Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zagyg

I finalize my Alphabet of Inspiration by honoring the Mad Archmage himself, E. Gary Gygax.

I'm not leaving Rob Kuntz's contribution to DnD out, but this post is about Gary.  Obviously, both men created a hobby that has become very, very dear to me.  Everything you are reading was inspired by their creation.

Without Zagyg seeking out licensors, I wouldn't have had DnD toys to play with or a cartoon to watch.  While DnD and ADnD are central to me as a fan, his understanding of attracting young fans was essential to the growth of the hobby.

Gary's vision of fantasy is central to how I see it.  The genre that DnD has become transcends the literary works that inspired it and in many cases outlasted them.  In short, I wouldn't have ventured into a dungeon for the first time, without Zagyg's push.

Thank you Gary.  May you continue to run your dungeon for the rest of eternity.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Gathering: Session 3 part 1

As the Gatherers move beyond the magical battle, they find a room where the lighting is working better and immediately see a tipped over chest on the smooth floor.  Variel also notices the tips of expensive leather boots around a nearby corner and parallel to the chest.

Their careful investigation discovers a young man, who's left arm has been removed and hastily bandaged.  A closer inspection shows that he appears to have been impaled 3, 18" long, needles in his abdomen. While those wounds seem to have been field treated, a dark substance is moving quickly through the veins in his neck, easily noticeable under the pale skin.  His demise is farily recent.

Moments later the corpse began to shudder and an awful transformation begins.  The sound of bones popping and muscle tearing fills the room as the body transmogrifies itself into a quadruped.  The bones of the neck and spine crackle and grind as they rotate completely backward.  The abomination scuttles toward Barracus and clicks its teeth and jaws at him in some monstrous language.  Barracus dimly notes that its eyes are the same inky black as his own.

In the corner, Lord Wintresh wretches from the horrid creatures transformation and begins to regret his acceptance of Dunwich's task.

Barracus quickly takes a mighty swing and severs the chittering mockery's head.  The large warrior's eyes widen in horror as the thing's blood quickly begins coating his claymore, the hallmark of his smith skills.  He drops the weapon before it reaches his own hands and stares, mouth agape, as some cthoninan alchemical process reforges the blade into Phyrexium, expelling the precious metals it no longer requires as powdery residue on the floor.

Andro's Scope reveals that the weapon is now darkly magical and with trepidation, Barracus dares to wield it.  The elf also discovers a well made travelling bag discarded in a corner.  Inside it is an enigmatic note and Andro shares its message with Variel.

Faced with following the hallway forward or a passage to the right, the Gatherers opt for the latter.  The group find themselves in a long room with what they quickly decide are cells.  The floor and walls are smooth, just like the rest of the facility, but have lighted numbers on them.  Apparently several of the units are not functioning correctly and the left corner of the room is steeped in darkness.  An aching cold is spilling from one of these darkened units.

Peering into the bone-chilling cold, the room palely illuminates the skeletal remains of some 6-legged beast.  Jacob, shrewdly, looks up to find a mucous caked egg sack hanging there.  They quickly retreat and Barracus uses his brawn to try to close the doors with a struggle. In his efforts. his medallion touches thei door's metallic hull and theey immediately seal.

Jacob hears painful cry for help in the farthest cell.  He discovers the door is completely open and in its black depths rescues an injured halfling girl named Lin.  The Rooster quickly invokes his god and mends her wounds.

Lin begins to ask about her companions.  The Gatherers are now certain they are not alone.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yin

Miao Yin, one of the green eyed girls in John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.  It's A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

If you haven't seen it, go do it right now.  I'll wait.  

Cool isn't?  I can honestly say its one of the most awesome movies I've ever seen.  It's one of the movies, you don't think about every day, but it can turn a bad day into a distant memory.  If you meet someone who likes it, you know that they were destined to be your friend.  We were lucky enough to get this film in the period of Carpenter's career where he made The Thing, Escape from New York, and The Fog.  Nowadays, it can be hard to remember when Carpenter was at that level as a director.  All of these films are a testament to what the man can do.

Kurt Russel is Jack Burton.  Did you know that the last thing Walt Disney wrote was Kurt Russell's name?  Kurt Russell can divide by Zero.  Kurt Russell taught Chuck Norris everything he knows, but not everything Kurt knows.

Did I mention that it has a Beholder?

That Jack Burton drives the Porkchop Express.

A Six-Demon Bag is filled with wind, fire, all that kind of thing.

And just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.

What the hell?

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gathering: The story so far

I figured I'd give you a rundown of the 2nd session and (re)introduce you to the current cast and set-up.

The Gatherers have been tasked with unearthing and mapping the Tomb of Yawgmoth for their patron, the wizard Dunwich of Tolaria.

Dunwich has provided key help, at critical junctures, in several of the Gatherers lives.

