Monday, December 31, 2012

The 2012 Roundup

Since December was yet again not another banner month of activity here at the Society and another year draws to a close, I want to take a moment to gaze back upon the last twelve months and summarize the accomplishments, both personal and professional, that occurred.

Amongst the OSR community, I believe 2012 will forever be known as the year Goggle+ achieved supremacy over the previous “go to” venues of the blogosphere and message forums for disseminating gaming-related information, material, and most importantly, avenues of play. The blogosphere and forums still have their place, but this year belonged to Google+, thanks to FLAILSNAILS, Meetup pickup games, and the ability to customize and control readership to fine tune your personal “signal to noise” reception quality. Obviously, Facebook isn’t trembling in its boots for fear of usurpation of its status as King of Social Media, but Google+ definitely found a place in the hearts of the old school role-playing community. Whether this is a flash in the pan development or not remains to be seen.

Speaking of flashes in the pan, Kickstarter got a big boost this year from the gaming crowd. Certain projects like Reaper Miniatures’ crowd-funding of their new line of plastic minis demonstrated that when a Kickstarter campaign works, it can work really, really well. But for ever success story, there are literally hundreds of projects that either failed to fund or proposed deadlines they couldn’t meet. And with these failures and delays, the backlash against Kickstarter projects seems to be building. Other bloggers than myself have been keeping a keen eye on Kickstarted RPG projects, so I won’t go into depth about this subject, but even a cursory glance at recent developments seems to indicate 2013 will see gamers being a smarter with their wallets and RPG publishers, especially established ones, are going to have to get wise to this trend and develop their goals and funding plans accordingly.

What were the big releases in the OSR community this year? To be honest, I have no clue. Professional responsibilities and personal developments meant I wasn’t keeping tabs on everything pumped out by gamers and publishers over the last year. DCC RPG hit the stores and demonstrated that it’s not another retro-clone, but a beast unto itself (and one well-received enough to hit the Top Five RPG Sellers’ List). Rappan Athuk made some waves with its Kickstarter campaign. Adventurer, Conqueror, King debuted. We saw the megadungeon trend continue in Barrowmaze and the next installment of Anomalous Subsurface Environment. Others were undoubtedly embraced by the community upon release, but it’s hard for a single person to keep track on what’s going on these days—even when you have the free time to do so.

On the personal front, I can’t complain about 2012. I’ve been busier than ever with projects and, as much as I occasionally gripe about the workload, I remain grateful to be able to continue doing what I do and get paid for it. This year saw my name show up in the DCC RPG rulebook, Goodman Games’ Free RPG Day release, and Emirikol Was Framed! I wrote a new game system for Goblinoid Games and finished up revisions for a new supplement to be released by Goodman in the coming year. I also had the opportunity to create my own 1920s’ historical horror setting (“Wildwyck County”) for Fight On! magazine, and I have plenty more in store for that series as publication allows.

This was also the year that I hit the convention trail in earnest, travelling to the gaming motherland of Lake Geneva, WI and moseying down to Texas for NTRPG Con. At those events, idols became colleagues, colleagues became friends, and people I’ve only known through online correspondence joined the ranks of my valued fellow gamers. I’m looking forward to 2013 when I get to do more new conventions and return to old favorites.

I’ve got a few announcements coming in the days ahead, but I’ll close things down for now as I’m battling an end of the year illness and need to get more rest. I’d like to wish you all a very happy, healthy, and productive 2013. May Chance favor the bold in the year ahead!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Curriculum Vitae (Current as of 2.16.14)

There is now an online index of Fight On! articles assembled by “elf23” from the Original Dungeons & Dragons Discussion forum. It contains a list of all the articles appearing in issues #1-#13 and can be viewed by issue, article, author, and other criteria. If you’ve ever wondered who contributed to what issue or what exactly appears in a magazine you don’t own, go check it out.

That’s the important part of this post and what follows is mere vanity on the part of the author. Upon examining the FO! index, I realized that it’s getting to the point where I don’t necessarily recall all that I’ve written for various projects and publishers. My body of work is not extensive, so I fear it’s my collapsing mental faculties that are to blame for this. To help combat this encroaching decrepitude, I’m listing my current oeuvre for reference and as a reminder to myself. I’ve got more irons in the fire for 2013 and look forward to expanding this list as announcements are made.

"The Fane of St. Toad"
The Dungeon Alphabet (2009)
The Dungeon Alphabet Expanded Third Printing (2012)
Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls
Stonehell Dungeon Supplement One: The Brigand Caves
Stonehell Dungeon Supplement Two: Buried Secrets
Emirikol Was Framed!
The Sea-Queen Escapes!
The Croaking Fane
Frozen in Time
The Tower out of Time
The Old God's Return
Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
The Adventurers’ Almanac (to-be-released)
A Single Small Cut (to-be-released)
The Chained Coffin (to-be-released)
Stonehell 2 (to-be-released)

Realms of Crawling Chaos (random artifact generation tables & eldritch tomes rules)

Magazine Articles
“The Dungeon Alphabet: Part One,” Knockspell #1
“Dungeon Oddities,” Knockspell #2
“Stealing the Histories,” Knockspell #4
“With New Old Eyes,” Silver Gryphon Monthly #4 (January 2009)
“Random Rooms,” Fight On! #4
“A Few for the Road,” Fight On! #5
“A Few for the Road, Part 2” Fight On! #6
"Old School Game Determination," Fight On! #6
“Sites to Seek,” Fight On! #8
“It’s All in the Cards,” Fight On! #12
“In the Shadow of the Catskills" Fight On! #13
"Gnatdamp: Sanctuary in the Swamp." Gygax Magazine #1
"The Wildwyck Gazetteer" Fight On! #14
"Artifacts to impart ancient lore" Gygax Magazine #3 

Contributing Author
Open Game Table: Anthology of Roleplaying Blogs Vol. 1 (“The Commonplace Book”)
Red Planet RPG (revised magic chapter)
Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game (additional spells)
Dungeon Crawl Classics Free RPG Day 2012 (“The Undulating Corruption”)
Fragments 1: The Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame (deities, encounter tables, and rogues’ gallery)
Tales From the Fallen Empire (additional spells & crafting magical items)
The Monster Alphabet (additional entries; to-be-released)

The One-Page Dungeon Contest (2009)
Mystery Map Adventure Design Competition (2012)

Three-Castles Award (2011)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Forty Odd Years

Today is the fortieth anniversary of my birth. For two score revolutions around that big ball of fire in the sky, I’ve made my home on this third stone from the Sun. They’ve been a mixed forty years, filled with many pleasures and many sorrows, much like everyone’s life, but the hills usually outnumber the valleys, and it sure beats the alternative.

I have big schemes in mind for the coming year, and if the universe is kind, I’ll see them to fruition and be able to share them with you, the loyal and long-suffering reader who has shared the past five years of my journey here on the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope.

Looking back on the trip, I remain in awe of how different my life is now than it was when I first posted “Saha” back on August 21st, 2008. I’ve gone from a lapsed gamer to an industry professional. The men and women who I idolized in my youth are now my colleagues, and in some cases, my friends. I get to share my words and my creations not with a handful of friends around the gaming table, but with thousands of people around the world. The bizarre ideas that percolate in my head are no longer granted the breath of life by my ill-trained hands, but by an incredible array of talented artists and cartographers. I get to take this little dog-and-pony show of mine on the road, where I meet fellow gamers, sign autographs for fans who seem genuinely pleased to meet me, and greet people who I hitherto only knew from online correspondence, putting names to faces and sharing some laughs around the dealers’ tables. It’s a strange celebrity, a type that my non-gaming friends and family don’t quite understand, but one I cherish immensely. And none of this would have happened if I hadn’t had the support of you, dear reader. To every one of you who ever bought something with my name slapped on the credits page, who took the time to read my words here, who signed up to play in one of my games, or simply offered a hand in friendship, you have my sincere and utter thanks.

