Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Writer With A Ragged Quill

This is an extremely long one, so please indulge me on this.

Nearly two years ago, I sat down to compose my first post for the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. At that time, I was also undergoing a series of very profound and completely life-altering changes. It was a tumultuous time for me, more so than anything else I’ve ever experienced. A very wise man, one whom I cannot ever repay for his guidance, suggested that I needed to find something which would bring me great pleasure and keep my mind and hands busy during that period. After re-examining my past exploits, I concluded that, out of all my former pastimes, role-playing was both the one I enjoyed the most and the cheapest to resume. So, after dabbling with 3.5 and discovering it wasn’t for me, I started looking around for something I could better identify with and enjoy. This search led me to the Old School Renaissance, the Original Dungeons & Dragons Discussion forum, and the handful of blogs up and running then.

I spent a great deal of time becoming acquainted with the OSR blogosphere during those early months and was very excited by what I was reading. The whole DIY attitude that fueled the OSR reminded me of my previous experiences with the punk rock music scene in the late 80s and early 90s. I wanted very much to become involved with and contribute my own part to this exciting phenomenon, but it wasn’t until two of my creations won some small recognition over at James Maliszewski’s Grognardia that I thought some people might be interested in what else I had brewing. And thus, the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope was born.

For many, many months, the SoTPR served as my personal design workbook and place to hash out theory and wax philosophically about a game that—although I had a great deal of love for and was desperate to return to—I wasn’t actually playing. Since I had no face-to-face audience to share my creations with around the game table, this blog became my way of showing off exactly how cool I thought I was and what nifty ideas I had waiting to unleash upon my forever nebulous and eternally potential gaming group. It was my sole creative outlet. This, however, was about to change.

About this time, I plunked down the cash for the first two issues of Fight On! I read—devoured actually—each issue with a hunger that I had not felt since reading Dragon back in the 1980s. This little fanzine had more great ideas and cool adventures in its pages than the largest WotC splat book I’d ever read. I simply had to have more, but I wasn’t sure if my beleaguered finances could afford to splurge on each and every issue as they came out. That’s when I realized that if I started sending in articles and they were accepted, they’d have to send me a free contributor’s issue in return. This seemed to be the perfect scheme to me. After all, I was already writing article-length posts on the Society for nothing in return.

My first Fight On! piece, a cleaned up version of my Random Rooms post, was accepted and before long I became a somewhat regular contributor to its pages. As of the most recent issue, I’ve got articles in four of the nine issues of the magazine. It was during this time that I was asked to submit pieces to both Silver Gryphon Monthly and the first Open Game Table anthology, which further expanded my published appearances beyond this little corner of the blogosphere.

Then came "The Dungeon Alphabet" and my life changed to an extent I never even imagined.

What I intended to be an almost throw-away piece designed to let me take a weeklong break from blogging turned out to have sequoia-like legs. First, Knockspell came—ahem—knocking, asking for the right to reprint it in their inaugural issue, to which I gladly agreed. Almost immediately after I told Matt Finch that it could appear there, Goodman Games approached me with the idea of turning it into a book. Like just about every other referee, I’ve always harbored ambitions of writing a role-playing book and plunged into the task of turning five blog posts into a 32 page book with abandon.

As that book began to develop, I would occasionally get updates from Goodman. When I learned that they had wrangled some of the artists who illustrated the D&D of my youth, I was delighted. When I learned Erol Otus was doing the cover, I was gobsmacked, shocked, delirious, and giddy. This was simply too much to believe for my first professional book. (As an aside, the fact that Otus said in an interview with Jeff Rients in Fight On! #9 that one of the recent pieces that he’s most happy with includes “’A is for Altar’ in Michael Curtis’ The Dungeon Alphabet” meaning that he has some inkling of who I am, is one of the most surreal experiences of my life so far. And I’ve held hands with a bear.)

The Dungeon Alphabet would go on to be one of the best reviewed products that Goodman Games ever released and the fact that the first printing sold out in less than three months is something I remain extremely proud off. However, lest anyone think that success has gone to my head, I’m well aware that the popularity of the book has much to do with the astounding artists who appear within its pages—for which I’m eternally thankful for their efforts. But no matter which way you calculate such matters, The Dungeon Alphabet has opened doors that I didn’t know existed and brought me a modicum of fame in a tiny little pond.

In one of those moments that makes you wonder if there really is some sort of cosmic intelligence at the rudder of our lives, I delivered the final manuscript for the Alphabet to Goodman at the time that Sham and Chgowiz started fooling around with the One Page Dungeon concept. One of the original purposes of this blog was to help me identify my referee bad habits and the fact that I often got too detailed when writing adventures was one of them. When I caught a glimpse of the One Page Dungeon, the light bulb went off in my head and I saw the perfect way to teach myself how to trim the fat from my game notes. I asked Sham and Chgowiz if I could play along and they agreed. This would be the start of a partnership that has continued with various degrees of intensity right up to the present day.

