Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interesting Places: Tomb of Yekelil

Today's map is dedicated to all my Internet friends who hate blue maps.


This map revisits last year's map of the Tomb of Yekelil, one of the many levels within the megadungeon known as The Tombs. The basics remain the same, but the level is greatly expanded and somewhat more vertically interesting. Have fun keying this one!

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sun

Inspiration is interesting, particularly when you recognize it in hindsight. I had previously thought that I had been channeling Richard Corben and Vaughn Bodé when I illustrated The Tombs.


I read Moebius' Arzach (from Heavy Metal #1) while flying to Chicago to go to Gary Con III. What do I see on the first page of Moebius's 1977 masterpiece? None other than The Tombs.


I never set out to rip off Moebius. In fact, until that flight I had never even had the pleasure of viewing Arzach. I guess my mind just inhabits some of the same spaces as Moebius. What's really weird, though, is that I signed my name in pretty much the same place that Moebius signed his. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Whatever you want to call it, it's cool by me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gary Con III

Gary Con III was fantastic this year, as expected. I played for five-and-a-half hours in Grodog's Greyhawk Castle. We explored a seriously nice homage to EGG's Black Reservoir. Of the classic creatures documented from that sub-level, we encountered and slew pteranadons and giant albino crabs (which happened to be of the spell-turning variety). We also met and dispatched giant spiders (save or die!) and a mess of thouls, lacedons and zagedons (aquatic ghasts). We made a brief excursion off-level, ran into a giant colony of brown mold (literally) and fled back to the safe murk of the Black Reservoir. We managed to see quite a bit of the place in the time we played, but never managed to achieve my two personal goals: combat with the sea monster therein and access to the black tower on Sorcerer's Isle. Perhaps next time... or not, as I'm also interested in Gro's other Greyhawk jaunts: the heretical temple of Wee Jas and the quest for Kuroth's Quill. In any case, the crew held up well and we had a blast. Good times.


My other primary Gary Con activity this year was playing Metamorphosis Alpha with James Ward. This is always an almost-excessive amount of fun. Jim is quite the amazing referee, always keeping the action moving and ensuring maximal paranoia. This time we were space marines on an adventure before the Time of Darkness. We were dispatched from the Warden via scout ship to recon Terraforming Outpost Alpha One, from which all communication had ceased. We docked with the outpost and managed to get onboard. The AI was apparently on the fritz, as an alien spacecraft had crashed into the outpost, releasing a deadly microbial fungus onboard. Amazingly, we experienced minimal death until the final five minutes, at which time the AI executed everybody HAL-9000 style. Overall, it was a fast-paced game and everybody had fun. Most telling was the fact that our table out-laughed the entire local vicinity for the duration of play. Awesome. It's great to see Jim doing well and killing players. Things are right in the universe.

As always, there was the uncovering of dim mysteries from our hobby's past. This time the one that sticks out is the origins of Villains and Vigilantes. As it turns out, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman were having an argument about who would win in a fight: Spider-Man or the Human Torch. To settle matters, they used TSR's 1975 EPT for stats and combat mechanics and fought it out. I don't recall who won, but the long and short of it is that EPT served as the vehicle behind the V&V proof-of-concept. Once Jeff and Jack saw it working, they sequestered themselves and wrote the actual rules we see today. EPT behind V&V. How crazy is that?

As per usual, there were lots of celebrity sightings. Luke and Ernie Gygax, James Ward, Tim Kask, and Frank Mentzer were in attendance as expected. I also saw Tom Wham, Jean Wells, Jeff Dee, Bill Willingham, Jon Pickens, and many more. It was great to meet so many people that I speak with online, all gathered together for some serious fun. I can't wait until Gary Con IV!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Interesting Places: Beneath the Cemetery

Hi everybody. I'm too swamped to write anything, so I'll let the map speak for itself.


Various mausoleums from the cemetery have stairs descending to a series of musty catacombs. Luckily for our adventurers, these catacombs are connected to some tasty ghoul warrens. Fantastic.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interesting Places: Ruins of the Undertemple

I recently absconded with my wife's Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. If that wasn't bad enough, I put a serious dent in the color ink cartridge supply as I spent my free time over the next several days drawing and printing map after map. Here is the latest experiment: the ruined chambers beneath an ancient temple, done in the early TSR no repro blue style. Enjoy!


No backstory here—you figure it out!

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Uncommon Art

I've never said it before, but I have always been a huge fan of the artwork of DCS III. Overshadowed by later artists, DCS III was instrumental in setting the tone of D&D. The early work he did for TSR remains inspirational to me to this day. Later, when I got heavily involved with M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne, I was thrilled to discover that DCS III was there, too.

