Monday, December 15, 2014

#12B - California Gaming Part II - LSD&D with Erol Otus #RPGaDAY

Tracing the California Gaming Scene, part II: Erol Otus in NorCal

Erol Otus was one of the "second wave" of TSR artists hired in the mid 70s after the "first wave" of David A. Trampier, Tom Wham, David C. Sutherland and the like. His second wave contemporaries include Jeff Dee, David S. "Diesel" LaForce, Bill Willingham and later, Jim Roslof. Otus' trippy, semi-surreal illustrations brought a macabre yet whimsical, gonzo touch to TSR's publications: D&D, AD&D, Gamma World, Dragon magazine, Boot Hill, Top Secret and more.  He became a fan favorite and his distinct style made his illustrations easy to pick out from the rest.

In about 1983, he left TSR and the RPG industry. Nowadays, he creates art for several RPG companies looking for the classic-era look for their products. It is easy to forget that we didn't see any new weird fantasy RPG art come from him for a long, long time after leaving TSR.

1999 San Francisco: Return to the Art on the Borderlands

Twilight of the Idols (1999)

"LSD&D" succinctly describes Otus' trippy D&D art style, a term I first saw when I contacted Allan Horrocks of San Francisco's Aquarius Records back in 1998. "LSD&D" doesn't mean that Otus uses mind-altering substances to create his art (he doesn't (1)), just that his art mirrors the unrealities that such substances unveil.

Otus illustrated an album cover for SF band The Lord Weird Slough Feg (above) with an image that could've been pulled from a 1980 D&D module. Fellow Otus fan Horrocks, friend of the lead singer, interviewed Otus for his music 'zine, Hoe (now, unfortunately, lost to time).

Down Among the Deadmen (2000)
Slough Feg hired Otus to illustrate their next album the next year (above). Clearly, the members of the band are gamers and if their choice of artist doesn't give it away, you should check out their 2003 concept album Traveller based on the RPG of the same name.

This was the first time fans like Horrocks and me saw Otus work in his classic fantasy D&D style in over 15 years. Remember, this was long before Erol's covers for the DCC adventures The Mysterious Tower and The Haunted Lighthouse and the Hackmaster module Descent into the NetherDeep. By 1999, some D&D fans had even started asking the quesion, "Whatever happened to Erol Otus?"

Humna Humna alien graphics for Starflight 2 (1989)

Humna Humna alien illustration for Starflight 2 (1989)
After Otus left TSR, started his continuing career creating game designs, illustrations, graphics and music for video games. His refined his self-taught art skill first by studying painting at UC Berkeley and later studying illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Otus joined his childhood friend Paul Reiche III at the Toys for Bob studio in the early 1990s and still works there today.

My question is: how did this gonzo gamer from Berkeley become an influential artist at such a pivotal time in TSR's history?

1976 Richmond: We'll always have Arduin

The Arduin Grimoire (1977) cover illustrated by Erol Otus
As a young gamer, Otus played miniature battles with his friends using the Chainmail rules. They soon moved on to D&D when a friend bought the original three booklet set (2). Sometime probably in early 1976, Otus began gaming with Dave Hargrave in his already long-running Arduin campaign. Hargrave hired Otus to illustrate his upcoming series of The Arduin Grimoire rulebooks to be published by Chaosium.

The Chaosium deal fell through, as I explored in a previous post, and Hargrave was forced to self-publish The Arduin Grimoire and its two sequels, Welcome to Skull Tower and The Runes of Doom (all three illustrated by Otus). The change of plans delayed publication of the first book until 1977 and the sequels until 1978.

In the forward to The Arduin Grimoire, Hargrave gives this odd note:
Special Note: the artwork for this supplement is the sole doing of one fine young artist: Errol [sic] Otus. I'm only glad I'll be able to say in ten years from now, "I knew him when..." (3)
Did Hargrave have mystical foreknowledge about Otus' future career, even if he couldn't spell his name? Not really. By 1977, Otus was already a published artist with TSR.

