Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of StarLots and Shadow Stones


DragonRaid uses ten-sided and eight-sided dice, but refers to them as “StarLots” and “Shadow Stones,” respectively.  This is their story:
          At the time of The Great Rescue, when the OverLord of Many Names returned from destruction to raise the protective Peaks of the New Beginning, viscious dragons of the Legion attempted to fly over the erupting, upheaving mountains.  Raging fire came from their terrible mouths.  But as they flew higher and the air grew colder, freezing the dragons' breath in mid-air, a remarkable thing happened.  The flames crystallized and plummeted to the bottom of the steep gorges.
          Soon after the Great Rescue, the OverLord began to send His people, the TwiceBorn, into the Dragon Lands.  On the northern side of the Peaks of the New Beginning, LightRaiders found the wonderful crystals of many colors.  Each gem had ten sides, with a star encased in the center (recognized to be the OverLord's own birthmark).  Naming them StarLots, they collected them for the use of the TwiceBorn.
          It did not take long to discover the power that lay within.  And since that time, the StarLots have been used to help LightRaiders survive in the Dragon Lands and raid the serpents' strongholds.
          From time to time, StarLots have also come into the hands of dark creatures and dragon slaves.  But once touched by those with uncovered evil, the lovely StarLots turn into dark-colored, eightfaceted Shadow Stones – and the star within disappears.
The StarLots that come with the game are translucent. With regard to “the star encased in the center,” the rules state, “You will clearly see this star if you hold the StarLot up to the light and look through it end-to-end.”  Despite what the foregoing story suggests, StarLots and Shadow Stones do not have an in-game presence.  In terms of game mechanics, “The StarLot is the crystal used primarily by good forces to shape characters or decide outcomes; the Shadow Stone is used by evil forces for their random determinations.”  Incidentally, the Shadow Stone is also used for dragon slaves, humans who are the victims of evil.

Actually, use of the StarLot is not reserved exclusively for LightRaiders.  All weapons do 1 – 5 or 1 – 10 points of damage, regardless of who wields them.

When creating characters, players use a StarLot to generate Ability Ratings for Character Abilities (or Character Strengths as they are sometimes called).  These Character Abilities form the foundation of every LightRaider.

In combat, when a LightRaider attempts to strike an opponent, the result of a StarLot roll is added to the character's Weapon Ability.  If this amount is greater than the sum of the opponent's Battle Ability and the result of a Shadow Stone roll, then the LightRaider is successful.  Likewise, when an opponent attempts to hit a LightRaider, the result of a Shadow Stone roll is added to Battle Ability.  However, for the LightRaider, the result of a StarLot roll is added to the character's 'Shield of Faith' value.  If the opponent's amount exceeds the LightRaider's, then the opponent hits.  As is evident, player characters get a slight advantage against opponents of equivalent ability.

StarLots are also used as percentile dice for “Success or Ability” checks.  A 'Success Grid' (printed in the rule books and on the character sheets) indexes Ability Rating (y-axis) against Difficulty Level (x-axis).  The intersection of Ability Rating and Difficulty Level provides a number that must be equalled or exceeded on the dice.  There are ten percentiles between Difficulty Levels and five percentiles between Ability Ratings.  For instance, the intersection of Ability Rating 6 and Difficulty Level 5 is 60.  For the same Ability Rating, Difficulty Level 4 is 50.  For Ability Rating 7 and Difficulty Level 5, the number is 55.  Ten is the lowest number presented in the grid and 95 the highest.  For Ability Rating 2 or less, a Difficulty Level of 7 (or more) is impossible to overcome.  Similarly, for Ability Rating 2 or less, a Difficulty Level of 10 the highest level cannot be attempted by any Ability Rating less than 9.  Unfortunately, the rules do not provide advice on how to determine Difficulty Levels.  We have but one example:  A character hears a noise and tries to determine what caused it – either a chipmunk, a bear, or an orc.  The Adventure Master says that “the noise has a Difficulty Level of 4.”

By the way, no other mention is made of the OverLord's birthmark.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Amazing High Fantasy Adventure (Part 2 of 2)

My Amazing High Fantasy Adventure
Part 2
by

The next part of my amazing High Fantasy adventure might be hard to believe by most of you. It certainly is hard for me to tell. To get through it, I will rely more heavily on RPG terms. This way you will instantly understand what I am saying and I can move the story along more quickly. You should also know that my character's name when I role-played was Eru, a high level warrior, and my wife's character name was Enchantra. I know, Enchantra....really! It is a name I have long been stuck with using in my books no matter how much I dislike it.

