Sunday, January 31, 2021

Curious Toys - U. B. Funkeys

My basement flooded and I am still sorting things into piles that go, items ok and piles that could be saved. I have a lot of odd things down here. 

In the pile ok items I found a set of figures that go to a game called U. B. Funkeys. This was product I worked on back in 2006-2010 while at Mattel. Mattel acquired Radica and Funkeys was one of the product that came over to the Mattel side of things. 

It was a very ambitious and creative computer game. The player received a Hub and a Disc with a couple of characters. Each physical character was placed in the Hub and that character appears within the game. Think Skylander... in mid-2000s Skylanders. 

My kids got a chance to play with these things, sometimes before they came out in stores. The games were interesting and varied. The music was either whimsical or madding depending on your outlook. Of course, the central plot revolved around taking your child to the store to buy a new figure to unlock more areas. 

The individual characters had online posters and downloadables for kids. You could, on paper, design your own Funkey. It was kind of cool. 

Well, now it's 2021 and their time is over... or is it? I see people are still producing reviews and posting information online about them. It's a curiosity from the oughts to be sure, but I have fond memories of it. 

Check out the video below from Media Mementos to learn more about this oddity. 


As I rescue or throw away more things in my basement, I'll post about some of the oddities that I find. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Terminal Cone of Negative Energy - What I Thought Instead of What I Should Have Done

Yesterday I posted about creating a map with a download of the HPS Cartography Kit. I love Nate's artwork. Well, that didn't work for a variety of reasons that seem to limited to the six inches of space between my ears. 

Ooo... that looks nice! 
I meant the interface and the tiles, not my map.
The HPS Cartography Kit is meant for Hex Kit, not Inkwell Idea's Worldographer. I wasn't going to let that stop me, I could just edit... 400+, 500+, 600+ images so that they fit in Worldographer. Then I started messing around with Inkscape, not to edit pictures but to freehand a map. 

Yeah. No. 

So, back to DriveThruRPG for a copy of Hex Kit. It made the most sense. If I'm going to review HPS Cartography Kit in the near future, I should have the actual software which it was designed for, which means I need Hex Kit. Which has the side benefit is one more review I can do. 

If you had a lot of patience, you could totally free hand a map with just tiles. Or you could edit one type of tile for a completely different type of software. The problem is I'm adjusting my insulin levels since a near disaster the middle of 2020 and I am now made of frantic energy and not a drop of patience. 

Did I mention it's week 4 of 2021 and I'm on Week 8 of reviews? It's the drugs, I swear. 

Speaking of problems that I have, I have my own product called "Hex Pack", I am really glad I researched that name not at all and luckily missed naming it "Hex Kit" like I've been calling it in my head since it first popped into my mind. I launched my Hex Pack back in April of 2020, so you can see how some of these things can collide. 

Anyway, maximum effort! More speed! 

I usually drop little hints about what I intend to review, but I usually don't offer links to products I haven't used, read, reviewed, etc. because I don't know how they will turn out. The links to DriveThru and Inkwell Ideas are a pretty good hint as to what I think of these products already. 

I do have one other hint, I had the worst time trying to figure out how to launch Hex Kit in Linux. So I reached out to the author and they gave me the answer in a couple of minutes or hours. Frantic energy, no difference between minutes... hours to me right now. Anyway, it's easy. 

Oh, what the heck?

All you need to do is open Hex Kit. It's right there! 

Yeah, Linux Terminal foo is required. The actual command is: 


or ./Hex\ Kit

Hmm... when was the last time I used a front slash anywhere? Don't know, but I can already see it's going to become a habitual thing. 

I wanted to review Hex Kit first then HPS Cartography Kit second, but software has a learning curve that no amount of drugs will fix. I really want to do these now, but it may take until March 2021. 

I did want to share the output of just a few minutes/hours of tinkering got me. 


And of course, that also leads to the heavy handed hint that great products come from authors who have excellent customer service and responsiveness to the most random and frantic questions. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What I Should Be Doing vs. What I Am Doing

Yeah, it's one of those days. I realized that I wrote enough reviews to take a long break, perhaps until March. I've a lot of things downloaded from DriveThruRPG and Amazon to read in order to do even more reviews. But instead, I find myself thinking about maps for my Peninsula of Plenty campaign. 

Yes, I'm going to get that back on the table. And I want a better map than this: 


Or this: 


Well, it's happening. And I'm making a better map. 

Recently, I downloaded Domain Building by Third Kingdom GamesSeafoot Games' The Abandoned City of Nexus 20x30 Battlemap, and reviewed both How to Hexcrawl and Hexcrawl Basics which all got the brain warmed up to the idea of maps and hexcrawling.

It only took a little more to get me moving. First, was a recollection of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman schematic of the Empire's road system. It is not to scale, but it displays all of the major cities and roadways a traveller might need to cross the whole Empire from Britain to the edge of India. It's a parchment scroll, 21 feet long! Check out the link for the Wikipedia entry. It's amazing! The crazy thing is squashed and distorted yet still an accurate rendering of the roads. 

