Thursday, August 31, 2017
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Monday, August 28, 2017
How to create early engagement in your campaign.
We enter this world in bloody screaming trauma, each of us different from all those that have come before. That trauma and those differences set the stage for what is to come later and anchor us to this life.
Player characters come into their worlds all too often as a combination of dice rolls or points spent and some selections from a more less a universally available list of gear. With staggering regularity the same characters begin their journey in or on their way to a tavern in search of adventure. Aside from a few numbers on their sheet low level characters in most editions bear a striking resemblance to other members of their class.
Many players, myself included, I’m afraid, find this to be boring and off-putting. I contend that if you want characters to engage in the storm and fury of the setting you love, you have to put them into that storm, and make them a part of it.
1. This cannot be overstated, forget about the three chimeras: balance, consistency and orthodoxy.
2. Start the campaign with an initiative roll or some other sort of compelling action, e.g., a pirate raid; escaping a shipwreck; waking to an assassin in the middle of the night; on a cart riding to the gallows; fleeing from the city on horse back with saddlebags full of treasure- perhaps some of it cursed, or too dangerous to fall into the wrong hands.
A meteor falls in the center of town turning everyone but the pcs into undead? Why? I don’t know, you tell me- you’re the referee! Do something crazy. Ride your game like a stolen horse.
3. Customize each player character out of the gate. Give them an interesting minor or even major magic item. Looking to media for examples: In the movie Excalibur, for example Arthur pulls the sword from the stone at the beginning of his story. He doesn’t ‘earn’ it- and that right there is creates all sorts of interesting complications. D’artagnan gets a junk sword from his father that breaks almost immediately and necessitates the acquisition of a new sword. Extra levels are not a bad idea either, D’artagnan is a better swordsman than Porthos right out of the gate, despite the years of experience of the latter. Porthos however, has advantages all his own in the form of an innate ability to get women to pay for all his gear. The Grey Mouser has a couple of level in MU before he begins his career as a thief.
There are so many things you can do to make this happen. Perhaps the character has some dragon in their blood line and can cast a fire ball once a week- perhaps they did it for the first time by accident and are now on the run from the consequences of said deed.
A magic user whose father wanted to make a man out of him and insisted he learn to use a sword.
A locket containing a picture of and haunted by the character’s dead mother who speaks warnings to him in times of danger.
A cask with a strange ruin carved spike protruding from the side- impaling- one's palm on the spike for 1pt of damage causes it to fill with wine.
The skull of the pc’s dead twin- that knows things, important things, and speaks in a voice that all can here, but hates its sibling more than anything and can only be coaxed to speech or silenced by a meal of blood.
Extra hit points
Weird and creepy magic items.
A price on all their heads for a crime they did or did not commit.
Cosmic awareness, or prophetic dreams
See what kind of ideas your players have.
Don’t feel obligated to limit oneself to one or two of these, either and don't worry about balance. You can always make tougher challenges. Always.
So in short, make every character a special snowflake. Every. Single. One.
Friday, August 25, 2017
Thursday, August 24, 2017
According to popular legend, as related in the wine shops of Ssaur, the so called Madling Island, located in the Purple Lake of The Forgotten Depths, is the site of an abandoned factory, which, during the Lost Wars, was used for the production of Skeletal Warriors. Supposedly, a powerful Madling sorcerer took up residence in the old factory several centuries ago, and abides there still, engaged in an attempt to reactivate the factory's eldritch apparatus in order to raise an army with which to conquer Ssaur and the Rüinlands. The sorcerer is said to have a vast store of treasure. This horde is reported to be made up of magical, monetary and technological constituents. All of this is, of course, hearsay, and it is impossible to identify anyone who has traveled to the island and returned. Thus, the claims of legend remain unconfirmed, and true knowledge of the place is scant, if not completely nonexistent.
The truth of the matter is that the rumors are largely accurate, but they tell only a little about the strange and terrible place that is Madling Island.
Madling Island, Some Facts:
The island exists inside a time-space depression (TSD, henceforth); it actually occupies far more land area than it appears to from a distance. Although, at less than a kilometer away, the Island appears to be roughly 15 km from end to end, it is in truth, roughly 10 times as long. Furthermore, time flows differently there; for each day that passes on the island and in its immediate environs, a month passes in the outer world. Obviously, there is no missing the change in physical scale as one approaches the island; however, individuals within the TSD cannot detect the temporal aberration, as the day-night cycle is absent therein, replaced by an endless, brooding and blood-red twilight, punctuated only by the pulsating sullen glow of Godmount.
It is possible that a careful observer from outside the TSD might notice a dull flickering over the island, the cause of which would be difficult to ascertain.
