Monday, February 10, 2020

Orson Bean and The Hobbit 1977

Snagged from
RIP Orson Bean (1928-2020), who was struck by cars in Venice, CA and died February 7th at the age of 91.  He voiced Bilbo Baggins in the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit, which aired on NBC on November 27, 1977.

Inspired to do a little cursory research about him after the news reports of his death (and an interesting post at Land of Nod blog) I found out that Orson Bean had been blacklisted in Hollywood because as a young man he had dated a Communist woman and attended a few party meetings with her.  A few jobs came to him during the 1950s, including a role in a Twilight Zone episode, but his career prospects improved in the 1960s as the blacklist became increasingly ignored and discredited. 

Anchoring a stellar vocal cast featuring Hans Conried, Thurl Ravenscroft, John Huston, Otto Preminger, and Brother Theodore, Orson Bean helped make this TV special the "whole ganze" for 8-year-old me in 1977 (except for Star Wars.)

Some people don't like the dark visual tones in much of the artwork. To me, even 8-year-old me, this was a feature, not a bug.  The Japanese animation studio, Topcraft, whose members later formed the foundation of Hayao Miyasaki's Studio Ghibli, took Arthur Rackham as inspiration for their line-heavy art and some of the somber tones of its coloring.

The way Gollum was drawn, along with Brother Theodore's vocal performance, was a huge standout for me.
I like the way the trolls and goblins look, especially the latter mounted on wargs.
Another thing people dislike about this version of The Hobbit is the execrable warbling of "The Greatest Adventure."   I had more tolerance as a kid for songs, even lame songs, in movies and cartoons, and TV specials.  My kid, who recently turned 9, never had much tolerance for the tendency of every kids' movie to turn into a musical (a trait exhibited by her restlessness during Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka movie, the old Mary Poppins, the Robin Williams Aladdin, Disney's Little Mermaid.)   When she was 7, I thought she would enjoy the Rankin-Bass movie, so I rented it for us.  My daughter endured "The Greatest Adventure" and "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" but then had to kvetchingly wimp out.

I have to agree with my kidlet and all the haters about "The Greatest Adventure."  But I still love the atmosphere created by the "Under the Misty Mountains Cold" song that impressed me as it eerily resounded along slow pans of cavern walls.  My introduction to the Mythic Underworld as mused out by Philotomy.    

In 1978, my awesome mom was kind enough to buy me a large-format version of The Hobbit illustrated with stills from the Rankin-Bass movie, and a single-disc gatefold LP of the story (which unfortunately, reprised "The Greatest Adventure" many times.)  She then got me the Ballantine paperback of The Hobbit with Tolkein's illustration of Bilbo riding a barrel on the cover.  It was the first huge book without pictures that I had ever tackled. Soon after, I read the Lord of the Rings and was blown away by Ralph Bakshi's movie.  As if to carry on from the approximate place Bakshi's movie petered out in the middle of The Return of the King, Rankin-Bass came out with their own Return of the King, which was truly underwhelming.  I saw it on TV in maybe 1980.  The music was even worse than "The Greatest Adventure" - it still rises unbidden to my inner ear:
                                 Where there's a whip- SNAP-uh! 
                                 There's a way!  
                                 We don't want to work all day!
                                 But the lord of the lash says NAY! NAY! NAY!

I felt such a great impact from the Rankin-Bass Hobbit because I was the right age to receive it.  The spirit of the times was also blowing a great tailwind to speed the movie, the book, and the entire fantasy genre into me.  Led Zeppelin was singing about the Misty Mountains.  Holmes Basic D&D came out, and a kid in 4th grade (who is now a lawyer), enthused to me about black puddings and cool dice with 20 sides.  My mom's junior high students were scrawling twisty dragons all over their notebooks and making school plays about basilisks.  The Minnesota Renaissance Festival was rad and as yet unsullied by cosplayers dressed as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

So, thank you, Orson Bean, for being a part of bringing the love of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, fantasy in general, and D&D to me!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

DM Dream

Opera Trance - The Dream from MissDjDolce on
One of the worst ways to bore people at a party is to tell them last night's dream.

