Thursday, 20 December 2012

Happy crossbows... I mean, Christmas...!

Before I sign off the the holiday and disappear into the wilds of Somerset, I thought I'd point you at this interesting clip on Youtube:


I gather that this demonstrates the use of what could be called an Arbalest, as this seems to be what we can see in the footage. These would be what D&D would call a 'heavy crossbow', and seems to be a bit more dangerous than the D&D version. That said, there are accounts of brigandine being able to provide protection against crossbows - although what type of crossbow and at what range, I'm not sure.

See you in the New Year - providing I haven't suffered death by cider...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Taking breastplates too literally...


As I've said before, the way women are depicted in many fantasy RPGs is usually pretty poor. I was going to consider how this tends to revolve around the artists apparently being obsessed with showing cleavage no matter what, and that the depiction of women in armour was not immune from this. This was then going to segway into the impracticality of such designs - but someone has beaten me to it.

As that article points out, the type of armour shown in the above photo would cause problems to the wearer should she fall forwards. Even with a padded jack underneath, the amount of damage caused by blunt trauma wouldn't be at all pleasant. You also don't really want to have anything that acts as a handy channel for weapon strikes against vital organs. Traps and channels on armour, shield bosses and weapons are there to snag or interfere with the path of an attack in some way. Ideally that means that the attack is kept away from the vitals, limbs, etc. A similar principle occurs with another armoured thing - tanks. Certain parts of a tank can, if not designed correctly, act as 'shell traps' for incoming rounds. Sometimes this traps those rounds near vital areas, such as the drivers position. Not good.

The article makes note of female armour in Mass Effect 2, but I'd say that that's also barking up the wrong tree. First and foremost, it's pointlessly sexualised in a way that the man's armour is not. If the same thing was done with the man's armour - say, the inclusion of a large, protruding armoured codpiece - most people would say 'That looks ridiculous'. But for some reason this sort of silliness generally isn't pointed out when women's armour is sexualised. Secondly, it's not at all practical for someone who may need to lie prone when firing a weapon, take cover, crawl, etc (and the same rule would apply to the armoured codpiece). Take an illustration from modern body armour - here, for example. Note that there's no mention of women needing an armour that both seperates and supports. It just needs changing in a few key areas to better match the anatomical differences. The same factors would apply to women wearing armour in a fantasy RPG setting. 

What does this mean for an artist wishing to avoid the common cliches? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that there's pretty much little difference in the way that men and women look whilst wearing armour. This is especially so with plate armour, and if a full-face helmet is worn. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't subtle visual cues. If we consider the fact that, even in a fantasy RPG setting, men and women fighters would have had to have trained with their armour since an early age we could perhaps take our cues from modern imagery. One possible consideration could be male and female athletes from the same sports. There are similarities in their body shapes to a certain extent (depending on the sport), but there are also differences. At the end of the day this boils down to a couple of factors. One: an understanding of anatomy (hint: breasts aren't solid masses). Two: observation of how things can look in real life and drawing on that for inspiration. Three: developing an understanding of what's being observed (for example, how is the armour constructed? Is it part of a layered suit?). Whilst I might hesitate to say that many RPG artists lack such skills, it does seem that they are willfully abandoning them in order to follow a more hackneyed approach. That doesn't ultimately send out the right sort of signals, both about the outlook of the artist nor whatever RPG is using the artwork.

One other factor that seems to feed into this is the way women are portrayed in other fantasy art. I'd say the main culprit is comic art, of the super hero variety. Super heroines tend to wear 'boob socks', and it seems that the fashion has been translated into armour somewhere along the way. Maybe with a nod towards being slightly less silly, but silly nontheless.

But it's not all doom and gloom. We don't have to be stuck with chainmail bikinis and those breastcup cuirasses. There are depictions out there of women in armour that aren't rubbish. For example...

The above image is of Theresa Wendland, and comes from here
A nice example from LARPing...

Sourced from here
Some lamellar armour...

Sourced from here

Some more plate, this time worn by Virginia Hankins...

Sourced from here

And if you want something with more of an RPG flavour, there's this...

Sourced from here

And here's a more naturalistic pose (okay, it's not armour but there is a weapon involved)...

I wish I knew where this originally came from. I dug it out from Tumblr somewhere and haven't been able to find it via Tin Eye...

See? All pretty good! And not a chainmail bikini in sight. Okay, so perhaps some of the above are a little stylised. What if we consider how a woman might look when engaged in combat with a sword or other weapon? Here's one interesting video, featuring Theresa Wendland:


Their training weapons are a bit heavier than actual fighting versions, but you get the idea. Note the stances, attacks and parries used in the above clip - all apparently sourced from actual fighting treatises from the Medieval period. And a tad different from the sort of fighting stances one sees women posed into for RPGs. Here's something a little more florid, although equally of interest and featuring Virginia Hankins:

Hopefully all of the above demonstrates that we don't have to keep treading the well-worn Dreaded Path of Ye Olde Fantasy Clichés. Artists can chose not to go down it, and hopefully one day more of them will. Women don't have to be dressed up in silly 'armour' and costumes for RPG settings. It just takes a bit of time and effort, and less of a closeted mindview as to how women are depicted.

Friday, 14 December 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part Six.

Moving around

As I've previously mused on whether the Otyugh is more like some sort of slug, a question arises as to how it moves around. Originally I imagined that it had a slug or snail-like 'foot' - a sort of large pad which skimmed along a film of mucus. However, I wasn't sure that this was veering away too slightly from the whole idea of it being an animal which is fairly tough all over.

As it's a creature that needs to burrow into its food in some way, one idea was to make its underside flat but ridged so that it has some grip. That dovetailed into my previous ideas about the Otyugh being a mixture of rubbery hide and harder, mineral-like features. All of this combined into this scribble:

This shows a cross-section of one area of the body.

