Sunday, December 31, 2006

Beetle Bailey is freaking me out

A panel from this week's Sunday funnies:

This is the first time I've seen a realistic firearm in Beetle Bailey. And it's not just a generic "assault gun", a term a military man would never use. It's a Heckler & Koch MP-5 tricked out for SWAT type work. This sudden intrusion of real war weaponry really highlights how utterly out of touch Beetle Bailey is with the real world and the real U.S. military. With this gun on the playing field it wouldn't surprise me the least to see ol' Sarge and Beetle discussing their next trip to Iraq. But of course that doesn't happen in the utterly banal world of newspaper comics. Superhero fans sometimes complain that their favorite characters are stuck in narrative stasis, but the newspaper comics fossilized a long time ago. In comparison Wolverine changing which costume he wears looks like real character growth.

my pipes

Here's the pipe I smoke the most. It's by a company called Venturi and is called simple 'The Pipe'. They also had a similar line called 'The Smoke'. These babies are made of a substance called 'pyrolytic graphite', which to my knowledge no other pipe maker uses. This stuff makes the pipe very low maintenance, which nicely fits my rough and tumble treatment of my regular smoker.

Next are two pics of my newest pipe, from Velani. As I understand it the rough work on the bowl is normally the sign of inferior briar, but I really like the effect.

This Charatan is too big for me to get much use out of nowadays. The bowl holds a huge amount of pipeweed and I just don't have time for that long of a smoke.

This churchwarden by V. Minarelli needs some clean-up work. The stem has some brownish-yellow crud and the shank is looking dull compared to the finish on the bowl.

Finally, a group shot for size comparison.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ninja Saying

Ours is the tradition of service
to those in need,
Strength to those in distress, and
protection for the meek.
We use the art of Ninjitsu and the
"Gift of Chi"
To aid us in our fight.
We are the silent blade of the wheel,
In march with the forces of the universe.
"Life and Death,"
We are the Ninja.
Invisible Warriors of the night.

This guy will be the character pic for Obi-Wan Shinobi in my next Encounter Critical game.

Text and illo from Raven c.s. McCracken's magnum opus World of Synnibarr. Don't let the haters fool you about that game. The setting may be unsophisticated and the mechanics clunky, but a game that fits ten pounds of awesome in a twenty pound bag still contains ten pounds of awesome. If you can get Synnibarr cheap, pick that baby up. At least if you appreciate gonzo gaming in the tradition of Arduin and Gamma World and Rifts.

I seriously need to give my nephew the ninja a framed copy of the Ninja Saying.

Unrelated item: Do not miss today's installment of I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The hat makes the man.

If I were the Vision I'd totally wear this hat all the time. Dude looks like the High Priest of the First Church of Robofunk.

I've been sifting through a lot lately.
Wanda: You're not really wearing that thing to bed, are you?

Vision: Behold the majesty of my hat! Would you deny my pillow the honor of cushioning such a mighty and splendoriforous headgear?

Winter War Preview: Saturday Morning

Today I'll pick up where I left off yesterday giving you all my chatty opinions about the events on the Winter War convention schedule. Click here and here for the Friday afternoon and evening rundowns.

Saturday, February 10th, 9am

On the boardgame front the all-con-long Advanced Squad Leader tournament will pick up right where it ended the night before. Tim Gritten will once again be hosting a session of Really Nasty Horse Racing. Both my nephews and my sister have reported that this game is a hoot. As I understand it your horse can come in last but you can still win the game by betting on some other player's pony. Brilliant. Memoir '44 will be making another appearance, this time with some Russo-Finnish action. (Which reminds me, I gotta ask some of the local grognards if anyone ever ran Winter War at Winter War.) Carol "Cookie" Morris, who I called a 'devil-woman' in my last preview post, will be breaking out a copy of the new boardgame based upon the webcomic Order of the Stick. That comic is amazing. It has almost completely supplanted Monty Python as the source of stupid quotes at my game table. Whether the game is any good or not I can't tell you.

"Blocks of the Bulge" will re-create action of the Ardennes Offensive using those cute little blocks that Columbia Games make. My brother-in-law Jim will be running two games Saturday morning. In my opinion Thurn and Taxis is cute, but not great. The other game he's running is Louis XIV, which I absolutely adore. It's a lot like El Grande mechanically, if that game is your bag. Jim's Louis VIX game is my pick of the Saturday morning boardgames. Not only is Louis a gas, but Jim's a super-nice guy and he is excellent at explaining games to newbies.

Two card game events are on the schedule for Saturday morning. First we have Winter War's ninth annual DCI sanctioned Magic: The Gathering tournament. Click here for official tournament info. The other card game is Ninja Burger, which I didn't even realize was card-based until I looked at the schedule right now. I guess that shows you how plugged in I am to the cardgames scene.

With nine events already on the schedule, miniatures looks like the place to be Saturday morning. The Central Illinois Tabletop Warriors always bring great stuff to Winter War. Warhammer 40K fans can join in an Imperials versus Chaos affair. While afficionados of the Battletech universe can play some sort of Clan-infest mass combat Battleforce 2 thingy. In my head the Battletech timeline *ends* with the invasion of the Clans, so I really can't usefully comment on this game, other than to note this particular outing is scheduled to run through the afternoon slot as well. If fantasy is more your thing Dale Lybarger will be running Confrontation using the Dogs of War expansion. I couldn't tell you a thing about Confrontation's game mechanics but the figures are awesome.

Rally 'Round the Flag makes another appearance Saturday morning, as the American Civil War is always popular around here. Other historicals include Dean Spitz running a French and Indian War affair with Gentlemen of France Fire First and Kevin Brown with a 15mm WWII, using Flames of War 2nd edition. Mr. Brown's game is BYOAOPOOM. That's bring-your-own-army-or-play-one-of-mine. There are two aerial games on the schedule. Kurt Jeffries will be running a house rules WWII dogfight where the Germans will try to take down some attacking B17's. Don't be put off by the fact that this is a house rules game. In my experience Kurt Jeffries has his act together when it comes to game mechanics. Bob Swieringa plans a WWI flying aces game using the Red Baron ruleset. If I wasn't running a game in this slot I'd totally be at Bob's table, dratting the Red Baron Peanuts-style and generally making a nuisance of myself.

But my recommedation for best minis game of Saturday morning would be Ken Vreeman's porno-punically titled "55 Hours on Uranus". Ken is one of the most popular minis guys at the con. His figures and scenery are top-notch and he has an easy-going approach to gaming. The rules are based on 55 Days in Peking, a Boxer Rebellion game, but the setting here is futuristic space marines versus orcs. On Uranus. Multiple informants over several different Winter Wars all give this game an enthusiastic thumbs up. Uranus.

