Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Monthly Archives: September 2011

And the award for most unlikely gamer goes to…

Okay, by now we all have heard about the usual suspects already. Yes, everybody knows that Vin Diesel, Wil Wheaton, even Robin Williams played the game. Stephen Colbert did not even surprise me when he outed himself.
But Dame Judi Dench?


Whatever happened to the netbooks of yore?

One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned anywhere in the last few years are the Netbooks. Not those small and handy computers everybody went  crazy for the last few years. No, I am talking about files of the collected wisdom of the internet crowd on one topic or another (I know them mostly from Fantasy Roleplaying).

Whatever happened to them?
Okay, I know what happened to them, they still are at Olik’s and the Blue Troll’s websites, just as they were in 1998. But what happened to the idea of Netbooks? When I started with the Internet they seemed to be one of the biggest things on the Net.

Basically in the late 80s/early 90s people using the Net, and with that I mean mostly the Usenet and BBSs, were compiling wondrous resources for people with tight money but an internet connection. Now I hardly can say that those things were up to par with the best of the officially printed material of the time, because they were not.
But I can say that a lot of them contained a treasure of new ideas, rules, and mechanics to enrich (or bog down) the Fantasy Roleplaying of the time. And sometimes there would be the occasional little gem in between all the bad stuff. And this actually would be why they are not mentioned anymore: all the bad stuff in between.

The whole thing was a trend that already was over when 3rd edition came around. All of a sudden people took to the Open Game License like dwarves take to mead. But people still were remembering the old netbooks back then, and so at least one page was formed which wanted to create new Netbooks for the new system. They actually got quite far, building a few interesting things with new character classes and monsters, and had a lot of gorgeous ideas for people who were doing this essentially free, and then they quietly disappeared again in 2005. They said that the market was oversaturated with free d20 content and that they could not see anyone really taking to their books. I guess if you really were into publishing anything for the D20 system in that time you would just try to get it to a publisher. Or something like that.

Anyway, what I am interested in right now is the ways that I can use the old netbooks from the 90s for my campaign. They have a wonderful community-created homebrew vibe, not unlike the roleplaying blogosphere of today *coughcough*, and there should be some ways of putting that stuff into a campaign, even if a lot of the stuff in them seems to be a tad stupid.

But I am missing the concept as such, especially the fact that they seemed to be mostly just made up of Usenet entries collected into a larger text file, and then allowed to be distributed over the net. It just was so… what’s the word? Neat. Something like that would be hard to do today, where everyone thinks they’ll be able to  publish the next big thing with their own OD&D-clone. Although I do understand the attraction in 1. having the possibility to have your own things published and bound, and 2. not having to search for these things all over the Internet. Do you remember the days when every role-playing site around had a download page where you could get different files and programs to make your DM life easier? (or harder, depending on what you brought onto yourself) Roughly around the times when 3rd edition came around and the Internet bubble burst, all of a sudden the traditional download page was disappearing. I used to hunt through the webs for ages, trying to find new hidden treasures that I did not know about before, a feeling that is largely gone by now.

[Traps] Oil into the fire

A diya - Indian oil lamp.

Image via Wikipedia

Whatever happened to all those wonderful traps of yore? I know that traps in dungeons always seem to be a bit superflous in the modern systems (“Roll if you see something! You find a trap. Roll if you want to disarm it! You disarm it! You gain 40gp and a +1 dagger“), but I remember all those wonderful trap collections from earlier times, beautiful ideas and reading material in themselves. So I wonder where that part of the Renaissance is. Did we do traps already and the hat got old? Are inventive traps passé? Did we all decide they aren’t worth it? Are the standard traps enough for everybody? I always had the experience that players loved traps. Well, not traps themselves, but surviving them. They are often one of the most entertaining parts of the whole adventure
Here’s one I thought about a few days ago, while making hamburgers:

Oil into the fire
The characters come across a trap that seems rather harmless at first: a flight of stairs, going down, becomes harder to use when all of a sudden oil (to the referee’s choice, but should be flammable) is squirted or dropped onto the stairs at top, and is now slowly creeping down, making the stairs nearly impossible to climb. It seems that certain stairs have a trigger that causes this effect. What was an easy way up becomes very difficult with a bit of fall damage. What was an easy way down becomes a slide.
The real danger comes afterwards: there are guards in the room at the end of the stairs, they hear the PCs falling down, and they have torches.
For added effect the characters should have ample warning before: a strange smell, like lamp oil. Slippery, greasy stairs, and hoarse laughter from the next room just downstairs.

[Tools] Free Character Portraits

Wizards of the Coast PC Portraits Archives

A few hundred pictures from the old Dragon magazine. Some good, some bad, very mixed batch.

Portrait City

Lots of portraits, mostly lifted from old cover illustrations. The sheer amount is fantastic, but pictures are in the usual format for Baldurs Gate portraits. Which means really, really small.

