Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"No Gandalfs!"

The following consists of excerpts from emails I've sent to the artists who have been producing Planet Algol artwork. I'm laughing at what a control freak I am in these, but I've had my fill of tattooed mohawked ninja-hookers with 4-bladed battle-axes. Feel free to laugh at me as well!
"Planet Algol is Not Extreme! No modern or even anachronistic "extreme" imagery
- no mohawks or punk hairstyles
- no punk rock anything
- no "hot rod" flames
- no tattoos or piercings
- no warhammer/games workshop extreme spiky imagery
- no oversized weapons
- no ridiculous "rock shop/bong store/klingon" style weapons...no triple bladed axes or nunchuck swords or even any martial arts weapons
- no overmuscled, over-the-top steroid case musculature
- no hooker clothing
- no punk/metal style spikes or studs (a tasteful spike on top of a dome or helmet is good, a spiked collar or jacket is bad!)
- avoid overuse of skull imagery, with appropriate exceptions for "The Monolith of Skulls" or "Pile of Skulls Monster"
- avoid real-life historical, religious, occult, political, etc. symbols. No pentagrams or fleur du lies!

Planet Algol is Not Medieval or Even Earth
- see later section regarding earth men
- no weapons, armor, clothing or architecture that looks overtly medieval, viking, renaissance, etc.
- however, weapons, armor, clothing or architecture that appear vaguely "ancient", east indian, mesoamerican, middle-eastern, southeast asian, or mesopotamian can be acceptable, but avoid copying actual historical styles. likewise clothing that appears vaguely napoleonic or victorian is good, as long as it is alien!
- avoid doing traditional fantasy subjects; however traditional "pulp swords & sorcery" subjects are good!

What Does Planet Algol Look Like?
- classic rpg illustrator Erol Otus
- contemporary rpg illustrator Peter Mullen
- European cartoonist Moebius
- classic sixties "Star Trek" alien cultures/planets
- "The Warlord" comic book published by DC in the eighties
- anything Flash Gordon
- illustrations for Edgar Rice Burrough's "Mars/Barsoom" series
- legendary comic artist Jack Kirby
- classic Marvel Conan comics
- classic cartoonist Richard Corben
- "Tekumel," (google it)
- the sixties Spider-Man cartoons
- art neuveau & art deco

Algol Men
- are anatomically identical to standard humans, aside from whatever specific details are in their description
- no pointed ears, weird eyes, star trek alien facial prothesis, etc.
- if a race has scales they are small/fine and consistent in texture over the entire body
- algol people should ideally be of ambiguous race/ethnicity compared to earth men
- avoid identifying algol men, cultures, etc. with real life/historical cultures, races, ethnicities
- however, weapons, armor, clothing or architecture that appear vaguely "ancient", east indian, mesoamerican, middle-eastern, southeast asian, or mesopotamian can be acceptable, but avoid copying actual historical styles. likewise clothing that appears vaguely napoleonic or victorian is good, as long as it is alien

Algol Technology
- should be rare
- contemporary Algol Man technology is rare and looks art neuvau/art deco/baroque
- contemporary algol man energy weapons should look like baroque flinlock/musket/black powder firearms, but without the serpentine/hammer/flint&firing pan
- ancient algol technology looks saucer man/over the top with fins, crystals, vanes, cones, prisms. Jack Kirby, Moebius, Erol Otus

Earth Men
- look like "pulp adventure characters," imagine the illustration on the cover of a lurid men's adventure magazine in the 1930s'
- Most Earth Men are from Rocketship expeditions to Planet Algol from earth
- These Earth Men's clothing and technology looks vaguely 1940s-1950s but slightly futuristic (as that era viewed futuristic)
- Their firearms should look like world war ii era, but no automatic weapons/machine guns. firearms should also be sparse!
- pistols look like classic six-shooters, Colt Model 1911 automatics, broom-handle mausers, lugers
- rifles should be bolt action or level action. if they have a clip/magazine it should be small like a M1 carbine. no assault rifles, etc.
- things like flap-top holsters, old western ammunition bandoleers, and the like are good
- no grenades, bazookas, flamethrowers and other military armament
- weapons like WWII combat knives, bayonets, machetes, cavalry sabers, nightsticks, hatchets, and the like are good for earth men. imagine pulp adventure heros.
- earth man technology looks like a 1940/50s' futuristic version of ww2 era technology.
- some earth men are time/space travelers that have fallen through some sort of spacetime rift and ended up on planet algol. they can be from any eara/background (including children) but please keep them sparse, in the spirit of the style guide, and try to avoid fantasy cliches like viking warriors and the like.

