Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dexcon 17 and OSWARP in New Jersey (July 4th Weekend)

On Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be heading across the mighty Hudson River to the hinterlands of Northern New Jersey for DEXCON, specifically to take part in OSWARP (Old School Wargames and Role-Playing) mini-convention. It will be playtests galore as I bring the first two parts of The Four Phantasmagorias DCC RPG adventure series to the table, and the second playtest of my upcoming METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA adventure. Event registration is now live, so if you’re in the tri-state area and looking for some Old-School gaming (and are free Fourth of July weekend), consider coming on down.

In addition to my own humble presence with DCC RPG and MA, old-school games such as D6 Star Wars, classic Traveller, Swords & Wizardry, Stars Without Number, OD&D, AD&D, Adventures Dark & Deep, Call of Cthulhu, and Champions are on tap, as are a bevy of new school games and classic wargames. I’m still hashing out the details of my weekend, but I’ll certainly be around for Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday.

Here’s the scoop on what I’m running:
R0235: Dungeon Crawl Classics; "The First Phantasmagoria" presented by Michael Curtis. An OLD SCHOOL Game - Part of the OSWARP Mini-Convention at DEXCON 17! Strange symbols appear on you flesh and the most learned minds in the realm cannot fathom why. Perhaps those eldritch priests who serve the Great Dreaming God, Cthulhu, can help decipher them. What could possibly go wrong there? "The First Phantasmagoria" is the beginning adventure in a multi-part adventure saga from Goodman Games. Thursday, 8:00PM - 12:00AM; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Fun, All Ages. 
R0269: METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA (1976); "Level of the Lost" presented by Michael Curtis. An OLD SCHOOL Game - Part of the OSWARP Mini-Convention at DEXCON 17! A formerly sealed section of the Warden has been opened and rumor has it that one of the fable command rings awaits beyond the entrance. Does your band of explorers have what it takes to overcome the hazards of the Level of the Lost and emerge with this potent artifact? This adventure is highly dangerous, but highly fun! Friday, 2:00PM - 6:00PM; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Fun, All Ages. 
R0288: Dungeon Crawl Classics; "The Second Phantasmagoria" presented by Michael Curtis. An OLD SCHOOL Game - Part of the OSWARP Mini-Convention at DEXCON 17! Venture back to the Drowse to enter the Forest of Childish Delights. Inside lies another part of your quest for the Four Phantasmagorias. But things (and people) turn weird once they cross the verge of the woods, so be forewarned. This may make overcoming the eclectic collection of enemies birthed from bloodstained fairy tales a tad difficult to overcome. "The Second Phantasmagoria" is the second adventure in a multi-part adventure saga from Goodman Games. Friday, 8:00PM - 12:00AM; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Fun, All Ages.
Hope to see some familiar faces (I know I will just looking at the folks who are running games) and to meet new gamers. Feel free to bring stuff for me to deface if you want my scrawl on something. Depending on my final schedule, I may actually play something this time around, too.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Chained Coffin Kickstarter or Your Fantasy Appalachia Campaign in a Box

There is a Kickstarter currently underway for my forthcoming DCC RPG adventure DCC #83 The Chained Coffin. Why is Goodman Games conducting a Kickstarter rather than simply publishing the adventure as they’ve done eighty-two times before? Good question.

It began with a little puzzle lock idea I included in the original manuscript. An ancient and long-sealed door bears a combination lock puzzle that needs bypassing in order to get through the mighty valve. My initial plan was to have the puzzle illustrated in three pictures that could be printed out or photocopied, and then the judge would assemble the wheel by hand to give to the players to monkey with. Joseph Goodman thought we could go one better and inquired with the printers whether it was possible to create such an item and have it included with the adventure. It was, but it would take a little doing, and thus the Chained Coffin Kickstarter campaign was launched.

That was the humble beginning of a project that is now dreaming big dreams and asking the DCC fans for help achieving that objective. Joseph and I discussed various stretch goals to help drive the Kickstarter, and I admitted that I had a lot of stories waiting to be told in the Shudder Mountains, that fantasy Appalachia analog inspired by the works of Appendix N author, Manly Wade Wellman. I originally told Joseph that if the adventure proved popular, I’d like to revisit the setting again in a sequel. If all goes well, I might not have to wait that long.

