Thursday 28 April 2011

Bilibin's Bugbear

Ivan Bilibin (1876 - 1942) was Russian artist, prominent among the illustrators working on revolutionary magazines during the abortive 1905 revolution.  Bilibin worked on a magazine called The Bugbear, and this is the mascot he drew for the publication.

Bilibin is one of my favourite illustrators.

Best wargaming terrain board ever?

Over at his "Dressing The Lines" blog, Roly showcases a superb 19th century western/colonial skirmish board. It's amazing work; I've seen museum dioramas that weren't up to the standard of workmanship displayed here.

There are a bunch more photos on Roly's blog; get over there and check them out. I'm gobsmacked.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Subterranean Mysteries

Never mind what these are or how the pictures are done (it's easy enough to figure out). Think instead — if your character encountered something like this while lurking about underground looking for something to kill and/or steal, what would be your immediate reaction?

I'm betting that for most people it would be profound paranoia.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Armoured diving suit - 1882

Diving suit - 1882
I'm not a big player of computer shoot-'em-up games, but I'm not wholly ignorant of the field. There was a game a couple of years ago that made a big noise, in which something similar to this 19th century diving suit appeared. I forget the name of the game; it's not that important.

This is just screaming out to be used as some kind of magical mcguffin. It could easily be built along the lines of the Apparatus of Kwalish (AD&D DMG p.137) or something like that.

It need not necessarily be intended for use under water, just because the original was — it might be designed to keep an interplanar traveller safe in the extreme environments to be found in many of the other planes of existence. Alternately, it could be used as a steampunk or VSF space-suit.

Whatever you do with it — it's just too cool :)

Mythmere's Adventure Design Deskbook

I just downloaded Volume 1 of Mythmere's (Matt Finch's) Adventure Design Deskbook. He's reduced the price for this PDF volume (available for download from Lulu for $3.50 USD) as it's going to be folded, along with the other three volumes, into a single hardcover book.

He  says:
"This is a book of tables for the "context" phase of creating an adventure; it contains table for generating fantastic locations, missions, patrons, villainous plans, and unusual minions. "
I really like it. I've only played about with it a little bit, but already I can see its great potential for making my life easier.

My experience largely mirrors that of James Smith over at The Underdark Gazette, so rather than repeat him pretty much verbatim, I'd suggest you go and see what he has to say about it. (He also has lots of other good stuff over there; if you haven't encountered his blog yet I recommend that you give him a read).

MADD (Volume 1) is basically a collection of interconnected random generation tables designed to give the overburdened DM's imagination a shunt, rather than to churn out a complete adventure with every T crossed and every i dotted, and it succeeds in that aim admirably. Not having seen any of the other volumes, I don't know how well they succeed in continuing the process, but on the basis of this first one I'm optimistic.

Scenery (sort of): Gamma World / Mutant Future characters

These guys are African, but they'd be perfectly at home in any post-apocalyptic RPG.

Monday 18 April 2011

House Rules: The Poisoned Chalice

As I've mentioned before, I've made some fairly serious changes to the Swords & Wizardry core rules for my own campaign. Naturally, I think the changes I've made are for the better; otherwise I wouldn't have made them.

However, the blindingly obvious consequence is that I've made it a bit more difficult for myself to use any 3rd-party material in conjunction with my Frankenstein-system, especially adventure modules. I have to convert clerics, for example, into my fighter-mage priests, and because I've conflated the cleric/magic-user spell lists into a 20-level hierachy, I have to refer to spell-lists from sources like Labyrinth Lord or AD&D to see just what sort of spells they're intended by the module author to have.

None of this is insuperably difficult, but it's an added burden if I want to run a module instead of building something from the ground up; it partially negates the labour-saving aspect of using somebody else's creation.

My campaign is in hiatus at the moment; we're playing through a Traveller d20-ish scenario being run by my friend Joffre. That means I have a moment to take stock and see if I want to stay the course with the changes I've made or maybe revert to a more "by-the-book" system.

I have nice shiny copies of OSRIC and Monsters of Myth winging their way towards me right now, so maybe I might shift to something AD&D-ish. I'd have to take thought to ameliorate some of the things that grate with me in AD&D, such as the compartmentalization of thief skills and that sort of thing, but it's a possibility nevertheless.

Friday 15 April 2011

The Cat's Protection League gets serious

Keep that familiar safe!

Scenery: A few years ago they were just another snake cult...

In D&D parlance this would be a hydra, but I believe the technical term for an Asian multi-headed snake statue is a naga, and it's a protective, rather than malign, spirit. This is an especially fine specimen; I'm guessing it's somewhere in South-East Asia, but I don't know for sure. What I do know for sure is that if your character comes across a statue like this in some temple or other, you just know you're in for some real trouble, and you'd better hope you're well stocked up on poison remedies.

