to join the Old Ones by repeating the process. There is no limited cosmology...there is a game with a simple set of systems that can be used to create a variety of game environments, limited only by one's imagination. Yeah, I finish the characters levels up to 36 but the game world is still only the beginning...questions are left unanswered, allowing players and DMs to fill in their own preferences. B/X game play gives one the ability to soar in a way that AD&D and later editions do not. More options, more definitions, simply lead to restrictions based on defined structure. I don't want my game limited.

Ugh...way past time to go to bed. Next time I check in here, I hope to have all text on the B/X Companion complete (there ain't much more to write). Then I'll get to worry about the best way to publish it.
; )

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

...and that's about it.

Sorry, but really don't expect too much out of me the next...oh, 2 to 3 weeks. I've got in-laws flying in on Wednesday, more in-laws on Friday, my own folks sometime next week, a couple Yule-time parties...oh, yeah, and several dozen Christmas cards to mail out.

This is when I'm not cleaning, shopping, wrapping, and RE-wrapping gifts (the beagles ate a perfectly gift-wrapped box for my mother's boyfriend sometime this afternoon...I don't know how they can smell socks through so much paper and cardboard, but they picked the one thing that was "fun to play with"). Ugh.

Oh, yeah...and I was sick the last two in laid up in bed, sleeping for 20 hours at a time and not even opening the ol' laptop. I did manage to knock out the cold (thank goodness...I've got too many friends and relatives showing up in the next 48 hours!), and I did manage to read the entirety of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn (what a great, great novel). But that's about it.

However, progress has been made on the B/X Companion with multiple chapters now completed: 3, 5, 6, and 7 are all complete, Chapter 2 needs charts (they're getting easier and 5 and 7) and Chapters 4 and 8 just need a bit of organization (I've already got 4 or so pages written for 8).

It's going to be close on the page count. I really don't want to edit (i.e. "cut") anything already in the chapters, but things are super-tight. I'm either going to need to skimp on the DM section, shave the introduction to 1 page, and bring Chapter 4 in under 3 pages...or I'm going to have to cheat the margins out and cut a few pages of art. But I'd rather not do the latter.

Ahh, well. I'd hoped the thing would be done by Christmas, but the only way that would happen is if I completely blew off my day job in favor of working on this thing (unlike Mr. Raggi, I am not state-subsidized). Maybe, just maybe I'll have the prototype done by New Year.

...'course I still need to get the artwork. I should probably set up some sort of email account for the folks that want to submit stuff. Hmmm...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Chapter Completed...

...and it was a real son of a bitch.

Finished Part 7: Treasure of my Companion, today. It was the day of our annual "WinterFest" at work today, which means most of us were cycling in and out of the conference room eating desserts or mingling...basically slacking. I did some actual "work" work today, but much of the day was also spent wrestling with the goddamn MS Word, trying to get various charts, columns, and chapter pages to all synch up nice and neat.

I got a Mac a couple Christmases back because I wanted to be able to use it for projects like know, creating documents with graphics and charts and stuff. Producing product. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about my own Mac software and I haven't taken the time to use the on board tutorials to learn. What's more I've already invested a ton of time into learning MS software (like Word and Excel) which I use at work pretty much every day (I don't work in a field that requires a lot of media or graphics interface and the PCs work just fine...'course we're not on Vista yet, either).

So now I have MS Office on my Mac and...well, whatever. At work I can only use MS products anyway, and I was able to finally put together the whole treasure chapter. And it's about 10 and a quarter pages long.

Unfortunately, I only budgeted eight.

Which means that other parts of the Companion will be shorter. Hopefully this won't be too bad, but I have a feeling there's going to be some over-run in the Combat chapter...those damn charts just eat up so much space! Plus I decided the mass combat system is going to go into that chapter as well (what are field maneuvers if not simply another type of "encounter?") and they were four pages long (and in need of a couple extra paragraphs) the last time I checked. Perhaps, I'll work on that tomorrow...well, between vet appointments, car tune-ups, and driving my wife around (forgot to mention...she did NOT have to travel after all). All the other chapters are budgeted to be shorter than the three I've completed (Spells, Monsters, Treasure), though this is as much by necessity as design. We will not go over 64 pages!