It has come to pass that The Chained Coffin may be destined for greater things that a simple 32 pp. adventure. If the fans desire it, The Chained Coffin could become a mini-campaign boxed set, one that includes a large 11”x17” regional map, a gazetteer describing the Shudder Mountains, and, in addition to The Chained Coffin adventure, a pair of secondary adventures designed to begin play in the region as zero-level PCs and to encounter later in their adventuring careers.

Needless to say, if this “campaign in a box” idea becomes a reality and is well-received by the fans, it may begin a new trend with DCC RPG. People have been clamoring for an official DCC RPG campaign world (whether a new one or a revised version of Aereth, Goodman’s original campaign world for the 3E DCC adventures) and this could be the first of several steps to make that happen.

DCC RPG encourages judges to abandon the notion that the campaign world needs to be a vast, sprawling expanse filled with countless cities and diverse ecospheres. Instead, DCC RPG suggests taking a smaller approach and limiting the campaign to a compact region, like a duchy, a minor stretch of wilderness, or even a single valley. The Shudder Mountains are precisely this style of world design: a finite area filled with enough adventuring ideas, unusual locals, and unique critters to meet the needs of long-term play.

A series of “campaign boxes” would allow judges to pick and choose what they want to include in their campaign worlds, rather than be given the full world treatment common to most pre-packaged fantasy campaigns. To continue with an Appalachian-themed metaphor, you’d get the patches to make the quilt rather than the whole blanket, and could assemble them using only the squares of color that catch your interest. Not into Egyptian-themed adventuring regions? Then there’s no need to spend the buy that campaign module (although if I wrote that one, I hope you would anyway). Love the idea of sword-and-planet type adventures? Pick up the hypothetical “Perils of the Purple Planet” themed set. And so on down the line.

This way, the folks who want a sense of a shared campaign world could have one—if they so desired—while the maniacal homebrewed campaign designer could pick and choose, utilizing material from the sets that captured their interest whole cloth or just the portions they liked. It’s an interesting concept and I believe it would be useful to game masters of not just DCC RPG, but other fantasy games as well.

As it stands now, The Chained Coffin Kickstarter needs to meet a goal of $36,000 dollars to make the boxed set a reality. But even if it fails to hit that mark in the two-weeks-and-change remaining, there’s still a plethora of goodies already funded. As of this morning, a $30 pledge entitles you to:

1) DCC RPG #83 The Chained Coffin with a special silver foil cover.

2) A stand-alone spinning wheel puzzle dial along with five other ways to utilize the device in your campaign beyond the original door lock.

3) Additional source material including a patron write-up for “Ol’ Blackcloak,” a powerful entity encountered in the adventure.

4) A mini-gazetteer of the Shudder Mountains region.

5) Several pages of added random encounters in the Shudder Mountains.

6) Two full pages of Doug Kovacs’ illustrated player handouts.

7) Seven alternate versions of the Bad Lick Beast, another challenging denizen of the Shudder Mountains.

8) Two more pages of player handouts.

9) A zero-level adventure complete with Shudder Mountain regional starting occupations.

10) The Almanac of the Shudder Mountains (working title) that compiles the additional background material into a single, digest-sized supplement for ease of reference during play. The Almanac includes several new monsters waiting to meet the players.

Still awaiting funding are:

11) $18,000: The Almanac will be expanded to include Magic of the Shudder Mountains. 
12) $20,000: The Almanac will be upgraded to 24 pages of normal letter-sized pages, and will be expanded to include even more gazetteer material. 
13) $25,000: We'll add in another mini-adventure in the Shudder Mountains that fills the gap between your level 0 characters and the level 5 Chained Coffin module.
14) $30,000: The Almanac will be expanded with another 8 pages of gazetteer material further expanding the Shudder Mountain region.
15) $35,000: We'll print an 11"x17" poster map of the Shudder Mountains region.
16) $36,000: We'll print a full-color box to hold it all! The Shudder Mountains gazetteer and adventure path will be complete. This two-part box (i.e., complete with "box and lid," both in color) will hold your copy of the module, the Almanac, the poster map, and the bonus mini-adventure. With some room to spare! 
I’m immensely proud of the work I’ve done with the Shudder Mountains. You can hear me gush about the project a bit on the latest Spellburn podcast (note that the stretch goal tiers have been reduced in cost since that episode was recorded—you get an even better deal for your money!). It’s not every day one gets the play in a world inspired by the evocative works of Manly Wade Wellman and transform 1950s Appalachia into a fantasy setting. I summed up the experience and The Chained Coffin itself in a piece I penned for last year’s Goodman Games Gen Con program:
One of the great joys of writing DCC RPG adventures comes from the game’s commitment to remaining true to the classic pulp-era fantasy and science-fiction stories that inspired fantasy roleplaying, the so-called “Appendix N” tales. And while “sword & sorcery” yarns comprise the lion’s share of Appendix N, they are not the only types of stories found within it. The Chained Coffin derives its inspiration from American folklore, as perceived through the atmospheric works of Manly Wade Wellman. You’ll find no kobolds and orcs in The Chained Coffin, but plenty of restless ghosts, shunned witches and conjure-men, and devils willing to make a deal at midnight, all set against a backdrop of superstition-filled mountains and secluded hollows where the still air smells of pine trees. Heady stuff, indeed, and a far cry from your traditional fantasy RPG fare.
The Chained Coffin stands as my favorite DCC RPG adventure to date. The opportunity to create and then dwell for a time within a region more at home in the eons-old Appalachian Mountains than the fantastical landscapes of Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, and Leiber was a designer’s dream. Hopefully, my personal enjoyment will be shared by you, the judge and player. So gather ‘round the fire, friends, pass the jug this way, and bend an ear to the music of the mountains. There are both horrors and wonders waiting in the Deep Hollows and, if you listen close at midnight, you might just hear a tune or two played on a lonesome fiddle strung with silver strings…
I’m looking forward to the opportunity to expand on the material I’ve already conjured up. Hopefully, if share an interest and want to be part of it, we’ll make the boxed set a reality. Please share this post or the Kickstarter page with similar like-minded folk if you would. I’d be most appreciative if you help me turn the Shudder Mountains into a place that spawns a hundred new DCC RPG campaigns. I’ll sign off now and let you go take a gander at the Kickstarter and weigh your decision. But before you depart, allow Leadbelly to put you in the appropriate state of mind:

Thanks, friends. See you in the Shudders.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Last, Long Mile of the Stonehell 2 Journey

I've been keeping the masses informed about the progress of the Stonehell Dungeon sequel over on the books' Facebook and Google+ pages, but new milestones have been reached. I thought I'd share that report here, along with a preview of the cover art and links to other associated projects.

Stonehell Two Status Report (5.3.14)

I’m extremely pleased to break the month-long silence with news that all the last elements of the book are coming together. As predicted, I didn’t have much to report as the book’s progress relied on other people’s contributions and wasn’t directly in my hands. It amazing how things move forward when I’m not the one responsible for pushing the project along. This report brings us two big pieces of news: the finalization of the sequel’s cover art and the edited manuscript back in hand.

J.A. D’Andrea, who did the cover of the first Stonehell book, is providing the cover art for the sequel. I’m always greatly impressed by J.A.’s work, but his piece for the sequel really struck a chord. He did a magnificent job of expressing the depths of Stonehell Dungeon and the strange mentality that accompanies those who tread its halls. I’m proud to feature this one on the cover, not only because it’s good, but because having J.A.’s work reappear makes a nice book-end for the Stonehell series. Other pieces of art are also trickling in, meaning that I’ll soon have all the components needed to push on to final layout.

I have also received the edited manuscript back from the outside editor. I’m happy to report that my own three passes over the draft were not in vain and that the editor found only minor corrections that need to be implemented. This was a great relief, as my mind always suspects the worse when I send things off for others to review. However, in this case at least, the worry was unfounded.

Here’s what remains to be done on the punch list:

1) Implement the minor changes required by the manuscript.
2) Collect the last stray pieces of art.
3) Finalize the layout by adding the art, tweaking the format, and including the various legalese, index, credits, and “special thanks to” sections.
4) Compose the cover.
5) Get a printer’s proof made and review it.
6) Make any final changes required by the proof.
7) Publication.

As you can see, there’s still a little work to be done, but we’re heading into the last mile of the journey. Unfortunately, and you knew there had to be an “unfortunately” if you’ve been following this project, I’m running into a time crunch. The success of the Metamorphosis Alpha Kickstarter left me with a few pressing projects that need completion ASAP. I need to get these off my plate before I can attend to the sequel. I also have North Texas RPG Con in a month and must complete the last adventure that needs writing before I get on the plane for Dallas (space remains in at least two of my games if you’re interested). I’d hoped to be able to debut Stonehell 2 at North Texas, but, barring a miracle of time and effort, I doubt this will occur. Rest assured, I’m eager to complete Stonehell 2 and bid a fond farewell to the project. I’ll continue to push ahead when I can and I’ll keep you informed of my progress.

