Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hit Point Survey

Warriors Experience Table, SWN, pg 21
Okay, so this isn't one of those 'click the button' surveys, but more of a 'response requested' kind of thing, involving standard D&D style hit point rolling.

Now, in all my years, I've been under the impression that when you level, you take your Hit Die and roll - then add your new hit points (and perhaps CON mod) to your existing hit point pool.  Everyone I've ever dealt with has been in agreement - it seems to be intuitive.

Stars Without Number has classes, levels, and hit points similar to D&D, but apparently, that's not the way you do it.  From page 23 in Stars Without Number, under the heading Hit Points:
"Don’t worry too much if you roll a low number. As your character gains experience they will gain more hit points and the chance to reroll poor dice. Some GMs may choose to omit the initial roll entirely and simply start new characters with the maximum possible hit points."
Unless I'm misreading, this seems to imply for SWN that, you reroll your hit point every level.  It's an interesting concept, if it is indeed the concept here.  Has anyone heard of such a thing?

- Ark


Apparently, a couple of weeks of regular gesture drawing is pretty effective.  This sketch actually looks like a human being - at least to me, anyway.

So watch out.  If you spill your beer, Oktoberbrawl Girl will kick your ass with a stick.

- Ark

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Stars Without Number

I used to have a reoccurring dream.  Well, it was more of a reoccuring theme.  I would be in a comic book shop, or a book store, or a flea market in an ancient submarine, or in the Transylvanian basement of a fetid castle - and I'd be looking through boxes.  These were big long white boxes filled with every role playing game imaginable.  I would dig through them, looking for that one science fiction role playing game that had everything I wanted - good combat mechanics, good skill systems, good starship rules, and good universe generation systems.

I'd inevitably find some rpg system that had an awesome cover and everytihng I wanted inside - and I'd rush to the zombie check out girl or the auto-purchase-bot with a big smile on my face.  Then I'd wake up and start cussing - realizing that it was just a dream.

I've had that dream a LOT.  It's representative of my search for a perfect rpg in my younger years - especially a perfect science fiction game.  I've played quite a few - Star Frontiers, various forms of Traveller (black book, mega, 2300,) Space Master, GURPS Space, Star Wars - and read even more.

Okay, I'm not going to say that Stars Without Number is perfect, but damn, it's good.  It seems to fulfil the promise that Traveller made back so many years ago, but never quite delivered.

Traveller had a fun - if nerve racking - character generation system where your character could die before gameplay started.  It was great for generating back-story - but the actual mechanics were - MEH.  Stars Without Number takes good old fashioned D&D mechanics, simplifies them, and tweaks them with a light skill system.

There are just threee classes, Warrior, Psychic, and Expert - but the Expert - like LotFP's Expert class, is highly customizable with skills, allowing you to create anything from a doctor or spaceship mechanic, to a bounty hunter.

The game tosses out the good old hit charts and follows a simple formula.  Twenty always hits, one always misses, and you determine that with a d20 + your Combat Skill + Att Mod + Att Bonus + defender's AC.  Poof.  Beautiful.  I really wish the d20 developer dudes would have thought of this, rather than having to flip AC on it's head.

And you know when your first level psychic has d4 HP and a sniper rifle does 2d8 - only good things can happen. :)

Where Stars Without Number really shines though, for me, is in it's universe creation.  Just like in Traveller, you sit down and randomly roll up a sector full of stars.  In my youth, I loved this, and as other sci-fi RPGs were produced, they had similar creation rules, but they got more specific on the physical characteristics of various solar systems.

I loved the complexity and exactness of some of those systems.  Charting out how many AUs distant each planet was from it's star, calculating the specific density of a planet, determining albedo, etc - all these were great fun - for me - an amateur astrophysicist.

It never really translated into fun during a game.  Even if the players knew what the term 'albedo' meant, they wouldn't have cared to know that planet X925g-U had a rating of 57%.

Stars Without Number tosses most of the physical nuts and bolts and replaces them with - um - for lack of better words - a SCI-FI-TROPE-A-TRON-3000.

The default setting of the game is that humanity expanded rapidly into the galaxy, achieving amazing technology, then something happened to crash civilization and crash it HARD for a while.  Now humanity is rebuilding and worlds are reconnecting with one another.  You know, that old chestnut.

