Dimensions for Children: Demons

Last weekend I was mostly busy with yard work and cleaning my gutters (not a euphemism), but I managed to paint up a few plastic minis I’d gotten in trade from another blogger. The first batch includes:  four statues (pieces from the Risk “Godstorm” boardgame depicting gods), a TOYCO giant or ogre, and a some DFC demons/gargoyles, along with a couple of TOYCO DFC-knockoff demons.

DFC (Dimensions for Children) was a toy company that produced a lot different play sets but the one I am most familiar with was the “Dragonriders of Styx.” These came as action figures (which I’d never seen before researching DFC more recently) and a fantasy toy soldiers set I’d seen a coveted as a kid. Some of my friends — the same ones who introduced me & my brother to D&D — gave me one of the figures from that, or maybe I “borrowed” it. I eventually painted it and added it to my collection of D&D miniatures. Anyway when the opportunity to get some more of the DFC minis arose, I was pretty happy. The guy who sent me these also had some TOYCO models. TOYCO was (is?) a Canadian company that made knock-offs of the DFC playset. (In fact, they even filched the box art from DFC, right down to depicting DFC figures instead of the ones that TOYCO actually made for the set! That link also shows the full line of fantasy figures they made)  The knockoffs of the knights, wizards, and demons are all pretty recognizably based on the DFC figures, but TOYCO replaced the orcs, ogres and Viking giants with slightly smaller barbarians or cavemen, ogres with cat-like ears, and somewhat classical-styled giant. The giant reminded me of the Harryhausen bronze golem “Talos” in Jason & the Argonauts, so I painted him bronze with glowing eyes.

Toyco Giant

Bronze paint with a green wash.

Toyco Giant + viking

He’s about 2 1/2 inches tall. 28mm Viking for scale.

The demons from DFC came in two varieties — shaggy-legged demons with hooves and slimmer demons or gargoyles with skinny, almost bird-like legs.

DFCdemons

The TOYCO knockoff split the difference giving their demons shaggy legs and bird-like feet.

TOYCO demons

The two TOYCO knockoffs I got have pretty sharp detail — they seem to have been molded a lot more cleanly than the DFC pieces. In fact with the DFC guys, it is hard to tell if some of them have horns or all just have really long pointy ears. I gave it my best guess when painting them.

The faces on the TOYCO figures are very cleanly molded and quite different from each other and from the DFC figures. The axeman has a face that looks a lot like a Japanese oni mask to me. The swordsman’s face is eerily calm, and the only guy lacking fangs. He had a pronounced bump between his eyebrows which I decided to paint as a third eye. Since the TOYCO demons are a little taller and more muscular, they’ll be the leaders of this group.

demon figures again

DFC, TOYCO, DFC

Although I initially thought that the inconsistency of the DFC demons was just shoddy craftsmanship, once I painted these guys I kind of liked the variation it created. The two demons with scimitars are quite different looking even though they were presumably meant to be duplicates — the thick-necked guy looks brutish and bestial, while the thinner-necked one seems more human.

DFC demons

Left, the slim demon; right, the thick-necked version with a more upturned nose. He very strongly evokes a bat.

The demons are about 2 inches tall and mostly based on wooden dominoes (that’s how they came, and they actually make very good bases). So in D&D terms they are most like Type VI Demons or Horned Devils (except that they lack tails and horns, for the most part, so demons then.)

Lastly we have the Risk gods. I almost made the “wind” god into an elemental, but I already have several elementals I almost never use. Before looking it up I was thinking he was either a trident-less Poseidon, or the patron of pocket pool, based on his pose. Anyway they are all on short columns so making them statues was no-brainer.

statues

Risk Godstorm gods as statues

They’re about the size of 28mm figures, so they could just as well be cut from their bases and used characters or NPCs, though only the goddess with the orb has an active pose.

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  
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The Mattress Factory

I took a short trip to Pittsburgh and had an incredible time — great company, good food, new music, plenty of beer — and the next day the wife and I visited a museum we’d been to about 10 years ago: The Mattress Factory. This post will just focus on the museum, because I have some photos and because the museum is more germane to swords & dorkery.

