Monday, August 27, 2012

Thanks For Dropping By...

I just want to thank everyone who recently popped over from UNDERWORLD INK to check out my blog. It was nice to get a smattering of funny and encouraging comments - from those of you who took the time to share a personal quip, ask for more information, or just give me the digital thumbs up for blogging on. It was nice to get some feedback. So, thanks for stopping in and checking it out.
I've been very busy, trying to finish off the Touch of Evil mini game, but as with most things in life, unpredictable events have side trekked my efforts to meet another self-imposed deadline. It's nothing I can really control. When people are counting on you, you gotta be there. Even when you know it's gonna be lame or, worse, a heavy emotional deal. Hopefully, things will be running smoother in another week or two, and I can finish up A Touch of Evil soon. Believe me, as I said to some of you in e-mails, I want to finish it as soon as I can, just because that advertisement has been on the UNDERWORLD INK since March. I agree...very unprofessional. My apologies. I won't be surprised if some of you have written this project off as another example of vapor-ware. I assure you that is not the case.
No, the reasons are pretty common: I spent the past year working on two larger modules (a wizard's tower and a swamp hag's forest) and numerous side projects. Back in February (2012), fearing I was drowning in stacks of papers and notebooks, Jason suggested I take one of my smaller modules, package it as a mini game, and print it up as a tangential follow up to Zogorion. I had an undead minotaur encounter called A Touch of Evil that seemed to fit the bill : A special random monster encounter list , a self-contained setting, and a series of clever traps. I liked his suggestions, but I had to disentangle myself from a larger modules I was writing at the time (a lengthy tale involving an Invisible Stalker and three earth elementals). Plus, I was trying to think of things that people could down load for free (like Jason's Cosmic Slough single page adventure).    
When I started re-writing it, I ended up doing what most game designers do at some point in time - and added more stuff. Stuff I had lying around that seemed to work within the context of the game. Then I had a couple of miscellaneous items that I could freely drop into the game (and I did). Six months (and some play testing rounds) later, and I'm closing in on the finish line.

In the meantime, check out this hyper cool piece of animation. I think it's one of the best things I've seen in a while. I think it's part of the new DC's Hour of Power cartoon on Carton Network. It's Batman, Bane and Catwoman in 1930's Shanghai. It's pretty cool. Thanks again everybody.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Memory of Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert  Sept. 18, 1926 - August 12, 2012

I thought I'd take a moment to honor one of the legendary greats, and a personal favorite of mine, Joe Kubert, who recently passed away...

A fantastic page from Vertigo's Between Hell And A Hard Place DC2012

Accept no substitutions-Joe Kubert was an artist's artist!

One of my first Joe Kubert comics was a Sgt. Rock annual from 1972. Or was it 73? I can't remember, and my comic collection has thinned out considerably since my days as a nine to twelve year old. I do not have the comic anymore, but...

Back when we lived in Santa Cruz California, my older brother worked at a corner convenience store and they would get a spinning rack or two of comics each month. When he came home, he'd have a dozen comics stuffed into his coat. Plus, he knew older boys who had 'out grown' comics and unloaded them onto us. By the end of the year, we had three or four giant stacks of comics. The stacks were so high, you could sit on the top of the bunk bed, and pull a comic book off of the top of the stack (so, maybe 6, 7, or 8 feet tall), without a fuss. And we had everything! I was reading Amazing Spider Man and Richie Rich and Superman and Detective Comics and Avengers and Sgt. Rock and, well, just about anything else. When I think of having to leave those comics books behind when we moved (my mom did not want us to pack them up, and 'rot our minds' etc) from Santa Cruz to Fresno, I cry a little inside, because I'd be a freaking rich guy in today's comic book market. I shudder to think...

I digress...My brother loved Sgt. Rock and Haunted Tank and all the Easy Company stories. I liked those too, but I was partial to Tarzan, Enemy Ace and the Viking Prince. And later, Tor (of course) ! It's very rare to find a comic book artist that can draw everything, especially wild animals (and WW I and II airplanes, tanks and automobliles, and the fashions of the  time period). But, for me, Kubert's beasts inhabit that twilight area of a realistic looking animal, yet stylized to convey a scary intelligence, or an aggressive vibe. But he could also convey deeper meanings with a pen stroke (bust open any 1972 Tarzan comic book and study the ape's expressions, and you'll know what I mean). Whether it was a giant crocidile, an enormous snake, or some sort of prehistoric monster, it always looked great. His style was unmistakable. His layouts were clean and consice, yet groundbreakingly cool. And nobody did blooming plants, arched trees, and over grown jungles like him. And his street level, big city themed comics (Abraham Stone, for example) were second to none. Forgetaboutit !    

