Ungyzing

Caption: Ungyzing and Sausage and Chips guarding some books

 

Everyone has cuddly toys? People still have ones from childhood? It’s not just me? My oldest is a dragon by the name of Ungyzing. I’ve had him for somewhere over thirty years by this point, Sausage And Chips, the parrot next to him in  that picture, is not much younger. Yes, he’s called Sausage And Chips – don’t blame me, that’s what he told me he was called! I had toys who were older (such as Leopardy, the imaginatively names leopard, and The Whale, a knitted… uh… whale, which my mum used to sneak into my and my brothers’ PE kits!), but Ungyzing was the first who was actually mine!

Well, I say he is A dragon, more accurately he’s the king of the dragons, and his horde is the entire universe. Or so he says – don’t all dragons claim to be the king of the dragons and own everything? Regardless, Ungyzing is a kind, and caring soul who has protected me for many years.

Other than this being somewhat cute, what can you do with this information other than go “awww”? Maybe have a think about dragons. Last week Ali wrote about what we mean by dragons (and introduced you to Alfred, who is also very helpful).

Dragons are supposed to be highly intelligent and independent creatures, so no doubt they have many and varied personalities too. Yet in RPGs and stories they are more often than not arrogant and angry. If they’re not, their personality is mostly determined by the colour of their scales, with only the metallic ones being anything approaching “nice” (ref: D&D). And yet, many dragons in myth are very protective of what they consider “their” – notably the Red Dragon of Wales, who sits proudly on the flag. And as mentioned earlier dragons are wont to claim everything as theirs, so surely they would want to protect everything – at least until it proved uncontrollable.

If a dragon claims the  entire universe as their own then perhaps the only things they would attack on sight are things which are not of this universe – outsider things, daemons, maybe undead depending on your mythology.

Ungyzing, of course, would soundly beat the snot out of Cthulhu!

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Meeting Dragons

Write about dragons this month, says the Boss.That’s not as easy as it sounds, because nobody can agree on what we mean by dragons.

The Welsh Dragon has four legs, wings, and a tail. Her diet is unclear, but probably includes invading Seis (Seisneg is Cymric for the English) She stands for bravery and steadfastness, and her element is earth.

The Norse dragon stands on four legs, but tends not to have wings.. Guardian of gold, he represents greed and selfishness. He eats adventurers, and he might breathe fire

The Oriental Dragon is more worm-shaped, and has either four, many, or no legs at all. It might fly, but without wings. It’s element is water.

The Tibetan Dragon is the Thunder god, ancestor of kings, and guardian of mountain top lands. Physically resembling his Chinese neighbour, I can find no ready reference to what he might eat..

Not forgetting the Komodo Dragon, which exists in the mundane world.

Also included in the draconic mantle are wyverns (only two feet and wings), hydras (many headed serpents), wyrms (no or many legs) and probably a whole lot more fantastical beasties depending on who you ask.

Perhaps a better question is why dragons are how they are. They represent to us the power of nature – whether that be the unpredictability of weather; the uncontrollability of fire; or the obnoxious nature of a greedy person – dragons are the ultimate in powerful monster. They might be benevolent – bestowing magic or material wealth – but they are more likely to eat you, as punishment for trying to control things beyond mankind’s ken.

As storytellers, we choose which kind of dragon fits our narrative. Anne McCaffrey chose a telepathic helpmate to help drive back the alien Thread; Weis and Hickman use both the fiery violence of Red and Black dragons and the helpful Metallics; and Tolkien uses the dragons as monsters, undefeatable by might, but perhaps confounded by guile.

I only keep the helpful varieties of dragon about. For example, here is Alfred, who job is to house treats for sharing, with some of his draconic friends.

