Sunday, December 29, 2019

Drawing an Adventure for Black Pudding

I'm working on issue #6 of Black Pudding. In this issue, I'm doing an adventure based on a totally badass map created by Evlyn Moreau. Like the one I did in issue #2 from a map by Karl Stjernberg, I'm slamming this together on-the-fly. I like working this way. I like just shoving things around my canvas and seeing what fits. I can compose both visually and thematically and technically all at once. I can then go back and refine, moving things as needed, linking up adventure elements in ways that feel organic. It's such a creative and fun process. I'm thankful to have such good material to work from as Evlyn has provided!

Here's a WIP of the adventure, which is tentatively titled "Underground Down Below". You can see the gray border that lets me know the safe area where stuff should go so it doesn't get cut off in print. I have an overlay of lines to help align things, as needed. I'm still toying with certain elements, such as whether or not to include the key numbers next to the description since they are buried in some of the map snippets. Also, those random tables are just screenshots from the spreadsheet I have open where I'm creating them. Once I decide on the tables' contents I'll export them to a high res PDF, then import that into Photoshop and paste the 300 ppi tables into the adventure itself. I'm like a kid with toys!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Supercalla PDF is Live

Supercalla is alive! The PDF is now available for your road rage pleasures.

What's in it?

  • 36 character backgrounds such as Old Lawdog, Long Distance Runner, Trucker, and Three-Eyed Demon Biker
  • Space weapons such as Blas-Tar Boppers, chi destabilizers, and MasSault Atomizers.
  • The Law
  • Space magic
  • Random tables for fun and profit
  • A delicious layout by Matt Hildebrand!
So get your motor running! I suggest listening to Judas Priest, perhaps "Breaking the Law" and "Heading Out to the Highway", to get this party started.

NOTE: There is a print option coming.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

That RPG Folder You Tried to Shoot But Couldn't Pull the Trigger

Continuing this little series of random RPG file sorting. For fun, not profit.

Gangbusters B/X Edition by Mark Hunt is exactly what it says on the tin. It's 1920s gangsters using 1981 B/X rules. It's a 64 page rulebook, which is in my wheelhouse (I love me some 64 page rulebooks). The layout is simple and to the point, the font size is gracefully larger than the old games, and the whole affair it just kinda nice. The art is public domain, but well-chosen. It's not terribly expensive. I'd run this in an Untouchables-type of scenario, though I might be tempted to inject some weirdness into the mix (the book does offer some notes about doing that as well).

I don't know what this is. It is a single page PDF describing a metal future and declaring that you have been born into this time of ass-kickery. That's all there is. What the fuck is this??

Hey, Flesh For the Witch Queen is a one-page dungeon by the impressive Jason Sholtis. I might run this bastard.

Sholtis dungeon!

Amazon Warrior is a character class by Jeremy Reaban with a kick ass cover by Patricia Smith. What I don't like about it is that it's not female only. In fact, Jeremy actually uses the male pronoun throughout the text. Not sure why. I mean, the class probably works just fine but still.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

That RPG Folder You Accidentally Put in a Delete Me Folder

Continuing this series.

Maximum HP is a 1e style RPG zine by Lloyd Metcalf and Raven Metcalf chock full of goodies. This issue seems to be mainly about dwarves and a place called Dwarfhome. Lots of NPCs, description of a village, an adventure, etc. Good stuff for a classic AD&D night. Lloyd and Raven do up the art nicely too.

Rubik's Cube Character Stat Generator by Goblin's Henchman is a weird little ditty. It's a clever way to generate PC ability scores with a cube. Fast and simple. I can imagine players totally abusing this, especially if you give them any time with eyes on the cube. But still.

Supercalla Layout

The new Troika! setting book, Supercalla, is in the layout phase. My friend Matt Hildebrand is putting it to the page as we speak. Here's a sneak peak...

The book should be released into the wild in a couple of weeks or so.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The RPG Folder Your Uncle Bert Stashed Under the Bed

Continuing this series.

This thing feels endless. But some goodies are lounging around in this forgotten hole. Also, I just noticed I'm going alphabetical because that's how the folder is defaulted. Too bad there's no "shuffle". But maybe I'll hit them randomly next time anyway.