The last Sgt. Rock story I read was 2012's Between Hell And A Hard Place, (with Brian Azzarello), and even though he was pushing into his 80's, (and, I'm assuming, fighting cancer) he still delivered an awesome WW II story. Another one of many. His works still brings me great ideas and wonderful pictures. If you haven't read (or seen) any of his books, I highly recommend you do so soon. Prayers and good luck to the rest of the Kubert family (who are also spectacular artists in their own ways). He was a great man who lived a great life. Let's celebrate his Awesomeness !  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another Day Another Dungeon

There's a ton of mega dungeons out there ! If I was more computer literate and ambitious, I'd take all of those mega dungeons out there on the web and come up with a way to tie them all together in one humongous super mega dungeon! 500,000 chambers, 3,000 underground lakes, 235,000 secret doors and an endless series of pit traps, exploding sigils and dimensional portals. And that's just the first half of the dungeon...The problem with mega dungeons is that they are mega dungeons...So, realistically, nobody I knew ever played a mega dungeon from level 1 to sub level 900...We'd joke about attempting it when we were all retired old guys, and everyone we knew has passed on, and we'd have nothing but time on our hands. Then we'd give it a serious shot. 

As the Advanced Dungeon and Dragon relaunch burns up, I'm in a reflective mood. I know D+D is a unique game. If you can dream it up, then you can play it out. It invites you to make up your own rules to the game, devise your own plot lines and create a sense of place and time, best replicated in novels, films and other games etc. While other games were easier to manage, D+D certainly rewarded repeated playing: in thousands of gold pieces, supernatural powers, and influential prestige. Ya know, things that are near impossible to get in real life.

Since I've been thinking back to those early games with the guys, I'm surprised how much I'd forgotten. Throughout the 1980's, the divorce rate in my neighborhood went up. And some of the families were Brady Bunched - Up, with some new step sons and step daughters, and a new cat or dog thrown in, just to shake things up. In some ways, D+D (and films, TV shows, video games, and comic books) became a common denominator. Ironically, it gave everybody a little more stability in an unstable environment. Because, whatever was happening at home, the tension (or whatever) would spill into the game-and kind of forced some stuff out into the open. Some guys peeled away, others came on board, and a few never left. We'd just kept playing the game. After all, if we didn't find the Sword of Resurrections in time, the Kingdom of Lion Rock would fall to the forces of evil. From that stand point, it was imperative for the team to work together. Even if they didn't like each other to begin with. It sure beat doing homework in your room all night. 

I often wondered something...The groups that rallied against D+D for being a tool of Satan back then...Were a lot of those folks dealing with divorce and mixed families (something we wouldn't think twice about now-a-days, but back then, was a huge 'Kramer vs. Kramer' kind of ordeal). It was not easily accepted, nor was it preferred. And there was a deep sense of anger running through there- looking for someone to blame...I don't know...and I'm not trying to be provocative...And calm down, my parents split up too...and just as I was becoming a crazy-ass teenager too...I'm just wondering... If I was more interested, I'd look into that...maybe when I'm older with more time on my hands...Okay, back to work!    

Saturday, August 4, 2012

HG Wells + OPEN SOURCES = The Best Idea Ever!

The open gaming license essentially says "you can use our game to make up anything you want", in a way, it's 'legal plagiarism'. As one lawyer said at the time (I'm paraphrasing) ..."The game is dice and statistical math, how would you regulate that ?" Believe me , they tried to regulate it. All through the 80's and 90's , there were tricky lawsuits related to copyright infringement, and the OPEN GAMING LICENSE was WotC's answer to put a stop to it. Why couldn't they just make it illegal to use the rules? Well, these rules everybody is stealing and changing to make their own game are partially derived from an article written long enough ago to be considered "public domain" ( ie "open soucre" material). This legal snag tends to turn off copyright and intellectual property lawyers. It's an article written by HG Wellls ( and since it wasn't in print for 75 years, it became "public domain"), and legally, is "free". TSR managed to protect the rights to the games, but not the rules, per say, since it's a 'reinterpretation' of this HG Well's article. This is what they call "a gray area".

Back in the 1880's HG Wells (of War of the Worlds fame) invented the "war game". Yes, when he wasn't turning out classic sci-fi novels, he was inventing a new kind of game. He drew up the instructions in an article: basically, a game played with miniature figurines (of soldiers, calvary units etc) and models of castles and towers. Each piece was assigned points and a number of spaces it could move. Craftsmanship of the miniatures is a big fetish here. These are elaborate set ups, with working (doll house like) cut aways, opening / closing drawbridges and so forth. Then you move your men around, and plan (in miniature) large scale 'war games'. It's was a nice diversion to help take your mind off of Jack the Ripper.

