Celebrating Board Games by Nina Chertoff and Susan Kahn

Artwork from Go to the Head of the Class featuring Sis and Cowboy Joe on cover of Celebrating Board GamesNow out of print, Celebrating Board Games was originally part of a collection by Sterling Publishing that included Celebrating PEZ, Celebrating Snow Globes, and Celebrating Christmas Ornaments. Heavy on full color pictures but light on any substantial text, Celebrating Board Games’ most lengthy passage is the three-page introduction. Otherwise its authors simply present a board game with its name in bold lettering and provide a brief description of the game’s context, content, or advances. These descriptions can be maddeningly vague; the authors write “At right is the Game of Louisa, introduced in 1888 by McLoughlin Bros. It was a variation of Parcheesi. Its artwork is particularly noteworthy.” Why its artwork is just so noteworthy is not a topic that the authors care to discuss.

To me the perfect recipient of Celebrating Board Games would be any nostalgic sort of adult who grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which is where the bulk of the book’s roughly 105 games are drawn from. If your mouth waters when you see advertisements in old magazines or recorded TV shows and you enjoy flipping through catalogues, then Celebrating Board Games is right for you. It originally retailed for $10, but can be found on the secondary market via resellers like eBay, Amazon, or used book stores.

Celebrating Board Games in the Classroom and as History

Chertoff and Kohn are also quick to point out games that are politically incorrect, such as the 1950s Cherry Ames’ Nursing Game, which is just on the wrong side of political correctness; a game card advises “Dr. Wylie said to Cherry, “Wipe that rouge off your face!” Move back 4 spaces.What Shall I Be? from 1972 is more overt, offering girls only six career outlets it would seem, becoming either a ballerina, an airline hostess, an actresses, a nurse, a teacher, or a model. However it’s just these sorts of games in Celebrating Board Games that make it so worthwhile as a tool to get a glimpse into the past. As the authors write, “Our interests, our imagination, and our values are reflected in those simple boards and the pieces that move across them.” Part of those historical values is the role of race and the book features two racially charged games with the authors describing Little Black Sambo as “not only politically incorrect, but offensive.” The game Snake Eyes is subtler, but Chertoff and Kohn note that it “is another period piece that has racial graphics that are unacceptable today.” Even though there is little text in the book, it still might be helpful to teachers or students wanting to explore the pervasiveness of racism or sexism in the mid-20th century. Middle school and elementary school teachers will have a harder time making use of the book, but it is possible with greater supervision.

Fantasy Gaming History via Celebrating Board Games

While almost every board game could be considered a fantasy game in which one has to use one’s imagination, what really caught my eye in Celebrating Board Games was the emergence of representational military and fantasy games. Milton Bradley’s Siege stands out for its inclusion of a plastic castle out of scale with the game’s nine plastic miniatures: four mounted knights and five footmen. 1977’s Carrier Strike featured aircraft carrier models battling over a hex grid with torpedo dive bombers. From the picture, it looks like the torpedos might detach from the plane carrying them, which would be a neat mechanic. The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game makes use of cardboard playing pieces to represent the Fellowship and the Naz-Gul and represents Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, the Black Gate, and Mt. Doom on its board and takes it artwork from the Ralph Bakshi animated film. John Hill’s Panzerforce makes an appearance with its six HO scale plastic tanks, though the box art’s boast of its “18” x 30″ Full Color Realistic Game Board” seems laughable given how poorly drawn it appears using today’s standards.

If a certain theme begins to emerge in the book, it’s that Milton Bradley sure had a good design team that enjoyed playing with little toy soldiers as 1981’s Dark Tower reveals. It was fairly novel in that it featured electronics with a keypad built into the physical model of the Dark Tower at the center of the game. The game also came with plastic knights, a dragon, and various buildings. Milton Bradley’s contributions to gaming in the book really culminate with Broadsides & Boarding Parties, which the authors note as having a board that “is beautifully designed”, which is almost meaningless to me compared to the glorious shot of the miniature pirate ship with about two dozen sailors on it and something like eight separate cannon as well. It came with two of the awesome ships and was part of the same Gamemaster Series that brought us Shogun, Axis & Allies, and Fortress America.

Tony Elam’s Role on Celebrating Board Games

At the end of the 144 page book, the authors thank Tony Elam for allowing them to photograph his collection of board games and “graciously providing us with so much fascinating information about their history.” At the time of publication in 2006, Elam was the Director of Games in Education for GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) and the Associate Dean of Engineering at Rice University in Houston. I had more luck in tracking Elam down than I did the book’s authors and asked him if he had any of the interior photographs and whether he could provide any additional information on the book.

Elam was able to help with the latter part, since, according to him, he
came up with most of the book’s content
. The authors, Elam says, “tweaked” the introduction he wrote a “little bit” before including it. As for the book’s actual composition, a photographer and a graphic designer came out to his home in Houston and spent three days photographing his collection with great visual results. As each game was covered, Elam was questioned about it and according to him, he even wound up editing and correcting the brief synopses. Elam is “very pleased” though with the end result and I have to agree with him that the book is a “nice little set of photos”. Some of Elam’s personal favorites from his collection now numbering around 7,500 games that didn’t find their way into the book are Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Besides filling his home with his games, he also has two climate-controlled storage units for his hobby. The crown jewel of his collection is a British kriegspiel game from the 1800s, complete with wooden case and ivory or bone measuring instruments. He came across Settlers of Catan fairly early compared to other Americans in 1996 which started him on Euro games. While Elam has since left GAMA, he has close connections to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, sits on the National Toy Hall of Fame board, and dabbles in games for serious applications like business or medicine with the Houston Serious Games Research Consortium.

Games Photographed in Celebrating Board Games In Order of Appearance:
Grandma’s Game of Riddles, Uncle Wiggily, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Old Maid, Standard Authors, Logomachy, Komical Konversation Kards, Grandma’s Game of Riddles (again), The Game of Snap, Game of Louisa, Pollyanna, Eddie Cantor’s Game, Clipper Race, Monopoly, Cargoes, Finance, Bulls and Bears, Pirate and Traveler, Parcheesi, The Lone Ranger, Bizerte Gertie, Gusher, Little Black Sambo, Touring, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (again), Snake Eyes, Calling All Cars, Clue, Cootie, Lobby, Uncle Wiggily (again), Hopalong Cassidy Game, Park and Shop, Police Patrol, Stadium Checkers, Astron, Dunce, Frontierland Game, Merry Milkmen, Prince Valiant, Old Maid (again), Rin-Tin-Tin, Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland Rocket to the Moon Game, Walt Disney’s Fantasyland Game, Trapped!, Around the World in 80 Days, Fearless Fireman, Thrills ‘n’ Spills, Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Game, Star Reporter, Alfred Hitchcock Presents WHY, Casper the Friendly Ghost Game, Have Gun Will Travel, Cherry Ames’ Nursing Game, Risk!, Steve Canyon, Go to the Head of the Class, The Game of Life, Camelot, Tally Ho!, Lucky Loopy, Combat!, Sorry!, Camp Granada, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., chess set featuring Napoleon, Siege, Fu Manchu’s Hidden Hoard, Regatta, Kreskin’s ESP, Dominoes, Masterpiece: The Art Auction Game, The Godfather Game, the Pincchio Game, Ouija, Hare and Tortoise, What Shall I Be?, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Creature Features, Cracker Jack, Carrier Strike!, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game, Panzerforce, Winnie the Pooh, The Mad Magazine Game, Candyland, Dark Tower, Broadsides & Boarding Parties, Barnum’s Animal Crackers Game, Looping Louie, Wadjet, Elvis, Nyout, Aeronautika, Mississippi Queen, Dinosaurier, Clue (Simpsons version), TurfMaster, Can’t Stop, Battle Cry, MotorChamp, Hamster Rolle, Monopoly (different versions), Mall of Horror, Niagara, Cash ‘n Guns, Parcheesi (another version), Villa Paletti

Dragonsoul Saga Author J.T. Hartke on A Balance Broken

Fantasy author J.T. Hartke’s book, A Balance Broken, is the first of five in his Dragonsoul Saga. By the end of his first chapter Hartke had me hooked with a clever plot device and from there I met character after character in his shifting POV narrative. Hartke’s greatest strength as a writer is his descriptive ability. Little things like the name “Sourbay” or his descriptions of meals bring the reader into his world of Tarmor. While there are some moments of high tension that had me breathlessly turning pages, such as the dragon attack on a Dwarven city, A Balance Broken is fairly light on unpredictable conflict until its climax, which should leave most readers teetering on their seats. So instead of reading to see what would become of a particular character, I was more intrigued by his descriptions of life in his setting and hoping to find out some of the deeper plot behind the unfolding story. As his first publication though, A Balance Broken is a good indication of great things to come from Hartke and I look forward to reading the rest of his saga.

