Archive for the ‘Role-playing games’ Category

Monster Manual Week: RUST MONSTER!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013



Today’s 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual Sketch is the extremely irritating rust monster.

What’s great about the rust monster is that it can’t actually hurt you – and yet it’s one of the most feared monsters in the dungeon. This is because the rust monster eats metal and is particularly fond of “ferrous based metals such as iron, steel, and steel alloys (such as mithral and adamantite arms and armor).”

In other words, it wants your armour and weapons – and one touch of its long antennae causes anything metal to rust and corrode, immediately falling to pieces “which are easily eaten and digested by the creature.” Fighting back is not a good idea, because “weapons striking a rust monster are affected just as if the creature’s antennae had touched them.”

Small wonder that a band of tough adventurers will often run at the first sight of a rust monster; unfortunately, most quickly learn that the rust monster moves much faster than they do. The most effective way of dealing with one is to throw a handful of iron spikes (or other easily replaced metal items) in its path and hope it will stop long enough to eat them that you’ll be able to get away with that precious +4 sword.

I’ve never understood quite what’s going on with the rust monster’s tail. In the original illustration by David C Sutherland III, it looks for all the world like a propeller. Later versions tried to turn it into something impressive and insectoid, but if you ask me, Sutherland’s version is the best, because it gives the rust monster a ridiculous – almost nerdy – look. Ol’ Rusty never hurts anyone; he’s the harmless annoying doofus everyone wants to avoid.

Legend has it the rust monster was designed when Gary Gygax found a bag of cheap plastic monster toys in a dime store, including a “figurine that looked rather like a lobster with a propeller on its tail…. [N]othing very fearsome came to mind…. Then inspiration struck me. It was a ‘rust monster.'” I’m sure his gaming group was delighted when Rusty first turned up and started munching on their stuff.

BTW, one day I might buy one of these t-shirts.

This was a commissioned Monster Manual sketch. If you want to commission your own monster drawing, I’m still taking requests (for a limited time) here.

Monster Manual Week: ROPER!

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013



Today’s 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual Sketch is the reprehensible roper.

The roper is found in subterranean caverns. Looking something like a 9 foot long cigar and able to disguise itself as a stalagmite, a pillar or even a “hump” on the ground, a closer inspection reveals what “appears to be a mass of foul festering corruption.”

However, adventurers foolish enough to carry out such a close inspection are likely to encounter the feature which gives the roper its name: six “strong, sticky rope-like excretion[s],” which shoot out to grab (and poison) its prey. The dazed unfortunate is then dragged into the roper’s “toothy maw” and “quickly devoured.”

The AD&D dungeon is full of these ghastly well-disguised monsters, including the piercer (a stalactite that suddenly drops from the ceiling to pierce, kill and devour passers-by), the water weird (which can hide in pools, fountains or even barrels of wine), the lurker above (which pretends to be the ceiling), the trapper (which pretends to be the floor) and my personal favourite, the mimic (which can pretend to be practically anything, but is particularly fond of mimicking a treasure chest).

My advice? Stay above ground at all times.

This was a commissioned Monster Manual sketch. I’m still taking requests (for a limited time) here.

Monster Manual Week: GELATINOUS CUBE!

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013



Today’s 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual sketch is the Gelatinous Cube. Unfortunately, there’s no illustration for it in the Monster Manual itself, but the gelatinous cube remains one of the iconic D&D monsters.

Essentially 10′ x 10′ x 10′ cubes of jelly-like digestive fluids, “gelatinous cubes are nearly transparent and are difficult to see.” Any unfortunate creature touched by a gelatinous cube risks paralyzation, followed by full immersion and digestion. Metallic and other indigestible objects are left behind, or even carried around inside the body of the cube for several weeks.

Sounds disgusting? National Geographic disagrees

UPDATE: Is this (from David Tulloch’s Character Development) the greatest gelatinous cube comic EVER?

The Gelatinous Cube
(ink, watercolour & coloured pencil on 300gsm paper)
A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches)

US $ 60 (+$5 postage)

Monster Manual Week: I’m taking requests

Friday, March 22nd, 2013


I’m having so much fun drawing monsters from the 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, I’ve decided to stick with this theme for another week. But I know you all have your own favourites, and after getting way too many suggestions, I’ve decided to open it up for requests (aka commissions).