Sorceror’s Place

Originally for the Icewind Dale games these look better than the ones from Portrait City. Obviously the resolution of the pictures in ID was higher.

108 Portraits from Nevermet Press

Pretty good ones. I definitely like those.

Beyond the Hills

For some reason the German translations of the Midkemia Press books were 1. having different names for pretty much everything and 2. had much better covers. Especially the second one is interesting considering what they did to, for example, Fighting FantasyGamebooks of the 80s. But here we had some people in charge of the publishing house that actually put effort into what they were publishing.

Here are the German versions of Towns of the Outlands: Jenseits der Hügel (Beyond the Hills), and the City of Carse: Corrinis, Stadt der Abenteuer (Corrinis, City of Adventure).

And yes, the right picture was sold in toystores like this. It might also be interesting to notice that both call themselves “Supplements for all Roleplaying Systems”, while being soon afterwards integrated into the Magira/Midgard campaign setting. If I remember well enough the first city supplement for DSA “Havena” claimed the same, even though it was integrated tightly into Aventuria within months after the supplement appeared.

Free Midkemia Press Modules

I just found that Midkemia Press has free downloads of their modules “The Black Tower” and “Towns of the Outlands” available on their website (look at the bottom of the Products page to find them). Especially Towns of the Outlands I was wondering about for years. It’s a supplement with descriptions of six different fantasy towns/villages that can be dropped into pretty much every setting. Useful I think, very, very useful.

It was translated into German back in the 80s, and I think all the Midkemia references were replaced by Midgard ones, Midgard being the first German RPG and desperately in need for supplements.

I never saw the supplement itself, that was long before my time, but I saw ads in other old gaming material advertising it as the translation of “Towns of the Outlands”. And then there was “Die Rache des Frosthexers” (Revenge of the Ice Sorceror) where the author lifted the town of Oswestry directly from the pages of the supplement and used it as a setting in his adventure, just adding a new name and  two or three hooks for the campaign it was part of, but fully acknowledging it as being taken from that supplement. I don’t know why.

Which keeps me thinking, I always thought the idea of a town supplement might be a good idea? Just a supplement with a few hamlets/villages/towns which can be dropped anywhere to provide the backdrop for an adventure. I always had the feeling this might be a good idea.

Updated: Obviously because I’m blind I wrote the name of the company wrong despite having had the cover in front of my eyes

[One Page Dungeon] Feedback

Now that makes me all warm and fuzzy: someone posted about using my 2010 One Page Dungeon for their game.

And they seemed to like it.


Terry Pratchett and the Maggi Soup Adverts

Back in the 90s (starting with Moving Pictures) Terry Pratchett (yet to be knighted) changed his German publisher. A rather radical move in the market for someone who had been published by Heyne for a dozen books to raising sales. I remember reading it in the Jahrbuch der Science Fiction and Fantasy 1994 (Annual of Science Fiction and Fantasy): It stated in a rather laconic tone that his books would now be published by Goldmann instead of Heyne. The brisk tone of the notice (where most others would have had a small quip with amazing insider info on different deals) might have been connected with the fact that the editor of the Jahrbuch was also the chief editor of Heyne, and he was reporting about himself losing a bestselling author.

The reason for the change was… well… the Heyne publishing house put in a soup advert in one of his books without asking, and would not promise to not do it again. As Pterry said himself:

There were a number of reasons for switching to Goldmann, but a deeply personal one for me was the way Heyne (in Sourcery, I think, although it may have been in other books) inserted a soup advert in the text … a few black lines and then something like ‘Around about now our heroes must be pretty hungry and what better than a nourishing bowl’… etc, etc. My editor was pretty sick about it, but the company wouldn’t promise not to do it again, so that made it very easy to leave them. They did it to Iain Banks, too, and apparently at a con he tore out the offending page and ate it. Without croutons.

Okay, I know what you are thinking now: What?

Here’s a picture of the whole business from the German edition of Pyramids Sourcery:

The text in the blackout section reads something like: the stairway Teppic was on was not really good for a break… but we can have one, so let’s adjourn for 5 minutes and make a cup of soup…

It might actually be pretty good fortune that Trymon spent his time reading old manuscripts, as like that he had to lose against an angry Rincewind. But this also hides a hint to the reader to watch out for proper nourishment, A small bit of nourishment, all without magic spells…etc.

It’s an ad for a 5-minute soup.

Yeah. It’s real.

That was a standard practice for Heyne back then. At least with their genre novels. And it was noticeable to a lot of people because they had the good luck of having one of the largest and best selections of SF/F-literature in the country. Mostly thanks to awesome editors.

Pratchett was not the only one with the soup adverts, I remember at least one Star Trek novel and a few non-franchise ones having the same stuff in it.