I wish I could celebrate my birthday in true hobbit-fashion, giving you all gifts for coming along on the journey so far with me, but alas, there are too many of you now and doing so would strip my smial bare (worse than even the Sackville-Baggins did poor Bilbo’s). Please accept my thanks and the knowledge that I’m very grateful of your ongoing support, instead.

For those who practice non-hobbit birthday traditions and would like to do something nice to celebrate my slow journey away from the hunter’s fire to that of the clan elders, I’d ask this: Help spread the word and keep me employed! Purchase a copy of my work and give it to a friend. Write a review of Emirikol Was Framed! or the new Dungeon Alphabet. Add the new Stonehell Dungeon Google+ page to your circles. Pre-order one of my upcoming adventures from Goodman Games. Even a kind word to a friend about something I’ve penned would mean a lot to me. I’ve gone far in these past forty years, but if I’m blessed, my journey’s far from over and I hope there’s still some life in these seven-league boots of mine. With your on-going support, I intend to keep walking this professional path and sharing my dreams (and nightmares) with others.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reminder: I’m at Anonycon next month (Dec. 7-9, 2012)

I’ll be in Stamford, CT in just a few weeks to run some DCC RPG and OD&D fun. If you’re in the area and looking for an interesting and enjoyable weekend of gaming, please come on down! I’ll be doing the usual "meet my fellow gamers, sign some books, and referee some cool games" over the course of the weekend. Hopefully, I might even get to play a few games, too.

My schedule is:

For more information, registration, hotel details, and more, please visit the convention website. I hope to see some of you old school (and new school) folks there!

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Really Hope the Mayans are Wrong

Otherwise, we'll all be dead or ascended or something before these hit the shelves:

Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes!

Evil lurks beneath the ocean! For years it has slumbered, but now it rises once again, threatening to wash over the surface world like a monstrous wave. Only a handful of stalwarts stand between the nefarious schemes of the deep and a world drowned in sorrows, but first they must navigate a wizard’s sanctum, a magical prison, and the most unusual dungeon they’ve ever faced! Can they stem the tide in time or will they lose themselves forever to the Sea Change curse?

Rules Set: DCC RPG
Related Products: Visit the DCC RPG launch page for complete information on every DCC RPG release!

Writer: Michael Curtis
Cover Art and Cartography: Doug Kovacs
GMG5076, 16 pages, $9.99. Pre-order now

Dungeon Crawl Classics #77: The Croaking Fane

For as long as men remember, the Lord of Evil Amphibians carried out unspeakable rites in his squatting temples situated far from civilization. Tales of human sacrifice, squirming servants, and rich but loathsome treasures were whispered of his followers. Now, unexpectedly, his servants have seemingly vanished, leaving behind their fanes to molder in the marshes. A brave band of adventurers gathers to explore one such tabernacle, eager to discover what riches—and terrors—the Lord of Evil Amphibians has left behind…

Rules Set: DCC RPG
Related Products: Visit the DCC RPG launch page for complete information on every DCC RPG release!

Writer: Michael Curtis
Cover Art and Cartography: Doug Kovacs
GMG5078, 16 pages, $9.99. Pre-order now

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Slow Climb Back and Other News

With Hurricane Sandy slowly receding into a bad memory for many (but by no means all) of us on the East Coast of the U.S., it’s time to get back to business of writing adventures and meeting deadlines. That is if the nor’easter that’s now heading our way doesn’t sucker punch us while we’re stilling recovering. Here’s to hoping that power systems don’t catastrophically fail again for a week or two.

But before I start the slow climb back to getting merely swamped with work again rather than drowning in it, a few reports and announcements:

Firstly, the expanded version of The Dungeon Alphabet is now in stores. I received several copies of both the “original” cover and the limited edition gold foil to bring to an in-store appearance (more on that in a moment) and the gold foil cover really impressed me. It’s got a very sinisterly eldritch quality to it. It almost dares you to open the tome and see what mysteries await you within. Foes of the “Good Price” faux-sticker will also be pleased to note that it’s gone from the original cover.

There’s been some grumbling about the expanded version, but both Goodman Games and I anticipated that. Some people feel that the added material “punishes” you fine folks who bought the original 48 pp. version of the book three years ago. And while I understand that argument, what it unfortunately comes down to is that it’s no longer financially feasible to print The Dungeon Alphabet and offer it for the original $9.99 cover price (which was a damned cheap price for a hardcover RPG supplement that features incredible artwork and a high reusable factor, you must admit). And so the decision was made to raise the cost and, to compensate for the increase, to add more material the book. Maybe some of the dissatisfaction comes from it being referred to as a third printing rather than the expanded Dungeon Alphabet. I really don’t know; I just write these damned things and do my best to read the minds of my fellow gamers.

All I can say for certain is that if you enjoyed the original version of the book and want to see what new art and material we’ve included in the third printing, please consider picking up the expanded version. If you think you’re being cheated in some manner because there’s new stuff in this printing, I can’t change your mind with a few sentences in a blog post. See what others are saying about the book in the weeks and months ahead and make a decision once you’ve read the reviews and shop accordingly.
The expanded version is available from Goodman Games’ web store, your finer FLGS, Paizo, FRP Games, and other online stores.

Speaking of the Dungeon Alphabet, this past Sunday saw me on the road to All Things Fun in West Berlin, NJ to help promote the new version and DCC RPG. Despite apocalyptic fuel shortages and mass destruction, the trip down and back was uneventful, and I can’t say enough good things about All Things Fun. The store is clean, bright, spacious, and has a wide variety of products available from a very friendly staff. And their name isn’t hype. You’ll find everything from comic books, board games, miniatures, CCG, RPGs, and t-shirts available in the store. If you’re a gamer in the southern New Jersey/Philadelphia area, I highly recommend a trip to All Things Fun to see what they might have to offer you.

As can be expected in the wake of a natural disaster, the turn-out for my in-store appearance was small, but that didn’t stop those folks who did come down from having a good time. My players got the opportunity to playtest a new adventure I’ve written for DCC RPG, being the first living, breathing players to take a crack at it. Not only did they have fun, but the scenario seems to be working as intended, which is always nice for a designer to see. It means the crazy idea I had has legs outside of my own brain and less rewriting before final submission. A very big and heartfelt thanks to Anthony, Mike, and Rich for venturing out and climbing the Ghost Ice. Those of you interested in hearing their impressions of the day should visit the blogs Circle of Dar Janix, Swords of Legend, and Once More Unto the Breach! where those good gentlemen may have more to say about the game and their experiences.

Lastly, the first round of the Goodman Games’ Mystery Map Adventure Design Competition has ended. There were a lot of great submissions to the contest and one lucky soul is going to walk away with both $1,000 and a contract to turn their creation into an official DCC RPG adventure published by Goodman Games. Now, Joseph Goodman, Harley Stroh, Doug Kovacs, Aldo Ghiozzi, Stefan Poag, Erol Otus, and myself have to pick the crème-de-la-crème from those entries that made it to the final round. It’s not going to be an easy task, but I think between the lot of us, we’ll agree on an entry worthy of joining the DCC RPG canon of adventure modules. Stay tuned for more news as we reach a final decision.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reminder: DCC RPG at All Things Fun in West Berlin, NJ this Sunday

We’re a resilient bunch here in the Tri-State area. A little thing like mass destruction never slows us down for long. And gamers in the Tri-State: fuggedaboutit! We shrug off super-storms like dragon’s breath off a +5 shield of dragon breath shrugging off of.

I’ve been in contact with All Things Fun in West Berlin, NJ and “Game is On!” for this Sunday, November 4th, 2012. As scheduled, I’ll be making the drive through post-apocalyptic New York to run DCC RPG, shake hands, sign books, talk about gaming, and just decompress with my fellow gamers as Sandy becomes an unpleasant memory. I’ve got copies of the new and expanded Dungeon Alphabet (both limited edition and regular covers) and Emirikol Was Framed packed for the trip, along with some neat DCC RPG swag to give away. The fun starts at 12 PM and will run to at least 4 PM.

