Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Barrowmaze Cover Art Revealed!

Here's the cover art for Barrowmaze.

I think Stefan Poag has really captured the essence of the dungeon.

The flagstone dungeon, mold, and the burial alcoves set the tone.

The scene depicts a zombie battle that apparently isn't going to well for the adventurers/tomb-robbers. I specifically asked for the shield homage :)

Amid the chaos, the halfling seems to have noticed that they have a new problem...

Please let me know what you think.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Barrowmaze Homage: Merlin is Dead...and Yet He Lives

You may have read the story that Scottish actor Nicol Williamson is dead.

He played the wonderful role of Merlin in the movie Excalibur.

This is strangely serendipitous.

There are a number of both literary and aesthetic homages in my Barrowmaze megadungeon. It just so happens that one of them (by Stefan Poag) includes a very respectful tip of the (skull) cap to Williamson as Merlin. Boy, I am really glad that we did this illustration. Rest in Peace.

Barrowmaze: Interior Art VI

The mongrelmen are another faction trying to survive in the Barrowmaze.

This fellow, an interesting NPC, was illustrated by John Larrey and Jason Sholtis.

Update: I just received the colour cover from Stefan Poag last night! I'll be sure to post a preview in a couple days.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

WotC: New for 2012 with Translations!

I've enjoyed reading the updates from DDXP recently.

Normally I wouldn't give a rat's arse, but 1) I'm interested in the old edition reprints, 2) WotC is always good for entertainment value.

Some of their new crap from 2012 warrants comment:

If these are indeed the new covers for the AD&D reprints, then I'm just so-so on them. They could be a lot better, they could have been a lot worse.

The other information I've run through the WotC-5000 translation device:

Q: Is Ed's Forgotten Realms edition neutral?
A: It focuses on his specific campaign, so his individual stories might mention mechanics from different editions, the stories and lore should apply to all editions.

Translation: Ed wasn't raised on the new crap, but we'll continue to shoe-horn it the best we can.

Q: Any plans to rerelease the other products for 1E and 2E and other editions, either in print or electronically?
A: We are looking at making a lot of that older material available to you, but we want to make sure we do it right for you guys and for Wizards. We'll have more news on that.

Translation: We might do it if the AD&D reprints sell well.

Q: Resetting of timelines for the Realms?
A: I can't give a specific answer to that. We know there are things that people like and dislike about different timelines in the various settings. If there's information that's part of the canon, it still happened. We won't tell people in what time period to play in.

Translation: We know we really, really, dropped the ball and F-ed the Realms. So, we'll avoid the question by talking about timelines instead.

Q: Lots of errata has happened, making old books "worthless." Will it be better for D&D Next?
A: We're working on a better process for errata, and we hope very much to not have as much errata in D&D Next.

Translation: We know a lot of our 4th edition stuff wasn't publication ready, but we published it anyway.

Q: What did WotC learn from Essentials?
A: Do the ground-floor, entry-level stuff first. Start with the starter set, then add complexity. If we'd released Essentials first then PBH 1 as an Advanced PHB, we wouldn't have had the same problems.

Translation: We thought not having a beginner set (to begin with) was a great idea. Now we realize that we're the only people that thought that way. Oops.

Q: What's the goal for the art in D&D Next?
A: Art should tell the story of D&D. Show you a scene that looks like it's an adventure.

Translation: We finally realize that our constant representation of heroes in GQ model poses really sucked-ass. We decided that we needed to do what we should have been doing all along, rather than doing our own thing. *shakes fist*

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Barrowmaze: Interior Art V

Here's a look at a key faction operating in the Barrowmaze - The Acolytes of Orcus, illustrated by Stefan Poag.

The Acolytes are looking for something hidden in the Barrowmaze and won't let anyone, or anything, stand in their way.

Update: I'm just waiting for Stefan to finish the color cover and then it's off to RPGnow. We're getting really close and I'm getting pretty excited to let it loose across the interwebs!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Eternal Keep?

