Monday, March 30, 2009
I mean, what's the first thing you think of when you think of an owl? I don't know about you, but I think of big yellow eyes. Am I weird?
I've seen miniatures and fan drawings that get the idea, but TSR, and later Wizards of the Coast, didn't seem to be able to hire artists that did.
This is the kind of stuff I think about all day. Maybe I need help...
Friday, March 27, 2009
One of the wackier things about MSH was its character creation system. You rolled stats randomly, which was normal for the time, but you also rolled your "hero type" (alien, mutant, robot, etc.) and even your powers randomly. If I remember correctly, the rulebook did say that you could pick them out with the Judge's permission, but all the example characters were random-rolled. It was kind of fun, but also kind of stupid. I mean, one of the sample pregens was LEOPARD, a guy in an Iron Man-style battlesuit that turned into a cat. (The battlesuit/animal transformation combo seemed disturbingly easy to roll up - I once randomly generated a power armor guy who could transform into a bear and control fire. Obviously, I named him "Smokey".)
Some of the characters my friends and I created and ran for a mutant-focused campaign included:
Flamestrike, a flying guy made of fire. With claws.
Flux, a telekinetic who could control time.
Unleash, a guy who could steal or nullify powers. He could also shoot force bolts. Oh, and he was slightly resistant to electricity.
Chrome, a guy who could transform into a liquid metal jaguar that shot razor-sharp chunks of itself at people.
Okay, so Flux wasn't too bad.
One of the supplements for MSH, the Ultimate Powers Book, featured even more vast and bizarre random character generation tables. My group lusted after that thing. I have a PDF of it now, but in those pre-internet days, we were never able to track it down. Based on the ridiculous stuff we made with just the old boxed set, I think that may have been a good thing.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I especially like "No Quarter", seen here. It's rather whimsical, but there's still a sense of tension and menace. After well over a year of playing big, cinematic action games, this painting - along with that AD&D Coloring Album - has got me longing for something with a higher risk factor for the characters. I think I miss really worrying about my character getting killed.
(I also love the guy in the middle with the axe, well behind the shieldbearers and spearmen.)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The Coloring Album (I guess "coloring book" sounded too kiddy) contains more than well-rendered images to fill in. There's a prose story written by Gary Gygax, linking all the pictures together, and while it's not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, it does grant some insight into Gygax's vision of the AD&D game, circa 1979.
Some of the elements of the book that I found interesting:
- The party of adventurers that heads into "the ruined castle keep" is big. At least a dozen people, probably more like twenty, including a magic-user, a cleric, a ton of dwarves, and more than one halfling thief. This is way beyond even the hireling-heavy, exploration-based adventures I've played in my (very limited) "old school" D&D experience.
- The motivation for their sortie into the keep is greed, plain and simple. There is no mention of stopping an evil overlord, rescuing a princess, or anything noble like that. They're just looking to get real paid. (In the end, it turns out that they've been manipulated by a ki-rin into removing a big nasty from the world, but that's beside the point.)
- The adventurers get their asses kicked a lot. Before they even get to the dungeon, a couple of people get killed by a bulette, and that's just for starters. There's a lot of screaming and dying in this coloring book, and it seems like the poor dwarves - like Ergwhi, pictured above - get the worst of it. Gary might have never used miniatures, but he sure hated miniature people.
- The party runs away a lot, or uses spells and magic items to avoid combat entirely. In fact, they don't really win a single encounter, if by "win" you mean "kill all the bad guys and take their stuff."
- Practically everybody has an awesome beard and/or mustache, elves and halflings excluded. Also, halflings don't look like hobbits here - they're skinny little guys with pointy noses, pointy ears, and pointy shoes.
- A female ranger is apparently called a "rangeress".
Oddly enough, I think the Coloring Album might be the best encapsulation of an "old school" D&D adventure ever made. It certainly gives a more accurate glimpse of the game than any of TSR's novels ever did.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Pretty great, right? For the first time, it looks like we have a cover image depicting a full-blown, four-man party of adventurers in a dungeon, locking horns with a dragon. We've lost the piles of treasure, but hey, you can't have it all. I immediately assumed this would be the cover for the new Player's Handbook, or at least a new starter set.
I assumed wrong. The 4th edition PHB ended up showing a pair of characters standing around and striking 1990s-style comic book poses, a motif that has been continued on the new PHB2. No action, no story, just posing.
And the dungeon-dragon picture? What became of it? Well, it ended up being used as the cover of a pack of character sheets. Yeah, those things nobody buys anymore.
Kind of sad, really.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
That's the D&D supplement that has the game stats for the action figure characters in it. It's written for the Mentzer version of the basic game, the one with the nice colorful boxes and the Larry Elmore cover artwork. (RPG geekdom calls it "BECMI D&D", after the titles of the boxes: Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal.) I do have a lot of affection for those rules, but I think I might use the 4th edition framework for it.
Yeah, I think I'm really doing this.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I mean, that's exactly what Jack Chick's audience thinks a book that teaches you how to sacrifice goats to Belphegor of the Sulfur Pits would look like.
Oddly enough, it sorta looks like a 3rd edition D&D book. Hmm...
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
As promised/threatened, the D&D 4th edition stats for your basic thoul:
Thouls resemble bloated hobgoblins, though there is a distinct trollish character to their stooped posture and scowling faces. Their lumpy skin is a deathly pale green, and their fingers are tipped with dirty claws similar to a ghoul's.
