Wednesday 30 March 2011

Realm of Zhu: Year One

Time to indulge in the navel gazing that seems inevitable with blogging. Since it's inception the Realm of Zhu has had 14,109 pageviews,  I've written 65 posts, and raised enough cash through advertising to buy a second hand copy of the Citadel of Chaos from a carboot-sale (Google ads terms prevent me from disclosing the exact sum, but I think you can work it out). Yes, blogging can be fun and profitable!

Most popular posts
No real suprises here, as others have pointed out generally about OSR blogs the creative stuff gets a lot less hits than the commentary and review stuff.

Female armour posts  (total combined views 4135)
Rogue Trader - The Space Rock Opera (258 views)
Fighting Fantasy Collector Checklist & Guide (230 views)
Lord of the Rings minis from White Dwarf 67 (220 views)

Popular Google Searches
These are clustered, so 'grace holley armor' etc. is included in Grace Holley:

Grace Holley (82)
Female Armour (75)
LoTR / Lord of the Rings (72)
Fighting Fantasy (53)

However, it must be noted that image search keywords aren't counted here, and by and large the largest number of visits is from Google image search.

Weird Google Searches
Unfortunately are few and far between:

Naked wargame minis (nope, none here)
Wizard of the dark Zhu (awesome)

Top Referrers
Sites other than the mighty Google which send traffic this way: (94 - thanks Coop!) (44 hey -check out the updated 2011 collectors guide) (40)

The Realm of Zhu was ranked 202 in Cyclopeans gargantuan list of old-school blogs ranked by number of followers.

Now my intention was to use this blog to do mostly world-building and post D&D related drawings. However, rather than finding blogging fueling creativity, instead I find I'm mostly nostalgia-posting, drinking booze, playing gamebooks, whittering on about hobbits, and posting pictures of pretty ladies wearing armour.

Grace Holley welcomes you to the OSR (via Jetrefilm)

Well, here's to the next 12 months, thanks to all the followers and commentatorators, it's you guys (along with that copy of the Citadel of Chaos) that makes it all worth while - Cheers!

Monday 21 March 2011

FIST: The Ressurection

At some time in the mid 80's at the height of the Fighting Fantasy 'craze' by simply dialling 0898 800 876 on a standard telephone, innocent people were connected to an interactive audio based adventure game where they were bled dry of all their cash. This was acronymously known as FIST: Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone. And it began like this:
The number you have dialled is not of this earth. You have opened the gateway to an alternate reality. You are being connected to another world in another time, where you are another person. Welcome to the world of FIST!
Yes. That orc is holding a GPO telephone handset.
If I recall correctly, it wasn't just a simple narrator, reading from Citadel of Chaos in a nasally monotone as one might expect, but a full cast of voice actors, atmospheric sound effects and occasional music, more like a radio play than a traditional audio-book. Alas, if you dial the FIST number now, all you get is the BT woman saying 'this number has not been recognised, please hang up and try again'. Hardly very exciting is it?

The game itself was very much a Fighting Fantasy style affair, dial 1 to fight the goblin, dial 2 to give the goblin a sandwich. Of course the whole point of the thing was to keep you on the phone for as long as possible, so Compudial could rake in the cash at 25p a minute. Of course, that was prohibitively expensive (a Citadel miniature was about 60p at the time) so I never played more than once or twice. But after you'd got past the obligatory intro speech, that meant the game itself had to be somewhat intriguing to keep you on the line for as long as possible.

So with the Gamebook Renaissance officially in full swing, what with DS version of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Fighting Fantasy iPhone apps, PSP, Destiny Quest, Fabled Lands iPhone + Books. What is it going to take to get FIST resurrected?

To fight the John Blanche Balrog, press 1
To badly edited the artwork for an american advert.
press 2.
To reuse the artwork in Warhammer 3rd edtion, press 3

I'm sure with a pair of headphones, an iPhone-droid thingy with a touch-screen keypad, or even a pc, this could be a really cool game. By virtue of being chiefly audio rather than visual, really quite unique proposition in this space. In fact it could probably be easily ported to all manner of consumer electronic devices. If the old recordings don't exist in a collection of c90 cassette tapes in the bottom of Steve Jacksons sock drawer, surely they must be somewhere?  With a little technical effort and a bit of a marketing push, surely Steve Jackson could afford to by another villa in Spain? Or, to put it another way, all the hard work has been done, it's an asset waiting to be repackaged and sold on iTunes for £1.99.

A C90 Cassette Tape- could something like this hold the key?

