Friday, December 13, 2013

(Mostly) OT - Why Public Funding of the Arts is Unnecessary

For the most part, this is a politics-free blog. However, I recently ran across a Facebook post from an friend of mine that, while purely political in nature, has aspects that touch upon subjects that are directly covered in this blog, and so I decided to address it.

As can be gathered from the title, this post deals with public (i.e. taxpayer) funded art, and one might also further discern my distaste for the idea, hinting at my Libertarian viewpoint on such matters. Here, then, is what my friend, to be known henceforth as "E.E.D.," had to say on the matter:

"I had the dubious pleasure of hearing a radio debate this morning on privatizing funding of the arts, while decreasing public spending here in Norway. As someone who has experienced this type of thing first hand, welcome to the age of corporate crap rock and boy bands (you know, that which sells), starving artists and struggling arts media. And that Norwegian debates so frequently point to the US, a society clearly in stunningly rapid decline, as a shining beacon for the way forward in Norway is nothing less than idiotic. I shudder to think."

This view is incorrect, on a number of levels. Before I go much further in explaining why, though, it is important to point out that there are two problems that public funding of the arts supposedly solves, both of which are alluded to above. The first is the fear of diminishment or watering down of art, in order to appeal to the widest audience, thus maximizing profit. The second concern is with the ability of an artist to earn enough money at their craft in order to survive. I submit, however, that both of these fears are misguided.

So I oppose the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Why? Here are the main reasons, in ascending order of importance.

Reason No. 1.: Some of the "art" that public funding is used for is quite honestly distasteful and a waste of money. The most infamous example I can think of is "Piss Christ", wherein a crucifix was suspended in a jar full of urine. As disgusting as that is, from a sanitation standpoint, if nothing else, the really obscene part was that the NEA actually gave the "artist" (and I'm using the term in the widest possible sense) a grant of $5,000 for something I could have done for as little as $5 (a bit more, though, if I drank quality beer to fill the jar with...) 

Reason No. 2: While art is actually important to the human psyche, it is in no way as important as, say, air, water, food, shelter, property rights, etc. Simply a matter of healthy prioritization.

Reason No. 3: It gives government the power of defining what is art. The Soviet Union's Proletkult and Nazi Germany's Reichskulturkammer are stark warnings from history about having government mess around with art. I'd rather have "corporate crap rock and boy bands" then a bureaucrat with a bad comb over promoting his idea of "art," which invariably will be nothing more than State sponsored propaganda. Seriously, people, read a fraking history book once in a while. Yes, I know the NEA does not (yet) reach the extremes outlined in the aforementioned examples, but it ultimately suffers the same taint and bad precedent as the above. And given the extreme leftist tendencies of the NEA, they are more closely aligned with the Soviets and Nazis then most realize.

Reason No. 4: Sort of a parallel with No. 1, it needs to be understood that art is extremely subjective. One person's art is another's garbage, and vice versa. No one should have to fund art they do not like.

But the main reason I oppose public funding of art is simply this: the dramatic decrease in the cost of production for art, along with crowdfunding initiatives to raise any needed funding, has rendered the NEA utterly and completely obsolete and unnecessary. Consider the following case studies/examples:

1. A group called the "H.P. Lovecraft Society" (http://cthulhulives.org/) has released two films based very closely on stories penned by that author, Call of Cthulhu and Whisperer in the Darkness, and has a third one in work (The Statement of Randolph Carter). The released films were done to a very high standard on a very minimal budget. In addition, they also have produced some "radio broadcast" adaptations of Lovecraft's stories as well.

2. A branch of Regia Anglorum up in Northern California used Kickstarter to fund a movie, The Frost Giant's Daughter, based on the Conan short story by Robert E. Howard (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/guignol/robert-e-howards-the-frost-giants-daughter). They requested a mere $5000 for it on Kickstarter. (Admittedly there have been some post production delays, sadly, but I think eventually they will complete the project. Note also that this was the same amount "required" for Piss Christ in order to procure a jar, urine, and a plastic crucifix... and you libtards whine about $600 hammers for the military!)

3. There are a whole slew of purely fan produced Star Trek shows:
Star Trek Phase 2 (bunch of episodes up on YouTube)
USS Exeter (http://www.starshipexeter.com/)
Starship Farragut (http://www.starshipfarragut.com/)

4. Fans of the TV series Veronica Mars were able to use Kickstarter to fund a new season.

5. Kickstarter was also used to raise funds for the movie Atlas Shrugged.

6. In the role-playing and war- gaming community, there have been numerous small Kickstarter efforts for various rulesets and accessories, such as adventure modules, miniatures, etc. For example, there is a Kickstarter to sculpt and produce "Old School" Dungeons & Dragons minis based on the original 1st Edition AD&D rules and primarily inspired from drawings in the old 1st edition Monster Manual).

What is so fascinating about the above examples is that none of them are at all "mainstream" (apart maybe from Veronica Mars, and even that was not a really mainstream show); indeed, most are nothing more than a very tiny fringe. While most people have heard of Conan the Barbarian, hardly any have ever read or are even aware of the original short pulp fantasy stories that were written back in the 1930's, knowing of the fictional character only through the movies. Along those lines, how many people on the streets have even heard of H.P. Lovecraft, let alone actually read any of his stories?

Even more interesting is that these are often the efforts of purists, who want as close a translation of the original artist's work as possible, and invariably achieve very high standards that mass produced art generally fails to meet. For the Lovecraft movies they actually produce them in the style of film that would have been extant at the time the story was written; for example, Call of Cthulhu is done as a silent film in black and white. The impetus for The Frost Giant's Daughter arose from a general feeling among Robert E. Howard fans that the popular movies (and TV show) fell far short of the original stories. The Star Trek fan efforts invariably cleave very closely to the original 1960's series, and use props and special effects of the same or even better quality than what we saw in 1966, and yet at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, given that a modern laptop has *orders* of magnitude more computing power than computers that took up entire rooms, it is trivial to do pretty good special effects on a shoestring (or even non-existent) budget.

