Excuse me, sir, but can you fix my glaive guisarme?

The dudes to the L and R of the anvil appear to be whacking themselves in the foreheads

Ok, so in the real world I need to fix shit (or hire someone to fix shit) all of the time… or replace shit that has worn out. Pipes leak, shoes wear out, food rots or gets eaten — even this sack of blood and meat I call my body needs the occasional repair. In D&D world, stuff never really seems to break.  You can buy that sword at 1st level, and, assuming you don’t hit a rust monster or a black pudding with it, still be using when you are 10th level without ever even having sharpened the damn thing. Of course, by the time they are 10th level, most player will have a pile of magic swords to choose from (unless their DM is a real skin flint), but you get my drift.

I remember in 1st edition AD&D, Gygax suggested you charge player characters x amount per month per level for upkeep (I don’t remember what he called it) and I guess that was supposed to represent hair cuts, getting your boots resoled, the occasional clean shirt or new pair of socks, armor and weapon repairs, etc. I don’t remember ever enforcing that rule (or having it imposed on my character when I was a player), but the Gygaxians will claim that ‘Saint Gary already covered that.’ And I’m not sure that having players deduct 3 silver pieces from their inventory every time they need to get a haircut or their bowstring replaced is going to feel like the ‘stuff of high adventure,’ but since D&D first caught my fancy because it was ‘less abstract’ than other games I had played up until that point, the occasional lack of abstraction within the game can sometimes be jarring or amusing. Greyhawk city is probably chock full of shoe repair shops, but the rules don’t have any accommodation for forcing the players or NPCs to go get their shoes repaired… so how do all of those shoe repair shops stay in business?

Two of my favorite video games, Fallout 3 and Oblivion, have some accommodation for repairs.  In both these video games, armor and weapons wear out as you use them… every time an enemy hits you, the degree to which your armor protects you drops a little bit.  Every time you use a weapon, it wears a little bit and gets a little less effective. In Oblivion, you can purchase ‘repair hammers’ and use them to repair your weapons or armor (how much they repair it depends on your character’s repair skill, but, bizarrely, these little blacksmith hammers disappear as you use them). As an alternative, you can take your equipment to a blacksmith and they will repair it for a price. In Fallout 3, there are merchants who can repair things for you for a price, or, if you have 2 items of the same type (like 2 laser pistols), you can use 1 item to repair the other, leaving you will 1 item in better shape.  The item you used to repair with disappears (and the game makes a little ‘repair’ sound which sometimes sounds like someone tearing off a length of duct tape — which always makes me chuckle). In both games, how high your repair skill is governs how well you can repair. After a while, in both games, I find the ‘repair’ concept gets a little tedious, although I do wonder how my Fallout 3 character takes 4 worn out shotguns and with the click of a mouse creates 1 really good shotgun with no parts left over. Since it’s a computer game, though, you don’t have to track the current condition of your armor and weapons; the computer does it for you.  If you had to keep track of that using paper and pencil, it would require too much effort.

And ‘too much effort’ probably describes why I won’t have rules for wear and tear and repair in Aldeboran (although I guess since the combat “fumble” tables I use have a chance for your weapon to break, so there is a chance a player might need to seek out a repair person from time to time). Things needing repair seems pretty mundane — certainly not what I imagine when I say “adventure.”


Barrowmaze Two now on sale

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) probably already know that I have been working on illustrations for Barrowmaze Two, the followup to Barrowmaze One by Greg Gillespie (aka Kilted Yaksman). After a successful Indieagogo campaign to fund production and printing, Greg has published the book; PDF copies are available through RPG Now, and I think the word is that books should ship to backers in early late October (just in time for Halloween spelunking!).

I just downloaded my PDF; skimming through, it looks like a lot of fun with cool magic items unique to the Barrowmaze and lots of kick ass illustrations by Zhu Bajie, Alexander Cook, Ndege Diamond, Cory Hamel, Trevor Hammond, Jim Holloway, John Larrey, Scott LeMien, Jason Sholtis, Stephen Thompson and me!  Plus there is a really cool character sheet for Labyrinth Lord in the back created by Zhu Bajie.

