Sunday, 29 August 2010

My John Blanche Swords and Wizardry White Box

One of the neat things about much of the OSR being PDF-based is the way that people have taken the their PDFs and made their own physical books from them - changing the layout to booklet format, boxing them up that sort of thing.

My PDF of the S&W "White Box" version is the older download with the Pete Mullen cover of the giants ambushing the party in a snowy landscape. Now I have to say I love this piece of artwork, but it always struck me as more of a The Hobbit illo than a D&D rulebook one and so it never really inspires me like his work on S&W Core Rules does.

Still, with PDFs and print-outs this is a easily resolved situation. Find something that does inspire and replace. I had a furtle through my folder of random RPG pics and found out a copy of John Blanche's work for the McDeath Warhammer supplement back from the days when we loved the Workshop. Five minutes work to copy the logos from the PDF, invert the colours and turn them into transparent layers and we get...

(This is a much smaller version of the original which is a 2MB .png file, hence not posted here. Shout if you want it.)

That's an awesome Britart image from the Master of Blanchitsu himself.

As for my actual physical copy I have traditionally bound my PDFs in ringbinders with clear sheet pockets, putting two pages back to back in one wallet. The trouble is that now I have several of these they don't store very well being an awkward sort of wedge-shape and can't be stacked easily in the games wardrobe.

I've accordingly gone over to plastic folders with 20 or 40 clear sheet pockets in as these stack flat and fit on bookcases better when stored upright. This is the White Box I put together using the new cover and a 40 pocket folder.

Transparent plastic is a difficult thing to photograph but here you can see the first wallet with the colour print-out of the Blanche cover in it and the thick frosted plastic front page open to the left.

As you can see the folder stays open at a double-spread with no difficulties.

I prefer to bind the rulebook like this as it means individual pages can be removed and replaced for tweaks, changes and replacing any damaged ones - something that can't be done with a properly-bound or stapled book.

For the record, replacing the front cover of a D&D rulebook with a John Blanche illustration has a respected history - it was done back in 1977 for the GW UK-exclusive printing of the Holmes Set.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


In James M's post about WFRP he mentions in the passing the ridiculous puns, especially in German.

Years ago on the WFRP mailing list (such a thing may still exist for all I know), Graeme Davis made an appearance and expressed amazement at how few of these puns and in-jokes had actually been noticed by WFRP players. Even then, mentioning my favourite (the nobleman Baron von Saponatheim mentioned in passing upon an advertising flyer in the Enemy Within) had people flabbergastedly remarking "I never noticed that one!" (You have to read it out loud or it doesn't work).

Anyway two of my faves from Graeme.

Middenheim is a pun that should be glaringly obvious but nobody ever seemed to notice, myself included. In castle architecture a midden is a simple piece of mediaeval sanitation - a vertical drop down into a cess pool. And Middenheim the city is a city perched upon a vertically-sided round spire of rock which is entirely riddled through with sewers which disgorge at ground level. The city is a mediaeval toilet. The clue is in the name.

Also, and this was one that Graeme didn't realise wasn't common currency outside of Nottingham - the whole Old Slann background had it's origin in one in-joke. You might be familiar with the pseudo-science works of Erich von Daniken, especially Chariots of the Gods a seminal work in the field of ancient astronaut theory. Personally I love all this stuff. Total shite but I can't resist any crap like this. I used to routinely find his books in second-hand bookshops filed under "Science Fiction" although TBH, the "Science" part is being somewhat kind.

In a discussion about von Daniken's books, somebody at GW jokely turned the title into "Chariots of the Frogs" suggesting that the ancient spacecraft had disgorged bactrian astronauts onto ancient pre-Columbus Meso-America. (I suspect this was Richard Halliwell as Lustria sprang from his home campaign).

Obviously a Eureka! moment - the entire Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 backstory sprang into life from this silly play on words.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Insomnia and FF Chargen

Insomnia is a pretty shitty thing I suffer from quite a lot and last night I managed do a self-inflict job again and lie awake with eyes like saucers. It was entirely my own fault, I was playing Forza 3 on the 360 and noticed it was nearly midnight on a school night and went to bed because I felt I ought to rather than because I felt tired which fellow insomnia sufferers will immediately recognise as being The Bad Thing To Do.

