Sunday, 29 April 2012

Stock Art: Trolls (or orc and troll) playing an RPG -Inked Adventures

Self-promotion ...
Man, I'm feeling guilty for not producing more floor plan packs more quickly, so I'm peddling scribbles again.

Cross-posted to the Inked Adventures site and IA blogger.

New stock art for use in publications – available at DriveThru, RPGNow and Wargame Vault.
Currently $3.50 for files and rights usage in publications

Fantasy Adventures for Kids (JEN Games)

$3 on DriveThruRPG

This a great little introductory game, with plenty of replayability.  The chibi art and cut out figures is cool idea, very suitable for younger players.

  My only problem is that the game is peppered with modern gaming terms where "powers" are "activated" and I'm not entirely convinced that always  having a final "boss" monster makes the game more accessible to console gamers.   However, it could be argued that this language makes it an ideal intro to modern games (CCGs and DnD4 etc)  What works for me is encouragement for the dungeon master to be creative with puzzle rooms.  

If I was to play it with newbies of any age I would simplify and drop some of the character powers, and perhaps make the boss monsters a little weaker, but other than that it looks like a real blast.

Well presented, great value for money. Fun all around. :)

(Tried to post this from an iPad as an experiment but I'm finding that you just can't beat using a proper PC!)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Nobody panic

So, the Onebookshelf sites are down.  That's DriveThru, RPGNow, DriveThruComics, DriveThruFiction ...

Nobody panic.It's temporary. 

It's okay, we'll be fine.

We'll get through this.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Alosar Emanli Party of One BB3 (Open Design)

Alosar Emanli - the alien fighting druid!
Party of One  Alosar Emanli and the Creatures from the Fallen Star (BB3) - Open Design - by Matthew J. Hanson

(The following review is written for the Roleplayers Chronicle and may appear in part there soon)


Solo text based adventure for one player.  Pathfinder System

When a mysterious object falls from the night sky, apprentice druid Alosar Emanli stands alone as evil creatures from the stars invade his forest. Can he overcome the many dangers that lurk in the woods and defeat the alien brood? That’s up to you, the choices you make, and the luck of the die…

This stand-alone Party of One adventure is designed for a single player with no GM and basic rules. All you need to play is some dice (d6, d8, and 20), a pencil, some paper, and this book.

 ... Alosar Emanli and the Creatures from the Fallen Star includes both a 1st level and 3rd level character sheet for Alosar, fully compatible for use with any beginning Pathfinder Roleplaying Gameparty to continue your adventures!

1 PDF document, 15 pages, 65 sections and one sample character (levels 2 and 3)
$2.99 on DTRPG/ RPGNow

Alosar' ticks many boxes for what should make a really good solo adventure but I found myself very reluctant to replay the adventure to see where else the situations led.  Technically it has a high replayability factor, in practice I found it a bit of a drag.  The solo games I grew up with were the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, Sorcery! GrailQuest and Lone Wolf, which all used RPG styled systems.  Most of the CYOA books which I saw at the time didn't have dice systems, and had objectives like "Find all 25 different endings" which seemed less of a victory somehow.    Alosar is third in a series of separately published texts which (I believe) started as an article-mini-game in Kobold Quarterly.  That article partly inferred or revisited the solo adventure from 1983 "Red Box" D&D. The solo game in the red box may have seemed very innovative to CYOA players, but to Fighting Fantasy readers it was lacking in description, story and the epic-ness found in a proper "quest".  It was a dungeon with a few rooms, a few monsters, a handful of acquisitions.  As an introduction to the D&D xp slow-climb of low level play it was perfect.  D&D and Pathfinder are balanced towards group play, so perhaps introductory solos are in fact rigged so that group-play will always appear to be more exciting.    I mention all this because when I buy or am leant a solitaire adventure I like to know its exact context in relation to other products. In typing this I have yet to fully explore the Pathfinder Beginner Box and perhaps there's a solo game in there too, much like in the D&D Basic game of my youth.  In some ways solo texts are brave move for publishers whose meat and potatoes is often scenarios, new monsters, power lists and new classes.  

