Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Comics Wednesday: Kamandi Challenge

Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's new comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Every comic I feature here on Daddy Rolled a 1 is one that I'll personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from school.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I post my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers. 

For today, I'll be focusing on Kamandi, which I know holds a special place in the heart of many old-school gamers, especially those who enjoy Gamma World. Kamandi is described in the comic as "The Last Boy on Earth" - he is the protagonist in a post-apocalyptic earth following the "Great Disaster" in which most of humanity has been reduced back to a savage state in a world that is now ruled by intelligent animals that walk upright, can use tools, and speak a common language.

Kamandi was created back in the 1972 by Jack "The King" Kirby as DC's answer to The Planet of the Apes franchise, to which they did not own the license but which was a very popular science-fiction property at the time. It ran for about six years, through 1978, and the character has popped up since then in a variety of ways, most notably in the "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" animated series on Cartoon Network from 2008 - 2011.

Today's comic I'll be picking up is the Kamandi Challenge #1, which is the first issue of a 12-part limited series by DC Comics. As part of a centennial celebration of Jack Kirby's birth back in 1917, DC created the Kamandi Challenge wherein each month, a different creative team will write and illustrate a chapter in a Kamandi story and leave off with a cliffhanger, and the following month, the next creative team has to pick-up where the previous team left off to propel the story forward. The teams include some of the best names in comics, including Peter J. Tomasi (current writer of Batman), Neal Adams, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Bill Willingham (yes, the same guy who used to illustrate old D&D products), Gail Simone, Keith Giffen, Greg Pak and so many more.

If you're a fan of Jack Kirby, post-apocalyptic stories, or fun comics with a Silver Age vibe, you'll definitely want to pick this up. I haven't had a chance to read the actual issue yet, but everything I've seen leads to believe that this will be right up my alley. The original Kamandi comics had a ton of inspiration for a post-apocalyptic style role-playing game and have impacted a current project I'm working on, so I suspect that this new series will add even more ideas.

Note that last week, DC also published the Kamandi Challenge Special #1, which is a reprint of the classic Kamandi #32 double-size $0.50 "giant" issue from 1975, which in turn also included a reprint of the #1 issue of the series. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with the world of Kamandi and its cast of characters.

Anyone else picking up the Kamandi Challenge today? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Format: Monthly 12-issue limited series, full color
  • Where to Buy:  As always, try to buy it at your local comic shop. You can find one by visiting the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one, try a bookstore, or you can buy the digital version to read on your PC, tablet, or smartphone by going to Comixology.  That link takes you to the Kamandi Challenge #1 page, where you can find a link to buy the first issue.
  • Price: $4.99 per issue
  • Rated: "T" for Teen
  • More Information: The official DC page on the Kamandi Challenge

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Just came from a pub where I drank a Mikkeller "George" Imperial Russian Stout
Listening: "Waltz for Debby" by Cannonball Adderly

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Old Campaign Maps & Drawings

Old map I drew in one of my high school notebooks. Based
on the names I used, this was probably from my junior
year, circa 1986/1987.
I don't typically do "throwback Thursday" posts (not even on social media), but I thought this particular one would be a bit fun and hopefully spark some discussion, as it deals with creating maps for fantasy worlds.

Over the summer, my dad moved out of the house that he'd been living in since around 1991/92 or so. I lived in this house for only a few years, while I finished college and started my job, but I had moved all of my old stuff into the house and much of it did not come with me when I moved out in 1995. Over the years, tons of my old stuff has been safely tucked away in my old bedroom, in the closet or garage, untouched for the better part of two decades.

I am, for better or worse, a bit of a pack rat. I tend to carefully pack things away rather than get rid of them, mainly from a weird sense that one day in the future, my descendants can get a better sense of the type of person I was based on the things I collected rather than just from the occasional picture or greeting card. My family on both my mom and dad's side kept very little in terms of personal keepsakes or mementos, and both families went through a very significant purge when they moved from the South and Midwest and made their way out West in the 1940's or before. As part of my mom's genealogical research, I have a pretty long collection of names and dates of my ancestors, but very little that tells me what kind of people they were. This was always very frustrating to me as I grew up, and I believe contributed to my personality quirk of never wanting to part with my things; I have this feeling that some day, someone might want to know that I read a certain book, or wrote or received a card from someone, or that I drew a picture or map, or that I played D&D or Warhammer 40k.

