Saturday, November 18, 2023

GOZR: Threat Dice

I just listened to an actual play of GOZR here and it was a hoot, a blast, and a lot of fun. The GM was quick-thinking and had a nice old-west voice going on. He made some good choices too, such as when a player used the vulgar spell Doubt. He had the player make a Magic Roll and if successful he was able to declare what happened.

Anyway, one thing they did kind of surprised me. The GM said that NPCs and monsters basically can't attack or anything unless it is indicated on the Threat Dice. I am not sure if this was a house rule or just a misinterpretation of the game rules.

I went back and re-read page 41 (Creatures). My intention for Threat Dice was that they represent extra things a creature might do. In a sense, this is like GOOZ points for monsters but isn't a limited resource and is less potent. Examples given: Take half damage, take instant action, resist vulgar magic.

But creatures are actors in a scene, just like PCs, and should be able to attack and move and use items normally, regardless of Threat Dice rolls. If your crew is attacked by water-dwelling krolguin, which they were in the actual play, the creatures would get to make attacks each round. They have 2d6 Threat Dice. So the GM would roll 2d6 each round an if a 1-2 is indicated, then one or more of the creatures would do an extra thing, such as shake off half damage on an attack or something unexpected like whip out its own vulgar magic spell.

Also, the special abilities listed for each creature are not limited to Threat. For example, the ickmuck's claws cause sickness. This is not a Threat action, it's just what happens. Any time a gooz is clawed by an ickmuck, they player should probably make a Prowess check to avoid falling sick. If they fail, then they should roll on the Sickness table on page 8 to see how bad it is.

One thing I noticed in this actual play was that the PCs were slaughtering singular enemies with ease. This is because I wanted combat to go quickly! I wanted to have one-shot-kills. The balancing factor is that creatures, especially in numbers, can quickly destroy the PCs via Threat and by high damage rolls.

Let's look at the krolguin again.

You encounter them. GM rolls 3d6 for pack size and gets 12. Each one has 4 HP (or 1d8). If you're using a 1d6 damage weapon, you're going to be doing about 7 to 10 points of damage per hit, on average. You're probably going to kill a krolguin with each strike.

But there are 12 of them. Each round the GM rolls 2d6 for Threat, so very frequently a Threat will occur. Maybe a few of them grab the boat and capsize it. Maybe one of them is a wizard and casts something nasty like Lightning Strike. Things can go wrong very quickly!

But PCs are resilient and have GOOZ to spend. Also, monsters may fail a Morale Check and run away (this happened in the actual play). There are many ways a GM can leverage the rules to make encounters more brutal or less brutal, as the game-story needs.

Anyway, just some quick thoughts. I should start considering a revision of the rules with a few clarifying bits. What is in my head doesn't always come across on the page as clearly as I think it does.

Monday, November 13, 2023

My RPG Folder is a Mole Rat and It Is Naked

A continuation of the fine, fine tradition of randomly opening PDFs in my massive library of RPG PDFs and dashing out my off-the-cuff first impressions. I do this every so often, such as here, here, here, and maybe even here. And other places too.

Today's method: Open the folder marked "new", close eyes, click on something.

The first random file I opened is a Modiphius 2d20 book called Shadow of the Sorcerer.

Even though I actually own physical copies of the first six Conan books in this series, I'm not terribly familiar with it. I don't know the system at all. But it's a BIG DENSE MEATY looking game and I'm intimidated.

Even though there's at least one Simon Bisley cover on this series, the thing overall just isn't barbaric enough for my blood. It looks too much like a vanilla D&D 4e or 5e fantasy game. I want blood, dammit! This feels slightly softened for some reason.

Next up... this looks positively fantastic. I think I probably made a post about this when I first picked it up, maybe on FB or something. Anyway, the design is like an old comic book, which I truly appreciate. The fact that the art and layout is attributed to "R. Dumb" is delicious.

Call of Cthulhu Cosmically Horrific Comix #1 "Sermon of Sludge" is an adventure scenario for use with the classic Call of Cthulhu horror RPG. Like most CoC books, this one richly outlines a situation and presents environs and characters to interact with, all leading to some nasty outcomes. In this case, a comet set to deliver some nasty stuff.

The book has a lot of pre-generated characters, plenty of maps and other handouts, and lots of fun cool art.

