Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Memo To the Meme-Makers of 'Merica: Please Think Before You Do It

We interrupt the blasted hellscape of 2020 to re-arrange some deck chairs on the Titanic. This will not make anything better, and it won't solve any problems. All I know is this: I get disproportionately incensed at the little things, because I really can't do much about the big things. There's currently a surplus of bile in my stomach from all that's going on, and shit like this doesn't help. 

What am I going on about this time? I'll tell you what. 

It's that "Pop Culture Pick-Your-Car" Meme.

If you have a nerdy friend, you've probably seen it scroll by on your Facebook feed. If you know only nerds, then you've likely seen it a dozen times. It's this damn thing, right here:

See it yet? I'll give you a big hint: Every single one of these cars is a car except one. No, it's not the Hearse. It's not the panel van.

It's the mother-fucking time machine. 

Why this irritates me, I don't know. But if the point of the meme is to pick a fun cool car, then the whole list has to be cars. We're allowing for Ghostbusting, for pop up machine guns, and for AI robots in the hood. But it's all still cars. The Delorean from Back to the Future is a time machine that can fly. Thus making the rest of the list superfluous. 

"But Mark! It's still a car! God, you're so pedantic!" 

You know what else is a car? The 1966 Batmobile. Surely it's got a place on the list, yes? Or what about the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit? Steve McQueen's Mustang from Bullitt? The British Flag Jaguar from Austin Powers? The Bluesmobile!? I'd argue that any of those cars, or a dozen others you could come up with would, in fact, be a 100% better fit on this list than the TIME MACHINE.

I know, I know. This is supposed to be harmless fun. A distraction. A way to check out for two minutes and think about movies and TV shows that made you smile. I can't do that. I just can't. I stare at the list and think, "WHY WOULDN'T I CHOOSE THE TIME MACHINE!?" 

The irony of this is that I think it's a fun idea for a meme. I do. And I like these things, in general, because they are harmless, sometimes spark fun discussions, and make for a pleasant five minute distraction until the real world comes rushing in and we all go back to day drinking. I just want the people who make these things to not...suck at it so badly. It's a good idea, but take a second to think it through, please, for all of us anal-retentive types out there. 

And don't ever think that I'm one of those guys who likes to point out problems but never any solutions. Thirty seconds of Google-Fu found the original source for this meme and what do you know? The Batmobile WAS on it! Along with Herbie the Love Bug, but hey, no one is perfect. 

So I reconfigured a few cars to get the Batmobile on the sheet. The fixed version is here:

Now we can have a more nuanced conversation. And the Batmobile? I Gotta say, it' s not my first choice, here. Street parking in that thing would be a nightmare.  But's it's nice to have been considered!

For those of you who don't like the above list and want to make your own, there's this big-ass poster to cut and paste:

Just promise me you'll keep the Delorean off the list, okay? For me? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Stop Talking About 6th Edition Or I'll Burn This Place to the Ground: A Rant

I am starting to see it more and more, now: despite the fact that there are no stated plans to do this, a small but insistent nattering clutch of Internet pundits and YouTube Personalities are calling out for a 6th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Nate Howe's article on CBR and Professor Dungeon Master on the Dungeon Craft Youtube channel are the most vocal champions, but there are a lot others out there. I'm no Internet influencer or Big Name Personality in the Gaming world, or any other world, really; I'm just a guy with a small following and a 'zine I am working on. But I have to say this, as respectfully as I can, in the hopes that my small cadre of fans might see fit to amply my voice with the following directive: please shut the fuck up about this.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Monty Haul #1 is Alive and Kicking

You can scuttle over to DriveThruRPG right now and pick up a copy here!

Monty Haul #1 is a 'zine dedicated to expanding your options for fantasy table-top role-playing. Issue 1 focuse on magic-users and includes campaign notes on creating magical cities that feel magical, new archetype options for warlocks (the King in Yellow patron), sorcerers (Eldritch Ancestry), and Wizards (the school of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know). 

Two new backgrounds are aslo including, along with a new rule set for dealing with alchemists and apothecaries. A rules light NPC reaction system and a collection of magical pests to plague your mages with rounds out the issue. 48 jam-packed pages in all!

