Monday 21 February 2011

Scenery - underground city

This image of a whole city built in a vast underground chamber is by concept artist Jesse van Dijk, taken from the image shown on a CGTalk thread.

Pretty sweet stuff; I'm green with envy.

Click image to enlarge.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Dragons - the other dark meat

It's been said before, but I'll say it again: D&D dragons are wimps. Considering that they're the eponymous creatures of D&D, and are presented as being one of the ultimate campaign encounters, they're ridiculously easy to defeat.

One of the things I approved of when AD&D2e appeared was that they made dragons a lot more fearsome, giving them more (and more dangerous) attacks, more hit-points, and more scariness in general.
AD&D 2e PHB Frontis
I also liked the frontispiece of the AD&D2e PHB showing a classic group of five adventurers, all looking very pleased with themselves at having defeated a rather pathetic-looking little dragon about the size of an alsatian dog.

But that's slightly off the topic.

A few years ago (about '03 or '04 I think) I gave some thought to how I wanted to treat dragons in my own campaign. I didn't want to stray too far from the traditional D&D tropes, but I wanted to fill out the back-story a bit, so to speak. What follows is the text of some notes I wrote to myself back then, and which I just rediscovered.

"Dragons consider themselves to be the dominant — the highest, most perfect — life form on the face of the planet. Humans (and most of the other sentient species) are of little interest to them except as occasional pawns, or snacks — though for any dragon other than a juvenile, a single human being is a fairly unsatisfying morsel.

Dragons spawn in large numbers, and abandon their young to the vagaries of fate. The mortality rate among wyrmlings is high; few will survive to reach adulthood. Those who do, however, find themselves at the top of the food chain and are unlikely to find themselves seriously challenged.

When they are first spawned, dragons are unintelligent and operate purely on instinct. That instinct revolves around eating and avoiding being eaten. Later, as they grow, their intelligence develops along with their bodies and their instincts turn to mating. Dragons will mate and spawn only a few times in their long, long lives.

After mating and spawning, the intelligence of adult dragons increases rapidly to the point of sentience. This stage of life is when they begin to gather their hoards. The motivation behind this behavious is unknown, but there appears to be elements of competition for status with other dragons. Certainly, they don't appear to have any obvious concrete use for their gathered wealth.

As dragons grow older, their mental powers increase steadily and they begin to develop powers which may be psionic in nature. Prescience, telepathy and mental domination are all traits commonly shown by elder dragons, but a wide range of other abilities have been known to manifest."

Obviously there's a lot more that could be said on the subject, and there are many questions still to be answered, but that fragment sets up some useful gaming situations. If a young dragon spawns near an inhabited area, the resulting plague of wyrmlings could pose a significant threat that would only get worse if left alone. Elder dragons might be in demand as oracles, with their powers of prescience — but the price is bound to be steep, and there's always the danger that the supplicant might become a snack.

I've yet to think about things like how much a dragon needs to eat... maybe the need for food is something that diminishes as their other powers grow? That would explain how such huge carnivores can afford to live in isolated, relatively barren locations like mountain caves? I'm not one to be too anal about things like food chains and the like, but I do like to have some explanation for why they might be out of whack.

Friday 11 February 2011

Scenery: Cliff walkway

This is in the Xihai region, in China, in the same general area as the Fairy Walking Bridge shown in my last post.

This is just the sort of place you don't want to be having an all-out balls-and-all smashing clanging brawl.... but you just know something is waiting for you down in the mists, just around the bend. Very mysterious.

The image is by Wulong on flickr. Beautiful photograph, and it looks like a beautiful place too.

Scenery: Chasm Bridge

I don't know where this bridge is, or where the tunnel goes to or comes from.

It just occurred to me: how did the photographer get this photo? Is there another bridge? Was he or she dangling from a rope? Or were they plummeting to a grisly doom with a camera and thought it looked like a nice shot to catch as they went past?

