Friday, May 29, 2015

The Curious Case of Jeff Starlind

This post could also be titled, Two Shall Be One. So I've been re-reading 2e Greyhawk's Five Shall Be One and Howl From the North adventures. Overall I like parts of them, the swords, the locations, but not so much the characters or even story. Then there is the covers. I have those images burned into my brain and they're not special, merely passable. Of course looking in closer to see who the cover artists were, I noticed something peculiar...

The inside credits for Five Shall Be One's cover says it is by Jeff Starlind. All the googling in the world won't find you a Jeff Starlind, but there is a guy named Jeff Starling. Even at the bottom of the illustration it says clearly, STARLING 90. So yes if this is the same artist then he is also known for doing comics and work for White Wolf I believe. They did a typo on his name in the credits. That's a bad one on TSR. It gets stranger though...

Howl From the North has this iconic Viking-like warrior shouting to the wind with a longship in the background. I approve. The signature at the bottom is by ORBIK. A quick check shows Glen Orbik is a notable illustrator with his own site even. What does the inside credits say for cover artist? Jeff freaking Starlind!

I'd love to know how Jeff or his alter-ego, got credit for the cover of this flaming turd of a module, when Orbik is clearly the better artist (or painter at any rate). Maybe Jeff did the initial mock-up cover for HFtN and it was a bit too blah for TSR so they turned to Orbik to redo it. That's my best guess. Then as my brain tried to process this artist knot I noticed something compositionally odd...

Both covers can combine into one epic barbarian tussle. You got the black haired conan-esque guy from the first cover, out of the orc cave and now has got frost barbarian Orbikson in the same arm-lock as before. Two Shall Be One. You gotta love old-school D&D art, sometimes it's a real mess.

Upgrade 06/08/2021: I had to remove dead link to Orbik's site. Ah well...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Castle Greyhawk: Helms and Hidden Things

Welcome back Greyhawk mavens! I'm once again behind in promoting a new page in the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page-eighteen and read some scintillating scrivenings by intrepid author Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.

Artist's Commentary: I had a lot of fun with this page. Tenser cannot leave his helm behind it seems. I don't think it's magical but the gem must be worth a lot. Haha.
Anyhow, this page had some great textures that I got to work with. First was the charred metal surface of Tenser's usually gleaming helmet. I'm sure a cantrip will have that fixed in the future. Then there is the very charred violet fungi which are now brittle at the merest touch. I researched burnt wood pics to get the exact feel we were looking for. Of course there is the rope, pretty easy stuff until we get to a close up shot of one; and Tensers ever-torn garb. I try to keep the rips consistent across the pages. And lastly there is the cracked pit wall and secret door button. I've been doing randomly cracked, stacked and pitted stone walls consistently since the start of Castle Greyhawk, yet here I felt a certain satisfaction by trying to intentionally make the cracks go in a certain pattern. I can't to see where this leads our protagonists!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Greyhawk Reborn at Gen Con

As usual, this year I'm way late checking out the catalogue of events for GenCon. One thing that has returned to the scene is organized Greyhawk adventures by the excellent crew from Greyhawk Reborn. This year they have several 5E events scheduled and as of this writing they are all sold out, so if you want a shot at these, generic tickets are your only chance now. Since I too am shut out of these adventures, I thought I'd at least share some of the MANY enticing story ideas they have to offer this year:

GHR-KEO13-01 Piece of Mined
Gem shipments have stopped arriving in Cryllor. You are asked to check it out by the influential in the city. A one-round, Stand alone Universal Dungeon adventure set near Cryllor for character levels 1-4

GHR-INT14-01 More Than Meets the Eye
A short trip turns into a long journey as you discover that you've been sold more than you've bargained for. Can you deliver the merchandise to its ultimate destination? A one round Universal Wilderness adventure set in the southwestern Sheldomar Valley for level 1 characters only, and related to the Hidden Horrors story.