The second part of the push was a combination of a framed copy of Nate Treme's Moldy Unicorn plus a download of the HPS Cartography Kit I meant to review. Review, hell. I'm using and abusing it. I'm making a giant map of the Peninsula of Plenty in that same scale - 11 inches by 21 feet. One inch (or hex) is six miles, which translates to 1500  miles of roads and hexcrawling. 
 

I love the style of maps this hex pack creates. The pack is advertised as containing 400+ tiles, but it's more like 500 or 600. Go check it out. It's a steal. 

Update - Two new views of the work in progress.  




Monday, January 25, 2021

The Last Package Arrived Today

My last package from Amazon arrived today. Now I am almost ready to start a second series of post on modeling. I'll be working on these Bandai 1/144 scale models over the summer. You can find them at many hobby shops, but I've had the best luck on prices at Amazon.com. Ironic, because the grid of ads from Amazon is showing the most expensive things. Sigh. Ah. Checked it now, and most of the prices are reasonable. 

(Note: My Amazon Affiliate account has really taken off, I just need to figure out how to make it work better with my posts.) 

One of the snags with series posts is they start strong and either come to an early conclusion or they just peter out due to a lack of inspiration. 

I hope to change that this year by having a spring/summer series ready to go. I also have a couple of things in my back pocket. My Star Wars campaign looks good to restart and even more exciting (for me anyway) it looks like my gang is ready to go back to the Peninsula of Plenty campaign, perhaps as a hexcrawl. That's two more series to update for the Blog. 

The only problem now is time. I've had my basement flood and defy all attempts to remedy and I recently started a new job which takes up my evenings. My weekend is now Tuesday-Wednesday and I work every holiday for the foreseeable future. I'd know how things will work out, but they will. 

At this point, I am thinking of retiring the Podcast. I really can't see how I'll have the time for all of this. Time will tell. 


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review - World Builder by Silicon Beach Software

Publisher: Silicon Beach Software
Author: W. B. Appleton and Charlie Jackson
Year: 1986
Pages: 87 pages
Overall Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ok, now I'm reviewing software. It's ok, we'll get through it. 

World Builder is a 35 year old program for creating games. It was issued on a single floppy disk, with a manual for Macintosh computers by Silicon Beach Software. It was useable on System 3 and higher, but a System 7 or 9 needed a free update to 32 bit. Prior to it's release the code had been used to create the game Enchanted Scepters. 

The package promises to get you coding to create you own games. Did it deliver? Hell, yes. It wouldn't build Doom or any other real time first person shoot, but it could certainly handle round based games. It was really meant to create IF games like Zork or other Infocom style games and did so very well.

The manual is a gem without the software as it is applicable to many of the core ideas behind programing. The manual suggests 4 steps to creation, design, populate, design characters and play. It's a little more complicated than that, but that complexity are just details of creation. 

The software has a couple of windows and concepts the user needs to master and that framework of 4 steps makes it easy. 

First, every world must contain scenes. Think of them as a stage for the story. Scenes are hardcoded with some basic concepts like a name,  travel functions, a drawn image, text to display and of course code. You draw static items that appear in the scene like walls, floor, lights, etc. These can provide hints as to what the player should do there. Next, you describe the scene with text. A graphical interface allows the builder to assign valid direction to move and text to appear when an invalid  choice is made. 
It will work on OS 9.2 with the 
32 bit version.

Scenes can be connected like a map, or disconnected like a schematic. You need both most of the time. One great feature is the Scene Code which is specific to each scene. This can be used to create functional interactions, such as sit, stand, or turn on the lights. There is a customizable menu so the Builder can give the players hints or ideas of what needs to be done in a specific room. 

Let jump ahead to designing characters. Every game requires a Player, so this is the one character you need to build. The code refers to the main character as Player@. He or she has attributes that any gamer would relate to, Physical or Spiritual Strength, Hit Points or health, etc. All characters have this abilities. A graphical interface walks the build through the creation process including such things as automatic responses to specific events like combat or other actions. It is fairly robust. Statistics carry through scenes and can be modified by them. 

For example, a character could be give a great fighting skill in the character builder, but have those abilities modified by events or circumstances in the scene such as deep water or darkness. It's a very powerful engine. 

Having mentioned that all characters have the same stats, World Builder does not have the best combat system. The problem is the random number generator. It's a random value between 1 and 256. That is so unlike a percent or a die roll it is hard to predict what the outcome will be without some fine tuning. 

While this may seem odd or difficult, populating the world will clarify this. Being called "Populating", you'd think this part would be about characters. It is and it is not. 

Games come down to a practical point of what is the conflict and what are the barriers. A conflict is something general: a battle of disimular viewpoints. That makes a conflict and the resolution comes when one of those viewpoints is allowed to extend to it's logical conclusion. It could be a defeat or a victory or perhaps even a merger. Conflict is complicated.  

A barrier is something that must be overcome by a set of conditions. It less complicated than the conflict itself. 

