AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Art of the Genre: A Call To My Readers!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

AotG needs its readers!

AotG needs its readers!

It’s the holiday season here at Black Gate and I wanted to thank all my devoted readers for my multiple ‘#1 Monthly Post’ plaques that hang on my office wall for the year.  Art of the Genre is a wonderful way to connect with you all and I truly hope we can continue to lead Black Gate content statistics in 2015.

I also wanted to ask for your continued support with a pledge to my current crowd-funding campaign for the AD&D 1E module, The Folio, that is currently a ‘Staff Pick’ over on Kickstarter.  I need your help to see this project reach its goals.  The content presents the feel of an old school Dragon/Dungeon Magazine while also having a fully removable cover like the TSR classic modules of old.

I’ve put in the work, gotten this thing done and ready to print, but I need my readers to make it a full reality.  In fact, I wanted to share some quotes about the project from my office mates here at Black Gate L.A. so you get a good understanding of the commitment already behind the project.

Editor-in-Chief John O’Neill: ‘It’s in shrink right?  Then yes, I’ll pledge, so I can have an excuse to never read it!’

BG Horror Correspondent Goth Chick: ‘I had to pledge for two copies because the coffee machine in the basement keeps leaking and I needed something to mop up the spills with.’

BG Movie Reviewer Ryan Harvey: ‘Honestly, I pledged so Scott would stop knocking on my door every day to ask if I’d done so yet.’

BG Secretary Kandi: ‘I was promised a starring role in the film adaptation if I pledged.’

BG Gaming Correspondent James Maliszewski: ‘If it isn’t Holmes, I don’t want it, and get out of my office!’

Seriously, with friends like these, I NEED MY READERS!  So give yourself a gaming gift this season and back The Folio and I promise you won’t be disappointed!    Just click on the banner below!

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Art of the Genre: Playing D&D 5E and an In-Depth Look at the new DMG

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan's Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

I’ve spoken a bit in the past about both the 5E Player’s Handbook, as well as the Monster Manual, but today I’d like to take a more in-depth look at the system and the new Dungeon Master’s Guide that will be released this week (the 9th) from Wizards of the Coast.

Unlike my fearless editor John O’Neill, I’m actually going to give you a look at the product beyond reading the jacked cover. [Sorry John, but I couldn’t resist.]

So, let’s get started. My initial impression of D&D 5E was that I wouldn’t be interested in learning a new system as I hadn’t even attempted to pick up D&D 4E. However, after reading the Player’s Handbook, I was intrigued, as were my gaming friends, who had recently returned to playing traditional Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 2011 after a two year romance with Pathfinder.

Their interest, as well as a thorough read of the PHB, had me wanting to see how the system played on a table. Luckily, in early November, I got the chance to go back to my home town for a weekend in which an extended 5E session was planned.

Delving into the mechanics once more, I designed two characters, both from my Fleetwood family tree, and had the opportunity to lay hands on the system in a way a simple read won’t allow. Character creation, as any gamer knows, is paramount in getting your feet wet, and so once I had characters in hand I was even more excited to see how my abilities would interact with dice, once play began.

As per our usual dynamic, the DM duties were shared by both myself, running the social aspect of the campaign, and my old DM Mark, who ran the traditional dungeon delve side of a new campaign entitled ‘The Runelands of Daro’, set in my Nameless Realms.

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Art of the Genre: Owning a Time Machine

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

It’s true, in a sense. You see, I work as the Art Director for Gygax Magazine, and as such I’m tasked with trying to recreate the artistic feel of Dragon Magazine circa 1984. So, I spend my days not only going over old art, but also trying my best to discover new talent that somehow reflects some of the best aspects of the OSR.

Certainly, there have been others that have tried this type of nostalgia-based marketing. Goodman Games comes to mind with their initial line of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the same could be said for Rob Kuntz and his Pied Piper Press in the mid-2000s.

Still, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t simply plug in old artists and make everything perfect. Talents evolve, and in some cases erode, and working with established artists who have trademark styles sometimes limits your ability to direct them inside a product.  Egos must be taken into account, as well as their vision versus yours, and finally how a price point that satisfies everyone can be achieved.