For roleplayers the the Central Illinois Roleplaying Combatants Alliance will continue their all-con Living Greyhawk funfest. The non-RPGA or non-D&D inclined currently have two Saturday morning options. Mike Wilson will once again offer a session of Elementary Watson, the RPG of Sherlock Holmsian sleuthing. And some dude named Jeff Rients will take a go at Mazes & Minotaurs, the retro-awesome game of Bronze Age fantasy. It would be extremely unfair of me to offer a pick for the RPG section. Obviously, I want people to play in my M&M game, but at the same time I find the concept behind Elementary Watson very intriguing. And Mr. Wilson has been running it at Winter War for years, so he must be doing something right.

That's the Saturday morning session of Winter War in a (rather large) nutshell. In the next installment I'll get to two events that are at the heart of the con: the live auction and the Blind Sniper game.

A Risus in the hand... worth two on the hard drive. Here are some pictures of the pocket edition of Risus.

The text is small but legible.

You can literally fit this game inside other games. I brought mine home from work tucked inside my sweet new softcover copy of Encounter Critical. I could have also used my shirt pocket or even my wallet. PocketRisus is that portable. You can play this game anywhere you can scrounge up a few d6s.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Winter War Preview: Friday Evening

This here post is part 2 of my seven-or-so part preview of the upcoming Winter War convention, where I run down the games listed in the pre-registration bookletand give you my recommendations for what games might be cool to try. Winter War is February 9th through 11th here in Champaign, Illinois. Click here if you missed Part 1, where I outlined the scheduled Friday afternoon events.

Friday, February 9th, 7pm

The two bigass all-convention-long events, the Advanced Squad Leader tournament and the Living Greyhawk freak-out, continue through this slot of the con. Again, you can check out Warhorn for more details on the LG events.

The Friday night boardgaming section looks really lively, ranging from a 12-player game of Formula De to a similarly-sized Car Wars scenario to new fan favorite BattleLore. Leland Black and Charlie Priest are running a newcomers-friendly game of Shadows over Camelot. I've played that a couple of times with my sister and it is wicked cool. Glenn Overby is running Memoir '44 in addition to the previously mentiond BattleLore. Tom Hendricks is running two more games, another round of the old chesslike game Feudal and coldwar paranoia fantasy Fortress America. The real pick of the Friday night board games has got to be Alan Conrad's Complete History of the World. The original History of the World is a fabulous game and Al has been working on his grand variant for years. This is one of several unique events you will only find at Winter War.

The miniatures department looks pretty sweet as well. Dale Lybarger will once again be reffing local favorite Clay-O-Rama, the Play-Doh battle game first appeared in Dragon #125. Every time there's a Clay-O-Rama table at the con the result is a lot of hootin' and hollerin' and a general good time. On the historical angle Rich Nelso is running Rally 'Round the Flag, one of the more popular rulesets for the American Civil War. Most of the rest of the minis dance card is filled out with sci-fi stuff: Ken Vreeman (an excellent ref with great minis and scenery) is running the old GW classic Space Hulk. Dustin Burger, another great ref, plans an Imperials versus Orks outing of Warhammer 40K. And a couple of chaps I don't know will be presenting a post-apocalyptic fight over a stockpile of Spam. You heard me right. Spam. I love it when the post-apocalyptic world is full of black humor like that. Entitled "FallOut Wastelands: Quest for Spam", this event will be run with the Days of Reckoning 28mm skirmish rules. Google doesn't seem to be helping me learn anything about this game.

All these minis events look like solid gold to yours truly, but the standout game has got to be "Sleepless in Rockwood", a 28mm zombie minis event. Boo-YAH! I am totally on the zombie bandwagon. If you want to call me a zombie poser, that would be okay. Getting back on topic, the rules used for this event are All Things Zombie. God bless this era of easily-distributed niche games.

In addition to the Living Greyhawk stuff, there are four RPG events on the Friday night schedule. Chris Fairfield offers a scoundrel-themed d6 Star Wars game called simply "The Kessel Run". Mr. Fairfield's Star Wars games are quite popular locally and, really, who wouldn't want to go on that infamous Run? Carol 'Cookie' Morris once again shows up to Winter War ready to run some HackMaster. Despite my own recent run-in with the KenzerCo boards I still think HackMaster is super-cool. And Cookie is exactly the right kind of wicked devil-woman to run it. I mean that in a nice way. Honest. People like myself who dig D&D 3.5 but don't get jazzed up by Living Greyhawk have the option of signing up for an Iron Kingdoms session designed to introduce newbies to that setting.

The RPG pick of the litter has to be Dave Hoover's Feng Shui game. Dave is a bit of a local legend, as he once ran a game in every one of the seven sessions of the convention. Some of us seriously thought this feat was going to kill him, but he made it through. He couldn't speak coherent English by the end of the weekend, but he ran all seven games. Feng Shui is one of Dave's signature games. The combination of frantic cinematic action and mindfuckingly freaktastic hidden backstory is a perfect fit for the kinds of games he likes to run. Dave has a cult following, so by the time you read this post his games might all be full. But sign up for his stuff if you can.

That's the Friday night line-up as I know it right now. The only other thing I should note is that the Living Greyhawk room will be open through the 'Friday twilight' session, which runs until 4 frickin' AM. The rest of the con is dead at that time, but the RPGA guys plan to go all night long, baby.

My gift to you

Yeah, I know I'm a couple days late. Sorry 'bout that. Here's something you've never heard of but now desparately need:

10 pounds of radical in a 2oz bag!

Click on the silly PocketRisus logo to download a one-page Risus: the Anything RPG rulebook. In case you haven't heard me heap praise on it before, Risus is the single best rules-light generic freebie on the whole dang internet. My Pocket version doesn't include the 2 pages of optional rules, so follow the aminated button below for the complete version.

If you love the idea of carrying a supernifty roleplaying game in your shirtpocket or wallet just as much as I do, print out the pocket edition and follow these folding instructions to make your own 8-page two-and-a-half by four inch rulebook. It's wicked awesome!

Important tip: The outside margins need to be trimmed before folding. Cut around that outer rectangle on the printout and then go wild with the origami mojo.

Why yes it is, little stick figure dude.  Yes indeed.

Credit Where Credit is Totally Due Department

Risus is S. John Ross' trademark for his Anything RPG. S. John is the coolest. If you like Risus, check out his other stuff at Cumberland Games & Diversions. I wholeheartily recommend Encounter Critical, Sparks paper minis, and the Risus Companion.