No cover on this one, just a one-sheet list of d20 backgrounds for your D&D character. The mechanics are simple enough that I think they could easily work for nearly any version of the game, but certainly they will work flawlessly with OSR-friendly versions. And this is super fucking useful. I'm gonna put it in my gaming folder (like, a real folder that you hold in your hands) so I can whip it out next time I run a new game. It comes to us from the Zenopus Archives, a fantastic resource specifically based on the 1977 Holmes edition of D&D.

Bandits & Basilisks is a very short retroclone of OD&D by Albert Rakowski, another person I absolutely do not know. The game is only 7 pages or so and has no classes. I like that idea, no class. The text says you only have to roll for one thing: arcane lore. It's a percentile roll. But you also have to roll for surprise and, I guess, hit points and damage. But those ideas aren't fleshed out. I would say this is not just bare bones, it's barely bones. But if you already know how-to-OSR, and if you have this thing at your fingertips, I don't see why you couldn't run a good game with a few interesting little touches that aren't in most OSR games (such as that lore score or lack of classes). Also, Rakowski seems to be no slouch in the art department (see left). So why use public domain art on this PDF? I'm sure the answer is out there, probably on his blog.

I would use this for a small campaign in a very specific setting, perhaps in the classic 70s sci-fantasy vein.

Eleanor Bergmann's cool hand art.
Bastard Magic by D. G. Chapman, illustrated by Eleanor Bergmann, is a weird little book of hand
spells. Described as low level or cantrips, these spells may be possessed by any type of character. Each spell requires you to put a tattoo on that hand so that each person is limited to one spell per hand. Flippin' cool, huh?

I would use this in a dirty Lankhmar-style city and it would be knowledge held by a thieves' guild or something like that. I think that's a nasty good idea.

Friday, December 13, 2019

That RPG Folder We All Have

The digital age! Time of treasures. Time of downloading far more RPG stuff than you can ever possibly read, let alone use.

(Better to have too much RPG than not enough RPG!)

I've been going through my folder and cleaning that shit up. I mean, how am I gonna find a 2 page dungeon crawl written for Advanced Boggarts & Unicorns if I don't have it in the folder with AB&U?

This post is a kind of on-the-fly journal of discovery, wonder, horror, and awe. Lo how many RPG goodies and baddies have I neglected to ever look at, lying and gathering digital dust on my HD? Let's find out.

Tunnel Goons by Nate Treme... a one-page RPG. Roll 2d6 to do stuff. Has an inventory score, which is cool. I guess I would use this for a one-off dungeon crawl in a bar.

Tomb of the Overfiend by Stuart Robertson with map by Matt Jackson. Nice little one-page dungeon for something called "weird west". I don't know what that is, but maybe I'll run across it later. I'd use this for a first adventure in a Barrowmaze-style campaign, if I wasn't going straight up weird west.

The Atlas of Titan is apparently a 380 page massive compilation of maps from Fighting Fantasy's Allansia setting. Put together by Simon Osbourne. That's a metric ton of work for a fan project. But what lovely maps!

One of the great maps in The Atlas of Titan.

Mutants Down Under... pretty sure this was one of those illicit downloads from a dubious website. Anyway, don't you love that fuckin' cover?

A Magical Society Aggressive Ecology: The Slaver Fungus is a name too long to utter. It looks like a book about fantasy fungus by Joseph Browning, the Expeditious Retreat Press guy (he published like ten million OSRIC modules, remember?). Looks pretty cool if you need a funky fungus for your fantasy frolics.

Oh man, this one right here! Azurth Adventures Digest is one of those lovely little ditties that hits me in the feels. The digest format, the comic coloring, the wonderful art and maps by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis. Just delicious. Plus it's a damn fine looking adventure book written by Trey Causey.

I'd love to run this. I'd also love to mine it and use the stuff inside, such as the cool pirate names table.

Time to scoot. I'll revisit this project later.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Story and Games

I've been listening to the most excellent podcast Fear of a Black Dragon. Kind of on a bender with it. I started with the first one I could find in the feed and just let it autoplay over the last week when I'm driving or whatever.

