Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Czech Early 20th Century Artists as DMs - Inspired by Against the Wicked City

People often rip on "Lazy Gaming Inspiration-through-Art" posts, but in general, I really enjoy them.  Sometimes I'll see a tribute to David A. Trampier, or more often, Erol Otus, (but TOO often, Larry Elmore - here is where I can join in with chorus slagging an art post).

Tumblr blogs can be fun: Archaelogical objects from ancient times which are begging to be magical treasure or Lovingly pre-masticated begging-to-be-in-a-game images  or The one with the great tagline: "Pick pictures at random, that's your dungeon and/or wilderness adventure"

Best are picture posts which showcase art which wasn't intended for role-playing games, tied, in my estimation, with posts featuring photos from the real world (such as just about any random shot of something in Iceland) which could inspire gaming settings, plots, items, characters, and monsters.  It's like your substitute teacher eliciting from the class nouns and adjectives and phrases which have to do with plumbing, and then revealing that these are all part of a Mad Lib which somehow fits alarmingly well into a love letter or personals ad (and then that particular sub NEVER being allowed to teach again in your district once parents heard about it).

So anyway, Joseph Manola, on his often-awesome Against the Wicked City blog, apologizes even in the title of his art post, but writes some really funny stuff: If Romantic-Era Artists Ran D&D Campaigns (AKA 'a thin excuse for an image dump')

Here goes a ripped-off riff from that - hope you like...


Josef Váchal (1884-1969) - Disturbingly vivid improvisor.  Always takes PCs through Astral Plane, Ethereal Plane, Negative Material Plane.  Spirits, non-corporeal undead, and spirit giants storm center stage often.  After particularly terrifying gaming sessions, he won't host again for a month; tells players he has to clean their "psychic residue" out of his apartment due to their "magical experiments."

His gaming group's visit to the "Elemental Plane of Passions and Instincts":
The party lost a valuable artifact during escape from the Astral Plane, had to bargain with one of its denizens to retrieve it...
The next night, the party's magic user had to repay this debt with punishing interest...
 Searching for their missing wizard, the party found their way blocked by the gargantuan, hostile spirit of the Whispering-Wind-in-the-Trees swamps.
Jan Zrzavý (1890-1977) grumblingly broke off from the Váchal-dominated "Sursum" gaming group, swore he would run a kinder, gentler game for his new group:
Still gets mondo-gonzo freaky when Zrzavý lets science fiction chocolate drip into his fantasy peanut butter...

Josef Lada (1887-1957)- Never invited into Váchal and Zrzavý's groups.  Is OK with that because, just from reputation, they freak him out.  Recruited his own group of gamers from local villages to play at the house he shares with his parents and grandma.  Rolling rough-hewn polyhedral wooden dice around his family's antique Czech farm table, the players say his adventures start out sunny and somewhat vanilla, but then quickly turn their folklore vibe up to 11 and get excellently eerie.

When the folklore starts to flow and things get eerie...

Players are often distracted during games at Lada's house by the scent of Lada's babička baking; she interrupts the action at intervals to give players traditional bread and pastries.

His players give him props because Lada isn't afraid to describe, in front of his grandma, the beautiful and deadly rusalka emerging onto the lakeshore to have topless moonlight confabs with the green-skinned vodnik, who collects human souls to seal in his jars underwater.


  1. Nice to read another post in this style & I learned about some artists I didn't know about.

    1. Thanks! Very happy to see that you (especially as somebody whose blog I enjoy enough to put on my blogroll)found this worthwhile reading!

      p.s. Holmes Basic is awesome! Can't get behind the slick, full-color, condescending aesthetics of Cook and Mentzer and pretty much all of 2e. I wish I could have met Dr. Holmes (and played in a game where he was DM) - he sounds fun, erudite, and possessed of good taste tinged with just the right kind of weirdness.

  2. Also, in case you're interested, Monster Brains did an excellent spotlight on Josef Váchal's artwork: