Good Press! Game Developer Magazine

Just a quick note to wish everyone a happy holiday and mention that I just had an illustration published in Game Developer Magazine.

Game Developer Magazine is an industry publication for people who create video games, so you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local news stand. A big thanks to Brandon Sheffield and Jeff Fleming of GD Magazine for the chance to have my work appear in your magazine — consider me ready to draw whatever you need in the future!


Adventuring for fun and profit.

Last night I played Oblivion on the computer (with frequent pauses for visits to the latrine because I was sick in a not so nice way). Verisimilitude took a big hit as my character was in a cave high in the snow covered mountains with a lot of loot I wanted to carry back to town. Unfortunately, the character lacks physical strength… so I stripped myself naked (there is snow on the ground, so I’m guessing it’s supposed to cold up there) and drink a “feather” potion that allows me to carry more stuff. The potion is supposed to last just a few minutes, but I have discovered that if I pick up all of the stuff (which is so heavy I can’t move) and then drink the potion, I can run outside and if I hit the ‘fast travel’ button before the potion runs out, my character’s horse will take me to the town. Here I will abruptly stop moving because the weight of all my treasure is too much…the horse disappears (a message assures me that the horse is at the stable) and I have to drop 3/4s of the treasure at the gate, run naked with the other 1/4 to the store, sell what I am carrying, run back, hoping that what I left hasn’t been taken by someone else and repeat until all of the treaure has been converted into gold. And my character does all of this in the snow while wearing only a loincloth (which apparently weighs nothing — the game won’t let me take it off). While I am moving the pile of silver weapons and jewel encrusted dwarven armor load by load to the store, beggars keep asking me for coins — hello, Mister Beggar Man? You were standing right next to this pile of shit worth hundreds of gold waiting for me to come back so you could ask me for ONE coin? These computer generated NPCs are really honest.

I then jump back up on the horse and ride back to the cave in the mountains where I left all of the stuff I wanted to keep (including my character’s shirt, shoes and pants) and get dressed… another successful and profitable adventure having been concluded.

I used to try putting shit I wanted to keep in chests and boxes and cabinets, then returning periodically to pick it up… but I think the computer got wise to me because my big treasure cache (including all sorts of magical and alchemy crap) abruptly disappeared and was replaced by shoes, velvet doublets, linen pants and things like shears, brooms and hour glasses. The shoes and clothes I can gather and sell (although they are worth very little)… or I can wear them (although there is no apparent game advantage to wearing normal clothes), but the game is full of shit like ceramic plates, mugs, pots, paint brushes, hour glasses, brooms, calipers, shovels, etc., and that stuff is all worth nothing and can’t help you do anything. For a while I was convinced that all of this shit was needed for one quest or another, so I was carrying tons of shears, tongs, dishes, etc., and I was walking past REAL treasure because I didn’t have room in my inventory and I was convinced that the game designers would’t but a shovel in the game unless I would come upon a situation where I had to dig a hole. After a while I figured out that most of it just took up space in my inventory — if it has any in game utility, I haven’t yet found it.
The game keeps hinting that I can buy a house (where I presume I can stash all of my treasure and all of the worthless calipers, tongs, shears, ceramic plates and other useless crap I can pick up), but every time I see the message, “Ask about buying a house,” the NPC tells me, “I don’t trust you enough to talk about that,” when I click on it. “What the fuck? ” I say to the NPC on screen. “You TOLD ME to ask you about buying a house and now you say you don’t trust me enough to talk about it?”

I’m also puzzled at how many pairs of shoes seem to be stashed in the world of Oblivion — there seem to be shoes in almost every barrel, box, coffin, cabinet and other container I look in. And unlike armor, weapons or boots, shoes never wear out. But they also don’t do anything for you (whereas armor and boots at least protect you a little). So what’s up with the shoe fetish?


‘Exqusite Corpses’ proof is off to the printers!