Assuming you can cut down that massive oak tree blocking your driveway by Sunday, come on down and join the fun!

All Things Fun

185 C Route 73 N.
West Berlin, NJ 08091
(856) 719-1414

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Legendary Realms Terrain Kickstarter

There's one last Kickstarter campaign I'd like to direct your attention to--assuming anybody still has money left in their bank accounts after the flurry of projects that have emerged lately. This one is by Legendary Realms Terrain, a small local company that produces dungeon terrain, accessories, and other neat pieces. They're also nice folks, to boot.

Legendary Realms Terrain produces resin pieces, making them lighter and less expensive than similiar pieces produced by companies like Dwarven Forge. All their items are sold pre-painted, which is a real boon to time-strapped gamers like myself. They have a pretty extensive back catalog of items, but they're looking to expand the variety of pieces and themes they produce, hence the Kickstarter.

If you use dungeon terrain in your games (or are thinking about doing so), please take a moment and check out the Kickstarter page and see if LRT has what you're looking for.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Take Part in a Dungeon Strike

No, I'm not talking about the work slowdown currently underway by the kobolds of Stonehell Dungeon. I'm talking about a free skirmish game written by xwardukex over at Fear No Darkness.

FEAR NO DARKNESS:DUNGEON STRIKE is a miniature skirmish game set in the dungeon. Encompassing aspects of the dungeon crawl, board game play, and quick-to-learn mechanics, the players take on the roles of dungeon adventurers running amok in a small delve. Traps springs, monsters lurk, magic awaits discovery, and there's a good chance you'll end up dead. In other words, a perfect old school dungeon crawl.

I got to playtest DUNGEON STRIKE at Retcon a few months back, and it was an utter blast. The game can be completed in an hour or so, making it a great way to kill time when Billy is running late to the game again and keeping everyone waiting. Best of all, it's free! I recommend you check it out by downloading it here.

You'll need some six-siders, a battle mat or dungeon terrain, and some minis, but we all know you've got those hanging around anyway.

Dungeon Alphabet Pre-Order Offer

Just like the first time around, Goodman Games is offering a special incentive to pre-order the third printing of The Dungeon Alphabet: the chance to win a signed copy by either Erol Otus or Stefen Poag. Erol will sign the original cover edition and Stefen will sign the limited-edition gold foil cover. In order to qualify for the drawing, you'll need to do a little paperwork.

Dungeon Alphabet Pre-Order Offer – Place your pre-order now for the third printing of The Dungeon Alphabet! All pre-orders placed by Oct. 31 will be included in a drawing to receive one of two free copies autographed by cover artist Erol Otus or Stefan Poag! This offer applies to both the color cover edition and the limited-edition gold foil cover! Place your order online now or download the flyer to order in stores!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Otherworld Miniatures Dungeon Adventurers Indiegogo Project

If you're an old school gamer like me or have at least been following the antics of this thing we call the OSR, chances are you already know about Otherworld Miniatures and their lines of classically-inspired monster miniatures for D&D. I, myself, own several of their hobgoblin minis which saw much use during the great Hobgoblin War of Stonehell Dungeon.

What you might not know though is that Otherworld Minatures is launching a line of Dungeon Adventurer minis and is currently running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to put them into production. Assuming you still have some funds left and haven't jumped on the anti-crowdsourcing bandwagon yet, you might be interested in throwing a few bucks into the kitty on this one. I've got to say the "Henchmen and Hirelings" set sounds pretty sweet to me!

In-Store Appearance: West Berlin, NJ

I'll be in West Berlin, NJ on November 4th to run a session of Emirikol Was Framed! at All Things Fun. They've scheduled the event for 12 PM to 2 PM, but I'll try to get down there early to talk with folks about DCC RPG, Stonehell Dungeon, the Dungeon Alphabet, and other unannounced projects in the works, as well as chat about what's up in gaming and deface a few books if asked.

I'll have some goodies to hand out and I'm going to try and stay for as long as I can on-site. Two hours is not nearly enough time to wring most of the fun out of Emirikol! I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Impressions Vidcast featuring Emirikol Was Framed!

Impressions Game Distribution Services produces a monthly vidcast intended to assist retailers and distributors get the inside scoop on the latest releases, as well as provide ways and information to help move those products to gamers and keep FLGS vibrant.

The most recent vidcast features DCC RPG and DCC #72 Emirikol Was Framed. Join hosts Aldo Ghiozzi and Richard Bliss as they discuss Emirikol, DCC RPG, and Nights Black Agents, the latest game by one of my favorite designers, Kenneth Hite.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New Dungeon Alphabet Art

This just in from the "Please Make Mike Shut Up About His Books" Department:
Dungeon Alphabet Art Preview – The third printing of The Dungeon Alphabet is at the printer, with a great selection of new art! This expanded edition features new images by Russ Nicholson, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Brad McDevitt, Peter Mullen, Stefan Poag, Michael Wilson, and William McAusland, plus the great art from prior printings. Check out the Dungeon Alphabet art gallery!
Here's but one example of some of the new pieces accompanying the expanded third printing. It's the new end sheet created by Peter Mullen. Looks great, no?

Emirikol Was Framed! PDF Now Available

The digital edition of Emirikol Was Framed! can now be purchased through or It retails for $6.99.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Anonycon 2012 Schedule of Games

Things have settled into place for Anonycon 2012 (December 7-9 in Stamford, CT). There’s even an official Goodman Games link on the con website detailing the DCC RPG sessions happening over the weekend. For those of you attending, I’ll be running 4 sessions during the convention. They are:

Friday, Dec. 7th @ 8PM-12AM: “Emirikol Must Die!” (DCC RPG)
Saturday, Dec. 8th @ 9AM to 1 PM: “Party Like It’s 1975!” (OD&D plus Greyhawk)
Saturday, Dec.8th @ 8PM to 12 AM: “The Croaking Fane” (DCC RPG)
Sunday, Dec. 9th @ 9AM to 1PM: “Frozen in Time” (DCC RPG)
Arrangements are being made to have DCC RPG products available and I’ll be giving away some swag during the games to lucky survivors. As always, if you see me wandering the con, stop me and say “Hi!”, ask me to deface some books, or chat about all things gaming. I hope to see some regular readers and fans from the Northeast there in December!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Emirikol Was Framed! And is Out in Stores!

Although it’s been trickling through the distribution chain for the past week, Goodman Games announced today that DCC #73: Emirikol Was Framed! has been released. You can pick up a copy at your FLGS, the Goodman Games web store, Paizo, FRP Games, and other quality online venues. PDF versions of Goodman Games releases are typically available a week or so after the print version has hit stores, so if electric’s your preference, keep checking Drive-Thru RPG or RPG Now in the near future.

Needless to say, I’m very curious about how people are going to react to the adventure once they get a chance to actually read it. I’m hoping that will quiet any detractors who’ve dismissed it as a parody adventure, but time will tell. I’m optimistic that I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do, which is create an adventure that wouldn’t be out of place in the tales of Leiber, Howard, and the rest of their ilk. But there’s a lot of emotion baggage when dealing with an icon like old Emirikol and I know it’s an uphill climb.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DCC RPG, Anonycon (Dec. 7-9, 2012), and Me

I’ll be in attending Anonycon in Stamford, CT on December 7th through 9th as part of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG world tour. I’ll be play testing some forthcoming DCC adventures, giving away some swag, and I might have a surprise or two lined up as well. The DCC RPG games currently listed on the website that I’ll be running are “Frozen in Time” and my convention version of Emirikol Was Framed! entitled “Emirikol Must Die.” I’ve submitted another two games as well and I’ll have further news if and when they get added to the schedule.

