Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Nit-Picking

Sometimes inspiration isn't about developing strange new worlds, or totally radically adventures. Sometimes inspiration comes from getting the law books out and digging through case files for precedents, just like on Paper Chase . . .

I've been following the discussion over at Monster and Manuals - specifically Piledriving D&D and I Blame The Children; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Declaring Actions Before Rolling Initiative, with as much interest as my sick, overworked brain has allowed.  One of the things that noism is talking about is missing out or forgetting important rules in Old School D&D - and the effect it has on the game.  One specific example is Declaring Actions before initiative is rolled.

That has been pressing on my mind for a while.  A few months into our Labyrinth Lord game, I noticed that the combat appeared a bit clunky, and that things that mattered, like spell casting, didn't seem to be going the way that they should.  I began to pay more attention to how I was running the combats and discovered the shocking truth - I was very sloppy about the whole thing - not enforcing any sort of order of sequence.  Over the past few months, I've been slipping order back into the combat sequence - at a pace that my feeble brain could remember - and it seem to be working well.

Except . . .

Except I've got this big block on 'Declaring Actions.'  It doesn't seem right.  And Declaring actions before initiative just seems downright crazy in the head.  Not nonsensical - just foreign - alien - aberrant - Cthullic.

Noism seems to think it works just great.  But then Zak piped up about how in the ConstantCon, nobody declares nothing in combat until their turn in initiative, and people seem to 'just do it' without a break in their stride.

The whole thing bugged me, so I began to delve into every Old Schoolish D&D version that I had in paper form (okay, I skipped Hackmaster, so sue me.)  I started to chart out their Combat Sequences, and dumped them into Excel.  While I didn't have the Holmes version to hand, I did take a peek at what Matt Finch had to say about it in Swords & Wizardry: Complete Rulebook, for some historical perspective.

Here is what I came up with:

B/X (B23-27)
BECMI (DMR22-24)
AD&D (61-84)
Distance Check

Surprise Check
Surprise Check
Surprise Check

Distance Check

Reaction Check

Declare Intentions
Spell Declaration
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Monster Reaction / Morale Checks
Morale Checks
Encounter Reactions
Missile, Magical Device Attacks, Spell Casting, Turn Undead
Missile Combat
Missile Combat
Magic Spells
Spells and Magic Items

Closing / Charge

Set Weapons Against Charge
Melee Combat
Melee Combat
Armed Combat

Unarmed Combat
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
End of Turn
End of Turn
End of Turn

Labyrinth Lord (50-56)
Swords & Wizardry Complete (36-43)
LotFP Grindhouse (R&M56-62)
Distance Check
Distance Check

Surprise Check
Surprise Check
Surprise Check

Distance Check

Movement / Action Declaration
Spell Declaration

Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative

Each Character Completes Their Actions One At A Time
Movement and Missile Combat
Missile Combat
Magic Spells
Melee Combat and Spells

Melee Combat

Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
End of Turn
End of Turn
End of Turn

It appears that declaring one's actions wasn't what you did in early D&D.  After some digging in the Dungeon Master's Guide, I saw that you are supposed to declare spells before you cast them, but it wasn't very obvious.  If AD&D had more on declaring actions, I couldn't find it.  The first time I found a version specifically saying that Actions (Intentions) should be declared - all actions - and before initiative, was the BECMI version of D&D - which I don't consider as 'early' - more like mid-morning.

And that completely explains why it felt so strange to me.  My D&D track is Holmes->B/X->AD&D.  No declaring there, except for spells - and that's probably something I overlooked then.  For the most part, we were just chugging along with a B/Xish AD&D variant.

That also gets my head itching about why Labyrinth Lord, with it's hooks firmly set in B/X, pulled out a BMCMI combat sequence.  Odd. :)

Oh, and Holmes was a complete odd-ball, seeming to be a heck of a lot more like d20 in it's combat sequence.  No offence, doctor - none at all.  Before your time, you were.

Of course, I could be completely wrong with my analysis of the combat sequences - or my understanding of exactly what noism said or meant.  It was only a few hours worth of work, anyway.  But the exercise has gotten me very interested in WHY the editions picked the combat sequences they did.  I'd say that I'm so interested, I'm INSPIRED. :)

So, go pick an idea in role playing that always seemed kind of fuzzy - and go do some deep dive research on it.  You just might find a whole mess of interesting stuff you didn't dream of.  And who knows, your game might even be better for it!

- Ark

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Persuasive Writing

The boy had an assignment today in Language Arts - a persuasive essay. He chose to write about Dungeons and Dragons. It's interesting because, up until very recently, he preferred 4e over older versions of the game. Okay, well at least *I* find in interesting. :)

Why Old School D&D is Better than New School D&D

by The Boy

Old school D&D is more fun because you have more freedom to do what you want. It is much more simple and easy to play, and it is a fun challenge.

In old school you have more freedom to do what you want. You don’t need a power to jump on to a building. You do not need an ability to be able to climb an ogre and stab it in the head

It is a simple game to get started with. Just roll up a character and role play. If your character dies just make a new one. It’s NOT rocket science.