As a way to take the One Page out for a test drive, I whipped up one quadrant of a dungeon and stocked it with kobolds, orcs, and a big lizard. During that process, the backstory of this nameless dungeon started to reveal itself to me as if it had been lurking in my subconscious all along. When, from out of nowhere, the lines “These doomed souls are condemned to the earth. Without the possibility of pardon or parole, they will spend the rest of their days in a vast stone hell of their own construction” popped into my head, this place named itself: Stonehell Dungeon was born.

Although Stonehell started as a series of occasional PDFs available for free on this blog, I knew I wanted to do more. Thankfully, both Chgowiz and Sham indulged my desire and helped me bring it to life. The result of course was Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Hall, a book that I produced with absolutely no idea of what I was doing. And, as with The Dungeon Alphabet, the response that book has received and the praise it has garnered has left me astounded. When I began writing it with the intent to sell it on Lulu, I thought that I’d be extremely lucky to move fifty copies of it in both print and PDF. As of last count, the book has sold more than three hundred copies—a number that is quite impressive with limited exposure, almost no advertizing, and a potential audience of questionable size.

My own work on the One Page Dungeon led to me participating in the 2009 One Page Dungeon Contest as a judge. That experience taught me a lot about what exactly goes into a contest and I was shocked by both the quantity and quality of the submissions. And while I walked away from the judging panel with nothing but good memories and good will towards my fellow judges, it was not something I was eager to repeat. When the 2010 contest came around, I had to decline for my own reasons.

Looking back on the past two years, I simply cannot believe how much my life has changed. The opportunities I’ve been awarded and the responses my efforts have generated are just so far beyond what I dreamed of when I wrote a simple little post entitled “Saha” back in August of 2008 that it seems like that was another life. And, in many ways, it was.

I have gone from having just one tiny little creative outlet to numerous ones. In the year yet to come, I’m putting the final touches on one product while ramping up to do another one, preparing to embark once again into the bowels of Stonehell Dungeon to finish that series, sketching out a level of dungeon for Otherworld Miniatures’ line of Labyrinth Lord boxed sets, and contributing to yet another project. I have tentative plans for 2011 as well. On top of all this, I’m running an actual face-to-face role-playing campaign and I’m looking to start another one so I can scratch other itches.

With all that has occurred and all which is to come, something simply has to give. I have no doubts that by now you’ve gathered that this blog is going to have to be that thing.

Wait, wait! It’s not as bad as it seems!

I’m not putting an end to the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. I'm merely stepping away for awhile and not completely at that either. I’m well aware that these are the oft-said final words of many a blog and I can’t completely assure you that this won’t be the case here, but it is not my intention.

But, no matter which way you slice it, I think that the posts from the last few weeks, if not months, have been of much lesser quality than previous ones. I feel as if I’ve been phoning it in a lot recently and the substance has been lacking. This doesn’t surprise me because all the content that I’d normally be writing posts about is going into my writing projects and my regular campaign. That simply leaves nothing for the blog. And, now that I’m actually running a game, I find that I have no desire to write about gaming philosophy at all. Raggi nailed it right on the head when he wrote that it seems like the only people devoting blogs to gaming philosophy are the ones not actually doing any gaming. I’m no longer in that camp but I certainly remember when I was. I can’t throw stones and I can’t say I’ll never be without a regular campaign ever again, but it’s not a period I want to relive.

I still enjoy blogging and it is my intent to continue to do so. I just don’t want to write about swords & sorcery and dungeons & dragons for a little while. If I want to keep my “for print” projects at the level I’ve grown accustomed to, I need to husband the energies spent on those subjects and find a way to continue to replenish the creative stockpot.

My plan is to cease doing regular posts here at the Society for the foreseeable future. It will not go completely dark, but those posts that do appear will likely be regulated to updates about my projects and other such developments. Once I’ve had some time to complete my outstanding tasks, I’ll reexamine whether I’m prepared to start blogging here again. If I’m not, I’ll wait a little longer.

In the meanwhile, the Archive of the Rotted Moon will continue to be updated with stuff generated by my Labyrinth Lord campaign, so I’m not really leaving the world of fantasy blogging behind. But, since this material will be generated organically through actual play, it doesn’t require me to think deep thoughts and worry about what I’m going to write about each week, which is a big step towards maintaining both my sanity and my love of the game.

