Sunday, July 31, 2011


The Boy and I are sitting around the computer right now, listening to Spotify, singing "Tonight Tonight" along with Hot Chelle Rae as we look up pictures of Zak Galifinakis. We just got back from a three day weekend at the lake. I didn't catch a single fish, but the boy caught quite a few perch. That was okay, as I was feeling particularly Buddhistic and wasn't in the mood to jam a hook through a fish's jaw. I did breifly wonder if my poor little skewered worms were broken though.

The Boy picked up Heroica, which was the perfect alternative to sitting outside in the 110 degree weather. I have two words for you:


Here in ten years we are going to see a lot of kids coming out of high school, rubbing the LEGO track marks on their arms, looking for a fix. If we in the OSR are prepared, all we need to do is wave a bag of dice and some minis at them - and they'll be hooked just like those perch the Boy was catching. Tru dat.

Heroica is a pretty fun game. I don't know why I didn't think of it when I was ten. You pick a character, you track your hit points, you get gold and can buy equipment, and you can slay the beasties. WoTC may not sue them, but TSR certainly would have. I like it a lot.

It got me thinking though. Why not just use LEGOs to map your D&D dungeons, rather than graph paper? Hmm. Perfect for fidgeting players. Might even be good for DMs. I think I'll try that.


- Ark

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Simon

I've had my nose to the grindstone this week, writing guidelines for participants in the Vayniris shared world anthology project.  There certainly are few better inspirations than somebody waiting on you for something.  But fear not - I have a topic for Dungeonspiration despite my ground nose.

When I included a rumor about an Invisible Mountain in my Labyrinth Lord Campaign, it was on a whim.  I had no idea what the heck what it was - but it sounded like something interesting and very hard to find.  Later, I decided it was a structure in the Ethereal Plane.

Then the players decided finally to go to the Invisible Mountain.  Crap.  Now I had to get serious about it.  I was having some painful DM-block until one night, before falling asleep, my crusty old brain opened up and tossed memories of Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings at me.

For those of you who don't remember, Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings was a British cartoon about a boy who would visit an alternate world made of chalk drawing and solve everyone's problems there in five minutes or less.  It's a theme that was revisited last decade in the cartoon Chalkzone, but there is something inherently creepy about the Land of Chalk Drawings that Chalkzone never replicated.

Mark Myers re-interpretation of Simon was creepy, but in a different way.  "Are you looking at me bum?  Bum-looker!" ;)

So anyway, the PCs were looking for the Invisible Mountain, and they ran into the family of a crazy guy who had found it decades before.  In his basement, they discovered stacks and stacks of stolen slate roofing tiles, all with strange chalk drawings on them.  They didn't think much of it.

When the PCs finally went through all the rigamarole to get to the Invisible Mountain, they entered the Ethereal Plane and found it looked just like the Land of Chalk Drawings.   Everything was black except the objects had chalk outlines. 

I had no idea how the players would react.  The guys were pretty freaked out. They were even less happy when egg-shape headed humanoids with no eyes, noses, or mouths began to beat the holy hell out of them.  They were seriously hating on the egg-headed dudes.

My biggest worry was that the Land of Chalk Drawings would be silly enough to deflate the players suspension of disbelief.  But it worked out just fine, despite my worries - I think especially because there was a real threat of PC death there. 

So go watch some of your favorite old cartoons on Youtube and get inspired!  Handled correctly, you can drape strange things (The Land of Chalk Drawings) over old ideas (the Ethereal Plane) and freak your players out.  And isn't that what DMing is all about?  Freaking out people?  Right? ;)

- Ark

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vayniris Anthology Project

We are going to be writing an OSR story book!  It looks like there is enough interest to get a Vayniris anthology off the ground.  Thanks for everyone's support, either on the blog on through email.

The mock-up cover to the side over there is just a test.  I'd prefer to get a real artist to do the cover, rather than my blah blah scribblings.

If you are interested in writing a story for the anthology, let me know.  This is a volunteer type thing.  If we accidentally made a profit, I'd prefer the money go to somebody who really needed it, like the kids at Bryan's House.

I'll be sending out guidelines to all interested parties for writing in this shared world as soon as I finish them.  Honestly, I don't know what an OSR story is exactly.  What I see in my head are OSR inspired stories - pulp fiction style urban fantasy adventures worthy of being included in Appendix N.  It's somewhat hard to quantify that, but like porn, I'd know it if I saw it.

