Jim Roslof is gone

I’m sure everyone has heard it by now. Jim Roslof, noted TSR artist(also worked forGoodman Games and others) died the other day. Roslof was an artist whose work I always enjoyed, but he wasn’t as much of an ‘iconic’ artist for me simply because Jim Roslof started working for TSR around the time that I stopped buying TSR products (which was 1982 — I think at that point Roslof had been working at TSR only a couple of years and had done things like the cover of Queen of the Demonweb Pits and a lot of illustrations inside ‘Deities and Demigods’ (both of which I had) as well as a lot of stuff for the ‘basic’ game (most of which I didn’t have since I was playing AD&D at that point)).
Everything he did that I saw, I liked. Unfortunately, I just didn’t see that much of it back in the day because I decided to try to concentrate on girls for a while instead of D&D (I soon discovered that I was a lot ‘better’ at D&D)… and by the time I came back to D&D many years later, Roslof no longer worked at TS (although neither did Gygax or anyone else whose name I probably would have recognized). I ended up getting a lot of the books that had his artwork in them by buying up second hand 1e stuff.
I did, however, have the honor of getting a few interior illustrations into Goodman Game’s DCC #28 (Into The Wilds) which was graced by a Roslof painting on the cover (see above right). So although I never met Roslof, I did at least share a publishing credit.
One of the things I really like about Roslof is that his artwork usually featured a lot of interactions between the different creatures and characters portrayed, as if each picture was telling the story of interactions (which is a nice metaphor for the way in which the game is played).

Simpleton Skills

I think if I had to have ‘skills’ of some kind in my RPG game, I would just prefer them be a roll modified by (maybe) level and (possibly) ability. So maybe if there has to be a ‘hide’ skill, it can be a class skill for thieves (and maybe hobbits) and a non-class skill for everyone else (since anyone can hide).
So for class skills like ‘hiding’ or ‘move silently’ for thieves maybe you have a base 50% chance +5% per level, +5% for a better dex, etc., if you are a thief and a base 25% if you are a non-thief, +5% for every 2 levels. There might be some skills that are reserved for a class: i.e.: only thieves can pick locks.
Of course, perhaps the 50%/25% assumes average conditions. An ‘easy’ task (like picking a cheap and crude lock) might get an automatic 25% bonus, while a harder one (like picking an expensive and well-made lock) might get a -25% penalty. For moving silently, a character in metal armor or attempting to walk across a forest floor covered in dry leaves might take a penalty.
That said, as I have posted umpteen times before, my default is to prefer to handle such actions by “talking” and negotiating between the DM and the player(s) whenever possible. So if the player wants to hide, the player simply announces that he will attempt to do so. The player might attempt to modify his chances for success by mentioning ‘how’ he will attempt to hide… i.e.: “I will hide behind the tree and I am wearing dark colored clothing…” in order to convince the DM to attempt to rule in his favor. The ‘verbal negotiation’ method is what I prefer for ‘social interactions’ and similar events.

Jesus Christ, I hate Windows.

I was a Mac user for years… and, to be clear, I’ve never been a computer ‘power user’ of any kind. I figure you can only be good at a limited number of things in life — I am fairly good at working with hand tools, plumbing, and other D.I.Y. construction projects, working with wood and metal, trapping animals like mice and squirrels, drawing and painting, etc. Pretty soon I’m going to start working on my marksmanship. To me, a computer is like a word processor that allows me to send email and edit digital pictures. Most people who consider themselves ‘computer experts’ probably would call me a ‘Luser.’ And that’s OK. When societal collapse (or zombie apocalypse) comes, all those grid-slaves will be totally fucked and I’ll finally have some skills of measurable worth.

A few years ago I needed a new computer (my Mac laptop had a bad video card and was ineligible for a 3rd replacement) AND I was taking some classes that required I use a couple of different programs that were not available for the Mac. So I said, “What the hell? How different can it be?” and bought a PC. And, 75% of the time, it was OK. But recently, every time I turn the fucking thing on, it tells me that it is ‘installing’ a program that I don’t use and didn’t want… and then it says it can’t find some resource needed for said program… so I hit ‘cancel’ and it does it again and again and again… up to a dozen times or more. First it was Norton Utilities. Then PDF Converter (which I do use (rarely)). Then ‘Sonic Media Author’ something or another. Then HP DVD something-or-another. Etc. I use ‘remove programs’ to remove the offending program and it usually does not work, so I have to search the net for a ‘removal tool’ or try to find the installer disc and remove it that way — all the while the computer is beeping and bonging at me and telling me that some resource is missing. What a pain in the fucking ass.

Plus, unlike on the Mac, system restore for Windows XP or Vista does not work. At least not for me.