Rolling up a world, you might get something like this:

Atmosphere: Breathable mix
Temperature: Warm (could result in a desert or swampy type place)
Biosphere: Immiscible (i.e., you can't eat the natives)
Population: Hundreds of Thousands of Inhabitants
Tech Level: 4 - Baseline
Worlds Tags: Police State, Hostile Biosphere
Culture Base: Russian

Looking at the results, and the pointers in the book, a hundred idea pop in my head.  The first to come into mind is a place like Harry Harrison's Deathworld - a planet full of jungle animals and plants ready to eat anyone in a second.  But it could just as easily be a world reminiscent of earth in Stephen King's The Mist or frankly, Frank Herbert's Dune.

The creation process wonderfully tosses a bunch of tropes together and lets that pot full of 'kitchen sink' soup cook in your mind for a while until something awesome pops out.  Who gives a flip about the gravity of a world - unless that gravity is different enough to mean something and be a good plot device.

Star Without Numbers also allows for the same type of randomized trope construction of cultures, aliens, npcs, religions, political parties, and corporations. Each of these systems is geared towards creating conflict and issues that will provide ample adventure opportunities for the pcs, wherever they go and whatever they do.  It's a wonderful sandbox creation system, and very fun to work with.

I mean, I would have never thought to make up a low-tech world where the entire society had to hunt down alien whale-like creatures to survive, in some sort of Moby-Dick-gone-viral planet, but with a roll of some dice, my mind began churning along and I was there.

Sine Nomine published the original version as a free pdf, and I bought a physical copy of it.  Enjoying that, I grabbed Skyward Steel, which is a sourcebook for space navies.  I liked that so much, I went and got the updated version of Star Without Numbers from Mongoose - and it was worth it - rules for AI's and mech, and an entire world culture generation system.

I'm really impressed with what Kevin Crawford has been doing with this game.  I haven't been this inspired to run a science fiction game in quite a while.

So if you haven't yet, go grab Star Without Numbers.  It's free, and even if you don't intend to play it, it's chock full of good adventuring ideas that should impress even jaded players.

- Ark

Friday, October 21, 2011

Draw the Ninja. Be the Ninja.

At some point, it was suggested that I illustrate my little 'what happened at the table' stories for the blog.  The prospect actually frightened me.  I'm not that great of an artist, and I try not too judge myself too harshly, but the thought of spewing out hardly recognizable crap scribbles on a constant basis filled me with dread.  So I've been practicing - trying to get better - so one day I can draw crap drawing with at least a tad more self-confidence.

Following some advice from Tom Preston, I decided to start gesture drawing, which is just a artsy-fartsy was of saying 'draw as fast as you can and don't worry about specifics too much - just get the overall flow.'  Thirty second gesture drawing seems to be all the rage, but kind of hard to do and juggle photos, sketchpads, pencils, and an alarm clock.

Then I stumbled on the Figure and Gesture Drawing Tool, a nifty website with configurable tools to run you through a course of gesture drawing - as if you had a real-life old battle-axe of a art instructor in your own living room, yelling at you to draw faster.  Okay, it doesn't yell, but it can certainly feel that way.

So, if you like to draw, and you want to get better, you might give the tool a try.  I've been at it for a week or so and I may not be getting better, but at least I am getting more confident about my crappy drawing.  One day I might even illustrate how poor Schmeky Encephalitis died in the Kobolds Ate My Baby game (for the second time,) or how my character Bloodspurt the Half-Orc Paladin in our Pathfinder game was ruthlessly executed by the party's assassin for being too annoying to live.

Until then, enjoy the hastily sketched NINJA!

- Ark

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Lovecraft & Roerich

In the Antarctic eldritch horror travelogue 'At the Mountains of Madness,' H. P. Lovecraft makes mention of the "strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich" a total of seven times.  I didn't notice that in my first read-through in my tween years.  The story was full of bizarre references to the Miskatonic University, Edgar Allan Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the famed Plateau of Leng, and the Necronomicon - and I wasn't exactly sure what was real and what was not.