This part of the adventure involves two vast armies, a High Dark Lord, treason and treachery that expands over decades, and a Glamour so strange and powerful it baffles science today. You don't believe me, do you? I don't blame you. It is all true and not just in High Fantasy. It is true in real life. My life. So fantasy gamers, be of stout heart because at the end of this story you will believe.

The year is 1984 and my friend Paul and I are traveling back on a train from New York City. We just had one of the most unbelievable experiences in both of our lives. Earlier that month, we sent a copy of one of my books to be reviewed at a company called Rankin and Bass. This group had done a lot of animation work on Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and more recently The Last Unicorn. Rankin and Bass both agreed to meet with us. The meeting went very well and they told us they were willing to work with us to create an interactive movie. They said they would put up a million dollars if RCA would match it and use NBC to move the product. We were stunned. We had just shook hands on a deal that our "Fellows" in the lab would have to like. It was exactly what we had all been working towards. We were going to make the first interactive video for RCA and it came with outside funding!

We could not have been more wrong. From the beginning, we were met with a lukewarm reception. Our bosses went off to huddle and talk about it. Weeks passed, then months went by while upper management talked it over. In the meantime, my fellow wizards were making "Point of View" bobsled videos, detective videos, and more. I finally pushed for an answer and was told "no!" Not "why", just "no." I was devastated. This was the first time in my adventure when I had met such an obstacle. I quickly became despondent and started consorting with the wizards to try and resolve this impasse. I became so consumed with getting the permissions to make the first High Fantasy interactive movies that I completely missed the two dark armies that were marching against us and the vast destruction they were leaving in their path.

The first army advanced on my publisher, Prentice-Hall. It was called Gulf-Western and at first seemed innocent enough, but things began to change rapidly with my publisher in Reston. Again, I was too consumed and isolated in the comfort of my own lab to pay much attention to what was going on in the outside world. All I knew at the time was that my William Morris agent and my editor could not provide much help in working on a deal. Editors began leaving or resigning at Prentice-Hall. It became very clear Gulf-Western was interested in Prentice-Hall for their textbook publishing. Textbooks were sold by the millions - millions and millions, steadily every year. Computer books and vanity projects like High Fantasy were sold by the tens of thousands. A few short months later, Reston Publishing was gone. It was sacked by the first army and burnt to the ground.

I did not see the second army, headed by the High Dark Lord, approach either. This army and its Prince were well-known, but their movements were more secretive. You see, just a few months after Reston Publishing was sacked, the King of RCA betrayed his kingdom for a few pieces of gold.

To understand this part of the adventure you need to know that the founder of RCA, David Sarnoff, broke away from a company called General Electric decades before. RCA was GE's major competitor in America for consumer electronics. Sarnoff had spent his life fighting off GE and winning.

In a clandestine meeting, Thornton Bradshaw, our King, lowered the drawbridge and opened the gates to a large invading army headed by a High Dark Lord known in those days as Neutron Jack. He went by the name of Jack Welch and earned his reputation for eliminating people while leaving only the buildings standing after acquiring a company. RCA's long sworn enemy marched through the gates without a fight.

Just months apart, both kingdoms were sacked and the wizards in the labs knew they would be coming for us soon.

Two armies and a Dark Prince as promised at the beginning of this blog. Did you forget about the Glamour?

At exactly this time (we are still talking about 1985) Enchantra was stricken by an "unconceivable glamour". Her left side became completely paralyzed. The Great War wizard was stricken and she was going down fast. Multiple sclerosis was wreaking havoc on her nervous system.

Hold on now, fellow gamers. We all have read enough fantasy to know what fantasy gamers do in these bleak situations.

Eru draws his sword. We fight!

The great wizards at the RCA labs flee. These "True Ones" were working on digital codecs to compress video into a digital signal that could be pushed through wires. This is before the internet. These types of magics will not be needed for years! GE had wizards, but their focus was forced on making cheaper toaster ovens. There would be no place for wizards like the "True Ones" at GE.

I grab Enchantra, who has three babies clinging to her robe, and fight my way out. I hack my way from Princeton and head north. There, I find another enclave of wizards in Morristown. These were not as high a level of wizards as the ones in Princeton, but they were willing to take us in and shelter us for a brief time. At that time, I worked for AT&T Electronic Education and Training. These wizards had an idea that the computer might someday play a role in education. They called their magic "Distance Learning."