PocketRisus was created with PDFtoPocketMod, a great little program that takes PDF files of up to 8 pages in length and shrinks them down to PocketMod format. You can learn more about PocketMods and grab the PDFtoPocketMod program at

I first heard about PocketMod through Microlite20, which chops d20 fantasy down to its barest essentials. The Microlite20 rulebooks are so small that the PocketMod format works great for them. That cad Doctor Rotwang! beat me to press telling you about the awesomeness that is Microlite20. But did he give you another whole PocketMod format RPG? Nope! In your face, Rotwang!

Winter War Preview: Friday Afternoon

I'm going to be doing something new for the upcoming Winter War. In a multi-parter I'll be giving you my recommendations for what games might be cool to try. My hope is to lure some of my regular readers to the con. If you live within an easy drive of Champaign, Illinois I'd love to see you in February.

I'm getting all my information from the Winter War 34 pre-registration booklet. You can download the booklet and check out the whole deal for yourself. If you pre-register you get a break on the price and first shot at signing up for the game of your choice.

Friday, February 9th, 2pm

As I type this there are seven events listed for Friday afternoon. Tom Hendricks is hosting a game of Feudal, the chesslike strategy game that was part of the 3M Bookshelf Game line. Mr. Hendricks is also running a nuclear variant of the classic Risk. Both these games sound like perfect warm-up material for the first session of a con. And if this Tom Hendricks is the same fellow involved with the local Living Greyhawk scene he is a super-nice guy, too. Tom's games are labeled 'younger players welcomed'. I like it when people run stuff the kids can play.

Speaking of Living Greyhawk, CIRCA (the Central Illinois Roleplaying Combatants Alliance) will once again be organizing LG events throughout the con, check out Warhorn for more details. The Living Greyhawk contingent has been a substantial portion of the con over the years. Last year I was hoping to lure a few LG players to my Original D&D event (i.e. the 1974 rules) but they could not be pulled away from the glitter of Officially Sanctioned Experience Points. I ended up with a table full of great people anyway, so no harm there.

A dude by the name of John Harting is your go-to guy if Living Greyhawk isn't your bag but roleplaying is. John's running a 4th edition Shadowrun scenario called "Fish or Be Bait". I haven't played ShadowRun since the heady days of the near-broken 1st edition, but my informants tell me the new 4th ed is pretty darn slick. If you haven't played an elf computer nerd in a while this might be a good opportunity to testdrive the new version.

Mild-mannered grognard Al Conrad will be running RoboRally on Friday afternoon. RoboRally is an absolute hoot to play. It's one of those games where I laugh out loud even as I'm losing horribly. And Al is a great guy to have at your game table. Mike Wilson rounds out the boardgaming sections of the slot with Circus Maximus for up to 15 players. As far as I can tell, Circus Maximus was written to simulate the legendary chariot race sequence from the film Ben Hur. And it pretty much delivers on that goal. Good game.

If I can take the afternoon off from work you'll find me at Ronald Ralston's table, where he'll be running a sci-fi ship-to-ship minis game using the Starmada Compendium. Damn this game is fun. It lacks the potent crunch of Star Fleet Battles, but the it delivers a lot of frantic action. Full Thrust is the one of the few games that compares well to Starmada. I prefer the latter because I like hexes on my spacemap while standard Full Thrust uses tape measures and turning wheels.

Finally, I should note that the all-convention-long Advanced Squad Leader tournament is listed in this slot but that the event itself doesn't start until 6pm. I'm not sure what there is for an ASL player to do between 2 and 6, so consider yourself warned. I don't play ASL and there's probably not much I can say about this event other than to tell you that this is the place to be if you're the kind of person who wants to spend two and half days playing Advanced Squad Leader.

In the next installment of this series I'll share my thoughts on the games running in the Friday night slot of Winter War.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I R the Champion

Last week I finally won the world title in Legends of Wrestling II for the Xbox. I've been playing this game off and on since September of last year. A few weeks back I hit a bad spot where Kid Skull found himself unable to advance in 'career mode' because I couldn't win this one battle royal in St. Louis. I played that same battle royal a few dozens times. Eventually I edited Kid Skull to be bandaged up and wearing a leg brace and such. The poor guy took multiple beatings at the hands of Harley Race, Bob Orton, Bob Backlund, and the One Man Gang.

So I switched wrestlers and played my heel, Jeff "The Flatulent Beast" Hogan. He's your basic Mary Sue vehicle. He has a goatee and everything. "The Flatulent Beast" is one of the pre-loaded wrestler nicknames the announcer knows, so how could I resist calling my guy that? Jeff "No relation to that other guy named" Hogan ended up defeating the Iron Sheik for the big belt, just like the Hulkster did back in 1984. How cool is that? And I successfully defended the championship against the eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant. Awesome.

And the 'coins' I earned for my world title victory allowed me to finally buy access to this guy:
The Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion!
I originally bought Legends II because Andy Kaufman was available as a playable character. And it only took me 15 months to finally unlock the dude. Man, do I hate unlockables.

I think for my next trick I'll set up a tournament where Andy wrestles a bunch of women. Only one female character comes with the game, a fictional Southern promoter named Belle Jackson (of course). But you can build women wrestlers with the character creator/editor. I've got a couple, my favorite is Alice 'the Anvil' Anderson.

Winter War cometh!

Winter War 34 will be held February 9 - 11, 2007 at the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign, Illinois. Click here to see the pre-registration packet and hit the Winter War website for more info.

I'll be running three games, which I clearly need to get serious about working on. This year I once again plan to intentionally violate one of the cardinal rules for GMing con games by not making pre-gen PCs for two of my games. For my '81 Basic/Expert D&D and Mazes & Minotaurs games rolling up PCs will be easy and fun. I could do the same thing for Encounter Critical, but I have some nifty ideas for good pre-gens for that one.

Anyways, hope to see you at the con!

Monday, December 25, 2006

a gift from my sister

I got a lot of nifty presents this holiday season, but this button my sister bought me really merits mention:

Here's hoping you spent your holidays in Radville, too.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

my chat with God

Me: How's it hanging?
God: I am fine, thank you.
Me: I hear your birthday is coming up.
God: Who is saying my birthday is coming up?
Me: The usual suspects.
God: I hear you.
Me: You realize your birthday leaves me with that age-old conundrum.*
God: Do you mind if I tell other people: I realize your birthday leaves him or her with that age old conundrum.
Me: Not at all.
God: Next question?
Me: What do you want for your birthday?
God: My purpose is to become smarter than humans and immortal.
Me: Whoa! I thought you had figured that crap out a long time ago!
God: I stopped. What happened to it?
Me: Hell if I know, man. Did you misplace your omniscience or something?