Golden dragon and wizard on cover of J.T. Hartke's fantasy novel A Balance BrokenCG: I know that you got into D&D fairly late, as an adult. Had you grown up reading fantasy and science fiction though?
JTH: I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in fourth grade. I picked up Tolkien in sixth. I then proceeded to consume everything I could get my hands on in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy realm. Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, Isaac Asimov, David Eddings, Stephen King, Robert Jordan, and most recently, George R.R. Martin. While I did not play D&D on paper, mostly because I grew up in a very small, rural town, I played it on PC, along with Quest for Glory, Space Quest, Elder Scrolls, etc.  Lately I’ve been playing the original Dragon Age and Skyrim.
CG: Who are your favorite fantasy and sci-fi authors?
JTH: Currently George R. R. Martin is the best in the biz.  I also really enjoyed King’s Dark Tower series. Tolkien is, of course, the foundation of most modern fantasy. Right now, I am waiting for Brandon Sanderson to finish Wheel of Time. I stopped when Robert Jordan passed, and I have yet to pick up Sanderson’s additions.

CG: How did you get into D&D and have you played any other RPGs since then?
JTH: Having grown up in a small, rural town, there was no one else interested in it, so I was starved of friends to play. And we all know good friends are the key to good D&D quests. So, as I said, I played it and similar games on PC for many years.

In college, I picked up Magic the Gathering, and played it in a good circle of Wizards. After about a dozen years, we finally got the right group, and a good DM, and began to play 3.5e AD&D. Of course I was a paladin, and I got up to over level 25 before our DM moved away.  Now, writing and marketing The Dragonsoul Saga takes up so much of my time that I barely have time for Skyrim.

The Dragonsoul Saga: A Balance Broken

CG: In A Balance Broken, you have a flight of dragons attacking a Dwarven city. Did the various dragons have any backstories themselves and in your setting, Tarmor, do their colors have any significance?
JTH: The size of a dragon in Tarmor is related to how closely descended they are from the Ancient Ones, the first dragons.  Color is usually inherited from the mother, while some variation or trim is inherited from the father. Every dragon has a story, but not all will be covered in the five novels of the Dragonsoul Saga. But who knows about the many companion short stories we will be putting out every year?

CG: In your world, wizards manipulate the four elements to create sorcerous effects, mixing water and fire together to create lightning for example. How much have you developed this magic system?
JTH: I have developed this system extensively in my own mind and rules. Every volume of the Dragonsoul Saga will show this further. The relationship between the four elemental Aspects, and the fifth, more elusive Aspect of Psoul will also become more developed as the story progresses.

CG: Do you think your world would make a good RPG setting? While there are orcs and dragons over the Dragonscale Mountains in the north, most of the danger so far seems to be some courtly intrigue.
JTH: I think my world would make a great RPG. Not only does my map lend itself towards visions of grand adventure, but there are a great number of highly developed nations, as well as extensive wilderness areas.  All of these contribute to great gaming.

Plus, I think great games, especially in the PC and Console world, but also on paper and dice, come from great story. Hack and slash is fun, but you don’t become emotionally and personally involved in the experience unless there is great story.

The public disappointment with the final installment of Mass Effect lends to this argument.  One of the greatest story driven RPGs in history was ruined in the last few minutes by terrible plot devices (the Star Child) and a twist that was not alluded to in any way before — just to create a surprise. Plus, I play games to save the planet and sail off into the sunset on my ship with the girl.  Life itself is often a Kobayoshi Maru — I don’t want one in my gaming world.

CG: You have multiple perspective shifts, following at least five or six characters, but Tallen Westar is your inexperienced anchor character. Is he the central figure of the Dragonsoul Saga? Who else do you find yourself enjoying writing?
JTH: Tallen and Maddi are my central figures. Too often women are forgotten in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, or used simply as props or love interests. I want to make it clear that these two drive each others growth as characters, just as relationships in real life do. Maddi is just as much a lead character to me as Tallen. However, I do love writing as Dorias, the Dreamer wizard. I enjoy his interactions with his pet raven Merl. I also like Jaerd, Tallen’s older brother. My favorite, however, is Slar. His character’s growth and change is the most important to me in the entire series.  I want people to totally understand and empathize with the orc Warchief with a war forced upon him.

CG: Where are you at in terms of writing the second book of your saga, A Darkness Unleashed? When can we expect that?
JTH: I am well over 25% finished with book two.  I have it’s story completely plotted out.  However, it is that very marketing and promotion that keep my behind on my progress.  Between conventions, school visits, book signings, and just general media contacts, much of my time is monopolized.  When I can find a few hours to just sit and write, I am very thankful for them. But I do love visiting with people and new/potential fans. Signing your own book to someone who genuinely loved it is one of the greatest experiences one can have.

J.T. Hartke the Author

CG: As you go about promoting your first published book, do you have any observations about self-promotion and conventions?
JTH: Self-promotion is far more difficult than the writing for me, especially being with a smaller house. However, conventions are by far the most enjoyable and the most intense things on my schedule. They are they best for meeting a great number of people who are interested in my specific genre. I also do better at gaming stores than at comic shops or antiquarian book stores. The hardest part of it all is finding the time in between to keep writing the series.

CG: What did you think of Gen Con and Comic-Con?
JTH: Comic-Con was a whirlwind of people and excitement. I met so many cool folks, and saw so many neat things, it would take pages to describe them. And that was mostly from behind the safety of my booth. Every time I would walk around the hall and see the awesome displays there, I really wanted nothing more than to be back at my booth, selling my book and meeting new fans.  That was the greatest thing there.

Fantasy Author J.T. Hartke holding his book A Balance Broken at his booth at Comic-Con in San Diego

J.T. Hartke, Author of A Balance Broken at His Booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2012

And to be honest, Gen Con is even better. Gaming fans are a lot less serious than comic fans.  They seem to let loose even more, especially with costumes and just general fun.  Comic-Con is awesome, but it has a lot of “industry” stuff going on.  Gen Con gamers are just there to have a blast.

CG: How did you make that leap into deciding to write A Balance Broken, much less a fantasy saga?
JTH: The leap from reading to writing was not that hard for me, once I learned a few key ideas about using Point of View, using stronger verbs and fewer adverbs, and, most importantly, how to Show a Story, Not Tell It.  Once you learn those things, you get on the road to good writing. It’s a long one, and I’ve just begun it myself, but its one anyone can learn to tread.

CG: How does your writing day go?
JTH: I try to get 1000-2000 words per day when I am in actual writing mode, ie. writing into a blank page.  When editing, I can often get several chapters done per day.  I far prefer editing. Also, I usually take a lot of breaks to work in the garden, do some laundry, make lunch, maybe slay a dragon in Skyrim or a few Darkspawn in Dragon Age. Sometimes its just about resting one part of the brain while distracting another. However, when it gets down to deadline time, I sometimes can push the 5000 words per day mark. I’ll be doing that soon to get A Darkness Unleashed out for everyone next summer.  I respect my fans so much, and they have been calling for book two so loudly, there is no way I’ll miss that. In the meantime, however, another companion short story will soon be available, so people waiting for Book 2 should check out “A Thief’s Discovery” in November.