I haven’t read it yet… just flipped through the pdf… but what I have seen looks really cool. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are a lot of random tables and suggestions for how to handle repeated forays into Barrowmaze by player characters that many fans of the ‘Megadungeon’ will enjoy, plus maps, unique creatures, etc.

Here are some of my contributions:

Cover Art: Acid breath from undead dragon! The cleric is done for!

A witch cooking what looks like “Player Character Stew!”

For some reason the mope on the left cracks me up every time I look at him.

“Which way do we go next?” The fighter-guy in the middle is kind of a self portrait.


Spam Folder

I don’t know who originally decided to refer to junk email as ‘Spam,’ but I think it was a stroke of genius. Every once in a while I have a reason to search through my spam folder for something, and it can feel like searching through a pile of gristle, fat and cow-snouts.

Fun fact: I knew someone who grew up in the Asian-American community in Hawaii. She said that her grandparent’s generation had all sorts of recipes involving canned Spam because, during WW2, it was the only meat (other than fish) that you could get in Hawaii that was remotely close to affordable for most people.

One thing that caught my eye this morning was the large number of spam messages advertising dating services for ‘Christian Singles.’ Really? I’m not on the market, but somehow having my pool of potential dates limited to Bible thumpers is the least appealing potential pitch I’ve heard in a long time.


Keep on the Borderlands

If you started playing D&D in 1982 or so, you were here at some point.

I think might be just a year or two older than the average forum lurking, blogging OD&D enthusiast because I didn’t know anything about one of the old game’s quintessential adventures, “Keep on the Borderlands” until years after it had been released.  My first D&D set had a book of rules, some dice, a ‘Monster & Treasure” booklet  and some maps that looked like Gary Gygax got stoned and covered a couple of sheets of graph paper in rooms and hallways that went nowhere. But for so many of my fellow enthusiasts, Keep on the Borderlands is still the true shizzle, the distillation of the D&D experience, the original article, what the game is all about, the ultimate adventure, the yardstick by which all other adventures are judged, etc. And yet I never played in it.  What did I miss?

According to Weakypeedia, Keep on the Borderlands was first printed / published in 1979/1980… and I think I first started playing in 1978 or so. After I got my start playing in someone else’s D&D campaign, it was love at first sight.  We sat down and rolled up ability scores, then Bob,  the guy who was running the game, looked at our scores and said things like, “You have a high strength; you should be a fighter… but if you become a dwarf instead, you will also get infravision… whereas, if you have high intelligence, you can be an elf… etc., etc…”
“What’s infravision?” we would ask… but we were already hooked.  My first character was an elf who had armor and weapons, a bow and arrows, spells (including ‘magic missile’; I was probably dissapointed to discover that my ‘magic missile’ was more like an arrow and less like an ICBM) and infravision as well as an assortment of ‘dungeoneering’ gear like flasks of oil, spikes, holy water, etc.
Having rolled up our characters, we would then go off to the dungeon.  And these early games had a ludicrously simple premise.  We were adventurers.  We gathered in the ‘town’ (I don’t think Bob’s town even had a name) and supply ourselves with swords, pointy-hats, torches, iron rations, coils of rope, etc.  And then we would tell our DM, Bob, that we were going ‘to the dungeon’ (which was apparently a short walk from town).  Bob described the dungeon entrance as a pair of rusted iron doors in the side of a rocky hill that led to a flight of stairs going down.  With graph paper and torches in hand, we would enter.

