Thursday 29 December 2011

2011 in Review

2012 is almost upon us and its time to set some goals, but first I have to review 2011.

2011 Resolutions Progress

Last year saw me start blogging in earnest and for the first time in ages I made some New Year Resolutions:

1.  Take More Notes (5/10) - I'm counting this as a partial success.  I created the Lands of Dual website to act as a repository for session reports and to store all my campaign notes and maps.  I also began using record cards to take notes, but still relied far too heavily on players notes than I would have liked.  This became particularly troublesome when calculating the XP earned by individual PCs so I must come up with a better solution.

2.  Weekly Blog Series (5/10) - Another partial success as I managed to create two of the weekly blog series ideas I spoke of in my original resolutions article.  Unfortunately they petered out within a few articles.
  • Monday Motivations - was an attempt to compile a list of mini-backgrounds for fantasy characters along class lines.  I managed to write 12 articles before the juices ran dry.  There's plenty of life left in this series though and I did promise to publish it as a collected series which will clearly need to be expanded upon.

  • Citymorphs - Following in the footsteps of the Geomorphing community I successfully created 29 citymorph tiles over the course of 7 articles.   In retrospect I should probably have reduced the number of morphs per article and eked it out over more posts as the pressure to create 4 morphs per week quickly exhausted my creative juices.  However, I did manage to get them added to Dave's Mapper so you can play with them to your heart's content. 

    The focus for Geomorphs seemed to shift towards the Dungeonmorph Dice project founded by Joe "Inkwell Ideas" Wetzel but there were casualties along the way and the inspirational Dyson Logos has apparently gone off line for the forseeable future.

    I liked the concept a lot and as my attention drifts away from Fantasy (in the form of my current OSR clone Castles and Crusades) towards Sci-Fi (namely Judge Dredd) I think there are options for this in the future.
This was not theend of the story and a couple of other series ideas sprang forth.
  • A to Z of 80s UK RPG - Was an attempt at nostalgically recording my gaming inspirations but stuttered at "I is for ....".  I intend to continue this series as I have written further articles along the line which have yet to see the light of day and it would be a shame to end it after only 8 articles.
  • Mapping Tools - Was a little 4 part series investigating the state of free cross platform mapping solutions at different scales.  I enjoyed making this series and it led to the discovery of the sweet little tool TILED which I have now used on a number of occasions to construct classic blue style dungeon maps such as The Ruined Tower of The Archmage.
3.  Blog in Advance (3/10) - I have come to the conclusion that scheduled blogging really only works if you have an ongoing series combined with enough inspiration to easily create articles for it in advance.  This lack of inspiration has really been my issue and I don't want to end up with quality suffering for the sake of quantity.

Other Achievements in 2011

Blog Performance

2011 has seen Roleplay-Geek hit the 20,000 pageviews mark (woot) and I've written 96 articles.  I've even tried mobile blogging with limited success, if anyone has any suggestions for free iOS apps for mobile let me know in the usual way. 

 The top 5 articles of the year (by pageviews) are:
  1. Minions My OSR take on the one hit wonder (697pv) - High interest in this article probably due to being picked up in Tracy Hurley's Festival of Lights article on the official D&D website.  I must namedrop 4e concepts a bit more...
  2. Make: 3D Dungeon Tiles Pt 1 - The Design (193pv) - Where I set out the design to produce a cheap as chips and, more importantly, a useable 3D dungeon set.
  3. Make: 3D Dungeon Tiles Pt 2 - The Build (189pv) - Building the rooms with foamcore.
  4. RPG Mapping Tools Part 1 - Battle Maps (183pv) - Part one of my 4 part series exploring free cross platform mapping tools.
  5. UPDATE: RPG Google mapping with MAPLib (159pv) - An update to my article on using MAPLib for your campaign map needs.
Top referrers are of course RPG Bloggers Network  and RPG Blog Alliance, thanks for all the visits guys.

Roleplay Geek Publishing

In April I became an RPG publisher and over the course of the year managed to create a total of 7 products which are currently available for download on RPG Now.  All the advice I gleaned from the various blogs I read forewarned me that this wasn't going to make me a millionaire, but I have enjoyed the experience so far and have been pleasantly surprised with the results so far.

Item Cards - Adventurer's Gear57$ 36.68
Item Cards - Potions44$ 26.18
Item Cards - Animals32$ 18.48
Paper Minis - Animals28$ 18.90
GM Aids - Decision Deck18$ 25.20
Item Cards - Free Sampler391$ 0.00
Paper Minis - Free Fungaloid Lurkers & Brain Vine130$ 0.00
Grand Totals627$ 124.44

RPG Now is a fantastic way to publish but consequently there are some 15,436 products available to download and standing out from the crowd is extremely difficult. Most of my sales occurred soon after products were added to RPG Now and so featured in the Latest Products list and I haven't worked out a marketing strategy yet.

PDF pricing seems to be a bit hit and miss, Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor recently wrote a neat article revealing his thoughts and research into pricing his own products.  It doesn't seem to be any easier for the DIY print publisher either, Chris Tregenza has started a new thread on his blog detailing his progress towards making a profit for the 6d6 RPG and I will be watching this with interest.

My philosophy with my PDFs is that I'm producing them for my own games anyway, so the personal effort involved isn't factored into the profit equation.  I'm under no illusion that I'm going to become rich as a result, but if I can gather up a few dollars along the way to buy the odd bit of swag then it's a success.

Miniature Painting

I returned to miniature painting and finally completed my Harlequin Giant Forest Troll and am part way through painting a Ral Partha Djinn and Efreet.  As I get older I have begun to have issues with painting under electric light (or it could be those god awful compact fluorescent bulbs we now have to use) so this restricts the time when I can comfortably paint to a small window on a Saturday morning.  I have a stack of minis which need a bit of colour so I need to ramp up production in 2012.

All in all a mixed year, stay tuned for the New Year Resolutions post.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Star Blazer Adventures Random Scenario Generator, or How I Wrote a One Session Scenario in 30 minutes.

I was scheduled to be playing a one session scenario last night when I received an e-mail that the GM had pulled out at short notice due to illness.  In a moment of madness with 3 hours till I had to jump in the car, I offered to GM the slot with a Star Blazer Adventures (SBA) game.  2 hours of random internet surfing later I decided I'd better write the scenario.