No matter how cool or scary or weird it was, your listeners, because they weren't in your skull with you at the time, have no choice except to make excuses and flee, or nod their heads politely and say, "Uh-huh...that sounds pretty weird."

They have no recourse to responses they could make in a normal conversation that would turn a monologue into a dialogue:

"Yes, I've been to Venice before, too.  The canals certainly are pungent!" or

"Yeah, I hate that team, too!  My sister dated every last player on the Detroit Red Wings 1966-67 roster...all during 3 months in 1985!"  or

"So you like to knit, huh?  I do, too.  At least I used to, that is, before my horrific accident..."

So here goes - but at least my dream had to do with D&D:

Rachel, who is a gamer and successful YA author in real life, bids me to follow her to the bright flourescent basement of the Friendly Local Gaming Shop, which I don't recognize in the slightest.  She points at a long table around which 20 sort-of-hepcat people between 22-35 years of age sit.  There is one seat open.

I'm supposed to sit in that empty Aero Saarinen chair and DM for this entire group of intimidating strangers.

Rachel utters profuse thanks as she dashes up the stairs and hurries out the gaming shop.

I turn back to the table.  People with day-glo hair, wearing sunglasses indoors and fuzzy-fringed hooded parkas (is what my subconscious thinks is cool?  WTF, subconcious!) look at me expectantly.

 "Awwww, YEEEAH!"  whoops a young man whose curlicued mustache partially covers a tattoo of a curlicued mustache.  "Let's get our GAME on!"

Right in front of me is a laptop computer.  Did Rachel leave DM notes for this session somewhere inside this machine that I'm supposed to find and run in her place?  Am I supposed to project images from the adventure onto the wall?

I can't find any paper module or map or notes.  None of the younglings seated around the table have paper character sheets or pencils.  No dice are to be seen anywhere.

On the laptop, I can't even get into the Documents folder or the Desktop.  All I can get is this nonsensical window ad for Chlorox Bleach: a full-screen pop-up that stayed up... forever.

"Um, five-minute toilet break..." I declare weakly to the ring of eager sunglasses-wearing faces.

I run upstairs, rummage around the completely unfamiliar game shop that I'm supposed to know.  I find a yellowed newsprint map of the sample dungeon in the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.  The cashier waves me on; the paper has gone fungal, so it's free.

I rush downstairs to the over-illuminated table of hepnik whippersnappers.  A glacier of boredom has hardened over the table.  The hepcats and kitties sigh and yawn and chew on their neon dread-perm
extensions.  In the ostensible pursuit of increased comfort, they are in awkward and rude poses of repose.

"Can I just watch this one movie on my phone while you intro the adventure?" says one neo-slacker chica. Her deely-bobber tiara has little acid house smiley globes wiggling on twin springy coils.  She is probably wearing them ironically.

"No, no phones!   No movies, no TV, no calls, no texts!  Pay attention while gaming to the people right in front of you!  At most, you can stack dice into towers on the table, although that's still kind of annoying..."

I wish I had been having a lucid dream, so I could direct myself to wrench open a window (in the FLGS basement wall) and yell out over the impossible subterranean rooftops of the city the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore..." speech from Network.  I could melt everyone's cell phones and deely-bobbers with my mind.

Instead, mercifully, there comes a time in everyone's droning dream story where they finally say: "And then I woke up!"




Friday, November 15, 2019

Picking Up the Gauntlet: MS Paint Monster Manual Challenge

OK, so Tristan at Bogeyman's Cave threw down the gauntlet of choosing (or opening to a random page and putting one's finger on) a couple of monsters from the Monster Manual or Fiend Folio or another bestiary and MS Painting them and fearlessly sticking them on one's blog. 

The point is, the images are only done when YOU, the blogger, decide they are done.  The drawings are good enough just because they exist and you felt like making them exist. 

This is like painting naked... or skydiving naked... or doing that public speaking exercise when you imagine the audience is naked - except YOU are naked, giving a rambling speech, wildstyling, not advancing the PowerPoint slides, making your lawyers burst into flames, and not even caring! 