There was little rhyme or reason to those early dungeons. There would be hallways with doors sprinkled around at random and rooms filled with monsters. One room might have a group of zombies guarding a chest of silver coins, the next room might have goblins or giants spiders, etc. I don’t think any of us wondered who put the coins there or why the zombies were guarding them. We didn’t question the existence of the dungeon or why the goblins in room 2 were still alive when there was a hungry owlbear in room 3. Perhaps we were young and unsophisticated in our entertainment (the original ‘Battlestar Galatica’ was still on TV and video games were in their infancy — PONG, Centipede, PAC-MAN, etc., were considered ‘cutting edge.’). But I also think there was something else going on. We were snot-nosed punks who didn’t know shit from shinola and this game was challenging us in ways we hadn’t encountered before. We got to choose between actions and consequences. If Jim’s character was down to his last few hit points, did you announce that your character was going to jump into the fray and try to save Jim or did you slam the door and run, leaving him to his fate? We also learned of social consequences: stabbing your buddy in the back meant that his NEXT character was quite likely to stab YOUR character in turn. Maybe the consequences were not real, but the social consequences of behaving like a dick in the game taught some of the less socially gifted of our circle some good lessons in social behavior.  Sometimes I wonder if this crazy game didn’t help some of us develop into actual people instead of the mouth-breathing cretins that we might have otherwise become. Or, maybe I’m just trying to justify all the time I wasted fighting orcs and ghouls while the dean of students told us we were ‘never going to amount to anything’ if we continued to play ‘that stupid game.’

So, how do we compare an adventure like ‘Keep of the Borderlands” to (for lack of a better name), “Bob’s Town and Dungeon”?  (which was followed by “Stefan’s Town and Dungeon” after Bob gave up DMing duties, but I digress…)  As far as a document to read, ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ is/was doubtlessly better — it features Gygaxian prose (Gygax loved his thesaurus).  My home made dungeons were usually nothing more than maps with creatures and treasures tossed randomly together scrawled out in pencil; Borderlands has a fully detailed town with shops, an inn, guards, etc, with maps, illustrations, etc.  The ‘Caves of Chaos’ consists of a valley filled with numerous caves (some of which interconnect) filled with different tribes (orcs, gnolls, goblins, etc.).  The fans of the ‘strictly realistic’ might not find the ‘Caves of Chaos’ to their taste; it’s a bit like a “Holiday Inn” where gangs of different humanoids have checked into each suite and there are occasional rumbles down by the ice machine, but, compared to my home-made dungeons, it reads like it was written by a team of sociologists attempting to describe a dungeon eco-system with a roughly defined sort of a circle-of-life where the orcs ate goblins, goblins ate kobolds, kobolds ate rats, etc.

However, part of the problem with ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ is that it is a pre-fabricated fantasy mini-setting that has (for better or worse) defined much of what came after it. I’ve always thought that part of the fun of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ was the dungeon building part of the game. As a youngster, I liked sitting down with my graph paper and notebooks and drawing hallways, caves, rooms, etc., and then trying to decide what went where, all in preparation for the point when a group of players was going to come in, knock down the doors, kill the monsters (or die trying) and loot what they could. Using a pre-made adventure felt like cheating. And, to be fair, Bob (my first DM), did try to roll with the punches and expand his setting as we returned, again and again, to play. We once found a cache of potions and the first player character to sample one died from poison. As players, we were then paralyzed with fear. None of us wanted to try a potion because we were certain it would be poisonous. Bob got past this roadblock by suggesting we take the potions to the town alchemist who would identify them for a small fee. I also remember Bob introducing wandering ‘adventurers’ who would give us hints or a little help from time to time. One of the advantages of having an ‘ill defined’ campaign is that one can always shoehorn in an alchemist, armorer or wandering cleric where one is needed. Similarly, I remember Bob later giving us hints that the ‘dungeon’ we were exploring was actually part of a massive underground fallout shelter and many of the creatures within it were the result of mutations gone wild by exposure to radiation — hardly ‘novel’ now, but it seemed pretty cool when he introduced the idea back in the day (Bob was also a WW2 buff; I think part of his goal was to eventually have us find Garand rifles and hand grenades in the deep recesses of the dungeon but I’m just guessing). On another occassion we stumbled into an evil gnome courtroom where another group of adventurers were on trial for ‘crimes against gnomes’ and we had to fight the whole court — judges, jury, etc. I don’t know if he thought these things up on the spur of the moment or if he had planned them before hand; all I know is that we had a lot of fun. One of the problems with playing someone else’s pre-written adventure is that you can always feel like if you make changes, you might be ‘doing it wrong.’ And, during the 1980s, one of the reasons I quit playing D&D for years was that the ‘You are doing it wrong!’ editorials in the Dragon got a bit much (or maybe I was ready for a break). As time went on, and the more I read  prefabricated adventures written by ‘professionals,’ the less time I spent designing my own (and the less I valued my own creations).  That’s kind of fucked up. “Paint by Numbers” might be a shorter, quicker path to a painting that the vast majority of people will recognize as a good representation of a horse or a clown or whatever it is that you are painting, but maybe ‘paint by numbers’ sometimes misses the point of personal expression that can come about when you sit down with a piece of canvas or paper and some paint and try to make a painting. Maybe ‘professionally designed’ adventures can be a crutch… I don’t know; I’m just musing here.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, one of the advantages of the pre-made adventure is that you can discuss it afterwards with other enthusiasts.  The forums are filled with excited discussions of, “This is what happened when we played through ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ back in the day…” Maybe adventures like ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ are a part of the shared experience of the hobby. Perhaps rejecting ‘Keep’ is a form of throwing the baby out withthe bathwater. But, fuck it, part of the point of having a blog is putting whatever crazy thoughts are rolling through my head out there so anyone who cares to can read them.

