This is a departure from my usual – an illustration (at this point close but still unfinished – needed a break from it) for a ‘chapter book’ for young readers. ‘Chapter books’ are supposed to be the gateway drug that gets kids into reading novels so of course I am into that.
Ray Harryhausen, animator and special-effects artist, died the other day at the ripe old age of 92. I’m sad to see him go, but 92 is a pretty good run, so maybe he was ready to go. “Jason & The Argonauts” was the best damn thing I ever saw in the movies (skeleton fight!) and I’d rather watch it or King Kong than Star Wars or Avatar.
I don’t have anything profound to say about Harryhausen. This New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik is much better than anything I could write, anyway.
A few years ago I got this book on The Art of Ray Harryhausen by Tony Dalton – lots of great illustrations… and you get to see Harryhausen’s drawings where he figured out how the different critters should look. Reccomended.
I love the human feet sticking out of the mouth — and the curls on the creature’s back. Plus it’s got a face like a bear and very human eyes. The bestiary informs me that the ‘cocodrilus’ weeps after eating a man.
Inspired by this most excellent bestiary, I decided I wanted to try to draw an ‘ant-lion’ aka myrmecoleon. The bestiary tells me: There are two interpretations of what an ant-lion is. In one version, the ant-lion is so called because it is the “lion of ants,” a large ant or small animal that hides in the dust and kills ants. In the other version, it is a beast that is the result of a mating between a lion and an ant. It has the face of a lion and and the body of an ant, with each part having its appropriate nature. Because the lion part will only eat meat and the ant part can only digest grain, the ant-lion starves.
OK, well, I have already decided I want to go for version 2 because version 1 is probably only scary to ants. So I start thinking about ants and lions and how I can combine them… I look to my online bestiary for help and all I get is this:
OK, not quite what I was looking for… I’m guessing the above is a drawing of ‘version 1.’ So I looked at pictures of ants and pictures of lions and doodled some in my sketch book… not my best effort, but so far I have this:
My friend Jon C. just sent me links to these utterly fantastic narrative maps of Tomb of Horrors and White Plume Mountain made by an artist working for Wizards of the Coast. Its been decades since I adventured within these classics, but I was surprised at how much I remembered — White Plume Mountain, in particular, made a big impression… especially that room with the swinging chain platforms over the pit of boiling mud.
I don’t know if this sort of map would be practical for every purpose, but I love the 3d representation and the way you instantly understand the relationship between the different heights/depths on this kind of cut-away map. But I’ve always loved cut-away views of buildings, ships, etc. Witness my maps from Aldeboran that I posted in 2011. Not pretty or precise, but you get a sense of how the levels fit together (edit: I intended to say my maps from Tana Tak were not pretty — I think the Wizards maps below are plenty pretty).
Click images to see bigger:
A while back, Grognardia was working on collecting a book of fantasy gods made from descriptions and illustrations contributed by the masses which was to be called ‘Petty Gods’— a tribute to the old “Unknown Gods” published back in the day by Judge’s Guild (I still have my copy of ‘Unknown Gods’ squirreled away). At some point, the project stalled and Grognardia retreated from the public scene. Most people thought it was a shame because the contributor work had all been all or mostly done — someone said it just needed layout and editing and the book was just in limbo (which reminds me — I have several things to finish, but that’s another subject for another post).
Greg “Gorgonmilk” has been working on getting the stalled ‘Petty Gods’ book back up and running. To that end, Greg started trying to get in touch with the original contributers and re-assemble the book (or a close facsimile thereof)… and new suggestions for godlings, godlets and other divine beings began pouring in. Which is great because:
a) The ‘Petty Gods’ book was so far along that letting it stall seems a shame,
b) Rather than just pissing and moaning, Greg grabbed the gorgon by the horns and milked it! He got off his ass and did something… which is something we need more of in this world.
Now it seems that the original manuscript for Petty Gods has been discovered and released via free PDF! Get it from GORGONMILK here! The new contributions will apparently be assembled into another volume! It’s an Easter miracle! Thank the Rabbit God! Praise his chocolate eggs! And thanks to Gorgonmilk for lighting the fire that made it happen.