Nor will I be leaving the open design notebook method of blogging behind completely either. A few months ago, I announced that I had started up a side blog called Secret Antiquities. It was going to be my blog away from blog, a place where I could write about my love for obscure and weird history, sinister little towns, and historical horror. I’ve not had the chance to keep that site up, but it is my intent to start dipping my feet into the murky waters of historical horror in preparation for my 2011 projects. In addition to writing about Lovecraftian horrors, I’ll be toying with several other ideas and topics that would simply be out of place here at the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. But don’t be surprised if I turn my eye towards fantasy as well...just not necessarily fantasy recognizable as D&D or its various retro clones. If you like what I do, please join me over there. You may see a side of me you’ve never experienced before and an enthusiasm which has been long lacking around these parts. Things will be starting up in earnest after I take a week or two off to relax and recuperate, so set your bookmarks and update your feeds now so you’ll not miss the next exciting chapter of offbeat writings from my fevered brow.

Before I leave this blog for awhile, I’d like to reiterate how grateful I am to all of you who’ve embraced that which I’ve created. Despite the success I’ve had (and I hope you’ll forgive me for recapping it in this post which is an almost boastful recounting of my accomplishments), I’ve never thought of myself as anything other than just a gamer with a little talent who got incredibly lucky. Every piece of fan mail I get or praise I read online blows my mind. Whenever my name is mentioned in the same breath as those other bloggers, writers, and designers whom I idolized when I returned to gaming, I can’t believe my luck. All I wanted to do with this blog was make a small contribution to this old school revival; it seems that I’ve indeed achieved that goal. Hopefully, my future projects will continue to build on what I’ve done so far and they will do their part to encourage our forward momentum as a fellowship of writers, designers, artists, fan, and gamers dedicated to preserving and expanding on a unique and historical methodology of gaming.

This is not goodbye, merely a “Be seeing you.”


A Spanish-language Retro-Clone? Si!

My friends over at “Adventuras en La Marca Del Este” have written to inform me that they are hard at work producing a Spanish retro-clone entitled—what else—Adventuras en La Marca Del Este. It will be a Basic D&D retro-clone similar to Labyrinth Lord but “with a few changes” according to Pedro Gil of “Adventuras en La Marca Del Este”. It will be a boxed set release that includes a 150 pp. rule book, a set of dice, and a three-panel referee screen. An English-language translation is being considered.

Unfortunately, my Spanish is atrocious and Goggle seems to be having difficulty rendering the site into something I'm literate in so I have little else in the way of information. Some more details can be found here. Feel free to leave a comment with more information if you have more than a passing acquaintance with Spanish.

Pedro provided me with some sample illustrations from the work including these LoTR inspired pieces, a cover piece inspired by Elmore’s take on the Red Box, and a female cleric bound for holy smiting.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

File Under “Things I Wish I Had Said”

Leave it to Red to sum up my feelings at the moment. Man, am I beat.

This week was pretty much shot to hell, but in a good way. I managed to continue to beat the book into submission and I can see the end of the path through the forest of prose now. I’m confident that I’ll everything but the crying done by the end of the month, just in time for me to enjoy a nice break for the Fourth of July. I’ve even managed to start in on this next mysterious project and, after the literary knife fight which the current book began with, the manner in which this one is rolling off the fingertips is an oasis in the Drast of Creative Desolation. I have a good feeling about this one. Hopefully, I won’t be the only one.

GWAR was an unfortunate disappointment and if the show hadn’t been cheap and local, I’d be mighty pissed. The problem was mostly with the venue and with the people I was forced to share my quadrant of it with. I was glad that I finally got to experience them live, as it confirmed something that I’ve long suspected: GWAR is one of those rare bands which is much more smarter than the majority of its audience. If only some of those knuckleheads at the show realized that the butt of the joke was them… Luckily, it looks like Mike’s Punk Rock Summer 2010 has gained a new date, for Blondie’s playing in the city come August. GWAR and Blondie in one summer; one can’t dispute that I have a wide range of musical appreciation.

I haven’t so much as looked at the swag I got on Free RPG Day. I wish I had snagged a copy of D-Infiity, but I missed that it had Mutant Future content and put it down as another indie and 3.5 RPG game mag. I did walk away with the Harn quick start and adventure. Since I’ve had absolutely no experience with the system or setting, I’m looking forward to reading it…as soon as I get a free moment, that it. So, September, maybe?

I’ve got a few things on the line for next week, possibly a piece of news or two to reveal, but we’ll see where we end up after the weekend. I still need to polish up a few things for my Watchfires & Thrones session on Sunday and I’ve got a handful of minis that have been begging for a coat of paint—so I can unleash them on the players in the next session or two.

Enjoy your weekend, folks. I’m off line until Monday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thank You for Your Responses

I've had several people contact me in regards to my public appeal for help on my next project, a fact which I'm very thankful for. If you've not heard back from me yet, a reply is forthcoming. I'll be spending the rest of the week examining people's samples and to allow a few more potential candidates to reply to request. Starting next week, I'll be contacting those whose work best matches what I want to do with the book and we'll see if everyone's requirements work together.