Maybe I’m reaching when I compare my 13 year old self sitting down to ‘draw a dungeon’ to an artist  painting a canvas… but if there is a creative component to it, I’m reluctant to disavow that by saying, “Well, Gygax is the professional, so we should stick with, ‘Keep on the Borderlands.’” Part of me feels like when people who gather to play D&D end up running nothing but pre-made adventures, they will be missing a big part of the fun (making shit up).  Back in the day, one of the slogans of TSR (original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons) was, “Products of your Imagination.” If I remember right, it was printed right there on the front of “Keep on The Borderlands.” Indeed.


Beyond The Black Gate Art

Here is a short, step-by-step of how I produced a full page illustration for Goodman’s adventure, Beyond the Black Gate.
The original art is drawn on 14×17 inch Bristol and reproduces down to around 8.5×11 inches.
You can learn about the adventure here: http://www.goodman-games.com/5072preview.html
I start off with a pencil drawing which is pretty rough. The client usually sends a description with things that he specifically wants in the image; in this case, adventurers investigating mummies with terrified/frozen looks on their faces, a brazier that burns with an icy, swirling misty tentacled fog and a huge egg on a fur on an altar made of a big block of ice (if I remember right). I drew my usual freakish-looking adventurers with goggling eyes and WTF expressions. (click any image to enlarge).  In this case, I wanted to leave a space at the top for text, etc., and told the client I would make that part a solid black.
After the client has had a chance to see it and make any necessary changes, I go in with ink, using a combination of old fashioned ‘dip’ pens with india ink, brushes and rapidiograph and similar pens for finer lines.  During inking I sometimes go back in with ‘china white’ (opaque white paint) to put white marks in over black and get good crosshatching effects, but I don’t think I did that here.
Below is the art as it reproduced in the final publication (you can see the copy up top).


Post Apocalypse Survival Guide: Food and Water

Grabbing some neccessities!

Food and Water

Ideas for more and more entries in my ‘Apocalypse Survival Guide’ are coming fast and furious, especially when I am tasked with more mundane things like sorting socks or figuring out my insurance bill. For your handy reference, I have added a sidebar (look right) where these handy guides will be stored for your use.
Today’s subject is ‘Food and Water.’ A more accurate title might be, “Extended plans for Food and Water,” because it’s safe to assume that our short-term plans will all be pretty much the same — raiding the “Super Duper Mart” (or its real world equivalent) for packaged, preserved food and bottled water.


Well stocked survival shelter!

