Friday, December 30, 2011

New Moleskine

Check out the new Moleskine I got for Christmas.  I'm not sure whether to use it or frame it.


And yes, I've been dorking with the blogs template.  Things are changing.  It's not just your imagination. ;)

- Ark

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Contact Sheets

This will be my last Dungeonspiration column for the foreseeable future.   I'll get into why after this week's installment . . .

I've been running a Stars Without Number campaign, which has been going fine with it's automagically generated sector sandbox.  But I got a hankering to try out a published adventure, so I went out and grabbed Kevin Crawford's Hard Light.  It's basically The Keep on the Borderlands for a science fiction campaign - a sort of mini-sandbox inside a great big sandbox.  The thing reads great, and has been playing great as well.

One avenue the referee and players can explore in Hard Light is in solving a mystery.  There are about ten important players in the mystery.  In planning the game, I became worried that the players would not be able to keep up with all the people involved.  How could they remember all of the people if I was having a hard time keeping track myself? Then I thought of a trick I used to use in my old Top Secret days - contact sheets.


I whipped up this contact sheet of contacts (from page 6 of Hard Light, for those following along at home) in less than an hour using deviantArt.com's search function and the freebie graphics program Paint.Net (which I use when I don't want to spend the time waiting for Photoshop to load.)  As the PCs meet the denizens of Hard Light, I pull out the sheet and point.  Not only do the players seem to enjoy looking at the pictures - they seem to be remembering them better than they would just with a auditory description.

There was an unforeseen problem.  The character in the lower right-hand cell - see him?  When I snagged the pic, I noticed that it was labelled 'Old Man Logan.'  Having read X-Men back in the 80s, I knew who Logan was, and just assumed that someone had drawn him old, and that the players would never think to associate him with Wolverine.

As soon as I brought out the sheet, two of the players pointed and said 'Hey, it's Old Man Logan!.'  I had no clue that there had been some sort of very popular 'What If?' kind of series based on good old Wolverine in the future.  The players seemed to immediately like the guy before I said a word about him.

So, if you are snagging art for a game, give some thought about the impact a particular image will create.  Players already bring a lot of baggage with them into a game, so try to use it to your advantage. :)

Now . . . as to why Dungeonspiration column is going into hiatus, or perhaps retirement:

1) Focus - The intent of the column was to inspire DMs (and as an afterthought, players) about gaming.  I have a hard time writing about just that.  I'm all over the place - as this particular column illustrates nicely.  It really has nothing to do with the concept of 'Dungeonspiration.'

2) Need - Do the readers in the OSR blogosphere really need to be inspired?  From what I read on other blogs - no.  People are chock full of awesome ideas all over the place.  I think that what people seem to need above all else is time.  If I could somehow bottle time and distribute in via the Internet, that would satisfy a lot more people's need.

3) Self-Discipline - Another reason for the Dungeonspiration column was to provide me with a weekly reminder to write blog post - at lest one a week.  While I think it has helped, I also think that I would have done it anyway - crazy holiday weeks not withstanding.

4) Other Projects - I've got some other projects in queue for 2012.  Those projects have to do with gaming and providing additional blog content - so it's not like loosing Dungeonspiration would be reducing content on the blog itself, I just need to juggle my time wisely.  I still have a lot to juggle and decide what I want to tackle - so some meditation time is in order.

So thougts are my thoughts on the Dungeonspiration column and it's future.  But perhaps I have missed something.  If the column is doing something else for you that I haven't thought of, please let me know.  There may be a reason to keep it around longer that I'm not aware of.  Maybe it warrants a monthly column or something.  I don't know.  If you have any input, feel free to leave it below. :)

Have a Happy New Year - and don't go driving drunk or nothing.  Boozing away and passing out on someone's sofa is far better etiquette than wrapping your car around a telephone pole.

- Ark

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Used To Be A Blogger Like You . . .

. . . then I took an arrow to the knee . . . AND they stole my sweet roll . . . WHILE breathing fire on me from the sky.  Thank goodness for DRAGONREND.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas - even if you don't do that sort of thing.  Religion should never get in the way of getting drunk and insulting family members.  Even if they are aliens who shoot you in the knee.