Admittedly, 'At the Mountains of Madness' was serialized in Astounding Stories in three issues, so some repetition is understandable, but still that leaves, on average, two mentions of this mysterious Nicholas Roerich per serial episode.  It was something H. P. Lovecraft expected his readers to know about.  So, during my most recent read through, I hit up Google in search of answers about this mysterious artist.

Well what do you know? Nicholas Roerich was real.  Per Wikipedia, he was a "Russian mystic, painter, philosopher, scientist, writer, traveler, and public figure."  As well as being a novelist and prolific painter, he also advocated protecting historical sites and institutions devoted to education, art, and science.  He was nominated several times for the Noble Prize.  The more I read about the guy, the more I like him, despite his somewhat grumpy appearance in photos and paintings.

The paintings Lovecraft mentions - well - Roerich spewed out art like a frantic machine.  Identifying the specific paintings is impossible becasue there are so many to choose from.

"Something about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and of the still stranger and more disturbing descriptions of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"Odd formations on slopes of highest mountains. Great low square blocks with exactly vertical sides, and rectangular lines of low, vertical ramparts, like the old Asian castles clinging to steep mountains in Roerich’s paintings." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"It was young Danforth who drew our notice to the curious regularities of the higher mountain skyline - regularities like clinging fragments of perfect cubes, which Lake had mentioned in his messages, and which indeed justified his comparison with the dreamlike suggestions of primordial temple ruins, on cloudy Asian mountaintops so subtly and strangely painted by Roerich." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"There was indeed something hauntingly Roerich-like about this whole unearthly continent of mountainous mystery.  On some of the peaks, though, the regular cube and rampart formations were bolder and plainer, having doubly fantastic similitudes to Roerich-painted Asian hill ruins. The distribution of cryptical cave mouths on the black snow-denuded summits seemed roughly even as far as the range could be traced." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"As we drew near the forbidding peaks, dark and sinister above the line of crevasse-riven snow and interstitial glaciers, we noticed more and more the curiously regular formations clinging to the slopes; and thought again of the strange Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"From these foothills the black, ruin-crusted slopes reared up starkly and hideously against the east, again reminding us of those strange Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich; and when we thought of the frightful amorphous entities that might have pushed their fetidly squirming way even to the topmost hollow pinnacles, we could not face without panic the prospect of again sailing by those suggestive skyward cave mouths where the wind made sounds like an evil musical piping over a wide range." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

There is a substantial quantity of Nicholas Roerich's work to see.  The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York would probably be a great place to go visit, but you can take a virtual peek at the museum. Or you can aways Google your way to more art.

So go check out some of the art that inspired H. P. Lovecraft to be all freaky-deaky, and maybe add some freaky-deakiness to your campiagn afterwards.  Oh, and while the following images doesn't quite fit in with 'At the Mountains of Madness' - it still sets quite a mood:

- Ark

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Are Grognards Hipsters?

Internet Joke I Don't Get - But Still Makes Me Laugh
Last week, one of the young punk gamers at the table, Mervyn, called Crazy-ass Tim and I hipsters.

Honestly, I don't know what the hell a hipster actually is, except perhaps that they are skinny kids with shaggy haircuts.  I think.  I don't know - even after doing copious amounts of internet research.

Mervyn's argument was that we were hipsters because we thought all of this old crap - games, books, music, etc - was hyper-cool - so cool we even had blogs about it.   In my mind, I'm just a fat old dude having a nostalgic stroll down the more pleasant parts of my childhood.

But I do have hipster glasses.  I walked into the eyeball store and told the lady 'I am a nerd and I need some nerd glasses,' and she giggled a bit and gave me some nerd glasses - which turn out to look exactly like hipster glasses.  Go figure.

I'm not really worried about what people call me, but it would be nice to know exactly what it is that they are calling me.  Knowledge is power.

So tell me - what the hell is a hipster, and do our crusty-ass old grognard selves fit the definition?

- Ark

PS I guess the real question is if I run up to James Maliszewski and yell 'HIPSTER,' would he turn around? ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dungeonspiration: War! Good God, Ya'll

The Irish trounce Norway.
I've been playing Medieval II: Total War for the last couple of weeks.  Okay, it's like five years old, but I just heard of it.  Five bucks on Steam, and it is pretty cool.

