Friday, 11 April 2014

Edible Monsters - Part One

In your average FRPG there are always plenty of monsters that will readily eat adventurers. This is handy for the DM, but perhaps less so for the players. I started wondering whether the average dungeon ecosystem might also be home to things that adventurers could possibly eat. With that in mind, I've had a go at designing a bunch of creatures that may be a useful source of sustenance for those poor dungeoneers who are bored to tears with iron rations. But, as there's no such thing as a free lunch, each of these 'foods' will have to be treated with a little caution.

I've written them up in classic 1E Monster Manual style, which has also influenced the look and feel of the artwork. Enterprising DMs should be able to adapt them to their preferred system. I'd be very happy to hear about that!

I'll add a new monster each week, starting with the...


MOVE: 12"
% IN LAIR: 40%
SIZE: S (6 -12" long)
     Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Legend insists that Gourdbugs must have been created by a lawful good Magic User or deity, as they are such incredibly useful creatures. However, as Gourdbugs prefer to live and feed in caves and other places thick with ordure and waste, they can sometimes be found alongside other more dangerous creatures (such as Otyughs). Gourdbugs derive their name from the large sac that grows from their back, which they can burst at will and cover any attacker in a powerful glue-like sap if the creature is threatened or handled incorrectly. This does no harm to the Gourdbug, which grows another sac within 1-6 days. The sap not only has a pleasing taste but can be used to repair bowstrings, clothing, spear sockets and similar items, and is very resilient to heat, damp and cold. It can be dissolved by any liquid that contains alcohol, although this takes quite some time (2-12 hours). Careful hunters know that the Gourdbug must be picked up by its prong-like eye stalks and then gently swung back and forth several times, which causes it to retract its legs and go dormant. Dwarves often hang them from their belts by these stalks. Capturing a Gourdbug is a feat in itself, as they are fast and always try to keep their head facing away from any attacker. They can only be drained via an incision to their underside, which unfortunately also kills the creature but is the only way to preserve the taste of its sap. The sac itself can be removed, dried and used to store liquids, powders and other substances (even those that are poisonous, caustic or acidic). Dissolving the sac in a solution containing alcohol for 1 day causes it to break up into long fibres, which can then be spun for rough thread and stouter chord. A dormant Gourdbug can be kept for 2-8 days before inactivity renders its sap tasteless (although it always retains its glue-like properties). A 12" Gourdbug carries approximately 1 pint of sap, which can usually be sold for 15 s.p. or more. There are several varieties of Gourdbug, each with their own particular taste:

Red: sweet, sugary

Green: spicy, meaty

Blue: red or white wine

Purple: sour, pickle-like

Dwarves have tried to farm Gourdbugs for many years, but to no avail. Attempts to use the Red and Blue varieties as ingredients in brewing have also failed. The creatures seem only to thrive in particular environments and no-one is sure why only those in the wild survive. Adventurers using Gourdbugs as supplies for expeditions will have to carry a great many of them in order to fully supplement their diet, as 4-6 would have to be consumed per day in order to replace rations. Half-orcs find the taste of any Gourdbug very unpalatable and it is thought that this also the case for orcs, goblins, hobgoblins and similar creatures.

Description: Gourdbugs are streaked and mottled with various shades of their basic color. The insect-like parts of their bodies seem polished and robust, whilst the sac appears both fibrous and semi-opaque.

Next week: the H'Malo...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Artwork for The Lovecraft eZine...

Awhile back I had the chance to create some artwork for the latest issue of The Lovecraft eZine. The story that I was assigned to illustrate was 'The First Act', by Pete Rawlik.

After a few read-throughs, my initial ideas were skewed towards a film noir-like image, along the lines of the moodier work created by James Bingham. However, further read-throughs made me realise that an abstract piece of artwork would be needed, mostly because the story itself is a monologue where various imagery is suggested but not always defined; certain pictures are conjured up but details are kept more to a minimum. So, whilst I knew that someone was tied up and that there was the threat of a knife being used, the story didn't detail the whys and wherefores (i.e. were the characters in a room or a basement? Was someone tied to a table or chair?) and so I didn't want to suggest too much outside what the author had already implied.