You can go to the museum’s web site to get the fuller story and much better photos, but the tl;dr version is: The Mattress Factory was an actual factory, but made into a museum in the 1970s and it mostly houses “installation” art: whole rooms are taken over by a single piece of art or series of pieces, and some are interactive. It is actually two buildings now; the factory and residential unit. The factory has art in the basement and floors 2-4 (the first floor now being the lobby, gift shop, and cafe). Some rooms are permanent installations and some are temporary. The exhibits on the second floor are rooms that use darkness and light in fairly amazing ways, and have been there for some time. But two of my favorite exhibits were new. The first a temporary exhibit of the work of one of the artists-in-residence. It is basically a miniature world. mf-diaspora-1 It’s called “Diaspora,” and depicts a city floating on a planetoid, with dozens of individual buildings floating around it, and as you can barely see in the picture above, space stations reminiscent of the film 2001.

mf-diaspora-6

The city is a mix of modern and futuristic buildings, and it is ringed with a highway that is heavily trafficked.

mf-diaspora-12

The cars are something like half an inch long, and while they may look like small-scale architectural models or railroad models, in fact they all made from scraps of cardboard and other materials the artist collected from street trash and garbage bins.

mf-diaspora-5Apart from the plaster or whatever makes up the land, and the model railroad foliage and flocking that makes up the grass and bushes, everything was made or repurposed by the artist.

mf-diaspora-10The windows were all cut by hand (presumably with an xacto knife); the details all cobbled from scraps of debris; many of the sci-fi touches are clearly auto parts or plastic parts spray-painted to resemble giant machines.

mf-diaspora-11

mf-diaspora-9The planetoid is apparently in some peril; here there is a crack in the ground that goes straight through to the void,

mf-diaspora-3

here there’s a pretty big pile-up;

mf-diaspora-2here the highway abruptly ends. So you can see why those who can afford it are living off-planet.

mf-diaspora-7Off in one corner of the room, by the fuse-box, there is an Asian building of some sort.

mf-diaspora-8

This next photo is terribly blurry, but there is a series of apartment buildings further out, moving toward the space stations.

mf-diaspora-13If we go further into a darkened room, presumably representing outer space, we find a number of space stations, mostly formed in wheel shapes.

mf-diaspora-14This is a shot showing one of the last apartment buildings, then a ring-shaped space station, and the other space stations beyond it.

mf-diaspora-15

mf-diaspora-16

mf-diaspora-17

This last one looks a little like the USS Enterprise trapped in a gyroscope.

And here is one last detail of a space station, showing some of the construction materials.

mf-diaspora-18Lastly, a plaque on the wall gives a bit more information:

mf-diaspora-0Many more photos, taken by professions, of this and other works by Ryder Henry are at the museum website linked above.

It’s less clear to me if the second building will be a permanent exhibit. I took a few photos of it, but they did not really turn out well. The gist of it is this: A three story apartment building was aquired by the museum, and it was a decrepit state. An artist touring it was fascinated by the stories implied by the layers of wallpaper, paint, etc. exposed on the walls, and the few remaining artifacts left behind by the previous residents. So she decided to “trap” the memories in the place by creating a sort of spiderweb of yarn, covering almost all the walls. Walking through the three stories of this building was a little creepy, as it seemed like the lair of some giant wolf spiders or something. There is an extensive gallery of photos here. If you can see this in person it’s pretty amazing.

 

Published in: on April 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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H.P. Lovecraft and the modernist grotesque

I’ve been down with a cold for the last couple of days and after forcing myself to go in to work one day, I took day off and binge-read a dissertation on H.L.Lovecraft that a guy I know wrote. It is called H.P. Lovecraft and the modernist grotesque. You can buy it at Amazon, and should. (Side note: among the things I learned here is the origin of the term “grotesque”, which traces to “grotto-esque” because the excavations of certain Roman grottoes revealed monstrous, fanciful images no-one had seen in hundreds of years. Such imagery was not limited to grottoes or baths but the term stuck, perhaps because the association with caves or the underground fit the demonic images.)