The whole thing was a holdover from the 50s or 60s, when practices like that were more common, especially with publishers of cheap genre fiction. They were rather popular for pulling in additional revenue on cheaply priced paperbacks that might not make their money back. And as the genres were not really seen as literature at all by anyone who mattered, fans and editors often had to fight bloody battles to get their stuff published even if it did go bestseller in the end. Mind you though, this was the 90s, the average price for Heyne paperbacks was 13 Marks/6,5 Euros, not the cheapest of books by then.

It was definitely out of place for a publisher which was already one of the market leaders in that time. I do have the strong suspicion that these things were a standing order from the 60s: Most likely at one point in the past the SF/F editor of Heyne got told by  management they had to run these adverts so the books could make some money back, and then they never revoked it afterwards.

I know how company policies work. It would be something like that.

Fans of course got used to it, if it gave them access to the books, why not? But it became more and more grating the more genre literature was accepted into mainstream.

And then you actually had a bestseller author like Pratchett jump ship and go to the direct contender (Goldmann), just because one of these stupid stunts. I wonder how that actually was taken by the Heyne CEOs. Back then Pratchett was at the verge of becoming a star in Germany as well, so they lost him just when he was getting big. It might just have been a secondary thing, but I never saw one of these adverts in any novel published after ’94.

Edit: the old picture from Pyramids was broken, I replaced it with another one from Sourcery, this one was even more tacky. So yes, there were multiple ones. 

Spam, bacon, sausage and spam

It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read more things about it!

– Marivel Horras regarding the article Tripod

Dear Marivel,

I am glad you liked my article on the Tripods from War of the Worlds as a monster for a  fantasy tabletop game. And you are right, it certainly is a good time to be happy and make plans about the future. My plans involve the conquest of a whole world (or at least a rather large continent), the slaughter and enslavement of it’s populace, and the colonization by an species that sees humanoid beings as nothing more than cattle. You should be happy to know that in the realms of fantasy roleplaying games nothing is too cruel, or outlandish not to be tried by otherwise harmless geeks. Oh, don’t be afraid of them. The pasty color comes from the lead most of them are breathing in daily when being in bed with their loved ones. Their miniature armies that is of course. I am glad you can relate to this, and hope that you will visit here again.

LOL, Are you critical?

-Hotshot Bald Cop on Traveller Session 1 and 2

My Dear Hotshot,

Indeed I am. Critically critical even. What about you?

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO… [snip] …SEO optimization. On-Page SEO…[snip] …You now NEED On-Page SEO…[snipsnipsnip]

-Vilma Goodin on Glory Hole Dwarven Mine

Dear Vilma,

thank you for your concerns regarding the well-being of my pageview count. I know it’s not been so well lately,but it now is slowly getting better after that scare recently, when it was just lying there, coughing blood. It still is a bit weak,and I think extended SEO techniques might bring more harm than actual benefit, as it might just bring in bad people trying to abuse my comment functions to sell various crap, like unnecessary SEO services. So we better not try that. But thank you for your concern.

[Labyrinth Lord] Vinir

Great Moon Hoax lithograph of "ruby amphi...

aaaaah! they conspire with the goddamn unicorns!

No. Enc.: 2d4 (1d6x5)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (weapon)
Damage: 1d6 or weapon
Save: F2
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XIX
High in the volcanoes and jungle covered mountain ridges of the south the Vinir live. They are a batwinged people of roughly human stature, but incredibly recluse and at odds with the whole rest of the world. Created in the far distant past by some sorceror whose name was forgotten after some time the trauma of their creation out of different parts their creator had lying around is still haunting them. They see their creator not as a god, as do other people that were created by mages and sorcerors, but as the ultimate evil. Although how this evil is called, and how it shows itself, is different from tribe to tribe. As does, often enough, the appearance of the Vinir themselves, some being far more batlike than others. Over time some of the tribes have developed high culture and became more and more humanlike, while others embraced the feral side in themselves and became a horror of the nightly jungle. Nevertheless all of them share the same mindset: us against a world. This does not mean that all members of this race would be against trade or contact with other people (although some tribes are), they just always know that no matter what they do to win the others friendship, at one point or another the Evil in the world can and will corrupt them and they will have to be vanquished.
They, on the other side, do not make it easy for other people to like them. they see laws and taboos of other people as mere guidelines, and often enough they see nothing wrong in the consumption of slain enemies. After all, meat is meat.
A group of 6 or more Vinir will have one Shaman of at least 3rd level among them who acts as a leader.

The idea for these folks goes way back. I created them for a DSA campaign in then-new alternative campaign setting Myranor. The design of Myranor was that of a high-level fantasy kitchen sink Byzantium (with steampunk submarines and no elves), and I was wondering what else might fit in there. Then I remembered an ancient illustration that I have not been able to track down yet, with batpeople in it. Can anything go wrong with bats? BtW, the DSA stats were for them as a playable race. Myranor let you play pretty much everything you came across.