- Ark

P. S. Did I mention knees?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Jonas De Ro

I spend a good chunk of time on deviantArt looking at pictures.  Admittedly, there is a tons of things I'm not too interested in seeing - thousands of pictures of Naruto draw by twelve year olds, photographs of fat guy's belly buttons, and balloon breasted Poser models in stiff, out-of-the-box stances, but there is a lot of absolutely wonderful stuff too.  Case in point - Jonas De Ro.

De Ro, a Portugese/Belgian living in Germany, creates absolutely wonderful vistas that take the breath away.  I've collected a small smattering of his work below that can inspire ideas in setting ranging from fantasy, cyberpunk, and post apocalyptic nightmares.

Currently, De Ro is working as a Creative Artist on the movie based on the book Cloud Atlas.  If his paintings are any indication, it should be a visual treat.

Lost Citadel

Hong Kong Ruins

Forgotten Glory

Epocholis

The Great Tree

Be sure and click through to the images on his deviantArt account and take a look at the rest of his gallery.  It's some great stuff that left me inspired.

- Ark

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Boy Meets Leaf


The Boy has mastered the ability to get his rear end up over his head, scoring a critical hit on the leaf heap.  All of those swimming lessons have finally paid off.

- Ark

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What the OSR Means To Me

This dude agrees with me.
He even thinks I'm funny.
After over a year of contemplation, I have finally discovered what the OSR means to me.

Well, the acronym, at least. Sums it up perfectly, I think.

Old, Senile Roustabouts.

;)

- Ark

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Skyrim

No, I didn't draw it - but I should have.
Drats - I missed my Thrusday Dungeonspiration deadline again.  I should be ashamed.  But I have an excuse.  I blame Skyrim.


Skyrim is awesome.  It look great.  It plays great.  Dragons drop out of the sky in an attempt to punk you all the time.  And what's better - there is not a cluster of people around the world hating you because you were late for a raid.

As I play, I see vistas to describe, horrible traps to throw my players into, and quests to get them involved with.  I'm totally inspired, but somewhat deflated by the knowledge that every single one of my players is playing Skyrim too, and so all this cool new stuff won't be new by the time I regurgitate it into a campaign.

It seems like everyone I know is playing this game.  I wouldn't doubt that there has been a worldwide drop in blog posts since 11/11/11.  A friend's girlfriend also mentioned that there will most likely be a dip in the number of births 9 months from now. The game is riveting, and when our table-top group gets together, we sit around talking about what we did in Skyrim.

Which makes me think: Skyrim is bound to have an effect on table-top game design.  Admittedly, I wasn't paying attention to tabletop or video games in the early 2000s, but 4e has long been lauded as an attempt to make D&D more WOW-like, and from the little I know about WOW - that definitely seems to be the case.

So what will be the effect?  There is not a lot new or groundbreaking about Skyrim - it's primarily the execution that is superbly done, coupled with a great advertising campaign.  A Skyrim billboard still sits on I35 out of Dallas heading for the suburbs.

I'm not much of a game designer. I'm not good at picking apart Skyrim for it's interesting mechanics - aside from maybe it's lock-picking mini-game.  So I'll post the question to everyone:

What effect do you think Skyrim will have on table-top game design - or even just mechanics or idea integration into existing games and people's campaigns?

And yeah, I know some of you have not played Skyrim.  Ya'll feel free to fuss about us other time wasters down in the comments below too. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Warning your DM


My Pathfinder DM - Merwyn - let me roll up a new Pathfinder character - a level higher than normal - if I used "in order" 3d6, as opposed to something more wimpy - like 4d6 minus lowest wherever you want.  I took him up on the offer and rolled this:

STR: 10
DEX: 9
CON: 12
INT: 14
WIS: 8
CHA: 17

Not horrible, but not what I would call a great spread for the classes I'm used to running.  After some research, I discovered that the Pathfinder Bard would work with those numbers.  I've never run a Bard - and never had any interest in doing so - but it gave me an idea.