This shows those ridges, but also the teeth-like 'nails' it relies on for grip and perhaps also extra burrowing power. If we zoom in a bit, we can see how this might look in greater detail:


One idea driving this is that the underside is like some sort of toothed conveyor belt. With that in mind, a question arises as to how it might look when moving - I guess it could either move solely by the underside rippling along, or instead perhaps the whole body arches and rolls along in a caterpillar-like way. Here's a scribble showing how the muscles controlling this under the hide could look:

The idea is that they're ropey tendons attached to the main mass of the spine plates.

My various posts on the Otyugh will hopefully combine soon into a more detailed picture. Watch this space!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hellfrost Land of Fire Kickstarter

This Triple Ace Games' Kickstarter project finishes soon. They're pretty close to hitting their target funding level, so go take a look and see if it's your cup of tea:

More info...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Pole axes, falchions, and other stuff...

When I first started playing D&D, I had no idea what a Bec de Corbin was, nor something as exotic sounding as a Bohemian Ear Spoon. The name alone was enough to conjure all sorts of mental images. Although recent versions of D&D seem to forgo the roots of the game with regard to the medieval influences, some of you may still want to include the variety of weapons 1e etc included. 

Luckily, there are various ways of finding out what those weapons looked like and what they did. You could, for example, get your hands on a copy of G.C. Stone's A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Together With Some Closely Related Subjects. I advise getting a used copy, as they're cheaper (mine was less than 20 quid and seems to be an ex-library copy from Canada). It's a weighty illustrated tome that describes a variety of weapons that could be used in D&D or a similar fantasy setting. You just have to try and ignore the fact that it was written quite some time ago and still lists some cultures as being 'savages'. I kid you not.

If, however, you want a quick overview you could always try YouTube. For starters, there's this:


Or this:



Okay, the presenter is a bit creepy but neverthless it's interesting to see a reconstruction of these items and, to a certain extent, how they were used. 

If you don't mind the somewhat flippant approach to the subject matter, there's this:


Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here. This gives a good basic overview of the sort of weapons one could use in earlier versions of D&D.

One interesting factor about some of these weapons is that they have more than one use. The pole axe has, for example, three different parts that can attack in different ways and these could be handy for different situations. This is isn't really covered by the 1e D&D weapon rules aside from what happens when being charged by an opponent. I guess that one could, as is the case with some monster attacks, divide up the potential damage into different types.

From an artistic point of view, such footage can come in handy when trying to visualise how someone might look when putting such weapons to use. There's also the fact that most of the people involved in these videos are wearing armour etc similar to the sort of kit adventurers would in a fantasy RPG setting (although perhaps not all that plate...). It seems that quite a bit of fantasy art owes more to LARPing or Renaissance festivals - which isn't a good thing.

Anyway, hopefully the above stuff shows that you don't have to resort to silly giant two-headed axes, massive manga-esque swords etc in order to have some interesting weapons to hand in D&D and other similar RPGs. As I've said before, history has usually already provided a tried and tested precedent that you can borrow from - and a fair few of these are somewhat exotic.

Right, I'm off to the shops. Now, where did I put that Earspoon...?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Japan's ninjas heading for extinction

An interesting article appeared today on the BBC website about the demise of the ninja. It seems that once the last generation of actual ninjas dies there will be no more of them. I hope that there is going to be some sort of effort to set down information about what they did for the historical record.

I also imagine that, once this last generation has gone, the way ninjas are portrayed will probably get even sillier than has been the case over the years. As a subject, they've had a rough handling from film and TV - not to mention RPGs. Even basic ideas about what they look like have been disposed of, for various reasons. For example, this is what a ninja actually looks like:


And this is an example of how a modern RPG tries to do things:

The above image comes from a Gaming As Women article.
Note the difference between reality and a badly researched image. Poor ninja. And in the above case, poor female ninja. I also imagine you could hear her approaching a miles off with all that kit clunking about.

Why is this a big deal? Well, even in a fantasy setting, what enriches any given subject is how much it can tap into what's already real. I mean, what's the point of doing anything about ninjas if it's not taking a lot of cues from the real ones? Add to that the fact that, if you're going to borrow ideas from the history of any given culture, are you doing yourself any favours by trying to rewrite that for your own ends? Too many people have done a bad job of it - do you really want to add to that? If you're going to borrow, do a good job of it. Likely as not, the realities of how your chosen subject matter has developed during it's existence is going to a rich source of ideas and inspirations. Chucking all of that out of the window to make some half-assed presumptions is probably not a good idea.

If you don't believe me, see how bad things can get: MST3K goes toe-to-toe with 'Master Ninja'...


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

All hail Escher Girls...!



On a day when some silly people couldn't decide whether they're still scared of women or not, I thought I'd draw attention to the excellent Escher Girls blog

Although it focuses more on artwork from comics, anime and digital RPGs, those providing artwork for paper 'n' dice RPGs should take note. As I pointed out in one of my previous blog posts, the depiction of women in RPGs is usually awful. Escher Girls does a great job of showing the same sort of silliness going on in other types fantasy artwork. For me, this works well on several levels:

- It shows that there seems to be little interest in actually depicting women in any sort of realistic manner, either thematically or physically.

- It shows how bad a lot of artwork is. Many artists either have no idea how to actually draw, and/or ignore anatomy in order to create some very weird poses. These are also sexualised, for some reason or other. Okay they can't draw men either, but they don't seem to try and make them fit into such poses. I suspect that what's actually going on is that artists are copying other artists, rather than learning how to to draw. This may explain why modern comics seem to be distorting things even more than older comics. Or, it may be that 'how to' guides by established artists also have  a poor attitude towards the subject.

