Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Greyhawk Art: Ken Frank

Anyone who has followed my comic knows I've parodied and even photo-manipulated the works of many a D&D artist over the years. Time to time I have paid homage to them as well. One in particular that I bring to light is interior illustrator, Ken Frank. Ken worked for TSR during 2nd edition from 1990-1997, starting off with the Greyhawk module Vecna Lives! From this auspicious beginning, he went on to prolifically do interiors for many other Greyhawk books including the "Falcon" series, From the Ashes, Rary the Traitor and Treasures of Greyhawk. After Greyhawk went into one of its hibernations, Ken went on to do work for GDW's new Traveller line and more interiors for TSR, notably the Players Option rules series.
I'll come right out and say it, Ken's art is not everyone's cup of tea. You ask a long-time D&D or Greyhawk fan to name any ten D&D illustrators they know and Ken's name will likely never come up. But I'm here to tell you he is among the best the Greyhawk franchise ever had, and easily the best interior artist of the 2nd edition Greyhawk era. Ken Frank has a classic D&D style, black & white line-art, that tends to be on the sketchy side but full of rich detail and expressive compositions with an added knack at drawing architecture. His illustrations fall somewhere between Dave Sutherland's and Jim Roslof's early D&D figure-art and more realistic and cleanly drawn black & white art such as Larry Elmore. I'd most compare Ken's style to Jim Holloway's quirky but kinetic black & white illustrations of the same edition.  Enough art-history let's see some samples:

Halmadar the Cruel, from Vecna Lives!

Shack Town, from Falcon's Revenge

Szeverin the Shadow Dragon, from Five Shall Be One

Circle of Eight, From the Ashes
 Mr. Frank has not done any illustrations since the end of 2nd edition and I can't turn up any non-gaming related artistic work by him online. Also I haven't been able to locate any useful information on him personally like an art gallery. I can only assume he eventually found better paying work than art and just faded from the industry. I'd be keen to hear if anyone has met him or heard any stories. In any case I thank him for his service to Greyhawk and wish him the best.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Greyhawk Comic #301: Merry Needfest!

Pictured: Graz'zt's package.
Merry Needfest, Greyhawk friends! Ol' Mortellan has come through at the last hour yet again to slip down your internet chimney and put a new Greyhawk comic under your virtual tree. This year's Needfest Special continues the tradition of evil-themed holiday fun. Yes, the denizens of the Underdark and the Lower Planes know how to celebrate too! Have fun reading, and everyone enjoy the weekend!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Needfest Primer

Just to get you warmed up for this Greyhawk holiday season here is last year's Greyhawk Comic: Needfest Special.

What is Needfest? Well Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins says:

"This frigid seven-day period marks the transition from one calendar year to another, and is usually accounted as the start of the new year."
"All seven days of Needfest are public holidays in Greyhawk; this is a time to celebrate life when the weather is most miserable. Food stored away after harvest is brought out for grand dinners and all entertainment establishments are full to bursting. Each noble of Greyhawk invites his vassals and servants to dinner one night during this week, and charitable gifts of food and drink are common at such parties. The news and gossip of the year is reviewed and rehashed, and plans are laid for the coming year. Overindulgence and merrymaking are the rule. Some middle-class and noble citizens have a tradition of decorating their homes with yellow candles, boughs of evergreen branches (symbolizing the triumph of life through hard times), and even magical lights and ornaments. Daytime displays of harmless illusion/phantasm spells are held at the High and Low Markets in the Free City, drawing many spectators."
"Needfest is not a religious celebration per se, but local religions take note of it nonetheless. Special services are held at many churches and temples, complete with singing, music, sermons, and feasts to which the priests and their helpers invite all parishioners. The religions of Rao, Pelor, and St. Cuthbert banded together after the Greyhawk Wars to feed the refugees that flooded the city; this began a new practice that seems to have caught on."
"The evening of Needfest Godsday is also known as Midwinter Night. On this night, Needfest 4th, only aquamarine Celene is visible in the sky, as Luna is new. For this reason, Midwinter Night is also called Handmaiden's Glory or the Dim Night. This is a holy night for priests of Celestian, who conduct allnight services of moonwatching and stargazing on the grounds around the Grey College Observatory. Magical adjustments to the weather are sometimes made to ensure good viewing, though the temperature is always left cold enough to prevent widespread melting of snow and thus flooding. This tinkering with weather angers the few local druids, who consider this night holy and gather at the StoneRing outside the city's Druid's Gate for chanting, prayer, and other services."

