Posts Tagged ‘art

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!

19
Dec
12

Landscape Painting Around Dwimmermount

DwimmermountWilderness_Sample2

The Opening of The Starfall Desert

In the midst of relocating across the country and becoming a first-time father this Fall, I had been asked by the esteemed Tavis Allison of Autarch to put some of my hedge-wizard illustration skills to work for one of their projects. I had the pleasure of being asked to develop a colored hex-map showing the region around James Maliszewski‘s infamous/legendary Dwimmermount.

James had already enlisted the mapping mojo of the influential Rob Conley of Bat In The Attic to create a play-reference black and white map for the region around Dwimmermount proper, but Tavis called for a large colored map that could be printed on durable vinyl. It was to be sans locations and named areas so the map could function for mysterious player exploration and utilitarian play at the table much like the old wilderness survival map.

I had my earlier methods for making colored hexmaps, similar to the style of the Judges Guild Wilderlands map sets and detailed in my overly long series of posts on this very blog, but I wanted to stretch the process some more and see if I could move the technique into more of a hand-made affair. (At least in appearance, anyway.)

I decided to make the thing entirely of scanned watercolor paint-strokes. If it was going to be in big printed color, I thought I would savor the opportunity and forgo using the color black for creating outlines or details and try and have it look like everything was painted on in color. A lot of published game maps start life in digitized B&W and can have a “coloring book” feel to them. I wanted to see if the whole thing could be done with hand made colored strokes and textures.

In the end you can still see the digital-ness of the whole affair, and I used black for putting the hexes on, but the intent is to have it organic/quirky enough that the machine qualities don’t register to the viewer.

Hills, Mountains, Grasslands, Forest

Hills, Mountains, Grasslands, Forest

The raw painting used to create a "big" mountain pattern for use in GIMP.

The raw painting used to create a “big” mountain pattern for use in GIMP.

The steps were numerous and I won’t detail them unless there is substantial internet begging, but they involved much tracing, painting, scanning, buying a recycled socialist computer, pattern creation, GIMPing, Hawkwind, Ice Dragon, and beer.

My goal next time is to create 4 inch sized hexes with oil paint on a wood panel.

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.

02
Apr
12

D&D’s Original Iconic Characters

Doesn’t this look like an adventuring party you’d like to be part of?

Illustrations by David C. Sutherland for the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

Stat one of these characters up using the Adventurer Conqueror King System and you can play ’em in a session I’ll run via G+ hangout! Plus, if the Kickstarter for Paul Hughes’ Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster succeeds in raising more funding than Autarch’s Player’s Companion did, the backers of that worthy project will get to admire your character-making handiwork as part of a bonus goal I offered Paul in the foolhardy belief that it’d never happen. (It is now less than $300 short).

Here’s the backstory. The designers of 3rd Edition D&D went to remarkable lengths to reference 1st Edition AD&D. This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but the more I learn about 1E the more examples I discover.

One of the defining aspects of 3E’s art direction was the use of iconic characters whose illustrations were featured in the section introducing their class and were then re-used in other books, the D&D miniatures line, etc. For example, here we see the rogue Lidda, the wizard Mialee, and the fighters Regdar and Tordek planning a dungeon-heist:

At Gary Con, we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like about 3E. Iconic characters made it onto both lists.

  • Plus: The way that the same heroes would turn up in different contexts created the sense of the books being a window into another world, the way that elements of the Cthulu Mythos like the Necronomicon showing up in different stories made it seem real (and a precursor of roleplaying games and transmedia).
  • Minus: We weren’t convinced that the 3E iconic characters emerged from actual play; their inception had the whiff of a clever memo from WotC’s marketing department.

Until reading this post at Blog of Holding, from which the top picture was taken, I didn’t realize that the idea of a party of characters recurring from one illustration to the next had its roots in David C. Sutherland’s drawings for the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I don’t know whether they represented a real party of player characters, but certainly the DMG illustrations show them doing the kinds of things adventurers do in actual games of D&D. (The planning illustration above is an exception to the normal kind of thing the 3E iconic characters were depicted doing: standing around on their own, looking iconic.)

Given that I care about things like illustrations reflecting actual play, let’s make sure that the ACKS writeup of the AD&D iconics reflects characters that a player created (albeit to match a pre-existing visual image) and played in a game! Reply in the comments to claim which of these five adventurers you’d like to stat up and play, I’ll email you to work out the details and schedule the G+ hangout.