- It's thought-provokingly funny. By deconstructing the various images, it shows how badly done most of them are and at the same time makes it very clear how far such imagery goes in it's crassness. This works especially well when the the characters are changed to being men. It's also interesting to see how changes can be made in order to make the images actually work.

Mixed in with all of this are a variety of posts which consider what's going on in the imagery and what it suggests about the various attitudes and assumptions involved. As with the Gaming As Women blog, it does a very good job at holding these things up for consideration. 

The world of RPG art is still pretty much making the same mistakes as many comics, anime, etc. It's obviously not because it's trying to treat the subject matter with any sort of balanced consideration. Or maybe it's just laziness. Either way, it should be easy enough to fix if enough time and consideration is given to the subject. It would also help on a technical level. Artists should be familiar with anatomy. They should have been to life drawing classes - or should plan on going to some. Don't simply copy what others have drawn. If instead you can only copy from photos, find some good ones. Even somewhere such as Flickr has enough stuff to pick from that doesn't rely on clichés.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Turn to 400 - The Fighting Fantasy documentary film

As it's just passed the halfway mark, I thought I'd take the opportunity to plug  this Kickstarter project again:



If, like me, you grew up with the FF books and would like to see this worthwhile project come to fruition, please chuck some money at them! More info can be found at the project's Kickstarter page...

Friday, 16 November 2012

Today's eye candy... artwork by Russ Nicholson


I've been a big fan of Russ' work since I first saw it in 'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain' but I only discovered his blog today. It's full of pieces by him that I've not seen before, and has many interesting insights about how his work develops.

The thing I enjoy the most about Russ' work is his use of line. The balance and the contrast of his marks and how they work as an overall whole is very interesting. They seem very fluid but at the same time are very accurate and well placed. Every mark is there for a purpose and not just something to fill in open space.

Very much worth a look!

The Gallery: Russ Nicholson

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Can RPGs be too clichéd (or worse)...?

A pet peeve...

One thing that's always bugged me about RPGs - especially those with a fantasy setting - is that they can tend to be chock full o' clichés. Not so much in how they read as a system or a world as such, but how they present themselves to potential players (and everybody else, for that matter). I noticed this as a new player back in the 80s, and it still seems to be a thorn in my side today. It doesn't seem to be as much of a 'problem' for, say, sci-fi or horror RPGs. Okay, this may be more about artwork than anything else, but art can sometimes be it's own strong theme within any given RPG. We can't deny that it's used in RPGs as a way to help frame the overall vibe of the game - but it seems that some clichés just won't go away. So let's consider a few of them...

Women

Let's face it, women are usually portrayed pretty bloody poorly in a lot of fantasy RPG art. This isn't just the case in '70s era D&D, where the social mores of the time were a little... different (not that that excuses it). It's still the case nowadays. WotC and Paizo are both guilty of this with D&D and Pathfinder. Much as they may try and wriggle out of it (i.e. see this interesting post over at the excellent Gaming As Women blog), they still tend to churn out the same old crap. Or variations on it. It's not exactly original nor is it something that sends out any sort of positive signals. Do I blame the artists? Well, yes and no. Maybe they just like to draw scantily-clad women. Or maybe their art directors say they should draw them that way. Either way, it's lazy.

The interesting thing is that the game world of D&D etc doesn't really mention anything about the role that women have in them. Okay, maybe these can be inferred in some way, but that's perhaps down to who's playing the game. Things seem to be inherently less polarised than real-world modern societies. But the way RPG art handles things tends to ignore this and instead plumps for tried and tested fantasy portrayals. To my mind this actually makes things less interesting. It seems that such portrayals have missed the plot.

Equipment

What do I mean by equipment? Well, I mean clothing, weapons, armour and general kit. There seems to be a tendency in modern versions of fantasy RPGs - and, again, D&D and Pathfinder being obvious examples - to seem to want to go down the World of Warcraft/Japanese digital RPGs route. That is, equipment is portrayed in a rather silly way, and some bits tend to get ignored completely. So the overall picture of any given character type focuses on certain things at the expense of others.

Let's take armour and weapons, for instance. Originally, D&D took it's influences for such things from the Medieval period, and with good reason. The way armour and weapons evolved up to and throughout that period fits the setting well, whilst at the same time suggests a plethora of styles and designs. However, this tends to get ignored. Your average depiction of a fighter-class person tends to owe more influences to Frank Frazetta than anything else. Or, as I mentioned above, World of Warcraft in mordern versions of some fantasy RPGs. Thus we see depictions of madly impractical armour and weapons - huge swords and double-headed axes, armour that you can probably only stand up in because of the spikes, huge curved sections, etc. Again, who's to blame? Well, I'd say artists. It seems that people haven't done some actual - even basic - research. Perhaps all that actual history just isn't enough. This is a real shame because if they stopped looking at how other lazy artists have done the same thing (a copy of a copy of a copy...), they'd see that armour and weapons from history can be interestingly eccentric. To give one example: many moons ago I created some artwork for the 'Ultima Thule' sourcebook for Ars Magica. I dug into my research and looked at how Viking and Scandinavian clothing, weapons, etc should look. This fed directly into my illustrations. All of that was then undone by the cover artwork, which decided instead to resort to clichés. The Viking even has a horned helmet. Oh well. Anyway - have a look at this page on medieval weapons and armour. Lots of odd designs there, but all evolved to be that way from practical use. This doesn't have to mean that it's boring. Similarly, if we have a look at the historical artwork of an artist like Angus McBride we can see that there's a variety of interesting shapes, designs and colours.