Its true that the up-front cost of my XP machine and my Vista laptop were much lower. But now that both machines are out of warranty and the OS are (seemingly) less and less supported, the ‘pain in the ass’ factor is multiplied 100x.

I should note that I was a Mac user, but not a Mac lover when I had a Mac. If you had asked me at the time, I would have probably said the Mac was OK. Now that I’ve been using Windows for a few years, I love the Mac. Not because the Mac is good, but because Windows is so bad.

More positive press for Exquisite Corpses

Sometimes the web shows you some love. ‘C’ has posted a very positive review of my little book over at his blog-o-zine, Hack & Slash. Check it out, subscribe and then head on over to Lulu and buy a copy. If you already have a copy, buy another for the bathroom or guest bedroom!

Immersion through Interaction

I was having a conversation elsewhere where the topic of how the referee handles “searches” in the typical D&D game. Searches, in this case, includes looking for treasure or other items, especially places in which the items sought might not be obvious to the glance or included in the referees initial description of a locale.

Back when we first played D&D, we rolled for secret doors, but not for ‘concealed doors’ (i.e.: a door behind a tapestry that you could not see unless you pulled aside the tapestry). Things that were concealed the player had to find by describing where they looked. This was (as far as we knew), the ‘correct’ way of doing it. There were no ‘search’ or ‘perception’ skills. And, if I ran a game again, I think this is how I would like to handle it.

I recall describing the characters using poles or weapons to probe things that were suspected of being trapped, etc., rather than using a dice roll. So if you thought the floor was trapped, you might toss the corpse of a dead opponent on it, etc. Personally, I find this style of play (where the player describes what or how they do things and results are adjudicated from that) to be a more immersive one than using a funny accent while speaking in the first person, predetermining psychological quirks that will artificially govern your character’s actions, etc., simply because you weren’t playing a part — you were attempting to insert yourself, mentally, into the role of the adventurer. So if you were actually physically searching the laboratory of an evil wizard for a hidden treasure, where would you start looking? I suppose one could both speak with an accent and adjudicate searches verbally, but I would posit that using accents and assuming mannerisms often falls under the general rubric of ‘roleplaying,’ as in, “I am playing the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter who is stupid, superstitious and speaks with a broad Moronican accent…” I would offer that another interpretation of ‘roleplaying‘ might be, “I am placing myself in the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter. I have these items and these skills. The referee has described the situation. Using what I have available in the game, what would I like to do?”

The person I was having the discussion with thought that the method I described took too much time (as opposed to using a search skill or similar mechanic). I don’t honestly think it takes up more time to adjudicate such minor tasks verbally rather than rolling for it (assuming ‘rolling for it’ involves the referee determining some sort of target number, the player (or DM) rolling a dice and adding modifiers, then comparing what is rolled to the target number, etc.).

I did notice that when I did it this way a few years ago, I did not tend to have a lot of rooms or encounter areas crowded with lots-and-lots of furnishings simply because it could get tedious to have the players describe exactly how they were searching in the 900 nooks and crannies one might find in a room crowded with furnishings… and, honestly, as DM I made up a lot of the inconsequential details on the fly. So maybe ‘realism’ in terms of room furnishings takes a hit, but so what? As DM I was not above ‘fast-forwarding’ through searches or activities that were routine (i.e.: if the player found a store room with 100 crates and announced they would search each one for valuables, I would have just determined how many hours it took, rolled for wandering monsters and given them the run-down on the contents).

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Let the swilling of cheap beer dyed green begin! Don your green platic bowler hat and giant green sunglasses! Look forward to drunk girls flashing strangers and let people peeing and vomiting in the street commence! It’s Saint Patrick’s day! Or, as they call it in Ireland, “Thursday.”

I guess some people will also go to church.

Do you read Blogs?

Do you read blogs? Yeah, I know, a stupid question. Obviously, if you are reading THIS you probably* have read at least one blog at least once in your life (this one), but the topic seems to come up perennially (like crab grass) on discussion boards like Dragonsfoot (i.e.: this conversation here). And, from having read more than one of these discussions on DF, I get the feeling that a sizeable number** of people who might identify themselves as ‘players of “old skoole games” (whatever that might be)’ seem actually somewhat hostile to the idea of old skoole bloggers writing old skoole blogs. I didn’t start blogging until I got rather disenchanted by the ‘discussion forum’ scene. I still visit the forums (but not as much as when I had a really boring job at a desk that required I sit and wait for long periods of time until someone wanted something from me). I’ve been reading both blogs and Dragonsfoot for a while now (I don’t really visit many forums at all), and, given how much overlap there is between the two communities in both membership and interest, I find the hostility surprising.

