Monday, 28 February 2011
A slipcase of the first four Fighting Fantasy books with illustration by John Blanche. As mentalist as Blanche's work ever was back then. Is that a bit of a Slann/Lustria/Chariots of the Frogs thing going on on the back cover?
(Half-inched from here)
Thirty ways of quickly making a tribe or society of humanoid foes distinct, arranged into a handy-dandy d30 table.
1 - Ability to phase/teleport
2 - Activity cycle inverted (nocturnal to diurnal or vice versa)
3 - Albinism
4 - Cannibalistic or Vegetarian, whichever is most unusual (Wood Elves practising ritual cannibalism, Orcs living purely off cave mushrooms etc.)
5 - Chaotic mutations (two heads, animal heads, tails etc. common to all or majority of tribe)
6 - Cultural converts (culture is that of a neighbouring culture, perhaps one stronger or politically dominant - e.g. arboreal Goblins imitating Wood Elves)
7 - Cycloptic (one-eyed)
8 - Extreme inbreeding (stunted growth, stunted intelligence, physical deformity etc.)
9 - Extreme physical adaption to environment (sonar hearing coupled with blindness for troglodyte communities, webbed fingers and toes for marsh dwellers, fur for arctic conditions etc.)
10 - Has lucky/sacred colour (found on shields, face paint dwellings etc.), if sacred may not be willing to attack PC displaying sizable amount of this colour
11 - Heavily armoured
12 - Heavily pierced (in a region where precious metal or stone is available, tribe may be wearing their treasure)
13 - Heavily tattooed
14 - Hive-mind
15 - Law/Chaos alignment inverted (CE becomes LE, LE becomes CE etc.)
16 - Makes extensive use of poisoned weapons
17 - Mannerisms very alien, penalties to party's attempt to communicate
18 - Matriarchal society (or vice versa for traditionally Matriarchal societies such as Drow)
19 - Much shorter/smaller than usual
20 - Much taller/larger than usual
21 - Non-sexual dimorphism (pronounced physical differences between same gender or amongst asexual creatures often related to caste system within society - e.g. warriors ants compared to worker ants)
22 - Operates in partnership with local fauna which it has domesticated (spiders, snakes, wolves etc.)
23 - Practises self-mutilation, common across tribe (scarring etc.)
24 - Primitive (more so than usual - stone weapons)
25 - Religious converts (religion is that of a neighbouring culture, perhaps one stronger or politically dominant such as a ruling Empire etc.)
26 - Sexual dimorphism (pronounced physical differences between male and female such as size whereby female is much larger than male or different colouring/plumage etc.)
27 - Something about party is taboo to tribe (Elves, Dwarves, fire, religion etc.) and response will be either fear or violent hatred
28 - Technological (more so than usual - gunpowder weapons, advanced smithing)
29 - Unusual colouring (fur, hair etc.)
30 - Uses unusual weaponry
Friday, 25 February 2011
I had something of an epiphany this week in that I realised that I have absolutely zero left in the tank marked up “Games Workshop Enthusiasm” and accordingly the activities of the company are now as meaningless to me as those of, say, Tampax, the manufacturers of cancer sticks, ITV and the department of WOTC that puts out that Essentials board game thing with the Dragonforged Rageblood Razorfinger Tankbrawler with 50hp at first level or whatever it is where the rules go out of date as soon as they are published and you need to keep paying to download stuff to patch your books. In other words if it vanished tomorrow I really wouldn't care (*).
Now, I've never reached rock bottom with the Workshop, not even in the bleak mid 90s when the figures were generally utter shit, I couldn't afford the cheapest thing in the shops and locally the GW scene was akin to a wasteland (The Wasteland around Marienburg if you like) whereby the mere suggestion of 40K or WFB at Stourbridge was enough to get you blackballed and your club membership revoked. I was always waiting for the time when it was practical to build myself 40k and WFB armies because deep down, I always wanted to be able to play the games. Whenever I liked. In the future perhaps when I had the cash and somehow my painting had become more efficient so that I could actually finish regiments let alone whole armies.
But now, in February 2011, this is real “I've had enough of you and the kids and I'm leaving you to live in a bedsit” stuff.
“Ah”, you nod sagely, “it's the high cost and price gouging that's got to him”.
And you'd be wrong.
If GW stuff was half the price, I wouldn't buy twice as much. I'd probably buy more than I was doing but certainly I wouldn't buy double and help them make up the shortfall. The reasoning behind this is really quite simple – I never buy faster than I can paint (I don't use unpainted figures for gaming) and while my painting is getting faster ever year, there is a time limit on fast I can get stuff from sprue to tabletop and that slows expenditure down to the point where I was perhaps spending £20 on raw materials that would occupy 6-8 weeks of paint table time. Since I don't regard that as expensive, I'm in the happy situation whereby I can buy quicker than I can paint so I'm (well, I was) happy at that point.