H.P. Lovecraft has become a sort of pop icon, at least within a sizable subculture of gamers, horror aficionados, and general “geek culture,” although as the author notes he is more frequently referenced or parodied than actually read. In all fairness, there is a considerable part of Lovecraft’s work that is pretty rough going, due to its conservativeness (e.g. his early work and attempts to copy Dunsany) or due to its unapologetic racism and xenophobia (which even Robert E. Howard, himself criticized for bigotry, chastised Lovecraft for!). However Martin focuses on several of Lovecraft’s most famous and acclaimed works (“The call of Cthulhu,” “The whisperer in the darkness,” At the mountains of madness, and a few other key works), and in doing so makes a powerful case to take Lovecraft’s mature work much more seriously than it hitherto has outside of “weird tales” fandom.
Martin argues, quite lucidly, that HPL can be better understood as a trailblazer in the intersection of two literary movements: the grotesque and the modernist. HPL, he demonstrates, uses modernist devices and concerns, with grotesque themes and situations, to create subtle studies on alienation, subjectivity, and the absurd. Indeed the Lovecraftian sense of “cosmic horror” (a phrase I think Martin circumspectly avoids) is understood here as really being a sense of horror at man’s evident place in the universe (or lack thereof). Martin rather convincingly (to me, at least, as a non-scholar regarding literature!) shows that HPL really fits comfortably in with Conrad, Eliot, O’Conner, Faulkner, and other “modernists,” distinguishing himself more by his use of the grotesque rather than more realist or mundane dramas to sketch his vision of the world: alienating because it is indifferent to human concerns and pride; disturbing because subjectivity makes absolute reality impossible to approach; and absurd because logic and science are just powerless as religion and art in the face of this alienation and subjectivity. HPL’s use of sophisticated literary devices belies his oft-criticized purple prose, and Martin also makes an effort to suggest that HPL uses humor and even self-parody which is lost on many readers.
So overall I think this is an excellent study of HPL, and refreshing in that it mostly avoids the biography that so often passes for criticism and appreciation that passes for interpretation.
Having said all that, this is a doctoral dissertation, and the reader is often reminded of this fact by the repetition of ideas, the exhausting presentation of piece after piece of evidence, pedantic footnotes which some advisor or reader doubtless insist be inserted to clarify or disclaim some statement, and most of all by the jargon of academia. In fact this last part was the most distracting: “connects,” “destabilizes,” “questions,” and similar verbs abound, as I have often found them to in academic literary criticism. Such terms always make me think that either the writer is avoiding taking a clear stance or that they don’t really know exactly what the argument is and these words are meant to say “well this here sort of suggests that, but the logical connection is not clear and I am not positive what the actual conclusion should be.” But then that is the meat and mead of defending a thesis. One must pull back as far into ones shell as possible or face endless debate from the advisor and readers who must ultimately approve the thing. So I can forgive that.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that I know the author of this work and he sent me a copy to read (though he did not ask for a review or anything in return). I should also mention that I was intensely flattered to be acknowledged among the people who influenced his thinking, though really I knew him long ago, and I doubt I had anything substantive to say about HPL at that time.
I hope that if he ever returns to this topic, perhaps to edit the dissertation into a format that will attract more casual readers, he will expand his examples to draw on more stories, and perhaps give a little more explanation of some of the more jargony terms of literary criticism, for the ideas herein do a great deal to rehabilitate HPL as more than merely a “horror” or “pulp” writer. He might also address some of the more problematic aspects of HPL’s work and views; however I know from correspondence that he intentionally set out to avoid the pitfall of biography and psychologism that besets so many writers on writers.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 7:15 pm  Comments (17)  
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Quick minis update

I took the day off to see an assembly at my kid’s school and get some chores done, and while I was waiting on the laundry I painted a Reaper Bones mini, probably as quickly as I’ve painted a mini (well not counting assembly-line painting of armies or 1/72 plastics which I mostly don’t shade or highlight). The mini has pretty shoddy detail, really, and I decided to cut off the goatee on the sculpt and paint him as a half-orc, as I’m playing a half-orc ranger in a very occasional 3.5e game with my brother-in-law and his friends. I also finished up a mage, which I’d been meaning to use for a PC in a now-defunct campaign.

wr-fronts

The ranger’s mail was just a plain undergarment with no texture, but I used some of the Heritage “Chainmail” paint I acquired a while back and the little flakes of metallic whatever made even the plain surface look reasonably close to mail. I really need to try it more. The milky stuff on the ranger’s base is varnish which isn’t quite dry. I’m hoping it will eventually dry clear.