Just as a frame of reference for the cover piece, what I'll be looking for is something that could best be described as "high fantasy romance with a touch of the gothic," something not often seen in OSR releases so far. If this is more of your bag than the grungy adventurer/monster thing, by all means please drop me an email. I'm looking for something that woundn't be out of place in the company of these classic Dragon covers.

To get myself in the proper frame of mind for this, I'm off to see GWAR tonight.

OK, maybe that's the wrong strategy...

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Next Project Needs a Cartographer and a Cover Artist

Late Friday night, I experienced one of those glorious moments when an idea comes into the head fully formed and ready to be unleashed upon the world. It was as if my brain decided to reward my single-minded determination to get my current book across the finish line after all the trouble it gave me at its inception. At least part of this new project hails from Bat Country and I’m positive that it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but that’s the advantage of a self-published book—nobody but me gets hurt if it turns out to be a stinker. The suck stops here, so to speak. And while I fully expect some folks to turn their noses up at it, I suspect that others will embrace it for being unusual in regards to most of the projects that the OSR has produced up until now. There’s only one way to find out for sure.

Most of the weekend was spent poking and prodding at the idea, trying to see if it would break under rough handling and whether the cold grey light of dawn would reveal its hidden flaws. So far, it remains viable. Yesterday saw me working on the maps for the book, and the fact that they flowed so quickly and easily means that the universe is most certainly trying to tell me something. I see no other option but to just write it as soon as I put the final touches on my current book. It should go fast.

While I’m writing it, I’m going to need some assistance turning my maps into more detailed and attractive pieces. I’ll also need a color cover piece and possibly a logo. This is where you folks come in.

I need someone who can convert my hand-drawn schematics into four black and white maps for me. Three are full pages, one is a half page. They are all non-linear pieces. No straight dungeon hallways on this one. If there were, I could do it myself. Three of the maps are outdoor locations and consist of a fortification, a town, and a wilderness map. The fourth is the fortification interior. I also need someone who isn’t going to dilly-dally since the text is going to be churned out relatively quick.

For the cover piece, I have a particular style in mind, but the parameters are loose and I can relax them if your work impresses me.

This is a paying gig, albeit not one that pays extremely well. Money is tight all around for me, but I want to compensate you for your work. Unless I get really lucky and find someone who can not only do great cartography work but knock my socks off with a cover piece, I’ll likely be looking for two people on this one.

If you’re looking for a little exposure and a little cash, please drop me an email at poleandrope(at)gmail(dot)com expressing your interest and providing me with either samples or links to your work. We can take it from there.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #11

Although slightly covered in the video, the complete text recap of this week's shennanigans is up on the Archive of the Rotted Moon.

The Return of The Dungeon Alphabet

From all available indicators, the 2nd printing of The Dungeon Alphabet has entered the distribution chain. It's been officially moved off the "Coming Soon" line-up on the Goodman Games site and into "Newest Releases" without the accompanying preorder mumbo-jumbo, and it's being hyped along with Free RPG Day.

I got my author's copies last week and the book looks good. Other than the corrections, the only change is that Peter Mullen's incredible end pieces are now in TSR module blue rather than black and white, allowing the discerning collector to easily identify it as a second printing (well that and the big SECOND PRINTING on the title page).

If you've yet to pick up a copy, start pestering your FLGS to place their order now or visit your usual online retailers. I'll have additional information about the book in the near future. I'm just waiting for one last OK.

UPDATE: If you happen to be in Finland for Ropecon, please stop by the Lamentations of the Flame Princess table for all your OSR gaming needs. Pick up a copy of the DA and whatever else strikes your fancy.

Fencing the Loot

In my youth, I always had issues with the way we handled gems and jewelry. Not with the fact that you could pay for a room at the Ol’ Pig Sty Inn with a 5,000 gp diamond and the innkeep would have change— that was fine since we had little idea about market economies or business overhead and the like. Instead, it was the manner in which we would cash in gems, jewelry, and objects d’art that troubled me.

Back then, if Hugo the Fighter found a 100 gp gem in his adventures, he knew he could always visit the jeweler or moneychanger back in town and get exactly 100 gold pieces for it. Even at a young age, I knew something was amiss with this system. How did this benefit the jeweler or moneychanger? There was no profit to be made so was he simply providing a community service? Once I learned about things like luxury taxes and the like, this method of equal exchange made even less sense.

If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I’m not a simulationist by any extent. Although I do make friendly nods to reality most of the time, I’ll readily jettison reality if it gets in the way of a good time or a great game. Nevertheless, perhaps since I’ve had this peeve for so long, I wanted to come up with a quick and easy system of dealing with gems, jewels, and art objects once the PCs hauled it back into town. And, since I hail from the school of thought that “Charisma is not a dump stat,” I settled on the following:

Whenever the PCs visit a merchant to sell or exchange non-coin treasure, I have the PC doing the negotiations roll 2d6 modified by their CHA reaction adjustment and other nebulous modifiers. I then compare the adjusted roll to the list below. The final result determines what percentage of the item’s actual value the merchant is will to buy it for.