While I feel spiritually unclean for even having the mere thought, let alone voicing it, it suggests that GW pricing is actually correct and at the right level (for me at least). So there's no jilted fanboyism going on here at least.
So what caused it?
Well, they bought out a book.
Admittedly this isn't a book that violently abuses myself and family, murders my pets and shits on the softtop of my car but it is an annoyance, and the last straw I.e. the one that breaks the dromedary's spinal column. It's another Orcs and Goblin army book. It's hardback, it's £22. It's probably a very nice book, in fact on the evidence of the last Warhammer rulebook it's probably figure-pornographic enough to induce a fatal attack of “The Gush” ( © Chris Morris). (NSFW – but then neither am I and I go to work like most days).
But I've got the older one and I've used it twice and indeed I've got the older rulebook and used that twice as well. It's the whole upgrade path thing really pissing me off. To carry on gaming without losing the greater GW community I have to upgrade. And I hate being told to upgrade by big companies. It really gets my goat.
When is the next upgrade happening? When will the next thing that functions perfectly well but has to be retired from service because the great financial Gods of the Nottingham Spreadsheet have decided that cost benefit analysis requires me to do so in order to keep up with everybody else?
Bollocks to them. It's not the money, it's the principle.
I think at the ripe old of six-and-thirty I've outgrown the whole GW image thing.
I'm bored of Grimdark. Actually that's not quite true. What I'm bored of is GWs modern Grimdark. In the past, Warhammer was grim (WFRP particularly) but there was a vein of black humour and craziness running through it which lightened the mood and pointed out that you really shouldn't be taking things too seriously.
There's just none of this in modern GW lore. Why this should be I don't know. Either a bunch of people came to work in the GW fluff department who just didn't get it or hidden levels and irony is just a no-no because, I don't know, perhaps a focus group thought it might confuse a core demographic or something. But I find modern GW fluff vaguely depressing and unattractive. It's not something I explore enjoying and increasingly I don't wish to explore.
Here's a good example. I have the figure skirmish game Song of Blades and Heroes (it's a clunky title, but it's an Italian game and perhaps the title works better in Italian) which is clearly a lightweight Mordheim-a-like for playing a campaign of 3-4 games within an evening. I've never played it but have started to collect 80s Chaos figures for a Chaos Warband (thus mixing two of my favourite GW skirmish concepts in one – Mordheim and WFB Chaos Warbands).
Comparing these 80s figures with the modern stuff makes something very obvious leap out. Old Citadel Chaos Warriors were clearly an excuse for the sculptors to kick loose and design baroque armour completely uninhibited by historic reality (or indeed borrow from across the whole sphere or historic arms and armour from many geographically and chronologically diverse cultures). Modern Citadel Chaos Warrior is all KILLKILKILLKILLFUCKSOULSHITTERRIPSPLEENGOREMULTILATEIAMGODOFGURO and frankly it's fucking juvenile.
I can just picture the GW shop clone having had his daily regulation MDMA injection straight into his rectum let loose with the fullfuckingon sales rant at the confused parent of a 11 year old autistic boy.
“Yeah and these are the Chaos Warriors of Khorne they are like the coolest models ever and they are like the ultimate in psychotic warriors and they just slaughter everything and their hero has an axe called Bastard Rapist of the Innocent and they bath in cauldrons of gore and nothing stands in their way because they cut hack hack hack through everyone in their path and their god worships slaughter and forces them to cut their own head off if there isn't enough slaughter and he uses the powdered bones of concentration camp victims as underarm deodorant and...”
I just don't want any part in it. Is Coop getting soft in his dotage? I don't think so.
In a way it's like Frankie Boyle. When he was on Mock The Week he was hilarious because he kept a vein of humour which took the edge off his shock value and his carefully judged “right side of the edge of unacceptable” was skilfully done. On Tramadol Nights, a show in which he works on his own and is given full rein to do whatever he likes there is no vein of humour to his unpleasantness, the whole comedy is just shit and not funny.
Most of the older GW lore caught the imagination and created a mental image of a world I wanted to explore. I look at modern stuff and it just seems shit. In fact even the common phrase “fluff” seems to sum it up – it's disposable and unimportant, not in a “here's our World but you probably just want to create your own background” way but disposable and unimportant in that it's just shit and lazy shit at that that does a quick cut and paste job on historical military campaigns and hopes that piss-poor standard of history in British schools these days means that none of the kids will notice that you just ripped off Stalingrad and Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and could barely be bothered to file the serial numbers off whilst you were doing it.