That said, I did pick up on the idea of the knife, which in turn sparked off a few ideas about what could be the focus for the image. I liked the idea of being quite noirish with the lighting, and so took various backlit photos of my hand holding a knife:

I thought that it was also important to include some sort of visual reference to 'The King In Yellow', as this particular issue of the eZine features stories inspired by that book. I've always liked the artwork for original print of 'The King...', particularly the hardcover version and so wanted to show that in some form:

After various sketches, I settled on an idea that combined these various concepts:

The above piece shows the drawn image in the raw, just to show how things looked before the final image was put together. I wanted to have slightly organic lines radiating out from the central core of the image, and so broke these up into groups of smaller waves, all of which combined to make up a background inpsired by 'The King In Yellow' cover. The knife is chunkier and the hand is taking more of a concerted grip upon it, as the fingers are more tightly curled and suggest something a little more determined.

As I wanted to abstract things a little further, I composited the above drawing within a digital framework using some lines from Act 1, Scene 2 of 'The King In Yellow', which in themselves are oddly abstract:

You can see a larger version of this over at The Lovecraft eZine site. Hopefully it did the story some justice. The drawing itself was done with pen, water-soluable pencil and gouache wash on Bristol Board, the original being around 20 x 14 cm (8ish x 5 inches).

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Back in the saddle...

... in more ways than one.

Yes, I've not updated this blog for a while. This is all down to real life commitments, damn their eyes. Not that they've not been interesting in their own way, but they tended to eat up my blogging time.

Another saddle I've settled back onto is doing some actual playing of RPGs, made more interesting by the fact that it's with a bunch of people I used to game with from the 80s to the 90s, some of who I'd not seen in over a decade. However, we seem to have hit the ground running and despite the fact that my refereeing skills are somewhat on the rusty side.

We've kicked off with a Call of Cthulhu adventure I've written, which needs some playtesting. CoC is always a bit more of a challenge to run so the aforementioned rustiness has meant that the first evening's play probably went a bit more slowly than I had planned. That said, I hope that I'll get up to speed with it as each week passes.

The adventure is set in rural England towards the end of 1923. An accident at a Cumbrian slate quarry has left two workers dead and several others recovering from the shock. One seems to have lost his mind, whilst the other is bed-ridden with some rather odd wounds. A local doctor (an associate of one of the investigators) has asked the players to try and help him decide whether there's more to the accident, despite a coroner's ruling of 'accidental death'...

Anyway, it will soon be too light in the evenings to play CoC, so we have plans for some other RPGs. Star Frontiers and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles are strong contenders (the latter was last played in 1987 and was left mid-adventure, and I still pretty much remember what I had plotted out). Since we all last played, we've amassed a fair few RPG collections so we have others to chose from: Judge Dredd, Traveller 2300AD, classic Traveller, Ghostbusters, Twilight:2000 (1st edition), to name but a few...

Should be fun!

Friday, 31 January 2014

'Ace of Aces' arrives...

Many moons ago - okay, probably 1982 to be more specific - I was making my initial foray into playing RPGs. I seem to recall seeing either a flyer or magazine advert for 'Ace of Aces', although it was only recently that I remembered that it went by that title. Over the years, all I could actually remember about it was that it involved World War One aircraft and that I was drawn to the way it seemed to work as a game - that is, a kind of picture book that also provided instructions for turn-based action dogfighting.

Thanks to Kickstarter, however, I came back into contact with the game. Although I did miss the initial Kickstarter created by Flying Buffalo Inc, I put in an order and the very nice little box set (pictured above) arrived yesterday.

It's great to finally see the game in the flesh, and I'm very pleased by what I see thus far. I do still have to actually play the game with someone else, but that's something to look forward to. The rules seem straightforward enough, and even in single-player mode it looks like it'll be fun. If you want some idea as to how it's played, here's an example hosted by the game's designer, Alfred Leonardi.

The overall quality of the actual product is nicely done. The hand-sized books are well put together and can be stored in a sturdy box. Understated and quite minimalist in approach, you can dive straight into the game without too much fuss. The artwork may seem basic to some, but as it's doing it's best to function as a rework of the 1980 original I'm glad that Flying Buffalo decided not to go for a more modern digital facelift. I myself enjoy it's scratchiness and simplicity, and I'm very impressed with the sheer amount of work involved in creating so many illustrations. That must have been quite some task.

Once I've tried the game out with another player, I'll write up another post giving the details. If it sounds like something you'd like to play, or you want to reacquaint yourself with an old favourite, you can buy it here.