So am I correct that blogger has managed to derail the Eternal Keep?

I use that site and Old School RPG Planet, to catch up on stuff I've missed.

Blogger keeps messing me over too, I can only see comments if I view through safari.

Help with maps

I need some help with a map but my graphics-fu is not strong.

I want to take the map, cut it into three equal sections, and paste those into my word document.

It needs to be such that all the squares line up exactly, so folks can have the option of putting them all together in one glorious map (if they wish).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

5E and Monsters

Two things about the new edition that I don't understand:

1.If they aren't keen on Fifth Edition or 5E, and lets face it nobody will call it D&D Next for any length of time, why didn't they label the edition their preferred name when they made the announcement? You won't be able to fight down 5E two years after the fact.

2. What are they going to do with monsters? I mean to say, how many OD&D/Basic/1E players are going to want to play with Hellspawn Goblins and Teeth-Nashing Zombies (or whatever stupid IP name they come up with)? Hopefully they will leave all that shite for later monster books.


Mummified Cats

Somewhere, either on the interwebs or in a fanzine, I recall seeing a monster entry for mummified cats but with a more exotic name. Can anybody throw me a bone?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mearls Interview

I have to admit, I do get a kick out of some of the stuff that comes out of WotC - if only for entertainment value.

Mearls is quoted here in a 5E interview as saying the following:

The D&D Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set in the red box has also been a real success for us. It highlights the importance of having a good intro product—something that is definitely on our radar as we plan for the future.

This was always the strangest part of 4E to me. Why did they wait 3/4 of the way through the edition to create a starter set? Seems to me, if I were to design an RPG, the starter set would be the first thing I'd do - as that set would be the gateway drug for future gamers and would drive sales throughout the length of the new edition. Was this WotC just doing everything ass backwards or was there a specific reason for that? Does anyone know? I'm curious why it happened that way. Seems like they learned from the (major) oversight.


I know, I know, I'm late in the game but I just added myself to Google+

Feel free to add me there.

Munchkin and Dungeon!

Red Box Niagara met last night. We were going to continue with the Barrowmaze sessions but, because we didn't play in December, we thought we would have a shoot-the-shit session and play some different games.

I'm a pretty hardcore D&D guy, mostly because one gets so few opportunities to play, but wanted to try out the Munchkin card game. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but it was pretty fun and I'd play it again. Alex won to which he exclaimed "I won Dungeons and Dragons...and it was Advanced!" :)

The other guys had never played Dungeon! before so we had a rousing game in which I lost by 1 square. Figures lol

Anyway, it was good fun and I also got a chance to try out the new camera. We plan on playing our next Barrowmaze session next week.

Finally, I have my editors working hard to find typos etc in the Barrowmaze document. Will have those addressed next week. I should also have the cover art in the next wee while. After that I'll upload it to RPGnow, order a print copy, and if it's all good I'll open it for sale.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

AD&D Hardbacks Reprinted

Looks like WotC will reprint the AD&D core books for release on April 17th in North America. This will help support the Gygax Memorial.

Interesting the timing of it - right after the death knell of 4E :)

I wonder if they will come in the sleeves like the 3.5 and 4E books did? Just wondering aloud.

Count me in for a set, maybe two.

Very interesting times for D&D right now.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Barrowmaze: Interior Art IV

Just received this illustration for the Barrowmaze from Toren Atkinson, who did a great job on Meatshields! and is a fellow Red Boxer.

This is a Blood Thirsty Spider - I'll say no more. I don't want to spoil all the surprises.

BTW Barrowmaze will be compatible with Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion. Although if you don't use AEC that won't pose a problem.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Simple-yet-Wahoo? Seriously?

Based on everyone else's post I read the Full Monte post and have two questions:

1. Why the hell would I want to play a character that didn't match what the DM wanted to do with their game/campaign? That doesn't seem like very good gamesmanship.

2. Say for example you have a group playing largely new school characters and an old school character. What the hell are you going to do when the group decides they want to search something? Do you have one player role-play while everybody else asks what the difficulty check is and wants to roll dice?