Sooo - I swiped from Pixabay free images, shredded them in MS Paint:

Gelatinous Cube, of course

And pure freestylin' freehand MS Paint drawing:

Larvae, the souls of unhappy jerks...
I almost psyched myself out looking at David A. Trampier's perfectly mood-suffused woodcut-looking India ink masterpieces, but then I looked at some of the WTF D&D?! pieces and charged once more unto the breach!

I hope more people feel inspired to do this.  It deserves a hashtag like #Inktober. 
How about MS-Paint-vember?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sparks onto an oil-soaked cloth

I am a huge fan of the weird stuff Janelle Shane coaxes out of the neural networks she trains.  She feeds the machines all kinds of inspired fodder, which they then cough up into interesting shapes, including D&D spells, character bios, adventures. What the machines make is often the perfect spark to ignite our human elaborations, e.g. Swamp of Monsters fleshed-out spells.

Her latest post, my new favorite, is specifically about prompts to human creativity  - a word each day in "Inktober" to inspire 31 ink drawings by the end of the month.

Lynda Barry in similar inky exercise -

To me, things like this should spur the captions of moist, oozy, severely D&D comix by somebody like Karl Stjernberg of Spores of the Sad Shroom fame - or Tim Sievert's Intrepideeers or Clandestinauts:

Container Room Spider cyclone
hatch with wonderful journey
rolling stone hypnotic fetch
barely disguised Awkward
deep image speaks halting words
Light dwelling adventurous stubborn monster
hog ate goats fort protection
Release jelly scary quick
trail narrow lightly acidic to armored magical legs
double perched dragon
Six juggernauts inhabit gallant earth
Future adventure prompts, or play reports scrawled on napkins stained with orange Cheez Doodle dust from another planet.

If you want to have visions, inhale deeply at

 If you make something, words or pictures, please tell me and I'll link with your permission.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Lost Lush: RELOADED is out

I put my new, expanded, and improved Lost Lush: RELOADED up at the Coiled Sheets of Lead storefront  at

It's fun and should appeal to fans of gritty but humorous low fantasy urban picaresque. Like the first version, it's a medieval pub-crawl in search of a drunken buffoon, traceable through the wreckage and outrage he leaves in his wake, through weird nightspots inspired by 1990s Prague (where I once lived) and 1890s New York City (which the excellent Luc Sante's Low Life can tell you about in detail).
It is now 54 pages long but I'm selling it for the same $4.99 price I sold the original The Lost Lush: Extracting a Carousing Fool for.  I will have to start a new entry sometime soon, in order to get the buzz of "New Today at DriveThruRPG," but I wanted to get everyone who already bought the tiny 20-something-page original version to get my expanded update free.  

I'm trying to avoid tedious kvetching, but it has been weird wandering through the wilderness hexcrawl of marketing.

Two meditations on marketing by people with more coherent skulls than mine:

1.   Cecil Howe  
Thanks to Florent "KillerKlown" Didier for spotting the broken link! 
It looks like Sword Peddler blog keeled over and died since I posted this!
It also looks like Nick LS Whelan was kind enough to convert Cecil Howe's blog entry into a podcast... 
This is like getting your consciousness uploaded into the Singularity Universal AI before your body dies:
Blogs On Tape: How to Become a Godzillionaire on DriveThruRPG

2.  Necropraxis  Correct Link for Necropraxis's post on Marketing Imagination

Anyway, I tried to get my new version playtested among various boards and contacts online.  No dice.  So I printed tearsheet flyers and tacked it up on the physical corkboards at friendly local game shop The Source  - I had it OK'ed by managers and employees.

Nary a nibble!  What's up with people?

Does nobody want a hard-copy spiral bound thing to test for free?  Is it because I lack the requisite full-color dungeon-punk anime-influenced art and 5E compatibility and Hasbro/WOTC livery that people want these days?

OK, kvetching over.  But I felt compelled to mention this phenomenon.

