Thursday, February 24, 2011

Northern Reaches Session 10

The latest session summary is up for our Northern Reaches campaign.

Caves of Chaos. The Owlbear encounter. Nuff said.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

RBN: In Praise of Zhu

For a few weeks now I'd been calling around local places looking to have tshirts made for our Red Box Niagara gaming group. No specific reason other than a bit of fun.

I started with a shield logo (divided into thirds) that was very rudimentary but served the purpose. I started thinking of some of the "signs" that would signify old school D&D. So I settled on a flail (for medieval weaponry, and medieval fantasy as the base), a bugbear head (for fantasy monsters), and a skull (for death). Muahahaha.

The next part was to find a fun latin motto to put underneath the shield. We batted around a couple ideas but settled with our own personal take on the Geek Chic motto. We decided to go with "Out of Mom's basement!" or, better translated, "Come forth from Mom's underworld!" This really appeals to our sense of humour.

James over at Grognardia facilitated the translation (thank you!) and I figured we should be good to go. However, I still needed to seek permission to use the bugbear head in the shield device. The head I wanted to use was illustrated by Zhu over at the Realm of Zhu. He is an AWESOME fantasy illustrator. His bugbear head reminded me slightly of the Otherworld miniature bugbears which was just a bonus. So I contacted him, told him that I wanted to use his illustration in a not-for-profit way and if that was cool. Not only did he say yes, but he offered to bring his talent to bear on our tshirt design! It was very nice of him to take pity on the artistically-challenged :)

Within a few days he sent me this bit of awesomeness:

Needless to say, we are very pleased and have set about getting tshirts for our group (Zhu gets a free one of course). The tshirt place hasn't gotten back to us yet but we hope to have the shirts soon. I'll post a picture here when we do.

The end result of the tshirt journey, is that I met a totally cool guy and a great artist. In addition, Zhu told me he does character and other illustrations on commission if folks are interested. I encourage you to go check out his thread at Dragonsfoot. If you think his bugbears are good, wait until you see his hobgoblins and pig-faced orcs!

Thank you Zhu!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

MA Paper on Nostalgia and the OSR

I wanted to let people know about an announcement.

First, let me personalize it with a wee bit of background.

I recently worked together with a graduate student, Darren Crouse, to complete his Master of Arts in Popular Culture.

Darren and I hit it off immediately (that's really important, as those of you in grad studies can attest). Darren was an ol'AD&Der like myself and had been removed from the game for 20 years. After a little arm-twisting (sarcasm), he wrote his Major Research Paper (MRP) on an aspect of my currrent research on nostalgia and table-top games.

Darren specifically focused on a textual and pictorial analysis of Expeditious Retreat Press' Advanced Adventures module series, and examined the construction of nostalgia in the front and back cover art.

Darren has graciously offered to make his paper available for free to the OSR community. Please keep in mind that this is his first kick at the can.

Joseph Browning has offered to host the download. You can read his announcement here. I also want to say thank you to Joseph for his willingness to take part in the study.

Well done Darren! Huzzah!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Art and Ideology in the OSR

Each spring I attend at least two academic popular culture conferences. This year I'm attending the Popular Culture Association (US National) conference in San Antonio (any readers hail from there?) in April and the inaugural conference of the Popular Culture Association of Canada conference (May) in Niagara Falls.

At these conferences scholars present their latest research and receive constructive criticism (or a destructive tongue-lashing) from their colleagues. In the last couple years I've been giving papers on the construction of nostalgia in D&D and plan to do so again this year.

Specifically, I want to examine the cover and interior art of OSR products. I'm doing so with a firm belief in the following:

1. Art is political, ideological, and therefore carries meaning
2. Art reveals a discourse of past and present
3. Reality and fantasy are the same thing.

These are my assumptions as they relate to examining the art as a "text" to be read for its component parts.

Here are some of my preliminary thoughts. They are not fully-formed and this is not yet a complete list.

OSR art is:

1. Based in the "emergent fantasy RPG" art of TSR D&D, but is not self-referencing in the same way that 4E art is now self-referencing
2. Reflective of the desired style of play (perhaps also like 4E)
(rules-lite, rulings not rules, weak thieves not heroes)
3. A reaction against the corporate rpg model and mentality (WotC)
4. Reaction against 4E.

I'd certainly appreciate your 2gp worth. Feel free to agree, disagree, or encourage an alternative set of viewpoints.

I'm asking for your input because these papers will speak about the community and what is valued by its members. It's simply appropriate to ask for your opinion.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Retrospective - Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling Generator

Given the recent posts at Grognardia and elsewhere about retainers and hirelings, I thought it appropriate to revisit and perhaps provide some insight into the creation of Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchmen Generator created by cr0m and myself last spring.

When we created the generator we looked to early articles in Dragon Magazine in addition to the usual B/X and LL rulebooks and AD&D hardbacks. Because there's conflicting information in spots, specifically the labels for the different types of followers, we had to make some decisions. I've listed some of the Dragon articles below, if you are interested.