Now a days, if you are a hot shot video game maker, and you are hired to make the next Spider Man video ("movie tie-in") game , you already know you'll need to add certain devices to play the game. For instance, the player, as Spider Man, will need a virtual life bar, a power bar, a map or layout of the city, and inventory list of items you need to work through the game. If your running the new Sims game, you need similar stuff. Ditto for those computer games...everything from Civilization to the new Tom Clancy "first person shooter" games. All that stuff, you have to thank, in a round about way, HG Wells. Because it's public domain, anyone can use these "devices". His rules on minature war gaming have been worked into countless games. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

"So, HG Wells plays with toys...So what?" So, flash forward to the 1950's...Boardgames are huge moneymakers...Sure they've been around for years, but when the mass production apparatus is put into place, they go global. And in a few years, RISK and STRATEGO become hot hot hot! And they are , basically, HG Well's miniature soldier game...for kids! But the game that didn't make it as big were these other games, which added the "alternate history" dynamic to the game. Imagine how the south could have won the Civil War...what would Germany need to do, in order to win WWII...Yeah, well, these games appealed to history buffs...and Gary Gygax and Dave Arnoson were big history buffs. Up Next! NERDS UNITE!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Since this is a blog about role-playing games, I guess I should include some kind of outline for what a role playing game is, and how exactly you play a role playing game. I assume most visitors to the lowly blog are already well-verse in the mechancs of the game, however for those few who stumbled over here, I'm including this entry just to clarify specifics and, maybe, convince the occasional newcomers to give the games a try...

A role playing game (RPG) is a sophisticated form of make believe, in which players ( 4 to 6 of them, 5 being ideal) create their own game persona (called a "player character"), and verbally acts out the part of that persona in a specially designed "game world" controlled by the referee (or "Game Master"). Let me clarify that:

The players pretend to be fantastic heroes, and the Game Master pretends to be everyone else. When D+D talks about 'play acting/ role playing' they mean, the player controls their character's action in the game world. The player does not stay ' in character '  like a theater performance, (although, there are times when the player will have to act out his/her intentions, or introduce their song title / catch phrase etc) but rather refers to their character in the third person , like:

" Sir Justice the Brave will go down the halls, and stop 10 feet in front of the door. He looks on the ground for any clues as to who went through the door ( and then breaks into 'character' and says something , with a hero's humorous inflection, along the lines of... ) "Do I , Sir Justice the Brave, notice any of my enemy's footprints? I would spot such signs, for I am, The Bounty Hunter of Botany Bay. "

And then the Game Master, who acts as world builder and omniscient narrator, would look at the map of the hall way and inform the player:

 "Yes, you see your enemy's tracks, and it looks like he was dragging something behind him, possible another body..." or ..."No, you see that this hall is deserted, and has not been traveled in many hours..." depending on what the map indicated. The map is key.

During a game, the players will interact with each other, and act cooperatively in pursuit of a common objective, (mostly accumulating wealth and power), in a risk filled adventure (also called a "module"). Only the referee (Game Master) knows the contents and logistic of the game world, and it is up to the players to explore and discover it's secrets.

The Game Master also operates the populations of these worlds (called "non player characters" ), some which actively help, or hurt, the players over the course of the game. The more the players discover, (and the more goals they achieve), the more their character's abilities improve, and the more their character's personality is developed, as he/she advances in experience. For example, the player acting as the wizard would gain experience points, (and an "in game reward"), for casting a spell that slays an attacking troll (so many points for the troll, and whatever treasure he had nearby). So, even though the Game Master created this world, players can actually gain enough experience and power to actively change the world. Instead of competing directly against each other ( technically there are no winners or losers, but the Game Master portrays neutral, good, and evil characters), the players work as a team, (because success is easier with the combined skills and abilities of various player characters), thus increasing their chances for survival, which increases their chances to climb up the experience ladder, and effect the game's setting (a Utopian kingdom, or the Game of Thrones type world). Ultimately, as long as the player characters survive, there's no end to "the Game".

The 'rules' of the game are only used to determine the outcome of a decision- some degree of success or failure -and reflects the chance of that success or failure as realistically as possible. During the 'adventure', the players will inform the referee of a proposed action ( "Sir Justice will walk up to listen at the door. Do I hear anything beyond ?") and the referee will inform him of the outcome by referencing the rules ( The rules say Sir Justice, an elf charactrer, has heightened senses and can hear as far as 60 feet ), saying, "Yes, you can hear the scurrying of rats running away from the door" or "you hear the sound of metal on metal, like a machine, off in the distance" or whatever is within 60 feet from the door ( the villian dragging an unconscious ally). It's the Game Master's duty to prepare, design and run an interesting , well balanced adventure through which the player character's will journey. It's time consuming. It's a labor of love.