Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Fighter/Thief/Magic User

One of my ideal characters back in the day was the fighter/thief/magic user. I wanted to level up one of those, but the reality was: 1) XP progression was abhorrent and 2) the abilities never really synergized. I mean, depending on the rules, you couldn't wear fighter armor - EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE A FIGHTER. In practice, it just wasn't very much fun.

But now I write my OWN games, so if I want to create an uber OP character, then I can - AND YOU CANNOT STOP ME.


That said, I do think there is a way to realize this archetype without breaking the game, and without doing too much wrangling with the rules. As for traits, it would have to be a 2/2/2 distribution, which right away limits it a little bit. That alone becomes an equalizer - you're a 'fighter' with half the strength of a comparable fighter, so you're already dealing less melee damage. You're a 'thief' with less accuracy... same thing for magic user with less INT. It already self-balances a little.

As far as tags, I know that I have to take mystic with common magic, and I've really got to pick up arcane too to be a mage. So, that's two of my four slots. Thievery seems more important than stealth (and I can still try to sneak without having stealth - I just don't get the bonus edge). Now... about the 'fighter' aspect... here are my options:

Brawler is +1 to damage with melee. That's okay.

Two Weapons, taking the shield as the second weapon (not a bad option at all).

Warrior is +1 to hit with melee. That's solid.

In building the rules, I assumed that warrior would be the go to (+1 to hit is a big deal), and that the +1 damage from brawler would be the second tag you select as a warrior. It separates the true warriors from the hybrids (in my mind). 

I could go fancy and take weapon specialist, but that in and of itself seems counter to my character concept; a jack of all trades who also happens to be a weapon specialist? Hrmmm.... don't think so.

With my 12 gold, I have to take a tool kit (3) and a short sword (4), which leaves me with 5... so either leather armor or a shield. Leather armor seems like the more obvious choice... Statistically speaking, the leather amor gives me a 4 in 12 (33%) chance of making an armor check, while the shield gives me a 44% chance (both becomes 55% which is really good for leather and a shield). I'm going with the shield!

He's going to be a moon elf, because he is.

Garvadon, Moon Elf Seeker

Armor 0; Hits 7; Move 40'; Shortsword (3)

Traits:    Might 2; Mind 2; Reflex 2

Tags:     Mystic (Common, Arcane); Thievery; Warrior

Gear:    Shield; Shortsword; Toolkit  

His signature spell is going to synergize the weapon and magic:

Glimmering Weapon (1). As a free action, check level to empower a weapon you touch to receive +1 edge to attacks for 1 minute.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Random Hack'D Thoughts

Two completely unrelated ideas for Hack'D...

New Tag: Weapon Specialist
When using your preferred weapon type (ex: axes, swords, spears, bows), you force foes you strike to suffer -1 edge to armor checks.

I like this because it doesn't mean you deal more damage; it means you are more likely to use your weapon to bypass enemy armor. This is a great tag to differentiate different warrior types, or to make your warrior more powerful as you grow. I could probably have a comparable magic specialist tag that forces foes to suffer -1 edge to resist your spells of the type. I'd have to get clear in defining the 'types' that this means, however. Right now, 'types' of magic are pretty loosely defined (which I like), and this would require a greater level of clarity on that.

Thought the Second: Moridis' Halls

I had been conceiving of Moridis' Halls as a sort of 'catch-all' dungeon unified only by a single primary adversary who oversees the whole. However, I recently was thinking about re-framing it entirely as a modified Temple of Elemental Evil around dragons - there are four (or so) dragons living in different sections that don't get along, and their factions are battling each other. These are tied to the elements. However, killing them all (or collecting something from them all) would access/raise/summon their parent, a many-dead Tiamat type of dragon (Moridis). This gives me at least three or four primary elemental factions (minimally frost, flame, storm) with their primary followers, as well as a second tier of those trying to take advantage of/play multiple sides of the conflict. This, conceptually, improves the dungeon significantly, and helps me "see" it more clearly. Right away, I re-framed that western entrance to a small holding of dwarves who have one of the dragons in chains... one of the earliest encounters would involve the dwarves (along with the fellowship) trying to prevent the dragon from breaking free of its shackles and killing them all - this would allow a low-level party to have an encounter with a dragon (the dwarves would do most of the heavy lifting) and would set the campaign in motion; either the dragon dies and they get the first of several items they need, or the dragon gets away and they have to chase it down deeper in the dungeon somewhere. Either outcome propels them deeper into the dungeon. 