Some cool things: I did figure out a lot of groovy technical stuff today with regard to page layout...I am totally excited to get this thing finished so that I can print it up!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

So...A Couple Problems...

Problema #1: I am nearly out of gin.

In recent years, martinis have been a big part of my holiday tradition...pretty much from Thanksgiving till New Year. I picked up a fifth of Bombay Saphire in November and even though I've been going easy (at least, between holiday parties) the "end is near." I'm going to have to pick up some more soon and the nearest liquor store is too far away to walk (at least not in the weather we've been having lately...brrrr!), unlike my local grocer (who's across the street). Ugh! I've been spoiled by being able to walk everywhere in my neighborhood!

Problema #2: Too much treasure.

Today I decided it was time to finish up another chapter in my B/X Companion...this time Part 7: Treasure. I've actually had most of it written for months now, though I have added a bit here and a bit there based on some recent fantasy reading. However, I had yet to throw in the treasure charts and (even more importantly) the magic item tables...partly because I wasn't sure how to fit it into my document (MS Word on a Mac laptop can be tricky...don't get me started), partly because I hadn't finished figuring out the percentages for individual items.

Having finally completely that last bit, I struggled to squish charts into the chapter...and found that the I've got about 4 pages worth of magic item charts...that's 5 pages with the standard treasure type charts. Holy crap!

I don't know what to do here...I only budgeted 2 or 2.5 the item descriptions themselves only take 2 or 3 times that space. Of course, the charts contain almost all the items from the Basic and Expert set (with some exceptions...I consolidated some items like ALL the rings of wishes, for example)...but I wasn't even including the scroll chart (since it is unchanged from the standard editions).

Ugh. I suppose I could really minimize the font size and go crazy with the margins (crazier than I already am...half inch on the sides? Sheesh!) but I'm still doubting I can fit it in under 3 pages. Art is going to have to be cut from the chapter, is all I can figure.

Double ugh. I guess I just threw in too many groovy items. Looking at the tables in the Expert set again, I find myself thinking "Pat is right...B/X is just about perfect. Who am I to want more?" On the other hand, Mentzer's Companion set used even smaller type (and more convoluted tables) and came in at 5 pages, too (and I think I've got a way cooler selection of gear, even if I don't have +5/+8 against constructs weapons and stuff).

Triple ugh! I don't want to over-think this! It isn't going to be perfect! I just have to make it work enough! Stop second-guessing yourself JB!

Okay, okay..I've got to run to the grocery store now. I may need to work on a different chapter tonight. Later, folks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Light, If Inspirational, Reading

Welp, the wife got home Saturday and my work on my B/X Companion tanked for the rest o the weekend, as I figured it would. Ah, well. She's heading out again for a few days come Tuesday and I should be able to get back to it (assuming I don't spend all my time watching 80's fantasy flicks). The bad news is my wife will be gone a few days and the beagles and I miss her terribly when she's gone.

Anyway, I DID get a chance to do some light re-reading, and it was nothing if not inspirational, causing me to update and several items in my Companion (I did do some work). The book: Hassan but the esteemed (or at least commercially successful) author Piers Anthony.

As a kid and teen, Mr. Anthony's novels captivated me as much as any role-playing game...I found his work to be just wht I needed even into my late teens. I read most of his Xanth novels with relish (despite my loathing of puns), his Apprentice Adept series, and the first three or four novels of his Incarnations of Immortality (always thought I'd finish those someday...). But as an adult, I've found myself somewhat cooled to his works...actually "frozen" might be a better term. For the most part, I just can't stand his stuff anymore.

The exception is Hassan. Re-reading it again...either the 3rd or 4th time I've done so...I was surprised at how enjoyable it is. Maybe because I love Arabian Nights-type entertainment (his novel is based entirely on one of the original Arabian Nights tales, Hassan and the Bird-Maiden), perhaps because it's a somewhat more mature piece of work (despite being one of his first published novels), perhaps because the story just resonates with fortunate slackers like myself. Whatever...I dig it.