The question of what OSR really is gets into some sticky mud, but it does bring up a good question.  The version of Vayniris I'm using in gaming is based on 4e Essentials Races, classes, and mechanics.  But the story doesn't have to be.  Shouldn't be, really.  But what should it be.  Should the literary Vayniris be based off of original or B/X D&D tropes - with the races or spells to boot?  Or should it have completely original races, magic, etc?  I think that is a good question for potential writers AND readers.  Having a common D&D style base would be make a shared world easier to define, but would it be desirable?

Let me know your thoughts on it.  Thanks!

- Ark

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Writing Project

I received some very positive feedback for the Vayniris campaign idea - which was basically a re-skinning of Zak's Vornheim with 'far-gates.'  People also seemed to like the little picture I drew of some Vayniris snow  Then an offline comment got me thinking.  The comment said something like 'the city would make a good backdrop for stories.'

That got me thinking.  It's been a while since I've written a short story.  Well, completed one would be more accurate.  I'm really digging the concept of a fantasy city that is scattered all over bits and pieces of a planet.  Writing a pulp fiction style story inside Vayniris seems like a no-brainer. 

So that is what I am doing.

And that got me thinking.  (I think too much, probably.)  Why not write a whole bunch of stories and make a Vayniris anthology? Vayniris: The Scattered City!

Then reality sets in.  I haven't showed the type of focus during my life necessary to pull off something like that.  But what if others helped?  What if Vayniris: The Scattered City was written as sort of a Thieves' World-esque shared fantasy world?  The city has a lot of room for parallel development.  A whole planet's-worth, in fact.

This idea points back to something I've been wondering about for a while.  The Old School Renaissance movement has game designers, module creators, cartographers and artists.  But are there any story writers in the OSR adding to Appendix N?  Are there?  I'm asking, seriously.  I try to keep my ear to the ground, but I haven't heard of such a thing.  (Okay, okay, there are fine authors running around writing fantasy - but I'm talking about specifically from an OSR perspective.)

I think an OSR inspired anthology would be pretty nifty.  We have the technology now to publish a book WITH NO CASH DOWN.  I published a book with Lulu and ordered a copy.  Poof.  Very nifty.  Or heck, it could go bigger - like a 'literary' version of Petty Gods.

So, anyway, I'm going to write my little story.  If you are interested in reading it, give me a holler. 

And if you are interested in reading an OSR inspired anthology, let me know as well.  If it's five or more people, I may have to push this thing through to reality - even if I have to write it all myself. :)

- Ark

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dungeonspiration: African Mythology

A few years ago, looking for something new and different to spark my creativity, I picked up a book called Essential African Mythology: Stories That Changed the World, by Ngangar Mbitu and Ranchor Prime.  While I had a few books on 'World Mythology,' I never had read one on Africa specifically.

It's not like siting down to a book on Greek Mythology.  There is no Bullfinchian or Hamiltonian categorization or pigeonholing.  Africa is vast, with immense diversity of culture and human genetics.  It kind of makes Europe look like a inbred hillbilly. The book, aside from the introduction, is simply stories.  No family trees, no taxonomy, and there has been no apparent analysis and 'bending' of the stories to form some sort of Aesopic lesson.  The presentation is quite nice, actually.

The book includes stories and myth from the people and regions of Alur, Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zaire, Taganyika, Bantu, Dahomey, Malozi, Wakaranga, Fang, Bini, Nupe, Wapangwa, Kono, and even more.  It has various origin myths, trickster tales, proverbs, cautionary tales, and hero myths.  There is plenty of material here to get you thinking in whole different ways about world creation and adventures.

Fun Factiod #938
As I was preparing to write this post, I decided to look up the Afican Mythos section of Deities and Demigods, becasue I couldn't remember anything about it.  I was in for a shock. 

Did you ever notice that Deities and Demigods never touched on Sub-Saharan Africa?  At all?  D&D was a huge influence on my life, and helped spur interests in history, archaeology, architecture, and a host of other things.  I wonder if the inclusion of an African Mythos section would have sent me off exploring African myths at a younger age.