Old school is fun and challenging. You can have long games or cliffhangers. You can play for what seems like ages and not play for ten minutes. You can get confused between the real world and the game world.

Old school is simple, fun, and cheaper than new school so try it out today!

I am curious as to what the teacher will think. :)

- Ark

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Random Quotes from the Labyrinth Lord Game

"Hurry up!  Put on the ferret costume and dance.  There is money to be made!"

"I gather up the priestess' finger bones and make a pan flute out of them."

"Wait just a minute.  This is important.  Let me get the Zamfir video to play right."

"I hid in a bush all night in a puddle of my own urine."

"Hold on guys!  If we steal the bones, we loose the opportunity to surpise the door."

"I'm going to tea-bag the dragon with his buddy's testicles."

"I think I should really get some say in whether my character impregnated a horse or not."

"According to my calculations - given the xp value vs. damage output - orcs just really aren't worth attacking anymore."

"Are you kidding?  Why would I put my fighter on the front line when he has a sling?"

"What kind of thief are you?  You refuse to get anywhere near a trap!"

"So how does this guy have little folders with information on all of us?"

"My new family motto shall be Honoris causa in - Honor Within Reason."

- Ark

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Crazy-Ass Tim

Ugh.  Over the last month, work has ground me down into a semi-lucid blob thing.  The extra work hasn't been any fun.  I'm still doing work - in hour 14 of today' workday again.  Of course, I'm salaried.  I've been worrying about the developers I manage too - which is an unexpected side-benefit of managing - worrying about people and hoping they will be okay under excess work loads.  My brain can barely form coherent computer code - much less find anything inspiring about the universe.

THAT'S WHERE TIM COMES IN!  Yay!  Tim is one of my players in the Labrynth Lord game I run.  You have probably read about him here.  He's Captain Chaos - the Eye of the MAELSTROM.  You know - that guy.

Tim has started a BLOG - From the Ashes.  Oh, and let's call Tim by his blog handle, PureStrainHuman .  I think a lot of you will get that reference.  If you don't, well, may you be visited in the wee hours of the night by Jim Ward holding a cricket bat.

So sorry, I can't lift a finger to inspire you today.  Dungeonspiration is exhausted mentally and physically, and still has many more hours of real life work crap to do.  But go visit PureStrainHuman. Say hello and go follow his blog.   He's pretty inspiring.  He has inspired the boy to create Chaotic Neutral Goth Halfling Sorcerers.  Wheee!

Brain hurts - must stop typing . . .

- Ark

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dawn at Olympus

The child of morning, rosy fingered Dawn, crept across the sky in flickering curtains of gold.  She illuminated the mountain fortress of Olympus, which still echoed with the revelry of the night before.

" . . . and so I threw the Acropolis at him.  The whole Acropolis.  True story," mighty Zeus slammed down his goblet of ambrosia while the gods around the table laughed and slapped their knees.  At his right hand side, gray-eyed Athena sat, her chin cradled in her hand, trying not to yawn.

"Father," Athena whispered while the laughter continued, "It wasn't the Acropolis.  It was a whole mountain.  Mt. Etna.  Remember?"

Zeus didn't even bother to look at her.  "Details are boring, girl.  It's the delivery that matters."

"Whatever, Dad," she muttered.  Being the Goddess of Wisdom meant that she was constantly surrounded by idiots.  The grey owl on her shoulder nuzzled her neck, and hooted lightly into her ear.  Athena's eyes instantly shot wide open.  "Father, father, we have a problem!" Athena hissed.

Gray bearded Zeus just talked louder over her.  The son of Cronos was recounting the time he seduced the Spartan queen Leda.

" . . . since I boinked her as a swan, she laid an egg nine months later.  You should have seen her face!"

As Zeus recounted the tale, the banquet hall became quiet, too quiet, as they were not even laughing at his jokes.  It was an uncomfortable silence, and Athena tugged at her father's robes, clearing her throat.

"What is it, girl?" he looked down at her and thundered.

She raised a finger and pointed toward the entryway.  There stood Hera, wife of almighty Zeus, arms akimbo, tapping her soft sandal on the hallowed floor.

"Well!" the queen of the gods huffed, face red.  "I thought I would find you here, cavorting with these . . ."

"Hera, my beloved wife, what brings you here at this late hour?"  Zeus sighed.

"Late?" Hera puffed, "Late?  Dawn is outside and you call this late?  Oh no, husband, it is quite early!"

Zeus blinked, and then blinked again, unsure how to reply.  "Um . . ."

Hera pulled up the hem of her robe and marched around the table, toward Zeus' throne.  The gods around the table were silent.  Dark Hades stared at the floor and shuffled his feet.  Brave Ares picked up a knife and examined his reflection in the silver.  Watery Poseidon, master of the sea, god of horses, and the 'Earth-shaker,' picked up a salt shaker and tipped a few grains into is ambrosia, then watched as tiny bubbles floated upward to the surface.

