Saturday, October 31, 2009

Knockspell #3 At The Door

Available from Black Blade Publishing: THE PDF and IN PRINT
It's the highest-level Knockspell magazine ever created, the Wondrous Can of Whoopass, the plate mail of armor classes, and indeed the one thing you MUST NOT DO WITHOUT if you are a serious gamer from the editions that never had decimal points! 1E, 0E, OSRIC, and Labyrinth Lord -- it's all here.

Take a look at the Table of Contents, and you will be convinced beyond all doubt. ----- Unless you make your saving throw, or I have configured the Mythmere's Enthralling Internet spell improperly. (If you roll a 1 and yet don't immediately go buy the magazine, please let me know).


Outnumbered but Tough: Musings of a Girl Gamer by “Spike”
From Kuroth’s Quill #3 Allan T. Grohe, Jr.
Pulp Heroes and the Colors of Magic “Akrasia”
Chariot Racing John Vogel
Blame it on the Players: an Editorial Tim Kask
Swords & Wizardry: Silver ENnie Award Winner
Black Armour, Black Heart: the Anti-Paladin Scot Hoover
The Font of Glee Jason Sholtis
The City of Vultures Gabor Lux
Random Wilderness Events Joshua James Gervais
Contest Details
Random Ruin Generator Robert Lionheart
Labyrinth Tomb of the Minotaur Lord R. Lawrence Blake
The Planes: Playgrounds of the Rich and Powerful Jon Hershberger
New Tricks and Traps
New Magic Items
Beginner’s Bestiary Andrew Trent
New Monsters
The Tower of Mouths Matt Finch
Nothing from yours truly this time around, but many of my own favorites make a return. Knockspell #3 is also the first issue released through Black Blade Publishing, rather than Lulu. This one could be a milestone issue, people. Pick it up!

Friday, October 30, 2009


The proof of the Stonehell compilation has been ordered and the contributors have been sent their PDF copies. If the proof comes back as intended, I'll be offering the book for sale within the next 7-14 days.

I'm going to go take a walk out in the cool, Autumn air now. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Second (and Third) Dungeon Alphabet Review

Rob Conley gives us his impression of The Dungeon Alphabet today. Like James Raggi, Rob has had work published under the Goodman Games' banner and was therefore given a sneek peek at The Dungeon Alphabet. I mention this only in the spirit of full disclosure. Rob's opinions are his own, even if they do agree with my own. Check out the review here.

EDIT: A third review also popped up today, done by one of the artists who contributed to the book. Limpey has his take on the book here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There's a Reason Why I Just Write These Things

For as long as there has been role-playing games, there have been gifted men and women who doodle and draw as the game unfolds. Whether composing character portraits, landscapes of vistas encountered, or cartoons that are insulting to the referee, these artists help bring the shared world to life for the group.

I am not one of these gifted individuals.

Below is a page from my notebook in which I attempted to capture the grandeur of the titanic toad trap that brought low the party's paladin in our last game session.

In case you're wondering, I did none of the illustrations for either the Stonehell compilation or The Dungeon Alphabet. That was instead left to talented people who can actually compose art.

Real posting here will resume shortly, I promise. I'm almost finished with my big, horkin' "to do" list.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yet Another Megadungeon-Related Post

I’ve been reading the posts from late last week concerning the topic of megadungeons. Considering that I’m about to release a book detailing the first half of a traditional ten-level megadungeon, it’s fair to say that I have some investment in the subject. After taking the time to digest and reflect on what others have had to say on the subject, I’d like to state my own thoughts on the matter.

James speaks the truth when he says that publishing a true megadungeon would not be an easy task. After spending the last ten months putting my own megadungeon into a publishable format, I readily agree with him and can attest to the difficulty of the task. Had I known then what I know now, I might have scrapped the idea and continued my semi-weekly “no muss, no fuss” PDF uploads.

Although they state it in different ways, most of the authors linked to above are basically saying that a true megadungeon can’t be done in the traditional module format of boxed text, Big Bads, contrived plot lines, and static locales. A different approach is needed to capture the flexibility and mutability of the megadungeon. This is again something I agree with wholeheartedly.

From the very beginning, I adopted the One Page Dungeon Philosophy (although I schismed early and expanded to two pages). The skeletal format appealed to me because I was looking to develop my notes more through actual play than on the desktop. I wanted to have the freedom to come up with ideas on the fly and work with the players and their actions to develop the campaign world. As a bonus of the format, the One Page Design School allows other referees to take my exact same notes and run with them, leading to results completely different from what I produced.