As for other bits of kit, things tend to get worse. Practicality is out the window. If a woman is wearing anything, it tends to be scanty in some way. If it's a magic user or magical character class, they wear some sort of elaborate cassock - unless they're a female magic user, in which case they wear something scanty but long-flowing (i.e. see the Pathfinder core rulebook cover). You rarely see 'in-action' scenes with the characters lugging about the stuff we all know they should have: rope, baggage, lighting, bedding rolls, etc. No-one seems to be wearing anything that would help you in a cold, dirty, inhospitable dungeon environment. Why can't someone depict a magic user in a more practical garb? A cassock-like thing doesn't seem all that sensible to me. Imagine the draughts, for starters.

To sum up (for now)...

Okay, this may seem like a bit of a rant. Perhaps I'm taking things too literally. But why should the depictions in fantasy RPGs be doomed to stick to clichés? It seems a bit half-arsed. Things don't seem to have changed all that much since the '80s. It's all a little too staid and predictable. Whilst I'm not saying that fantasy RPGs have to take their influences from medieval stuff, it might actually help drive things along more original paths. Failing that, is it perhaps too much to ask that something more imaginative gets added to the mix?

That's it for now - until I can write about some other stuff along similar lines. Please feel free to pick holes, disagree, etc...

Monday, 12 November 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part Five.

Inside and out...

Two areas will be considered in today's update. First of all, the mouth. The Otyugh is described as having a sucker-like mouth that's full of teeth, and one or two of my previous scribbles have suggested how this might look. The scribble below goes into a bit more detail:


If we run with the idea that Otyugh is a sort of dungeon hoover, this area would usually be busy chowing down on various nasty things. At the same time, this also suggests that the whole mouth and throat is like a nozzle and a pipe - only a lot more dangerous. It also occurred to me that the mouth and teeth might be able to extend a little in order for the monster to get more of a bite, and this is what I've suggested in the lower part of the scribble above. The overall look is a cross between a pig's snout and a shark or lamprey mouth. If we zoom in on the only solid part of the whole area, a tooth looks like this:


The idea here is that the teeth are scooped shard-like pieces arrayed inside the mouth. These would act both to cut and perhaps also to rotate backwards from the root to convey it's food into the mouth. Imagine hundreds of these teeth acting in unison and the Otyugh seems more like a garbage disposal unit - which is effectively what it is.

The second point for consideration is how the monster might appear under the surface. I don't imagine the Otyugh having a skeletal structure in any practical sense:


Instead there's a main spine-like cartilaginous mass running along the top of the body, which is flexible but tough and acts as an anchor point for both the internal organs and the outer muscle layers. You can see more of this in the cross-section detail below:

Seen from the front: (A) skin/hide (B) muscle layer (C) internal organs

The upper left of the scribble is a section of the 'spine' as seen from the side; the detail in the bottom left shows the underside of a spine section with the tendon, etc attachments to the internal organs. The greater mass of the Otyugh is still fleshy lumps of muscle and organs. The spine, teeth, eyes and tentacle edges are made of tougher, solid stuff but the overall design is still one which is both flexible and resilient.

Next up for consideration is how the muscle mass might work and be arranged around what I've shown in the above scribbles...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

More monster scribbles...

While the Otyugh stuff is on hiatus (I need to do some more scribbles of it's internal structure), here's a pic of a Gnoll...


... and a Bulette:


I like the Bulette because, as with the Otyugh, it's a bit of an oddity. Mind you, I've not put much thought into getting the details right (i.e. the armoured bits). It's just interesting to play around with as a design. If anything, I need to stress the 'armoured armadillo' vibe of it some more.

As for the Gnoll, it's another D&D creature that I find interesting. They're a bit more uncouth and raggedy than your average Orc, Kobold or Goblin. The only problem area with design is how much the neck should extend from the shoulders. The hyena-like features would suggest a longish neck, but I'm not sure yet if it looks right. I think I need to do more studies of hyenas to get my Gnoll looking less like a dog.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Some tasty eye candy...


If, like me, you find 'old' sci-fi book and magazine artwork a constant source of interest, inspiration and delight, you might want to go and have a look at this Flickr Pool.

Be warned: it will eat up hours of browsing time without you realising it...

Monday, 5 November 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part Four.

Eyes

As the Otyugh is a weird creature, with a pair of eyes on a stalk and an aversion to light, one idea that came to mind was whether those eyes are actually anything normal. By 'normal', I mean whether they would be like an animal eye, with a similar lens, retina, etc. My line of thinking was continuing along with the idea that bits of the Otyugh are 'solid' in some way. A few themes could follow this; namely, whether the eyes are compound and also if they might be formed from blobs or clusters.

As you can see from my previous scribbles, I've suggested that there are blobby bits at the end of the eye stalk. If we zoom in on just this area, one concept was that the eyes are within the stalk and are made up up of several smaller solid sections:


You can see the aforementioned blobs, with nerve strands leading away down the stalk. Zoom in a tad more, and things start to look like this:


The picture above shows how the blobs are clustered within the left and right sides of the stalk, and I've included a side view of one blob. When I say 'blob', the idea was really more along the lines of them being solid in some way, and sensitive to light - but perhaps too much, hence their photophobia. One visual that fed into this design was the way things look when you slice a gooseberry in half:

Note the veiny bits leading to the seeds

Why a gooseberry? I dunno. Perhaps it's the way transluscent and solid mixes together. As I've said before, this mixing is how I imagine the Otyugh's overall look.

Anyway, another approach might be that the solid parts of the eye rest on the surface of the stalk. One interesting creature that uses minerals as the basis for a kind of eye is the chiton. Perhaps the Otyugh could have something similar, at least in the sense of those blobs being more like encrusted, light-sensitive primitive eyes formed from some sort of solid matter:


The scribble above maybe has things looking a little too conventional, but with the fourth drawing I was also thinking about the ways those solid bits might work as a single cluster.

This last scribble mixes the above concepts together:


The idea with this is to have a rough faceted look, either like coal or roughly worked flint. I've drawn an individual blob just to give some impression of the idea I'm trying to get across.