It can be a position of highs and lows, and I’ve had some great successes as well as failures along the way, but never once did I say ‘this just isn’t worth it.’

Why?  Because I love the art.  I love the artists, and having gone so deep into their world, I understand all too well the struggles they face on a daily basis. Each time I get the opportunity to pick up a phone, call an artist, and offer them work is what gives my job meaning.

Gygax provides this incredible vehicle to do just that, and when you finally get to hold the magazine in your hands, feel it just like you did that Dragon Magazine when you were in your teens, you understand just how special it really is.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers of the 1970s & 80s

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Dragon_88_Cover_largeToday would have been the 56th birthday of artist Keith Parkinson, and so I dedicate this post to his memory.

Over on my own Art of the Genre site, I talk a lot about Dragon Magazine.  And why not, there are tons of them, and most are filled with great artwork. Typically, I review at least one Dragon a week, and after doing this for a couple of years I felt it was high time I composed one of my infamous ‘Top 10’ lists here on Black Gate, this time around ‘The Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers of the 1970s & 80s!’

First off, apologies to the 1990s and 2000s, but you all didn’t make the cut for this list and I’ll have to address those two decades in a later post.

Now, for me, finding 10 ‘top’ covers is a hard list to make, primarily because so many Dragon magazine paintings have strong feeling of nostalgia attached to them. The greatest of these, of course, would be the very first Dragon magazine I ever saw, #88, with cover by Jim Holloway. That, in my book, is #1, but I’ll do my best to take a step back, evaluate with a more critical eye, and see what that list actually shakes out as.

And remember, I’ve been blogging Art of the Genre for five years, am approaching a quarter of a million unique page views, all for free, so please don’t troll my list, I think I’ve earned the right to post it, but feel free to share memories or your own favorites!

So, without holding you hostage any further, I present my list of the Top 10 Dragon Magazine Covers from the 1970s & 80s!

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Art of the Genre: The Artistic Mystery of The Temple of Elemental Evil and the Turmoil of 1985 TSR

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don't just this book by that or you'll be disappointed

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don’t judge this book by that or you’ll be disappointed

Back in 1985 I was fourteen and had recently entered the gaming hobby as a hardcore fan and not a passing-fancy type player. It was during my plunge into the hobby that I began grabbing up whatever I could get on my monthly trips to the ‘big city’ of Lafayette, Indiana. During one of these outings with my mother, who would entice me to go to the Mall or any other boring errands she had by offering to also take me downtown to Main Street Hobbies, that I acquired T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil.

It was my first ‘super-module’, and although I’d missed the chance to get most of the original-run TSR modules from 1979-82, I was thrilled to grab this new breed module by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer. Little did I realize at the time what it took to actually produce this module. I mean, by 1985 Gary was already on the chopping block at TSR and the company was ready to undergo a massive changeover that would result in AD&D 2E, and the ‘downfall’ of the company as we knew it. Times, as they say, were a’changin.

Now I can’t speak for the inner workings of how this module was made, but it is well documented that Gygax himself began work on T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil after he’d completed T1: The Village of Hommlet in 1979. However, probably due to the company’s rapid expansion and then his departure to Hollywood to work on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, his work was never completed by his own hand. Enter Frank Mentzer, who completed the module, and finally allowed it to see the light of day six years after players had been introduced to the story line in T1.

When I purchased it, I wasn’t ready to run such a complex dungeon crawl, and so I turned the module over to my friend Mark, who ran me through it over the course of our summer vacation. I well remember running four characters in the adventure, and I’m sure Mark had the same number of NPCs, the bulk of it played on the floor of the downstairs living room at my mother’s house.

It wasn’t until 1988 that I actually ran the module myself, this time with my friend Murph, who was helping me develop my own gaming sandbox of The Nameless Realms. It was another epic ‘run’, and afterward, I put the module away and have thought of it fondly ever since.

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Art of the Genre: A Review of the 5E Monster Manual and its Place in D&D Product History

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

So a month ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. At first, it seemed to me that I’d be doing a rather standard review, but the more I read the product, the more it began to light a fire in me about what the game had to offer.

