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stone-hand-smallHis callused finger tips slid slowly over the dry stone wall, feeling for anything out of the ordinary. They moved in a pattern, left and right, painstakingly up and down. The dust of the stone work covered his hands. He had been doing this for close to an hour. The dim light of his flickering torch starting to gutter and fade as it lay on the floor at his side. Just as his torch died, he felt it. It was the slightest depression, but it was there and it didn’t match the surrounding stonework. Perhaps he should have been searching in the darkness all along, not allowing his vision to impede the years of training his fingers had searching for hidden treasures in the deeps below Mount Kendril. But then he heard it, a faint sniffing sound, coming from the hall outside the room he now searched. It could only mean one thing. He was no longer alone.

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swotusI’ve been an on-again off-again reader of an OSR gaming blog called Tenkar’s Tavern for close to two years now. Erik Tankar, the proprietor of Tenkar’s Tavern came to my attention due to his blogging about ACKS or Adventurer Conqueror King System, one of my favorite rulesets based loosely on Labyrinth Lord and rewritten to create a world building end-game that previous versions of D&D always aspired to but never really achieved. Like me, he really seemed to like the game. In reading his thoughts on that ruleset, and finding them similar to my own, I realized we had many gaming ideas in common. He also commented quite postively on another ruleset close to my heart, Castles & Crusades. And thus, a bookmark was born. Over the last 2 years, I’ve read ruminations on so many aspects of the OSR. Tenkar’s Tavern really does walk the walk, supporting multitudes of OSR Kickstarters and keeping readers up to date on many of the happenings in the community and around the web.

One of those happenings was one I really thought sounded like a great idea. It was the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Blogfest. Basically, just a way to maintain momentum for the OSR in general and Swords & Wizardry in particular, the blogfest seemed like a good opportunity for me to contribute and participate in something I’ve enjoyed for quite a while now. Continue Reading »

BluffsideI recently had the opportunity to take a look at a new Castles & Crusades adventure conversion. It’s called Interludes: A Brief Expedition to Bluffside. It was written by Jeff quinn, converted by Peter J. Schroeder and published by Samurai Sheepdog. For those who are not familiar, Bluffside is a mini setting originally designed and written for OGL D20 systems. Here is the marketing blurb from 2002:

“Civilization is still picking up the pieces from an asteroid strike hundreds of thousand of years ago. The epicenter? Bluffside. Only 200 years after being rediscovered, Bluffside is a boom town boasting the most precious metal in the known world adamantine. From the ancient ruins, to the vast Undercity, to the floating port of Sordadon, Bluffside: City on the Edge is a city that promises to become the home port for thousands of adventures.”

Sounds pretty cool right? I’d certainly want to have an adventure or two there. And in the Castles & Crusades ruleset? Even moreso! Ok, so let’s see if this adventure lives up to the promise of both Bluffside the setting and C&C the game. Continue Reading »

DiceSo, every 6-12 months, I see a thread pop up on RPG sites around the net. The concept is one of Active Defense. What does this mean? It means that, instead of monsters making hit rolls against PCs, the PCs are making defense rolls against monster attacks. Seems simple enough right? Right. So why does it keep popping up around the net but we don’t see a lot of rule sets designing their games around the concept?  Well, first of all, we actually do see a lot of games using this approach. However, they’re not doing it directly or consistently so sometimes people don’t even notice that it’s already happening. The other reason is that over time, many games have been moving away from the concept and I think that even though gamers didn’t know they were already doing it, they are noticing it now that it’s gone. Continue Reading »

Tomb of Horrors OriginalI recently had lunch with one of my players and we discussed the current state of our game (and he very kindly commented that I’ve been ignoring this site). Beyond the general consensus that people are having a good time and seem to be looking forward to each upcoming game session, the idea of momentum was briefly touched on. It got me to thinking. I’m currently running a lightly modified version of the 4E Tomb of Horrors. As a module, it plays quite a bit differently from what we’ve been doing. Over the past year or so of play, we’ve been very story focused. The mainline plot has gotten a lot of attention and has developed from a nascent threat against a few small villages into a full fledged regional destabilization. The group just reached level 11 and so far the threats they’ve faced feel about right to me. However, in The Tomb of Horrors, things are different. It’s not nearly as story driven. It’s really more of a set piece than a story, although there is some narrative behind it obviously. There is a reason for its existence and the powers behind it do create a sense of mystery (and a pretty serious problem) that needs to be solved. Now, keep in mind, this is a D&D “super” adventure. That means it’s one of those big, hardbound books, chock full of traps, combat, enemies and more. It’s meant to be run over a long period of time and across many levels. It ranges from Level 10 all the way to Level 22. The way we’ve been playing, that will take at least a year. Continue Reading »

It’s summer. In the midwest, it’s been like a thousand degrees every day for the last 3 weeks. Lawns are turning brown.  People are hiding indoors. You’d think this would be a great time to play some D&D, to just hang out in the cool basement and roll some dice while chugging a cold beverage. Yet somehow, it seems like D&D always catches a shaft in the summer time.  Families go on vacation. People move. Kids have more quirky commitments as things like swimming lessons, babysitting and drivers education make scheduling more bizarre than ever. So how does one get the D&D fix in the summer? Continue Reading »

Adventurer Conqueror King SystemAdventurer Conqueror King System.

What?