Crazy-ass Tim plays a halfling thief in the game - Peter No-Parents.  Peter is min-maxed so that he can basically never be seen by anyone if he doesn't want to be, and can pickpocket just about anyone.  He also has an ability that makes him look just like a human child (i.e., street urchin,) rather than a halfling.  Peter No-Parents is basically worthless at anything else.

Peter is quite evil, and steals from the party.  Actually, Peter isn't really known to the party.  He hangs on the periphery and commits mischief.  Evey once in a while, a character might see a kid, but the kid walks on by, and no one is any the wiser.  It's really irritating (but funny,) and I designed a character specifically to detect and kill him.  That was Bloodspurt the half-orc paladin.  Bloospurt, regretfully, died - murdered by another party member (an assassin) for tying him up and trying to convert him to a Lawful Good diety.  Oh well.

My idea was . . . unusual . . . so I figured I had to warn Merwyn before I brought this character out for a spin.

Subject: A Warning

Merwyn,

My rolls lean me towards a bard, and with the present make up of our party (I'm talking about players, not characters,) doing anything constructive or legal will be pointless. So I have made a trickster/scammer bard - a conman and entertainer in one.


It hit me that I can work Peter No-Parents into the act. I could continue on, earning full master level ranks for my Beard and Boobs badge, and make a female bard, and have that female bard pretend to be Peter's mom, for heightened scamming activity. It also gives Peter an avenue to actually be an active member of the party - even if maybe some party members never quite figure out what is going on. 
 
Tim and I discussed this briefly, and I believe we are both happy with the concept. Her name shall be Alouette - like in the French song (Ah-low-et-ta,) meaning a lark. Yes, she sings. And she dances. And she knows all about nobility and bluffing and disguise. She is quite greedy as well. 

Peter, will of course, be required to take a bath. And be fumigated.

So, basically - I'm warning you.

Run for the hills.

Sincerely,
Your worst nightmare


We'll find out tonight at the Pathfinder game how well this goes over.  If you can't beat em, join em.

- Ark

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yes, Those Are Dice in My Pocket AND I'm Glad to See You

Feel the power of my huge-ass dice!  They are so big, I could take out car windshields if I decided to chunk these off of an overpass.  The creator was saying that they had imperfections - but frankly - my eyes don't focus to the level where said imperfections might be.  They look great!



That right there - where the #5 is - is where the frikkin space medusa is waiting for the party.  Shhhh - don't tell them though.  Let it be a surprise.

- Ark

Monday, December 12, 2011

Naked Ponies!

Okay, not naked, but here is the original My Little Portal Ponies image without all that text.  I figure that other people can probably make it funnier than me.  Feel free to make word balloons, insert bad jokes, and spread bronie RPG love world-wide on your blogs and other places.  Penicillin optional.  Link-backs welcome.

- Ark

Clicking makes it bigger.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Little Pellatarrum

A few weeks ago, I made a smart-ass comment to Erin Palette, that went something like this. "For my next trick, I will draw the My Little Pony invasion of Pellatarrum." Pellatarrum being, of course, her crazy-ass fantasy setting, and My Little Pony being - well, if you don't know - stop reading. This isn't for you.

I had no idea how hard drawing fan art is.  Well, I could have spit out pony stick figures, but no - if I was actually going to act on my half-baked remark, I should do it right.  Trying it really makes you respect professional cartoon artists.  The forms are so simplistic - but have to be so perfect - otherwise they don't look right.  There is something very zen about the art form.  Yes, and this is complete drawn from scratch - no tracing - and done in SHARPIE on paper, then sucked into Photoshop for a dye-job.

The Boy was horrified and refused to look at what I was drawing while I hummed the My Little Pony theme song.  Okay, that was just a side benefit for my inner sadist.  

Below is the MLP Invasion of Pellatarrum.  I do not give this to the OSR, like previous art.  I give it to Bronies worldwide.  Post it wherever.  Not that I own anything about it.  Hasbro owns it all.  Just like D&D.  You know the drill.

So anyway, enjoy!

- Ark

Click Rainbow Dash to embiggen.