Still, I've not settled on a final look - although I tend to gravitate towards the look and feel of the last scribble. I also like the idea of the being able to see the nerve strands within the eye stalk. Maybe perhaps if the tip of the stalk was a little more opaque and was pigmented with various disgusting hues, it would help with camouflage when the Otyugh is hidden away...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Turn to 400 - The Fighting Fantasy documentary film

I thought I'd take the opportunity to plug  this Kickstarter project:



If, like me, you grew up with the FF books and would like to see this worthwhile project come to fruition, please chuck some money at them! More info can be found at the project's Kickstarter page...

Friday, 2 November 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part Three.

Tentacles...

Here's a pencil scribble in which I try to out flesh out the overall shape of the Otyugh a bit more:


This is starting to move along the lines of how I envisage it might look, although the design is still evolving. 

As the Otyugh is described as having a pair of ridged tentacles, one is issue with this might be about how it can move along as it eats it's way through dungeon crap. When on the surface, this may not be a problem, but I was wondering whether they might sometimes actually be more of a hinderance than a help. One option might be that it drags its tentacles along with it as it moves, like this:


That might not always be practical. One thing that occured to me was the fact that the ends of the tentacles, being sharp, may be more like some sort of chopping/digging/cutting tool, as well as being weapons. The reason this popped into my head was from prior experience of... er... crap. Many moons ago (when I was 16, in fact) I got a part-time job helping to do maintenance work on a small-holding (a type of small farm). One of my main tasks was to herd goats from their covered pen each morning to a nearby field - I also had to herd the bloody things back again at the end of my shift. Another task was to clean out the pen. This wasn't a simple case of just chucking down some straw, oh no. My employers asked me to clear out all of the accumulated crap that had been there for years. This meant I had to chop down through a 2-foot deep layer to the concrete floor beneath. This was no easy task. Compacted years-old goat crap is very resilient, I'll have you know. I had to use various implements (fork, spade, hoe and shovel) just to make any sort of dent in the upper crust. Not all that much fun, as you can probably imagine. Don't try to imagine the smell as I broke through the surface either. This was all done at the handsome rate of £1.25 an hour for my troubles. I must've been bloody mad.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that the Otyugh may possibly have to contend with similar trials when chowing down on dungeon crap, especially if it found a compacted layer in some dark corner somewhere. Perhaps it would need to chop its way through, thus leading to it evolving sharp edges to its tentacles - a handy adaption, as it also helps with defending itself. This might also mean that it would need to retract its tentacles when chopping and eating its way along:

Hmm - but maybe this makes it a little too seal-like...

With that in mind, I had a go at scribbling a few different ideas for how those sharper bits might look.

There's the spiny, curved profile theme:


Or variations on the 'chopping' theme:


I've yet to make up my mind which way the final design might feature these appendages.

Next up for consideration: the eyes...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween!

As various people seem to have colds and other lurgies, I thought I'd mix that theme with a Halloween one. The result is this rather silly scribble, entitled 'Achoo!'...


Try not to sacrifice too many virgins tonight. Or too few. Whatever works for you...

Monday, 29 October 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part Two.

Concepting

One interesting thing that often happens to me as a concept artist is the way an idea turns into drawings and then how those drawings start to evolve. One drawing suggests a redrawing and redefining of the visual narrative. That is, as you finish one drawing, that process would suggest another drawing, which in turn would suggest another drawing, and so on. As you’re drawing you’re also thinking about the whys and wherefores of the subject at hand. So, if the subject is some sort of creature, the ‘where it lives’, ‘how it lives’ etc stuff mentioned above shapes what you put down on paper. As that happens (and if you’re really trying to conceptualise the subject matter along as many ‘what ifs’ that you feel are worth the chase) the design branches off into various areas. In effect, you start to dissect the original idea in order to flesh out the concept, which in turn reinforces (or helps to refine and improve) that original idea. If you have an idea for a creature, it’s possible via drawing and thinking to start to go off along those design branches. You start thinking about how it moves, what it does when eating, fighting, etc. You can even start to think about what it’s made up of – internal organs, eyes, mouth, teeth, limbs, muscles, etc. This is all fine if it still revolves around the core of suggestions given by the original idea. This sort of thing translates well into a thought experiment. In my previous post, I noted the salient details about the Otyugh and then quibbled about what the text description said versus the illustration that went with it. The former suggests something somewhat different than the latter.

Themes

Most monsters, in some way or another, tend to share similar forms to actual creatures that exist in nature. Even the weird things dreamt up by H. P. Lovecraft were borne partly from his apparent phobia of fish. Similarly, a monster you’re designing can be partly based on what you personally find disgusting, unsettling, unsightly, etc. Thinking about where it might live, what it might eat, etc may also be derived from that. With the Otyugh, I tend to find that this ‘icky’ factor comes into play. First and foremost, its food is various repellent things, and it also lives in such stuff. It buries itself in it, leaving only its eyes above keeping watch. How it would do this if had legs, I’m not sure. As it can be a size L monster, I doubt that it can bury itself in dungeon waste if it’s above a certain height. I mean, as far as I’m aware dungeons – even really unkempt ones – don’t have passages that are (human) neck high in crap. With that in mind, what if the Otyugh is a fairly big monster that’s long and wide, rather than tall? What if it’s more like some sort of slug, or at least as malleable as one? We know that it has a pair of tentacles, two eyes on a stalk, and a sucker-like mouth. When combining those ideas with a slug-like form, I came up with this thumbnail sketch: 



After a bit more scribbling, I came up with something a little more distinct:


This still didn’t zero in on the mental picture I have. I was imagining something more chunky and slug-like, rather than being a creature which is more like a ray or something like that. Mind you, it is perhaps more like an Onch and to a certain extent has a similar way of existing (albeit in a different environment). I also started to think about some of the distinct parts of the Otyugh’s physiology, hence the pencil scribble of its ‘eyes’. With that, I was thinking that these are a quite simple eye – or appear to be. Perhaps the Otyugh’s aversion to light stems from the way its eyes work.