Being an old-timer means that I find lots of the OSR world interesting.  In most cases it’s not enough to make me ditch the new shiny(4E), but sometimes I wonder if that’s not simply because I have a group that consists of gamers with slightly more modern sensibilities.  To that end, I’ve always looked at retro-clones with the angle that I’d like to see not just a clone, but an actual modernization of the systems of the past. They had so much going for them that has been lost with the march of time, with the evolution of the modern gamer. Their themes are no less relevant, no less graspable than they were 30 years ago. Demonstrated by my repeated and successful attempts to introduce modern young people to classic RPGs. These RPGs don’t need to be wildly altered. They just need a fresh coat of paint and a cohesiveness that was lacking from a system that was essentially designed piecemeal by non-designers. They need more references outside of 1970s fantasy fiction combined with a liberal helping of myth. They need to approach the critiques of those systems without unmaking their brilliance. Continue Reading »

Over on Sarah Darkmagic, Sarah has been highlighting the type of art she likes to see. She displays images, frequently with a focus on females, and states that she likes art that tells a story, that draws the viewer in. She mentions each piece specifically and what she finds intriguing about it. This is fantastic. This is a great example of how to better both art in general and the art of our hobby in particular. I’ve felt for a long time that the art of D&D needs to be more inclusive, something Sarah generally does a great job pointing out. A wider cross-section of people should be able to experience the art of our hobby and not feel objectified or exploited. RPG art is, in my opinion, best when it exemplifies the best aspects of the hobby, Adventure, Exploration, Devotion, Honor, Courage and a dozen other powerfully evocative states of being, all of which lend themselves to the concept of inclusivity.

So, how, as bloggers and as internet citizens do we empower artists, make our voices heard, and shine light on the idea that RPG art needn’t be oversexualized material that is appropriate only for a thin slice of viewers? I think the best way to do this is twofold.

1. Exposure

We, as bloggers, need to raise awareness. Much like what Sarah Darkmagic is doing, we need to spotlight such art so that others can experience it, to know what we’re talking about and to spread the word. We need to create a vocabulary of the art we want more of, to educate consumers of art and creators. We need to make sure that those artists who are producing material that tickles our imaginations while still being inclusive get seen.

2. Feedback

We can’t, as reasonable humans, expect artists to read minds. If we want something from them, if we want them to alter their focus or to use less exploitative imagery, we need to make our voices heard. Artists, to a certain degree, are creating art not only for themselves but for the public. Art is a medium to be shared.  If the artist is including elements they think are desirable, they can’t be blamed if no one ever tells them differently. As an artist myself, I can say definitively that I desire feedback any time my work is put forth for public consumption.  Were anyone to stifle that feedback, I would be disappointed.

This brings me to an image I saw the other day on Sarah Darkmagics blogs. It can be seen here

The Cave by ~Maretenebrae

The reason I love this image is because it has a real sense of tension. When you can see the enemies faces, but not the heroes face, it makes it easy to put oneself in the heroes shoes. That’s exactly what we do all the time in RPGs so this image starts off great. I also love the gradiant, lower left to upper right, dark brown to white and back to darkness. On a visceral level, it is simply powerful.

So where does it go wrong? When we’re talking about being inclusive and having art that is based on some semblance of believability, we shouldn’t only talk about including believable women.  It sort of weakens the entire movement. While I love what Sarah Darkmagic is doing by spotlighting the really great art that depicts women in a more dignified manner, I find it surprising that she finds it unacceptable to comment on some small issues in this piece. We like to talk about women wearing appropriate clothing for adventuring and that’s great. Sarah is pretty big on this, pointing out armor that covers breasts and whether or not too much skin is exposed. But in the case of this man, holding a white rabbit, something you’d only find in arctic conditions, she finds it undesirable to point out that he is shirtless. This man would be freezing!  One could argue the lack of shirt is representative of his exposure, both to the elements and to the enemies. But this is a subtlety that is easily abused in the case of women. Ultimately, I’m not sure the lack of shirt furthers the goals of the image. Do I love the image? Yes. Could it be more inclusive? I think so.

But when talking about inclusive art, is it wrong to say this image could be  moreso? Should a person who makes such a comment be told to go away and make their own blog?  Is it a good idea to create an “agree with me or leave” environment when it comes to furthering the goals of exclusivity?  As an artist, it’s not simply important to allow criticism, it’s vital. As long as the criticism is provided in a mature fashion, I find it hard to rationalize creating an environment where it’s not welcome. It does artists a disservice to try to shut down maturely expressed critical thought. To make reasoned critical thought unwelcome is to stifle creativity, both for the artist and the viewer. And good art should never strive to do this. I’ve not met an artist who would find this acceptable.

To sum it up, lets get together. Lets promote inclusive art and lets talk about it. Lets share our thoughts. EVEN those not everyone may not agree with. Lets do it in a mature fashion. Ultimately, I think this will benefit us as artists and as consumers of art. And if you don’t agree. Go start your own blog. 😉

So I’ve been watching videos coming out of DDXP about the next iteration of D&D. I’ve seen activity on forums ranging from hysterical accolades to hate-filled diatribes. I’m curious if others out there are following the news. Sound out in the current Hunter’s Quarry poll.

Ok, so the word should be out by now. WotC revealed they are hard at work designing the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons. If you missed this announcement you can check it out here. When I first read the news, I was curious and intrigued. I had been following the Legends & Lore columns of both Mike Mearls and newly re-hired Monte Cook for the last few months. I very much enjoyed their ruminations on past editions of the game, what we learned from them, and how they might impact modern design goals. The comments frequently devolved into a hot mess of hate-on-hate action but were frequently peppered with thought provoking responses. It was a heady time and a fun place to be as we all collectively speculated if these seemingly innocuous conversations had some higher purpose. It turns out they did. Hit the jump to find out how. Continue Reading »