The cause or causes of these strange conditions are poorly understood, although it is likely that the powerful reality warping magic utilized in the creation of entire armies of Skeletal Warriors- and the many other experiments and activities that took place on the island may have been among the causative factors
Origninally presented July 7th 2011, over the next few weeks I'll be fleshing out Madling Isle with new content and old. I rather like this old map though.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Above: the ghost takes on new flesh!
(It was my intent to post the complete map, but I lost a day due to stuff...)
This blog is haunted by the ghost of unfinished projects past and future. The time has come to finish some stuff.
Haunted Island, however, is 100% written and playtested. Sadly, it has art and maps that date back to 2014 all of which must be redone. Last year I tried to get it together for holloween, but Mars and Cosmic Tales intruded on it -and one another, as well. This year, I am going to try again, and if I'm not done not by Holloween perhaps we'll come ashore on Madman's Beach and have an ill advised look at the Asylum at Gorngard not too long after.
An excerpt regarding the Asylum's most famous resident:
Five years ago, wealthy, well regarded and eager to earn a knighthood, Captain Lazlo Bismarck embarked on an expedition, aboard the Starlight, to the Polar Regions to the far south- the supposed location of the lost city of Mu. Eighteen months later, a merchant cog found Starlight adrift several days south of Hefód. Bismarck, the sole survivor of the expedition, returned to Stoker in disgrace. Worse yet, a savage madness seized him in the days that followed, and he embarked on a rampage of lethal violence. The spree came to an end when he was subdued and apprehended in a slum tenement of Stoker, the bodies of his final victims strewn limp around him.
In the trial that followed, unexpected facts came to light. The crew of Starlight had indeed found the ruins of Mu, where they endured a strange and violent adventure, culminating with the discovery, at the center of the ruins, of a cluster of giant statuary of an unwholesome and extraterrestrial design. The sight of the statues drove most of the crew mad, filling their brains with unbearable silent noise, overwhelming their nervous systems with an alien tone. Violence ensued, and only Bismarck and two others escaped the island with their lives. In time, though, the alien tone overcame even them and homicidal madness took hold. In the end, Bismarck, last of all to succumb, found himself delivered unto civilization alone and a prisoner within his own skull, forced to watch as the alien tone drove his physical self to acts of violent cruelty and evil.
Once these shocking facts became established, the judge called for an extended recess and summoned experts in possession and demonology. Through the effort of the legendary Witch-Finder, Sirus Moth, the alien tone was exorcised and Bismarck’s volition restored...
But that was not the end of it...
NEXT WEDNESDAY- Some Maps and perhaps critter.
TOMORROW- I Return to the Ruinlands, the first setting I ever worked on here!
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
[The following series of posts is inspired by Trey Causey's excellent series on the City, I will address other major influences in time. ]
The Hot War is a five century old memory. The cause and start of it are unknown to all but a few. The Earth's population hovers at just under a 100 million world-wide. Ten million of the luckiest live in Neopolis, a sprawling mass of skyscrapers and slums, situated at the heart of the mutant infested wasteland that is 32cnd century North America.
The heroes of the 24-25th conturies are exist only in stories and tales distorted and twisted by both time and ill intent. Even these half-truths are told in whispers and only in the lowest parts of the old city- where the law never goes.
Technolgy has regressed centuries, and even the most cutting edge cyber systems have interfaces and perephrials that would make a denizien of the early twenty-first century laugh with derison.
The Earth is a police state governed by GQM, Global Quadrent Management, a faceless bureaucracy comprised of countless minsistries working at cross purpose to one another and often themselves.
Post-humans, with the exception of those drafted into government service, are illegal and shot on site regardless of age or threat level.
Gene cards are carried by all citizens regardless of caste (there are 6 casts). Gene scanning technology is strangely advanced in comparison to almost all other tech. Other equally advanced devices exist to locate and discover non gene relat d human abnormalities.
The Big Lie: nobody knows for certain, but throughout the population there exist a feeling that some important fact about the world as it is, or came to be, or both, is withheld from all but those at the top. Clues are everywhere and can be seen in contrasts, such as that between the clunky cybertech the advanced gene tech, to the inexplicable disconnect between the vast array of productive ag towers and the starving masses that struggle in the dirty slums of the Old City whilst their betters live in glittering wonderlands above the clouds and in orbit.
Statblocks in FASRIP (the classic Marvel Super Heroes system) and ICONS are all but interchangable. Resources from either game would work well in Neopolis.
Literary influences, a partial list.
Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy
Emphario by Jack Vance
1984 by George Orwell
Comic Book influences
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Judge Dread by lots of people in 2000 AD
Kamandi by Jack Kirby
Days of Future Past by Clarmont and Byrne
Legion of Superheroes: Five Years Later by Kieth Giffen and co.
Monday, August 21, 2017
I'm working on a small 5 page project in addition to my main piece. Between 5-8 pages strikes me as the ideal length for a first comic. Comics lead to a lot of drawing even in the short term. A lot of drawing leads to rapid improvement. Long pieces are something that should likely be put off until a level of style control is achieved. I've worked on lots of longer peices, which I end up starting over and over. Stick with short comics at the start.
Lets break it down:
Step one of course is to acquire or write a script. The script will tell you what, who and where
Step two is design and is actually many steps. Here are the broad categories of. things you will want to design- setting, characters and props.
For the purpose of this conversation:
Setting: includes buildings, interiors and landscapes.
Props are things that reside within the world of the setting. Like a bottle, sword, gun, book, or boat. The first two categories often blur together, especially in regards to vehicles like a boat.
Characters: includes people, monsters robots, carniverous plants and whatever else you need. If it has some sort of motivation, it's probably a character.
Step Three- layouts/thumbnails. Figure out how you are going to arrange your panels and pages to best tell the story.
What would XXXX do? If you get stumped, imagine how you're favorite cartoonist would approach the image or design.
Push it. Always try to take things to the next level. Draw better than you are.
Drama. Make it dramatic! Again, push it.
Don't dawdle, but take your time. Making comics and writing prose fiction are two activities that require not just years to learn how to do, but large amounts of time to produce product. If something seems too big for you- break it down into smaller tasks. If you need to design 20 robots, do one a day, for example. Nut do something every day. Don't kill youself with haste; you're here forever.
If you do nothing else-
Create a static, dedicated workspace. I find this is the hardest sell when talking to others. Excuses abound. Are you serious about this? If the answer is yes, respect yourself and your dreams- find the room and make a physical workspace. I took a side job to pay for my drawing table before I could even draw. I always have work out on, it ready to go. I am not fucking around, nor should be you. Right now there is some sad sack out there with nothing going for them who needs a little distraction from the grind of life. They are waiting on you to get your shit together and provide that distraction. It is nothing less than a matter of life and death.
Do not fuck it up.
Okay, now get yourself a script and work the steps.
Monday, August 14, 2017
People are defined by their behavior, but often, judged by things that have more to do with their background, such as complexion, eductation and/or speach patterns. Reed Richards will occasionally remind the audience that Ben Grimm is effectively an astronaut with degrees in science and shit. He has to do this because Ben almost goes out of his way to hide with his mannerisim, self-deprication and speach petterns. Young Peter Parker (in contrast to the more forgiving Clark Kent) is smoldering ball of rage hidden within a faux coward's shell. He is afraid- afraid of literally punching somone's head off, but not THAT afraid, because, those punks deserve to learn a lesson!
Comics can't do sound, or real movement, or long paragraphs of description/expositon. However when it comes to characterizarion you have equal access to the character's behavior, inner feelings (thought bubbles or captions) their appearence and the way they speak. That's pretty much everything but the way they sound and smell.
I mention Ben a lot, because along with Peter Parker he is one of (American) comics' first semi-tragic characters, and also like Parker, has a very distinctive personality. Both these guys are very flawed. Peter is driven by guilt and a pathological inability to surrender. Ben is a stalwart friend, and is strongly motivated by an innate sense of right and wrong, but clearly self-destructive and depressed, but also incapable of quitting. These guys are heroes just for getting out of bed in the morning- like you and me. I also push these comics because they are both complex and accessable, a pretty good combo for study.
So fo give Lee/Ditko/Romita/Buscema/Kane ASM and/or Lee/Kirby FF a read. Study the supporting cast. Contrast Robbie and JJJ or Alicia and MJ. Early MJ is a monster, btw. Check it out and see for yourself.
Hey, get out.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
I am late on my CTQ update, I've been sick and I am in a shit mood. So lets get the worst of this behind us.
Disclaimer: despite my salitness here, I love drawing. Love it. Over the last few years it has very much become central to my existence and it is who I am now. However, I had to drag myself through some shit to get to this point.
Learning to draw.
Given the choice again, I'd go to art school, or take some classes at community college or maybe hire a mob enforcer to put a hit on me. Any of these options will save you years of frustration and wasted effort.
Other than that, there are hundreds of sites that go into way more detail than I could ever hope to.
Personally, I half assed it for roughly 5 years before I pulled my head out and put some real thought into it. I do not suggest this method.
I am loathe to really suggest anything at all, honestly.
