Similar themes, different outcomes: or why I should read kickstarters through and not simply buy because of cool Art

The reason I bought into Beneath the Inverted Church was entirely based on preview art that showed up in my G+ feeds. The art in question is some good linework by Scott Buoncristiano, like this piece of his:

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I didn’t bother to read through the Kickstarter, and by the time Erik Tenkar reviewed it, I had forgotten that I had backed it.  I find there to be thematic alignments between BtIC and Zak Sabbath’s wonderful Alice inspired A Red and Pleasant Land.

Both involve characters entering a hostile and evil demiplane subject to the caprices and obsessions of the truly villainous inhabitants, and having to pass into an even more warped reality through mirrors.  If the main enemy in BtiC was any other type of demon than an “Inverted Cupid” the types of horrors encountered would have been more palatable.  As they follow that specific type of evil, it enters into a questionable territory. Not, mind you, and unfamiliar one. Plenty of the flavor text in  ARaPL is just as graphic, with one major point of difference.  The evils of ARaPL are just that, Evil, and at no point are the characters forced to really participate in the Red Queen’s games in order to complete the adventure. They can capitulate, it is true, but it is not required that they do so. They can run, they can kill, and most certainly, they can die, but they needn’t do anything graphically uncomfortable.

That aside, there are a lot of interesting mechanics to the circumstance of travelling through, or opening mirrored portals.  While the Stress mechanic is reminiscent of San points loss in CoC or Fright Checks in GURPS, they unfortunately generate the problem of dictating how a character feels.  You can tell a PC that the image they see through the glass is revolting, but strips a little agency when you tell them that they are disgusted, but cannot turn away, at least without incorporating some type of Saving throw or resistance check.

The looking glass world in BtIC is called the Invert, and like that of ARaPL, is a very hostile place, and also quite alive. Not only are you faced, when gazing at a reflective surface, with loathy images that induce stress, but it can see you. In the case of several locations called mirror doors, there are two types of interactions; the first is to be magically (and forcibly) drawn through the glass, which only allows passage of flesh and a substance called Stained Salt (a super hardened mineral that looks like stained glass), a process that will maim or kill dressed and armored characters, or  to “seduce” the sentient mirror door by showing it something both novel and  indecent.  This goes beyond a “tell me your darkest secret” kind of thing, and quickly drifts into an uncomfortable place that might demand an alignment check from characters dealing with the toll keeping aspect of the mirror world (if not their players walking out on the game). Now, there is an “out” built into the setting; the first encounter the characters have is with an amoral bandit who likes to defile the corpses of his victims in a way that would make Dahmer blush, but is accompanied on his crimes by a merry band of artists who record the atrocities in their sketchbooks.  There are some examples of the content of these images, and a money making opportunity for characters to sell them off so that they can be destroyed by grief stricken relatives of the deceased depicted therin, but primarily in that you can bypass the damned doors by showing them pages from the book, which is still pretty nasty.

The monstrous opponents in BtIC do look amazing, again thanks to Scott Buoncristiano’s artwork, and could easily have crawled out of the Teratic Tome, or the Random Guest Table from a Red and Pleasant Land. (One of my favorite parts of that book!)

By converting the primary opponent from a lust demon into one of violence, one could remove all of the sexual content from this and play through, but the characters without the picture book of mutilated corpses might have to shed their own or each other’s blood to open the doors… There are enough mechanical ideas in this to be interesting, but culling them from the rest of the material is not for the faint of heart.

 

Edit: Instead   of showing the Magical Mirror Doors some novel perversion,  you could instead require characters   to recite new or original poetry to the door, as the Blatant Beast  did to Harold Shea in the Incompleat Enchanter.

On other notes: Two products with my art just hit drivethrough. As usual I don’t get anything from sales unless it is one of my own products, but check these out:

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The Blood & Treasure Keeper’s Screen, by John Stater and The first issue of Charlie Mason’s Whitebox zine, wcThe Wizard’s Scroll

Snatch em now, the art is good!

 

 

Three Important Things

First off, go out now and get your hands on Diogo Noguiera’s Old Skull publishing’s Sharp Swords and Sinister Spells. It is a nifty rules light version of a swords and sorcery game, currently  pay what you want, with many of the sensibilities of Dungeon Crawl Classics and a very pulpy tone, such as one might find in Cirsova.

