Archive for the 'Dungeons & Dragons and Contemporary Art' Category

16
Apr
13

Dungeons & Dragons In a Theater Near You

Two D&D-related plays are running this April: SHE KILLS MONSTERS is at the Steppenwolf in Chicago until 4/21, and GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA: A HERO IS BORN is at the New Ohio Theater in New York until 4/27.

GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA

I haven’t seen this one yet, but I can say that:

  • it’s based on a true story of a gamer couple who become folk heroes following “a theft so large and brazen that even law enforcement officials admit some admiration for it”
  • the coverage in the NY Times that inspired the playwright is remarkable for presenting RPGs as the opposite of a predisposition to crime:”Mr. Dillon, who regularly led long sessions of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, dreamed of doing something grand with his life… Friends of Ms. Boyd and Mr. Dillon say they never drank alcohol, took drugs or smoked, preferring books, movies, music and role-playing games for entertainment.”
  • the play’s production company, New Georges, is making a concerted effort to reach out to gamers, including a D&D page on their website and weekly pre-show games of D&D held in the theater every Friday at 7 pm
  • this Friday the 19th I’ll be running a scenario I developed for the Tower of Gygax, as this format’s audience participation, short playtime, and fast turnover are great virtues in running games in unconventional settings. (Unfortunately I’ll be arranging for another DM to fill my shoes on the 26th. Also unfortunately I didn’t post this in time to say “hey go play with DM Andy Action of 2 Skinnee J’s on the 12th!)
  • if you want to check it out on any of these Fridays, they’re offering complimentary tickets to the DMs to share with their gaming circles: I certainly plan to take them up on this offer at 8pm this Friday. See below for details!

New Georges presents
GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA: A HERO IS BORN
a new play by Lynn Rosen
developed with & directed by Shana Gold

APRIL 3 to 27

Wednesdays thru Saturdays @ 8pm     Sundays @ 5pm

Mondays @ 7pm      opens April 8

THE NEW OHIO THEATRE

154 Christopher Street

(between Greenwich & Washington in the far West Village)

tickets   $25 / $35 premium seats
Mondays: pay-what-you-will OR ROLL OF THE DIE (at the door only)
Fridays: enter the world of Dungeons & Dragons!  starts at 7pm in the lobby; curated by D&D consultant Rusty Thelin
Sundays: late brunch! FREE McClure’s Bloody Marys & crinkle-cut chips!
www.smarttix.com or call 212.868.4444

Fun and appropriate for kids, say, 12-ish and up!

WATCH, IF YOU DARETH, as love and hunger collide most fantastically with the elusive American dream. In hearty games of Dungeons & Dragons, young Bart and Holly escape the dreary reality of hauling money all day in armored transport vehicles. When jobs are lost and the boss starts looking at Holly funny, escape becomes reality, releasing Goldor & Mythyka upon the world. Thusly, lucre shall be heisted! Throngs shall cheer their criminal exploits!

And Have Nots will rule the day!  Until…

SHE KILLS MONSTERS

I blogged about the premiere of this play at the Flea Theater before seeing it, but never got around to reporting “hey this is really awesome!” The frame story follows a woman who comes back to her home town after her younger sister’s death in a car crash. Big sis finds little sis’s D&D campaign notebook and, seeking to understand her better, convinces that gaming group to reform and run her through the adventure it describes.

Overall SHE KILLS MONSTERS is fantastic – funny, action-packed, and well written. If you’re in Chicago at the right time, you wouldn’t do wrong to invite anyone you know to go see it. For gamers in particular, you can be reassured that this is an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of the role-playing experience. Following one of the performances in NYC, I organized a panel about how RPGs relate to theatrical performance. Here are some reasons SHE KILLS MONSTERS is especially worth checking out in this light:

The frame story allows the audience to be led through the process of learning what a RPG is about. Our viewpoint character is initially awkward about sitting down and playing let’s pretend with her sister’s friends. As she gets into it, the staging has her and the GM sitting and talking while in the background the events described are being acted out. Soon big sis is fully into the fantasy – the actor is dressed up like the character, grooving on killing monsters as promised – and then the play cuts back to the mundane reality of being in a room rolling dice.

A gaming group is first and foremost a social gathering. I’m aware of being in a room with other human beings with whom I’m looking to have a good time. Part of the enjoyment of the game is then appreciating the imaginative performance of these people; I’m not just cheering the hobbit Lucky as he delivers the killing shot to the Beast Lord, I’m also moved by his player Quendalon’s description of these events. To the extent that the game is immersive and compelling, I care about Lucky and want to learn about how he overcomes challenges. Still, this is just a shadow of how much I care about my friends and want to get to know them better through the lens of gaming. The narrative of SHE KILLS MONSTERS gets this right – little sis’s gaming notebooks and the stories told about her by her gaming group reveal an inner self otherwise hidden from the world – but it’s the way this story is told through the medium of the theater that sells me on the idea.