I don't mean to imply that the creators of Deities and Demigods were racists.  I have no clue, but I seriously doubt it.  But what I do know is that we are a product of our culture, and that we value some stories more than others, and heck, haven't even heard of certain stories because of our cultural blinders.  I find it's good for me to expand out of my comfort zone and delve into the foreign - because seeing things from different viewpoints can be so enlightening.

So go take a look at other myths and stories - those outside of the classic European (or where-ever the heck you or your ancestors are from) mold - and get inspired. To whet your appetite, here is a table of contents from Essential African Mythology: Stories That Changed the World:

Chapter One: Myths of Origin and Extinction
  • Doondari and Gueno
  • Sa and Alatangana
  • How Humans Were Scattered
  • King Kitamba and Queen Muhongo
  • The Chameleon and the Lizard
  • The Dog and the Toad
  • The Bag of Mystic Powers (you could make this one the basis for a whole campaign)
  • The Sheep God (one of my favorites because it is so frikkin strange)
  • The Two Brothers
  • Stories of Obatala
  • The Distant Sky
  • Tortoises, Humans, and Stones
  • The Quarrel Between Earth and Sky
  • Fam, the First Man
  • Nyambe and Kamunu
Chapter Two: The Elements and Celestial Powers
  • Father Moon
  • Morning and Evening
  • The Sun, the Moon and the Creation of Fish
  • Thunder and Lightning
  • A Daughter-in-law for Kimanaweze
  • The Discovery of Fire
  • A Home for the Sun and the Moon
  • The Fruit of Generosity
Chapter Three: Gods and Spirits
  • Spirits of the Bush
  • The Rock Spirit and the Child
  • The Bird Spirit
  • The Origin of Night and Day
  • The Underwater World
  • The Country Under the Earth
  • Chapter Four: Animals and Humans
  • The Beautiful Hind
  • The Hunter's Secret
  • The Leopard and the Boy
  • Mokele
  • Chichinguane and Chipfalamfula
Chapter Five: Folk Stores
  • Blaming it on Adam
  • The Snake Bite
  • A Quarrel Between Friends
  • The Jealous King
  • The Reward of Envy
  • The Suspect
  • The King's Magic Drum
  • How To Find Suffering
  • The Girl Who Wanted Dawn's Dress
  • Chief Liongo
Chapter Six: Fables
  • The Antelope in the Moon
  • Tortoise and the Palm Tree
  • How Tortoise Grew a Tail
  • Tortoise Swears an Oath
  • Tortoise and Babarinsa's Daughters
  • Tortoise's Last Journey
  • A Lesson for the Bat
  • How the Cat Came to Live with People
  • Frog Inherits the Kingdom

- Ark

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cold Steel's Great Sword

I had no idea a sword could do this, much less that a sword that could do this was being sold via infomercial.  Here is my advice: set aside nine minutes and five seconds of your life and watch this thing.  ALL the way to the end.  Makes you rethink AC.

I don't know how many times I swore out loud.  I had no idea there was such a things as sword porn.  Freud would be proud.

Weight: 109.5 oz.
Blade Thickness: 7/32"
Blade Length: 39 7/8"
Handle: 15 3/8" long. Leather Wrapped
Steel: 1055 Carbon
Overall Length: 55 1/4

- Ark

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Hanky Code

Okay, I guess I'm not done with all the sex talk from my last post, so here we go again . . .

Throughout the last couple of thousand years, western society has not been very kind to homosexual men.  Life imprisonment, castration, and death have been common punishments - either state prescribed or mob-induced.   It is not surprising that gay men developed secretive ways of communicating with each other.  One such way is the hanky code.

Exactly where, when and how the hanky code came about is still debated, but it involves dangling a hanky or bandana out of one's pocket (rear, normally) to advertise a particular kink, slant, or sexual interest.  The left side indicates tops, or a do-er, while the right side indicates a bottom, or do-ee, and color and patterns get down to the specifics of the interest.  Those specifics are outside the scope of this blog, but remember, Google is your friend.

So how would you use this in an RPG?  In a game with a modern setting, you can use the code as-is.  I'm sure it would be great for confusing the heck out of a pack of investigative PCs - especially if the players have never heard of 'flagging.'  For science fiction based games - imagine a hanky code that includes rishanthra - with colors and patterns indicating species.  Oh Mr. Niven - you sly dog you. ;)  

You could do something similar in a fantasy setting.  But that is not what originally got me on this thought experiment.  I don't really make gender inequality - or sexual preference inequality - a feature in my games.  I just assume that, overall, the people of these worlds don't really care.  The players bring enough of their own baggage in, anyway.