While I'm at it, here's a quote from The Full Monte in the Ivory Tower:

As D&D players, we shouldn't allow rule preferences to separate us. In the end, we have a lot more in common than we have differences, even if some of us prefer the simple-yet-wahoo style of old school Basic D&D and others the carefully balanced elegance of 4th Edition—or anything in between.

Seriously? Why the need for off-hand comments? "Simple-yet-wahoo" games must be played by "simple-yet-wahoo" players. Yeah. Thanks for that.

"Simple-yet-wahoo" - is that how WotC wins hearts and minds? Is this the great goodwill campaign at work? It amazes me how they just cant help themselves. This just confirms suspicions. Was that comment really, really necessary? What a jerk.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I (Really) Hate Character Builds

I was reading an interesting post on Mythmere's blog about some of the differences between OE through 2E and the follow-up comments.

One of the comments (by Brendan) struck a note with me, part of which I cite here:

"The more I have been reading old modules, the more I think this is one of the key differences between old school design and new school design. Old school challenges will often be totally unaffected by PC "build" choices (example: 1 in 6 chance of falling off a slippery beam), whereas new school design keys almost everything against something on the PC character sheet (athletics check, dexterity check)."

What struck me is that I really hate the notion of character builds. I mean I really fucking hate character builds and the god-damn min-maxing that goes along with it. Builds are a reflection of an exception based system and I fucking hate that too. Why? I don't have the time to read all the crap. Moreover, when I'm DMing I know exactly what the character classes do and can't do and can better judge accordingly.

This is actually something (now that I think about it) that I really had to explain to my new old school players. The notion that the ability scores don't really matter that much, it is the player skill that matters most - not which build you have or feats, or whatever.

The flip side of the discussion is that classes can't be too narrow either. I really hated weapon proficiencies back in the day. They were way too limiting. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I like B/X-LL D&D so much. I just don't have to worry about any of that crap.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

5E and the FR

From the EnWorld 5E thread:

"The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. We asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, "The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in." That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products."

I have mixed feelings about this. I remember buying the original Forgotten Realms Boxed Set (pictured above) - and found it really inspiring. Particularly because there was so much room for exploration and adventure. It was full of little hooks.

The problem, it seems to me, is that between modules, novels, and splats, 1) the Forgotten Realms have been done to death. Is there any place left to go exploring? 2) 4E really buggered the entire setting.

There needs to be a new campaign setting similar to early Greyhawk and the early Realms that inspires folks to game and to create.

I know it works contrary to the splatbook model, but the more space that's left blank (or briefly outlined) the more interesting I find it - and that brings me back to the original FR Boxed Set.

Thoughts on 5E FR or campaign settings in general?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lulu and/or RPGnow?

Does anyone have any insight or experience with either lulu or RPGnow? Experiences? Preferences? I know the Canadian shipping blows really hard via lulu. I'm unsure where to go with the Barrowmaze project...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Barrowmaze: Internal Art III

The Barrowmaze has sections for new spells, magic items, and monsters.

Speaking of monsters, here's a fun one.

These are Sapphire Skeletons, illustrated by Stefan Poag. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

5E Announcement: Initial Thoughts

Now that I've had a chance to catch-up on the news, I thought I'd pen a few initial thoughts on the recent 5E announcement.

Yes, a mild rant follows. What can I say, I'm tired and sick.

I've been reading the 5E feed on Enworld. I'm struck how they want this edition to be of the people, and yet made no effort to use grassroots platforms to (at least in part) make the announcement. If you want people to buy in at the grassroots level then you need to start offering olive branches. I don't see that here.

Given the edition wars and the differences in play styles, I don't see how that gap (chasm?) can be bridged. Certainly aesthetics can't be bridged. An edition that tries to be all things could very well not end up doing anything. If you follow me. Granted, there's always a percentage of folks that blindly follow the "brand" rather than the "game." They already have hold of those people. But if they drop the ball on the edition-to-bring-peace-in-our-time it might very well be a huge (final?) nail in the coffin. What happens if it's close to universally hated? This is a high stakes game, and I just don't see WotC having the talent to pull it off.