And, like my recent foray into Dragonslayer, it has provided me with inspiration for my game. As I wrote earlier, I'm trying not to fall into the trap of simply making my set echo earlier works (Mentzer's BECMI, Gygax's AD&D). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I feel B/X is the true inheritor of OD&D, and as such has much more "wide open" potential than just doing "basic" knock-offs of AD&D systems and "goodies." Not that I don't do SOME knock-offs (some spells, critters, and magic items are too cool or achetypal to leave out). But when one has the opportunity to do something cool versus "same-old-same-old," well, hey, let's err on the side of something cool.

All right, more later (as always). ("real") Work's been pretty busy today, and promises to look the same tomorrow, but there will be more coming this week, I swear O My Brothers!

All glory to Allah! (or whomever you like to worship)
: )

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Can't Believe I Missed This...

...but then again, I have been busy lately.

Over at Sham's he's posted an excellent new tool for DM's like myself who are high on inspiration and low in the map-making skills. I'm so glad I got a second chance to notice it with Mr. Armstrong's link. Yet another justification for doubling up on the old school blog links.

I don't have time to discuss more right now (gotta' run some errands), but I'll be posting more on "w/o WALLS" later. Why? 'Cause the thing is near perfect for my personal D&D needs and can be adapted in all sorts of practical ways, specifically regarding adventure creation, not just "dungeon" creation.

Also, the Ace/trump thing? Awesome. Ya' basically just included a metagame mechanic that can be used to give narrative power back to players in a limited/controlled fashion. That shit is delicious!

Okay, okay, I really have to go. Ugh! Why are weekends so darn short?!

Later, gators!
: )

Friday, December 4, 2009

Second Chapter Complete

Finished with Part 6: Monsters, the single largest chapter in the book. Complete, finito. Well except for the addition of the art work, but it's proofed and edited: 13,537 words, 15 and a quarter pagest with extremely thin margins. I wanted to get it down to 15 to include more artwork, but I'm satisfied...there should be enough room to get almost as many pieces as Moldvay's Basic set.

81 monsters in 62 seperate entries. B/X Companion on the roll. Man, I feel like I want a toast or something...time to crack a beer!

; )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"I've always had the greatest admiration for the Black Arts..."

Just finished re-watching one of the greatest fantasy films of all time: DRAGONSLAYER.

And let me just say, while many people (myself included) might lament that is doesn't have a lot of quality competition, it is still an excellent, excellent movie. Definitely the best fantasy film of the 80's (and I say that as both an admirer of Krull and a grand appreciator of Conan the Barbarian). I've watched Dragonslayer three or four times in my life, and every time I see it, I am amazed at how well done a film it is.

I've said more than once that anyone interested in running an Ars Magica saga would be well advised to watch Dragonslayer as a source of inspiration...the bordering of pagan spirituality and magic upon the Church and "civilized" feudalism. But these days, of course, I am more interested in D&D (specifically B/X D&D) and the movie works well as an inspiration for this, too.

Certainly I am seeing things that I wouldn't mind adding to my B/X Companion set (say, a certain magical amulet? the shield and spear are already present...). But what I find most cool is the damn dragon. That thing is the closest thing I've ever seen to a D&D dragon.

Seriously: let's look at the thing. It's big, ja? But certainly it's claws aren't big enough to warrant damage of more than 1D8 (the same as a standard red dragon). Oh, sure it can pick up a frail, old man but it ain't making off with a horse or a cow. And it's certainly not big enough to swallow anyone whole (aka a 3rd edition red dragon...see the DD3 PHB for images). On the other hand, its breath is an f'ing BLOWTORCH...and I love the sound f/x they threw in the film for this critter. Simply awesome.

Even the handling of religion in the film is great (who doesn't like Emperor Palpatine as a not-too-bright cleric?), and certainly could be put into a D&D context...these poor guys are pretty much 1st level, certainly lacking in divine "power." I know that some folks have written this film makes a mockery of Christianity (and those reviews have been positive regarding this), but as a lifelong Roman Catholic, I don't quite see it that way. God and organized religion certainly has its place in helps teach folks not to be assholes for instance...but just believing Jesus is going to save you is NOT the ticket to a nice afterlife, nor even a pleasurable life on Earth. "God helps those who help themselves" (or put another way, the Universe gives us the tools but we need to wield them)...there are valuable lessons to be learned here.