Great show. I love the hosts' enthusiasm and their non-OSR approach to OSR adventures. They clearly appreciate a good old fashioned dungeon romp, but they are not locked into the bog standard, quasi-cultish devotion to a rose-colored-glasses version of 1970s-style gaming. They are quick to dismiss things they don't find useful at the table and introduce ideas that are often treated as anathema to OSR. Y'know... very very bad things that come from nasty story games circles.

I love it. Fuck gaming purity. Gimme the good stuff. I'm the guy who does Black Pudding, which is just about as OSR a thing as I'm capable of producing. It's got motherfuckin' descending armor class for pete's sake. Don't question my street cred.

But I'm also a guy who created a proto-story game before that term was coined. And it had legs and it is still played and talked about today, god damn 20 years later (holy shit). So clearly I have a soft spot for styles of play that aren't purely about exploration, combat, and acquisition of treasure.

And yet... and yet I still approach story game elements at arm's reach. There is a reason that after 20 years I still never play or even think about The Pool, unless someone brings it up. I clearly have play style preferences that aren't in alignment with the meta-fiction elements that are the hallmarks of story games. For example, I still cringe when I think about GM-less games. I think it's because I almost invariably approach gaming as exploration and for the exploration to be meaningful I feel like the fiction world needs to be grounded in one place or one person's imagination - modified by the choices of others, of course. But not driven by an equally shared creation of the fiction.

Or so.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Quantum Ogre Sighting

I have some spare time tonight. Rare, lately. Lots of things going on in my personal life that I don't want to get into right now, which is largely why I've been fairly quiet online these past couple of weeks.

Anyhoo, I sometimes try to read gaming blogs and listen to gaming podcasts. Especially when my real life becomes stressful. I really, really appreciate a good episode of Save for Half on days like these.

Today I read Hack & Slash's post on GNS and OSR. That post was tagged "illusionism", which lead me down a rabbit hole of reading up on all the old illusionism and quantum ogre posts (which I largely missed when they were fresh). Upon reading the bits about how making damn sure the PCs encounter your planned encounter regardless of their choices is kind of a dick DM move, I was reminded of an episode of Roll For Initiative (at least I think it was that show... it had DM Vince on it). On that particular episode one of the hosts says that if he preps rooms A-D in a dungeon and the players instead go to E-H he just moves all the content of A-D to E-H. Problem solved.

It really struck me ill when I heard it. It felt like a way to force your own GM vision upon the players. It felt like a major invalidation of the players' choices. It felt like a lie. And yeah, I know, it's just a fuckin' game. It really doesn't matter that much. But still. If you're gonna do a thing, do it right. Right?

Of course the host didn't mean it that way at all. They were just offering advice on how to run a game and how to deal with the problem of the players running around your prep. It's understandable, and common. I've done it a million times, I'm sure. But it kinda sucks, doesn't it? Especially if you're running a sandboxy kind of game where player choice is the primary driver.

So let's say you're running your D&D game and you have this awesome ogre lair all prepped out for when the players take the bait and go down into the valley. But then they don't go down into the god damned valley. They go up on the mountain. You could just move the lair to the mountain, sure. And hell, if there was no hint of the lair already given, no expectation in the players' choice that going to the mountain would allow them to avoid what they suspected was in the valley... then maybe moving the lair to the mountain is OK. I mean, why not? In that case you aren't robbing them of agency in any sense that I can think of. Whereas if you already hinted at the ogre lair in the valley and they make the choice to avoid it and then you move it... that's a dick move. Don't do that.

Secondly, you can just chop that sumbich up. Say there are 5 cool elements of the lair. What if you just peppered those 5 elements throughout other places that the PCs explore? Like if there was a lost spellbook lying in a hidden corner of the lair maybe that same spellbook is instead found on the mountain in a gully where a poor bastard of a wizard fell to their death.

I mean, that's how I tend to do it. I prep shit, the players don't take the bait, and I re-purpose the various elements across the adventure or campaign.

