Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Rysanthian Chronicle; An OD&D and CHAINMAIL Campaign Idea

Note: I apologize for the length of this post..nearly half of it gets into CHAINMAIL and D&D rules and history, so if you are familiar with all of that, you can skip down to the part entitled "The Rysanthian Chronicle; CHAINMAIL and OD&D" Thanks for reading, comments welcome.

As you may or may not know, Dungeons and Dragons was developed as a game by expanding upon the concepts of it's predecessor, the TSR miniatures wargaming rules named CHAINMAIL.

The big difference between CHAINMAIL and D&D is that the former is strictly a game of warfare and unconcerned with the individual character development one finds in a role playing game.

There are, arguably, three different combat systems in the single volume rulebook of CHAINMAIL.

The first is for large scale wargames involving historical period troops and where a single figure on the game table represented  unit of twenty soldiers.

The second is called the Man to Man rules--these were designed for smaller scale skirmishes where each figures represents a single combatant.

The third system was  to be the precursor of fantasy roleplaying as we know it today--this was the Fantasy Supplement of CHAINMAIL, which was included to be used in conjunction with the mass troop warfare rules for wargamers who wanted to recreate the epic battles found in the works of authors like Tolkien, Moorcock or Robert E. Howard.

The Fantasy Supplement charts and tables seem less compatible with the Man to Man skirmish rules, which seem to be mainly for historical and non fantastic figures.

The CHAINMAIL volume included separate combat matrices for each of these three systems: the troop Combat Tables, the Man to Man Melee Table (plus the Individual Fires with Missles Table) and the Fantasy Combat Table. Each of these tables used old fashioned six sided dice to determine results and in most instances (excepting fantastic monsters and super heroic types) a hit resulted in an instant kill.

I will discuss these tables briefly to  acquaint the player with their purpose so that you will understand their use in the Rysanthian game.

The Troop Combat Matrix

The troop Combat Table is broken down into attacker and defender troop types such as Light Foot, Armored Foot, Heavy Horse, Light Horse, and other designations based upon historical soldiers, arms and armor, and combat styles. One simply looks at the designation for the troop type attacking, finds the troop type being attacked, and is told the number of dice  to roll and the necessary result for a successful hit. You would roll a six sided die for every man in the attacking unit, sometimes two dice for very tough troops, and however many dice came up at or above the target number was how many men would perish in the defending unit...remember that with this table, a single figure stood in for twenty soldiers.  You kept track of these kills on paper and when all twenty men were dead or routed the figure was removed from the board.

The Man to Man Melee Table

This matrix was formulated in a manner that made the initiative (who attacks first) and the chance to hit a matter of the attackers type of weapon versus the armor type (or lack of armor) of the defender. You cross index these two factors to arrive at the number you must roll on a pair of six sided dice to strike your opponent and kill his figure instantly. It does not appear that this table was meant to be used with the Fantasy Supplement but it did become the basis for the later armor class and to-hit tables of D&D. There is also an Individual Fires With Missle Table for missle weapons .

The Fantasy Combat Table

This matrix is just fun! It was used to facilitate combat between Heroes, Superheroes, Wizards and all sorts of different fantasy monsters. All of these were listed on a vertical and horizontal column and you simply cross referenced the two engaging combatants to find the number that the attacker needed to  hit the opponent. Although the Fantasy Supplement was intended for use with the troop Combat Tables, no normal troops lower than a Hero could even roll on the Fantasy Combat Table, because in CHAINMAIL, most fantastic creatures were impervious to any sort of foe except other fantastic monsters or heroes. It should be noted that some creatures that could certainly to be considered mythical or fantastic also could not melee with the fantastic creatures specifically listed on the Fantasy Combat Table (the creatures on the table are the Big Boys) and instead used the normal troop Combat Tables. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins and most humanoid or demi human troops fall into this category, though each of these have certain unique abilities and limitations that made them differ greatly from the human troops they might melee with or against.

With these combat systems and attack tables, endless historical period or fantastic wargames could be devised or recreated from history or fantasy and science fiction literature.

Aside from the Fantasy Combat Table, the Fantasy Supplement in the CHAINMAIL volume consisted of a codified collection of archetypical monsters and hero type figures, all with designated rates of movement, morale factors, limitations, abilities and powers...not at all unlike chess where one becomes acquainted with the personal powers and limitations of each individual playing piece and builds one's strategies from the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of that piece. The seasonings of the works of many fantasy authors can be tasted in this brew, as well as mythology, making the Fantasy Supplement in CHAINMAIL the certain ancestor of modern roleplaying games.