Cue to present day. I recently sold off the uncool half of my RPG collection, so all that remains are items that I truly cherish. I have been reorganizing the remaining collection into a new web app for easy perusal. As I was cataloging the EPT section, I came across Legions of the Petal Throne: Fantasy Miniatures Wargame Rules for the World of Tékumel (1977). Now there have been a lot of miniatures rules for Tékumel, including Missúm! (1978) and Qadardalikoi (1983), but what's cool about Legions is that it was written by DCS III and M.A.R. Barker. Unfortunately, Legions is long out of print. Until recently, Tita's House of Games carried a reprint of the TSR original, but it, too, is out of print. In any case, Legions is filled with awesome DCS III combat imagery, as typified by these two selections:



(I'm rooting for that Shén to plant his axe in the face of that pesky human fighting-man.)

But Legions has something else inside which is, oh I don't know, pretty dang rare: Tékumel art by none other than DAT. Here are two selections for your edification:



How cool is that? I love the detail that Tramp put into these illustrations. Aside from the armor detail, check out the plants. When Tramp does plants—even the most mundane plants—they always end up looking so very cool and otherworldly.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Interesting Places: Sinister Sub-Level

I'm still operating in an overloaded state—it's amazing that I even find the time to sketch out these little maps. In any case, here's a quick one for you: the Sinister Sub-Level.


The place is lost, located within that hideous ruin. A single staircase, conveniently cloaked in a perpetual mist, descends to an apparent dead end. Beyond, if one can locate the secret doors, lies a great treasure… a great treasure guarded by a host of terrible things.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Interesting Places: Evil Temple

I'm spread far too thin to spend much time on the blog these days. Bear with me, it won't last forever. In the meantime, enjoy a map of an evil temple. This place is hidden deep within some caves in a lesser-traveled region of one of your dungeon levels.

The approach is guarded by a contingent of humanoids of the most vile and disgusting sort. Fed sacrificial remains by the evil priests, they are as loyal as they are bloodthirsty. They will attack en masse, fighting to a particularly gruesome death, for their masters know no mercy. In addition to being wicked and cruel, these monsters are thoroughly diseased.

The passage from their cavernous antechamber to the temple is awash in a sea of alien glyphs. Covering every conceivable surface, the spidery glyphs swim in the torchlight. Suddenly, the glyphs are leaping off the walls in droves! It would be a comical sight if it weren't for the animated glyphs exploding in your faces. Each bursts with unique energies, forcing terrible mayhem upon all.

The true evil of the place manifests once the temple is breached. Dark sorceries swirl in chaos and fire. Braziers, lit one moment, swim in blood the next. Blood weirds leap to the attack while sinewy wights emerge from the shadows, their undead flesh smoking in the dim light. A strangely hypnotic voice intones a sickening chant that weaves between your thoughts. You realize that you might not make it out of here alive.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Interesting Places: An Experiment

In early 2010, when I was just getting the interesting places series of maps started, a reader commented that, "I still have this problem with how to describe such an environment without just draw out the intricate twists on a battlemap." (This was in reference to the Caves of Madness map.) Having drawn some caves recently, I have been revisiting this very problem.

I mentioned this to Z and she recommended that I look into bubble diagrams, a spatial organization technique used by designers to establish relationships between rooms and areas in a house or building. First, what a great way to spec out the flow of a map before setting down to draw it. Second, it reminded me of the kinds of maps we used to make while trying to figure out how to navigate through Zork back in the day. Without any further thought, I quickly sketched out a flow:
If you look closely, you can see that this sketch corresponds to the cave map up top that I eventually drew. I didn't follow any of the conventions associated with bubble diagrams. In fact, owing to my computer science background, this sketch turned out to be closer to a graph than a bubble diagram. Nevertheless, it's good enough for our purposes. The next step was to translate the graph into a series of twisty caves. I pulled out the trusty light box and turned this out in about five minutes:
Although this map is closer to reality, it is still just a guide. The main thing to note is that the edges are now no longer straight. Now admittedly, this is a nothing more than a quick and dirty example. I didn't spend a lot of time trying to make this map beautiful. Other than a couple of dead end caves, there aren't any dead end passages. Aside from a few ledges and terraces, there are no vertical challenges detailed anywhere. This map is simply an experiment to illustrate one method of describing a subterranean trek.