/random thoughts post

Friday, November 29, 2019

Big Swords

One thing I forgot to mention when I talked about Dungeon World in this post was that the way Moves are described and named reminded me of some game designs I had in the notes folder back in 2002-2005. Specifically I had this idea for a game I was calling "Big Swords: Badass Fantasy" (working title only!), which was one of the many attempts I made to emulate my beloved old school D&D. This was way before I even knew there was a slowly growing DIY D&D trend happening that would eventually take on the name "OSR". If I had been clued in to this trend I think it would have been a revelation for me.

Big Swords worked like this. Characters had a couple of stats, such as Power, and then they had a series of traits that I called FX. The FX were related to a Way (class). Then individual PCs would have SFX... which were invented by the players. Stuff like this:

Break Face
Strike a Terrifying Pose
Summon a Salty Devil
Blow a Kiss
Why Does This Keep Happening To Me?

And so forth.

Each of these FX basically gave you some + to your d20 roll, which was an opposed roll. They were very specific, as the names imply. They were like Dungeon World's Moves, in a sense. And I think these kinds of ideas were rampant in RPG design during that time and beyond. Hell, D&D 3e had already started exploring this territory with Feats (back off! I'm not saying Feats and Moves are the same). And D&D 4e certainly explored it more with all the various Powers that characters could use x times per day/encounter.

What I mean by that is Moves were not an entirely new idea and my use of a similar concept in the un-fulfilled Big Swords game idea was certainly not a new idea. The specific implementation of these ideas was clearly unique in each case, but RPG design was just kinda going that that way in general, wasn't it?

BTW, here's the opening spicy text for Big Swords. And no, I have zero plans to actually develop this game, though the setting concept as described below lives on in my work-in-progress Dead Wizards:

Civilization. Labrynthine, sprawling, decadent, and lecherous.

Theirs is a world of corpulent priests who cry doomsday to their sheep-eyed masses while sycophants skitter at their sandaled feet. Theirs is a world wherein tyrants rule from white towers and slave-masters crack their whips in the street. Theirs is not a real world.

Your world lies beyond splendor and squalor. Your world is a place of reality where a man or a woman can carve a name in the very landscape and drench it red with blood or wine. Your world is a place where enemies wear the faces of conjurers, demons, and lusty deceivers whose fingers slip into your purse while yours are still having their pleasure.

This has been yet another rando post spilling out of my brainpan half-formed and ill-conceived.

The Great and Powerful Illusion of Block

One of the many Random Order Comics I drew between 2001-2002.

When I was in Mexico for a recent work trip, alone in the hotel one night, I discovered Alexa Donne's YouTube channel. Now I'll be totally honest here... I clicked on her video because she's super fucking cute. I'm just like that.

But I watched a few of her vids while drawing a Troika! character sheet and I really enjoyed her. She's honest and solid in her advice. I have no idea if she's a good writer or not, but she's good at telling you like it is.

One of her comments was that writer's block isn't real. It's an illusion. You'll know it's not real when you stop whining about it and just make yourself write. Soon the words flow and the "block" is lifted. I get what she's trying to say here and I generally agree. But it's not quite right to say that writer's block isn't a thing. Because it totally is a thing.

Calm down, Donnettes*, let me explain.

Writer's block is not a thing in the sense that there's this one, monolithic problem that prevents you from writing. But if you are a writer and you can't seem to write, then there's something blocking you. That's really all writer's block means, isn't it? For example, maybe my favorite gay uncle just married a woman and I'm existentially confused about it, causing me to lose my mojo and be unable to write for some time. That's a block.

Alexa is talking to YOU, dumbass.
The trick is that these aren't impenetrable blocks. Very few blocks would be legit impenetrable. But they can absolutely feel god damned impenetrable. And of course I'm not just talking about writing books here. This idea applies to all creativity.

Speaking for myself, creativity usually strikes me hard when I have a free block of time and I'm not physically in pain. I can sit at my desk and - usually - accomplish something. But there are times when that doesn't happen. I can tell you that right now at this moment I'm in a little bit of a psychological tailspin and it is definitely affecting my creative time. Maybe that's why I'm blogging about writer's block instead of working on one of my projects or commissions.