In a film like Heavenly Creatures which likewise plays with the link between reality and imagination, the fantasy sequences are neither more nor less real than the depictions of the people imagining them. Special effects aside, both are just images flickering at 60 frames a second. As a rule, I prefer watching movies to seeing a play because  the awareness that I’m seeing people acting dramatical tends to inhibit my immersion into the story. As a way to explore what a RPG is like, though, theater seems to me exactly the right tool for the job.

As the audience for a play, I’m normally judgemental: watching people act rarely convinces me I’m seeing another reality the way the illusions of film can. When playing a RPG, I’m not just a spectator evaluating others, I’m also a participant eagerly trying to get to another reality. The need to be forgiving of my own ham acting in the service of this goal means that I’m full of charity and good will towards my other players’ own turns on the imaginary stage.

In the frame story, I’m aware that I’m watching someone on a stage, acting out the hesitancy faced by someone who wants to be cool and adult as they try to get into the silliness of playing a RPG. When I see the character they’re playing starting to sink their teeth into the game, and then in the next scene the actor is dressed like the character in the role-playing game going wild with the stage fighting and whooping out over-the-top battle cries, it’s a great dramatization of why RPGs are awesome. Here is Zak’s famous observation about ironic distance in the form of a play; I’m simultaneously aware that I’m seeing a person, and seeing a person pretend to be something they’re not, and in my mind’s eye seeing the thing they’re pretending to be. Being a gamer trains me to cheer on this process and do everything I can to help with the make believe, and being a good play means that SHE KILLS MONSTERS keeps getting energy out of the frame shifts the same way that a RPG feeds on breaking the action to make out-of-character jokes or to admire the fact that it’s your friend who is coming up with these wild inventions and impromptu dialogue.

In the panel after the show, we talked a bunch about the idea that a key difference between RPGs and other theatrical forms is the way that RPGs combine spectator and audience. Nick Fortugno said that plays have to be good in an Apollonian sense, worthy of being held up for objective appraisal; trying to appeal to some imaginary audience of theater critics would immediately squelch a roleplaying game.  SHE KILLS MONSTERS appealed to me as a gamer because it showed the process of conjuring an imaginary space, but at the end of the night I realized that it also appealed to my desire as an audience member to sit back and be entertained by people more talented than me, at no effort to myself.

If one of the high moments of your play is going to be a puppetry gelatinous cube, it helps to have the audience in the mindframe of gamers eager to imagine that the GM’s amateurish sketch is whatever it’s supposed to be. But I wouldn’t pay for the experience of being a spectator for the exact same roleplaying session twice, and if I were going to be anywhere near Chicago this week I’d eagerly see SHE KILLS MONSTERS again.

26
Jan
13

The Reward

The Reward is an awesome little animated short film — a student project from The Animation Workshop — that neatly encapsulates much of the fun and wonder of gonzo old-school play in the so-called “Galactic Dragons and Godwars” style. Watch it, love it, let it bring a smile to your face.

Enjoy!

27
Sep
12

Dolphins Rape People, Brooklyn 9/30/12

On my way to the Games that Can’t Be Named where I first saw people playing Everything is Dolphins, I came across a DOLPHINS RAPE PEOPLE sticker on Houston St. (This is apparently both true and part of a viral marketing campaign, in which I guess I am now complicit.)

The synchronicity was every bit as weird as the intrusion of rape culture into my daily life. I had to Google dickwolves, although I do run into prison rape jokes often enough that it’s my current go-to answer for “what aspect of contemporary life is like slavery in that we accept it as normal in a way future generations will be horrified by”. (In college the popular candidate was “eating meat,” but I say to hell with that. My grandkids will no doubt be freaked out when they realize that their dad grew up eating meat that came from killing animals instead of cells grown in a vat, but that’ll take a lot of figuring out.)

I bring this up because I’ll be playing Everything is Dolphins this Sunday at the game’s release party, which is being held at the Brooklyn DIY space confusingly called Shea Stadium. I have no fear that dolphins raping people will be part of the fictional events because I’ve played with many of the GMs who are listed as running Dolphins at the event and they are good-hearted folks, Ray’s Cyberpanky N.O.W. – an homage to R. Talsorian’s trying too hard to be edgy back in the day – notwithstanding.

As a rule we’re on the wrong continent for LARPing gang rape, which I also had to Google after Jason Morningstar opened my eyes to games that mess with the concept of “the bleed” during a highly enjoyable lunch at Durham’s Backyard BBQ Pit. I can well imagine a scenario in James’ proposed Watchmen campaign where Adrian Veight decided to invent Gang Rape to avert Armageddon between old-schoolers and story-gamers by giving them a common RPG enemy – although Jason and I are hardly our respective sides’ ideal cold warriors, and when I was in Oslo I had a great time hanging out with Matthijs whose description of We Eat Murder seems to me equally likely to have been a Veight Ent. fakery designed to unite Americans in nerd-rage.