How would you use these maps in play? For those of you into production, you could turn the graph into a transparency and overlay the actual map. I'm lazy, however, and would be happy to use both maps simultaneously. When describing the location of passages and general directions, and perhaps even for looking up the key, I would use the graph. For everything else, including calculating distances and areas, I would use the detailed map. Your mileage may vary.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interesting Places: Caves of the Hruk-chang

This map started out as a doodle on a small note pad of graph paper. I spent maybe 40 minutes sketching out the passages. Then I digitally tweaked the image to its final form. I never think too hard about these maps while I draw them. As a result, it's always fun for me to look at the shapes which emerge. (I'd liken it to automatic-mapping, but there's nothing supernatural about it.)

There's not a lot of back story associated with this particular map. (In truth, I created it to test out a new monster.) The caves are themselves somewhat generic. Within, a number of passages are collapsed or otherwise sealed. This is by design. I also left off the scale so you can decide for yourself how big this place actually is. Twenty feet seems about right for my tastes, but don't let that stop you from making this the colossal, 100-foot-to-the-square, abode of some hideous, techno-giant for your sword & planet game.

You might place these caves along a vine-covered cliff deep within the rotting jungles of some forgotten world or in a northern wasteland of ice and snow. The caves could also be attached to a gargantuan cavern, just another detour amongst many in some dismal underworld. It's really up to you to decide how to interpret and use this map. As for the namesake of the place, that too is left as an exercise. I know what my Hruk-chang are. What are yours?

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Interesting Places: The Sunken Temple

Ages past, when the worship of centuries-forgotten gods was still commonplace, there stood a magnificent temple. Raised by the priests of Omanan, god of cool air, the place was an opulent edifice of stone and marble. People came from miles around to worship within its cavernous halls, marveling at its resplendent wealth.

Over time, the high priest became obsessed with wealth and power. Mundane statues were replaced with golden obelisks and the people were made to pay for the privilege of worship. Exorbitant tithes, collected under his baleful watch, sent worshipers headlong into debt and slavery. Temple priests congratulated themselves behind drawn curtains even as a web of shadow and delusion overtook them. Sinister rites replaced the chants of Omanan; temple halls, once perfumed, now reeked of pungent incense; and altars were blackened with the blood of sacrifice.

Dismayed by the decline and abuse, Omanan sent omens to the priesthood. Unheedful, the heartless priests continued to worship their new demoniac lords. Betrayed, Omanan visited inexorable divine retribution upon them. Spectral rays rained down upon the priests from the heavens like infernal light emanating from some distant star. The priests were slain instantly, only to be raised anew as soulless, gibbering, dead things. The temple became a crypt.

The people of the surrounding lands read the signs, picked up and moved on. Rivers changed course over the intervening years and the once fertile lands dried up. The temple disappeared beneath shifting sands, its undead inhabitants destined to the languor of the crypt. Travelers dread the arid wasteland, for scarcely an oasis can be found within its emptiness. Worse, the chill winds of night carry eerie cries from beyond the grave.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Paris!

Hello all. I'm not dead or banished to another dimension, just busy. The wife and I recently returned from a honeymoon in Paris, and the day job remains hectic as ever. Work continues apace on the first Calific product.

In the meantime, Paris! We stayed in a nice hotel in the Marais district, an area once frequented by the Knights Templar. The place was brimming with historical architecture and Z and I had quite the time. In addition to all the usual stuff—Musée du Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower—we did our own brand of fun stuff, including checking out St. Gervais et St. Protais Church, Église Saint-Sulpice, and Pierre Hermé. The medieval churches were very cool. The first was used by Templars in the middle ages and is home to an urban monastic order today. The second was featured in The Da Vinci Code. As for Pierre Hermé, you haven't lived until you have consumed one too many macarons!

While walking what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of kilometers, I managed to steer us into a couple of game shops. Z picked up a new set of dice at StarPlayer: pink and black, her favorite color combination. It did not hurt that these were official Call of Cthulhu dice, and therefore covered with snaking tentacles (something she really can't get enough of):


I tried to find something to buy at StarPlayer, but all I found was mainstream stuff: lots of Games Workshop, Pathfinder®, miniatures, etc. I couldn't even find any special dice. This should not be construed as a diss on StarPlayer, for they were easily the best game shop we experienced in Paris. I just wish they had a shelf of more eclectic offerings hidden in a niche in the far back. A little later in the day we stopped in at Descartes Ecoles, where I finally managed to find the right sort of purple dice to round out my sickly purple dice collection.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Years!

If you're going to be run through with a sword this year, then I hope it's this guy that does you in.


Speaking of New Years… resolutions. I'm not making any this year. Last year I said I was going to read 100 books. Ha! I managed to squeeze in a whole, earth-shattering twenty. With the day job, Calific, and the software side projects, well, there's just not as much time for reading as I'd like. I'm going to keep slipping in books wherever I can, but I'm not going to commit to an unreasonable number this time around.

Happy 2011, everybody.