And from behind:

wr-backs

The keys to making this one a super-fast paint job were: 1) not priming at all (Reaper claims you don’t need to prime Bones plastic minis; I found that the paint rubbed off pretty easily before sealing); 2) keeping the color scheme simple; 3) combining shading and lining by using a thick black wash to line the boundary areas and pulling it into the deeper crevices for shadow; 4) just adding white to the base colors and highlighting very heavily, since I wanted a weather-beaten look anyway for the ranger. The mage has more traditionally subtle shades and highlights but at arm’s length the ranger looks more striking to me. The mage is a Ral Partha; I’m not sure which line or date but he was definitely in lead, not zinc (er, “Ralidium”). I think he is probably a Julie Guthrie sculpt.

Also, I finished painting Orcus some time ago and forgot to photograph him:

Orcus

He’s a late Grenadier sculpt, but still in line with the 1e version as opposed to the muscle-bound 3e/4e version. I’m still not sure about the eyes, but the sculpt has really deep pupil slits and showing whites made him look bug-eyed, so I guess this will be it.

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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One page dungeon contest 2015

Once again, there is a one page dungeon contest, and what the hell, I’m in.

(If you don’t know, the One Page Dungeon contest is a thing where you create an RPG adventure that fits on a single side of a piece of paper, and share it for free with the world, and possibly get some recognition. It’s also a major boon for busy DMs. As the contest has been running for several years, there are now hundreds of free, one-page dungeons available for download.)

Once again I’m revisiting a dungeon I used in a past campaign, although in this case my notes were extremely spare (less than five lines, with some cryptic floorplans) so it is more an impression of what that dungeon was like than an accurate recreation.

As usual the biggest hurdle was making a decent map, and this time I tried a simple cutaway drawing. The dungeon is a tower that has sunk into the ground, and small enough that a party might be able to explore the whole thing in a single session, depending on their numbers and resources, and ability to leave some doors unopened. :)

Here is the first draft (and possibly the final draft, unless I find time to work on it again!) as a pdf:

ScriptoriumOPD

Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just in time! Santicore 2014!

File:St. Michaels ass laden with heath and firewood, Bullar 1841, p. xiv.jpg

Artist’s representation of the contents of the Santicore 2014 documents. Source: Wikimedia

The Secret Santicore for 2014 is now out!

With an ass load of great stuff. Plus some not so great stuff, like my own contribution, but you get what you pay for. Monsters, NPCs, tables, whole freaking adventures. All crafted on-demand in the spirit of giving and flinging poisoned iron spikes from one’s tail.

 

 

Published in: on March 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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Treasure

treasures1

Treasure chest miniatures are usually worth using, but I am not so sure about loose piles of treasure.  The problem is that usually show some explicit items — swords, helmets, scrolls, whatever — and your literal-minded players (who have perhaps been conditioned/spoiled by the fact that I often can throw out a mini that exactly mirrors what I described) assume that they are there in the treasure.  Even so, I have acquired or made some loose piles for variety.

Here’s a pretty humble treasure pile, I think from Reaper:

reaper-treasure-pile

Here are a couple of loose piles of gold coins (in this case glitter) with some random objects.

glitter

On the left, a crude scroll made of paper, a buckler from a 1/72 Italieri Saracen, a sword from a Rafm customizable fighter kit, and a tiny twig standing in for a magic wand. On the right, a wooden bead “urn”, a plastic Skaven shield, the helm from an MPC AD&D orc, another wand, and a pebble. The coins are gold glitter.

Next up some gold bars.

bars

These came in a Grenadier Champions set, but the pile of gold bars mini was in production for a really long time — all the way back to their Wizzards & Warriors days, at least.