Definitely worth having, just to look at if nothing else.

Goose-Gold & Goblins by Patrick Stewart is in my folder. I don't remember ever seeing this or downloading it or anything. But here it is. I opened it and the first pages are just plain text. Most of this is just plain text, I think. Sans the image I posted above. Starts off by letting us know the design goals:

A game you can play across generations.

Violence as a last resort

Challenge matters, threats are real

If in doubt, do it like BX

Use oral culture techniques

Avoid 3rd person, try to use ‘I’ and ‘We’

Geese are treasure

No weapons

Courtesy instead of Charisma

XP for Friends and Food

Pretty good list. Let's you know up front what you are NOT getting into. This will not be a game of dungeon-crawling and monster-slaying. This will be a fairytale type of game, possibly kid-friendly, definitely violence-averse. Cool.

So basically this is a game with a very specific setup. You and all the other players are from the same village or family and your mom is sick. Also, the goose is missing. This is bad because geese are super important and valuable. You must help your mom and get that goose back!

And if you resort to violence anywhere near a goose you're in big trouble because those bastards have a demonic berserker rage mode.

Interesting game concept. I don't know if Patrick developed it beyond this "proto-design" doc from 2020. Here's a blog post he made about it.

Oldskull Game Epansions I: Character Creation by Kent David Kelly is a big fat book of character creation optional rules, tables, and clarifications of existing rules for Old School Essentials, or really any B/X style game. It's got lots of ability score rolling methods, exceptional ability score rules, tables for appearance, alignment and deities, personality, skills, etc. The list goes on.

The book looks fine. It might suffer a little from over-production, IMHO. It has a slight tinge of that early desktop publishing era mania where you felt like you had to use all the buttons on the program. But maybe that's unfair of me. It does not have a garish watermark and the font is easy to read. So I'll back off that a bit. It looks fine. I just don't like the header and footer very much. Something about them is too busy for what the book is and is trying to do.

It has a lot of art, which seems to be a mix of public domain and clip art. And it's all good stuff. I think this is a nice little resource to have in your back pocket if you're gonna run some straight-up D&D type shit.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Tool Talk

Digital drawing I like.
In 2009 I got my first pen tablet. It was a Wacom Bamboo, very small. I loved it so much I upgraded to a Wacom Intuos 4 medium tablet about a year later. I loved that one so much it's still on my desk right now, still in use, still working hard. What a god damn beautiful piece of equipment.

Anyway, prior to going digital I was deeply invested in my art tools. I obsessed over pens and brushes and brush pens and papers. In the 2000s I found that my favorite combination was a mechanical pencil (HB) + PITT brush pen + PITT or Micron .05 pen + Prismacolor markers + Paris Paper for Pens. This was the winning combo on which I drew all of my Pan-Gea art.

I went digital and found it to be so convenient and forgiving I just couldn't bring myself to draw on paper again for years. I mean YEARS. I had a brief period in the 2010s when I was drawing on paper quite a bit, doing stuff for Goodman Games and what-not (they had a no-digital art policy). After that, I switch back and forth but mostly drew digitally. The entirety of GOZR and about 50% of Black Pudding was created using my tablet.

But in late 2022 I suddenly started drawing on paper again. I can't even remember what happened to

Snot slug with Pentel brush.

make me switch. But since then, probably 95% of my art has been done traditionally. Almost all of the art I've created for ZSF (my space fantasy game) is on paper.

In the past week or two I've been sorting all my tools. I have a LOT OF TOOLS. Like, copious numbers of markers, pens, and brush pens. Nibs and brushes. Inks and papers. Some of these had to go away because they were dried out. But others were fine, some just needed a little TLC.

The tools on my desk right now that I'm favoring:

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

PITT Brush Pens

Sailor Profit Brush Pen

And I just revitalized an old fountain pen by Sensa and it has a deliciously smooth line... but it is unreliable as hell. In fact... it stopped working entirely and I can't seem to fix the damn thing.

I picked up a Kuratake brush pen (#50) and it's a dream too. Though, honestly, the line quality isn't any better than the much less expensive Pentel. The main difference is the Kuratake can take an ink converter so you don't have to rely on disposable refills. And it has a metal tube, which feels good.

Kuretake #50 brush pen (not my art or pic).