In fact, in my new city-based campaign Vayniris, the headless bureaucracy that runs the place actually promotes homosexuality.  They've got 30+ million people to deal with in the city.  They certainly don't want more.

So who is repressed in Vayniris?  Who needs a secret code? 

Well, my first thought is thieves and other hooligans.  'The Man' is always coming down on them.  Rightfully so - yeah - but they are still in need of secrecy.  So I think that a hanky code would be a great addition to a thieves' cant.

It could work like this:  a thief who offers a particular set of services - such as pick-pocketing, second-story work, or kneecap-breaking would wear a set of handkerchiefs in one way.  A person looking for a burglar or assassin for a particular job could wear a bandana in another way.  So at the 'black market bar,' the customers and service-providers can, just with a glance, know whether they should talk to one another or not.

There is probably a lot to think through in such a thieves' hanky code, but it's a start. :)

- Ark

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Erotic Fantasy

During our game tonight, one of my players piped up that he had recently come into a batch of old D&D books that he really wasn't interested in, and asked if we wanted any.  He mention that one was an erotic D&D book - and I said "Sure, I'll take a look at it, at least."

He said that if his girlfriend saw it, she would probably freak big time.  What he brought back from the car was a rather beat up copy The Book of Erotic Fantasy.  "Oh, that thing," I laughed.  "Sure, I'll take it."

Having done a brief perusal through the book tonight, and I'm just amazed at the controversy.  It's been a while, but I seem to remember some people were quite upset about this book.

It's got some boobs in it, there are dildos too.  And there is a brothel.  And it talks about sex and BDSM and magical ruffies and pregnancy times for elves.  Perhaps I am too jaded - but so what?

There was a lot of sex in our D&D games when I was a teenager.  We weren't hot chatting across the table or anything, but everyone needed to know the charisma of the tavern wench, the big bad vampire lady had to be wearing a leather bustier, and all of the princesses wore magical chastity belts with 'automatic blade de-incentives' for protection.  Some characters would get married to NPCs and have lots of children. The hormones raging in our pimply bodies ensured that something regarding sex was uttered at least once in ever five minute time span.

I'm not exactly sure what the problem was when The Book of Erotic Fantasy was released.  Was it the kid issues - and the assumption that only kids played D&D?  Well, I think you fix that by just not selling it to kids.  Other titles get sold to only adults, right?  I know that at 14, I sure as heck couldn't go into the 7-11 and by a Playboy.  There is some kind of system, right?  I had to find my porn out in the woods behind a dumpster like all the other kids.  I never could figure why people were THROWING AWAY PORN, but hey, their loss.

Well, anyway, this book seems to have a lot of neat things to spice up an adult RPG game - even if you go nowhere near any brownchickenbrowncow moments.  I mean, what campaign couldn't be improved with a Crop of the Mistress or the Gnomish Kama Sutra?  Okay, yeah, I'm far from vanilla. :)

I told the Boy he could see it when he was 18.  He was okay with that.  Girls have cooties, doncha yanno?

- Ark

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vayniris Snow

I did a little sketch of Vayniris - the city that I mentioned in my Re-skinning Vornheim post.  In one part of the planet, it's a somewhat dreary, cloudy day.  In another part, it's a winter wonderland.  Luckily, georgraphy doesn't stop - or even slow down -Vayniris streets. :)

Click the city to see it bigger.

I can't quite draw Zak's sprawling mutant tower things yet - just plain, boring Germanic half-timber affairs.  I'll work on it.  But not this week-end.  It's the Boy's birthday weekend - and we just got back from the LEGO store - so it's time to build.. :)

- Ark

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Bloggers

I'm going to take a different tack here on this week's column.  Rather than presenting something that may be inspirational at a game or campaign level, I'm going to focus on something that inspires me at a DMing level.

When I first began to look at blogs for information on RPGs, I ran into Philippe-Antoine Menard and his blog, Musings of the Chatty DM.  He was writing very interesting articles about the 4e games he was running, including his tinkering with the rules.  One of the things that I noticed was that 'Chatty' was very emotional about some things - seemingly too emotional about things that happened in his game, and he was almost OCD about preparing for games - setting up incredibly complicated and obsessively thought out encounters.