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Dragonmeet Design Sparks

This weeks blog is slightly delayed, due to our trip to Dragonmeet in London over the weekend leaving us somewhat drained, and having met quite a lot of dragons! (We brought four with us too, so they could socialise with their scaly comrades)

Whenever we go to a convention there’s a good chance we’ll come back with more ideas than we went with. Dragonmeet was exceptional on this account, with 3 separate concepts crystallising, and a fourth flaring into existence.

First: 13th Age Southlands

The 13th age system suits our gaming styles, and our design ethos, very well indeed. So we’ve been working for a while on moving some of our system-neutral designs over to 13th age specific ones.

At Dragonmeet we actually met Rob Heinsoo and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, two major writers for 13th Age (Rob Heinsoo being one of the two primary voices) and got a chance for a brief chat about our work, which helped us feel more confident that we’re not going to be stepping on any toes.

So work has picked up the pace on The Southland’s Project – designing a region to go south of The Dragon Empire with something of a different theme – where the core setting has almost half its icons directly tied to Imperial Politics, our region has 5 icons that are tied to Nature in some way; from the Pack Mother – leader of all those who follow their instincts, whether they be red in tooth and claw or maternal caring – to the Lichen Lich who promises that life and death need not be so different after all.

Second: Mine Slayer

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of logic puzzles; and I’ve been considering what it would take to make a game in which one of the players can design a puzzle for others to solve. While I had been thinking of this purely as a co-operative endeavour, talking it over with the team during the hours-long car journey resulted in something rather different – one player laying a minefield and the others playing minesweepers trying to be the first to cross it without exploding.

We have playtests for this later this week – the mechanics are still quite open with a large number of valves in need of adjusting: how many mines the mine-slayer gets to place being the greatest conundrum.

Third: Aspect Cards

The Concept Cards line is great, but it’s only really useful for GMs and writers – not for those stuck in a single skin of their player character. Aspect Cards are our exploration of what would be useful to the player – each containing two tied aspects of a character: backstory, equipment, appearance, connections or anything else that works.

Even more modular than Concept Cards, with no card being an island, they should be perfect additions to an existing character concept; or with half a dozen supply the whole concept on their own.

Fourth: Tinfoil Hat

Inspired by a game we were playing on the card journey, Tinfoil Hat is an improvisational game in the style of “But Wait There’s More”:

How do the Illuminati explain the flouride in our water supply? How does Adolf Hitler’s twin brother relate to the moon landings?

In Tinfoil Hat you’re forced to add ever more unexpected curveballs to your conspiracy theory until it eventually falls apart under the weight of red string and mixed metaphors.

The mechanics of the game are still in alpha-0.0.1, but their simplicity means it likely won’t take long to polish them – the choice of conspiracy elements on the other hand may take a while.

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13th Age: Hanging Trees and Spellbound Soldiers

This week I’ve ended up working on two very different sets of monsters. The first is the Hanging Tree – a huge level 1 enemy that comes with a murder of crows to finish you off.

On a completely different track, I got caught up in the idea that mind controlled minions often seem a bit too similar to everything else. So, here are The Spellbound, soulless soldiers that are so weak willed they can even be swayed mid-fight.

As for why they might be lacking a soul? Why not ask Antonio

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13th age Monsters: Animal Hybrids

As part of Naga Demon, I’m doing a 13th age monster every day this month. This last week has been focused on hybrid animals, from the cute Bearowl to the cunning Wolfcrow. It even features a particularly powerful monster – the epic tier Grootslang

View here

Art by Jacob Blackmon

Art by Jeff Macarthur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13th age Swamp Monsters

November is National Game Design Month – and I’ve decided to take it up as the challenge of writing one new 13th age monster each day, as we’re looking at the possibility of moving into writing 13th age 3rd party works.

This week I’ve been doing Swamp Creatures: Otyugh, monsters known for their trash-loving lifestyle, and Swamp Things, animate embodiments of the Swamp’s will.