I didn’t get in on Petty Gods 1, but will contribute to the 2nd one. I have some illustrations of some divine beings based on an Arthur Maachen story (written up by Geoffrey McKinney) that I just finished (they need to be scanned) and am trying to contribute my own Petty God… a (very) minor deity named ‘Pafflum’ from my own Aldeboran campaign.
The above picture is a scene from some play about Mormonism. I think those are the ancient ‘Lamanites.’ Looks like something that would happen on Aldeboran. Although on Aldeboran it would probably involve a lot more stabbing and head chopping.
|Is that ‘Webberan of the North’ checking out the pit?|
“In Search of the Unknown” was probably the first ‘published’ adventure I ever played in. Before that, we used “Monster & Treasures Assortment” and “Dungeon Geomorphs” or, more usually, we just made our own dungeons — usually frantically drawing level 4 right after the session where the players almost finished exploring level 3, etc. There were hordes of creatures living in 10×10 rooms that shouldn’t have been able to fit it 10×10 rooms and levels full of a hodgepodge of creatures without a toilet or any food and water in evidence (well, no food other player characters I guess), traps that were probably as much or more of a hazard to the dungeon residents than the adventurers and gelatinous cubes sweeping the hallways clean after every expedition. And, right or wrong, that was how we did it. I’m inclined to say it was the right way, because we kept on playing.
We explored “In Search of the Unknown” with Bob W. as our DM (as opposed to my friend Bob C., who was the guy who asked me, “Have you ever heard of ‘Dungeons & Dragons?’ and probably ruined any chance I ever had of living a normal life). Bob W. had bought his own D&D set, and, instead of the geomorphs and treasure assortment, he had a copy of a newfangled thing called a ‘module*.’ We rolled up characters and in we went. Compared to what is available today, it was probably pretty tame stuff, but I remember thinking it was cool because there was a certain logic to the dungeon… here was a kitchen, there was a food storage room, etc. There were also things that you could interact with; I remember the ‘room of pools’ that had perhaps a dozen different wells, each of which contained a mysterious liquid that might heal or harm your character, so there were things to do other than just fight monsters and take their stuff. I began to incorporate that ‘logic’ and inspiration into my own dungeon designs. And, naturally, the temptation was to think that if a two level dungeon like Mike Carr presented in ‘In Search of the Unknown’ was good, an eight or ten level dungeon had to be better (OK, my logic was flawed, but, in my defense, I was a kid).
After a brief period of recently being ‘in vogue’ among the cognicenti of the OSR community, it seems as though the ‘megadungeon’ may be once again falling out of favor. This is the impression I get when I kibitz in online forums or read the usual blogs and what not. A few years ago people were raving about 100 room dungeons, now they are patting back their yawns and saying, “That is so 1975! And not in a good way…”
Part of the problem seems to be that when the online community talks ‘dungeons,’ mostly they talk about things to buy (i.e.: a book or a pdf with descriptions and maps). And the biggest complaint from ‘adventure buyers’ is whether or not an andventure was ‘worth the money.’ (This leads me to another thought: maybe the complainers should consider building their own rather than buying, but that is probably the subject for another post). There has also been, I suspect, a ‘lifestyle’ shift. When I was a pimply dork and first put pencil to graph paper to draw a dungeon, video games were in their infancy. Today, the idea of pretending to kill orcs, find treasure and gain XP (and thereby go ‘up’ in level so you can kill bigger orcs, etc.,) are concepts that most people know through video games or online MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. The idea of exploring a dungeon by drawing it out on graph paper seems as ludicrous as rolling a hoop down the street for ‘fun.’ The people I currently play with are completely uninterested in the idea of having ‘the dungeon’ be the campaign. They tell me it just sounds boring. It does not fit with their current life style. Unlike my 15 year old self, these people have families and jobs and kids to take to dance practice or soccer camp. Playing D&D is a twice-per-month extravagence (if they are lucky). They can play World of Warcraft or a similar game after they put the kids to bed; whent they manage to get away to play D&D, they want to have fun, joke around, drink beer and have a few interesting encounters that we can laugh together about. Then two weeks will pass before we can gather again and what happened last session might not be particularly fresh in their minds. Perhaps, rather than a map with 100 discrete encounters and dozens of different tunnels that need to be methodically explored, they want a ‘D&D’ session that plays out more like an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ or a similar TV show. The player characters will have a goal in mind, they pursue that goal, bad shit happens, dice are rolled, you try to prevail and bring as many player characters through the session as you can and then you end the session. Next session will probably start with another short term goal, perhaps new player characters to replace whomever they lost and off we go for another few hours of escapist entertainment and wisecracking. I’m not seeing how a multi-level dungeon with hundreds of rooms fits into that. Even adventures from the ‘golden years’ of Gary Gygax at the helm of TSR are going to fail to please people who have so few hours to devote to a very time intensive hobby. Something like the ‘Slaver’s Series’ (from the late 70s or early 80s, where the players had to figure out who was kidnapping citizens to sell as slaves) is probably too ‘complicated’ and long for the modern player. The hobby is changing because, maybe, the people in it are changing. I’m not saying that is a good or bad thing; but I think it may just be the truth.
