Thursday, August 25, 2016

Free PDF Download:
New BX Character Class - Half-orc

Almost a year ago, I mentioned that the Character Class Codex would include a half-orc, which I saw as a way "to fill in the BX need for an assassin (but using a race class to do it)."

This statement last year was not how I envisioned a BX half-orc, it was how I'd already written it. Yes. This class has existed for about a year, and I'm just sharing it now. That being said, I do believe I made this an option during my "Cold Fingers of Fate" game at NTRPGCon this past year (and IIRC, somebody actually played it; I just don't have my notes from the game handy to confirm).

Enough of my jibber-jabber. Onto that link...

Click here to download the
Half-ord character class PDF.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Really Old Old-school Artist: Austin Molloy
(aka Austin Ó Maolaoid, AóM)

Many of you may notice that the art of today's featured artist Austin Molloy (1886–1961) bears a striking resemblance to illustration legend Harry Clarke. So it may come as no surprise that Molloy was friends with Clarke; they met at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now named the National College of Art and Design) as students, then Molloy went on to teach there. Tell me the last image below doesn't reek of Harry Clarke.

Molloy (aka Austin Ó Maolaoid, AóM) had a pretty prolific career, serving An Gúm (The Scheme), a government initiative in Ireland started in 1925 to publish books in Irish, as his main client for many years. All the images below pre-date 1925, but many of them could have been done in the last 40 years by someone like Russ Nicholson (specifically the boy fighting the hound, or the Grummsh-looking mother-effer below it).

I can't remember exactly how I stumbled across his work, but I do know it was during a recent " expedition" (what I call those times I sit front of the TV with my feet up, my laptop in my lap, and I just keep poking around until I find something relevant-but-previously-undiscovered-by-me).


Monday, August 22, 2016

New Oe/1e/BX Monster: Ambler

This is something I drew a while back and shared on Google+ as an illustration only.
Now it's a fully-statted creature.

An ambler (a contraction of the words “armored” and shambler”) is an elemental creature created from the massive sphere of armor and weapons located at the center of the Demi-plane of Electro-magnetism. When one of these anomalies escape their home plane (e.g., ported in by a powerful magic-user), the ambler appears as a shambling mishmash of mismatched pieces of armor in a vaguely humanoid form with 1-4 usable limbs, each of which has a 75% chance of holding a small-to-medium weapon (hand axe, dagger, 1-handed sword, etc.).

Because producing an ambler requires it to be summoned (as opposed to being conjured from existing material), control of the ambler is not automatic, nor will it serve any creature (even its summoner), so it will not follow orders unless compelled to do so my some additional force (e.g., a charm or control spell). The ambler can understand any language that was possessed by the previous owner of any piece of armor used in its composition, or weapon it holds (usually this will include common, dwarvish and elvish, though it is not unheard of for this to also include halfling and orcish; other languages known are at the discretion of the DM but is suggested that there be a 90% chance of the ambler knowing any common language, 30% for any uncommon language, 10% for any rare language, and 1% for any very rare language, assuming the language in question is spoken by species that normally wears armor).

The electromagnetism in the ambler is so strong that should a successful melee strike be made against the ambler by a normal (i.e., non-magical) weapon made of a magnetic metal (e.g., steel or iron), there is a 50% chance that the weapon will become “stuck” to the ambler, and useless by the attacker.

Amblers are affected by protection from evil spells, and can be returned to their home plane by dispel magic, but can also be dealt with using extraplanar dismissal or banishment. If dismissed or banished, any weapon stuck to the ambler will be transported with it.

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 6"
% IN LAIR: Nil
1-6 or by weapon
+1 or better
needed “to hit”
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

HIT DICE: 5-8*
MOVE: 60'(20')
DAMAGE: 1-6 or by weapon
SAVE AS: Fighter:5-8

Sunday, August 21, 2016

One Crazy Summer

Well, I haven't sailed in any regattas to save a singer's grandfather house, or been buried up to my neck on the beach beneath a guy in a folding chair eating chili, but it has been one crazy summer.