I also see synergy between this and a fortified town of men (Fort Grymwater) that claims to be allied with the nearby elves, but which actually supports some of the factions below. This would give the PCs an ally in the keep (the elfin envoy who resides in the keep with her small entourage) but would mean that there is danger both above and below, and there'd be quite of bit of intrigue hard baked into the setting. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Classics Campaign Idea Drop

I don't know why this is making me so giddy, but the more I think about this classics campaign, the more I like it. Here's how it's framing out so far... it's a huge quest to put together the Sword of Vengeance, which is the only object that can finally slay the demilich Alazar. His return would blanket the world in darkness, so it's kind of important that he's stopped.

Level 1: One Adventure

A1: The Frontier Fortress and the Dens of Discord. The heroes travel to fight some humanoids, delve a small shrine of chaos, and find out why an apprentice was sent here. Clues lead them to the House of Halazar.

Level 2: Two Adentures

A2: The House of Halazar. Halazar, who was the apprentice to Alazar, has risen from the dead, and his book holds secrets to Alazar's return. The heroes must travel through this mysterious house half hidden in the swamps and recover the book, which also contains clues on finding the rest of the sword.

A3: The Slavers of Reverie. The grandson of Alazar has taken on a role as slave master of Reverie. The heroes must travel to Reverie, infiltrate the slave group, and slay the leader. As the only living person in the bloodline of Alazar, he possesses the hilt of the sword. They learn of a distant land, the Desert of Despairing Souls, where the rest of the sword is in possession of a powerful genie that rules that land. 

Level 3: Three Adventures

A4: Stormwrack Island. On the way to Stormwrack Island, their ship is sunk in a cataclysmic storm, and they are marooned on a lost island inhabited by dinosaurs. The ancient people here have a magical skiff that they will need to earn through their help against a dark foe hidden in a jungle temple.

A5: The Desert of Despairing Souls. The heroes travel to a distant land to defeat three lesser efreeti (each entranched in a far corner of the desert)  to recover keys to free the greater genie who rules this realm. He will grant them an item that will allow them to slay Alazar: The Hallowed Sword of Vengeance. He also gants each hero one wish. He tells them also that three other powerful relics, which can be used by the other members of the fellowship, have been hidden in Greyspire Mountain, and he will send them there...

A6: Greyspire Mountain. The heroes travel to a mountainous complex where three hallways lead to three great treasures - and to a variety of strange challenges.

Consequently, they end level 3 each in possession of a powerful relic.

Level 4: Four Adventures

A7 (?): Hall of the Hill Giant Lord. The heroes travel to the hall of a hill giant lord who acts as the gatekeeper for a passage into a series of realms of shadow.

A8 (?): The Web of Secrets. Delving into an a pocket realm ruled by a spider demoness, the heroes must attempt to recover the soul gem of Alazar and pass to the even darker lands beyond. The spider demoness stands in their way. 

Need two more here... maybe inspired by Temple of Elemental Evil? Not sure... but I have lots of time to get there.

Level 5: One Adventure

A11: In the ultimate campaign adventure, the heroes delve the trap-filled and haunted tomb of Alazar the Demilich which sits at the frontier of the thirteen hells, attempting to put him to rest once and for all. This would no longer have the 'get out of jail free' option - characters who die here stay dead.

Buckler's Keep

I thought that since I'm riffing on the Caves of Chaos, I had to riff on the Keep on the Borderlands. However, I wanted to give it something to make it a little different and memorable. It started with the inn - I decided that this inn (5) would be a stables on the first floor, with the inn on the second and third floors. Then I started to think about how important stables are to this keep - and then I thought of centaurs. The keep is jointly held by a group of centaurs (who actually are the power here) and humans who have made an alliance with them and have established this is a point of trade between the two cultures. The 'theme' of the whole place then is horses. The temple (4) is to the goddess of travelers (Roma) who is a patron of both travelers and centaurs (and which welcomes travelers of all faiths to visit and take refuge). The treatment of horses is very important here. The Thane is a centaur named Ganar, while the Captain of the Watch is a human, a representative of Fort Misteldawn. All buildings are both centaur and human accessible. There are about a dozen centaurs and 30 humans permanently dwelling here. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Dens of Discord