Variel (Cleric, 8) is a High Elf priest of  Corellon Larethian.  He is unsettled in the presence of humanity, but is striving to create an outpost and save haven on Urborg.  Dunwich's task for him is secondary to his commitment to missionary work.  He has proven very pragmatic and is keeping a very keen eye on Barracus's metamorphosis.

Barracus (Fighter, 8) is a blacksmith hoping to fulfill the destiny Dunwich has promised him.  Many years ago, the Tolarian Wizard told Barracus that he would forge greatest weapon the world had ever seen.  In the 2nd session he may have was exposed to glistening oil.  So far, he has grown 4", added muscle and stamina and has been able to use an amulet he found to interface with the Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Andro (Wizard, 8) is a mysterious Elf pyromancer, hired to map the Tomb by Dunwich.  Andro's gender is uncertain still.

Jacob the Rooster (Cleric, 8) dutifully serves Marcus of the Crossplanes, demigod of archives.  Rooster is easily swayed by a female face.  He is open minded and quick to action.  Like Andro, Jacob was hired to chronicle the exploration of the "Tomb".

Lord Martin Wintresh, Earl of Witten (Rogue, 8) is uncertain of his comrades.  He is practical man, trying to reclaim lands stolen from him.  While he initially sought to provide leadership to this band, he's come to see that they are all insane and apparently suicidal.  He has a very weak stomach and is waiting to end Baracus's misery.

In the 2nd session, the Gatherers found the obelisk marking the Tomb and the 9 Titans, a half circle of monoliths.  Lord Wintresh discovered a trap and unlocked the entrance.

They descended into a sleek metallic room with smooth walls and were surprised how chilly the temperature was.  Martin attempted to use a panel he discovered and while he activated some form of lighting he sealed the entrance behind them.  

Almost immediately they were greeted by 2 spider-like machines (later identified as Wardens) that attacked with beams of light.  Barracus and Martin easily dealt with the first creature.  Barracus split the head in two, revealing an organic core and wreaking of rotten fruit.  Variel led the destruction of the 2nd machine/creature.

As they explored several rooms, the found a cache of weapons made of Phyrexium, a bazooka and several devices that may be bombs.  Something drove a swarm of rats from ductwork above one of the rooms toward them.

The final room of the evening showed evidence of a magical battle and led them to remains of several books.  Strange fans had switched on for some unknown reason and their noise had stalked the Gatherers.

X is for X-Files

The truth was out there, or so we all hoped.  Like many people my age, I was a huge X-Files fan.  But more importantly, I'm a huge Conspiracy fan, and X-Files was my gateway into that strange, strange world.

A good conspiracy gets my juices flowing.  Unfortunately, while I believe like minded people can change things behind the scenes, I think human frailty prevents any form of serious success from emerging in the shape of some shadow government.

But, the idea of conspiracies are fascinating to me.  And what better types of organizations to add to your game?  Wether it's a benevolent union to protect the world from eldritch threats or a malevolent force manipulating and murdering without compunction, a good conspiracy is a very useful tool.  And a favorite in my toolbox.  I've been working on the Council of Fire for 20 years now, and they still haven't stepped into the spotlight.

The power of his hat compels you.

I also really enjoy the type of horror, the X-files, produced.  It's cerebral and subdued, splatterpunk had no place there, and often the truth was murky at best.  And it drew a great deal of inspiration from Kolchak, the Night Stalker (the original, not the one the Ford Mustang starred in).  Karl's adventure under Seattle are still a favorite of mine.

Scully's fiery locks warmed my heart.
And finally, the X-files exposed me to the idea of a story arc within a TV show.  Sure, it was drawn out and never really had a pay off, but it was unexplored territory for me as a teenager.  I can draw inspiration from how it developed as both what to do and what not to do with my own arcs, in my games.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is Warduke

My first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons was through the toy line from LJN in 1982.  The first two figures I got were Warduke, the Evil Fighter and Strongheart, the Good Paladin.  This toy line fired my imagination and made me want to play DnD.  The closest I got was absorbing the Monster Manual at a local B. Dalton's.

Soon after, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon began airing on CBS saturday mornings.  DnD, Thundarr, and Herculoids are my "holy trinity" of cartoons.  While I won't say that DnD or Herculoids stand the test of time (but Thundarr sure does), they are ingrained in how I think of fantasy and the fantastic.  They form a foundation for what action and adventure mean to me.  These cartoons are the root of my love for Science-Fantasy. My adventures should entertain and if I'm having a good session, not only get your brain working, but maybe let it work like it did when you were a kid for a few minutes.
To this day, its very hard for me not to give a group of new PC's, some cool magic item, like in the cartoon.  And how can you look at Warduke and not be inspired to produce a great villain?  You look at Warduke and you know he's not your friend and he's going to (try to) kick your ass.  If your lucky enough to defeat him, his whole outfit screams that he has sweet, sweet magic items.  Who doesn't want to wear that helmet?  Its got to give a bonus of infinity + 1 on Intimidate checks!

