Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bad Ass Erol Otus Elf

I've been on an elven kick as of late for reasons I'll not yet reveal, but the result is that I'm looking at a lot of roleplaying supplemental material covering our pointy-eared counterparts. When it comes to roleplaying material for elves, Roger E. Moore's articles on the demihumans in D&D certainly stands out. There's a reason that the deities he created in those articles still linger on in the game to this day.

It has been awhile since I read his "The Elven Point of View." I haven't looked at it since my return to old school gaming and thought I should reacquaint myself with its contents. I fired up my Dragon Magazine Archive and found it with a quick search. And there, right smack in the center of the article's first page was this

I certainly did not remember this depiction of an elf, but it is truly a bad ass one. This ain't Orlando Bloom chewing fletchings off an arrow. This is an elf that's going to wreck your day with either his twisty staff of flying lanterns, his eldritch eye magic, or his long sword of Dead Kennedys.

Sometimes all you need is an alternate take on a stereotype to change your entire world view. From now on, all my elves have this guy as a relative.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Your Adventure Design Homework for the Weekend

I read this quote today in an interview with Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, OFF!) and it sounds like just the sort of adventure the OSR minds would cook up. My plate's full, so someone else is going to have to take this one.
Hercules versus The Three Stooges. Or, the Three Musketeers get transported to Mars where they’re going to fight the evil king of Mars, and, as it turns out, Mars is like the party planet; all the women are running around naked and there aren’t very many guys, so it’s kind of like Australia where there’s like 10 girls to every guy. Something like that.
Extra bonus points if you can squeeze in Bigfoot.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stonehell Deities, Religions, and other Strangeness

One of the members of the Stonehell Dungeon Facebook group asked for a list of all the deities, religions, cults, and other such powers found in the upper levels of the dungeon. Never let if be said that membership doesn't have its benefits, as he and other Stonehell fans got a free, no-frills PDF of all those entities.

Since I'm a mostly swell guy, those of you who are not members now have access to the same PDF. Click here to download it. It's nothing fancy, but if you want a little more info on the gods of Stonehell (including a little behind the scenes trivia), it'll do you good.

Legends & Labyrinths Playtest

I forgot to mention that I had the opportunity to sit down at my FLGS and play test a convention scenario for the upcoming RPG Legends & Labyrinths. There is literally something for everyone in the rules, no matter what edition you started with and some very innovative and interesting mechanics to the game. You can learn more over at the L&L website, including some blurry photos of the dungeon we were exploring (and a glimpse of my folded forearms).

Let me extend my thanks to George Strayton for coming out to the wilds of Suffolk County to run this session. George and I finally got to meet in person after several ridiculous near-misses and I hope to work with him in the near future. Thanks, George!

New Lulu PDF Trial

As I mentioned, there will be issues involving the current crop of Stonehell PDFs available on Lulu starting in the middle of next month. I've been making the necessary changes behind the scenes to (hopefully) allow for an uninterrupted availability of those files. To make sure all is working as intended, I'll need a little help.

If you have a moment to spare, could you please download Stonehell Dungeon Supplement One: The Brigand Caves to your computer, mobile, or whatever medium you use to view such files? Please use the link in this post. This is not a new edition and is theoretically identical to the original. However, you may wish to save it in another location on your device so as to not overwrite your current working version just in case there is a problem.

Let me know if there are any issues in downloading or reading the PDF. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Friday, June 17, 2011


After successfully running the PDF of Stonehell Dungeon through the eBook Wizard, I’ve since downloaded the converted file to discover that it was converted into…a PDF.

When I originally uploaded my PDFs, there was no eBook category available to list them under so I chose to label them as digital files (others who put PDFs on Lulu prior to my own may have done the same). It seems that Lulu is using the term “eBook” in a generic sense and not a specific format for tablets, Kindles, Nooks, etc. I’m both relieved and puzzled at this, but unless there are other factors I’m unaware of, I don’t think there will be a problem down the line.

Stay tuned to be safe, however.

Strange Things Are Afoot at the Double Ell

I received an email yesterday from informing me that they “must retire certain products and services that have not proven to be as popular with our community of customers as we initially thought they'd be. As a result, we will no longer be offering your Multimedia for sale on” Maybe you got one too.

The short of it is that Lulu will no longer support and sell digital projects such as CDs, DVDs, images, and (here’s what affects me) “digital files.” This means that all the various PDFs I have on Lulu will removed after September 18th. This confused the hell out of me at first, but I now see that they're trying to push these projects into an eBook format.

Lulu offers a free eBook Wizard service to convert PDFs and other files into that format, and it seems that I’ve successfully managed to convert the two PDFs I’ve used as trials. I’ll admit that I’m not quite up to speed on the differences (if any) between PDFs and the various eBook formats and readers so I’m not certain what this going to mean down the line. In a perfect scenario, all my PDFs will convert, you’ll be able to read them in whatever format you choose, and I’ll just have to alter the links to the new eBook versions and we’ll all get along fine.

