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Showing posts with label gaming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gaming. Show all posts

Studio Updates… and some Halflings!

Poster art for the Arts in the Park event at Ottawa's Emond Park by Charlotte Taylor
This is going to be an “odds ‘n ends” kinda post. First, I’m very pleased to announce that I’ll be participating in the “Arts in the Park” event here in Ottawa. This event has been led by the amazing Charlotte Taylor and she, along with some other folks, have done an amazing job. Obviously COVID led to the cancellation of last year’s event, but it’s really neat to see it back up and running. It’s already special now, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might just become one helluva “can’t miss” event down the road. Arts in the Park will be held here in Ottawa on June 18th and details can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

Otherwise, well… I’m still trying to place Dave’s death. I kinda feel like a part of me has been ripped right out and it’s going to take a long time before I really feel “whole” again. Part of that is the lack of closure in general and part of that is the uncertainty around his death. As I think I mentioned in the aforementioned post, there’s a good chance we may never know what happened, why it happened, and if anything could have been done to stop it from happening. That, friends, is a tough tough thing to face. These type of losses take time to heal; while I know that intellectually, emotionally is a whole other trick. It’s kinda like experiencing a rough storm; scream and rage all you want, but the storm is going to do its thing before it finally blows itself out.

Death, regardless of what else it may mean to different people, also represents the loss of potential. It ends the “what ifs” of life. There is no “road less taken” or other cliché. If you’re familiar with the notion of a “dolorous blow,” that’s a pretty good description of how I’ve been feeling. There are things I would have loved to do with Dave, things that I now no longer have the opportunity to do. Movies, art shows, book launches, and all of that. Plus just hanging out and talking. The potential for things is now over and that is a struggle to face. Paul Brickhill wrote a great line in his book THE DAM BUSTERS that has always stayed with me. It reads, “War, as someone said, is a great leveller, but he did not mean it quite as literally or as bitterly as this.” Death, too.

As a result of all of this, I haven’t managed to do too much drawing lately. I’m generally pretty good at working away regardless of how I’m feeling, but Dave’s death has really effected that. Part of it is just giving myself the time I need to grieve and feel the loss. Another part is that art does take a certain peace of mind, especially if one — okay, me — really wants to get the creative “juices” flowing. I don’t generally struggle when facing the ol’ blank piece of paper, but over the last month I really have been. However, I AM drawing, even if it’s not at the level of production I normally like to maintain, and I thought I’d share a few pieces here.


Pencil sketch of a group of happy halflings by Von Allan
These are Hobbits… well, Halflings because I think the word “Hobbit” has been trademarked. What? Yes. I generally think of things like this as “joy sucking,” damn it all. It is what it is though, so Halflings it is!

My Halflings are not really in the Tolkein style. Or rather, they are at the BEGINNING of their careers, but not later. What do I mean? Well, I like my Halflings to have a major flavour of old school DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS thrown into the mix, but D&D through the prism of BLOOD BOWL. Yes! In other words, pleasant and fun-loving in the beginning, but then they decide to go delve into a few dungeons. The survivors (ahem!) become far more haggard and battle-scarred. That doesn’t kill their love of food, beer, and good times, of course, but it does give them a world-weary sense that I really like. Besides, there is something that I find a great deal of fun with having scarred up Halflings who have names like Jonesy Gluttonbelly, Pauly Pancakes, Bertram Berryapple, and Bailey Teabiscuit. Who the hell doesn’t want to go into a dungeon with those folks? Someone who doesn’t like living, that’s who!

These pencilled illustrations are fun and sketchy. They’re also tighter than I usually pencil, mainly because I tend to be looser with my pencils because I almost always ink my own work. If I was pencilling for someone else to ink, then tighter pencils are usually the best way to go, unless penciller and inker have a tremendous and intuitive relationship. I tend to view the relationship between two people working like this as somewhat akin to the pitcher/catcher “battery” in baseball.

Examples in comics include John Byrne and Terry Austin, George Pérez and Romeo Tanghal, and Neal Adams and Tom Palmer.

As an aside, it’s very weird to think that both Pérez and Adams have also died recently. Sigh.