Secondly I just got my grubby little hands on a bunch of dragon magazines, including issue#138. One of the articles was called The End of The World, which I know a lot of my friendsand family feel last week launched us toward. The particular flavor of apocalypse presented in the magazine was a reboot of the campaign after the black plague hit.  It was about renewing the world after changes out of your control had occurred. This was the basis of my Northport campaign, set forty years after the plague had struck. Much of the territory of the campaign has been left in the form of explorable ruins, and property is fairly easy to acquire, as at least a third of Northport is still vacant. It is an ideal circumstance for adventurers, as so much remains to be explored, and there are plenty of folk in need of champions.

I look toward the new political landscape much the same way. It isn’t what I wanted, it threatens some of those I love, and I am not going to sit down and complain about it, I am going to act on behalf of those who need defending.

Third item has to do with some art I originally released to my patrons, and should be releasing soon: Dungeon Scenes 2.

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Meanwhile back in my game, The juniors crew has invested in real estate, acquiring the property directly above the Bone Gate so that they can maintain access to it, at least as long as it is there.  I had casually mentioned that they could acquire it, and I am handling that as individual purchases of the Base perk, which amounts to a room each within a couple of row houses. This could lead to them becoming landlords, which I would handle as Independent Income.

Meanwhile, I have had a sudden influx in players wanting to start with guild rank, and they have already become rivals. The guild has its hands in a lot of pies (as evidenced by the number of ranking members who have points in independent income) including a push toward gaining access to set up shops in the undercity. This was kind of a feature in video games, where right before a boss fight you would run into a kind of dungeon merchant, and I have seen it in Stonehell  as well.  My PC’s are not quite heading toward the Papers & Paychecks route, but how manyadventurers have started as caravan guards, or in this case, taking care of the inkeeper’s rat problem, only with worse…

I am in business now!

In addition to all of my products over at DrivethruRPG, I am now a vendor on Society6, where you can buy prints of many of my pieces.

additionally, I have just launched a patreon! My aims are to raise enough money to upgrade my website to one that would allow for linkbacks, and then to replace my old scanner with a better model.

What you get: for $1, access to digital artwork loaded up every one to two weeks, and with increased levels, linkbacks to your blog once I get that upgraded, suggestions on the category of art (and eventually composing the type of stock art I am selling).

Further levels would get you specific commissions of quarterly or even bimonthly commissions, and even quarterly digitized color paintings by commission!

This blog will continue to show shaky photographs of all of my work, but patrons will have access to the cleaned up, print ready images.

Now that my major commissions are done, I can get back to the GURPS to SW project I have been after…

Oh, and by the way, I bought into the Cirsova kickstarter, and just started reading the three books I have from it.  While I haven’t gotten far, the authors I encountered sure seem to have the feel of the sword and sorcery books my dad had.  Good stuff, makes me think of a lot of the DCC adventures I have read.

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Blood & Treasure 2e is out!

The immensely  prolific  John M. Stater  has released the first book of the latest edition  of Blood & Treasure. While it has elements  of a 1e retroclone, the game has some of the better features from 3e, namely Feats, as an optional set of rules.

There are 13 basic classes, with something  close to forty variant sub-classes; a slight modification to duelist gives you archer, the bard can be a jester, and a monk can be adjusted to be a ninja or a ronin.  Clerics  can be specialty priests, with simple equitable alterationd, magic users can specialize by college, and Sorcerers may have one of several  bloodlines.

Best of all, humans don’t  seem to be lacking when stacked  against the other races, because they get a sizeable xp bonus, and the GM (called Treasure Keeper)’s choice  of either an extra feat, if they are being used, or a bonus to Saves. To me, this feels like template  balancing, and I like it far more than level limits, which this game has none of.

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The system flows smoothly, the presentation  is great, and there are seven pieces of my art in this book, with more to follow with the companion pieces.

You can get it here. Now hop to it!

 

 

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Art Spotting

This week, my stock art has turned up in two places. One is on Michael Smith’s blog, where he discusses a low rent variant on Leomund’s various pocket dimensional  real estate spells, in this case Poultrycanon’s Tiny Panic Room, which also has the sub variant of Halstrom’s Wee Rendevous.