Nothing terribly bad, mind you, just a summer full of distractions. Just as summer began (you know, during the week of NTRPGCon), my wife quit one job, started a small re-sale business during June, then took a new job at the end of June. That meant a lot of furniture moving for me (3 carloads out of her old classroom, 3 carloads to the antique mall/mercantile space, and 2 carloads to her new classroom). July and August saw me dealing with a small, but annoying medical thing (just a small sore on my leg that is taking forever to heal properly which is eating up my schedule with trips to the wound care specialist). Not to mention a super-hectic workload all summer-long; in addition to a couple of sizable paying projects, I've been working with a couple of start-ups with a personal ownership stake. (In the 16 years I've been working for myself, I have never before contributed time to start-ups for two reasons: 1) I have heretofore not had faith in any of those proposed to me to be successful, and 2) the motto of all designers should be, "Fuck you. Pay me." However, the 2 start-ups in question are: 1) both being started by past clients who have brought me a lot of business/income, and 2) I do truthfully believe in the possibility of their success.)

So that brings me to the real point of this blog post... I'M BACK BITCHES!

My wife is back on a regular school-year schedule, which means I'm back on a regular schedule. I've already got three new blog posts loaded for the upcoming week, and Welbo and I are back full-force on the final preparations for Steve Marsh's Shattered Norns 5e book. And for those who've been waiting patiently, we'll soon be adding a batch of the Classic Edition GM Screen for sale on the New Big Dragon Storefront.

It's good to be back!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #3: Inch Marks and Foot Marks and Apostrophes and Quotes (Oh My!)

Today's post (compared to post #1 and post #2 in this series) will be short and to the point. It has to do with the differences between (and the correct usage of) inch marks, foot marks, quote marks and apostrophes.

So here are the basics...
Quote marks and apostrophes are curved. Inch marks and foot marks are not.

Again, AS ALWAYS!, it comes down to the fact that the computer thinks it's smarter than you, and "smart" quotes are only as smart as the person typing.

If you leave smart quotes "on" in your software, then every time you type a measurement, it looks like this...

If you leave smart quotes "off" in your software, then every time you type a quote or apostrophy, it looks like this...

Now, I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to online things (e.g., this blog), I use the default marks (" and ') instead of the more proper marks ( “, ” and ’), because hand-adjusting the html code with the proper ascii codes is a pain in the ass. But I think people are generally forgiving of this. However, when it comes to layout, I do not tread lightly when it comes to the differences between the marks. In fact, on one proofing review of the Creature Compendium (print copies of which are now on sale for 20% off at, I did nothing more than check the foot marks, inch marks, quotes and apostrophes for proper formatting (yes... one entire round of proofing just to check those marks).

BE IT KNOWN THAT NOT ALL FONTS INCLUDE PROPER QUOTE MARKS AND APOSTROPHES! In these instances (usually for the title type of a book), I will try to find the visually-closest font that includes them, and just change the typesetting for those individual characters in the title type. And if I can't find anything usable, I create the type element as a standalone image (e.g., in Adobe Illustrator), then use the comma from the typeface and move it, copy it and rotate it as necessary to make the type work. That may sound like a lot of effort, but it's these little things that make the difference between "average" and "superior" graphic design (and prove how much/how little the designer cares).

So that's it. And before you start asking "How do I turn smart quotes off and on?"... here are some resources for you.

Key combo for proper (curly) quotes on mac (assuming smart quotes are off):
  • for left/open quote: Option-[
  • for right/close quote: Option-Shift-[
  • for left/open single quote: Option-]
  • for apostrophe/right single/close quote: Option-Shift-]
There is no key command for foot and inch marks on Mac. You will need to make sure smart quotes are off to type these.

Turning smart quotes off/on in Adobe InDesign >>

Turning smart quotes off/on in Adobe InDesign (Scroll down to "Use Smart Punctuation")

If you want to know how to turn smart quotes off and on in Photoshop, you won't get any help from me. Photoshop shouldn't be used for type. (Sorry. That's one of those places where I won't back down on my design snobbery.)