"How dare you.  I have been scouring the surface of the Earth, looking for you!" Hera jabbed a finger in Zeus' face.

"Do not talk to the King of Olympus in such a manner!" Athena shot up out of her chair.

Hera glared at Athena.  "Hold your tongue, daughter!"

"I am no daughter of yours," Athena scoffed, "I was born, fully formed, from my father's forehead."

"Oh, you were born fully formed alright, right out of his giant ass, you little shit," Hera hissed.

Before Athena could materialize the golden spear into her hands, Zeus put his palm on the crown of her head and gently, but forcefully, shoved her down into a sitting position.  "Shh, little one." He then turned to his wife.

"If you would have checked the schedule, you would have known about the party. Right boys?" Zeus said.

"Of course," Hades replied.

"Been on the calendar at least a month," Ares nodded.

"The invitations arrived last week," Poseidon waved a brightly colored piece of paper with a weak smile.

Hera's stare bore down on the gods at the table and they all found more interesting things to look at, such as the ceiling, the wall, or an imaginary noise in the direction of the kitchen.  She whipped her head back to Zeus, jabbing her finger at him again.

"You've been at it again, and this time I have a witness!"

"I . . . I . . . no," the son of Cronos stammered.

"There is no talking your way out of this one. You are guilty, guilty, guilty!" she jabbed him in the chest.

"I haven't done anything, have I, boys?" he looked back at the gods, who were still busy examining things that weren't there.

Athena stood up, "Hera, this is hardly any way to behave to your King and husband."

"Shut up!" Hera and Zeus said in unison.  Zeus eyed Hera, and then turned to Athena.  "Listen pumpkin, Mommy and Daddy are having a grown up discussion, so go find something else to do."

Athena huffed and collapsed back into her chair, crossing her arms in a powerful pout.

Hera glared at Zeus, rage in her eyes.  "You've been cavorting around with a mortal woman!"

Zeus stared at her.

"What do you have to say for yourself?"

Zeus continued to stare.


"I'm thinking," Zeus, the aegis-bearer, yelled at this wife.

"You swore to me, you swore on your throne, that you would stop this obsession with mortal women.  No more stalking and raping them.  No more taking the form of an animal and surprising them in the shower!" she shook her fist at him.

Zeus took a deep breath.  "Lies.  All lies.  I have been true to you.  I have not touched a mortal woman.  Who is this witness that tells such falsehoods?"

"He is there," Hera pointed to the entryway.  There stood a form, bent over, hobbling with a cane, his face scarred.  It was Hephaestus, god of fire, patron of blacksmiths.

"Oh, I see you've brought your parthenogenetic son with you," Zeus smirked.

"Tell us, my son, tell us what you saw," Hera said as the crippled god finally made it within hearing distance.

"Um, hi Athena," Hephaestus' voice cracked as he made a little wave towards the girl.

She rolled her her eyes.  "Hello Hef."

"Get on with it!" Hera hissed.

"I'll report only what I saw, the whole truth," Hephaestus started.  "Three nights ago, by a pond, I saw a flaxen haired damsel by the name of Podarge remove her clothing for an evening bath.  Of course, I did not wish to be seen, so I hid in the bushes."

Zeus laughed.  "Can you really imagine gimpy here running around the bushes like a ninja?"

"Hush," said Hera.  "Let him finish!"

"So, the flaxen haired beauty entered the water, and lo and behold, what should I see but a huge glowing bull descend from the sky, his bovine member fully erect, and he ravished the poor mortal girl from behind," Hephaestus finished.  Hera turned to Zeus, arms crossed, a smug look on her face.

"Oh come on," Zeus said, "Does every huge flying glowing bull with a tremendous cock that anyone sees on Earth have to be me?"

"Yes," the whole room said in unison.

“You are not helping!” Zeus hissed to the gods at the table.

“Mother warned me,” Hera sobbed. “She said I should marry that nice Hebrew god down the road.  But noooo . . .”

“Ambrosia lips,” his voice softened, “That was me.  I was there.  But you’ve got it all wrong.”

“How?” she sniffed.

“I was there, yes, and I was buggering Podarge.  But Podarge is a boy.”

“What?” Hera gawked at him.

“Podarge was a boy,” Zeus nodded.

“But Hephaestus said . . .”

“She had breast!” Hephaestus piped in.

“The poor boy was fat.  It was a glandular problem.  You can hardly fault him for a medical issue.”

“But . . . but . . .” Hephaestus stuttered.

“Oh come on.  Who are you going to believe, me, or a gimpy god with only one working eye!”

Hera glared at Hephaestus.

“But . . .” Hephaestus said meekly.

Hera grabbed Hephaestus by the ear and began dragging the cripple towards the door.  “You brought me out here for a boy?  A boy?  You won’t be able to even limp when I get through with you!”

The cacophony of name calling and curses gradually receded in the distance.  Sighs of relief emanated from the table.  Zeus wiped the sweat off his brow and turned to his daughter.

“Thank goodness that is done with, Athena.”

“Yes, Father,” she sighed.

“Now I want you to go to the walk-in closet in my private room.”