- generally sparse, the only non-arid areas in the currently known region is the moss steppes, the forbidden mist valley, the slime lands and the adjacent jungles
- should look prehistoric, alien, mutated, pulp adventure tropical
- no pine trees

Nudity & taste
- keep it PG-13. I may have to deal with some licensing and distributing issues down the line
- tasteful cheesecake is good, but avoid pin-up art style stuff
- many Algol Men wear loincloths/breechclouts, loincloths with weapon harnesses, breechclouts with capes
- no ninjas

Further Suggested Artists
- classic sci-fi paperback cover artist Jack Gaughan

Further Taste Guidelines
- no gandalfs
- sorcerers in star patterned robes and conical hats are acceptable however

Also, check the following out for inspiration:

Algol Melee Weapons

Axe, Battle - Dane Axe, Long Bearded Axe
Axe, Hand - cane knife, francisca mak 1 2 Fishtail Knife 3 4 5 6
Dagger - Pugio, Seax 1 Jambiya Koumiya 1 Tetela Knife
Mace, Any - Scorpion Macehead, Narmer Macehead 1 2 (middle two)
Mace, Heavy - Kanabo
Mace, Light - 1
Morningstar - Morningstar 1
Picks - 1 (bottom one)
Spears 1 2 3 4
Sword, Broad - Dao, Spatha, Takouba, Bolo, Makhaira Falchion Khanda 1 Qama 2
Sword, Long - Flyssa, Kampilan, Jian 1 Walloon Mortuary Sword Backsword Yang Sabre Qi Jian Khyber Mexican Sabre
Sword, Scimitar - Yataghan, Kilji, Saif, Nimcha, Shotel, Falcata, Talibong (three leftmost) Pirate Cutlass Tulwar Hanger Dha Cutlass
Sword, Short - Kukri, Gladius Hispania, Parang, Golok, Kopis, Bronze Age Sword (disregard khopesh), Bronze Age Rapier, this bayonet Cinqueda Seax Choora Gunong Talibon 1
Sword, Two-Handed - Dadao (tastefully..no giant swords) Zhanmadao Executioners Sword (again...not huge) Greatsword
Trident - Tripula

Algol Energy Weapons (without the huge bulge at the handle end of some pistols or the lever/hammer mechanism)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

"Alien" Guns

1 2 3 4

1 2 3

Earth Man Guns

Automatic Pistols
1 2 (without stock) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

1 (disregard the zigzags) 2 3 4 5 6 7

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 (with shorter magazine) 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 (with shorter magazine) 19 20"


  1. Reminds me of Talislanta's elf-prohibition.

    "Planet Algol: Still no Gandalfs!"

  2. My personal favorite restriction:

    "no ridiculous "rock shop/bong store/klingon" style weapons"

    and of course,

    "avoid overuse of skull imagery, with appropriate exceptions for "The Monolith of Skulls" or "Pile of Skulls Monster""

    But I do wonder, any promise of clock-work hobbits?

  3. @G.Benedicto: We have a stack of old Dragon magazines in our gaming space, and several of my players had a chuckle when they found that Talislanta ass "No Elves?!? Is this add for Blair's game?"

    @ Fat Cotton: There's actually a (*gasp*) "Algol Anthropological" reason for the skull restrictions...as well as avoiding any extreme dude-isms.

    I enjoy my hypocrisy with the whole "...No crazy weapons period! Now here's a bunch of crazy weapons I want you to copy..." shebang...