Put another way, the "purity" of these art endeavours vastly exceeds anything put together by the so-called professionals.

The above examples only pertain to the quality of non-public funded art, however. The other half of the problem is how to make a living doing art. Once again, the solution is not to be found in a bloated, corrupt, inefficient, and useless government agency. Rather, the solution is to be found in a vibrant and affluent free market. Put another way, you need a sufficiently wealthy populace who can afford the luxury of art consumption to provide a large enough customer base to support you in the pursuit of art.

Unfortunately, the philosophy of "progressivism" (read: socialism, communism, marxism, nazism, etc.) that supports the NEA invariably breeds near universal poverty, not prosperity. You end up taking money from the very folks who would support art, and give it to those who could care less. Don't believe me? Look no further than South vs. North Korea. One is a prosperous capitalist land, the other a dreary, impoverished hell hole, supposedly a "Workers' Paradise". And yet "progressives" want to turn the United States into North Korea, for reasons that are incomprehensible to anyone who is remotely sane.

Historically, one of the greatest explosions of art was during the Renaissance. Why? Because thriving trade gave rise to a wealthy merchant class that could afford to purchase fine art on a grand scale. It was not the deranged ravings of Karl Marx that brought this beauty into the world (and made artists themselves wealthy), but rather the ability of otherwise ordinary people (i.e. outside of the nobility or upper echelons of the Church) to gain this degree of wealth.

Let me give a personal example: as can be seen from other posts on this blog, I make reproductions of Mediaeval arms and armour (among other period crafts). My stuff is good enough that I could almost make a business out of it. Notice I say "almost". The problem is not so much lack of interest but lack of money on the part of would be patrons. I can do a fine reproduction of a Vendel period helmet, but most can't afford the $1000-$2000+ sticker price. In a world where success is punished by high taxes, which further destroys job opportunities for everyone else, few people can afford my (or anyone else's) art.

Going further, as someone who has been laid off as a direct result of Obama and the democrats and their "progressive" policies, I no longer have the income to purchase art. I'd really like to get, for example, the H.P. Lovecraft society products, but cannot.

Again, for the progressive knuckleheads out there, art is a LUXURY, not a necessity. Thus, one must make a significant degree of SURPLUS WEALTH in order to be able to purchase art, and thus keep ARTISTS EMPLOYED!

Put another way, STOP TAXING EVERYONE TO DEATH YOU MORONS!!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

TFT's Master of the Amulets - Review and Revised Map

In 1981 Metagaming released their 7th MicroQuest, Master of the Amulets. Unlike the previous six, this one attempted to get away from using a pre-programmed adventure, relying on random placement of objects and die rolls to make each adventure unique. The main flaw of the pre-programmed MicroQuests was that they could really only be run through once and then all the mystery is gone. Since everything was random in MotA, there was no chance of that happening.

Of course, this meant that there wasn't much of an adventure, either. Worse, there wasn't much variety in encounters, with only a relatively small selection of critters (dragons, giants/ogres, gargoyles, giant snakes, wolves, trolls, bears, and "serpents", the one original monster introduced for this MicroQuest) and a limited number of random Fighters and Wizards. At barest minimum, then, the random encounters should have had a wider range of creatures that could be encountered.

As written, this MicroQuest seems to have been geared more towards basic Melee and Wizard, or perhaps the Dragons of Underearth summary TFT ruleset, then the Advanced modules and In the Labyrinth. There are some references to certain spells and talents, but overall it appears that ITL was an afterthought.

In his review in Space Gamer No. 49 Stefan Jones comments that had this MicroQuest come out before the release of ITL and the advanced combat/wizardry modules, this would have been "...state of the art adventure technology." But being released after put it in conflict with, for example, existing overland travel rules, along with some other small but important rules in ITL, such as how experience is accumulated, the use of gold bars for treasure (after the manner of Death Test), the nature of the amulets themselves, which does not comport with magic item rules as given in Advanced Wizard, and a few others.

This makes me conclude that this adventure was written and submitted for publishing prior to the release of ITL, but was delayed for some unknown reason. This explains not only the rules conflicts, but also the lack of any mention of Cidri, the giant game world that is home for most of the adventures written for The Fantasy Trip, sort of like "Greyhawk" for early Dungeons & Dragons (the main exceptions being Grail Quest, which is Arthurian Britain, and the Treasure of Silver Dragon and Unicorn Gold, which take place on the Dragonodon Earth).

As far as adventures go, this Master of the Amulets is only so-so. It could be improved, though, with the addition of more varied encounters, as noted previous. Optionally, if using the ITL Talents rules, one could include rules for gathering food and so forth by means of the Woodsman talent, with parties not so supported having issues finding food, etc. Another possibility might be to have hexes with ruins that could be randomly generated for type and accopanying encounters, with perhaps more challenges but better chances for treasure. Maybe have special encounters near river hexsides that allow the party to capture a boat. Lots of possibilities, really.

One improvement I will share, though, is a corrected map. As released the "ENTER" hex, along with the "X's" on four of the hexes where one places the amulet counters, were missing. I have through various diabolic means corrected these problems, and make available here this map. Be sure to go into the options when downloading it to get the full size version. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Proposed Metagaming The Fantasy Trip Material

This article focuses on TFT Material that was either being planned or about to be published at the time of Metagaming’s demise. There were a lot of interesting ideas in the pipeline, including a variety of adventure and rule supplements for the game. Much of this information was obtained from letters and status reports by Kevin Hendryx, written in early 1982, and also Interplay and Space Gamer magazines.