The first problem with the most obvious plan is that everyone else will have thought of it, too. Wal Mart, Krogers and Target are going to be busier than they have been on any black Friday, and it’s not going to be polite shoppers respecting the one-to-a-customer and first-come-first-served rules.  It’s going to be a bloodbath, and, if the Zero-day scenario we are thinking of involves infection or zombification or rage virus, the middle of a crowd of angry and possibly infected shoppers is the last place you want to be. Anyone else remember “The Day After” movie from 1983? This film followed a handful of people around Lawrence, Kansas just before, during and after the bombs drop.  The one scene that sticks out in my mind as unintentionally hilarious was the part where people are frantically shopping at the local grocery store and the cashiers and baggers ringing up and bagging as fast as they could as people buy up all the batteries and Frankenberry. I don’t know about you, but if I was a teen age grocery bagger, I would tell Mr. Whipple to fuck himself and start looting the liquor aisle.  When you see people trampling a store employee to death during a ‘Black Friday’ Christmas sale, it’s doubtful that they are going to patiently wait in line when they think bombs are going to start dropping.

Hopefully you have enough shit at home to can get you through the first few days or weeks and don’t even have to set foot in the stores on Zero day. I don’t think bottled water goes bad; buy a couple of cases RIGHT NOW and stash them somewhere where you won’t be tempted to deplete your chances of survival every time you come back thirsty from a jog or a bike ride. Maybe put up some canned food and other shit as well. And aren’t all Mormons supposed to keep a stash of emergency food at home? Mitt and his pals are going to be sitting pretty when zero-day happens.

Food distribution warehouses are probably also a no-go, unless you and your well-armed band of squatters get there first. Canned goods and sealed stuff will be your treasure — the frozen food, dairy and produce are going to start rotting as soon as the grid goes down.

OK, but what happens when the canned food runs out or those who have control of the existing stockpiles refuse to share?  I suppose you could go all ‘Fallout 3’ on their asses and grab your hunting rifle and Pip boy and try to pick-em-off one by one — good luck with that idea.  Here are some alternatives, presented in no particular order:

1)      Gretel the Dog: I have a dog that has (no shit) killed about 100+ squirrels over the course of a couple of years.  She’s a fast and fierce Chow/Retriever mix who, at 80 lbs, is all muscle. Her secret is that she will chase the squirrel into an isolated tree and then just bark at it with her really loud, hoarse bark and the squirrels (usually) lose their shit and decide to try to jump to another tree rather than just waiting the dog out. When they miss their jump because they are scared shitless over the strength and volume of her bark, she grabs them with the jaws of death and it is game over. One morning, the ‘squirrel killer’ joyfully practiced her deadly trade in full view of our neighbors who were trying to enjoy a brunch with some elderly relatives, so we decided to end the ‘dog versus squirrel’ gladiator show.  Now we let the slow dog out first.  The slow dog chases the squirrels away before killer can come out.

As a survival strategy, however, I don’t think my killer dog brings back more protein than she burns.  If things got bad I’m sure we’d be grateful for the contribution, but we’d probably just be better off eating the dog food.  Once you skin, clean and bone a squirrel, there’s not a lot of meat.

The more pragmatic and heartless might point out that a dog is a meal that hasn’t been cooked yet, but I’m not one of those people.

2)      Benjamin Air Rifle: When I was a kid, a friend had a ‘Benjamin Air Rifle’ that shot little pellets that looked like lead mushrooms. Instead of putting CO2 cylinders in it, you had to pump the forearm like a bicycle pump, which was a lot of work for our skinny little kid arms, but unlike to air rifles that used CO2,  you would never need to buy/find more CO2 cylinders. I’m sure you could take down a squirrel or a rabbit with it… plus it made very little noise so you wouldn’t let the other wastelanders know you were out there. Of course, the success of this strategy assumes that there IS any small game to hunt (see Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”). Perhaps a crossbow or compound bow would be good for larger quarry, but requires a lot more skill to use.