To the Dungeon

Some points of history are debated among gamers, but it is my understanding that it was Dave Arneson who was to use the CHAINMAIL Fantasy Supplement rules to forge a new kind of game for the Castles and Crusades wargaming society, one where the individual Hero, Superhero, Elf or Wizard (or whatever) was to become a recurring character in an ongoing fantasy campaign setting.

Arneson devised a fantasy world for his games, the world of Blackmoor, and the CHAINMAIL figures who adventured there (and the cults and entities they faced) became personalities that were somewhat larger than just a playing piece in a wargame. I don't know how much Arneson's Blackmoor campaign resembled the one described in the Blackmoor Supplement later published with the D&D books, but Blackmoor was evidently a place of crypts, temples, dungeons and treasures with a character that was unlike the wargames of old. Word of Blackmoor reached Gary Gygax, and soon Gygax and Arneson were working together on what would become the rules to an entirely new sort of game which  reflected the possibilities and potential of the sort of game Arneson had been running...the game of Dungeons and Dragons.

In D&D, the most intriguing and exciting concepts of the Fantasy Supplement in CHAINMAIL were set out in more fully developed and more widely accessible forms. The "character class" was created, as were individual physical and mental attributes for a character. The concept of level progression and character advancement were outlined. Wilderness, dungeon and town settings were detailed, monster and magical item lists were expanded, and treasure tables were introduced. A system of Hit Dice and Hit Points replaced the old "instant kill" system from CHAINMAIL so that your D&D character could have a reasonable chance of continuing in one piece (relatively) from game to game.

The result of the introduction of D&D was that the evolution of CHAINMAIL was largely finished. It would forever remain solidly a wargame while D&D would be a "roleplaying game". Although it is probable that most of the people who initially played D&D were familiar with the older game, D&D soon became popular with an entirely new class of gamers who did not come from a wargaming background and accepted the novel game entirely on its own merits. And from this beginning sprang an entire hobby, new lines of games, and all kinds of evolutions and innovations that continue to the present!

The Rysanthian Chronicle; CHAINMAIL and OD&D

I have delved into the history of D&D and the Combat systems of CHAINMAIL to provide a basis for players who might participate in my games set in the world of Rysanthis.

The Rysanthian Chronicle represents an effort on my part to do a little "reverse engineering" from D&D as I learned it in the 80's to try to arrive at a game that is closer in spirit to those earlier games, streamlining combat and record keeping and fleshing out the wargaming aspects but retaining the essential elements of the "roleplaying game".

The game that I envision will revolve around the figures on the table and the environment of the adventure. 3D terrain will be used for each adventure. Dungeons and other adventure settings will hold all the traps, tricks, wonders and treasures as in D&D, and indeed, the D&D books will be used as sources for magic items, spells, and treasure, but the player characters will be figures drawn from CHAINMAIL and magical and melee encounters will be conducted using the CHAINMAIL rules instead of the D&D d20 Hit Tables.

The process for an individual player creating a character (or characters) will consist not of rolling up attributes or choosing a character class but of selecting troops and/or fantasy figures from those contained in the CHAINMAIL descriptions. All of those figures have a point value based upon their strength...each player is given an initial pool of 100 points with which to select from them. The player will do more than select generic figures, however...he or she will imbue them with names, personalities, loyalties, aims and ambitions that will be centered in the backdrop of the kingdoms and histories of the world of Rysanthis. The figures can then be employed by the player to pursue those aims against the larger backdrop of the game world or to simply adventure in search of plunder, guts and glory...the involvement of the figure in the bigger picture is completely dependent on the personality and traits created for the figure by the player. You can have a zealous knight in the service of a religious order, a dangerous freebooter, or a Wizard who cares only about seeking out lost arcana or even taking over the entire world.

Using the point system a player can choose to begin the game with a very powerful figure, like a Wizard, or a slightly less powerful character such as a Hero but with a magic sword and a few loyal normal warriors as his companions. Or one could opt to create a company of Elves. Players who have a favorite D&D character can bring them in as whatever figure the character's level is equivalent with. It would also be possible for players to select different figures for different games, so that one could run a Lawful Paladin through one game and the next have an evil Wizard with Orc henchmen...and occasional games where the players are pitted against one another are not an unlikely prospect! A little cooperation with the DM  and some forethought is all that is needed.

Each player will be given the campaign world book and can hatch whatever schemes they desire in the game for the cause of Law, Chaos or pure self interest!

The Actual Game Mechanics

The basic rules of engagement will be as follows:

In the Rysanthian Chronicle, the troop Combat Tables of CHAINMAIL will be used strictly for mass combats.