Fortunately chapter 25 of SBA's monster 627 page rulebook contains a plethora of random tables to help you generate ideas for your games.  The results of my rolls were:

Mission 1Mission 2
Mission Nature:CorporateMission Nature:Diplomatic
Objective:Industrial EspionageObjective:Hostage Negotiation
Complication:Military InterventionComplication:Travel Difficulties
Who:MobsterWho:Alien Race
Reason:Mistaken IdentityReason:Training

Nothing immediately flowed from this so I decided to break the scenario down into 4 scenes and roll randomly for each:

Scene 1Scene 2
Location:Town / VillageLocation:Stock Exchange
Bad Guy Encounter:Traitorous PoliticianBad Guy Encounter:Corrupt Soldier
Good Guy Encounter:Unexpected AllyGood Guy Encounter:Enemy of My Enemy
Reason:HeresyReason:Past Embarrassment
Scene 3Scene 4
Location:Hostile FleetLocation:Refinery
Bad Guy Encounter:War CriminalBad Guy Encounter:Murderer
Good Guy Encounter:JudgeGood Guy Encounter:War Criminal
Reason:Blood FeudReason:Recent Defeat

Putting Meat on the Bones

By now the creative juices had started to bubble now so I decided to select parts of the random generated scenes above and began to flesh out my scenario:

Scene 1 - The PCs are the crew of a Star Patrol cruiser currently stationed on Zorb 3 and investigating the disappearance of some medical supplies which have been misappropriated by the  corrupt Mayor of the town.  During the course of this first scene the PCs are alerted to an incident at the planetary stock exchange and immediately re-assigned to investigate.

Scene 2 - The PCs arrive at the stock exchange in the planetary capital only to find that an assault has taken place and a prominent corporate figure has been kidnapped.  A snatch squad has blown a huge hole in the side of the building and made their escape in a warp capable freighter.

Scene 3 - The PCs exit a warp corridor into the middle of the Mercenary Pirate fleet of Desiderous Black, disgraced Star Patrol Officer and War Criminal.  They are engaged and end up flying their crippled cruiser into a hanger of the pirate fleet's flagship The Medusa.

Scene 4 - The PCs land at a refinery on an uninhabited world where they attempt to rescue the corporate hostage in a final showdown and capture the terrorists with the aid of the War Criminal Desiderous Black.

Scene Transitions

Clearly these scenes needed fleshing out, which would occur during play, but more importantly, they needed transitions from one scene to another:

Scene 1 > Scene 2 - During their journey from the town to the stock exchange they narrowly avoid a collision with a blue and yellow freighter which is heading out of the capital.

Scene 2 > Scene 3 - The PCs hastily follow the jump coordinates of the fleeing freighter without knowing where the warp exit point is located.

Scene 3 > Scene 4 - Desiderous Black reveals that he is in fact still a loyal member of Star Patrol and has been on a deep cover mission to wrest control of the pirate fleet away from its rag tag band of mercenary captains and to use its immense power covertly in situations where Star Patrol cannot operate publicly for political reasons.  With the mission now complete he wishes to "come in from the cold" and going off on a wild goose chase following the promise of hostage treasure is a credible escapade which befits his reputation in the the eyes of the other pirate captains.

How it Played Out

The game began at 7:30pm and finished at 2:00am which is quite long for a one session scenario, but fair considering that I had no pre-gen PCs and the players are relatively unfamiliar with the slightly obtuse character generation process that the game requires.

Scene 1 - The PCs were in the town running computer checks on the batch numbers of the medical supplies with the assistance of a low level admin clerk who refused to give anything other than minor assistance as he was in fear of losing his job.  They successfully identified the serial numbers which had been tampered with and eventually the identity of the user involved.  However, they triggered some file alarms which resulted in the Mayor making a run for it in his hover-limousine.  The PCs gave chase and attempted to communicate with the occupant of the vehicle but in-advertantly caused it to lose control and crash.  Whilst they inspected the wreckage for the body of the Mayor, he slipped into the cargo bay of their cruiser unnoticed.  They were in the process of recovering the medical supplies from the wreck when the call came through to re-assign them to investigating the incident at the stock exchange.

Scene 2 - On their way to the scene, they narrowly avoid the freighter as they enter the emergency lane splitting the cities incoming and outgoing air-traffic.  When they review the external security footage they realise that the freighter used in the incident is the same one they encountered on their way to the stock exchange.  They use up some fate points to make plot declarations ensuring that they have access to the jump coordinates for the fleeing freighter.

Scene 3 - Coming out of warp they are attacked by five fighters and although they attempted to jump straight out of the situation, I frazzled their warp coils with some treknobabble about warp static.  They engage the fighters and without suitable heavy weapons themselves attempt to use the enemies own missiles to cripple the flagship.  They succeed in punching a hole inside the hull of the ship but resist the temptation to crash their vessel into the hole, seeking the safety of a conveniently located hanger on board.  With the warp coils frazzled they need to locate suitable replacements from onboard the enemy flagship and assemble an away team to go investigate.  During this mission the away team is captured and the star patrol ship boarded.  Desiderous Black reveals his secret to the Star Patrol Captain PC and offers to assist by accompanying them for the final leg of their mission on board the captured Star Patrol vessel Aggamemnon.

Scene 4 - This was a straight up dungeon bash inside the atmosphere refinery where I gradually whittled down the Pirate Captain's lackeys until only the PCs and Black were left.  The PCs located the corporate hostage who was tied up and swinging from the claw of an overhead crane whilst the kidnappers leader laughed maniacally from its controls.  Getting the tension just right was key and when the leader was killed there was a chance that the mission would go pear shaped resulting in the death of the hostage.  One of the PCs was playing a mysterious alien with a secret "fugitive time traveller" aspect and I allowed another PC to trade a fate point in order to tag this thereby saving the day.

Things I Would do Differently

Overall the exercise was a big success, but the bulk of time wasted during the session occurred during character generation and it's something I've seen players struggle with before.  The freeform concept of aspects and legends and the complex list of skills is a little daunting to first time players and not at all helpfull if you are putting on an impromptu game.  What would be useful is a set of archetypes with all the stat blocks filled in for a wide range of standard space opera types such as the crew of a star patrol ship, a bounty hunter, a law enforcement robot... etc... etc... (sounds like a project for the New Year...).

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday 22 December 2011

20,000 Page Views

Some time today this blog hit 20,000 page views.  Thanks for all the support guys and girls.

Friday 9 December 2011

Kicking off Campaigns by Keeping Players in the Dark

Joe Bloch's recent thought provoking article on Greyhawk Grognard suggests that the question facing DMs when starting a new campaign is one of information flow.  This may be true in sandbox campaigns but I often find that if PCs know too much about the campaign world it results in Analysis Paralysis rather than driving their decision making. 

Less information to begin with usually helps them to concentrate on the immediate choices to hand rather than worrying about the world at large.  The worst trait that players can exhibit is that of the "Setting Lawyer" where they bring their own knowledge of the world, gained by playing other scenarios, into play.  This can be a real problem for DMs who are not as familiar with the setting as some of their players and can be very disruptive or diverting for the rest of the group, particularly if conflict between player and DM arises as a result.

Chaucer's Pilgrims - The Canterbury Tales
Medieval history tells us that travel for peasants was fairly limited, many never having travelled more than 50 miles from their home village in their whole lives.  The pilgrims of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" took part in a round trip of some 120 miles from Southwark to Canterbury and back, which would be considered to be a considerable undertaking for anyone at the time.  However, Chaucer himself travelled widely, making trips to France, Spain Flanders and Italy in various roles as a civil servant and diplomat (and perhaps spy).  He even embarked on a Crusades, and like many English soldiers would have travelled unheard of distances, by comparison to their stay at home cousins.  I like to see my player's PCs as more like Chaucer and those Crusaders (ie: adventurous persons) rather than like his pilgrims who, to all intents and purposes, are really nothing more than NPCs.