1976 Lake Geneva: The Dragon Reaches Westward

The Remhoraz from The Dragon #2
Otus began submitted illustrations to TSR soon after he started playing D&D. TSR Periodicals finally purchased a piece for the August, 1976 issue of The Dragon. Otus describes this in a 2009 interview with

One the drawings was of a blue and fuchsia winged worm in an icy landscape, this was published in The Dragon #2 with stats by Gary Gygax as “The Remorhaz.” This was my first published color piece.
The Anhkheg from The Dragon #5

Three issues later, TSR Periodicals published Otus' creature write-up and illustration for the Anhkheg, now an iconic D&D creature (and now spelled Ankheg). Gary Gygax gives Otus credit for both the above creations in the 1st ed. Monster Manual(4). Not long after, TSR needed a new staff artist (possibly because Dave Trampier had just quit(5)) and hired Otus. He moved out to Lake Geneva.

There appears to be some trouble for Dave Hargrave's Arduin after this. About the time The Arduin Grimoire was in its second printing, TSR sent him a cease & desist letter to remove any references to D&D from his books. This may include Erol Otus' art as it starts to disappear from later Arduin printings.

1979 Berkeley: The Booty, the Beasts and the Necromican

Fantasy Art Enterprises logo

Erol Otus still had an effect on California Gaming. In 1979, he teamed up with his buddy Paul Reiche III (who was also being hired by TSR around this time) and Mathias Genser to create a couple of unlicensed fantasy RPG supplements. They founded their tiny publishing company, Fantasy Art Enterprises, in the "hills north of the UC Berkeley campus."(6)

Booty and the Beasts (1979) cover art by Erol Otus

Booty and the Beasts autographed by Otus to Mike, the lead singer of Slough Feg
Otus illustrated all products and contributed numerous designs. Reiche and Genser wrote the rest. They created a compilation of new monsters and treasures (Booty and the Beasts), a book of 132 new spells (The Necromican  (not The Necronomicon)), a set of Geomorphic Mini Dungeon Modules and a set of New Magical and Technological Item Cards. The last item notably includes "HANDY DANDY RANDOM MAGICAL ITEM GENERATION TABLES" with which the user may create an item that deals 3d20 points of damage or a cursed item that slays its user, "permanently."
The Necromican (1979)

Their books were saddle stapled, softcover, roughly digest-sized (more like trade paperback sized 8 1/2" x 5 1/2") booklets and other supplements were printed on letter-sized (8 1/2" x 11") cardstock. This was the de rigueur RPG supplement publishing style at the time, matching the original D&D booklets (1974) and early TSR supplements Dungeon Geomorphs (1976) and Outdoor Geomorphs (1977). One advantage is that the rulebooks and other supplements (once the cards or geomorphs were cut apart) easily fit inside the original D&D box
New Magical and Technological Item Cards (1979) art by Erol Otus
Other Califonia gamers published in this same "digest booklets + cut-apart cardstock" style. Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Grimoire booklets and various Arduin Cards supplements (1977 Grimoire Games) are in this style. Clint Bigglestone, Terry Jackson (Steve Perrin's fellow DunDraCon organizers) and Kate Wadey published Artifact Cards (1979) and both Dungeon and City Geomorphs (1978) under the DunDraCon, Inc. name. Bigglestone's other company, Fantasy Factory, produced similar card-based accessories in 1978. The Playing Board of Albany published the digest-sized The Spellcaster's Bible (1979) (see Conclusions, below). Matthew Walley of Chula Vista self-published his own Wizard's Aide (1977) booklet of the same mold.
Geomorphic Mini Dungeon Modules (1979) art by Erol Otus

Fantasy Art Enterprises' supplements tended to be of better quality than their competitors. Erol Otus' earliest illustrations were still better (or at least, more interesting) than most other amateur artists in the industry at that time. Otus' geomorphs are regarded as better than Bigglestone's or even TSR's offerings. Otus teamed up with legendary-designer-to-be Paul Reiche III (future co-creator of GW1: Legion of Gold, Mail Order Monsters, Archon, Star Control and even the Skylanders franchise) and with an ability to create a legible book (a rarity in that era) made for a winning combination.
The Neila, not H. R. Giger's Alien, from Booty and the Beasts, art by Erol Otus

And their stuff was weird, like, gonzo, out-there, bizarro weird. It was weirder that the poster child of gonzo gaming, The Arduin Trilogy.(7) Like Arduin, there is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy equipment and creatures, including aliens, robots, pulses rifles, ornithopters, particle beam weapons, whirly chairs (personal mini-helicopters) and more.
Vacucumber, victim and pile of treasure/excrement, from Booty and the Beasts, art by Erol Otus

Also, there are plenty of puns, such as the "Vacucumber" seen above, "a gargantuan sea cucumber with one addition: it has 11 huge tentacles... [with which] it combs the ocean around it for bits of food (sailors, scubadivers [sic], large fish, etc.) to suck down into its immense stomach."
Drillbot, from Booty and the Beasts, art by Erol Otus

It was weird, but not abstract. Booty and the Beasts includes a 20-location hit location system used for certain weapons/creature attacks (such as the Drillbot, above). The monsters stats tended to be simple (no alignment or treasure) but always include a Dexterity rating (sometimes as high as 25!), probably due to the dexterity-based initiative rules in the Holmes Basic D&D set (1977) or The Arduin Grimoire.