1.    [Worlds/Nations/Realms] of Cidri
A final title had not been decided on at the time of the proposal. This supplement would have been aimed at the Game Master and would cover outdoor/wilderness adventuring. Included would be information on how to organize and establish a nation/continent/ world, movement and scale in the wilderness, random encounter tables (scaled according to terrain and climate conditions), descriptions of regions and states suitable for adventuring in, some new monsters, and mini-adventures or scenarios to get the GM started on a campaign. This supplement might also have included topographical maps. Note that Interplay No. 5 had an article pertaining to the in-game effects of winter conditions. (ref: Product Proposal letter by Kevin Hendryx dated 3/16/82 and Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82. See also Interplay No. 5)

2.    Affray
This proposed TFT Aerial combat module developed by Ian Bell; was in playtest and evaluation as of 2/19/82. This was originally requested in Interplay, to cover aerial combat between creatures, specifying that "The best approach is to do something that plays well but doesn't try for realism." (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay No. 2)

3.    Ultra Force – In the Name of Justice (a.k.a. “Herodium” or “In the Name of Justice”)
Comic book super-hero TFT supplement by Peter Christian. In Interplays No. 3 & 7 a different title, “In the Name of Justice” was given, and Interplay No. 8 gave the title as “Herodium” However, Scanner in Space Gamer No. 61 gives the final title. The target price was $7.95, the same as Conquerors of Underearth and Dragons of Underearth, implying that it would have been released in the same MetaGame style format. According to Scanner, this was planned for a late spring release. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82, Space Gamer No. 61, and Interplay Nos. 3, 7, & 8. See also Space Gamer No. 65 for Ronald Pehr’s article on this subject of Superheros)

4.    Nosferatu
Adventure supplement designed by John Sullivan. This was not regarded as requiring too much time to edit. Note that Interplay No. 3 had an article entitled “Vampyre” by the same author; presumably Nosferatu would have used elements of this article. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay No. 3)
5.    Infantry
Listed as a Modern Military RPG - probably intended to be a TFT supplement as a blurb in Interplay mentioned that a WWII supplement was in the works. Authored by Thomas Trunzo (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay No. 1)

6.    The Runesword of Regalan (a.k.a. Runesword at Regalan)
TFT MicroQuest by Anthony Affrunti, intended for release in March 1983 at a price of $2.95, which was a dollar off from the usual $3.95 price tag for Micros at this time. It is not clear what the actual title was, as the two sources give it slightly differently, but Kevin Hendryx gives it as “Runesword of Regalan,” and this is likely the correct version. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Space Gamer No. 61)

7.    Prison of the Spectral Demon
Another MicroQuest by Robbins and Wittke, intended for release in March 1983 at $2.95. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Space Gamer No. 61)
8.    Pthantium Hall
This was a MicroQuest authored by Robert Schlott. No other information is available. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82).

9.    High Noon
TFT Western gunfighter supplement by David Tepool. This was regarded as a big undertaking, and one of the problems they were having was a lack of suitable playtesters. This product had been officially accepted for $500. Note that Interplay No. 2 published a rules set called “TFT: Wild West” by Fred Askew; not clear if there was any relationship (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay Nos. 1-3)

10.  Energy Crisis - Land Beyond the Mountains
THIS is a fascinating item. It is only referenced by title, unfortunately, but it is clear that they were looking at all sorts of adventures for the LBTM campaign. Likely set in Soukhor in a Mnoren ruin of some sort. Status report included this in a list of manuscripts “closest to being publishable”. It is interesting to note that this was in work months before either the Darok or Dihad modules had been published. Written by Keith Gross (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and draft notes of same dated 2/16/82).

11.  Dragons of Underearth
Of course, this was published, but it is interesting that the original title was “Dragonslayer” and that Keith Gross was paid $750 for it. Note that the normal rate for a MicroGame was $500. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay Nos. 3 & 8).

12.  Tollenkar’s Lair Revision
Apparently they were thinking of revising the adventure. It appears that they intended to both update and expand the module, perhaps with better maps, adding counters, etc. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82 and Interplay No. 6). Certainly, I would have had any number of ideas for revising it; see my review here.

13.  Conquerors of Underearth
CoU (also called CUE) is mentioned as having been very close to publication – Scanner in Space Gamer No. 61 stated that it was due for a late spring release with an asking price of $7.95. Another Keith Gross game, this one at least was described in some detail, taken from a Designer’s Introduction to DoU by Keith Gross in Interplay No. 8:

-    DoU was actually a *byproduct* of CoU, but got published first owing to its simplicity

-    CoU was intended to be a combination MicroGame-MicroQuest

-     A full designer’s intro to CoU was intended to be published in Interplay No. 9 (which, naturally, never saw the light of day)

-    CoU was intended to use DoU characters on a LoU scale strategic map, with MicroQuest paragraphs

-    CoU dealt with adventurers entering a Goblin fortress and encountering organized military units, and as such involved 10-20+ warriors per battle

-    There was an implication that CoU was originally intended to be a TFT supplement, but because of the large numbers of combatants, use of AM/AW/ITL slowed things up too much, thus the decision to design a streamlined “Son of the Fantasy Trip”

-    Talents listed in DoU were going to be described in CoU


It was also mentioned that CoU could use more playtesting, and that some rules had been omitted from the manuscript that were considered critical to the continuity of the other Underearth games. Further, about twice as much editing would be required over DoU, since it is a complete game with scenarios rather than a set of RPG rules. Interestingly, a mass combat game of this sort had been envisioned from the very beginning; the Designers Notes article in TSG No. 12 specifically mentions the concept of a “wargame” version of TFT. The review of Dragons of Underearth in TSG No. 55 mentioned the fact that talents were going to be described within CoU. The 1981 Metagaming Catalog stated that this was to published in a MetaGame format. (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82, Interplay Nos. 6, 7, & 8, Metagaming Catalog 1981,  and Space Gamer Nos. 12 & 55, and 61).