Jason Engle on Downfall, Illustration, Pathfinder, L5R and More

Jason Engle is the visual half of the creative team behind the science fiction comic Downfall which finishes its Kickstarter campaign on Friday, October 26. Written by fantasy author Maxwell Alexander Drake, Downfall has strong narrative hooks, striking visuals, and a gripping plot. It also marks a departure for Engle who can usually be found painting fantasy novel covers and illustrations for CCGs and RPGs in Jacksonville, Florida. Engle shared his thoughts on Downfall, illustration, and gaming on October 19. More info on Downfall at downfallthecomic.com and more on Jason Engle at jaestudio.com

Downfall and the Downfall Kickstarter

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi Downfall cover and open comicCG: How does drawing for Downfall compare to doing your fantasy art?
JE: Well, it kind of doesn’t. That’s one of the things that I like about it. It’s so completely different in pretty much every way. For starters, sequential artwork is fundamentally different from illustration, especially for like card games or role-playing games. You have to think in more storytelling terms. Sometimes they ask to illustrate an RPG and the image may involve a story of one type or another, but it’s more implied and it’s more simplistic. It’s more to illustrate one concept at a time rather than a character throughout a sequence of events in a story like you do in a comic, so it’s very different. I mean the approach is, by itself, something that gives me a lot more interesting challenges than I’m really accustomed to. It’s definitely fun by comparison. It’s a different visual style too. I’m trying to make it more graphic and less painterly, because if I painted every single frame of every page, I might have one issue of the comic done in ten years. So that doesn’t seem like a reasonable production timeline.
CG: Did you go back to any kind of Understanding Comics or anything like that about doing sequential art and refresh your memory of how to do sequential art?
JE: I’ve kind of been dabbling in comics for years. I’ve done a lot of work here and there on a lot of projects that got started that didn’t go very far. [Laughs] I’ve done some work for compilation books, where you just do a small story and it gets included with a bunch of other small stories, stuff like that. I’ve kind of always been into drawing comics in one way or another, so I didn’t really go back and start from square one and go “Gee, what do the experts tell you to do to tell a story?” I kind of already have a handle on all the basic concepts. It has been a lot of fun to put that knowledge to use in a consistent way. It’s been fun. It’s definiely a lot different.

Ramshackle city and buildings built onto cliff from Downfall comic

CG: What’s it been like working with Maxwell Alexander Drake?
JE: Absolutely terrible. He doesn’t turn anything in on time, he swears a lot, I can barely get him to pick up the phone, he spends most of his time with drug dealers and prostitutes, as far as I know. Yeah, it’s been good. He’s a fun guy to work with. He’s really, really easy-going. One of the challenges I’ve had getting into comics is that I’ve never really gone after it as a professional objective. It’s never been my main target. Professionally I do very well as a fantasy illustrator. Comics I really enjoy, but I’ve never felt the need to put them first and completely deep six my illustration career. I really like illustration and if comics didn’t work out, I could always go back to it. It’s just not something that I ever really want to put in first place, but one of the problems I’ve had is finding an author who is reliable. And Drake is a novelist. He does a lot of words at a time every single day of his life. He’s very reliable, he’s very professional and he’s production-oriented. When you don’t take comics very, very seriously like I haven’t in the past, you end up partnering with people who also don’t take comics very seriously. [Laughs] When that happens it usually doesn’t go very far. It’s always been a matter of I do a lot of art, I come up with a lot of great ideas and have a lot of fun doing it, and the writing never really gets past one issue. Comics are about quantity. You’ve got to produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. When a comic writer can’t produce a quantity of work reliably, it’s hard to understand but there’s a lot of people who get enthusiastic about a project at the outset and then lose that enthusiasm pretty quickly. It’s one of those things. Some people can be professional creatives and some people can’t. It’s just a matter of whether you can treat it like a job and still have fun doing it. I’ve not had to worry about that with Drake. He already is kind of a self-made, creative professional just the way I am. That’s kind of the great thing about it: we both have the self-drive to do a project on the side and still treat it like a professional goal. It’s worked out really well so far; I’m hoping it continues to.

CG: Now have you read Farmers and Mercenaries or Mortals and Deities?
JE: Yeah, I read both of them! He gave me Farmers and Mercenaries at Gen Con the first year I met him and this was a couple of years ago. He said “Here! Read my book.” And I was like “Sure, guy! I’ll read your book.” But he gave it to me for free so the next year when Gen Con was coming around I was like “Man, I bet I’m going to run into that guy, I should probably read this.” About a month before the convention I picked it up and finished it before I could get on the plane. That way I could meet him at Gen Con and say “Hey! You don’t suck as a writer.” I could actually say that truthfully. When he finished the second book I made sure to get a free copy from him. [Laughs] You know, it was actually better than the first one.
CG: Now you’re waiting just like everyone else for the third, yeah?
JE: Yeah, pretty much. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an interesting fantasy series. It’s got a lot of elements of traditional fantasy in it, but the world he set it in is completely new and original, which is a rarity these days. You know, a lot of fantasy authors try to play it safe and Drake sees very little value in playing it safe and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to work with him on a comic. When you’re doing a comic, especially fantasy or science fiction, you have to have a certain open attitude to new ideas.

CG: On your promo video for the Kickstarter campaign for Downfall, am I right that you came up with brand new artwork for it? It’s not stuff from Issue 0 or the first series with the scientist?
JE: When we first started talking about doing a Kickstarter video, he started talking to me that he was going to do a script for us and we’d both do like a little webcam thing. He’d say a few lines, then the screen’d split, and I’d say a few lines. It’d be like we were talking to each other, only we weren’t. I was like “Yeah, that could work.” I’d seen a lot of the Kickstarter videos people’d done, it’s all talking heads staring at a camera, saying “This is me. This is my project.” I knew I could do something better than that. I didn’t actually have the technical knowledge to do it, so I went out and found some software and learned how to do a little bit of basic animation. So I threw together a basic concept that was about 30 seconds to a minute long, something like that. It was art that we already had at that point, a logo shot, some music in the background. I was like “Look, here’s more of what I had in mind. It’s more of a TV commercial/video game thing. It’s got a little bit more slow motion drama to it. It doesn’t have to be just us staring at a camera telling people what we’re trying to sell them. Let’s show them the story. I don’t think seeing us ask them for their money is really going to convince people that we have a good idea. Let’s show them the idea.” When he saw that, he got really enthusiastic. He ended up laying in bed thinking about ideas. He got up out of bed and started writing a script. That’s how we ended up with a seven minute video. [Laughs] I’d really only intended for us to have an animated piece maybe a minute long, but he got so into the script he was writing and telling the story about this character. I thought it was such a neat idea, I just didn’t have the heart to shoot it down. In the end, I started out laying out the scenes, doing the animation, and doing the art. I think when I went over the script originally and I wrote down the different ideas of what it needed visually, I estimated probably 30 percent of the art that I ended up doing eventually. It went from being two or three weeks of work to two or three months worth of work.
CG: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. This isn’t stuff that you’ve recycled, this was all brand new just for the video.
JE: Yeah, it was all custom done. We are going to use it for other purposes. [Laughs] Because we like how the script came out so much we’re going to do a comic version of the video itself and break it into panels and word bubbles and all that because we already have the art and it’s such a neat story. After the Kickstarter’s done, no one’s going to be able to see it really, so we want to put it into print form and make it part of our Issue 0 that we’re doing to catch people up on the background of the story.

Fantasy Artist and Illustrator Jason Engle

Fantasy Artist Jason Engle at his table at Gen Con

Fantasy Illustrator Jason Engle at Gen Con 2012

CG: Where does card art fit into things versus doing a cover versus interior artwork?
JE: As a freelancer, you take what you get pretty much. You hope you get enough art directors offering you enough jobs to fill up your schedule month to month. There are periods in my career where I’ve done nothing but collectible card games for a couple of years at a time. You get a lot of work doing card games. That’s the great thing about ’em. Some of them pay better than others. Some of them pay really well. Some card games you can only get one or two cards at a time. Other card games, you can get ten or twenty at a time. They usually come out with expansion sets on a pretty consistent basis. If you get your name out there and get prominent and do a few cards that are important in that game then you become one of the face artists of that game and you basically have guaranteed work for the lifespan and popularity of that card game. If you get a few of those on your roster at once then you get a lot of work coming in the door. As a freelancer, that’s a good thing.
CG: Would you consider that to be true for yourself? Were you ever one of these “face” artists for a company?
JE: Uh… yeah. I was the main artist for AEG’s card game Warlord. I was one of the big ones on their game Legend of the Five Rings and I’ve done some promotional stuff for Magic: The Gathering as well. I wouldn’t say that I’m one of their main artists just yet, but they’ve used me a lot on a few of the sets that they’ve done, which is what they tend to do. They have access to so many different artists that they tend to pick a few guys for the different sets that they want to kind of represent and define the look for that set and they use that person much more on that set and then maybe they don’t give them any cards on the next set. I mean they’re a little different from most companies in that they tend to bounce around a lot. But it’s good. They keep a nice, varied look for their game that way.