The Man to Man Melee Table and Missle Table will be used to facilitate warfare between all demi-human, humanoid, and human combatants, the exception being humanoid monsters specifically listed on the Fantasy Combat Table such as Trolls, Giants and Lycanthropes. Heroes and Superheroes will melee with men or manlike combatants on these tables as well, as will Wizards.

The Fantasy Combat Table will be used for warfare with or between fantastic beings listed therein. No figure below the level of Wizard, Hero or Superhero will be able to fight on the Fantasy Combat Table unless that figure either has a magic weapon (you then fight as a Hero) or is of a level which permits them to attack thereon with minus's--this means that normal troops are of limited or no use against the kind of monsters listed on that table! So in D&D, a 3rd level Swordsman can fight as a Hero -1, a 4th Level Enchanter can fight as a Hero -1, and so on.

The Instant Kill system is done away with and a limited Hit Point system is instituted; a figure in CHAINMAIL has a number of hit points equal to it's HD plus any bonuses as listed in the D&D books.  So, if a dragon in D&D has 12 HD, instead of rolling twelve dice to determine the dragons hit points, the dragon is considered to be able to withstand twelve hits. A Super Hero in the D&D Fighting Man tables is said to have a HD of 8+2; so that figure can withstand 10 hits. DM's have the prerogative of adding a d6 or a d3 to the hit point total of exceptionally tough monsters.

All hits do only one point of damage, with the exception of magical weapons. A magic sword will add 1 extra point of damage, certain rare relics may be so powerful as to add two.

Magic and Miracles

The Wizard is run exactly as described in CHAINMAIL with the exception that he melees with the appropriate combatants on the Man to Man Table and his fireballs or lightening bolts are conducted on the Missle Table. Whether or not he is impervious to normal missle fire in close encounters is a matter of debate--in the CHAINMAIL rules it seems more reasonable in a mass combat setting.

Any spells from the D&D books can be employed and have a Complexity Level equal to their Spell Level.

I am including a new figure, that  of the High Priest or Priestess, who functions as a Wizard in all respects except that he or she uses clerical spells and has the Cleric ability to Turn Undead. In addition, the cleric has a Holy Smiting power useable once per turn which calls down a thunderous blast from the divine realms (or infernal, depending on the alignment of the Priest) which is equal to the Wizard's Lightening Bolt.

This concludes my post for this evening...I was not able to address everything yet and I am sure that I am missing something but I am going to move ahead with the game and I will report the results of this strange alchemy after we have run a few games with it.

I will not be creating a new post for more rules, so be sure to check this post again if you are interested in any additional house rules for running OD&D and CHAINMAIL together.

Thanks and Acknowledgements to Jason Vey for his Forbidden Lore OSR CHAINMAIL supplement; it was very helpful to me in formulating these house rules.

Good night!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

7 Rules to Allow Chainmail Style D&D Games

I have never gotten to play CHAINMAIL, the original fantasy wargame rules that launched Dungeons and Dragons, but that's not because I have not wanted to...have few people to play it with and although I have a decent collection of minis, don't know that I could field whole armies.

CHAINMAIL being wargame and skirmish rules, the rules are much simpler and less involved than in a roleplaying game

There are no various levels of characters or progression of skill as with D&D, only fantastic and military archetypes with set powers, attacks, and movement rates that never change.

I have long wanted to use the CHAINMAIL combat rules for D&D gaming because of the flavor and the cool tables, but the Fantasy Combat Table  in CHAINMAIL presented a problem because for one thing, using that table as a 6 sided die hit system, a D&D Fighting Man would not be able to fight any creature on the matrix until attaining 4th level, and besides that, there would not be much chance of an ongoing campaign with the same characters when a figure is killed by a single hit. And while a D&D Fighting Man would have to wait until 4th level to use the table, other characters must wait even longer, making them fairly useless in melees with fantastic creatures.

So I think I may try a different take.

1. All humanoid, demihuman, and human combatants will use the Man to Man skirmish tables and rules, except those humanoid types which are listed on the Fantasy Combat Matrix.

2. Any character with a magical weapon may fight on the Fantasy Combat Matrix as a Hero. A Fighting Man of lower than 4th level can fight as a Hero on the Fantasy Combat Matrix without a magical weapon but will not fight as a Hero against foes faced on the Man to Man skirmish tables until he actually attains fourth level and Hero status. Fighting as a Hero or Superhero against foes on the Man to Man table means that you get the number of attacks listed in the Hero and Superhero description.