Anyways reasons you might care about the Everything is Dolphins release party:

  1. If you are in the NYC area, or just like to know that gaming is happening in non-traditional spaces and reaching different audiences, this is Shea Stadium’s inaugural event of this kind. I hope that it’ll be successful enough to be the first of many. Come out and show your support! Tell your friends!
  2.  Dolphins publisher PlaGMaDA, the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive, continues to hatch stuff of interest to gamers everywhere. They’ve recently launched a Kickstarter to fund a book of ’80s fan-created D&D modules, The Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord & Other Adventures (which you can see in the archive here), and the Wired piece on it in their October issue also mentions that they’re raising money to make Dave Arneson’s papers available to the public through the archive:

Here’s the info on the event this Saturday – see you there!

We cordially invite you to a free party at Shea Stadium for the release of Ray Weiss’s first pen and paper role playing game, Everything is Dolphins. Here’s the list of activities.from 5 – 8, several dudes from bands (and otherwise) will be running games of EiD. Including:Eric Harm of Titus Andronicus

Brian Dudolevitch of The NuclearsHillary Livingston of Baby CastlesRay Weiss, author / of Butter The Children.(each table should be able to support 2-6 players)————————————————

At 8 begins a full fledged dance party featuring.

8PM DJ Mike Mckeever (Life Size Maps)

9PM DJ TBA

10PM DJ Zack Staggers (So So Glos)

11 DJ Baby Castles (Awesome DIY Video Games)

————————————————

Copies of the game will be on sale at the party.

Goodies like shirts, sample adventures, and other cool shit all on sale for cheap.

Free Admission.

All Ages

20 Meadow Street, L train to Grand.

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~—~~~~—-~~~~ ~~

30
May
12

Ryan Browning, Mackenzie Peck, and Zeb Cook Talk Art and RPGs

Ryan Browning brings word of a panel on RPGs and art happening in Baltimore tomorrow:

We’ve got David ‘Zeb’ Cook coming to participate in a discussion about art and virtual + imagined worlds at the Creative Alliance TOMORROW, Thursday the 31st of May at 7PM. David is known for writing a lot of the 2nd Ed D&D material, including the core books. Additionally, he’s credited for being the lead designer of the City of Villains mmo.

Ryan Browning, Wallness, oil on canvas, 30 by 36 inches, 2011

The overall conversation we’re having will also include artists’ talks by myself and MacKenzie Peck, who is also exhibiting her artwork in the same show, and another local artist, Mina Cheon. The discussion will be more of a panel kind of discussion, and we’ll probably be ranging quite a bit in topic but the main theme is creating or envisioning imaginary worlds, and how each of us goes about doing this. In other words, I’ll be talking about games+art, David will be talking about games, and the other two will be talking about art, mainly. If you want to get some culture on and meet an RPG figurehead from the past, it could be cool! This will probably run for an hour, including time for questions.

Here’s a link to my artwork (the kind I make for exhibitions): ryanbrowning.com. In the RPG sphere, I did the cover and most of the black and whites for Adventurer Conqueror King.

My artwork is influenced in part by my experiences playing RPGs, so I’m looking forward to the discussion and meeting anyone who cares to stop by! MacKenzie, the other artist, is exhibiting some works that look a lot like artifacts to me – you can hold them and interact with them, though they are not game-related. The whole exhibit and talks are free, of course. The exhibit runs through this weekend.

I’m hoping some Mule readers are able to check this out, and further crossing my fingers that there will be video or audio recordings for those not in the area!

23
Apr
12

Female Fighters of Color in Reasonable Armor

Illustration by Julie Dillon for Martial Power II, copyright 2010-2012 Wizards of the Coast.

A post in which I talk about an art order gone wrong has gotten some attention in internetland, so I thought I’d celebrate an instance of an illustration becoming better in the transition from a designer’s vision to an artists’ hand. Above is Julie Dillon doing it right, below is my original art order:

Illo #4: Brawling Fighter
Specification: 1/4 page color

A FEMALE HUMAN FIGHTER grabs the wing joint of a GARGOYLE with her left hand while swinging a FLAIL towards the monster with her right hand. The fight takes place on the rooftops of a sprawling fantasy city, but the background is mostly dominated by the gargoyle’s spread wings. The figures are struggling at CLOSE QUARTERS, and the gargoyle is trying but failing to claw its way out of the woman’s grasp.

FEMALE HUMAN FIGHTER: She’s compact and sturdily built, with close-cropped curly brown hair and colorful earrings visible because the gargoyle has knocked her helmet off; it might be visible falling toward the bottom of the frame. She has dark brown skin and brown eyes; on Earth you’d guess she was from sub-Saharan Africa. She’s wearing SCALE ARMOR, a coat and Roman-style skirt of steel plates covered in colorful leather, with chainmail on her arms and greaves on her shins; in places the leather has been clawed away to show the metal underneath. Her FLAIL is a simple but brutal wood haft as long as her forearm, with a spiked ball on a chain about half the length of the haft.

GARGOYLE: The gargoyle should appear as depicted in the Monster Manual (115), except that it has moss and lichen growing on its surface.

The details that I described that weren’t picked up on, like the helmet falling off (to justify showing a face and still upholding reasonable armor), are more than made up for the sheer awesome of the gargoyle’s piteous expression as it tries to escape.