A good chunk of it is devoted to various military campaigns, ranging from the Norman Conquest and The Crusades, to the Pacification of the Americas.  You juggle economies, manage spies and diplomats, and build infrastructure.  Yadda yadda yadda.  Fun for some, I'm sure, and fun for me when I was playing Civ II.  But I'm over that.  What I really like is the bit where you zoom down into battles.

I'm sure this isn't news to most video games players, but for those people like me who live under a rock, it's pretty friggin nifty.  You get to control all of your units in real time - and have the handy use of PAUSE as well.  The game allows you to build battle scenarios, but I much prefer to have it pit two random armies, kitted out with random but sensible units, and fight in a completely random place.  You end up fighting in plains, forests, or hills, during rain, for, or night, at river fords, forts, villages, towns, massive castles, or unassailable cliffs.

Playing these battle simulations gets my mind going about D&D and what most of those shiny weapons and armor were actually designed for in the real world - bloodletting on a massive scale - and how different types of units translate into the various character classes of editions both old and new.  It also gets me hungry to have large scale warfare occur in-game.

I've been building up tensions in the Labyrinth Lord game between the Lawful human forces and a Chaotic army headed by the great green dragon Abaraxis.  Small skirmishes have been happening, but the humans have been pussyfooting around, not really interested in attacking.  It's kind of a big thing to effect the campaign, and I've been pussyfooting around too.

The Egyptians fight Denmark in a river crossing.
Fighting these computer battles have changed my mind.  I have a much clearer view of what the armies look like in my head now, and what their capabilities are.  The humans have some wicked magic - but the dragons have the old AD&D fear ability going for them.  Imagine that hurtling out of the sky at a well formed phalanx of warriors.  So much for well-formed.

The PCs have been on the edges of what has been happening.  They haven't been too interested in getting involved, though.  That's perfectly fine.  The war is inevitable and will occur with them of without them.  The repercussions of the war - well - that will be nigh impossible to escape - whatever happens.  I still don't know how it will pan out.  Perhaps I should play it on the computer. :)

One of the more interesting thing about Medieval II: Total War is that The Boy is studying Medieval History right now.  He right there reading along about the state of Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Crusades, then watching the game, learning names of cities and countries that don't even exist anymore, watching archers rip light infantry to pieces, seeing the primitive precursors of gunpowder weapons, watching siege towers take walls, and marvelling at the utter chaos as his father's troops are routed and run and run and run in every direction for what seems like forever.

I never would have dreamed I would have heard my son yell, "Get your arbusquers out of there! Can't you see the heavy cavalry charging?" :)

So go get out of the myopic view we can fall into sometimes in role playing games, and go play something on a grander scale.  It can give you a much more expanded viewpoint, with which you can look at your rpg campaign in a whole new light.

And watch out for the heavy cav - it's a killer. ;)

- Ark

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Metallic Mouse That Doesn't Rust

I just devoured The Stainless Steel Rat.  I forgot how much I enjoyed my first reading of it, circa 1982, or how much the Stainless Steel Rat series influenced my playing of both Star Frontiers and Top Secret.

The books follow the adventures of  'Slippery Jim' DeGriz, one of the biggest thieves and con-men around.  It's over 32 thousand years in the future, and most of humanity has grown up and solved problems like war, plague, famine, and crime.  This has left the universe a very boring place, and for hyper-intelligent people like DeGriz, such boredom is simply unacceptable - so he stirs the pot and sows as much chaos around as possible.

He's not a 'bad' guy.  Slippery Jim doesn't like hurting people - and killing people outside of self-defense is definitely not on his list of things to do.  But as long as he's sure the insurance will cover it, he'll steal anything - and the more complicated, the better.  His sheer outrageousness and intelligence puts him at the top of the most wanted lists, and makes him the target of the galaxy's super police, the Special Corps. who eventually employ him to catch other ne'er-do-wells, stop war-mongering planets from mongering, and fix time itself.