Was Smaug there for Bilbo to wrestle to the ground and defeat? Nope.Not that sort of conflict. But Smaug is defeated.  So technically, Smaug is a barrier. The defeat of Smaug requires a certain set of conditions, such as the bird pointing out the chink in his underbelly, Bilbo frustrating the dragon and Bard lying in wait for Smaug with a special arrow. 

So, Bilbo is a character. But Bard, the bird and Smaug and even the arrow are not characters. They are Objects@ (in World Builder terms) or tools to gain a resolution. 

World Builder teaches that difference in the course of programing your own adventure. Populating means creating Objects@ and Characters@ and integrating them with game world you creating. That's a powerful idea that transcends the software itself and is relatable to other outlets like gaming. 

Pulling the tangent back from those high concept, this software is excellent at it's given purpose: World Building. It contains everything you need to get started, the code engine, the drawing software, import tools, sounds and sound creation, plus a means to distribute your product as a stand alone application. 

It really is quiet amazing. 

If you have the hardware, you can download it for free from various abandonware websites. It should be noted that this is not your typical abandonware because at the time that it was remastered for 32 bit and color, it was also released as a free download. It's only a quirk of time that prevents the author from hosting the software themselves as they had in the past. 

If you don't have the hardware, the 87 page manual is an excellent primer into code and game design. Give it a look. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review - Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition

Title: Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 84 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Of all the books Mr. Brannan has written on witches, this one is my second favorite. Were I to have it to do over again, I would have made my Coven of Ash witches in The Classical Witch Tradition instead of magic users. The power difference between a witch and a magic user is striking, the witch having the more subtle powers which I was aiming for with the Coven of Ash. 

This book largely follows the same format of The Amazon Witch Tradition, with a few twists. First, Part 1 runs down the basic description of witches of this tradition while Part 2 introduces the possibility of multiclassing. These are pairs of class, witch and one other class. They would gain experience far faster than the dreaded triple class characters. Additionally, the first part addresses what would be considered demi-human and monsters of this class, which is a great benefit to DM's desiring something completely different. In reading this work, I immediately thought to replace the Hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderland to this kind of witch. 

One small addition to this series is the use of color. The book is written for Blueholme and the blue tint on the tables is not only a nice touch, it makes everything easier to read. The artwork is also very nice. 

Part 3 describes the tradition itself and discusses how to add covens to your campaign. It gives 6 examples before giving suggestions for more coven types for your campaign. It's nice to have examples that are ready to go and the 6 provided could be plugging into many campaigns with no modification and all campaigns with a some modification. 

Part 5 explains the witches role in magic and provides 32 pages of spells. These spells are tooled specifically to this tradition of witches and includes ritual magic, a more powerful form of spells cast by several coven members. 

The book also includes 20 pages of new monsters or old friends reworked for Blueholme. Part 6 introduces some magical items and few artifacts. And the final chapter gives three examples of unique and powerful witches. This final part really reads like Deities and Demigods, but the powers are cranked back to almost-mortal levels. These are characters that you could adapt or use right of the book in your campaign for high level NPCs. 

And and not least, this book includes useful appendix of spells by level, useable by witches, clerics, magic users plus a complete alphabetical listing of spells. Those are perfect. 

This is a rock solid resources for any DM who desires a little mysterious magic at the table, something to knock the PC's clerics and magic users back a bit. Nothing is overpowered and is specifically meant to work with those classes without changing their core concepts. 

Spoiler Alert: I have four of these books and I am reviewing them in star order. This one is a solid 4.5 for the text alone and a 5 of 5 when the artwork is considered. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Updates - New Podcast Episode and More.

I have a short update episode of the podcast loaded to today. It's brief.  I talk about some changes in real life, updates to gaming sessions and the blog. 

It's kind of funny, but I started this podcast with a mistake. I was thinking about podcasting and was shopping for microphones and trying out new software. Someplace in that process, COVID hit and the only way I could get art supplies was online. I placed an order with Amazon without noticing that I place a microphone into the cart instead of my wishlist. 

I could of sent it back, oooooor I could make something with it. That mike has served me well over the past year, far more than just a podcast. 

I used it for my zoom classes, both the classes I taught and the classes I took in school. I also scored a new job using that set up. The mic is hardly used for the podcast at all but it's been a life saver.  

Rather than spamming it up with multiple posts, I've been drawing again with some new markers. I'm trying to get the hang of really simple sketches. I'm having probables balancing line weight with proportions. 

The ill-proportioned horse.

A better try.

Needs shading. 

My nemesis. 

In the last image, I really shouldn't have picked a stippling style with this image. I'm probably going to use some digital Magik at some point, which I hate to do. I wanted this to be all ink. If I don't go digital, I will be out 7 zillion pens and it will take me a life time to complete. Art-life balance, I guess. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile I'll be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review - How to Hexcrawl by Joe Johnston

Publisher: Unknown
Author: Joe Johnston
Year: Unknown
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Oh, the pain of being a historian and researcher. Reviews and criticism come at the drop of a hat. My third review, Raphael was an agonizing one star. I'm taking a break from novels. This series is all about the sci-fi and fantasy, so novels reside along side games. 

