Showing posts from May, 2012

Fiction Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Poor Richard Matheson didn't make the cut for the inspirational reading section of AD&D 1st edition. That said, his short novel I Am Legend casts a wide shadow, creating the zombie apocalypse genre in a novel with nary a zombie in sight. George Romero of zombie fame and Stephen King have both acknowledged his influence.

I Am Legend has produced three film adaptations. The first adaptation was 1964's The Last Man On Earth, starring Vincent Price, a film I've not seen. Reading its wikipedia entry it seems they stayed pretty close to the plotline of the novel. The second was the classic 1970s Charlton Heston film, The Omega Man. Finally there was the more recent I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Both The Omega Man and I Am Legend have their virtues but I don't think either of them really "got" the novel.

With that preliminary out of the way, let's talk about the novel itself. It takes place some twenty years in "the future", though it being a 19…

RPG Review: Dwellers of the Forbidden City

Earlier I examined some of TSR's earlier adventures which features what were essentially miniature campaign settings. They all had home bases for the adventurers, a wilderness, a decently sized dungeon, etc.

Dwellers of the Forbidden City shares some commonality with those but is also its own beast.

A friend in my first D&D group lent me his copy of Dwellers of the Forbidden City. There was one thing that grabbed my attention immediately. The map. It was a gorgeous map, portraying the titular Forbidden City in all of its glory. Moreover, unlike previous D&D adventures, this map was a 3D drawing. The Forbidden City itself lay at the bottom of a rift. Even without reading a single line of text one's imagination could not help but be stirred. To the best of my knowledge this was the first isometric map to appear in a D&D adventure - it might be the first such map to appear at all.

As can be seen by the low-quality image to the right, the Forbidden City lay at the bott…

Fantastic Real-World Terrain

Having lived most of my life in Connecticut and Massachusetts, there's certain things that come to my mind when I think of "wilderness". First and foremost, there's trees. In most fantasy settings there are certain sections of the map labelled as "forest". Here in southern New England one gets the feeling were it not for urbanization, pretty much every "hex" would be forest terrain.

Moving further north to northern New England we find ourselves in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Mountains of Vermont. Before having kids, my wife and I would go hiking in the White Mountains several times each spring and summer. There the terrain was very forested and very mountainous - no surprises there. You'd have tree-covered mountains and more rocky mountains, such as what you'd find in Franconia Notch. The notches themselves are the valleys between ridges of mountains. For me it is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places to go to.

Frank Herbert's Dune

I'd first heard of Dune when I was in middle school. There was some magazine distributed at our school which described the book and the upcoming movie - I believe this was in 1983 - I do remember it was a while until the movie finally came out. I also remember it was one of those movies I wanted to see in the theaters but never managed to. My parents got me a movie tie-in novelization (same text as the classic novel but with a cover from the film) but I never managed to get too deep into it.

Several years later, during my sophomore year of college at UConn, I was looking for a new book to read at the co-op. At the time my taste in fiction wasn't too spectacular, being dominated by Star Trek novels and the novels TSR put out. Still enjoyed Stephen King, though he was unfairly in the ghetto of "genre writers". Wanting something different, I decided to splurge on a new copy of Dune, my original copy some sixty miles away at my parents' house. This time it truly cli…

RPG Review: D&D Basic Rules (8th-11th Printing)

For me D&D began with the "magenta box" version of the D&D Basic rules. My next door neighbor received it for Christmas, it having become available at Toys R Us and similar stores. During one snow day I was flipped through it and was hooked - to be honest, I was also confused as heck, as were most people who were introduced to it via the rules and without other people teaching them. I'm not certain how typical my experience was - learning the game by figuring it out on my own.

Unfortunately Wizards of the Coast no longer has its old D&D PDFs available for sale - and even when they did they did not have this version for sale - they had the later "red box" Basic set and the previous "blue box" Basic set. To be honest, the red box is probably a better introduction to the rules but I prefer the atmosphere of the purple box.


