Friday, March 24, 2023

You Can't Play As Conan, But... can play as one of his companions.

Conan has plot armor. He can't die. He won't die. Ever. Unless Howard willed it, in which case, it could only happen once. The same goes for Elric, Aragorn, and any other famous heroes whose worlds people like to game in. In order to showcase this, publishers often gave these protagonists bloated stats (just look at Elric in some of Chaosium's books) when all they really had to do was put an asterisk after their name that signified -- plot armor.

Role-Playing in these worlds never really worked for me. Much of the fun in D&D is creating your own world anyway. But gaming in Hyboria, not the same without Conan, because without Conan, who cares. Hyboria is his playground. Without Conan, Stygia simply becomes Egypt. Aquilonia becomes France.

Dragonlance was the closest we came to gaming in the world of novels. And yes, we had many of the modules, but never played them, we just liked referencing the stats. What eventually happened was we took ideas, like the Towers of High Sorcery and the tree town of Solace and came up with our versions for our worlds.

It's why I never got into the Star Wars RPG by West End Games, though I bought the book, I quickly traded it to my brother for his D&D books. (Star Wars is the one thing I loved as a kid that I now legit feel is the stupidest thing around.)


You see, you will never measure up to the iconic characters. You will always feel like wannabes, like supporting crew.

So play as them.

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, Issue 133, Feb, 1987. Features the story, Winter of the Wolf. This was the first issue of Savage Sword I ever bought and I was hooked... for awhile at least. It was this magazine that eventually lead me to dive into Howard's original stories, which until then, I knew very little about. By 1987, Savage Sword wasn't so savage -- still pretty violent, but the nudity was gone. At the time, I had no idea how cool the earlier issues were (70s/early 80s) and I should have been exploring the Warren horror mags, but, I wasn't.

Winter of the Wolf  -- I was cautious about revisiting this story; it has a mystique in my mind and I didn't want that ruined. It held up, the mystique stays, but I did notice some errors that aren't relevant here.

Summary: Conan and some Gundermen are part of a royal hunting expedition in the winter months. It goes poorly, the nobles are killed. Conan and the others decide not to return to Aquilonia proper, as they would be blamed for the deaths, so they head on and soon they are hunted by a pack of wolves which are actually, sort of, werewolves. They seek refuge in a fort manned mostly by farmers, led by a chieftain with a wicked daughter. Stuff happens. Eventually, when everyone is drunk, the fort is overrun by wolves and of course Conan is the last man standing.

Because, he has plot armor.

D&D characters don't have plot armor. They're not supposed to anyway. (Modern story-gamers probably beg to differ. Why do they even roll dice?)

But, what if you were one of the Gundermen?

Conan will survive the Winter of the Wolf... but will you?

You wanna play in Hyboria? You're a part of Conan's saga, not yours. Take any adventure, any D&D group, insert Conan (NPC). He cannot die, but you can. If Conan's hit points reach zero, he is knocked unconscious and left for dead or captured. Maybe he escapes. Maybe you rescue him -- maybe you die trying -- such is often the case. Your goal -- to see how long you survive as a companion to the mighty Cimmerian. You could build a whole campaign centered around Conan and his many companions, but HE is the main character, not you. In the end, most of your characters will have died and Conan will have ridden off, perhaps with a bag full of jewels, alone or with a half-naked woman.

Such as it should be.

By Crom!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Strontium Dog

We'll call her Petal.

Strontium Dog, the 2000 A.D. comic series set in the near future of the Judge Dredd universe. A world poisoned by three nuclear exchanges. A world of oppressed mutants. Dog eat dog in every sense. Space travel is a thing. Dimensional and time travel are things. Sorcery is a thing.  Aliens exist and every single one of them is every bit as bad as we are. It's violent, it's gritty and there's a touch of dark humor. A post-apocalyptic spaghetti-western where the only way a mutant can get ahead, or rather, just keep up, is by bounty hunting the worst of the worst.


Mongoose tackled Strontium Dog along with Judge Dredd as part of it's Traveller line of books. Now called 1st Edition Mongoose Traveller as they've moved on to the 2nd Edition of their version of the game.

Speaking of this...

The Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition Core Rulebook is one of the most perfect RPG rulebooks in existence. That's the black book in the picture below. 

The Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition is also a nice book with some nice, but not altogether necessary, rules additions like -- boosts and banes, destructive damage, consolidated skills -- no more battle-dress as vacc-suit handles it all, and a new prisoner career.

The 2022 Update, on the other hand, is a complete and utter waste of money. 