And I suppose I count myself as an ‘old skoole blogger’ or a member of the OSR, even though I am not always certain what those terms mean to others. Then again, as a general practice I don’t think I can help what other people think… I can try to influence what they think, but as many ‘discussions on the internet’ seem to indicate, nothing on the internet seems as cherished as an opinion that someone else has disagreed with.

The argument against ‘blogging’ that seems to get raised again and again and again is that a) blogs are undemocratic and b) blogs are narcissistic.

In theory, I can see the point in the argument that “blogs are undemocratic because the blog owner is always in charge and can delete any of my comments and that seems unfair… plus I can’t start threads on your blog…” In practice, however, I’ve developed a very low tolerance for what some people consider a ‘contribution’ to a forum discussion and sometimes wish boards like Dragonsfoot would police their forums with a heavier hand (yeah, I know the irony of ME saying that) simply because there are (in my opinion), too many Dragonsfoot members who post what I consider ‘garbage.’ ‘Garbage’ (in my opinion) would include unnecessarily argumentative posts and replies (especially the ones where the responder offers a point-by-point refutation with quotes as to why the previous poster is an idiot), trolling (in all of its forms) and the dreaded self appointed ‘guardian of the board’ (who want to spend a great deal of time smacking down other members out of some sort of sense of ‘ownership’ of the forum because they spend a great deal of time there). All that ‘garbage’ makes wading and sorting through the trash in search of treasure all the more irritating. I actually like the ‘tighter focus’ that blogs engender simply because the democracy seems inherent in the medium because if I don’t like what you are saying on your blog, I can search out another blog I like better (or, even better, I can start my own). Taken singly, perhaps “blogs” do not seem democratic, but, viewed as a whole, they are perhaps MORE democratic because individual owners seem to be more more committed to making their blogs interesting and useful (perhaps because as bloggers we feel more of a sense of ownership of our own blogs). Perhaps blogs that are uninteresting to me just slide off my radar, whereas in a forum, I am continually having to ignore posts from some members. Everyone may have an opinion, and everyone may feel that they have the right to that opinion, but nothing says that I have to spend my time enduring them expressing that opinion.

We’ve had the conversation on DF about blogs where anti-blogites cite the inherent ‘egotism’ of the blog medium as a bad thing. I think the ‘egotism’ of blogs is not a bad thing; it MAY be a good thing. I read (or look at (because some of the blogs I follow are more pictures than words)) the blogs on my list because I find myself interested in what that person might have to say or show. If I’m not interested in what a blogger has to say, I don’t have to follow his blog.

on DF, Premier wrote:
What about ‘Content’ blogs as opposed to ‘Opinion’
ones? You know, stuff life Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets, all about
posting new monsters, spells, items and stuff. Do people read those, and why/why

I read both… I read all kinds of blogs. My favorites are the art blogs where people post pictures they have been working on (like Russ Nicholson) or pictures they think are interesting (like http://monsterbrains.blogspot.com/)… or some have ‘catch all’ blogs where people post whatever they want. In my own blog, I dump everything in the same place — art, politics, game ideas, etc (which may or may not be a good idea).

I actually think blogs have the possibility of being less narcissistic (I know that sounds counter-intuitive) than frequent posts on forums simply because the blogger usually invests a little more time and effort into putting the blog together. In many ways, as a reader of blogs I often find a new set of pictures on a blog like ‘monsterbrains’ (pictures of old magazine covers, comic books, etc., with monsters) or on Russ Nicolson’s blog to kind of feel like a treat for me since I usually enjoy what they put up and I might have never seen these images or read these words otherwise. When forum posts are good, they are a joy to read, but too often I have to wade through garbage posts and dickwagging to find my way to the good stuff. Reading yet another flame war on why the way so-an-so does initiative in AD&D is wrong-wrong-wrong (to name just one example) feels like more of an encounter with the narcissim of the participants than seeing some art or ideas for a campaign or someone’s musings on D&D in general (or so many other topics). I’m sure there are shitty, narcissistic blogs, but I don’t tend to read those… just like I skip a lot of posts and threads in the forums I visit.

*Before the pedants point out that someone could read these words elsewhere (like on a web aggregator or as a paper print out) and thus never direct their browser to a ‘blog’ and thus never actually READ a blog, I did say ‘probably,’ OK?
**I have no idea of the actual numbers but suspect it is a small yet determined bunch on Dragonsfoot. The disposition of “anti-OSR blog people” elsewhere is unknown to me.

Pages from the Yaqqothl Grimoire

Nicolo (of The Yaqqothl Grimoire) is putting out a fanzine for Old School Games and I will be doing some illos! Tentative title is “Pages from the Yaqqothl Grimoire.” Look for it in April/May.

From his message to me describing the blasphemous book:

The zine will include:
– three new classes (barbarian, goblin and ghoul) and a revised thief
– rules for laser weapons in A/OD&D
– some new spells
– and a complete, tiny, lovecraftian sandbox, featuring Tower of the Re-Animator (a full adventure), a really weird jungle and an Innsmouth like village (complete flashed out)

I’m not certain how to pronounce “Yaqqothl,” so I am going with “Yah-kaw-thil” till I find out otherwise.

(I did not draw this cool illo; it’s from Nicolo’s blog header and I really like it. Look at that spooky evil fat bastard!)

Pages from the Yaqqothl Grimoire

Nicolo (of The Yaqqothl Grimoire) is putting out a fanzine for Old School Games and I will be doing some illos! Tentative title is “Pages from the Yaqqothl Grimoire.” Look for it in April/May.

From his message to me describing the blasphemous book:

The zine will include:
– three new classes (barbarian, goblin and ghoul) and a revised thief
– rules for laser weapons in A/OD&D
– some new spells
– and a complete, tiny, lovecraftian sandbox, featuring Tower of the Re-Animator (a full adventure), a really weird jungle and an Innsmouth like village (complete flashed out)

I’m not certain how to pronounce “Yaqqothl,” so I am going with “Yah-kaw-thil” till I find out otherwise.

(I did not draw this cool illo; it’s from Nicolo’s blog header and I really like it. Look at that spooky evil fat bastard!)


Yesterday The Day before yesterday I posted some stuff about my homebrew world. I wasn’t posting it to propose a new game for me to participate in or run; I was just trying to distract myself with some wool-gathering on more pleasant topics than the class warfare that dominates Wisconsin and Michigan right now, or the tsunami in the East or the perfidy of American politicians and corporations…. I was trying to distract myself with more pleasant thoughts, even as I get ready to pay my yearly taxes (groan — I don’t mind paying, I just wish the powers that be did something better with the money).

At right is a map I made many years ago and upon which I set many campaigns. Compare it to yesterday’s map of the same continent (somewhat revised). I actually feel like I have A.D.D. when it comes to this map — I’ve redrawn it several times, and, for my ‘world building as occasional distraction’ thing, I’m not sure which version I would use.

As an introduction, in the center of the map is ‘Catatonia’ (“Catatonia” was a reference to the mythical geography of a parody of World War 2 in one of the episodes of ‘The Three Stooges’ (along with ‘Moronica’) rather than a reference to the the Welsh power pop group). The capital of Catatonia, the city of Eord, is one the shore of the Strait of Belar just below ‘The Sinking Lands’ and west of Bleekwood (on some maps renamed Blackwood) forest. Eord is my world’s ‘Blackmoor’ or ‘City of Greyhawk.’ It is one of those cities with a lot of traders, alchemists, guilds, etc., and is also the home to ‘The Golden Palm,’ an inn where many adventures start. Eord is also the location where the grandmaster of The Red Hand (an order of assassins) supposedly has his office (or her or it’s — no one is really sure…) . The famed adventurers, Karrl and Bluddo, usually can be found in Eord between adventures.

South of Eord is the village of Nibblot which appears in just about every fantasy game I have run since 1982 or so. “The Stumble Inn” is a popular starting point for most adventurers. Although a small town, Nibblot is a trading center and has most things and adventurer might need.

South of Silver Vale (Nibblot is in Silver Vale) lies ‘The Valley of the Fu.’ The Fu bird is a gigantic multicolored creature who causes misfortune to all who see it… usually by shitting on them. In this vicinity are also East Vale, Silver Vale, etc.

The Red Mountains (also in this vicinity) are home to the dreaded Red Dwarves… who are cannibals and thoroughly unreasonable savages who fatten themselves up by devouring all of the poets and landscape painters who come to be inspired by the scenic beauty of the Silver Vales and Red Mountains at dawn or dusk. Their tattered composition books, rain-soaked canvases with broken easels and well gnawed bones can be found if you check the underbrush near the popular ‘look out’ spots.
Northwest of Eord are ‘The Sinking Lands.’ These swampy lands are run by the Archmage of Mystik (that is the name of his town). Years ago we had a pasteboard model of ‘Mystik Seaport’ in Connecticut and I had always intended to use the little paper buildings as a setting since they were approximately the right size(we also had paper models of The Alamo and Monticello), but I never did and have no idea what happened to the paper models. The sinking lands are home to all sorts of monsters. On my older map, the City of Mystik seems to have been located in The Southron swamps but at some point I moved it to the Sinking Lands. Mystik and Eord have an uneasy relationship… mostly because while the Archmage is not an unreasonable person, most of his subjects view the humans and demihumans of Eord and The Vales as ‘food.’ Sometimes it sucks being human.
I’ll keep posting this kind of stuff (including details of the rules I’d like, etc.) for as long as it remains fun.