Anyway, sometimes it turns into a time where you can just sit and think and the more inconsequential thing you think about, the better.

So this morning it was about the Fighting Fantasy system and how you could expand it's SKILL attribute out so it could represent one or more facets of a PC.

SKILL is one of three attributes that describe a character but it's the main one and is a catch-all for anything an adventurer may attempt that isn't pure luck. It's the base score in combat and used for tests of dexterity and intelligence and general physical saving throws. This tends to produce characters that are as clever as they are tough which is clearly a bit simplistic.

But the system is so simple that you could just add another skill, say MENTAL, and generate it and test it in the same fashion as skill without anything actually breaking. So you could insist on all PCs having a MENTAL skill, rolled on D6+6 and tested with 2d6. This would be useful for a campaign or one-shot which drifts away from the usual Fahrd/Gray Mouser/Dirk the Daring-type "adventurer" kills things in a fantasy world. In a cyperpunk campaign with use of netjacking everyone could have an attribute called HACKING or similar, in a campaign setting based around the high fatality rate associated with being a 1960s racing driver (a RPG that I keep trying to get somewhere with and giving up on) everyone could have a MOTOR RACING skill.

Anywhere this is where the insomnia time kicked in and struck me with a great idea.

RPGs have a fixed number of attributes. D&D has six. All PCs have all of these six attributes. But under the system proposed above you wouldn't actually need to. All PCs have a SKILL attribute but any PC may have multiple new attributes added "underneath", all generated in the same fashion. A PC might have a SKILL and a MENTAL if the player wishes. Then any SKILL tests that actually test a PC's mental prowess test the MENTAL attribute instead. Any PC that doesn't have a MENTAL attribute sees that test on his SKILL instead. And that MENTAL attribute could be broken down further still should the setting require it or the player feel it is worthwhile. Into INTELLIGENCE and WISDOM for example. Or have a CHARISMA attribute and optionally replace it with CHARISMA and COMELINESS to pick a rarely used example from Unearthed Arcana.

It struck me that this approach turns FF into a remarkably flexible RPG system whereby PCs can be simple (stick to SKILL) or as complex as required and monostat characters can freely operate alongside those with multiple attributes. And there is no canonical list of attributes to be taken from. If a player wishes to distinguish his SKILL from his TRICK HORSE RIDING ability he is perfectly free to do so.

In fact this could help out PCs lumbered with poor SKILLS of 7 or 8. Simply dream up another attribute and have another dice roll, hopefully giving a higher figure.

Comic Book Store Guy

I had a somewhat deflating shopping experience in my local branch of Forbidden Planet on Sunday.

Now, Forbidden Planet is a comic book shop, although I have noticed that over the past couple of years it's gone more and more over to being a shop of comic and TV and sparkly vampire-related tat. In fact it's whole stock seems to have shrunk recently to the point where it reminds me of WHSmiths - doing small quantities of everything with nothing done in large enough numbers to really count. None the less it's a large, visible comic book shop and I don't know of any other comic book shop in the immediate area.

I also don't know very much about comics. Anyway, I had read a few hooky on-line scans of Batman & Robin, the Grant Morrison-penned story arc in which Bruce Wayne is dead-but-not-really-dead and Dick Grayson takes over the Batman mantle with some form of cloned Bruce Wayne mini-me becoming the new Robin. I'd picked up a slim hardback anthology of the start of this series but struggled to find the actual comic itself. They didn't seem to stock it in WHSmiths.
So I thought the staff of the Midland's main comic book store would be helpful here. There's a million and one Batman comics around at the moment and I couldn't find the Batman & Robin one. I mean to say I don't even know if the arc has finished or if the comic is weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. I'm that much of a modern comics noob.

And you know what? Apparently I know more than Forbidden Planet's staff who claimed to know nothing about comics and hadn't heard of any of this. So either FP is employing store who know fuck all about their product lines or they are employing staff who can't be bothered to take five minutes (in an empty shop on a Sunday afternoon none the less) to help out a potential new customer who would have bought every issue they had in stock.