Gary Gygax's sage advice on the subject (A&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 87), which is interesting to read nonetheless,  seems to be aimed at DM's running their first campaign and perhaps at novice players.  

I entirely agree with Joe that the first few sessions of any campaign are really spent getting to know one another and less about finding out where in the world they are or what their next move should be.  Starting of with a simple scenario to get them used to each other's company, traits and talents is a must.

When running my own campaign world my objective is as much about developing my world as it is about playing out interesting plot lines.  To help me achieve this goal I insist that the majority of players select lands other than the starting location as their PC birthplace.  This often requires them to come up with a convincing reason for embarking on some form of quest as part of their background, giving me the opportunity to weave parts of this into the arc plotline (clever, yes?).

I also recommend that DMs run short solo encounters, as prequels for each PC as a prelude to a campaign.  These do not need to be any more than 30 to 45 minutes each and can usually be done as part of the first session or offline if needs be.  Your players will thank you in the long run as it bridges the gap between character creation and provides believable reasons for turning up at that cliche of a  tavern looking for work.

Thursday 8 December 2011

RPG Mapping Tools Part 4 - Planet and Star Maps

In this part I zoom out even further and take a look at planetary system maps and star maps.  Which conventionally use the hex grid I looked at in Part 3: Region Maps.

Regina Subsector Jump Map

The definitive starmap has to be a Traveller sector map, which has some particular conventions of its own, namely the positioning of features around the edges of each hex to denote the hexes contents (clockwise from top; Starport Type, Gas Giant, Allegiance, World Name, and Base Type.)  Stellar trade routes which are also the main lines of communication are denoted by solid lines from one planet to anotherand the hex center contains world information (water present / not present or if it has an asteroid belt).  The sample I'm using is the Regina Subsector Jump Map and the standard 1½ hour rule applies.

Hexographer (

Hexographer "Cosmic" output
If you've read Part 3: Region Maps, you'll know I rate this highly as an easy to use tool with great output.  "The Daddy" of free online hexmapping solutions has its own "Cosmic" menu which offers features such as planets, stars, and spacestations which can each have custom colours.  Hex features can also be placed at various clock positions around the hex, but these are not entirely traveller compliant and are time consuming to include and to be honest if you're running anything other than traveller you won't need them.  7/10 - "Not too Shabby"

The Traveller Map (

An awesome bit of interactive mapping which shows the full stellar map divided into it's individual sub-sectors.  Double clicking on the sectors zooms in and you can even print off the results in booklet form.  If you're GMing a game in the Traveller universe then this should be your first starport of call.  9/10 - "Why DIY when it's already done for you?"


The inherent problem of mapping a globe onto a flat plane has plagued cartographers ever since our view of the world changed from being flat to round and has resulted in a number of map projection techniques of which we are most familiar with the Mercator Projection.  However, Sci-Fi roleplayers will be most familiar with the icosahedral projection popularised by Traveller.

Icosahedral World Generator (
Joe over at Inkwell Ideas has pulled off an amazing planet generator which should keep most DMs more than happy.  Not only does the tool allow you to customise the random size, temperature and percentage of land, mountains and vegetation, it also includes a hex editor allowing you to replace terrain as you like.  There's no export to image function but you can export to hexographer for even more editing possibilities.

Inkwell Ideas Icosahedral World Generator

Other Notable Tools

Donjon's Sci-Fi World Generator (

This browser based tool will happily generate planets for you all day long.  You can customise the generator a little to make each planet a bit more useable, the output includes a map, physics (size and physical composition), gravimetry (gravity and esape velocity), rotation (length of 1 rotation and axial tilt),  hydrosphere (ratio of water/ice), atmosphere (chemical composition), climate (temerature ranges) and biosphere (chemistry and lifeforms).  If you want to create a whole star system Donjon also has a Traveller System Generator and a Star Wars D6 System Generator.  There are a lot of really useful tools on his tsite I particularly like the Sci-Fi Name Generator's Star Trek Technobabble option
9/10 - "Superb"

Other Posts in this Series:

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Legendary Locations: Cave of Crystals, Mexico

Nature has this unnerving way of making humanities greatest achievements sometimes seem seem really insignificant...

Crystal Caverns, Mexico - National Geographic
You can learn more about the expedition to the Cave of Crystals over at National Geographic.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Minions: my OSR take on the one hit wonder.

One of the 4e concepts that intrigued me most was the idea of minions, I thought it was very cinematic and was itching to see what it was like from a player perspective.  Earlier this year when I got a chance to play in a demo game I was quite dissapointed, there was no sense of fear or uncertainty about the whole combat and It left me quite unsatisfied.

despicable me minions
Geek Ken has some useful advice on how 4e DMs should use minions, particularly in the use of attack waves and Glimm's Workshop introduces the Resolve concept to make minions a little tougher but clearly something is not quite right with the rules for minions as they stand.

In OSR (or retroclones) a monster is generally ranked by its Hit Dice (HD) which in most cases equates to 1d8 of HP.  The DM can simply turn any monster into a 1 hit wonder by reducing the number of HP it has to a value below the minimum damage dealt by the majority of the party.  Even at 1st level this is usually around the 4HP mark and will increase slowly as the party's levels and damage bonuses increase. 


How the DM assigns this HP reduction is up to them, for me this depends on what type of monster I am stocking the encounter with.  If it's a creature with animal intelligence or lower with no social structure then I'll either randomly roll or just assign every creature the same value say 4HP per HD.  However, if it's a creature with higher than animal intelligence or an animal which has a clear social aspect then I like to use the following system:
  • ALPHA - (8HP per HD) - This is the pack leader or alpha, the toughest member of the encountered group and will be the one giving the orders.  There can never be more than one Alpha in a group regardless of its size.
  • BETA - (6HP per HD) - These are the Alpha's bullies, they do what the Alpha tells them to and will bully the norms into doing what the Alpha demands.  Their number depends largely on the size of the group but I like to use the ratio of 1 Beta to every 5 Norms.

  • NORM - (4 HP per HD ) - The rank and file version of the creature who will be goaded into action by the BETA or ALPHA.  In some cases I'll keep the actual value of Norm HP fluid just in case the PCs have excessively bad rolls, after all there's no point in them falling at the first hurdle and getting slaughtered by minions.

If players have the opportunity to observe a group before engaging they should be able to identify each ALPHA and BETA.  This may have a bearing on their plan of attack, particularly if they have ranged specialists which can target the ALPHA and BETA types and take them out provoking a morale check which may result in the norms fleeing or surrendering and giving the PCs the victory but morale for minions is another thing all together and maybe a subject for a future article.

Sunday 4 December 2011

The Ruined Tower of The Archmage

Ruined Tower Prize
David over at the Tower of the Archmage is running a competition to win one of his scenic models, a ruined tower.  Unfortunately for me I'm based in the UK and am therefore ineligible (the postage to the UK would be ruinous) but I liked the model enough to knock up a quick map and the basics for an encounter.