The Stainless Steel Rat books became a template of how I constructed just about every Top Secret and Star Frontiers campaign I even ran.  'Slippery Jim' is essentially a PC - straight out of a game - a smart ass there to amuse himself and put on a spectacle for others.  The stories are essentially sandboxes with some loose 'mission' that ties everything together, but the Rat is free to wander entire planets to complete his objective - usually in whatever timeframe he feels like.  One minute he's pretending to be a janitor herding robots with a whip, the next he's a billionaire on a golden space yacht.

The players fell into the pace quite easily.  A grumpy 'administrator' gives the team an assignment.  They get dumped off undercover far away somewhere and start snooping around.  They discover the 'bad thing' is being done by some rich guy. They need funds, so they knock over a bank.  They then go pretend to be millionaires (well, at that moment they 'are' millionaires)  A chase ensues.  The bad guy gets away.  They chase him to another planet.  Then they discover that the rich guy controls the mafia on that planet, so they have to join and work their way up the ranks until they have access to the guy.  Etc.  Great fun, and lots of role playing,combat, scheming, lying, and stealing to be had.

The formula worked for both Top Secret and Star Frontiers.  On the surface it may seem very James Bond-ish, but there is a certain air about The Stainless Steel Rat.  It's . . . well . .. it's chaos.  Much like the Honey Badger, 'Slippery Jim' DiGriz don't give a shit.  He does what he does for fun - not for duty, honor, or what is best for society.  That's really what makes it.  There is nothing to 'convice' the PCs to do.  They are given a job, and they figure out the most fun way to accomplish it - preferentially with lots of explosions and loose cash.

And, strangely, the books allow for a great way that relative npcs can be useful and fun.  See the novels for details. :)

I'm already chewing through the second book in the series - The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge - grinning away.  I've also got Retief of the CDT next to me as well - speaking of great books to turn into adventures.  It's giving me a big itch to run some Ratty Sci-Fi games, big time.  And over on the table is Stars Without Number.  Geez.  Gamer ADD, take me away!

- Ark 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hexmogrifying Google Earth

This is my 200th post and my 42nd birthday all rolled into one, so I thought I'd do something special.

I've been a fan of Alexis' world hex mapping project for a while - even back before I had heard of the OSR Blogosphere.  I love maps, and putting one into hex form immediately screams 'adventure' to me.

I wanted to try out hexing the real world myself, and though Texas would be a great place to start.  I love the geography of my home state.  You've got deserts and swamps and mountains and hills and nice and comfy broadleaf forests and painfully tall swaths of pine and islands and plains and marshes and canyons and playa lakes and - geez - lots of wonderful, different places that confuse the hell out of some foreign types who land at Austin and are surprised they don't see cacti and cowboys.

So, I sat down to do it.  Several times.  What a frikkin pain in the ass!  The world is not designed to be mapped out in hex - just like it's not designed to be mapped out on a flat piece of paper either.  Finding maps, lining everything up, trying to keep the boundaries of each hex happy with every other - geez.  It's definitely a labor of love.

Being a programmer, I have a habit of noticing repetitive tasks.  If I have to do something more than three times, I have a great urge to automate it so I don't ever have to do it again.  Let's call it Engineer's ADHD.  I've made a career of being assigned a job, getting bored with it, automating it, finding something else that is repetitive and boring and automating that too, until everything at the company anyone could possibly ask me to do is automated and I can finally have a nice nap.  Efficiency and laziness are just different sides of the same coin.

The task of hexing the world lends itself to automation, so I started thinking about how to do it.  How could you standardly assign hexes to regions?  Latitude and Longitude, while wonderful for navigating the Seven Seas, is horrible for the human brain.  The hashmarks they form on the globe do not make squares of equal area - or squares at all, for that matter, so utilizing them out of the box to hang a hex map on was out of the question.  I had to break out the big guns.  I had to break out geometry and calculus.

I've carried around math books with various bizarre formula in them most of my life.  I'm not a fan of math.  Actually, I hate it.  That's why I love programming.  All I have to do is understand it - once - and tell the computer to do it.  POOF.  I never have to do it again.  Yeah, horrible and lazy, I know - but that's me.

This math challenge was beyond my dusty books, so I did some internet research.  Math geeks are wonderful. They make some awesome web pages.  The page that helped me out most was this one here - with the jaunty title of 'Calculate distance, bearing and more between Latitude/Longitude points.'  That gave me all the math I needed to be able to mathematically calculate the vertices of any sized hex and translate them into latitude and longitude coordinates.  With that data, I was set.