Note to publishers - a couple of hooky PDFs of a comic I had never heard of floating around on 4chan and Coop races out to buy as many copies of this comic as he can find...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Yet More Dreadful Foreign FF Covers

Let's leave the Germans alone for a while.

"I am from Holland. Isn't that vierd? Yesh!"

Yesh! It ish! To be fair it hash Dutch text and muschroomsch on the front so thish ishn't perhapsh all that suprishing. (Forest of Doom in case you haven't worked it out).

There wash a TV advertishing campaign in the UK a few yearsh ago for Grolsch lager in which a Dutchie guy used the shlogan "Guysh, gusyh what are you doing? Thish $NOUN ish not ready yet!" to refer to events shuch ash a bank raid on a bank that wash schtill being built or a porn film in which the repairmen actually schtarted work repairing the fridge owned by the schantily clad buxom houschewife. Ash you can imagine thish phrashe getsch repeated only about scheven hundred timesh each and every time we are in the 'dam. And it never ceasches to be funny! Scheriouschly!

And guessch what? It worksh here too!


Artisch: Guysh, gusyh! What are you doing? My cover painting isch not ready yet! It doeschn't even have any foreground detailing!

Publisher: Hey, it'sch cool. We'll juscht put a big box and the title there. Fanscy a schmoke?

Alternatively I juscht picture another schene whereby a brilliant, if tortured, artischt waitsch expectantly for the proofsch to arrive imagining how schtunning hish cover will look, scheeing the title schlapped careleshly over his lovingly painted fantaschy charactersch and then cutting hish ear off and preschenting it to a proschtitute.

In the company we've been keeping thisch (Warlock) ish merely unremarkably rubbisch but it ish noteworthy for the fact that Ian Livingschtone hash taken his name off it and turned it into an Alan Schmithee produschtion. Poor editing? Schurely not!

Now, some non-Dutch schtuff stuff.

The title was in silver/chrome so hasn't scanned but this is the Russian translation of Deathtrap Dungeon. Just look at the eyes. This is clearly what the Prophet Hicks referred to as a "heroic dose".

Whilst on the subject of Russia it appears that the Russian translations are all bootlegs as they are attributed to somebody called "Michael Frost". Also of interest is that the Russian title for Forest of Doom (Chernoles'e/Чернолесье]) is apparently the Russian word for "Deciduous Forest" which somehow fails to carry any sense of menace with it unless, deep down within the Slav psyche, there is something deeply disturbing and wrong with non-coniferous woodland.

Finally, off to Hungary. Hungarian Deathtrap Dungeon is called Halállabirintus which would be a pretty neat name for an Old School megadungeon. Except that they hyphenated it thusly...

...which just makes me think of a maze full of doner kebab.

Either that or a mazes of lambs having their throats cut. Either will do.

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

Monday, 9 August 2010

Lost Treasures Of The Spare Bedroom

I was sorting out the spare bedroom this evening and filling binbags of rubbish and clutter I'm determined to not keep around the house anymore and came across a few file boxes. This one was a nice surprise...

No labelling or anything, let's look inside...

Bloody hell, B/X, where that did come from?

Not only Moldvay but also two copies of Cook (one in excellent condition, one very tatty), Isle of Dread and Keep On The Borderlands and I've found my old flashing LED D6s that I thought were lost in a housemove.

Now I knew that I owned a tatty copy of Moldvay but this clearly isn't it. I suspect that the big dice date this to about 8 years ago when I bought my house. I guess the books were thrown together in the file box at my parents house, transported up to my new house along with a million other things in the boot of my old Ford Puma and overlooked in the haste to get moved in. I remember having these dice at my parents but not having seen them since - they are quite funky, cast in translucent coloured plastic with a small circuit board inside. When bounced off a hard surface, a spring-mounted contact usually engages and starts the LEDs inside flashing on and off for 20 seconds or so. It looks like the little watch batteries have gone flat since only one of them works now.

That was a nice surprise and the OSR's version of choice. Instant OSR cred!

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Great Beast's Shag Pad

If you're interested, Call of Cthulhu Keepers, Aleister Crowley's "abbey" in Siciliy is for sale. €1.5m to you squire. Keep a careful eye out for any odd-looking angles in the floorplan though.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

High-Level D&D? Read on, True Believer!