Writer's block isn't a thing in the sense that it's objectively real. Writer's block is a thing in the sense that when you fail to write (and you're a writer) then something is blocking you. Unblocking is not always easy.

*I made that up. Cute, huh? If you like Alexa Donne you're a Donnette.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Supercalla Character Sheet

Here is a Supercalla character sheet... for my Troika! RPG setting book of the same name. Space fantasy with a totally route 66 sort of vibe. I'm trying to keep this thing to 48 pages so I'm not including everything that might fit that theme, but it's got a lot of spark in it, I hope.

I handed the text to my sorcerous layout guy (Matt Hildebrand) after Andy Solberg took a scrutinizing gaze with his Monocle of Editing. I hope to have this sumbich shot out to the wilds by Xmas. It is not an elaborate endeavor, just a simple, fun little romp-kit.

And for some reason, motorcylces. I'm not even a cycle guy. Not sure how that happened but there are multiple biker backgrounds in this thing. In space, of course.


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Rick and Morty vs. D&D

I only bought this on a whim because it was cheap on pre-order, I'm a sucker for 64 page rulebooks, I like R&M, and I'm also a sucker for cool box sets.

The box is an entirely playable game. You can literally run D&D from this box for many sessions without buying anything else. You can be creative with the contents, make up your own adventures, and never buy anything else. You got your core rules, dice, four character classes through level 5, a bunch of races, a very cool DM screen, and a dungeon to play through.

The rules are presented coherently with Rick's rickness helping you understand what the hell you're reading. Which is fun.

But I don't LOVE this. Here's why I don't LOVE it.

It's literally just vanilla 5e D&D. It is absolutely NOT Rick and Morty D&D. It's vanilla milktoast Dungeons & Dragons with Rick and Morty kind of sprinkled on top as they offer meta-commentary. The adventure that comes in the box, The Lost Dungeon of Rickedness: Big Rick Energy, seems like a fun romp with plenty of juvenile humor (buttless zombies?) that feels like Rick and Morty. But at the core: just plain D&D.

There are no descriptions of portal guns, laser guns, or anything sci-fi that would be in the theme of R&M. This is because the box set is JUST D&D as (Rick sees it). It is Rick and Morty explaining how to play D&D. It is not playing D&D in the Rick and Morty universe... which is kinda what I was hoping for.

Hell, we even get the same blah passages on rules we get from the 5e books along with some of the same extremely boring artwork.

But yes, we also get tons of fun R&M cartoon art and lots of R&M commentary. Just no god damn portal guns.

(If I'm missing something, let me know.)

Is it worth the price? YES.

Why? Because if you want to play basic D&D 5e and you don't want to spent $150 doing it, you get ALL YOU NEED right here. In a fun package. Just don't expect high level hijinks (it goes through level 5 and D&D is more-or-less a 20-level game). And for god's sake don't expect space ships and laser pistols because they ain't in here. The price on the box is $29.99 but you can probably still score it for $20.

If you are trying to learn D&D or want to give D&D to some snot-nosed teen this is your cheap ticket in.

Friday, November 22, 2019


The Troika! setting book I'm working on, Supercalla, has a lot of sci-fantasy weapons and some of them bear the name "Rig". This name goes way, way back for me. It's just a name I slapped on a gun in a drawing years ago and it kinda stuck.

Weapon doodles.
This is part of how world-building works in my head. I get these little images and ideas over time and they build up a setting that is distinct (in my head, again) as an entity but not really very clear or detailed. Then when I start trying to develop the idea for an actual thing to be published I realize just how loose and nebulous these ideas are.

For example, what is "Rig"? It's the name on a laser gun. But that's about all I know. Based on how often it comes up in my sci-fantasy stuff, Rig seems to be a very popular brand of personal weaponry. So now I know a couple of things: Rig is a brand of weapons and it is very popular. Also, the style of Rig blasters is rounded and almost has a bit of steampunk vibes built into it.

Here's an example of an old, old drawing where Rig comes up.

First use of Rig in a drawing? Maybe. 2001ish.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Project Updates, Black Pudding, etc.

A lot of people have asked me about the schedule for Black Pudding #6 and I have replied with pithy or vague comments such as "someday" or "when I'm finished" or "SOON". Here's where I'm at on that and other projects, in order of importance.