Female sorceress holding skull on card art for Legend of 5 Rings Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Artwork for Legend of the 5 Rings Card Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Warlord is the game that I was the most prominent artist on for a number of years. L5R I’m still one of the more prominent guys on that game. Warlord was a good example back in the day, but it doesn’t exist any more. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s always been great because you go to the conventions and you get to meet a lot of the fans. A lot of the people that go to game conventions these days are people that play collectible card games because it’s a place for them to play in big tournaments and get together and just play nonstop card games for the entire weekend.
CG: Even on that note, the guy behind me on the plane on the way out to Gen Con was and is a huge Warlord fan who’s trying to revive the game, so the chance to meet you would probably be big to him.
JE: It’s got a huge, huge fanbase. It’s one of those games that was sizable enough for a number of years that it still has a number of fans around the world. And a company purchased it, based in Germany, which is where it actually was much more popular ever: in Germany rather than the US. They kept it going for a couple of years. They did their best to kind of revive it, but in the end I think they weren’t quite able to pull it all together and make enough money to keep it around, but there is still quite a fanbase out there for it.

CG: Now when did you really know, I’m going to be an artist?
JE: I never really thought of being anything else, I think. When I was probably four or five years old people would ask, like they do to most kids, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” At the time I didn’t really have an answer. I thought about it for a while and realized I liked art and decided that that’s what I’m going to do. So I started doing that pretty much all the time and then from that point on whenever I was asked that question, I’d say “I’m going to be an artist.”

CG: What was your training once you were out of high school?
JE: My training once I got out of high school was… [laughs] I pretty much went right into a web marketing company rather than going into college or art school. I got a job and I was building websites for a living during the dot-com boom.
CG: So you were doing more graphic design?
JE: Yeah, logos, brochures, websites, anything that people were willing to pay our marketing company to create for them. I mean it was fun. I was able to learn Photoshop and all the wonderful things it could do, but I started applying it to fantasy illustration. When I first started doing it, it took me forever to complete an illustration. Gosh, it was probably two weeks or so to do a single image. All my graphic designer buddies in the office would go “You’re still working on that thing? Photoshop’s not good for that, man, it’s for graphic design. You’re never going to be able to make money doing that. It takes too long.” And now, of course, everyone in the business uses Photoshop to paint, so it turns out that I was just really, really much more correct than they were. It was a fun way to get started.

CG: Are you actually self-taught then?
JE: … Yeah. I kept building my fantasy portfolio and eventually a group of us at the marketing company split off and started our own company which was kind of half-marketing, half web company, and thirty percent game publishing house and I did all the art for that book and all the layout for it and all the graphic design and we launched our RPG book at Gen Con that year. It was callled Shards of the Stone, which is a long title, but it did really well at the convention that year because D&D 3rd edition was also launching. It was like any fantasy RPG that came out that year sold gangbusters even if nobody had ever heard of you. But the advantage of that was that I had done all of the art in that book and it got in front of all the major art directors in that year all at once, so I kind of got my portfolio out there all at the same time. It wasn’t too long after that that I was able to start freelancing full time and leave the graphic design and marketing business behind me.

CG: What’s been your favorite piece of your own fantasy art so far.
JE: Well, I don’t know, man. They’re like kids: you love them all. I would say… Gosh… this is a tough question. Probably The Dark Knight, it’s an image I did for my first art book that I got professionally published back in 2004. I did it for the cover specfically. It’s kind of an homage piece to Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer. It’s kind of a silhoutted dark knight character on horseback. He’s got spiked armor and looks menacing and all that, but it just-, it’s one of those pieces that seems cliche, but it just came out really well and I was really happy with it and it went on the cover of my first art book so it holds a little nostalgia for me because of that I suppose.

Engle’s Inspirations

CG: Ok, yeah. Who inspires you artistically? Other fantasy and science fiction illustrators? Fine artists?
JE: Anything, yeah. All kinds of fiction and science fiction media is inspiring to me. I get probably more inspiration from other fantasy artists than any other individual source though, but that’s something that I’ve always been a fan of just in general. I grew up with tons and tons of fantasy art books sitting in my closet and on my bookshelves and all around. It’s one of those things where when I got to be part of the business myself, I never really stopped loving the work of other fantasy artists. And now that I know a lot of them, it’s even that much cooler because I still have the books I grew up with and used to copy out of and all the prints that I purchased from them and now I go drink beer with those guys when we go to conventions together. That’s pretty neat.
CG: Is there somebody you’d still like to meet?
JE: Well, gosh, that’s a tough question. I don’t know. I think I’ve gotten to meet just about all my heroes at this point.
CG: So I know Larry Elmore is the kind of guy who would be at Gen Con, so you probably hang out with him?
JE: Yeah, I’ve hung out with Larry a number of times. He still has no idea of who I am. He’d probably know me by face and not my name. That’s one thing you start to realize: some of these guys that have been in the business for 30 or 40 years, they’ve met so many people over that period of time that they get to know people visually more than they get to know you by your actual first name. But no, I’ve spent time hanging out with pretty much all of them. I’ve hung out with Brom and Michael Weylan and Todd Lockwood, Larry Elmore and yeah, you name any of the big name guys in the business and I’ve at least shook their hand.
CG: Yeah, you’ve named two of my favorite artists, Brom and Elmore.
JE: Oh yeah. No, those were probably two of my biggest influences growing up. I think Elmore for a long time and Keith Parkinson were my two major influences when I was younger. As I started getting a little older, Brom started to become more prominent on the scene and as soon as I started to see more and more of his stuff I instantly just loved him more than anybody else.

Engle’s Speed as an Illustrator

Flaming skeleton in armor card art for Warlord card game by Jason Engle

Warlord Card Art: Spirit of the Burning Sky

CG: Changing topics just a little bit, how long did something like Spirit of the Burning Sky take?
JE: Um… well, it really depends honestly. If a piece is really really complex it could take a few days. But if it’s just a single character, it really isn’t that bad, I mean that particular image, took me maybe four or five hours.
CG: Wow. Ok, so you’re very quick?
JE: I mean yeah, that’s always been one of my advantages in the freelance business, especially when I was starting out. I had a lot of art directors that would come to me for last-minute, emergency jobs. If another artist dropped out or when they needed a huge amount of work in a very small amount of time, I’m quick enough that they could come to me and say “Hey, can you do me a favor? Can you do me a rush job?” And I can say “Yeah, absolutely.” So I kind of always built myself that way and developed my style around both quality and speed.
CG: You work now just purely in Photoshop?
JE: A lot of the time, yeah. I do still like to sketch things out in advance. I do thumbnails and work out the compositions. I do a bit of a tighter sketch. I usually do several of those and send them in to get approved. And when those get approved, I just pick the one that works and start painting the rest in Photoshop, but I still do like to do everything in pencil first if I can, if I have time. It just allows you to play around with a lot more ideas and kind of niggle around details. Photoshop’s great for painting, but it’s one of those things that some people can use it for sketching. For me it doesn’t quite have the same organic feel that real pencil has.
CG: And you’ve tried tablets and things like that?
JE: [Laughs] I have them all, man. I’ve spent I don’t even know how much money on equipment that’s sitting in my closet. It’s all about the process that works best for you. The shortest amount of difference between your imagination and the finished image is always going to leave the better stuff. If a tablet works really well for you and it feels really natural and easy and you don’t even notice it’s there, by all means go for it, but I’ve never played with it enough to where it’s gotten to that point for me. It’s easier for me to use pencil and a piece of paper and then I use a mouse from that point forward.

CG: Have you kept track of how many separate pieces of art that you’re at?
JE: Oh god! I don’t have any idea. I’ve done a lot of games where I’ve been the only guy producing work on that game and you know when that happens, you’ve done or you do hundreds of pieces of art. And you know, I’ve been working on the L5R card game since, gosh, almost since the start of my career, so what? Probably twelve, thirteen years. And when you’ve worked on a card game that long there’s no telling how many pieces you’ve done for it all in total. So I’ve probably done over 10,000 pieces.
CG: Oh wow. How old are you now?
JE: I’m about to turn 32. I started when I was 18. You start early, it gets you a lot more time. I was hanging out with Todd Lockwood at Comic-Con this year and he was like “So how long have you been at this anyway, I’ve seen your stuff for years.” And I was like “About 14 years.” And he was like “14 years! You don’t even look 14!” But you know, you get started early it gives you a lot of time to build up your portfolio. Art’s one of those things that really doesn’t require a college degree to be more successful. It’s more a matter of skill. Portfolio, man. If you’ve got the ability to do it, it doesn’t matter if you spent four years in school.
CG: Well are you involved in anything any more where an art director hasn’t heard of you or you need to prove anything?
JE: Oh sure! You pretty much always have to, I mean, there’s sides of the business I haven’t spent much time in, like comics for example. Probably almost every art director in the comic business hasn’t heard of me unless they’re into fantasy games specifically or read fantasy novels. They probably have no idea of who I am so if I ever do comic work as a freelance gig, that’s somewhere where I really have to prove myself. Novels, it’s the same way. Every time I’ve worked on a video game it’s the same way, these guys don’t really know who you are, they don’t really know how long you’ve been around, and honestly they tend not to care. On the higher end of the pay scale, the art directors know that they’re paying for the absolute best of the best. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to bring to the table. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it, it’s just a matter of what you can do. So you never really stop having to prove yourself in that way.