2 – 100% of actual value
3-5 – 90% of actual value
6-8 – 80% of actual value
9-11 – 70% of actual value
12 – 60% of actual value.

Think about it: A grizzled, muscle-bound guy who hasn’t bathed in a week and looks like he slept in his armor comes into Gerry the Gem Merchant’s shop and wants to sell this sapphire he claims to have found in those caves just outside of town. You know, the ones that nobody ever seems to come back from? He’s got nothing to prove the jewel’s provenance other than his word—maybe that of a couple of other gnarly looking characters if he’s lucky—and he’s looking for some fast cash so he can buy a horse to ride off to his next “adventure”… or so he claims. If you were Gerry, would you really give this guy the full value of the rock?

For all you know, this guy swiped this rock from some powerful warlord or wizard and is looking to ditch the loot ASAP. You’ll probably have to sit on it for a few weeks just to be safe or work it into a new piece to disguise its original appearance. That’s time and effort, both of which cost money. Unless he’s really, really persuasive or you’ve dealt with him in the past, you’re going to offer a fraction of its real value.

Although the PC’s CHA adjustment plays the largest role in modifying the dice throw, I do allow adjustments for roleplaying (usually -1 to the roll) and for repeated dealings with the merchant (again, usually -1 but I will go higher if the party maintains good relations with the same dealer over a long period of time). These relationship adjustments are fickle, however, and can easily change if the party isn’t careful. Just recently, the PCs visited their usual merchant and weren’t satisfied with the deal he was offering. There was some debate about marketing the gems around town to try for a better deal, but they decided to take the offer in the end. Had they started trying to move the stones through another dealer and their usual guy found out about it, he would have been less likely to give them a good deal in the future and the die roll would be adjusted accordingly.

In addition, most jewelers have a personal quirk regarding gemstones and, if the PCs can figure these personal likes and dislikes out, they can use them to their benefit. For example, the party has recently learned that their regular go-to jeweler, Seno, has a particular love for pearls and is always willing to pay top dollar for them.

I should mention that, regardless of what the party gets for this type of loot, I always award them experience points equal to the items real value. My intent is to mimic the fluctuations of the market and to try and keep the PCs money-poor for as long as possible, not retard their level advancement.

The above chart is just for legitimate dealers and plundered loot. I have a second one which is reserved for fencing stolen goods, but it also does double duty when the characters want to sell their used armor and other goods after they’ve upgraded. It works the same as the above table, but the percentages are much reduced.

2- 50% of actual value
3-5 – 40% of actual value
6-8 – 30% of actual value
9-11 – 20% of actual value
12 – 10% of actual value

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Is How We Role

A lazy Sunday afternoon, a group of guys, some dice, chips, and a few hours to kill.

Although we might not have built-in audience of other role-playing group videos, we're perhaps more typical of the hobby in general. The video runs just under seven and a half minutes and splices together three different parts of the game session.

By posting this, I must have reached the point where I feel that most of the rust has been knocked off my refereeing gears and that I'm confident this is an acurate representation of how I run a game. My thanks to player Rob for recording and editing the video.

Game Until It Hurts

What a wonderful weekend. You know you’ve been doing some real hardcore gaming when you find yourself physically and mentally exhausted come Sunday night.

On Friday, one of the Watchfires & Thrones players and his wife, another recently-contacted gamer, and me got together for some tabletop games of the non-roleplaying variety. The evening finally closed down around 1 A.M., but it was fairly educational in regards to new, unplayed games.

I discovered, for instance, that I’m some sort of dominoes savant despite not having played the game since I was in short pants. Of course, there was much less trash talking back then too.

Apples to Apples, a game which I’ve often seen on the shelves of numerous stores but never played, turned out to be a great way to get to know your friends and the twisted logic that runs their day-to-day existence. Scoring points for sheer irony also helps make the game a real winner.

The only loser of the bunch for me was Set, which I initially chalked up to not having the necessary mental sharpness to make sets of cards based on attributes they either share or lack. Two-and-a-half hour’s sleep in the previous forty-eight does not a Set master make. The more I think about it, though, I come to realize that my lack of enthusiasm for the game is based on its lack of strategy. The game is all about skill and experience, and there’s no way for an unlucky run or the random unpredictable actions or planning of a rank amateur to upset the course of the game. In the end, it breaks down to four people staring at a bunch of cards and occasionally saying “set!” That’s not my bag, man.

Despite that little drawback, the night was a great one and we’ll definitely be meeting again sometime for more gaming that allows me to actually participate rather than adjudicate. Of course, the night couldn’t end without the subject of a second irregular roleplaying night coming up and being tentatively slated for later on in the summer. That’s a good thing; I’ve got more ideas than the Labyrinth Lord game can handle and I’d like to run a few up the proverbial flagpole before they all die intellectual crib deaths.