The worst case is things go all pear-shaped and I have to stop selling my books via Lulu completely, which would likely mean that I start investigating other options like going through RPGNow or perhaps even another game publisher.

I’m not going to sweat this too much at the moment as I’ve got other irons in the fire and a few months to worry about it, but I thought I’d bring it up now to keep you all abreast of possible changes in the future. If you haven’t bought or downloaded any of the various Stonehell PDFs but keep meaning to, my suggestion is to do so before July 19th, which is the date when the first wave of alterations to the Lulu Marketplace will begin and prohibit the editing of currently offered digital files. After that, I can’t be confident what will happen over there at Lulu.

You will all be informed as more on this develops.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Hell of a Bookend

Again, let me extend my thanks to everyone who helped me get to this point. I remain honored and very much humbled by your support.

In case you're wondering, the award has an encumbrance of 80 cn.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Beg to Differ

I wanted to point this out because I’ve been seeing it a few places online now and it just needles me. Maybe you’ve see it too.

I’m referring to the ads for Dungeons & Dragons Daggerdale, a new title for the Xbox. I’m not one for console gaming, but it’s not that there’s a D&D video game which irks me. It’s the fact that they use this quote as part of the advertising campaign:

That’s pretty much the most asinine statement I’ve heard in recent weeks. OK, I’ve vented; back to lighting candles and not cursing the darkness. Sorry about that.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Promos & Discounts

No, really, I’m taking the summer off. But before I get back to work on SH2 and myriad other projects, I wanted to let you all know that the now-award winning The Dungeon Alphabet remains available in hardcover at many online venues including Amazon, Amazon UK, Noble Knight, F-Shop, and other discerning venues. The PDF can be purchased via RPGNow and Drive-Thru RPG.

In related news, I somehow missed that this was announced over at the Legends & Labyrinths development blog, but here it is: The Dungeon Alphabet tables will be incorporated into the L&L rules in a piece of cross-company synergy. You’ll still need a copy of the DA to get the full use of the tables, but they’ll hopefully help neonate referees design their own subterranean nightmares to inflict on their players.

Finally, before I get back to work, Lulu is having another 20% off sale, so this is the perfect time to stock up on print or PDF copies of Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls or its second supplement, Buried Secrets. Just plug TOP305 into the designated field by June 13th during checkout to enjoy a fifth off the cover price. Buy extras and put them under windshield wipers at the mall parking lot or make them into decorative hats that makes Paree say “Oui!” this summer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"The door opens and you see this!"

I never heard of Shrek the Sheep until his passing, but now that I've seen a picture of him, I want to include a monster based on him in Stonehell 2. He looks like some sort of coral-encrusted beastie or maybe a laboratory-bred "brain sheep."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta: 6/8/11

Word on the street is that the Open Beta of Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG begins on Wednesday, June 8th. You can grab a PDF of the rules off of the Goodman website on that day, and then on June 18th, go down to your FLGS for Free RPG Day to pick up the DCC RPG Adventure Starter module. Then go home and see what all the fuss has been about.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thank You All Very Much

As reported over at Grognardia, The Dungeon Alphabet received the first Three Castles Award last night at the North Texas RPG convention, culminating a process that began back in October of last year. I am immensely honored and humbled that the judges, all of whom have many years of experience in the game industry, chose my debut book as worthy of the award. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the convention this year to accept the award, so I’ll have to present my acceptance speech here.

I was honestly surprised to discover that the book had won. After the final nominees had been announced, I was certain that Jim Raggi’s the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Roleplaying was going to take the award and I sent him an email to wish him luck and to say that I thought LOTFP: WRPG was the title to beat this year. Jim replied that he was certain the Dungeon Alphabet was a shoe-in, which goes to show that not only does Mr. Raggi have a better sense of prophecy than I do, but that writers are wracked with self-doubt about the quality of their own work. In this case, I am pleased to have been proven wrong.

This is not to slight the other nominees. I own a copy of Rob Conley’s Majestic Wilderlands and found it to be a great book. Plus, as a fellow Goodman Games alumnus, I simply have to support his efforts and wish him well. Jonathan Becker’s B/X Companion has garnered its own fair share of acclaim and he too came out of nowhere to produce a book that was welcomed and respected by the old school roleplaying community. It was an honor to be included amongst them and I certainly hope they continue their efforts and submit their follow-up work for adjudication next year. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Winning this award is a fitting coda for a very strange and unexpected chapter of my life. I don’t speak much about my personal life on this blog, preferring to keep such matters to myself outside of the occasional game-related anecdote or observation. But in this case, a revelation is in order. A little over three years ago, I was quite literally homeless, living in my car and in skeazy motels when I could afford it. My life was in shambles and I was trying to follow a wildly-spinning compass that provided no direction. Luckily, before things could get any worse, I managed to find new guidance and started putting my life back in order.