3.A hit by any creature against any creature does only 1 point of damage, plus any adjustments for magic weapons. Magic is somewhat different..where a spell does damage and mentions a number of hit dice of for the damage, convert that to points of damage instead. So a spell that does two dice of damage will instead do two points.

4. Monsters can take as many hits as their hit die. So a dragon in D&D which has 12 H.D. can take 12 hits. At the DM's option a d6 may be rolled and added to this for tougher versions of the same monster.

5. Characters will begin the game with the maximum number of hit points possible for their class at 1st level and gain 2 points with every new level.

6. The movement rates of fantasy creatures will be as per CHAINMAIL. All special powers from CHAINMAIL will be retained for fantasy creatures, including demi-humans, in addition to any additional ones later developed in D&D. If the players encounter fantastic creatures from D&D not listed on the Fantasy Combat Matrix in CHAINMAIL simply use the closest equivalent.

7. The CHAINMAIL rules for Mages casting counter spells against spellcasters of a lower level than themselves will be retained. I may work out spell complexity numbers for every D&D spell.

The rest of the D&D books will be used as normally for purposes of treasures, magic items, and the like.

So this is the model I intend to use. Some would say why? It's less involved. While I love heavily involved games, I go through seasons where I don't want that at all. The narrative rules system I am working on with Brent will be great fun but I will always love a simple game.

As I have mentioned in previous posts I am wanting to run a game with new or open minded players that is figure, terrain, and story based all at once. I want it to have the tactical elements of a wargame with the development of characters found only in roleplaying.

I'm sure I have missed something in this alchemy but I will wing it.

Will playtest soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Saan'seriat; Temple of the Winds

This open air platform is the remains of the antechamber that leads to the interior of the mountain and the forgotten sanctuary of Saan'seriat.....

Here are pics of a wargame model I am beginning which I intend to use in a D&D game using the Chainmail combat system.

 I will be uploading progress pics here at the blog from this humble beginning to...hopefully...a very realistically painted 3D model for D&D miniatures.

I was very inspired by one of the mountain top temple ruins in the Skyrim video game by Bethesda Works...what a lush gaming engine!

Anyway, I have for some time wanted to construct an open air, mountain top "dungeon" consisting of a series of stonework platforms and temple works connected by dizzying bridges, spiral staircases and crumbling spires.

I subsequently saw a styrofoam cooler in the trash and decided that it needed to live forever as a D&D terrain setting....

Saan'seriat will consist of several encounter areas of various elevations, nestled in a forbidding mountain range.

I will be adding these models to papermache mountain footings which should provide for two to three game sessions of dungeon exploration, skirmishes with various Temple guardians, and untold mysteries of the forgotten ruin of a once powerful religion.

I will be locating appropriate plastic figurines and toys such as are suitable for painting the same color and texture as the stone works so as to look like grotesque or elegant statuary. These will be affixed to the temple ruins for flavor, and carved faces will adorn the doors and passages of the ancient monument.

Aside from whatever weird (and patient) guardians remain at Saan'seriat, there will be the danger of falling and unsteady stone works to give any dwarf nightmares....but of course with treasures that cannot be resisted by brave heroes!

I have long wanted to run a D&D game that consisted of 3D models and miniatures that were centered in encounters and skirmishes. My reasoning is that in such a game, where lead-up to the dungeon is summarized to the players and every session of play ends up right at the adventure locale (be it a city, a ruin, or a wilderness), play will progress more quickly, breaks between games will not cause the usual annoying amnesia, and the DM need not focus on anything but the adventure itself.

Roleplaying things like character development, buying equipment and leveling will then be handled in a narrative turn that takes place before or after each game session.

To me, this would be the perfect game for people who love D&D but find life happening between sessions.....

Anyhow, I will continue working on the Temple of the Winds and upload pics in case anyone feels inspired to construct their own ruin....and who knows..once Saan'seriat is mapped and keyed it may end up on the Mazes as a complete adventure for other DM's to use to test the mettle of their players....:)

Another open air plaza nestled high in the windswept peaks of a forbidding mountain range that is the lost locale of the Temple of the Winds...I have it in mind to either fill in the cup impressions or turn them into ancient fountains or pools. The large resin figure is a stand in for whatever I decide to convert into a huge stone idol, beneath whose gaze the mighty heroes shall do battle with the Temple Guardians.....

Everything I needed I found in a single styrofoam cooler, though I will most likely add to it. The mountains will consist of piles of thickly wadded newspapers shaped with masking tape to provide a paper mache frame. The modular platforms will be staged upon these precipices and the highest point will be perhaps three feet off the table when I am finished. The beauty of it all is that this is how I relax after work come has been a blast so far to build, and I discovered that the grooves built into the cooler provided perfect architectural flavor for Saan'seriat.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Proposed Combat System for New RPG System

As I stated in a previous post, my friend Brent K. Davis and I are attempting to create a new roleplaying rules set incorporating some non-D&D game theories.