Let me throw a word out there: Impressum. It's a mark of ownership and pride. PRIDE! If you are offering you book on DriveThru or other publishing sites, put that in. Include your name, your website, your city, county and a date. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing which Joe Johnston wrote an excellent book and guide for a world wide community. Which Joe Johnston is a thought leader? 

Enough whining. 

Mr. Johnston's How to He crawl is an excellent guide for players and DM's alike. My usual warning for reviews: this book is written for Labyrinth Lord but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. 

How to Hexcrawl sets the stage with a brief introductory paragraph outlining how rewarding outdoors adventures are and plunges the sources used to create such adventures. Mr. Johnston spells out what organization he uses, why and how that will help the reader. 

The next sections detail how to begin, for both the DM and the adventures like. It is follow with the basic ideas and conventions with examples of usage. In a dungeon, the primary limitation imposed on players is the physical structure which imparts a sense of unknown. In hexcrawls, everything is wide open but perhaps only vaguely known. Mishaps such as navigation or failing to navigate rules game play. This is something well addressed by Mr. Johnston. 

Other challenges will occur along the way. Injury, weather and encounters are woven in at a very basic level. Whether a player is bit by a rattlesnake, the wagon tongue breaks or the logistic of travel are too challenging, this book provides guidance. 

Although a brief read, it is economically written, providing everything the reader needs to Hexcrawl. As a bonus, the layout is a great benefit to author and reader alike. The single column format is clean and the maps and artwork strengthens the work. For this piece breaking out the art and maps from the text is impossible. At 4.5 of five stars, it is hard to find room for improvement. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Retrospective Post

Happy Friday! I am off to work soon, but I wanted to do a quick post. I often wonder about the status of my blog and what changes over time. Throwback Thursdays are good way to look at what has happened, but these are often posts that I happen to like and reshare. 

So, I ran some data on posts and broke it down not from start to finish, but picking the most popular posts in a random month during the data collection period, Hardly scientific, but here is what I found: 

Back in July of 2019, my post popular post was about the amazing David Macaulay, author and artist. The post contained links to his series of videos on youtube. This one was very popular with some my teaching friends, as Macaulay also has a series called "How It Works" and many of friends use it as the basis of a science and history themed unit activity.  

In 2020, the hot post was "What is Dungeons and Dragons", a book review. This one was part personal reflection and review. Obviously, since I am still engaged with D&D, this book was very important to me. 

And now, the top post is a peice called "You Can't Buy That!" about many, 7 I think, old sets of small box or baggy games now available on the web. 

If you are feeling interested, reflective or contemplative, go check out these posts. I hope you enjoy reading them as much I as enjoyed writing them. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

From the Archive- June 13, 2012 - Gemstone IV Review

Here is a throwback post originally hosted on my MYGSIV and UNPWND.com websites. The game still goes strong in 2021. 


Gemstone IV is a persistent MMORPG, running since 1988. The player base is measured in the thousands with hundreds of player logged in at anytime. Gemstones IV is unusual, it is text-based. All locations, actions and events are described via the game window. Commands are input in a style similar to the old Infocom Games such as Zork or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Would-be-heroes have a choice of races and professions; Humans to Giantmen, Rogues to Wizards. Many of the classes are standard fare for fantasy games but others are wholly unique to GSIV. The classes are Warriors, Rogues, Clerics, Wizards, Empaths, Rangers, Sorcerers, Bards and Paladin. The most unique class is Empaths; they are healers who transfer wounds from an injured person to themselves. Then they heal themselves.
Races are more diverse than most games: Elves (dark, sylan, half), humans, giantmen, dwarves, aelotoi, Erithian, gnomes (burgahl and forest), halfling and half-krolvians. Each has its own favor and cultural background. In some cases there are obvious advantages to a race: Giantmen and drawves are sturdy and can carry more items, dark elves are immune to sickness, aelotoi have insect wings, halflings have better stealth and speed than average. All races are playable for all professions which is a nice switch and I will come back to that later.
The world of Gemstone IV has somewhat more depth than the typical hack and slash adventure. Characters can actually interact and change their environment. Wizards can create permanent magic items, weapons and armor and can recharge many of them. Sorcerers can recharge scrolls, make items and summon demons or animate dead creatures to do their bidding. Bards can play music or use musically based spells to generate sonic weapons and armor. They can also read the history of items or discover the purpose and abilities of weapons. Warriors can manufacture sheaths, repair weapons and armor. Clerics can raise the dead. Rogues can pick locks, remove them and install the locks on other pieces of equipment. Rangers can give temporary bonuses to armor and make magic wands and rods. Empaths heal. Paladins can bond with weapons for enhanced combat skills and raise dead like cleric.
In addition to the class skills above, all characters can forage for herbs, run messages, forge weapons, cobble, create arrows and bolts, and fish. Most class skills or secondary skills generate experience points. In fact, the game assumes that a character will complete between first three to five levels without combat at all.
All of these features create an environment of cooperation among characters. This is not you typical backstabbing player-vs.-player game. While you can kill other players, there is a justice system and social norms in place to keep this to a minimum.
There is the usual aspect of hunt together for treasure and better weapons and armor, but within the system it is possible for a player to hunt alone using nothing but the equipment their character was given at generation. No particular “player class vs race build” is needed to gain an advantage. Game balance is very well thought out.
I have spent years playing this game and the community and constant updates keep me coming back for more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review - Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition

Title: Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019 (?)
Pages: 26 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the vein of the occult, today's review is of the Cult of Diana. This book is a part of a series on witches by Timothy S. Brannan for the Basic era D&D game. A word of warning, I play a mashup of B/X and AD&D 1e. I may let slip some observations which reference a set of rules that is not the one intended by the author of this book. 

To start, the entire series of books has excellent cover art. These are worth printing in high quality. Personally, I like to print the covers of DriveThruRPG books on photo paper. It is totally worth the effort. 

What makes witches worth of a new class in Basic era? The ideas, mainly, but also the integration within the rule set. Cult of Diana introduces some simple but powerful ideas to the rules. Mr. Brannan made sure these are carefully balanced so as not to be game breakers. Except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. 

Like all characters, witches roll for HP, require certain modest ability scores (10 for INT, 11 for WIS and CHR), gain a bonus to experience for superior ability scores, and have limited armor and weapon selections. The author has provided 8 pages of new spells available to witches, none of which are unbalancing. 

What makes these characters different is their calling. Witches are part of a coven, granting them the ability to access new spells based on a particular tradition. This religiosity allows the witch to be of any alignment so long as they follow the tenants of their tradition. In the case of the Amazonian witch, their tradition is based on several gods such as Diana and Artemis. The author provides a brief section on what these beliefs mean. 

Circling back to the idea of covens, witches have access to ritual magic which requires many casters to participate in. Again, these ritual spells are well balanced. For both "normal magic" and "ritual magic" there are 8 levels of each described in the standard format for Basic era games. 

This particular set calls out BlueHolme but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as Labyrinth Lord or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. 

All and all this is a rock solid addition to your table. Text only is 4 of 5 stars. 

I tend to be colored by great artwork, usually shifting my rating upwards by one. In this review, I have ignored the excellent artwork and tables so as not to damage my rating scale too much. The art is superior for a supplemental book and completely inline with the Basic Era style. Considering the layout with the artwork, this book merits 5 of 5 stars. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review - Dragon Snack Games

The goal is to have a review a week. My idea was to do a review of books, movies and games every week for 2021. This is week two and I have 3 already and a list of 52 on deck to go. 

This is a bonus post, because I didn't set out to review stores. This post is without remuneration, I have no affiliation with Dragon Snack games but I am purchasing a lot of material from them to fuel this thing. I have a short list of stores I need to visit in the near future, so expect to see more store reviews in the future. 

Name: Dragon Snack Games
Location: 3908 Maple Rd, Buffalo, NY 14226
Phone: (716) 833-0740
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dragonsnackgames/
Website: https://dragon-snack-games.square.site/ (Under Construction) 

January 1st, 2021 I needed something to do. I had the chance to stop into Dragon Snack Games with the intention of making some game purchases. I had never been there before and had no idea what to expect. 

Normally, I'd call this "a trip to The Shop", Dragon Snack is much more than a "shop". It's huge. I was the only shopper probably because of the holiday and that wide open space threw me for a loop. 

On entry, there is a closeout section in front of the register loaded with stuff I want. I bumbled my way past it and on to the dozen or more racks that line the center of the store. They have a bit of everything from books to figures. I was so Woww'ed by what I saw, I am unable to process everything I saw. The outer walls are lined with shelves loaded with books, games and puzzles. Maybe some models, too.

They have a smallish selection of paints and figure supplies, but this is a highly qualified statement. It was several shelves and racks, easily enough to fill a 10 by 10 room. 

Unlike other "game shops" Dragon Snack Games is open, airy and brightly lit. I was easily able to make up a list of 50 things I wanted on entry and ticked off a list of 50 more items I saw that I now want after browsing the shelves. To say their selection is ample is an understatement. Prices are on par with other outlets or websites like Amazon. If they are more expensive than online retailers, it's tiny and worth the experience.  

The back of the store is dedicated to either in-store game play or some sort of DIY activities, I was not able to tell as it was not in use due to Covid. I can't wait to go back after this mess is over. 

Quirks: In addition to being brightly lit and spacious, they play Sisters of Mercy and have a large glass screen between the cashier and customer. It is completely touchless. I was surprise when the cashier asked me to turn the boxes around so she could read the price. Real, really touchless. It was one of the best touchless shopping experiences I have ever had. Probably on par with something you'd see at a massive company like Disney. 

Yeah, that feels about right. It's the Disney World of Game shops in my mind. 

Map: 

Monday, January 11, 2021

It's Here! This Artwork Now EXISTS!