Also, if they make an edition that has successive levels of complexity to it you'll just end up ghettoizing the "simpler" versions. It will be another wave of OD&D and Basic as "kiddie" D&D. Gee, thanks.

Here's another question somebody should ask Mearls: What will the shelf-life of this edition be if it's intended to be infinitely customizable? Why do we need to buy 100+ in hardbacks with shitty art to have a customizable game that we already have? Certainly it would have to be longer than the 4 year debacle that was 4E? Wouldn't it?

Also, if the edition is to be modular and customizable then, one could make the argument that you are just restating the edition wars in a different way. If everybody is playing D&D differently (if you consider the possible modularity of a D&D game that spans OD&D to 4E), then nobody is playing D&D at all. In all likelihood you still won't be able to speak/understand the same language/culture as other D&D players.

Finally, here's a quote on the online/offline divide taken from the 5E page mentioned above:

WotC: "[We are] extremely committed to tabletop gaming and the face to face experiences that D&D brings. There is clear recognition that although digital tools can enhance and supplement a game, the company has not lost sight of the fact that D&D is a tabletop roleplaying game, and not a digital experience."

Oh, yeah? How long did it take you dumb-asses to figure that out? That's why the whole WoW route with art and 4E made no sense to me. D&D should have an online presence, but I'd never pay for it. These should be value-added tools for the face to face game. You want me to buy your books, play your game, and then pay for your over-hyped, under-performing online crap? Get real. Cr0m and I made Meatshields because we love the fucking game - period. And it's free for everybody.

Anyway, these are just some initial thoughts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Barrowmaze: An Overview

One of my readers noted in the coments section that he'd like to hear a bit more information on the Barrowmaze. Ask and you shall receive!

The Barrowmaze is an exploration style-megadungeon that emerged from play at Red Box Niagara. The dungeon was designed and written by me. It started out as a curiosity. I never had the opportunity to play a megadungeon in my youth, my entry to D&D in 1982 was all about modules. So I was interested in learning more about the thought-processes behind a megadungeon, and my group needed something to play, and that's effectively where it came from.

Everyone in my D&D group (except for me) started playing D&D in either the early or late 1990s. So, the Barrowmaze was an effort to teach, and develop an appreciation for, the values of old school gaming to a group of really great guys. The Barrowmaze is a little bit of Tomb-Robbing 101, but don't let that comment fool you. As the session reports demonstrate this dungeon is lethal and our PCs and hirelings have made a solid contribution to The Big Book of the Dead.

There are 375 keyed rooms in the Barrowmaze, but many of these have sub-areas such that the actual number of keyed rooms is over 500+. Because this is so large (and I have a family and a profession), I needed to divide it in half to make it manageable. Part I is for levels 1-4ish and Part II will continue with mid and upper-mid level play. This actually works well because anything I generate by way of profit I can put back into getting more art for Part II. The design is set-up such that Part I can be played completely seperate from Part II (or vice versa), but the two together will be a sight to behold!

Speaking of art, I've spend hundreds - literally hundreds - of dollars on new art for Part I of the Barrowmaze. It will feature the art of Stefan Poag, but includes others such as Toren Atkinson, Zhu, and Trevor Hammond. Why spend that much money? There are a couple reasons. Production value is critical. People need to know (that I know) that aesthetics in RPGs are important. The art helps to get DMs all hyped-up and helps them convey what the characters see. Also, I like looking at and reading modules. Who wants to do that if there aren't any sweet illustrations? Finally, I have taken much from the OSR in terms of thinking about games and gaming. This is my humble way of contributing to the community and to a game that has meant a great deal to me in my life.

The Barrowmaze is constructed in the tradition of classic megadungeons. However, there are some interesting twists designed to provide an experience that is both similar to, and yet different from, other megadungeons. I'm not going to give those away yet (Muahahahaha).