14.  Soldier City - Shaylle
This, interestingly enough, did get published as City of the Sacred Flame by GameLords, Ltd. for their Haven campaign under the Thieves Guild rules system. Originally written to describe the capital of Darok in detail, Gamelords rewrote it when Metagaming tanked by removing some of the TFT game mechanics and Land Beyond the Mountains background, but kept all of the basic encounters. There is, thus, a very noticeable “substrate” of TFT-LBTM material in the module, if you look closely. Certain mentioned spells, talents, and even creatures are straight TFT (one description of a pet “monkey” shows how quickly they edited it - at the end of the paragraph they forgot to put “monkey” in place of “slinker”, showing the original intended TFT critter). Indeed, one could rewrite it back to something closely resembling its original intended form. The hard part is figuring out the names and especially some of the historical background, as they ended up changing a lot of details to “fit” into the Haven campaign. Worse, since they only had the Darok and Dihad components, they made the two of them mortal enemies, rather than their mutual enemy, Muipoco. Of note is that the encounters that I have read through are actually pretty interesting and well thought out; it’ll take sharp players to catch what is really going on (ref: City of the Sacred Flame, Interplay No. 7, and 1/3/93 e-mail from author Walter Hunt, formerly of GameLords, mentioning how it was altered after HT cancelled the contract.)

15.  Intrigue in Plaize
As with “Soldier City” this was similarly rewritten by GameLords and published as Within the Tyrant’s Demesne. Originally intended for release in April of 1983. Detailed the capitol of Dihad. Again, this one could also be “restored” to something like its original state, though the initial impression is that this one seems trickier than the Shaylle module. The rewrite, according to Richard Meyer, took about six weeks. (ref: Within the Tyrant’s Demesne, Space Gamer No. 61, Fantasy Gamer No. 1, and 1/3/93 e-mail from Walter Hunt, formerly of GameLords, mentioning how it was altered after HT cancelled the contract.)
16.  TFT Yearbook
Published only once as the “Fantasy Master’s Codex” in 1981, it was intended to be released annually with updates, new material, errata, and so forth. It is strange that nothing was released in 1982.

17.  Campaign Guides
There was a stated intention to introduce TFT supplements to detail particular cultures, such as medieval Japan (“Samurais”) and China, Vikings, Egyptians, Aztecs, Zulus, Hellenes, Mongols, and Incas. Interest was also expressed in creating fantasy campaign backgrounds, to include new races, monsters, magic and so forth (ref: Interplay Nos. 1 & 2)

18.  Monster Manual
This concept goes back to the beginning, with mention of a monster manual in the Designers Notes article in TSG No. 12, which would incorporate (edited) gamer ideas. In a reply to a reader’s inquiry in Interplay, Trace Hollowell mentioned that some sort of a monster compendium was in the works, and William Gustafson also stated that a new monster book was to be the first book for a revised 2nd Edition of ITL. This was supposed to have a LOT of monsters. (ref: Interplay Nos. 3 & 4 and Space Gamer No. 12)

19.  Second Edition TFT/ITL
Mentioned in Interplay No. 4. William Gustafson was to be the author. No details given as to the kinds of changes that were to be made, though it is a safe bet that any “Steve Jacksonisms” would have been written out with extreme prejudice… (ref: Interplay No. 4 and Space Gamer No. 12)

20.  Religion Rules Supplement
This was requested in Interplay #2, and that it was intended to be “broad enough to handle all Terran religions and religions for other races” and emphasized that a separate form of magic should NOT be created. Paul Manz wrote a set of rules in Interplay No. 4 that were basically inspired by D&D (ref: Interplay Nos. 2 & 4; see also the Letters section in Interplay No. 7 for critiques of Manz’s article).
21.  Mounted Combat MicroGame
To be used with Melee to augment the fast rules given in Advanced Melee. The article in Space Gamer #18 predates publication of Advanced Melee, and is thus not really relevant (ref: Interplay No. 2 and Space Gamer No. 18).

22.  Ship Combat Module
Requested in Interplay No. 2 and intended to cover combat aboard and presumably between ships in TFT terms. Something like this based on Ramspeed appeared in Space Gamer No. 24. Interplay No. 6 mentioned that a new ship combat module for use with TFT was in the works, to be done by the Ramspeed game designer Colin Keizer (ref: Interplay Nos. 2 & 6 and Space Gamer No. 24)

23.  Building Rules
Intended to cover rules for construction, costs, time, etc. (ref: Interplay No. 2)

24.  Magazine expansions
Not really a supplement, per se. Interplay was slated to grow to 48 pages, with an increase in cover price. A TFT specific magazine was proposed as well, that would have been a full colour quarterly featuring an adventure in each issue and a cover price of 4 to 5 dollars. (ref: Interplay No. 5)

25.  Additional MicroQuests and TFT Campaign Modules
In the works were 4 to 6 new Microquests and 3 to 4 TFT campaign modules. It is likely that the campaign modules were for the Land Beyond the Mountains campaign. Some of the other material has probably been described above. (ref: Interplay No. 5)