I just got done uploading the first version of my new “Exquisite Corpses” book to Lulu. I don’t yet have the final artwork for the cover (I just used some placeholder art) and it will take between 5-15 days for Lulu to send it back to me so I can look it over and test the concept and make sure it ‘works’ before I make whatever minor changes are needed and offer a new version (v2) for sale. Estimated page count is 91 pages; estimated cost is around $10.00 for the book and it is A5 size (about the same size as an 8.5×11 sheet folded in half vertically)… profusely illustrated. About 26 pages in the book are blank, but when you see the book and how it works, I think it will make sense why.
When the proof arrives, I’ll post pictures showing how it works.
Unfortunately, the shipping is $3.99 for one book — which ups the price to around $14.00 each… which isn’t too bad, but is just about $2.00 more than I was hoping for it to cost. I’m making less than $2.00 a book gross. Now with the time and postage and sample copies I’ll be sending out to a select few members of the blogosphere, the project will probably be a net loss — bad business for an unemployed guy, but I’m hoping that the book will generate interest and get my work some attention.
Due to the special nature of the book, even if I took out all of the slightly pervy or PG 13 stuff, I doubt anyone would publish it as more than a vanity project, but I eagerly anticipate the public’s response because this book is a labor of love.


Yeeks!

It only gets worse! Check out the not-so-subtle reference to a popular and hideous internet meme from the upcoming Exquisite Corpses:


Oh the humanity!


Welcome To Aldeboran

I have been calling my campaign world by several names over the past years — at one point it was ‘The Vales’ since there were different regions (Silver Vale, Red Vale, East Vale, etc.,). It has also been called ‘Hinterlands’ or ‘Northlands’ since most of the action took place is an area that was considered remote and removed from the more ‘civilized’ lands to the south and east. I also called/call it ‘Aldeboran’ (after the sun that the earth-like planet revolves around) or ‘Tellus’ (after the planet itself) but I go back and forth between wanting it to be a planet as an astronomer might define one… or just a ‘world’ which might just be a bubble in space, or moss on the back of a giant turtle… or a clump of dirt floating in space or whatever.

‘Aldeboran’ is an alternate spelling of ‘Aldebaran’ which is an actual orange giant star only 65 light years from Earth and in the constellation of Taurus. The name is arabic and apparently means ‘The Follower’ because when observed, it appears to follow The Pleiades. Lovecraft associated Aldebaran with Hastur, one of his ancient gods, so the name seemed apt.

Most of the action takes place on the large continent divided into several smaller kingdoms. Some of the places are Lenaria — an ancient empire to the east which once rules the Hinterlands where most of the action has taken place. Lenaria was 90% destroyed by meteors a few hundred years ago (or was it fire from the sky — or even some sort of stange curse or magic or weapon?) but the Lenarians still dabble in powerbrokering in the new world (they are a rip-off of the Melniboneans from Moorcock — powerful sorcerers with gigantic galleys, armies of slaves and dragon air cavalry, they worship the Dragon Goddess). The remaining islands of this once mighty empire share the names with German photographic lens formulas of the late 19th/early 20th century (Thambar, Xenar, Tessar, Summar, Summitar, Noctar, Elmar, etc.).

The big city on the continent is Eord, capital of a kingdom of the same name… which is also known as the City of Seven Walls… it stands at the entry of a strait which leads from the Inner Sea to the eastern Sea… from the inner sea you can sail north to the ice sea… from the eastern sea you can sail south to kingdoms down there or east to Lenaria.
South of Eord lie the Vales, including Red Vale and The Red Mountains… home of the dreaded red dwarves (who are cannibals who consider everyone else as potential food). North lies a forest kingdom of Elves (named, quite unimaginatively, Alfheim), and Aluria, a kingdom of Amazons as well as other various wastelands. There is also a large swampy land known as ‘The Sinking Lands’ which is ruled by a very powerful magic user… and to the west lies Thool (or Thule) which is ruled by a priesthood who have evolved (or devolved) into creatures with enormous brains and frail bodies. Of course, they maintain armies of lesser intellects to serve and protect them. There is also the ruined city of Tana Tak, which is said to be overrun by flesh eating ghouls, but great ancient secrets are said to be buried deep beneath the ground. There are various other kingdoms, some swamplands to the south (which are littered with gigantic stone statues rumored to be the petrified remnants of gods).

I used to take the ‘science’ of world creation quite seriously, but later just decided to have fun with it. Although I haven’t run adventures there for years, it started out as a middle earth/greyhawkish place and has since evolved/devolved into Flash Gordon land / Land of the Lost / Planet of the Apes… with occasional ruined rocket ships, flesh eating apes, mutants, death rays, wierd cults, etc.

