Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: A Coffee Table Art Book You can Use For D&D

While Christmas shopping in  a bookstore  yesterday I happened upon a very remarkable book in the young reader's section, a book entitled simply, "Fantasy; An Artist's Realm"  written and illustrated by Ben Boos in 2010 and published by Candlewick Press. You can see the very striking image it has on the 9 x 12 embossed  hardcover; that caused me to pick it up and flip through it, then read through it with interest. I managed to put it back on the shelf but when by chance my son and I returned to the same store in the evening I couldn't pass on it as it seemed a tool for any DM or the go-to book for any group  with younger players or for introducing new players.

According the credits inside, the author did art for best selling video games whose titles are not specified. I am assuming it was conceptual art since every single one of  the book's 83 pages are covered with beautiful, top quality fantasy painting illustrations by a highly skilled and trained artist.  Monsters, arms and armor, magic items, and character types are all beautifully rendered and explained textually in such a way that if a new player at your game was unfamiliar with, say, the difference between chainmail and scale mail,  or, what a hobgoblin looks like, you could just hand them the book.

 The jewel of the illustrative collection of the book are the opening pages, which look like  two ornate  banded wooden doors; when you fold each side outward you are looking at a six-panel map of the world of Perigord. It is not to scale but is instead painted in an illustrative manner, like a mural. The Map conforms perfectly to all the central features of any good D&D campaign map: small world setting, wilderness and ruins areas, several fortresses and villages, and a teeming metropolis called the City of Galliene, complete with a Thieves Quarter, a bay gated by two shining pillars, and an army of Paladins.

Perigord provides a perfect ready start campaign setting, though you would need to flesh it out considerably. Younger players would probably be satisfied with it as is for an adventure environ. The text of the book reads almost like a Marco Polo style account furnished to people who might visit the realms, giving plenty of seed ideas to any DM or players for a campaign, and the beauty of is it that every different campaign would probably grow totally differently, because there's just enough information for a common starting place but enough empty spaces to fill with homebrew material.

It becomes quickly  obvious  to an old school games reader that the author has played Dungeons and Dragons; the character types depicted and explained in the book are the basic prototype classes from OD&D/AD&D; paladins, fighters, clerics, magic users, druids, and thieves. Think of the old "Gnomes" art books (if you're familiar with them) but about character classes and other fantastic creatures besides gnomes.

Elves and faeries, as well as Dwarves, are mentioned...but no Halflings. There are some beautiful paintings of Dwarven weapon and jewelry craft, as well as of the named magical Relic Swords of the Paladin Orders.  There is a Minotaur race that shows the author's video game parentage, as does as a City of the Dead in Perigord named...what else..the Necropolis...and populated by intelligent and semi-civilized Undead. 

There are dozens of locales on the Map which could be adventure sites that would entertain a gaming group for months…ruins and labyrinths and such. Hobgoblins are to Perigord what Orcs are to Middle earth and there is some very interesting material detailing Hobgoblin culture, society, arms and armor, and racial variations. Giants feature as a very common dilemma for the realms, either as impetuous and troublesome  neighbors to keep pacified by any means possible or else as nearly unbeatable foes to try and defend against when they become angry. There is an entire bestiary of faery and fell races to furnish any curious mind with the basics of such beings and their relationship to the game. The Thieves Guild includes an order of female rogues known as the Shadowmaidens who serve the kings of Galliene as spies and burglars of enemies. There is a city on a hill accessible only by a secret mountain entrance…a city  known as Skellig where nearly all magic users go to learn their art or gather lore. There are many such potential campaign nuggets scattered all throughout the text. One neat gem is the depiction of a dark tower outisde the Necropolis called mysteriously the Tower of Seryu....throughout the book there are a few cryptic allusions to the Tower and a growing dark power emanating from it but no hard data--meaning you, the DM can fit the Tower and the name Seryu into your game in a wholly original manner. 

In fact, the entire book feels and reads like a role playing game…but without any rules. The setting, with its maps, grimoires, and bestiaries, can be plugged right into any D&D system old or new in about 20 minutes. And I intend to do just that. I know players who enjoy high fantasy will be thrilled... picture sitting in a tavern with a Minotaur on one side of you and an dwarf on the other, nonchalantly drinking together. In Perigord, a Minotaur in a tavern will stand out--he will be noticed and probably inspire some uneasiness in most--but he will not be an entirely strange sight in the cities of men. That  fact gives you an idea of the flavor of the setting. The tree palace shown on the cover is of course an Elven architecture.

I just wanted to let D&D players know about this treasure--even with no relation to the game it would be a very great read to give as a gift to a younger reader who likes art and has an imagination. If nothing else, you will pull ideas from it and enjoy the art. One of my favorite illustrations inside is a two page panel of a Paladin dueling a demon armed with a wicked vorpal sword. Some of the art looks like very realistic acrylic or water color painting and other parts look like colored medieval woodcuts, like the demon vs. the Paladin. There is a two panel realistic painting of a sylvan healing woman playing her guitar by a pond or stream that is very reminiscent of the work of John William Waterhouse.  . And the detailed border work the artist comes up with looks like the metal works adorning old illuminated manuscripts or carvings bedecking the treasure items of an ancient king. They are painted in a manner that almost looks 3-D, real illusions.

There is even a two panel map with text of a maga-dungeon in the form of an example of the Minotaur subterranean cities!