So here’s how it works:

1. Fill out the form below, telling me what monster you want me to draw.*
2. Click on the Paypal button and complete your purchase (price is US$60 + $5 postage).
3. Over the next week, I will draw your monster (in full colour!) and then post it to you.
4. It arrives at your house, where you put it in a beautiful gilt frame and hang it on your wall for friends, family, fellow gamers and potential future mates to admire and praise.
5. Many years later, you die alone and unloved, cursing with your last breath that hateful cartoonist whose horrible monster drawing destroyed all possibility of romance and happiness in your life.**

*As seen in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.
**No responsibility taken for purchaser’s future happiness.

Note: the number of requests is limited.

Monster Manual colour sketch
on A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches) 300gsm watercolour paper

US$60 (+ $5 postage)

What AD&D monster do you want?

Monster Manual Week: OWLBEAR!

Friday, March 22nd, 2013



By popular demand, today’s 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual sketch is the horrifying (some might say ridiculous) Owlbear! As the Monster Manual explains, “the horrible owlbear is probably the result of genetic experimentation by some insane wizard.” Certainly, any other origin for this cross between an owl and (you guessed it) a bear is best not thought about. But however owlbears first came into being, “they are ravenous eaters, aggressive hunters and evil tempered at all times,” with “red-rimmed” eyes that are “exceedingly terrible to behold.”

The owlbear’s most dangerous move is its Hug attack, when it “grasps a victim and squeezes and bites it to death.” Frankly, once you’d been dragged into that feathery embrace, death probably couldn’t come soon enough.

The original Owlbear illustration was by David C. Sutherland III, who drew more than his fair share of 1st edition AD&D monsters. Here’s an interesting post by Dungeons & Dragons’ current creative director Jon Schindehette on redesigning the Owlbear for 4th edition. And here’s possibly the best Owlbear picture ever.

The horrifying OWLBEARHUG!
(ink, watercolour & coloured pencil on 300gsm paper)
A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches)

US $ 60 (+$5 postage)

Monster Manual Week: BEHOLDER!

Thursday, March 21st, 2013



Today’s 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual sketch is the terrifying Beholder (the Eye Tyrant, the Sphere of Many Eyes)!

To be honest, I always found the Beholder more ridiculous than terrifying – but that’s probably because I don’t remember ever actually encountering one in the heat of battle. Their multiple eye stalks may look silly, but each one packs a fearsome power: from Charm Person to Disintergrate and even a Death Ray. As the Monster Manual says, “the beholder is hateful, aggressive, and avaricious.” In short: avoid.

You can see the original Monster Manual Beholder illustration (by Tom Wham) – along with some later versions – here.

The Beholder
(ink, watercolour & coloured pencil on 300gsm paper)
A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches)

US $ 60 (+$5 postage)

Monster Manual Week: the dreaded STIRGE!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013



monster_manualThis week for my morning sketches, I’m drawing creatures from the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977) – one of the first role-playing game books I ever owned.

First up is a monster I’ve always found especially terrifying (despite its low level): the Stirge. They usually attack in groups (of 3-30) and, as the Monster Manual explains, “they lay in wait for warm-blooded creatures, swoop down, and when their long, sharp proboscis is attached, the blood of the victim is drawn through to be eaten” (shudder).

You can see the original Monster Manual illustration (by David C. Sutherland III) of the Stirge (along with later versions) at Bogleech.

(ink, watercolour & coloured pencil on 300gsm paper)
A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches)

US $ 60 (+$5 postage)

Interview roundup!

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

With the new edition of Hicksville out (both the Drawn & Quarterly edition and the New Zealand edition from VUP), I’ve been doing some interviews and podcasts. Here are some of them:

(Updated 9 June: now with even more podcasts and interviews!).

inkstudsInkstuds – podcast
A great comics podcast, hosted by Robin McConnell on Vancouver’s CiTR. This was a joy to record! Plus I got to choose some music: Broken Social Scene‘s Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl, Bonnie Prince Billy covering Chris Knox‘s My Only Friend and Bachelorette‘s Instructions for Insomniacs.