We pushed and pulled the generator until we managed to find something that suited us. First, we felt it was important to have different types of followers represented in the generator. Why? In terms of gameplay, these different follower types facilitate different aspects of the game and thus "play off" the PCs without being explicitly role-played (although we do that too).

For example, the lowly torch-bearers and porters are human non-combatants who aren't trained warriors and tend to cower and only fight if cornered. The zero-level human men-at-arms are basic in their gear and are a tick below the first level PCs but above the unwashed labourers. In our Northern Reaches game, the M@As tend to have better morale, especially if the PCs have outfitted them with better gear and don't ask them to do anything they wouldn't do themselves. The demi-human men-at-arms possess their racial traits and, in some cases, are better equipped (esp. the dwarves), but they are more rare to find. Above the non-combatants and men-at-arms, the PCs can occasionally recruit a human henchman, that is a magic-user, cleric, or fighter, but as the quality of the follower goes up so does the price. Here's the cost breakdown in our Northern Reaches game:

Men-at-Arms1gp(Hu)/3gp(DH)*No1/2 PC

*The first 3 day’s payment must be made in advance. Also, upgrading the weapon or armour of a hireling/man-at-arms/henchman, or overpaying, may increase their morale score. Men-at-arms begin play at -2035 experience points and henchmen begin play at zero experience points.

With the excitement of having Meatshields! available, I went overboard with followers in my game. That's mostly my fault. However, when we began play few had specific experience with Old School D&D so I think it allowed them to get their characters off on the right foot. Through 9 sessions (of varying length) we have had 1 PC and 13 followers bite it. It was around session 7 that I took a page from cr0ms game. So many men-at-arms died in his game that he had them unionize! So I followed suit and renamed the local followers guild The League of Ordinary Gentlemen and they raised their prices significantly. Since then I've told the PCs that Guildmaster Osen is "concerned" and may consider raises prices again.

When a follower consistently demonstrates an inability to die, I typically promote them to the next level up. Torch-bearer to man-at-arms to henchman. The only example so far is Hillgax, Vith's former M@As who is always first in the marching order. He was promoted to a henchman after several sessions and now receives a full share of party treasure.

Have you had chance to use the generator? Any memorable followers come forward to accompany your PCs?

Some interesting References:

Charles Sagui, "Hirelings Have Feelings Too" Dragon 26
Thomas Kane, "The Forgotten characters: A Look at Hirelings, Henchmen, and Followers" Dragon 117
Charles Olsen, "Henchmen and Hirelings: A Review of the Rules on NPCs" Dragon 119

Monday, February 7, 2011

Otherworld Miniatures: Carcass Scavenger

Here's my attempt at an Otherworld Carcass Scavenger, this is the Labyrinth Lord version of a carrion crawler.

Based on an a great set of painting related posts by Sean over at Tales from the Flaming Faggot, I bought some reaper paints to have at this miniature.

My initial thought was to have a dead skin look to this baddie. So I used the 3 dead skin/ghoul skin paints in a medium tone, wash the dark tone, and highlight with the lightest. The mini didn't look very warm at the finish-up. So I had to wash it with the GW Thrakka Green and then dry brush again with the light dead skin colour.

This was my first attempt at blending on the tentacles and my first attempt at sculpting a base with green stuff (thus the finger prints lol. Sculpting suggestions to improve greatly appreciated).


Tomb of the Iron God: A DM's Review

As you know I recently ran Matt Finch's Tomb of the Iron God as the first adventure in our Northern Reaches Campaign.

Having DMed the adventure, I thought I'd post some short comments and observations for those of you who might run the module at some point in the future.

**Stop reading now to avoid spoilers**

In short, I loved this as an introductory adventure. There are opportunities for a TPK on level 2, but overall this is a great exploration style adventure.

I really like Finch's prose: clean and concise. He gets right to the detail and avoids long winded speeches and such that bog down DM preparation.

There were a couple points where I thought modification and edits were needed. I think the large encounters on level 2 required some larger rooms and the revolving floor room could have been explained differently/more effectively.

I really love Finch's idea of crypt alcoves throughout level 2. Searching these alcoves, and tying that process to turns and random monster rolls, was a great idea and fit the style of an introductory-level adventure.

I do have two qualms with this adventure, and these are realatively minor. First, too many of the rooms on level 2 have exactly the same one-sentence write-up. I understand that there should be some sameness to the crypts, but even a slight tweak here or there was needed. Halfway through the level my players recited the sentence back to me before I could finish it. If you are DMing this adventure I'd advise minor edits in advance of play. Finally, this adventure really, really needs an interesting NPC. Throughout the adventure I felt this was a glaring miss in the adventure and could have facilitated some great role-play. Perhaps the Iron God took pity on one of the priests? Maybe the old guy who drags the death cart to the monastery was spared? I dunno. I think it would have been great to have an interesting NPC.

Overall, Finch wrote an excellent adventure. I can recommend the module to fellow DMs without reservation.