At the time I did these art orders I’d been reading about the Race in D&D presentation at Nerd Nite. In addition to having my own old-school agenda in describing weapons and armor that could possibly relate to the viewer’s experience of life and history, I was interested in seeing how many non-white depictions I could get into a D&D book. Here’s another Martial Power II illustration Julie did, followed by its art order:

Illustration by Julie Dillon for Martial Power II, copyright 2010-2012 Wizards of the Coast.

Illo #44: Arrowhead Commander
Specification: 1/4 page color

A FEMALE ELVEN ARROWHEAD COMMANDER squats on the ground and uses an ARROW to draw a TACTICAL DIAGRAM in the dirt, which looks a little like a football play illustrated with circles and arrows. With her free hand she points at an ally outside the shot, telling them what their part in the plan will be.

FEMALE ELVEN ARROWHEAD COMMANDER: She wears HIDE ARMOR made of the skin of a colorful snake and has a LONGBOW and QUIVER OF ARROWS slung over her shoulder. Her face is lined with age and experience, and the brown hair she’s braided over her ears is turning grey. Her skin is leaf-brown, and her nose and cheekbones are as bony and angular as the male elf shown in the Player’s Handbook (40).

Let me start by noting that a frequent reason my art orders didn’t come out the way I write them is that I don’t know what I am doing while art directors and artists are experts. Looking at this illustration, it is clear to me that if she was drawing with an arrow and pointing at someone at the same time, she would fall over.  Thinking about issues of representation has to ride on top of accounting for the pragmatic business of illustration, about which I am largely ignorant.

The character shown here was not taken from actual play. However I did write this around the time that I started using a d6 to randomize the age and gender of my PCs and NPCs, which caused elderly women to show up a lot more often in my games. There’s a little gray in the hair of Julie’s illustration, but it’s not striking. I don’t know whether the art direction process toned down the character’s age, or if my description passed through untouched but lined faces were just not something the artist was interested in.

I took the language about leaf-brown skin directly from the 4E PHB – I wanted to be sure what I was asking for was within canon, and it’s noteworthy that this was explicitly said to be a way elves might look – but that detail doesn’t seem to have made it into the finished piece. I’m inclined to think that it dropped out in the art direction step of the process, given Julie’s  proven flair for painting dark-skinned women:

Planetary Alignment, copyright 2012 by Julie Dillon. Click to purchase prints.

To give some props to my fellow writers on Martial Power II, its art director, and Julie once again, I’ll close with a kick-ass illustration fitting the title of the post which I didn’t do the art order.

Illustration by Julie Dillon for Martial Power II, copyright 2010-2012 Wizards of the Coast.

18
Apr
12

More Concentrated and Powerful than the Original

An OSR blogger in the making, presuming that these '60s types are about to roleplay with Perky Pat

This week’s New Yorker has a piece about the phenomenon by which the forty-somethings who act as the gatekeepers for popular culture like to examine events “forty years past… the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories.”

Some thoughts inspired by this:

  1. My own current fascinations are indeed more often not things I actually experienced, but those that I was too young to appreciate; the OD&D and Judges’ Guild stuff I didn’t own has more of a hold on me than the AD&D and TSR stuff I did.
  2. The writer, Adam Gopnik, talks about a 20 year cycle riding within the 40 year one, “by which the forty-somethings recall their teen-age years”. This could be used to point at any number of things in the OSR, and the fondness I felt for the movie Detention, which involves time travel to 1992. (Nick Mizer liked it too and is not a forty-something. The actual teens in the audience were not impressed, despite the reviewers who thought you’d need to tweet a thousand times a day to enjoy the film.) She Kills Monsters also combined ’90s and D&D nostalgia.
  3. Gopnik uses Mad Men as his example, which is a good a reason as any to point out that the ’60s science-fictional predictions of roleplaying invariably involve hallucinogens –  Thomas Disch’s “Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire” and Philip K. Dick’s “The Days of Perky Pat“. SF about RPGs after 1974, like Dream Park or “The Saturn Game“, clearly seem to be talking about D&D instead of altered states of consciousness.
  4. From the article: “It is the forty-years-on reproduction of a thing that most often proves more concentrated and powerful than the original. Dixieland gets played more often than archival jazz.” Likewise I find it hard to believe that the way we approach games that were played back in the day does not achieve the old-school ideals more often than people were able to at the time, given how many more years worth of experience we bring to the task. (This is not to say that experience with wargames, which I lack, is not as important to good RPG play as anything else; it’s more that I have the advantage of having grown up in a culture in which games and fantasy of whatever kind were more prevalent .)
  5. Also from Gopnik: “If we can hang on, it will be in the twenty-fifties that the manners and meanings of the Obama era will be truly revealed; only then will we know our own existence.” I’ve already seen this happen with decades I lived through, and remember waiting for the ’90s to end so someone would explain what they were about.
  6. I think that Gopnik’s argument about the Beatles doing ’20s pastiches because it pleased/teased George Martin holds true the more you’re in a domain with a gatekeeper. With TV and contemporary art exhibitions, I am fully convinced.
  7. With fantasy specifically, I still think that there is something about the looking back to an idealized past that is endemic to the endeavor – we may be nostalgic for the D&D of our youth, but even in our youth it spoke to a nostalgia for the never-was which is perhaps something else altogether. However, thinking about the popularity of Mad Men helps pin down how much of our thing is this appeal of fantasy vs. the general pop-culture retrocycle.
22
Mar
12

There and Back Again

Timothy Hutchings has a gallery show at I-20 opening tomorrow night, Thursday March 22. I’ve noted before that Timothy is

known to White Sandbox players as the dwarf Mallo Beer-bane and to others as (among other things) the curator of the Cursed Chateau exhibit, the editor responsible for the animation wizardry in the Kickstarter video for Adventurer Conqueror King , a panelist in the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art discussion, and one of the Doomslangers artists.