My focus shifted from fantasy to survival. Day by day, we survived. Days turned to months and then years. I could not stay at AT&T for long. After a while, I ventured out on my own as a "Sellsword".

The greatest medical scientists of our time know almost nothing about MS. There are no potions or elixirs to remove this glamour. But did I mention that Enchantra is a war wizard?

Slowly, the eye patch was put away for good. Feeling and sensation started to come back. The cane, "Shefast" her wizard's staff, still hangs ready if the need arises. Today, for the most part, "Shefast" remains in the mud room.

Everyone is safe again. We are all alright. This is after all, "My most amazing High Fantasy Adventure." In my world, everything works out.

So that at least partially explains what happened and why it has been over 30 years since I have even thought about fantasy. As I am sure we all can agree, "stuff happens". I am sure stuff has happened to you too.

So why now?

Surely I am forgotten; a tiny footnote somewhere.

Well, those clinging babies are grownups now. Now they are starting to ask questions. They got on the internet and started finding references about me. Amazon has an author's webpage that lists some of my books. My daughter, who is a better writer than I ever was, wants to write. The others want to help.

I grabbed some of the old charred manuscripts and began to rewrite. Jennifer, my daughter, has added her voice to this adventure by writing a Young Adult novel.

So here we are back at the beginning. I am, once again, making all of the artwork. "Can't someone help me find that lost Steranko?" I think we can all agree; however, that my covers are a lot better this time. Many of the early RPG developers are gone. It might be time now to take a look back. We plan on releasing two books this month. It might be time to take a deep breath, to dream for a little while and let our imaginations go.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Amazing High Fantasy Adventure (Part 1 of 2)

My Amazing High Fantasy Adventure
by


I will be releasing two new books this month from the world of High Fantasy. But before I talk about those books, I would like to give you a few highlights about my most amazing adventure with the role-playing game, High Fantasy. I hope you will find most of this story interesting and very familiar to your own RPG experience. One thing that I have noticed since writing the game in 1974; however, is that "trolls" sure have gotten a lot bigger since then.

My adventure begins in 1974 at Indiana University and then continues today in New Jersey where I have spent most of my life. You see, I am a Hoosier at heart wrapped in the attitude of a Jersey Boy.

Like most of you, I picked up the first publication of Dungeons and Dragons and tried to play it. I found it to be a beautiful concept, but very flawed and nearly unplayable. Now we are talking about the original edition. Slow down "trolls", this is not meant to be disparaging of the well thought out and fun game Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that came later.

In high school, I played every board game available. I also created games, including a world social event game that was taught in my high school as a social studies elective. So, when I picked up the first edition of D&D, it seemed unfair and out of balance. In game theory there needs to be a balance and a fairness for the players. One of the things I saw early on was that the Wizard character was more powerful and not equal in gaming terms with the other characters. Weapons were not historically accurate in their abilities, ranges, etc. Again, these were flaws I noticed among others and as we all know, were fixed in later editions.

I wrote my own set of rules at Indiana and played and tested them with friends at the school's gaming clubs. I had no intention of ever publishing.

After graduating college, two of my closest friends and avid High Fantasy players passed away suddenly in a boating accident. My wife and I took the game to the local copy business and printed up 100 copies with a beautiful orange cover where I drew the artwork. There are two amazing facts in that last sentence; one, I never drew anything in my life until then and the cover looks like it; and two, my wife was one of the earliest RPG female game players. So there non-believers. There were actually good looking women playing RPG right from the beginning.

We took our game around to conventions where we set up a large gaming table filled with handmade castles. We had complete working models of all of the adventures that were published later. We took the money made from sales and reinvested to print more booklets. We started to get noticed. We started to have lines waiting at our booth to play the game.

I think we got up to about 1,000 copies sold when we got our first big break. An Indianapolis company called Twinn K saw us and wanted to diversify their chain of products. Who was Twinn K you ask? Twinn K was the largest distributer of racing tires and accessories in the world. I guess I should also mention I am talking about "slot cars". As slot cars were vanishing, they needed to diversify. Most importantly, through the kindness of the owner we went from selling products locally to suddenly being distributed to every hobby store in America over night! We ditched my hand drawings, went to black and white, and then quickly moved to glorious full color.

Now we were selling! Now we could take those adventure stories we had been playing and publish those, also in glorious color. (Fortress Ellendar and Moorguard)

If you stayed with this story so far hang on because it is about to take off.