I wrote an earlier article detailing the mechanics of spellcasting in this yet unnamed system.

While I've been working on the magic system, Brent was tasked with formulating a narrative combat system.

I was very impressed at this one!

There are several factors I like about it. 

First, although it incorporates realism it doesn't sacrifice streamlined mechanics.

It also permits a player to narrate combat objectives as simply or as creatively as the individual player wants...for each specific blow...and resolves it quite fairly by being based upon the number difference between your needed hit roll and what you actually cast on the die...Combat Effects are in steps according to this difference.

I also love the initiative system-- if you lose initiative, you state to the DM your actions and those who win get to tailor their response to your action and resolve theirs first! This works both ways and the players must take the black eye in this fashion if they lose to NPC combatants or monsters!

There are several other unique and creative aspects involved and I look forward to playtesting it, which we have yet to do.

We welcome your comments and input!

1. Determine encounter distance

2. Determine Surprise a. Stealth vs Perception b. Perception vs Whatever the Other party is doing and how immersed they are in it

3. Determine Initiative a. Dexterity/Perception/Intuition (?) Bonus +d10, higher is better. b. A Character that is Engaged by a Character with a higher Initiative total may only defend, not attack. C. Characters with LOWEST Initiative Scores state actions FIRST. Characters with HIGHER Initiative Scores may then react to the Characters with low Initiative.

4. Statement of intent. What do you intend to do? Move in, charge? Circle warily? Describe your intended action with as much detail as possible. All attacks are called shots. State your intended target.

 5. Determine Reach

a. Close Range weapons- Dagger, Hand-Axe, Fist, Cestus, Shield, broken bottle, etc. (A shield isn't a weapon? Get hit with the rim one time...)

b. Me-lee Range weapons- Swords, Axes, Cudgel, Mace, War Hammer, Flail, Staff, Spear in close mode, Short Pole-arm in close mode. (Lets face it folks, the spear is one of the most efficient hand weapons we as a race have ever devised.)

c. Far Range weapons- Spear, Pole-arm, Staff, Two Handed Sword

d. Far+ Range weapons- Pike, Lance if mounted

 e. If a Character with a shorter Reach weapon engages a Character with a longer Reach weapon, the shorter Reach cannot attack the longer Reach possessing Character. Regardless of Initiative. The shorter Reach may attack the weapon, or attempt to get inside the Reach of the opponent. The Character with the longer Reach may hold the shorter Reach opponent At Bay. Once inside the Reach of your opponent, they may only dodge, ignore or shield block. A parry with a longer weapon is no longer possible. Natural weapons MAY be used. They may attempt to increase the distance with a Combat Effect.

f. Larger or smaller opponents treat Reach as one or more steps higher for Larger opponents and one or more steps shorter for smaller.

 For example a Dwarf with a spear is at Me-Lee Reach versus a Human with a sword, and at Close Reach versus an Ogre with a club. In either case the Dwarf is at a serious disadvantage.

However, the disadvantage shifts if the smaller opponent gets inside the Reach of the larger. Once this occurs, any +1 or more complication on the Larger size
character may result in a hit on themselves. g. Mounted Characters use the size class of the mount to determine reach. 4. Roll Attacks and Defense a. The attacking character attempts to follow through with his stated action.

The defending Character may 1. Dodge the attack, or duck, or in some way not be in the place the attacker is trying to hit. 2. Parry the attack with a weapon. Unarmed and unarmored Defenders must pass a Will check in order to Parry an armed attack.

3. Block the Attack with a shield. b. Roll d20 +Weapon or Technique Skill Level +/-any Modifiers due to magick or circumstances (darkness, unstable footing, etc) for the Attack c. Roll d20 +Weapon or Technique Skill Level +/-any Modifiers due to magick or circumstances for the Defense d The Defense total rolled is the Target number the attacker must roll higher than for the attack to succeed. e. How MUCH the attacker rolls above or below the defender determines the effects of the attack. Each 4 above gains a Combat Effect for the higher rolling Character.

+12 +8 +4 +3 to -3 -4 -8 -12
+12 +8 +4 +3 to -3 -4 -8 -12

Monday, April 13, 2015

More Original Spooky Images

Here are a few more of the Green Man mask pics--forgive me for posting some of the same images but you will note I experimented with different colors in some of them.