If you’re in the area, grab your Zocchi’s and come on down to Anonycon!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Fake Thing That Should be a Real Thing

Constant readers might recall that I once proposed that the OSR really needs to create a fanzine based on the "manly men" magazines of old. As soon as somebody gets that off the ground, somebody else needs to start publishing this pulp on a regular basis:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary

Assuming you have any discretionary income left after backing the Reaper Kickstarter, The Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter, and any other role-playing related projects that came down the pick recently, you might want to wander over the Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary Kickstarter page and consider making a contribution to help get this film funded.

I know a few of the people participating in this documentary, all of whom expressed their enthusiasm for seeing this film made if only for the opportunity to finally allow for a fair-handed treatment of our favorite pastime, rather than one filled with histrionics, atypical gamers, or Mazes and Monsters.

The Kickstarter has four days to go and is around $15,000 away from funding. Look, read, watch, and if you think it's a good goal, kick a few bucks into the kitty and help it become a reality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Impressions of Playing at the World

Allow me to preface this post by stating that I’m neither a professional reviewer nor an obsessive scholar into the history of our favorite pastime and, as such, this review of Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World might contain errors easily avoided by those who are. Nevertheless, Peterson was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of his enormous text and I’m extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to read the book and post my impressions of it here.

For those readers who haven’t heard of the book via other venues, allow me to introduce the book to you. Playing at the World is a scholarly text that traces the origins of role-playing, specifically that of Dungeon & Dragons. In varying detail, everything from the games of chance of antiquity up to early computer role-playing games is given consideration, but the primary emphasis of the book is the history of wargaming in its many forms, culminating in the development, release, and response to Dungeons & Dragons. Playing at the World runs nearly 700 pages in length, including an extensive bibliography and index, bears copious footnotes, and features many photographs and illustrations, some of which have never before been seen by the general gaming public. It is available through Amazon for $34.95 for the printed version and at $17.99 in the Kindle format.

While attempts have been made to chronicle the history of role-playing in the past with various degrees of success, Playing at the World stands out amongst earlier efforts in its dedicated research of the written historical record. Peterson states quite boldly in the Introduction that he concentrated his research on contemporary written sources produced during the time periods covered by the book rather than later interviews with the principles from those periods. For myself, this is the book’s strength. As an archivist, I know all too well the perils of relying on recollections of witnesses long after events have occurred. Human memory becomes untrustworthy with time and is susceptible to outside influences that can distort the remembrance of events as they actually occurred.

I consider this decision to be the correct one when penning a book like Playing at the World, but I know others will be less satisfied with Peterson’s choice. Readers looking for juicy gossips and tales told out of school by the principles (and about other principles) of the game’s development will be disappointed. Many of the so-called great mysteries regarding the early days of the game’s development remain unsolved simply because nobody commented on them in a public forum during that time, leaving no written references to draw from (which is also why they remain the great mysteries of old).

So if not a tell-all book, what is Playing at the World? Essentially, Peterson proposes a very persuasive argument that Dungeons & Dragons is not the product of a few isolated developments in America’s Mid-West during the 1960s & ‘70s, but rather a culmination of a multitude of influences extending back to at least the 18th century. These influence happened to come together in a perfect storm roughly forty years ago, but the creation of the game and role-playing as a whole does not rest solely in the hands of Gygax and Arneson. Peterson also does an exception job of arguing that, despite the prior existence of many of the elements that helped birth D&D, the game could not have come into being at an earlier time than it did. For myself, it’s this second argument that raises the book above other attempts to document the game’s history.

Playing at the World begins with a rather forthright examination of the history of role-playing in contemporary times, beginning with the development of Avalon Hill’s Tactics game in 1954 and ending with the release of D&D in 1974. Peterson covers the wargaming culture that existed in America during this period, drawing on the many fanzines and professional publications produced then to document the attitudes, feuds, games, and play styles of the period, as well as the prominent wargame groups and societies that helped influence and fuel the development of D&D.

Once 1974 arrives, however, Peterson pauses this contemporary examination and takes the reader on a backwards jaunt through time. While this jump is bound to frustrate the casual gamer looking to read about the history of D&D, and by extension TSR Hobbies, it’s an important one for more serious scholars—both those reading the book now and for future researchers examining the history of the hobby.

Over the next three chapters, Playing at the World reviews the history of fantasy literature and the role it plays in the default setting of D&D, the lineage of wargames in history and how their systems for the recreation and resolution of real events were considered, discarded, or adopted into the mechanics of the game, and, lastly, the evolution of role-playing as a learning tool and entertainment outlet, and why this is important in D&D’s leap from being just another wargame into something entirely different.

Although the book’s middle three chapters will be slow-going for some, I consider them the most important ones in the text. Peterson does a superb job of establishing the social and political context in which role-playing developed, something that is often overlooked by other attempts to document the history of the game. In the future, when scholars find themselves even further removed from the cultural atmosphere of the middle to late 20th century, it will be all too easy to miss the impact these elements played on society at large and the game in particular. Playing at the World’s chapters—especially its coverage of fantasy literature boom of the 1960s and the insular and argumentative science-fiction fan organizations of this period—will serve as an important reminder of those influences.

Having documented this important ground, Peterson then picks up the story of D&D once again and the role-playing titles that followed in its wake, culminating the book with an examination of the early efforts to take RPGs into the digital world.

Considering Peterson’s decision to cite the written historical record in his research and the sources he cites in the bibliography, I find that I simply cannot fathom the cost in both time and money he must have accrued in writing the book. Allowing that the written record of this period rests largely in small, amateur-produced fanzines and newsletters, many of which with near microscopic print runs, Peterson nevertheless ran many of them to ground in his research. Luckily for us, the reader, Playing at the World not only gives us a glimpse into the contents of some of these rarities, but Peterson also maintains a blog where he posts images culled from his sources.

In the interest of fairness, I did come across two minor errors in Peterson’s research, but both were inconsequential to the argument he proposes and small faults are a given in a book of this length.

While I believe that we’ve yet to see the definitive book on the history of role-playing (and concede that it’s likely we never will), Playing at the World comes very near to being that book and will undoubtedly serve as an important cornerstone for future attempts to document the story of Dungeon & Dragons. I unhesitatingly recommend the book to any gamer with a devoted interest in the history of wargames and role-playing games, but would dissuade casual readers—especially those lacking any exposure with the hobby at all—from choosing Playing at the World as an introduction into the sometime bizarre and incomprehensible pastime of ours. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Affairs: See “State of”

It’s safe to say that August 2012 won’t go down as a banner month of posting here at the Society. Somehow, the entire last few weeks of unofficial summer here in the Northern Hemisphere slipped by without much activity around these parts. Such is the nature of blogging, especially when you’ve been doing it for four years now.

This dearth of regular postings does not reflect a lack of activity on my part, however. Quite frankly, I’m busier than ever writing, designing, planning, scheduling, corresponding, and brainstorming on new projects. If the OSR is in fact dead as the naysayers would have you believe, somebody neglected to inform my inbox of that fact! I’d appreciate it if you all kept it on the QT as well since I’m having a lot of fun keeping busy with the work.

So, like a neglectful boyfriend, I find myself needing to explain why I haven’t written you all lately. Hopefully, I haven’t damaged our blogger-reader relationship irrevocably, even if I’ve been catting around with other slutty projects on the side.

As long-time readers and fans of The Dungeon Alphabet undoubtedly know, Goodman Games and I are deep in cahoots. The lion’s share of work that’s been occupying my time has been for Joseph Goodman and the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. My adventure “The Undulating Corruption” debuted in this year’s Free RPG Day release from Goodman, but it’s not the first adventure I wrote for the game. That honor belongs to Emirikol Was Framed! which should be on the shelves of your finer FLGS either this month or next depending on when the printer gets finished with it. I’ve seen the layout of the adventure, including Doug Kovacs’ excellent maps and player handouts, and I’m mighty pleased how it’s all turned out.