A few years back, before I discovered the online OSR and before I was blogging, I started feeling the urge to go back to Basic D&D and Fighting Fantasy and Tunnels and Trolls but do these games at completely the other end of the scale to how we'd played before.

What I wanted to do was start at 10th level and do some monstrously OTT high-level dungeon bashing with everything ramped up to 11 - stupid game breaking PCs and using every single AD&D beastie with massively unfair killer special abilities. Sounded like fun. Battling Sons of Kyuss on the stone archways spanning the Lake of Acid on level 150 of the Megadungeon. That sort of thing. (This was sort of where I started to realise that D&D was somewhat underappreciated in my eyes and where I starting drifting back towards enjoying what I'd originally enjoyed - Red Box, Lone Wolf, FF and the thrill of exploring underground abysses and battling Monster-of-the-Week).

However this never happened because the JRPGs I was playing (Final Fantasy, Grandia etc.) taught me something important. You can't play a 10th level character properly unless you've either played him up from 1st level or you are a massively experienced D&D gamer. There are just too many options and abilities in the "real", "properly grown and cultivated" high level D&D PC for somebody to leap in and take control of. Too many spell options, too many magic items with many and varied abilites and a near total lack of knowledge of what the other players can do which synergises with you.

So you either scale down 10th level characters with a less than usual amount of magical trickery or accept that they will be "underplayed" to a degree but then you've not got 10th level characters. They are effectively some levels below that, but exactly how many is not clear.

A few weeks back at my FLGS (Waylands Forge, Birmingham) I came across a copy of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes in the second-hand rack for £6. I snapped it up because I'd never seen it before and heard many a good thing about it in the past. As it happens when I got it home it turned out to be lacking the all-important PC stats cards so I don't really have any superhero stats for it hence it's relegation to "interesting and unused bookcase fodder".

As it happens I don't particularly like the superhero genre anyway (Batman and Watchmen excepted) but I've always viewed it as a perfect genre for roleplaying. One of the reasons for this is that it can handle just about anything. Nobody will bat an eyelid if, due for arcane and obscure reasons of plot, the PCs get teleported to an alternative realm of magic and monsters and end up being, basically, high level D&D adventurers.

Which is when the penny dropped.

High level D&D is basically a superhero game. I'm starting to suspect that it is so much a superhero game that I'd be better off dropping all pretence of using fantasy rules and going over to Superhero rules. And Marvel Superheroes aka FASERIP looks ideal because a character of 10th level power is far easier to pick up in that game than D&D.

While most FASERIP players just describe a character and have the GM sort out the nuts and bolts with a bit of creative reskinning some Marvel characters could walk straight into a D&D campaign. For example The Human Torch is human-size, can turn his body into flame, fly and generally manipulate fire. His player just tells the Gamesmaster how he will use this abilities to achieve his aims and goals.

Well, that could describe a high-level Elementalist or Theocrat of some fire God. No need for changes, just rename and redescribe the character. In fact, it would be a good match for Magic:The Gathering's Red Magic planeswalker pin-up girl Chandra Nalaar.

Effectively the same thing.

Our Elementalist/Theocrat/Chandra would be a complicated thing indeed in D&D but Marvel Superheroes was built from the ground up to allow an 11 year to pick up Human Torch's character sheet and be told "You control fire and can fly. Just tell me how you'll use that to capture villains and rescue innocents".

Somewhat happily, somebody here has done conversion guides for d20 to FASERIP and I have a complete set of 3E books (which are apparently of no use to man nor beast because they aren't the all important 3.5 release).

I'm thinking aloud with all this but suspect that this might just fly.

Lichemaster Art

Heinrich Kemmler aka The Lichemaster was a character that turned up in a couple of early Warhammer Fantasy Battle scenarios. He was quite iconic in the early Warhammer days and I think carried on into 90s-era Warhammer but I'm not sure if he is still going in these days where the undead army has been split into the Hammer-inspired Vampire Counts and the Egyptian pulp goodness of the Tomb Kings.