I wondered if there might be something wrong with him.

As I continued to follow his blog, I realized that if there was something wrong with Chatty, then that same thing was wrong with me.  I think about RPGs a lot.  I think about campaign worlds and encounters and PCs and rules quite a bit.  I can get pretty emotional if a game is tanking - or some corporate idiot is screwing with a system I enjoy.  Here was a guy who really cared about his games, like I did, and he was spewing all of his feelings - his highs and lows and inbetweens - all over the internet.

I had really never seen anything quite like it.

My formative RPG years were spent out with the tumbleweeds in West Texas.  Not a lot of gamers, needless to say, and even less DMs.  I taught myself how to play from Holmes, and my players learned how to play from me.  There wasn't really anyone to talk to about being a DM.  I would start talking about it to the players, but they would look at me like a restaurant patron would at a cook who came out, sat down at the table, and began to moan about how hard it was to cook the steak. 

"Get back in the kitchen, ya bum!"

So for the better part of three decades I've sat alone it my kitchen, serving up piping hot adventures to the lunch crowd.  On rare occasions, I'd go eat at someone else's restaurant. Normally I'd be disappointed at the flavor (not enough care liberally sprinkled throughout the meal) and skulk back home.  But I never talked to other cooks about cooking.  I mean DMing. :)

I began to read quite a lot of gaming blogs.  I found that I was drawn to the OSR Blogosphere and its fringes - not just because of the gaming subject matter, but where the bloggers were coming from.

So many OSR bloggers open themselves up and talk about their dreams and feelings and triumphs and disappointments.  In exploring the way other DMs are, I find similarities in myself.  Finding that I am not alone in a lot of my little quirks and big personality features is comforting, but it also helps me look inside and investigate more deeply into my psyche. 

By looking at you, I am more able to learn at myself.  In seeing how you handle problems, prepare for games, and think about your campaigns, I am better prepared to succeed as a DM.

I'd like to thank all the bloggers who expose little bits of themselves to the internet.  I know it can be hard.  Revealing yourself can drawn the folks who like to thow tomatos.  Sometimes those tomatos are full of razor blades and can hurt quite a bit.  Learning how much to show is an art.  But I want you to know that your efforts are appreciated, and I try to follow in your footsteps and share myslef with other gamers through this blog.

So keep on sharing and inspiring! :)

- Ark

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Re-skinning Vornheim
Last night I kicked off a campaign using Zak's Vornheim as a basis.  It went exceedingly well - with a bit of fiddling.

Zak never really intended Vornheim as a setting in and of itself.  In his words, "For me it was just sort of What I Do When The Girls Stay Home Instead of Go To The Dungeon. I never imagined I'd run a whole campaign with them never leaving the area."  I looked at his book and thought differently. After some cognating, I came up with some ways to transform Vornheim into my vision.

Versioning: The first point is that I'm running the city with 4e Essentials for the Boy.  Yeah, there is some actual physical pain that stabs into my temple with the thought of that - but there it is.  So any encounter stats have to be adjusted.  That's pretty easy, actually.  HD into Levels.  Poof.  Well, sorta POOF, but you know what I mean.  And races and deities from 4e all get shoved into the funnel, as well as Vornheims own batch.

Rename: I need to pee on something to claim ownership, I guess.  I had a horrible time long ago trying to run MERPs because tromping around in Tolkien baby seemed like heresy.  If I'd have just renamed Middle Earth to the Lower East Side, I might have had more luck.  So my city shall be Vayniris.  That's pronounced like vein iris.  It actually means something regarding the setting, but no one cares about that but me.

Location: Vornheim is Vast.  Vornhein is Cold.  Vornheim is a frikkin freezer.  Brrrrr.  I don't like cold.  I don't even like imagining somewhere that is cold.  While it's a wonderful motif for Vornheim, Vayniris needs something different.

Actually, I spend a lot of mental cycles thinking about location.  I could see the benefit of locating the city on a coast, or landlocked, or in a desert, or in a swamp, or on a savannah, or heck, even back to the Vornheimic tundra.  I just couldn't make up my mind.

But then I though - why do I have to?