As all this was going on, the design was starting to take more of a distinct shape in my mind. Like I said before, ideas tend to develop as you’re drawing. For example, not only is the Otyugh like an onch, it also reminds me of a lamprey (because of its mouth and teeth), and a pig (because of the way I imagine it snuffling through the stuff it eats). The tentacles and eye stalk are similar in overall look and feel, i.e. stretchy pseudopod-like extensions. The fact that the tentacles have sharp ridges and the mouth has many teeth then made me start to wonder whether the Otyugh is made up of two ‘themes’ – rubbery, stretchy flesh and tougher, chitinous (or possibly mineral) areas that have some other function (i.e. eyes, armour, weapons). These themes partly borrow from sea creatures, but also tap into the slug/pig idea. This then led to another scribble:


One other idea that came into play was the way that the Otyugh perhaps might have semi-transparent areas, or is pretty much see-through all over but has opaque patches. If we think back to what I mentioned previously about the 'icky' factor, one thing I don't like about slugs is the fact that they can appear semi-transparent. Perhaps the Otyugh is also like this - it's a big rubbery, slug-like mass in which you can almost see its internal organs, etc. Note also with the above picture that I've included some scribbles about how the mouth might be formed. There's also a 'stretched flat' Otyugh (maybe it can get under some doors, just as slugs seem wont to do). The smallest thumbnail (bottom left) revolves around another question: what if the Otyugh can 'retract' it's tentacles...?

Friday, 26 October 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part One.

Initial thoughts...

As I mentioned in my very first blog post, there are some things in D&D that are odd. At least, they are to me. Now, I know that Gary Gygax (All Hail To His Name) was a Tolkien fan, but there are other elements he put into the game via the Monster Manual that are an enjoyable mixing of ideas, metaphors, influences and downright leftfield thinking. When I first started playing D&D, it seemed more like a Heironymous Bosch painting rather than a Tolkien Saxo-Celtic thing. So, on the one hand you have people and sort-of people with armour and weapons from the medieval period. On the other you have various strange things that are recognisable but at the same time a weird mutation or mixing of various creatures. The fact that the game had these elements and then preferred to have them oppose each other underground - in a dungeon of all places – is to my mind wonderfully odd. Actually, the concept of a dungeon as a setting is also odd – but that’s something for a different discussion at some later point...

I didn’t have access to the Monster Manual when I was a new player nor for quite some time after that. I just had to try and absorb the creatures that the game and my Dungeon Master sent my way. I could deal with Orcs and Goblins. I originally thought Kobolds were called ‘Cobalts’ and so imagined them to be small blue humanoid things. Luckily, I didn’t visualise them as Smurfs. But I remember the first encounter with a Carrion Crawler and wondering ‘Who the hell would think up something like that?’ in way that was part-revulsion, part-inspiration. When I actually read the Monster Manual for 1st ed’ AD&D, I found that the Carrion Crawler was relatively ‘sensible’ as a creature design compared to some of the other things in the book. Running parallel to that was my completist fussy outlook on illustration (an affliction I still have) – certain pictures didn’t really match the written description that well. I’ve always thought that this was a bit of shame, because sometimes the text would suggest something interestingly bizarre in terms of how it might look, where it lived, how it lived, etc – but then the artwork would sell that short or miss the point a bit. This isn’t to say that the illustrators and the illustrations failed, far from it. I love all of the pictures. I just think that some opportunities have been missed. Similarly, the text and the illustration may match up okay, but they would suggest certain interesting bits of pondering (i.e. the Lurker Above).

With that in mind, I recently re-read the Monster Manual and remembered that ‘the picture not matching the text that well’ applied to some interesting creatures. I started scribbling/doodling/drawing. I may at some point actually get around to realising these scribbles into some sort of nice finished piece, but perhaps that would suit another blog of completed piccies.

Anyway, the first subject for this head scratching meets pencil scratching will be the Otyugh. This is how it looks in the Monster Manual:

Various depictions of the Otyugh in subsequent versions of D&D repeat the general outline of this drawing.

Here’s a general gist of what the Monster Manual says about the Otyugh: weird - scavenger of dung, offal, and carrion – lives underground and is averse to light – lives and thrives in piles of dung and rubbish – has a sensory organ stalk with two eyes – has two tentacles with sharp ridges – has a sucker-like mouth with many teeth - it’s biggish (Size M to L) and fairly tough (AC 3).

Taking that into account, questions arose when comparing the words to the picture. Questions such as:

Er... the text doesn’t mention legs.

If it has legs, how does it reach down and eat its food? Are dungeons piled high with its chosen foodstuff (a horrible thought), so it just wades in?

The drawing doesn’t show the sucker-like mouth.

Okay, yes, this might be pedantry. Okay, it is pedantry. In my defence, if I separate out the text and ignore the drawing, a different sort of Otyugh takes shape...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Forwards to something...

By the time I finished secondary school in 1985, our RPG obsession was in full swing. Our group now consisted of me, my brother (Sime), my cousin (Mr Cheeks) and some of my brother's friends. My brother and I pooled some money together to buy Star Frontiers, which remains one of my favourite RPGs, and as a group we played that a great deal for many years. Some of us had played Car Wars for a while in 1983, which is another good game, but me and my brother thought the RPG element was missing (we weren't aware of GURPS). We started to design our own version of CW-style game, originally called Freeway, which also had aliens in it called Slatzians. I can't remember why. When the Freeway Fighter Fighting Fantasy book came out, I changed the name of the game to Motormania, and also ditched the sci-fi elements. I still have some of the tables and a few characters, all carefully written up on file paper. We played that quite a lot too, and managed to test and include rules for helicopters and aircraft. This taught me a great deal about designing a game, which would come in handy in my later career. We started playing Twilight:2000 and Runequest. In 1984 or so, I'd played Traveller at school with Jaffa and Wiggy, although our actual play sessions tended to be done when hanging around outside at lunchtime.