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.
27
Feb
12

The God of Abortion

Last night I arrived late to the evening session of the Jean Wells memorial and everyone was worn out from having run games for kids all day. So instead of playing Silver Princess as planned, I ran the draft of the first level of Dwimmermount I was carrying around to measure its map dimensions against the Brooklyn Strategist’s Sultan table as part of planning the backer rewards for the mega-dungeon’s Kickstarter.

I’d visited Dwimmermount before as a player in James’ PbP but was otherwise approaching the text pretty much cold, leaving the world beyond the basic elements I knew (a dungeon entrance, a nearby fortress town) to be filled in through play in the way I first learned how to do by reading Grognardia and using it as a guide to engage with OD&D.

The players, who I’ll call Adam and Ben, rolled up their guys using 3d6 in order, with much groaning at the resultant suckitude. They chose to start at third level, I said they could then roll up two first level henchmen. Adam and Ben hit on the happy inspiration of making the henchmen all the same class as their higher-level PC, so that their roleplaying of this trio was united by each character being a different perspective on the same archetype. This was important because they chose two very provocative classes – cleric raising the issue “what is the nature of religion?”, and elf posing the question “no one has ever seen a member of your species, what can we learn from these examples?”

Because we were short for time, and because playing with ACKS mechanics like the breakdown of living expenses and expected income by level has taught me a good sense for purchasing power, I treated the roll of 3d6 for starting gold as a wealth score. And based on half-understood stuff I heard Chip Delany say about how sword and sorcery is based on the moment when currency overthrows feudalism, I decided that this starting wealth came in 10 gp, 1 lb coins that awed all who saw them.

I told the players “you’re in the Fortress of Muntsburg, there really isn’t a market but you can try to use this gold to get the soldiers here to part with any equipment you want.” We did a one move per PC stocking procedure at a level of granularity where a strong success on hiring thieves meant that we later assumed they had equipped every member of the expedition with all kinds of mountaineering equipment so of course you had ropes and grapples and spikes and hammers.

Adam asked “can I get a staff for my cleric?” I was like well, you’re a third level character, you can get any kind of mundane equipment. They do have two special kinds of staff, one that has a torch holder-mace fixture where you can hit people and still carry a light, the other being a slot where you can put in vials of holy water or oil to shatter on contact.

Adam’s priest wanted both of these, but his roll against Wealth (3d6, how much did you make it under?) was in the Apocalypse World hard-bargain range so I said “They have some of those but the guy who owned them last died in a way that was unhallowed, they won’t bury him in the graveyard and his staffs might be haunted.” Adam didn’t want them that bad.

Next Adam’s acolyte wanted holy water, so I had that roll against Wisdom because the local church cared more about piety. He failed badly, so I said “You can make one vial using your own supplies” – he still had the gold his Wealth score represented, I wasn’t going to say no altogether – “but you can’t use the temple’s fount due to a doctrinal disagreement. What issue caused the falling out between you and the church in Muntberg?”

“We’re pro-abortion,” Adam said tentatively. Building steam: “We believe in the God of Abortion.”

Wow, what am I going to do with that? I figure the church in the fortress is Lawful but we moved fast through char-gen so I haven’t asked about the PC’s alignment and where does this issue fall anyway? Dropping into gruff roleplaying voice to do a local church elder: “We believe that rape is the lawful right of conquest. It is proper for us to sire children on those we defeat, so that the seed of the righteous will spread and our forces will grow. It is a sin for subjugated women to take the lives of our progeny.”

We all reflect on this for a second and then I move on to the rest of the equipping; we’re all eager to get to the dungeon, no one seems to want to get distracted by tangling with these rape apologist priests in town. Later we hear some other epithets for the deity the PC clerics worship – he’s also the God of Peace, and of Healing the Hacked-Up Upon – but when the hireling thieves want to convert after seeing Adam’s clerics perform miracles of healing, it’s the God of Abortion they are invited to serve. And when Ben’s elves are wanting their wounds to be noticed and healed, they mention that their pantheon also includes a God of Reproductive Rights.

Thoughts here:

  1. As spontaneous material created in play, this was totally awesome. Adam said later “You put me on the spot, I didn’t know anything about my god! So I just decided that they believed in something I really do believe in.” It worked amazingly well that he’d chosen an issue orthagonal to law/neutrality/chaos, but equally capable of dividing people into camps of pro-choice/neutral/pro-life, and I can’t wait to play to find out more about this.
  2. I believe this material could only work in inverse proportion to the degree it appears in the text. If Dwimmermount had anything more than the lightest dusting of stuff we might use as improvisational seeds for exploring the God of Abortion – the whole pulp D&D heritage of half-orcs and maidens bound to altars and references to Macbeth – I will stub my toe against the question “what does James Maliszewski think about abortion?” and that moment is going to be a trainwreck for however long it lasts.