GHR-SEA14-02 Dark Discoveries
One of Sir Kinth's advisors has received news of slithering shadows emerging from the Hool Marshes, near the Wephgar outpost. Residents of the affected settlements are becoming too scared to go about their daily life. Investigate what's causing these incidents and help ease their troubled minds. Or perhaps you might end up discovering something better left alone. A one-round story arc Tactical Wilderness adventure for character levels 1-5, and Part 1 of the Hidden Horrors tory arc.

GHR-KEO15-02 March in the Marsh
You are asked to discreetly deliver some goods for the Merchants Guild of Saltmarsh into the Hool Marsh. Sure, the Hool is a dangerous place, but they assure you it is simple caravan guard duty. What could possibly go wrong? A one-round Story arc Wilderness Universal adventure for character levels 1-4, and Part 1 of the Wrath of the Reptiles story arc.

GHR-INT15-01 Incident at Gorlin's Mill
A respectable owner of several wood mills in the Lortmils needs guards to move some valuable cargo for one of his remote logging camps in a high forest valley. The terrain is rough and there are rumors of monsters roaming the mountains. Are the adventurers up for the task? A one-round Story arc Universal Wilderness adventure set in the Lortmil Mountains for level 1 characters, and the beginning of the Lortmil Menace Story-arc.

GHR-KEO13-11 Rose are Red and Violence for You
The lands are full of peril throughout Keoland. It takes real heroes to travel the roads unmolested. What will they call you when you prove brave enough to visit the lands of Nume Eor where the lands were unsettled BEFORE the rest of Keoland fell into ruin? A one-round story arc Universal Wilderness adventure set in Nume Eor for levels 1-4, and Part 1 of the Sewing the Seeds series.

GHR-SEA13-03 What's the Hold-up?
The town of Walharbor is looking to expand its boundaries. The party I asked to secure an abandoned hold for the town. A one-round Story arc Universal Urban adventure set near Walharbor for character levels 1-5, and Part 1 of the New Beginnings series.

GHR-WK14-01 Dazed and Confused
A grubby, dissheveled alchemist stumbles into Westkeep, the local healers ask for the aid of adventurers to find out what has happened. Can you brave the dangers of the Hool Marsh to uncover the mystery? A one-round Stand-alone Universal Dungeon adventure set in Westkeep and the Hool Marsh for character levels 1-10.

GHR-KEO15-01 Ancestral Grounds
Some jobs are a mystery, even to the employer. A recently relocated family from Sterich has been chased from their new lands by a band of orcs. Can you reclaim their family farm and recover their heritage? A one-round Wilderness adventure set in Keoland during CY 614 for levels 1-4.

GHR-SEA14-05 Spiraling Madness
Recent discoveries have brought to light some very disturbing events and Sir Kinth is trying to determine if these events are random or somehow related. Now you are asked to investigate a new situation. A one-round Tactical Dungeon adventure for character levels 1-10, and PArt 2 of the Hidden Horrors story-arc.

GHR-KEO14-15 Sinister Smugglers
Rumor has it that someone is sidestepping Saltmarsh and moving wares through the old haunted house east of town. What could they possibly be doing that requires them to bypass normal trade through the town of Saltmarsh? A one round Story arc Universal Wilderness adventure set in Salinmoor for character levels 1-10, and Part 1 of the Malevolent Mystery story arc.

GHR-LOR 15-02 Grim Works
Goblin lay siege to Palinfure, a mixed gnome and Halfling community in the southern Lortmils. No decisive battles have taken place but the goblins will likely wipe out the settlement soon. Good folk in an allied town want to bring in shock troops to help turn the tide. Are the adventurers ready to help rout the goblins? A one round Story arc Wilderness adventure set in the Lortmil Mountains for level 1-4 characters. Part of the Lortmil Menace story-arc.