When I took the job of writing Emirikol, I knew I was putting myself in the crosshairs. When you’re dealing with one of the iconic images of the hobby, you’ve got to accept that people are going to have their own expectations firmly in place before they even get a look at the damned thing. Early speculation pegged it as a parody module, but it’s absolutely not. It’s a solid, pulp sword & sorcery adventure, one where Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would be at home. My hope is that once people get a chance to read it (or better yet, play it), Emirikol will be judged on its own merits. Time will have to tell.

In addition to Emirikol, I’ve completed two more adventures for DCC. One is The Sea Queen Escapes!, a nautical-themed adventure with a deliciously evil twist for the judge to spring on his players. The second is a more traditional “stop the evil brotherhood” dungeon crawl. I’m not sure if I can make any formal announcement regarding its content or title, but regular readers can probably speculate on its subject matter if you recall what I’ve play-tested at conventions this year.

These two are not the end of my scribbling for DCC RPG either. Contracts have been signed for at least two more adventures by yours truly and they’ll take us safely into the heart of 2013. I’m also doing work for a third-party DCC RPG release entitled Tales From the Fallen Empire to be published by Chapter 13 Press. Suffice to say, if you enjoy my work and DCC RPG, you’ll be a happy camper for the foreseeable future.

The DCC RPG stuff is in addition to two more books I’ve written for Goodman (well, one and half, really). Next month sees the release of the expanded version of The Dungeon Alphabet, available in both the regular and limited-edition covers. The third printing is 33% larger than the original and features new art in addition to eight more entries covering other classic dungeon tropes we couldn’t squeeze into the original. I think “T is also for Treasure Chests” is worth the price alone, especially when you see Holloway’s accompanying illustration, but there’s plenty more to inspire in there as well.

The second book in the schedule is The Adventurers’ Almanac, a title in the same vein as The Dungeon Alphabet. It’s not a “this is how you do it” text, but one written to inspire the referee and get the creative juices flowing. I had a lot of fun writing this one. A system-neutral supplement, The Adventurer’s Almanac provides an entire year’s worth of adventure seeds, monsters, interesting NPCs, magic items, weird events, strange celebrations, and other juicy morsels to season your campaign world. It’s also a big book, much larger than The Dungeon Alphabet, so you’re bound to find something in there to suit your purposes. The release date is not yet set on the book, but hopefully it’ll be available the first or second quarter of 2013.

As part of the grand plan to make DCC RPG your game of choice in 2013, I’m going on the convention trail throughout the fall and winter of this year and a lot of the next. I’ll be running play-tests, demo sessions, and regular games at various locales along the East Coast (or as we here call it, the “Right Coast”). The process of hammering out dates and appearances is still ongoing, but there’s a better chance than usual I might be in your neck of the woods in the months ahead if you rub shoulders with the Atlantic Ocean. More on these appearances as things get finalized.

Putting my Goodman Games projects aside for now, I still find I’ve got irons in the fire, on the anvil, or quenching in the bucket. As mentioned previously, I wrote an urban fantasy game for Goblinoid Games and the play-test period of that is at an end. No official word from Dan Proctor on it yet, but if you’re a fan of Hellblazer, Clive Barker, or classic film-noir, I encourage you to check this one out once it’s available.

I’ve not forgotten poor old Stonehell Dungeon either. I recently squeaked past the halfway point on the manuscript (thirteen quadrants are finished and there’s thirteen to go) and I’m desperately trying to ride the downhill inertia to completion. For those of you playing along at home, this means that Stonehell 2 is three quadrants larger than its predecessor. Even when the manuscript is finished, there’s still a lot to be done (cartography, editing, layout, and proofs) before it gets the green light for sale. I remain hopeful that it gets completed this year, but it’ll be close.

I decided that I won’t be doing a Kickstarter for the book, although that has been suggested. It’ll be in the same style as the original to keep the aesthetics identical and the cost down. If you own the first book, you know exactly what to expect. Perhaps, somewhere down the line, I’ll go back and combine the two books into a prestige version, but that’s so far over the horizon at this point you can barely even see it from space.

Finally, I’m writing my own role-playing game and expect to have the first draft of the rules and setting completed in the next two months. After that, I intend to spend a year in play-testing to make sure the wheels don’t fall off before offering it up for public consumption. It is not a retro-clone and it isn’t even a traditional fantasy game. Despite this, I’m designing it with old school sensibilities in mind. My goal is to keep it simple and flexible, and to leave as much agency in the referee’s hands as possible when running it. I hope to have a formal announcement as well as a design & promotion blog ready in October.

There’s more things going on, but I’ve already taxed your time and interest enough with this post. Besides, I’ve got work to do. I’m eagerly anticipating the fall months as they’re not only my most favorite time of the year, but also my most productive. Hopefully, you’ll reap the benefits of that intellectual harvest in the year ahead.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How Painter, NY Got Its Name

I decided to treat myself this evening and put some design work aside so I could play with my own creations for a change. I’m in the midst of laying the groundwork for a Call of Cthulhu campaign set to start in the late summer/early fall and that means more paranormal fun in Wildwyck County. The first investigation focuses around the small hamlet of Painter, NY. Those of you who have Fight On! #13 will find it in area A3 in the map on the magazine’s back cover.

Half the fun for a Call of Cthulhu Keeper is creating the background and evidence an investigation requires. The following emerged from this enjoyable aspect of writing an adventure, but it’s a little too long to be included in the gazetteer portion of the Wildwyck County series of articles so I’m sharing it here.

Located in the upper northwest part of Wildwyck County is the tiny hamlet of Painter, NY. Situated at the edge of the Catskill Mountains with the towering crags of Windswept Mountain staring down at it, Painter is a quiet and quaint community far off the beaten path. With slightly more than 200 residents in the hamlet’s central community, Painter is only occasionally visited by hunters and outdoorsmen seeking recreation in the wilds of the mountains beyond.

Although the name conjures up images of bohemian artists at work, the town’s name is actually a regional derivation of the word “panther,” and its origin can be traced back to an event which occurred prior to the American Revolution. That tale, recorded by the author Allen Vanderlyn in his book, Curious Tales and Fanciful Legends of Wildwyck County (Royal Oak Press, 1901), appears below:

Simon De Witt had a frightful encounter with the catamounts along the shore of the pond that now bears his name. One of the many brilliant silver oases found throughout our fair county, this pond was conspicuous, in times gone by, for its large trout, and for the numerous deer that took drink from its waters. One day in late summer, De Witt visited the pond in search of deer. He sat beneath a towering tree that stood watch over the pond’s tranquil waters, waiting for his quarry to come. While thus engaged, his attention was drawn to a curious sound above him, and looking up, De Witt glimpsed a large catamount (or as was known in the dialect of the time, a “painter”) perched on a branch directly overhead. The animal stared down at him intently with luminous eyes as if internally discussing the merits of taking De Witt for his supper rather than a succulent doe. Believing there could be no benefit in procrastination, De Witt brought his musket to his shoulder and fired. The next moment he heard the satisfying sound of the great feline hitting the ground at his feet, the turf and fallen leaves now awash in crimson.

The report of his shot startled other feline forms in activity amongst the tree-tops and De Witt feared the wood filled with painters. Fear clutching his chest, the hunter realized his great peril.

Knowing the aversion the cat-tribe bears for water, De Witt waded into the pond up to his waist. As he reloaded his musket, taking great pains to avoid wetting his powder as his endeavored to complete his task with alacrity, De Witt counted no less than five panthers amongst the shoreline trees. This number is uncommon for catamounts, who hunt not like wolves in packs, but as solitary terrors, and the hunter concluded the beasts to be a mother and young; the latter being nearly full-grown yet continuing to follow the older cat on the prowl.

The hunter unleashed a fusillade of shots aimed at his sinuous foes from the pond, bringing down three more of the beasts in swift succession. The other two took to flight and were seen no more. De Witt then waded ashore, skinned the four painters and made his way homeward, sensibly concluding that it was a dangerous locality for the pursuit of a venison supper.