The post's title is, of course, a reference to that fine piece of cinematic art, Conan the Barbarian, starring one of the great thespians of our age, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Scenery: Absurdly Steep Steps

I don't know where these stairs are. Climbing them would be tricky enough with the support chains; without them... I would prefer not to have to.

I guess, in practice, they're not much harder to climb than a ladder, but because they're in the form of stairways they look much more precarious.

Monday 11 April 2011


This is — I'm not sure what this is. It just kind of grew as I drew it in my sketchbook. I guess it's looking through some sort of portal or something at the tower, but whether a physical portal or not I leave up to the viewer. I'd drawn the falchion beforehand and the portal image just sort of merged with it.

It's drawn with a fine black roller-ball pen. It's quite a pleasant medium to draw in, but I'm having trouble finding replacement refills that have a nice fine tip, so I don't know how long it can go on.

Friday 8 April 2011

In Print

Two of my pieces have been selected for inclusion in Surge of the Wine-Dark Sea, Matt Finch's (Mythmere's) new book of artwork from the OSR. I'm honoured to be included; there are some really excellent artists in there, and my ego swells to zeppelin-like proportions to be shown alongside them.

Follow the link above for Mythmere's release posting, along with details of how you, yes YOU, can buy a copy.

It still gives me such a kick to see my work in print, even after all these years.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

O Death, where is thy sting? Oh, there it is...

Dyson, over on his excellent blog, has just been talking about the WHFRP system of determining damage and death. To summarize, if a blow takes you below zero hit-points, you get to roll a d20 (+ however many HP you are below 0) for Nasty Critical Damage which may leave you mangled or dead. I really like it, conceptually, and I think I may adopt it in preference to the HP/CON damage split I'm using at the moment. Reposted here, straight from Dyson's blog, is the Grievous Unpleasantness Table:
Effects of Mighty Blows (d20 + points below zero HP)
1-4:Merely a flesh wound! Continue fighting with a -2 penalty on attacks and saves.
5-7:Oof! Strike to the groin, head or other painful blow stuns the character for 1d3 rounds, and suffers a flesh wound as above
8-10:Crushing Blow! Character is stunned for 1d6 rounds, suffers a flesh wound, and must save versus petrification/paralysis or be rendered out of the fight – unconscious or otherwise crippled until healed.
11-14:Incapacitating Strike! Character is rendered unconscious or otherwise crippled and out of the fight until healed. Further, a saving throw versus death is required to prevent the obvious side effect of permanent and immediate death.
15-18:Deadly Blow! The character is dead.
19-20:Mangled! The character is dead, and body parts are missing, thrown around and otherwise mangled.
21+:Splatterfest! The character is not only dead, but is grossly dismembered and mangled beyond recognition.

For monsters and NPCs, just make a simple save versus death when reduced to damage from 0 to -5. If the save is successful, then the critter remains conscious but fights at -2. If the save fails, the critter is unconscious, if the save is a 1, the critter dies. If struck to -6 to -10, the critter is unconscious and dies if it fails a save versus death. At -11 and below, just kill the critter.
1-6: Flesh wound
7-11: Oof!
12-15: Crushing blow
16-18: Incapacitating strike
19: Deadly blow
20: Mangled
21+: Splatterfest
It occurs to me that it could easily be used as a standard combat Critical Hit system as well as for below-0-damage, though I'd probably run it in that case using a d12 rather than a d20 to avoid insta-death rolls; they're no fun for anyone. Or possibly I'd jiggle the numbers a bit to weight the chart more towards the broken-but-not-dead end, as shown here to the right:

This distribution only has a 10% chance of instant death, compared with the 30% in Dyson's chart, and some may see that as being soft, they may call me a big pussy, but I don't really care. If you get walloped again once you're down below 0hp, you're probably going to die or be horribly crippled anyway.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Reincarnation - Part II

It occurred to me that if I'm instituting level-loss as a side-effect of dying and being reincarnated in a resurrection-bush pod, that cuts out any chance of poor old ailing zero-level Auntie Flo making it to her next life. I don't want that; I want the possiblitiy of reincarnation to be possible across the board.

Therefore, this:
  • When you die and wake up in a pod, roll 1d6.
  1. If you roll a 1, you lose no levels at all.
  2. If you roll a 2-5, you lose one level.
  3. If you roll a 6, you lose two levels.
  • Newly-awoken bodies below zero-level are animated as zombies and can never again be reincarnated via the resurrection-bushes.
So, poor old ailing zero-level Auntie Flo has one chance in six of being reincarnated, and five chances in six of becoming a zombie. That's not great odds, but it's better than nothing. Muscular Mike the level one fighter has only one chance in six of keeping his level, but also only one chance in six of becoming a zombie.