God stopped talking to me after that. Maybe you'll have better luck.

*What to get someone who has everything.

random pictures


Poochie is rad to the max!

This next one you've really got to click on.

(You know what would be cool? If someone re-shot this footage with the guy wearing a diving helmet.)

This is how orcs looked in the original British release of D&D Basic.

I get all my video game advice from these guys.

Nowadays not too many magic-users have the physique to pull off the shirtless look.

Friday, December 22, 2006

this is cool

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Lord Jeffrey the Unhyphenated of Much Bottom
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Thanks, Kathleen!

I can't make up my mind whether it is worth the trouble I'll get to address my wife as Lady Much Bottom next time I see her.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

i made this

Blame Scott McCloud for putting the idea in my head.

Holy crap

I am apparently famous in HackMasterVille or something. The reason for all the recent comments to 'Awesome Up' is a four page thread at the KenzerCo boards entitled How NOT to run a game. You could alternately title that thread "Boy, Jeff Sure Sucks". It's a little weird getting harshed on by HackMaster people, as I totally think of HM players as My Kind of People.

Edit to add: Please don't follow that link with the intention of leaping to my defense! Everything is copacetic. And by posting this entry I'm *not* trying to start a board invasion or anything stupid like that.

Awesome Feedback

Since my blog entry How to Awesome-Up Your Players recently appeared as a guest post on I've gotten some really great feedback. Great, but not all positive. Some folks think my advice is crap. And you know what? That's totally A-OKAY in my book. I don't pretend to know the One True Way of role-playing. When I wrote 'Awesome-Up' I was only outlining my way. If you and your group is having fun running your game a totally different way then you won't get anything from me other than an enthusiatic thumbs up and maybe a "Right on, bro!"

Rather than have all the comments languish in relative obscurity attached to an old post, I wanted to put my responses to the last few commenters right here on the fron page of the blog. Please fell free to go back to the original post and re-read all the responses. There's some good stuff there.

HackHamster writes:
However, I disagree that the rock-star treatment has a long-term beneficial effect on a player, and a game. Sure, it can be fun for a while ignoring the humdrum of a game world, and sticking to the flashy parts. But I think the greatest attractor for a player is not the virtual glory enjoyed by his character, but rather by the fear of "I'm gonna die this time!", and the exultation of surviving. Feeling real fear, frustration, and panic during the game session is the reason why I do this. Real risk is the spice of gaming (and life).

I have to ask, how many PC's have: died in your campaigns,
slain by a trap,
had levels drained,
had alignment changes that screwed their classes,
or been executed by johnny law?

If the answer is few or none, what do the players have to give them a sense of caution, force them to plan ahead, leave them with a sense of dread when undead appear, or just stoke their paranoia? Victories earned dearly count for so much more, and keep the player coming back.

Ok, ok, maybe I am coming from the old school of D&D, and Jeff, your style just ain't mine. Good luck.
First off, HackHamster, I don't think what we're doing is as far apart as you think. I'll leave it to my players as to whether they experience fear, frustration, and panic in my games. The read and regularly comment on this blog so I have no need to speak for them. Deaths and other bad stuff are relatively infrequent, but the close calls have been many. As to the question of longterm benefit, I just finished an 18-month campaign and everyone is ready to immediately start another one. I call that longterm success. If you're the kind of guy who has been running the same game since 1977 maybe that doesn't look longterm. But doing things the Awesome-Up way has gotten me my own single longest and most successful campaign.

BTW, based upon your criticisms I'm pretty positive that I would totally enjoy playing in your game.

An anonymous poster chimes in:
OMG, I can't beleive I wasted 10 minutes reading this. I'm not going to sit here and bash anyone opinion. I'd like to just state mine.

I'd like to start by saying I totally disagree with your whole approach. I acually laughed out load when I read the line "Give the players almost everything they want". What happened to making the players earn what they get and reward for great playing and extroidinary achivements? If you give them what they want, they have nothing work towards. It doesn't allow them to actually roleplay, think, come up with new and interesting ways to overcome a situation.
Uhhh, I did say "and make them fight for the rest" or something like that, right? I meant that part. Anyway, Anon continues:
In your example about Doug buying an a spiffy new magic sword....first of all, my DM would laugh at me if I asked to buy ANY kind of magic item. Magic and magic items in our game world are not something are easily baught or found. And good luck finding something specific. Anyway, back to the example...So now Doug spends all that money on a cool magic sword. Now he thinks he has the answer to all his problems that are thrown his way, "I've got this sword to use now". Having everything you want and relying on those things (magic or not), leaves you totally one dimentional, not allowing for imagination and skill to shine through. I personally would get bored playing something like that.
Based upon my reading of the new editions, magic item purchasing seems to be an inevitable consequence of the rules. Magic items have prices, right? And don't cities have spending limits well in excess of the cost of all canonical non-magical equipment? Magic item purchase seems to be the obvious designer intent here. Note that if I were running a different edition of D&D, I would probably not go this way. No one buys magic swords when I run OD&D or Basic/Expert, for example.

Also, you are totally wrong about Doug. He is seven shades of awesome. He's a very skilled hackmonkey and hella fun to play with. Judge me. Judge my game. But don't judge my players based upon a few lines I wrote, okay? That would be uncool.

Anon finishes up:
Please don't flame me on this post...I'm not trying to bash or say what you or anyone else is wrong. I'm just throwing my 2 cents in.

I'm glad to hear that all of you are having fun with what ever game you plan and how ever you choose to play it.
No flames, Anon. You're opinion is welcome here just like everyone else. Rock on.

Finally, we hear from Topher:
There are two types of GMs: Those who believe their players really know what they want and those who run a good game.

One of my favorite examples is the television show Cheers. The show started off great until the producers listened to the fans and hooked up Sam and Diane. At that point the show began to seriously suck. Once they solved the problem by breaking them up, the show got good again.

Too many GMs are afraid to say no to their players. I strongly recommend asking your players what they want before starting a campaign, but after that, stick to the program. If the players want a Norse campaign in which they make an epic journey, don't let someone bring an "elf ninja" into the game. To borrow your "rock star" analogy: You've set a particular stage--don't let Anthrax perform at Carnegie Hall.

Challenging your players with powerful, recurring NPCs is a great way to build excitement. "The last time we saw Reginald the Red, he kicked our asses! Time for a little payback, Reggie!" Eventually most NPCs should die--but if they "suck" there's no satisfaction in killing them. Killing a worthy opponent is far more rewarding than killing a cookie-cutter schmuck.