26.  Trevalia
An offhand statement on p. 18 of “Warrior Lords of Darok” indicated that a supplement for this province, located somewhere west of Darok, over the mountains, was coming out “…when time permits.” Presumably a separate module might also have been written for this province’s capitol, Triyal, as was intended for the other LBTM materials. (ref: Warrior Lords of Darok)

27.  Starman
A tactical man-to-man future combat intended to be compatible with TFT - this probably became Starleader: Assault! (ref: Space Gamer No. 17)

28.  Medieval Siege Game
This was mentioned in Space Gamer but nothing seems to have come of it. While it was a stand alone MicroGame, there is a possibility that it might have been made TFT compatible, as was done with “Lords of Underearth”. (ref: Space Gamer No. 26)

29.  Khitin’s Hive
This title was noted on a Metagaming order form dated February 1982, with a scheduled release date of October 1982. This might have been a sequel of some sort to Chitin I, however, rather than a MicroQuest. (ref: Vindicator No. 2)

30.  LBTM Module for Muipoco
Mentioned in the introductions to Warrior Lords of Darok and Forest Lords of Dihad, it was supposed to come out later in ’82 - obviously that never happened! One wonders what “theme” this province would have had, and how they manage to survive fighting in a two front war (yes, the Soukhori are manipulating things, but there *has* to be some superior military capability to provide a basis for success). Since the Darok module had a focus on warriors and battle magic, and Dihad on magic and trade, one would surmise that Muipoco had something of both. Their military is implied to be quite good, perhaps at a Renaissance level with a professional mage corps for magical support - maybe a little like Venice in the 16th century, but with sorcery. This is reinforced by the references to gunrunners in the Dihad module. Perhaps the title could have been either “Warlords of Muipoco” or “Merchant Lords of Muipoco”? Both have a certain ring to them, but I have no idea what might have been. (ref: WLD and FLD)

31.  LBTM Module for Soukhor
Also mentioned in WLD and FLD; would have been released at the same time as the Muipoco module. This one, at least, is a little easier to get a grip on - obviously a heavy focus would be on excavating Mnoren ruins and investigating various technological artifacts. I can even hazard a credible guess at what the title may have been: “Tech Lords of Soukhor”. In fact, I will go one step further and propose cover art for the module: have a king or ruler sitting on throne, contemplating an offering brought in by some peasant, who kneels before him holding up a broken TV; flanking the throne are a pair of Reptile Men, armed with halberds and large six-shot revolvers strapped to their sides. A hodge-podge of modern items may be seen displayed as trophies on the walls of the room, including random car parts, a stop sign, a computer printer, a bazooka, etc. (ref: WLD & FLD)
32.  Microquest Sequel to Silver Dragon and Unicorn Gold
Howard Thompson stated the following in his designer’s notes: “TREASURE OF THE UNICORN GOLD is a sequel to TREASURE OF THE SILVER DRAGON. UNICORN is the second of a planned treasure hunt trilogy. The third hunt will come after the UNICORN has been found.” So, how does one top a Silver Dragon and Gold Unicorn, you ask? Presumably a Platinum something or another... Perhaps, in keeping with the Meso-American theme of the previous two MicroQuests, it might have been a Coatl, a feathered serpent of that culture’s mythology. Mention of a third quest is also made in SG No. 33 “News and Plugs.” Of course, this project might have been derailed by the problems Unicorn Gold ran into with the U.S. Forest Service, even if Metagaming had stayed afloat. (ref: Space Gamer No. 33 and Interplay No. 3)

33.  The Inner Sea
TFT Campaign supplement by Jack Burlin. Was playtested by Bill Gustaphson and awaiting final decision from Thompson. Alas, no further information is available. (Source: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82.)

34.  The Kanirvan Conspiracy
This proposal by Kevin Hendryx has a convoluted history. The genesis of this supplement goes back to when Kevin was working at TSR. He had been assigned the task of rewriting Len Lakofka’s original manuscript for The Secret of Bone Hill, which had been deemed “unsuitable” as submitted. Kevin’s rewrite was very extensive, and also expanded upon the original scenario by adding a new dungeon inhabited by an evil cleric and his lizard men minions. When Len heard about the rewrite, however, he contacted Gary Gygax and protested. Gary then ordered the design department to simply edit the original submission. Thus, Kevin’s rewritten material was discarded. So as not to waste all of this effort, however, Kevin resubmitted the dungeon and plot as a separate module, Against the Cult of the Reptile God.
When Kevin resigned from TSR and went back to Metagaming, he took this proposal with him, reworking it and renaming it to The Kanirvan Conspiracy. But somewhat soon afterwards, Howard Thompson decided to eliminate his design staff, and by early 1983 Metagaming folded, and this proposal was never realized.
Curiously, TSR had not forgotten about the concept, and in late 1982 the published it as module N1.

35.  The Forest Oracle
Another proposal by Kevin Hendryx that was originally made to TSR but later made to Metagaming when he came back there. Later published by TSR as module N2. It is not clear if this was part of the rewrite to the original Secret of Bone Hill manuscript, or a separate proposal altogether. Also unknown is whether this was the title proposed to Metagaming, or if Kevin called it something else.

36.  Sword of the Jorisseri
Written by Jeff Edmunds. Not clear if this is TFT or not; the note indicated that it was “un-publishable as is” but also that it had been “accepted, unfortunately.” Likely was a MicroGame, rather than a TFT related item, but it is mentioned here in the off chance that it was TFT related (ref: Status Report by Kevin Hendryx dated Feb ’82).