So where does this leave the designer of megadungeons? I’m not sure. I don’t pretend to understand the market for anything, especially not for ‘hobby’ stuff that we are supposedly doing for our own pleasure. A few nights ago, however, I took out the maps and handwritten descriptions of one of my original megadungeons. I turned the pages and looked at the maps and remembered some of the encounters we had played out there in the old days and how much fun I had putting it together. I don’t think I can logically (or economically) justify any part of my hobby — if I wanted to make money, there are easier ways of doing it, but I have a hard time logically or economically justifying the things that bring me pleasure — and my own megadungeon has certainly been a lot of fun. I enjoyed playing it back in the day. I enjoyed designing it. And I still enjoy reading over the notes. If ever I manage to get it to the point where it will be ‘shareable,’ (a lot of work would need to be done), I’ll be interested to see what kind of reaction it gets. I can’t rationalize it as either a ‘waste of time’ or ‘time well spent’ because I think that kind of thinking misses the point. And maybe megadungeons are going to go the way of dancing the Charleston or the Lindy Hop — become something that people ‘used to do.’ I don’t know. I don’t think I care, either.
Also, check out this article on ‘Top 10 D&D Modules’ (yes, he uses that word) from `2 years ago on Wired.com.
*The term ‘module’ always made me think of ‘nodule’ (one of those tumors under the skin), which is not a good association.
|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?
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.
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.
|Not a scene from Prometheus… this is a parasite in some dude’s eyeball|
Due to a combination of getting a new day job (been on it since May 2nd so it still feels new)… and this being gardening season (so I’m doing a some work outside on the garden — and, yes, it is a garden since we are growing food and flowers and not grass and shrubs) plus some commissions, I’ve been pretty busy and the blogs have been languishing a bit. I’ve closed the other ‘word press’ blog down for now just to reduce the number of things I am ignoring, intending a re-design. I don’t know when I’ll get to that… if I never do, no big loss. Since I’ve been ignoring the blogs and haven’t been writing anything controversial or interesting anyway, my readership seems to have plunged, so I guess the world can afford to wait.
I never know how much to say about commissions I have been working on. If it is for a published product, I think it is probably best to let the publisher make the first announcement, and, once they do, I’ll try to make a mention of it here. I think I can say that there are some crowdfunding projects I have been associated with that are bearing fruit and others that are not without stepping on any toes. There are also some new adventures and things coming out of Goodman Games that I have been working on (some for DCC game, others not specifically aligned with DCC but more ‘general game freak interest’ things).
I have a bunch of artwork I would love to put in the etsy shop, but have been having trouble even imagining first matching scans and prices and sizes and descriptions with artwork, then loading all that info up on Etsy, then packing it all and shipping it out… taken by themselves, each of those tasks seems tiny, but you add ‘em all up and start wondering where your break-even point is as far as hours and aggravation spent versus dollars obtained.