That's when all the bits of Vayniris fell into place.

Vayniris has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years.  Originally it was the capital of a small kingdom run by a king interested in empire building.  When he conquered another kingdom, he would have his wizards create permanent magical portals from his capital to the newly conquered capital.  The portals were huge affairs - some reaching hundreds of feet wide and high.  Vayniris absorbed countless cities this way.  The King was able to march his armies almost instantly to wherever they were needed.

Eventually, Vainiris became the center of a worldwide empire.  The worldwide empire.  In some parts of the city ofVainiris it was dry, while other parts were rainy.  Night fell on parts of Vayniris, while at the same time, dawn broke.  The layout of the city became so complicated that it was impossible to draw it on a single sheet of paper - or 100 sheets.  Perhaps an auto-cad program located in the 13th dimension could do the place justice.

The Empire eventually failed, and city of upty-ump-million people became an enormous city-state.  Centuries went by.  The rulers of Vayniris found the task of running the city so difficult that they just packed up their bags and walked away.  Management fell to the massive, headless bureaucracy, much like the way Zak describes for Vornheim- with the Palace Massive, the Eminent Cathedral, the towers, the bridges, etc.

There isn't much reskinning needed, after that back-story.  It all pretty much fits into the standard set-up for Vornheim.  Zak does a wonderful job describing a crazy city, huge in scope and chaotic in organization.  I just increased the scope, added myriad weather patterns and day/night cycles, imbedded thousands of 'far-gates' into the fabric of the streets, and tossed in the some 4e stuff.

This make my ADHD style personality happy.

In actually play - I must say - it rocks.  I've tossed out every suggestion from WOTC about how to DM 4e and am relying on Mythmere's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming as a basis on how to play, coupled with Zak's notes in Vornheim and my own preferences.  The players seem quite happy and I had fun.

So thanks, Zak, for providing me a platform in which I can have fun with 4e again.  The Boy is indebted to you as well, but isn't really aware to what extent. :)

- Ark

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google Plus

Well . . . I took the plunge.  Dunno if I'm going to like it or not.  I was no fan of Facebook, but this has some features that I like more - such as the Edie Brickell style friend circles.  What interests me most is the potential for gaming.  No, not Farmville!  Sit down roll dice games.  I attack my enemy with a herring and the DM has to figure out how to calculate that type of games.

The big problem is that even if some of you are on Google Plus, I have NO idea who the heck you are, since most people seem to be using their real names.  ACK.  I'm still Studio Arkhein on Plus and intend to stay that way until they pry the moniker from my cold, dead hands.  Facebook never understood that I really had no desire for my real name to be floating out in the aether and used their evil algorithm to prove to me that Studio Arkhein was not a real name and I should be ashamed for trying to create an account with it.

Anyway, fellow gamers and othersuch people, feel free to search for Studio Arkhein on Plus and friend, um, add me to a circle thingy.  :)

- Ark

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Judith

When I was digging through Renaissance art for inspiration, and not finding much, I stumbled upon Lucas Cranach the Elder's Judith Victorious.  It's a very striking piece, and I couldn't get it out of my mind. 

Look at her over there, dressed up in her Sunday best, tired smile on her face, sword in one hand and the lifeless head of a bearded man in the other.


I had to do some research.

Apparently, Judith was a very popular subject of painters for several hundred years.  She is seen lopping this dude's head off, or lugging it around, in countless painting.  People really dug it.

It comes from The Book of Judith, an old account that the Catholics liked so much that they included it in their bible.  The Protestants - not so much.  Not one mention whatsoever in their bibles.

Seems this General Holofernes was stomping through the Holy Land beating up on people and came to Judith's town.  Well, they had some pretty good defenses, so the General decided to camp outside and issue threats and such.

After a while, Judith, a very beautiful widow, had had enough of it.  She got all gussied up and marched on down to the encampment.  Judith told General Holofernes that she had decided to switch sides and give him all the intel he would need to conquer her city.

General Holofernes fell head over heels in lust.  A couple days later, Judtih got the General drunk as a skunk, stole his sword, lopped off his head, and brought it back home.  Her fellow citizen hung the head from the city wall.

When the General's troops found out, they freaked and ran away.  Judith lived happily ever after.