Although not implicitly stated, Alosar is almost certainly a game for new players who wish to learn the core rules.  The inclusion of the character sheets is for group campaign play, and not as a record sheet for the text itself (which I at first assumed it was).  Alosar, as with the two titles prior to this is absolutely perfect for a Dungeon Master to give to a new player before a game, as a taster and familiariser with both a character and basic rules.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that their aren't many Pathfinder Druid solos out there. I feel I have to say this in case you're a Pathfinder player wanting a new challenge on a rainy afternoon when friends are away - unless of course you enjoy the nostalgia of being led through the rules with someone else's character (which many of us do).  I don't mind introductory solos, it's just that I feel that the solo medium needs championing for experienced play.  Just for a moment I thought Open Design were going to challenge this concept.  No, it's definitely a low level introductory solo.  But hey, at least we know that the Party of One products can be played by anyone from newbie players to the jaded long-beards.

The reason why I mention gamebooks, is that for myself, the more exciting games were the ones where the reader was able to relate to the character as a detailed persona, like in the Lone Wolf.  By contrast, in Fighting Fantasy and Tunnels & Trolls solos, the protagonist is an invisible persona where the reader fills in the gaps and stats.  In the latter, descriptions of the hero's weapons are absent because the character might be of any class and armed accordingly.  Naturally with games where different types of characters have a different skillset, it's very important to tailor the limited number of choices to that character.  Party of One BB3 totally succeeds in placing the reader firmly in the shoes of forest-alert trainee-druid Alosar, whose sickle and select spells smack down the foes which have entered into his locale.  Alosar is not yet a wandering adventurer, stumbling into random unknown caves (no doubt that will be his future). He is defending his territory, the living woods, from (literal) alien invaders.  Therefore, the writing style flows very well - the reader is both "you" and "Alonsar", and is kept immersed in the situation in hand.  I like this a lot.  Unfortunately, the notion that (before getting involved in real danger) Alonsar the Druid has to perform a set of tasks or trials for his teacher feels a little hackneyed.  In a larger text this would be appropriate, but we only have a handful of sections (65) with which to complete the game.  Which brings me to a minor problem I have with the ending  ...

"You have completed this adventure. If you would like to try for a different outcome, return to
1 and begin again."

There is a reason for this, because although the adventure is fairly linear, there are a couple of "minor reveals" which mean that as a reader you are rewarded with a somehow richer experience of the adventure.  I'm just a fan of survival really, and that statement smacks of the CYOA books where the meta-game of beating the book by seeking out all of the routes is actually a goal.  If this text is an introductory text to campaign play then a "one-time through" experience is all that should be allowed unless the character is a time travelling quantum physics specialist.  This might be up to  the DM of the campaign to decide.  Again, I have to stress that I believe this product is ideal for a DM to give to a learning player before a game, and that it is not ideal as a one-off game for a player without a group.

I would like to see more of the Party of One texts produced and then bundled together as a reduced pack for group players to collectively build a party with a back story prior to their noble alliance as a party of adventurers (starting at 2nd or 3rd level – which is perfect!).

I printed the text out.  When mentioning this to the editor of RC, the response was "Why the heck are you printing that?"  I guess his foresight was better than mine...

Open Design produce some lush easy-on-the-eye products - Kobold Quarterly excels in this way.  The Party of One products wouldn't look out of place in a glossy full colour rulebook or a coffee table magazine for that matter.  There's a marbled background image and the choices of fonts are aesthetically balanced, the text is well ordered, in easy to read double columns.  Easy to read, that is - if it was a magazine...

Experience has taught me that paper copies are the best way to play solos with dice and a pencil, either at a table or in bed.  If I want a solo-fantasy RPG experience on a PC I'd probably play an actual PC game.  There are practical reasons for printing some PDFs out.  One is that when combat occurs in a solo, a separate sheet of paper is useful for scribbling HPs on, equipment found etc -if you don't have a character sheet.  I mistook the two sheets at the back of the text as being working character sheets, but they are not up to the task and are intended for the character's life beyond the game text.  So I printed the PDF and my partner's inkjet really struggled. The marbled background does the document no favours when in comes to low budget printing - it certainly gets worse when any of the colours are running low.  An alternative printer-friendly copy of the text, or information about how to turn off the background would have been very handy in this case.  