The Stonehell Dungeon book is the natural culmination of this school of thought. As I state in the book’s introduction:
Stonehell Dungeon offers a different approach to role-playing adventures. Rather than saddling the party with a predetermined goal introduced by an event or NPC, Stonehell Dungeon offers the game master a complex location filled with monsters, treasures, and special NPCs that he can use as a stage on which to craft his own series of adventures. In many ways, Stonehell Dungeon is similar to the action figure play sets and dollhouses we enjoyed as children. This book presents the game master with all the props he needs to tell a good tale, but leaves the plot of the story up to him and his players to create. And just like those play sets and dollhouses of our youth, the Labyrinth Lord is not required to use any or all of the accessories included in the package – just those which catch his eye.
Stonehell is a bare bones book. While it is absolutely possible to sit down and start playing it as is, the megadungeon will only really shine when the referee starts putting his own spin on things and breathes life into all of the dungeon’s dusty corners and dank chambers - and there is plenty of room to do so.

What Stonehell Dungeon is not, however, is an instructional tool – something that the hobby’s lack of has been lamented on. I didn’t intend to write a guide for novice referees looking to design their own megadungeon, although suggestions on adapting and customizing Stonehell to one’s own campaign world and players are provided. That being said, I wish that I had a book like this one when I was starting out in my own refereeing career. It would have given me the basic framework to hang my own crazy creations own and plenty of room to develop new ideas based on the source material.

It is my belief that if you gave this book to two different referees to run, after a few months of regular play and individual alterations, you’d have two completely different megadungeons. Although some similarities would remain, the overall dungeon would be an intensely personal creation.

It’s certainly easy to sit here and write these bold proclamations. Proving them, however, is another story, and it will be up to the gamers at large to say whether or not I succeeded in what I have attempted to do. In the next few weeks, I fully expect to be reading one of two possible types of posts amongst the blognards: one that either says, “Mike Curtis has proven it is possible to publish a classic-style megadungeon” or one that reads, “Mike Curtis has provided more proof supporting the argument that it’s extremely difficult to publish as classic-style megadungeon.” In either case, I can be satisfied knowing that I’ve tried my best to create a megadungeon reminiscent of the Saturday Night Dungeon Crawls of the hobby’s youth.

Regardless of how things turn out, I’m fairly confident I can count on you all to let me know if I should be walking around with my head held high or if I should start wiping the egg off of my face.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A “Great Price” on The Dungeon Alphabet

Goodman Games announced over the weekend that The Dungeon Alphabet will be part of its Great Prices program. That means the book will be available for the extremely sensible cost of $9.99. So if you were initially skeptical about forking over $20 for a hardcover book filled with great dungeon ideas, cool tables, and superb artwork by some of the industry’s top artists, its price will no longer be keeping you from adding the book to your personal gaming library. More information on when, where, and how you can get the book will be posted here when it becomes available.

You know those “Nice Price” CDs? The ones were you get a great album for a reasonable cost? Yeah, this is the gaming version of those.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dragon Scale Armor

I've had a notion and I want to see where it goes, but first I need to see what paths others have trod before embarking. Does anyone know offhand where the topic of dragon scale armor has been covered in the "official" sources? I'm assuming there must have been at least one article about the stuff in Dragon over the years, but my search of the Dragon Magazine Archive isn't turning up much. The topic might have been covered in one of the game books as well, but I can't for the life of me remember where.

Post a comment here if you know where I should be looking for this kind of information. The earlier the source, the better on this one. I'll offer my premature thanks to anyone who could help out here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The First Review of The Dungeon Alphabet

I’ve been busy for the last week, mostly taking care of accident-related issues (like finding a new clunker in a post-cash-for-clunkers market) and chipping away the last of the non-elephant pieces of marble on the Stonehell layout. I’ve managed to draft a few posts for the future, but I’m going to hold off on regular posting until these two mammoth tasks are complete.

As a result, I’ve been out of touch with the general OSR blogosphere for the last week. Imagine my surprise when I poked my nose in today to find that James Raggi has posted a review of The Dungeon Alphabet before its place on the release schedule has even been firmly determined.