So the worlds bore me, the upgrade path of forced obselence pisses me off and while I could give up and play on my own with 3rd edition Warhammer, I'd rather play games than be a gaming billy-no-mates.
So yeah, much like the morning you start a new job and realise that your old job was through a door you won't return through I just couldn't give a flying fuck about the Nottingham crew at all. I can't even summon the enthusiasm to dislike them. It's completely gone and I know I won't be back.
Curiously February 2011 marks the first month since April 1984 when the magazine moved up to newsagent distribution that White Dwarf hasn't been available from WHSmiths. I find this strangely appropriate somehow.
(*) Not entirely true – if they vanished there would be no Devlan Mud wash and no 'ardcoat gloss varnish and my painting would be absolutely fucked.
You can see how these work in tandem with the corner sections to close the dungeon off. In this diagram each colour refers to a seperate geomorph, either a 10x10 with 8 portals, a border with 4 or a quarter-sized corner section with 2. Looking at this diagram I can see that the next set of corners and borders I draw should shy away from the far edges of the geomorphs and so help avoid that "drawn to the borders of the graph paper" look.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
(Intended to be a section with a large cave-in that blocks the passage and part of the surrounding rooms)
(Another cave-in blocking the corner of the passage).
Monday, 21 February 2011
You know that feeling when there's something you plan to buy, but its street date is so far in the future that you essentially forget all about it and then one day you stroll around the shops and bloody hell, there it is on the shelf?
Well on Saturday that happened to me twice in the space of ten minutes.
First up was discovering Batman versus Robin in Waterstones. This is the second "collected" hardback of the Grant Morrison-penned run on Batman whereby Bruce is dead (but not really), Dick has stepped up to replace him and Bruce's precocious little shit of a son is the new Robin (and not very happy about it) which is of course the big budget blue riband DC series that Forbidden Planet Birmingham claimed to know fuck all about. This was supposedly released back in early November of last year but I never saw hide nor hair of it until just now. And no, Forbidden Planet Birmingham didn't have it either.
So within ten minutes of the wallet flying out of jacket pocket so quickly it was almost dropped on the floor of Waterstones, I wandered into GAME just to see what cheap second-hand games could be had and Christing Anne, bloody Deathsmiles was on the shelf.
Deathsmiles is a bullet hell shooter by bullet hell shooter specialists Cave. Much like Raiden Fighter Aces, it's a game that's been imminent in PAL form for about ninety years despite perfectly good US NTSC versions being available in English and the despite the technical issue that all UK gamers run in 60HZ these days so there's no need to do a technically tricky rejig to keep the game running at the same speed. (I have Raiden Fighter Aces on pre-order from play.com but have given up on ever seeing it).
Anyway, imagine the pubescent girls from Maid the RPG as the "ships" in a shmup that appears to be a graphical tribute/homage to Ghouls and Ghosts whilst set in a fictional, idealised late C19th/early C20th Europe (akin to the settings of the truly beautiful Howl's Moving Castle) of the sort that gives the Japanese Paris Syndrome(*) when they actually go to Paris and realise what a toilet it is.
Obligatory Youtubeage - yes it really is this hatstand.
So, not much RPG, not much Brit Old Skool but that was the geekery of the past weekend.
Then to prove my manliness after all this geek nonsense it was off to the Black Country derby on Sunday which was unfortunately pretty typical of such after a flare was flung and repaid tenfold in seats and loose change ...
It's probably my least favourite home match of the season and I'd have probably stayed at home playing Deathsmiles if the outcome of the match wasn't so important to our season and therefore unmissable. Suffice to say that all the "scum" and "them" and "cnuts" with different coloured scarves will have returned to their normal role as workmates, classmates, neighbours, relatives and drinking partners by Monday morning. Fucking ridiculous.
(*) I only learned of the existence of this recognised medical condition over the past weekend when a mate told me about it, initially to my scepticism that is was elaborate spoof designed to take the piss out of the French.
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
This isn't entirely all my own work since it's an adaptation of a dungeon map found on my hard drive called "Vladikavkaz.jpg", but that name doesn't help identify it since Vladikavkaz is actually the capital of North Ossetia-Alania so obviously that's all Google returns. (And obviously I already knew that before I Googled. Obviously).
So no idea where the original comes from, whether it was a very nicely drawn homebrew or some support download for a commercial adventure.I imagine I downloaded it off Dragonsfoot a couple of years ago.
Unusual for me in that from each portal the other seven portals can all be reached. This is deliberate.
