Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Save vs. Paralysis

There is a phrase that gets kicked around my house from time to time: “Analysis leads to paralysis,” which is one way of saying that when tasks become too numerous or problems seem insurmountable, it’s easy to get caught up wondering how to approach the problem and therefore never make any progress. I’m going through such a period at the moment, which explains my negligence in posting. To compound matters, the “what if?” switch in my head kicked on like an oil burner in the dark of night, leaving me with a new idea to contemplate when I should be concerned with more immediate matters. Let me try an organize things a bit so I can move forward.

First off: The Dungeon Alphabet. I know some of you are no doubt tired of hearing about the damned book, but, let’s face it—it’s my book and my blog, so of course I’m going to talk about it. Especially when you consider that the PDF is currently #2 on RPGNow.com’s list of Hottest Items and that the book itself is the best-reviewed product that Goodman Games has ever released. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical as to how people were going to receive the book. It’s not your traditional supplement filled with stat blocks, new monsters, and concrete concepts, and I was worried that people might feel cheated by the book’s format. I wrote a book that I would want to have as a reference source and, luckily, it seems that I wasn’t alone in this regard. Having such a stellar cadre of artists and Zeb Cook adding to my meager prose, all with a $9.99 price tag, took the book to places that I couldn’t dream of doing alone, so as proud as I am of the book, I know I’m but one member of the remarkable team that ensured its success.

I know there are issues with certain sites having the book on backorder or with unreasonably long shipping delays. Unfortunately, this is something that I not only have no control over, but also have no information regarding. As much as I’d like for everyone to get their hands on a copy, I’m unable to assist or expedite the process. My apologies. As for reviews, Goodman Games has done a fine job of collecting online reviews of the book on The Dungeon Alphabet’s web page. One that doesn’t appear there is the review that will appear in Realms of Fantasy magazine, which hits the newsstands on February 4th. I also believe that Allan Grohe has provided a review of the book for Knockspell #4, available in the near future from Black Blade Publishing.

In the last bit of DA-related news, the winner of The Dungeon Alphabet Pre-order drawing was John Seibel of Milwaukee, WI. Congratulations, John! You’ve won yourself a copy of the book autographed by Erol Otus—something that not even its author owns.

Next up: Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls. Sales of the book and PDF have finally seemed to have plateaued. Although this was expected, it was expected much sooner and I’m extremely grateful that the book has done as well as it has—almost 220 copies have been sold when I predicted I’d move around 50. The book continues to sell, albeit slowly, and if you’ve yet to pick-up a copy, Lulu is having a 15% off sale today and tomorrow for Groundhog’s Day (of all things). Just enter the code: SHADOW upon checkout. If you’d rather not pay for a copy, you can always test your luck in this year’s One Page Dungeon Contest. I’ve donated a copy of the book to the prize swag bag; I thought it only fitting.

I intend to start on the sequel next month. I’m currently enjoying the downtime I have, but ideas are beginning to percolate in my mental stewpot. I’ve also seen the preliminary sketch of the second book’s cover piece (done again by J.A. D’Andrea) and it has gotten me excited to revisit those halls. I will be upfront about one thing: Some people felt that the first book’s format (the two-page dungeon) and the organization of the dungeon into quadrants lead to an artificiality in the dungeon and that it was the book’s biggest flaw. Although I can and do see the validity of their argument, I have no plans to change format for the sequel. There will be certain modifications—most of which were planned well in advance and hinted at by the evolution of the maps as one descends—but no gross changes. I leave that to the referee to do should he wish to.

On the home front: The Eldritch Frontier campaign and a new Long Island Meet-up group. I’ve gotten one definite player and one possible lined up for my intended Labyrinth Lord campaign. My flyer has been up a week and somebody else has taken one of the tags off it—but that means nothing, as anyone who’s posted one in a game store knows.

In an attempt to both dig up players and to determine how big of an interest there is on Long Island for old school gaming, I’ve created The Role-Playing Game Historical Society, a Meet-up group with an emphasis on older titles. There is already a Long Island Role Players Meetup group, but they seem to be mostly playing current titles and all of their meets occur in Nassau County, which isn’t very accessible to those of us in the wilds of Suffolk. The Role-Playing Game Historical Society is my attempt to determine if A) there is a dedicated old school gamer community on Long Island, and B) see how many are not located in Nassau County or willing to cross county lines to play. My lease on the group is for three months. If it dies on the vine, no harm, no foul, but if it helps some OSR people connect, I’ll consider it a success. All L.I. area old-schoolers are encouraged to join.

Speaking of Long Island-related gaming, I’ll be attending ICON 29 at SUNY Stony Brook this year (March 26-28). The guest list doesn’t do much for me so I fully expect to be haunting the gaming area for the weekend. If anyone else is planning on attending and wants to say hello or have me sign a copy of Stonehell or the DA, drop me an email and we can try to coordinate schedules.

The thing I’m thinking about when I should be thinking about other things: The Dismal Wilderness. This is the idea that sprang into my head and doesn’t seem to want to leave. While doing pre-work for the planned Eldritch Frontier game, I watched a few frontier/pioneer-themed movies and read a few books regarding similar subject matter. My intent was to inspire myself, but not in the matter I did so.

As it stands, the Eldritch Frontier sandbox is set up to be a traditional old school setting: town, dungeon, and wilderness. But the wilderness in the EF is more along the lines of borderlands between political states, with small duchies and free city-states separated by tracts of forest and mountains—plenty of places for a PC to carve out a holding while still being able to introduce wars and political maneuvering between rulers if that’s what the PCs are into.