Whatever happened to Fantasy Art Enterprises? Otus and Reiche were hired by TSR, who would frown on employees making their own products to compete with them. Eventually, all three members of the company (Genser included) moved into the video game industry. FAE produced no more products after 1979.


ARDUIN WAS EVERYWHERE. Every time I research a 1970s Californian RPG supplement, publisher or game designer, Dave Hargrave is affiliated somehow. Even my copy of The Spellcaster's Bible by The Playing Board has a notice stamped (not printed) to the inside front cover stating, "Some of the material within this book is inspired by and based upon material from "Adruin Trilogy" and other works by David A. Hargrave©." My planned Arduin post will require further research.
Left, Termite People from Booty and the Beast (1979). Right, Buggems (a.k.a. "Termite Men") from GW1: Legion of Gold (1981). All art by Erol Otus.

TSR got a healthy dose of gonzo where it needed it most - Gamma World. Somebody at TSR wisely put both Reiche and Otus together on Gamma World (1978), Jim Ward's new post-apocalypic, science fantasy RPG and pseudo-sequel to Metamorphosis Alpha (1976). Reiche and Otus were able to reuse some old designs, perfect for this game, as seen by the Termite People and Termite Men, above.

The lasting power of friendship? There is something to be said for childhood friends who can work together through the decades. I met both Reiche and Otus in 2011 and they were both warm, receptive guys who were a pleasure to speak with. That will be the subject of another post, dealing with a certain artifact in my possession.

1: "When people ask me if I was on drugs when I created, then I must inform that I never was." Rients, Jeff, "Interview with Erol Otus," Fight On! no. 8 (2010): 78.
2: "We had tried a bit of battling with the Chainmail rules, then a friend bought the boxed set of three pamphlets." Ibid., 77.
3: Hargrave, David, The Arduin Grimoire (Richmond: David Hargrave, 1977),  2.
4: "Erol Otus for doing the preliminary work and illustrations of the anhkheg and remorhaz which appeared in The Dragon." Gygax, Gary, Monster Manual (Lake Geneva: TSR Games, 1977), 4.
5: "My favorite D&D artist is Trampier, though he had just quit before I got there. In fact I believe that was the reason they were looking for an artist at the time." Rients, Jeff, 77.
6: Appelcline, Shannon, Designers & Dragons: The '70s (Silver Spring: Evil Hat Productions, LLC, 2014), 322.
7: "Most consider Fantasy Art's books even more gonzo than Arduin itself." Ibid.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#12A - California Gaming Part I - Steve Perrin's Conventions - #RPGaDAY

Tracing the California Gaming Scene, part I: Steve Perrin in NorCal

I still read a number of old RPG supplements in my study of the early history of gaming. While many game historians study the origins of the hobby that spread from the wargame groups of the Great Lakes region (specifically, Lake Geneva and the Twin Cities of St. Paul/Minneapolis), I focus on the gaming scene that developed in my home state of California. West coast gamers created their own "flavors" of playing. I'll cover these in several posts and see how they wrap back into the official D&D game.

1976 Berkeley: Dundracon I, An Unconventional Convention for Perrin's Conventions


DunDraCon (Dungeons & Dragons Convention) was first held in Berkeley's Claremont Hotel in March, 1976. There, the public first encountered The Perrin Conventions, a set of D&D house rules handed out by organizer Steve Perrin (who was also a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)).
Location of the first Dundracon

The Perrin Conventions included details for D&D combat, like: breaking up a round into phases, adding a "dexterity roll" to do other actions, knocking down opponents and two-weapon fighting. These were likely inspired by Perrin and his friends' experiences in mock battles with the SCA. This initial set of rules modified the magic system and included Dave Hargrave's critical hit rules(1).