Viewing the PDF on a tablet is a fair compromise and my old school ways are slowly accepting that an iPads are less invasive at the gaming table than a laptop or tower.    Playing the text on an iPad had it's own problems as the two column text made navigating through the different numbered sections even more chaotic - zoom in, out - flip forward and back a few pages - scan up, down ... what was the passage number again?  

A message to all publishers:  If you're selling a solo game PDF or ebook with numbered sections - please include hotlinks. 

It's bad enough that some publishers don't connect a Table of Contents to the actual contents in purchasable documents.  We are living in what could be a glorious new age for interactive texts. Hyperlinking is what the web and simplest of PDFs do best. 

In summary, the PDF is beautiful to look at - but unprintable and unreadable on paper, but it is also lacking in the basics in terms of on screen navigation.

On the positive side, if you're collecting the Party of One publications then this product is a genuine must have.  If you're DM teaching players, or a player wishing to learn some basics, this will be nice investment.  If you play a lot of solo games you may find Alosar' disappointing.

It's refreshing to play a druid and some of the encounters are quite original, but overall I see this text as a pre-game tool and not standing up well on it's own as a gaming experience in it's own right.

The following stats are using the Roleplayers Chronicle ratings:
Publication Quality: 3/5
- Well written. Looks: 5/5, but fails in actual play on printed paper and screen.
 Mechanics: 4/5
-Robust as a tutorial, very limited in terms of it's chosen system.
 Desire to Play: 4/5
-The pick-up-and-playability is a high 5/5 but it doesn't thrill.
 Overall: 3-4 /5
-The series itself is a great concept, but Alonsar' feels slightly "hollow".

Fighting Fantasy for iPhone and iPad price drop

Last chance to buy Fighting Fantasy for iPhone and iPad.

Fighting Fantasy titles on for iPhone and iPad are now 99 cents per product (59p) in the Apple App Store. This may be due to Big Bubble no longer having a license or something, but I barely believe anything I read online these days. ;)  The point is that these Apps are now super cheap.  With dice rolling graphics, coloured-in illustrations and thumb-fanning parchment page effects, these are possibly the best way to play gamebooks without needing a pencil, eraser or dice.  Also, for those of us in the UK, since the Kindle editions of the Fighting Fantasy books are only for sale in the US, this is one of the few ways to read FF on a tablet - or an iPad, to be precise (sorry Android users).

The following links will take you to the US iTunes store - but hopefully you'll be bumped to the page of your locale / and correct currency.  According to the blurb, we must buy them now before they vanish forever!  :o  Failed Luck Test!

Warlock of Firetop Mountain for iPhone and iPad,
See Mr Nicholson's work in COLOUR!

This snippet of information was courtesy of the
Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks Facebook page and Technology Tell

If you like the idea of Fighting Fantasy on a tablet, you may be interested in purchasing the Kindle editions (US only - Lord knows why).  - See also this post (where I was amazed at how many of the CYOA books were available in electronic form)

Amazon (US) widget with Fighting Fantasy Kindle Titles:
 (which naturally will not display on an iPad because it uses Flash. pfft - Android users now cheer...)

Deathtrap Dungeon on Kindle:

Friday, 20 April 2012

Con-Quest Derby, new RPG purchases and how CCGs made me realise that I'm not a strategist

EV-9D9: "New acquisitions!"
Con-Quest Derby 2012 has been me revisit some old self-criticsm about myself as a collector, reader and gamer.  Due to some holes in the space-time continuum my time visiting the Assembly Rooms in Derby last Saturday was extremely brief.  This meant that actually signing up for and joining in games at the tables was near impossible.  So I lived up to the second part of my hobby by shopping - i.e. scouring the stalls around the edge of the hall for the goodies.

Firstly, I'll list all the stuff I bought (in later posts I'll add photos), then I'll bore you with my anxieties about modern games.

The games came free with this £180 Veggie Burger.
It's an eclectic list. The Leisure Games and Magic Geek stalls provided some of the following, other bits were from the bring-n-buy table.  Many of the main rule systems had gone by the time I'd got there, but I compensated well.
  1. Mercenary, Spies and Private Eyes bundle pack (Flying Buffalo)
  2. Basic Role-Playing Rules (hard back, Chaosium)
  3. Village of Hommlet (DnD4)
  4. Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (DnD4)
  5. Oriental Adventures (D&D3)
  6. The Mines of  Keridav
  7. The Demon Pits of Caeldo
  8. D&D Wrath of Ashardalon (WotC)*
  9. DungeonQuest (FFG)

*My partner has renamed the Ashardalon "huge" dragon figure "Neville".  In future I will refer to the game as "The Slightly Miffedness of Neville"

This haul was physically difficult to carry back to the train station.  It was as though I had mugged Santa!

Okay, so I did no actual gaming, which feels a little shaming ... I did, however, receive a demonstration of 6D6 Shoot-Out. (Links: Publisher Site / PDFs on DriveThru) The 6D6 company were running back-to-back demonstrations of their indie card based game, and it was hard to escape the enthusiastic staff.  Although the game looks like relatively fast fun for card gamers, it finally sealed shut a box in my mind which I had been worried about looking inside of.

My gaming past is in DMing pen-n-paper RPGs using very open worlds of description, freehand maps, imbalanced fights, incidental narrative, and role-playing (acting out) almost any NPC encountered, and when not playing... dreaming up the ideal "totally immersive" fantasy experience.  A lot more time has been spent dreaming than actually playing, so I've lowered my sights over the years and returned occasionally to Talisman, Warhammer Quest and a selection of PC games - which I still see as lacking in a "quintessential something" that pen n paper RPGs have.  My fussiness has possibly driven me away from seeking out local game groups, since just as I went to college, the tabletop battles of Warhammer and cards of Magic the Gathering took over the shops, years before World of Warcraft became press shorthand for all things gamer-geek.  Okay, this is a simplification - I did dabble with the chaos armies of WH40K(2nd edition).

I've now realised that it's not just because I find modern rules difficult to follow, but that it is simply this: I am not a strategist.

Whilst watching players at Con-Quest "activating" skills and equipment cards (listening to the teacher-player babble something about how "interactive" it was), I realise that I've never been wired this way: I never saw feats, spells or weapons as a collective resource "pool" - I could never truly assess a character's overall power.  Granted, these details were on the character sheet, and perhaps those 1970's-80's games also had their own impenetrable terms.  However, there really has been a conceptual shift in games away from the quick dice, the odd table and the looseness of the pencil scribbled information.  Class choices in the DnD4 PH read like a sports management guide, to the point that I truly respect WotC's awareness of "game balance" - fresh from the minis table game - or whatever it was that made DnD4 so different from D&D3.5.  It's still too different for me.

Glancing at my scavenged Chainmail and OD&D PDFs there's a sense in those rules that play was based upon what figures were to hand - but I'd be lying if I said that was the game I played in my teens.  For myself T&T and D&D and gamebooks were all about living out the tableaus found in fantasy art (and often without figures).  Even today I see the dice system as the thing which stands between me and the game art.  Naturally, I say "dice"-system.  I prefer to throw myself over to the mercy of random fate than build opposing card ziggurats.  Partly, I'm unfamiliar with many card systems, but that also I just want unrestricted travel to unlimited places and meet all sorts of creatures, tackle puzzles, perhaps enjoy all of these within a connected quest (campaign).  But ultimately, as in table-top wargaming, I suspect that my play-style sucks in terms of the choices I make, and perhaps I shy away from commitment to a 1-2 hour game in which the players are locked in a single type of situation (a single battle).

Solo-gamebooks and random dungeon systems have given me a profound respect for RPG information presentated in card form and in fact several of my "back-burner" ideas all use simple card systems, but none of these ever resemble popular CCGs.

Combat Stack? Rotating cards?
I just want to roll a d6.

I've been browsing through the rules for FFG's DungeonQuest and the words "stack" and images of cards turned 90 degrees are leaving me cold.  Fantasy Flight Games have really screwed this one up, but hey, I can still make up my own rules.  I still never quite got over how FFG interpreted WHFRPG - it was like reading a lost cryptic translation where familiar ambitious RPG-style notions would become lost in fixed arena scenarios, press out tokens, high production value upgradeable card stacks... 