Friday, December 9, 2011

Ellen-14

Ellen-14 is a non-player character in our Stars Without Number campaign.  The picture doesn't do her justice - but it is similar enough to her appearance to get the point across.

The lady is ten feet high, twenty feet wide, and thirty feet long.  She is somewhat rock shaped, and her tough skin is a gray and black color - the kind you find on certain bloated ticks found in the foothills of Arkansas.  She has a human head emerging from the gray skin a bit over five feet up from the floor, and underneath it hang two human arms.  Having no feet, she moves around like a horta.

Ellen-14 is a human-alien hybrid.  Actually, Ellen-14 isn't just one entity - the name is a signifier for an entire brood of approximately 100 individuals - the 14th generation since initial hybridization.  All of the individual Ellen-14s are pretty much the same, and they keep in contact with one another to avoid drifting apart mentally.

The aliens who designed Ellen-14 (and the many other hybrid variants,) are known as the Metha.  The Metha look pretty much like Ellen-14, but without the human head and the human arms.  They have been sentient for half a million years, and have spent most of that time doing bioengineering work - redesigning themselves - and their biosphere - countless times.  Currently, their bodies house 15 to17 brains - some genetic copies of other alien species that they met in the past.

The Metha fit into the Stars Without Number alien classification of 'Other' - alien beings that are too different from human beings to communicate with or understand.  After a series of brutal wars after first contact, the Metha created the human-metha hybrids as an attempt to understand humanity and communicate with them.  The Metha are completely oblivious to the fact that the mere sight of Ellen-14 and her various sisters and brother causes most humans to run in abject fear.

Ellen-14 does, however, bridge the gap between humans and methans.  She has 18 brains inside of her - one of them human, and they all chat with one other through bizarre chemical interactions, radio waves, and pulsing light.  She is well aware of how she looks, as well.  "Oh my," she will often say, "You think I look hideous.  I do.  I cannot argue.  But I couldn't find a thing to wear today that didn't make me look bloated!"

Ellen-14 is also a smart-ass.

The player characters have - strangely - taken a shine to Ellen-14 and her brood sisters. I'm not sure why.  She is their 'Mr. Johnson," in Shadow-run speak.  They are still very nervous about the pure methans, though.  It might have something to do with the aliens engaging in thermonuclear war as a sport.  But who knows.

- Ark

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Epic Death


Sergeant Loronzo by The Boy -

When I was but a wee role player, I really didn't like the whole character death thing.  It was something to be seriously avoided - going so far as to sit behind a DM screen and never risk a PC by never having one.

But when you come down to it, some of the most memorable moments in role playing are the deaths.  Case in point - The Boy.  While initially horrified by the concept, he is getting quite good at them.

In my Stars Without Number campaign, the characters were contracted by some shady underworld types to shut down a casino.  Not forever, mind you - just for a bit.  Actually, the party never asked - or even seemed to wonder - as to WHY someone would shut down a casino for a bit.  It just enough that they got to cause some chaos - and get paid for it.

The session turned out to be one of those long-ass planning ones.  You know those types.  The players get so interested in the planning aspect that it seems like they never get to the execution.  But several hours later, they had their plan and went ahead.

The plan was to blow up an intra-building sewer main in the casino's hotel and have millions of gallons of raw sewage flood the casino proper.  Actually, the plan was not a bad one at all.  The big problem was that the party's hacker was AWOL (an actual date with his girlfriend!) and so they had to hire a retainer.

The hacker henchman screwed the pooch on his computer and security rolls.  Badly.  Worse than bad. The hacker was particularly nice about the whole thing, calling the party up and letting them know he had miserably failed and had not only NOT prevented the security systems from detecting their activities, but had actually helped the casino security zero in on their nefarious activities.

Ron and Crazy-ass Tim were in the getaway car.  The second they heard the alarm go off, they were out of there.  Completely.  Utterly.  Gone.  Not even a post card.

The Boy, playing Sergeant Loronzo, and Kaye (yeah - the guy who plays Torvalds in the 2e game) were on the third floor, attaching explosives to the sewer pipes when the first security guard arrived, gun in hand.