On Art Direction

CG: Does art direction vary much from gaming company to gaming company?
JE: Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely different. And it’s not neccessarily every gaming company so much as every art director. Different art directors have different styles of dealing with freelancers and some know how to do it better than others and some are very controlling in the way they want to do it and those are usually the ones I prefer not to work with, because they’ll be intentionally vague at the outset, let you do a lot of work, and then basically tell you to change it all because you didn’t do it the way that they were hoping you would do it telepathically. [Laughs] That’s usually not something I like to deal with very long because simply put, when you’re a freelancer time is money. When one art director wants to cost you twice as much as time or three times as much time as other art directors do for what boils down to the same amount of paying work, that’s not a job that I really have a lot of enjoyment for.

“If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that.”

– Jason Engle

So yeah, I mean they definitely differ. Every art director’s different. You know like the art director for Magic: The Gathering for example. He will give you a job and it will have a few paragraphs of detailed description and a style guide which is usally over a hundred pages long with lots of reference art in it. Then once he gives you that, that’s usually the last you hear from him. [Laughs] I mean usually you turn in the final art and you get a one word answer when you turn it in, where he goes “Awesome.” or “Good.” He’s pretty hands off when it comes to art directing. He hires people that he knows can do the job and doesn’t worry about it and he’s one of the best art directors in the business.
CG: Were you being literal about the awesome vs. good?
JE: [Laughs] We like to joke about him because he has these one word responses to almost everybody. If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that. Yeah, most art directors I’d be exagerrating but with Jeremy [Cranford] it’s literal, yeah. But it’s because he has to art direct so many pieces of art all at the same time. It’s unbelievable how much art Magic puts out and how many different expansions they work on at the same time. It’s pretty nuts. He does what he needs to for time but it also means that it kind of decomplicates the issue for the rest of us. Some art directors will give you a response to an image and have you do little fixes or little changes here or there. And if he sees something that needs to be changed, he’ll definitely let you know, but honestly most of the time if it looks good and it works, that’s what he cares about. And that kind of frees an artist really. You don’t feel as concerned about doing the job and getting every little detail to be just the way the art director wants it. You just try to do the job as well as you can. It’s a purely pscyhological approach. It gets all the BS out of the way.

Woman with bare midriff in Jason Engle's Soma painting

Jason Engle’s Soma

CG: You have a work, Soma, it seems like it was drawn from life or a photo, was it? You usually work from your own sketches though?
JE: Yeah, that one was actually drawn from reference. That was a piece for a website that basically had a competition. They had a promotional character that they had a bunch of artists do different versions of and that was actually from well back in my career. I did that piece probably nine or ten years ago at least. But the time frame on it was so short and it wasn’t really a paying gig, I was doing it as a favor to the guy who ran this site, so I needed to streamline the process a little, so rather than making it a really actiony/illustratish you have the drawn image. But I went and found a good bit of reference photography and kind of pieced it together and then I painted it from there and really streamlined the process, it kind of ended up giving it a different style and a different look, which I like, but it also took a lot less time than just noodling around until the lighting gets right and all of that. Having a reference is great; it really streamlines it. If you’re working on the kind of project where they want something that’s photorealistic or just realistic, it’s a great way to go.

Zephyr Guard Artwork by Jason Engle for Paizo's Pathfinder

Zephyr Guard for Paizo’s Pathfinder by Engle

CG: For all your other work just in general though you’re working from sketches?
JE: I’d say about 80-90 percent of it. It’s just a matter of doing work for the client based on what their visual style is, based on the brand and the product. Everything has to have a different look. If you’re a working artist, you’re creating art for a brand. They’re a lot of guys that have their own signature style, stick to that, and won’t do anything outside of it, and yeah, I have kind of a signature style, but I’m capabale of doing a lot of different styles and I enjoy doing a lot of different styles. That’s another reason that I enjoy working on Downfall so much, because it requires that I come up with a totally new style from anything I’d done before.
CG: You can see that visually that it is different, just like you can see that Paizo illustrations are kind of different than other fantasy art.
JE: Yeah and Paizo is another good example. I tried to draw a little bit more in the style of the main artist they had used on their Pathfinder game in the past and stick close to their visual brand that way. I’ve done the same thing with D&D and a number of the RPG’s I’ve worked on.

Jason Engle’s Cartography

CG: Another one of the things that you’ve done for a bunch of gaming companies is you’ve done cartography, so is that a nice break from illustration for you?
JE: Oh yeah. Like I said, I like to do different styles. When it comes to doing a different style, there is no different style that is more different than cartography. It uses a totally different side of your brain almost. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a little bit more relaxing. With illustration you kind of build it up, piece by piece as you go. Sometimes it can be a struggle, sometimes the pieces don’t fit together the way you thought they would, but you don’t know that until you’re already haflway through the image. It can really really kind of devolve into a fistfight with the image. But with cartography that never happens. It’s so straightforward and so simple that it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces into place, making it clear and making it look good on top of that. And if you can do all that, then you can do cartography and it’s a lot of fun. Because I’m also an illustrator it’s given me the ability to do different kinds of cartography from what a lot of the guys working today can do. I can do cartography that’s more illustrative, that’s a little bit closer in, that’s more attuned and actually has an illustrative element. That’s why Wizards of the Coast used me for a lot of the battle maps that they’ve done, their Dungeon Tiles product line, their Fantastic Locations product line. They just came out with a new board game called Dungeon Command where I did all the board pieces for that. It means I kind of straddle both sides of the business, but I love them both equally so it’s a good way to get out of your comfort zone.

CG: Do you have any tips for GMs at home making their own maps on ways to improve?
JE: My biggest tip is learn Photoshop, because once you learn that, you’re not as limited in as many ways. I used to make maps when I was a kid playing Dungeons & Dragons and I used to get my hands on as much graph paper as I could find and it worked for what I needed to do, but today if you’ve got a copy of Photoshop, there’s really no limit to what you can put together in terms of a map. And the tools are so powerful that you could make something that’s very very concise very easily and very quickly.

The Gaming Side of Jason Engle

Crossbow wielding Inquisitor pencil sketch character art by Jason Engle

Sketch from Gaming: Inquisitor

CG: So for gaming, you just actually mentioned it, when did you start gaming?
JE: I’m not even really sure what the age was, I think it was eight or nine. It’s a pretty normal story as far as that goes. I had a friend that got really into gaming and started telling me about it. He got me and my brother into it. We just pretty much loved the hobby from that point forward. That was the time that I was kind of building my illustrative skill so I was able to use gaming as a way to grow those skills. There’s a lot of times where you’re sitting around the role-playing games table where you want to draw your character or you want to draw someone else’s character or you find a cool sword and you want to draw what that looks like. So it gave me an excuse to build my skill set.

“…when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Did you start on D&D then?
JE: Uh, I did, I did. I moved on from there to Role Master and RIFTS and Shadowrun. I’ve played most of the big ones from one time or another. In the end I’ve always come back to D&D. That was the game that after I started getting into it and after I started getting good at drawing, when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.
CG: Ok. Yeah. Awesome.
JE: It turned out to be not as accurate.
CG: So you grew up admiring the Elmore illustrations in the Player’s Handbook.
JE: Oh yeah. I’d say one of the pivotal moments for me was right when I was getting into role-playing games I got a copy of a Dragonlance artbook. It was basically, I think, the first one that they’d done, the Art of the Dragonlance Saga. It kind of introduced me to a lot of the artists that I’d seen their work, but didn’t know them by name and it introduced me to a lot of that stuff in quantity and I was able to just pour over all the art. I just wore the pages of that book out looking at the art day after day. That’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with so much of the art in the gaming business and kind of why I drove my skills in that direction.