Saturday was mostly chores and prep for Sunday’s game, but a gross neglect on my part was addressed. The same player who hosted Friday’s shenanigans had previously asked me about a used bookstore in my hometown. I had to admit that I simply had never been inside the place, although it was often on my mind to investigate it. On Friday, he reported that he and his wife had visited the place and discovered a wonderland of used paperback books. They were planning on visiting the store again on Saturday and offered to meet me there.

Let’s just say I’ve been kicking myself for the last two days as punishment for not going there sooner. I picked up a Ramsey Campbell collection of his Cthulhu Mythos short stories, the third Thieves World book, Three Hearts and Three Lions, and The Forever War for under ten bucks. I would have walked out with much, much more, but the slush pile of books next to my bed prohibits me from buying any more novels until I work through the backlog. But I shall return.

Sunday was Watchfires & Thrones day and, after having to cancel last week’s game due to a failed save vs. poison incurred by some undercooked beef, I was anxious to get back into the swing of things. The game flowed and it was one of those games where much territory was explored and a few fights got crammed in before the time ran out. Unfortunately, our longest-surviving PC is now no more, having proved the adage that it’s best not to play with electricity unless one is wearing rubber boots.

Those of you who read the Archive of the Rotted Moon have no doubt noticed that most of the game recaps feature photos taken during the actual game sessions. It certainly is nice to have a Minister of Propaganda for your gaming group and Rob (also known as Fandomaniac on the OD&D Discussion board) provides photographic evidence of each week’s meet to help entice others to join in on the fun. You can tell which weeks he had to miss because we don’t have pictures of it.

This week, however, introduced a new aspect—video. Rob recorded a few minutes of game play during a fight against the Alien-esque Tomb Herd Broodmares and a snippet or two of that might soon be appearing online. "I Hit It With My Axe" we are not but feel free to check it out once it’s live and nitpick my referee style. If I had known we we’re going to be videotaping the session, I would have shaved.

All in all, it was a great weekend. I’m still feeling creatively drained from the last three days, so I’ll be recouping and trying to get a few blog posts written today to get myself caught up before it’s back to work on the book.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kingmakers I Have Known

I’m still in head-down-fingers-flying mode while I work on the book, but I’ve reached a natural point of pause so I thought I’d compose a few words about something I read and something I remembered recently.

Last weekend, I got the opportunity to flip through the first installment of Paizo’s latest Adventure Path series, Kingmaker: Stolen Land. After reading the introduction, background, and the initial encounter, and then flipping through the rest of the book and reading the enclosed short story, I put the book down with the intention of never picking it up again—which, in this case, is the highest praise I can give it.

Simply stated, that brief exposure was enough to make me want to play this one through, and that’s quite a feat (no pun intended) since I’ve no desire to go back to the morass of rules which is 3.5 (or 3.75 or Pathfinder or whatever the kids are calling it this year). In the hands of a decent referee, one who knew a little bit about what a sandbox was and how it differed from the traditional Adventure Path, this one could be a blast. Hell, I’d even be willing to take the role of party leader if I played this one. For those who know me and my general dislike to be the guy in charge, that admission alone indicates how impressed I was with the book.

Of course, since I didn’t read the whole thing, I can’t make a hearty recommendation to others, and I might be completely disappointed by the path in actual play. I’ve been intrigued by some of the Paizo-produced Adventure Paths during their run with Dungeon, but the dew came off the rose quickly after the initial two or three adventures. Once they got out of the sweet spot of mid-level (and I mean old school mid-level, 5th-7th), I wasn’t so charmed anymore. This could be the case with the Kingmaker path, too. However, I'd be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and let them prove they can really do an old school sandbox with new school rules. If your planning on running this series and need an old school player to roll up a fighter, I'll sit down at your table and gleefully take part.

Now, the whole time I was reading the book, I kept feeling something plucking at a mostly forgotten chord in my memory. Kingmaker? Why is that so familiar? I must have had some association with that in my past. Then it dawned on me: Kingmaker was the name of a wargame that I used to play way back when.

I’ve been trying to remember the title of that game for several months now. I thought it was called “War of the Roses” or some other derivative thereof, but, with my memory refreshed, I checked out BoardGameGeek and, once I saw those event cards, countless lazy summer afternoons came crashing back.

I couldn’t have been more than 12 (the minimum age recommended for the game) when I was introduced to it at my friend Greg’s house. I suspect it might have originally been intended for his Dad, but we kids co-opted it right quick. I can’t remember a single rule of the game, but the heraldry detailed in the game remains crystal clear. I think it’s time to see if I can track down a copy of the edition we used to play and put it on my tiny wargame shelf next to Outdoor Survival.