It's a kaleidoscope of usable options, written in a conversational style and grounded in the gaming days of yore. If by "yore" we're talking about the early 1980's, that is. Monty Haul is suitable for discerning DMs and players of the fifth edition of the world's most popular fantasy rpg. 

If you pick up a copy, please let me know what you think. Also, please consider writing a short review on the site. It really does help. Okay, I'm working on issue 2 as we speak! Lots to format. I may not get everything into the issue...what to do, what to do? 

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Problem With All of this Gorgeous Artwork

While working on the Monty Haul ‘Zine Project, I’ve been revisiting the aesthetics and materials of the 1980s gaming scene and I stumbled across something that I think is missing from the current version of the game: scale. Especially where the monsters are concerned. This is all the more galling because D&D has never looked better, but for some reason, the monsters have lost some of their oomph, and I think I know why.

Early D&D, from the blue box to the original AD&D hardbacks, featured illustrations that were, shall we say, varied in both tone and technique. A few of the illustrations in the rules were outright jokes, little more than single panel gags. But the various rulebooks, and later the modules, managed to convey a sense of genuine menace in their depictions of classic D&D monsters that are lacking in today’s game.

I’ll give you an easy example: The umber hulk. Classic monster, right? One of the chinasaurs, allegedly. But either way, a thing that only exists in the hallowed halls of D&D. Here’s what the current version of the umber hulk looks like.

A lovely piece of design work by Cory Trego-Erdner.

Okay. That’s cool and all, but it’s not really hulk-y. And it’s more insect-y, like a mutated praying mantis.Not as chunked out as the original Umber Hulk. Here was our first look at the monster.

The thing about the AD&D Monster Manual was this: all of the artwork was approximately the same size. That means that the dragons have the same real estate on the page as the pixie. That little space. A couple of inches square. And to be honest, from the angle, the umber hulk looks more cute than terrifying. Like a gremlin. The stats said it was large, 8’ tall and 5’ wide, but we really couldn’t picture it.

Then the module The Ghost Tower of Inverness was published. And this was one of the best things about the modules; they almost always featured artwork of a party of adventurers getting the shit kicked out of them by monsters. I cannot stress how useful this was, especially when dealing with things like, well, umber hulks.

Here’s Jeff Dee’s take on the umber hulk.

That fighter? He’s toast. And the umber hulk suddenly looks frightening, and that fighter looks completely out of his depth. Best of all is the scale that he clearly shows. Now you know why it's called an umber hulk and not an umber insect. 

But just in case you aren’t convinced, here’s Erol Otus’ version of the umber hulk encounter.

That’s a three on one fight and it looks to me like someone’s going to bite the dust before that umber hulk is slain. Now that’s a D&D monster. Now I’m interested in sending this against my party and watching them freak out when you show them the picture.

There are many instances where the original art teams got it right. The action scenes give these monsters a context that most of us didn’t have. For a generation of kids, the Monster Manual was the first bestiary we’d ever seen. Dragons, we got. Goblins, no problem. But the owlbear? What the hell was that?

We know now, of course, but back then, it just seemed a little silly. That is, of course, until Jeff Dee (again) showed us what we were really up against.

Side note: This thief is an asshole.

Now whenever I see a fifth edition owlbear, I think, "Nice artwork," and it is. But that's not scary. Not to me. Not like this big-ass-beak, bear-bodied, what-the-hell-man monstrosity scares me. 

And again, I want to say, the artwork in 5e is almost universally incredible. It's technically adroit, with lots of character and excellent design. Maybe the owlbear above isn't my favorite owlbear, but it's not the fault of the artist, Brynn Metheney, who is responsible for some killer work elsewhere in the book. I don't know who is to blame. 

Maybe they think the pop culture zeitgeist has done the heavy lifting for them, i.e. "oh, everyone playing D&D knows about owlbears, so we don't have to define the terms." All I know is, back in the 1980s, I was relying on context clues because there wasn't a place to google "owlbears" and get a treasure trove of information to parse. I was at the mercy of TSR. And sure, some of the early artwork wasn't particularly sophisticated, especially when compared with today's computer-painted graphics, but what it lacked in polish, it made up for in evocative imagery. And when even that failed, there were other illustrations to show you how things might be put into practice in your games. For example, Bill Willingham showed us all how a medusa could get the drop on a couple of characters by hiding her snake hair under a cloak. 