The best part of all of this, is that I still have my Warduke figure.  He's like a sacred talisman, and holding him let's me connect with my childhood.  It helps me remember what DnD felt like before I played it and reminds me how it should assualt my player's senses.  They should be able to see, smell, hear, taste, and touch my adventures.  Warduke let's me remember how to make that happen.  If your one of my players, blame his helmet.

I didn't actually play DnD for almost 10 years after my Mom bought me Warduke, but the first character I made was a Fighter.  His name was Garamond and he never got that helmet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vecna

He of the Hand and the Eye, Vecna, the sorcerer turned Lich turned God of Secrets and Magic.  The great bane of Greyhawk.

What I love about Vecna, first and foremost, is his name.  It sounds menacing, you get a good idea as it rolls across your tongue that you shouldn't even be saying it.  Its...foreboding.

Then you have his Hand and his Eye.  Two terrible artifacts that require the seeker to sacrifice those parts to acquire their power.  Not only do you throw your players a quest (or 2), but a price that must be paid.  Its...tantalizing.

Let's mix in the fact that he keeps coming back.  What's better than a god as your ultimate enemyt?  A dead god, who you have to prevent from returning to the Prime Material Plane.    Does it get any better than that?  That's a challenge to test the mettle of your heroes.  Wait, at that point he's an undead god!  Its...malevolent.

And don't forget Kas (the Bloody-Handed), his Vampire sidekick, who betray's him and provides us with another artifact, the Sword of Kas.  A vile, intelligent weapon that is rumored to be dread Vecna's only weakness.  This is classic stuff, how does this not inspire a whole campaign?  How...wicked.

Oh, and don't forget Vecna authored the Book of Vile Darkness.  If you can't get inspiration from any of these things, there is something wrong with you.  Vecna is quintessential DnD.  How...inspiring.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Uatu

Marvel Universe's The Watcher, known to a select few as Uatu, has made many appearances throughout Marvel Comic's publishing history.  However, the focus of this post is the various series of the comic, What If.  

I always enjoyed seeing how different changepoints in Marvel history would turn out.  Seeing the ramifications of different decisions and catastrophes would impact those characters was very enlightening.  In my opinion a Gamemaster needs to constantly be ready for What If.

I try to think about consequences and ramifications when building stories for my players.  Each decision they make should move the story along somehow.  As much as I love plotting out a whole campaign in advance, the player's actions should be the spotlight.  In many ways, I'm the Watcher for their game.  I set the scene and provide interaction, but their presence should be the changepoint for a whole new world.  One, neither they or I could have foreseen.  What If this particular group played through my adventure?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Thundarr the Barbarian

Demon dogs!  It's Thundarr.  The barbarian.  Take Star Wars, Conan, and Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth, then add Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber, Alex Toth, Roy Thomas, & Gerry Conway, and what you end up with is a cartoon that STILL holds up.

Thundarr IS Cross Planes.

Let's Ride.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A day of rest

I know that I should be posting more today, but it's the end of my vacation today.  At present, I'm trying to catch my breath and prepare for the next 2 weeks at work.  Next weekend will be the Prerelease for Avacyn Restored, which will mean working 2 extra 16 hours days and the saturday after that is Free Comic Book Day, another extra 8 hour day.  Both are exciting and rewarding, but there is still a lot of work to put in to each event.

Tomorrow should be the next session of the Pathfinder game I play in, and I should continue running the Gatherers game on thursday.

Of course, tomorrow is the letter T in the Alphabet of Inspiration.   Here's a hint at tomorrow's topic:  "Lords of Light!"


Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Shogun Warriors

What's not to love about giant robots and Godzilla?

I remember loving my Great Mazinga (with missle launching fingers) and Godzilla (with a rocket fist and fiery breath) more than nearly anything.  If I recall correctly they were nearly as big as me!

A robotic warrior is inspiration enough, but the childish wonder these toys draw forth is key to their inspiration.

I have far less time than I did 5 years ago, so when I start planning an adventure I want it to be entertaining and memorable.  And if I'm truly lucky, I might even tap into your inner child.  I spent years as a Gamemaster before I was lucky enough for my librarian friend, Val, to ask me to run some games of DnD for her teens at the library.  My time doing was few and far between, but their enthusiasm and imagination shocked me.  I didn't start gaming until I was a sophomore in college, so I didn't share any epic adventures with middle school or high school friends.  So I was shocked at her teens' hunger for adventure, their creative solutions to problems, and the lack of bloodlust the showed to enemies.  I was so used to conflict resolution meaning kill the monster and take it's stuff, I almost didn't know what to do.  They changed me as GM, in a very good way.  Thankfully, her teens were gracious and patient and I was smart enough to let them shape their experience.  And I was better off for it.  Thank you, Val.