Cleaning out my dad's house was a huge task that included going through not only my old stuff but also my mom's, grandma's, and uncle's possessions, all of whom had already died and whose things had been boxed up and packed in the garage at my dad's house for years. It was a monumental undertaking that took weeks, and we ended up throwing many of the things out (much to my chagrin) due to lack of time, and throwing a lot more of it into a storage unit (family photos, a couple of pianos, etc.).

This particular map was from either my freshman or
sophomore year of high school. It was based on the
students and friends in my Third period Spanish class.
©1985 Martin R. Thomas
While focusing on cleaning out my old closet and boxes in the garage, I found a bunch of my old notebooks from high school and college. Yes, I know it might sound strange, but I actually kept all of the notebooks that I used to take notes during class, and even all of my old paperbag book covers that I used on my school textbooks (mainly because I drew pictures all over the book covers). One thing I was happy to discover during this process was a bunch of old maps I had drawn in various classes. I used to love doodling during class to pass the time, and I would create maps of fantasy worlds based upon the people in the class I was in, and then I would develop the political history of the region based upon the relationships of the people in my class. I'm sure I'm not the only person who ever did this, but I've never talked to anyone else who did this. I found two of these maps in my old notebooks, which I've enclosed here with this post. One of them that really cracks me up is "The Continent of Shinaps Drith" which was based on the students in my Third period Spanish class (I took a lot of my naming conventions back then from Gary Gygax). Looking closely at the map, you'll see a country named "Samoth" and another one named "East Samoth" (tweaks of my last name); this was a very early proto-campaign that morphed with a few other maps and notes I had that eventually evolved into my World of Samoth campaign, which I've been running since May of 2001.

One of the earliest maps and list of countries I created for
what was to eventually become my World of Samoth D&D
campaign. This was probably from my sophomore year
of college.
©1990 Martin R. Thomas
In addition to maps, I would make notes, and the back of one of my notebooks included notes on various countries I was planning on developing into a campaign world. The picture that includes a sketch of a goblin with a spear would have been from my sophomore year of college around 1990 (I can tell because I took Ancient Greek for my language requirement that year and I was clearly experimenting with some of those letters), and it also includes the start of a list of countries including Esoría, the Holy Ætonist Theocracy, and Kovlich, all of which became part of my campaign world. The small map to the upper right might be one of the first (at least, that I can still find) maps of my campaign world.

Lastly, just for fun, I also included a drawing I made on the back of one of my notebooks. This was based on a drawing from one of Marvel's old Conan comics, from around 1987 or so. Despite what it may look like from all of the drawings I made in my school notebooks, I actually did quite well in school. We moved around a lot and by the time we moved to where we lived when I made most of these drawings, it was in the middle of high school (my dad got transferred between my Sophomore and Junior years in high school) and so I was constantly the "new kid" and would spend a lot of time drawing and working on a campaign world even though I didn't have anyone to play with because it always took me forever to make friends. My drawings were my passive-aggressive way to get people to talk to me. I was really shy, but I figured if someone saw me drawing, it might be an ice breaker to a conversation. It worked sometimes but backfired a lot more as I got labeled as "that weird kid who draws maps and strange creatures."
This drawing was based on one of Marvel's
Conan comics from around 1987. I was
practicing my figure drawing.

Anyone else out there used to draw maps in their school notebooks, and did you ever base the politics of your worlds on the relationships of people in your class? 

For more info on my World of Samoth campaign, you can of course on the World of Samoth tag, and also read this post celebrating my 14th year of DM'ing my campaign back from May 2015 which includes a bunch of my drawings from my campaign notebook. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Christmas in Rio" by Tony Martin

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

D20-Era Reviews Tuesday: Legends of the Samurai

It's a new year, and time to try to renew my annual resolution to blog more.

Continuing with a "semi-trend" I started last year, I'm going to reserve Tuesdays mainly for a new feature on the blog, wherein I'll review an old D20-era product, mainly from the standpoint of how useful it is for gaming with any system, whether you prefer stuff like D&D (any edition), Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, or other systems of your choice.

One genre that's always fascinated me when it comes to fantasy RPGs is that of Asian settings. I remember how excited I was when I read in Dragon magazine that an Oriental Adventures book (the original one for AD&D 1st Edition) was coming out, and how thrilled I was when I received it as a Christmas gift from my mom later that year. That particular book, while it had its problems mechanically, did help open my eyes to all of the different possibilities of a fantasy campaign and how certain concepts could be slightly tweaked to accommodate a different genre or culture.