I always treat my paid work as primary. I am actively working on or slated to start work on art for Barbarians of the Ruined Earth, Fight This Mutant, Leopard Women of Venus, and an upcoming project for which I don't have a name or website to point to (but I do have money in the bank so it's a lock for sure). These projects get first treatment, within the range of their due dates. As this type of work is basically ongoing, I sprinkle my personal stuff between due dates as I can.


This book is on the front burner. It's a Troika! setting that will come in at about 48 pages, saddle
stitched for the print run, in color. The writing is 98% finished (heading into the edit phase, as well as actual play or "playtesting" as they sometimes call it). 90% of the art is completed, though I will probably add more as needed to flesh it out. My goal is to try to get this knocked out and published by end of the year, but that really depends on the layout guy's schedule (the ubiquitous and sorcerous Matt Hildebrand), which I am not sure about. At any rate, my goal is to give Matt all the stuff he needs by end of November.

Black Pudding #6

This one is probably next. And I simply cannot put a date to it. My process for creating the zine has always been to wing that mother. I don't plan these things out. I create pages as inspiration strikes and when I get 24 inspired pages plus covers I roll with it.

I checked the folder for issue 6 and it looks like I have 12 completed pages... halfway there! I also have a cover, which I drew months ago and will probably be the one I go with. I wanted this issue to have several more highly detailed pages so some of the ones I worked on were very time consuming. I hope it is worth the wait.

I am in a Troika! mood lately so it's a little harder to think about B/X stuff. But I don't want to muddle the content of the zine with other game systems. If it had been a mix of old school games from the beginning I'd be OK with it, but the thing has been almost laser-focused on B/X style content. I want to maintain that focus, at least through issue #6. I have no idea what will come next. I don't have any reason to think I'll end the series but it might go on de facto* hiatus as a result of me doing other things for a while. Dunno.

*Is that the correct use of "de facto"? If not, I've been using it wrong my whole damn life.

Rabbits & Rangers

This is always, always, always on my heated backburner. Technically I don't have to ever touch it again because it's already published as a Labyrinth Lord supplement. I can walk away. But I can't walk away because I want to do more with it. Either a standalone game or a follow-up LL supplement. I'm still not sure which. But eventually I'll get it figured out and deliver something cool that will hopefully scratch that itch. And it might be after Black Pudding #6. Maybe.

Holy shit I had about ten typos in this post. I really need to slow down when I write.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Background: Scoundrel Wanted in 1d6 Systems

Here's a Troika! background for Supercalla. It's a nice guy type.

Scoundrel Wanted in 1d6 Sunrealms

Your mama cried the day you were born and your daddy's only words to you were "I regret makin’ you." People tend to avoid you, except the Law... the Law is always looking for you. And bounty hunters.

-RIG 77
-Small book of dad jokes
-Pack of Astroknotty
-Coordinates for a big score

Advanced Skills:
2 Pistol
2 Fist Fighting
1 Sneak
1 Run
2 Spotting The Law

Each time you enter a new place roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, the Law is notified of your whereabouts. On a roll of 2, a bounty hunter spots you.

Background: Private Eye

A background for Troika!

This one got cut from the Supercalla setting book because it didn't quite fit the theme. Maybe it'll show up in a later book.

Private Eye

The dame was on fire when she crawled into the room. Not figuratively, but literally. She was a fire worm. She lost a lover and she wanted you to find them. How could you say no to a dame like that? You looked at her long and hard with your one eye and said "I'll do it. Now please get out before you burn the joint down."

-Skinsuit (trenchcoat, armor 1)
-1d6 fake badges and IDs
-Emergency cozmask (1 hour use)
-Lockpick tools
-Eye drops

Advanced Skills:
3 Awareness
1 Locks
1 Disguise
1 Sneak
1 Pistol
1 Fist fighting

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 5

Time to stick a fokkin' fork in this fokker. It's been a rambling mess, hasn't it?