After discarding the rather pompous and unoriginal pantheon of my highschool years, I just toss in any and every god of religion I can think of, with Cthulhu cults rubbing elbows with pagans of every stripe, authoritarian churches and cults modeled on worst case scenarios from the real world and a heaping teaspon of the Mythos of the Subgenius mostly for my own amusement. If a player wanted to worship some other deity, I would have no problem shoehorning at least a small chapel or shrine in somewhere — like in Ancient Rome, new gods are making themselves known all of the time…

Despair

I don’t think I’m ever going to get to run / play in the kind of game I want. Maybe it is a case of ‘grass always being greener’ or my desired ‘perfect game’ doesn’t exist… may I’m just a malcontent and a ne’er-do-well… maybe I’m just getting too old for this hobby and ought to take up golf or heavy drinking.

Currently I am playing in 3 games:

1) A ‘Savage Worlds’ Game: The guy (whom I will call K.) who is running this is a friend, and, for his sake I don’t like to slag on the campaign he likes or the style of game, but somehow ‘Savage Worlds’ just does not catch fire for me. It seems entirely too easy to succeed for the players — eleven sessions and only 1 PC death (which was reversed by someone playing a ‘mulligan’ type card. As far as I can tell, most of the campaign seems to come right out of his brain as we play — conceptually not a deal breaker, but somehow I don’t feel like we are really solving problems when we are confronted with an obstacle and everything we try just seems to fail until we light upon some randomly chosen solution. I don’t really want things to be that easy for us — maybe I’m just jaded, but it feels like as a group we succeed on quests too easily.

I confess that I am also having ‘DM’s Remorse.’ I was running a campaign earlier with the same players but ran out of time/energy because I was on the job market and trying to finish my degree. I handed over the reigns to him and said, “do with it what you will” and suddenly he kept enough of my material to make me feel like I couldn’t re-use some of that material in the future but changes it so much that I can’t see myself incorporating the changes he has made in any future campaign either.

Plus, and I hate to harp on this, but I have trouble maintaining my ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the reality of the world when all of it is being generated on the fly and does hang together… “Ok, the mayor’s name is, uh, Frank… and he says that his, um, sister, Jane, has a problem…” I’m not expecting (or hoping) for a Tolkienesque level of detail, but I’d like something that at least makes a gesture towards consistency and verisimilitude. One of the pleasures of working through an adventure that has been designed beforehand is that the DM will hopefully feel resonably constrained by what is recorded — i.e.: I suspect that K the DM often pulls his punches in the game simply to make sure we don’t get wiped out — which dampens the feeling of victory somewhat.

After playing it a while, I don’t like ‘Savage Worlds.’ It just seems kind of cheesey. It’s less of a ‘thinking yourself into the situation’ game and more of a ‘confine yourself to activities in which you have good dice rolls’ game. RPGs with ‘search’ rolls and ‘notice’ rolls just get my goat.

This game meets about 1x every 2 weeks. The DM of Savage Worlds, K., and A., the DM of game 3 (below) don’t get along.

2) D&D 3.5 using Goodman Games adventures: This is run by another DM I’ll call J. Now J. is sometimes/usually a pretty good DM (however, on at least one occassion, presided over one of the worst game sessions of my life — a story for another time), but his campaigns tend to run very sporadically — we will meet once every two weeks for a while, then months will pass before we meet again. Half of the people in this group are people I normally play with. We are also joined by folks who really test my patience — and maybe that’s my failing. In the current group, there are 2 guys who ‘chat’ the whole time about everything except what is happening in the campaign we happen to be playing in at that time… a bad habit which drives me nuts (since I really attempt to pay attention and interact with my fellow players in terms of what is happening in game at that time).

I’ll be honest. I don’t like D&D 3.5 and D&D 3e, etc. Again, explaining why the post 2e D&D leaves a bad taste in my mouth is probably another story for another time. But the guys I play with love 3.5e. Le grande sigh.

One of the more ‘chatty’ players is a complete power gamer — which turns me off. Another one is a complete freak — and I like most freaks — but this guy is just too freaky for even me.