Online commentary explains Judith's popularity through history as a David vs. Goliath kind of thing - the small and weak defeating the big and strong.  There is another aspect - Judith is the ancient world's Mata Hari, and sexy spies are always in vogue.

I see another aspect, however.  People love hot chicks with swords.  Judith is the Bible's answer to Red Sonja - minus the chainmail bikini, of course.

So go hunt down more pictures in Google Images or find the original text.  It's not a bad little story.  It would make a great background for a high level NPC in a campaign.  Perhaps she has even become leader of her city.  Or maybe she took to the road afterwards righting wrongs.  The story could even be the inspiration for a espionage based D&D adventure. 

Have fun!

- Ark

Nentir Vale - Hexamogrifried

Sully wanted a hex grid on top of Nentir Vale so that proper hexcrawling can be done.


Click to make big

For those of you who don't know, Nentir Vale is 4e's default setting - the 'Neo-Borderlands,' if you will.

The grid is at about 6 miles per hex - not exact - I eyeballed it.  The next step would be to open up Hexographer and translate it - but I'll leave that for someone else. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Tale of the Halfling Gardener

Once upon a time, there was a pudgy halfling who spent all day long tending his garden. Then one day his mule ran away. When his neighbor, the cartwright, came by for tea, he told the gardener, "I'm so sorry, That's horrible news."

"Maybe," the halfling gardener replied, puffing on his pipeweed.

The next day, the mule returned to the gardener's home, bringing three other mules in tow.

"Four mules?" the cartwright exclaimed, "You could sell some and buy a cart. How wonderful!"

"Maybe," the halfling gardener replied, puffing on his pipeweed.

The next day, the mules ate all of the gardener's radishes and carrots, then their eyes began to glow red and they turned into giant, ravenous were-mules. Crazed for blood, they squeezed into the chicken coop and ate all of the birds and eggs, then went to sleep.

"Holy crap!" the cartwright hissed from across the road, not daring to set foot near the gardener's home. "You must be cursed!"

"Maybe," the halfling gardener replied, puffing on his pipeweed.

The next day, an army of orcs tromped through town. The one-eyed leader decided to raid the gardener's property for food. When the orcs got to the chicken coop, the were-mules leap out.  Orc body parts flew in all directions.  The were-mules killed all the orcs, ate them, and ran off to parts unknown.

The cartwright stood staring at the gardener, jaw almost scraping the road. "Truly, you are the most lucky halfing alive!"

"Maybe," the halfling gardener replied, puffing on his pipeweed.


(lovingly ripped off from The Parable of Taoist Farmer.)

- Ark

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaijū Sōkōgeki
The Boy and I just finished watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. His response was rather surprising. He liked it.

Several years ago, there was a marathon of old Godzilla movies.  I watched them, giddy as my six year old self ever was at watching giant lizards, moths, turtles, and three headed dragons beat the snot out of each other.  The Boy - around six at the time - turned up his nose big time.  Apparently, the monsters looked too stupid to live and he'd rather eat liver than be forced to watch.

Then tonight I stumbled on Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.  It came out in 2001, but I had never heard of it.  I was struck by how much it felt like the old monster movies of my youth.  This was definitely no Matthew Broderick style Godzilla, and it wasn't some stupid robot Godzilla thing (sorry Mechagodzilla fans, but I didn't like that movie at all.)  There were dudes in rubber suits, rinky-dink models of helicopters and destroyers, bad explosions, clearly out of scale flames coming from monsters and buildings, tons of senseless violence and death of innocent by-standers, and Godzilla was THE BAD GUY.  In short - it was glorious.

And what's more, the Boy whooped and hollered and cheered as the monsters battled it out as if he had been a pro-wrestling fan.  "Smash him!  Sling him around by the tail!  He'll never survive that.  OMG!  Mothra took a direct hit!  The missiles just bounce off!  He's only been resurrected two times so far Dad, not three - get it straight.  Mushroom cloud time!  They are fighting underwater!  When three heads shoot golden lighting at you, it's all over, buddy!"

There is some attempt at a story.  Apparently now Godzilla is the raging angry spirit of everyone killed by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.  Blah blah blah.  Whatever.  You can safely ignore any of that babble.  I mean, really, we are here to watch giant monsters destroy things and each other.  

I recommend the movie wholeheartedly.  Well - for the right sort of person.  You know who you are.

