|From the original box cover|
I bought the first edition of Lace & Steel--the game of faux-17th century swashbuckling and fancy court balls--in 1989, after seeing it on the shelf and flipping though it for thirty seconds. I never played it, but it has always enchanted me. Recently I realized that one of the reasons for that was its art. Unusual for its type, all of the illustrations are by one artist, Donna Barr. In addition, and also, somewhat unusually for the category, the pages are drenched in illustrations of all kinds. There are approximately 200 pages, distributed over four booklets. There are many full-page and even two-page drawings but also a huge number of smaller ones averaging out to at least three a page. Large-scale battles, duels, ladies and gentlemen at leisure or at fancy balls, monsters--warnets (intelligent giant hornets), pixies, harpies and "half-horses" (centaurs), to name a few--landscapes and maps, individual weapons, armor pieces or clothing, as well as musketeers with hangovers making faces into mirrors in the morning, are all covered.
In a roundabout way, Lace & Steel was one of the inspirations for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen. I wanted to make a 17th century "Lace & Steel" version of OD&D. That became a 16th century pseudo-Catholic version, which finally became a more conventional swords & sorcery-fairy tale version. But a few things from Lace & Steel survived almost intact--for example, the idea of using physical tokens to represent money in the game:
The author has found that a new dimension is added to game play when a player character’s funds are simulated by solid objects. One or two cent pieces can simulate copper groats, and heavy washers make good silver and gold pieces. Washers or disks can be had from any hardware store. Go for big washers (20 to 25mm is good) with small central holes, such as muffler washers. Brass washers are used for gold marks, and steel washers for silver schillings.
“Real” money is excellent fun to use, and players soon develop odd habits such as fondling their money or stacking it into neat little piles. Parting with money can be a traumatic experience for miserly players, since they are handing over a physical object rather than just crossing a number off a piece of paper. Players will also tend to keep a less ready tag on their wealth, which adds a bit of spice to play.
|A man bathing in coins|
Who is Donna Barr? One way to get to know her is to read her long-running and frequently updated blog. As many of you know, she's an incredibly prolific and still very active writer and illustrator, known primarily for comic books or "graphic novels" (though, she prefers the label "drawn-fiction"). Her output is distinctive. Her major works or series are The Desert Peach--about Erwin Rommel's fictional brother Pfirsich, an exuberantly homosexual Nazi general who leads a North African unit of homosexuals and assorted misfits--Stinz--about centaurs or "half-horses" interacting with normal men in a stylized German valley setting--and Bosom Enemies about two normal men who find themselves enslaved and transformed into half-horses. Obviously there's a sexual subtext to much of her material (also involving animals or, rather people that are half-animals), but without (on the main) being graphic or pornographic. Let us say, she at least occupies a niche. (Occupies? Scratch that. She dominates it and then uses it as a bridgehead.)
|Musketeer with hangover making faces into his mirror in the morning|
BAN IT! BAN IT! BAN IT! BAN IT!
(Oh, sorry. I was temporarily seized by the spirit of the age.)
Emphasizing the sexual part doesn't do the whole justice. Her series are witty and funny and at times moving and, yes, profound. See for yourself if you can.
In the late 1980's she also did some drawings for Traveller and GURPS. But her work for Lace & Steel was her most thorough RPG effort. That the game is now long out of print does not diminish its value or influence. For example, I would be surprised if James Raggi did not riff off of it for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Used copies of the first edition are now hard to find and expensive. A second edition came out in 1998 but featured an inferior cover and a somewhat different one-volume layout. Inexplicably it discarded many of the best and largest drawings.
Donna Barr is a great asset to the wider hobby. OSR Art Friday is proud to feature her.