The Ruined Tower of the Archmage

The ruins of this solitary tower sit atop an exposed moorland hill which is constantly blasted by the elements.  Anyone crossing the moor on a particularly stormy day or night will be glad to shelter inside the towers walls even just for 5 minutes.

1.  Ground Floor - Even in its ruined state, the ground floor of this 20ft wide tower offers a welcome respite from the storm.  If the PCs search the tower or try to light a fire they disturb 3 Wolves who have made a den under the spiral staircase.  They fight to the death.

2.  Spiral Stairs - The spiral stairs stop after 1 half revolution, anyone making a leap of faith whilst on the outer part of the staircase will pass through a dimensional portal onto another set of stairs which lead to the 1st floor.  The portal is invisible and can only be detected by magical means.

3.  The Library - This room is dedicated to learning and storing knowledge as evidenced by the many bookshelves which line the walls.  A staircase sweeps up to another floor above,

4.  The Storeroom - A small 10ft by 5ft room containing shelves stacked with a myriad assortment of magical and mundane ingredients.

5.  The Laboratory - An octagonal room whose walls are chalked with all manner of magical symbols and signs.  The floor is dominated by a pentacle and a cloud of oily black smoke writhe within in the shape of a column.  Sprawled face down on the floor just outside the pentacle is a white haired old man dressed in long robes clutching a book.


Thursday 1 December 2011

Fields of Battle: What's in the box?

During several recent trips to my FLGS (Orcs Nest in central London) I have found myself being drawn to Fields of Battle: Miniature Battle Rules for Castles and Crusades.  Unfortunately I like to know what's in the box (or book) before I buy it and scouring the internet for photos drew a blank.  Well here is a box content photo for those of you who may be thinking of making this purchase.

Fields of Battle Box Contents
Fields of Battle - Box Contents
As you can see the bulk of the content is made up from cardstock counters, wilderness battlemat sheets and the beautiful papercraft siege engines from Fat Dragon Games. The rules are contained in a slim 48 page book. Potential buyers may be turned off by this plethora of cardstock, particularly if they are intending to use this as a wargame with their own miniatures, but this would be an injustice.

I'll admit that this is probably a niche product, but I see it coming in veru handy as an adjunct to a regular RPG campaign session. I know that in my own games I have written storylines where PCs are involved in mass battle events, either as a group of fighters in a particular unit or in defending a castle from a siege assault.  RPG combat systems don't cope well with this scale of combat yet it is a quintessential part of almost every work in the genre which we use as our inspiration for our games.

The usual cludge is to focus purely on one or two encounters within the battle and your players will have no appreciation of the scale and in many cases will not have any impact on the battle as a whole.  Fields of battle attempts to bridge that gap by introducing a variant of the Siege Engine system which allows your Castles and Crusades PCs to get directly involved in the battle and their players can see the whole battle rather than just the tiny vignette you may have otherwise created for them.

In essence I just can't see myself carting around hundreds of heavy miniatures in order to stage a battle as part of my regular games session, whereas slipping this box into my backpack opens up a whole new scale of combat for my players.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Guilds of Dual - Basic Guild Concepts for Fantasy Roleplaying Games

Worshipful Company of
Feltmakers of London
I recently read a couple of interesting articles on Trollish Delver and Grognardling discussing the use of Guilds which inspired me to go revisit the guilds for my own FRPG campaign world, The Lands of Dual.

My first challenge (and one all GMs encounter) was to bring as diverse a party from the four corners of the globe together in as believeable a fashion as I could.  I decided to use the scenario Challenge of Champions by Jonathon M Richards (featured in Dungeon #58) which called for the use of a Guild to host the annual competition.  Thus was born the Adventurers Guild of Ayfal.


The seaport of Ayfal, and specifically their lodgings in the guildhouse, became the party's defacto base of operations for quite a while (15 sessions in fact).  The guild offers a number of useful services for its members in exchange for an annual membership and I came up with the following template:

Motto:"In Darkness Find Rich Reward"
Annual Membership Fee:200 GP
Guild Leader:Guildmaster Fenwick
Notable Members:Guild Secretary Ignatius, Guild Quartermaster Renfrew, Guild Loremaster Ehnid (Deceased)
Catering to the needs of the discerning traveller, the membership of the Ayfal Adventurer's Guild is an eclectic mix of Warriors, Wizards, Priests, Bards, Rogues and other occupations.  Guildmaster Fenwick - A middle-aged Priest has led the Guild for the last 5 years and his greatest achievement has been to expand the welfare services that the Guild offers.  The Guild is well received among the townsfolk of Ayfal and they enthusiatically support the annual Challenge of Champions contest and the increased trade it brings to the town.
Services Offered:
Banking - Money (or valuable items) can be left with the guild in it's secure vault and withdrawn at a modest 5% fee.  Depositors are required to give instructions on what to do with their funds in the event of their death.  Guild Secretary Ignatius handles all banking transactions.  International transactions are also possible through the use of "letters of credit" which are accepted between affiliated guildhouses.

Boarding House - Limited lodgings are available on a first come first served basis and the guild has arranged members discounts at several hostelries within the town.

Employment Services - The Guild acts as an employment agency for many of the other guilds and organisations such as the Town Council where tasks of a questing nature are concerned.  However, the Guild has a strict policy of not accepting tasks which involve the intimidation or assassination of town or guild officials.  At breakfast each morning Guild Secretary Ignatius reads out the list of quest opportunities.

Hospital - The Guild has several staff priests well versed in the medical arts and it's multi-faith membership ensures that last rites can be performed correctly irrespective of race or denomination.

Procurement of Supplies - Superior quality adventuring supplies can be purchased through the Guild's Quartermaster at a reasonable rate (+10% cost above normal) and the Guild has arranged a generous membership discount scheme with local suppliers such as smiths, jewellers, tailors, corsers, and cartwrights.

Training - The guild employs a team of veteran members in order to pass on their knowledge and skills to younger members. 

Library - The Guild has a well stocked library run by Guild Loremaster Ehnid who employs several scribes, clerics and cartographers to undertake research into ancient myths and legends and his pet project the cataloguing of creatures and monsters into the Guild's own Bestiary.


    The Ayfal Adventurer's Guild is unusual in that it is multi-class in nature, accepting members from all the major character classes.  Each career class should have a "guild" of its own dedicated to the furtherance of their own particular talents although in some cases these may not be structured in the same way as in the example above.

    Rogues Guilds - Thieves and Assassins ply their criminal trades in the shadows and likewise their guilds operate in the murky underworld of organised crime.  The chief concern of these guilds is to:
    • Organise Crime - function as an industry regulator, ensuring that the overall level of crime does not escalate to a point at which the local law enforcement would attempt to increase their arrest rate and to ensure that unregulated thieves do not practice within the city limits thereby protecting their members incomes.

    • Legal Services - including the provision of bail funds, legal counsel, patsies and corpses when members are inevitably caught, tried and possibly even executed.
    • Benevolence and Welfare - thieves guild members may use part of their share of any loot to fund a welfare scheme to provide for their children and wives if they are incarcerated or killed.

    • Fencing - ensuring that stolen goods are quickly converted into cash through a network of related tradesmen and merchants.