The first adventure in my 'classics' campaign is going to be a stop in the Dens of Discord. Among several cave complexes is hidden a shadow temple, where an acolyte is attempting to restore a demon lord to life. The fellowship is going to go exploring! The areas include:

  • A gully where a natural stream courses southward. Some giant ants live here.
  • A series of halls (west) that were built as a stronghold by dwarves centuries ago but now are held by goblins.
  • A natural mine complex the dwarves used that is now held by kobolds (to the east) - the kobolds and goblins really hate each other.
  • A water-filled series of caverns where troglodytes consume magic mushrooms.
  • An upper natural cave (northwest) where a one-eyed ogre lives, who collects 'taxes' from the others.
  • A hidden temple complex (northeast - through a secret door connected to the troglodyte halls) where the acolyte and some zombies are attempting to return the demon lord to life.

This is obviously not-so-loosely inspired by the Caves of Chaos. Clearing these caves and defeating the acolyte is enough to bump a fellowship from level 1 to level 2.  

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Willingham's Fellowship

This afternoon I was thinking about the 80s and gaming and the perfect campaign I never go to run. Then I was thinking that, instead of writing some new adventures, I could just take the most iconic elements of classic adventures, and re-create them in my game. And then I thought I needed a team to take through these, and decided that (to my mind) the most iconic team is the one inside the cover the BX ‘81 rules. Here’s the image (that I’ve attempted with very little success to recreate several times), along with stat blocks for the characters, from left to right… 

Firik - Failed Dwarf Smith

Armor 1; Hits 12; Move 40’; Hammer 4; Sling 1

Traits: Might 4; Mind 1; Reflex 1

Tags: Brawler; Fortitude; Warrior

Gear: Leather Armor; Light Hammer 3; Sling

Alari - Hopeful Frost Elf Templar

Armor 2; Hits 7; Move 40’; Dagger 2

Traits: Might 2; Mind 3; Reflex 1

Tags: Guardian; Mystic (Common, Light); Warrior

Gear: Dagger; Leather Armor; Shield

Andar - Rebellious Human Archer

Armor 0; Hits 7; Move 40’; Bow 3

Traits: Might 2; Mind 1; Reflex 3

Tags: Archer; Rapid Attack; Sharpshooter; Thievery

Gear: Hunter’s Bow 3

Galazan - Drunken Human Mage

Armor 0; Hits 6; Move 40’; Quarterstaff 2 

Traits: Might 0; Mind 4; Reflex 2

Tags: Lore; Luck; Mystic (Common, Arcane)

Gear: Quarterstaff 2; Alchemist’s Oil (1 flask) 

The idea is that the three males are struggling, and the elf is on a mission to redeem them. A dwarf who failed at smithing, a bowman who got kicked off the guard for insubordination, and the former apprentice mage who developed a drinking problem in his teens and after 40 years finally put the bottle down. 

Their first stop: A variation on the Caves of Chaos. Eventually, they are fighting this dragon, and it is going to look like this.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Mimsby Page 2

I got page 2 done... this is a pretty good example of the direction I'm thinking with this overall.

Parenthetically, I had the first three panels done, forgot to save it, and the Paint crashed and I lost it. I was glad, because I ended up changing the perspective for the image, and it ended up much stronger as a result.

I probably spent about two hours on this page... so that's not a bad time /workflow relationship.


Thursday, April 4, 2024

E is for Elements

In the POEM organizer, E stands for literary elements. I don't mean to flex, but my plan is to basically use as many as possible as often as possible. I know that this is going to be chock-full of irony, symbolism, metaphor, alliteration... conflict... characterization... and foreshadowing. Lots and lots of foreshadowing. Oh my goodness the foreshadowing. 

It's going to be a bit much.

I also know that one of the things I'm going to do a lot of is repeated images and copy/paste of drawings. I'm not doing this to be lazy - I'm doing this for pacing. I am not charging per page, so I get to do whatever I want. I want a lot of quiet moments - and that works best when I make the reader look at the same image a few times (with some minor changes) before shifting. You can already see that in play at the top of the page below.

Here is the work in progress of page 2...