That's a lot of good new material and there is a lot more for me to feature. I can't wait to swing by the Greyhawk Reborn room and check in on the action!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mike Schley Maps

This news is a week behind because at the time Mike Schley made the tweet concerning Greyhawk maps soon to be on his website, it didn't strike me as a great move forward for our favorite setting. Since then I've been to Mike's site and I see he does have an impressive body of work and illustration too. The aforementioned maps from Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk are not on here yet, but I do see he has maps from the 4E Against the Giants conversions that once ran in Dungeon and a map of Hochoch seen in Dragon #418 (from that same Giant-troubled region).

I enjoy his isometric city illustrations and anything nautical. It seems he's done work for other fantasy worlds outside D&D. Naturally, most of what you will find for sale printwise is Forgotten Realms material, a lot of which can come in handy if you're seriously running their current 5E adventures. Now for dungeonmasters curious to see what Greyhawk maps Schley might put up next from ETtRoG, I happen to have that book and can critique them:

The Green Dragon Inn is central to the story and it's a decent example of Schley's floor plan work. You won't find this inn illustrated anywhere else in Greyhawk canon that I'm aware of so it's worth a look though it's suitable to use as any generic inn really. 

Schley's full page map of the City of Greyhawk is a good piece of art that would look good as a print to hang on your wall. Those who have followed Greyhawk for a long time will note however it's just another version of a well-known mapview that has been done, first in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, then in Greyhawk the Adventure Begins, and finally updated by Denis Tetreault for the Living Greyhawk Journal. Schley's city map is merely an artistic redraw of Denis' functional game map so I assume if you want a print of the city to hang on your wall instead of on your game table this is the best thing out there.

Most of Schley's maps in Expedition are set encounter battle maps, which I won't cover here. They are generic and will find use in just about any situation you can dream of. The maps that most inspire me from this book are the overhead view map of the three ruined towers of Greyhawk castle and the cut away view of the castle dungeons and how their levels intersect. These are of course excellent redraws of material first seen in the module Greyhawk Ruins, but all of the cartography in those books is atrocious, so in this case kudos to Mr. Schley.

The top view of the three ruined towers seems like a simple exterior elevation map sure, yet it led me years ago to do this illustration of what the towers looked like before their ruination (or rebuilt as the case may be). Will I order anything from Schley? Probably not, but it gives me hope that maybe in the future other cartographers like Anna Meyer can get the green light to sell Greyhawk maps and with any luck new Greyhawk maps.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rage of Demons Top Ten List

Everyone who plays D&D loves to use demons and demon lords in their game. That is why the fiendish line up for this Fall's Rage of Demons is quite buzzworthy. I'm sure we'll get more details in the months to come and perhaps even at GenCon. Until then, Graz'zt himself is promoting his new project over on channel 666:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rage of Demons Speculation

Wow, Wizards has barely got going on Elemental Evil before they announced their next storyline for Fall, Rage of Demons. The multi-media blitz of books, minis and MMOs increases this time with a tie-in storyline for their new Sword Coast Legends computer game and a novel by RA SalvatoreCheck out the details here. It's all quite overwhelming, fortunately I stick to just table-top gaming. Here's some observations and speculations (possible spoilers below):

"Rage of Demons will transport characters to the deadly and insane underworld. Rumors of powerful demon lords such as Demogorgon, Orcus and Graz’zt terrorizing the denizens of the Underdark have begun to filter up to the cities of the Sword Coast. The already dangerous caverns below the surface are thrown into ultimate chaos, madness and discord. The renegade drow Drizzt Do’Urden is sent to investigate but it will be up to you to aid in his fight against the demons before he succumbs to his darker temptations."

First, there is already some predictable blow-back on online to Drizzt being the main driver in this story. I understand why he's involved from a marketing standpoint and if you're going to use the Underdark it would be glaring not to involve the #1 drow. So yeah, no big deal here. It's Forgotten Realms, it's what they do.

"Players of the tabletop roleplaying game can descend into the Underdark in Out of the Abyss, a new adventure which provides details on the demon lords rampaging through the Underdark. Partners such as WizKids, GaleForce 9 and Smiteworks will all support Rage of Demons with new products to help bring your tabletop game to life."