Oh, and if it seems that the newly baptized Christians are giving too much credit to their Creator and not enough to the young magician...well who exactly invented humans and heroism and, yeah, probably magic, too? Jeez...give credit where credit is due.

It still surprises me that Dragonslayer was co-produced by Disney...entirely too much blood and nudity for your average Disney live-action flick. Ah, well...they don't make 'em like THAT anymore. My one gripe regarding an overly "family friendly" tone is when the guard captain vehemently says, "You meddler!" Instead of the more appropriate "You bastard!" or "You peasant whelp!" Ah, well...had to keep the PG rating I guess!

It IS a good film. The characters are realistic with their own genuine motives. The pragmatic guard captain...the idealist princess...the king that doesn't believe in hocus pocus but is willing enough to try his hand at changing a little base metal into gold. The wizard who, while wise and potent, still wants to make sure he looks good for the gawking proles and isn't above using a little flash powder for good effect. The grog...excuse me, valued henchman...that has to carry all the gear but has nothing but praise for the benevolent old master that deigned to allow him to cook the eggs.

Even the chick, Valerian. One might ask, hey, she's a little fast to put on a dress there, huh? No she ain't. Why the hell do you think she was willing to hike a hundred leagues to look for a savior? She a damn teenage girl, even if she was raised to be a tom boy...she'd sure as hell like the opportunity to wear a dress and dance with a boy...shorty apprentice-sorcerer or not!

Look, I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings triology, and I say that as a pretty big Tolkien fan...the damn things always choke me up and bring a tear to my eye (no, not for the plight of Frodo and's the damn Rohirrim charging to certain death...gets me every time!). But prior to those certainly Oscar-worthy films, I can't think of a single fantasy film of better quality than Dragonslayer. Hell, in some ways it may even be a bit better. I can only hope that when Jackson produces his new Hobbit flick, he takes a page from Dragonslayer when designing a mean and realistic Smaug.

Hell, what's Peter MacNicol up to these days? Maybe he can play Bilbo! After all, he's fairly short and he's got the curly hair...and he's got to be about the right age as the esteemed Mr. Baggins was when he set out on his little journey...someone needs to get hold of Mr. MacNicol's agent....
: )

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Monsters, Monsters Everywhere

Just taking a quick break...well, actually I was watching Top Chef, and I am getting ready to go to bed...gotta' get up at 6am again tomorrow. Just wanted folks to know I finished monster #70 tonight. I'm pretty pleased with how its going, though I'm more verbose than I probably should be (hey...these monsters are a bit more complex than your average giant rat), and I'm afraid I'm running long. Right now, the monster chapter is 14.5 pages (that's two collumn, 10 point font) and I set aside 16 total pages for the monster section. Thing is, I'd like to have at least a page worth of art (interspersed), and I've got 9 monsters left that I want to add...five absolutely need to be in (there's a magic item that kind o depends on 'em), but I might be able to abstract 'em down to a single entry...though truth be told, I'm not sure they NEED that much space.

Damn you Monster Manual II! I need to stop looking at you and simplify, simplify!

Case in point: many of the monsters present in my B/X Companion are of the "legendary variety" (oh, I have one or two homebrewed critters, but most are based on mythology and the ponaturi). So, for example I simply HAD to add a phoenix. Why? Um...cause they're kind of big in mythological culture.

The MM2 has an entry for a phoenix. It is seven paragraphs long, not counting the stat block. Most of it is lists and lists of spell-like powers. My phoenix is three paragraphs long with a total word count of 243. I like mine better...hell, maybe I should post it so folks can compare.


Armor Class: -3………….No. Appearing: 0 (1)

Hit Dice: 9+9****………….Save As: Cleric 17

Move: 360’ (120’)………….Morale: 12

Attacks: 2 talons, beak………….Treasure Type: Nil

Damage: 2-5/2-5/2-5 + see below….........Alignment: Lawful

The phoenix is similar in shape and magnificence to a peacock, though they are twice as large (wingspan of 8-9’) and colored a spectacular red, orange, and gold. They give off a palpable heat, and attacks from a phoenix do an additional 2-8 points of damage per hit to anyone not protected against magical fire. The phoenix itself is immune to heat and cold, as well as poison and disease, is immune to mind affecting magic or polymorph, and automatically sees through illusions.