I did not actually wear the mask...just set it up in various locations and draped an old black tee shirt over it like a cowl.

It is somewhat creepy to me how you can take the same mask and photograph it from different angles and it will seem in each case to wear a different expression...angles change so much.

At times the pics look sinister, at times comical, and a few are even noble looking in their own way.

One or two of them remind me very much of the mask sequences of one of my favorite movies...The Wicker Man...original version of course!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Halfling Thieves of the Pacific Northwest, or, the Summer of D&D

Author's Note: This is LONG---apology in advance, as brevity is the thing for this blog! If you are bored, please skip down and check out my creepy pics instead....!

It was the cusp of summer, circa 1984.

I was thirteen years old and a bit unruly, to put it mildly. 

 Behavior trouble was beginning to become more frequent for me at school and around our neighborhood in Oklahoma City, and this state of affairs, coupled with the volatile chemistry between my step father and I, led my mother to decide that a sojourn with my grandparents in Klammath Falls, Oregon might be a positive change that would help me make a fresh start of a new school year.

 Old time discipline, Grandma's very special love and rural living , it was hoped, would sow seeds for a new pattern.

And, in fact, this year would prove to be one of the most memorable and exciting of my life.

My grandparents have passed on many years ago, but scarcely a day passes but that I think of them and recall the lessons and life experiences that I learned from them  that year.  Often I let my mind wander the trails and streams of those beautiful woods and meadows.

 And among the many memories I made there, one I remember with particular fondness is being introduced to Dungeons and Dragons.

Grandma and Grandpa lived on a two acre spread with a gravel driveway, a garage and preserves pantry my grandfather had built, a double wide mobile home with a wood stove, and a half acre garden that supplied these hardy folks with perhaps a quarter or more of their vegetables, herbs, berries, and fruit.

During our infrequent trips into the city, groceries were sparingly selected from the most no-nonsense budget one has ever seen and supplemented with extensive fishing, crawdad trawling and  Grandpa's hunting. They  also cut their own wood as well- this when they were in their early seventies. In fact, timber was the one concrete skill I actually learned there in Oregon.

If I had a chainsaw and truck today and I needed firewood, thanks to my grandparents I could select and safely fall the trees to feed a wood stove.

 I wish I had learned everything they wanted to teach me but being a boy I wanted to roam the woods and live in the realms of imagination that had always given me refuge from the sometimes painful environs of real life.

  My abiding love for the fantastic only elicited from my Grandfather a bemusement that bordered on scorn--no mind could have been as far removed from fantasy or science fiction concepts as that of this gruff, grizzled WW2 and law enforcement veteran who had been reared in the most hardscrabble of conditions and who had raised a family of six children in rural Arkansas. The myriad comic book realms which constituted the borders of my mythical kingdom were complete foolishness to him.

 My unabashed re-enactments of all that I read in those comics as as I played in the front yard or at the edge of the woods would have him shaking his head with sardonic smile.

 But that was simply who he was. The decade of the seventies into which I had been born was, for kids like me, a totally different world than that of his boyhood. And I, of course, was a weird kid even without a generation gap, and my grandfather had never had much patience with children.

Grandma seemed to understand, though, and always encouraged my cartooning, my reading of strange books, and my somewhat fervid flights of imagination. She felt it her mission to provide me with her own individualistic and unconventional spiritual insights and a great deal of time was spent being made to listen to short readings from the Bible, making prayers, and going on walks in the woods, wherein she would talk of God and the importance of right living at length...she was her own sort of Christian, one who had no time for church but who seemed to live daily in an unseen Presence whose communion filled her with an organic joy that fairly lit her face.

 I frankly confess that the religious duties which she tried to enjoin upon me seemd tedious and a great imposition upon time better spent at play or reading comics, but this was more than made up for by the fact that she sewed me a ninja costume, bought me a wooden katana, and packed me lunches of homemeade bread and the best cheeses and jugs of sweet tea or lemonade to carry into the woods, where I pretended to be  questing upon epic journeys.

 She was also forever showering hugs and kisses on me and treating to me to the best cooking one has ever tasted or can hope to taste in the afterlife. Not even a week ago, I realized with a pang of sadness that I would never taste biscuits and gravy like hers again, and that in all of the years since that I have ordered that dish in various cafes or diners in the hopes I might find the sort she made I have been on a futile quest.

But getting to D& wasn't long after I had arrived and explored the edges of the rural and widely separated mobile home community they lived in that I was walking down a road and met the first friend I was to have in Oregon, and who also was the person who would introduce me to an influence which remains a part of my head and heart even to this day.