These chests see a fair amount of use. The one on the far right was the “open” chest from the Grenadier AD&D Thieves set, but for reasons I can barely fathom now, I closed the chest, filing off the treasure that was in it.  For a while the chest was part of a portable war altar for a Warhammer army. The other two chests are plastic pieces from a “Weapons & Warriors” game.

chests

The big hoard of gold is another plastic piece from the MPC AD&D set. It is a pretty accurate but scaled down copy of the treasure pile that the Grenadier dragon lair had.

hoard

Lastly, a pair of golden urns and a pretty bitchen dragon idol, both scratch built by a friend I haven’t heard from in a while. (I hope all is well, Scottsz!)

idol+urns

I dig the candles on the idol quite a bit. The urns are wooden beads, and the dragon idol appears to be some wooden blocks with a tiny metal dragon on it. I’m guessing he used Testors enamel paint to get that smooth, shiny gold effect.

Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Monsters Manuals appendix N

I was kind of excited to see that there is a reading list in both the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. So, suppose you wanted to compile a reading list for a monsters manual.  Inspirational reading for new monsters, stories with cool or interesting uses of monsters, and maybe sources for some of the established D&D monsters*. What should go in? Here’s a start. Suggestions welcome. The following books are all pretty good, and worth checking out.

Arrowsmith, Nancy, and George Moorse. The field guide to little people. An encyclopedia style guide, with somewhat creepy illustrations.

Barber, Ruchard. A companion to world mythology. A dictionary of mythology, with short entries and a ton of small illustrations. The illustrations generally try to mimic the style of the culture each entry is from, so that the Greek gods are illustrated in a Grecian style, and so on.

Barlowe, Wanye Douglas. Barlowe’s guide to extraterrestials and Barlowe’s guide to fantasy. Great color illustrations of characters and creatures from science fiction and fantasy novels, with a short summary that usually does not give away any spoilers. Each has a fold-out chart of all the subjects for size comparison, which is pretty cool.

Borges, J. The book of imaginary beings. Borges describes creatures from literature and fable, intermixed with some he’s made up, and others he re-imagined. If you liked Zak Smith’s re-imagining of the Fiend Folio and Monster Manuals**, you’ll also like this, I think. There is a really great illustrated edition, which I’d go with over the all-text edition.

Briggs, Katharine. The encyclopedia of fairies. Arranged like an encyclopedia with entries on topics and places, but this actually includes a lot of excerpts from folklore and entire stories, often in the local dialect or archaic English, this is probably more for scholars than general readers, despite the cover and marketing. But it’s worth perusing.

Cohen, Daniel. The encyclopedia of monsters. I read a lot of Cohen’s books as a kid, and this encyclopedia is a great introduction to his credulous style of writing about all manner of fantastic and cryptozoological creatures. Does he really believe in this stuff? Maybe. But he is careful to stick to his sources and makes no effort to hide some of the goofier aspects of these legends. This is one of the only books in this list I don’t actually own, but I am on the lookout for it when I go to library book sales.

Davidson, Avram. Adventures in unhistory. This a collection of essays looking at possible historical bases of various legends. Davidson’s incredible erudition and sharp humor make it a great read. He doesn’t talk a lot about monsters, but there are so many ideas here you will certainly find something useful. (I’m still on the hunt for a copy of this too, as the copy I read was a library loan).

D’Aularies, Ingrid and Edgar P. D’Aularies’ book of Trolls. The D’Aulaires really got me hooked on mythology as a kid and the book of trolls collects some Norwegian troll stories while also giving a sort of treatise on the habits and types of trolls.

Douglas, Adam. The beast within. A book on werewolves and lycanthropy, this one also includes some great material on the “Plinian races” and other near-humans from legend.

Lang, Andrew (ed.). The blue fairy book. (And The yellow fairy book, etc. — all of his Fairy books). Collected folklore and fairytales from all over the world, pretty much every page is a delight.

Petersen, Sandy. S. Petersen’s field guide to the creatures of the dreamlands. I tried to keep gaming books out of the list, and this is on the border but does not actually have any stats and has some great artwork. Bonus: you don’t have to plow through HPL’s often ponderous efforts to mimic Dunsany to find out about the incredible creatures he invented for the Dreamlands cycle.