Renowned for their great healing ability, the phoenix will generously share its curing gifts with any individual in need. Their mere touch can cure disease or serious wounds, neutralize poison, or raise dead. A phoenix may also use restoration and rejuvenation, but will only do so for the most Lawful and deserving creatures as doing so greatly drains them; after performing one of these latter spells the phoenix may not use any healing power for 24 hours.

A phoenix lives 1000 years but is truly immortal; at the end of its life cycle it bursts into a white-hot flame from whose ashes the phoenix will be reborn in a fortnight. The same occurs if the beast is slain (they are only harmed by +3 or better weapons). Those standing within 10’ of a burning phoenix suffer 10-80 points of damage, and any weapon used to strike a death blow will be burned to a cinder if less than +5 in value.

But, yeah...even though I like mine better I don't want to stray TOO far from the stuff already in the books (both AD&D and BECMI when such is available). After all, some of this was puzzled out to be consistent with other monsters already in the game, right? Can't be giving a phoenix a claw attack of 3-18 or something when a red dragon only does 1D8, after all. At least that's MY thinking.

Of the last 9 monsters on my list, 5 have absolutely GOT to be in the game. The other four I really like, and of those 3 already have stats in AD&D. Kind of. Well, really only one (the Marid) but the other two are partly based on creatures already in AD&D...and for that reason (and since they're not REALLY mythological/legendary), I might just drop 'em.

Can I fit seven more monsters and still have space for stuff?'s gonna' be tight, though editing and clean-up might help. I'm tempted to stay up, NO! Must sleep!

Okay, going to bed...the beagles are already snoozing.

; )

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Art Work Needed (B/X Companion)

By my reckoning, the Tom Moldvay Basic set uses about 9 pages worth of graphics (art, maps, etc.), NOT including charts. The Cook/Marsh expert set uses about 7 pages. That's out of 64 full pages, including the cover leaf.

Personally, I've always felt the Expert set felt a bit sparse in the art department and while some pages were positively inspiring as a kid (mainly Willingham's pieces), others felt...well, lacking. Do I really need a picture of a narwhale or a water termite? I'm not sure....

So, I'm going to shoot for at least 8 pages of interior art. I've already got a rough sketch of the cover (call it a "working sketch"), and at least a couple artists (maybe even four) lined up, I'll probably be soliciting anyone who's interested in contributing to the thing. Not that I'll PAY people anything, of course...but then I'm not looking for anything super-fantastic, either (about on par with the original B/X rule books; i.e. small black&white line drawings).

'Course people who contribute will retain all rights to their own art, and (if I use their piece) will definitely get a free copy when the thing is finally printed up.

Anyway...let me finish the other 58 pages first...39 down and 19 to go!
: )

Progress Report

Just so you ain't wondering...

After wracking my brain to grind out a B/X version of the mind flayer, my brain somehow got jump-started and I've been banging out the B/X monsters the last two days for my B/X Companion. When last we [stalled] a couple moons back, I was at 28 total write-ups out of what looked to be a 75 monster list. In the last two days, I've almost doubled that number to 48 and refinded the list somewhat (though somehow "refined" means increasing the overall number to 78...don't ask me how that happens...). And that was actually just getting warmed up...I'm starting to pick up some real steam now.

[no, I am not adding the mind flayer/thought skinner to the mix]

So right now, I'm riding the wave of creativity/inspiration. My wife's leaving town tomorrow, which means I'll have free evenings to (hopefully!) be productive. I'm looking at Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and salivating...if I can knock out 15 pages before Saturday (when I have other plans) I'll be almost home with this thing!

I should probably do a spot check of the original B/X rules to estimate how many pages of art I'm going to need....

Wish me luck folks! Or godspeed anyway!

[hmmm...I guess 48 is not really "double" 28...ah, well...]