The point is don't let your expectations color your inspiration.  When you see an adult tap into their inner 11 year old, you know that the time you've spent is well worth it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Rifts

While Champions was my first RPG, the Magic of Palladium Books was the first "house organ" I was exposed to.  And even though we were already playing a superhero game, I bought Heroes Unlimited, based on that publication .  From there it was a hop, skip, and a jump to Rifts.  Magic and technology in equal parts, on a post-apocalytpic Earth, where each region gets deadlier and the stakes get greater...does it get any better than that?  And it had a Conversion Book (only 1 at the time)!

From a game system and editing point of view, I could level some heavy criticism at Palladium.  But, in alot of ways, they are one of maybe two companies that haven't changed much since the "Good Old Days".  Kevin Siembieda runs the company the way he likes, for good or ill, and thats his right.  He's the founder and owner.  It's his baby.  For many years, his company attracted a number of talented artists and writers.  I'd say Palladium, at one point, was tied for best covers in the industry.

But system aside, Rifts books pack sweet art with gonzo writing and setting, and that is what sells the books for them.  Even before I owned a copy of the rules, I brainstormed a campaign in mere seconds.  Victor Von Doom, stranded from a fight with the FF again, has uncovered Protoculture from the remains of some mecha.  He defeated and enslaved a squad of  Invid, who came to acquire it.  His main opponent was some dimensional being or D-Bee, from somewhere called Krypton who was trying to incite his workforce (villagers) into revolution.  The PC's would end up working for whoever had the most convincing recruitment speech.  Like so many games, I never ran that one, but it still sticks with me.  And though I'm taking time to work on story and setting these days, the back of my mind is always thinking about Rifts.

I'm thankful Palladium is still around and hope that they remain a publisher for years to come.  I may never be able to repay them for all of the inspiration they've provided me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quest

What RPG adventure isn't a quest?  If it's not difficult and time consuming, why would we devote hours to crafting and playing through them?

Quests are where my inspiration begins and ends.  They're the impetus for the journey the players agree to take upon themselves.   Their resolution is the fruition of all of the player's travails and sacrifice.  And everything in between is the result of hours of dreaming, scheming, stealing, hoping, praying, and bullshitting on my part, as Gamemaster.  

The only real goal of any of my quests are to entertain my players, the rest is just sleight of hand.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Priscilla

This series is the alphabet of my inspirations.

I could fill all 26 letters with qualities of my wife, Priscilla.  In fact, this blog came from her asking me to help her teach our children to be better writers.  But more than that, who I am today and the blessings that surround me, are due to her loving support.

N is for Nyarlathotep

I'm cheating a bit because this post is more about the Cthulhu Mythos in general.

H.P. Lovecraft created the Mythos, to which Nyarlathotep belongs, in his short stories that were, primarily, published by Weird Tales magazine during the pulp era.  My first exposure to Lovecraft was in an episode of the Real Ghostbuster's entitled the Collect Call of Cthulhu, I was apparently 15.  However, it wasn't until his writings were mentioned in a Fortunato short story by Lewis Shiner in the 1st or 2nd volume of the Wild Cards anthology that I began to seek out Lovecraft's work.

I like my cosmic horror more action-packed and less hopeless than H.P.'s stories, but the roots he planted are essential to the types of worlds I like to grow.  What better antagonists than fungi from a distant world, unseen hunters that amush us from the angles of time, or amoeboid monstrosities that leave their victims gibbering lunatics?  Who better for a charismatic cult-leader to venerate than an uncaring toad god?  And what setting doesn't need a vile tome written by a madman to ensure the awakening of a dreaming horror when the Stars are Right?

Lovecraft's Mythos shambles its way into adventures I'm planning from non euclidean recesses deep inside my brain.  After all, why should the tall, smiling stranger, who your party encounters in a tavern and who happens to know the location of some demoniac temple, have your best interests at heart?

H is for Homeschooling

I figure this post will be among the most revealing of who I am and the goals my wife and I have set for are family. We began home schooling our son and youngest daughter this past fall. While I won't pretend it's been the easiest path, I'm certain it's the right one for us.

The decision came about for 3 fairly different reasons.

First, my son has a lethal peanut allergy and while our school did its best, after 4 years too many mistakes occurred. I don't blame the school, however, because they do the best they can managing the well-being of nearly a thousand children every single day, but realistically we do a better job.  I'm aware that many may find it difficult to understand the threat of a peanut allergy, but imagine if you were asked to eat your meal surrounded by a cafeteria full of arsenic?  Our school did everything we needed, but I understand that many, many children really enjoy peanut butter.  And simply put, it will kill my son at this point in his life.