Inspired by a section of the layout of the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. The lines are a bit wonky on this one, done after about three big mugs of Assam which clearly didn't help the old hand-eye coordination. I've gone through my holiday photos of Karnak to try and locate a shot of this area (which I must have), but it was a couple of years ago and I can't with any certainty tie any photograph in to the Precinct of Amen-Re.
Yeah, there are no statues in this statuary mainly because I got royally pissed off with how difficult it is to draw a hollow circle in GIMP let alone a sodding five-pointed star in the middle. There were intended to be four along each N/S wall of the main chamber and probably a couple on the raised dais. Use your imagination or just use a black felt-tip pen or something.
Work was somewhat uneventful today due to a power cut and corresponding failure to get some vitally important servers up and running (Geek intermission - Active Directory servers won't boot because they can't get an IP address because the DHCP servers aren't logged on and the DHCP servers won't log on because they can't get the policy for their system account off the Active Directory servers because the Active Directory servers won't boot because they can't get an IP address because the DHCP servers aren't logged on and the DHCP servers aren't logged on because the Active Directory servers etc. etc.).
So while waiting for the magical pixies to appear and fix everything I got a lot of sketching done and have loads of corner sections (5x5, 2 entrances) and "endcaps" (10x5, 4 entrances) to GIMP up. Once I hit a serious number, I'm thinking of compiling everything into a nice free PDF ebook for download.
It's absolutely nothing to do with me or my blog (despite the very similar names) and it is rather good - Fighting Fantazine, the FF webzine which this issue contains an interview with John Sibbick of Warhammer 40,000:Rogue Trader, Realm of Chaos:Slaves To Darkness and some other GW stuff that doesn't have a colon in the title such as Warhammer Fantasy Battle III. Call me slow on the uptake, but the new issue is #5 and I had no idea it existed until a couple of days ago when I read about it on Andrew Wright's Fantasy Gamebook blog.
Good read, recommended.
Monday, 14 February 2011
EDIT - Works fine after an F5, was clearly caching an older version that didn't have my geomorphs in.
Friday, 11 February 2011
6 - Seven Secret Doors
I'm wondering if the six-sided room just to the right of the centre should have a secret door leading out into the room on the west. It would allow E/W travel. If you think so, just draw it on with black pen or something. The pit behind the secret doors is to catch out players that automatically assume they've found something good when they locate a hidden portal.
Nothing unusual about this one other than that it is designed to cap off the western neighbour of this geomorph. Again, you could draw doors on the geomorph to amend this.
This is breaking a design rule that I've tried to force myself to obey which is to avoid symmetrical designs which give the game away by admitting that everything is built up from tessellating 10x10 designs with regular portals leading to the next. But it's a neat idea and quincunx is a truly magnificent word so I'll let myself off with this one. Deserves to have something important in the centre of the central room.
The Eastern-most N/S passage runs underneath the two E/W exit passages. You might want to add a slopes or staircases or just assume that the passages floor is not very level and fudge a gradual 10' change in level.
Caps off entry from north or south of this geomorph unless the northern secret door is found. Has a sub-level of two rooms connected by an archway sunken below the level of the rest of the geomorph.
Thursday, 10 February 2011
Consider these completely free-to-use for non-commercial ventures.
This is a concept that fascinates me in dungeon design, the idea of rooms that are totally sealed off from the rest of the dungeon, perhaps only accessible by magical means or from a higher or lower level. So what's so special or dreadful about the statue that is has to be sealed in like this?
Split into two to prohibit N/S egress (assuming you don't rotate the geomorph 90 degrees). The curious spur near the middle is either a cave-in or an unfinished passageway.
What's a hypostyle hall? Basically a regular grid of flat-topped pillars holding up a ceiling, a feature of ancient Egyptian architecture. More here. Inspiration for this one comes from my holiday in Luxor a couple of years ago.
A three-cornered arrangement where the bottom left corner is air-gapped off from the rest of the geomorph. I envisage the long corridor with secret doors at both ends as being a secret outflanking route for dungeon guards of some description.
A lot of the geomorphs floating around on the net are very "dense" with paper-thin walls and as much floorspace rammed into 10,000 square feet as possible. This is, I think, a bit more realistic as regards the ratio of solid space to thin air, after all something has to keep the weight of the upper levels up! Bottom corners both lead off to neighbouring geomorphs.
The bottom left dead-end is either a collapse or an unfinished passage.
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
I keep promising myself (and Darth Phil) that I'll review Dicing with Dragons, Ian Livingstone's 1982 RPG-ing handbook but...