  4. Oops, looks like I was still thinking about "Obregon's Dishonor" when I wrote my reply to G. Benedicto...

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Don't mean to be a too much of a cheerleader, but Blair's art direction was awesome!
    He managed to pinpoint many of the tropes I personally find cringe-inducing, and pretty much embarrassing about the fantasy genre, even though I truly love escapist lit.
    It's really sad when fantasy or sci-fi tries to be all "poochie" cool via tats, mowhawks, piercings, etc.
    That kinda stuff leaves me with the feeling of watching a someone with special needs furiously dancing to Huey Lewis at a wedding.

  7. Fantastic work,

    This clarifies the "look" of planet algol and does so with zest and aplomb. I especially like the details about weapon alternatives, there aren't enough flyssas and talibongs and parangs in roleplaying games and it's good to see someone doing something about it.

    What about armour?

  8. If you like those Perry Rhodan covers you might want to have a look at the covers of the sword & sorcery novel series that was published by the same publisher and editorial team:

    The publisher applied Perry Rhodan's formula for success (the weekly series is still going strong - the current issue is # 2527) to the fantasy genre as well. The result was Mythor, a pulpy sword & sorcery series that ran from 1980-1985.
    Here are all 192 covers:

    The series began as a thinly veiled Conan rip-off but quickly developed a different take on the genre as it adopted the same huge, convoluted metaplot model that had worked for Perry Rhodan (think: Babylon and tied readers to the franchise.

    A friend of mine used to turn those novels into modules for his RQ/T&T campaign.

    (This comment is a crosspost with the Lair of the Evil GM blog where coincidently the topic of Perry Rhodan surfaced two weeks ago.)

  9. Flash Gordon? Warlord? ST:TOS? If the artists follow your direction (which in my experience with various comic projects is always iffy), Planet Algol will be a treat for the art alone!

  10. This post is extremely timely for something (actually two things) that I have planned.
    Of course, I will be breaking a couple of these, quite on purpose when you see the end result I also hope quite appropriate in the context.

  11. So the dominant Algol aesthetic could be typified as 'Flash Gordon baroque'?

    *approves wholeheartedly*

  12. CrusssDaddy says:

    That weapons compilation is a great resource.

  13. Sorry Blair, I know you are a control freak but pretty much when you started this blog, and certainly after you publish, people are going to begin creating "their" Planet Algol.

    Personally, the coolest idea regarding Planet Algol is the spaghetti bowl of different characters that drop into and have to adapt to the Algol environs. If I purchase Algol I'd sprinkle some missing and historical figures in my game, like Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and Bison Dele. I don't know if you are influenced by Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld" but I see parallels with characters out of place and out of time.

    I like that you are trying to nail the flavour of the setting, and if you do a good enough job with that people's individual games should remain fairly consistent with your vision.

  14. Let me start by saying that I like that you have a distinct vision for your world. I also respect your artistic direction.

    I do have to hesistate at a few of the more prejudicial comments made here. If I am correct modern punks didn't invent tattoos, piercings, or crazy hair.

    I believe many artists include them in various combinations, to great effect, in creating a look for their characters that is not simply a parallel of some earthly culture. If I am no mistaken that is the very same thing you are trying to create here.

  15. I am a little late to the party here, but I found this awesome site from Grognardia.

    When exactly is this game coming out? Or will it be in blog format only?


  16. Micromanaging? Maybe ... In any case, developing images with these guidelines sounds like a swell challenge to me!

  17. Thanks for your comments everyone!

    B. Portly: Haha, of anyone you certainly don't need the above style guide, it's in your blood! I certainly thought of Poochie a lot when I was whipping this together, and it was the term I used to express my dissatisfaction with the 4E Monster Manual "Those bastards Poochie'd Giant Scorpions! Oh my God, it's full of Poochies!"

    Thomas: Thank you, I think Tunnels & Trolls had some influence on the weapon guide. "On paper" they're scimitars, spears, etc., part of the reason for the weapons guide was to provide the artists with examples of cool, exotic weapons that aren't Games Workshop-ish or 3E Exotic Weapon Nunchuk Flail-Swords.