Pencil sketch of a group of very tough and very grumpy halflings by Von Allan

Part of what makes the “battery” analogy not quite perfect is that it ignores the roles of both colorists and letterers, which is clearly not fair. Both play a key and underappreciated role in comics, especially mainstream corporate comics, and that importance really deserves more attention then it typically receives. Continuing the baseball metaphor (and hopefully not torturing it too much), in many ways the entire team of creators (the writer, penciller, letterer, inker, and colorist) is more akin to a baseball infield. Each is important and without each the team breaks down.

Of course, in general I “play” all of these positions, so the analogy doesn’t really fit me. That’s always the problems with analogies, right?

I also decided to do something I very rarely do and colour directly off my pencils. I generally don’t do this, preferring to colour after I ink my pencils. Why change it up now? Well, partially for fun. And partially, as I noted above, that I’ve been struggling and playing around like this is very helpful for my own peace of mind. Besides, it’s good to experiment and try different things out. Part of the whole point of art (broadly defined) is to do just that. Experiment, try things, and play. How the hell else does one learn and grow?

I suspect I’ll be doing this kind of thing for the next few weeks. It helps deal with my sadness and loss. And that? That’s not nothing. Given what’s been happening, I’m going to take whatever solace I can grab.

Colours and Inks

As always, all of the art on this page can be clicked on for larger versions. I kept the pencilled versions fairly small (about 600 px wide) but the coloured and inked versions are larger (about 900 px wide).

“Sharing is caring” might be a bit clichéd, but it really does help.
Pencil sketch combined with full colours of a group of happy halflings by Von Allan

An inked group of happy halflings by Von Allan

An inked group of tough and grumpy halflings by Von Allan

Revised Sample Level from Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

As many know, in the original printed version of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS volume 3 (“The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures”) Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson presented a sample dungeon level. Accompanying that example was a graphic illustration that visually demonstrated a number of these concepts. In other words, it’s an example of a dungeon map!

As Zach Howard notes, there are actually two versions of this illustration. An original (and much clearer) version that was replaced in later printings with a new version that obscured (rather than clarify) much of the examples that Gygax and Arneson used.

Honestly, neither map is perfect, though given the restraints that Tactical Studies Rules faced in 1974, I suspect it was the best the company could do at the time. That said, I thought it would be fun to use the sample map as a springboard to create both a more modern version and also clarify points that the revised version hid.

My version, first in colour and then in black and white, is below. Grab your copy of OD&D volume 3, starting on page 4, and use that to refer to my versions.

Oh, a few points of clarification: each version of the original published map are exceptionally unclear regarding section 8. Specifically, the “evil man” reference looks (at least to my eye), to inhabit section “J” – but that section does not exist in Gygax and Arneson’s printed notes. Also, the original printed version appears (again to my eye) to include dungeon hallways leading away from section “I” and disappearing both to the east and to the south. The revised printed version of the map eliminates these hallways but I’m unsatisfied with that ‘correction.’ I added them back in my version.

Anyway! These were quite enjoyable to do and hopefully you like them, too. Besides, why should Dyson Logos have all the fun?!

Postscript: I primarily do comics! If you'd like to check out my current series, WOLF'S HEAD, please visit https://wolfs-head.vonallan.com/2020/03/wolfs-head-previews-and-purchase-links.html

Von Allan's revised colour version of the Sample Level Map found in OD&D Book 3 The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures
Von Allan's revised black and white version of the Sample Level Map found in OD&D Book 3 The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures

What Do You Want To Do?

A "Secrets of Blackmoor" Review

This site is clearly not a review site, but occasionally I come across something truly special and I like to celebrate it. Chris Graves and Griffith ("Griff") Mon Morgan III have released their documentary film titled SECRETS OF BLACKMOOR: THE TRUE HISTORY OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS on Vimeo. SECRETS is a documentary on the history and origins of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS but, in many ways, is also a documentary on the evolution of role-playing games. And I think it's important to add that this is also the first volume. Filming of the second volume has just started.