Truth is I wrote like thousands of words about this and deleted them all. Nobody wants to read about the various OSR controversies from the past few years. It's old news, right? We know the birds who are bad seeds, generally, and I think many of us just kind of avoid/ignore them. Some people would see that as a failing... we should be kicking the bad seeds' asses. But I'm not a militant sort of guy and I don't own the hobby nor do I own OSR.

There will be bad seeds. We can ignore, avoid, and/or criticize them. We cannot kill a motherfucker, you know? Nor should we want to. Fuck that noise. You can take your violent ideations and shove them up your ass. I came here to make art, games, and to play. I don't tolerate assholery very well, so don't be an asshole. 'K?

An example of assholery in game design, just to be motherfuckin' clear:

Making it a point to state that your game is explicitly not PC. You might think that reads as "my game is not bullshit" but what it truly says is "hey, I'm a giant dickhead who is so threatened by socially-conscious young people I have to lash out at them impotently from the pages of my nerd book." It's a really nasty look and you should avoid it at all costs.

Think of it this way. Nobody walked into your RPG and demanded that you acknowledge the existence of other kinds of people. Why would you go out of your way to lash out at other kinds of people in the game they didn't walk into and demand anything? Don't be a dick.

And that kinda wraps this up. To quote Gump, I have completed my statements on the matter.

Next: more Troika!

EDIT: Also, here's what I was thinking about the OSR about a year ago. I still feel this way, though, as I've said, I don't feel any necessity to use the term all the time. I use it when I'm making or thinking about stuff under that umbrella, but at other times it just doesn't come up. Peace.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 4

A live action still from the Paramount film Weekend at Bernie's.
Being a lifelong small fry creator makes me particularly sensitive when it comes to criticizing other creators. I know how much work goes into this stuff. I know how rough it feels to put yourself out there and be stomped on. I try hard not to stomp on anyone, particularly someone who is just dipping their toes in the creative waters.

DIY communities are mainly composed of people who might otherwise be known as amateurs or hobbyists. The levels of quality and talent on display will vary wildly. And while being very critical of a book published by Wizards of the Coast seems appropriate or even necessary, applying that same degree of criticism to an indie PDF created by a single individual who probably won't make $20 on it feels rather like being a complete shithead. And of course you have to be wary of the weight of your voice relative to whoever you're criticizing. A negative word from an influencer within a scene can be a serious or lethal blow to a struggling creator and maybe for the influencer it really only represents one little thought about one little thing on one little day.

Words have power.

And yet... we should be honest. Creators generally want to know what people honestly think about their work. This is where the hard love comes down. If you create a thing and then publish it then you need to have some thick skin. You are the one putting yourself out there and there is always a risk that some complete shithead is going to give you a 1 star review that reads "My dog poops better dungeons". It's going to happen. Learn to roll with the punches.

Also, price your shit accordingly. Speaking only for me, I'm not willing to dish out $5 for a 1 page PDF even with pretty art. Asking too much money for your book is a very quick way to turn me off. Hell, I fucking love Barrowmaze Complete and I still complain that it costs too much. Especially the hardback.

And yet I bought it. Seriously it's that good.

The OSR/DIY scene* is chock full of good, bad, and ugly books. Some are absolute gems, others are absolute turds. I happen to love the fact that such a scene emerged at all and that people feel free to be creative within it. Yeah, much of what gets put out there is forgettable. But the same is true of any creative scene. And I will happily suffer a slew of forgettable books if it helps increase the chance of getting something wondrous every now and then. I just might not pay any money for the turds.

*OSR... DIY... indie? RPG community is too big an umbrella so you need some crunchier terms. I know some folks strongly resist or reject the OSR label even when they're creating content that is clearly in the OSR vein. I get it, and maybe that'll be the subject of one of these rants soon. I'll need more tequila sunrises though.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 3

The good and the bad. And the ugly. Oh, the ugly. The OSR scene has had its fair share of all three, hasn't it?

DIY publishing is an open playing field. I got my start in it in 1988 when I was in high school. Myself and some friends slapped together a zine we called Fast Lane, which was mostly comics. Don't bother Googling it, you won't find anything. I might have some copies stashed in my storage building. If I ever get around to digging that shit out I'll post up some pics. And cringe.