In a slightly separate issue, my own gaming experience bypassed RPGs in which the meta-story elements had become part of the scoring - somewhen, maybe it was White Wolf came along, something fundamental changed in systems.  The myth here is that characters now have "more depth" and clearer motivation in play - when in fact to the older players it might just feel like an extra unnecessary layer has been added (and not an enhancement).  I think the closest I ever really got to this was exotic Honour (OA) and Karma (TSR MSH) in games, the rest was all just acting and improvisation. The point being that dice and stats substituted at the table that which could not be simulated in conversation (i.e. fighting, explosions, physical superpowers).  The rest of the game was driven by the rolling descriptions provided by the DM of the environment in the scenario (and the players responses).

Strategy card games and the resolution-solving paper-rock-scissors mechanics from LARPs had come of age and found their ways into common gaming parlance, but that parlance still feels alien to me.  I describe my prefered gaming experiences as being "old school", but often to others this implies a simple (and somehow) derivative game, less sophisticated than Hack or Diablo on the PC -my own jokes about "kill monster, grab treasure, go shopping" aside.  I mean quite the reverse.  Like many others, I'm not trying to create a vision of games from the past being nobler ... okay maybe a little ;)  I genuinely believe 70-80's role-playing systems are intellectually and creatively more rewarding to play than some of the modern systems - but it's really hard to be sure of this because I read a modern rules and sometimes have no idea how those game mechanics are applied in play, and therefore cannot make a decent comparison. It feels like a culture-clash, as though I've wandered into the wrong class.

Ultimately I suspect that, like many RPGers, I play primarily for the experience of being in that alternative world, and not because I believe I'm good at winning games.  This is a generalisation and I know that CCGs can provide a rich and fun experience.   Maybe this is like claiming that if I'd never played chess, I'd probably be more excited by the personalities and roles of the pieces, than defeating my opponent - which seems a little silly. 

Okay, not quite an epiphany, but maybe you get my gist. 

Thanks for reading.  Happy, creative playing and all that. :)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Faith&Demons The Rising Players Guide and Con-Quest Derby

Soon I'm hoping to babble at you about Con-Quest Derby 2012 (UK) - which I visited but for a handful of hours, and true to form I actually spent more time shopping than actually playing anything.

Memorise this mantra:
  • Moan to self about systems being different these days and everything being card based 
  • (Weep over receipts, avoid checking balance) 
  • Avoid Ebay
So be prepared to read about my hoard of near random acquisitions.  By which I mean, physical products - none of this ephemeral PDF rubbish which I'm always recommending.  These were boxes and hardbacked and vintage things...  I felt like I'd just mugged Santa in the big city and was lugging his sack back to my lair in the sleepy hometown. Mwhahaha! 
(*happy popping noise of new hernia*)


But for now, I'm going to plug a lubbily Savage Worlds downloadable product for my friends at Mystical Throne Entertainment:

$7.95 USD/ $8.03CAD / £5.03
€5,76 / $7.91AUD on DTRPG/RPGN
As if the power vacuum created by Rome’s fall isn’t enough, the survivors are fighting against multiple forces. Religious persecution has reared its head with claims of heresy against those who are just worshipping as they always have. Tribal conflicts threaten to tear asunder tenuous allegiances. The land is suffering from the fall-out of it all making nomadic life more difficult than typical. The undead armies, horrific demons, and a host of once mythological creatures stalking the landscape create tension from shore to shore. Someone needs to do something. And the lords have decided your party counts as ‘someone.’

Your characters have it in them to be more than a survivor. Lead your nomadic tribe’s defence against all sides to become a legendary warrior. Best a demon lord. Quell the lich’s vampire army. Call down the angels of heaven to fight at your side. Or maybe call upon the denizens of hell to tear apart your foes.

FAITH & DEMONS: THE RISING is a Dark Ages, gothic fantasy plot point setting for Savage Worlds where united lords have brought the world’s warriors together to prevent the armies of chaos from enslaving their people.

The FAITH & DEMONS: THE RISING core setting guide includes:
●    9 templates to tie your character to their home nation.
●    Over 90 new Edges.
●    4 new Arcane Backgrounds.
●    Weapons and armor straight out of the Dark Ages.
●    Religion and Mythology found during the Dark Ages.
●    … and much more

Join the battle and defeat the armies of chaos!