An older, incomplete character sheet of mine.

The mutants in this game are supposed to be weird. Funny how stories about mutants who are supposed to be grotesque and deformed always have good-looking main characters, human looking mutants with only subtle mutations like Johnny Alpha, Durham Red, Cyclops, Jean Grey, etc. It's the surrounding cast that aren't so lucky. In this game, there's a very strong chance that your mutant will be quite bizarre. Petal, the one I just rolled up, has feathery stalks for eyes. The tables didn't exactly give me this, but as is often the case with tables, you improvise. With her eye-stalks, she can see into your soul, hypnotize you, and see dimensional rifts. Her stats ended up being average and she has no melee skills, but, she did manage to acquire the coveted jack-of-all-trades. I originally also rolled that her right leg below the knee was backwards, but when drawing, I forgot about it, so, never mind.

The mutants of Strontium Dog are discriminated against mercilessly. They are the garbage of society, forced to live in gutters and ghettos. They pay more and get less. Many have such severe mutations that they won't make it very long. Either way, short miserable lives, discrimination, and genocide are their lots in life. A few, with a modicum of skill and toughness are lucky enough to eek out a living as Strontium Dogs -- Mutant Bounty Hunters working for the Search and Destroy Department, scouring the galaxy for criminals wanted dead or alive...

A certain, ultra-woke gaming company would call this setting "problematic." 

I call it awesome.


Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Rifter's Best Friend

There's nothing more loyal than a Coalition State Dogboy... anywhere... on earth... in space... another dimension... another reality. Nowhere. Nowhere, will you match this brand of devotion. The dog. The uplifted dog. The genetically modified dog. The Dogboy.

He'll sniff out your enemies. Natural. Supernatural. Doesn't matter. His sense of smell is one million times stronger than yours. And, he just might be psychic too. So magnify those senses by another million. He knows he's just a mutt. He knows you're superior. He knows you love him. He knows all of you love him. He knows you will die for him. Because you know he will die for you. In all of this he is content.

Just let him off his leash every now and then. Let him fight for the Coalition. Let him protect mankind. Let him protect you.

It's what he does.

Welcome to 2023.


Friday, December 30, 2022

Praise The Fallen PoD Amazon

Several of you have been asking for this and it's probably long over do. I had to add a few things just to make it long enough for KDP printing, such as: A title page, contents page, player maps, 8 pregens -- nothing fancy, just simple stats with some art that I've never published (heavy on female dwarves, but dwarves feature, so, it fits) a page for notes, my B/X character sheet, and the original Fallen sketch. Comes to about 25 pages (the minimum is 24.)

I thought about reformatting the whole thing, but figured the charm is in the original presentation. I did however, sharpen up the arrows, making them easier to read as they cross over black areas. I accidently set the cover on matte finish as opposed to glossy, and have decided to leave it thus because it reminds me of the "void" theme throughout.

Why not PoD at DriveThruRPG? I've never figured out how to do covers on DriveThru. Amazon is so much easier. 

Now, Praise The Fallen has been printed before. There's a beautiful layout of it in KNOCK! #1, but that is hard to come by and much pricier.


Praise The Fallen Amazon Link

Monday, December 19, 2022

Artist Tribute: Alfonso Azpiri

I don't consider myself as having gotten good at drawing figures until about 14 years ago. 2008/2009 was when I had my break through moment. And I credit it to this guy: Alfonso Azpiri. It was his art that helped me crack the female code. Up until then, like most dudes, I only drew dudes. Now I seldom draw dudes.

The Spanish Azpiri (1947-2017) understood female beauty better than most. His art was mainly of the "adult" variety and quite frankly, it can be mesmerizing. If you were a reader of Heavy Metal magazine, you probably encountered his stuff. It was by studying his work that I realized, it's all about the face. I know, shocker, we know this from real life. But if you can draw a beautiful face, errors elsewhere will be forgiven, overlooked. 

And God Damn, do the Spanish have a knack for art. Most of the great Horror magazine artists from the 70s/80s (Vampirella and such) were Spanish.

My Azpiri collection.

Lorna was his most famous character.

An amazing Batgirl.


And he could draw a bad-ass Conan too.

Thank you, Azpiri, I salute you.

I'm finally working on another book, one that is 100% compatible with the letters B and X. Not just an adventure.


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Monsternomicon

Not gonna say too much here, but, the Monsternomicon, is one of the best monster manuals ever made...

The art is superb.

The monsters are viscous.

The lore is awesome.