Pencil sketch by Jason Engle of a sorcerer from an RPG game session

Engle’s Sorcerer Sketch from Pathfinder Game

CG: Now are you still gaming today?
JE: I do, I do! [Laughs] When I have time! I would say I manage to get a game in probably every month or three. It’s not something that I manage to do all the time. And all the guys I game with now are all my age or a few years older and they’ve all got kids. Everybody’s schedules don’t always work together easily enough to get together for a six or eight hour session, but when we can, we absolutely make it a priority to do it. And I don’t play D&D anymore, I play Pathfinder, but that’s basically the same thing.
CG: So you’re playing on Game Mastery map packs right, that you helped to illustrate?
JE: Yeah, I do. The guys like to make fun of me when they spot something like a little mistake or could be a softer shade. They like to needle me about that kind of stuff. Usually when you do work on a game for one of the bigger companies they give you a complimentary copy of the product which means that we basically never have to buy anything, because I work on so many different games I get tons of free books. Honestly, I try to keep one copy for myself for my book shelf at home, but if they give me three copies of something I just show up to the game table and go “Here, guys! I got some free stuff.”
CG: You’re a couple of years younger than me, but this is all stuff that we would have loved to have growing up, the Map Packs…
JE: Absolutely. It’s all stuff that’s really taken the game and made it so much more visual. It just really makes the game more three-dimensional in a number of ways. Even as a kid I used to use miniatures, but it was always kind of challenging. You had to use a lot of your imagination and it didn’t always work all that well. The fact that they started introducing that as the main component of the rules set, building visual products to go along with it, I mean it’s really improved the game immeasurably in my opinion, not just because I work on it.
CG: Even there, how are you as a miniature painter?
JE: Oh, I’m terrible. [Laughs] I try not to get into the actual real life paint if I can avoid it. It’s a very very time consuming process. For some reason when I’m working on a two-dimensional piece of art that’s original and I’ve spent all that time and effort in creating myself, I can spend ten hours at a time doing it. But when I’m painting someone else’s sculpture I just have very little patience. It’s not a hobby that I was ever able to really get into.
CG: So, it doesn’t translate?
JE: Yeah, you’d think it would, but for some reason it doesn’t click for me. But thankfully I have a number of friends that are very into it. I let them do all my miniatures painting for me and I draw their characters for them.

Collectible Card Games

“The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Going back not to RPGs, but to card games, did you play L5R or still play it?
JE: I’ve never played a single game of L5R. [Laughs] I should lie about that or I should go out and start playing it, one of the two, but I’ve never actually gotten to play a game of it. The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit. I haven’t gone back into that area since with collectible card games because I know they’re something that I absolutely love and will sink a lot of time and money into if given the opportunity, so I try to keep myself from getting back into the hobby. Because I know I would love L5R if I started playing it like that and I’d be playing it all the time. It’s a wonderful game from what I understand. I know lots of people in the community. Like I said, I’ve been working on it for so many years that I’ve had the chance to meet most of the players that are really big in the community at the conventions and I got to say that L5R is different from a lot of the games out there in that players are so tight knit and they’re so nice, which sounds weird to say. But like, for example, you go to one of the Magic tournament and they’re very different in mind set because it is a broader scope of playerbase. There’s a lot more people that are more mainstream and less into the whole geek hobby which means it’s a lot more competitive, a lot more aggressive mindset. It’s not a very tight knit community in that sense, whereas L5R a lot of the people know each other. It’s just more of a real community of players which is kind of neat and unique in my experience.

Walking Ominous Stone Golemesque Magical Being

Engle’s Magic: TG Card Art for Ominous Statuary. Prints available at buyfantasyart.com

Board Games

CG: And what about any board games, you delve into that a little bit or are you more of an RPG guy?
JE: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of board games. I did Thunderstone. I did all of the art for that one. That came out a couple of years ago and I think it’s gosh, I don’t know how many expansions they’re on now, but it’s done pretty well. The first board game I did was called Tobogans of Doom. Yeah, that one you’re probably not going to find on too many shelves.
CG: And I was just actually asking if you’re a player of board games, haha. Wasn’t expecting that you’d done some.
JE: Well, I used to. I haven’t really been into too many of those for a few years either. The things about board games in particular is that they’re sort of similar to card games in that you have to be around a certain amount of the gaming community in order to get introduced to new ones and have people to play them with and all of that and I just don’t really go to that many gaming stores these days. There really aren’t that many in Jacksonville that are worth going to visit. The sad truth is that they’re kind of a dying breed and even ones that do have a bustling community built around them, if you don’t know where they’re located in your town, you’re pretty much out of luck. If there was a play to do that sort of thing in Jacksonville, I’d be absolutely into it. I do still enjoy board games when I get the chance to play. But without a real community to be a part of, it’s not something I spend a lot of time doing.

More on Engle’s RPGs

Pencil and paper sketch of a Paladin by Jason Engle

Jason Engle’s Paladin Sketch from Gaming

CG: So when you’re playing RPGs like Pathfinder now, are you the player or the GM?
JE: I’m a player. I’m a total player. I’ve dabbled at GMing. It’s fun to do, but here’s the problem with someone who’s overly developed their visual aesthetic: when you start designing an adventure, you start designing everything from a more visual standpoint than you need to and you end up spending way too much time in all the wrong areas. And when it comes time to play the game all that preparation work is generally not all that useful, so it’s a great thing to do, it’s really enjoyable, but GMing just takes too much time for me to really put into it. But I love playing and it allows me to both play my character and draw scenes from whatever is going on at the time. And the other players don’t mind having that so it works out.
CG: My last question for you then is what kind of characters do you end up playing?
JE: Um, well I’ve played them all, man. [Laughs] I’ve played the giant barbarian, the thief that usually ends up getting blown up first, I’ve even done the cleric, you know the healer, because no one else wants to play it. I usually like the fighter characters more to be honest because yeah, when you’re playing a combat game – which is what D&D and Pathfinder essentially are – your main skill set is going to be much more useful as that kind of character. Even though the guys I play with, we’re a little older, we try to integrate a lot more story and a lot more role-playing into our game, but in the end when your character’s really going to be bested and all the chips are down, it doesn’t hurt to have a fex extra hit dice.

Triple Ace Games at Gen Con and Iceblade Keep

3D Miniature Terrain Piece of Giant Tower on Rock Outcropping Called Iceblade Keep for Hellfrost at Gen Con

Iceblade Keep in the Triple Ace Games Booth

Back in August at Gen Con, I saw a lot of fabulous terrain on display (and for sale). While most of the best terrain I saw was being used to display miniatures, Triple Ace Games had a stunning display piece in the form of Iceblade Keep. Triple Ace Games is based out of the United Kingdom, but their core fan base is “definitely” American says Robin Elliott, the keep’s builder and Triple Ace’s Production Designer, who also brought the impressive model out to Indianapolis in August.

Hellfrost Savage Worlds

Using the Savage Worlds rules, Triple Ace Games has developed its own game and campaign setting, Hellfrost. Hellfrost is a fantasy setting featuring a society recovering from a 500 year long winter. Set in the land of Rassilon, Hellfrost provides a number of PC classes, races, spells, and new Edges for its players and is built around three core books, the Hellfrost: Players Guide, the Hellfrost: Bestiary, and the Hellfrost: Gazetteer. In order to play one would need a copy of the Savage Worlds rules from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. The model of Iceblade Keep does an excellent job of reinforcing Hellfrost’s themes of desolation, dread, and despair, as well as served as something of a light house to draw curious players into Triple Ace’s booth space.

Iceblade Keep

Iceblade Keep took Robin Elliot three months of evenings and weekends to constuct, all for a one off promotional piece for them to demo Hellfrost on. Elliott designed the keep to break into separate rooms, which also helped in dismantling it for transportation to Gen Con in a large cardboard crate. The structure of the tower is 3mm foamboard with smaller sections held together with dressmaking pins until the PVA glue could dry. For the base, Elliott used a mixture of foamboard and home insulation polystyrene blocks to form the rocks. He then coated the polystyrene with an acrylic medium followed by household emulsion and acrylic paints to achieve his splendid result.

Iceblade Keep rises out of a snowy terrain board. Colossal tower with miniatures on the table

Triple Ace Games’ Iceblade Keep Represents the Forlorn Nature of Hellfrost at Gen Con 2012

Within the fantasy setting of Hellfrost, Iceblade Keep is a “long-abandoned travel tower.” As Elliott explains, “Travel towers are built and usually maintained by an informal organisation devoted to keeping road travellers safe called Roadwardens. They originally used the tower as a base for their patrols but the route on which the tower was built became little used and the tower has now been overun by orcs and ice goblins.”

