Tuesday, 27 July 2010

More Really Bad German FF Covers

Now, I was going to do these in order, but that's the sort of regulated and planned approach that just annoys me and ends up causing me to keep putting off the post, so here we are going to jump all the way to FF#5 City of Thieves or Die Stadt der Diebe as the German lingo version has it.

Right, here's the original German cover...

...which is pretty bloody dreadful. That sort of "fourth wall" business with the red D6 is again quite clever but the whole illo is flat and naive and is reminiscent of the first piece of acrylic painting artwork that lifers do in prison. What's worse is that it's a really poor piece of work inspired by an excellent Iain McCaig interior illustration from the same work so clearly the German artist had an UK original UK copy to work from.

Now for the hilarious re-issue cover, plucked from the portfolio of recycled-artwork-on-the-cheap.

Actually before we get there let's refresh ourselves on the plot of City of Thieves. This is another of Ian Livingstone's brutally unfair scavenger hunts whereby the player sweeps through Port Blacksand (basically Lankhmar on crack) in order to find some geegaws with which to do in the BBEG (spiky-headed skeleton Zanzar Bone) at the end of the book, hoping that he's got the correct apparently arbitrary collection of geegaws with which to do it and hoping that he hasn't actually got the incorrect apparently collection of geegaws. The usual in other words. Despite typical Livingstone bastard unfairness it's quite atmospheric, has some great urban encounters and is a good example of early Brit grimdark.

It's fantasy. In Allansia. Fantasy world. Dwarves, Orcs, Wizards, skullz. Not spacemen in spacesuits on alien planets trying to brain alien fauna with a laser rifle.

So this appears on the later German printings of City of Thieves.


Not only has the later German publisher not read the book, they probably haven't even read the back cover blurb. Perhaps somewhere there are German copies of Space Assassin with a dead good cover illustration of a fantasy city. It's the only explanation I have to offer.

And this use of completely inappropriate stock artwork continues. Having decided to just give up and start using the UK covers with some neat layout changes thusly...

...which is pretty good and probably jumps off the shelf with the bold red surround and dice logo, the reissue comes up with this surreal offering...

...showing the classic moment in Deathtrap Dungeon in which a T-shirt clad denizen of the early 1980s gets surprised outdoors by a griffin or possibly an Owlbear. I remember it as if it were only yesterday. Again, note the savage cropping that suggests that quite a lot of picture was cut off below the human character's midriff. Although when you look at what stayed in, whatever got cropped must have been really, really, really unrelated to Deathtrap Dungeon.

Scorpion, Praying Mantis? Close enough for jazz. That'll do.

Do you remember early 1980s computer game covers? Especially the unlicensed ripoffs of Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga, Asteroids, Defender etc. that used to appear on tape for the 8-bit machines? Remember the dreadful airbrushing with soft edges and that white not-quite-glare-not-quite-reflection misting that used to go on everything? Remember the true horror of the digital watch font?

No? Well, you will now with Starship Trav, German-style.

The German edition of Temple of Terror just fucking defies description so I'm not even going to attempt to offer any.

Now when we think back to the great pains that J&L took with the art, their drive to ensure that there was a consistent artistic link to the UK RPG scene that their other business interest was promoting and their deep understanding of the importance of the Britart scene....

...I can only imagine the pair of them must have sat there silently weeping into their piles of £50 notes.

(Again, all pics from gamebooks.org with totally no permission whatsoever.)


Woke up this morning, and decided to (both literally and metaphorically) put all the RPG stuff away in a big box and forget about it. I've got copies of Rogue Trader, Marvel Super Heroes, OD&D, Swords and Wizardy, Labyrinth Lord, Lone Wolf Multiplayer, Dragon Age and abortive megadungeon projects floating around and I've had enough.

Going to concentrate on all the other gaming interests I have for a while rather than letting the fool's errand of getting some RPGing up and running start to dominate things.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Really Bad German FF Covers

It's a funny thing book cover design. You get used to a certain style of graphic design and then you go on holiday abroad and you see foreign books and you think "WTF?". And then you remember that the people that put them together know what they are doing and know their target market and they are selling to people from a different culture and what works in England won't always work in Germany so of course things will be different. It's not worse, it's just what you are used to isn't it? Even in Anglophone nations this happens - I mean to say all American book covers and NES boxes are absolutely shit slightly challenging to somebody brought up on UK graphic design

And then you see German covers for FF books...