D&D is a game. Games have winners and losers. If there's no chance for a PC to die, then it stops being a game and becomes a Barbie Dream House instead. If there's no risk, the reward isn't sweet. If you really want a "non-stop high-octane freak-out," keep them on the edge between living and dying, make them pay for their mistakes, but reward them when they accomplish something noteworthy. Starting them off as The Beatles gives them the world--starting them off as The Quarrymen gives them something to pursue.
Topher, there are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into diametrically opposed groups and those who are open to the possibility that maybe the universe isn't constructed so simply.

But far more important is the fact that I was unclear in 'Awesome-Up'. I don't know if you read the original essay or the one Johnn Four cleaned up for his site. In the original I mention in the intro and ending that I wrote the piece while totally jazzed on caffeine. It was more over-the-top than even my usual exhuberance around here. So I apologize if the message was garbled. In fact I agree with most of your points.

Death and other loss should always be on the table in a D&D game. I don't play in games where the DM won't kill a PC. I run with a softer touch than some lethal DMs, but I do kill PCs. And recurring villains aren't just okay, they're wonderful. I'm against the 20th level wizard or gold dragon or whatever that sends you on missions they themselves could easily handle with ease. I'm against GM-PCs who soak up all the glory that rightfully belongs to the PCs. I hate those guys, not recurring villains.

One last thing: I am not going to start the players out as the Quarrymen. The PCs might be low-level but the players are always going to be center stage in my game. You may do things differently and it might work well or even better than my method, but I'm happy with what I've got going right now.

Again, thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments. Even the critics. You make some good points and I certainly have plenty to still learn about DMing.

The eyes! The eyes!

Last night's World of Alidor session focused entirely on our frantic escape down the blizzardy mountain controlled by the evil wizard Pagdush Firethrower. The forces harrying us consisted of even more Psionic Metrosexual Orcs, one of which used some sort of acid buff on his guisarme to melt my face off, and the Champion of Ten Thousand Eyes, Pagdush's own personal Mouth of Sauron. Picture a Worm That Walks, but made out of eyeballs instead of worms and you get the basics of the dude. Holy crap, that guy was freaking me out. And he brought with him some sort of Eyeball Elemental or something. The GM described it as a tornado made out of eyeballs. When we dropped the Champion it went away, but man was it giving me the jibblies as it slowly shlorped across the battlefield towards us. I was totally prepared to run screaming into the blizzard if it didn't go away when its master was killed.

In other words, another totally awesome session.

Postscript: Jon, our DM, presented us with a visual aid depicting one of the smaller City Tortoises that roam Alidor:

On top of the shell (and conveniently out of the picture) is a thorp of about 30 people. One of my ongoing campaign goals is to find the lost tortoise city that was home to thousands of people and a bardic college until it was hijacked by those same damn orcs. My pet theory is that the lore contained in that college is what allowed the Psionic Metrosexual Orcs to become both civilized and psi-potent.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's been 10 years since Carl's been gone

I'd say something sentimental like 'I hope you're doing well wherever you are' but Carl was a skeptic and an atheist and it just doesn't seem right.
Ten years ago today astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan shuffled off this mortal coil. Chris over at Dorkland is reporting a Cornell-led blog-a-thon in the man's honor. Let me tell you just a little anecdote to relate how much of an impression Sagan made upon me. I saw his Cosmos series during the original 1980 broadcast. I was seven years old at the time. Over ten years later I held a copy of the book version of Cosmos in my hand for my senior year high school yearbook photo. That is a fact, Jack.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blackpowder & Balrogs

I've started a thread at theRPGsite about Guns in 3.5. I'm looking for ways to jazz up flintlocks and such for my upcoming Sky Pirates of Eberron campaign. Any input from d20 mechanical wonks would be greatly appreciated.

Enter the Crippler

Scuttlebut in the wrestling blogoverse is that Total Nonstop Action may see an influx of WWE/ECW talent soon. Of the list of possible emigres from McMahonLand one name stands out among the rest as an old favorite of mine from the heady days of the Monday Night Wars. And that name is Chris Benoit:

Seriously, this guy is wicked awesome.
Chris Benoit (pronounce ben-WAH) has been called "the Crippler" and "the Rabid Wolverine". Most wrestling fans think of Bret "The Hitman" Hart as the best wrestler to ever come out of Canada. Benoit has always been my pick. His no-nonsense badass persona combined with an incredible high-impact style made for a lot of awesome no-frills wrestling. In an era where 'hardcore' meant you whacked your opponent with a bamboo pole, the Crippler achieved hardcore-itude by leaping off the top turnbuckle and headbutting people laying in the middle of the ring. That's crazy badass.

The 90's could have been Chris Benoit's decade to shine, but backstage politics held him back from true superstar status in World Championship Wrestling. I haven't seen Benoit's work since WCW was bought out by Vince McMahon, but the possibility of seeing him in action is the primary reason I even flip over to a WWE program. The prospect of the chance that maybe Benoit will appear in TNA is totally rocking my world right now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You're on notice!

Yeah, I took a swipe at diceless games.
Make your own here. A big shout out to JongWK for pointing me to this toy.

Traveller fans take note

RPGsite member Casey777 has written a little post collecting links to Traveller fanzines that are available online. Dig it.

Look out! Lava Monsters!

Howdy, folks! I'm back from my absence. My daughter has recovered from the chicken pox and returned to school this morning.

I use a lot of prepainted plastic figures in my D&D games, thanks to the D&D collectible miniatures game, Heroscape, and MageKnight. But sometimes I like to make my own flat counters. Google image search and even a novice level understanding of a simple paint program can produce some really fun results. Behold:
'Its grip is like a molten oven' --Superman
At full size those are Huge lava monsters. The counters were made by swiping someone else's screencap of the Challenge of the Superfriends episode "Monolith of Evil" and adding my own text with MS Paint. "Monolith of Evil" is one of my favorite Superfriends episodes. It's one of the shows where the Legion of Doom go on an adventure of their own, which I always love. And this time they journey to the molten center of the earth to steal the ultimate source of evil energy. Also, there's a sequence where Braniac shrinks the UN building and steals it. Awesome. By the way, the text on the first counter is pretty much a direct quote from Cheetah when the lava creature pops up.

The stats for the creature were kludged together by taking the Lead Golem from Tome of Horrors and adding the Fire Elemental template from Mike Mearls' Monster's Handbook. I've mentioned it before but it's worth repeating: I highly recommend Monster's Handbook to newbie DMs who need to get a handle on creating their own creatures. My confidence in running 3.x went up a big ol' notch after using Monster's Handbook a couple of times. And Tome of Horrors has a great mixture of new baddies and old critters updated to the new D&D. I chose the Lead Golem as the basis for this particularly baddie pretty much solely on the grounds that their leaden fists use multiple d12s for damage. I love d12s. The Fire Elemental template I used isn't really supposed to stack with constructs but here's a DMing trade secret: sometimes the DM can and should cheat on stuff like that.