 Perrin's own Dundracon bio admits that he didn't design all the rules, he was just the guy who typed them up for distribution. The rules received some notice from the convention attendants, but this was a limited group of mostly gamers from the Bay Area and surrounding regions. Still, it served as an early mutation on the original D&D rules from 1974 and showed that some players were interested in a less abstract combat system.
Steve Perrin and his wife Luise in SCA regalia at the 1968 Worldcon (source)

Steve Perrin wanted to become more involved in the nascent RPG industry and teamed up with fellow gamer Jeff Pimper to edit together a book of monsters, complete with stats for D&D and two newer games: Tunnels & Trolls (T&T, first published 1975) and Arduin (first published as The Arduin Grimoire in 1977).

In addition to their own creations, Perrin and Pimper compiled creature designs mostly from APA zines (The Wild Hunt and Alarums & Excursions (A&E)) or from local gamers. The designers included Dave Hargrave (local gamer and creator of The Arduin Grimoire), Clint Bigglestone (Dundracon organizer), Sean Cleary (A&E and Wild Hunt), Hilda Hannifen ("The Ignoble Mockturtle" A&E zine), Roger Harvey (later, an illustrator for Judges Guild), Steve Henderson (another SCA and Dundracon founder), Dan Pierson and Glenn Blacow (both from Wild Hunt), and others.

Jennell Jaquays (using the name Paul) contributed a few designs from her RPG fanzine, The Dungeoneer (about one year later, this became a Judges Guild magazine). Jaquays went on to a prolific career designing and illustrating RPGs, authored classic modules like Dark Tower, became one of the first tabletop designers in video game design (at Coleco). (12-11-14 edited for clarity)

They had more than one book's worth of material, so the editors decided to only print monsters that were never published before. Thus some of Jaquays and Hargrave's designs were left on the cutting room floor with some others from A&E. The monsters were given only D&D stats, though each entry included ranges for "IQ" (Intelligence) and Dexterity. They just needed a publisher.

1977 Albany: Chaosium publishes a Monster Manual or two before TSR

Greg Stafford founded his company The Chaosium in 1975 to publish White Bear & Red Moon (later reprinted as Dragon Pass), the first board game set in his fantasy world of Glorantha. Stafford was an D&D player and maybe purchased the first D&D set ever sold. Perrin, Pimper and Stafford met through mutual friends and when Stafford heard about their project, he was eager to have Chaosium publish it and get into the RPG supplement business.

Stafford was trying and failing to get a Gloranthan RPG off the ground. First, Dave Hargrave tried to make a Gloranthan version of his Arduin system and Chaosium had planned to publish The Arduin Grimoire; Chaosium house magazine Wyrm's Footnotes issue 2 notes: "THE ARDUIN GRIMOIRE will be the first of our new products." A few months later, the very next issue states: "When we finally received the manuscript to ARDUIN GRIMOIRE, it was not quite what we had hoped for... we have decided not to publish the rules." Hargrave had to self-publish The Arduin Grimoire (more on this later).  It is said that Chaosium felt Arduin was too derivative of D&D; issue 3 doesn't say this directly, but it does refer to Arduin as, "a supplement, if you will," and highly recommend it for, "experienced dungeoneers," (i.e. anyone who already owns the D&D rules?).

Stafford's design team of Hendrik Jan Pfeiffer, Art Turney and Ray Turney worked on the Gloranthan RPG as a D&D supplement but Stafford's world was unique and needed its own unique game system. Impressed with The Perrin Conventions, Stafford asked Perrin to "look in and see if he could help the situation" on July 4, 1976(2).

Perrin came up with revolutionary changes to the new system, like doing away with experience points, having no character classes and flat hit point values that don't increase linearly with experience. Slowly, Perrin was put in charge of the project. Only Ray Turney stayed on from the original design team and Perrin added fellow SCA members Steve Henderson and Warren James. Stafford was very pleased with the team's work on his fantasy world.

Chaosium published Perrin and Pimper's All the World's Monsters sometime in 1977, getting to market before TSR's official monster collection, the AD&D Monster Manual (released in December, 1977).
All the All the Worlds' Monsters, volumes 1-3
All the World's Monsters vol. 2 followed that same year and maybe hit the shelves before Monster Manual as well. In addition to adding in cut designs by Hargrave, Jaquays and others, the second volume included T&T conversion notes (by Ken St. Andre) and a refined, revised set of The Perrin Conventions (dated November, 1977) that focused mostly on D&D combat, less Hargrave's critical hit rules. Now, the house rules were available to a much wider audience.
RuneQuest, 1st printing cover. Illustration by Luise Perrin
In 1978, the new Perrin-led Gloranthan game RuneQuest was born and, with it, Chaosium's in-house Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system. This BRP system was also modified into Worlds of Wonder, Call of Cthulhu, Elfquest, Stormbringer/Elric!, Hawkmoon, Pendragon, Superworld, Ringworld and many other games. This was also one of the earliest "universal" RPG systems (though many of the different games were only barely compatible).