Then I was off to Google Earth.  I love that program, and have gotten lost in far away countries through it more often than I'd like to admit.  Our good friends at Google also offer lots of ways to manipulate Google Earth, from advanced APIs, to the simplicity of the KML file.  Simplicity is what I was after.

The KML file is kind of  like an HTML file, buy for maps.  While you can do all kinds of things with it - like draw embed 3d building into Google Earth, I just wanted to use it to draw lines.  With the latitude and longitude points generated with my ill-gotten formulae, I could draw hexes!  Woot!

See this little bit of the Texas coast for yourself - with 6 mile hexes:

Right now, the KML hex file creation system is manual in the fact that I have to seed it with an area and do a lot of copy-pasting within the KML file itself. But with a bit of time, I could have a system that could overlay whatever area you want with whatever size hexes you needed.  Of course, the curvature of the earth still makes things wonky at large scales (I, um, think - maybe,) but since the hex 'grid' is tied to latitude and longitude - hexing out out anything near the poles - even Antarctica, would not be a problem.

I could even add a system of graphic overlays with KML for each hex to show - oh - the post-apocalyptic differences between present day and the 'future' - turned on and off an the click of a mouse button.  The possibilities with Google Earth are nigh-limitless.  I sure as heck don't have a long enough lifespan to do all the things I can think about doing with it right now.

Of course, I much prefer the look of hand crafted hex maps, like those over at the Tao of D&D.  But I am a lazy-ass, ADHD prone software engineer, so looks like Texas won't be all pretty, but it sure as hell will have some hexes drawn on top of it. :)

Happy hexing!

- Ark

Friday, October 7, 2011

Death by Slow Monty Python Skit

I actually drew this one! 
So yesterday PureStrainHuman ran us through a game of Kobolds Ate My Baby.  PSH is an obsessive psychopath who went out and bought every supplement ever for KAMB ever made, and we played with I think every single house rule for the game every invented, so not only were we forced to roll on the Kobold Horrible Death Chart for not properly praising King Torg (All Hail King Torg!,) but we also had the same fate if we went around quoting Monty Python.

We started the game doing some sort of Battle Royale in another dimension.  This is basically what I used to call Mock Combat, done before an adventure so players could get a feel for a new game or new abilities gained by their characters.  The winner of the battle would get a 'Get Out of Hell Free Card.'

KAMB has an interesting mechanic.  To do something, you roll a wad of d6's.  The more difficult the thing, the more dice you roll, and you are trying to get a value equal to, or below, your target number, which is usually your attribute value.  Pretty simple to do.  I mean, to figure out what to roll.  Not so simple to actually succeed.   And if you fail to succeed, you have to go and roll for some potential death via the Kobold Horrible Death Chart.

Interestingly, my character Schmeky Encephalitis won the combat.  This was only because everyone else failed so badly at attempts to hurt each other that they all died in surprising and horrible ways on the Kobold Horrible Death Chart.

So, back to 'reality' for the little kobolds.  Schmeky got a dead rat and a bottle of beer and a huge shield for equipment.  The shield took two hands to use, and Schmeky didn't have any pockets, so he ate his dead rat, drank his beer, grabbed his shield, and was ready to go purloin a human baby from the village.  The other kobolds got things of equal worthlessness, except Lex - who got a magic spell book.

So, we approached the human village.  The Boy, playing 'Roast Beef Sandwich' the kobold, saw some teenagers and started yelling at them.  He was very proud that he knew 8 human words, and wanted to show off.  I felt this was a bad plan, so before Roast Beef could say much of anything, I tossed him in the river.  You know, to shut him up.

That's when the ravenous 'Acti-Fish' attacked.  They were environmentally aware fish that were very angry about the pollution levels in the river.  Yeah . . .  It went all downhill from there.

So, in the ensuing combat with the fish, the teenagers, a vigilante chicken, a tavern owner, and a Slushy machine - everyone except Schmeky died.  No one was actually killed by anything . . . per se.  All death were directly attributable to the Kobold Horrible Death Chart.