Wednesday 9 February 2011

AD&D Character Sheet Design

In Palmerston North, when I first started roleplaying (when I was supposed to be doing university study), we didn't have access to much in the way of official material. There was one bookshop who, for a short while, stocked a few AD&D manuals and some of those terrible TSR dice that crumbled like hard cheese, but that was about it. The first I heard of the famous "goldenrod" character sheets was just in the last few years, thanks to the internet.

What that meant was that if we wanted character sheets, we had to make our own — the sheets archived in my last post are examples of some that I designed with rotring and ruler, and photocopied at vast expense at university (if I recall correctly, it cost about 20 cents per copy — that's about a buck and a half in modern money).

The last sheet that I laid out manually (that is, by actually drawing lines and writing captions with a pen) was this one, copied at my work on to a bunch of surplus green card that somebody had bought a whole ream of and only used about five sheets. Just as an aside, I found the card excellent for character sheets; being so much sturdier than paper, it will take a lot more erasing and similar abuse, and it has enough body of its own that you're much less likely to accidentally punch through it with a pen or pencil when resting it against something yielding, like carpet or thigh.

This particular sheet is for another very old (somewhat munchkinish) character, Smirnoff the Fighter, who was immensly strong, extremely stupid, and hideously ugly. I haven't played him as a character for years, though I still employ him very occasionally as an NPC. You will observe that this design includes a bunch of stuff for Unearthed Arcana  classes like the Cavalier and the Thief-Acrobat. By the time this particular sheet was made, we were using a bastardized AD&D1e/UA/2e melange.

When I got my first computer in 1990, along with a copy of CorelDraw 3, I designed this one, based largely on the green sheets above. The computer makes it very easy to keep your lines straight, your spacing even and your text legible, but in the end it's all a bit sterile. Functional though.

Note: you can grab a PDF of this sheet here; it's about 25 KB, so not a large download. Ironically, I designed the sheet just in time to stop playing AD&D — that's about when we changed everything over to the Hero System 4th Ed.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Ancient History

WARNING! This is unlikely to be of any interest to anybody but me.

My second-oldest, and most-played, AD&D character was (and is) Fnord the Fighter. He's still going, though I play him very infrequently these days, and he's been through several incarnations as we've changed rule sets: AD&D 1e and 2e, Champions, a sort of Ultra-Runequest-like thing our DM was briefly enthused with until we rebelled at its extraordinary and pointless fiddlyness, Hero System (4th and 5th ed), D&D3e... I think that's all.

I still have a bunch of old character sheets for him, though the earliest I can find has him at 6th level. He came into an existing party being DMed by my old friend Mike Bolton, and I think — though I don't remember for sure — that he was created at level 3 (or maybe 5?). He's now at level 13, after 30 years of existence.

Looking at these battered, much-scribbled-upon character sheets brings home to me one of the differences between 1981 (when these sheets hail from) and now; we didn't have access to computers or printers then, and photocopying was both troublesome and expensive, so character sheets lasted a long time, until they were too battered or doodle-covered to be useable. These days it's an easy matter to print out a new sheet as soon as an old one gets a bit smudged.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is really just to get those old character sheets out into the dataverse, more or less as an off-site backup.

L6-7 Obverse

L6-7 Reverse

L7-8 Obverse

L7-8 Reverse

L8 Obverse

L8 Reverse

L9 Obverse

L9 reverse

Goblin Battle-line

Some more of my drawing, this time a bunch of goblinoid critters in line of battle with a miscellany of polearms. I did it on 360gsm smooth Fabriano paper with the excellent pigment liners by Staedtler, which have all but replaced the much more expensive Rotring technical pens I used to work with almost exclusively.

Anyway, after doing the black-and-white drawing I scanned it, added the brown textured background in Photoshop, and highlighted it in Painter VIII, mostly with digital chalks. I like 3-tone drawing; it's so much easier to achieve a wide range of tone that way than in pure line.

As usual, the picture can be clicked upon to see a larger, more inflated version.