Since then Timothy has also been been part of the role-playing-themed art show Big Reality, where he exhibited his own work as well as selections from the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive, which he created and curates. Folks who are following the Dwimmermount kickstarter have also recently heard from Mr. Hutchings, on the subject of why the donation of materials from James Maliszewski’s home campaign to PlaGMaDA matters:

Tabletop role playing games completely revolutionized game play. Our multi-billion dollar computer game entertainment industry is built on the shoulders of pen and paper RPGs. With the popularity and overwhelming cultural presence of computer games comes the need for their academic study, and academic study demands original sources for research. The materials preserved by the Play Generated Map and Document Archive and other collecting institutions are being held in trust for those researchers and the important work they have just begun, and just as importantly these materials are disseminated back into popular culture so that the gamer of today can see the traditions and innovations that developed into the contemporary landscape.

Like many of my posts do, this one makes a blah blah sound. Here, then, are some charts Tim and Ezra Claverie who I am proud to call our mutual friend came up with for a game of Burning Wheel that I didn’t get to play in, but sounded delightfully old-school and Dwarf Fortress-inspired:

Inspired by:
http://joeskythedungeonbrawler.wordpress.com/

a giant’s poop contents chart

  1. Giant poop worms.  Like rot grubs but they don’t kill you so easy. The worms burrow into the PC’s flesh, reproduce, then send thousands of progeny out each end of the character’s digestive tract.  If this happens in front of NPCs then get an Infamous trait with that group.
  2. Gold coins.  Why would the giant eat gold coins?  1D of cache.
  3. A knife.  And bloody poop!  Ha ha, dumb giant pooped out a knife.  Is the knife magic?  On a 1-3 roll on the “what’s with this sword” chart, on a 4 it’s proof against acid, on a 5-8 then no – it’s not magic.
  4. A humanoid skull.  Bury it for a reputation 1D Friend of spirits
  5. A living troll arm, it makes half-hearted attacks. (I love this.)  Only fire can destroy it.
  6. A perfectly intact head sized egg.  (it was planted here by something else)
  7. Poop eating giant centipede.  Agility test or your probing arm gets bitten.  Yes you get an armor roll.  Learn that you don’t push your arm into the poop, you dork.  If you said “Oh yeah I was wearing my armor!” then you have poop all over your armor too.
  8. A bunch of springy worms.  Each worm’s belly contains a pearl-like gem (value, properties to be determined by GM).
  9. Seeds.  Are they magic?  Are they giant?  Are they just giant tomato seeds?
  10. A giant’s tooth.  This giant got beat up in a fight and swallowed his own tooth.  1 in 6 that it has a silver filling or is gold or whatever.
  11. An idol!  Geerwyn the Unfortunate.  This poor idol has the worst things happen to it and it’s possessors, but it also gives them help in getting out of these situations.  While carrying Geerwyn, any random thing that can happen to the possessor does, the more bizarre the better.  But, Geerwyn will Help the possessor out of these same situations with +1 or +2 Advantage dice, depending.  Geerwyn will also halve random damage from the bad stuff he causes, trading off injury for shame – rather than a B10 burn from the irate fire toad, the character will receive b5 but will have his beard burned off.  Bearing Geerwyn automatically gives the holder a 1D “pathetic bumbler” trait.

What does that worm pearl do?  (Gem Appraisal or whatever)

  1. Crap, it’s a worm egg and will hatch in your gem pouch.  And it eats gems!  Which become worms!  Will only hatch when there are other gems around.
  2. It’s a pill.  +2D to your next health test.  Good luck figuring out that this thing actually does that.  Maybe you noticed that it was an exceptionally healthy worm.  If taken the pill stays inside of you until you die, you don’t actually digest it.
  3. It’s actually a gem worth a little bit of money.
  4. Invisible things are reflected in the gems surface, but the surface is so small and round it doesn’t help much.  +1D to seeing invisible things, but you must be working Carefully as well.
  5. It’s a unique gem the likes of which adorn the crown of the dwarven prince.  If it gets around that the prince’s crown is adorned with worm poop pearls, it would cause quite a ruckus.