FAITH & DEMONS: THE RISING is not a stand-alone game and requires the Savage Worlds core rulebook. Game Masters will need a copy of the core setting guide.

COLLECT, ACQUIRE, CONSUME, roll some dice, play an RPG for bit, eat pretzels, drink beer.
Kill Monster or "Best a demon lord .. Quell the lich’s vampire army ... or ... call upon the denizens of hell to tear apart your foes". -and Grab Treasure! ;)

I hope that the Month of April and the Season of Spring are finding you well.
-If not, I wish poverty and death upon your persecutors.

Thanks for reading! :)

Monday, 9 April 2012

Trailbrazers solo, Cthulhu Japan, Sussurus Tomb Battlemap

Age of Cthulhu A Dream of Japan PDF DTRPG Trailblazers! Tunnels & Trolls Solitaire PDF DTRPG Battlemap The-Sussurus-Tomb dungeon tiles PDF DTRPG
Age of Cthulhu 6
A Dream of Japan
$8.99 DriveThru
T&T Solo
$1.57 DriveThru
Sussurus Tomb
$4.95 DriveThru

Stuart Lloyd is changing the way we play Tunnels & Trolls solos and he is changing the way I look at T&T as a whole.  (Stuart is also reporting daily from the front lines of a gamebook renaissance and revolution, but I don't have time to go into that right now)

Rather than moping back to Edition 5 of T&T (which would be my primary instinct when writing a solo game)  Mr Lloyd takes 7.5 with all it's suggested talents, he embraces the opportunities for customised skill checks (SRs), adapts to the new types/classes and tackles in-book spell-use head-on.  Text sections provide options to perform "stunts" which make even the most mundane encounter memorable to play.  The situations in Trailblazers! are refreshingly original.  The plot can switch from the lowly to the epic - from scrambling around about to saving the day - of this stuff heroes are born.

There's a sprinkling of humour and chagrin, very much in the style of older T&T solitaire games, so T&T old school regulars will like this.  The replayability factor is very high.  (Do not be discouraged by the charming public domain art!  This is high class content! High-production values of the mind!) - I should also add that his solos are easy on the ink cartridge and his PDF prices are kept extremely low.    Play Trailblazers! as part of series - pick up the first two booklets from his range on DriveThru.

I do feel obliged to say that I'm honoured for his thanks in the foreword - although I'm not sure for which favour owe this gratitude - I'm just backing the winning team here! ;)
Trailblazers! T&T Solo $1.57 DriveThru

I'm bursting to draw your attention to A Dream of Japan from Goodman Games, partly because (as you may know, dear reader, I'm a sucker for good line-art)  Brad "BKM" McDevitt adorns this adventure with some exquisite point-of-view pictures (think D&D Tomb of Horrors player pull-out). His Deviant Art page has a snippet of sample art.

I've been skim reading the adventure and I'd say it comes pretty close to being a perfect CoC mystery.  My only issue is that, like with nearly all CoC adventures, it needs a fairly resourceful Keeper to usher the investigators along the right path.  However, in this adventure there is a fail-safe - the investigators have been manipulated, possibly since birth (!) by unseen forces, so the Keeper now has a licence for contrivance.

This adventure is a perfect opportunity to plunge the players into a superstitions world, that's just alien enough (the Orient) to make the investigators paranoid about every lucky penny they find.  This adventure looks like it has the makings to be a classic - and perhaps even a whole campaign.  It has some really nice twists, great art (the maps are good too).  Designed for Chaosium/BRP Call of Cthulhu (5) but could be easily adapted or sourced for other games set in the '20's.

Age of Cthulhu 6 A Dream of Japan (Goodman Games)
$8.99 DriveThru

sampleIn Zseze's World The Sussurus Tomb Battlemap the quality of the computer art is arrestingly beautiful.  Make sure you print onto something glossy which does these tiles justice!  The sections in the PDFs have wide margins which is always a good thing if you don't want to fiddle too much with print settings.  Extra poster size jpgs will be ideal for use in computer programs, tablets, and for your own modifications.

Slick professional, eye-bleedingly good.

Zseze's World The Sussurus Tomb Battlemap
$4.95 DriveThru

Right.  Those will keep us all busy for a while!