I'd better put up better free maps to promote Lost Lush on DTRPG.  Sure, people might just take the free maps and ignore the paid thing they might have paid for to get the maps, BUT my maps should be as good as I can make them as a matter of pride and should be free as a matter of principle.

UPDATE from 11-19-2019:

One of the points of advice Cecil Howe's advocated was that creators should spend DriveThruRPG Publisher Promotion Points (PPP) on submitting their adventures for the Deal of the Day cue. He said that people should immediately plow all of the PPP earned from this success into submitting their adventure(s) back into the Deal of the Day cue... and again... and again.

This seems like sound advice (I also liked his warning to forgo wasting PPP on banner ads, because nobody ever clicks them.)

I get the feeling it was easier to do the PPP to Deal of the Day cycle this when DriveThruRPG was a few years younger.
 There were fewer products, fewer creators.  Fewer PPP were needed to submit a Deal of the Day.  There was a shorter wait time until one's adventure was featured as a Deal of the Day.

It took me from 11-1-2017 until August 2019 to earn enough PPP to hit the fluctuating quota required to submit a Deal of the Day.  I paid 473 PPP to put my adventure in the cue. 
I returned from out of town in late October to discover STATUES had been the Deal of the Day while I was gone- I had to grin to my chagrin!

72 people bought STATUES during October 2019.  I think maybe there was one purchase before the Deal of the Day, earlier in October.

Now I have 88 PPP.  If I can add another piece of advice to Cecil's, it's that a creator should price their creation a bit higher than I did, if they want to do the Cecil Howe tactic.
Cecil Howe's $10 offering probably generates more PPP than my adventure with every sale, so that he can plow the PPP earned in the wake of his Deal of the Day immediately back into submitting his adventure for a Deal of the Day again.  I can't do that with my $4.99 adventure.

It also helps that Cecil Howe's creations are beautifully designed.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Googly Eyes Make Everything Better

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed how somebody  (Jeff Reints maybe? Actually, Dyson Logos    as kindly pointed out by Tom H of  Plastic Polyhedra) creatively vandalized a boatload of classic D&D art by sticking googly eyes on the characters and monsters.

I know I have a tendency to slide into the bottomless abyss of humorless joyless pooptacularity.

So I stopped dissecting with MS Paint the Otto Wirsching Dance of Death woodcut I wanted to modify as the cover for my upcoming rollout of the new, improved, and expanded Lost Lush: Reloaded.

And I used the poor man's Photoshop to stick googly eyes on it:

Not only does this imply the wacky hi-jinks that are likely to ensue in this adventure, it burps up a black humor streaked with potential pathos.  The idiot noble on a bender which the PCs are searching for is one insult away from inciting the put-upon proles to barbecue him in a brutal neo-pagan revolutionary rite.  

I tried putting googly eyes on everyone in the picture, but that was too much.  My own kid, the Princess of Excess, said if everyone was googly, it was like no-one was googly.  No true visual impact.  A wise 8-year-old.

Speaking of the kidlet, I lashed out and bought the 2014 version of the boardgame Dungeon!   I wanted to get something we could play together as a family.  

THAT one. Pic swiped from

Kidlet is waaaay too interested in video games like Roblox, and watching loud, hyperactive teenagers play Roblox games on Youtube: "Hey, FELLAHS!  WassUP?"  These kinds of entertainment feed off her negative emotions and ADHD, like some kind of Star Trek: The Original Series entity.
Like from "The Naked Time" or....
Pics from
So anyway, I would really like to get my kid playing tabletop D&D, boardgames, or anything unrelated to the accursed iPad.  

Did Dungeon! do the trick?  Yes, for a while.  Then ADHD overcame attention span.  But we've tried two times so far and we'll try playing it again sometime soon.  Still, there's the nagging feeling, "Dungeon! is fine but when will she be ready to play the real thing, ie. Holmes Basic?"