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I was perusing my Artist’s  page on Drivethrurpg  when I found that Ultanya Publ7shing had credited me  in a recent product, Gonzo Con.

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Naturally, I  had to buy it. It is an adventure  for level 0-1 characters and involves ordainary gaming con attendees and staff being zapped into actual characters… pretty much what all of us wish for when we go to a con, although probably without being attacked by a giant gelatinous  D20. From what I have read so far, this little system neutral  adventure, for under $3 is worth the money. I can’t help but try and support  those who support me.

 

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Meditations on Recent Mail, S&W Appreciation Day goodies and critical failure expectations

Yesterday I got a bundle of booklets I had privately  printed from Lulu.com. All of these, as with all of my print projects there, are PDF’s I have rightfully purchased, and have kept private, and have only printed for personal use. Lately, Lulu has gotten kind of sketchy about what it will print, based on page size and image quality and what not.  I tried to have Zak Sabbath’s free PDF of DIY Palace of the Silver Princess in this bundle, because the coupon was good, and I really liked the tone of it, but it was rejected due to sizing issues.

I know, it is kinda crappy for an artist to use generic covers for these things, but the majority of my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy printed books were originally ordered to be printed from my kindle, and I had trouble uploading images, and just wanted to hold the damn books. If I ever do a hardcover compilation, I will surely do something about that. As you can see I was amateurish about printing out Labyrinth Lords , the logo of a camera on the back covers because I didn’t bother to add a picture is regrettable, But I actually printed out the game so that I can play Kabuki Kaiser‘s Ruins of the Undercity with its preferred ruleset.IMG_20160316_072104[1]

(A couple of other recent Lulu purchases)

Meanwhile, I have been looking over some of the goodies I acquired over this weekend’s Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day. As a patron of OSQ, I got a sneak peek at an article for a WhiteStar character class, the Untrained Initiate, a variant Star Knight that emulates A masterless Jedi finding their way to the Force.

I also paid a little for some PWYW items. As someone who feels it when folks download the sample and don’t buy the product from drivethru, I make a point of paying more than the average buyer.  One item was the nice collection of adventures for  level 4-6 adventurers, the Dungeons of Fel’Valashar, which has a really nice feel to it, containing four separate one page dungeon lairs containing some non standard denizens and have generally a fresh and well thought out feel to them.  The other Item I picked up was the LotR themed offering from Barrel Rider Games, The Hero’s Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. One thing that impressed me about this little book, that I have only just skimmed, is the relative low power of the characters.  Anyone, at any level, could die under a volley of arrows or after two or three bad rounds of combat. This makes the character durability roughly like  GURPS characters in their general lack of ridiculous hit points. I like the feel of this very much. I recommend picking up both of these, they are really quite good at the price.

 

Now, back to Northport.  I really, really wish some of that game could be played face to face; some  confusion could be settled, and the time it takes to get simple things accomplished could be greatly speeded up. Seriously, the game has gone on for almost three years, and effectively three weeks game time have elapsed.

It took the better part of a week for one of the thieves to perform a break in ( They were stealing a Jugga trophy from the Orcish Televodnica (Dojo) to use as a bribe to get access to the missing young lovers who were being watched over by a retired Hobgoblin Qwik who who is high on the spectrum.  Pallido has Single Minded, Eidetic memory and Shyness, along with Obsession:Jugga), and almost three weeks to plan the break in. Actual tabletop time would have been about twenty minutes to roll through.

My treasure hunters, meanwhile, defeated a supercolossal Earth Elemental (DR 7, ST 78 or so, from the Forum’s Bestiary)by softening its feet and slaying (easily with trick archery , a -10 to hit just doesn’t hold up against even the 125pt Archer build from DF 15) it’s master (an apprentice elementalist with a magica item)and then using the Artifact level earth elemental control rod (Forces contests of will to be resolved with will and not ST of elemental ) to force it into submission. This became a serious point of contention, as use of such a device was blasphemy to the party’s modified cleric, who worships Grom.  In the end, they decided to release the elemental after healing it, and sending it off holding a set of magical tracking coins.