Richard was short, frail, and somewhat unkempt with shaggy, thin dark hair that fell over heavy rimmed black glasses held together with a band of tape on the nose bridge and fraying collared and buttoned shirt, ragged jeans, and old sneakers. His Klammath Indian heritage was very evident (he was in fact half blooded from that tribe) and his eyes shone with the proverbial glint of obvious intelligence. He held up a hand in greeting as we drew near eachother and grinned at me good naturedly. Having seldom met a stranger, even to this day, I returned his salute, intrigued and thrilled that another boy my age lived in the area.

"Haven't seen you before," Richard said.

"I'm not from here," I replied. "I'm from Oklahoma."

"Oklahoma? What are you doing so far away from home?"

"Just staying with my grandparents, you know," I said, pointing back up the road from whence I came.

"Oh, you mean Mr. and Mrs. Jones," he said. "I know them. My folks know them. Mrs. Jones is the nicest woman I know."

"Yeah. I'll be going to school here this year."

"Good," he said. "I can show you around. I grew up here."

"Yeah? Not much to do, is there."

"There's a ton of stuff to do," Richard said. " We have horses. And atv's. We go fishing and camping in the woods and build forts. Me and my two brother is away at college. There's one other boy who lives in the area, that's Carl. With you here, that'd give us one more person to play Dungeons and Dragons with."

"You play Dungeons and Dragons?" I asked.

The name was familiar to me only because I had come across a strange book at a mall once which was entitled Monster Manual. I had convinced my mother to buy it for me because I had been spellbound by the engaging illustrations and descriptions of multitudes of mythical beasts. I had realized it was a component to a very elaborate game called D&D but had not the slightest conception as to what that meant. The one time I met some D&D players a year before at my school, I had asked them to let me play when I saw their obvious delight at recess as they shared the books, but they had turned me down, though one of them did pay me five dollars for a pencil reproduction of a ki-rin I had drawn at home from the MM.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Sometimes everyday after school. Long time on Saturdays and Sundays too. My brother taught me to play. He left all his books here when he went to school and as long as I take care of them, I can use them whenever I want."

"How do you play?' I asked. "I never understood it."

"It's a game of imagination," he explained. "You make up fantasy characters, like wizards or warriors, and send them on fantastic quests in a make believe world. You play the part of your character. When you fight things, like monsters, you roll dice to see who wins."

"Really?" I said, fascinated. " like, talk like you're the character? How do you make up the world?"

"Like from books and stuff," he said. "Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time and stuff like that. And yeah, you talk like your character. You have to stay alive. The Dungeon Master controls the game and tells you what you see and what all you can do, but you can make things up."

"Wow," I said. "That sounds cool."

My only other notion of D&D was that many grownups, especially religious ones, did not like it and that it was supposed to be of Satan. That Satan would choose the route of a game to damn the souls of hapless kids had seemed a somewhat dubious concept to me, but D&D did carried a whiff of the occult ...there were, after all, scads of demons and devils in the MM. I mentioned this to Richard and he waved it aside.

"Those people have never even played the game," he said. "Actually, you usually end up fighting evil in the game, killing evil monsters and such."

"Sounds fun," I ventured.

"Yeah. C'mon, we'll go get Carl. He and I are supposed to play today. We'll create a character for you and you can join us."

In short order, we had gone by Carl's, made our introductions, walked to Richard's house and after filling glasses of Kool-Aid and grabbing some snacks, we were cloistered in Richard's bedroom with the door closed, and paper and pencil and funny looking dice set out on the table. A stack of books were brought out...mysterious, glossy covered tomes with forbidding looking monsters and mighty heroes adorning their faces. 1st Edition Advanced D&D hardcover rule books, a complete set for that era, all in immaculate condition. Richard handled them as if they were archeological relics.

"These are my brother's books," Richard said. "He said  if anything happens to them I am to be skinned alive. The only book you're allowed to look in is the Player's Handbook anyway, but don't get anything on it."

"Geez," I said, opening the book and seeing neatly piled columns of tiny black font filling every page from top to bottom except where separated by striking black and white fantastic illustrations. "These are the rules? Looks complicated..."

"Nah, it's easy," Richard said.

And we then proceeded to roll up my character...a halfling thief with the highly original name Shadow. When he was done, he, Ricahrd's fighter/magic user Mension Leif, and Carl's Dwarf fighter, Snipper, set out upon a forest road in search of adventure. Richard sat and described the spooky forest, the feeling of foreboding we felt as we wandered the path, and then the surprise of seeing cloaked and hooded travelers upon the road coming toward us.