Other Material that Could or Should have been in Work:
According to the Introductions to WLD and FLD, companion volumes detailing the life and denizens of the capitol cities for Muipoco and Soukhor were also to be published. As a point of fact, though, neither of these two provinces were sketched out beyond the most hazy of outlines, according to Gamelords president (and, as he put it, “chief bottle washer”) Richard Meyer in personal communication. Going beyond that, one might envision supplements or MicroQuests involving Skull Rock in Darok, the Dwarven city of Rhuz in the Asenborgs, or Mnoren ruins in Soukhor (as noted previous one may suspect that this last may have been the root of the Energy Crisis module - would that more information was available on it). There certainly was plenty of room for further development, here.
One might think that more MicroQuests or even a Campaign Module might have been called for as a sequel/expansion to either or both of the Death Test/Orb Quest and Silver Dragon/ Golden Unicorn series. For example, I could see a MicroQuest to bring down whoever it was that was gathering the Orbs and attempting to bring down the Thorsz, or a module along the lines of WLD or FLD to expand the Dragonodon gameworld.
Elyntia could also have supported a number of modules, if only for the Duchy of Dran, the Gargoyle Mountains, and so forth. An expanded map would have been nice, as well, to show where everything (i.e. LBTM, Elyntia, Tanander, Underearth) was located in relationship to one another. Of course, that might well have been covered in Kevin Hendryx’s proposed “Realms (or whatever) of Cidri.”
It is also to be noted that Steve Jackson apparently had some additional material for TFT/Cidri. In his article regarding the development of TFT and errata for the published game in The Space Gamer No. 29, July 1980, Mr. Jackson stated that: 
“One supplement that I designed, and several that I edited, are at Metagaming now and may eventually be published. There is dispute over the status of another supplement originally designed for TFT. I have literally reams of notes that were intended for later TFT games or supplements. If these ever are used, they will probably appear in a generalized form, suitable for any fantasy system.”

One can only speculate as to whatever became of the supplement that he designed; it is obviously something apart from Death Test II. That last statement regarding “reams of notes” is particularly interesting; it would suggest that at least some of the material that ended up in the original release of GURPS, including perhaps Caravan to Ein Arras, All in a Night’s Work, (both of these in the original GURPS boxed set) Orcslayer, and GURPS Fantasy, were perhaps modified from their original TFT/Cidri form and put into GURPS instead.


Conclusion:
Amazing what might have been, particularly when one considers the genuine quality of Orb Quest and the Land Beyond the Mountains modules, (to include the final capitol modules intended for Darok and Dihad). Why oh why couldn’t Thompson have waited a couple of months (at least) to close the doors! Think of it – Ultra Force, Conquerors of Underearth, Runesword of Regalan, and Prison of the Spectral Demon, along with Intrigue in Plaize, and Soldier City: Shaylle in their originally intended forms, would all very likely have been released, along with perhaps another issue or two of Interplay. Alas for TFT fans everywhere! What a tragic and inexcusable loss.
One has to wonder what held up publication of some of the above, though. For example, both Conquerors of Underearth and Nosferatu were apparently nearly complete back in February of 1982. Surely they could have gotten them done well before Metagaming collapsed over a year later! One becomes even more perplexed contemplating the six months between the release of Interplay No. 8 (the last issue) and the closing of Metagaming - even considering that the last issue was delayed owing to the company’s move they still should have managed one or even two more issues. It does make one curious as to what was going on internally at Metagaming from March 1982 to April 1983 when they officially ceased operations - obviously the collapse was not sudden, and had been building for some time.
Also of great interest are the hints of a 2nd Edition ITL. I wonder how far along they had gotten when Metagaming went under? One also wonders what sort of direction they were going to take the game in terms of rules changes, new material, etc.
As an aside, I wonder if manuscripts for any of these proposed games, supplements, or MicroQuests survived, and might be available in some fashion or another? Or at the least more useful descriptions of some of the un-described materials, perhaps related by the authors themselves (if they can even remember after all these years). If anyone has any additional information, or knows someone that does, now is a good time to come forward! I would pay hard cash for any surviving draft manuscripts, for their collector’s value.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Rehilt Project of Many Iterations...

This sword has been with me for many years, and represents my first inlay project and true rehilt on my own. It also holds the distinction of being the most frequently reworked of any of my projects, having been through four different iterations.

The first picture shows its initial form, as bought from a Renaissance Faire shop in the Cerritos mall (this shop later moved to the Del Amo mall, but eventually closed sometime in the mid-1990’s) back in c. 1993 for about $110. The blade is from Kris Cutlery and is one of their early Viking swords with simple brass fittings in a Viking-esque type of hilt, with wood scales riveted to the tang. Note that the blade lacks a deep fuller, and for this reason is somewhat heavier than would otherwise be the case.

 
Since this was not really historically accurate, I resolved to make a new piece, and created waxes for new hilt fittings, in a loosely Type R style, and carved grooves into the waxes to facilitate the inlay work. I had the pieces cast at a local foundry just up the street from me at that time in silicon bronze, to which I added the sterling silver wire inlay and a twisted sterling silver wire separator between the upper guard and pommel cap. The design is simple and taken from a Thorr’s hammer found in Kabara, Sk√•ne (Scania). As seen in the photo, it had a leather covered grip with simple silver vettrim made from thin sterling silver sheet with the ends silver soldered together. While not too bad, it was still a very heavy sword, weighing around 4 lbs. This, then, was its first rebirth, which I believe was completed c. 1994 (based on the fact that I recall asking for advice on the project at the Hammer-In up at Oso’s Forge in Bakersfield in 1993). The second and third photos below show this.