Second, we grew frustrated at curriculums geared toward standardized testing for government funding. I could go on and on about one hand telling us we're behind in education and the other not giving us real tools to improve that situaton, but I won't.  I am friends with quite a few educators, I know how passionate they are at what they do, how good they are at. I am amazed that are school system can handle the logistics of so many young people and teach them as much as they have. The job they're doing is admirable, but we want our kids to learn at their own pace, not controlled by the legislative process our current system is hung upon.   We're blessed that all of our children are very intelligent and neither of us want to waste such a precious gift.

And third, my wife and I work together at her family's comic and game store, this new schedule gives us far more time with our children than ever before. Our oldest daughter is 22, we both are well aware of how quickly raising children goes. You blink and their grown up and out of the house.  Thankfully, the choice has proven to be well worth all of the ups and downs.

How is this inspiration? Well teaching our kids about grammar, spelling, and writing led us to use blogging as an educational tool. My research into Blogger led me to start Cross Planes to learn how to teach it's use. And that it is what led you here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

M is for Masters of the Universe

Yeah, thats right, He-Man.  The MotU toys showed my 9 year old self that magic and technology could exist side by side, in the same world.  Barbarians and sorcerers riding sky sleds and shooting ray guns and fighting the eternal battle of good and evil.  I could craft those battles with my action figures for hours upon hours.

There are few things I find cooler than Magic vs Machine and He-man, and his allies and enemies,  represents that battle in it's purest form.

And then there's Eternia, the setting for this epic ride.  A world rife with danger and ancient artifacts that can save or destroy untold universes.  Castle Greyskull, whose mysteries could provide the brightest of hopes or the blackest of dooms.  A Power Sword that could be split in twain.  Snake Men from the primordial past.  An invading Horde from another universe.   Cosmic Enforcers whose true allegiances were nearly unknowable.

Rumors even claim that the MotU toy line began development as a line of Conan the Barbarian toys.

I can't think of a game that can't benefit from drawing upon my childhood memories of visiting  Eternia.

L is for Legend of the Five Rings

I took huge strides forward as a Gamemaster running my L5R game.  I didn't call it an Open Table, but that's what it was.  Anyone and everyone was welcome every other week for over a year.  I never knew if I'd be running 6 players or 18, on any given session.  And I loved it.  It pushed me, it made me tell better stories, and it reminds me what my capabilities are as a GM, 14 years later.

Players sacrificed themselves nobly for Honor and Clan.  A Shugenja of the Void, miscast a spell and slaughtered his comrades as punishment by the Kami, and he hid it to save face.    And the survivors never spoke of it or asked him about it, so he could.  My wife led the Crab to mighty victory and ignominious defeat.  Her band became legendary for it's barbarism and heroism.  The pursuit of rare, delicious pickles was the focus of a whole session and drove a Samurai to leave his Clan and seek refuge as a simple monk.  A great Hero died in mere moments from a cruel, careless shot from a bandit's bow.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way"
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I'm thankful to everyone who spent even a moment at my table, teaching me how to be a better Gamemaster.  Inspiring me to entertain them and teaching me new ways to tell them a story.  Every game I've run since, that I've planned and plotted, lives in this game's shadow.

Sayonara Rokugan.

K is for Kenobi

General Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master.  I was 5 when I saw Star Wars and "Ben" was the man who helped Luke Skywalker confirm that he was more than a moisture farmer from Tatooine.  He saved him from Tusken Raiders and gave him his father's lightsaber.  He used "Jedi Mind Tricks" on Storm Troopers.  He hired Han Solo & Chewbacca.  He taught him how to use the Force.  And on the Death Star he faced off against his former pupil, Darth Vader, so that Luke and Leia could escape and Vader wouldn't know that he had a son.  He sacrificed himself to keep that information from Anakin just a little longer.

It's easy for Ben to be overshadowed by Yoda, Mace Windu, Luke or Qui-Gon Jin.  But if it wasn't for Old Ben, Luke wouldn't have grown to be the man the Galaxy needed him to be and he would have died right there on that battle station.

And so much of what I love about storytelling were formed the moment the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way..." crawled up the screen and a Corellian Corvette was pursued by a Star Destroyer.  A Corvette that needed to get a message to General Kenobi with the help of an astromech droid and a protocol droid.

J is for Joe

G.I. Joe, that is.  I don't remember getting my Eagle Eye G.I. Joe, with life-like hair as a child, it just feels like it always with me.  He had a foot locker with all kinds of cool equipment and weaponry.  The only thing I wished he had was a cool enemy to fight.  Joe has been my friend since before I could remember.

You can imagine my awe at going the Convenient Store--yes that was its name--at the end of Utz Drive in 1982 and finding G.I. Joe #6 on the newstands.  By that time, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero offered everything the Adventure Team had not and more.  I already had Clutch and the V.A.M.P. Battle Jeep, Flash, Rock n' Roll, and Stalker.  But a comic book for the Joes?