    • Racketeering - some scams or rackets can only be successfully operated with access to a large network of skilled individuals.

    • Support Services - some jobs require access to equipment such as forged documentation or disguises.  Others require detailed plans of municipal buildings which can only be acquired from certain city planners.     

    Bardic Guilds - Bards, Actors, Jugglers and Circus Performers all have unique talents which to be supported different ways.  In large cities a Bardic Guild may restrict itself to certain types of performers but the most successfull will have an ecclectic mix of membership covering all the entertainment needs of its surrounding population.  Their activities would mainly revolve around:
    • Employment - ensuring that members have steady work and incomes commensurate with their skills or disciplines.  Usually this takes the form of "promoting" members appearances in the taverns, theatres and other performance venues which exist in large towns and cities but also by forming travelling companies which travel from village to village in the lands between them.

    • Library - each guild will have access to thousands of pages of prose, verse, lyrics and music which any member can access in order to expand their repetoire or to assist in the creation of entirely new works.  Members are encouraged to transcribe their creations and are rewarded with performance rights or credits when other members perform their work.

    • Training - members are regularly assessed to ensure that their performance skills are maintained at as high a standard as possible and tutors are available where performers need instruction and assistance when learning new techniques, instruments, disciplines or material.

    • Licensing and Protectionism - unscrupulous inn keepers and venue owners are kept in check by the guilds licensers, ensuring that venues pay performers the appropriate fees.  Performers can also avail themselves of bodyguards or escorts when playing venues in some of the less salubrious parts of a town or city.  These bodyguards are often called to perform enforcement services when venues fail to pay their acts.
    • Instrument Makers - Luthiers and other instrument makers are generally not populous enough to warrant their own guilds and the functions of quality and cost assurance and regulation therefore falls to the bardic guilds.  Members will be able to commission appropriate craftsmen to fashion and repair instruments at fair and reasonable prices whilst the craftsmen enjoy the benefits of a steady steam of customers and the odd celebrity performer endorsement. 

    Spellcasters Guilds - The organization and function of these guilds largely depends on how your game deals with the concept of magic and more specifically its abundance (or scarcity) or legality.  In societies where magic is rare or outlawed these guilds may be non-existant or operate in a similar way to that of a thieves or assassins guild.  In societies where magical practice is commonplace or legal then they will function much like other class or occupational guilds.  If the magic system you have adopted has different schools or types of magic it is also possible that some schools will operate within the law and others outside it.  Either way these guilds will largely be concerned with:
    • Power Control - ensuring that access to knowledge of spells and their components is controlled to restrict the development of uncontrolled and destructive power.  This may take the form of a hierarchical self regulatiing organisation such as a wizards college or in more extreme cases by the state or government using a system of registration and examination.  These organisations may also be responsible for the licensing of magic shops or vendors of mundane items which may be used in the practice of the magical arts.

    • Procurement - many spells require components which may be difficult or costly to procure.  A guild may control the supply of these components or may even fund expeditions to source and recover or harvest them.  The existence of proscribed spells may result in certain components appearing on "banned lists" and either the guild is responsible for controlling their supply or actively engaged in acquiring these items on behalf of its members.

    • Library - new spells and magical techniques will need to be recorded for the benefit of other scholars or practitioners.  Members may be actively encouraged to register new spells with the guild or if a competitive scholarly structure exists to publish their findings for peer review and adulation or advancement within the ranks of their organisation.

    • Training and Apprenticeship - the magical arts take years to master and there really isn't any alternative to the apprenticeship system.  Schools and colleges may operate systems to locate, and test candidates for basic magical aptitude and then provide training until they reach the level when they can be apprenticed to a master magician.
    Warrior Guilds - These may exist in many forms from the gladiator schools such as the Ludus Magnus of ancient Rome or dojo specialising in specific weapon forms or unarmed fighting techniques.  The specific membership recruitment techniques of the guild can also vary from the lowliest slave fighter, to the wealthy merchants and gentlemen members of fencing clubs.

    • Tournaments - the guild's primary means of income generation outside of any membership system will be to regularly hold contests or tournaments which demonstrate their members prowess.  These may range from gladiatorial contests (much like the roman colliseum) to organised boxing matches or illegal pit fighting against men or monsters or even a simple archery competition.  Admission revenues may be supplemented (or more likely eclipsed) by gambling revenues, although this largely depends on the type of event, patronage and the local view on the legality of gambling.
    • Employment and Recruitment - wealthy merchants (and in some cases the state) will always need bodyguards to protect their persons and establishments and who better to supply them than the guild.  Some governments may even use the guild as a front for recruiting fresh soldiers to fill out the rank and file of their army.
    • Training - the type of training on offer will largely depend on the theme of the school.  It could be as simple as churning out capable swordsmen or wrestlers for entertainment at public venues or it could be dedicated to teaching the swordcraft of a single weapon.
    • Medical Benefits - fighting in any form will likely leave you with wounds at some stage and the medics of the guild will be specialised in patching up their members ready for the next bout.  They may employ underhand or illegal means to do this such as magicians or alchemists and it is unlikely that they will be able to cure chronic illnesses, disease or poisoning.

    Some classes do not lend themselves to guilds in the traditional sense, but may instead be constructed around fraternal or religious lines.

    Clerics, Monks and Paladins - their faith is their guild and their temples or shrines their guildhalls, although Monks may be aligned to a particular fighting school and it is through the application of their fighting technique that they achieve a zen like state, enlightenment or may commune with their Gods.

    Knights - swear fealty to their King or Baron and do not seek out the brotherhood of other knights unless they are compelled by their code to seek out a common cause.  Less scrupulous knights may engage in tournaments for sport or financial gain but are unlikely to join or form organisations unless it satisfies their chivalric duty.

    Racial and Ethnic Guilds - Demi-human or humanoids such as Dwarves or Elves may form fraternal guilds out of a common need to support their "own kind" or to preserve or practice aspects of their culture.  Humans from other nations may also band together under a common nationality in order to further their own cultural goals or to present a united front when engaging with a nation state where they may be a cultural or ethnic minority.

      Occupational and Mercantile Guilds - The vast majority of guilds will be either occupational guilds designed to support the needs of a particular set of workers (skilled or unskilled) in the form of a labour union or mercantile guilds which control, regulate and promote their members business interests.  More information on the history and structure of medieval guilds can be found on the website of the Economic History Association.

        Sunday 27 November 2011

        Dragonmeet 2011 - Con Report

        Dragonmeet 2011 was held yesterday, as usual, at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall in the heart London's upscale Knightsbridge.  It's a good venue and is close to the traditional exhibition centre that is London's Olympi and Earl's Court venue's.  Sadly in recent times the Tube Network has suffered from engineering works at this time of year and this year was no exception.  That said there was a good turnout with around 1,000 gamers queing up outside efore the doors opened at 10am.


        The venue lends itself to an RPG convention as it offers multiple small halls and meeting rooms where gaming can be broken up into collections of tables thereby keeping the volume levels down so you don't have to strain to hear or be heard.