13th age swamp monsters

Image from Dorkaboutart on Deviantart

Image by Amy Coffey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arty October: Make Do and Modify

Gustav, by Jenna Fowler

Coloured by Ste Coffey

Along with a second colouring (and other minor edits)

Make Do and Modify

In the first post of this month I talked about how to comb the creative commons – finding stuff that fits well enough to the idea you’re working on.

But when you’re trying to be creative, to step into unexplored realms of fantasy, there may not even be that – especially if you don’t have the funds to buy high quality stock art – and even if there is “good enough” never really feels like it’s good enough.

To get the best results from the creative commons – or from novice artists – you need a handle on image editing and adaptation. Transforming an image from what it is to what you wish it was.

For our fantasy works one vital trick has been demodernising – giving modern day photos the appearance of paintings or illustrations that suit a fantasy feel. There are two steps to that: First you must remove any clearly anachronistic elements and then you can put the image through various pre-made filters like GIMPs “oilify”.

Demodernising

Removing the anachronisms can be simple, just cropping out the electricity pylon on the edge of a photo of a village, or it can be more complicated – removing a deck chair from the middle of the courtyard you need to depict.

The most vital tools for me in dealing with the more difficult cases have always been copy-paste and recolouring: a deck-chair against a wall can be overlaid by another portion of the wall, with the blur that will be introduced by oilify or similar tools hiding the minor seams. Meanwhile the green wellies worn by a medieval re-enactor on a muddy field can be turned a deep brown and simply be leather boots within the image.

Using filters like oilify seems like a trivial task – and honestly it can be. But for best use it’s important to think about how real painters work. Unlike a photograph not every portion of a drawing or painting is equal in resolution, but rather they have a level of detail decided by how much the painter, and the audience, care(s) about them – in a portrait the subjects face may be almost photorealistic while the background is merely lumps of colour in the rough form of furniture. As such it helps to separate portions of the image and use the filters more or less strongly on them depending on how important they are to your final composition [and on how many minor errors you need to hide].

(Re)colouring

A lot of creative commons stuff is black and white, or coloured inappropriately for what you have in mind. Recolouring is thus an important tool to have in your repertoire as it greatly expands your options – see Gustav at the top for an example.

For colouring monochrome works I rely on layers. A basic tool available to digital editors that makes the process far easier than it would be on paper, layers in an image editing program are pretty much the equivalent of laying transparencies atop one another to make the full image. But they come with some snazzy options that make the whole process a lot smoother. By altering your layers’ transparency settings and order you can use wide swathes and then add detail on top – colour in the whole torso, and then colour in only the belt atop that. More importantly for me you can put the original image on top in a darken-only layer which allows the textures and detail that the original black-and-white artist created to shine through.

I generally use Krita for this as I find its brushes more useful for the process, and everything a little easier to organise, but it is a little slower.

If working with something that’s already in colour I have two options to hand – the first and most prevalent is to use the GIMP colour editing options to alter what each colour on the existing image is. Changing all the reds to purples or making all the blues more vibrant can work wonders. The second is to simply make the piece monochrome and then go from there.

 

There’s a lot more to say on the subject, and I promise I’ll come back to it in more depth, but for now I need to get prepped for my NaGaDeMon project, a 13th age monster for each day of November. If you have any questions or advice about image editing, be sure to let us know!

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Arty October: Ali’s Thoughts

Cheese makes for good adventurer’s rations

Ste wants us all to write about our experiences with visual arts. I’m not so much about what it looks like – my artistic streak has always been music, and writing to me is an extension of sound – I read everything out loud – even in my head, words are vocalised, characters have accents, and locales are narrated. This may be the root of the long-running disagreement between Ste and I about the role of commas. I put them where I breathe, and Ste uses a different set of rules. [I overuse dashes instead – I like commas, but dashes are about 20% cooler. – Ste]

Appropriately,  I’m writing this sat in an art gallery. Well, not quite, but it’s my in-laws place, and that whole branch of the family are artists – sculptors, photographers and painters <See my blog last week – Loz>. Every wall is covered with pictures, every level surface has sculptures and vases and hats and antlers and … stuff. It’s at the same time fascinating and intimidating.