This brings me to a problem. I like a lot of ‘bubblegum’ movies for what they are… thrills and action and near-mindless entertainment… so it seems unfair to compare ‘John Carter’ with ‘Prometheus’ simply because Prometheus was much more ambitious in its storytelling. And, honestly, the only reason I think to compare them are the fact that they are both ‘sci-fi’ and we happened to see them both on the same weekend. In the end, ‘John Carter’ failed for me because after the first 30 minutes I was willing to turn it off, whereas halfway through Prometheus I had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to leave the theatre because I didn’t want to miss any of it. And I guess that was the key difference between the two films for me. One of them left me not caring whether or not I saw it and the other had me wanting to see the whole thing. Maybe thats the thing I want from art/entertainment/whatever. I want it to be like an addictive drug. I want it to make me keep wanting it.
Planet Algol is asking for reader’s favorite adventure recommendations, but, speaking as someone who has enjoyed making up my own adventures almost as much as running them, I thought I would describe a few of the favorite adventures that I made up in broad strokes.
(at right, my illustration of one of the encounters in my megadungeon, “Mines of Khunmar”)
1) Mines of Khunmar: One of the advantages of making up your own is that you can be a lot more cavalier about the details since you will usually know what you mean and the briefest of notes will usually be sufficient. Years and years ago I created a ‘megadungeon’ in the old mode (like the dungeons of Castles Greyhawk and Blackmoor). Even after I stopped playing D&D, every once in a while I would look this thing over, sometimes adding a little more. It’s been decades since I have hosted an adventure in Khunmar (an outline version is floating round the internet). Khunmar has seven or eight main levels, many sub and side levels, etc., and consists of 30 to 40 maps, each with an average of 25 or so numbered locations. My rational was that Khunmar, like Tolkien’s Moria, was originally a dwarven mine/fortress which was subsequently abandoned and overrun by humanoids after the dwarves ‘delved too deep.’ The upper levels have areas controlled by goblins, kobolds, orcs, undead, etc., and nastier creatures lurk below.
Geoffrey (occassional reader of this blog) took scans of all of my handwritten notes and typed them up and I keep telling myself that I will use that to create a finished product; the only question is when.
2) Gastan’s Gold Mine: I created Gastan’s Gold Mine for my players back in the early 80s. The gold mine was accessible from 2 points: either down a well on an abandoned farm or through a cave occupied by a cave troll and over an underground chasm. The mine was infested by the animate bodies of dead miners, dead adventurers and dead goblins who were all infested by a black mold that animated them like zombies. If you were struck by a zombie, it was likely that you would be infested too (and eventually become a black mold zombie). Since the zombies were animated by mold, they could not be turned by a cleric (although I suppose a ‘control plants’ spell might work; the players never tried that). The zombies couldn’t cross the chasm or climb out of the well, so the mold zombies could not infest the surrounding countryside, but the body count from the mine (and the troll) was very high indeed. Large numbers of valuable gold nuggets could be looted from the mine but I think only 1/2 or less of the players made it out alive. The victims joined the other ‘mold zombies’ in the mine.
3) Marshville: I always liked the Lovecraft story, “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and created my own ‘deep one hybrid’ community for D&D I called Marshville. The players arrived in town and found the locals ugly, stand-offish and unfriendly. The towns resident drunk drops some ominous warnings before the locals slip him a mickey to shut him up and they make contact with a local old wise woman (one of the few pure humans left in town) who warns them to ‘get out while they can.’ They eventually got into a fracas with the locals and discovered that some of the towns older residents were more and more ‘fishlike’ and the residents of some of the older residents are equipped with bath tubs that the locals use as ‘beds.’ Eventually, the deep one hybrids turn pure fishman and retreat beneath the waves (I placed a temple underwater but never got around to designing that part of it but the players never went there anyway) There are tunnels and chapels to a perverted sea god under the town that the players explored and they employed hit-and-run tactics against the locals until finally having to leave town via a teleport spell since all of the residents (full fishman and still able to pass as human) were after them.