Stop by and read what he has to say about the book. James has clearly seen what I had hoped the book would do on one level and makes a rather bold proclamation about what it may do on another. I hope he’s correct. I just wrote the kind of book that I thought I could use. Hopefully that means you could use it too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Final Dungeon Alphabet Cover

Over on the Goodman Games website, the final cover for The Dungeon Alphabet has been added to the book's preview page. I've seen the interior layout of the book and it appears things are swiftly falling into place. The book's been dancing about the release schedule for the last few months, which is why I've not posted more about it. It looks like the schedule of upcoming releases is solidifying, so hopefully I'll have a hard date for when the book will be available sometime soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Escape Velocity

Science fiction has been serving as a respite from my usual delvings into the phantasmagorical these last two weeks. With the Stonehell layout underway, the Silmarillion acting as bedtime reading, and my return to my regular gaming group, I’ve reached my saturation point of fantasy. Something was needed to cleanse the palette. I thought supplemental viewings of Red Dwarf, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Heavy Metal might prove a nice diversion, which they did, but they also got me ruminating on sci-fi in general.

When it comes down to it, I’m a bit of an odd duck in regards to science fiction. I’m a big booster for the space program and advocate lifting humanity off of the third stone from Sol, but when it comes to choosing an entertainment genre, science fiction isn’t really my thing. There are the usual caveats and exceptions, of course. Star Wars debuted during my formative years, so the original trilogy remains close to my heart. The Forever War and The Stars My Destination rank high on my list of favorite novels, and Alien is responsible for my greatest irrational fear. But classics such as Asimov’s Foundation, Star Trek, Dune, and more just miss their marks with me.

The problem is that I like my science fiction the way I like my fantasy: extremely low in power and centered on the individual. I’m more fascinated by humanity’s attempts to reach our closest cosmic neighbors than by what happens once we spread across the galaxy. I also have difficulty seeing the allure of high-tech gadgetry. Since we are the “tool-using ape” and measure our progress with technological advances, wiz-bang gizmos are prevalent in these tales and another black mark for the genre in my mind. I don’t have issues with the “softer” forms of science-fiction, like cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, or sword-and-planet, because these are less technologically-centered (or have reasonably speculative levels of tech) than “hard” science fiction. The reboot of Battlestar Galatica had me interested for a few seasons simply because it was character-driven with clunky tech despite being hard science fiction.

In light of this, it’s not surprising that my role-playing background suffers from a dearth of sci-fi titles. I can only count Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Shadowrun, and Star Wars as games I’ve played more than once. Battletech lost me at “heat sinks”; Star Trek has no appeal to me at all, and I never had the opportunity to play Traveller, which is a shame because it seems to be the one title that, properly run, would have grabbed my interest.

To me, science fiction is best done “20 minutes into the future”: a time when the tech is still recognizable, the setting is closer to home, and the cast is mostly human. Give me tramp freighters bound for Mars over skirmishes with the Romulans in the Neutral Zone any day. I found the background to White Wolf’s Trinity to be one of the best I’ve read in a long time once you strip away the psionics and the space mutants, which is certainly not using the game “as intended.” The film, Event Horizon, remains a guilty pleasure because it features working-class spacers and an intra-system setting – gateways to Hell notwithstanding.

Despite my general opinion of the sci-fi genre, I can pick out a few brighter spots amongst the star field and will likely comment on one or two of them over the next few posts, if only to turn my attention away from the worlds of the fantastic for a moment. Consider this to be a basic introduction to my attitudes, likes, and dislikes so as to better illuminate what is to come. Until then, however, feel free to share your own outlook on what does and doesn’t do it for you in deep space.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Minutes from the Meeting of the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope

The last week has been filled with busy and also unforeseen events. As such, postings will be lacking this week. Last Wednesday, I had the misfortune of being in a car wreck. While both I and the other driver walked away with superficial injuries, my car has achieved a sort of undead state: it isn’t totaled, but the damage it suffered was bad enough that I can’t justify spending the money to make it roadworthy again (it’s a twelve-year-old Chevy), especially with my finances as tight as they are right now. This additional burden has put a damper on my creative energies, so new and fanciful posts are unlikely until I obtain some resolution to this matter.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’ve started laying out the Stonehell compilation. I now have all the assorted elements and most of the final edits, so the final push towards publication has begun. I won’t set a release date, but Blue Öyster Cult is playing in town on Halloween and my attendance relies on the book’s completion. If I go, it means the book is ready.

After my Lord of the Rings marathon a few weeks ago, I finally picked up The Silmarillion again. My first and only other attempt at reading the book was sometime during middle school, and I was turned off by what I perceived as its incredibly dry text. My tastes have certainly matured since then, because this time around I’m savoring the book. I’m finding the book such a pleasure that I look forward to each night’s reading before bed. But many of you are no doubt already aware of what a grand book it is…

My gradual efforts to reacquaint myself with the writing process were successful enough that I did manage to put together a brief article for the next issue of Fight On! Look for the background and game details of last week’s interesting landmarks to be revealed in it.