“Which walk-in closet?” Athena cocked her head.

“The one with the waterfall and the forest.”


“There are three mortal women in there, a blonde, a brunette, and a red head.”

“Dad!” Athena bolted from her chair.

“Take the blonde.  That's Podarge.  Feed her to a Cyclops or toss her into the sky and make a constellation out of her.  Whatever you do, keep it quiet, but get rid of her.”

Athena shook her head, sighing.  “Father, if you don't control yourself, you may, one day, be replaced with a god who is a monogamist.”

“Nonsense, my girl, nonsense,” Zeus laughed, mussing her hair.  “What kind of human would worship a pansy-ass god like that?”

Rosy fingered Dawn tiptoed across the palace and back down Mount Olympus, heading across the Ionian Sea to Italy, snickering silently to herself.

The End

[with apologies to Homer . . .]

- Ark

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Behold the Druid! Beware His Powers! Unspeakable Powers!

So continuing from this post, the Labyrinth Lord gang was in a forest, armed to the teeth, standing around a magical hole on a slab of granite on the ground - a hole that lead to another magical hole 60 feet up the side of a tower half a mile away, overlooking the central courtyard of the town of Barton Hill.  It was near dusk, and they could see 30 orcs standing in formation outside of the local Church of the Lawgiver.

Yeah, if that hurt your head, you should probably go read the first post. You probably missed the whole part about the Aperture Science Portal Wands and big green dragon. :)

Anyway, one player began pitching Molotov cocktails at random roofs.  Another tossed an oil flask at the orc who looked like the leader.  Other players unleashed volleys of arrows into the startled orc platoon.

The orcs were freaking out in the town square.  To the side of the square was the church.  Now the church had had its front face ripped off, but was at such an angle that the player's couldn't see inside, yet there was a suspicion that the green dragon that they had seen landing in the town was inside.

One of the characters that The Boy is playing is Beagle the 2nd level Halfling Druid.  Okay, yeah, I am being a little lax on class restrictions - but druid halflings make perfect sense to me.  It probably stretches back to my affinity for Yondalla and the belief that all halflings would worship the Goddess of Nookie.

So Beagle drops an Entangle spell down in the courtyard, making sure that it covers the entrance of the church, and the the area of effect goes deep inside the battered holy structure.

Go grab your AEC and look up Entangle.  Page 43.  I'll wait.

Okay, I won't wait.  Go compare it with the Entangle spell in the 1st Edition Player's Handbook.  I'll wait.

Again, I tricked you.  I won't wait.  This LL first level druid spell has a range of 80' and 40' diameter of effect  - a factor of ten greater than the original spell.  I kind of think a typo might have occurred here - but I'm really not a fan of nerfing things mid-flight . . . so . . .

A 40 foot diameter.  I can't believe it.  That's enough to entangle . . . a dragon.

That was just where the frikkin dragon was sleeping too.  He was supposed to get up, look around, see the PCs and go bleach their skins until they had no more skins.  This was to be my revenge for all those horrible, horrible things the players have done to me over the years.

But still . . my pretty little lizard had a saving throw.


Double dog crap.


As Charlie Brown says when Lucy pulls the football at the last moment . . . AAAUUUGHHH!

So the dragon wakes up and finds himself entangled.  He's already nervous.  His sister was killed by a bunch of yahoos only a week ago, not twelve miles away.  He's agitated, cranky, and ready to kill something.  His opponent must be close by, so he lets loose with his breath weapon.

Clearly, the dragon was operating off his remembrances of reading Gary Gygax's version of the spell, not Dan Proctor's.

And, yeah, the big cloud of chlorine gas fills up the courtyard and kills his orc bodyguards.  Bodyguards.  There to protect him.  Him.  A dragon.

It really just gets worse from here, but I'll leave that to another day.


- Ark

Monday, September 19, 2011

Moe's Scale of RPG Hardness

I've always been a fan of talc.
Over the last year, I think I've played a larger variety of role playing games, with a bigger mix of people, that I have in any other year during my gaming life - especially as a player - not just a DM.  It's gotten me thinking about a lot of facets of gaming - and about what I like in a game.  One of the things I keep on coming back to is Roll vs. Role playing.

I'm still on the fence about a lot of it, from a player's point of view, but it seems to me you could map a lot of it out on a continuum, like Moh's Mineral Hardness scale.  People have probably already done it - and I just haven't seen it - or didn't pay attention at the time.  On one side would be having everything in a game be determined by the results of dice rolls versus skills.  The other is where everything is decided by GM fiat.  Everywhere in the middle would fall actaul real games that existed in reality.

As a players, it's pretty neat to create a character that can yell there way out of combat.  Playing one, ont he other hand, feels kind of weird when you do you best yelling every - then roll your die and hope the other creature is intimidated.  

On the GM's side, the use of skill rolls is nice in that it gives an out - the GM doesn't have to bow to social pressure in making everything run away from a character who yells all the time.  Those rules give some comfort in how to handle it, I guess.