But I really do love that Sailor Profit brush pen's feel. Though it is a plastic tube, it has the shape and thickness that feels best in my hand. The only issue I have with that one is that the brush tip itself isn't as fine and precise as the Pentel or the Kuratake. It's very strange how much variation there is between these common brush pens, even though, speaking honestly, you can't go wrong with any of them.

Sailor Profit brush pen feels very nice.

In my opinion, if you are interested in trying a brush pen, you absolutely cannot go wrong with a Pentel Pocket Brush. They are very inexpensive and have wonderful tips. However, keep in mind that the Pentel does not take an ink converter. What this means is you'll have to rely on the Pentel ink cartridges.

But there are workarounds. You can refill those empty cartridges using a syringe. There is also a cool tutorial you can find that teaches you how to modify an ink converter to fit into a Pentel body, so you can just use that instead.

An ink converter is just a refillable ink cartridge. Typically you twist the top to suck up ink into the cartridge so you can put it into your pen or brush pen.

A very popular ink converter from Platinum.

You Can Just Play It Once

The title of this post kind of says it all. You don't have to play the same game forever. Shit, there's a lot of games out there! You cannot play them all. But you can play a bunch. Vary it up, try different things. Hell, even if you just commit to doing one game per year that isn't your mainstay, that's a start.

Creators often make a game that is a one-off. They cerate it out of passion, then move on to something else. I do this all the time. Why haven't I created a follow-up to GOZR yet? Because my passion lies elsewhere. I have no commitment to "supporting" that game by producing more material. Every fucking thing you need to play it is in the book, warts and all. Play it once, then put it away if that's what you like. Play it twice, three times, whatever.

But play other games. Play weird games you never heard of. Play games that make you uncomfortable, at least once. Play something you swear you'll hate. Make it a pact with your group: We will play at minimum, one completely different game per year or per six months or whatever feels right.

I started an online gaming group in 2014 that has been meeting every Monday ever since. We've played a shit ton of Labyrinth Lord, but also a shit ton of other games. We played Psi World, My Life With Master, Warhammer, Star Frontiers, The Black Hack, Into the Odd, Fiasco, GOZR, Quantum Lunch, Top Secret, and Bean! for pete's sake. And more.

Richmond Comic & Toy Show

Kenn Minter
Today I went to a comic book show. I don't do that very often. I don't go to cons or shows, pretty much ever. But this was only an hour or less from my house and it was small.

I don't have a ton of experience with comic shows so I can't say the Richmond Comic & Toy Show was fantastic. But I had a good time hanging out with a couple of friends, met some cool artists, and picked up a stack of books. So I call that a success.

Oh, and there were nerds walking around in Star Wars and Sailor Moon uniforms, so that was cool.

Here are the creators I met and interacted with. I spent pretty much all my pocket money on these folks.

Kenn Minter of Near Mint Press with Country Creatures comic.

Bryce Oquaye of Mad Hundreds.

Tressa Bowling, who has some amazing sketch zines.

Ken Kirk doing fun sketches on skateboards and writing comics.

J. D. Thompson with The Hound of Cold Hollow: Vengeance comic.

William Leslie of Blackwill Comics.

Joe Slucher doing fantasy art for Magic: the Gathering.

Hard Justice, by Wes Gift, Bryce Oquaye, and Taylor Esposito.

Tressa Bowling's cool art books.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

OSR Character Sheet Doodle

While drawing in this wee sketchbook I just decided to do a very simple OSR sheet. No room for extras, dammit! This game is about the basics, you losers. Go play 5e if you want squishy drama and backstories, you pieces of shit. If it doesn't fit on an index card you don't need it, you rubes!

Ok, that's enough of my sarcasm. Play your games the way you want, you're valid, etc. Blah blah. And artful character sheets RULE!

Crits or DIE!


Lugs and Snow

When I got back into gaming and dived into doing OSR stuff around 2012, I leaned into it pretty hard. I wrote Howler and Winds of the Ice Forest and other bits with a nod to old school modules and a careful eye toward the rules written in Labyrinth Lord. I started a series in Black Pudding called "Adventures in the North", which started in issue 5 and has a bit in issue 6. But it is incomplete and try as I might I cannot bring myself to finish it.