One of the peculiarities of the adventure is that the players left town with an unusually large number of magic tridents.
4) The Haunted Monastery: In my own homebrew world, I have a religion I call “The Allfather.” The Allfather’s followers are somewhat like the medieval Catholic Church; basically lawful but inclined to an excess of zeal and dogma. When local authorities make it possible, the Allfatherians persecute or forcibly convert non believers and some races (like elves) are declared an ‘abomination’ while others (like dwarves) are tolerated as second-class citizens who can never attain ‘grace’ through the church. The Allfatherians seek to form a theocracy with their clergy as rulers. The players happened upon an apparently abandoned Allfather Monastery high in the frozen mountains while attempting to lead a group of human slaves liberated from an underground village of goblins to safety. The monastery appeared empty and the slaves were freezing because they lacked food and clothing, so they took shelter there. A single monk, apparently mad, committed suicide by jumping out a window. The players discovered that there was an ancient crypt deep beneath the deepest cellar of the monastery that the monks had discovered and the monks were all gone because they had released a plague of undead as they sought to expand their beer cellar. The most powerful ghost was one that could freeze anyone who stood in proximity to it and drive people mad with his babbling. While there, one of the players picked up a cursed mace and then secretly began murdering the rescued prisoners (the other players had no idea that this was going on and assumed that the ghosts/zombies/ghouls were doing the killing).
If you haven’t been keeping up, I’m doing a comic book (ahem, graphic novel) about the life and work of Richard S. Shaver, the artist, writer, conspiracy theorist, outsider, etc. (chapter 1 was previewed here).
I haven’t tried to draw a comic book in something like 30 years, so I’m learning as I go along. But it’s been a very interesting learning experience, although it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
I started by trying to write out what I would have happen in the series, but that made it kind of difficult to imagine and I found myself writing things like, “1) Richard thinking, “I’ve got to figure out what is happening…” Foreman: “Get to work!” 2) Richard (working)”All right, all right.” I just didn’t think that kind of script would be very helpful.
I then started doing pencil sketches on notebook paper — just fast scribbles — as an outline. In this way, I could think about and work on pages as a complete unit. I’m not tied to a specific page count or layout, but I want to avoid having a particular interaction between two characters end on a page where the viewer/reader will have to turn the page to resolve that interaction.
Below is a sample page. This is page 1 of chapter 2.
I decided that the first 2/3rds of every page 1 of each chapter would be taken up by a ‘splash’ panel that sort of introduces each chapter. Between the time I drew the rough layout (above) and the chapter 2 page 1 (below), I decided to make the art of the ‘splash panel’ refer somehow back to the cover of one of the pulps. The splash panel from Chapter 1 was based on an Amazing Stories cover from one of the early issues that had the Shaver Mystery in it. The splash panel from chapter 2 is based on the artwork from another pulp from 1938 (can’t remember the title right now, but I’ve reproduced the art below (last picture in the thread).
After I have my rough layout, I begin drawing the panels on bristol board. I initally use hard pencil to rough out the panels and figures, then add the lettering and then try to improve/tighten up the drawing. When the pencil roughs look pretty good, I use a pen to ink all of the letters (lettering is my least favorite part), then I go in with brush, nib pen and a fine tip magic marker (usually in that order). Finally I use a little china white to cover any smudges or add white highlights. As you can see, I made a few changes between the ‘rough’ version and the inked art below. Instead of the woman being tortured (above), I borrowed the girl in chains being menaced by “Igor” (below) with some sort of furnace/idol in the background. In the panels below, I made a few changes, including giving Shaver’s wife more of a 1930s contemporary hairdo. There were also some small changes in dialogue.
Finally, below is a copy of the artwork I used for the inspiration of my chapter 2 splash panel. It’s a fairly typical pulp cover from the 1930s… you have a ‘mad scientist’ type lowering a woman into a glowing vat of some kind in the background while a girl chained to some girders is being menaced by a defective in the foreground. I liked the woman’s pose and thought the defective could model as a stand-in for one of Shaver’s dero. In case anyone is wondering, this picture was the model for the splash page of chapter one.