And Dave Trampier showed us why it's not a good idea to try and fight those goofy (and obscure) monsters like the catoblepas. 

Even mundane animals were challenging for a party of adventurers that were foolhardy enough to take them on. 

We, as fledgling DMs, would not have considered herd animals dangerous. Or frogs, or any of the other mega-fauna and seemingly silly things that are crowded into the monster manual and sprinkled throughout the early modules. We needed these illustrations to make sense of this strange new world. Maybe that's not as strong a consideration in 2020, with exponentially more sources to draw inspiration from, but I miss it in the new game, all the same. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Monty Haul Zero Issue now available!

For those of you were on the fence about whether or not to back my recent Kickstarter campaign, you can now take a look at what I was driving at: Monty Haul #0 is now digitally available.

Monty Haul #0 is a Proof-of-Concept issue, full of assorted optional rules, backgrounds for characters, and more! Featuring a new take on familiars, two new cleric domains, a simple and not-so-deadly critical hit system, the Divine Archeologist archetype for rogues, and several new backgrounds including an expanded trio of options for the noble: dilettante, disgraced noble, and knight errant! Also included is a Noble Family House generator to quickly design interesting families to plague your nobles.

It's a cornucopia of usable options, written in a light and conversational style and grounded in the gaming days of yore. If by "yore" we're talking about the early 1980's. Monty Haul is suitable for discerning DMs and players of the fifth edition of the world's most popular fantasy rpg.

You can get it here, on DriveThruRPG's website.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Top 5 Ways to Weather the Global Pandemic

I’m sure we’ve all seen the meme by now, the mock headline that says something along the lines of “Nerds Everywhere Awaken to a World where Sports Are Cancelled and Everyone Stays Inside Playing Games” or something to that effect. Har-de-har-har, Alice.

As a guy who owns and operates one of the very places the media is begging you not to visit, I’m of two minds, here. On one hand, stay at home, yes, do that. On the other hand, um…me and the missus and our dog need to eat, okay?

Suffice to say, I need a few distractions, and I suspect you do, as well. For example, I’m working on my Kickstarter campaign project, Monty Haul, and it’s going as well as can be expected. I’m also playing my first D&D game on Roll20 with Shane Ivey, Chris Spivey, and Megan and Aser Tolentino. If you’re interested in hearing it play out, you can check out Session Zero on the ArcDream website here. We’re playing through one of Shane’s Sword and Sorceries adventures, and so far, it’s very cool.

But what if you don’t have a lot of irons in the fire? It’s easy; just build a fire, and stick some irons in. I’m only sort of kidding. Even if you just do some spring cleaning, like culling old games and sorting dice and organizing shelves, you’ll feel better, more productive, and less inclined to climb the walls, wall crawler. Idle hands, and all that jazz.

Here are my top five suggestions for Getting Your Game On and staying safe. I’m not going to mention Roll20 or playing online; you already know that. Rather, this is about refilling your braincase with stuff to use when all of this Fauxpocalypse stuff blows over and we can all greet the daylight again like squinting morlocks.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Elder Dice: The Color Out of Space dice reviewed!

I have written about Infinite Black's Elder Dice before, and commented here, and I've even used their dice to highlight things like the importance of theme and contrast. With three wildly successful Kickstarters under their belts, and having sold hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dice, their latest release, The Colors out of Space (nicely, if unintentionally timed, I must say), it was their largest, most ambitious, and also their most confusing and chaotic KS campaign to date.

Now that the dice have finally made their way stateside, a great number of fans are posting pics, and taking to social media to express their feelings about their new acquisitions. I am, it seems, no different.

I won't get into the peripheral things that ended up showing up in the box for two reasons: 1. I have real, deep, and tangible buyer's remorse over the amount of money I spent for things I not only don't need but will never use, and 2. The dice are all that really matter at the end of the day. So let's get into this and see what's what.

A Memo To the Meme-Makers of 'Merica: Please Think Before You Do It

We interrupt the blasted hellscape of 2020 to re-arrange some deck chairs on the Titanic . This will not make anything better, and it won...