Screenshot of OD&D from Secrets of Blackmoor

The short review (TL;DR) is this: If you have any interest in role-playing games, let alone their creation and evolution, this documentary is phenomenal and well-worth your time. Seriously, I cannot recommend it enough. You can find it on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/secretsofblackmoor and the film's official website is at https://www.secretsofblackmoor.com/

Rent it or buy it. Your choice. But watch it! 
The rest of this review will go into some detail about the film and also talk about why I find it so fascinating.

My Background

I got into role-playing games, like a lot of kids, when I was 8 or 9 years old (so around 1982-83). Interestingly, I never played D&D as a kid. I have a memory of being shown the rulebooks for ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and I found them daunting. Big complex-looking hardcovers that really didn't speak to me at all. I was also big into comics and not that into fantasy of any sort at that time. What got me into role-playing was not D&D; instead, it was another product from the same company, namely MARVEL SUPER HEROES: THE HEROIC ROLE-PLAYING GAME. That led to games like FASA's STAR TREK: THE ROLE PLAYING GAME. I played a lot of these games as a teenager and really enjoyed them. Like comics and science fiction in general, they were a perfect escape from some pretty rough times.

And then, like a lot of young adults, I fell out of them in my late teens and early twenties.

D&D, or rather that style of fantasy gaming, didn't come until much later. How much later? Well, more like 2010 when I first came across DUNGEON CRAWL CLASSICS. That sparked an interest in fantasy role-playing and, through a pretty circuitous route, eventually D&D. This eventually led me to tracking down the original publications, published in 1974, and co-written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

I say this for three reasons.
  1. I don't have a particular pedigree with D&D. I came to it very late in life, especially compared to most of its fans. I certainly don't have any particular childhood affinity to one version of the game over others (what is known colloquially as "edition wars"; I have no interest in that).

  2. I'm not in any particular "camp" (usually defined as fans of Gary Gygax versus fans of Dave Arenson). By coming to D&D so late, I missed all of that. And, of course, both men have died so I really have no horse in this race.

  3. The SECRETS OF BLACKMOOR film is directly in my "wheelhouse" because it was released at the same time I've been separately exploring the origins of the game. For me, it's a case of perfect timing.

What Do You Want To Do?

So what is it about the film that I find so compelling? It's a combination of a number of things.

The History and Development of Role-Playing

The history of role-playing games is part of it. All role-playing games are a comparatively new and the evolution of role-playing is a very modern development. I think David Wesely in the film says it best, "...you just can't seem to describe the game by just writing down all the rules. You actually have to have somebody talk you through what it looks like when people are playing it so they get a feel for the social interaction on a level that's very hard to describe as just simple flat statements."

The film proceeds to discuss not only wargaming, but how Charles Totten's STRATEGOS: THE AMERICAN GAME OF WAR (1880) tied so many of the Twin City gamers together. The film then develops the importance of the impartial referee. As Greg Scott notes in the film, "as the referee becomes more and more important, you have the kernel of the role-playing game. That's where role-playing games come from, because you don't have role-playing games without a referee."

Screenshot of Strategos from Secrets of Blackmoor

In fact, Wesely's role is critical to how role-playing games develop. Some of the most informative and most amusing parts of the documentary is when Weseley and his players describe the develop of BRAUNSTEIN, a wargame set in the fictional German town of Braunstein. BRAUNSTEIN combines elements of wargaming and STRATEGOS 'N' (Weseley's variation on Totten's rules, especially the involvement of a powerful but impartial referee). This is a part of the history of role-playing that I knew nothing about. 

Screenshot of David Wesely from Secrets of Blackmoor

Early in the film, Griff notes that "the referee invents a fantasy and describes everything about it to the players...The referee asks you, 'What do you want to do?' The story has begun and now it's up to you to decide, what do you want to do?...This pattern repeats endlessly, building a shared imaginary experience."

What do you want to do? 

That is, I think, a key factor in what makes a role-playing role-playing. Is it the only thing? No, I don't think so. Can it be more than that? Sure. Can it be less than that? That is an interesting question. Part of what I'm groping at here, something that the film really explores, is just what is role-playing? As Griff notes in the film, "what is even more confounding about the play-style is that you can play a role-playing game without any rules at all, but you can't play a role-playing game without the play method that is employed by all of these games."

This notion of just what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game is a huge and fascinating part of the film. It is well-framed and well-presented in the film itself and leaves plenty of room for reflection.