Iron Kingdoms is bad-ass.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Shadow Kingdom

Brule the Spear-slayer!

I don't read fiction much anymore, other than gaming material, my mind simply wanders too much, but, I found myself thinking of Howard, and every now and then, I need a little fix. So I grabbed volume II, KULL, of the BAEN, Robert E. Howard series, and re-read (it's been years) the story, The Shadow Kingdom.

Wherein, King Kull learns that his court has been infiltrated by shape-changing lizard men from ages long past. Now, this concept -- that reptilian men ruled the world long ago, with the remnants of which, striving to regain control or actively pulling strings from the shadows -- is a common Sword & Sorcery trope. Where did it come from? Howard? Elsewhere?

This hangs on my living room wall. Signed by Ken Kelly, 37/200. Arguably my favorite picture (if there is such a thing.) This painting is an amalgamation of the stories, The Shadow Kingdom and By This Axe I Rule! 

By This Axe I Rule! would be re-written by Howard several years later as the Conan story The Phoenix On the Sword.

Valka and Hotath! Now these are book covers!

The story begins with King Kull astride a horse watching a military parade. Kull is an Atlantean usurper of the Valusian throne. An outsider, a true barbarian. In so many ways, the proto-Conan. But, where Conan concerns himself with women, wine, and plunder, Kull only concerns himself with kingship (though he too, had an adventurous past.)

Kull then takes an audience from a proud Pict (Picts and Atlanteans are ancient enemies) and agrees to come alone to dine with an elder, Pictish ambassador. The ambassador toys with Kull, almost speaking in riddles, playing age against youth (though Kull isn't exactly a youth) and vaguely warns him. He says to be on the look out for a Pict who wears a dragon armlet and to heed his message.

As Kull rides back to his palace in the dead of night, with a lone Pictish escort, there are several paragraphs focusing on this ancient city and how its towers mock him:

    "How many kings have we watched ride down these streets before Kull of Atlantis was even a dream in the mind of Ka, bird of creation? Ride on, Kull of Atlantis; greater shall follow you; greater came before you. They are dust; they are forgotten; we stand; we know; we are. Ride, ride on, Kull of Atlantis; Kull the king, Kull the fool!"

Kull is truly a man out of place, in Valusia, as well as with his own Atlantean customs.

And so, Brule, sneaks into the palace, straight to Kull and proceeds to unravel the illusion of security. Enter the reptilian shape-changers... I won't spoil much more than that, but it's not a long story, in fact, the end comes surprisingly quick.

Near the bottom of this page, as Kull stares off in a trance, deep into the past, we get a clear vision of Howard's grim view of man:

    "Against a gray, ever-shifting background moved strange nightmare forms, fantasies of lunacy and fear; and man, the jest of the gods, the blind, wisdomless striver from dust to dust, following the long bloody trail of his destiny, knowing not why, bestial, blundering, like a great murderous child, yet feeling somewhere a spark of divine fire..."

The jest of the gods.

And another use of the word dust.

As Brule (the Pictish, Spear-slayer!) guides Kull through secret passages in Kull's own palace, they discuss ages past. This entire page, and some on the next, is Brule speaking while standing over the body of a reptilian imposter. The beginning few sentences struck me the most:

    "They are gone," said Brule, as if scanning his secret mind; "the bird-women, the harpies, the bat-men, the flying fiends, the wolf-people, the demons, the goblins-- all save such as this being that lies at our feet, and a few of the wolf-men. Long and terrible was the war, lasting through the bloody centuries, since first the first men, risen from the mire of apedom, turned upon those who then ruled the world. And at last mankind conquered, so long ago that naught but dim legends come to us through the ages."

There is something incredible about Howard speaking of harpies and demons and goblins, all at war with man. Imagine if Howard had written about that age! 

These words tease awesomeness; a hint of primeval violence, even darker times, and a stronger dose of fantasy. These words ignite one's imagination!  It leaves you wanting more, but ultimately, it is up to you to fill in the blanks. Too often these days, things are over-explained and all loose ends are tied. That is boring nonsense.

No matter what you create, let there be mystery and unexplored depth.

This is especially true for D&D.

The Shadow Kingdom, excellence in fiction.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

On 2nd Edition...

If you haven't read this, do so.

Read it carefully, it is very good...

I was reminded of a piece I wrote on 2nd Edition, three years ago, when I was still very new to the scene. For whatever reason, I never hit "publish." Thankfully, I saved it, as it is very relevant right now...

Begin Original Post
Written in November, 2019.
(Back when I was still double-spacing between sentences.)