Of course, I got to thinking during the movie and wondered 'how the hell would I handle a Godzilla like monster in a regular D&D game?'  I am not shy about throwing high level monsters at low level players.  But freaking Godzilla?  If he decided to walk through the player's home town - well - it's more like a hurricane that an encounter. At most the party could piss him off - if he noticed at all.

I don't have any answers for that question - but I'd like to figure something out.  When the players end up shipwrecked on the Island of Irradiated Giant Monsters during sparring season, I need to have a plan. :)

- Ark

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vornheim Type IV

With apologies to Zak
"Dad?" the Boy asked me as we were driving to Sonic.  "Remember when you said Labyrinth Lord was like going home for you?  You wanted to go back home, and you did?"

"Yes," I nodded, remembering that and several blog entries that I had written revolving around the concept.

"I've been thinking," the Boy started.

Uh oh.

"You know, I started with Fourth Edition, and that's my home," he looked at me.  "I want to go home."

Oh crap.  Done in by my own figure of speech. 


The Boy has put up with my OSR shenanigans for half a year now.  He followed me down Nostalgia Lane and even gave Jim Ward and Frank Mentzer a run for their money.  He has more than earned the right to play what he wants.

"Okay, okay, I get it," I chuckled.  "Let's play some 4e."

But how?  I thought about the various RPGA and Encounters stuff from WOTC - but that style of play epitomizes the worst of what 4e has to offer.  I looked at several gaming groups - but so many of them are switching to Pathfinder these days.  I thought I had someone to DM - but come to find out he'd much rather play.  So looks like I'm going to have to bite the bullet and RUN 4E AGAIN.

After meditating on the subject for some time, I think I can deal with it.  But this time it's going to be different.  I'm going Old School.  Screw balanced encounters.  To hell with the fully portioned level appropriate treasure parcels.  And skill challenges?  Those were lame anyway.  They get tossed out on the side of the road.  I'll keep the mechanics that the boy likes, but I'm not doing boring or stupid crap to 'complete the harmonic 4E balance in flux.' 

And I'm going to run Vornheim.

I read Vornheim during my vacation and was amazed.  Zak's really got something great here.  I'd say award-winning.  My initial thought was to use it verbatim - but I'm rethinking that.  I think  I'll teleport Vornheim to a post-apocalyptic Earth half a million years in the future - Dying Earth-ish.  I don't like cold, so rather than frigid, I'll put it on the the Texas Coast.  That ought to do the trick.  A few tweaks here and there and I'll be done.

That still leaves all of the battle mats and minis.  I got a box load of little monster pogs with the Monster Vault.  I'd like to use them, but I guess that the players are going to want to use their minis.  The Boy certainly will.  And fighting a cardboard pog with a gloriously painted metal mini might seem a bit lame.  Oh well, something to think about.

If anyone has any thoughts on making 4e palatable - without changing the basic mechanics - let me know.  The Boy's birthday is coming up, and I'd like to have it all ironed out before then. :)

- Ark

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dicey Landscapes

I'm back from my coastal vacation.  It was very refreshing, and aside from the hardcore sunburn I idiotically gave myself, very pleasant.  The mental recharge was nice, and I was surprised at how much drawing I did.  I drew seaweed and dunes and waves and clouds and marshes and pelicans and seagulls and tankers filling up at oil platforms and tugs pushing barges filled with stacks of giant wind-farm propellers down the Inter-coastal waterway and bikini clad women drinking beer.

Strangely enough, I drew them all in circles.

In my teen age years, I kept a journal, and I'd start each writing session by drawing a mandala.  It's a kind of abstract art and meditative practice, in the form of a circle, in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.  After a while, I wandered away from the abstractness and started just sketching whatever came to mind inside of a circle.

It's been years since I did drew that way, and I'm glad I rediscovered the technique.  It's very meditative.  Something about tracing out a circle and filling it with what I see is very fulfilling.  I'm not sure why filling up a rectangle isn't as enjoyable.

I also sat down and drew out some images for Jovial Priest's Old School Adventure Guide.  I drew them it the same fashion - in a circle - but from my mind's eye.  I just finished splashing some color on them, and here they are.

Click to see the little stuff

So hey, JP, here you go!  I'm not sure if this was what you were looking for, but here they are. :)  Thanks for the inspiration.

- Ark