My life at the age of 10 was changed forever with a single purchase.

This was the gateway that led me to collecting Comic Books.  It was this series that led me to find Comic Book World, the company I now work for, to find back issues.  It was ads in comics like this that gave me my first exposure to DnD and the Robotech RPG.  It introduced me to Role Playing Games.  It ultimately led me here.

If it wasn't for this comic, I'm not sure if I'd be exactly the same person I am today.  G.I. Joe was the catalyst for everything in this blog and more.  Oh, so much more.  Literally, I don't know that I'd have met my wife (she works at CBW) or had my children, without it.

Thats how inspiring the Joes were for me and mine.

Yo Joe!

I is for Iuz

Iuz the Evil.  The Old One.  Old Wicked.  The cambion son of Graz'zt and Iggwilv rules a broad swath of the Flanaess, his Empire bearing his name.  He is the scourge of Greyhawk.

A good villain inspires an adventure.  A great villain inspires a campaign.  

I turned to the Greyhawk setting in 1992, when I first began thinking about running DnD.  Several of my friends had read some portion of Forgotten Realms novels and I didn't want to feel ignorant as a DungeonMaster.  But what made me decide on Greyawk was the cover for  Iuz the Evil.

For me, Iuz is the archetypal villain for DnD and the benchmark that I compare all of my villainous creations.  Gary, I can't thank you enough.

F is for Frazetta

He is the Death Dealer and that is all you need to know.

Frank Frazetta is inspiration on canvas, his work made you want to read a book or see a film.  It grabs you by the heart, digs upward to your brain, and kicks you into whatever world he painted on that page.  A world just for you, that he brought to life, just for you.  That is Frank Frazetta's power and legacy.  You see his work and you understand Karl Jung and his Archetypes.  Maybe Frazetta was narrowcasting his work to Jung in the past, who knows?  It doesn't really matter, nothing but his artwork does.  Sadly, my words cannot begin to do his paintings justice, so instead of wasting more of your time trying to describe his work, you can be treated to a selection of it below.


G is for Grimoire

David A. Hargrave's the Arduin Grimoire, that is.  It was the first "cross-genre" RPG setting ever published.  Sound familiar?  Here are some of the classes Arduin introduced to DnD:  Courtesan, Martial Artist, Merchant, Star Powered, and Techno.  And don't forget his monsters:  Air Shark,  Kill Kitten and Screaming Scarlet Itchies.  Arduin adventures encompassed interstellar wars, historical drama, and spine tingling horror. It is, in short one hell of a setting.

The Arduin Trilogy is composed of the Arduin Grimoire, Welcome to Skull Tower, and the Runes of Doom.  These works gave us the world of Khaas, the legendary lands of Arduin.  Hargrave eventually was served with a Cease and Desist order from TSR for using direct references to DnD.  Know what he did?  He used white-out and typing correction tape to remove the references and reprint the Grimoire.

Mr. Hargrave sadly passed away in 1988, but his work is still being published today through Emperor's Choice.  A new system to go with the setting has also been designed.  Long live Arduin and Khaas and everything they stand for.

Monday, April 16, 2012

E is for Eurythmics

It was the '80's.
Music can obviously be a powerful tool when being creative.  Even back in my adolescence, when I'd spend a whole day creating and drawling super heroes, the radio would be on in the background.  Ok, it wouldn't just be on, it had to be on.  Music made the whole process...complete.

So I devote the letter E to Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart.  The Eurythmics.  I still find their music as compelling today as I did the first time I heard Sweet Dreams or Missionary Man or Here Comes the Rain Again get the point.  Their music is a NASCAR pit crew for my creative drive.  It invigorates me.

I deeply regret passing on the opportunity for my wife and I to see Annie and Sting, in concert together, a few years back.   It would have been a Sweet Dream.

D is for Dungeons and Dragons

This is kind of a duh, obviously.  However, DnD was not my first RPG (Champions 4E, in fact, was), nor was it ever been a game I was very fond of playing.  The way our group ran the game and interpreted the rules, made DnD seem like a ruleset more about what you could not do, than what you could (a polar opposite to Champions and the HERO System).  ADnD 2E, in hindsight, is probably my preferred edition, but I reached a point where I simply wouldn't play it (I really, really like unified resolution systems).  DnD 3.X was well done, but in trying to run either iteration of the rules, I discovered I didn't want to run them the way I felt the designers intended and the whole experience fell flat.  I fully embraced 4E and enjoyed it for close to a year, but its emphasis on miniatures and grids, something we never used, turned me off. For many, many years DnD was a game I felt I simply didn't understand.  Something I couldn't quite mold to into the image I needed it to be.