The second rebirth occurred as I realized I did not like this style, nor did I prefer the grip. This time I redid the pommel and grip, as seen in the next photo. Now with a bare wood (maple, in this case, stained with a special stain intended for maple which is then heated to bring out a rich colour) grip, and a more bulbous Type S style, it looked better. Note the real ivory used as a spacer in the center of the grip. However, the sword was still quite heavy and uncomfortable to handle and wield, mostly because of the weight but also too because the grip shape was a little too thin relative to the guards and pommel. Not that this is historically inaccurate – I have seen examples of grips this thin – but it just did not work with this particular hilt. This was likely complete c. 2000, perhaps a year or two earlier.



The third and (I sincerely hope) final rebirth came about as a result of the excessive weight of the piece and a feeling that the grip was too thin in cross-section, as noted previous. That, and I realized that the pommel was not quite accurate in shape. I finally decided, after much internal debate, to rebuild this piece for one last time. I made a new pommel cap which is more in accord with actual finds, and cut down the shoulders of the blade and tang to make the whole piece shorter and a bit lighter. I think it is more around 3½ lbs., now, which is much more reasonable, even if it still is on the heavier end of the scale. The grip core is shaped a bit like the Behmer type V “hourglass” hilts, with the ridges in the center carved into the wood (as opposed to being glued on leather cord). This rework was started in 2007, with the hilt mostly complete by Danish Days 2009, though the final wrapping of the grip with leather was not complete until probably late 2010 or even 2011.

My Collection of Early Museum Replicas Catalogues is now Complete!!!

I got my first MRL catalogue back in 1987. This was cat. no. 4. From that point on I obtained most of them, except a period around 1995 when I moved and stuff did not get forwarded, alas. Several years ago I was able to trade a Bowie knife I had made to get most of the missing catalogues added to my collection. The only early one I was missing was No. 36.

A sidenote: by "early" I mean prior to the takeover of MRL by Windlass, which marked a major shift in their product line by eliminating all Del Tins and any other manufacturer outside of Windlass (and, on occasion, other manufacturers from China or India). This occurred in 1996, with catalogue no. 45 (though no. 44 only had a very few DT offerings), thus ending the Golden Age of MRL. This is not to say that Windlass offerings are necessarily bad, but they are not up to the same quality as Del Tin or Arms & Armor, though they are fine for the price point niche they occupy.

Back to the subject at hand. While I had not sought earnestly for this particular missing catalogue, I had looked a bit but to no avail. Recently I posted a wanted ad on Armour Archive. While I got a few nibbles, it wasn't until one poster pointed me to a contact he had at MRL that allowed me to finally obtain the one I was missing. A special thanks, therefore, goes to Robin Chaudhuri of Museum Replicas, Ltd., for finding and sending me this, which arrived yesterday:



At long last, my quest is complete!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

One of my longest running projects... not yet done, but getting close! Part the First

The Genesis of this project was over 20 years ago when I was still in college. I think my earliest concept drawings probably date to c. 1989-1990, as I based them in part on the cover of the Middle Earth Role Playing module Lost Realm of Cardolan, which was released in late 1987, and I remember buying at a game store near my dorm at the U of MN campus (which I did not transfer to until that year).  I have always been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and related works, and an early offering from Museum Replicas, Limited (back in the day when they had quality offerings from Arms & Armor, Johann Schmidberger, Del Tin, etc.) was a "Glamdring" sword. Though very plain, it had a beautiful leaf blade that I admired, even if I didn't care for the cross and blocky pommel so much. The craftsmanship and quality were superb, though, being made by Del Tin Antiche of Italy from a good grade of spring steel and well tempered.

 


Initially I thought of making my own blade, but didn't quite have all the tools and skills to do that, at the time, anyway. When MRL released the Orcrist sword (also by Del Tin, with a different blade and hilt style), I really liked the pommel, much more so than the one on Glamdring. So much so that I contacted MRL to see if they could do a custom job for me by swapping pommels. This is the reply from Hank Reinhardt:


For reference, here is the Orcrist sword I was thinking of swapping parts with. In retrospect, I think I might have preferred the whole hilt be swapped, instead of just the pommel.



So apart from a few doodles little happened. Make that quite a few doodles - I have some two or three dozen sketches of different ideas, at least. A few years later though, perhaps about the time MRL was bought out by Windlass, some bare Glamdring style blades became available for sale (by this point, though, because of Tolkien Enterprises they had to make up a different hilt and generic fantasy name for the sword - the "Sword of Chaos"). Needless to say I snatched one right up.

The next step was to come up with an inscription for the blade, which I naturally did in J.R.R. Tolkien's invented language of Quenya and his Tengwar writing system. This will be detailed in Part 2 of this series.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On Falling Rules in D&D and Realism...


Apologies for the lack of updates - had a new baby girl and have been pre-occupied!

What follows here is taken from a series of posted replies over on the Grognardia blog http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2012/02/articles-of-dragon-physics-and-falling.html, which has not seen updates in several months owing to the owner taking a long hiatus (indeed, I fear his blog may disappear altogether, which is part of the reason I'm making this post here). The post started as a discussion on falling damage, but I feel there is more to this. To quote myself:

"There is a point here that I think has been missed. It is not that the rules need to be perfectly realistic, but rather that they avoid being ridiculous.

I have no objection to characters (esp. higher level ones) being able to survive (and even walk away from) falls from high places, on occasion. What I find ridiculous is the automatic *expectation* that they can survive, based upon comparing their hit point total against the total dice of damage they have coming... munchkinism at its finest.

Look, no remotely rational being, sans appropriate anatomy, magic or gear (i.e. wings, feather fall spell, or parachute, etc.) stands on the edge of a precipice, coolly evaluates their stamina, hardiness, skill, luck, divine favour et al vs. the distance to the bottom, and simply jumps. That is absurd on its face – and any game system that promotes such displays a serious shortcoming.

