Posts Tagged ‘AD&D’

Save Against Obscurity

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Now, some of you may realise by now that your average cartoonist/illustrator/comics creator is an insecure beast. Constantly seeking approval, always suspecting that he is inadequate, and all the while moaning about the fact he is unappreciated. Well, it’s just a fact of life I suppose. Here at Flying Monkey Comics Ltd, we combine this with an obsessive compulsive attitude towards checking our website stats. We are forever checking out how many hits we have per day (on average about 7), and how people have found us.

Often, our site is perused by accident, when some hapless web browser has typed something innocuous into Google. These have ranged from the obvious (“Flying Monkey Picture”), to the peculiar (“Screaming Monkey MP3″), to the downright seedy (“Sexy Aliens”). Now it should become apparent why I always crowbar words such as “sex”, “porn”, “hot girls”, and “full on anal action” into these news posts.

Venger: I AM THE WARLOCK!

Much more infrequently, we are linked by actual real live human beings, like, on purpose! One that springs to mind was a link put on a forum for UK Role Players. Now, both you know and I know that there are plenty of gaming webcomics out there, both good (do I really need to put a link in to Penny Arcade here? If you read webcomics at all, I’m sure you already know about those guys, and they certainly don’t need us to drive traffic to them) and bad (pretty much all the other ones – much harder to link to). However there hasn’t been a great deal of content geared towards the role player here. Maybe I should rectify this as a shout out to our D20 rolling brothers,  but I had enough difficulty getting people together to portray half elves and clerics for a “campaign” twenty years ago, so I imagine it would be even harder now.

It’s true that I spent my teenage years participating in Role Playing Games. I’m not ashamed. I once spent a whole day playing AD&D when I should have been revising for my GCSEs, and a jolly good session it was too (even though we spent about three hours stuck in a corridor dumbly staring at an enchanted statue, trying to work out how to proceed).

Recently I dug out a stack of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. These were my “gateway drug”, if you will, to the relatively grown up world of Role Playing Games. I only hung onto the ones with artwork I particularly liked (such as Deathtrap Dungeon which was illustrated by Ian McCaig, perhaps best known for painting the cover of Jethro Tull’s Broadsword and The Beast album and creating Darth Maul), so unfortunately I no longer had the ridiculously difficult Creature of Havoc, which would find favour with Otto the Bus Driver, as it’s written from the monster’s point of view.

I always assumed I was a pretty hardcore FF fan, but it turns out that there were, like, a million other books that I knew nothing about. Still, I’m sure there’s a limit to the amount of goblins you can slay while searching a necromancer’s tower for a set of enchanted numbered keys before it gets old.

Steve Jackson & John Blanche's Sorcery!: Weird skinny elfin dudes a speciality

For my money, the FF series reached its peak with the Sorcery books, by Steve Jackson. These formed a four part adventure (it always bugged me that the other FF books were unrelated, so, by implication, you were playing a different generic adventurer in each one, and crucially, could not use all the cool gear that you found in previous books). There were plenty of interesting little details that linked them together, above and beyond the ongoing “storyline” (which was essentially not that different from the others) but Sorcery definitely had a peculiar feel all of its own. This was partly down to the fact that it mostly eschewed the standard orcs and elves template of many of the other fantasy based books, and partly because of Jackson’s knack for whimsical and strange sounding place names (Daddu-Ley, Baddu-Bak, Forest of the Snatta, and so on). The sly sense of humour helped a lot too (again, absent from a lot of the other FF books). But the thing that tied the whole venture together was the creepy, twisted artwork of John Blanche, like a cross between Kay Nielsen, Mr Benn, and something from the fevered imagination of the mentally unbalanced. It all added up to a strange, dark fairy tale atmosphere. And the spells were cool too.

Nice one Jackson and Blanche!

HUGELY AFTER THE FACT EDIT: If, like me, you loved the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery books, you’ll want to get your hands on YOU ARE THE HERO, a great looking book which covers the whole FF phenomenon. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter and you can contribute (and bag yourself a copy) now. Go now, Zagor commands you!