Earlier this year I took her to see the band KISS on their End of the Road Tour.  We sat around a long time in the arena, then watched the opening act - a speed painter- then sat around an interminable length of time before a voice boomed out: "YOU WANT THE BEST?  YOU GOT THE BEST!" and then "Detroit Rock City" busted out and there were fireworks.  It was cool for that song, but then my kid was saying, "I hope you're not mad, Daddy, but I want to go home..."  I wasn't mad at all.  She had lost the earplugs I gave her during the rock-and-roll speed painter, and so I had given her mine, but the high volume of KISS reverberating in the craptastic tin can acoustics of the Target Center was making her kid's body physically sick.  I had brought fully-over-the-ear headphones for her to further protect her ears, but the music was buffeting her sternum and guts. Besides, I was feeling the loss of my own pair of earplugs.

But even from the beginning of the evening, an unspoken pissed-off grumbling kept echoing off the inside of my skull:"I wish I could have taken her to see Gwar instead, and not in a basketball stadium."  So anyway, Dungeon! is a better substitute for D&D with families than KISS is for Gwar, but you'll still wish everyone was able to play D&D.

Picture 1 of 5
The most un-rock-n-roll $20 souvenir EVER!  I drink coffee out of it, and my kid drinks milk out of it with a straw and blows bubbles.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Czech "Witch-Burning" night is thinly-Christianized Pagan ritual (and excuse to party on hilltops)


April 30th is the eve of the festival of St. Valburga, called Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht by  Germans.  Hexennacht means "Witches' Night".  As noted by Tim S. Brannan   and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  on this night, evil witches are supposed to convene their Sabbath on the summit of the Brocken in Thuringia.  

The Church was eager to establish a feast day for St. Valburga (Walpurgis) close to the time of this opposing holiday, on May 1st, because the saint was a staunch missionary among the still-pagan Germans of the 8th Century and because of her reputed efficacy in battling witchcraft.

In the Czech Republic, the sometimes-celebrated holiday is called Čarodějnice ("Witches") or Pálení čarodějnic ("Burning of Witches").  Crude effigies of witches are burned in large bonfires on hilltops.  Supposedly the bonfires ward off witches and associated evil spirits. Of course, up until the present day many young people celebrate this holiday just as an excuse to meet in natural areas, drink, and party.

It's easy to see a pagan ritual with a thin veneer of Christianity covering it.  The "witch" effigy is actually Morana the ancient Slavic goddess of winter and death.  Burning her effigy is symbolic triumph of Spring over Winter and Life over Death, a drama which Czechs have been enacting seasonally since long before conversion to Christianity.

During the Nazi occupation in World War II, and under the Communist regime of 1948-1989, Čarodějnice activities were suppressed.  My first host family in Prague described how unstructured, youth-driven sports like skateboarding were anathema to the old regime. Imagine how incensed the authorities would be toward these rowdy ancient traditions that involve nature, huge bonfires, effigies, and Christian and pagan elements.

Often the hilltop sites of today's bonfire celebrations, such as Petřín hill, were formerly "pagan paradises" where the ancient Czechs kindled sacrificial fires amidst clearings in the groves.  Centuries after Bohemia was converted, these fires were supposed to spontaneously ignite at random times.  People peered into the flames and saw the faces of their pre-Christian ancestors, or pagan deities dressed in ancient clothing, or devils.  Old people felt their rheumatism improved if they warmed their bones around the mysterious fires.

Image result for neprakta prag voller
There's a better picture by Neprakta of the devilish faces in the fires, but I'm too lazy to scan it
I don't know if you are inspired to create gaming content out of all of the preceeding, but I hope you'll be inspired to get life-content out of the following: May 1st, besides the Labor Day meaning emphasized from 1948-1989, can be a powerfully pagan-ish (or just fun) holiday for Czechs.  If they are willing and able, they smooch under blossoming cherry trees.  Like getting smacked in the butt with a pomlazka switch, getting smooched under the flowering trees is supposed to "keep women from drying up" and "keep them feeling young and beautiful" in the coming year.

Image result for polibek 1 máj
The original Karel Hynek Mácha wrote the most famous Czech romantic lyric poem starting with "It was late in the evening on the First of May/An evening in May - the time of love..."