Part of that process involved rediscovering what I enjoyed doing, which led me back to my earlier love of roleplaying games. That rediscovery guided me to the then burgeoning old school renaissance and then to this blog, a venue where I hoped to record my efforts to return to the hobby I had enjoyed and to give something back to the online community that had welcomed me. I expected nothing more.

Then, in November of 2008, what I considered a throwaway series of posts intended to buy me some relaxation time away from the blog caught the attention of the gaming blogosphere and catapulted me into the upper echelon of old school game blogs. This resulted in my getting noticed by Joseph Goodman, who approached me with the opportunity to expand those essays into a book. As a native New Yorker, I was skeptical (“What sort of scam is this?” was my first impression upon reading his email if I remember correctly), but some research allayed my fears and I started down a most unexpected path.

Like a lot of gamers, I remember wanting so badly to grow up and work at TSR. I read the TSR profiles in Dragon magazine with great interest, imagining how cool it would be to work with what appeared to be the most diverse and zaniest crew my young mind could comprehend. And while my interests shifted as I grew older and began worrying about making a living that could pay the bills and/or allow me to create art, I never truly lost my desire to maybe make games for a living. Joseph Goodman was kind enough to take a chance on an untried writer and designer to give me that opportunity—something which I will always be grateful for.

The Dungeon Alphabet continued to grow after I submitted my draft, nurtured by Joseph Goodman’s efforts. The occasional emails I received on its status staggered the mind as Joseph gave me progress reports on who was signed up for the art: Easley, Holloway, Roslof. Only Dee escaped the drag net due to other obligations. When the email that Erol Otus was doing the cover arrived, I knew that there must be some mistake. This was all intended for somebody else and an oversight at the Karmic Bureau had obviously occurred. I waited patiently for celestial agents to arrive on my doorstep and inform me that I’d be going back to sleeping in my car down by the river now. But that never came. The book, however, did and you fine, discerning folks embraced it and praised it. It remains (probably for only a short while longer) the most successful book Goodman Games has produced.

The success of the book and its suitability for winning this award does not rest solely on my shoulders and I’d be a fool and hypocrite to suggest otherwise. My writing merely served as a framework that Joseph Goodman provided the land for. Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Peter Mullen, Erol Otus, Stefan Poag, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, and Mike Wilson made that frame aesthetically appealing. Peter Bradley made sure the beams were lined up and the concrete had settled. Elizabeth Bauman ensured that the floors were level and free of typos to trip over. And David “Zeb” Cook, one of those people covered in Dragon’s TSR Profiles which I had read with great interest decades ago, stepped in to cut the ribbon and welcome visitors across the threshold. Without their efforts, The Dungeon Alphabet would still be a moderately successful, three-year old post series and nothing more. They are as worthy of this award as I am. For simplicity, I’ll keep it at my place, but they are all welcome to stop by to see it any time.

The Dungeon Alphabet led to other opportunities, the first being my other nominated book, Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls. I’d like to think that that book had something to do with my receiving the Three Castles Award as well, allowing me to demonstrate my design talents above and beyond the construction of interesting tables and instructive essays. Stonehell Dungeon would never had occurred had it not been for the work of David Bowman and Michael Shorten, both of whom I’m very grateful to and who I hope continue to produce and share their own creations with a wider audience. You guys both have talent you’re keeping under the bushel basket. Stonehell also owes a debt to Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games who assisted me with my questions and was impressed enough to ask me to play with his Lovecraft action figures in that horrific sandbox know as the Realms of Crawling Chaos.

Despite these successes, it’s not been an easy year. Like a lot of Americans, I was hit by the downturn in the economy. My career is always somewhat dicey at best, being largely dependent on grant monies and other financial windfalls that can blow away all too easy in the financial breeze. I’ve been out of full time work for over two years now, making end meet with frugal living and by the occasional royalty check my game design work earns. Needless to say, any opportunity to do paid design work and writing is a welcome one, and I find it impossible to say no to those opportunities. (If you’re reading this and are looking to hire a new and now award-winning designer and writer, feel free to contact me. I can be there in a week if it’s a full time gig.) This award came at a time when I’ve been feeling especially low. It was a welcome respite from the doubts that have been plaguing me. Now, I’m filled with all new ones, the kinds experienced by the winner of “Best New Artist” each year in the record industry. Do I share the ultimate fate of Hanson, now? I shudder at the thought.

I think that I’ve carried on long enough. I’d like to close by offering my sincerest and deepest thanks to my friends who’ve supported and encouraged me during the last few years and to those designers who’ve welcomed me across the line between gamer and professional and offered me their own insights and wisdom in the process. And of course, I give my complete and utter gratitude to my family for being there for me even when I wasn’t. I love you all.

Michael Curtis
June 5th, 2011