Sorry about all the reading. I left out some of the boring parts in fact. As you can see it's a fairly close Christmas analogue and one that I run with each year. Expect more on Needfest from me in the next day or so.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Attack of the Scrap Maps: Part 2

Click to Enlarge

Okay, as promised last week here is my next scrap map, the Population Density of the Former Great Kingdom map. This of course from 2nd edition after the Greyhawk Wars using their facts, figures and political boundary lines. The key which I cut off in the scanning goes as thus, colors are in human population per 30 mile hex:

Light Blue 1000-4000 ppl/hex; Blue 4000-7000 ppl/hex; Midnight Blue 7000-10,000 ppl/hex; Purple 10,000-13,000 ppl/hex; Yellow-Orange 14,000-17,000 ppl/hex; Yellow 18,000-21,00 ppl/hex; Orange 21,000-24,000 ppl/hex; Dark Red 25,000-30,000 ppl/hex; Red 31,000-50,000 ppl/hex; Magenta 51,000-60,000+ ppl/hex

As we can see (though I haven't labeled any cities or states, my bad) the major densities are in Aerdy's cities with the eastern coast dominated by the metropolitan city of Rel Astra (57,000 if I read my chicken scratches right) The major concentration of the Great Kingdom's vast population is in the central lands between the South Province (United Kingdom of Ahlissa) and the North Province (Great Northern Kingdom) around cities such as Delaric, Rel Deven, Jalpa, Kalstrand and so forth. I'd love to do a similar map someday using Living Greyhawk Gaz figures (c.591CY) though I don't suppose the densities would change only the higher totals. I have other horrid looking maps to dredge up until then, so beware!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greyhawk Comic #300 Cultists Revealed!

For the Dark Lord!

The Cultist Saga ends this week with my milestone 300th comic. Identities will be revealed and the tale of two notable Greyhawk NPCs will be brought to a proper conclusion. If you haven't read my comic before, check out the comic links on this blog and catch up on 40 issues of wild, over-the-top Cultist schemes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Attack of the Scrap Maps: Part 1

For a long time now I've wanted to share some of my old Greyhawk campaign maps, which I affectionately call "scrap maps" because well, they were usually drawn on crumpled notebook paper with colored pencils. While they were well researched often they looked like the ravings of a mad man to the non-gaming eye. These two maps in particular I am very proud of for their subject matter and the fact they have survived the ravages of time. Now they are scanned for your curiosity:

The first is my Flanaess Population Density Map. It was made around 2nd edition, most likely using the borders and population stats in From the Ashes. How I came about the density figures is not perfectly scientific. I vaguely recall counting up the number of hexes in each nation and dividing that into the human population figures given. So yes, the colors correspond to population per 30 mile hex. In all cases, figures for a major city like Greyhawk City count for the entire the hex it is in. In case you can't read the key, it goes like this:

Light Blue 100-1000 ppl/hex; Blue 1000-2000 ppl/hex; Dark Blue 2000-4000 ppl/hex; Midnight Blue 4000-7000 ppl/hex; Purple 8000-10,000 ppl/hex; Dark Purple 11,000-13,000 ppl/hex; Red 14,000-17,000 ppl/hex; Orange 18,000-21,000 ppl/hex;  Yellow-Orange 22,000-24,000 ppl/hex; Yellow 25,000-30,000 ppl/hex; Green 31,000-50,000 ppl/hex; Dark Green 51,000-60,000+ ppl/hex

Click to Enlarge

You'll notice above that not alot of those colors are used, except to color in a small dot that denotes a city. Not surprisingly the Great Kingdom (or constituent parts) is the most colorful part of the Flanaess, which ends up quite blue overall. So after seeing this obvious fact in graphic form, I decided one day to zoom in on the Great Kingdom with another scrap map! (Coming soon)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

That Infamous Key (Fiction)

This is the first of many articles (both new and old) that I hope to post about and promote from the long-running Greyhawk fansite, Canonfire. The author of "That Infamous Key" goes by the name Mystic Scholar and he has been a frequent presence on the site since 2008.
In this opening chapter he gives us a tale of his namesake character as he finds company and adventure on the mean streets of Greyhawk City. The plot should be no surprise to those who followed Dungeon Magazine during the Paizo era, but his very personalized walk-through of that adventure is quite entertaining nonetheless.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Greyhawk Comic #299 Cultists!

The Cultist Identity mystery unfolds as the evil duo attempt to escape the misty realm of Ravenloft, the Domain of Dread. But first, they must merely overcome their own despair! Be prepared for some villanous exposition...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sea of Death (Gary Gygax 1987)

A month or so ago I found a copy of Gygax's Sea of Death in a used bookstore. This is one of many Greyhawk related novels he put out after leaving TSR and taking the character of "Gord" with him. Many of these books I still have never found, and I've purposefully neglected to hunt them down online, instead making it a life-quest to find them the hard way. I haven't read Sea of Death as of yet, but I know from a bit of google research that it is about the ongoing quest for the Theopart artifacts of Tharizdun, and features such familiar places as the "Ashen Desert". It also includes notable Greyhawk NPCs like the drow priestess Eclavdra and Graz'zt, prince of demons.
If anyone has read this book, give me a review here (good, bad or indifferent) and I'll be happy to read it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Anna's Greyhawk Maps

Anna Bernemalm, demigoddess of cartography has been on a quest to research and map the entire Flanaess section by section, for several years now. After a short hiatus she is back in business with new tech and a new attitude, according to this post on the Canonfire! forums

The home of her Atlas of the Flanaess project is Check it out.

Anna also has a new public Facebook group tied to her mapping project. Come help support her efforts!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Greyhawk Comic: Battle of Shamblefield

How much do you know about the origin of Spinecastle and the Battle of Shamblefield (Caldni Vir's Charge)? Well be prepared to learn a version of the truth with the newest installment of Cyndor's Improbable History. Be sure to read the commentary at the end for enlightening stuff about Barbarians as well.