Happy Easter and all that.  Alien eggs all around. :)

*Face-hugger squeal...*

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Art of Russ Nicholson Dicing With Dragons Part 2

As mentioned in the previous post and others, Russ Nichsolson art style had formative effects upon my perception of fantasy worlds and gaming in general, notably his illustrations in Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos, which is apt to mention because it's 30 years since those interactive gamebooks first raised the standard of  solo dungeoneering.  AD&D fans will know him better from Fiend Folio  -in which his black and white ink work truly shines.  Gamebook fans have also been treated to his work yet again in the re-released of the Fabled Lands books, which like, a handful of Fighting Fantasy titles are available to play on the iPhone and iPad (Fighting Fantasy is also sold in Kindle formats).  

Incidentally, I still have some particularly early Puffin copies of Warlock of Firetop mountain here.

One of the original reasons for wanting to post my scans of Russ Nicholson most fabulous drawings from Dicing With Dragons (by Ian Livingstone, 1982) was to share with the current generation of Fighting Fantasy readers images from what was the forerunner to Livingstone's Eye of the Dragon , published in 2005.  Since many of the younger readers of Eye of the Dragon may never have seen a copy of Dicing with Dragons, I felt that this would be a good opportunity to share some of the similar scenes taken from a different artistic perspective to the stylishly realistic dark sketches of Martin McKenna.  Nicholson reminds me of Grimm's fairy tales grown-up, as if drawn by Beardsley with a touch of Rackham with a peppering of the Pre-Raphaelite. Wood grain and gem work abound, enemies dressed in swathes of cloth suggest the exotic and alien.  The caves feel dirty and dusty.  The gremlins, goblins and orcs always have a sinister cruel aspect - the teeth and curved knives feel sharp.  

Clickable thumbnails. :)


Russ Nicholson is still a very active artist - his blog can be found here.
(Permission was given by the artist for the images to be used in this post)

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Art of Russ Nicholson Dicing With Dragons Part 1

There's a celebration going on here and thereabouts, because it's 30 years since the first of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were published.

*Simultaneous cheer and groan of wincing self-reflective age recognition*

The interior art of that first book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, was by Russ Nicholson, whose inked line art also graced the pages of Fiend Folio, The Fabled Lands and many other fundamental UK RPG-related titles in the 1980's.  A gritty savage beauty burst from the pages of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos.  It was refreshingly different from the Heavy Metal magazine -Conan and Gor influenced- clichéd covers of the time.

Considerably rarer than the many reprints of those early gamebooks is the rather infamous Dicing with Dragons - An Introduction to Role-Playing Games, authored by Ian Livingstone (1982, Routledge & Kegan Paul).   I find Mr Nicholson's freehand illustrations in Dicing With Dragons, with all of their details, especially inspiring when thinking about the hobby.  What is interesting in the frontispiece is that we see an armed traveller, a wayfarer -an "adventurer"(!) even - with a quarterstaff and patchwork leather armour - possibly similar to the invisible hero of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (those which were set in the fantasy genre).

Generally, in the early Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the hero, who lives by their wits, is leather armour-clad and is commonly on foot - about as far from the heroic knight in shining armour on horseback, or the half-naked helmeted barbarian, as you can get. Since "YOU" (yes, you, in capitals) "...are the hero", I understand that most of the scenes in those books are depicted from the "point of the view" of the reader, so that you rarely see how your fantasy persona is dressed.  Ian Livingstone's introductory solo adventure in Dicing With Dragons is thematically and dice-mechanically very close to the Fighting Fantasy books.  This solo adventure was recently rewritten and published as a new FF title in it's own right, Eye of the Dragon.  So naturally, I assumed long ago that this lone figure (and the one depicted in the chapter header of the Solo Adventure) is pretty much as close as I could get to what a Fighting Fantasy hero, with his customised trappings, might look like.

In this post is art from the chapter headers for Dicing With Dragons - in Part Two - I will be including illustrations from the solo adventure.

Incidentally, Russ is still producing fine works of fantasy art.  I am very grateful for his permission to reproduce the art from Dicing With Dragons here.  You can follow his exploits on his blog: The Gallery: Russ Nicholson

Please indulge me whilst I fill this entry with black and white line-art goodness. (Clickable thumbnails)