Friday 4 February 2011

Into The Depths

Graphite pencil, finished in Painter VIII. It's a fairly generic dungeoneering/spelunking scene; I think it could do with something nasty lurking in there somewhere, but I haven't quite decided what or where. Or how, for that matter.

Edit: I turned one of the rock formations into a giant humanoid skull, but I don't know that I'm convinced. In fact I'm pretty sure I don't like it.

Click on the images to embiggen.

Base texturizing on the cheap

You can spend an arm and a leg on various flocks and powders and sand and stuff for texturizing figure bases, or you can spend nothing at all for as much stuff as you need to keep covering bases until the sun goes out and the universe descends into entropic stasis.

Go to any cabinetmaker or carpenter and ask them if you can have some MDF sawdust. They will probably look at you like you're crazy, but never mind about that.

MDF, when it is sawn, disintegrates into a fine, slightly clumpy powder that is perfect for texturing figure bases, and it doesn't look as out-of-scale as sand usually does. It can be coloured just by stirring some paint through it, letting it dry and rubbing it through a sieve, but its natural creamy-tan colour is pretty good for representing sand and dust.

I've coloured the MDF dust green, but that's all I've done with it, and I haven't contoured the base at all -- just glued the MDF dust straight on to a flat, painted bit of 3mm MDF. The variable sizes of the dust clumps make decent small surface rocks. If you wanted more depth and/or variation in colour, you could seal, wash and dry-brush it as well.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

OSRIC - the Arrival

I don't imagine there are many people who read this blog who still don't know what OSRIC is all about, but for those who don't, you can find out all about it here. In brief, it's an AD&D 1e clone.

On December 16th, I ordered a copy of OSRIC (economy edition) from Lulu. It cost me, in total, under $US25.00, including postage and handling. Pretty good value for a 400 page letter-size book, and not much more than what I paid for the AD&D PHB alone back in 1982. The "economy" version differs from the "softcover" version only in having no interior colour.

It arrived in pretty timely fashion; a couple of weeks in total from the day I ordered it. I have had faster delivery times from the US, but not without paying an arm and a leg for it.

The paper and print quality is excellent. The cover is nice and shiny, and though it does feel a little flimsier than other softcovers of this size I've bought in the past, it should do the job. Only time will tell how the binding will hold up, I suppose, but it looks and feels OK to me. I honestly don't miss the interior colour at all; in fact I think I prefer having everything in grayscale. Mind you, if there were more of Pete Mullen's colour illustrations in there I might change my mind about that.

There are a few bleed errors on some of the pages; I don't know if that's an issue with the layout not allowing sufficient bleed for full-page printing or if it's a trimming problem at Lulu's end. In any case, it's a minor blemish, and I can live with it.

The back cover was very slightly munched on its bottom edge; the damage is inconsiderable though, less than I'd be likely to inflict on the book in the first month or two of use, and it doesn't worry me in the slightest.

All in all, on first contact I'd give the OSRIC Economy Edition a Highly Commended. I'll be pimping it to all my friends :)

So then: would I actually run or play in a game with OSRIC?

Yes, I would, if I were running or playing in an AD&D1e game (which I'm not, right now — I'm using my bastardized Swords & Wizardry rules).

I have a whole heapin' bunch of AD&D manuals from Ye Olde Tymes of course (from the days before TSR started paying the big bucks for cover art) and I have no doubt I would still cherry-pick some bits and pieces from them — mainly monsters probably. However, those books are, if not actually rare, getting harder and harder to find. OSRIC is a perfect substitute that I can use and abuse to my heart's content without the fear that I might lose or ruin some of my nostalgically precious AD&D books. It has pretty much all the information I'd need 99% of the time, and its organisation is a bit easier to follow than the old books too.

So, would I be playing OSRIC? Hell no. I'd be playing AD&D, using OSRIC as a reference. Which is, I believe, pretty much what it was originally intended for.