Rossi, Matthew. Things that never were. One part research, one part wild speculation, this is kind of like the popular “Hite Report” that used to appear in the Pyramid Magazine, but for general readers rather than DMs. A lot of fun.

Sedgwick, Paulita. Mythological creatures. Another dictionary-style children’s book, notable for cool illustrations and engaging writing.

 

As far as recommending fiction, that’s another post, or series of posts, or honestly a project that really screams for crowdsourcing. But I’d add one book that probably isn’t shelved with the sci-fi and fantasy in your bookstore or library:

Eco, Umberto. Baudolino! A hiliarious riff on medieval travelogues and legends, the sections detailing the Plinian races and other wonders of the East is pure gold.

*****************

*A pretty good effort at this last topic was made by Aardy R. DeVarque here.  Looking at the sources there for various monsters reminded me that striges in D&D probably were inspired by the Strix of Greek mythology, and perhaps their cave-dwelling (and indirectly their bat-like wings) come from Thomas Burnett Swann’s The day of the minotaur. Wouldn’t it be cool to produce an “annotated” AD&D Monster Manual with sources made explicit? And yeah for “cool” most people will read “intolerably nerdy,” but that’s how I think. Actually once I finish up some other projects already in the hopper, maybe a grand compilation of sources for AD&D monsters, spells, and magic items would be fun.

**No link, not sure how his site will be affected by the changes in Blogger, but you can Google it.

Published in: on February 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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Sculpey and stuff

Found some older pictures I meant to post a while back. This was all stuff my wife & I made to sell a festival last Fall at my kid’s school. (The 8th graders used to make and sell clay animals to sell for their class trip, and our Daughter always looked forward to seeing them at the festival, but in the last few years they’d stopped doing that, and we decided to fill in the gap.)

Almost everything sold, though I did keep one of the monsters and priced the box high because I realized I wanted it as a dice box.  :)

I got suckered into making a photo-op cut-out (another parent did a nice job painting it).

SGWSChildrensFest8

The box is kind of a mimic. The eyes are clear glass beads, with the whites and pupils painted underneath so they follow you.

DiceBox1

See?

DiceBox2

That’s more or less how the illusion works on paintings and statues too.

The rest of the picutres are little creatures, bits of scenery for fairy gardens, and so on.  My wife did most of the gnomes and aliens; I did some monsters and things.  I also made a bunch of Greek mythological beings but did not get a chance to take pictures.

SGWSChildrensFest SGWSChildrensFest2 SGWSChildrensFest3 SGWSChildrensFest4  SGWSChildrensFest6 SGWSChildrensFest7

We have an oak tree that was going crazy with acorns last year, and when my daughter started saving twigs with acorn caps attached I got the idea to make clay faces in them. I am not sure why anyone would pay a dollar for them, as they have to use whatever, but they were kind of cute.

SGWSChildrensFest5

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Appendix D: the 5e Appendix N

I happened to come across a copy of the 5e DMG today at work. While I did not get a chance to look too closely at it, a I was pleasantly surprised by all the random tables of dungeon dressing and even random traps and tricks. The other thing I was drawn to was the ‘further reading’ — in this case “Appendix D.”

It’s a fairly interesting list, mixing both some old chestnuts (Gygax’s Role playing mastery makes an appearance, as do several old TSR sourcebooks and even Grimtooth’s traps) as well as some kind of odd choices (as large number of histories of D&D, from Peterson’s epic Playing at the world to the rather underwhelming Of dice & men), a few reference books (including the Writer’s Digest fantasy writer’s reference book, which I happened to pick up at a used book sale recently and thought was a good introduction to the tropes of pseudo-medieval worlds, as well as suggesting some ways to break free of them).

The only thing I found odd was the large number of books on writing, and not just the world-building part but writing drama. That bugs me a little, since I never really liked the “DM as author” idea. The players should be creating the drama too; it may in fact be more their job than the DM’s job. The DM just gives the players levers to pull and things to interact with; the player’s horrible choices and heroic deeds can create all the drama you need. But I probably shouldn’t read too much into that.

But I am pretty happy to see that the PHB and the DMG both have reading lists. I still haven’t had a chance to look at a Monster Manual so I don’t know if that has a reading list too. I hope it does.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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