But it all seems strange to me, when you step aside from the social interaction and toss a die. 

Anyway, this little post is really quite half baked as I am still trying to wrap my head about how I feel about certain styles of play.  Feel free to comment down below, as I'd love to see some discussion about it - from many different viewpoints.

- Ark

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Road Less Exploded

Note the carefully placed snipers behind the
bottle of soap bubbles and the Wii Zumba box!
I've been a long time fan of Savage Worlds.  Back last year, I ran some one-shot games and was preparing to run a campaign, but it fell through.  The Boy even GMed a short game with some friends, which was very fun.  I'd love to do some more Savage Worlds, but with the amount of other games going - it just hasn't been feasible.

Enter Savage Worlds Showdown.  Showdown is a skirmish version of Savage Worlds.  The rules are basically the same as Savage Worlds, with a bit of streamlining to take it out of the realm of RPG and into the wargaming world. You build your units with points, agree upon a scenario with your opponent, and have at it.  It's kind of like GURPS Warhammer, I guess, in that you can build just about whatever you want.  It's easy to min/max and make unfun - if that's what you like - but if the players agree upon some guidelines and look at the process of creating a scenario as game design, rather than competition, it can be loads of fun.

We started out using LEGO Star Wars figures, and as the Boy and I were playing, I came to the realization that we really didn't have to play on a game board or map.  We could use the entire frikkin living room as our battlefield.

Today, we graduated to our old WOTC Star Wars minis.  This was mainly because The Boy didn't want to go through the effort of digging through his vats of LEGOs to find the battle droid pieces.  The minis were fun.  I must say - Savage Star Wars is much more fun than the old Star Wars skirmish game.  

The Boy had a troops of clones - some regular clones, a troop commander (kind of a vanilla Rex) and some snipers.  I had some Super and non-Super Battle Droids.  Oh, and some snipers as well.  The two sides were fighting over a set of strange LEGO buildings that The Boy had crafted.  They were important to the war effort, I'm sure.

Like our old Soviet nemesis, I decided to go with sheer numbers.  The Boy went with grenades.  Frikkin grenades.  That punk commander had a thermal detonator.  It didn't take long for my poor troops to become scrap.

The boy took the Road Less Exploded, and that has made all the difference.  ;)

Savage Worlds Showdown is FREE, btw.  You can get it at the company website on the downloads page.  Don't forget to snag the excel worksheet that has all the troop building formulas built in.


- Ark

Friday, September 16, 2011

Artistic Clarification

Clarence the Frog Goblin
There has been a continuing confusion about my artistic ability, though I have tried, in some posts, to clear it up.  The angry demon in the title banner and the sad succubus are NOT by me.  The angry demon is by Angel Urena.  The succubus is by Matthew Humphreys.  Both are absolutely wonderful artists who I commissioned with COLD, HARD CASH to draw these things.  Again, they are not by me.

I, on the other hand, draw like crap. Passable crap sometimes, but still - crap. Please take Clarence the Frog Goblin over there as an example.  If you want to commission me to do some art - sorry - I only do things for free.  But I'd be happy to draw Clarence for you.  In fact - take Clarence.  Use him.  Print him on cardstock and make an army of him to battle your players in a 4e game.  Go ahead.  Feel free.

So, sorry for any confusion.

- Ark

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Atlantis

When I was young, my mother would enter a trance-like state and describe her memories of past lives.  One such session stuck with me vividly.  She reported that in a previous life, she had been a man at Atlantis.  At the time, Atlantis was a collection of thousands of little islands with connecting bridges.  The most common transportation was by boat - powered by a network of crystal energy transmitters that ultimately got their power from one big crystal that pulled its amperage directly from the sun and stars.

My mother had been a scientist who had helped develop the whopping big mega crystal.  The crystal was a source of tremendous raw power.  The Atlantean government decided to use that power against the Lemurians, who were a hostile force on the other side of the planet.  Focusing the stellar forces with the crystal, my mother and her fellow scientists blew up Lemuria - sinking it into the depths of the Pacific ocean.  Regretfully, the shock-waves went round the world and caused Atlantis to sink as well.

Needless to say, I had a voracious appetite for anything I could find out about Atlantis.  The home bookshelves were filled with such content.  Jane Robert's descriptions of Atlantis and multi-colored people riding dinosaurs seemed to back up my mother's recollections.  And Charles Berlitz' memoir about diving in the Caribbean and coming under attack from a crystal powered pyramid shooting laser was great.  Edgar Cayce was a bevy of information, what with all of his access to the ethereal Akashic Records.  And von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods - well - can you say NAZCA?

Eventually I picked up Plato and read his descriptions of Atlantis.  I did a lot of head scratching and sat down with pencil and paper to map out what he described.  This - the definitive source on Atlantis - didn't seem to have anything to do with the Atlantis in my mother's books.  Other than that some sort of land mass sunk, that is.

I kept my eye out for more books, though.  One I found in high school pointed out the similarities of Plato's Atlantis with Troy.  It was a great book, full of very interesting details.  The only problem was that Troy never sank.  Bummer.  Other books pointed out Antarctica and Greenland as possible sources.  Sri Lanka?  Hmmm.