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6 Degrees of Francis Bacon Day 7: Venger

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I AM THE WARLOCK!

From Tom Baker, we go to his role in the, let’s be honest, not very good film version of Dungeons & Dragons, and from there we go to the let’s be honest, not very good cartoon of Dungeons & Dragons, and that series’ half Vader half David Warner out of Time Bandits villain, Venger.

The D&D cartoon is fondly remembered by many people, and nostalgic reminiscences about it always lead to the same question. No, they never got home. Actually it was a bit of a weird spin off. A bunch of American teenagers, including Ralph Malph from Happy Days find themselves in a surreal not-very much like D&D world where they are given orders by a grinning Yoda like homonculus , the self styled Dungeon Master. I reckon he was the evil genius pulling the strings, seeing as Venger and Tiamat couldn’t get much done between them.

A backstory for Venger was hinted at, that he was DM’s “fallen apprentice” or son or some such, but in the style of most 80s US cartoons, there wasn’t a lot in the way of character motivation or development, but I like to think that this is a tribute to the big V as it sounds so much like him.

So what next?  Suggestions for something cool to draw can be made here, on my Twitter feed, or at the Facebook Group.

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One Life, Furnished In Early Gygax

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

In an effort to be absolutely as predictable as possible, I’ve decided to get back into role playing games.

As a teenager, I roleplayed a fair amount, with a number of different game systems. We would generally go for games based around licensed properties, so we went for Star Wars, Star Trek, Stormbringer ( based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric books), Judge Dredd, and on one memorable occasion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I guess the main one was Middle Earth Role Playing – I was well and truly on Team Tolkien, and wanted to recreate that world, but I think those rulebooks and supplements (and subsequently, my adventures) were a little dry. Presumably, the designers thought the huge tapestry of world building that J to the R to the R to the T created shouldn’t be besmirched by things like humour, fun, or a teenage boy’s preoccupation with half naked elfmaidens.

There was, however, no such reticence from the creators of the uber RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, if you were doing it right). Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson claimed that Tolkien wasn’t an influence, favouring Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock, although they filched orcs, hobbits and just about everything else from the book.

Although intended to give generic fantasy based rules for the players to pick and choose elements to create their own world (for example, you didn’t necessarily have to include Hippogriffs, Gelatinous Cubes and Type VI Demons in the same adventure), D&D came to be represented by a rather specific setting.

This was due in some part to the art created around the game, by illustrators such as Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. If Peter Jackson’s Rings movies were a little too clean and styled for you, check out some of the early D&D art – everything looks like a particularly inauthentic Renaissance Fayre, or the cover of Heart’s Little Queen album. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – every fantasy world needs its own feel and I guess they made a conscious decision to be fairly light, rather than dark and gritty. It’s very 80s and very American, unsurprisingly.

Talking of Heart, Dungeons & Dragons, whether it’s Greyhawk, Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, reminds me of when the Americans try to do Progressive Rock – it’s not quite as twiddly or whimsical (or serious) as the likes of Yes and Genesis. It tends to be a bit more straightforward, rockin’ and… well, fun. Maybe that’s where I was going wrong with my Middle Earth campaign. All those lengthy tables of statistics on herbs in the Greater Rhovanion region, and the fact that you couldn’t play a wizard because it might upset the balance of Tolkien’s set in stone history (even though all the game supplements were set two thousand years before LOTR)… it doesn’t amount to much if you can’t kick a goblin in the bollocks and swing out of a Tavern window, whilst cheekily exposing yourself to a sexy cleric.