Once again, I thank you for your patience, but know that we’re almost there. In the meantime, I ask anyone who enjoys my work to check out the latest Goodman Games’ Kickstarter for The Chained Coffin, a new adventure penned by me that centers on a hexcrawl through a “fantasy Appalachia” as inspired by the work of Manly Wade Wellman. The Chained Coffin is one of my favorite works to date and I think it demonstrates admirably the goal of DCC RPG going back to the source material of the hobby and doing new and interesting things with the Appendix N material.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


You may have heard the news already, but I’ve yet to chime in on the latest announcement by Goodman Games that emerged from the chaos of Gary Con VI. Yes, it’s true: the original METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA rules as written by James. M. Ward is being re-released in a deluxe collector’s edition!

Late last year, I started receiving some very cryptic emails from Joseph Goodman inquiring about my familiarity with METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA. I knew the game, and had the uncommon honor of adventuring aboard the Warden three times under Jim Ward’s mastery without the loss of life or limb. I was hoping these email were leading in the direction they seemed to be going, and, sure enough, once the legalities and contracts were obtained, I got the invite to climb aboard the doomed Warden for another go-around.

For those of you unfamiliar with METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, it is the original science-fiction roleplaying game released by TSR back in 1976. You play the role of a primitive tribesman aboard the generational starship, the Warden, bound for a distant star. Generations ago, catastrophe struck the Warden, killing a large percentage of the crew and colonists, and mutating many of the survivors. Over time, those left alive on the Warden forgot their original mission and plunged into a state of barbarism. The decline of civilization was so thorough that the survivors forgot they were aboard a starship, and developed tribal communities in self-contained levels of the ship that defined their entire world.

As a player character, you begin the game in these small enclosed worlds but eventually discover the truth of your predicament, acquiring knowledge of the Warden and learning to use many of the weird artifacts (lasers, vibro blades, Geiger counters, etc.) left behind by the original crew. If you survive long enough (a difficult task given the hostility of the mutated creatures that prowl the ship and the lethality of radiation still lingering in places), you may eventually gain control of the ship and perhaps even guide it to safety on a new world.

Although METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA didn’t have a long printing life during the TSR days, the game, unlike the PCs who explore the Warden, proved notoriously hard to kill. METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA is the urtext for GAMMA WORLD, and many of the mutations, mutants, and technology found in that first post-apocalyptic roleplaying game first appeared in MA. And like GAMMA WORLD, a game which has gone through seven or eight editions, METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA endured beyond its original print run. TSR released a version of the game for it AMAZING ENGINE system in 1994, Fast Forward Entertainment published a 25th anniversary edition in 2002, Mudpuppy Games produced the fourth edition in 2006, and there is currently work on a 5th edition of MA by Signal Fire Games. On top of all this, the original 1976 rulebook is available for download and print-on-demand from WardCo.

“So why in the blazes in Goodman Games producing a deluxe collector’s edition of the original rules?” you might ask. The answer is based on playability, longevity, and historical importance.

The original rules, as available from WardCo., are identical to the 1976 TSR release—and that includes the minute font they were printed in. If you’ve never seen the original rulebook, the type is very small and the layout is in dual column format. That might have been a good idea in 1976, but as many gamers get older, their eyes aren’t what they used to be and the tiny type becomes difficult to decipher. The Goodman Games print run will be an oversized 10.5” x 14” book, allowing the original rules to be printed at 110% size. This will alleviate the eyestrain factor.

The Goodman Games version also collects a vast amount of material released for METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA under a single cover. Magazine articles about the game, James M. Ward’s short story, “Footprints in the Sky,” a new introductory adventure, special advice essays written especially for the deluxe edition, and other useful material will all be compiled in the Goodman Games edition. To ensure this material survives, say exposure to cosmic radiation (or regular game use), the deluxe edition will utilized high-quality binding, that used by collegiate text, to keep the book intact for decades to come. It’s a book you’ll be proud to have as part of your RPG collection, yet tough enough to actually use at the table.