3)      I live in an older neighborhood that was in the middle of the country a few decades ago, but urban sprawl has grown up around the area where my house is.  As a result, deer wander through our backyard almost every night, eating our coleus and tomato plants and looking at us with amused expressions when the dogs bark at them. The deer are so accustomed to humans that you could get within 10 or 12 feet of one and shoot it between the eyes with a handgun before the rest caught on, but I suspect that when food gets scarce, every redneck within 100 miles is going to be hunting in my backyard whether I want them to or not. Less than $120.00 US can get you a surplus Mosin Nagant 91/30 rifle and a few boxes of ammo that will allow you to hunt deer — many vendors will also throw in a bayonet!  This is the rifle the Russians used to fight WW1 and WW2 and recently hundreds of thousands of well-preserved 91-30s have been dumped on the used rifle market in the US — the Russians use this as a sporting rifle to take down bears, so it would also knock down a deer or a human, no problem. The 7.62x54r cartridge, however, isn’t exactly common, so you better stock up now.  The 91/30 is also about 4’ long and 9 lbs heavy; I’d rather have a lighter weight classic Savage or similar bolt-action deer rifle with a scope in .30-06 or similar, although  that kind of hunting rifle is going to start at around 400+ clams.

4) Canada Geese: They are all over the place. You can probably hunt them with your car if you don’t have a shotgun. We also get a few wild turkeys in my part of the state, although both the turkeys and the geese are MEAN.  Some of the turkeys took out a dude who was jogging in the woods near my house. The turkeys flew at his face, claws extended, and he went down and broke his arm. Had this been a real post apocalyptic situation, he would have been coyote food in a few days.

5) Foraging: I know a couple of plants that are edible, but I don’t know how long I would live eating only boiled nettles, gooseberries, purslain, wild onions and cattails. In our foodless future, the national parks will probably be littered with the corpses of amature foragers who couldn’t tell the difference between morels and fly agaric. I’d suggest getting a good book with good illustrations, but I took one of these ‘natural food guides’ out on the trail and then looked at the mushrooms growing along the side of the path, carefully comparing them to the pictures and descriptions and still had no idea if the fungus I was looking at was going to be delicious with butter OR was going to kill me in less than 30 minutes if I ate it… so I went back home and opened a can of Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.

6) Poor Man’s Lobster: I’m talking ‘Arthropods!’ Beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and similar bugs may be disgusting to you now, but just wait till you are hungry enough! True story: I once met a guy from South Africa who told me that he was really grossed out by the sight of people eating lobsters and shrimp… even though, back in the homeland, he and his family ate termites. I asked him why the shrimp and the lobster grossed him out, and he replied, “They look like bugs!”  I replied that termites looked like bugs, too, and he aswered that he knew his disgust was illogical, but he had never seen anyone eat lobster or shrimp until he was in his late teens and old enough to travel, whereas he had been eating termites all his life… so termites were the bugs he was used to eating, whereas lobsters were just gross — especially when he saw them scuttling around in the tanks at the grocery store. How long will it take hungry Americans to look forward to a meal of beetles or grubs?

 

 


WTF, Abuelita!?!

I thought it was going to take a while to top yesterday’s news bit about Limbaugh and the shrinking penis, but the internet did not disappoint and another example of the douchebaggery of humans delivered itself to my inbox today. I offer it up for your edification:

If you were wondering, that’s “Beast Jesus” on the far right.

 I’m sure you heard about the grandmother who ‘restored’ a heavily damaged fresco of Jesus in a church in the town of Borja, Spain (and by ‘restored’ I mean she transformed Jesus into some sort of chimp-like humanoid with a smear for a mouth). She explained that she thought she could just ‘fix it’ but the restoration job ‘got out of hand.’  This makes me wonder what, exactly, all the people who saw her painting in the church thought she was doing — church attendance in Borja must be way down. Seeking to make lemonade out of a ruined fresco, the church noticed that people who had heard about the ‘Beast Jesus’ (as they now call it) on the internet were willing to pay to see it, so they started charging an entrance fee (the money changer IS the temple, I guess). They collected 2,000 Euros in 4 days! A miracle.

Cecilia Gimenez, the ‘restorationist,’ isn’t pleased. After ruining the fresco, thereby turning it into a tourist attraction, she thinks she deserves a cut.

I’m especially enamored of the painting’s new moniker, “Beast Jesus.” My Facebook friend Rene says “Beast Jesus” needs to be the name of a Black Metal band.  Thank you, Facebook!