In terms of a release date, I'm just waiting on the final art pieces and I should be good to go. Early February appears realistic at this point.

Questions? Thoughts?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barrowmaze: Interior Art II

I've had my head down and my sleeves rolled up for the last 48 hours, working to edit and complete the first release of the Barrowmaze. This will be a two part release (basically character levels 1-4ish and then later mid and high level play) because I can only peck away at it when the time allows. It is going to be packed with new art. I've spared no expense. More on that later.

Speaking of art, I just received a few amazing pieces from the great Trevor Hammond, a wonderful British illustrator. Trevor did work for White Dwarf in the 1980s and specializes in the macabre and alternative fantasy.

Behold, Trev's fearsome Barrow Wight!!! Does this guy drip Old School or what?

*I literally just saw the 5E announcement and will have something to say on that in the coming days.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Word to PDF

I'm using Word (I get it free through work) for the dungeon layout. I have it looking all swanky.

But when I use adobe to create a pdf it Fs with spaces here and there. It's frustrating.

Is there any rhyme or reason to this? Does anyone have suggestions?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Barrowmaze: Interior Art I

When I first thought of rewriting the Barrowmaze for publication, I had a short list of artists I wanted to help bring it to life. Stefan Poag was at the top of the list.

Stefan is a wonderful person to work with, and we certainly share the same aesthetic view of fantasy role-playing. I've argued here before that art communicates and forwards ideology, and the illustrations for this project will celebrate the Old School. I specifically like art that depicts common PC activities or tasks, and this wonderful piece by Poag is no exception.

More art and detail to follow in the coming days, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Naming the Dungeon

To this point, either during play or on the blog, I've been referring to my mega dungeon as simply the Barrowmze.

But now that I'm at the layout stage, I'm wondering whether I need something more creative than simply The Barrowaze or The Barrowmaze Megadungeon.

Should I have something more elaborate like The Forbidden Crypts of the Barrowmaze or somesuch? There are lots of crypts, tombs, and undead.

I've looked at naming tables here and here, but I'm still unsure.

What do you think? Do you want to take a kick at the can?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Escapist: Reflections on the State of D&D

This morning I read the Escapist articles on The State of D&D.

They tread over familiar ground, but there are interesting quotes and perspectives to be had. Here are links to the articles, they are worth a read: The State of D&D: Past, Present, and Future.

To be forward the author has a conflict of interest (developing a retro clone) and that informs his perspective at various points.

There are a bunch of interesting quotes, I was taken with one of Mearls':

"Let's just play D&D," he said. "Just cut all the bullshit that can get in the way, and say 'Look, we have all these different ways you can express yourself in the game,' and let's just give people what they want. Don't trick people into things they want or just come up with something new for the sake of it. [Let's] get back in touch with what makes role-playing games great, what makes D&D great."

As much as I appreciate the spirit behind this quote, it just isn't realistic. WotC - whether it's the current employees or not - have encouraged edition wars. So now we should all just walk zombie-like to the new 5th edition of D&D being created by 3E bean-counter Monte Cook? No thanks (sorry Monte I'm a qualitative guy 100% with D&D. You don't need to quantify as much as you think you do).

Perhaps I'm different than some (most?). The game mechanics matter to me, but the aesthetic of D&D matters just as much. The hero-out-of-the-box look isn't something I subscribe to mechanically or aesthetically. It's fast-food D&D. When I start rolling out art previews for the Barrowmaze you'll get that idea.

Moreover, if the 5th edition of D&D is more interested in establishing property than gaming - i.e. goblins aren't goblins but hellspawn goblins or whatever - that will tell me all I need to know.

The last item: WotC MUST stop talking about D&D singular, and start talking about D&Ds plural. This is a fundamental reality in the gaming market. They should be supporting multiple lines of D&D - this is the goose that will lay golden eggs, not The-One-D&D-To-Rule-Them-All approach. Get your head out of the sand.

That is all. Happy 2012.