New mechanics, or should I say neo-retro, because it seamlessly combines great features of both old and new D&D, had me wondering just how the game played on a table-top. By the end, I fully understood that this was not only a product to be respected, but also that I had to take the first chance I got to play it.

That said, I began to break down the mechanics and tried to extrapolate them into a small adventure that would help new players better understand the flow of the game. It was a truly fun and insightful process, but the double-edged sword of it was that I needed monsters!

Now sure, as an experienced DM with 30+ years behind the screen, I was able to extrapolate statistics from older versions of the game and translate them to 5th Edition, and it also helped to have a copy of the 5E Starter Kit, but if you’ve ever run a game of D&D, you know that it is always nice to have a copy of the Monster Manual close by! So, it is with great pleasure that I get to introduce players and fans alike to just what has changed in the 5E version of the game where monsters are concerned.

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Art of the Genre: Robotech Anime, RPG, Novels, Comics, Toys, Video Games, and Soundtrack, oh my!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Anyone up for some light reading?

Anyone up for some light reading?

I don’t know if I’ve ever really admitted this before, and I actually had to go back to a Black Gate post from two years ago to check, but I’m pretty much a Robotech junkie. Of all the crazy geek culture stuff I’m involved in, there is no licensed universe I care more for than Robotech [sorry Star Wars, it's true].

It began, as most things did for me, in the 1980s, on VHS. I managed to get the entire series off a weekday comic block from a television station broadcasting out of Terre Haute, Indiana. At the time, it was like a drug, and I personally pored over those scratchy recorded episodes (that I’d captured at 7 AM for a year) so many times that the tapes finally corrupted. I even carried them around with me when I could, and I remember this time I took my collection, complete with commercial breaks, down to my grandparents’ house for Christmas and convinced my two cousins, Jeff a year younger and Greg, two years younger, to watch Macross with me.

Greg, always game for my little geeky desires because he looked up to me, stayed true to the course as the episodes ticked by into the wee hours of the morning, but Jeff, always the mathematical pragmatist (and now very wealthy and successful, go figure), decided he’d had enough by 1 AM. Bowing out, he went off to the rear of the house to sleep and Greg and I trudged on. Ten minutes later, Jeff reappeared, sat down glumly with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and never said a word, but finished out the series with us.

THAT is the power of Robotech! Even for a young man, soon to be actuary, and later high stakes financial guru, he just couldn’t blow off the end of Macross without knowing what happened between Rick, Lisa, and Minmei.

I mean, even my wife, who hates anime, hates fantasy, hates science fiction, hates… well, let’s just say her middle name should be ‘hate’, actually watched every episode of Macross just last year with my son and I! Is that even possible? Sure, she might have rolled her eyes on occasion as she looked up from her Mac while shopping online, but damnit, I’m still counting it!

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Art of the Genre: Photographs from a Long Lost Lake Geneva

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore's beautiful mind!

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore’s beautiful mind!

Over the past four years, I’ve struck up a friendship with Nick Parkinson, son of the late fantasy and D&D artist Keith Parkinson. We both live in San Diego and it is always nice to share thoughts on the sweeping industry of games as a whole.

One thing very few people understand who look into fantasy art is that the bulk of all artists DO NOT play RPGs.  Of the ‘Big Four’ for TSR (Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, and Caldwell), only Keith actually played Dungeons & Dragons.

Todd Lockwood was a D&D player until he started working at TSR in the late 1990s and he often speaks about how the ‘magic was gone’ once he started actually designing the game. That is a subject I’ll look at another day, however, although it is intriguing.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit off target here, so let me refocus. Nick and I had a conversation where I was looking to acquire a few old character sheets from ‘famous’ players for an io9 article a friend was writing and he said he’d just seen some of his father’s old sheets when he’d moved a few months before.

A week later, I didn’t get the character sheets, but he did send over a nice grouping of old TSR photographs and I was very interested to see the ‘process’ of how these great creators worked together to make some of the famous images we all know and love.

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Art of the Genre: Roger Dean, Asia, and Finding Myself in ’82

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

asia_alphafThere was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.

It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.

Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.

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