Every kid draws some, and paints some – we’re visual creatures, and part of making sense of the world is to try to reproduce the pictures in our heads. I never really got much beyond the ‘this is my family, and my home; my mum is not actually as tall as my house’. Where I’ve had to draw things – for handouts when teaching – I’ve tended to go with symbols. Things one can construct – 36 pointed stars and other applied geometry. Occasionally, the odd cartoony figure has crept in – this person is thinking, this one is writing, this one is running. But I’ve mostly just broken up text with tables and diagrams, or even clipart.

Everyone who does any kind of visual work at all has just groaned. We love to hate art libraries – whether they were the old 8-bit squares, the MS clipart series or newer online ‘art for your game’ archives. The problem is where they are overused, where we see the same dozen images again and again – and we feel the author is lazy, and we disdain – and of course the legal knot of copyright and fair use.

Recently of course, the standard range of clipart will not do. Ste wrote about usage rights on Google Image searching, and that has sufficed for most of the Setting Shards for which I was lead writer. Most of the art I’ve picked out is from Wikimedia – and there’s enough there for much of what we need, particularly when one applies the Crop tool. Take a look at all the art for Grey Market – most is from larger pieces selectively trimmed to say what we want to say.

We’ve commissioned some art – the Lichen Lich, Valdis the Magic Item Addict, the suit symbols for Concept Cards – but the problem with this is both expense (we wouldn’t take free, because exposure kills artists) and trying to communicate what is needed – one of the reasons for needing art is that sometimes words are not quite enough.

What we really need is one of us to be able to draw the worlds we imagine. To that end, both me and Amy are learning to draw. We’re doing Inktober – drawing something every day for a month, to explore styles and media. I’ve found I prefer working in pencils (you will probably never see the disastrous oil pastels attempts) And I love drawing puns – a Chocolate Moose, and the bandaged monster Mummy and her partner Daddy. Visuals are not my forte, but they are perhaps becoming my pianissimo?

I’m not going to be a professional illustrator any time soon, but it’s an interesting aside to think about how things look on a page. Practising looking at how things are, so we can better imagine how things might be, if only – which is the core of creative writing.

Of course, that also means we now need to write more….

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Art and Experience, Life and Death

This hangs above my TV. The top picture is by my mum, Rosie Birtwhistle, and the bottom two are by my dad, David Hensel.

This hangs above my TV. The top picture is by my mum, Rosie Birtwhistle, and the bottom two are by my dad, David Hensel.

Art and Experience, Life and Death

I’ve grown up surrounded by art and creativity. Ali, on seeing the house I grew up in, commented that it was like an art gallery. But almost everything in the walls is by one or other of my parents and to me it feels entirely comfortable and normal to be surrounded by art. Art galleries are some of my favourite places, although i’ve actually not been to one in far too long – I should rectify that!

Everyone in my family is creative. As well as my parents, I write (as you can tell right now!), and of my two older brothers, one is a photographer and the other was a musician.

My brother, Tim Hensel, is an excellent wedding photographer, amongst other things

 

Sadly the word “was” is very relevant. My brother, Will Hensel, died unexpectedly about a month ago, and my mum, Rosie Birtwhistle (her chosen nom de plume), died of cancer about 6 years ago. Death focuses the mind in unexpected ways. I have spent a long time thinking about art and people and expression and life – the four are inextricably linked. I think it is important to remember people, as Terry Pratchett said “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken”. So I speak their names here. I refuse to let my relationships with these people end in sadness, instead I say we learn from them.


I can hear a lot of my brother Will in this track, which he produced.

Art can instil emotions, or ideas, it can be challenging or comforting, threatening or protective, funny or sad. All this and more. Art allows us see the world in different ways, be it paintings, music, sculpture, dance, or anything else.

And it is this I think we must learn from these wonderful people.

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