So that’s Gregg Press editions of the Fafhrd and Mouser books and a used copy of the 1976 Avalon Hill bookcase version of Kingmaker in case anyone’s wondering what to get me this year as a present. Just in case you were stumped for gift suggestions.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mike Comes Clean About His 3.5 Past. Is a Run for Public Office to Follow?

From the July 2006 issue of Dungeon Magazine (#136)

Dear Dungeon,

I just wanted to write you a brief letter in regards to Matthew Hope’s adventure “And Madness Followed,” in issue #134. I’ve been a long time fan of the works of Robert W. Chambers and H.P. Lovecraft, especially those stories that involve Hastur and the assorted trappings that accompany those tales. When I saw Dungeon #134 on the magazine rack, the blurb about the King in Yellow immediately caught my eye. I thought to myself, “That can’t mean THAT King in Yellow!” I was quite pleased to be wrong in this regard.

Mr. Hope has crafted an excellent adventure that seamlessly intertwines all the inherent creepiness of the King in Yellow with the fantasy adventure of D&D. As a DM who has used Hastur and the Pallid Mask in some of my own D&D games over the last two decades, I was very excited to see them appear in an adventure that is sure to win a few more fans (err…lost souls?) to the King. The sidebars add to the usefulness of the adventure by providing not only descriptive background color, but the crunchy bits for the DM as well. It is adventures like these that make Dungeon such a valuable aid to the DM. I know I plan on swapping out a few of my old Carcosa house rules with those introduced in “And Madness Followed.” Kudos as well for including a selected bibliography for DMs looking for more information about the King in Yellow. In addition to those mentioned, I’d also suggest Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green: Countdown sourcebook, which includes an excellent chapter on a slightly different way of using Hastur in a game setting.

Matthew Hope deserves a hearty round of applause. Excellent job, Matt! I thought I was the only DM twisted enough to use the Yellow Sign in my adventures. Excellent job as well to you folks at Dungeon for publishing this adventure.

While I have you, let me add my accolades to the pile in regards to the Age of Worms Adventure Path. The Hand of Vecna, the Rod of Seven Parts, and Kyuss AND Dragotha? It warms my old first edition heart. Bravo!

Michael R. Curtis
Via Email

Thanks for the heartfelt response, Michael! All of us on the staff are obsessive nerds about several things, and “weird” fiction and first edition D&D top the list! I was introduced to the work of Lovecraft, Moorcock, Leiber, and dozens more by Dungeons & Dragons, so running adventures and articles that point to the literary foundations of our hobby is just one way of paying back D&D for all of the great stores it’s led me to over all these years. When James and I first started talking about this stuff years ago, we feared we were in the minority of D&D fans, but if anything, enthusiastic letters like this one make us realize that we are legion.

Erik Mona

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Binding of the Twain

I've a question which I can't find the anwer to via my usual sources, so I again appeal to you fine folks. This one is for those of you who own any of the Fafhrd & Mouser books that were published in hardback by Gregg Press in the late 1970s.

I was introduced to to Leiber's tales through the copies my college library had. Those were all hardback and they had either an orange or pale red binding (not the dust jackets, the actual binding). I can't quite remember which now but I'm certain it was of either one of those hues. Could one of you with the Gregg Press editions tell me if the binding on those match either of those colors?

I'm thinking that at some point in my life I'd like to have a set of the books in the same edition that introduced me to them. I still consider Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories to be the finest example of the sword & sorcery tales. My thanks in advance.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Game Recap and a Brief Note

My gaming group did manage to get together over Memorial Day Weekend to squeeze a Watchfires & Thrones session in. They've now begun to explore the Black Gut, the campaign's megadungeon--and my second such humongous design project in two years. Some of the location will serve as testing grounds for material intended for the Stonehell sequel, but much of it is going to be very specific content to the campaign world. You can catch up on the party's wacky hijinks over at The Archive of the Rotted Moon.

In other news, I've received word that the second printing of The Dungeon Alphabet will be shipping this week, so with luck it will be available again soon from your finer FLGS and online retailers. I have another piece of news relating to the DA which just blows my mind, but I'm not sure if I'm permitted to spill that can of beans yet. But I will make a formal announcement hopefully by the end of the month.

Speaking of books that I've written, it's more than likely that no new posts will be appearing here on the Society for the next week or so. I've been engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat with my next book and the bastard has been fighting me every last step of the way. But this week, I think I finally broke the damned thing and have now cowed it into submission. The words are flowing much more easily and in much better quality than they had done so previously. In order to take advantage of this inertia, I'm focusing all my efforts on that manuscript. Once I get the feeling that I've caught up to where I should be on the draft, I'll consider returning to writing blog posts. Sorry for this interruption but it needs to be done...and it's not like there's a shortage of other high quality web publications out there to take up the slack.