The collector’s edition release also allows Goodman Games to provide support for METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA in the form of published adventures, something that MA has been lacking for many years. Four (and maybe five if the Kickstarter hits its stretch goals) adventures released by Goodman Games are planned for METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA in the coming year. The first, The Android Underlords, was available for purchase at Gary Con VI and was written by yours truly. The opportunity to contribute even a little bit to the Warden’s long history was a dream come true for me, and when the creator of the game praised the adventure, it was a fan’s dream come true. If Jim likes it, you know it’s both good and worthy of bearing the METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA title on the cover.

Once the Kickstarter funds, there will be another three adventures produced, one by Jobe Bittman, another by me, and a third by the captain of the Warden, himself, James M. Ward. Should the Kickstarter hit $37,000, a fifth adventure, author to be determined, will be published as well. Even if you decide that the collector’s edition isn’t your cup of tea, you might consider contributing to the Kickstarter to get the complete run of adventures, all of which can be played with the WardCo version of the rules or easily adapted to other RPG systems (like DCC RPG, for instance!).

Before I go, it bears mentioning that the deluxe collector’s edition is being produced under a license that allows a single printing of the book. Once this run is gone, so is the deluxe version. Those who don’t get aboard the Kickstarter now will have to rely on the secondary markets—where it will command an extravagant price—to obtain a copy.

Hopefully, my ramblings have piqued your interest enough to back the Kickstarter, but if not, there are other ways to get involved with the original science-fiction RPG. Consider checking out one or more of the following METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA forums for more information about the game and to meet like-minded mutants:

The Goodman Games forum’s METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA section

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gary Con VI Bound

I’m leaving for the still-wintery Midwest on Wednesday, travelling once again to Lake Geneva, WI to attend Gary Con VI. This year’s convention looks to be a good one for both myself and Goodman Games.

I’m bringing three new DCC RPG adventures to playtest: The Forging of the Ghost Ring, The First Phantasmagoria, and The Second Phantasmagoria. In addition to these three titles, I’ll be running Not Another Night on the Town, the follow-up to the “street crawl” adventure I took on tour with me in 2013. Unfortunately for anyone looking to register at the con, all the seats for those games are filled, but if you’re going to be at the Lodge and are looking to experience DCC RPG, Doug Kovacs will be running various pick-up games during the weekend. One way or another, if you want to play DCC RPG, we’ll find a way to make it happen.

On Friday morning, there will be a special seminar in the bar entitled “What’s New with Goodman Games?” This hour-long event features the Goodman Games’ crew unveiling our secret plans for 2014 and 2015, including a first look at forthcoming art and adventures. The event culminates with the announcement of a “hush hush” project that I’m excited to be part of. A Very Special Guest will join us to help make that announcement. I can say no more.

To add to my already busy schedule, I’ll be running two unofficial game sessions over the weekend. Wednesday night is the return of my Completely Unofficial Pre Gary Con Gamma World Game and Sunday night will see Down Where the Dead Men Go, a Call of Cthulhu game set in my Wildwyck County setting featured in Fight On! magazine. If you’re arriving early or staying late at the Lodge, track me down and I’ll squeeze you in if there’s room.

I’m looking forward to seeing a number of old friends and meeting new ones. As always, if you’ve got something you want me to deface with my scrawl, just ask.

I’ll see some of you in three days!

Stonehell 2 Update

It has been awhile since I posted anything here regarding the progress of Stonehell 2 (or about anything else for that matter). Most of the status reports have been shared via the Stonehell Facebook page and the Google+ page, but I’ve let the blog go fallow. My apologies for that to everyone who chooses to avoid social media. Let me correct my error.

The manuscript and maps for Stonehell 2 are finished and the book is in rough layout. After a couple of editing passes by myself, the book is now in the hands of an outside editor for a final editing and proofing pass. Once this is complete and the last corrections are implemented, I’ll be ready to move the book into the final layout phase in preparation for getting a printer’s proof.

I’m expecting to have all the art by the end of April, and using May to do the layout and proofing of the book. If things go according to plan, I intend to have Stonehell 2 out in the first weekend of June to coincide with NTRPG Con. I’ll have copies in hand down in Texas and the book and PDF will be available through the usual venues.

Needless to say, I’m anxiously looking forward to getting the sequel out into the wild, bringing a project with began five years ago to a long-overdue conclusion. I hate leaving things unfinished and I’m ecstatic Stonehell has defied the obstacles and reached the end of its journey. As we get closer to the finish line, I’ll post here again to keep you up to date on the status of the sequel.

Let me once again extend my thanks for your patience and support, and I hope you enjoy the final Stonehell book as much as the first.