Though it isn't available via legal download it is not that difficult to find copies of the rulebook at a reasonab…

Developing a New Campaign Setting - Broad Strokes

Previously I examined some of the early TSR D&D adventures which effectively doubled as settings. In this installment I'm going to begin constructing my own in broad strokes. The goal isn't to design everything about the world but rather to think about the world at a high level, enough to properly place the local setting.

As I'd mentioned, I'm a big fan of nautical elements to campaign settings. I'd given some thought to a water world like Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea or a Pacific setting inspired by the Aubrey/Maturin series and Polynesian history and legends. However, while a campaign setting should engage its creator, I do want to be careful not to overdo it with extreme detail - the Judge's hobbies should not interfere with the enjoyment of his players. ("Wait a minute, what time is it when it is seven bells?") There is something to be said for a certain amount of familiarity. I know there's some controversy on George R.R. Matrin's…

Developing a New Campaign Setting - Exploring What Has Been Done Before

I'm in the process of getting a game ready for Dungeon Crawl Classics. I've been gratified that my recruitment effort on my young little blog has gotten some interested parties.

In today's post I'm going to begin the process of designing the setting. What I'm going to do is explore the nature of some early adventures which double as settings in their own right. This ties in nicely with the idea of "sandbox" play, an approach to game play that has been rediscovered over the past several years. In this model, the setting is developed and the characters are let loose upon it. There isn't a metaplot or a course of action that the players must take. However, they tend to have super-shiny dungeons which just scream "visit me, I have treasure". And what hero in the mold of Fafhrd, Grey Mouser, Conan, Tregarth, or Shea could resist such gems.

The classic novice adventure, Keep on the Borderlands features a neat little play area. You've got the …

H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth

I made my first attempt at reading H.P. Lovecraft in the summer of 1989, between high school and college. I was taking a pre-calculus class that summer to allow me to start my engineering studies at the University of Connecticut with that prerequisite met. It was an awfully boring class as I'd taken non-AP pre-calculus and calculus in high school (though regretfully didn't do well enough to test out of it). Summer classes were rather long and had an intermission. I usually brought along a book to read during break in case I wanted to be alone. One of the authors I brought along was H.P. Lovecraft.

The first few stories I read didn't grab me too much. I wasn't much into Lovecraft's evocative descriptions at the time, wanting more to get to the point. Then one afternoon I came upon the novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. That was the story that got me hooked.

For those unfamiliar with the work (and as usual I will stay clear of  big spoilers as much as possible) it d…

RPG Review: Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"

"In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

One of my more enduring campaigns of late has been a Call of Cthulhu game. In a nutshell, Call of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game based on the works of the American horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Along with Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft can be considered the founders of American horror literature. It is difficult to imagine a Stephen King without an H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft described the premise behind his works rather well in a letter that accompanied his submission of his short story "Call of Cthulhu":

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form-and the local human passions and conditions and standards-are depicted as native to other worlds o…

On Bullying

Having written a political blog in the past I'd decided that this blog would be more focused on the more geeky side of life. This past week there was a Washington Post story on how current US Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney had bullied a fellow student. To quote the story:
Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.  The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.
I'm not writing to say that every sin we commit in childhood must be held against us for all time and there are those who consider this to be a non-story. However, I found Mr. Romney'…

ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer 3

As I mentioned last week I view maps as something to be both functional and artistic. Last week I reviewed the Hexographer program which leans more towards the functional side, emphasizing production of hex maps as seen in the old D&D Gazetteer series.

This week I'll be discussing ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer 3, (CC3) an application that can produce some absolutely amazing maps. While it get easier to use with practice, at its core it is a specialized CAD program. You get a ton of functionality but at a cost in ease of use.

Let's start with showcasing what CC3 is capable of producing. Below is a map I designed using CC3 in the style of the old Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Roleplaying Game maps, as drawn by Pete Fenlon. (Click on this and other images here to see the maps at full size. Also note that none of them have labels or text on them yet.)

My skills with CC3 are probably middle of the road - I've been using it and its predecessor, CC2, for y…