By 1986, I started at a college, and met a few other people who were interested in RPGs - the most important one being a bloke called Porky. He joined our group and, since he could drive, his poor little mushroom-coloured Ford Fiesta had to put up with a bunch of us piling into it to go from one playing location to another. As some of us lived in the same village/a nearby village, we sometimes we would walk to someone else's house to play. People would also bike 7 or 8 miles to and from wherever we had our RPG session. Mind you, this implies some sort of order and sensibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. This photo gives some idea of what I mean:

L to R: me, Locock (near my shoulder), Sime, Chick, and Mr Cheeks. Leper stands in the background. Taken by Housey, at Housey's, 1986. I think we were playing Star Frontiers.

This one is a bit more sedate:

L to R: Frannie, Mr Cheeks, me, Locock (behind me), and Porky. The eagle-eyed among you may note that there's a Commodore C16 +4 just to the right of Porky's arse. Taken by Sime, at my place (okay, my mum's place), 1986 - possibly 1987.
The photos don't include some other key players, namely Scotty and Dods. Our sessions usually had this format: arrive, unpack our stuff and sort of arrange it on a table/floor/laps, make large amounts of tea, bicker, take the piss out of each other, start to play, bicker, take the piss, argue over a rule quibble, suggest/argue that someone may have been looking at the rulebook when they shouldn't have, drink tea, eat biscuits, bicker, take the piss, etc etc. This would go around in a loop for hours. So, if we were sat down for, say, 4 hours the actual amount of time actually role-playing was... well... I'd say about an hour. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. Oh, and there was always a chance that at least one of Locock's characters would die during each session (for example - one once managed to cut off his own leg and then bleed to death in a ditch). There were occasions where we would tape record our sessions - these will hopefully be digitised soon. I'd bought Call of Cthulhu and we only ever played that at night, by candlelight. To round off the effect I had a red candle melted to the top of a sheep's skull. Ooh. Scary.

We played RPGs on Saturdays and Sundays, usually all day if we could. In the intervening time, we were either thinking about or reading about RPGs - and/or computer games. That said, none of us actually owned D&D. We just knew the basic outline of the rules, etc and went from there, and would alternate who was the DM. Games we played many times: AD&D (1st Ed), Star Frontiers, Call of Cthulhu (2nd Ed), Twilight:2000, Traveller 2300AD, Runequest, and Dark Conspiracy. Games we played at least once (and sometimes only once): Talisman, Blood Bowl, Star Trek, MERP, Cyberpunk, CyberSpace, Judge Dredd, Paranoia, TMNT, Living Steel, Mechwarrior, and probably some others I've forgotten about. We also played Motormania, and Frannie invented two RPGs that we played quite often: Arena and ATK. We did sometimes buy official adventures to play, but 50% of our adventures were created, designed and run by us. I wrote a huge amount for Call of Cthulhu and Twilight:2000, for example.

This all continued on it's merry way until about 1992. We haven't played in any organised way since then, more's the pity. Our last RPG session was a drunken bout of Tales From The Floating Vagabond. We ended up going our seperate ways in some form or another. Maybe one day, if just for one day, we'll play again.

Fast-forward to 1996. I live in London. I'm unemployed and want a job in the computer games industry. I haven't a clue how to do this. I want to be a games artist. I apply to an advert in The Grauniad from a company looking to develop adventure and strategy games. I get an interview and take along my portfolio of painstakingly created drawings and paintings, and some crap 3D work. The 'company' is in reality just some rich bloke, on his own, trying to set up a company from his ludicriously posh flat. He hires me on the spot. My first job is actually as a designer. I have to design a paper prototype for a first-person adventure/shooter game based on ancient Egypt. I have no idea how to do this. I don't know what a game design document (GDD) is. So what do I do? I just write it all up like a D&D level, including maps, room descriptions, monsters, etc. I still have it to this day. He really likes it but it is never used - a crushing blow for me then, but little did I know at the time that this is de rigueur for games development. So I do some more work for him for a few months. He then fires me because he doesn't want to pay me any more. After a while I then get an interview at a development studio called Intelligent Games (IG). This goes well. After a second interview they hire me as a graphics artist. Nice. Once there (up until the time IG folds in 2002) I do graphics work, concept art, game design, character design, tons of stuff - excluding coding. I don't do coding. It gives me a headache.

During all that time, and since, D&D and RPGs were continually feeding into my work and how I rationalised ideas, art, design etc. It turns out that the computer games industry was - and still is - largely in debt to D&D. 

Some may not agree. 

But they're talking out of their arses...

Sometime soon - but maybe not tomorrow: On the physiology of the Otyugh...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Further adventures in...er...stuff...


So, to continue what I was rabbiting on about yesterday. Well, once we were infected with the bug of RPGness, we then infected other people we knew with it.  It went to a few other people we knew in our age-range. I passed it on to my brother and my cousin. It then spread to my brother's friends. None of this took very long, and so our afterschool RPG group grew in size and in a short space of time.