Be seeing you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nostalgia Piece

I'm currently experience a period of bittersweet nostalgia. This time of the year tends to do that to me, as the start of summer rekindles memories of the past. I tried very hard to summarize those emotions and what they are doing to my current state of mind regarding this hobby and my plans for the future, but I was unable to do so to my satisfaction. I did remember that I posted something that touched lightly on this same topic in the very early days of this blog. I've decided to rerun that post while I ponder these thoughts some more.

Every hobbyist, no matter what their particular flavor of recreational activity, possesses a collection of anecdotes, recollections, funny tales, and non-sequiturs related to their preferred form of “non-work.” Without exception, these stories are usually only interesting to other hobbyists of the same pedigree. Individuals who don’t indulge in these activities, when forced to endure retellings of these stories, tend to drift off, roll their eyes, or politely redirect the conversation on to more broad topics (“Shut your pie-hole before I’m forced to clear leather on you, nerd-boy!”). For this reason, such tales are often referred to as “war stories.”

I’m no exception to this. I have my own treasure trove of stories that are usually safely hidden away until my dinner guests, dates, potential employers, or heads of state are in a position where escape is impossible. Only then will I start regaling them about the time Pootak MacDin MacCool managed to snatch an evil squirrel straight out of the air, hurl it back into a cave to be shish-ka-bobbed on an Elven arrow, and STILL catch the edge of the cliff before plummeting to his death below.

I’m going to tell one of those stories now. Since you supposedly reading this of your own free will, you may graciously escape before I start.

Still here? Okay then…

When it comes down to it, I’ve done a lot, and seen a lot, of great things through the eyes of imaginary people that exist solely as a collection of words on a piece of paper. I’ve done the usual heroic tasks of saving the world, defeating the grand beastie, leading armies to victory, breaking eldritch curses, etc. Despite the pleasure that I found in those game events, not one of those is my favorite moment that I ever experienced in a role-playing game. In fact, my favorite moment is most likely unrepeatable, no matter how much time, effort, creativity and planning was attempted to recreate it.

My favorite moment (and moment it was, since it lasted no more than a minute or three in real time) occurred during a campaign I played in during one of my many college years. We had a rather large party (6-7 if I remember correctly) and the players were all friends of various closeness in real life. I was playing Erik of Cullenport, a pretty standard 1st edition Fighter, who due to his high Charisma, was leader of this particular band.

The party had just finished a quest to secure a place of sanctuary for a newborn child. The boy might, or might not have been, the last legitimate heir to a usurped throne. A throne that the party all had reasons to see returned to its rightful bloodline. After experiencing the rigors to obtaining provisions for a newborn without a lactating woman of any sort in the party (“O.K. we’re taking the goat with us. Brother Hank can cast Purify Food and Water on the milk. That’s just like formula, right?”), discovering that babies put a crimp in adventuring opportunities (“Come on! Babies love caves. Let’s go in!”), and losing a party member to a ferocious stump (“It’s just a rabbit.”), we’d finally entrusted the prince to Brother Hank’s religious order and were headed south along the Western Sea to meet with the Elvish Court , for reasons that escape me. We knew peril lay ahead once we reached the forest, and having just barely escaped with our skins in the previous adventure, tensions were running a little high in the group.

Then, we had a beach party.

The DM said nothing more than we camp for the night on the beach. Immediately after saying that, the party (by which I mean the players) decided that a little R&R was needed. Our wizard announced she was looking for sharks, the ranger built a big bonfire with the wood that the thief gathered, I kept watch, and everyone else engaged in light role-playing for a minute before the wandering monster rolls turned up nothing for the night and we moved the game along.

That was my favorite game moment out of some twenty-something years of playing.

In those few minutes, using nothing more than a few casual descriptions, my mind painted the most vivid picture I’ve ever experienced during a role-playing game. I still have bits of it. I still see Gillian standing on the shoreline, eyes scanning the black waves as she holds the bottom of her robe up to avoid the surf. Her dog, Duncan, is splashing at the water’s edge, barking at the low rollers. Mirk the Fodder and Thea are throwing driftwood onto a roaring blaze, their silhouettes black against the fire. Erik is sitting on a low dune, watching the scene below. His armor is stowed safely by the fire, but his sword still lies close at hand. His mind is relaxing for the first time in many days. His friends are safe and can let their guard down, if only for a night. Erik doesn’t quite have that option, for the responsibility of leading this band still weighs on him. A weight that, much like his sword, can be put down for a little while, but never fully abandoned.

Fifteen years later, I swear I can still dimly smell the salt air and hear the waves break. I can feel the strands of beach grass blow against my bare arms as the breeze blows off the sea. I can still feel a little bit of that peace, the one that Erik must have felt that night, in my heart.Something was just right during that moment of that game. I’ll never quite know what it was. That’s why I’m sure it can never be recreated.

But I still try. One day, if everything is just perfect, I might experience something like that in a game again. In the meantime, I’m content to experience the good times that happen around a gaming table, and look forward to tomorrow night’s game.