The combat system was quite detailed, with parries, fumbles, critical hits, hit locations and more. RuneQuest the first totally skill-based RPG without classes (Traveller (1977) had character skills but no way to improve them) where the player could develop their character as they desire. For some years, RuneQuest provided competition to TSR's sales and Chaosium is one of the few game companies from that era still in business today.

12-11-14 Update: 
I'll let Dr. J. Eric Holmes, editor of the first D&D Basic Set and a SoCal gamer, describe RuneQuest's combat system as he compared it to D&D in 1981.
The combat system requires a little more bookkeeping than D&D and is, therefore, more "realistic."(3)
Could you elaborate, Dr. Holmes?
Combat rules are extremely complex. There are die rolls for each hit and its parry, for the location of the hit as well as for the extent of the damage. There are special scores which indicate a "critical hit" or a "fumble," and then another roll to see what the nature of the critical injury or fumble might be. Special training will increase the character's ability to hit with a particular weapon. Each weapon must, realistically, be trained for individually, at a cost of silver lunars (the coin of the realm) or maybe by doing some more die rolls to see if your character has learned from experience after a successful fight.
 All of this takes a lot of bookkeeping, die rolling and calculation with every blow struck. This is not necessarily a criticism. A great deal of any game is spent in the calculations and die rolling involved in combat... A pocket calculator might come in handy. Many game players revel in these complicated calculations. The more complex the computations of each weapon blow, the better they like it.(4) (emphasis mine)
So, Holmes found players in Southern California that, like many Northern California counterparts, preferred a complex, "realistic" combat system. Holmes did not share that opinion, himself:
What are the advantages of this game over its (inevitable comparison) competitor, Dungeons & Dragons? In terms of basic game mechanics, character generation, experience, combat, magic, I would say none. Some fans of the game would cry that it has greater "realism," but I think these are minor differences.(5)

Holmes appears to like the RuneQuest game and speaks highly of its clarity in writing, numerous examples and the novelty of a game manual with an index (something he wished for his own Basic D&D(6)). Besides the combat complexities, his main complaint was he didn't feel the RPG captured the "feel" of Glorantha (as seen in White Bear & Red Moon). It missed out on the "eerie feeling of reality to his imaginary world(7)" that Greg Stafford brings when he writes games, himself.

Note: Holmes probably played 2nd edition RuneQuest as opposed to 1st edition. As far as I understand, the differences between the two are minimal.
End 12-11-14 Update 



First of all, RuneQuest did not evolve directly from The Perrin Conventions. It may seem obvious, but the internet is full of quotes like, "Runequest's rules were made from The Perrin Conventions," or, "RuneQuest is a codification and development of the Perrin Conventions." (quotes slightly obfuscated) These statements imply that RuneQuest is nothing more than a D&D variant, but that simply isn't the case. There are similarities between the two, but no more so than with countless other systems. If Chaosium just wanted a D&D variant, they would've used Pfeiffer, Turney and Turney's design and gone to market with it back in 1977.

Second, SCA members and wargamers play differently. D&D evolved from wargame rules by members of the Castle & Crusade Society, founded by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz as a chapter of the International Federation of Wargaming, itself founded by Gygax, Scott Duncan and Bill Speer in 1966. These gamers got together around a sand table (usually in Gary's basement) ordering miniature armies into mock battles. Abstract combat was simple and made sense.

Conversely, the SCA was founded in Berkeley in 1966 with armored members going outside to fight mock battles with padded weapons. Their point of view was not that of a military commander with a bird's eye view of battle, but as a common soldier who has felt the heft of their shield and the sting of a (padded) sword. Combat seems abstract if you aren't the one fighting. The reenactors saw something missing in abstract combat and created their own rules and games to fill those gaps.

Maybe it all comes down to the weather. In sunny California, you can go outside and play practically all year round. When it gets cold up North, it is best to hunker down next near the heater and go to war with some good friends around the sand table.