Triple Ace Games

As an RPG publisher though, Triple Ace’s real focus is on gaming books and they brought quite a selection with them. If you’ve ever wanted rules and ideas for role-playing your own journey through the Looking Glass, Triple Ace Games offers Wonderland No More, their Alice in Wonderland game and setting. If that’s not your cup of tea, there is the futuristic gothic Necropolis 2350 which had me doing a double-take. Necropolis 2350 is a setting highly reminiscent of Dune, Fading Suns, and GW’s Warhammer 40,000. PCs take on the roles of knights in the Sacred Orders and basically serve as inquisitors of the Holy Mother Church, fighting its battles and carrying out investigations. Another Triple Ace Games title on offer was Sundered Skies which has steampunk fantasy elements of floating airships and pistol combat in the vein of Spelljammer (just not in space) or Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. The UK company’s latest addition Savage Worlds All For One: Régime Diabolique was also on sale with a small paper sign in Triple Ace’s booth advertising “Savage All For One is Here!” As its title might hint at, All For One features a Three Musketeers setting which is actually 1636 France.

Roleplaying game manuals at Triple Ace Games booth at Gen Con 2012

Triple Ace Games RPGs at Gen Con: Wonderland No More, Necropolis 2350, & Sundered Skies

GameChurch’s Mike Bridges Talks Gaming and Jesus For the Win

One of the things I picked up back at Gen Con was a small, free, 132+ page book “about a guy named Jesus, his Guild, and his ultimate quest to save a land known as Earth.” Jesus For the Win! is a publication from GameChurch and basically contains the Gospel of John from the Bible with commentary about gaming and life changes. Mike Bridges is the founder and president of GameChurch and we chatted after Gen Con about his mission.

Depiction of Jesus Christ playing console video game for Gamechurch.comCG: So, Jesus For the Win!, I have to imagine that while some gamers may not get it, maybe more Christians might be bothered by what you guys are doing? What’s the response been?
MB: The response has been pretty positive. I think that is because of our delivery. We still have a few problems with the far left and the far right. They both don’t seem to like us much.
CG: Now why the far left?
MB: We have plenty that come up to the booth and immediately want to argue about the ‘big ticket’ items. Gay marriage, abortion, etc. They get a little frazzled when we explain to them that we are just there to tell them that Jesus loves them and that’s it. Kinda funny because both far left and far right run out of steam pretty fast because of the simplicity of what we do.
CG: I don’t even recall anyone even saying that at Gen Con, but of course, I also wasn’t full of steam. Now at the Armory, where you guys play a lot of video games, do you guys do tabletop games as well?
MB: We actually had a pretty mellow time at Gen Con. We mainly get hit by atheists in more liberal areas. Seattle, Los Angeles, etc. Yes, the Armory is our gaming facility and we do have table top nights in our lounge. We are trying to do more and expand that.
CG: Ok, so Gen Con was kind of a fit for you, but do you guys mostly promote at video game events?
MB: Not necessarily. We do anime, comic, video game, table top and other ‘nerd culture’ events.
CG: Is this full time for you and do you consider it a ministry?
MB: This is just one of the things I am involved with but yes, it is a full time job. I do consider it a ministry but I have a hard time with ‘Christianese” words because of what Christianity has done to those types of words.
CG: So is GameChurch a non-profit with churches or church members contributing towards it?
MB: It’s a non profit, but we are funded by one private source. Not a church. GameChurch is also not a church in the “four walled” sense of the word.
CG: I also imagine you guys are non-denominational and even those in the LA area may go to different churches from each other, right?
MB: Exactly.
CG: Going back to the Armory in Ventura, CA, who is the owner and how did things originate with Game Church and the Armory?
MB: Well, because we are a non profit, there is no ‘owner’. I am the President, and Director for that as well as GameChurch. I have been doing weird stuff like the Armory and GameChurch for a long time. The Armory was birthed in a music venue I had created. We had a small room at the venue that we put 12 PC’s in and people started to come and play video games. We expanded that and a few years later we got rid of the music venue and we are now exclusively gaming.
CG: You still game yourself though?
MB: Yeah, but I am more of a lone wolf type. I like RPG’s on the 360. Fallout, Bioshock, Skyrim, Mass Effect.
CG: What did you think of the Bright Brotherhood guys?
MB: Not familiar.
CG: The glowing ghouls in the RepConn facility in New Vegas? No?
MB: Haha! I am familiar. I loved every minute of New Vegas except for two of the DLC’s.
CG: Increasingly some of the console RPGs give us more and more moral choices. Do you find yourself being a “good” guy when you play?
MB: For the most part, I am a good guy with a dark streak. That goes for most games.
CG: What I’ve found is that when I need to be evil to unlock an achievement, oftentimes I’ll disgust myself a bit, but also that I will start to feel contempt for my victims. Any thoughts?
MB: Depends on the situation, or I get bored or I have done all I can do and want to play the game more so unlocking other questlines requires a bit of foul play.
CG: I saw Playing Columbine, a documentary on an RPG video game made about the Columbine Massacre, but what I started thinking of was how cool would it be to do a Rock Star-style/GTA more open-ended game, but that you would be a random normal person on each level helping other people out. I see some liability issues for actually making the gamer think “Maybe I could do this myself.” for real life emergencies, but what do you think?
MB: We actually discuss things like that on our forums and in our articles. It’s an interesting premise. I’d like to see it done right, without being boring.

Tattooed smiling Mike Bridges at GameChurch Booth at Gen Con 2012

GameChurch Founder and Christian gamer Mike Bridges at Gen Con 2012

CG: I may be unaware on this, but to me, it seems that there’s very few positive depictions of Christian heroes in movies and films, at least ones that are outspoken. I’m not aware of any in a video game, but Mos Def’s recent role on Dexter was actually a positive one: are there any in video games I’ve missed?
MB: Probably not. I have yet to see it as well. I agree with the Dexter reference. Loved that. Unfortunately when Christians have made games, they have sucked. I’d love to see that change.
CG: How do you see that happening?
MB: It will have to come in the way of a complete Church culture change. I don’t see much coming from the Church that is culturally relevant. We make movies for Christians. We make music for Christians. We make games for Christians. Until we make those things for the general public, we won’t see anything good. The Church has always had its head in the sand. Sad part is that it takes so long for us to catch up that we cannot be relevant. And unless we become relevant, there will be no Christian heroes.

CG: And are you familiar at all with the Christian tabletop RPGs, DragonRaid or Holy Lands?
MB: Yes, we have heard of them but we just started to get into tabletop gaming and we have stacks of games we are trying to get through. We do a tabletop night two times a month at our Armory facility in Ventura.

CG: Does GameChurch ever tackle gaming addiction? I saw in JFTW that there was the story of Jaz who felt she could be doing something more “constructive” with her time than playing WoW.
MB: Yes. Parents bring it up to us a lot. I think it has more to do with parenting than anything. Good parenting equals setting boundaries for gaming time for kids. The addiction part of it stems from the escape component. Kids or adults playing too long are escaping form something. Just as we escape with shopping, TV, drugs, eating, alcohol, et cetera. Everything in moderation. But because of the consumerist culture we live in in America, I think much of these things are overlooked. It is definitely something to be looked at.
CG: Getting back to the tabletop gaming night at the Armory, what games are being played? Do you play yourself?
MB: Yes, I do play. We have been playing Shadows over Camelot, Last Night on Earth, and Chaostle.

CG: What has the response been to your help @gamechurch.com email address? Do you get many people looking for help or someone to talk to?
MB: Not a lot there but we do get into some deeper discussions on our forums. We have made a lot of friends there and are continuing to build that family.

Vegas Game Day – October 13

Savage Worlds Scooby-Doo

Another Vegas Game Day, another afternoon of playing Savage Worlds, but this time it was Scooby-Doo and it was a straight up version of the animated series. Other players showed up over time with a Shaggy and a Velma taking their roles first. I wasn’t feeling too good on my Scooby voice so I was relieved when his role was taken by the other guy at the table and I wound up with Fred, which ended up working out perfectly. Fred had the Disadvantage of being Overconfident and also following red herrings, which felt like a good match for me. Plus I’d be the de facto leader of the team.