AD&D 2nd....the Lost Edition?

Several months ago I found myself thinking about AD&D 2nd Edition.  Of all the editions, this one seems to get talked about the least.  Browsing the web, I came across an old reference to it as the Lost Edition.

Is it?

This is literally true for me, as it's the only edition that I no longer possess.  I loaned out the books mid 90's, never got them back, but my interest in gaming waned at the time, so.....

When 2nd Edition came out I was in high school.  It seemed then, that a new edition was due.  We couldn't wait.  The big new innovation: THAC0!!!!

THAC0 came to exist as a whipping boy.

No Monk, no Assassin, no Half-Orc.  I completely forgot this happened.  They were added in a later product I didn't own.  Of those three, I really only cared about the Assassin.

Deities no longer had full stats; you could no longer kill a God, just their Avatar, and Specialty Priests were born.  We were cool with this at the time, but in retrospect, it helped kill the Sword & Sorcery aspect of D&D.  There was an over-all grounding of the game into something more, real-world.  This was reflected in the art, which depicted realistic cultures and the challenges of slaying a dog-sized dragon.

Forgotten Realms was quickly becoming the main course.  Many of you like the Realms and that's cool, I wanted to, it just never came together for me.  The original Grey Box was nice though, great Keith Parkinson cover art, but that style didn't carry forth very long.  The art, as 2nd Edition grew (especially with the novels) quickly devolved into photographic paintings of the out-of-shape authors themselves, dressed in Renaissance Festival fluffy-shirts and feathery caps.....ugh.

Demons and Devils became Tanar'ri and Baatezu.  I hated this and consider it the single worst aspect of 2nd Edition.  A serious over-reaction to the Satanic Panic that was, by then, already winding down. There we were, loyal players defending the hobby, and the designers capitulated to people that didn't, and never would, actually play the game.  And ironically, the new kid on the block did everything D&D was ever accused of, and then some...

Enter, The Masquerade, and overly gothed-out people, sitting in proto coffee shops, counting ten-sided dice, lamenting the loss of their souls.....  

I bought very few 2nd Edition modules.  An adventure came with the DM's Screen (I think) and man did it suck.  All story, fit for locomotion.  But the 90's were all about story.  I had friends that were trying to emulate novels.....they should have just written novels.  

But the settings......Planescape......Dark Sun.  Incredible!!!  Well conceived, well written, well presented with gorgeous art.  Tony DiTerlizzi's art was Planescape.  Brom's art was Dark Sun.  I stopped buying Planescape books when they stopped using DiTerlizzi's art, but most of it was out by then.

Splat books galore!  The Complete This, The Complete That.  I never bought any of these.  

In many ways, the game was the same.  Saving Throws were still old-school, class-based, roll over this number, poison, paralysis, etc.  Armor Class was still descending.   Spells and weapons now had speed factors, which added granularity to combat.  Proficiencies (introduced in late 1st edition) became par for the course.

We loved it, I'd be lying if I said we didn't.

So, why is this the lost edition?  Or is it not?  (Someone reading this right now is saying, "Dude what the hell are you talking about, I've been playing 2nd Edition all along!?!?!")  It's definitely the edition that I hear the least about (aside from 4th of course.)  Is it because it's the middle child, crunched between 1st and 3rd, not quite a fulcrum?  Or the end of the beginning, too old-school for the modern gamer, yet not old-school enough for the true grognard?

Maybe it's too tied to the 90's, a decade people have yet to wax nostalgic for.  Before then, D&D was Heavy Metal and Pentagrams, Iron Maiden posters, Black Sabbath and Black Magic.  SWORD & SORCERY!!!  Things changed in the 90's.  Metal became Grunge, Demons became Tanar'ri, Vampires became Heroes.  In every medium, the focus became "character development."

Old school mechanics tempered by storytelling may have tainted 2E.  And yet I remember when 5th Edition was in the works, there seemed to be a consensus that the edition it should emulate the most was 2nd (which I don't think it does at all, I view 5th Edition as a simplified hybrid of 3rd and 4th.)

No doubt there are many players out there that still love it, but other than THAC0 and settings, 2nd Edition does seem kind of.....forgotten.  (There is a clone out there, but the name escapes me.)

So for awhile there, I found myself browsing the internet for good copies of those 2nd Edition books......(oh yeah, not the ugly, black-covered "2.5" edition.)

Had I bought those books again, would I have cringed?  Is there some hidden turd I forgot about?  Or perhaps I'd be blown away and feverishly start creating 2nd Edition content.....