What’s my latest Bat Country magical item? That’d be the Deck of Many Things. Do you dare turn over one of these ivory plaques and risk the soul-blasting power of Swamp Thing?! Or how about Ben Grimm or a Volkswagen Thing? Maybe the Addams Family Thing or the Thing from "The Thing"?!!! (Either this magic item or myself needs work.)

I’ll be back with more material from the back of my mental record collection once the dust dies down a bit. Until then, happy gaming!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Landmarks: Valley of the Stylites

An arid gorge located in the southern tip of the Drast badlands is known as the Valley of the Stylites. On either side of the narrow road that winds its way through the vale are tall stone columns. These pillars are both naturally occurring and hand-carved. Each stands a minimum of 30’ in height and a mere 5’ to 10’ in diameter.

Dwelling atop many of these pillars are the Stylites: ascetics devoted to various deities who’ve given up worldly comforts in order to connect closer with the divine. These men and women are ragged specimens of humanity who rely on offerings provided by pilgrims and devoted local residents for sustenance. Atop their lofty pillars and exposed to the deprivations of weather and the hallucinations born of hunger, the Stylites gain great insights into the mysteries of the cosmos. It is said that when the greatest of sages, priests, and wizards know not the answers you seek, it is best to speak with a Stylite.

However, getting a Stylite to speak is often a difficult task. Many survive their decades-long existence atop their stele by entering deep trance states, while others have long since succumbed to madness. A few have taken vows of silence in addition to their vows of poverty and suffering, sealing the knowledge they’ve gained behind shut lips. Some refuse to answers queries unless the seeker first proves himself worthy of the knowledge. This can lead to philosophical and theological debates that take days to complete.

Despite these impediments, finding a Stylite willing to speak is well-worth the difficulty. Stylites can produce the same results as the 6th level magic-user spell, legend lore, and the subject of their knowledge need not be well-known. The cost of such knowledge is usually a meal’s worth of stale bread and tepid water given to the Stylite to support them for another day. Although the cost is light, adventurers are advised not to seek out the Stylites regularly for information. Their primary obligations are to the gods and those entities become most upset with mortals who insist on vying with them for their servant’s attentions.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

World Building at 28mm Scale

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by dioramas. The idea that the real world could be reproduced in miniature fired my imagination, and museum field trips usually found me pouring over the tiny reenactments of historical events located in those institutions. When my father bought my brother and I a train set, I had considerably more fun making little trees and cliff faces for the table than I did running the train itself. Watching The Lord of the Ring’s special features on the miniature workshop at Weta reminded me of the simple joy I took from seeing the world in a much smaller scale.

I mentioned on Monday that I might have to pursue crazier paths in order to bring my imaginary world to life. That was the preface for this post. In truth, I’ve been playing with the idea of scratch-built miniature terrain for the last two or three weeks, mostly to keep my hands occupied with something other than a cigarette. I picked up a copy of Games Workshops How to Make Wargames Terrain to see if there might be a germ of an idea there. After pricing a few of the needed components and finding them to be much cheaper than I had anticipated, I tried my hand of creating two small pieces, both of which are sites from my campaign world. I’ll let the results speak for themselves in the pictures below.

I readily admit that this is without a doubt the geekiest thing I’ve done in regards to this hobby of ours, but it was very satisfying. The wonder of tiny worlds which I had has a child hadn’t vanished – it was merely slumbering. And while sculpted terrain isn’t the easiest way to reproduce what’s in my head, nor the easiest to transport, there is a visceral reward to being able to place something on the table in front of you and say, “This what you see.” Especially if you’re already using miniatures in the game and can now move them about the three-dimensional shard of your world which has suddenly appeared.

Sculpting these pieces takes some time, but the majority of it was spent waiting for paint or glue to dry overnight. The actual time spent working on them only amounted to two or three hours each. If I was working on two pieces simultaneously instead of consecutively, I figure I could turn out small pieces in fairly short order. All that’s missing right now is the inspiration to make more and the confidence to build larger, both of which will come in time.

Yes, it’s a different way to go and it’s certainly a little daft, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. It could also be something that other artistically inept referees might want to play around with. I might even document my next project and make a “How To” post out of it.

The Menhir

The Storm Lord's Anvil