Sergeant Loronzo picked up a huge plumber's wrench, swung it the guy, and grabbed his Order of the d30 Brand d30, choosing to use it at that moment.  The massive wrench did so much damage it cut the guard in half, showering everything in the room with blood.  They finished setting the charges and high-tailed it out of the plumbing room, racing to get to their long-gone getaway car.

They ran down the hotel hallway to the elevators, but they were too late.  Three security guards stepped out of the elevator firing.  Kaye was hit and died like a punk at zero hit points even.  Sergeant Loronzo wasn't having any of that, so he pulled out his stash of Lazarus Patches. The patches help dead character's come back to life.  Well, very recently dead characters.  And it takes a medic to really apply them well.  Sergeant Loronzo was not a medic.

But damned if he didn't try.  He slapped patch after patch onto his dead buddy, trying to shock him back into life, all the while dodging a hail of bullets.  The other players began a count down to when the timer would kick off the sewage explosives.  Eventually Sergeant Loronzo ran out of patches and the guards - none too happy with all the missing going on - ran up and began to pummel him.

Sergeant Loronzo ran out of patches.  He was very upset that his buddy has died for good.  He mowed down the security guards and proceeded to leave - but more security guards were coming out of the elevators.

The count down to sewage explosion was getting woefully close - like about one round.  Then the boy had an idea. He busted down the door of a hotel room, dove onto the bed, snatched a pillow, shot the glass out of the window with his laser, and leapt out of the building.

The explosives detonated.

Sergeant Loronzo had some hope that the pillow would soften the impact into the ground, but when the true gravity of the situation hit him, The Boy turned, fired his bright blue laser pistol in the air, yelled 'Sayonara,' and made his peace with the universe.

We all thought it was a very epic death - a very inspiring end - and one which should be remembered in the annals of RPGdom forever.

So if you know your character is going to die - think for a second.  What can you do to make the Valkyries sing loudly of that death in their meady halls until Ragnarok comes?  Do something cool - and inspiring.  The skalds will appreciate it.

- Ark

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vayniris Anthology Project Deadline Approaching

No, I haven't forgotten or totally flaked out.  The Vayniris Anthology project is still going strong - I just haven't mentioned it in a while since it's a project in flight.

 We are coming to a close on our submission deadline.  The deadline is set for December 31st, 2011.  That's in three weeks.

If you have an idea you are keen on and just can't pull it together by the deadline, shoot me a message and we can mind meld about it.  A cut-off point during the holidays was probably a risky idea anyway. :)

- Ark

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Torvalds vs. the Honey Badger

It's thrall good.
I suppose it was my fault.  At least it was my causative action that began the chain of destruction - but listen - I had my reasons.  We were on the trail of an entire village of zombies.  Well, now we believe they were just regular people mind controlled by illithids, but at the time all we knew was that a herd of zombies was bearing down on our home village.

This is the 2e game being run by Crazy-Ass Tim, in which I am playing the sexy elf ranger lady Chartreuse.  One of the party members is Torvalds - the most useless first level magic user in the history of all D&D ever.  Yeah, I know - a boastful boast - but it's true - and even more so as the session unfolded.

So Torvalds rides an ox.  Everywhere.  Even places where oxen do not fit.  But traipsing through the woods following zombies was a bit much for the ox this time around.  Torvalds blew his animal handling roll - and the ox bucked him off and bolted.

The zombies were headed to destroy our town.  Torvalds was about to lead us on a wild-ox chase of ridiculous proportions in the opposite direction.  The ox had Torvalds' spell book - the only thing that makes him even vaguely useful.

So I shot the fucking ox.

Regretfully, the arrow didn't kill the ox.  But as Torvalds became enraged about what I had done, Merwyn's character chased after the ox and hacked it to death.

That's when Torvalds attacked Mervyn's character.

As the two first level characters began to tussle, my character Chartreuse got sick of the whole thing, turned around, and raced after the zombie horde to rescue her village.

Meanwhile, Torvalds actually killed Merwyn's character - dead.  Surprising, yeah.  The Boy thought that such a murder was horrendous and attacked Torvalds, smashing him down below zero hit point.  The Boy has a conscious, though, and only did subdual damage.  He then left Torvalds face down on the forest floor and raced after me.