The legend of De Witt’s encounter—spread largely by the hunter himself—became a popular one in the ‘Wyck amongst the homesteaders and eventually grew to be part of the local canon of myths. When the first residents arrived in the area in 1817, they named the nascent settlement after the numerous beasts that legend held ruled the sylvan vale and dubbed the waters that pooled there “De Witt’s Pond” in honor of the legendary hunter.

I’ll leave it up to the reader (and the investigators) to decide whether this story has any truth to it or if it’s just a frontier “tall tale” or perhaps a bit of a red herring devised by a fiendish mind to throw them off the track of what might be really occurring in the shadows of the Catskills. If there is some truth to it, what could it mean? Are there were-panthers prowling the woods of the ‘Wyck? Could there be a temple dedicated to Bast erected by Hyperborean refugees hidden in the mountains? Did De Witt later meet a horrible demise when he wandered into the Dreamlands and found himself in Ulthar? I know, but I’m not telling…

Friday, August 3, 2012

I’m Very Two-Dimensional

So “Of Unknown Provenance” didn’t fund, depriving generations of future gamers the chance to take a wander through the Night Archive. It’s this sort of hole in our shared cultural landscape that allows “The Jersey Shore” to keep airing, people. When society collapses, you’ll regret not forking over that $20.00.

In all seriousness, however, thank you to everyone who did contribute to the campaign and I’m sorry you won’t be seeing the adventure anytime soon. There’s still hope it may appear someday in some form, but I’ve got a heap on my plate to work through at the moment and projects with paychecks attached to them take precedence.

Even though my project didn’t make the final funding cut, I did get a piece of good news this week and it’s something very few other occupants of the OSR tent can list on their resume: I’ve been rendered in comic form in the latest installment of “Marvin the Mage!” Jim Wampler was kind enough to add a cameo appearance of myself in the midst of a tavern brawl. I think this means that the world of Marvin now contains two RPG writers and designers as residents—myself and Tim Kask. The place is certainly going downhill fast!

A very big “thank you” goes out to Jim for including me in a small capacity in comedic schemes of Marvin and his cohorts. You can check out the page here and play “Guess Who Mike Is?” for yourself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The “Jennisodes” Podcast is Now Live

My interview with Jennifer Steen for “Jennisodes” is now up. In it, we discuss an array of topics ranging from how I got into this bizarre hobby, the body of my work, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, The Dungeon Alphabet, Fight On! magazine, this blog, and, of course, “Of Unknown Provenance.” You can listen to my dulcet tones by clicking on this link.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beware of Lampreymen…Suckers

My regular readers know that I’ve penned the upcoming DCC adventure Emirikol Was Framed! and that it’s due for release later this year. What is not common knowledge is that I’ve written a second adventure and that I’m currently working on a third Dungeon Crawl Classics scenario.

The second adventure is entitled The Sea Queen Escapes! and it’s now in the final stages of revisions and playtesting. The cover art is complete and the book is almost ready to go into layout. No release date or formal announcement has yet been issued, but I have permission to talk a little bit about it. You can hear me say a few words about The Sea Queen on an upcoming episode of Jennisodes, and those of you looking for more details about my DCC work, Stonehell Dungeon, and “Of Unknown Provenance” should tune in once that goes live.

As I mentioned, The Sea Queen Escapes! is undergoing playtesting at the moment by certain select groups. One such group played through the adventure this weekend. Amongst the players at the table was Jim Wampler, the mind and pen behind Marvin the Mage! I’ve mentioned Marvin in the past and Grognardia gives old Marv some wordage as well in this post. If you’re not currently reading Marvin, I suggest you point your browser over to and catch up on the fun.

One of the unique monsters featured in The Sea Queen Escapes! are the lampreymen, an sea-going race that makes an appearance early on in the aquatic-themed adventure. Jim Wampler, inspired by the party’s run in with these cold-blooded suckers, created a wonderful illustration of them in his own unique comic style. Both Jim and Joseph Goodman gave me their blessings to share Jim’s work with my readership.

Having no visual artistic talent of my own, it’s always a surprise and an extreme pleasure to see something that existed solely in my head and in written form come to life in an artistic depiction, and Jim’s take on the lampreymen is no exception. I’m digging the bandoleer of pouches this guy’s rockin' as he comes at you with his spear and big old mouth.

Hopefully this small glimpse at just one of the many threats awaiting the PCs inside the cover of The Sea Queen Escaped! “wets” your appetite for more. If you dig this sample of Jim’s work, stop by for a lot more of his stuff and a lot of laughs to boot!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Make the "Not Be"…Be

Those of you who read my post NTRPGCon report know that a little beastie I whipped up, “The Upside-Down, Inside-Out, Thing That Should Not Be,” was illustrated in gruesome detail by Jannell Jaquays as part of the Artists’ Panel. It was a very popular depiction.

At the moment, there’s a vote going on over at the NTRPGCon website to choose one of the illustrations created by the artists to be reproduced as a miniature. Right now, Jannell’s picture is smoking the competition, but I’d really love to see the “Not Be” become a 3D figure I can use to terrorize my players. If you’re a member of the NTRPGCon forums and haven’t voted yet, you can stop in and vote for the “Not Be” right here. In interest of fairness, you might want to take a look at the other four illustrations on the slim chance that you think one is actually cooler than an upside down monster with eyeballs on its feet, its organs on its outside, and a big gaping mouth with a spine for a tongue. Those can be found here.

Your continued support for the bizarre is very much appreciated around these parts!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Third Printing of The Dungeon Alphabet Announced

Goodman Games added the third printing of The Dungeon Alphabet to their “Coming Soon” lineup today, and I’m passing the word along to you fine folks. To celebrate both the book’s selling out twice and winning the Three Castles Award last year, Goodman Games and I are proud to present you with a new and expanded printing of the old girl. Here’s what GG has to say:

The Dungeon Alphabet compiles inspirational tables on classic dungeon design elements to assist the game master in creating subterranean challenges. This third printing adds eight new topics to the existing twenty-six for thirty-four tables of inspirational materials.

A is for Altar, B is for Books, and C is for Caves: the Dungeon Alphabet has advice, hints, and randomized tables that bring new life to your adventures. 

The entries are accompanied by outstanding art from classic fantasy illustrators and are compatible with all fantasy role playing games. This third printing adds Russ Nicholson to the artist lineup, and also features new illustrations by Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Peter Mullen, Michael Wilson, and Brad McDevitt, including brand new endsheets.

In addition to the regular book, there’s also a limited edition gold foil cover available.

This limited-edition gold foil cover features a beautiful, thematic cover design by fan favorite Stefan Poag! The interior content includes all the improvements of the expanded third printing of The Dungeon Alphabet, including the addition of Russ Nicholson to the artist lineup, and new illustrations by Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Peter Mullen, Michael Wilson, and Brad McDevitt, including brand new endsheets.

With the additional content and art, The Dungeon Alphabet increases size from its former 48 pp. to 64 pp. The “regular” book will retail for $14.99 with the expanded content, which blessedly means the much-reviled “Nice Price” faux sticker is gone from the cover. The limited edition gold foil version will sell for $24.99. You can pre-order the book now at the Goodman Games website.

And since I already anticipate the question, no, I didn’t make up new letters of the alphabet to expand the book! New entries include “P is also for Potions,” “S is also for Stairs, and “T is also for Treasure Chests.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let’s Talk “Of Unknown Provenance”

I had a revelation this week: I suck at self-promotion. I’ll talk your ear off about whatever cool widget or book that’s coming down the pike that has my attention, but when it comes to plugging my own work, I need a PR guy. A media assassin. Harry Allen, I gotta ask him.

This satori luckily coincided with the fact that I did an interview for Jennisodes to help plug “Of Unknown Provenance” and the rest of my upcoming projects. I’ll provide a helpful link once it goes live, but, in the meantime, let’s take a closer look at “Of Unknown Provenance” and the madness behind the method. Maybe once you see what’s going on in my head, you might be willing to help turn it from a flight of phantastical whimsy to an actual dead tree thing.