The Dismal Wilderness idea, on the other hand, is nothing but wilderness. Vast miles of unexplored, unnamed, and unbelievably wealthy (and dangerous) wilderness. A place where treasure is comprised of rough gemstones and raw precious metals sifted from streams or the pelts of giant lynxes and beavers that dwell in the forest primeval. A place where crumbling ruins of eon-dead civilizations still can be found in deep valleys and atop soaring mountains, guarded as sacred ground by the barbarian tribes who haunt the forests.

I’m not certain if this type of wilderness setting has been approached before, but it’s gotten under my skin. During my lunchtime walks, I’ve started fleshing out a few sub-systems and rules modifications for a pioneer-style wilderness campaign, and I’ve spent a few hours sketching out a very detailed wilderness map on a Judges Guild 17” x 22” hex map. I’d like to play test a few of these ideas, so I’ve decided that the Dismal Wilderness can be found to the north of the Eldritch Frontier. If the PCs ever want to try their fortune in the undiscovered lands, they’re free to do so. Depending on whether or not I get to play test these systems and ideas, there is a chance that I might write up a digest-sized book covering this type of wilderness campaign and the rule variants to help run it.

I also had to beat to death the desire to run a White Box Barsoom game last night. Some things are just better put down before they start to occupy the mental landscape.

As you see, that is a lot of mental inventory and it’s with little wonder that I’ve been stymied to put words together for a post. I didn’t realize myself how much I’ve been pondering, but it does feel better to get it out into full view. I’m going to try and get one of the rough ideas I’ve had for the Dismal Wilderness into a post in the next day or two, just to see if anyone salutes that particular flag. Additionally, once I take care of one more pressing real life issue, I might be a little more relaxed to start outputting some more material. Stay tuned.


Timeshadows said...

The Dismal Wilderness sounds like it will be a great topic to read about, as you work on it and post the details.

Best of continued success with all of your commercial endeavours. :D

John said...

Wow, congrats on such a fantastic hit with The Dungeon Alphabet, but c'mon people - Stonehell is awesome! It should be doing really well too. We started a Stonehell campaign a week ago (my son - 8, two friends, each 9, and their dads) and have the second session this Saturday. Really glad to see you haven't given up on the sequel. I'll probably end up putting a journal somewhere, maybe Dragonsfoot.

The Dismal Wilderness sounds more interesting than the Eldritch Frontier. It has that West Marches vibe and sounds like it will break untapped ground in the RPG market if you went forward with it as commercial product... maybe combine them both? Other than Points of Light (which is sparse and system neutral) is there another published Sandbox? Wilderlands... if you go back 30 years.

Matthew Slepin said...

I've long-thought about something like the Dismal Wilderness: a fantasy take on the American wilderness. I'd love to see more about that.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by both the Eldritch Frontier and Dismal Wilderness ideas. I'm just having no luck designing an overworld I'm happy with. Either or both of these have great potential.

Jay said...

I just noticed today that my review of Dungeon Alphabet is posted on both Goodman Games and Paizo--so talk all you want about it--I'm ridin' your coattails!

Seriously though, it's a great product Michael and is loads of fun. Bragging rights are yours!

Sagaar said...

I have thinking of been calling my next campaign "New Found Land" and having it set in sort of a fantasy version of yup...you guessed it, Newfoundland. The PC's would be based in a tiny wooden coastal fort in a rocky harbor, and inland would lie vast post-glacial plains, rugged boreal forest, great mammoth herds, savage winters, and ancient atlantean secrets.

I was also thinking of building the terrain randomly as the PCs explored, possibly using the cardboard terrain tiles from GW's early 90's game Mighty Empires, to increase the mystery.

Oh yeah, FedEx says my copy of Stonehell (and LL, AND Mutant Future) arrive on Thursday. I am PSYCHED :D

Pallando said...

speaking of wilderness.
Was "Man in the Wilderness" the movie you had asked about?
What did you think of Black Robe?

Michael Curtis said...

speaking of wilderness.
Was "Man in the Wilderness" the movie you had asked about?
What did you think of Black Robe

It was indeed "A Man in the Wilderness" that I was looking for. There can't be many movies which feature trappers hauling a boat on wheels across the frontier, but the particular scene I had glimpsed occured halfway through the movie, assuring me this was the film I was looking for.

As for "Black Robe," I was very impressed with the film and I lay a lion's share of the blame for my Dismal Wilderness idea on that movie. As a New Yorker (even a southernmost one), when I think "wilderness" I picture the terrain of "Black Robe." Seeing the movie made me get a book on the Adirondacks and everything just sort of exploded from there.

Unknown said...

Michael, good to see you've been bitten by the Dismal Wilderness bug. I've been cooking up a similar campaign for a couple of years set in the Norwold territory of Mystara (based on the mostly howling wilderness version of it introduced in "Test of the Warlords". I also had the Black Robe as a point of reference, as well as Last of the Mohicans (with the Alphans and Oceansenders as French and English and the Barbarians as Native Americans), with assorted old refrence stuff like Arthur Collins' old "Thrills and Chills" article in Dragon for the mechanics stuff. For what its worth, there were several good articles on natural treasures and such in Dragon 137 - worth a look if you haven't already. Look forward to hearing more about the dismal wilderness : )