Reston Publishing noticed we were selling about 5,000 copies with each printing and offered to take over our publishing. Who is Reston Publishing you ask? Reston Publishing is Prentice Hall. At that time and maybe still today, Prentice Hall was one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. We had no choice but to leave the very good and kind folks at Twinn K and move our publishing. With Reston Publishing in charge, we went from every Hobby Store in America to every Book Store the next day.

That is about the time D&D, who was now being distributed by Random House, took notice. Arneson had left TSR and was suing his co-authors company. This was tough. Random House distribution did not like Prentice Hall distributers and there was a lot of discussion with Book Stores about where and how our books should be displayed compared to AD&D.

Are you still with me? Now the adventure becomes fantastic. At this point in my life my wife and I are still in Indianapolis. We were now making a meager living publishing and expanding our line of books. From my original hand drawn cover we were now starting to commission Jim Steranko for cover art. He did our "Wizards and Warriors" cover and posters. He also did a second commission, but it was stolen from the offices of Reston right before "Goldchester" was published. That is a fantastic story onto itself. I will tell it later.

So a guild of wizards noticed my books in the bookstores. These wizards lived in New Jersey and worked for the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton. Wait a minute. I am mixing up my gaming terms with real life. These wizards were actually referred to as "Fellows" and research scientists in real life. What is the David Sarnoff Research Center you ask? It was the premier "think tank" in America for consumer electronics owned by the RCA Corporation.

Why were these wizards...I mean scientists interested in me? Well, if you look through the old reviews of my line of books, I almost always get high praise for my adventures. One of these adventures in particular, "Murder in Irliss," had caught their eye. This is a play-your-own adventure. Unlike other adventures, it is very complex in its making. Even more important than that, I had written another adventure called "Circle of Truth" that was about to be published. It is incredibly complex in its structure. I did not know it at the time, but one of the scientists told me I based the structure of the book on "State Event Processing" whatever that is supposed to mean. All I know is that I wrote it and it was perfect for "Interactive Movie" making. And interactive movies and advancing digital media is what all the wizards were interested in at that time.

My wife and I moved our little family to the Princeton area and went to work on advance uses of interactive media. So what happened? Why did I disappear for thirty years? Why am I releasing a new book now?

It has been over thirty years and I did not even know anyone remembered my books until my grown children found blogs and references on the internet. If there really is any interest I will publish the answers in part two of this blog. I promise I won't wait another thirty years to answer your questions.

In the meantime, dare to start a new adventure by checking out our website at www.highfantasybooks.com and remember to like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/highfantasybooks. Our new books are set to be released on August 25th and will be available on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Realm of Dungeons & Dragons



Not surprisingly, the Dungeons & Dragons television series from the Eighties prompted various merchandizing efforts.  Among the affiliated products are two sticker books released in the United Kingdom.  Aside from the requisite stickers and scenic pages upon which the stickers could be posed, each book has a simplistic choose-your-own-adventure type narrative that employs the imagery of the stickers.  There are also maps...or things that purport to be maps.  The word “map” appears in the lower, right-hand corner of each example, but it looks self-conscious, as though uncertain if it really ought to be there.  Actually, each example is an array of illustrations of locations; some of the locations are mentioned in the adventures.  While perhaps not altogether accurate, “map” nonetheless possesses the dual advantages of brevity and convenience.

In the first adventure, from 1985...
Kelek, who is an evil sorcerer, has stolen THE FORCE!  THE FORCE is a strange power held in a star-shaped crystal.  It is the magic which makes this world possible by separating it from the other world which you know outside.
Anyway, Kelek “has broken the crystal into several pieces and hidden them.”  The objective is to recover the pieces.  When the stickers representing the pieces are properly arranged on the map, each “points to a letter in one of the names on the map – and they spell out a message!”  Through this means, the reader/player successfully completes the adventure.

In the second adventure, from 1987, the naughty Kelek has “stolen and hidden” the Spirit King's “magic armour and sword.”  The objective is to recover these items.  The sticker representing the Spirit King's mail shirt is to be placed on the map as is evident below.




The 'maps', as presented, may not be especially useful for a role-playing game setting.  However, the illustrations could easily be incorporated into a more traditional map graphic.  For a crude example, I have taken a map of Indonesia, shifted it around, and 'reversed' land and sea.  I have used the illustrations to create a border around the map, with lines pointing to their precise positions.  Borneo has become “Black Lake,” so I expect the scale to be somewhat less than that associated with Indonesia.