Changing quotation mark format in Microsoft Office Products >>

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #2: Default (and/or Bad) Letterspacing/Kerning

In the first of this series of "Typographic Pet Peeves," I addressed the issues associated with leaving leading (pron. "ledding") on automatic, particularly when using connected type elements of different sizes. Today's post is concerned with the spacing among and between letters (BTW, those are 2 different things as you'll see below), particularly as related to "bad" typefaces (something I addressed way back in a post titled "Some good examples of bad type."

For the sake of today's discussion, we're going to need to make sure everybody is familiar with two different type terms, and the difference between them: 1) letterspacing and 2)kerning.
Letter-spacing (a.k.a. tracking) refers to the amount of space between a group of letters to affect the overall density and texture in a line or block of text.

Kerning, on the other hand, applies specifically to the spacing adjustment of two particular characters to correct for visually uneven spacing (i.e., a "kerning pair").

For my visual examples today, I'll be using another mockup for a non-existent retro-clone, using the title type ("Simple Fantasy") and attacking a series of issues (and insights) one-by-one. Unfortunately, a lot of the factors we'll be discussing today are not controllable in programs like MS Word (which I should remind everyone is a word processing program, NOT a layout program, regardless of what Microsoft tries to sell you). However, all the main Adobe Products (Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) do give you the control necessary (though Photoshop is clunky for this, since it is also NOT a layout program).

Formatting type in Illustrator:
Formatting type in InDesign:

At first glance, there's nothing really glaringly bad about this title type... and that's the pitfall! Like Peeve Post #1, the issues are going to come down to the fact that the computer does a lot of things automatically for you, and takes the responsibility for how good, bad, or average, your type looks. As this post progresses, and you see all the things you CAN control, you'll see how we can take a header with "average" visual presence and "strengthen" it.

So let's review the basics of this title type:

Typeface: Goudy Text MT
Point Size: 64 pt.
Kerning: Metrics (usu. the default)
Tracking: 0 (zero)

Now that we've got the "control group" set up, let's move to our first topic...


I have always been a huge proponent of the idea that the FIRST thing you should change in the type dialog box (for headlines OR body copy) is the kerning setting. There are a couple of exceptions:
a) connecting script fonts (if you change the setting to "optical" for these kinds of fonts, the script lines won't "connect" properly; I plan an entire Type Pet Peeve post on this topic alone)

b) types that are intentionally meant to be monospaced, and the use requires them to be such (e.g., when character count per line is important, like in writing screenplays)

In this example (#2), the kerning setting is set to "optical" (it is set to "metric" in #1). You may not see much difference because it's subtle. But it IS there. Look at the spacing around the "l" in "Simple"; you'll see how it's a little narrower in #2 than #1. Optical spacing tends to "even out" the spacing between each of the kerning pairs (every 2-letter set in the headline is a kerning pair... "Si", "im", "mp" et al.)

Now that we've taken a look at that, let's move on to kerning's cousin...


Again, letter-spacing is the overall amount of space "among" a group of letters. In this example (#3), I've decreased the tracking (letter-spacing) to "-30." I'm a fan of tight letter-spacing. To me, it tends to make the type feel more cohesive (i.e., more "intentional" than "accidental").

One thing that adjusting the letter-spacing tends to magnify though (especially as it is "tightened"), is that the blank spaces in many display/ornate faces is just TOO DAMN BIG!

Which brings us to something I find myself having to do on almost every single title I ever typeset for an RPG publication...


It might surprise you to find out that in this example (#4), I've altogether taken out the blank space between "Simple" and "Fantasy." Theoretically, the title is typed as S-i-m-p-l-e-F-a-n-t-a-s-y. I did, however, have to select the "e" (alone) and change the letter-spacing to "0" (from "-30").

Depending on the typeface and program you're using, there are a number of alternate ways to adjust this issue, including:
a) change the point size of the blank space to make it smaller than the rest of the type (e.g., 10 pt. blank space with 80 pt. type)

b) change the horizontal scaling of the blank space to make it narrow (e.g., 10% instead of 100%)

And so we move on to...


In example #2 above, I changed the "type" of kerning I was using (optical over metric), but kerning is actually the space relationship between 2 individual letters. As I get close to finalizing a piece of copy like this, I always try to review the spacing and see where it could be evened out even more. Look back to #4 for a moment. Though I liked the overall tracking in that, the word "Simple" felt a little too tight, and I'm not happy with the uneven spacing around the "s" in "Fantasy."