Today's book falls into that category of "Asian Campaign Settings" but it's really much more than that. The author does a great job of mixing historical Japanese culture along with notes on how to incorporate the more fantastical elements seen in films, books, and video games. Legends of the Samurai, by Charles Rice, was published by RPGObjects, in 2005, so it comes at the later end of the "d20 craze."

This is a 168 page book, 12 of which are appendices in the form of tables illustrating the stats of various NPCs from 1st through 20th levels. The end papers are used for maps (the opening ones are for a full-color map of the islands of Japan as of the 16 Century (one labeling cities, castles, trade routes, etc., and one that labels all the provinces), and the back end papers present maps of a typical Dojo.

The first section of the book provides a lot of interesting and informative detail on the Japanese gaming tradition, how to adapt the book for a historical or a fantasy campaign, and also how to adapt to an "action-based" or "intrigue-based" campaign. As noted in the introduction, "One of the goals for Legends of the Samurai was to make a purely Japanese setting for fantasy or historical adventures." Of course, I tend to just "kit-bash" my campaign settings to take the pieces that I like for my own home-brew campaign setting, so I grabbed quite a few ideas from this book for my long-running World of Samoth campaign.

The first chapter discusses some new concepts for the game, Bloodline and Honor. Bloodlines essentially take the place of races in a standard fantasy campaign. There are no elves or dwarves or even things like hengeyokai in this setting -all characters are human. To take the place of races, there are bloodlines - characters might come from a background of Artisan, Farmer, Merchant, Monastic, Noble, Warrior, or might be an Outcast. These are all related to social standing and each bloodline gives the character an idea of basic personality traits, how he or she might interact with other characters, physical description (including clothing and items), lands where they are most common (e.g., cities, ports, rural, etc.), religion, and why they might be adventuring. It also includes basic ideas on bonuses or penalties a character from this bloodline might have, along with the types of character classes they are most likely to focus on. The real benefit here for someone who wants to play in an Asian-inspired game is all of the background information on the different bloodlines - the information is presented in an easy-to-understand manner and it focuses on broad descriptions that a player or games master can easily grab onto in order to help define an Asian-themed area of a campaign to help set it apart from Western-inspired areas.

The next section on Reputation, Honor, and Allegiances is typically a main part of many Japanese-themed RPGs and Honor can tend to become almost like a seventh ability score that is tracked with a lot of numbers and benefits and penalties. Honor in Legends of the Samurai can provide a bonus to certain skill checks (and its opposite, Infamy, provides bonuses to completely different skills), but the main idea of this section is to illustrate what feudal Japanese culture considered important and how someone from the samurai class might act as opposed to someone from a lower class, and what the societal expectations are. Again, for those of us who grew up in Western cultures and mainly exposed to Western media, this is a very useful section to help provide guidelines for how a Japenese-themed character might act according to his or her culture and how that would be different from the societal expectations of a more Western-themed culture. I know this information, as presented in a clear and concise manner in this book, would have come in very helpful back when I was playing a Samurai style character in my friend Cal's game.

The next section is the longest in the book, at 31 pages, and covers "The Martial Classes" including eight base classes of Ashigaru (footsoldiers, typically drawn from the artisan, farmer and merchant bloodlines), Kuge (nobles), Ninja, Ronin, Samurai, Shokunin (master craftsmen), Touzoku (petty criminals), and Yamabushi (warriors of the monastic class). There are also nine Prestige Classes presented in this chapter, which include Censor (spies for the Shogun or the Emperor), Kensai (master of the blade), Martial Arts Master, Otokodate (greatly renowned warriors of commoner ancestry who fight with seemingly innocuous weapons and defend the weak), Sensei (martial arts instructor), Wako (pirate), Weapon Master, Yakuza, and Yojimbo (a warrior who has taken up arms in service of the people).

For those of you who don't like class-and-level systems, don't be turned off by the number of classes in this book. While you might not end up using the mechanics from this chapter, the background information on each character class helps to define the culture of a Japanese style game, including the types of adventures each class might take, their characteristics, honor, religion, background, honor, and role in the campaign. This is all very useful information regardless of whether you plan to use the actual stats for the classes presented. 