The coins were important plot items, as one of their hirelings, a Seasoned Guard named Snorri Roslovich (named for James Rosloff) was revealed as a traitor when he (along with the party’s mule were crushed by the stumbling elemental.  He turned a new leaf after being healed, and revealed that he had been leaving coins marked with Mystic Mark on them for their rivals to use Seeker on.  So far they have determined that their rivals consist of at least Kalvo Tvasi, the Veteran Agent that they had stolen the treasure map from,], and Monorith, a katana wielding Were lion who was one of the original characters playing in Northport back in 2002, and whoever has been casting seeker…

Along their journey they have met bandits and scared them off with tales of a lich and his army, that turned out to be at least partly true. They also fought Gnolls, but lately have seen signs of the gnolls being fought and possibly killed by Monorith, but also having fought the lion, and not left bodies behind.  Without their Mule, getting back with the treasure they hope to find may be a bit difficult, likewise fleeing from all of these enemies.

They finally arrived at the X on their map, and found a well amidst the ruins of some earthworks and a centuries gone wizards tower.  The priest of Grom decided to use his ridiculously high skill at Shape Earth to dig a tunnel to the base of the well, but the low sanctity in the area, along with the penalty for shaping worked stone, led to a failure that got his foot stuck in a hole. He tried to fix it, and blew a critical failure.

Previous catastrophes he has been involved in, such as trying to create food out of shrubbery, have lead to the spontaneous creation of hostile plant creatures, so when he critted the Earth to Stone roll, he assumed that he had some kind of enemy to fight.  I had the entire area around the well collapsed into a sinkhole, revealing the terrain to be full of gravel, loose shale, and bone fragments.  The last time I played an earthshaping character, in a supers game on rpol.net, I had to make architecture or engineering rolls to carve tunnels that would not fall. Engineering for non Artificers in DF is kinda scant, but precisely the skill that is needed for modifying ancient earthworks without falling into pits, so IQ-6 until he next spends some points after visiting a sage.

Myh other (wuxia) group has finally gotten through a crowd of Horde Ninjas while escorting a Wu-jen through the undercity to deliver him to their Omo. The progressive lethality of the ninja’s tactics only was matched by their sheer fragility in the face of the party’s 17 ST yakuza’s Tetsubo and the ferocity of their catfolk Ninja, along with the assorted spellcasters and the mixed martial arts enthusiast (he is built up from the skirmisher template but has no real chi abilities, and a little magic.) They are a pretty effective group, but I would like to see how they fare against a few worthies.

 

WhiteStar and GURPS Space

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Years ago, I had GURPS  Space, and Aliens together as part of a promotional  sale. Space was crunchy, and fairly  redundant if you had UltraTech. There were some subtle differences though. One thing I   thought was significant was having Capacitor  banks to power the hyperdrive instead of power cells. Picky of me, but the idea of having to wait while your puny reactor charged up to make the jump, while the enemy closed in made for a good bit of drama in my book.

Those books left my home during a purge I regret, and recently I started a project of stock art for space opera games. This is where WhiteStar comes in. Barrelrider Games seems to have hit one out of the park here, although I like my Space Sorcery the way James Garrison writes it over in Hereticwerks.  To make good on a promise I made to a friend about coming up with iconic space characters as I have with fantasy ones,  I   have started a series of representative  character images that would work for both WhiteStar  and GURPS  Space.

I am well aware of the Internet flack over the character of Finn inThe Force Awakens, and I   am one of those that thinks if you have wolflings and robots and Star Knights, you are damn well going  to have  the full cohort of humanity  as inhabitants  of the galaxy along with the klingons (I  mean Qinlons) and Stellar Dragons. My Space Opera has Uhura and Guynan and Mace Windoo and Adama and Starbuck. It is not based solely on the demographics  of the Mercury space missions.

 

That aside, I  went down to my flgs and spent extra to get the hardcopy of GURPS  Space 4e, (because character templates), only to discover that it was now the fluff book, and UltraTech  4e now had the crunch.

This was disenheartening, but part of the redesign  from 3e to 4e was eliminating redundancies. Naturally, I  immediately went and bought the pdf version, (which thankfully  had the weapons tables as a seperate download), completely blowing my remaining  paypal funds. If I   am going to be getting the WhiteStar  Companion, and illustrating those classes, I   am going to need to sell me some more art.