As this was going on, another thing was also starting to come out of the woodwork - 'home computing'. Mr Barrett, my form teacher at the time (1982) actually built a small Texas Instruments computer, with a kit he'd ordered through Maplins. This was in the days when Maplins weren't an overpriced, 'Not as good as Tandy' electronics retail chain. Their catalogues also used to have cool sci-fi spaceship art on the cover. I don't know why. Anyway, this TI thing had a 'game' on it called Biorhythms - although it wasn't really a game. You put in the day's date, your birthday, and it'd tell you what sort of day you were going to have. As I was at school putting in this vital information, I already knew what sort of day I was going to have - a crap one. At the same time, the ZX80 and ZX81 were on the market, and not long after came the BBC. Not that my family could afford any of them. So (in a pattern that repeated itself for many years) I had to get my fix of computer games via school or by going to the houses of  mates whose parents could afford a home computer. Jaffa's dad bought a BBC. Mr Barrett had a ZX81 at school that he encouraged us to investigate. I'd already played on an Atari console, but these new bits of kit were much better. I found myself getting completely engrossed by computer graphics - a seminal moment being when I first saw:



and...



However, I didn't know how such things were made. My spirits were very much dampened when Mr Barrett told me that they were done with code, and you had to be good at maths to do code. I'm bloody awful at maths, and I still am, so that nipped one dream in the bud. Temporarily...

Getting back to D&D, our group eventually split into two smaller groups. Wiggy decided that he wanted to try being a Dungeon Master, so he ran one small group. Urko and myself were eventually the only ones who decided to stick with Miss Lupton and to carry on slogging through In Search of the Unknown. This paid off, as we gradually rose to third level and amassed some pretty cool stuff (i.e. I had a +2 sword and some Mithril chain mail). However, real life stopped our school D&D sessions. We'd noticed that Miss Lupton was getting 'fatter'. Then she told us that she was leaving school because she was having a baby. It was 1984. We were now on our own...

As a bit of a post-script, Wiggy and I have always wondered what happened to Miss Lupton (she may actually have been Mrs Lupton, but all women teachers at my school were called Miss). It's been very difficult to find her, even in the age of this internet thingy. The simple fact of the matter is that we owe her a great deal. As I said yesterday, if it wasn't for D&D the course of my life would've been much different. If it wasn't for her encouraging us to play and making the game seem like a little nugget of wonder - during what was otherwise a pretty rubbish school experience - I think we'd be very much the lesser for it. So, Miss Lupton, wherever your are: thanks!

Monday, 22 October 2012

In the beginning...

Without a shadow of a doubt, if I'd never started playing RPGs the course of my life would be radically different. Well, by 'life' I mean 'what I ended up doing for a living in any important sense' - but, then again, it all tends to feed into other areas as well. This is something I realised awhile ago and is a view shared by my friend Paul 'Wiggy' Wade-Williams, who is the author of a large amount of RPG material and co-owns, Triple Ace Games.  

It all started 30 years ago...

*Cue 'wooooo' noise and shimmering camera effect à la Scooby Doo cartoons to denote going back in time...*

It's 1981. Picture the scene - two boys with bad hair and some sort of interest in heavy metal meet during their first week at secondary school. Fast-forward a bit to 1982. They now have a friend nicknamed 'Jaffa' (his second name was Gorringe - you can see how inventive kids were in coming up with monikers for people). He gets caught reading Warlock of Firetop Mountain in a maths class by his teacher, Miss Lupton. 

'Pay attention, Gorringe...'
I don't remember if he got detention for that, but that's by the by. Anyway, she asks him if he's ever heard of a game called Dungeons and Dragons, and if he and his friends would be interested in playing the game in an after-school group. This is the point at which pretty much everything starts.

At the time, D&D seemed to be something that was coming out of the woodwork. At least, that's how it seemed to us, living as we were in a somewhat isolated bit of south Somerset. D&D was in the film ET. You'd see adverts for it in magazines and comics. We also got our hands on a book called What Is Dungeons and Dragons?

That's a rather cool Citadel Miniatures Red Dragon, as far as I can remember...

This was a pretty good book, even if it was written by some posh schoolkids from Eton. It gave me a better insight into how the game worked. One amusing part has the 'script' of a game session, in which one of the players (when attacked by a giant locust) says 'I'll cream the locust'. Now, none of us really knew what was meant by that. We assumed he was talking about killing it. It's just that use of the word 'cream' wasn't something that sounded right. On the back of the book it says 'From students to solicitors, punks to professors, everyone is at it!'. This was patently untrue. Only a small group of us (around 8 spotty herberts at most) played it at school and we didn't tell anyone. Why? I'll tell you why. Because of the bloody awful Dungeons and Dragons cartoon that was on TV at the time, that's why. I'm not even going to add a pic of that. Look it up on Youtube. Actually, don't. It's still rubbish. Other kids at school didn't really get D&D because of that, so we didn't advertise our interest.

For a few hours once a week after all classes had finished we'd pile into Miss Lupton's classroom and slog our way through the dungeon she'd created for us (I found out years later that it was actually In Search Of The Unknown). We'd acquired some nice 35mm figures and so, using my imagination to the fullest, I decided to create a character based on one of these. It was a Dwarf fighter and I called him Mystichi Argonshire. Wiggy's character (also a Dwarf fighter) was my brother, and his name was Argos Argonshire. You read that right - his first name was Argos. For my American readers, Argos is a chainstore that sells various electrical, etc things. In that sense, a US-version of Argos Argonshire would be Walmart Argonshire. I think Mystichi was a name I nicked from a Michael Moorcock book I was reading at the time. Along with us was a Magic User and a Druid - my friend Urko was the former, and I think Jaffa was the latter. We spent a great deal of time exploring that dungeon, never really knowing what it was all about but having fun regardless. We started to find treasure, we'd fight monsters, we'd map the places we'd explored and at the end of each session try to make our way back out to the entrance. This was because there was an NPC mentor, the Venerable Bede (who lived in a nearby temple) who would try to explain some of our finds. We'd like to ask him things before the session was over, as waiting to find out on the following week was just too much to bear.

Anway, all of this was the seed from which many other things grew. I will get around to explaining how that developed tomorrow...