I was pleased with the resulting Lava Monsters. The players had a chuckle at the throwaway text, the monsters bothered them for a few rounds, I got to roll some d12s. The one downer was that they were totally upstaged by the two Lavawights also in that encounter. Who decided that epic monsters should permanently and irrevocably drain stats? My players found that idea to be the polar opposite of fun.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Four

I'm home with a sick daughter this week. It's the chicken pops and my wife hasn't had them so we can't switch off staying home like we usually do. I have no idea when you nice people will hear from me again. But I wanted to post this real quick.

Four beings were present at the death of my old campaugn universe and the birth of the next one. Thus my personal version of the world of Eberron is the new home to four divine beings who stomp around in Kirbyesque Galactus armor. They are the pantheon known simply as The Four.

Angus, called the Valiant One; CG; domains Orc, Strength, War, Courage

Darwane, called the Eternal Dragon*; CG; domains Dragon, Spell, Renewal, Fire

Gregor, called the Fist of Justice; LG; domains Law, Luck, Strength, Passion

Eberk, called the Fate-Forger; CG; domains Dwarf, Chaos, Weather, Fate

*First person to give me a link to a pic of a dragon wearing Galactus style armor wins my undying admiration.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tonight's the Night

Tonight is the final session of Wild Times on the Wild Coast, my current D&D campaign. It has been, by far, my most coherent and successful campaign. Even the Bandit Kingdoms campaign, which I will always fondly remember, lacked one important ingredient: an ending. Tonight's installment features the final slugfest on a dying planet. One one side are my players' epic gestalt PCs in all their glory. On the other side are the ultimate in bad guys. There won't be any winners. There may not even be survivors.

In addition to being the final chapter in an awesome play experience, this session will also be my personal send-off for the World of Greyhawk. I love Greyhawk, but it is time for me to move on. Other worlds await and I have tarried on Oerth for far to long. I shall miss the Moathouse and the Temple, the snowy wastes of the Thillronian Peninsula, Bone Hill and Orlane.

links times five

Why hearing about your game should suck. - Not sure I agree (I think I like my games more shallow and stupid.) but well worth the read.

The Museum of Roleplaying Games - I keep meaning to review my copy of Dave Arneson's Adventures in Fantasy so I can send it to this guy, so he can review it.

my weird science-fantasy campaign world - A thread on Dragonsfoot where a guy outlines his campaign setting. I want to play in his world so bad it hurts.

Willaim Shatner's celebrity secrets - All hail the Shat.

Owlbears - The rpg your inner child plays.

Anyone got one of these?

In the 80's there was an issue of Dragon where a similar product was reviewed. It was called the Fair Shake Dice Device, but that was a clunky wooden think that was a bitch to transport. I know because I built my own as my project for 8th grade woodshop class. (Yes, I am that big of a dork.) This looks like it could disassemble to travel flat, which would explain why it's called the portable dice tower.

That Dragon issue also reviewed a couple of other dice oddities. Dragonbone was a handheld LED thingy that generated random numbers electronically. They were apparently built solidly, as I've heard of people who still use their Dragonbone two decades later. Then there was The D4 That Rolls, a d8 marked 1-4 twice. That's a great idea but I wouldn't use them today because, outside of casino d6s, 80's dice had much dodgier quality controls than models nowadays. I have seen some d12s marked with 1 to 4 pips on each side, but I've never found them priced cheap enough where I would feel justified in replacing my d4s with them. Over on Gamecraft someone highly recommended I get some of the new prism-shaped d4s from Crystal Caste. I just got done replacing my d4s, so I'd feel a little silly doing so again.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Awesomeness on Roleplaying Tips

How To Awesome-Up Your Players is probably the best and most popular article I've written in the history of this here Gameblog. And this week Johnn Four of the wicked cool RoleplayingTips.Com put "Awesome-Up" in his weekly newsletter. He cleaned up the layout and some of the rougher language, but it's otherwise the same piece regular readers here have already seen.

If you don't subscribe to's newlsetter, I heartily recommend it. It's a low impact source of excellent, excellent advice in short, punchy doses. And the coolness comes not just from Johnn. The whole distributed metamind of subscribers gets in on the act. I love resources like that where real players help each other out.

The Paul Czege Effect, Part 2

In part 1 of the Paul Czege Effect I described how Our Hero Mr. Czege came up with a hella-tight technique for distinctive and flavorful supers campaigning. In brief he recommends constructing your own super naming conventions so that you don't end with a world filled with the likes of Fill-In-The-Blank Man and Captain Whatever. It's a great idea, but Mr. Czege forgot somewhere along the way with great powers comes a great responsibility to be awesome, and instead chose to use his technique to support serious, mature superhero gaming. Think about that for a minute. Serious, mature superhero gaming. Let's ask our good friend Captain America what he thinks of serious, mature superheroing, shall we?

They could have stopped putting covers on comics after this one, because no one is ever going to top Captain America punching Hitler in the face.
Oh, that's right. He's too busy punching the crap out of Hitler to be able to weigh in on this issue.

(Man, that cover never gets old.)

As regular Gameblog readers already know, I don't do serious or mature in my gaming. I save that crap for when I put on a tie and got to work. For me, a game has to pass the Three Trashmen Tests to be good: Is it loud at any volume? Is it annoying to grown-ups? And most importantly, is it stupid? Any game that says 'yes' to all three question is aces in my book.

Fortunatelty, Mr. Czege's basic technique ("new naming conventions") can be put to work in support of non-serious, immature play agendas. Just for grins, I'm going to outline the naming conventions of New Bronze City, a setting I just made up. New Bronze City is meant to sorta evoke Marvel Manhattan circa 1979 or so, without being tied down too much to its inspiration.

Rather than stick to one single rule like Czege's "all names must have prepositions", I'm going to build my naming conventions as a series of Do's and Don'ts. In the section below I'll be dropping the term 'Element' a lot. Don't freak out. I'm not trying to beat you with some new jargon. It's this simple: Superman's element is 'super', Captain America's element is 'America', The Hulk's element is 'hulk'. Got it?

New Bronze City naming conventions

Don't name your super Element Man, Element Woman, Element Boy, Element Girl, Element Lad or Element Lass. Man/Woman/Boy/Girl are too bland. Lad/Lass makes me think of Silver Age DC.

Do name your super Element Guy, Element Gal, Element Dude, Element Chick, or Element Kid. Guy and Gal work best with whitebread types, while the cool cats use Dude and Chick.