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SKILL 12 STAMINA 24

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

After backing You are the Hero on Kickstarter I felt compelled to write a review on Amazon. Unfortunately, I barely mentioned the actual book and just banged on about myself (as usual). But the book’s ace, so get it. And here’s the “review”:

YOU are the Hero

At some point during my childhood I watched a programme on ITV called The Book Tower. I didn’t read much, but the show seemed ever so slightly gothic and weird, and what’s more it was hosted by the likes of Tom Baker and Neil Innes, so you knew you were onto a good thing. One particular episode, which was hosted by the actor Alun Armstrong (you’d know him, he’s been in loads of things. Uh… like “Krull“), featured a kid reading a book in which he was required to sneak past a goblin in some pseudo medieval fantasy setting. This being early 80s telly, the goblin didn’t look terribly scary, just a bloke dressed up like one of Santa’s elves fallen on hard times, but I liked the idea, and the next day asked my Mum if she would be able to find the book for me. Books were cheap back then, so I didn’t have to wait for birthdays and Christmasses.

Unable to remember the name of the book, I described it as best I could “Something about a wizard, and it’s a different story every time you read it”, and my Mum returned home from work that evening with, yes, The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Turned out the book was actually a game, in which you fought monsters, hunted for gold and sneaked past goblins. The goblin in the book was significantly cooler looking, luckily enough.

Eventually, after hours of wandering lost in The Maze Of Zagor, and failing to find the correct combination of keys to open the Warlock’s enchanted treasure trove, I completed the game, but that wasn’t the end of the adventure. There were two more evocatively titled books available in the series, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom. I was hooked.

Jonathan’s Green’s book is an exhaustive history and celebration of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook phenomenon, and is a nostalgic thrill for anyone who ever contemplated the difference between Swamp Orcs and Marsh Goblins, or cheated at a Test Your Luck roll. It features fascinating interviews with all the key players and crucially, is bursting at the seams with the wonderful artwork that the series generated, a reminder of how alluring and exciting the books were for kids in the 80s. YOU ARE THE HERO really brings home the differences between the FF books and their grown up, more established cousins. The art in Dungeons & Dragons, for instance, had a clean, coiffed, almost Renaissance Fayre quality. The FF books, by contrast showcased an odder, more British sensibility, dirtier, grungier and more anarchic.

This book makes me want to crank the soundtrack to Robin Of Sherwood (as much as you can “crank” any music by Clannad), put on my best green haired wig, and drift back to a simpler time. And maybe try to sneak past that goblin once again.

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Dun Dungeonin’ Part 2

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Warning: This post contains an excessive use of acronyms

WAIT… have you read the first part of this MONSTER POST yet? If not, retrace your steps and TURN TO 327

With the success of D&D other publishers began to bring out their own RPGs. When I first became aware of the hobby, the big three were:

Runequest was set in a more idiosyncratic, Bronze Age fantasy world and utilised a vastly different games system that was more based on skills rather than Character Classes and levels. I never played it of course, it always seemed too impenetrable. Not to mention expensive.

Traveller was the inevitable Sci Fi game, so instead of fighting Dragons, you were fighting, I dunno, Space Dragons? (I never actually played this game either). There was no experience system, but like Runequest the game was skills based, and you could be killed during character generation, which is pretty fucking metal.

Call of Cthulhu – a game based on the “Eldritch Horror” stories of HP Lovecraft. The players took on the roles of investigators, in more story based adventures. D&D could be played in any style of course, but there was very little in the rulebooks at this stage that actually suggested much more than dungeon crawls, where you would enter a room, kill the monster, take their treasure and then move on to the next one. Removing the violence as a default solution to any problem, and adding mystery and atmosphere, ushered in a change in the style of role playing across the hobby. In an ingenious, unique game mechanic, characters could actually be driven insane by the uncanny alien monstrosities they had to face. I never played Cthulhu – I guess I’m not eldritch enough.

coc

Eldritch, am I right? None more eldritch

Other games followed, different genres appeared (superhero games were briefly very popular, and spy games had their moment too) and big media properties were licensed for their own games. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Judge Dredd and Star Wars were some of the bigger ones. Licensed games tended to feature relatively simpler game systems, in order to bring new audiences into the hobby, but really, I think knowing a property seemed an easier way in.