What’s in that egg?  (did you let it hatch?  If not then you might just get goo)

  1. It’s hardboiled, magically, and is delicious.
  2. A baby harpy, full of spite and can fly as soon it’s hatched.  It will flutter after the PCs cursing and drawing attention to them until killed or frightened off.
  3. The yolk is solid gold!  (worth 2 cache)(everyone make a Greed test)
  4.  It’s full of molar teeth?  What the hell?  (if you plant these they’ll grow into chickens)
  5. Rotten, cracking it open gives you and your stuff the Stinky trait for awhile.
  6. A tiny, perfectly formed homonculi.  Who does it resemble?
  7. It’s not an egg but a solid piece of ivory.  (worth 2 cache)  If you crack it open there’s a miniature, living elephant inside.
  8. Nog!  How bizarre.  (works like regular nog)
  9. The liquid inside the egg shines with the brilliance of a wizard’s spell for 1d4 days.  If you drink it your eyes and orifices all glow.
  10. A tiny dead looking guy in robes run through with a tiny sword and stuck with tiny arrows.  He has miniature everything a wizard adventurer would have.  (worth 2d of cache to middle aged lady collectors)  He will rot away once removed from the egg.
  11. The egg is full of pearl bearing poop worms.

Tim gave me permission to post these charts a while back. He perhaps didn’t mean “at the same time as mentioning an occassion in which he is doing a serious artist thing”, but as I am the kind of person who would pay a Joesky tax with stolen Joesky-inspired coin, clearly nothing is beneath me. Tim and Ezra made many more tables like this which I will post the next time I get behind on the taxman!

I will not be able to make the show’s opening tomorrow night, as I am taking my son to his first GaryCon, but I hope to make it after we get back.

07
Mar
12

Everything is Flowcharts

Stop this recursive madness before it is too late.

Paul Hughes has launched a Kickstarter that must not succeed. If funded, he will turn the AD&D procedures for generating random dungeons into a dungeon, a section of which is shown above. Sure, it sounds innocuous enough in his description:

This intricately illustrated 36″ by 24″ playable dungeon map poster encapsulates the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s complete rules for generating random dungeons: Appendix A’s four pages of charts are rendered into a flowchart WHICH IS ITSELF A DUNGEON. It’s like the Platonic dungeon: from it, all other dungeons may be generated. Or maybe it’s the Dungeon of Ouroboros.

What he conveniently leaves out is that as adventurers go through this dungeon, there is a chance that they will randomly generate the same dungeon that encodes the procedures for generating new dungeons, creating an infinite loop. Being a known proponent of the $10,000 backer reward and idealistic bonus goal, I have been recommending that Paul combine these such that Wizards of the Coast could pick up the top pledge level and get enough posters to send some to every game store that will be carrying the AD&D reprints, or we could help him raise the necessary funding to do so just for the good of gaming. While this would hasten the process, the recursive nature of this project makes one thing clear: sooner or later we will be awash in endless, procedurally-generated nightmare mazes filled with gold, glory, and Paul’s inimitable illustrations.

You know what that means, don’t you? Yes, it means one reason we don’t embed music videos more often is that some of us can’t be trusted not to use them for cheap rim-shots.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this impending crisis. We need to fight dungeons with dungeons.

Holmes Character Creation as a Dungeon Map, by Doug @ Blue Boxer Rebellion

Compare to the 2e and 3e versions for a fantastic visual essay in how the complexity of chargen increases over the years, and become a follower of Blue Box Rebellion and pester Doug to dungeonize 4e’s Character Builder and map the planar nexus of Sigil from which those wishing to follow D&D Next’s ambition to unite the editions must certainly depart.

But that’s not what we’re here for. Our goal is to convince Doug to launch a Kickstarter to create dungeons to act as automatic spawners for adventurers to go into Paul’s dungeon and generate more dungeons, until every piece of paper in the world is covered with maps in which you can see little people making maps telling them which way to go to create a dungeon in which the Cave You’ve Been Living In Since 1977 connects to the Pool of Fluff.

Speaking of titles, the name of this post riffs off of Everything is Dolphins, which you should be interested in because:

  • the fact that the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive (PlaGMaDA) is starting a publishing arm is made of awesome and promises many other things of interest to old-schoolers, like reprints of old fanzines and homemade modules like Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord
  • the game part of Everything is Dolphins represents an interesting example of someone coming into RPGs cold in his twenties from a whole other world of music geeks, discovering OD&D, and running with it to make his own system to reflect a particular set of concerns and inspirations
  • said someone ran Everything is Dolphins at Games that Can’t be Named and a good time was had
  • the approach taken here – presenting the original handwritten notes and play materials, and then doing an exegesis of the text and the visions it’s inspired in others – is a promising model for how to publish lost RPG projects like Robert Kuntz’s Kalibruhn or Dave Arneson’s “Bluemoor” notebooks without losing the historical value under a layer of polish

It is an article of faith with me that the character sheets for the original Blackmoor were this cool. One of many ways that First Fantasy Campaign is awesome is that it publishes maps of the castles that characters in Dave Arneson's game built; let's get a new edition that has the architectural plans the players drew up!