Right there here's the first one in which a 1970s Hobbit contemplates the petrified corpse of a massively obese wizard that has been hollowed out to allow Brothers Grimm characters to nest inside. Note that the Warlock's treasure is in fact outside the mountain thus defeating the object of much of the book. This actually isn't the worst German cover and the two red D6 turn up on other early covers of German FF books which is a clever touch but... I think it's the child-like nature of the main character and the daft assumption that a children's book with "You" as the hero implies that the murderous robbing bastard out to off the Warlock and thieve his gold is in fact only 11 years old.

Let's be honest though - if John Blanche drew a 1970s Hobbit contemplating the petrified corpse of a massively obese wizard that has been hollowed out to allow Brothers Grimm characters to nest inside for WFRP it would be fucking epic.

For the second releases of the German FF tranlations it appears that the publishers just reused some fantasy artwork from "somewhere else". Perhaps this was cheaper. Anyway this does mean that somewhat awesomely the late Josh Kirby has illustrated Discworld, Corgi's UK printing of the Tunnels and Trolls series and a Fighting Fantasy book. Superb! We'll overlook the fact that this is clearly a tiny detail section of a much larger Kirby illo and makes no sense at all in this context since he is battling with something "off screen" visible only by the fingers of it's right hand. Kirby - good. Layout - shocking.

What a lovely cover. It looks an ideal book to read a chapter from to your 8 year old at bedtime. Friendly font, watercolour. Charming children's book. I bet the young hero is a lad whom your nipper would identify with - perhaps a proto Harry Potter. The Warlock and those cuddly monsters look happy and pleasant as well.

(West German parent in the 80s flips through book with the nipper for bedtime tale. Goblin being whipped by Goblin overseer who accidentally has two right hands, Nicholson's infamous Ghoul illo, Zombies, an arrow of Vampire euthanasia, chain-smoking Dwarves a mad old bastard knee deep in filth and excrement that accidentally gets run through with sword and plenty of amoral killthemandtaketheirgold and grimdark. GROSS GOTT WHAT ARE THE INSELAFFEN READING TO THEIR CHILDREN!?)

There's more of this to come including possibly the worst piece of stock artwork reuse evah.

(All pics from gamebooks.org with totally no permission whatsoever.)

A Quick Review of Green Ronin's Dragon Age In Pictorial Form


equals this...

That is all.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

More Daily Mail Amusement

This has naff all to do with games but I make no apologies for it because it's one those moments that make you think - hang on, perhaps they don't really mean it and the Daily Hatemail have just been trolling IRL for the lulz for fucking years...


How does this work? Well, I refer to an influential study within the field viz

It stimulates the part of the brain called Shatner's Bassoon. And that's the bit of the brain that deals with time perception. So, a second feels like a month. Well, it almost sounds like fun...unless you're the Prague schoolboy who walked out into the street straight in front of a tram. He thought he'd got a month to cross the street. In the words of Bernard Manning: "One kiddy on Cake cried all the water out of his body. Just imagine how his mother felt. It's a fucking disgrace".

P.S. This from the paper that also brought you the story about the radioactive paedophile on the run which I feel obliged to link to here;

P.P.S Watch out for that paedophile gas being emitted from your keyboard - makes you very suggestible apparently.

P.P.S. To be fair, I did once feel a bit funny after a mate's elder brother forced us to listen to Freebird on repeat for about two and a half hours.

P.P.P.S. Mail trolled IRL about how great Hitler and Mosley were as well. And look at the lulz that were had there.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dragonroar (Again)

You may or may not have noticed from reading blog reader's comments, but blog commenter Thalendar has risen to the challenge and posted a review of Dragonroar over at rpg.geekdo.com. It does sound an interesting game and frankly War Hedgehogs do deserve to come back in some game or another.

(I would have flagged this up earlier but have been semi-dead all weekend with Nurgle's Rot and am currently taking a break from re-grouting leaks in the shower cabinet. It's not all glamour and a playboy lifestyle at Coop Towers)

Thursday, 8 July 2010


Does anybody know anything about Dragonroar from Standard Games? I remember seeing the full colour adverts and it seemed an attractive package. Apart from the novelty of a cassette tape (contents unknown and probably unplayable these days), it came with a solo and group adventure and with a bunch of floorplans and cut-out tokens. A couple of supplementary scenarios were advertised (no idea if they ever saw the cold light of day) and Standard Miniatures did a range of specialist figures including the brilliantly imagined War Hedgehogs and Killer Penguins. War Hedgehogs immediately found their way into my games, appearing as Chaos Beastmen in WFRP and Bugbears in BECMI.