Santorini (Thera)
After a long, fallow time in my Atlantis research, I came back to it with renewed vigor.  Revisiting the theories, most seemed silly and - frankly - wish fulfillment on the part of whoever was advancing a particular theory.

The theory that really made sense was born out of Spyridon Marinatos' excavation of Akrotiri, a city on the Greek island of Thera.  There had been a thriving civilization on the volcanic island.  Then one day, some four thousand years ago, the volcano blew its top, turning most of the island to ash that sank to the bottom of the sea, and burying what was left.  The event spawned tidal waves that severely crippled the surrounding islands, and perhaps hit mainland areas all over the Aegean and Mediterranean.

The Atlanteans appear to be the people archaeologists call the Minoans.  I had already known about the Minoans.  I think the first thing that struck me about them was BOOBS.

Tiny little shirts.
Yeah.  Breasts.  The Minoans of Crete and the surrounding islands had some wonderful art - and a lot of it seemed to focus on breasts.  Or, at least, the bits I remember.  They seemed to have something against bras - and shirts, for that matter.  But really, the Minoans had some wonderful art.  The drawings were very cartoon-like - a favorite style of mine.  The sculptures could be very lifelike - very realistic - especially when focusing on bulls.

The Minoans were a very mysterious lot.  They were just beginning to write at the time, and really only using it to record crop productivity and the number of goats owned by a particular noble.  I did a lot of study on the Minoans, and eventually came to the conclusion that no one know what the hell they are talking about if they say anything definitive about the culture.  They could count sheep, they built buildings and ships, they could paint pretty pictures, and apparently they sacrificed people when they felt the need.  They even, apparently, build a handful of buildings in Egypt and the Levant - or, at least someone was there using very similar architectural and artistic styles.  But what the heck that means is up in the air - though I like the idea of trade embassies, myself.

So, my long search for Atlantis ended with - well - it ended with a great big question mark.  To me, Atlantis is the Minoan civilization predating the more sweeping Mycenaean based culture that swept in from mainland Greece.  But all there are are scraps and trash - leftovers of what appears to have been a bright and vibrant civilization.  But it's really not about the destination.  It's about the trip that brought me there, and everything I learned along the way.

I'd love to create an RPG - or at least setting - based on the Minoans - perhaps with a sprinkle of Greekish proto-mythology dropped in.  What I have in my mind, however, would be a massive undertaking.  And I guess that few would ever want to play it, as it would delve deeply into bronze age cultures and a mindset that is probably very hard for modern players to get into.  D&D with Minoan trappings is not what I am after.

But still, all that I have learned is useful in my campaigns.  If you see powerful, sea-faring cultures in one of my games - you can be assured that there is a little o Atlantis in all of them.

So go forth research what you love.  Even if it's about the gestation period of the tsetse fly, I bet there is something there that can be plopped right into a campaign - making it all the more rich.

Oh, and for your reading pleasure, here is some of the research material on my shelves in my last great fact-finding tour of Atlantis.  Enjoy!

Apollodorus.  (BCE).  The Library of Greek Mythology.
Apollonus of Rhodes.  (BCE).  Jason and the Golden Fleece.
Burr, Elizabeth.  (1993).  The Chiron Dictionary of Greek & Roman Mythology.
Cahill, Thomas.  (2003).  Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea.
Cameron, Pat.  (2003).  Blue Guide: Crete.
Campbell-Dunn, GJK.  (2006).  Who were the Minoans? An African Answer.
Castleden, Rodney.  (1998).  Atlantis Destroyed.
Castleden, Rodney.  (1990).  Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete.
Chadwick, John.  (1987).  Linear B and Related Scripts.
Chadwick, John.  (1976).  The Mycenaean World.
Cottrell, Leonard.  (1953).  The Bull of Minos.
Dickinson, Oliver.  (1994).  The Aegean Bronze Age.
Farnoux, Alexandre.  (1993).  Searching for the Legendary Palace of King Minos.
Garrison, Daniel H.  (2000).  Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece.
Graves, Robert  (1955).  The Greek Myths.
Hawkes, Jacquetta.  (1972).  Dawn of the Gods.
Herodotus.  (BCE).  The Histories.
Hesiod.  (BCE).  Theogony.
Hesiod.  (BCE).  Works and Days.
Higgins, Reynold.  (1967).  Minoan and Mycenaean Art.
Homer.  (BCE).  Illiad.
Homer.  (BCE).  Odyssey.
MacGillivray, J. A.  (2001).  Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth.
Marinatos, Nanno.  (2010)  Minoan Kingship and the Solar Goddess: A Near Eastern Koine.
Martin, Thomas R.  (1996).  Ancient Greece.
Mathioulakis, D. & I.  (1960).  Crete.
Mohen, Jean-Pierre.  (2000).  The Bronze Age in Europe.
Pellegrino, Charles  (1991).  Unearthing Atlantis.
Plato.  (BCE).  Critias.
Plato.  (BCE).  Timaeus.
Saggs, H. W. F.  (1989).  Civilization Before Greece and Rome.
Snell, Daniel C.  (1997).  Life in the Ancient Near East.
Time-Life Books.  (1987).  The Age of the God-Kings.
Unknown.  (BCE).  Gilgamesh.
Wiedemann, Thomas.  (1981).  Greek & Roman Slavery.
Wilson, Ian.  (2001).  Past Lives: Unlocking the Secrets of Our Ancestors.