I scoured the Internet for images of the book's interior and couldn't find any but I did find an old blog apparently published by the author/illustrator. It's here:

Hopefully you can find this tome and add it to your gaming shelf--it's a real keepsake.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This brief update is to keep my blog from being deactivated for inactivity. However, I have been at the designing table and do plan to resume blogging again. Hope everyone is having good times!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Edgar Rice Burroughs Venus series has some tremendous material.

ERB is, of course, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books, the latter being recently adapted to screen in the Walt Disney film "John Carter". His Venus books feature a swashbuckling hero named Carson Napier, an earth man who builds a rocket ship which crash  lands on Venus and exposes Napier to so many adventures that the story makes Indiana Jones seem like a homebody.

While researching the  Venus series online I discovered that a 2013 film based on the first book...Pirates of supposedly underway via a certain Angelic Pictures.

I read "Pirates of Venus" and "Lost on Venus".

 I absoultely loved it--it is cliffhanger page turner stuff with races, monsters and cultures that would inspire any DM. There is even a castle and city of re-animated corpses controlled telepathically by an evil prince on undead army! Eat your heart out Romero.

Frankly, it is not as good as the John Carter of Mars series, being slightly less majestic and sweeping in it's panorama of a world. However, this is like saying that gold is not as good as platinum.

Be forewarned that the books have a whiff of ERB's politics here and there which, one can be sure, are not politically correct. There is an overt nod to the KKK in one chapter, and unmistakable praise for racialist scientific theories that were conventions of ERB's day. 

This does not bother me in the least--the book was written in the 30's and during that period of American history... before expose journalism became vogue...the Klan enjoyed very widespread popularity and politicians routinely pandered to them if they wanted even a chance of being elected. Take in in the context of it's era and it would not be offensive to anyone in the least.

The chief antagonists of the books I read were "Thorists", Thorism being a very thinly veiled motif of Marxism. You can't read the first book and fail to guess what ERB thought about Marxism/Socialism...he hated it, obviously, and regarded it with all the horror of his American contemporaries. 

If none of these things bother you (and they comprise mere sentences of the books) you will love the stuff! I read both books in two days and wished I lived on Amtor!

I think ERB's materials can be interpreted and re-interpreted for many years to come--and I imagine that when you watch a lot of sci fi TV and theater films of the 50's and 60's, you are probably getting treated by people who were heavily inspired by ERB and his counterparts.

All I can say is I hope that another ERB film goes off!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Norman "Mini-Con" Game Meet Up

We welcome our friends and fellow gamers to an open house "mini-con" to be held Saturday, April 28th at 4400 W. Main in Norman, from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. 

 This event is being held in the  community recreation hall of Canadian Shores Mobile Village which is just west of Sooner Mall on Main St.  The Recreation hall is just inside the entrance of the community and has ample parking space. There will be tables with role playing games set up, board games, and general fellowship and recreation. Refreshments will be made available. We hope to connect  players, have a great time, and do some serious gaming.  You are invited! Whether you are new to gaming or an old hand, you will find a game for you! 

Here are the planned games; please e-mail me at with the game you are interested in playing. Games will be open to late comers, inasmuch as is possible. Characters  will be provided by the GM's, so all you have to do is show up, sit down and play!( First come first serve on characters…!)--

Justice Incorporated

Justice Incorporated is being hosted by game referee Steven Rycroft.  Steve is a very experienced game master, I can tell you that from having sat in on several of his games. Justice Incorporated is a game based on the pulp fiction of the 20' s and 30's--masked heroes, hard boiled private eyes, ruthless gangsters, and occult horror.  I don't know yet what kind of game Steve has up his sleeve--horror, mystery, vigilante or crime noir, but judging from past scenarios, I suspect it will be a very fun session. Steve's games tend to be very story based and fast paced.

Boot Hill (3rd Edition)

Brent Davis will be running a raucous game of  3rd Edition Boot Hill. Boot Hill is a role playing game of the Wild West--gunslingers, damsels in distress, gamblers, lawmen, outlaws and hang-em high judges. Play a character in one of America's early frontier towns when law and order came from the barrel of a gun and the landscape was as savage as the brave men and women who settle on it. Brent's games are also very story based and highly character driven--he is a most engaging GM and player and if a western fantasy is your kick you will get a good game!

Original Dungeons and Dragons

Yours truly will be conducting a good old fashioned game of OD&D--Original Dungeons and Dragons! This will be a medieval fantasy dungeon adventure using the very first set of D&D rules ever published in 1973. This is the game that started them all--even before 1st Edition Advanced D&D, , 3.5 or Pathfinder. Play a warrior, cleric or wizard. Perhaps an elf, dwarf or hobbit is to your liking as a character….brave a misty dungeon of long buried secrets  that pits your wits and your sword( or spells)against traps, puzzles, tricks and monsters to win the fabulous treasure…an old school romp through dungeons as they were played by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson! Don't split the party!

Settlers of Catan

If you are more into exciting board games, try the Settlers of Catan, run by John!! Forget what you know about Monopoly or Sorry…Settlers is like no board game you've ever played. It is profoundly simple to play, but highly engaging and strategy based as you compete against other settlers to construct roads, hamlets, and towns on the land of Catan.  Points begin to pile up as the settlers build but their secret event and power cards, carefully hidden and wisely used, can shake up the game in unexpected ways. You will trade resources cards with other players to get what you need to build your city, but someone who is your ally during one turn might be your toughest opponent the next!  Victory never was so close….but come end of game, only the most determined will win!

So come out, meet new people, and play a game. E-mail me at for further information or to request a seat at a particular game. If you attend, please do drive carefully within our community as children are often at play. Hope to see you there!