History of the Players

Role-playing is a shared experience. One of the things the film does is bring the players, especially those players from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (Minnesota), to the forefront. Often we focus on who created a thing, especially in the formal sense of celebrity, fame, author credits, and so on and lose focus on all the other human beings who played key roles. It's a great credit to both Chris and Griff that they sought out so many people to interview and record. When watching the film in this light, I think the viewer really gets the sense of how important everyone was. All of these people were incubators and share credit on the creation and evolution of role-playing. To put it another way, if these players hadn't been there, would role-playing even exist?

As I've noted, both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson have died (Gygax in 2008 and Arneson in in 2009). As a result, the film focuses on interviews with friends and family of both men (notably Malia Weinhagen, Dave Arneson's daughter; John, Arneson's dad; David Wesely, creator of the Braunstein RPG; David Megarry, creator of DUNGEON!; Bob Meyer; Greg Svenson; Rob Kuntz; Ross Maker; Gail Gaylord; Peter Gaylord; Jeff Berry; and on and on). The comments from Malia and John are especially poignant. I would argue that one of the most important things that the film does is give these folks an opportunity to have their memories, thoughts, and feelings about role-playing recorded for posterity.

The Conflict Between Gygax and Arneson

The least compelling part of it, at least for me, was the conflict between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, though this is not a large part of the film's story. That said, I do think the comments from Barbara Keyes-Jenkins, Dave Arneson's accountant, are important and relevant. To be clear, I find the conflict immensely sad, in the same way I find the conflicts between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko sad.


Falling outs between people do happen (I've had my fair share), but when it comes to the falling out between creative co-creators, it leaves a lot of "what ifs?" In the case of Arneson and Gygax, what if the falling out hadn't happened? What would the evolution of D&D look like? Would ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS have even been published? What if D&D had focused on developing and publishing game tools rather than hard and fast rules? A whole trajectory of the game, both wonderful and different, might have occurred.


SECRETS OF BLACKMOOR is a remarkable and wonderful film. It is educational in the best sense of the word and I am extremely pleased that the film was made and I had the opportunity to watch it. I can't wait for volume 2!

Do yourself a favour and see it. You won't regret it.


I'll leave it with this: Griff, in a podcast interview discussing the film, noted the following letter that he received from John Arneson, Dave's dad. It reads in part, "Congratulations for a job well done. The efforts, planning, time, and resources required were tremendous. Malia Weinhagen's, David Wesely's, and Greg Svenson's insight and input for the production added to the success of the endeavour. I was surprised and pleased to see and hear about the Hartford House, where I believe DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was conceived. The recognition of Dave Arneson, his talent and creativity, is long overdue. He is, indeed, the father of role-playing and has authored many articles about board games, rules, and procedures. Again, I thank you and appreciate the work of a multitude of people who made the documentary possible. My thanks to all."

Screenshot of John Arneson from Secrets of Blackmoor

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Dungeon Spiders

Dungeon Spiders pinup by Von Allan

Dungeons… spiders… looming danger… but no dwarfs! What?! Madness! Really fun little piece that emphasizes something I love about old school Dungeons and Dragons: sneaking around, listening at doors, using light sources, and picking locks. Exploration is the name of the game, not (and I repeat not) combat. Hell, if you aren't trying to talk your way out of trouble then (in my not so humble opinion) you are losing a lot of the fun.

Undead Skeletons

Undead Skeletons pinup by Von Allan

Fun little piece with undead. Skeletons! A gaming staple!

What? More Dwarfs?

Yes! More dwarfs. I love dwarfs. LOVE THEM. And, when I get a chance to game, guess what I play?

Inked Illustration of Two Dwarf Killerbeards by Von Allan

Inked Illustration of a Feisty Female Dwarf Killerbeard by Von Allan

I also like playing around with stereotypes when it comes to illustrations like this. Often (not always, but often) dwarfs are depicted as males. It's really fun to invert that and have very feisty female dwarfs. Why the hell not?