Thoul Level 5 Soldier
Medium natural humanoid XP 200
Initiative +6 Senses Perception +6; darkvision
HP 68; Bloodied 34
Regeneration 5 (if the thoul takes acid or fire damage, regeneration does not function until the end of its next turn)
AC 21; Fortitude 20, Reflex 17, Will 16
Battleaxe (standard; at-will) * Weapon
+12 vs AC; 1d10 + 4 damage
Ghoulish Claws (standard; at-will)
+12 vs AC; 1d6 + 4 damage
and the target is immobilized (save ends).
Staggering Blow (standard; encounter)
+12 vs AC; 3d8 + 4 damage
Target must be immobilized, stunned, or unconscious. If successful, target is stunned.
Alignment Evil Languages Common, goblin
Skills Athletics +11, endurance +11
Str 18 (+6) Dex 15 (+4) Wis 15 (+4)
Con 20 (+7) Int 8 (+1) Cha 12 (+3)
Equipment Scale armor, battleaxe
A thoul takes advantage of its speed to paralyze vulnerable targets with its ghoulish claws. Once a victim is immobilized, the thoul tries to finish it off with a staggering blow.
A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The story goes that the thoul got its start with a typographical error in "Temple of the Frog", a mini-module contained in the original D&D supplement, Blackmoor. Apparently it was supposed to say "ghoul", but the T is right there next to the G, and just like that, the thoul was born.
Anyway, as far as I can tell, the poor thoul has never gotten much love in terms of detail. Gygax never wrote about them, to my knowledge, so we'll never know if their hide is deep russet or burnt umber, or if they prefer tunics of dirty brown or mustard, or how many thouls in a given settlement will be leaders with an extra hit die, or whatever. All we know is that they're a "magical crossbreed" (so I guess they weren't born from a typical troll-hobgoblin-ghoul menage a trois), they're not undead, they "reproduce normally", and that they usually hang out with hobgoblins. (Incidentally, another old favorite of mine, the carnivorous ape, also was usually found with hobgoblins, and also has mysteriously disappeared. Clearly, hanging out with hobgoblins is hazardous.)
Anyway, that's the thoul: 150% monster, 150% awesome. So look out, skanky Clyde Caldwell princess lady. Thouls can paralyze people, they reproduce normally, and they're a-comin' for you.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Yep, that's a psychic dominatrix cage fighter any way you slice it.
It just goes to show you - you can write about whatever messed-up stuff you want in the interior of your book, as long as you slap a goofy cover illustration of a knight riding a pegasus on it.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I want to make a campaign based around the AD&D action figure line manufactured by LJN in the 80s. (You know, the one with Strongheart, Warduke, Zarak and the rest - you can read up on it here.)
In the setting, those action figure characters (hereafter abbreviated AFCs) would have turned against each other long ago. The power players of the world would be the relatives and descendants of the AFCs, split into squabbling factions - let's call them Houses - each of them jealously guarding the relics (remains, weapons, armor, etc.) of the old heroes and villains. None of the Houses would have complete sets of any one AFC's relics - centuries of squabbling, betrayal, and theft would have scattered them across the factions. In fact, the years have led to much confusion as to which AFC used which relic. (There could be bizarre religious schisms over whether a particular relic-shield was carried by Drex or Deeth in the olden days.) Furthermore, each House would maintain massive dungeons where the relics were housed and guarded.
If I wanted to get really weird, I could say that dungeons (and maybe even the monsters guarding them) are actually spontaneously generated by the AFC's relics. I like the idea of a dead adventurer's tomb slowly burrowing tunnels into the earth, sprouting monsters and traps like a seed sprouting roots...
Anyway, the player characters could be the official dungeon-delvers of a particular House, or be free agents hired by the different Houses to raid other Houses' AFC reliquaries. There could even be a secret "House" comprised of the descendants of the AFC's disgruntled followers and henchmen, seeking to claim the relics for themselves, or destroy them to spite the Houses. There would be many other "official" delving companies as well as free agents, and these could comprise the primary antagonists of the setting.
So, there you have it. It's sort of metagamey, I guess, but the idea has a certain wacky appeal to me. Any thoughts?
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
(Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of people who play entire sessions of high-intrigue, character-driven D&D with nary a single instance of monster-killing or stuff-taking. I think that's admirable, but I don't really think that's what the system was designed for.)
AD&D 2nd edition's greatest strength was in its deeply detailed and unique settings. Unfortunately, the system operating all these settings was a slightly tweaked version of Gygax's convention-focused 1st edition of AD&D. The system was built for "Fantasy Fucking Vietnam"-style gaming, which is fine until you try to use it for psychic dominatrix cage fighters struggling against corrupt life-sucking sorcerers on a desert planet. The ideas were awesome, but the system just couldn't take the strain of trying to be all types of fantasy to all people.
The endless options available for 3rd edition, especially when taking third-party material into account, made it technically possible to tinker with the system pretty heavily to match the feel you wanted. Still, doing so was often kludgy. 3rd edition gave you the transparency and the tools to twist D&D into nearly any shape, but doing it felt like banging a square peg into a round hole.
4th edition, as I've discussed before, really focused its design on kicking ass and taking... well, stuff. The honesty of this iteration of the game has really opened my eyes to the potential strengths of D&D's own idiosyncratic take on fantasy. After all, if I want something grittier, more folkloric, or more story-oriented, there are a number of other RPGs I can pick up and play (well, providing I can find players or game masters, but that's another story).
I wonder if this is part of the reason that some people have gotten miffed about D&D's newly narrowed focus. I think that for a lot of people, D&D is the only RPG they'll consider playing, so when they see that it's difficult to make 4th edition do things other than magic-rich, combat-heavy delving, they feel like the designers have placed constraints on the game. I see it as the game going back to being honest about what it's meant to do.
Of course, that doesn't stop me from wanting to bolt new stuff onto 4th edition...