        The ground floor foyer was predominately reserved for boardgames with just one trade stand, the rest being contained in the large auditorium.  The upper and lower foyers and their respective halls being reserved for games tables covering a wide assortment of RPG, Board and Card games.

        The game sign-up table, located in the ground floor foyer was the usual chaotic scrum but I managed to get my name down on the game of Toon I wanted to play.  Attending this con over a number of years has taught me to read the game announcements beforehand and to have at least one backup option should your main choice be full by the time you get to the sheet.


        Toon RPG
        I fondly remember the large full colour ads for this Steve Jackson produced game of cartoon mayhem, which graced the pages of White Dwarf in the mid 80s and it had always sounded interesting so I was quite keen to give it a go.

        We were playing the supertoons variant and our characters were appropriately named "Defenders of Toonsville" comprising of myself as THE WEIRDO (a purple alien made of rubber), RABBOT GIRL a robot rabbit girl with an OCD for tidying, MAGIC-I-AM a stage magician with a big bag of glitter, S.C.A.T.MAN A bebop jazz fanatic with an NSFW name and last but not least the scourge of toonsville's criminals, WONDER WABBIT.

        The first scene called for our caped cartoon crusaders to find and defeat the evil villain known only as THE DE-ANIMATOR who's dastardly plan was to use goons equipped with de-animator guns to blast the citizens of toonsville, robbing them of colour and turning them into mindless zombies.  The goons had arrived in an egg shaped spaceship which we managed to pilot back to his gothic castle in the desert where I used a plot point to "pull the plug" on The De-animator's plan quite literally by pulling the plug out of the vat containing the black ink which made up his body.

        The game system was simple and easy to pick up lending itself to con or one-night game play rather than any serious campaign play.  I found it both fun and intriguing to play as you really have to keep up with the action in the scene or your next action won't contribute to the zany plot.  For example in one scene my character, THE WEIRDO, teleported into a corridor where a light was rapidly approaching with a clickety clack sound (clearly a train), as I had the shape change ability I changed my mouth into a tunnel entrance and promptly ate the train.  Later in the final scene when I was been grasped in one hand by a now giant sized De-animator with no means of fighting back, I opened my mouth and let out the train, punching him in the eye.

        I suspect that this is quite challenging to GM as you have to be very flexible and receptive to your players ideas.  I liked that the GM (John Wilson) gauged the success of any particular idea by the volume of laughter around the table and awarded plot points accordingly.  These Plot Points are pretty crucial to the game system as they allow you to produce items, re-roll dice and generally influence the plot and result in some very funny situations.  I shall definitely be playing Toon again and it makes a welcome change from the traditional Sci-Fi and Fantasy RPGs I normally GM and play.


        Castles and Crusades PHB
        Having run my first C&C campaign for over 30 sessions now, I thought it was high time I played in a game partly to see if my GMing of it was up to scratch and partly to play an FRPG I was familiar with in a con setting.  Unfortunately I arrived at the table last so had the Hobson's Choice of pre-generated characters, a 1st level wizard.  I hardly ever play wizards so this was going to be challenging.  The scenario was GM'd by Gareth Larter (who also happens to be the Dragomeet Webmaster) and I was pleasantly surprised that he had also chosen to abandon the (IMHO) overly restrictive Vancian magic system in favour of a spell slot style system.

        The Beacon at Enon Tor was a dungeon crawl in and around a large tower on a cliff-side promontory which acted as both a lighthouse and a wizards laboratory.  The concerned townsfolk had hired the party to find out why the fog horn had been blaring for two straight days (long after the fog had lifted) and then had suddenly stopped.

        I have always felt that I made a poor tactical player, and an even worse wizard.  However, in this game I ended up playing extremely tactically, particularly in the use of a simple hold portal spell to prevent the escape of an orc and to get the drop on a bugbear.  Perhaps my recent campaign sessions watching my own players struggle in tactical play has had an effect on me, I don't know, but I really enjoyed the game as a consequence.  The rest of the players also enjoyed themselves and at least one descended into the dealers hall to try to pick up a copy of the PHB.


        Sadly this year there were no goodie bags stuffed with freebies and all the trade stands seemed to have shrunk somewhat in the volume and variety of games they brought to sell.  Perhaps this is sign that the industry is in recession or more likely that it's customers disposable income is shrinking and dealers are responding to this.

        Unfortunately my game schedule meant that I was unable to attend many of the peripheral events such as the Discussion Panels from the attending industry celebreties such as Ian Livingstone or the aftershow auction.  Nor did I manage to take any photos this year, however Big Lee has put up a few of his photos on Big Lee's Miniature Adventures which give you a taste of the atmosphere and scale of this event and I recommend that everyone who is a London based gamer should aim to visit next year.

        Thursday 24 November 2011

        Coinage, Nationhood and the defacto Gold Standard

        Irrespective of your particular flavour of FRPG the Gold Piece is one of the defacto fantasy standards, and is accepted the world over (whichever world it is that you play in).  The implicit reliance on a Gold Standard, the intrinsic value of gold itself, means that a GP acquired in one nation has an equivalence to one acquired somewhere else ensuring trade is not stifled and that PCs can still buy what ever they need irrespective of what nations coinage they choose to use.

        But what if that wasn't the case, some interesting plots and fun could be had from playing around with the Gold Standard and the ubiquity of the GP

        1.  Gold is Commonplace - The Gold Standard only really works because gold is rare and therefore valuable.  In a society where gold is commonplace its value will be reduced and some other rare commodity will take its place.  This concept is explored to a degree in post-cataclysm Dragonlance where steel currency replaces gold.  However, this is the case throughout Krynn rather than just single region.  Consider a party visiting a nation which has access to vast amounts of gold (like the conquistadors encountering the Atecs), the PCs will no doubt struggle at first and will need to convert their existing wealth into whatever is used as the local currency.  Greedy PCs might try to exploit the difference in commodity prices by frequent trips across the border which could bring them to the attention of local law enforcement or worse border bandits.

        2.  Not Legal Tender - Imagine that two bordering nations are in dispute over something or other and their respective governments refuse to accept their neighbours coins as legal tender.  A coin minted in one nation does not automatically become worthless on the other side of the border, as it still has an intrinsic value thanks to the gold standard, it just becomes really hard to spend it and stay the right side of the law.  Local law enforcement may be on the lookout for strangers trying to infiltrate or subvert the locals with coins from across the border.  PCs may be forced to turn to the blackmarket in order to buy simple provisions.  They could even be approached by criminals offering to launder or re-mint their illegal coinage for a fee.

        3.  This gold's been watered down! - We've all seen those pirate movies where a character tests a coin by biting into it.  This crude form of assaying tests that the coin has the correct amount of gold in it, but if a nation state changes the amount of gold in its currency this be reflected in the gold standard for that currency.  For example Nation X is going through tough times financially and its unscrupulous leader decides to change the gold content in the GP it mints.  Everything goes swimmingly until import prices start to go up and the population is in revolt.  Enter the PCs with a fat wedge of foreign "pure" gold and suddenly the corrupt local sherrif is looking at ways he can relieve them of their burden and smelt it down for a fat profit.  However, the local sherrif might be the least of their problems if the Thieves Guild's coin clippers and forgers find out that they're loaded.