Since surviving a fall of such magnitude is really more a matter of luck or divine intervention then skill, simply assigning gobs of damage dice is the wrong approach. Hit points work best when used to represent resilience in combat, where the full definition as given by Gygax in the 1E DMG is a good fit. In cases like this one, though, whether you are 0th level or 20th level really does not matter so much – the laws of physics apply equally.

Happily, the solution is fairly simple. Falls simply should be treated more like, for example, poison – save or die, essentially. Under such a system a 0 level figure actually has a chance to survive a 30 foot drop (which can happen in real life but is logically impossible under the current rules) while a 20th level figure has a good chance to *die* from the same (again, rather unlikely under the current rules assuming no prior damage, etc.), though of the two the 20th level figure obviously has better odds of surviving. It’s just not *automatic* anymore, nor can they rationally expect to survive just because the fall is so many feet and they have so many hit points.

The basic approach, in outline, would simply be a save vs. breath weapon, or maybe petrifaction. If you save, take a token d6 of damage – you are assumed to have landed on something that broke your fall enough to avoid serious injury, the Hand of God caught you, whatever. If you fail, though, you are assumed to be at 0 hit points (N.B.: I consider 0 hits to be more incapacitated then necessarily dead – basically you are out of the fight, as it were, even though you may be conscious). Then make a System Shock roll – if you succeed you are simply incapacitated and very injured. If you fail that then you are actually dead.

Obviously, there is room for and even need of some modification. For example, one might want to distinguish between short falls (i.e. 10-20 feet or whatever) or falling down a flight of stairs which are unlikely to be lethal, vs. falls that are much higher and would be difficult for anyone to survive. Or falls on jagged rocks vs. soft loam, etc. One could then modify saving throws or system shock rolls, etc. accordingly.

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


There were some additional replies to this post, wherein I clarify some of the points I made above:

Re: hit points as luck, et al. You are right to a significant degree, but again I submit that they also represent skill and experience, which is irrelevant to surviving a fall. Gravity is gravity, in this case, and while your luck and divine favour are superior, this is already reflected in having a better saving throw. Your hit points should not really factor into whether or not you survive.

Note that the system shock roll is not absolutely necessary. I put it in though because (1) I wanted to give those that fail their save a chance to survive and (2) to come up with a way to use the concept a little more, rather than just surviving being turned to stone or being resurrected.

It should be pointed out that hit points are a fairly good abstract representation for combat purposes. Indeed, the 1E AD&D combat rules, if all of them are used, are modestly realistic. I might quibble about some details regarding damage, weapon vs. armor adjustments, and so forth for certain weapons, based on my extensive knowledge on the subject, but it is in outline a pretty good simulation (I am of course setting aside how utterly unwieldy, slow and futzy the system is...) Having a lot of hit points due to your high level means that you know how to gauge your foe, roll with the punches, use superior speed and footwork to dart in and out of range, etc., which turns what would be a lethal blow into a bruise or gash. I have no strenuous problem with that approach. My main complaint about hit points is that it conflates several quite disparate concepts (physical robustness, skill/experience, luck, divine providence, etc.), which is fine for human (or demi-human/humanoid) types fighting one another with medieval style arms and armor, but breaks down in most other situations such as fantastical creatures, or situations like what we are discussing here. In this respect Metagaming’s “The Fantasy Trip” game system did a much better job of handling this sort of thing, since each concept was separate (i.e. your “hit points” were simply your physical robustness – skill and experience were represented by talents that allowed you reduce damage or made your opponents roll more dice in order to hit you. There was nothing for “luck” but such ).

Keep in mind what motivated me to come up with such a radical rethink of how to handle the consequences of falling was the fact that what are effectively “0” level people do in fact survive such falls from time to time. Not as often as they die, of course, and they usually are pretty f-‘d up even if they do live, but the point is that it is at least possible. Under the D&D rules as written, that is usually outright impossible. That, and of course the whole “ridiculous” aspect of a 10th level or higher fighter surviving falls from any height... Note that I have made similar observations in the past – on Delta’s Blog in the comments to a posting he made about the Lightning Spell a few months back, I provided some research I had done into statistics regarding surviving natural lightning strikes, and how once again the D&D model breaks because normal people cannot meaningfully survive, even though it happens in the real world all the time. Throwing gobs of D6’s creates a serious problem, in this regard (though my solution for lightning/fireball is very different from what we are discussing here)

(Parenthetically I would also point out that throwing many D6 damage dice means you have to take time to evaluate and calculate the final total damage. Not complicated, as such, but futzy, and while once or twice is not a problem having many of these does tend to slow game play somewhat. Hence why I’d prefer a slight increase in game system complexity that translates into swifter game play over the current mechanic that, whilst quite simple, tends to slow things up)

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

The above discussion points out some of the systemic flaws in the D&D rules, which betray not merely somewhat clumsy implementation, but also misassignment of rule mechanics to various situations. Plainly throwing a bunch of D6's to resolve falling damage was inappropriate (though it is apparent how one might be seduced to follow that path)

Note also that none of this is about the pursuit of realism as a goal in and of itself; rather, it is an attempt to avoid absurd or ridiculous situations that do not comport with real world observations (as least as pertains to real world situations; magic, fantastical creatures, etc. are beyond the scope of this discussion).

Bottom line: while no one rule or subset of rules is necessarily bad in D&D, one has to treat each as a specific tool with a narrow range of functions, and then match appropriately to each game situation. It was the failure of Gygax, Arneson, et al to really think things through that has made the D&D system much more obtuse and less coherent then it ought to have been.