Writing stuff into the adventure is the wrong tool to use to explore controversial issues in roleplaying games, because it creates an intrusion of authorial presence when the author isn’t there to talk to.

I’ve been friends with Adam and Ben for years, we’re all New Yorkers, the shared cultural currents mean that we can hook a live wriggling fish like abortion and be pretty sure we won’t be pulled off course. Exploring this issue by watching it come up in play teaches me things about the players and the world we’re creating together. The process of play is creating strands that lead from the negotiated understanding among the players, which has lots of background to draw on, to the story we’re discovering through our characters. Controversies that pull on these threads just create useful tension for this process, which is interpersonal first and intertextual second.

Even if I’d been running this session for strangers, as long as we were at the table together I would have asked “what’s the doctrinal disagreement?” and I would have been comfortable negotiating “abortion” as the answer. I’m a reasonable adult, decades of roleplaying and years of therapy have taught me plenty about how to make sure the good time I’m looking to have in a game isn’t derailed. I’m confident that whatever comes up in play can be dealt with on a social level so that we can keep creating the lens that lets us experience the other world of the game together.

But I have absolutely no confidence that I could talk about abortion with someone who isn’t physically present. I avoid any kind of forum where controversial issues get talked about, and I curate my Facebook and G+ streams to focus on interests where I know I have common ground. I don’t know what James believes about abortion, and if he was using Grognardia to talk about that I’d filter my reading of his posts to try to keep it that way.

I believe the bandwith of Internet communication is just too narrow to make a conversation about abortion worthwhile. The exchanges that get past my filter look to me like hostility or choir-preaching at worst, talking-past at best. Given that the communication between author and audience is even more limited than the Internet, I don’t expect that putting material about abortion into the written text of an adventure would yield any better results.

Within the intellectual and aesthetic domains where Grognardia proves good Internet communication can take place, I am interested in learning James’ opinion whether or not it agrees with my own. I do think he and I agree that analyzing an author’s personal views is not a fruitful approach to finding the gold in a written text. Putting any kind of material into the text of an adventure that makes me think about the author’s stance on an issue thus seems to me to make it less artistically successful, not more.

originally posted at story-games, where it echoes a related conversation about orc babies in Keep on the Borderlands 

25
Jan
12

The Real DIY Deal: Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord

This “recent and amazing donation to the Play Generated Map and Document Archive (PlaGMaDA) project: A beautiful, hand-made homebrew addition to the classic TSR Against the Giants series” is not news to Boing Boing readers, but it bears repeating.

Image from PlaGMaDA, courtesy of Tim Hutchings and The Scribe.

I had the pleasure of seeing the original (thanks Tim!) and it is indeed a thing of beauty! You can download the whole module thanks to Rended Press, whose awesomeness (like that of retro-clone creators) is in no way diminished by depending on the earlier contributions of the as-yet-untracked-down GJC Modules, The Scribe who donated it to PlaGMaDA, and Tim who thus made it what to our wondering eyes should appear.

Some things that have newsiness:

The first rule of Games that Can’t Be Named is that we don’t talk about Games that Can’t Be Named. No, wait, that’s clearly not true. Maybe it’s that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Anyway astute readers of the comments to that Boing Boing piece will note that Tim mentions that tonight’s Games that Can’t Be Named will be happening in partnership with PlaGMaDA. What does that mean? Will Tim be there and will he have the original “G2-squared” module with him?

Sometimes the veil of secrecy conceals the fact that even I don’t know for sure! What I can say is that we will be at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art on 137 Sullivan St. tonight; next Wednesday, February 1st, we’ll be inaugurating the Brooklyn Strategist‘s new location at 333 Court Street and another game that can’t be named.

Also newsworthy: PlaGMaDA needs your help to bid on an auction of awesome DIY adventures and character sheets from the distant past. Having recently and very entertainingly been schooled in the ways of collectors, I won’t link to the auction itself, lest that drive up the price. However, below is a picture of the goodness in which we will all share if your donation allows PlaGMaDA to make the winning bid.

Tim says the donations page is mostly for people wanting to contribute their gaming maps and documents to the archive, but it does have an email where you can contact him and pledge the financial support that PlaGMaDA needs to make acquisitions like this.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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