"What do you do...?" he asked, smiling.

"We approach them in greeting," said Carl. "But Snipper has his hand ready upon his magic axe."

"What about you?" Richard said to me.

"I will talk to one of them," I said, curious and excited.

Richard smiled.

"As you begin to speak to the mysterious travelers," he said, "they pull back their hoods to reveal their faces--they are skeletons! And with clicking noises they draw ancient long knives and attack you!"

Living skeletons!! A world of danger and magic!  I was hooked. We battled the skeletons and after being wounded vanquished them. Among their treasures was a ring which when Shadow placed it upon his finger he became invisible! Thrilled, I listened eagerly as the story continued, embellished with a witch, bandits, a thriving village where we got in a tavern brawl, Shadow tried to pick a pocket and failed, and heard tales of a mountain nearby wherein lay a fierce dragon upon a hoard of gold! I felt as though I could see clearly every fantastic image that Richard described.

By the time the game ended, the shadows were long and dark as I hurried up the road to my grandparents home. I could easily imagine the skeleton troop in the moonlight ahead...upon getting home I excitedly related the entire tale to my grandmother who had not the slightest idea what to make of it.

For the next year we played D&D every chance we got, raising our characters in level and encountering every creature in the Monster Manual just about--from Bahamut to Trolls and Ettins, Sea Hags and Elementals to Leprecauns and Owlbears....monsters to delight a boy's heart. Richard even taught me to DM and was glad to play Mension Lief in the many scenarios I devised to try and test his mettle and that of Snipper.

When I left Oregon and returned to my home, I took many great memories of my Grandma and Grandpa with me.

I also embarked on years of D&D playing that led to many good friendships, lots of awesome campaigns, and a love of the mythical and fantastic which is still with me to this day. I contacted Richard once about five years ago through Facebook. We didn't talk much, it was friendly, but he informed me that he had quit playing D&D years ago and was into World of Warcraft instead. That made me a bit wistful, but I will never forget the amazing world of imagination that D&D opened for me when I was needing exactly that....

Thank you Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and crew!

Photo Experimentation

Proposed Zine Cover

"Wizard of the Wood"

These are a few images I captured in the woods near my home using a mask I constructed for a Christmas costume party the year before last.

I went to the party as the Green Man.

It struck me as a good prop for photographs as studies for paintings or other art.

"Goblin" is my favorite, being simple and having some good colors. I like "Druid" as well, but the final photo strikes me as being a bit sickly in hue.

This was an experimental foray--I have a much larger project in mind which I am gathering materials for right now.

I will admit to liking scary and creepy things, but I would also love to try and produce some images of beautiful fantasy subjects as well.

Hope you like them. These images are copyrighted and  may not be used without permission of Justin Becker, thank you!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Amazing, Stupendous and Utterly Diabolical "Dagger of Intrigue"....

At a game recently, resuming the campaign from a nearly two month break, a player trotted out a list of treasures and magic items from the last time we had played and started asking questions about a "Dagger of Intrigue".

Him: So what does this Dagger of Intrigue do?

Me: Dagger of Intrigue?

Him: Yes, you told us we found a Dagger of Intrigue.

Me: Really? Hmm. I seem to have misplaced my list. I specifically stated to you that it was a Dagger of Intrigue?

Him: Yes, you did. You said it was called a Dagger of Intrigue.

Me: Oh. Perhaps I said you found a dagger which intrigues you...

Him, smiling and shaking his head: Ah no--you specifically stated that Vattic (his thief) found among the treasures a Dagger of Intrigue.

So, after admitting that I had forgotten but seeing how the player had been fascinated by the Dagger of Intrigue and he, as yet being only second level, almost third, but without any magical items, I invented the Dagger of Intrigue upon the spot.

Me: Yes, Vattic has indeed found a most wondrous relic, for the Dagger is not only a +2 to hit and damage magic weapon, it is also imbued with an a power most useful to one of your profession. For the enchantment of the blade is such that when at your will you consciously conceal it upon your person, it cannot be found by the most diligent searcher out of weapons. Be it a bandit robbing you, a castle guard patting you down, or a captor relieving you of your arms, a Dagger of Intrigue can never be found by normal means. In fact, you could be bare-a** naked to the mortal eye, shivering in a snowbank, but no one will see the dagger or find it. And don't ask me where it goes either....

Anyway, I thought it a decent magic item! He was very thrilled with it and his companions gleefully recommended it for assassination and other bits of skullduggery.

As I write this, my thoughts run to the question of how many daggers of this nature had been invented, who fashioned them and for what specific purpose...interested to hear ideas on this in the comments section!