- Ark

Monday, September 12, 2011

And I Thought Holes Were For Throwing People Down

After some intense carousing, the party found themselves wandering the Wilds again. They were somewhat grumpy, owing vast sums to the City of Fultum, the Thieves' Guild, and the Assassin's Guild in long night of debauchery.  Oh - and there were the accusations of horse molestation, too.

They don't take roads anymore, so they didn't catch the attention of yet another green dragon in the sky.  This one was patrolling the skies over Barton Hill.  Yes, that Barton Hill, the site of the infamous Cube of Force attack.  They carefully hid while The Boy's halfling thief - Ferrit - shimmied up a tree.

With the aide of Ferrit's magical glasses, they saw the dragon light inside the walls of Barton Hill - half a mile away.  They also saw that the human guards on the wall had been replaced with orc guards.

Tim was livid.  The last time they attacked the city, Sai-Lin - Ron's cleric/Magic-user - had talked everyone into not burning the whole place down - just the city hall.  Think of the children, was the cleric's plea.  But this time it was unanimous - burn the mother to the ground.

Around four months ago - real time - the party found a set of wands that acted almost exactly like the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device in the Portal video game, the Wands of Doors.  Suddenly, the entire party remembers that they have the wands (gotta love gamer's selective memories,) and begin to try to figure out how they might work outside of the dungeon in which they were found.

After some Q&A, Sai-Lin determines/remembers that the Wands only work on granite.  They have Ferrit eyeball the walls of Barton Hill.  Are they granite?  I make a roll and give it a one in three chance.  Crap.  Yes, the walls of Barton Hill are granite.

After looking at the town, they only place they can place a portal hole so it gives a view inside of Barton Hill is on one of the two towers.  They can do that, alright, but they need to have portal near to them - and they are not willing to go closer than half a mile near the town.

"Are there any pieces of granite around?" they ask.  Some pebbles, yes.  But they need a space six feet in radius to get a portal to appear.  I let them know there is nothing like that around.

"What about those city walls?" Mervyn's cleric dwarf suddenly pipes up.  "There had to be a quarry somewhere around to get that much stone.  A granite quarry."

Greeeeat.  The frikkin dwarf has turned into frikkin Columbo.

"Okay okay, you find the quarry.  It's got all the slabs you'd ever need."

They drag a slab to half-mile mark from the town and place a portal hole on it, then have Ferrit place the other side of the hole on the granite tower.  The party then peers down the hole in the slab and sees the city square below.

Thirty orc stand in formation in the square.  One one side of the square, the Church of the Lawgiver sits, looking worse for wear.  It appears as though the front face of the church has been ripped off.  Rubble is on the ground around it, but they can't see directly into the hole in the church from the angle of thier portal.

"Is that hole about the size of a dragon?" one of the players asks.


The characters readied flasks of oil, bows, slings, and torches - grinning with delight - all aiming downward.

(This, dear friends, is what we call a CLIFFHANGER.)

- Ark

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Etymology

When I was younger, I used to grab a dictionary off the shelf, sit down on the floor, flip to a page, and just start reading for hours. One of the things I particularly liked about a good old fashioned dictionary was that little piece before the formal definition of a word - the etymology bit.  I was always fascinated about how the meanings, uses, and forms of words shifted over time.  Those little blurbs were always too small - just offering a hint of what that particular word had been up to over the centuries.

Twenty years ago I stumbled onto a book by Robert Claiborne called The Roots of English. It's basically an etymological dictionary, but as Claiborne states, "It's in no sense a comprehensive dictionary of Indo-European roots but rather on of Indo-European roots in English.  And only some of those . . . about a third.  In partial compensation, I've added a modest selection of non-Indo-European words or roots that have contributed to our everyday vocabulary."

The Roots of English is fascinating to read.  Most entries have interesting little stories about these 'proto-words,' and Claiborne makes interesting links from one word to another. I learned about the word "arkhein," from this book:

[Greek ARKHEIN, to begin, > take the lead, which > rule (rulers - sometimes - take the lead, though not always in the right direction).  The "begin" sense > ANCIENT ("from the beginning"), ARCHAEOLOGY (the study of ancient things), and the ARCHIVES where ancient documents are stored, frequently enshrining ARCHAIC laws.  The "rule" sense produced the MONARCHY ruled by one person and the ARCHITECT who is the "ruler" of construction - a master builder.]

Of course, arkhein also reminded me of a combination of arcane and Arkham as well, so it has been a favorite word of mine for two decades.