Alchemy In the UK

Many of these games were printed under exclusive licence in the UK by Games Workshop, the company set up by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. This led to these games being heavily featured in GW’s house magazine White Dwarf (alongside D&D, which, even though GW was reluctant to promote it as the brand of a competitor, was too big to ignore).  When I first got into Role Playing Games I bought issue 57 of WD and it blew my brain apart, like a roll of 120 on the MERP critical hit table. I understood little of what I was reading, but it was a fascinating world of demons, magic and adventure.

Livingstone & Jackson, perhaps sensing that the hobby was truly taking off, but that many players didn’t have a way in, wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, a solo adventure gamebook, that took young readers on a quest to seek out the eponymous magic user, fuck him up and steal his stuff.

wof

My copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Yellowy!

The book was a massive success, and eventually spawned a series of 60 titles, countless spinoffs and hordes of similar (copycat) series from other publishers. They sold in their millions.

Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, as the series was titled, scored over traditional RPGs in a few regards

  • It had a simple game system – RPGs started out as fiendishly complex, but as the 1980s rolled on they just got more and more granular. D&D’s rivals sold themselves as being more “realistic” – which generally translated as ridiculously complicated. In contrast, the Fighting Fantasy Books each had a game system that was described in a handful of pages in every book, and barely delayed getting into the actual adventure itself.
  • They were single player. Often times a barrier to RPGs was that you need to get a group of 4-6 together at the same time to play. With FF books, people with no friends (like me) could get into it.
  • They were portable. You can’t really play AD&D on the bus
  • FF Books were quick to produce. When the demand became too great for the original creators to fulfill they just hired new writers and artists. At the books’ commercial peak there were 6 published per year
All The World's Gamebooks

All The World’s Gamebooks (actually this isn’t even all of them)

  • They were cheap. For example in 1985 the D&D Basic Set was £9.50 (today £28.60). To play AD&D you needed the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual (both £9.95) and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (£10.95) – so a whopping £30.85 (today, about £88.69)
  • They had kick ass artwork – Puffin Books wanted more child  friendly, cartoony art but Jackson and Livingstone knew what kids liked and insisted on scarier, more atmospheric illustration – It was in a class above, say, the art in the interior of the First Edition AD&D books (Umber Hulk, I’m looking at you)
  • Being mostly by UK writers and artists, they really highlighted the difference between American and British concept of Fantasy. TL;DR: The UK’s was grungier, nastier, punkier  – and had more of a sense of humour, the absurd or scatological – (I distinctly remember jokes about goblin shit). You can feel the influence of Monty Python, Blackadder and 2000AD.

Ghosts (& Goblins) In The Machine

What they weren’t, however, were role playing games. Limited by page count and author time, they much more resembled programmed adventures, of the type we were beginning to see in computer games – specifically text adventures. Colossal Cave had been released all the way back in 1976, but its influence, inspiring teenagers to rack their brains trying to think of synonyms for “BREAK OPEN DOOR” lasted throughout the 80s. Many of these, perhaps not coincidentally, had a fantasy setting, and for my generation at least, its crowning moment was 1982’s The Hobbit.

OP DO

OP DO

If you didn’t fancy staring at a page full of text for hours on end (I’m fully aware of the irony of this, seeing as I’m not even halfway through this blog post), there were “arcade adventures”, which featured actual stuff moving about on your screen. 1985 saw the release of Gauntlet, in actual video arcades, and subsequently onto home computers. The aesthetic was pure D&D  – the player could choose from four different character classes as they rampaged around a top down view of a dungeon collecting treasure and killing ghosts and goblins. Gauntlet was actually based on an earlier game called Dandy, which sounds like a pretty weird name until you realise that they were specifically referencing D&D.

wizard is about to die

Wizard is about to die

Wizardry (1981) inspired a number of games (the one I ended up sinking hours and hours of my life into was The Bard’s Tale (1985-) ) that were an attempt to model the actual mechanics of D&D onto a computer game. All dice rolls and stats management was handled in the background by the computer, as the player took a party of adventurers through various caverns and castles, slaughtering the denizens and occasionally solving a puzzle or two. They were role playing games with none of the actual role playing.