Standard Games were quite big in the 1980s, their most famous gameline was probably Cry Havoc, a hex boardgame of man-to-man skirmishing. They certainly seemed to advertise both the boardgame and miniatures side of the business in the glossy mags every month so certainly gave the impression of being a big outfit.

I remember seeing this and thinking it looked good (in that juvenile way that deems a cool advert with funky artwork and Killer Penguins must infer that the game is good) but I never heard of anyone playing it, never remember seeing a review and these the intertubes are deafeningly silent about the whole thing.

Does anybody know anything about it? Did anyone ever see it in the wild?

What Is Dungeons and Dragons?

A couple of UK press adverts for the Mentzer Red Box, from contempory issues of PROTEUS gamebook magazine.

No, not the British paperback of the 1980s penned by Eton pupils that raised and answered this question (a copy of which is floating around the disorganised library stacks of Coop Towers and probably would provide the basis of a good BritOSR post if I could ever find it) but a fairly serious question.

We know that Dave Arneson never actually played real D&D since his campaign rules continually evolved over the lifetime of his Blackmoor campaign and what first saw print under the title "Dungeons and Dragons" didn't much resemble the state of his rules at that time. And Dungeons & Dragons as a title was suggested by one of Gygax's daughters so presumably Arneson didn't even call his games that.

We also know that Gary Gygax stuck with an evolution of OD&D at the same time as pushing out AD&D with much nagging that this was the "real" version and we should all be using it.

I've long suspected that despite the desire of gamers to follow a set of RPG rules exactly as written, because the written word conveys gravitas and therefore must be correct, what we actually receive when we buy an RPG is a mixture of a snapshot of the ever-evolving game as it was played five minutes before deadline and a load of stuff thrown in because the authors see that the general public need rules for X,Y and Z and therefore they have to provide it. This is true no matter what the game and what title is slapped upon it. If the authors (Gary) don't play like this and still call their game "Whatever" why should players display a loyalty to "What's written there or the game isn't the game"?

So how much printed D&D do we need to use and still be playing "Dungeons and Dragons"? D&D is one of those terms like Biro and Hoover that has grown to cover the full spectrum of similar products but that's generally a non-gamer usage - if gamers say "D&D" they mean D&D. Not RuneQuest or Maid:The RPG or Cyberpunk etc.

Are we playing D&D if we use Swords & Wizardry or OSRIC or Castles and Crusades or Labyrinth Lord? After all, the rules of those games are published are almost certainly closer to the canonical printed versions of that game from TSR than most campaigns that used the original TSR game. Is it a purely semantic difference whereby the title is unimportant? Does S&W become D&D if I take a marker pen to the cover and amend the title? Can it never become real D&D because it's a different game whilst a long-standing game that has changed or misunderstood two dozen rules remains "real" D&D because once upon a time, it was intended to be such.

Life gets complicated when we consider the way that some games come with alternative rulesets. Call of Cthulhu currently exists in both BRP and d20 form and then there is Trail of Cthulhu using the radically different GUMSHOE system. Yet I feel that we are playing Call of Cthulhu using any of those three rulesets. Probably because the style and atmosphere and aims of play remain untouched.

A lot of games came out in the 90s with totally disposable rules because of the expectation that you'd simply throw away these poorly tested incomplete rules and use GURPS or Fudge. Are you then still playing the game you bought? Mash-ups are not something that just started with the internet age.

Are we playing D&D if we ended up porting the campaign over to GURPS or Savage Worlds? Is the WFRP Savage Worlds adaption that is floating around on the intertubes still WFRP? If a D&D campaign has been going for umpty-thousands years and very little of the original rules remain is that still D&D?

I think it is. I think it's akin to the axe that has had three new heads and four new handles. It remains the same axe.

D&D is D&D regardless of the rules so long as you self-identify that it's still D&D and still intend to regard it as such. It's the approach that matters. If you are playing with parties of ne'er do wells who seek treasure in dungeons and wildernesses it's D&D if you regard it as such. You might not regard it as such if you were doing the same campaign in WFRP. But perhaps if you'd ported a D&D campaign to WFRP because you prefered to rules, you might.