While poking around the internets trying to dig up some FIST infos I came across a rather neat little application A Dark and Deadly Path  (works on win 98, probably other things too) which has a very simple, rather twee and surreal audio demo game "a comet hits your house and you die!", which gives some of the flavour of what's possible with audio game books. As it was written with accessibility (ie. gaming for the non-sighted in mind) it has a nice warm glow of inclusiveness about it, it works with a single mp3 file and a smple XML file format of time codings.

Anyway, let's get FIST! back up and running.

Update: 2013.

1991: Fist III: The Slaughter House
mjr_blayne over at has unearthed this 1991 advert from Zero magazine (a console / computergaming mag). I'd never heard of it, and it sounds like they put a lot of work into streamlining the system. Great looking ad, hmm, maybe needs more blood, ok, more blood.

Friday 11 March 2011

Dungeon Planner Set 1: Caverns of the Dead

Caverns of the Dead is a boxed set of a large floorplan alongside a booklet of adventure hooks and a DM screen suitable for use with any fantasy role-playing system, published by Games Workshop in 1983

The cover, illustrated by Gary Chalk, most famous for Talisman, Lone Wolf and Redwall. sets a suitably grim and gritty tone.

The box, cover illustration by Gary Chalk, which is repeated on the 'DM Screen'

Inside the book, a slim  booklet kicks off with a number of Adventure Ideas - each reasonably suitable for a Tomb setting - it being taken over by a necromancer, the PCs resurrecting a long dead hero etc. Along with a set of 29 location descriptions. Each of which, such as "The Tomb of Prince Hargon" are dressed with a little background information and history, hinting at a wider fantasy world, whilst leaving great yawning chasms of white space for the DM to write in their own puzzles and monsters. There is a keyed map of the floorplans with lots of space around it for the DM to fill in extra areas, but unfortunately no additional images from Mr. Chalk.

The DM screen repeats the box cover artwork and has a history of the Royal Tombs on the outside, a few encounter tables and a map of the floor plans with a key. The encounter tables are split into 3 themes in-use, neglected and abandoned - each giving a different flavour of dungeon, in-use being guarded and populated by pilgrims and priests, neglected being with a few guards, wild animals and goblinoids, and abandoned with the tombs having been overtaken by high powered undead. Along-side the staple dungeon-dwellers such as orcs and hobgoblins, several of the creature suggestions; Goat Headed Ogres and Night Elves betray the influence of First Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle and early Citadel Miniatures. The AD&D specific Kobolds also appear in a wandering monster chart. Like the location booklet, no statistics are given for these creatures, the reason being to make the game 'systemless', which as a sales-pitch sounds really liberating, but in reality just means there aren't any stats.

The giant size floorplan. Miniatures not included, for scale reference only.

The main event is the floorplans themselves, a huge folded sheet (810mm 550mm approx A1) of nominally 25mm floorplans, where 1 square (0.75") = 5ft. This is the same scale as Games Workshops Dungeon Floorplans series (on inspection it looks like it has been constructed out of them). Incidentally the floorplans in GWs edition of MERP (a Tavern and a Troll Cave) and their Warhammer campaign McDeath (a Castle) are the same scale. Modern figures do look a little cramped on the plans. The plans themselves are essentially black line work over flat-colours to denote area - grey small stones for some rooms, buff stone slabs for others, green for outside, brown for doors. These are clear graphical floor-plans, not a card-stock model of a dungeon, there's no fancy lighting effects or other illusionistic features.

As a piece of dungeon architecture, The Royal Tombs belongs firmly in the "fill the page" school. The structure itself seems to lack strategic coherence - the main entrance is protected by guard-rooms with windows looking out into the main corridor, but no doors, meaning any guards stationed there would have to make a long trek before attempting to stop whatever is coming in or out, whereas the secondary entrance is clearly the more defensible position, with shorter guard routes and more windows for missile cover. Putting such minor quibbles aside, there are a good number of varying sized rooms and different features, such as the tombs themselves an abyss, rock-falls and the inevitable latrines.

Eastern Koss, the area surrounding the Royal Tombs

Also in the box is a 200mm * 280mm (just under A4) area map of Eastern Koss  this is a handsome enough map - like the floorplans, it is black line work over flat colour - in the archetypal typical little mountains and trees fantasy map style. As a landscape it's reasonably logical with rivers in valleys and woodland distributed. the inhabited locations are of different sizes and there. The bridge-town Windrush shares it's name with the ship famous for bringing British Caribbeans to England in 1948, a less historically significant name would have helped kept the illusion of a coherent fantasy world, but this is a minor quibble, and perhaps a little anachronism feeds the imagination. The map also features several menhir of mysterious unnamed purpose, but again these could be used to help build a series of adventures around them and develop a campaign outside the tomb itself.