Then I discovered the OSR, and things began to change.  House rules weren't simply encouraged, they were required and I began to see that less was definitely more for me and the stories I wanted to tell.  Swords and Wizardry, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy and Labyrinth Lord helped me focus less on rules and more on an interesting story and an intriguing setting.  And while I learned to enjoy a more stripped down simulation of the DnD rules, I was startled to find that I actually really enjoyed Pathfinder.  Things that I couldn't tolerate in 3.X were somehow more palatable now.  I honestly believe its the quality of the product and the devotion Paizo shows not only for their rules but also their fans and the legacy that Pathfinder is trying to carry forward.  In learning to understand these interpretations of the DnD rules and settings my journey toward loving DnD was finally coming to my desired destination.  This newfound place of comfort gave me to the courage to begin to shape new games and begin to ponder DMing them, after long hiatus from the hobby.

And now we have the 800 lb. gorilla that is DnD Next waiting to be unveiled.  I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but unfortunately a Non-Disclosure Agreement prevents me from sharing any of them.

I will say that my journey has taught me that what the rules don't tell you isn't intended to prevent you from doing something, its empowering you to do something.

C is for Clash of the Titans

I was 11 years old when the marketing began from Clash of the Titans.  I had already experienced the wonder of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back and had my mind blown as much by the toy tie-ins as the movies themselves (strangely Marvel's Star Wars comic wasn't what got me to read them and I never collected it until well after Dark Horse picked up the license).  I'm sure my recollection is off, but it felt like I waited months after getting the toys to see the film.  Unfortunately, this was the first film that ever missed my expectations.  I actually hated it.  I remember being shocked at seeing a naked breast and felt the film wasn't really for kids.  At 11.  I did, however, find Bubo adorable.

The reason this film is on my list is that I used the time leading up to the release to devour Greek Mythology.  And then Norse, Native American, Aboriginal, Aztec, etc.  Even though I still can't watch the dreadful thing, I can't overlook its contribution to who I am.  Of course, I hated how they butchered the Myths, themselves.

I wish I could pretend that I had any appreciate for Ray Harryhausen's final work, but the whole thing fell short for me.

I am probably in the minority here, but 2010's remake is exactly what my inner 11 year old wanted all those many years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed this film on every level (yes, it butchered the myths as well, but I just didn't care).  I can watch this film over and over and though I haven't seen the sequel (the cost for a family of 4 or 5 to see a film is a luxury beyond our budget), I very well might this week on our vacation.  One of the trailers even gave me an appreciation for Marilyn Manson's Sweet Dreams, something I thought to be impossible.

B is for Battle Beasts

I still LOVE his sword!
Anthropomorphic animals.  Power armor.  Cybernetics.  Shiny weapons.  Allied to fire, water, or wood.  What more could you ask for?!

Battle Beasts, like Master of the Universe, introduced me to Science Fantasy.  What is cooler than swords and power armor?  Or Guns and wooden shields?  Well to me not much.  These little 2" figures were kind of mystery compared to many of the toys of their day.  They didn't have a cartoon and we didn't even know each Beasts name (though you could send away for a poster with their names, which for whatever reason I never did).  Only their arms moved and they had these little heat activated holograms on their chest (Transformers did something similar at the same time, which makes sense because they were both owned by Hasbro), so you could play Rock, Paper, Scissors or, in this case Fire, Water, Wood.  And there were tons of these guys.  You could field a whole epic battle between these 3 forces to determine their secret goals.  Why secret?  Well, if I didn't even know their names, how could I know their goals?!

That Rabbit alwasy reminded me of Jaxxon from the Star Wars Comics.
Oh, and that Deer in the second row has a drill for a left hand!!
Even now, they strike me as awesome and if I could find my old figures, I'd use them for miniatures in an RPG.  I don't know if it would Palladium's After the Bomb, WotC's newest version of Gamma World or just DnD.  But they are totally cool.

Go ahead, mess with us.

I do remember that Blackthorn had a 2 issue, black and white comic.  But that was the only product tie-in I recalled, until today.

It seems that Diamond Select Toys has acquired the property and has released several limited edition minimates and plan to launch Wave 1 in toy stores this summer, with a tie-in comic from IDW Publishing.  I can't wait to show my kids.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A is for Armageddon

Armageddon by CJ Carella was first published by Myrmidon Press in the late '90's.  Eden Studios picked it and its sister game WitchCraft up a few years later.

Imagine if World War III was in full throttle, the Stars Were Right, and Ragnarok was competing for space in the the Book of Revelations.  And then things get bad.

Angels, Demons, Gods of Myth, Psychics, Witches, Vampires, Martial Artists, and Cat people are a sampling of the cast that readers are exposed to as the setting unfolds.