Wednesday, April 3, 2024

O is for Organization

Okay, I’ve set up my purpose… let’s talk about organization. I know that it’s a long-form graphic novel, so that’s kind of done. But, on the micro level, we’ve got the page. 

Aye, there’s the rub.

I’ve got two sorts of extreme opposites in my head. At one extreme is the manga ideal - the page has 2-3 panels on it, and you keep turning pages. At the other far end is the Prince Valiant model - a page is this meticulous, densely-packed wonderland of rich detail. A third force playing upon my mind, and which is sort of hard-wired in there now, is the Barks model of top and bottom tiers, with a default of six panels per tier. You end up with these huge pages with lots of moving parts, and stories that have a breathiness to them, but also this incredible pace.

The Barks model is the most restrictive - part of the creative challenge is how you tell stories and find variety within this framework. It’s sort of the same creative challenge as creating a four-panel comic strip; you always have these four panels to work in. It’s part of what made Calvin and Hobbes so wondrous - he forced himself to work within the approved formats (which are quite restrictive), and Watterson still did these incredible flights of fancy and departures from what’s come before, even though he never messed with the basic structure of the thing.

All have positives. Going back to my purpose: I want to spend time in the story and let readers linger in it. The idea of only a few panels per page is out - goodbye Anime-inspiration. 

But the default assumption - that I at least want the opportunity for this thing to grow and evolve and become something huge - means that I am best suited to leaving the structure fairly open-ended at this point in regards to comic pages. In short, I’m going to go with the standard comic book page format - it’s a blank 2x3 area that I fill with the story as it best fits. This might be splash pages, or it might mean fifteen tiny panels. 

The macro then (in terms of organization) becomes the length of the thing. I have frequently, and much to my chagrin, obsessed over page counts. I have spent far too much time and energy trying to determine the ‘ideal’ page count for a chapter, story, novel… I start thinking in numbers, which is never great. I suddenly think about organizing in 10 chapters of 16 pages each, every three chapters serving as a story arc, the first chapter as a prelude, and the entire text fitting neatly into 160 pages (which would be perfect as a physical book - let’s go on Lulu and start designing the book right now).

Oh, that cart should be BEHIND the horse. Silly me.

Back to Dave Sim. I had SUCH deep admiration for his ability to say around issue 50 that he’s going to go for 300 issues, and that each is going to be exactly 20 pages, and then to actually DO that. Just remarkable.

I cannot do that. I’d love to. Not me.

I was in Barnes and Noble the other night, and was flipping through the collected Jeff Smith’s Bone. I mean, that’s basically what I intend to do (or thereabouts). Full disclosure: I’ve never read much Bone (I think I have read maybe 10 issues). It would be worth grabbing a copy and reading it to see what he is up to, and at least make sure I don’t outright plagiarize without meaning to.

However, I could see his technique in ways I could not when I was looking at his books 20 years ago (wow… it’s been a while). It was much looser and simpler than I remembered - I could see how his process probably worked - and he was ripping through pages. I would be willing to bet he rarely did more than a rough cut of backgrounds, and then went right to town with his pen. He relies very heavily on silhouettes and bold lines… it’s a very stark black and white, while my art has evolved into this grayscale hybrid thing that I’m not sure what it looks like anymore. I also see how getting the most out of simple tools (a stylus on my beat up old Surface Pro and Microsoft Paint that keeps getting worse instead of better with each update - seriously, just go back two updates and leave it that way forever).

So I tried that - if I spent about an hour on a page, would I be able to come up with something I was satisfied with? Here’s what I ended up with (showing my process of blocking in the basic shapes and then going right to fills and gray washes). This isn’t done - I still have some dialogue to add and might spend a few more minutes throwing in some noodly work, but it’s pretty far along.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Back From The Dead (or something)

Ahem. Well this is awkward.

Look, it’s not you - it’s me. I’ve been distant. It’s just. I’ve had a lot going on. You know?

But seriously, I’ve had a lot going on. I directed the fall play and the spring musical, and then I just kind of went into a stupor for a month or two as I have recovered. And now I’ve recovered. I guess. But also, I use this blog to talk about my creative process, and I’ve had no creative process to talk about. I mean, the play and the musical were very creative endeavors, but the whole process was about being there and collaborating. It’s a fundamentally different process. With the blog, I post things I don’t have people to collaborate with, and this becomes a form of collaboration in lieu of meeting with the vocal director or set designer…if that makes sense.