This Ian Miller piece has curious composition because it was one long landscape orientation piece designed to be effectively a diptych, the right hand half formed the cover of Warhammer scenario/campaign pack "Terror of the Lichemaster" whereas the Orcs on the left and Mitteleuropa village formed the cover of "Blood On The Streets" which was a collection of cardstock buildings with a slim pamphlet detailing the inhabitants of a couple of Old World villages. This latter work was something of an odd fish as it was essentially an RPG supplement, prior to WFRP, that used WFB2 stats. Curious.

(Upon reflection I think I recall an earlier cover for Lichemaster which was painted by Gary Chalk. If I'm correct this would make the Miller work a later cover. I'll try and confirm this in the near future).

This "one artwork-two covers" arrangement explains the odd demarcation and separation of the foreground elements. Note the alien/surreal nature of the trees and foreground landscape - a similar device to the Blanche works I blogged about last year, showing us that the Warhammer World is not our world and even the small details look radically different.

Kemmler later made an appearance in "The Vengeance of the Lichemaster" in the Citadel Journal of Spring 1986 for which this is the John Blanche cover. In this scenario, he was pitted against the new Citadel/GW invention, Skaven, the Chaos Ratmen. I've never seen this Journal nor scenario but adverts claim it was a three-sided battle between Kemmler, the Skaven and Bagrian, the master of La Maisontaal whom I assume is the central figure in the russet-coloured robes.

Good grimdark.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Contains Mild Fantasy Peril

This is the first time I've found this Russ Nicholson pic online and it's a hand-tinted version from the iPhone version of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The original was pure mono like all the best Old Skool Britart.

When I was a small boy I had a children's book with this picture in it AND WE LIKED IT! And we used to drink party cans of keg lager and drive home. Whilst smoking. With somebody else's wife and car keys. Having mixed radial and crossply on the same axle.

Bloody kids gone bloody soft these days.

Nostalgia Apparently Not What It Used To Be

I wandered into a toy shop in Worcester on Sunday and found a glass case of period Star Wars figures. Had a minor moment when I saw an R2-D2 priced up at £70 but then calmed down and noticed that it wasn't the same as the one I had, memory telling me that the hidden lightsaber had a square "tab" end on mine, but this one was round.

Had forgotten how crap these figures looked, especially the very first series of them. I know the imagination took over when playing with them and we didn't notice but I can't imagine how they still cast a spell over modern collectors because they are so bloody ugly. Difficult to appreciate them for their aesthetics I'm afraid.

Also slightly disappointing me this weekend was an impulse purchase of the first two anthologies of Rogue Trooper from Forbidden Planet in Brum. I was a huge fan of the blue-skinned Rogue (and Helm, Gunnar and Bagman as well) back in the day and I've said before how much of 40K (Rogue Trader even) was a homage to it/blatant ripoff.

Trouble is, looking back and reading the early progs on the settee with a huge mug/bowl of hot chocolate (Coop is attempting to scale back his prodigious tea input) they aren't really that satisfying to read. Mostly they are all single issue stories which doesn't allow the plot any time to breathe and this gets worse because each story assumes that you might be new to 2000AD so has to waste valuable page real estate on explaining why Rogue doesn't need a sealed suit and what's going on with these little numbered skulls on his equipment that keep chipping in with suggestions.

Plots (well, there's only one really) seem to revolve around a new and grotesque twist upon futuristic killing technology dreamt up by the author, Rogue meets this, gets threatened with death via this and then in one or two panels displays some native cunning or brass balls and defeats it. Then he ends up still not having unmasked the Traitor General (off-screen BBEG) and the war is still raging on Nu-Earth.

I'm hoping that this improves somewhat in later progs. 2000AD improved dramatically when it allowed for long story arcs and what I've read so far is basically crying out for this.

Now a couple of years back I bought the first three Nemesis the Warlock anthologies and that is still epic. Probably reads better to this adult than it did the same juvenile back then. So I don't think I have false, rosy memories of 2000AD it's just that, at least in it's early days, Rogue Trooper really doesn't seem to spark correctly.

Anyroad, the main reason for buying this was 40K inspiration so perhaps I shouldn't grumble that much.