Armageddon uses the Unisystem that CJ designed for his games, once he left Palladium.  Its a simple Attribute + Skill + Advantage System = X, where X is added to the roll of 1D10.  If that number is 9 or more you succeed.  Its an elegant system that gets out of the way.  Damage is either a Die multiplied by a number, e.g. D6 x 2 or the average of that roll or 6.  It uses Hit Points.  I'm a huge fan of Hit Points.  Magic uses points, called Essence, to power spells.  Psychic abilities is measured in Skill and Power.  Overall, the system is like a lovechild of the Old World of Darkness, GURPS, Cyberpunk 2020/Interlock, & the Palladium system.  The system has been used in WitchCraft, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Conspiracy X 2.0, Terra Primate, Buffy, Angel, Army of Darkness, and Ghosts of Albion.  There are 2 flavors, Classic and Cinematic.  Cinematic introduces Drama Points to help emulate the type of characters in TV and Fiction, allowing mundane characters to grab the spotlight next to supernatural characters.

I was lucky enough to playtest this game on AOL with CJ back in the day.  It was alot of fun.  I even went to Gen Con that year and had him sign the Myrmidon edition for me.  I can't recommend this game enough.

Updated: A to Z blog challenge...a bit late to the party

I've decide to participate in this year's A to Z Blogging Challenge for the month of April.  Since I've started the blog nearly halfway through April, I'm behind on posting.  My goal is to try still finish by the end of month.

If this appeals to you, I can't recommend Timothy Brannan's The Other Side Blog enough.  Like Tim, I'll be doing the A to Z of RPG's.  Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery.  After some brainstorming, I've decided to change my Challenge to the A to Z of INSPIRATION, so you'll get to see 26 of the things I that inspire my creative process.

A Gathering Question?

While the Gatherers game is based heavily on Magic: The Gathering lore, should my posts substitute names of my own invention?  I don't know that I'll ever seek to publish any of this, so I don't know how much an issue it could become?  If I choose to continue to be utilize Wizard of the Coast's property, are there any notices I need to post that I'm not challenging their ownership of the IP's used?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gathering Secrets: Phyrexium

The metal know as Phyrexium was discovered by Thran artificers after settling the plane of Phyrexia.  As Yawgmoth hastened his experiments of melding flesh and metal and made strides in his "research" into the disease known as Phthisis, many breakthroughs were weaponized to further his plans to invade Dominaria.

Phyrexium is a metal matrix composite of titanium, sliver hide, glistening oil, fanatical hatred, and blood infected with Phthisis.  Weapons made using this composite include daggers, swords, axes, picks and a single mace.  The mace was given to Yawgmoth's head of security, Phobart Guile.  The matrix process to reinforce Phyrexium is arduous at best and dangerous at worst, having a high mortality rate due to the handling of the Phthisis tainted blood.  The level of manufacturing Yawgmoth sought was never met, leading to the execution of several of the artificers who unlocked the composite's secret.  Scholars have debated if process to create the foul composite can be replicated outside of the plane of Phyrexia and truly hope this to be true.  This is irregardless of lacking sliver hide, who experts pray are extinct and the fact that Phthisis has not been encountered in over 1000 years.

Phyrexium weapons are +1 magic weapons.  However, the weapons are +2 magic weapons when wielded on Dominaria, because of the fanatical hatred of the plane emanating from the smiths who forged them.  There is a 15% chance the victim of a Phyrexium weapon will be poisoned with  Toxic Phthisis the first time they are struck by one in a battle.

Toxic Phthisis
Type: Injury
Onset: 1 Round
Detection: 45%
Save Adj: 0
Failed Save Damage: 25
Passed Save Damage: 0
Symptons:  Blackening of wound, burning sensation throughout entire body, blurry vision.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paradigm shift: Top Secret

Just testing out different templates.  I'll probably be trying it several different styles over the next week, so if you see one you like.  Please, be sure to comment.  This one is called Top Secret.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Putting the Dungeon in D&D

Tonight the second session of the Gatherers was played.  Unfortunately, only 2 players from last week showed up for this session.  Fortunately, I had other players waiting in the wings.  Having short notice on the player mix, caused me to rethink this episode and Gaming Paper's Mega Dungeon 1 was a godsend in building the Tomb of Yawgmoth, at least a part of it, in less than 3 minutes.

I can't recommend Gaming Paper's products enough and the Mega Dungeon 1 is amazing.  While I don't run many dungeon adventures, the individual pieces are sturdy, double sided and completely reusable.

A fully assembled Mega Dungeon 1

Gaming Paper's products are available direct from their site or from your, hopefully, FLGS.
I'll try to post a recap soon.  Hopefully our player list will stabilize and we can start building legendary characters facing epic obstacles.

Thundarr the Movie

As a life-long comics fan and a retailer with a quarter century of experience, I was today years old when I discovered that Buzz Dixon and ...