Back in March of 2020, I sort of went nuts. I started drawing everything that came to mind, whether I had the skill or not. I had this idea for a drawing from The Last Unicorn. It was to be in full color ink, but in the middle of the project I realized that I didn't have the pens or the skill to make it work. 

However, I was determined to make it work. I started over with oil paint and hit another dead end. Finally, I took it digital. 

The first iteration didn't work either. Then I stumbled across a couple websites: Thisartworkdoesnotexist.com and Deepart.io. Switching back and forth between the two, with a little image manipulation on my end, I finally got it right. 

But how to get that tiny file out of the computer? 

I was just going to print it out at Walmart or Walgreens, but it didn't look right. Then I found Fractureme.com. It took a couple weeks because I ordered in the middle of Christmas and New Years. 

Fracture prints on glass, an artform that when done by hand is mind boggling difficult. Completely beyond my skills. I am not sure how Fracture works, but it looks great. No frame required and all of the mounting hardware comes with it. 

I think I am going to have to do this again. 



Fun Storage Option for Dice

I found the greatest dice storage option at the dollar store.
Little Lego boxes! 

They're kind of small for actual Legos, but these party favors are just the right size for a set of dice. 

The lid clips closed to keep them inside and the boxes stack just like Legos. Go check out the party supply section at your local dollar store. They come four to a pack in red, yellow, blue and green. Perhaps you can find other colors. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

I, Damiano: The Wizard of Partestrada (1984)

Having finished my three reviews of R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano trilogy, I thought I was done with 12th century Europe. I was wrong. 

It turns out that Bantan Software published an IF game of the series for DOS and Apple II. 

I wish I had a copy and the time to do a review. I was able to find a copy on The Internet Archive which plays in a browser, but I still don't have time. My basement flooded and while I don't mind chilling out reading a book or writing a 300 word review after cleaning up, my time is better spent saving my game books, models and other things so can do more reviews in the future. 

So, this one I will throw over to you. Go play I, Damiano: The Wizard of Partestrada. Let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Credits

Opening gameplay screen.




Raphael by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Raphael
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 240 pages
Rating: 1 of 5 stars

This review is, unfortunately, by the numbers. 

Who is this author? R. A. MacAvoy is a wonderful science fiction and fantasy author, who by 1984 had 4 books in print. She is careful researcher with excellent storytelling abilities. 

What is their idea? In this final chapter in the Damiano's Lute trilogy, we follow the plight of Raphael as he wars with his brother Lucifer. 

How effectively does that person tell a story? Raphael is yet again a wonderfully well researched historical fantasy novel set in 12th century Europe. This time, Raphael finds himself at Lucifer's mercy in Moorish Granada. Stripped of his angelic form and powers, he is sold in slavery where yet again, the growing cast of characters bring this story to a conclusion. 

What are the book's the strengths? The main strength of MacAvoy's writing is the careful research and blending of fantasy to bring her characters to life. The details of daily life in Granada are rich and engrossing while repellant as the main topic of this novel is slavery. Djoura was a fantastic addition to the story as both a powerful heroine and love interest to Raphael.  

What are the book's the weaknesses?  Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of structure, where the established protagonists from Damiano and Damiano's Lute were secondary characters offered with zero development between the last installment and this one. Gaspare stands out as a very bad evolution from his prior self in other chapters of the story. 

Back in June of '85, White Dwarf Magazine offered the pronouncement that Raphael would be a Disneyfication of the series. While they probably hadn't read this particular book at the time, they weren't wrong. Many of the ideas of the series were heavily subverted by this installment and Raphael would have been much stronger had it been divorced from the rest of the series. 

What was particular terrible was the Epilogue, which closed out the series perfectly. It was five star writing tacked on to the end of a very slapdash work and accounts for much of Raphael's one star rating. If the Epilogue had been tacked on either one of the prior books, on it's strength alone, those titles would have been perfect. Even if MacAvoy simply copy-pasted it in to each preceding piece. 

Sadly, the first 435 pages were not worthy of the last five page. 

What made this ending so strong was the growth of Gaspare and the introduction of his family to the wild mix of history and fantasy. Viewed through a historical lens, many of the defining exploits of Damiano and his friends were mistakenly attributed to historical figures, which was an eye opening insight into the depth of research and planning by MacAvoy. What should be a crowning achievement was twisted into a mere after though. 

One mourning star. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Damiano's Lute by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano's Lute
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 254 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

In the second of three books, R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano's Lute expands in the concepts from the first book and we find our hero being chased northwards and west by Plague and the Devil. As a sequel, it breaks the mold that follow ups are afterthoughts. It is a well crafted as the first book, rich in detail and peril of the 12th century. 

From 1983 to 1984, MacAvoy had 4 books published, an incredible achievement. 

Damiano's Lute shift the story's location west and north and elevates Damiano's love interest from an Italian fantasy woman to a much more mature woman of the North. As the story evolves, many historical details pop out and lock this work of fiction into the real world settings. In this edition, MacAvoy explores not just Damiano Delstrego, but his companions Gaspare and Saara, who expand from sidekick and antagonists to fully formed characters with their own purposes and drives to be twisted by The Devil. Every character presented has a purpose and drive within the story of Damiano's Lute. MacAvoy adds characters at a frantic pace, but never leaves them hanging. Each one is added to serve the story with a graceful economy. 

