Saturday, February 20, 2021

Zinequest 3 is upon us! Here Are Some Recommendations!

 Hey, Y'all, I know you're already aware of #Zinequest3 because I've been talking about it non-stop for a few weeks now. Well, Gobsmack! is live and has only a week to go, and it has not funded yet. I know that it's because of the Game of Thrones White Walker Invasion that hit Texas last week, so I'm making a plea for you to check it out and see if it's something you'd be interested in. If you already backed Monty Haul from Zinequest 2 and you liked the content therein, I am confident you're going to dig Gobsmack! as well. Here's the pitch, and the link, in brief:

Gobsmack! is a toolkit to help you re-imagine goblins into an urban setting, right alongside your elves, your dwarfs, and your gnomes as denizens of your grand capital city.  Use them as random NPCs, contacts, rivals, or enemies! Gobsmack! gives you all of the tables, the tools, and the options to create urban goblin NPCs on the fly, with goblin names, goblin jobs, goblin quirks, and goblin motivations, along with plot hooks, story ideas, and suggestions for integrating these funny, ubiquitous little jerks into your urban campaign setting to bedevil, befuddle and delight your players. It's a one-shot zine with artwork by John "Joltin' Johnny" Lucas!

Right now, there are a bunch of young and hungry (metaphorically speaking) content creators and they are doing the same thing as me; creating interesting and original content for rpgs. There's so many, in fact, that you may feel a bit overwhelmed. Not to fear. This is going around right now, and it's pretty brilliant:

But what do you back? Please take a minute and click through to these excellent projects. Any of us would be grateful for even just a buck. It really does help!
The Journal of Fantastic Linguistics - A system neutral Zine presenting a variety of tools, inspirations, and guides for Linguistics and language related content in RPGs. Everything from learning how Dragonborn speak, to how slang and Class-specific jargon can work, to monsters that affect language - all of these and more can be found in the Zine. It’s completely layman friendly, so you can pick up an issue, read an article, and apply what you learned in your games. 

In the Light of a Faded World - a rules-light post-apocalyptic setting about small animals exploring spaces reclaimed by nature in a future where humankind has gone extinct. Illustrated by Amanda Lee Franck (Vampire Cruise), with prose by Zedeck Siew (A Thousand Thousand Islands). (notes: the included rules are an adaptation of Nate Treme’s In the Light of a Ghost Star, with a splash of Tunnel Goons; the setting at your table is a future version of wherever you live in the world.

Cephalopod: Ocean Home - A short Form RPG about escape, alien landscapes and risk. It's also a game about things being funny as hell and having no particular reason behind them beyond that. The aim of the game is to make it to the ocean and be free. The players take the role of different species of Cephalopods who are trapped against their will and need to escape. The game ends when the cephalopods either escape the world they find themselves in or die trying.
Hinterland: Peoples and Perils is a system neutral resource for generating locations and encounters for wilderness exploration in fantasy roleplaying games. Each of the 19 encounter and location types is made up of two or three random tables that combine to create a hundred or more unique and flavorful possibilities! Many of them link to other entries, creating a network of people and places across the landscape. All of them leave gaps for you to fill in with your own interpretations and ideas.

Raccoon Sky Pirates is a story-focused, GM-less tabletop RPG for 3 to 6 players that takes about three hours to play. You and your friends play raccoons in a flying ship made of junkyard scraps. Together, you do your best to keep it together so you can fly to the suburbs, loot a house of all the high-end trash you can carry, and escape into the night. If possible, you want to avoid waking the human residents, evade the Neighborhood Watch, and try to keep your ship from exploding. Flying a ship takes coordination and discipline. Unfortunately, you’re a bunch of raccoons.

Errant is a fantasy RPG in the classic style, where you play ne’er-do-wells in search of treasure by any means you can. The game focuses on providing a robust suite of procedures aimed at making gameplay experiences like exploration, downtime activities, and domain management simple, meaningful, and fun.

The Lights of Winthrop Manor is an immersive level-0, self-contained adventure experience for 5e. Inside you'll find everything you need to thoroughly terrorize your party and give your players a night that they'll not soon forget.