There's a character class I wrote and turned into a mini-zine for a Gary Con I attended. It was called The Lug. It's basically a big, dumb brute of a guy who has a heart of gold. Essentially Fezzik from Princess Bride. You know the trope. I have often thought I should give The Lug a rendering in Black Pudding, but I can't seem to do it.


It seems to be because these are relics of a decade ago when I was in a very different mindset. I was just discovering the beauty of revisiting old school D&D and it was shiny and new again. And I wanted to put on the aesthetics of that era. I did work. Then I changed and moved on. I have other ideas now and my approach is very different. I can't put myself back into that mindset.

It was a mistake to start Adventures in the North as a multi-part series. I've never been good at maintaining that sort of thing because my inspirations drift over time. It would have been wise of me to do it as a one-shot adventure location instead of an 11-point mini-setting.

The Lug has the same problem. It was a cool idea at the time, but now I think about it... it feels very liming. Your character would be a one trick pony. You bop people on the head and smash things. 

Important Question

Where IS the God of Tits & Wine??

Game of Thrones

Great series. The character-driven pacing is such a brilliant build-up. No show has more absolutely detestable pricks than Game of Thrones.

Too bad this 10/10 performance petered out and landed on a 4/10 sour note, like a toddler who says "I'm gonna stay up all night!" but their wild energy turns to irritation and then slumber.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Dangerous Idolatry

I enjoy discovering new artists and being amazed by what they can do. The internet has been a magnificent blessing for the arts as more and more folks are practicing and sharing their work. In the old days, you'd find new artists by reading comics and browsing the bookshelves and magazines. Today you can find ten new ones a day and get bored before you run out.

Sean Aaberg amazes me.

The ones that impress me to the most often have copious amounts of work, including a seemingly endless series of sketchbooks in addition to their finished works. And I'm always blown away by that because that ain't me. I'm the artist over here with just a handful of sketchbooks, most of which are not full.

Erol Otus mesmerizes me.

Part of this is because I don't believe I'm obsessed with drawing. I love to draw, and I think about drawing nearly all the time. But I don't actually do it as much as I would like. Another part of the reason is that between 2009 and 2023, with maybe a year offset somewhere in the middle, I drew almost exclusively digitally. So I don't have physical drawings lying around from that period. I have thousands of PSD and TIF files*.

Raven Perez blows my mind.

But that's an aside, really. The point of this post is to talk about why envy is a potentially toxic shitty thing to do to yourself.

Brian Baugh makes me happy.

To be clear: it is good to look at the art of others, marvel at it, love it, and even express the very human "man, I wish I could do that!". This is not the problem, as long as you don't let it become one. That feeling turns dark when you look at their work and compare it to your work, looking for all the ways in which you are not as good as them.

Don't do this.

Evlyn Moreau enchants me.

It isn't helpful to anyone, most of all to yourself. You are not them. The strokes you make are yours. The drawings you draw are yours. You can never do what they do because you are not them.

Bud Root gives me funny feelings.

Also, they are not a representation of perfection. I don't care if their art is the most beautiful you've ever seen and it makes you cry and they have thousands of beautiful pieces and other thousands of pages of sketches. They are not you, you are not them. And you can only be you.

Joe Vaux kickstarts my imagination.

It sounds stupid to say it. Like a "duh" kind of moment. But you gotta realize how urgently true it is. You are an embodied individual tied inextricably to your own personal history and your own personal future, which has yet to be written. Focus on what you do. Look at their work, enjoy it, learn from, take from it what you feel will help you grow and feel more robust. But never do the math on who is better. That way leads only to dread and self-loathing.

Matthew Allison makes me want to get better.

*Honestly, to satisfy my lust for printed material, I am considering doing a "digital sketchbook series" where I collect tons of those drawings into a few print books. I think that could be super fun. 

Vaughn Bodé sings to my spirit.

Black Pudding #7

I'm very proud of Black Pudding. What started in 2016 as an experiment to create the kind of OSR stuff I liked to see has persisted, albeit at a slow pace. This post is about the latest issue, #7.

This issue is a milestone for me because it includes a 16-page gazetteer (17, counting the names tables) setting of my fantasy world of Yria. I had toyed with this idea for a long time, assuming I would have to devote an entire 100-page book to the topic to do it right. In the end, I realized all I needed was a quick-and-dirty GM's guide to the setting. And 16 pages did the trick, at least for me.