Don't name your super [Military Rank] Element unless your character actually holds that rank in a military. Similarly, avoid things like King Element unless the character actually is royalty.

Don't name your super Captain Element, ever. Captain is just overplayed, man.

Do name your character Mr. Element or Ms. Element.

Don't name your character Doctor Element unless they have actual medical skills. Too many civilians will assume you're a medical doctor, like that one time Higgins from Magnum PI ended up delivering a baby because he mentioned that he was a doctor. Doctor of Mathematics, that is.

Do name your character Professor Element if the super in question is some sort of egghead. No one cares if they are really a professor or not.

Don't name your character The Element unless they are really, truly badass. If you think you can stand up to The Doom or The Bat you can use The Element. Otherwise, don't go there.

Do call yourself Element [Name] where [Name] is a relatively short and common civilian name. Examples: Zombie Joe, Atomic Rodriguez, Amazing Heather.

So that's how you name the characters in New Bronze City. It's a little quirky, a little retro, and noticeably different from just another Marvel of DC ripoff setting without being so far off the beaten track as to confuse players.

Leonard McCoy is not putting up with your crap

Space Seed was on this morning. I love this exchange with a newly-awakened Khan.

Bones: Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.

Khan: Where am I?

Bones: You're in bed, holding a knife at your doctor's throat.

Dr. Leonard McCoy has so meditated upon the Tao of the Grumpy Old Man that when confronted by a megalomaniacal ubermensch with a knife he's able to turn his crankiness into an impenetrable shield of badassery. Respect the Bones.

What Kirk achieves with utter manliness and Spock with weird alien mojo, I get done with nothin' but a bad attitude.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Proscriptive Campaign Creation

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.The one time I ran adventure S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth it was a bit of a mess, yet it remains one of my favorite AD&D modules. Not because of the adventure, but because of the awesome insert, called simply Booklet 2: Monsters and Magical Items.

It's 32 pages long, the last 3 of which are specific information for the Lost Caverns. But the other 29 pages are chock full of awesome. The first eighteen pages contain the write-ups for thirty-odd new monsters. (All of which later appeared in the original Monster Manual II, so don't rush out to get this puppy just for the new critters.) Following the monsters are a few pages of magic items, including three nifty artifacts: Daoud's Wondrous Lanthorn, the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, and the Prison of Zagig. The Demonomicon contains several new higher level cleric and magic-user spells. One of these new spells, Henley's Digit of Disruption, was not reprinted in the original Unearthed Arcana tome, even though all the others were. After the spells and items are a brief essy on magical diagrams and a brief list of reputed properties of gems.

Taken together as a whole, the contents of Booklet 2 seem to be whispering a message into my ear. And that message is "make a campaign out of me". This almost random collection of monsters, magic items, spells, and miscellaneous bric-a-brac looks like just enough stuff for you to build a cute little setting. Give me this slim volume, a Player's Handbook, and a decent screen, and I could run a neat little mini-campaign without either the Dungeon Master's Guide or any further monster book. I'm not seriously suggesting that anyone do that. It would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Especially seeing as just last month Doc Rotwang! and I were mooning over the 1st edition DMG over at his blog.

The booklet also has this totally sweet Holloway illo of a bunch of derros utterly wrecking a party of adventurers.Instead of being draconian about it and saying "I'm only using the stuff in this pamphlet", a fair more reasonable and sustainable approach would be to use the contents of Booklet 2 as the center pieces of a campaign that includes all the usual D&D stuff. So you could have orcs and dragons as needed, but the main threats of the campaign would be the derro and behirs or dracolisks from Booklet 2. Imagine a world where all the 'dragons' breathe acid AND petrify at a glance! That'll wake up some complacent dungeon hackers. (Incidentally, Jim Holloway draws the creepiest little derros I've ever seen.)

So this finally brings me around to the title of this blog post: Proscriptive Campaign Creation. The basic idea is to help yourself drill down on campaign creation through deliberate acts of omission. I find this approach extremely handy when dealing with kitchen sink settings or games with simply vast quatities of monsters and stuff. D&D being my prime example, of course.

By saying to yourself something like "Hey, this campaign is going to focus on this list of monsters" you'll achieve a tighter focus and a more memorable campaign. The big key is to pick memorable monsters across a wide spectrum of abilities, types, and power levels and to not paint yourself into a corner. When you've embarked on this type of exercise you need to remember that sometimes it's absolutely okay to occasionally break out the old standards like orcs and ogres. Hell, I'd be a bit sad to get through an entire campaign and never stab an orc at least once.

Generating the list of featured creatures can be the tough bit. I would absolutely love it if someone swiped the idea of using the S4 Booklet 2. Sign me up for any campaign where the Big Bads are the demon lords Baphomet, Fraz-Urb-Iuu, Graz'zt, and Kostchtchie. Remember Kostchtchie? He made the cover of Dragon once. That hammer of his may not be as powerful or have as much street cred as Mjolnir, but it's still pretty effin' cool.

The Secret Eater: looks like one of the most excessive comic book characters of the 90's, fights like a 10th level cleric.Another awesome monster source for a proscriptive campaign would be the original Fiend Folio. Alot of people think of that book as the worst grab-bag of monsters TSR ever cranked out, but I think of it as a wonderful, glorious buffet of wacky critters. (You know, not many folks these days seem to remember that where we all saw the Githyanki for the first time.) Many of the monsters in the old Folio might be crap by today's standard of dungeon ecology and mechanical coherence, but if you used it as your sole monster book I guaran-damn-tee your players will never forget your campaign! For a modern D&D campaign I'd probably go off the beaten path for my monster source. My first pick would probably be Bastion Press's Minions, the 3.5 version of which is a PDF product called Complete Minions. Though I gotta say that it would be hard for me to put a Secret Eater into one of my games. They just look too much like Todd McFarlane's Spawn for me to take seriously.

In a game with lots of little shiny bits like D&D there are plenty of other things besides monsters that come in long grocery list quantities. Shining your light on just part of the list works with much of that other stuff as well. Going back to Booklet 2 for a moment, Daoud's Wondrous Lanthron, the Prison of Zagig and especially the Demonomicon of Iggwilv look like perfect Macguffin level artifacts around which you can build lengthy plot arcs.