In this example (#5), I opened up the letter-spacing (tracking) on "Simple" from "-30" to "-20", then in the word "Fantasy" I adjusted the kerning between the "a" and "s" (made it tighter) and the "s" and "y" (made it looser).

Overall, I liked where this type specimen ended up compared to where I started (#1). Compare them for a moment before we move on to my final tweak...


Now that I've taken out all that spacing that the title didn't need (but the computer gobbled automatically), I have a bit of extra space which allows me to make my type bigger and give it more presence. So I went from 64 pt. to 70 pt. And it does make a difference. My title now has more visual presence and impact... things I couldn't have given it except for the fact that I took it back from the computer that tried to eat it.

So here are #1 and #6, side-by-side for comparison.
I have now put this knowledge and power in your hands.
What are you going to do with it!?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #1: Automatic Leading on Titling with Type Elements of Multiple Sizes

I'm starting a new series on the blog, in the hopes that revealing pet peeves as a practiced graphic designer will find fertile ground with OSR self-publishers who are doing their own layout and hoping to improve their skills.

Ultimately, as this (hopefully) series unfolds, you will find that most of my typographic pet peeves all come down to a single root problem... the computer doesn't care what your layout looks like! That's root of today's problem, and one that I see proliferating to an unbearable degree as more and more would-be designers take up the tools of the trade.

Today, I look at the use of automatic leading on titling with type elements of multiple sizes. This goes for both cover titling, as well as interior/section/chapter titling. For today's discussion, I'm using the following two examples (mockups of a non-existent retro-clone).

Please note, that on the sample to the left (the obviously inferiorly typeset version), I did NOT intentionally make the type spacing look bad. I did nothing more than choose a typeface, and set the type size for each element: 1) the name of the book, and 2) the author's by-line. I should back up for a second. While I did say "obviously inferiorly typeset version," it is quite possible that it's taking some of you a few moments to actually see the difference between the two versions, so I'll point it out... look at the spacing between "Swords &" and "Citadels," then compare the spacing between "Citadels" and the by-line.

I'm going to introduce the non-designers among you to a term few non-designers know... "chunking." This is a catchy way of saying that like typographic elements should be treated as a single visual element. For example, the title "Swords & Citadels" is on two lines, but in the left example "Swords &" and "Citadels" are treated as 2 separate chunks, where on the right they're treated as 1 graphic chunk. I'll even go so for to say on the left example, that "Citadels" and the by-line (because of the automatic leading) are accidentally chunked.

Here's the issue: When a designer leaves the leading set for "Automatic," the computer is making decisions for you based purely on mathematics, and not on aesthetics! Yes, I did bold and italicize and underline that, and then make it orange — because it's THAT important to remember.

Here's the solution (and it's VERY simple): NEVER LEAVE THE LEADING ON AUTOMATIC!!! Even in MS Word, there are ways to specifically set the leading in points (instead of variations on line-height).

In both examples, I used Adobe Illustrator and the typeface Trattatello, with the title set in 60 pt. and the by-line set in 36 pt.

In the left example, the automatic leading for type set at 60 pt. defaults to "(72 pt)" and the leading for the type set at 30 pt. defaults to "(30 pt)." I use the parenths to make a point... in Adobe products, any default leading shows up in parentheses to help remind you that the leading is set for automatic. See that! Even Adobe warns you you've left the leading on automatic! So back to those numbers for a second... based on the defaults, the space between line 2 of the title and the by-line is HALF of the space between the 1st and 2nd line of the title.

In the right example, I did nothing more than change the leading for the whole thing (all 3 lines) to 60 points... that's it! The size of the two type elements (title and byline) does the chunking all by itself. But you can change each line individually; adjust this recipe as you see fit.

So that's it. That's the basics of what happens because the computer thinks it's smarter than you, and because a lot of designers allow it to be. Be forewarned, when the computer starts making these kind of chunking adjustments on it's own, I fear we'll be nearing the point where computers overtake humanity!

Put the computer in its place! Manage your leading like the human you are!