This zine kicks off our new setting while, at the same time, acting as an ideal 1-shot for those groups interested in delving into the darker elements of fantasy. More reminiscent of Call of Cthulhu than typical D&D, Winthrop Manor relies heavily on themes of madness and horror. Players will assume the role of 1 or more of the 9 pre-generated characters, each based on new backgrounds and lineages from our upcoming Dreadlands: The Horrors of Glynn campaign setting. The player characters will need to use a special puzzle box to rotate the rooms of the house in order to try and avoid the Keeper and escape with their lives, if not their sanity. 

Cryptid (Mis)Communication is a role playing game to be played outdoors, at a blurry distorted distance. In this game, you and your friend both pretend to be cryptids who just want to catch up. The problem is, if you get too close, you won't be all that mysterious anymore, so you have to keep your distance. To communicate, you need to shout! It is specifically designed with the current circumstances of the world in mind, and will be good silly fun for all ages and friend groups! It is also unequivocally queer ;-)

Cryptid (Mis)Communication is a fun venture that will make you laugh with your friends... from at least 200 feet away.

SUBTLE FLUID is the first print offering from the new sci-fi RPG Stillfleet. After years of work to bring the game and world to life, the team behind this innovative and highly playable RPG is moving into the world of print with an immaculately designed zine about nantotechnology. SUBTLE FLUID offers 24+ pages of rules, art, and hooks that will add dangerous spice to your games of Stillfleet, or any other sci-fi RPG.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

In Search of a Unified Field Theory for Geek-Movie Evaluation

I want to state up front that this is a working theory and this blog post should not be misconstrued as me signing off on it, or even putting it into practice. I'm asking for field research, here. Okay, to business.

Everyone online is wrong about everything, okay? One of the things they are wrong about is the subjectivity of reviews, doesn't matter for what: their premise, the wisdom of the crowd, if you will, is to say that the things that a person does or doesn't like about a film are deeply personal, and so any critical comments regarding the film are, by the associative property, a criticism on the deeply personal things that a person feels or believes.

For the record, I do think that legitimate criticism is subjective, owing as much to the reviewer's depth of knowledge as much as the creative work being criticised, but that's not quite the issue at hand. We're talking about being able to praise or trash a movie, without regard to anyone's feelings, and also not hurting them intentionally or otherwise with collateral criticism. 

This used to not be a problem. Back in the 90's, before the Internets, I could trash Star Trek: the Next Generation and still be called a Trek fan (I never was a Trekkie, but I was always a fan). Back in the early aughts, Rick Klaw and I were on a panel talking about Sci-Fi television and how bad most of it was, and the audience, hostile and flabbergasted in equal parts, kept throwing out suggestions to us, and we'd swat them down like Crash Davis at the batting cage. Afterward, people still bought our books. 

Nowadays, you can't throw shade on any franchise for any reason without someone sending you a "Let People Enjoy Things" meme. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Zining 101: A Questionable Top 5 List of Tips

 I’ve been creating zines for 30 years, give or take. I’ve done lit-zines, mini-comics, micro-comics, micro-pulps, ashcans, chapbooks, and gaming zines. We can even count ‘zining in an APA, notably the Robert E. Howard United Press Association (or, “REHupa,” if you will). That’s a lot of self-expression, even for someone like me.

A zine page from Tales of the 
Elvis Clones. Warts and all.

When I got started, computers were a thing, but not ubiquitous. For me and my friends, making comics in central Texas, everything was still done with Bristol board, pencil, and India ink. We did paste-up with Xeroxes and glue sticks. I learned to letter comics with an Ames lettering guide. We used proportion wheels to calculate how much to reduce artwork for printing. All things that take microseconds to do in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and InDesign. It was a different world.

But only in terms of production. Today’s all-digital marketplace means that there are no limits to how a project can look; indeed, there are ‘zines being produced now that have production values equal to or greater than a number of game publishers and small press outfits.

Ah…but what if you can’t pull that off? What if you have zero design sense? What if you have little (or no) budget for stuff like art? Buck up, little camper. That shit didn’t stop me (or anyone else) from making cool stuff back in the day, and it shouldn’t stop you, either. I can’t solve every problem, but I do have some general advice that you may be useful to you.

And just for grins I'm including several pages from my early zining days, to better illustrate that anyone can do this. 

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 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. 

Zinequest 3 is upon us! Here Are Some Recommendations!

 Hey, Y'all, I know you're already aware of #Zinequest3 because I've been talking about it non-stop for a few weeks now. Well, G...