So Schemky was fighting a dog.  He failed to hit, and so had to roll vs. the evil death chart - but didn't die.  I was quite happy, eager to see Schemy live through an entire game.

After I made an amazingly low roll, Mervin smiled and said 'Wow, he's not dead yet."

I piped up in a squeaky, high pitched English accent, "I'm not de . . ."

Crap.  I bit my tongue and looked around the table with shifty eyes, trying to see if anyone noticed.

PureStrainHuman pointed a finger at me.  BUSTED!

I can't help it!  Like Pavlov's dogs, I have been trained over the last 40 years to quote lines of Monty Python skits any chance I get.  I can't help it!  It's genetic - woven deeply into the strands of my DNA for godsake!

I rolled.  Schmeky died.  Schmeky died by slow Monty Python Skit.  A black knight hopped out of a bush  carrying a death bunny and spanked Schmeky to death.  It wasn't even a cute virgin girl spanking either.

SIGH!  Well, we had to wrap it up there.  It was a blast - even if Schemky had to be sacrificed.

But last night, just as I finished coloring the image above, The Boy wandered out of his bedroom - where he was supposed to be asleep.

"What?" I grumbled at him.

"You know Dad, I was thinking."

"You shouldn't be thinking.  You should be sleeping."

He was unfazed by the comment he's heard a billion times before.  "Well Dad, you know Schmeky?"

I nodded.  "Uh-huh."

"Well . . . he's alive!  You have a Get Out Of Hell Free card! Remember?"



- Ark

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Blue Öyster Cult

One crisp autumn day back in high school I found myself at a German Language Club get-together in the house of the school's German teacher.  The subtitled version of Das Boot was playing in the other room and I was talking to a cute girl in a cozy alcove while we sipped on thick, chewy German lager that Herr Lehrer swore would disavow all knowledge of if any parents found out.

Ahh - the eighties.

"So who is your favorite musician?" she asked.

"Oh - that's easy," I smiled.  "BÖC."

"Oh, I like Bach too," she nodded.  "And other classics like Mozart and Beethoven"

I chuckled.  "While Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Brandenburg Concerto Number Three are just spiffy, that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about Blue Öyster Cult."

She looked at me blankly.

"You know - Blue Öyster Cult.  Heavy Metal?  Burning For You?"

She stared.

"Don't Fear the Reaper? No?"

"Veteran of the Psychic Wars? Dominance and Submission?"

"She's as Beautiful as a Foot? Hot Rail to Hell?"

Her nose had been crinkling up like she smelled something bad and she excused herself from my presence.  She didn't come back.

Okay, there was a valid - and probably scientific - reason that I stayed a virgin until 19 - and the conversation above probably exemplifies that reason very well.  But boy did I love me some Blue Öyster Cult.

Blue Öyster Cult had a lot more going for it than just 'more cowbell.'  They were arguably the first band to gratuitously use the heavy metal umlaut.  And they had Michael Moorcock - the Michael frikkin Moorcock - writing lyrics for three of their songs.  One of those songs, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" was featured in the movie - the movie - Heavy Metal.

I was poking around on Spotify a few days ago and found what appears to be Blue Öyster Cult complete discography.  I was excited and nervous - nervously mainly because I figured my memories of  BÖC would probably be shattered by listening to them again after all these decades - and I'd walk away depressed that I had liked such a lame band as a teenager.

Hooboy - I was in for a pleasant surprise.  Blue Öyster Cult still rocks!  And after listening to them all over again, my favorite album of theirs is still Fire of Unknown Origin.

  • "Fire of Unknown Origin" - with lyrics by punk rocker Patti Smith
  • "Burnin' For You" - a song other people have actually heard of!
  • "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" - lyrics by Elric of Melniboné dad!  used in the Heavy Metal movie
  • "Sole Survivor" - completely awesome Post-Apocalyptic Gamma World song
  • "Heavy Metal: the Black and Silver" - probably intended for the Heavy Metal movie, but never made it
  • "Vengeance (The Pact)" - definitely intended for Heavy Metal, and tells the entire story of Taarna - which is probably why it didn't make it
  • "After Dark" - undead vampire kind of thing
  • "Joan Crawford" - Joan Crawford has risen from the grave!
  • "Don't Turn Your Back" - did someone order a dose of paranoia with vermouth and an olive?