Also, there needs to be some chance of outright failure, to spice things up:
  • After rolling for level loss, roll d%: on a score less than your new level, you are freed from the wheel of karma and the cycle of rebirth. No reincarnation, you are now one with the cosmos. Congratulations.

This means that a high-level character is actually less likely to be reincarnated than a low-level one. That's what you get for being more highly spiritually evolved.

Now, a newly-woken resurectee is a blank slate, a pure innocent without memory operating only on instinct. However, memories of their past life (or lives) return fairly rapidly. In terms of game mechanics, what this means is that a new resurectee begins to regain their old levels at the rate of one per 1d3 days, up to their maximum post-reincarnation level.

Note: magic-users will not regain the memory of any spells they might have had memorized when they died. Any spells will have to be relearned, if possible.

Resurectees will have access to any skills or knowledge appropriate to their current level as they develop, but as they come out of the pod naked and hairless, they will not neccessarily have the tools or equipment they need to take advantage of that knowledge.

Groves of resurrection-bushes would be valuable real-estate. Benevolent cults like the hospital order of the Little Sisters of Carnage would tend them, looking after the mindless and vulnerable resurectees as they emerge and dealing, as mercifully as possible, with any unfortunate zombies.

However, less public-spirited individuals or organisations would also be  very interested in gaining control of such groves. They would be a gold-mine for slavers, for example.

Friday 1 April 2011


There are a few science-fiction and/or fantasy novels in which character death is but a brief hiatus rather than The End.

In Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, in the earlier books at any rate, a character who is killed simply wakes up elsewhere, naked, hairless and adult, with full memory of events up until their death. In Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light there are resurrection machines, which will transfer one's consciousness into a new body — though they won't retrieve the consciousness of somebody who's already dead. There was another book I was thinking about a minute ago, but I've forgotten it...

Anyway, as a thought experiment I was wondering how to run a campaign along such lines as a means to handle character death and reintroduction. To maintain campaign continuity, we would have to use the Riverworld-type adult reincarnation; otherwise we'd end up with something more like the Bushido RPG's system of familial development and inheritance — not neccessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the campaign jumps forward in time every time you want to include a reincarnated character, as you have to wait for them to grow up again.

Note: If the Zelaznyesque reincarnation machines were used, they would have to be modified to work with a corpse to be useful in game terms, and in that case they really just become a replacement for the Reincarnation spell, so I discard them for the purposes of this musing.

We'd need to consider whether auto-reincarnation is universal, or if the PCs are somehow special in that respect. If it is universal, it would have profound effects on laws of inheritance and so forth, and birth rates would have to be rigidly controlled or else the campaign world would overpopulate in no time. Maybe it only works once adulthood is reached?

As far as game mechanics go, we'd need to consider whether the new character appears in its own body or gets a new one, and how much of their memory (i.e. class and level-based abilities) they retain. My personal preference would be to re-roll all character stats except for intelligence and wisdom, and to drop back one, or even two, levels. I feel that there needs to be some mechanical penalty to character death, if only to prevent munchkins unscrupulous players from attempting to improve their stats by repeated suicides, but at the same time I like the idea that one's new body might be an improvement on the old (or worse, that's cool too... though maybe not for the player).

Where and when does this new body appear? Maybe there are "resurrection bushes" in whose huge pods grow "empty" bodies; when somebody dies their ka or id (or whatever you want to call it) is immediately transferred to the nearest available fully-developed body. Maybe from time to time un-tenanted bodies also become active.... zombie plague, anyone?

How common are these resurrection bushes? Could every family have one in their back yard, lovingly tended to catch the ka of poor sickly Auntie Flo who's been feeling poorly for months now, or do they grow only in isolated areas steeped in magical mana? If they're common, it would be likely to affect the development of medicine, inasmuch as euthanasia becomes a viable treatment for any serious illness or injury. If they're uncommon, they'd be prized by the rich and powerful.

Is the reincarnation 100% reliable? Or is there a chance of failure? Either option has advantages and disadvantages as far as game play goes. I'd opt for a small, but significant, chance of failure, if only to allow for players who decide that they want to start again with a completely new character conception, and also because I feel that it benefits the game if death is sometimes death. I'd also probably (certainly) restrict it to human characters; immortals like elves clearly have no need for such a mechanism (being immortal), and besides, they get other perks, so screw 'em.

Once revived, the new (old) character would have to find their way back to their group, hopefully to reclaim any of their stuff that hasn't already been nicked by their comrades. They were just keeping it safe, honest.

I think a universal reincarnation mechanic could make for some interesting background details and adventure hooks for a campaign. Handled sensitively I don't think it would upset the balance of most campaigns, except perhaps those dark and gritty ones in which everyone is depressed and doomed all the time anyway. I think it bears more thought.