But why even bother now that we're well into the enlightened Age of the OSR, DIY D&D, especially when I already own so many "editions" including great games created by other bloggers and OSR enthusiasts, not to mention my own ability to create?

We'll see.....

End Original Post

That "clone" I spoke of is called For Gold & Glory. I never bought it or the 2nd Edition books.

The intro module was called Terrible Trouble At Tragidore. I still have it in a box, and, holy shit was it stupid. 

Planescape had so much potential. The Blood-War was dumb; you shouldn't ever know that much about demons and devils, they should be vague and terrifying and evil to the core. I loved the art and I'm convinced it is the main reason for Planescape's success. Sigil, conceptionally should/could have been the greatest city/mega-dungeon of all time. 

Some people say Dragonlance was the true beginning of the end of old-school... at least Dragonlance had phenomenal art. Yes, art will always be a part of the equation for me. The art experience of 2nd Edition Core and the books/novels that followed was atrocious. This was mainly a product of the times though. Throughout the 80s, fantasy art became sterilized. Nudity disappeared. The fabulous paintings of the 70s and early 80s were no more, driven away by the church-lady and the corporate desire to be family-friendly.

I would love to see the AD&D hardcovers reprinted with the art of Frank Frazetta and the likes of Simon Bisley... unabashedly, unapologetically, strong and sexy! This would be the greatest thing of all time. Based on that alone, I would play nothing else.

As I said in my last post, it is up to you to un-bland D&D.

Gabor is right, the spirit of 2nd Edition is not old-school... but what you do with it can be.

Thursday, October 27, 2022


It is up to you to un-bland D&D.

Clerics are so uniquely D&D (which is the first place I even encountered the word cleric.)

Righteous warriors.

Bane of the undead.

Healers of pain.

Fanatics! Zealots!... At least there's the potential for such flavor.

So MEDIEVAL. Oh how modern D&D has forgotten (more likely -- abandoned/disowned) it's gritty medieval roots -- too European. (Actually D&D is a mixture of Medieval Europe and American Sword & Sorcery.)

I can't imagine D&D without clerics.

I want no part of D&D without clerics.

The MACE is their weapon. What better to crush bone? And as skeletons are the foot-soldiers of evil...  

The undead... turn them you say? Suppose turning undead merely held them at bay, slightly cowering, as if from a bright flash of light, not destroy or cause them to flee. Kind of like the old Hammer Horror movies such a notion is actually based on where turning is usually something you do as you are trying to flee.

Suppose, clerics simply did more damage to undead. Double damage. And this can even increase with levels. So, they're still a weapon and undead are still a threat. In B/X, skeletons are made obsolete as soon as you have a 2nd level cleric... that's no fun.

In my imagination, clerics will always explicitly be a Roman Catholic styled class. I know, specialty priests and all that. And what of weird D&D, Dying Earth as opposed to Medieval Europe? Well you do you. But, I like having the Church, and demons, and witches, and black magic, and plagues, and crosses. All built on top of the ruins of the ancient, weird stuff... 

Sects devoted Saints, Angels, Apostles... 

And yes, CROSSES, not generic, good guy, holy-symbol crap. Actual crosses. And blood spilled in the name of those crosses. Wars and inquisitions. Saints and sinners. Heretics! There is a reason demi-humans live in the shadows of man... with some plotting their violent return.

And no spells. Spells are the realm of black magic (though some wizards may beg to differ, speaking of formulas and such.) Just prayers. And no spell books... Holy Missals.

  • Of note: We always treated cleric spell knowledge like magic-users, meaning, you knew what you knew and didn't get to pray for whatever spell you wanted that day. But, if you think about it, a cleric should be able to pray for anything at any time. Their "spells" are direct pleas to their God for help with a very specific problem. Why clerics have to prepare spells is beyond me, unless it involves making sure they have properly memorized a prayer, of which, looking at the real world, there are hundreds, all serving a different purpose. How much time spent to memorize all of those? Most people, who know any, only know a few. 

I love the concept of a squad of clerics, all clad in plate and chain, coifs are a must as well as a common tabard, delving deep to purge the unholy. A medieval crew, not unlike this book: VAMPIRE$.

The type of flavor, devotion, and fanaticism I want, Warhammer does better, Sisters of Battle and such. It is up to you to un-bland D&D.

Just some ruminations as I scratched pen to paper.

You Can't Play As Conan, But... can play as one of his companions. Conan has plot armor. He can't die. He won't die. Ever. Unless Howard willed it, in which ...