    I'm planning on doing an armor style guide in the near future, and will definitely post it here.

    Dirk R.: Thanks for the tip, I've heard of Mythor before and I am highly intrigued!

    Trey: I know I'm biased, but I absolutely love the artwork that's been produced so far and I think you may be in for a treat!

    Ancinetvaults: I can't wait to see Koram and Chalk!

    Chris: Combined with "Raygun Gothic" and "Art Nouveau Sword & Sorcery"

    TJ: One man's "control freak" is another's "clearly definaed vision." I do try and keep things vague and undefined enough that people can take the Planet Algol material in whatever direction they like, and I don't intend on presenting it as having a "correct way." I am certainly down with historical figures as player characters! Cooincidentally I've been thinking of Riverworld a lot lately, I think the change in the series really defines what I mean when I say "the magic of the unknown."

    Eli Arnt: Ironically enough I am an (old) punk, I used to have a mohawk and piercings, and I still have tattoos and spiked leathers! I am aware of the rich anthropological history of body adornment, etc., and I actually really dig that stuff.

    The reasons for the "prejudicial" are twofold:

    1) Planet Algol is heavily influenced by seventies fantasy gaming as well as earlier science fiction/fantasy/pulp adventure fiction, which both existed in a world without "mohawk/punk/tattoo/percing" aesthetics (aside for an occasional bone through the nose and so forth). With the artwork and presentation I am trying to emulate those genres.

    2) There are more than enough mohawks, tattoos, etc. in pop culture and especially "gamer culture," and with Planet Algol's image I'm trying to do something different. In a world where babies and cops have mohawks and everyone has a tattoo such things are no longer "exotic." I'm around punk hairstyles and piercings every day, I want Planet Algol to be Alien...

    Jon McNally: I certainly dig your kitschy style...love the Little Red Riding Hood illo, gave me a hearty chuckle!

  18. Anonymous: Thanks for dropping by. Planet Algol is actually a setting and supplemental material for use with older versions of D&D and similar games and not a gamer per se.

    It should be out in the near future, although one could use the material from the blog as is for a game. The published version will just have edited, revised and expanded content.

  19. This is a fantastic resource post. All those links to example images are really great. Planet Algol has been a big inspiration for me to think more broadly about both D&D and the Fantasy genre in general - thanks for sharing all this cool stuff! :)

  20. @Blair - Sure it's in my blood, but I would never even consider the weapons unless you pointed me in a direction. At best, I considered drawing one of those gnarly Tekumel swords. Speaking of which, Tekumel and Otus armor is pretty rad, but I too would be interested in your armor picks.
    @Eli - I cut my teeth on punk, and quite a few people at work sport full "sleeves", etc. So for me a lot of that stuff is about as exotic as a grass skirt made out of plastic.
    @ Jon McNally - Great artwork on your blog! I love that 50's modernist cartoon aesthetic! Gag cartoons from men's magazines are amazing - I'm a huge Mark Newgarden fan!
    You gotta do your take on Algol! Something like what if the "beat" artists did Sword and Sorcery, that idea brings a smile to my face.
    Did you do that Sparks set for S. John (Encounter Critical) Ross?

  21. Well, yes, one of the ideas has the boys in it, not like a big surprise, you mentioned them on hitting Algol before and I am fleshing that out as a fun one-pager every so often.

    The second project is a class that I am writing up for the extra page on Ancient Vaults this week, in both AD&D1E and Mutant Future format. The 70's are a big influence, although the name of the class came from a contemporary band that rocks oldschool sometimes. And soon this class will figure into the previous idea I mentioned for Ancient Vaults that I hope catches Planet Algol as well. (It's a good thing.)

  22. @ancientvaults: I'm not sure what's going on but I am intrigued!

  23. Don't get me wrong, I think your style guide is great. Having a distinct vision of your world is important and I certainly recognize the retro elements. I'm a child of the 70s myself and I love those campy old shows still.