I was busy tackling zombies and slapping them awake.  The Boy didn't think to tell me that one party member was dead and another was face down unconscious in a zombie infested forest.  But the horrifying screams alerted me that something was wrong.

Torvalds' recess playmate.
Torvalds awoke to a visit from a random encounter - a playful honey badger.  Crazy-ass Tim decided that the honey badger wouldn't do hit point damage - but instead - structural damage.  So, the playful honey badger ripped Torvalds leg off.  Thus the screaming.

So we ran back to where Torvalds was and tried to fight off the honey badger.  The honey badger was, of course, tough.  It ripped off another one of Torvalds' legs.  We continued to attack, and finally took honey badger down.  But even in death, honey badger didn't give a shit and ripped off Torvalds' left arm.

We applied tourniquets, and did massive amounts of cauterization with torches, and brought Torvalds back from the brink.  It really only worked because Crazy-ass Tim is a mean bastard of a DM.  But we had rescued our useless magic-user.  Yay!

Meanwhile, our entire village was slaughtered and burned to the ground.  So, I'm thinking that Torvalds deserves his fate.  Regretfully, he is even more useless than before.  But Kaye continues to play him without a hitch - reveling in his one armed, no leggedness - and declaring himself the Sorcerer Supreme.

The Boy has taken to calling Torvalds the Burrito Supreme.

- Ark

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Gerard K. O'Neill


 "Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?"

Near the end of the space race, a high energy physicist named Gerard K. O'Neill became interested in space colonization.  He had already expressed his interest in space by applying for NASA's Astronaut Corp in the mid 60's, but papers from his students convinced him that designing self-sustaining space habitats could be a worthwhile endeavor.

In his first paper on the subject, "The Colonization of Space", published in 1974, O'Neill wrote:
"It is important to realize the enormous power of the space-colonization technique. If we begin to use it soon enough, and if we employ it wisely, at least five of the most serious problems now facing the world can be solved without recourse to repression: bringing every human being up to a living standard now enjoyed only by the most fortunate; protecting the biosphere from damage caused by transportation and industrial pollution; finding high quality living space for a world population that is doubling every 35 years; finding clean, practical energy sources; preventing overload of Earth's heat balance."
Soon, NASA became interested in O'Neill's research and began funding his efforts.  O'Neill tied many different concepts and technologies together to come up with feasible ideas for space colonization, including solar power, the L4 and L5 Lagrange points, asteroid mining, and magnetic mass drivers.  NASA enlisted other scientist into investigating space colonization, resulting in a golden age of such research. The U. S. Congress, soured on the high cost of space activities - including the Apollo program - withdrew most of O'Neill's funding before the end of the decade.

The ideas that resulted from O'Neill's research are still fascinating.  They open a door to plausible science fiction.  Simply looking at his designs and reading a bit about them are enough to get the mind going.

The first type of space habitat O'Neill' envisioned is a modified Bernal sphere - an idea for a space station developed in 1929.


The Bernal sphere came in two sizes - Island One, which was the smaller, and Island Two, which was larger.


The first two of O'Neill's 'islands' were relatively  simple affairs - big old spinning balls in space.  Island Three was another matter.  Island Three, which has come to be known as the O'Neill Cylinder, is comprised of two separate space stations.  These two gigantic cylinders spin around each other, creating a much more stable system than just one cylinder, which is apt to start spinning from end to end and squash everyone inside.


Yep - that means that Babylon 5 was inherently unstable.  I suppose Vorlon technology kept it upright.  Not only is the O'Neill Cylinder concept more stable, but look at the view!


When you lump O'Neils designs in with the Stanford Torus style of space station, you get all of the space station you could need for a good hard science fiction setting.  And these puppies - especially the  O'Neill Cylinder, make for absolutely great mega-dungeons and Jim Ward Metamorphosis Alpha style gaming.

So go dig through the Internet and do up a science fiction campaign right.  Screw artificial gravity generators.  Do it the old fashioned way - and build a habitable colony to boot!

Anchors away.

- Ark