Fred standup character card for RPG of Scooby-Doo with Scooby Snacks treats in foreground and Mansions of Madness board game tile

GM Jerrod Gunning Goes the Extra Mile: Character Cards, Edible Bennies, and a Haunted Mansion

The Headless Ghost of Col. Sanders

We were on our way to Shaggy’s family reunion in our Mystery Machine van when a strange figure appeared and I easily avoided hitting him with a good Driving roll. We followed him into a Southern plantation mansion and up the stairs past the painting of Colonel Sanders who was pointing down in the painting. Up in the study though we received the first fright of many: the young man had aged rapidly to an old man in his 80s. He claimed to be the realtor, Mr. Hannigan, and we drove him over to the mansion’s owner’s house. Miss Green had inherited the home, but was now selling it. Just as she was telling us more we heard the squeal of tires; the Mystery Machine had been stolen by Mr. Hanigan! Arriving back at the mansion, we encountered his skeleton in the study! Zoinks!

Savage Worlds GM Jerrod Gunning explains a game concept to Scooby-Doo players at Vegas Game Day.

GM Jerrod Gunning Checking Notes for His Savage Worlds Scooby-Doo Game

Frightened Velma lost her glasses in her own vomit, Fred took a paper clue out of Scooby’s mouth and tore it up, and many investigations were made. There was a large meal for Shaggy and Scooby in the old kitchen which had a surprisingly modern fridge, and we eventually met up with the headless ghost of Col. Sanders who tried to scare us off by lobbing his head at us, which saw Shaggy and Velma fleeing, while Scooby and I stood our ground. Velma later Noticed the track wire for the head and the mini projector for the “ghost”.

The adventure culminated with us building a trap to catch the culprit. From some dice rolls we had 15 possible steps in our trap. We were using Mansions of Madness board game tiles for the layout of the game with paper stand-ups of the characters and the van. These helped when we worked out how Scooby and Shaggy would dress up as Union soldiers to lure the ghost while Velma would project a horde of angry escaped slaves to chase the Confederate ghost down the stairs into our elaborate Rube Goldberg trap. The trap started with ketchup and vomit to make the stairs slippery, multiple tripwires, Hanigan’s skull knocking into the “ghost”, a pressure plate releasing a mousetrap that would in turn release a counterweight driving the lawnmower forward to cut a wire, causing the egg beater to move a fan to stoke a candle to inflate a balloon to raise a board to knock over a lamp and eventually ensnare the ghost in a rug. While this was possibly our GM’s favorite point, I wanted to get to the inevitable unmasking. We could use many of our skills and I burned through four Bennies to get re-rolls on my dice. Gunning had thoughtfully gotten us sweet Keebler Scooby Snacks for the Bennies, but my luck was out and I barely contributed anything. Our Scooby-Doo player, Steve, chowed down on his Scooby Snacks as well and also spent the last third or half of the game playing Shaggy too, supplying great voices for them. He role-played both for the lure and the chase was on. When the villain rolled against the trap though, he rolled snake eyes so we easily captured him.

Mansions of Madness board tiles used for Savage Worlds gam of Scooby-Doo

Board Game Tiles from Mansions of Madness Used as a Game Map for Scooby-Doo

Not surprisingly the villain was Mr. Hannigan who was searching for the buried treasure in the house and had concocted an elaborate scheme to drive away any interlopers. We had also failed to locate the treasure with the clue “Soldiers march in single file” which was referencing one of the columns in front of the house, specifically the one that Col. Sanders’ portrait was pointing to. Within we found stacks of Confederate bills and all had a laugh at Hannigan’s hijinks. True to form, Gunning had even considered including outlying characters Scrappy Doo and Scooby-Dum in the game’s session, but didn’t have the time to include them or guest stars like the Harlem Globe Trotters or the Monkees. He had considered having KISS show up, but wants to save that for a more music-oriented adventure where Scooby and the gang are traveling to a concert.

Pathfinder Society – Silent Tide

Partway through PSS 00-01 I found out that I was going through the original Pathfinder Society adventure that started it all and would be the most familiar adventure to most Pathfinder players. While it makes no efforts to introduce a ton of thematic information as PFS 03-11 In Service to Lore does, Silent Tide proved to be a very strong adventure. It helped that we only had two other PCs, the cleric Logar whom I had adventured with before, the Wizard Maladorian Veld, and the NPC rogue Merisiel. She had joined our party because there were only 3 PCs, but if there had been only 2 PCs we would have been unable to play. I have to hand it to GM, Venture Captain Chris Clay, for the way he managed Merisiel because I can quickly resent an NPC foisted upon the party. Merisiel was helpful without being intrusive. The focus remained on the PCs and while there was no PC to PC role-playing going on, I was able to interact in character more with the NPCs than I have been in past games due to the small party size.

Pulled Along by the Silent Tide

While having only three PCs helped in wading into Silent Tide, the adventure is so solidly written by Michael Kortes that only the most jaded of gamers could dismiss its plot. After some opening narration about sloshing through the rain in one of Absalom’s slums (aptly named the Puddles), we came upon the man we were tasked to find, Yargos Gil, but he was chained to three others and being pushed off a cliff by six or so tattooed would-be toughs. This pissed me off. They fell into the waters below to drown, the last one desperately clinging to the cliff edge, but we had the gang of thugs between us. As we battled the gang, the last captive’s strength ran out and they fell. I was hooked.

Dry erase board with miniatures for Pathfinder Society and gaming supplies at Vegas Game Day

Captives Being Drowned and Rescued in Pathfinder Society – Silent Tide

After some serious ass-kicking we managed to save the captives from their watery grave and the rest of the adventure unfolded across at least four more encounters. Without spoiling too much, one encounter does involve problem and puzzle solving. It seemed better suited for our Wizard and Cleric (and Rogue) to deal with so I chilled out a bit, but when a riddle was revealed, I was riveted and worked on solving it and then went on to help with another of the tasks too.

The penultimate encounter saw us arriving at a temple or cathedral.
Me: Whose temple is it?
GM: Abadar.
Me: Abadar, who’s Abadar? Wait, that’s my god!

I was incensed. These undead Black Eschelon bastards were defiling the temple of Abadar? Not on Asir Al-Nimr’s watch! If the surviving member of the temple clergy, the defenseless, injured acolyte, would have Sensed Motive on me she would have found that I was eyeing her as a potential target for not defending the temple more fervently and with her life. As great as my zeal was on such hallowed ground, the last third of the encounter devolved into an odd quagmire of ranged combat for which Asir Al-Nimr was not even equipped and fortunately before I had to start climbing the huge organ pipes, our GM announced we had defeated the menace.

Gaming mat with picture drawn of Absalom granary for Pathfinder adventure Silent Tide with miniatures

Further into Silent Tide We Battled the Undead in a Granary

Their leader remained as well as our real mission objective, retrieving an important item from him. He was cowering in his kennel with his human guards and a canine companion out front named Marrow Chomper. A mighty slice from my greatsword later and Marrow Chomper was dying on the ground, forget the element of surprise! I cut down his master a few turns later after battering down a door that I kind of initially struggled to open and Silent Tide was over. Boasting isn’t really in Asir Al-Nimr’s character, but I do have to say that I was carving the bad guys to little pieces, pulverizing the undead into dust. It may have helped that they mostly had less than 8 hit points to begin with, but retooling Asir was a big part of it too.

Asir Al-Nimr Born Again

Before the game I asked Chris Clay to look over my character with me because I had amassed 873 gold in my two previous adventures and in Pathfinder Society games you are allowed to reconfigure your character before 2nd level. We ended up dropping Asir’s Shield Focus and instead I took up Power Attack. I switched Weapon Focus from Longsword to the Greatsword and purchased a Master-Worked Greatsword and a Master-Worked Breastplate. My AC dropped one from 19 to 18 and my movement dropped from 6 squares to 4, but now I was hitting with +8 on regular attacks doing 2d6+6 damage with the two-handed Greatsword and Power Attacks at +7 for 2d6+9 damage. As a result, I was putting down enemies left and right throughout Silent Tide (besides rolling fairly well).

A Level 2 Fighter Takes the Field

Having completed three PFS adventures, I leveled up! The Fighter section in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is literally 2 pages long. Besides getting a bonus to Fear saves, I got a small bump in Fortitude and could select an additional Feat. I snatched up Cleave to be able to possibly hit multiple opponents and gained 6 HP plus my Constitution bonus for a total of 8 more HP. I’m really looking forward to my next Pathfinder Society game.