It starts with a map, as is often the case. I have a love-hate relationship with maps. They define things a little too much up front for my tastes, but they are also beautiful and inspiring - and the whole point of any Black Pudding zine is to inspire. The Yria map is one that has went through a lot of incarnations over the years, but the one showing up in BP7 is as close to legit as you're gonna get. Hell, in a future edition I might utterly change it. I don't know. Each TTRPG table is its own world, after all.

Next you get a list of the major areas on a d66 table. So 36 areas are given as possible birthplaces
and/or adventure locations. I also include a d20 inspiration table for adventure keywords, something I've always done for myself. I often call these "beats". So when I'm coming up with an adventure to run I might list 3 or 4 beats such as ritual, paranoia, moon, and dead crops. Beats sort of paint the images in your head. The keyword table in BP7 includes words that are essential to the Yria setting. They are not random words, they all have meaning to me. They are deliberate choices.

The next two pages are an actual gazetteer of the 36 locations, ala X1: Isle of Dread. Less is more. I went with broad strokes, planting images using keywords for each location. Instead of describing the government structure and ruling elites of Seapath, I just tell you the vibe: One of the five cities. Serpentine across the mountain pass, ruled by the rich, sought by the desperate. Come to trade, stay to dream. You get an image of the city (serpentine across the mountain pass... it lays like a snake, humped over a mountain). You know who runs the show. You know why folks would go there and something about why they might stay. It seems to be a place rife with corruption, but also full of hope or at least potential wealth.

Next five pages are devoted to the five cities. Yria only has five cities of note. Any other cities are either ruins, cursed, or not very big. This concept is very much in the vein of the "points of light" across a "dark wilderness" motif. That is, I believe, a super-effective way to game*. Each city gets one page with imagery and various tables for what you might see or encounter. The rulers are noted, and a very brief description is given, akin to the 36 location gazetteer style. So if the short description of Seapath from above isn't enough, the one page for Seapath gives you a little more.

The second half of the section is the mythos. This mythos (100% using that term because of Deities & Demigods, the most inspiring D&D book of all time) has been with me for many years. Decades. It underpins almost every fantasy setting I've ever created or tried to create. It is based on one dozen beings, each of which I sketched onto small blue cardboard cards sometime in the early 2000s. Those images appear in the book, though in gray scale of course. The section gives you that list of beings and their general powers, broadly-speaking. Being heavily influenced by Deities & Demigods, I wanted/needed each of them to be corporeal as well as spiritual and eternal. They have bodies. They have stats. You can interact with them.

Rather than giving the specific stat block for each deity, I opted to merely suggest them. Each one is based loosely on an existing B/X monster. So for example Black Wing (death) is based on a giant roc with 300 hit points. Each god is described loosely, focusing on their demeanor and concerns. Some sketch is given of how you would worship them and what their clerics are like. And the final detail, which I really liked, is that each one has some lists of keywords to describe being in their presence. I think that's all you need.

The whole thing wraps with 5 d66 tables of common names, each keyed to one of the five cities.'

In case you ever wondered, this is my favorite thing so far in the series. I realize it isn't exactly the same kind of stuff that made the zine popular. It isn't hand-scrawled, it isn't universally useful. It's very specific to my world. But I designed it as loosely as possible to allow easy access. It is very easy to steal from.

Other things in the issue are more typical of the zine. There are 4 new character classes, one of which is the Rat Bastard. I created that one way back in 2017, which is why it, more than any other, has the tone and vibe of early BP issues. It was meant to go into issue 2 but somehow I left it out. I have no idea what happened or how I missed it all these years. Happy to finally include it.

The other class I really love in this one is the Eyeball. That one is a keeper, for me. And we also get some coolness from contributor David Okum! A handful of monsters and a character sheet round the thing out. In fact... this one features my favorite character sheet so far. I love this one because it is the cleanest and most useful that I've ever created.

*The first proper D&D campaign I was ever in, way back in 1987 in high school, started as a crude 8.5 x 11 map of a town. It was the DM's setting at that point. I think he only knew the town and nearby areas, so that's where we adventured. It grew a bit over time. It's a brilliant way to do a campaign: don't flood the players with information! Just paint the image and start playing.