Art of the Genre: The Art of Sad Puppies

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

What is the Wizard's First Rule?

What is the Wizard’s First Rule?

Before I get into this, I want to first make it clear that John O’Neill goaded me into writing today. When I mentioned that I found myself siding with Larry Correia, and God forbid Vox Day, on the hot topic of the week [Hugo vs Puppies, which we recently summarized here], John baited me with this gem:

And I’m fascinated to hear that you take the Puppies side in this…. hard as I try, I’m not able to warp my head into their liberals-have-stolen-the-Hugos-year-after-year-with-their-lies-and-secrets way of thinking. I’ve been trying to find someone to do a Puppy-friendly take to counter my posts… you interested?

I told him, and I quote:

LOL, I’ve no real depth to anything I would write, just a gut feeling, and in the end I’d probably alienate the bulk of any fellow BG bloggers I’ve come to know over the years. Now obviously that doesn’t mean anything to me as my fans are gamers who don’t give a rat’s ass about the Hugo, but still, it could get very ugly, very fast.

And it’s true, I write Art of the Genre, not Words of the Genre, so I’ve really no dog in this fight, but as someone who is on the outside, and enjoys breaking down numbers, my opinion did provide some puppy love. So I started thinking a bit more on my view.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Campaign Adventure Module Series of All Time

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Did Bloodstone make the list?

Did Bloodstone make the list?

I’m not really sure when I played my first adventure module, although I think it was at my first D&D Club meeting in 8th Grade. My only clear memory of actual adventure, while I sat in that library on Wednesday evenings after school, was trying, and failing, to enter the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. So, I assume that G1,2,3 [well, at least G1] was my first ever module, and I think that is interesting because it means my induction into gaming came from the adventures that define what campaign modules should be.

Having recently begun my own quest to create a campaign series of modules, I’ve decided to put my epic game of Risk with Ryan Harvey on hold, tell Kandi to hold all my calls, and pray that Goth Chick doesn’t show up unexpectedly wearing a corset and stockings that would most assuredly derail my Black Gate L.A. productivity for the day.

Why would I do this? Well, to create another Top 10 list of course! This time around, I’m not looking at the best modules of all time, but instead looking at the best/greatest campaign series of modules of all time. Yes, so without running my deadline further into the red, let me get started.

First and foremost, I’d like to say that this is my list, and therefore shouldn’t be judged as some kind of ‘true’ entity. My views are certainly colored by the experiences I’ve had with most of what you see below, and at one time in my life I’ve owned them all.

As for Bloodstone, I’ve played it as recently as 2007, but that said, I can neither confirm of deny the fact that it did or did not make the list. I do, however, hope you enjoy what I’ve created below and that it does bring back a few good memories to you all!

So, let’s get started, shall we?

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Art of the Genre: The Art of the Iconic Character

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half...

Predating Paizo by a decade and a half…

By Webster’s definition, Iconic means ‘of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon’, which in essence reminds me of looking for the Wizard’s 1E D&D Protection from Evil spell only to be told to ‘see Cleric spell of the same name’, unless, of course, you know the word Icon means ‘a person who is very successful and admired’.

Now, having established the meaning, I intend to look at the evolution of ‘Iconic Characters’ [thus Iconic Character Classes] in the RPG setting.

It can be universally accepted that Paizo coined the phrase ‘Iconics’ with the release of its Pathfinder Adventure Paths [and their beta versions from Paizo’s Dungeon Magazine], but that is simple semantics.  In reality, the first true ‘Iconics’ were from the Wizard of the Coast release of D&D 3rd Edition, namely Krusk, Jozan Vadania, Tordek, etc.

These characters were really the first to take players through the game by repeating their exploits in both artwork and description.  Created by artists Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood, players from a whole new D20 generation were introduced to this new system and cut their teeth with the WotC Iconics.

However, I would contend that perhaps the definition of Iconic doesn’t have to depend on players of RPGs actually knowing the character’s name, but rather recognizing their image.  If that is the case, then the role of character class Iconics goes back much further.

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Art of the Genre: Kickstarter from Opening to Close

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

High Res CompressSarah Avery asked me recently if she could pick my brain on Kickstarters, and although once I replied she never took me up on the offer, I still enjoy talking about certain details of campaigns. Today, as I face the final leg of my current and 9th Kickstarter for AotG, I’m going to talk a bit about the ebb and flow of a campaign.

All Kickstarters share at least two universal facts: that you will have your greatest pledges at the campaign’s opening and closing, as well as a dead zone in the middle where pledges are hard to come by.

Today, The Folio is in its final 24 hours, a time period that is nearly as important as the first 24 hours after launch. It is the ‘now or never’ moment for backers, especially those you’ve managed to reach through the campaign but they hedged with the old ‘I’ll get back to it closer to the end.’ This thought process is two-fold, the first being that backers tend to have a better understanding of what they can spend closer to the date in which money will be withdrawn from their accounts, and second, that they often like to see what kind of success (and stretch goals) a project achieves before they jump in.

For me, The Folio is fully funded, which is the good news, and for those backers of the project, we are all pushing for that first stretch goal that will help create a second module in The Folio series. Thus, the final 24 hours become paramount to seeing just how ‘good’ the project really did over the course of its life.

However, most projects are made or fail in the first 24 hours after launch. It is in these first hours that the true barometer of just how many backers you have is seen. Most folks like to see at least 50% of your backing come in the first 24 hours, which can be a daunting sum. For The Folio, I hit 25% in the first day, and added another 5% on day two, so the road was much longer and harder than many successful projects you see out there. That said, 30% in two days is still a great way to begin and I had confidence that with those numbers we’d survive the lull, which we did.

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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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