  • the illustrations Tim assembled for the book to show what visions the game inspired include old-schoolers (Charlie Loving who illustrated the Bunnies and Burrows first edition in 1976), artists who were part of the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art panel last year (Casey Jex Smith and Sean McCarthy), and Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress who is like the patron saint of neckbeards who care way too much about imaginary worlds that procedurally generate adventurers who build their own dungeons
  • if the Dwimmermount Kickstarter makes its bonus goal of $20,620, James Maliszewski will donate his original campaign notes to PlaGMaDA; we hope the well-deserved immense popularity of his blog Grognardia will make this a notable a precedent for others to make similar donations and show that making the originals free to the public is not inconsistent with a successful commercial release expanding these notes into a form ready for others to use
  • Tim has an art show opening at the I-20 Gallery in NYC on March 22nd, which should be of interest to those who were interested in the stuff Tim had to say at the above-mentioned D&D art panel, and is planning a book launch party for Everyting is Dolphins in April, which may well also include the Adventurer Conqueror King System; details to follow.
On that tip and with the last of my breath, I should mention that there is also a Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion that expands ACKS with a host of new classes, procedures for making new classes, a bunch of new spells, procedures for making your own spells that characters can research (if Bonus Goal #3 is met, which seems like it will happen soon), and lots of the the ACKS class templates that Brendan at untimately calls “the apotheosis of the Second Edition kit idea“, presumably in a nice way.
06
Mar
12

Rumors of Dwimmermount

Here is the rumor chart I made to bring events from the inaugural G+ session of the Dwimmermount Kickstarter campaign into the continuity of the game I subsequently ran at the Brooklyn Strategist. The idea is that Locfir having gotten busy with other projects, Locfir’s Man (formerly known as the candlemaker Ungril Ungfarm) escaped from being charmed. Scuttlebutt is now echoing from the tales he brought back from the dungeon expedition he participated in with Pigfoot the Hog (human fighter), Burgoth the Mage (human you-guessed-it), and Locfir the Astrologer (elf). These are a little Locfir-centric because Locfir’s Man is making out like a bandit on his association with the elf and in fact refuses to answer to the name Ungril any more.

Photos by David Ewalt, aka Old Axehandle, from the last Brooklyn Strategist session

  1. Pigfoot discovered material components that make the ventriloquism spell lethal AND merchants are buying up all the fortress-town’s supplies of chain, caltrops, oil, and torches.
  2. Locfir made Burgoth lick a Thulian pillar of submission AND Burgoth is now hemiplegic and enslaved in Locfir’s sanctum.
  3. The party all cast charm person on one another to protect themselves from outside influences AND when they returned from the dungeon one of them had been turned into a gnome nonetheless.
  4. The bearded face of a Man spoke to Locfir AND taught him how to initiate himself and others into Thulian wisdom.
  5. Locfir filled a wineskin with a fluid he found very interesting AND pouring it on Burgoth brought him back to life.
  6. The party was attacked by metal skeletons AND Burgoth controlled them using a lever.
  7. The party found the petrified body of Turms Turmax’s courtesan AND she revealed to them the secrets of the Thulian doors.
  8. The party found a renegade Dwarf AND the others of his kind are searching for a cemetary of their kind that is being desecrated.

All of these are potentially knowable to characters in the Fortress of Muntsburg. I had the players roll a d8 apiece to see which rumor they had heard just because I didn’t want to read them all out at the start of the session, but I don’t think any of these are spoilers at least for my own approach to embracing meta-knowledge. If you read this post and then play in my game that’s awesome you saved some reading rumors aloud time. We’ll work together to imagine the reason that your character is particularly well versed on what’s being talked about in Muntsburg’s taphouses.

Step one of my approach involves acknowledging meta-information the players might have – some of the stuff above you can guess at if you’ve read Zak’s post. The reason the the map of the first level can be seen in the picture to the right is that I placed it in the dungeon as treasure, knowing at least one of those present had seen it in the Dwimmermount teaser in the Adventurer Conqueror King rules we were using.

Step two is then using this to screw with the players. James beautifully set the stage for this by changing the dungeon since the ’09 PbP game, so that the first time Locfir entered after three years away he freaked out that none of his maps were quite right. Part of the reason these aren’t spoilers is that each has two parts, separated by AND. Either part could be true or false. The idea is to give players some ideas about things that might be interesting about the dungeon – in this case, things that our group of players actually was interested in (well OK maybe just me, Locfir was always either running away or having to be dragged away from things only he cared about). Then if and when they do encounter something that might relate to the rumor, their dread and paranoia is entertainingly multiplied by the bad things they’ve heard or the likelihood that I made a false good rumor to trick them into doing something foolish.

The way I figure this works for the Judge is that if the players want to try to investigate the rumors further, they can spend some time (I recommend a week) in town rolling against an ability score or however you like to do this kind of thing. The results are, using an assumption that you’ll wind up with a range like the Apocalypse World-type system where a total failure is a modified 6- on 2d6, total success is 10+, partial success anything in between:

  • Total success: you learn whether both parts of the rumor are true. (If you like to be more stingy with information, decide which part you want to pursue and you confirm or deny that half.)
  • Partial success: you learn one false part of the rumor, Judge’s choice, or that no part is false. (Or maybe you learn it all at a cost or complication.)
  • Total failure: the Judge gets to invent and spread a rumor about the investigating PC. (Or trigger a town adventure, rival party attack, etc. if your group is in the mood, or impose a penalty on the PC’s die rolls due to too much buying of drinks in town means bad hangover but no info.)