This all leaves us with the largest problem of this product. Who is supposed to use it, and how? Most DMs worth their salt can take a fully populated module and adapt it to their campaign, while here we are given the 'fluffy' background parts of a module and expected to do all the hard work in terms of populating it with monsters treasures and npcs.

Perhaps the greatest weakness as a product is the issue of re-usability. A DM can't seriously keep pulling out the Caverns of the Dead floorplans and using them as a different dungeon location every session, one time the Ogre Kings Lair, next session the Elven Halls then the Goblin Caves.

The Dungeon Planner series are intended to be half finished, waiting for the godlike hand of the DM to come and bring the place to life, but instead of fuelling the creative urges, it just comes across as being a little half baked, rushed and a bit lazy. If this had been a fully developed game, packaged up with a simple combat and action resolution system, card-stock monsters, characters, and a campaign guide, this could have been the start of a fantastic product line (like the much later GW/MB Heroquest), and creative DMs could still easily adapt the materials to their campaign. The Caverns of the Dead usefulness to the DM as a starting point for a campaign is just as limited as any standard adventure module, but without the benefits of being able to simply run it as an adventure straight out of the box.

Of course, all of that is secondary, what DPS1: Caverns of the Dead, does and does well is supply a really great set of old-school feel, 25mm dungeon floor-plans.

A halfling (Citadel ME34 Pippin) takes on the undead (Otherworld UD1a Skeleton)

This review was first posted on Dragonsfoot, like, years ago.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Female Armour: Chainmail II

Morguse, From BBC "Merlin". I'm not a follower of the Merlin TV series (all images borrowed from this blog). So don't have much to say about the character other than she is the young Arthurs half-sister.  The armour consists of 3 parts, 3/4 length chainmail tunic, plate collar, cowl, and arm plate armour. The wrapped up arms look kind of cool, the twists and turns on the piecemeal plate also nicely reflect the loose curls of the hair. I'm guessing she's a treacherous, twisty-turny kind of gal. However I'd be concerned about the angle the gauntlets pull away at creating weapon traps, alternatively, with her high-armed fighting style, they become almost like buckers, able to deflect blows away.

It's also a good example of how the heavy chain naturally straightens out feminine curves, a higher waistline on the belt might have been slightly more flattering  There are some fan-edited shots of the Moguse armour in action here (jump to 1:44) - it's also interesting to note that while Arthur spends almost his entire time wearing his plate / chain combo, Morguse's costumes are far more varied array of princess dresses. Back to the hair - it's interesting to note that given the opportunity, she remains fully helmeted, there are two reveal shots where Morgue removing her helmet frees her elaborately tongued (and half braided!) curls - followed by shots that look like characters being shocked that she's a girl who kicks ass.  Not totally relevant, but I have a strong dislike of Emilia Fox and her two facial expressions as an actress.

NOTE: there was an image of Morguse on a horse, wearing baggy trousers, but it's gone now...

Surely chopping Morguses legs off while she's on the horse would be the first thing to happen, with no split in the chainmail tunic, it rides up exposing the trousered  leg. I'd be suggesting Elmore pay attention, at this point, but are blue denim trousers really any more protection to sword attacks than a bare thigh? No.

Also I don't mean to go all Gok Wan, but raising the belt would create a much more flattering cut. See below:
Alexander Wang Chainmail Sweater (from 2009) | Laurenn @ chictopia
Yes, that's a real chainmail sweater-dress, not a cosplay or a LaRPer but a piece of clothing by an internationally known fashion designer. Unfortunately it's not actually metal, but, gosh. Very taken with the cuffs and hem having a different texture, nicely designed. It's also interesting that Laurenn, the girl wearing the jumper-dress does mention that it's very cold. Something for a theoretical adventurer to consider...

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Wainwright in the Castle of Lost Souls

A seasoned adventurer, fresh from clearing off the ghoul-witches of Dastragor Marsh, I head to the nearest tavern for a bottle of Thwaites Wainwright 4.1% and some enterprising gamblers take a bet on whether I get some adventuring job or other. As it turns out, I don't get the job, and some loud-mouthed braggart called Salakar gets it instead. I decide I might be able to steal the job by listening in on the task at hand, and gaining an edge on him and winning gainful employment. Hear something about magic shoes, (test cleverness, succeed), saints ashes and crystal ball.