        4.  Ripped Off! - Wandering into a town over the border can get PCs into all sorts of trouble when they are trying to spend unfamiliar coin with the local merchants and their chances of getting ripped off increase dramatically.  Any difference in size or shape of a coin will result in differences in the coins value and exchange rate.  One nation's GP might be twice the thickness of anothers and therefore worth twice as much.  The first time they get a handfull of change, they might be pleasantly surprised or falsely accuse a merchant of ripping them off. 

        5.  Accused of Forgery - The Gold Standard ensures that the intrinsic value gold is preserved but that doesn't mean that the local merchants gleefully accept foreign coin and trust it like their own.  They might try to take advantage of the situation and accuse the PCs of forgery, particularly if they are using coins acquired from a distant land and not a neighbouring one.  If the case goes to trial the local magistrate may be in on the swindle.  This is also where an Adventurers or Merchants Guild can provide a valuable service to its patrons by operating a coin exchange program, for a fee of course.

        Wednesday 23 November 2011

        Monsters of Dual: Brain Vine and Fungaloid Lurkers

        In a recent session of The Lands of Dual, I wanted my players to be harrassed by some plant minions during their exploration of a tunnel network like my favourite flamethrower wielding heroine Ripley.  

        This is the fruit of my labours:

        The Brain Vine

        This plant is only ever found in subterranean locations and therefore does not rely on sunlight for energy, instead it has evolved a mechanism to secrete a highly acidic enzyme from its tendrils which breaks-down the soil and rock to release minerals which it then consumes.  Once the plant has grown to a huge size its energy needs soon outstrip it's surroundings and so it sends out its tendrils to find new sources of minerals, eating through solid rock and anything else which stands in its way.  The plant often encounters small quantities of Gold within the rock it consumes which solidify and become trapped within the plants heart like gall stones.

        Although the majority of its diet is made up of processed rock, it is actually omnivorous in nature and equally suited to extracting nutrients from other plants or animals.  This unusual feeding mechanism also provides the brain vine with its only defence mechanism.  When attacked the plant exudes a cloud of acidic poison gas for 1d4 / 1d6 or 1d8 rounds (depending on the size of the plant).  In the first round the gas cloud has a radius of 10ft and expands by 10ft each round after that.  The gas causes all creatures within the cloud to suffer 1d6 damage unless they make a save against poison.

        It is especially vulnerable to strong sunlight which causes any exposed parts to wither and calcify and is pale white yellow in colour topped by a purple-pink fruit resembling a giant brain, hence the name.  PCs may confuse this growth as evidence of an evolved intelligence however this is not the case and the brain vine has only a plant-like intelligence.

        The brain vine is asexual and once it reaches adult size produces a single seed every 2 years.  This seed is contained deep within the fleshy brain fruit and resembles a spiky rugby ball.  When planted the seed grows quite slowly taking 1 year to germinate and grow into a Young plant (Medium size), 2 further years to grow to a fully grown into an Adult (Large size) and a further 5 years to mature into a Great Brain Vine (Huge size).  A Great Brain Vine can live upto 5d6 further years before it will wither and die.  

        BRAIN VINE
        # Appearing:1
        Size:Medium (Young), Large (Adult), Huge (Great)
        HD:4d8 (Young), 6d8 (Adult), 8d8 (Great)
        SPECIAL:Acid Gas Cloud: 1d6 damage for
        1d4 Rnds (Young), 1d6 Rnds (Adult),
        1d8 Rnds (Great)
        TREASURE:1d4 x 100 GP (Young), 1d6 x 100 GP (Adult), 1d8 x 100GP (Great)
        XP:40 +4/HP (Young), 120 +6/HP (Adult),
        250 +8/HP (Great)

        Fugaloid Lurkers

        These human sized fungal plants are an entirely seperate species which have evolved a symbiotic relationship tending to the Brain Vine and feeding off its decaying plant material and any other plants which inhabit its underground ecosystem.  They are of low intelligence and appear to communicate with each other by releasing fungal spores from the pustules covering their bodies which they inhale through their tendril covered mouths.  They are a mottled green colour, vaguely humanoid and each armlike appendage ends in two tentacles covered in vicious barbs.  Fungaloid lurkers are immune to the Brain Vine's toxic gas.

        They are fiercely territorial and interpret anything that is not either another Lurker or the Brain Vine as a threat to the survival of their colony and they will attempt to grapple their prey to the ground and use their barbed tentacles to macerate the flesh in order to bleed it dry.  They will then feed the remains to the brain vine's tendrils and consume whatever is left behind.  They are relatively quick to grow to maturity but the size of their colony is entirely dependant on the size of the Brain Vine plant that they tend. 

        A young Brain Vine can support a colony of 15 Lurkers, an Adult Brain Vine supports upto 30 Lurkers and a Great Brain Vine supports upto 45 Lurkers.  When a Brain Vine dies the Lurker population will consume the remains of the vine and then plant a vine seed in its place (if one is available).  Once this process is complete they will consume each other until only a handful are left in order to tend the immature plant.  As the vine grows in size more Lurkers will be created and so the cycle is repeated.

        # Appearing:6-15 (Young), 12-30 (Adult), 18-45 (Great)
        MOVE:30 feet
        ATTACKS:2 x Tentacles (1d6)
        XP:20 +2/HP

        You can also download a free sheet of standees for use in your own adventures from RPGNow.

        Tuesday 22 November 2011

        On the Workbench: Ral Partha Djinn & Efreet

        One of my favourite AD&D campaign settings is Al-Quadim: The Land of Fate and I've used the odd scenario or module on numerous occasions in my own campaign world.  I picked up these two Ral Partha minis as a blister pair at least 20 years ago and I've had several abortive attempts at painting the Djinn (the turban wearing guy on the left) but never touched the Efreet.  Hopefully this time (with an audience) I can push myself all the way to the finish.

        Ral Partha (ES69) Djinn (left) and Efreet (right)
        Ral Partha (ES69) Djinn (left) and Efreet (right)

        Here's an updated shot after the efreet had a little accident. His blade bent and snapped off... Guess I'll have to do some sort of fix, but not sure what yet, the blade is too thin to pin so perhaps I'll have to build something up in milliput as a replacement. I do however like how the skin and face came out.  I'm also trying to work out how to blend from red to white on his trousers to make it look like he's rising out of a pool of smoke.

        Unworked Blue Djinn and Battle damaged Efreet

        Sunday 20 November 2011

        Sometimes I'm just in awe

        This is the Golden Demon Germany 2011 Slayer Sword winning diorama and there's not much more you can say apart from... OMG!

        Saturday 19 November 2011

        I'm a Chaotic Neutral Human Wizard

        Been a while since I've done one of these cosmo style tests but everyone seems to be giving this a go, so...