When Ken St. Andre saw an early copy of D&D he loved the idea and hated the implementation so went away and wrote a purely D6-based version. He called this "Dungeons and Dragons" because basically that was what he saw it as. Only when published did it change it's name to "Tunnels and Trolls". I like Tunnels and Trolls and call it by it's published title but if Ken continues to think of his game as being "Dungeons and Dragons", I'd fully understand where he comes from.

I think we are better off using D&D as a term for "feel and intentions" not rules.

Black Country Football Rivalry and 4E

I support, my for sins, West Bromwich Albion, the greatest football club in Smethwick if not the entire known world. I was born into it, it's an inherited right and tradition and privilege and being a local club and the club of my Father and Grandfather and the part of the world they sprang forth from I feel a strong affinity for the club, region and it's supporter base. I reconnect with family and native soil when I go to The Hawthorns. I could never support anybody else.

So obviously, I loathe and detest everything Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa stand for. That's a given. This too is an inherited right and privilege and pleasure.

But seeing kids walking around locally in Wolves and Villa shirts is OK with me and makes the world just a little bit a nicer place. I'm pleased that the younger generation are doing the same as me and following the team that was selected for them before birth by ties of blood and regional loyalty even when it is the enemy. This is much better than seeing them wandering around like gloryhunters in United and Chelsea shirts. They are supporting relatively-unfashionable West Midlands teams and sticking with them. Good. The little bastards.

What's this got to do with RPGing?

This. According to Amazon UK, the D&D 4E beginner box set (aka D&D Essentials) will have an RRP of £12.50 and WOTC intend it to be in print throughout the lifetime of 4E. (TBH with a US dollar price of $19.99 I suspect we will see it at £15 actually. But I digress). This means that 30-something gamers like myself can buy three or four copies without feeling the expense and pass it onto nephews, nieces and friend's children. Even if it's not birthdays and Christmas. Even when we think 4E is badly wrong on so many levels.

I don't like 4E, to my eyes it's just not Dungeons and Dragons. But I'd rather kids played it and loved it than played nothing and loved nothing.

If nephews and nieces announced that, in a massive act of betrayal and treachery, that they were going to follow the Wolves, I'd have to say - OK, but stick with them through thick and thin. But that would be through gritted teeth.

So, despite version wars, I really hope this move is a massive success for WOTC and I hope they do it properly and they get stocked in places like Toys R Us, supermarkets and WHSmiths in the pre-Christmas run up, not just the ghettoes of gaming shops. I will even buy one just to show my support for it.

Roll on the hordes of Wolves and Villa shirt wearing kids playing 4E and identifying themselves as roleplayers.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Stormbringer Dance On The Thunder Again

I loves me some 99p bargains on eBay.

A replacement copy for the 15th birthday present that has since been lost to posterity (typical late 80s GW hardback - fell apart within six months and ended up being bound in a ring binder).

I'd say that Stormbringer is my favourite, least played RPG. I never got to play it until going to uni for a couple of reasons - all my mates loved WFRP and whilst I was a huge Moorcock fan in the 1980s, nobody else I knew was. They liked... erm Dragonlance.

So what do I like about this? It's all basic BRP stuff with a daft random character generation system that can end up forming parties with crippled beggars from Nadsokor and sorcerers second-in-line to the throne of Pan Tang with no thought given as to how to make this work but my love for this game is down to one thing - there are no conventional spells.

All magic has to be performed by summoning alien beings and bending them to your will. Fireballs? Forget it, you have to summon up Fire Elementals and command them to dash themselves against your target (there is literary precedent for this when Elric does precisely this whilst hunting down his cousin Yyrkoon). Travelling by magic? No simple teleportation spells in Stormbringer, instead you summon up a Demon of Travel and then tell the GM what form it takes. So if travelling from one part of the Young Kingdoms to another by demonic means it is up to the sorcerer to describe an airship, a submarine, being carried in the claws of a giant bat or similar. Excellent and inspirational stuff that lends itself much more towards player-involved subcreation than the simple Magic Missile.

I did buy Elric! (the 90s version of this game) but that turned away from this ground-breaking approach and went over to conventional spells. Not the same game, sold on eBay in the early days.