Also, it’s April 1, which is usually when I get the idea for my big summer project. But the thing is that I’m kind of burned out on some of my go-to sources. Star Wars is pretty meh right now for me. Same with superheroes.

But I never really burn out on fantasy. I’ve been looking over my rules and expansion materials for Hack’D, and it’s pretty much exactly what I’d want it to be. I went through the various sourcebooks I started last year (links are over to the left there under Hack’D resources), and there’s not much to change, although there’s a lot of room for expansion. I’ll probably tinker with those a bit this week… so I already knew that whatever project I might do is not going to be a new RPG. At this point, I’ve written the RPGs I want to write. Hack’D is the mousetrap that I wanted to make for four decades. So, it would seem that I have nothing left to prove.  

But I also sort of got dragged back into being at least marginally creative in this realm - I forgot that I promised several months ago to contribute to a jam comic book a bunch of small press comic guys like me are making. I’m not on FB, but my wife is, and everyone thinks it’s me, so we just go with it. She got a message that basically said, ‘hey, is your page done? It’s due tomorrow’, and she was like ‘do you know what this is about?’ and I was all ‘oh poop’.

Or something like that.

Anyway, I knocked out a page, and it was both more fun and more relaxing than I expected. There was zero stress involved, and I just noodled away on it until it was done. I have no idea how long this took. An hour? Two? I lost track of time. I started it on Saturday morning, and I figured I would just keep working on it until it was done. Here it is…

Why am I talking in circles? Um… because that’s how my creative collaborative process works. But also because I’m getting to a point. I think. I have historically beat myself up for not finishing projects I start - because I start a LOT of projects that never get done (see my Cupcake Scouts story from last summer). 

So, I have an idea for a project. It would never get done. Or, at least, it would probably never get done. It’s a huge LOTR level fantasy story, but in graphic novel form. I figure that I can use the blog to brainstorm this until I get bored and give up 127 words from now, or in a week, or a year, or maybe twenty-eight years from now when I complete the last page of a 7,452 page epic beyond the scope of anything anyone has ever attempted. 

Probably not that last one. Dave Sim did 6,000 pages of Cerebus, so the bar is set pretty high.

Okay. I figure that I’ll use the blog for the next bit to set some foundation. I have created a process that I teach to my 8th graders, so if it’s good enough for grade 8, it’s good enough for me! We use an acrostic for ‘poem’ (very clever, I know) to both analyze creative writing (primarily poems) and to compose them. Here’s the idea:

- P stands for purpose. Why did the writer sit down to do this thing anyway? What’s it ‘about’? (not plot necessarily, but big-idea wise). It might be to describe a sunset, or to share a moment with a friend, or to apologize for something the writer did wrong. 

- O stands for organization. How is this thing even set up? Does it follow any established rules or structures? Is it highly-structured? How so?

- E stands for elements. This is things like symbolism, irony, figurative language, setting…

- M stands for message. What is the author trying to say to us through the work? What’s the ‘theme’ of the thing? You have to see how the other three work together to get to this one. 

So, I’m going to just do P for now, and stew on the others for a bit. My purpose is to compose an extended, grand fantasy narrative in graphic novel form. It has to be ‘big’ enough in breadth to include anything I’d want to put in there. It’s a story you would spend time in. 

Related: I’ve often thought of pacing from an ‘as fast as possible’ sort of philosophy. I generally want things to MOVE. When I direct, I’m looking to pick up the pace, to cut anything that slows down the action, and to drag the audience from event to event. When I’m creating comics, I want to have a lot of ‘story’ on each page. I suppose the operative word would be ‘tight’. The purpose for this is just the opposite. I want it to feel like building a huge LEGO set - I know it’s going to be a slow burn, and I spend a lot of time sitting and marveling at the small engineering feats as they happen. Some of my favorite LOTR movie moments are the small moments where characters are just sitting and eating breakfast or tying their shoes or whatever tiny thing is helping to build the verisimilitude of this fantastic world. So my purpose would, from a creative perspective, be to spend time in this world. “Getting things done” or “keeping it moving” would then run counter to my basic purpose. I want to Samwise Gamgee this mother.