        I Am A: Chaotic Neutral Human Wizard (4th Level)

        Ability Scores:

        Strength: 9

        Dexterity: 11

        Constitution: 11

        Intelligence: 14

        Wisdom: 12

        Charisma: 12

        Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

        A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn't strive to protect others' freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it. Chaotic neutral is the best alignment you can be because it represents true freedom from both society's restrictions and a do-gooder's zeal. However, chaotic neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it seeks to eliminate all authority, harmony, and order in society.

        Race: Human

        Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

        Class: Wizard

        Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

        Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

        Which makes me the Ninth Doctor

        I found this Dr Who alignment chart... oooh I'm the Ninth Doctor, Chris Eccleston

        Friday 18 November 2011

        A to Z of UK RPG in the 80s - H is for Heavy Metal

        H is for Heavy Metal

        Iron Maiden - Powerslave
        (Cover by Derek Riggs)
        In the late 70's the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM) was unleashed across the airwaves and in dingy pubs and clubs all over the UK.  Spearheaded by bands like Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Saxon, Judas Priest, and Venom who, although they had been inspired by the largely educated and middle class Progressive and Heavy Rock bands of the late 60's and early 70's, were unashamedly working class and many originated in the industrial towns of the Midlands and North of England such as Birmingham and Sheffield.

        Teenage rebellion usually goes in search for something that will annoy the heck out of your parents and NWoBM was just waiting to be discovered.  The music was a mix of piercing and wailing vocals, thumping bass and drums and a shredded guitar sound like an angle grinder on steel.

        The album covers often featured Fantasy or Sci-Fi themes and the band logos (often using vaguely occult typography and symbology) were worn as patches on your sleeveless denim jacket like some sort of tribal brand.  You wore your greasy long hair like a viking marauder and bullet belts and studded bracers were all part of the genre uniform.

        Fantasy in song

        Uriah Heep - Abonimog
        (Cover by Les Edwards)
        The literary tones of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy were evident in much of the lyrical content of earlier progressive bands such as Hawkwind and Black Sabbath and this influenced many of the later Metal bands to cover these genres.  On Iron Maiden's album "The Number of The Beast" the track "Murders in the Rue Morgue" was directly influenced by Edgar Allen Poe's novel of the same name, "Children of The Damned" influenced by John Wyndam's "The Midwich Cuckoos" and "The Prisoner" influenced by the cult TV Show of the same name starring Patrick Magoogan. 

        Just to prove a point Maiden famously did a 13 minute rendition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" on the 1984 album "Powerslave".  This has to be both my favourite Maiden album and my favourite Derek Riggs cover.  I spent a lot of time staring at that album cover and if you look closely at the hieroglyphics you'll also see some graffiti from "Indiana Jones", "Mickey Mouse" and the British "Chad" a  version of "Kilroy was here". 

        Other artists like Saxon had tracks such as "The Warrior" which portrayed a generic fantasy storyline.  

        Of course Metal wasn't a peculiarly british phenomenon and US bands such as Metallica famously covered HP Lovecraft in the tracks "The Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing That Should not Be" and New York Thrash Metal band Anthrax covered 2000 AD's Judge Dredd in their song "I am The Law"

        Art influences Art

        Magnum - On a Storytellers Night
        (Cover by Derek Riggs)
        One of the other big attractions aside from the music where the amazing works of fantasy and sci-fi art which adorned almost every album.  In fact it seemed that in addition to the standard lineup of drums, bass, rythmn guitar, lead guitar and vocals it was almost as important to find a great artist to design your band logo and album covers.  A tradition begun in the 70s with prog bands like Yes employing Roger Dean and continued by Iron Maiden and their long (if not entirely harmonious association) with Derek Riggs.

        Joe Petagno has had a 31 year association with Motörhead and devised their famous "Snaggletooth" emblem which has graced many of their albums.

        Yngwie Malmsteen - Trilogy
        Needless to say for every great piece of cover-art there were lots of awful ones which slipped through the net. 

        A particularly comical one was that of Sweden's Yngwie "J" Malmsteen (pronounced Ing-vey) and his 1986 album "Trilogy".  The  impossibly posed neo-classical guitar-god Yngwie, is depicted seeing off a three headed dragon with what can only be described as "a fire spewing lick of his stratocaster".  I'm sure everyone in the meeting thought it was a good idea at the time.

        In researching this article I also stumbled across an album cover which although it isn't metal is so monumentally bad that there just aren't words to describe it... Rick James - Throwin' Down

        Métal Hurlant and Heavy Metal Magazine

        Heavy Metal the Movie
        (Cover by Chris Achilleos)
        In France in 1974 two comic book artists Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) and Phillipe Druillet began publishing a quarterly sci-fi graphic novel under the title Métal Hurlant (Howling Metal).  These comic books were in a grphic novel format and featured distinctive and detailed artwork and strong storylines with adult themes it was picked up by National Lampoon, translated into English and relaunched in 1977 as Heavy Metal and in 1979 the format was changed slightly to include Rock Music reviews. 

        With the release of an animated feature film Heavy Metal (1981), the combination of art, music and Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories was brought together in one vehicle.   A combination of original storylines and a soundtrack featured tracks by a plethora of rock bands of the era such as Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk Railroad, Journey and Stevie Nicks it was every pubescent teenage boys fantasy brought to life. 

        Other Metal Movie Moments

        Maximum Overdrive
        The 80s saw the use of Heavy Metal soundtracks in films particularly of the Sci-Fi Horror genre and led to AC/DC recording the soundtrack to the movie Maximum Overdrive (1986) written and directed by Steven King.  The movie featured Emilio Estevez and a bunch of "survivors" as they are terrorized by an army of machines, led by a "green goblin" faced truck, which have been brought to life by the passing of a strange comet.  The author also makes a cameo appearance in the movie as a bespectacled sunday driver.

        1986 also saw Kiss bassist and tongue waggler extraordinaire Gene Simmons and rock legend Ozzy Osbourne appear in cameo roles in the horror movie Trick or Treat which featured a soundtrack by Fast Eddie Clarke (also famed for playing guitar on Motörhead's "The Ace of Spades").  The plot plays heavily on the urban legend of satanic messages being heard in records when they are played backwards (Hey kids! I bet you can't do that with your Lady Gaga CD) and the spirit of dead rock star Sammi Curr's attempt to be ressurected through a Halloween Dance sacrifice.  All good clean adolescent fun really.

        Heavy Metal... Meet White Dwarf

        The association of Heavy Metal music with gaming reached a climax in November 1987 when Games Workshop's John Blanche conspired to give away Nottingham Thrash Metal group Sabbat's "Blood for the Blood God" as a flexi-disc single in issue 95 of White Dwarf. 

        Sabbat - History of a Time to Come
        (Cover by John Blanche)
        I was lucky enough to see Sabbat in '88 when they played London's Marquee Club (the Charing Cross Road incarnation) following the release of the album "History of a Time to Come"which also featured cover art by John Blanche.  A great gig which introduced me to the art of stage diving and I swear I had tinitus for three days afterwards.

        Another Nottingham band to emerge in the late 80's in association with Games Workshop were Bolt Thrower whose name originated from the siege weapon featured in their Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargame.  The cover of their 1989 album "Realm of Chaos" is the same painting by John Sibbick which graced the front cover of the original Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader rulebook.