I'm all for good demon minis, can't wait. Now the rumors of multiple demon lords terrorizing the Underdark is indeed an over the top epic storyline. How over the top? For perspective, Greyhawk (as well as FR) has seen Graz'zt manipulating things before in addition to lesser demon lords like Zuggtmoy, and the prince of demons himself, Demogorgon once tried to screw up Oerth in Savage Tide, but even then the PCs had to take the fight to him in the Abyss. Taken literally this is a bigger threat than Elemental Evil and Tiamat combined. Now something or someone has to have brought the biggest, most notorious demon lords in all the Monster Manual to the Underdark (specifically Menzoberranzan). It's not like they get along after all. Here is my fearless guess (don't read on if you want to be surprised):

 "To really get in the mind of Drizzt, fans will have to check out Archmage, the new novel by R.A. Salvatore, scheduled for release in early September."

A tie-in novel about Drizzt isn't surprising anymore, but the title is Archmage. This is key. It surely isn't about Elminster because that's Ed's character. Are there any notable archmagi in Faerun who deal with demons? There may be dozens, I have no idea, but Wizard's m.o. is to use existing high profile properties, and you know what that means. So my spoiler, educated guess is that the culprit behind this Rage of Demons storyline will be none other than Iggwilv!

Yes friends, Iggwilv is very Greyhawk but she is also a planar antagonist who isn't necessarily bound to one setting. She shows up in nearly everything Graz'zt gets involved in, she has the ability to summon demons like no one else in D&D history, plus, she is the author of the Demonomicon, another item that lends itself well to a story where multiple demon lords are being rehashed and researched. I do indeed hope this guess pans out. Motives aside, who wouldn't like to see the witch-queen Iggwilv destroy the Underdark and the Sword Coast? I may side with the bad guys on this one!

Update: Darn it I was already proved wrong when I found the blurb for Out of the Abyss:

"The Underdark is a subterranean wonderland, a vast and twisted labyrinth where fear reigns. It is the home of horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day. It is here that the dark elf Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, casts a foul spell meant to ignite a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark and tears open portals to the demonic Abyss."

Archmage Gromph?! Alrighty then. My idea is better, but that doesn't mean she won't make a cameo at some point...stay tuned this Fall folks.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Castle Greyhawk: Fire Pit

Welcome back loyal Greyhawk readers! It's again time to promote a new page in the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page-seventeen and read some routine writings by yarn spinner Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.

Artist's Commentary: This page was quite fun to draw, which is part of the reason I turned it in to Scott so quickly. The clip to the right of burning violet fungi is among my favorite effects so far in this entire project. I keep getting better as we go along!

At first I was uneasy about the Greek fire reference when so many works of fantasy rename the substance for their own needs (wildfire in Game of Thrones for example). I briefly forgot that part of the charm of Greyhawk is that it's just an alternate-earth and characters like Murlynd are prone to pick up things like six-shooters and cowboy hats or in this case, greek fire. Why not?

Poor Tenser's robes are a mess and he lost his helmet in the fiery pit. What could possibly happen next? Stay tuned and find out.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What is Dragon+

Well I certainly didn't see this coming but after I read about Wizard's app based version of Dragon Magazine it sounds like an obvious move forward in the digital age. After 4e's eDungeon and Dragon ventures we've come to grips there will no longer be print Dragon magazines, but with Dragon+ (only available in iOs at the moment, drats) they will naturally provide the same D&D support material we've come to expect. In this case the current focus will be on the Elemental Evil storyline which means more Forgotten Realms development. Yipee. (snark) I really wonder how much this app will differ from the articles already featured on the Wizards main site. Only time will tell.

There is for instance, a comic included in Dragon+ which gives me hope perhaps for another shot at something like Dragonmirth? Then again, it's by the maker of Table Titans so my guess Dragon+ will be by invite only. I can't wait to check out this app. I know it'll have no Greyhawk info except maybe token homages to the Temple of Elemental Evil, but I always strive to stay on top of D&D related news and this seems to be the future source.