I was also surprised about how much my early years of role playing were influenced by the band.  Tolkien was kind of the ideal - the 'theory' of what Dungeons and Dragons should be, but Moorcock and his Eternal Champions - Corum, Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius, and Elric - were what my campaigns would subconsciously evolve into - all to the soundtrack of Blue Öyster Cult.

Just thinking about the band and the songs puts and smile of my face, reminds me of how I used to run games, and makes me itch to run games influence by Blue Öyster Cult again.

So go dust off those old albums, or take a stroll through Spotify, and listen to some music you haven't listen to in ages - music that inspired your games back in the day - music that inspired you to write crappy stories and poems in your youth about the things you loved.  Go forth and stick monsters in your ears.

In closing, I'll point you to some more Blue Öyster Cult you should give a listen to:

"Tattoo Vampire," Agents of Fortune
"Black Blade," Cultosaurus Erectus
"The Great Sun Jester," Mirrors
"Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll," Blue Öyster Cult
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper," Agents of Fortune - significantly less cowbell than you remember!
"Godzilla," Specters
"The Red and The Black," Extraterrestrial Live

- Ark

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave

It's that time again - time for Zombie Walk Dallas!  Last year a couple thousand of us descended upon Deep Ellum in Dallas and took over a few city blocks, eating brains, attacking ambulances and smearing public transportation with blood - all without a permit.  You know, fun for the whole family.

This year, we apparently have a permit - which, I know, I know, sounds a little less exciting - but it does reduce the chance of being hauled off to jail for unlawful assembly.  I think the permit sounds good - because this year they are shooting for eight thousand undead.

I've been notified that I'll be manning a table for part of the walk.  I think there are some duties involved.  Helping people or something like that.  Not sure.  The only one I really remember is that I get to squirt people with blood.  Lots of blood.  Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was to run a Bloody T-Shirt Contest.  Or a few.  Yeah - it should be a fun day.

So, if you are in the North Texas region on October 15th, stop by and stagger around for a while.  I hear make-up artists and psychos with big vats of blood will be around to zombify you - should you be too busy to zombify yourself.

Catholic schoolgirls have thrown away their mascara
They chain themselves to the axles of big Mack trucks
The sky is filled with hurt and shivering angels
The fat lady lives! Gentlemen, start your trucks!
                  - Blue Öyster Cult, Joan Crawford

It's just like undead LARPing, except for, well, for the LARPing part.

- Ark

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

All Hail King Torg!

by John Kovalic - NOT ME!
Things have been getting too serious around the gaming table as of late, so we have decided to play some Kobolds Ate My Baby. Okay, honestly, nothing around the game table is too serious. We just want to be even less serious.

Crazy-ass Tim will be GMing. Um, I mean PureStrainHuman. Maybe I should stop calling him Crazy-ass - since he's my new GM, after all, so I must be all nicey-nice and stuff.  Okay - maybe not.   I've never played before, and expect my new little life to be short, painful, and messy.

I want to play King Torg's (All Hail King Torg!) club-footed inbred brother-in-law - thrice removed - Schmecky Encephalitis - the tribe's Keeper of Wisdom.  Wisdom, of course, being the pet-name of the gangrenous growth on Schmecky's left nipple.

The Boy is pondering what his character's name should be, but per him, it definitely will not be Herpederpalitis. He is leaning towards Roast Beef Sandwich (and his faithful companion Mustard the Fly.)  Yes, the boy was eating lunch when he came up with that. :)

Oh - The Boy would like me to let all of you know that he would like his weapon to be a blade of grass - but the GM may feel that such a weapon would be too powerful and ban it.  Such is the life of a kobold.

Fun Kobold quote of the day:
Kobolds worship VOR, the Big Red Angry God™, which is understandable; wouldn't you be angry if you were the god of the Kobolds?  The only thing that Vor hates more than a Kobold is a coward, which is why Kobolds are the most fearless of all the intelligent (and we use that term loosely here) races.  Ironically, the complete and total lack of a sense of self-preservation is the only thing keeping the Kobolds going - any other race would have packed it in a long time ago, given up, and faded into extinction.

- Ark