My one complaint with this chapter is that many of the Prestige Classes seem duplicative. Even in the text, the author points out that the Yojimbo is "similar to a Otokodate" and it's not clear why a Kensai isn't just a type of Weapon Master who has chosen to focus on the blade as his primary weapon. Even the Martial Arts Master and the Sensei could probably have been defined, with just a few options at each level to distinguish them rather than having separate classes. Although I am on-record for actually liking character classes, class bloat is one thing that a lot of people complained about regarding the d20 era, and having nine Prestige Classes in this chapter doesn't help that argument.

The successive chapters focus on skills and feats (including a separate section on martial arts feats), and equipment. This is pretty standard stuff, but the equipment section in particular would be very useful to anyone running a Japanese-themed game.

Next up, in an interesting choice of layout, is a section on the "Mystic Classes." The author actually made the choice of separating the Mystic classes from the Martial classes, and it's a choice that does make sense when you consider how the beginning of the book mentioned that there were two standard ways you could approach the game - as historical or as fantasy. If you plan to play a purely historical campaign, you can completely ignore the chapters on the Mystic Classes and the Mystic Arts (which covers spell points, mystic skills and feats, fate and destiny, spell lists; the only part of this chapter you'd actually need is for the Gods and Religions of Medieval Japan, which technically would be applicable even in a historical game and probably should have been presented in a separate chapter).

The mystic classes include the Kenza (master of elements), Mahoutsukai (master of sorcery or "black magic"), Senkensha (divine seer), and the Shukke (priest). The author wisely makes the choice here to have the Shukke class be applicable to all religions (including "mythic" as well as Christianity, Buddhism, and Shinto.

The spell system for Legends of the Samurai is not the standard d20 system of gaining spells by level, but rather that of using Spell Points. Although this is technically a completely new system, the book is able to explain its application in fewer than two pages.

Also included in the section on Mystic Arts is the idea of Fate and Destiny, which is a fun way for a character to pick a fate, and for the GM to also pick a secret destiny for that same character. There is an easy-to-use mechanic presented for the idea of "fate points" and "destiny points" which is a way to use some light rules to illustrate how, in Japanese media, many characters are presented as having destinies that they cannot seem to escape, no matter how hard they try. As an example, the author provides a scenario where a character might declare his fate to be "the greatest samurai in history," but unbeknownst to him, his destiny could be to end up facing his long-lost brother in a battle to advance the cause of his Shogun. 

The next section of the book is eight pages long and covers Gamemastering a campaign, providing tips and advice on running both historical and mythic campaigns, adventure locations, a timeline of Medieval Japan, and short histories of all of the provinces of Japan. 

The book wraps up by discussing monsters in a chapter of 16 pages. The first part of the chapter reviews monsters from the Monster Manual that are appropriate to a Japanese-themed campaign (and any modifications to make to those monsters) and then presents 16 new monsters, many of which are somewhat humanoid in type, such as Hengeyokai, Naga, Nezumi, and Swamp Goblins. There are details for quite a few of these monsters on how to use them as a Player Character race in the event that you want to add non-human characters to your game.

The artwork is all black-and-white pen and ink and is very reminiscent of the artwork from the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures book, so there's a nice sense of nostalgia to it.

This is a really great book to read and use if you're planning on running a Japanese campaign, or have a Japanese-type area in your game world, or even if you're just looking for some new ideas to add to your game world (e.g., you could take the concept of the "Bloodlines" but adapt them to your own campaign world to help differentiate the humans in your campaign, and you could grab the spell point system to revise the standard D&D style magic system, or even take the section on the weapons, re-name them, and use them as the weapons from a specific culture or race from your campaign).

As mentioned, this book came out at the end of the d20 craze, so it unfortunately was a bit under the radar, which is a shame given how well-researched and presented it is. Anybody else out there pick this up? What were your experiences with it?

  • Format. Originally collected three separate PDFs into one 168 hardback tome, with a color cover and end-papers and black-and-white interior. 
  • Where to Buy. This is long out-of-print but there are used copies available right now on Amazon, and you can also download the whole PDF from DriveThruRPG
  • Price. The original hardback retailed for $29.95 The PDF version is currently available for $8.95. 
  • More Information. There is very scant information available for this book. The publisher website has a listing but it basically just has a short blurb and provides the table of contents. Interestingly, the PDF is available slightly cheaper on the publisher website (currently at $8.00 versus $8.95 on DriveThruRPG). 

If you're looking for some more info to help with building your Asian/Japanese themed areas of your campaign, you can refer to my tag on "Asian Campaign Settings" and also my review of the Dark Horse comics adaptation of "The 47 Ronin."

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern)" by Miles Davis
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