First of all: provenance. It’s not a word that gets tossed around a lot, so a definition is in order. In short, provenance is the chain of ownership behind an item. In the art, archival, and collecting worlds, knowing the provenance of something is extremely invaluable when determining its worth. Was that painting owned by a dear friend of the artist? Was is purchased through legitimate channels or did it just appear one day on the market without documented ownership? Establishing a clear provenance is very important in legitimate dealings and collecting, so already you have an idea that this adventure concerns people, places, and things not at all concerned with how they got their paws on the items in question.

When James approached me to participate on the project, his orders were pretty loose. In fact, they boiled down to “do whatever the hell you want if it’s cool.” Now, that’s a constraint I can work with! So with that direction in mind, I started brainstorming. Do a dungeon crawl? No thanks, been doing too much of that with Stonehell and I need to expand my horizons. Hex crawl? Extraplanar adventures across time and space? Again, not really that exciting for me at the moment.

The hackneyed old phrase in writing is “Write what you know.” As some of you are aware, I’m an archivist by trade when not churning out RPG books and it’s a career and institution that doesn’t get a lot of play. I think that outside of the Nick Cage “National Treasure” film, I can’t recall the last time either archivists or archives got a fair shake in popular entertainment. And so, I decided to correct that.

Archives, like museums, are repositories of items and documents with “intrinsic historical value.” They’re places to stash stuff you want to preserve, but don’t necessarily want to lock away forever. A place to keep the grubby hands of the everyman away the good stuff and let those qualified to handle and appreciate it do so under controlled conditions. As John Constantine once said about the British Museum, “It’s where they keep the loot.”

As we all know, loot and adventurers go together like gin and tonic, so the concept of introducing such a store house—combined with my own experience in the trade—seemed like a natural fit. Riffing off that idea, I started thinking about the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the GURPS supplement Warehouse 23, and the Sci-fi series Warehouse 13. What red-blooded, greedy adventurer wouldn’t want a chance at prying open some of those crates and seeing what might be worth taking? OK, I think we’re on to something here.

James Raggi has also been charting a different course for Lamentation of the Flame Princess as of late, setting-wise. From my view, he’s been moving away from your standard pseudo-medieval fantasy setting and looking towards the 15th and 16th centuries, a time when rampant imperialism and the subjugation of anyone unfortunate enough to live in an area possessing value to those empires was commonplace. That tied into the concept of a storehouse of esoteric loot. After all, once the caretakers of such cultural artifacts have been exterminated, who’s left to keep their “quirks” under control? Best to stick those things somewhere safe until somebody can puzzle that out. I’ll also now break a cardinal rule of writing and design that states you should always obscure your sources by saying that Blue Oyster Cult’s Imaginos album, specifically “Magna of Illusion” plays an important role in defining my course for “Of Unknown Provenance.”

Those of you familiar with my Stonehell know that I’m very big on modular design, and not what one usually means when referring to “game modules.” I enjoy telling a big story, but I also realize that not everyone wants to listen to the whole tale, preferring only to take the chapters that interest them instead. “Of Unknown Provenance” will reflect that same design philosophy.  To accommodate that goal, I found myself drifting back to the old horror/sci-fi anthologies of my youth: Tales from the Dark Side, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Friday the 13th: the Series, and even Freddy’s Nightmares. “Of Unknown Provenance” is an homage to those shows, featuring a central adventure “plot” (for lack of a better word) comprised of several smaller vignettes that twine together to give the players multiple views of what’s happening at the Night Archive. So, if you’re the referee and have no interest in the big picture, there’s going to be lots to loot from this adventure. I’ll even provide the dotted lines for you to cut along when you take out your mental scissors.

I’m still not settled on an “appropriate for PCs of levesl X through X” for the adventure and won’t be until the fingers hit the keys and start exploring the Archive, but likely this one’s going to end up in the “PC sweet spot” of 6th-8th level.

You can hear me talk some more about “Of Unknown Provenance” once the Jennisodes podcast goes live, but in the meanwhile, I hope I’ve given you all a little peek at what to expect from the adventure. If this helps you decide you want to make “Of Unknown Provenance” a reality, hop over to IndieGoGo and make a contribution. My thanks go out to everyone who’s already contributed based solely on my name and the thumbnail description I provided. Hopefully you and the rest of the gaming world will get a crack at the Night Archive and discovering why it’s the uncertain things that make life so interesting.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cure Humorous Wounds

High art, this is not, but I know some referees will introduce this particular bit of wonderworking into their campaigns with tremendous glee. Think of it as a companion piece to my long-forgotten One Hundred Random Ridiculous Magic Items Table.

Cure Humorous Wounds (reversible)
Level: 1
Duration: Permanent
Range: Touch

This potent but specific spell cures a single character or creature (including the caster) of all damage suffered from one or more wounds. However, the injuries healed must be humorous in nature. Any injuries sustained in a less than entertaining fashion are unaffected by this spell.  Whether a wound is considered humorous is left to the Labyrinth Lord’s discretion, but suggested comical wounds include an arrow in the buttocks, a sharp blow to the genitals, injuries sustained from custard pies, and other similar damage. If the majority of the players (not characters) succumb to laughter as a result of the wound, it is also considered humorous.

Cause humorous wounds (reverse of cure humorous wounds) inflicts a single injury on a creature if the caster touches his opponent and the victim fails a saving throw vs. spells. The exact nature of the wound can be determined by the Labyrinth Lord or by rolling on the table below:

1) Shot to the Danglies: Lose all actions for one turn automatically. Each subsequent round, the target must make a save vs. paralysis to recover. If the save is failed, the creature loses another round of action as he/she/it groans in pain.

2) Hot Foot: Target’s boot/foot/hoof/etc. catches fire causing them to hop about comically for 1d4 rounds or until they extinguish the appendage. The small fire inflicts 1 point of damage each round.

3) Eye Poke: Woo-woo-woo! Target is poked in the eyes and cannot see for 1d4 rounds. All attacks and saving throws are at a -2 penalty.

4) Mallet to the Head: A hammer of force descends upon the target, smiting them upon the pate. If wearing a helmet, the basinet is crushed and forced down over the victim’s eyes, blinding them until it can be removed with a successful STR check. Target’s without helmets are stunned for 1d4 rounds and illusionary, tweeting birds circle the victim’s head.

5) Tongue Grab: A hand of force grasps the victim’s tongue and yanks. A successful DEX check must be made to remain standing. Spell-casters are unable to perform magic for 1d4 rounds afterwards.

6) Atomic Wedgie: An unseen presence yanks the victim’s undergarments upward with great violence, reducing their movement rate to the next lowest speed and inflicting a +2 penalty to AC. This effect lasts for 1d4 rounds or until the victim spends a full round readjusting their undergarments. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Wanted: 265 Fans with $20 to Spare

There's been some talk going on in the ether about James Raggi's massive July crowdsourcing campaign. Some are sure he's mad, others believe he can pull it off. Me, I'm certainly hoping that the later faction is correct because I really want see the funky ideas I have for "Of Unknown Provenance" see the light of day.

Over at Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog, I read two comments that made my afternoon:

"The names he has writing adventures are "famous" in their own rights. Does Monte Cook have 300 fans willing to pay $20 for his adventure? Does Michael Curtis?" -- Ramanan Sivaranjan

"Of course a Michael Curtis + LotFP module would sell 300+ copies over a reasonable period of time." -- Guy Fullerton

So the question remains, and only my readers and fans can answer it: Are there 265 of you would plunk down $20 bucks for a printed copy and a PDF of "Of Unknown Provenance" and make the adventure a reality? You've got 25 days to make it happen. If it does, know that I remain deeply humbled and honored that you folks would give up the cost of a movie and snacks for me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Of Unknown Provenance on IndieGoGo

James Raggi has kicked off a campaign to get nineteen adventures for Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG funded in the month of July. The would-be authors of these works runs the gamut from industry professionals, up-and-comers, and a few wild cards one wouldn’t expect to see lending their names to a roleplaying game supplement.