Damiano's Lute stands strong on it's own, a worthy second part to the story.

Damiano By R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1983
Pages: 243 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damiano is R. A. MacAvoy's opening book in her well-researched fantasy novel series. The titular hero, begins his adventures in 12th century Italy. The author shows her craft by blending historical research with a coming of age story of the witch, Damiano Delstrego. 

Delstrego defends his beloved hometown of Partestrada with an unlikely crew: a dancing thief, Gaspare, Macchiata the talking dog, Festilligambe, a feral horse and Raphael, music teacher and Chief of Eagles. They stand with honor and distinction against fear, bigotry, war and The Devil himself. 

MacAvoy's detailed research allows magic to stand toe to toe with a her chosen historical era to create an engrossing tale of drama and strife. It is rare that a fantasy novel manages to use touches history to the advantage of storytelling rather than merely remind the reader of where and when the characters are. The Devil, saints and the Pope himself are in those details. 

Damiano is a powerful start to this three book series. 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

New Pens, New Art - Horses, Castle and Figures.

I picked up some new markers on Amazon. These are the Faber-Castell Wallet of 4 PITT Artist Pens - Black and Sepia. Each set has one
  • B: 1-5mm (Brush spread)
  • M: 0.7mm
  • F: 0.5mm
  • S: 0.3mm

Right of the package, I did a quick sketch of a horse in Sepia. The brown is on the lighter side, but that gives you the ability to layer for deeper colors. 

I really like the feel of these pens. They are on the short thin side, but easy to hold. The brush glides smoothly over most types of paper, but I haven't given them a hard test of textured bristol board or (heaven forbid!) newsprint.

These are wonderful pens at the price point. 

Black Sepia

Having fooled around with the sepia pens, I used the smaller nibs to do some sketches in black. I did two quick figures studies and some sort of space fighter. Even the small nibs glide nicely. Almost too nicely. I didn't want to lift the pen, which gave these studies a scratchy look. 

That's my hand, not the pens. 

Man with halberd Swordsman
Later today, I will test them out with another drawing of a castle. 












Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Latest Amazon Find - Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Begins game

I don't know why I like the easy entry tests for games. Today I found the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Begins game. It takes the players on an adevnture in the lands of Neverwinter.

EDIT - It's on back order but I'll get mine on Jan 23th if you are looking to order. 

It's meant for 2-4 players, ages 10 an up. It was about $25, but is on sale at Amazon for less than $15.

It might be the tangables that come with these sets that gets me. The set includes: 
  • 4 mini-figures, 
  • 4 Boss tiles, 
  • 4 20-sided dice, 
  • 10-sided Dungeon Master die, 
  • damage clip, 
  • 4 health trackers, 
  • plastic deck holder, 
  • 20 character tiles, 
  • 4 dungeon boards, 
  • 24 gold, 
  • 4 adventure decks, 
  • item deck, 
  • 4 reference cards, 
  • 8 backpack cards, 
  • 12 gatekeeper cards, 
  • And rules booklet. 

This strikes me as being similar to the Invasion of Theed put out by WotC for Star Wars years ago. 


I'll probably order this one up tonight. 

The Best Thief Ever Rolled...

I said I wasn't going to create characters for the 31 day challenge back in this post here. Then I posted a list of 20 sets of die rolls for other people to use for characters. 

Well, tonight I got bored and started plugging in stats into characters. So shoot me. I lied. 

My method was from the original red box rules and I assigned stats in the order I rolled them. I started with clerics and went through every character type in order, one block of stats for each. When I got to the end, I started over until I ran out of statistics. 

The red box requires certain stats of 9 or better with a few exceptions. Clerics require a 13 in Wisdom while Thieves, FIghters and Magic Users have no required minimum stats. Every character type benefits from having one or two high stats for a better return on experience. Prime requisites kind of exist, but not really.   

When I made this list of die rolls, this one jumped out. It's the only time I ever recalled rolling four 1's in a roll. Then I thought how bad it would be to have this set of stats. As luck would have it, this block of rolls was assigned to a thief who has no required scores. I cocked my head in thought. 

Strength: 10
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 3
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 15
Charisma: 18

Oh my god. He exactly the thief that you don't want in your party! He has high intelligence, enough to look down on people. He is charismatic so he can lead people into harms way. His constitution garners a slight bonus to hit points, hopefully enough to get out of some horrible mess he is bound to create. 

He's perfect! 

If you give a handwave to his backstory, he has a ton of gold because he stole his gear from mom and dad. He has some vaguely weapon-like implements from the kitchen and backyard plus handfuls of gold to lead his associates astray with promises of more. Of particular note are 3 maps his dad had in his chest of drawers. Obviously, those must lead to treasure even if they are clearly standard maps of the Kingdom, the County and the Capital. What trouble could that be? 

Obviously, the surviving family dog's wisdom is just high enough to not to want to be a part of this. 