TheComicSpotThe Comic Spot – podcast
A very fun interview I did with the irrepressible John Retallick, the awesome Jo Waite and the phenomenal Bernard Calleo while I was in Melbourne in April. This is a great show, which goes out live on 3CR community radio. The podcast of our episode is now available on The Comic Spot’s own podcast page.

comixclaptrapThe Comix Claptrap – podcast
The very cool Rina Ayuyang and Thien Pham indulge my lengthy ramblings about life, art and babies. Lark Pien was also lurking in the background but didn’t pipe up till after the podcast was finished. Anyway – whether I make any sense is questionable, but Rina and Thien are a hoot, and they do a mighty fine podcast!

inkpanthersInk Panthers – podcast
Mike Dawson and Alex Robinson host this hilarious podcast series, and here they interrogate me about my lifelong obsession with pen & paper roleplaying games. We also talk about watching movies on an iPod, I say rude things about Apple, and we come up with a very cool project involving alternative cartoonists and a new D&D Monster Manual (which someone really ought to make happen)… Good times!

ListenerThe NZ Listener
David Larsen did this interview and write-up, and then the Listener sent a photographer to take pictures of me and my cat. Unfortunately the online version doesn’t include the pictures, so no, you don’t get to see Moogli in all her glory. But the interview is great!

This is an interview I did over ginger beer at a bar in Melbourne, just across the road from the Wheeler Centre, where I was running a workshop all week with some very fine cartoonists. Martyn Pedler did the interview, and we ended up chatting for hours about all kinds of things. In fact, he later posted a fascinating footnote to the interview here.

Film-maker Jonathan King interviewed me for Idealog, a NZ-based magazine. We ended up talking a lot about copyright and new media, which was fine by me. The interview is nicely illustrated, too.

ComicBookResourcesComic Book Resources
CBR’s Alex Dueben emailed me a bunch of questions for this interview, and they were so interesting I really took my time replying. Then he sent some follow-up questions that were even more interesting! So the interview took a while; but I enjoyed it!

This interview by Graham Reid was published in the NZ Herald, but this archived version from his website is splendidly illustrated; he’s even included a clip from my step-mother Shirley’s wonderful documentary about NZ comics. Years ago, I turned an interview Graham did with Egberto Gismonti into a comic strip for the Herald, and we’ve also visited schools together (me talking about comics, Graham talking about journalism and travel writing), so it was nice catching up again.

Blukeko is a blog run by Auckland student Philip McKibbin, and he’s used it to interview an astonishingly diverse range of New Zealanders, from clergymen to politicians, journalists and writers. It’s worth a browse.

DomPostThe Dominion Post
This was an interview by the very clued up Tom Cardy, which was published in the Dominion Post’s weekend magazine supplement Indulgence. They were nice enough to put my self-portrait on the cover. By the way, this is the first self-portrait I think I’ve ever done in which I’m smiling – at the insistence of my kids, who were sick of seeing “glum dad” pictures everywhere. I sincerely hope this is the start of a new, permanently happy stage in my life… Also illustrating this interview is an actual photo of me in real life (with my kids), as taken by my lovely wife Terry while on holiday in New Zealand’s mindblowingly gorgeous South Island.

Newsarama got in early with their interview by Michael C. Lorah, in which I talk a little candidly about my ambivalent relationship with mainstream comics. Mind you, I suppose I do that in several of these interviews, since it’s been a theme of the questions, on account of the new edition’s uncomfortably candid introduction. So really I have no-one but myself to blame…

publishersweeklyPublisher’s Weekly
This interview was going to be conducted via Skype, but my laptop chose that very moment to go all SNAFU (as a result of having just installed Windows 7 on it). So we finished the interview by email. Laptop is all better now, thanks to the careful installation of some drivers, so I’m all ready for more action-packed full-video Skyping!

There are a few more coming, but I’ll post about those once they’re online.

There have been numerous reviews, too, but I thought I’d point out a few of particular interest (to me, anyway):

popmattersPop Matters (a really interesting review by historian and cultural commentator W. Scott Poole, whose book Satan in America is high on my reading list).

boingboingBoing Boing (because it’s one of my favourite websites and seeing Hicksville on there made my day!)

The Comics JournalThe Comics Journal
Rob Clough wrote this long and thoughtful review that made me look at aspects of Hicksville in new ways – which is always a treat when reading a review.