Skara Brae style

Skara Brae style

These games eventually evolved into the likes of the Final Fantasy series (1987-). Gygax and Arneson had pretty much invented game concepts that were now firmly entrenched in computer game design, such as persistent characters, balanced adventuring parties, experience points and levels, hit points, and inventory management. Inevitably, as video games became more sophisticated and impressive, the appeal of tabletop role playing games began to wane.

About to do a critical strike on the tabletop games industry

About to do a critical strike on the tabletop games industry

The rise of computer gaming was killing RPGs, but the apparent death blow was struck by the brief, but seismic fad for collectable card games, predominately Magic: The Gathering (1993). Set in a distinctly D&Dish world, featuring D&D influenced artwork and, obviously, created by D&D players, Magic was extremely profitable. far more profitable, in fact than your average RPG. Once you bought a rulebook, that was it – all those scenarios, supplements and miniatures were optional extras, and when it comes down to it, only one person has to buy anything for a group of 5 or so to play. Collectable Card Games, on the other hand, required every player to buy a deck, and then, if they wanted to be really good at the game, they would have to repeatedly buy additional cards. The gaming nerd and collector mentality at work.

TSR, even though it had generated a lot of income in the early 80s, was never a particularly well run company, and was eventually bought out by Wizards Of The Coast, the company behind Magic in 1998. The future for D&D and RPGs in general looked grim…

 

To read an earlier post about FIGHTING FANTASY GAMEBOOKS TURN TO 179

To learn about MONSTERS, prepare for battle and TURN TO 129

To pass through a shimmering doorway into the REAL WORLD (specifically the UK in the mid 80s) TURN TO 49

To read the final part of this post, discover your fate and TURN TO 400

 

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All (actually, just some of) The World’s Monsters

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons used character archetypes and creatures from other works of fantasy literature, folklore and mythology,  but TSR created a number of unique monsters, that have since embedded themselves in popular culture to some extent – and rather than that sort of immaculate reality that Tolkien was going for, we get adversaries that are created solely to present interesting things for players to fight – some are downright surreal. So alongside orcs, dragons and werewolves we also get the following:

Frequency: Rare. That's pretty lucky

Rare. That’s pretty lucky

The Beholder is a gigantic evil floating ball covered in eyeballs, that each shoot death rays. A chilling premonition of surveillance culture, or a goofy monster that looks like something dreamed up by an eight year old? Brought to a mainstream audience in the “classic” Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series, but it’s appeared elsewhere, in Big Trouble In Little China, and Futurama. Pretty much the mascot of D&D, it’s like Mickey Mouse, but lethal and insane.

Some of the original D&D monsters were based on a set of bizarre plastic toys  from Japan that belonged to Gary Gygax’s kids. The Owlbear is, as the name might suggest, a bear with the head of an owl, for the simple reason that it’s the nearest thing that resembled a particular model.

Owlbear - hopefully if there's a "Revenant 2"...

Owlbear – hopefully if there’s a “Revenant 2″…

A Gelatinous cube is perhaps inspired by the 1958 sci-fi “classic” movie The Blob. It roams around dungeons, dissolving people. Presumably related to The Black Pudding, The Yellow Ochre and that thing that killed Tasha Yar.

I don't think you're ready for this jelly

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly

Fighters clad in chainmail or full plate needed to look out for the Rust Monster, a big tentacled armadillo termite thing, which loves metal more than Jack Black. At least the wizards were safe.

Chesty LaRue

Chesty LaRue

It’s hard to imagine how The Mimic evolved in any universe, but in all likelihood, a wizard probably did it.

 

 

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