What I found particularly useful was that I could take the root words from the book and turn them into good words for role playing and story creation.   Fantasy words made with real English root words seem to strike a chord with the listener much better than a word formed out of gobbledygook.  There is even an index in the back of the book that links English to the root word, making word creation much easier.

The Roots of English is a great resource for DMs and word-o-philes and I highly recommend it.

Oh, and as a little side note, Robert Claiborne was a fascinating guy himself.  He was a folk singer who toured with Woody Guthrie, a victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee, an editor at Scientific American and various Time-Life science books, and wrote on subject such as medicine, astronomy, climate-anthropology, marine biology, and linguistics.  He was quite a fascinating guy.

So go grab a dictionary, a comfy patch of rug, a quiet afternoon, and a glass of Hi-C and go invent a new language or two. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vayniris Anthology Update

Two giraffes use peer pressure to try and convince
The Boy to spend his lunch money on Warhammer 40K minis.
I've been spending a lot of my time recently working on the Vayniris Anthology Project.  I'm pretty excited about it, and I think the end product will be a great collection of short stories.

For those who don't know, the project is an attempt to produce an 'Appendix N worthy' shared world anthology, set in a vast urban fantasy sprawl.  More information about it can be found in this post.  The deadline for submitting stories in December 31st, 2011.  This is a non-profit project, with all proceeds going to a children's charity - most likely Bryan's House. If you are interested in contributing, shoot me an email and I'll send you the guidelines.

I've been poking around, getting a feel for the cost of art for the book cover, and it makes my wallet want to run and hide.  Honestly, I'm not a great spender.  But I'd like to have a nice, spiff-o-riffic cover that entices people to buy the book and raise money for kids in need.  This has brought me to two different lines of thought.  1) Why not just ask people to donate art? or 2) Start up a Kickstarter project and raise any money I need that way.

So . . .

1) Probably wouldn't work.  I'm looking for something pretty specific in the cover art - something that would not be amiss on bookshelves in the sci-fi\fantasy section of B. Daltons or Waldenbooks back in 1981.  I'm not sure an artist donating their time and effort would put up with my picky-ness on the matter.  (But if somewhere out there is a masochist artist willing to put up with me, feel free to reply below or send me an email.)

2) Kickstarter - hmm.  Seems like a magical well where people go and scoop up money for free.  I'm sure there is some catch, but I haven't looked very far into the process.  I'm pretty sure that even a vague amount of interest could generate enough cash to pay for cover art - but do I have to sell my soul?  Heck, it could potentially get enough cash to publish in some manner other than Lulu.  If anyone has experience in using Kickstarter - let me know your experiences, good or bad.

The more I think about this project, the better I want it to do - I want excellent stories that people will love to read, an excellent framework that will showcase the author's work in the best possible light, a kicking cover that evokes exactly the right mood, and a final product that can go beyond the confines of the OSR and really make some money for the kiddos.

So, anyway, I'm scratching my head at logistics here.  Thanks in advance for any advice.

- Ark

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Geography

Earlier this week I was poking around in one of my bookcases and rediscovered a book that I hadn't seen for a while: The Geography Behind History, by W. Gordon East.  Like Br'er Rabbit's tar baby, this book tends to grab me and not let me go.

Early in my DMing career, I was having problems with world building.  All of the standard 'Tolkien ingedients' were there, but the worlds seemed dead, flat, and nonsensical. But soon, I discovered The Geography Behind History, and discovered why.

My original world-building method involved tracing the outlines of a continent, and then tossing in some mountains, rivers, forest, and deserts.  After that, I'd pick some good races and evil races, develop a timeline of wars and other important events - and then start the campaign.  The big problem was my history very little to do with the map I drew.

In a mere two hundred pages, W. Gordon East packs a huge amount of information about how people and events are inextricably linked to the local geography.  He discusses why people pick the areas that they settle, how roads develop from animal trails, and how borders drawn on maps have little to do with reality.  There are over seventy maps that explore the relations of climate, vegetation, trade routes, population, viticulture, and a heap of things that I can't even remember.

The book may be a bit dated, since it was published in 1965.  I'm not sure where, though.  East speaks of theories of early migration to the New World that, while discredited in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, have made a big comeback recently. It's discussion on Cold War politics and geography in the last chapter may not be 'the fresh new thing,' but it still has importance in today's world.

Below is a table of contents to give you a look at the structure:

Geography as an Historical Document
Old Maps as Historical Documents
Geographical Position
Climate and History
Frontiers and Boundaries
Habitat and Economy
The Dawn of Civilisation
The Dawn of Civilisation in the Americas
Europe and China
International Politics

I checked on Amazon, and was surprised that they had the book in stock.  The only two reviewers had nothing good to say, though.  Like any old English textbook, it can be dry at times, but it's the kind of dry that I like.  I have read this book many times and have always found things that sparked wonderful ideas.  If you can make it through all 1,342 pages of H. G. Wells' The Outline of History, then The Geography Behind History will be a breeze. 

So go read a book on geography and get inspired to draw some maps and develop some really interesting history and cultures.  :)

- Ark