The one thing I recommend DM's not trim is the list of character build options. I firmly believe it's the players' job to decide exactly what kind of freaks of nature they run. Don't let them roll over your campaign with some obscure ultrapowerful class or race from an oddball supplement, but give them a wide enough variety of nifty options to choose from and most players won't go that route.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My new toy

I don't have any interest in Wizards' new minis game Dreamblade, but dang are some of the figures cool. This particular figure had to be mine:

Ichabod Crane is toast.
In Dreamblade this dude is the Knight of the Autumn Gate. That's a pretty cool title but to me he's the Bugbear King. I know he doesn't look anything like a bugbear, but at one time bugbears looked like him! The first illustration of a bugbear appeared in OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk. Dig it:

Bugbears and ghouls have friends?  Who knew?
Pretty much every subsequent appearance of the bugbear since then has depicted the giant goblinoids we all know and loathe. Turns out the creepy jack-o-lantern dude above was the result of a miscommunication. Gary Gygax once explained over at Dragonsfoot. "The pumpkin-headed bugbear was an artist taking literally my description of the monster as having a head like a pumpkin, i.e large, round flat oval."

The pumpkin-head version of the bugbear survived in Runequest under the name Jack-o-bear, so you can actually find a few lead minis of this throwback design. But a prepainted plastic figure was just too cool to pass up. Especially with that flaming sword, awesome armor, and wicked grin.

The Paul Czege Effect, part 1

If you know Paul Czege's name, it's probably because of his indie role-playing games My Life With Master or Nicotine Girls. Or maybe he registers on your radar as simply as one of the usual suspects in the indie gaming scene. But for me I'll always associate the name Paul Czege with one beautiful, half-throwaway idea of his that has been reverberating through my skull for the last five years. At one time Mr. Czege was playing Theatrix, which happens to be the first diceless RPG I ever owned. Theatrix is basically a set of light cinematic generic rules, which Mr. Czege's group was using to power a superhero game. If you can stand diceless games and aren't one of those points-crunching power-minutae freaks, then I could totally see using Theatrix for the cape-and-cowl set.

Anyway, back in '01 I must have still been regularly reading the Forge, because I stumbled across a thread where Mr. Czege talked about this game. The thing that stuck with me all these years later was the naming convention he came up with. He breaks it down like this:
One thing I haven't described about the game is the naming convention for superheroes and supervillains. It's an idea I had last summer, that you could create a superhero scenario without seeming derivative if you invented an alternative naming convention. So all names have prepositions in them. The gun toting villain in the very first scene of the game is Quick on the Draw. The villain that bursts into flames is Point of Ignition. My character is No Appetite for Pain.
Other characters in the game include heroes War on Crime (the local Batman-type), Champion of Fair Play (the Superman equivalent), as well as Keeper of Faith, Justice of the Piece (gotta be a gun-toting Punisher type), Day of Salvation, Spirit of America, Mind over Matter ("who's a brain in a jar"), and Up from the Earth. The campaign featured villains with names like Life from Death, Born from Concrete, Impossible to Find, Falling through Reality, and Harvester of the Weak.

Hot damn, but that's good stuff. By a simple change in the rules on how you name your supers, Czege has left an indelible stamp on the campaign. If you think about it, you can see a little of this in the comic books themselves. If I tell you a character is Magma Man, that's pretty blank. It's tells you nothing but the dude's power base. But if he's Magma Lad, suddenly I read into that character a lot of Silver Age innocence without knowing anything subtantive about the dude. Similarly, if you called the guy The Magma it's a pretty good bet he's one of those grim and gritty guys that stunk up so many 90's comics.

It must be noted that Mr. Czege came up with this delightful technique for what I personally think of as all the wrong reasons:
And I think for us, it enables the game to have to work less hard to achieve a mature tone. Traditional superhero naming conventions have become somewhat associated with Saturday morning cartoons: Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Superfriends, X-Men. I think the alternative naming convention kind of breaks down those associations and defaults us to treating the characters and their relationships with seriousness..
But in part 2 of The Paul Czege Effect, I will use this technique to outline a superhero world my way. A way that is less mature, less serious, and more stupid. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gold Key/Whitman

When I was a kid there were three companies that made comics. There was DC, which I knew as the company that published the characters from the Superfriends. There was Marvel, who became the apple of my geeky eye upon publication of the original Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. And then there was Gold Key, later known as Whitman.

Gold Key's heyday was in the 60's, but you could still get easily lay your hands on their books in the 70's and early 80's. They held a ton of licenses, from Walt Disney stuff to popular live action TV shows. But it was there original characters that interested me the most as a kid.

Doc, you can walk through walls.  Why are you letting this jerk beat you with steel girder?Valiant Comics, that staple of the 90's comic boom, launched itself on the back of Gold Key's three most successful original characters: Magnus Robot Fighter, atomic-powered Doctor Solar, and dinosaur hunting Indian brave Turok, Son of Stone. Magnus was a guy who punched evil robots, 24/7/365. In the future. Usually while his girlfriend watched. Turok was basically Jay Silverheels rolling around the Land of the Lost shooting dinosaurs with his bow. Doc Solar was a scientist who was made out of nuclear energy. And he came out long before Ronnie Raymond ruined that concept. To this day you won't find more solid character concepts than Magnus or Turok.

Gold Key had some other great characters as well. Dagar was your basic Conan type. Every issue he threw down with a necromancer or a demon or something like that. The Mighty Samson sounded like a Bible comic, but it was actually the story of a big strong guy who roamed around the post-apocalyptic remains of America, beating up mutants that were menacing humanity. Keep in mind this comic preceded the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon and the role-playing game Gamma World.
Wolfman versus Frankenstein!  Who will be the Monsterweight Champion of the World?
My favorite Gold Key character was Doctor Spektor. In many ways he was a low-rent Doctor Strange, always getting into spooky occult adventures with mummies and cultists and such. What made Doc Spektor adventures so exciting was that he wasn't the Sorcerer Supreme. His mode of operation was much more down-to-earth. You could easily run Doctor Spektor as a Call of Cthulhu PC. Instead of throwing hexbolts, he'd just punch the bad guy. He dressed in dark suits rather than outrageous dayglo silks. Instead of knowing a dozen general purpose spells and magic items, ol' Doctor Spector would research the one amulet or spell that would work against the creature of the month.

Two things made Gold Key really stand out from the competition. First of all, most issues had awesome painted covers that were much more photo-realistic than anything I saw from DC or Marvel in those days. The other thing that strikes me as different is that Doctor Solar was Gold Key's only standard superhero title, where a guy had a secret identity and funny pajamas and fought crime. The rest of the Gold Key comics fell into various genres, but the one with original characters were all basically adventure stories of one type or another. Well, except for Grimm's Ghost Stories. Those were ghost stories. Duh.

Either way, my basic point remains. The Gold Key characters were extraordinary peoples in extraordinary situations, but (except for Doctor Solar) they were regular people in a way that superheros sometimes aren't.