3) A’s Game: The third game, which meets once every blue moon (or more often) is run by a guy named A. Again: D&D 3.5. Ugh. The problem with A. is that he does not have a creative or improvisational bone in his entire body, but he also is never prepared. He is that species of person who really wants to DM, but runs only prepared adventures based entirely on what is written in the material that someone else has created… but usually has not read over the material before we sit down. So you get the worst of both worlds. If a player says, “I’d like to steal the doorknob from the temple door and sell it,” he will spend 15 minutes trying to look up a rule in one of his books about doorknob stealing, then will flip through the adventure to see if they have a price on the doorknob listed, and, when all of those things fail, simply tell the player, “You can’t.” And I find that approach frustrating, not because I think the players should be allowed to do whatever they want, but the player characters should at least have some measure of control over their characters.

One of my fellow players is still fuming because we found an abandoned Wizard’s Tower, overcame all of it’s traps and then rented wagons to haul away the 1000s of antique books about magic (academic works; NOT spellbooks) that we found within the tower. We hauled them to the nearest city where we announced we wanted to sell them, but since A. could not account for this action within the published pages of his adventure, he simply dissallowed it. “No, you can’t sell them. No one wants them.” After long experience in A’s campaign, I begin to realize that he simply does not want the players to do anything that he did not anticipate beforehand. If we had managed to sell the books for 100 or 1000 or 10,000 gold, we would have been able to try to buy passage on a ship, or buy a ship, or hire mercenaries, or do one of a thousand things that he could not account for beforehand and this would require A. to make a decision of the fly which is something he simply cannot bear to do.

Instead of being ‘Monty Hauls,’ his adventures are screwjobs where we fight monsters that run away before we can defeat them (thus we get little or no XP) and we get treasures which are worth less than the calories, torches and crossbow bolts we expended to win them. We defeated a young Black dragon and got a pile of copper and silver, some damaged mundane armor and a wand (which ended up having 0 charges) for our trouble. At the same time, no one died and no one got a lot of XP even though we The problems with A’s campaign often boil down to the DM limiting player choice to such an extreme degree that the players are frustrated and bored. One of the players actually fell asleep during the game.

A. also makes wierd and dumb mistakes. On one occassion my character tried to climb a ladder… and, since this is 3.5e, of course it was not sufficient to just say, ‘I climb the ladder.’ I had to roll a dice to see if I could. My character failed and fell something like 30 feet, and I mentioned, “OK, my sorceror has eight hitpoints — he’s probably a goner…” at which point A. mentions that I only took “temporary” damage from the fall. “Okayy…” says I… even though something seemed really wrong at this point.

The rest of the party tried to follow me down the ladder and all or most of us fell. I’m not the world’s biggest 3.5e rules expert, but this sounds really wonky — first, climbing what seems like an ordinary ladder seems strangely difficult for a character of at least average strength and agility (I don’t think my character had “ranks” in “climb skills” but it was a ladder for crissakes — unless she is in a wheelchair, a 90 year old granny could climb it!). Second, I’m pretty sure that the old D&D chestnut, “You take 1d6 damage for every 10 feet you fall” should apply… and yet all of our low level characters survive the fall without taking any serious damage… which seems statistically unlikey since this fall should have inflicted an average of around 9-12 points of damage. I can’t imagine that everyone rolled a 1 on a 20 sided dice on their climb check so obviously something is, well, askew.

Now we are all puzzled and asking, “We search the ladder; is it trapped? Are the rungs loose? Is it greased?” Nope, nope, nope the DM replies; we are assured that it is an ordinary ladder — “What did you roll on your climb check? 14? OK; you fall…” Despite many questions, the DM cannot or will not expand on why the entire party failed on their attempt to climb an ordinary ladder. Things like this make me wonder why we have ladders in A’s fantasy world at all; wouldn’t they just be a waste of wood since no one can climb them anyway? But now all of us are at the bottom so we just decide to ignore it and press on…

I guess I don’t mind that A plays fast and loose with the rules… but in a situation like that, which is periodically repeated throughout the game, the player eventually feels like what one attempts or decides will make no difference — and player interest in what happens drops like nobody’s business.

I’m guessing the games I have DM’d in the past are no great shakes either… but I took pretty thorough notes on what seemed to work (and what didn’t) and tried to improve. Plus I tried to write my own adventures. But I hated DMing 3.5e or 3e, especially when players wanted the whole suite of feat and skill ‘splat’ books… so I was always trying to push the players to more old school editions and/or Hackmaster 4e. My games seemed to be popular, however, when I was running them. But whenever I mention that I’m thinking of dusting off the old DM dice, some of the people running the existing games seem kind of down on it.

I guess I’m just fated to be a player for the forseeable future.