Well, yes it can actually. It's shite. It's just a mickey mouse thing of 134 paragraphs called Eye of the Dragon and is nothing but a procession of unrelated encounters within unrelated dungeon rooms. In itself that's not too bad but for some unfathomable reason in 2005 it was expanded out to full 400 paragraph format and published separately thus...
...which is, as you may expect, effectively a mickey mouse introductory 134 paragraph gamebook dragged out to 400 paragraphs. It's OK in it's original form because it serves the purpose of explaining dungeon fantasy to noobs but as a standalone release it's just a lazy appeal to nostalgia (and how do I know this? Surely I'd have needed to have succumbed to misplaced nostalgia and bought it to discover all this? Errr.... yes, well enough of that).
Enough with the digs, in the context of introductory handbook DwD, Eye of the Dragon is OK and serves it's role.
But, there is possibly more.
In my self-appointed role as Chief Archaeologist of the Brit Old Skool, I've noticed something interesting. It goes like this.
1 - J&L split the writing of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain into two, using the underground river as the border between the two halves.
2 - The styles clashed badly so Jackson ended up rewriting all of Livingstone's text in a style that matched his own. The two never worked on a co-authored FF book again and anything of the books with both names on were actually just the old "Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone present..." thing.
3 - At Games Expo 2010, the two discussed the writing of Warlock and admitted that up until the eleventh hour they had two different systems in the manuscript and didn't decide until then as to which one to go with. Livingstone then mentioned that the SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK system was Jackson's and that his was called something "rubbish like Fantasy Quest".
4 - Eye of the Dragon Mk.1 is apparently written with the "Fantasy Quest" system.
So is this the rejected prototype of Fighting Fantasy? Could we have ended up with this system instead and the classic S/S/L one been discarded to the cutting room floor?
Furthermore, it might just be Russ's mono artwork talking here, but is Eye of the Dragon Mk.1 actually "deleted scenes" from Livingstone's half of Warlock? While nothing seems to be a direct lift, it all "feels" very similar. The dungeon rooms are unrelated to each other, it's a classic no-logic, 1970s funhouse, there's a Ghoul, a stone bench in a corridor marked "Rest ye Well Stranger",a single room with a shopkeeper, an underground river, Giant Rats and a sleeping humanoid to sneak past (an Ogre here, a Goblinoid in Warlock). The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that Livingstone has just re-used his old material that was dumped by Jackson and quickly put together a solo adventure out of it.
So what's this Fantasy Quest system like?
You have a Combat Factor(CF), a Strength Factor(SF) and a Fortune Factor all of which are generated with straight 3d6 rolls. Fortune is obviously a parallel to FF's LUCK but works in a different fashion. Each time it is tested against 3d6, it increases by +1 for a successful test but -1 for a failed one. It cannot increase any higher than 18 or your initial FF +2 which might make a 3D6 test somewhat pointless when it hits 18 and can't fail, ever thus staying locked there forever. Compare this with FF's LUCK which is finite and dribbles away each and every time it is tested.
Combat is a question of throwing 3d6 and equalling or exceeding the opponents Combat Factor, somewhat awkwardly removing the martial skill of the attacker out of the equation. On a successful hit, the attackers Wound Factor is checked (yours is d6), that dice rolled and damage done straight off the Strength Factor. Rinse and repeat until somebody dies.
With an average CF and SF of 10.5 (3.5 * 3), the enemies in Eye of the Dragon look like this
Two-Headed Troll - CF:13, SF:12, WF:1D6+2
Barbarian - CF:12, SF:9, WF:1D6+2
Gremlin - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6
Giant Spider - CF:9, SF:7, WF:1D6+1
Goblin - CF:9, SF:2, WF:1D6+1
Knight - CF:13, SF:12, WF:1D6+3
Vampire - CF:11, SF:8, WF:1D6+2
Ghoul - CF:10, SF:9, WF:1D6+2
Vampire Bat - CF:9, SF:8, WF:1D6
2 x Giant Rats - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6 and CF:6, SF:5, WF:1D6
Ogre - CF:13, SF:11, WF:1D6+2
Orc - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6
With most stuff doing more than a single D6 of damage to the player and the player only starting with 3D6 hits, it's clear that without healing (6 rations given out each restoring 2SF) it will on average take slightly less than 3 hits to kill the player. Pretty vicious really.
If this was was the alternative take upon an FF system, you'd have needed a pretty big SF to get through Warlock - with the FF system doing damage in 2STA increments, the change to about 3.5-5.5 per hit probably would have required an SF of about 3 times what Eye of the Dragon gives you. Coupled with the skill system that sees the little Gremlin as likely to hit you as the Vampire and Knight I can see that the published FF system is much better.
Anyway, alternative cover time.