What's in your backpack?
30-second character sheet, White Dwarf mags,
Beer, Pencil and 2D6

Following our rival, I buy a flint, tinder and lantern from the local shop, why? i don't know, but what's good enough for Salakar is good enough for me. Likewise, as  Salakar heads of into the hills to the north (it's always north isn't it?), he pauses to refresh himself by a brook whilst I take a swig of the Wainwright, the clean light body is quite refreshing, an amiably drinkable beer this one. After a brief rest Salakar sets off again, and promptly gets ambushed by hill goblins, then trounced by a giant, who after a brief fight throws my rival over a cliff. Hurrah! Rushing over to Salad-cart, sorry, Salakar he passes the mantle of champion on to me before biting the dust. Choking back the tears (of laughter), I take the traditional adventurers route of robbing his corpse before creeping up to the Giants cave and hacking at the oversised bully with my sword. Thankfully due to the clumbsyness of the Giant, the fact he'd already taken damage, my armour, and booze-fuelled combat rage he is quickly dispatched.  Time for a celebratory quaff, the later taste is quite citrusy, I can imagine Wainwright would make a killer shandy on warm summer days, and at 4.1%, not to heady, but that's quite enough of that, there's deeds to be done...

Hmm. The Giants cave ends in a T-junction and there is no clue which way to go. What would Salad-cart have done? heading left down a narrow corridor deep into the hill, I find a chest, open it, nearly get pinned by 3 darts, get some Giant rubber gloves. Kinky! Back to the cave then taking the right turn, I find a chamber with a slab and a pool, the stone slab won't shift, but wearing the gloves I can pull a lever under the water. Nice puzzle, very reminiscent of old adventure games or 'Interactive fiction'. The slab moves, and down I go into a secret chamber. Bloody hell! I'm jumped on by a classic D&D regenerating Troll, who does a bit of damage before I hack him to pieces and burn his freakish shrivelled corpse. Glug down some Wainrights to cleanse the pallet of charred Troll flesh, grab the magic shoes and head back to town.

I've got the magic shoes, and nobody gives a stuff about Sauerkraut or whatever he was called being dead. We all have a celebratory guzzle of Wainwright, the lemon tang seems to have mellowed out a bit now, and the crisp dryness is coming though. Apparently these magic shoes are going to send me to a demons castle. Nobody said nothing about no demon, doesn't sound like the kind of adventure that leads to more beer (how wrong I am, and it also leads to pulling a bird too, bonus!). I fail to roll 2d6 over my lowest stat, so have learned nothing from my adventure, although I've got some nice gloves, 33 more gold than I set out with and I idly stood by whilst a rival adventurer got seen off. All in all a good days work. Here ends part one.

Moving swiftly on to Part 2. So this Hogron guy explains the back-story, fathers soul sold to a demon, and he wants to destroy the demon, return the soul to earth etc. etc. At least I've a sense of purpose other than finding more beer. The only way of killing the demon is to collect a bunch of stuff. I hope I don't have to remember or write any of this down, because I really can't be bothered.

The first task is to make a little girl cry. I go Cherie Blair style and chop up an onion, and get the little girls tears, and gain some Honour for not distressing the little darling to much. Then it's off to 'The Four Leaf Clover Inn' to search for some beer, I mean clover. I find both, so that's me doubly happy. By now the Wainwright is warming up slightly, and there's some really nice mountain-water notes going on.  Heading off to the local fete to find a crystal ball, ignoring a cockfight and a conjurer (it's amazing how many little side-tracks and incidental details are built into such a short game), I get into a fight with a cutpurse, kill him and take his stuff.

Eventually finding myself in the exotically perfumed tent of Gipsy Gayl (she's a hawt 80s hippy elf chick with spooky black eyes, see illustration). I decide to chat her up a bit, taker her out and get her drunk (at the cost of 5 gold). The Wainright is quite foamy and light, definitely proving itself an easy drinker. Unfortunately Gayl isn't as easy, but suitably intoxicated, she dances off with a tambourine, and I return to her caravan to rob her of her mysterious globe.

Pris, Basic Pleasure Model for Military Personnel
Gypsy Gail by Gary Ward

Now only requiring a chink of armour from a chivalrous knight, I visit the relic collector Wincho, who promptly displays the armour of famed sir knight whatever. He offering tea and cake, I counter by offering to finish off the rest of the bottle of Wainrights, which in summary starts with a clean fresh, light body, with a dry aromatic citrisy finish. But while Winchos back is turned I nick some of the sacred armour. Having gained all the items I get an additional point of honour, yay! Unfortunately Honour alone won't refill my bottle, so rather than trapes on to WD 54 and the final chapter, I rest my magic boots here.

Great beer, great adventure, 2-2 draw, which will require a rematch to finish part 3...

Castle of Lost Souls, seriealised in White Dwarf 52, 53, 54, by Dave Morris 
illustrated by Gary "Caverns of the Snow Witch" Ward (need to do an article on this guy, amazing work, up there with the best of Dave Andrews drawings).Wainwright is brewed by Thwaites and widely available in UK supermarkets.

The adventure continues in: Franks Alcoholic Root Beer In the Castle of Lost Souls