Judges, if you haven’t read the adventure yet just decide “true or false” depending on what sounds good to you. Discreetly make a note on the rumor table to help you figure out what you said later when the party finds that thing in the dungeon (if it even exists at all). Likewise if you are about to prep the dungeon, thinking about these rumors as you read should help you keep your eye out for cool stuff (even though James has hit on what is for me just the right level of evocative detail vs. easy to read). And if you think your players know too much about the dungeon, these rumors are meant to be a good guide to which switches to flip to change things up.

Finally, you don’t have to pay any attention to this continuity in your version of Dwimmermount. Pigfoot and Burgoth and Locfir don’t have to be in the setting at all, they are non-canon for sure and I am pretty sure it will make James frown thoughtfully if you start tossing canon around so don’t do it. If the party goes to investigate what’s going on with Burgoth and he exists he can be whatever you want, I recommend secretly a polymorphed dragon living in some kind of polyhedral melting pocket-plane.

Empty Kingdom if you are a home for media artists make it easy for me to credit this painting to Ryan Browning with name and year and stuff the way galleries do.

The one thing you should be sure to respect in your campaign is that if it has a Locfir he is fantastically wealthy but no PC will ever find where it is hidden, and he has like a million hit dice and just started that one HP rumor to tempt fools to disrespect him so he can do weird elf things with your still-beating heart.

I liked the way this worked and will be doing it for the Keep on the Borderlands events we’re doing with ACKS at Gary Con IV.

01
Mar
12

Saturday Gaming in NYC for Dwimmermount and the Marvel RPG

Yes, it is clobbering time! I googled it.

I often wait too long to post about upcoming events for anyone to do anything about it (or for those who do not live in travel distance of NYC to feel bad for what they’re missing, like crazy high rents and getting gum stuck on their shoes in the subway). However, given the awesomeness of this Saturday’s events, I hope this will be enough lead time for at least some of y’all!

First up, nerdNYC is organizing a Marvel RPG launch party at the Compleat Strategist on 11 E. 33rd St. Anytime from 11 am until 4 pm, you can learn to play the new Marvel RPG from Margaret Weis Productions. I cannot confirm that James will be there to field-strip its reward systems or demonstrate his hot and weird abilities to open his brain to the Marvel maelstrom and barf forth continuity, but I know for sure that my son and I will be there with bells on. This should provide an interesting experiment in player skill, as my son has been reading himself to sleep with the Marvel Encyclopedia ever since he got it at his last (9th) birthday, whereas I wanted to put “It’s Clobbering Time” as the caption for that photo but then was unsure whether that was a Marvel or DC thing.

Then later that very same day at 7pm, I will be kicking off a series of explorations of the legendary Dwimmermount mega-dungeon at the Brooklyn Strategist‘s sweet new location on 333 Court St.

Geek Chic's hypographer says that the Sultan gets more press than Giles Corey. I love that they hire nerds so advanced that I need to Google this caption too.

If you can’t make it to this one, fear not! The Dwimmermount events will be at the B-Strat every Saturday throughout the campaign by Autarch and Grognardia Games to crowdfund the process of turning the notes and experience from James’ home campaign into a location other referees to use as the tent-pole location for their own campaigns, as an inspiration for designing their own dungeons, or as the source for many unique creatures and weird magical items that can be dropped into any fantasy game.

However, if you can’t make it I am not above making you feel bad. We will be playing on the B-Strat’s Sultan gaming table, and recording our progress by building the dungeon as we go with Master Maze pieces from Dwarven Forge sculptor Stefan Pokorny’s personal collection. Eventually we will also be using miniatures sculpted for the project by Sandra Garrity based on backer’s descriptions of their rival adventurers, which will also be illustrated by Jeff Dee.

If I can convince Jon Freeman to let me hang stuff on the walls of his beautiful new place, visitors to the B-Strat can also admire the original of the painting Jeff is doing for Dwimmermount’s back cover. Up in Toronto, players in James’ campaign will be basking in the glory of Mark Allen’s painting for the front cover, which shows their adventuring party in a characteristic moment of mystery and wonder. I am no less proud that my PbP adventurer Locfir the Astrologer was among the group seen on the back cover, especially since this let me earmark that one for display in my home town.

To continue this goal to make the published work reflect what really happened in play in as many ways as possible, one of  the seats at the Sultan each evening will be reserved for an artist in residence. Their sketches and maps and doodles during the game will be donated to the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive for the enjoyment of all. We also hope that each session of play will inspire at least one illustration, so that a moment from our adventures together will be published in the final Dwimmermount book and PDF bundle.

If the Kickstarter hits the right bonus goal level, a copy will be etched into gold, attached to a space probe, and sent beyond our solar system to make aliens feel bad about missing these Saturday events even there is no way they could possibly have attended.




Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2020
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