Doodling at the gaming table…

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Gaming notebookIn the course of finding something for a rather nifty project Lark Pien is putting together, I found myself looking through various sketchbooks and notebooks looking for doodles. So I thought I’d put some of it online, because… well, just because.

The following, then, were all drawn during two Roleplaying Games: a Bushido game run by my friend John, and a Fudge-based game set during the First Crusade, run by my friend Matthew. I do a lot of doodling during games, and I often love what comes out. These pictures have nothing whatsoever to do with what’s going on in the games – it’s really just stream-of-consciousness stuff, letting my hand draw while my mind is busy elsewhere.

I wish I could draw comics that looked like this…

The Elfish Gene

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

The Elfish Gene
Mark Barrowcliffe’s The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange is a fascinating memoir of being obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons in 1970s Britain. It does a good job both of capturing the time and place and also of dissecting various forms of cringeworthy D&D geekery. I first got into role-playing games a few years after Barrowcliffe (around 1980, at the age of 13), and my own experience was considerably more benign than his; but even so, many of his anecdotes had me squirming with queasy recognition, and he’s especially good on the strange combination of defensive arrogance and false machismo that many hardcore geeks display.

But for me, where Barrowcliffe strikes the most powerful chord is when he describes his painful yearning for a better, more magical world than the dreary, grey mundane reality that surrounds him. One of my favourite parts comes early in the book, when Barrowcliffe describes having to go on a seaside holiday in Wales with an old friend’s family (when he’d much rather be back at home playing D&D with his new gamer friends). One day, walking past a bustop, Mark and his old friend Dill are rudely proposititioned by two bored girls who abruptly demand a snog. Later that evening, Mark is in bed:

I lay in bed trying to think of lying with a dryad in a boat of reeds, floating down a river of leaves and stroking her tits. Another fantasy kept butting in, though, a dream of a beefy Liverpudlian girl with blotchy legs and the smell of bubblegum on her breath and me with my hands up her sweater.

This seedy intrusion is too awful to contemplate.

In future I’d have to practise harder at having the right fantasies. In all things, I thought, I should strive towards the perfect ideals of the fantasy world where there was no bubble gum, definitely no blotchy legs…. I didn’t want real girls, I didn’t want real anything. I hadn’t since I’d started D&D, and I wouldn’t again, for years.

On the final day of the holiday, Mark is desperate to get back to home and the D&D world. But his friend’s mother can’t understand his impatience: “Don’t you want one last look at the sea?” she asks…

Of course I didn’t want to look at the sea. I wanted to gaze upon the sparkling oceans of the Grey Havens or see dragon smoke rising above a stricken galleon off the Isle of Pendor. All that would be visible from Llandudno seafront was the pier and the crazy golf course, things, it seemed, that had been put in place to spite my fantasy.

I noted this passage down, because it describes pretty well how I felt at the same age. Immersed as I was in dreams of Middle Earth, even apparently “scenic” landscapes in the real world seemed horribly disappointing. Where was the grandeur? The majesty? The enchantment? That sweet, painful yearning seems close to what C. S. Lewis called Sehnsucht, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how it lies behind much of my own relationship to fantasy, fiction and art, with their promise to “re-enchant the world.”

Barrowcliffe’s writing style isn’t entirely my bag; he seems to have honed his skills working as a stand-up comedian and writing satirical novels, and sometimes he comes across like the class clown, trying a little too hard to make us laugh at his own expense. I’m also put off when a memoir tries to read like a novel, complete with long passages of (re-imagined) dialogue. But after a while, even these quirks ceased to grate on me; it all seemed part and parcel of the book’s tone of defensively self-mocking embarrassment. It’s as though Barrowcliffe is still trying to impress us with his superior smarts and wit, even as he excruciatingly dissects those very impulses in his geeky teenage self. “I’m better than that now,” he seems to be saying – in precisely the voice he once used to put down some worthless ignoramus at the gaming table.

Anyway – it’s well worth a read if, like me, you’re an old gaming nerd. Especially if you follow it with American Nerd: the Story of My People, by Benjamin Nugent, another painfully personal, very insightful exploration of the geek as type, as community, and as a presence in the broader history and culture.