One of the names that falls somewhere in that range is my own. Provided the funding is achieved, I’ll be writing an adventure entitled “Of Unknown Provenance.” They say write what you know, so I decided to use a forgotten, near-legendary repository of items with intrinsic – as well as pecuniary—value as the adventure’s framing device. It’s also my nod to certain anthology shows like Tales from the Darkside and Friday the 13th: The Series. The teaser is as follows:

In certain occult circles, sorcerers still trade tales of the Night Archive. Known as a repository for artifacts deemed too perplexing or too dangerous for mortal minds to safely comprehend, the Night Archive was a vault of wonders tended by the devoted few who dedicated their lives to the custody of the macabre and inscrutable. But history, like the weird inks that stain arcane grimoires, is prone to fading and the Night Archive slipped into the mists of legend. 

Now, as the stellar wheel turns above and the sign of Herthas rises once more, rumors spread that the location of the Night Archive is again known by Man. The fate of its collection and the caretakers charged with its keeping remains a mystery, but for those who deduce the vault’s location, a treasure trove of magic surely lies for the taking…

I’m really looking forward to penning this one, so please, if you’re interested in seeing it brought to life, consider kicking in to help fund the adventure. While you’re doing so, check out the rest of the adventures currently up for funding and see if they also pique you’re interest. Both I and the rest of the authors would be extremely grateful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Throwing Rocks in Texas (Part Four)

Matt Finch runs Mythrus Tower
After “Expect the Unexpected” wrapped up, I had time to grab an early dinner before I started preparing for my Saturday night game of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Unfortunately, that meant I had to skip the Artists’ Panel scheduled right after “Expect the Unexpected.” I’d be kicking myself for this a little later.

My belly filled and my scenario, pre-gens, and accoutrements together, I slipped back to the Longhorn Room in time for the NTRPGCon Auction and—more importantly—the announcement of the winner of the 2012 Three Castles Award. Regular readers already know I won in absentia last year for The Dungeon Alphabet and was a co-nominee this year for Realms of Crawling Chaos with Dan Proctor. 

Unfortunately, I was tipped early that Realms was probably not going to win when Doug asked me to present the award since I was in town. Disappointing, but I expected my name in the mix again was unlikely to result in another award.

Jim Ward runs Dragonlairds on Sunday morning
Doug and Mike introduced me prior to the auction and I threatened the audience with reading the hour-long acceptance speech I wasn’t able to deliver last year and got some laughs. I then pointed out that if I neglected to announce this year’s winner, the award was technically still mine. All laughter aside, it was an honor to finally be able to thank some of the judges in attendance and those of you who’ve supported The Dungeon Alphabet with your dollars and glowing reviews. It was with a mixture of pride and sadness that I passed the torch on to Kevin Crawford for Stars Without Number. Congratulations, Kevin!

Having already blown most of my budget (or so I told myself), I slipped out after the award announcement and finished up the last little details of preparing for my DCC session of “The Fane of St. Toad” scheduled immediately after the auction concluded. I had my Brave Halfling Old School Game Box (the Erol cover, natch, and now signed after “Emirikol”) stuffed to the gills with DCC notes and was ready to roll.

Saturday night games at cons are always dicey (and not in the good way). Exhaustion and drinks take their tolls and not everyone makes it to the table. My game had seven players registered, but only three from the list turned up. Luckily for me, I had three other eager players accost me before the game and beg seats, which the low turnout allowed me to grant them. Unlike “Emirikol,” whose players were largely unfamiliar with DCC, five of the six players at “St. Toad” had copies of the rulebook with them and at least passing acquaintance with the rules. After a quick rules overview, we hit the ground running.

“The Fane of St. Toad” is the first full-length adventure I wrote after getting involved with the OSR and it is dedicated to Dave Arneson. I hadn’t looked at it since I started working on Stonehell, and I always get a little nervous revisiting old work. Surprisingly, it still worked for me. I updated it to DCC, smoothed out a couple of rough edges, and made some changes so that it wouldn’t be completely predictable to someone who had read the original. In my own opinion, it turned out great.

Those red words: all toads
The players spent very little time exploring the upper level of the Fane (but enough time for them to soak up the ambiance), heading down the Undercroft where they rightly concluded the good treasure was. Down there, they encounter really, really crappy mummies (my Zocchis were again rolling cold and I couldn’t strangle a poor sap to death to save my life), tore up a creepy orgy chamber (and inadvertently discovered a cache of vials when they struck off a particular protrusion from a statue), and then faced down a big honking cavern of toads. The battle was pitched against the hopping menace, but with a lot of spellburning and sleep spells, and charm spells, they overcame the toads—but not before the halfling in the party found the “sleeping” avatar of St. Toad and decided to battle it hobbito a toado.

In an eerie repeat of “Emirikol,” the elf in the party called down the power of his patron and the party was near indestructible for many, many rounds and enjoyed a healthy bonus to their rolls to boot. I did manage to get the cleric swallowed by the avatar, but out-of-the-box thinking with a Word of Command (“vomit!”) got him out of its belly and the Toad was slain, leaving the party very rich and the session at an end. Alas, I didn’t get to sic the giant Toad idol on them as they tried to leave with their booty.

The Not-Be by Jennell Jaquays
During a break in “St. Toad” I ran into Tim again and he started talking to me about something called a “Not-Be” and I honestly had no clue what he was going on about. Finally, the penny dropped. A couple months before the convention, Bad Mike sent the word out that the con was looking for funky, unique monster submissions to present to the artists during the Artists’ Panel for them to draw. The end results would eventually be judged, featured in an adventure, and the winner would have a miniature sculpted of the monster. When I read the call for monsters, I drafted up a quick entry: “The Upside-Down, Inside-Out Thing That Should Not Be” or “Not-Be” for short. It turned out that Jennell Jaquays brought the “Not-Be” to grisly, two-dimensional life at the Artists’ Panel and it was a big hit. And I missed the whole thing.

The rest of the evening, although late, was a lot of fun. I talked up my upcoming releases from Goodman Games with the DCC players and signed a few books before heading back to the ballroom. There I talked about Stonehell with Bad Mike, editing with Tim, and got the lowdown on Jennell’s next professional leap (and got to see the “Not-Be” for myself). The hour was late and after collecting my winnings from the silent auction (Call of Cthulhu 5.6.1 autographed by Sandy Petersen, Secret of San Fransico, and Cthulhu Dark Ages—what can I say? I love me some Call of Cthulhu and spent less than I would have at the store), I called it a night.

Erol, a gorilla, and I wait for the shuttle to the airport
Sunday was all about saying hello and saying goodbye. Frank Mentzer introduced me to Peter Kerestan of Palace of the Vampire Queen and Wee Warriors fame. I had breakfast with Steve Winter and my favorite fan from Gary Con, Zach Glazer (after chatting with Erol Otus and Jeff Dee while waiting for my breakfast to arrive). Allan Grohe introduced me to Chris Holmes, son of J. Eric Holmes, who turned out was one of my fellow cavemen in “Expect the Unexpected” and we got to playtest Chris’ board game of “Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies vs. Monkeys” (or something like that). The Ninjas won, but not before proving that if you really want to playtest the beejezus out of a game, Allan and I will put it through its paces.

There were of course many people I didn’t get to say good-bye to or spend enough time talking to during the con, but hopefully 2013 will correct all that. I’m going to try like hell to make it down again next year. Writing this close to three weeks after the events of the convention, there are many events, people, and good conversations I’m forgetting, but I do want to thank all my fellow attendees for welcoming this New Yorker down to Texas. The fact that so many of you took the time to introduce yourself and compliment me on my work (and demand autographs!) means a lot to me. For those of you who don’t do it as a vocation, writing is an extremely lonely pursuit and it’s usually just me vs. the computer screen. Getting out and meeting people who my work has brought some entertainment to means the world to me and so long as you keep wanting more, I’ll keep writing it.

Thank you all!