And this site: Quickposes really helped set me on the right path.
Also I broke my leg at work in late 2014, and spent the first half of 2015 unable to do anything but consume drugs and draw.
That said, I drilled for hundreds, maybe thousands of hours copying Loomis anatomy charts onto cheap newsprint, to the extent that a friend of mine who actually did go to art school was horrified. I also filled hundreds of pages with gesture drawings, and all this occured after I'd already been at it for years.
Focused practice is the gift you give yourself. Personally, it is as close to prayer as I am ever likely to get.
My go to reference for anatomy is George Bridgeman's constructive anatomy, but it's kind of abstract and maybe a little much for the beginner. I really don't know. We're drifiting into that baseline knowledge confusion that I mentioned last time. I don't want to be the angry bus driver that expects you to know the route the first time you get on; nor do I wish to be the well-meaning grandmother explaining the difference between potato chip flavors to a forty year old man. It's hard to walk an invisible line.
One more thing, read several thousand comics. Limey comics; Yank Comics; Frog Comics; Japanese comics- it doesn't matter. If you don't know where to start, I suggest something from the following list: Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man; Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four; Tin-Tin; Thomas/Buscema Conan; Claremont/Cokrum/Byrne X-men, Carl Barks Duck Comics. Anything by Crumb. All of these are easily available in affordable editions. I could suggest lots more stuff, but we're looking for a starting point. Yeah, this is all genre stuff; what of it?
Also, draw more. I draw pretty much every day. I miss a few here and there, but it's pretty rare.
Next time: I'll talk about characterization, and if in betwen now and then, you happen to read the FF, notice how you could remove the images in most cases and have no trouble discerning who spoke a particular line of dailogue.
That's it. Get out.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
This is the first in a series of essays I am going to produce on the topic of making comics. I would hardly consider myself an expert on the subject, which, in my opinion, makes me well suted to address beginners, as I have a better idea of the baseline of starting knowledge than might someone who has gained expertise.
If you're reading this I assume you want to make some $&@#ing comics, but even after reading McCloud and maybe Eisner, you're still at a loss as to how to begin.
What you will need:
Comic making is pretty complex and requires a lot of different skills. At the most basic, you must be able to draw and write- to some degree. I would suggest that you achieve at least a mediocre (by your own assessment) level of skill in both before you begin trying to create finished pages. Mediocre isn't good enough, of course, but it is good enough to start. It is more important that you strive to improve than you start out with perfect skills. Perfection is a goal, not a starting condition.
Chances are if you have an undergraduate experience or even just like to read a lot, you are probably already a mediocre writer, you might even be good, but it is best to assume otherwise. This reduces the pain later. Trust me.
Drawing. Pffffffffft. This is the hard one. I don't know if it is harder in an abstract all thing remaining equal sense, because we spend a huge part of our schooling on the written word. Drawing instruction is all but non existant in traditional education. I cannot sugar coat it. Even baseline mediocrity is heartbreakingly difficult to achieve.
Honesty: The only reason I know how to draw is because of the sunk cost fallacy. I have also been diagnosed with a fairly robust range of mental illness. Chicken or the egg?
This brings us to a bit of unpleasantness that I have never seen addressed in any how to book. If you're anything like I was before I could draw, you might be thinking, 'I'll just find an artist. After all, I am willing to work for free, so they certainly will too- for the exposure."
Just typing that makes me salty. Here's why. That 12+ years of writing education I mentioned? Every single artist went through that too. Unproven, you are not offering that guy anything he can't do on his own. Further, if she is any good the artist has already heard this offer a dozen dozen times. Often it is delivered by a writer who has been rebuffed on a number of occasions, and is already snarky about the whole thing. As if they are somehow entitled to an artist FOR FREE, goddammit!! There are literally web pages devoted to artists mocking free art requests. Don't do it.
Okay, setting aside the salt, I am going to close with some practical data:
Standard comic pages are have a width/height ratio of 3x5. Traditional artists mostly use 11"x17" Bristol (smooth or plate surface) measure in1 1/2 inch from the bottom and top and 1 inch from both sides to create the proper sized work area.
If you are trying to color using an image a manipulation program such as the gimp, or photoshop and getting nowhere, set your bleed mode to multiply and color on a layer beneath your line art. You will want a background layer, usually white, beneath your color layers. That, btw, is virtually everything I know about color.
Need something to ink with? Sakura Microns are available at almost every art store in North America. Get a set of three .01/.03/.05. Change things up later at will, once you get the hang of it.
If you think inking is just tracing. I have some more heartbreaking news for you, but not just now.
I'll happily answer specific questions in comments or via email.
You can see my bulshit here.