In the meantime, here's my own bit of aircraft-related illustration - my latest piece of cover artwork for AĆ©rojournal magazine:

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Friday night firefight...

Now I've moved house (back to the Somerset, where I grew up) and have settled in, I've been hoping to get some RPG stuff up and running as quite a few of my old RPG gang are still in the area. As a sort of prelude to organising it all, I decided to try playing Car Wars (CW) with one of that gang, my cousin Marc. I say 'try' as neither of us has played CW since 1983 and were therefore a little rusty about how it worked...

Anyway, to start off with we made sure that we had everything we needed:

This obviously includes all of the important things - track, counters, dice, rulebooks, a turning key, and booze. We were using bits of the 1st and 2nd edition rules, but I'll get back to that point a little later on...

To start with we both chose the same vehicle, a Stinger sub-compact with default loadouts - small amounts of armour, two linked MGs up front, that's it. We laid out a strip of track and started at either end going 30 mph:

My car is the one closest to the camera
We soon close the gap without making any drastic manoeuvres, and as we both come into range the guns start blazing. We score hits on each other. Marc's first shot chews 9 points out of my Stinger's 10 points of frontal armour. Ouch. My MGs reply by gouging 6 points out of his nose.

Takka takka takka...!
As we draw even closer, we both start shooting again. This time Marc takes out my last point of front armour, wipes out both of my MGs and does 1 point of damage to my powerplant. Debris flies off my car. Oops. I try to keep in a straight line so that my nose isn't facing Marc's MGs. Marc does a hard turn...

 ...but then slightly misjudges the distance and ends up ramming me, doing 4 damage to my 8 point rear armour. Oh bugger. As I try to get away, Marc fires again, knocks out the remaining rear armour and my poor driver dies after being riddled with bullets.

So, after that little skirmish, we decide to start a new duel and pick some heftier vehicles. Marc chooses a 'Vlad The Impala' (2 linked autocannons in the front, recoiless rifle and flaming oil jet at the back) and I choose a Ventura pick-up (autocannon in the front, Vulcan MG in a top turret). Both vehicles have quite a lot of armour, so in theory this game should last longer:

It doesn't. Well, not by much. After closing again, Marc's first autocannon burst knocks large chunks out of my front armour. My autocannon doesn't do much in reply, but the Vulcan gets good hits. We then get in a pretty slow turning fight and both of us also end up having to stop and reverse to get our guns trained on each other. The damn track is too narrow! Luckily my Vulcan keeps up the pressure but Marc uses the flaming oil jet to narrow my manoeuvring options.

After lots more low-speed turning, I manage to get away from him but at the expense of losing all of the armour (30 points) on my left side. My Vulcan knocks chunks out of Marc's Impala but nothing that it can't handle. However, I misjudge a turn, end up stopping and my unprotected left side waves hello at Marc as he accelerates towards me:

I'm the guy in the green car...
My driver obviously doesn't survive the hail of autocannon rounds. Game over!

So, all in all it was good fun. But it did remind us why we didn't really get into Car Wars straight away. It also reminded me of the reason why my 14 year-old self decided to try designing a simpler car combat game back in '83 (as I've outlined in this previous blog post). Put simply, it's not really what I'd call a user-friendly game from the get-go. There was some headscratching about the rules in 1983, and the same was the case in 2013. I think this might be because the game doesn't give an example of play for different situations. Having to keep track of various different things at once can also be a bit fiddly until you get used to it.

However, it's still a great game. Maybe I'll get the most up to date version. Things seemed a little clearer in the 2nd edition rules than was the case for the first edition. I'm sure with more practice we'll (a) remember more and (b) get the hang of it...

Friday, 13 December 2013

H.P. Lovecraft: Fear Of The Unknown

'H.P. Lovecraft: Fear Of The Unknown' is a documentary made in 2008. It traces the path of Lovecraft's life and work, about how each influenced the other, and the legacy that was created from that. It's also interesting because of the various people who add to this discussion - Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, and Guillermo del Toro, amongst others. Worth a look!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Cthulhu is not an octopus... Part 2

Further to the post that I wrote yesterday, here's an updated scribble of Cthulhu:

This rectifies some of the details in my previous scribble, but I think it needs more work. For example, Cthulhu needs to be more rotund, his thighs need to be longer, and I think his biceps need to be flabbier...