I said before that Over the Edge was the game I should have been running in the 90s instead of Mage. I also said in my #RPGCoverArtAppreciation contribution that I really prefer the 1e cover to the 2e. It’s surprisingly hard to find examples of the 1e cover of a decent size, so I was pleased to stumble upon this short-lived blog with a nice big version:

ote-shuler

Based on the credits in the Player’s Survival Guide I assume the artist is Douglas Shuler, whose art turns up on a lot of the early Magic the Gathering cards (including the Serra Angel).

Anyway, this is why I particularly love Over The Edge’s cover:

EdithandFreddie

That’s Edith and Freddie from the Invisibles V1e3, being observed by Tom O’Bedlam and Dane from the swings. Which, incidentally, you can now own in this monster of an omnibus:

InvisOmni

Anyway… I don’t think I ever wanted to run Mage. I wanted to run The Invisibles, The Naked Lunch, Lost Highway, Sapphire and Steel.

I certainly didn’t want to run this:

GrayskullHogwarts

“Hogwarts meets Castle Greyskull on Jupiter” (image found on this interesting French site

So, I’m trying something out with the scenery… the images come from some random ink drawings I did when using up the last few drops in the ink converter before flushing the pens out.

Inkscape2 z

The Sea

Inkscape4 z

 Tower Between Realms

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Degrees of Infection

A bit hit-and-miss. Unfortunately the scanner doesn’t pick up the lovely red sheen in the first one, but it’s there. Images copyright me, whatever.

Weaveworld cover

Nothing like a bit of food poisoning to give you new perspective. For me it was the chance to re-read Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.

This is a book from my late teens, and like most teens I liked my flavours strong and not subtle.  It’s too long, the characters are mostly one-trick ponies, the prose is unnecessary, and the plot swings from being pedestrian to incomprehensible. Still, it resonates very strongly, mainly for Barker’s description of magic.

I prefer The Great and Secret Show (and Imajica, although I read that much later) for magical imagery, but Weaveworld has coloured my perception of what magic should appear to be in both fiction and games. I say appear, because I don’t think there’s any system behind the magic, it’s all texture and the effect it has on the environment. The closest we get to philosophy is probably the concept of Cosm / Metacosm / Quiddity in the books of the Art.

Compared to Immacolata’s  Menstruum and Gentle’s Pneuma, magic in D&D looks a bit agricultural. Barker’s mages usually either know innately how to do magic (the Seerkind), or they’ve seized it through hard work and sacrifice (the Jaffe, Swann), or have been gifted it (Shadwell). Mostly Barker writes about people using magic, rather than the magic itself.

This is probably why Mage: the Ascension appealed to me so strongly (and it cites Imajica in the bibliography). Unfortunately it’s mired in an awful system and an awful political structure, the same clans-and-tribes nonsense inherited from the earlier oWoD games. When I ran Mage the best fun came from mostly ignoring the rules and using the spheres as a rough guide, and pushing all the Traditions nonsense to the background (the characters were mostly Hollow).

I have no idea how magic works in a modern FATE driven game like Dresden Files. My preference is for something completely freeform; a bit like the Everway approach, if that weren’t so light and twee and goody-goody. And looking at FATE (which I have been recently) I’m not sure an Aspect driven game would work either. Of course being my new favourite thing WaRP has a lot of promise, with magic being described in the same loose sense as other Traits. The only downside is there’s not enough to lose; no sanity, no acquiring deformities through paradox, etc. I’ll work on that.

New Favourite: The Anachroneironaut

Now for a new favourite. My new favourite blog is the Anachroneironaut. Amazing gothic illustrations, lovecraftian houseplants, and ink. Check out this amazing piece of art inspired by Perdido Street Station.

Alas I backed James Wallis’ Kickstarter for Alas Vegas, a game about waking up in a shallow grave naked and with no memory just outside Las Vegas.

Anyway, the artist John Coultart has created the Major Arcana for the Alas Vegas Tarot, and he blogs about it here. As James said recently — one card in isolation is impressive, the whole set together just blows my mind.

While I’m here I may as well mention other kickstarter stuff — Ron Edwards’ annotated Sorcerer is here (so I should follow up on my earlier review), and I also backed Shadows of Esteren because I seem to be unable to resist pretty pictures of bleak landscapes.

For any gamer growing up in the UK in the late 70s to 80s, Fighting Fantasy was probably your gateway drug to the hobby. For me, the crowning achievement of Fighting Fantasy was Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series.

Setting aside the four-book story, the multiple pathways (many ending in complete failure, endings all the more poignant for having succeeded in the earlier books), and the wonderful spell system, the impact of that series came from John Blanche.

Shamutanti

This image is taken from a forum post in 2010 from a user called “Gambit37”, who has taken the image from the front and back of The Shamutanti Hills and photoshopped it a bit (update: cleaned up by another user “cowsmanaut” – lovely). I think you’ll agree they’ve done a great job, and it showcases Blanche beautifully. The town in the middle looks as though it’s influenced by Roger Dean, who was responsible for my Prog Rock habit later in life. Less said about that the better, I think.

This fellow makes a nice, succinct post on Blanche, and comments on his right-to-left style and the way it draws the reader’s eye. Though of course the above is a book cover–the book wouldn’t have looked nearly as cool with a couple of giant mushrooms on the front (unless you’re mycophobic).

I recently discovered the gothic punk tumblr for Blanche’s work (it’s been around for some time according to the Tears of Envy blog), so take a look if you like that sort of thing. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

Another illustrator from my childhood is Gary Chalk, who drew similarly distinctive images in the Lone Wolf and other Magnamund books. Project Aon appears to be re-publishing old Lone Wolf material, though I don’t know if it will include Chalk’s illustrations, but I hope so:

LW1

Now our gamebooks have entered the electronic age. It was inevitable. It is a good thing: a precious gateway to gaming that can be enjoyed by young and old is preserved. On the other hand I don’t get what Eddie Sharam’s gif illustrations add to Blanche’s original work. I see that the Forest of Doom has also been given a makeover too, with Martin McKenna’s cover a duplicate of Iain McCaig’s original shapeshifter. I don’t see the point unless it was to overcome a legal obstacle.

With the recent Old School Renaissance and the focus of LotFP on “weird”, artwork has become edgy once more. It’s a refreshing departure from the glossy comic-book style rut of the D&D era. Artists like Jason Rainville and Cynthia Sheppard manage distinctive styles that evoke a particular flavour of fantasy.

But Blanche and Chalk and McCaig and Archilleos and Miller did this already. Blanche’s art is weird, full stop. Blanche and Miller contribute massively to the feel of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, more than the game’s career system or its over-use of umlauts. The OSR movement for discovering the “old ways” of playing is laudible, but its true value is in opening paths back to  distinctive art and feel–the art that drew some of us to the hobby in the first place–and away from the sanitised, fantasy-by-numbers tripe that plagues the likes of Exalted, D&D and the rest of the post-Tolkien rubbish.