This guy was rolled to be rolled. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The 2021 Reading List... So Far.

I have a full reading list that keeps getting longer. I'd like to do a bunch of reviews this year as my yearly series. I have acquired a lot of new books already and it's not even my birthday yet. 

In no particular order, here is what's on my reading plate. From Dunromin University Press, SM16 The Book of Legends. The description reads, "In the style of a Rogues Gallery, this new publication from Dunromin University Press if chock-full of ideas and resources for any games master."

EDIT Jan 25th: It looks like this title got an update. 

New Book
SM16 The Book of Legends
SM16 The Book of Legends

From Rick Wayne, I have two titles in the Feast of Shadows series: 


And a few more titles from DriveThruRPG: 

Domain Building from Third Kingdom Games plus Lake of Abomination Map PacketThe Lake of Abominations -- Hex 17.23 and OSR Alternative Classes from the same company. 

This week I'll probably finish the Domiano series by R. A. MacAvoy. 



Sunday, January 3, 2021

The One Shot Idea

I'm not good at creating one shots, however my reading activities have sparked an idea and an urge to do so. Not exactly a one shot, but series of them where the characters names remain the same but the skills and perhaps players change. 

At the beginning of 2020, I started rereading The Damiano Trilogy by R. A. MacAvoy. It's a historical fantasy about witch who finds adventure galavanting around Europe in search of his heart. Its pretty standard fare for early eighties fantasy, swinging from super light to moderately dark concepts. Clearly, the 90's antihero was not yet in fully realized, but these contemplative stories had the kernel of the idea gestating a decade before. 

At about the same time, I purchased Aquelarre Breviarium. I got the Spanish Language edition, so it's been a slow slog for me. But from the character descriptions, it seems like this rule set captures the ideas of the Damiano series very well. 

Aquelarre takes history and morphs it into a playable system. Characters don't have classes, they have professions. There are no races, there are cultures. 

Damiano, the titular character could be a couple of different professions, however the Trilogy breaks the character into different phases or evolutions throughout the series. This is fairly neat for a character in a game because each aspect is divorced from the others except for the name. 

Damiano could be un Mago or un juglar (minstrel),
each distinct from Saara the witch and Gaspare the dancer. 


The lengthy list of professions are well suited for dealing with not only the main character but also the associated secondary characters. I could see doing a series of one shots where the characters from the books display one profession per session. The names stay the same, but the professions change. Therefore, if the players change for each one shot session, no one cares. 

If you like you can pick up Aquelarre in English via DriveThruRPG and The Damiano Series from Amazon. 



Saturday, January 2, 2021

#31daychallenge, Part 2

Get those dice warmed up. It's time for the #31daychalllenge. Roll a character a day. 

Yesterday, I declined the challenge myself, but offered 20 sets of die rolls to create your own character. I want to spend my time reading a blog a day in January. 

Today, I'm reading blogs. Games in Libraries is up to the challenge, as is Spodding

Now for the plug. I wrote a book called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners" specifically designed to roll up NPCs and to give Player Characters professional skills. It's meant for B/X and AD&D e1. It's available at DriveThruRPG for PWYW. I also have a handy dandy character sheet for AD&D e1 and Unearthed Arcana. It's a scan of a sheet I created in the 80's in PDF format. Suitable for printing. 

And with that, I am off to read some blogs. 



New Links for Products by TheseOldGames.com

I've always wanted links to DriveThruRPG to look like links to Amazon. However, most of DriveThruRPG doesn't work like that. If you look to the left of this post, you can see an example of what I wanted, which is an affiliate tool for the Daily Hot New Book. You can get that link by logging in to DriveThru and scrolling to the bottom of the Affiliate Resources Page.

The code looks like this (excuse the image, blogger doesn't like code tags):


It displays the ad like this:

Hottest New Book
City of Nexus | 20x30 Battlemaps [BUNDLE]
City of Nexus | 20x30 Battlemaps [BUNDLE]

By harvesting their code, you can change what is displayed by manipulating the code, like I did for my Swashbuckler Character Class.

Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D

Swashbucklers for D&D and AD&D

You can get the product page link via the Social link on DriveThruRPG. 




That will automatically append your Affiliate Id to the link, which is super handy. The image associated with the product can be directly linked to by right clicking the thumbnail and copying the image address. Many times you can plug that image link right into the code.  

Zero to Hero: Uncommon Heroes
Zero to Hero
Zero to Hero

The thumbnail seems to be generated by .css, which will rescale the image to 139 by 196 for the product page. However, if the author uploaded a larger image, you will have to rescale the image and host it yourself. That happened to me with all of my products. I should probably go back and rescale all of the images so DriveThru does less work to display a thumbnail. 

Character Sheet for AD&D
Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D

You can combine the code above with the table html to create side by side links, like I did below.


Kobold’s Folly Mini Setting
Kobold’s Folly
Kobold’s Folly
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack
The Hex Pack
Compass Rose Inn Mini Setting
Compass Rose Inn
Compass Rose Inn