Dungeon Crawling Robots and Some Monsters

Dungeon Crawling Robots by Von Allan

I love fusing fantasy and sci-fi. I know some people have trouble with that, but I love it. The idea of robots, armed with swords and carrying backpacks, looking for treasure in an old school dungeon is awesome...at least to me! In fact, when I play LABYRINTH LORD, I've added the robot class from James Spahn's WHITE STAR game into the mix.

In fact, that theme is fused in my Bill and Butch comic book stories. Wizards and Robots! Yeah!
Dungeon monsters by Von Allan

These monsters were done mainly as a warm-up, but I got a kick out of them. I have to admit that when it comes to monsters, I much prefer original creations versus the old standbys. I understand why it's fun to play around with ogres, goblins, and orcs, and whatnot, but there's something arcane and unknowable about a brand new monster that creates doubt and excitement. "What is it?" "What can it do?" "Our arrows bounced off!" "Our swords broke!" "Oh, shit, run!"


Biker Dwarfs in Colour

Colour versions of some dwarf bikers by Von Allan

Female dwarf bikers in colour by Von Allan

What can I say? I like dwarfs! Well, dwarves, too, of course, but I tend to go with the "f" spelling. What's not to like?

In gaming terms, especially in old school DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, dwarfs have that really handy ability to detect traps, mechanical alterations to dungeons, as well as sloping tunnels and all that. In fact, in FIGHT ON! 4, Dave Bowman really emphasized their importance in a terrific article titled Delvers Delve. If you like D&D, LABYRINTH LORD, SWORDS & WIZARDRY, and whatnot, I can't recommend that article enough.

Dwarf Killerbeards in black and white and colour

Two Dwarf Killerbeards in colour illustrated by Von Allan
Black and white inked version of Two Dwarf Killerbeards illustrated by Von Allan

While I don't have a lot of time for gaming, I do like to game from time to time. When I do, it's typically in the "old school" style, probably best represented by early 80s DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (I'm particularly fond of Tom Moldvay's version) and it's retro-clone versions (especially LABYRINTH LORD by Dan Proctor).

And when I game, I love (love!) using henchmen. Or, in this case, henchdwarfs! You know, dwarfs-at-arms. Or, as I like to call 'em, Killerbeards! Enough, in fact, that I've included them in one comics short story I did. Why use humans when you can use dwarfs?! I love me some dwarfs!

Short Story - Total Party Kill!

UPDATE! While you can always read the short story below, I have decided to start making my comics freely available to all for easier digital reading. Please visit https://www.vonallan.com/p/pirate-von.html for more information and download links!

Page one of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page two of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page three of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page four of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page five of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page six of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page seven of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan
Page eight of the comic book short story Total Party Kill written and illustrated by Von Allan

This is the second short story featuring the wizards Bill and Butch.  Fantasy gaming, probably best represented by DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, was certainly an influence here. But more than the game was the tone of what made the "old school" exactly that. Dangerous, violent, and scary, but the characters are taking those risks for the gold. Get rich or die trying is oh so very true when it comes to dungeon delving. Especially true for the lowly first level character.

'Course, that's part of the fun.  Especially when combined with the laughs sitting around a table eating pizza and making bad jokes while the brave little PCs get shivved in the dark!

This story first saw print in the comic book titled WIZARDS FOR HIRE — CHEAP! back in 2017. Unfortunately, the print edition is out of print (though you might be able to find a copy using Bookfinder). But! This story — as well as a boatload of others — were collected into a beautiful hardcover edition titled LOVE, LAUGHTER, AND LOSS: A COMICS COLLECTION. More information about that edition can be found right here.

In addition, there is also a digital comic book version of WIZARDS FOR HIRE — CHEAP! on Kindle that can be read anywhere in the world. That edition is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089QXBYY9.

For more of my comic short stories, including Bill and Butch, please visit my comic book archive that has links to all of my short stories. These are all available as free webcomics, so there's quite a bit to read! Have fun!

Dungeon Dwarf

I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for dwarfs. Especially biker-type dwarfs, fully kitted out and ready for adventure. Old school adventure, I hasten to add!

Old School Dungeon Dwarf with Armour, Weapons, and a trusty backpack by Von Allan

Wolf's Head by Von Allan

Link to Von Allan's Wolf's Head comic book series

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I Am Still Your Child Trailer

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