F5... every zine under the sun.
Anyway, we published 3 issues and then graduated and went on our ways. I then started publishing on my own around 1994. I published a lot of small press comics and zines between 1994 and 2004. I was really into that whole scene, hitting the S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press and Comics Expo) con in Columbus Ohio and joining the Small Press Syndicate and the United Fanzine Organization. I had a fucking subscription to Factsheet Five.

The coming of the internet broke all of that. But that's a tale for another time. Right now I just wanted to lay some basics for a rant about quality in publishing within small niche markets. Traditionally it hasn't been very good. Most small press comics and zines were photocopied affairs that were cheap, fast, and dumb. And it was fucking awesome while being terrible.

The OSR and DIY RPG scene has been similar, with tons of slapdash dungeons cranked out to scratch that old itch so many of us have - to make something D&D, dammit! And lots of these slapdash dungeons are free or pay-what-you-want. That's totally in the spirit of the small press scene. Others charge a pittance at a dollar or two. Totally fine. Others want you to pay more for what I'd consider to be rather humdrum content. I'm not paying you $10 for an uninspired 5 room dungeon with some goblins and a mad wizard, so please don't ask.

I mean sheesh. Put some killer art in it and maybe I'll concede my hard-earned cash.

Room 3: Empty.
Room 4: Goblins (2) AC 6, HD oh my god kill me now

But I digress and perhaps I sound a bit harsh. I dunno. Back on target...

A collection of my comics!
The scene has produced a shit ton of fucking excellent books as well as a metric ton of forgettable books. I mean geez louise... TSR made some cool stuff back in the day but did they really ever make anything as badass as Barrowmaze*, The Chained Coffin, or Old School Essentials? Not really. And there are plenty of other great books to call out as well, though a few of them were created by complete shitheads and I'm loathe to bring them up. You know what I mean. This is perhaps the ugly part of the scene, and I'll probably get around to saying my mind about that as well in a future post within this meandering series of screedish rants and nerdy gibberishings.

(*Yes, I'm aware that Barrowmaze contains some relatively bland entries and empty rooms and repetitive shit. But if you have actually perused that book and, even better, used it at the table and you don't agree that it's a masterpiece of resource-grinding dungeon-crawling design then you can just go fuck yourself, buddy. I kid, of course. But it's true.)

ASIDE: I straight up Googled myself with the phrase "small press comics" included in an image search and got bupkis. My decade of self-publishing comics left a long, deep shadow indeed! Hah. But if you take out the "small press" bit you'll get at least one result plus a bunch of Black Pudding stuff. Whew!

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 2

Where was I? Oh right. I was supposed to be talking about the OSR scene. More-or-less. Sorry about the lengthy DCC RPG campaign posts. I gotta do it though.

Around April 2014, within 2 years of my getting into the old school RPG scene, I started up an online group. We met one Monday night at 9:30 PM, EST, for 2 hours. We are still to this day meeting every Monday night at 9:30 PM, EST. This is a net good in the world.

This group consists of one of my oldest and dearest friends named Jayne as well as four others that I have only met/known through the Monday game and/or other RPG scenes: Andy, Bill, Dyson, and Matt. These I now also call great friends.

Sometimes I call this group the Doomslakers, whether they like it or not.

The whole thing started because god damn it to fucking shit I wanted to run some old school D&D. I was running DCC RPG in my face-to-face games but I had this burning itch to run D&D. I got the group together to play Labyrinth Lord, which had quickly become my absolute darling by 2014. Here was a game that was basically exactly the D&D rules I used to play when I was young. It was a mix of basic and advanced... the same shit I always did! Someone had put it in a book, slapped the best name on it since D&D, and gave an open license to let me make shit up and publish it. I was in.

To start out, I ran a Labyrinth Lord campaign for the group and it lasted somewhere around 50 sessions. I kept copious notes. I tracked XP. The entire campaign was original and I eventually published one module born from it: Winds of the Ice Forest, which got a very nice review on my favorite podcast Save or Die. It was a wonderful little moment in time in this tiny niche hobby.

My second module!
The campaign was tons of fun for me. At the time, the players were Andy, Jayne, Bill and Matt with an occasional fifth player (I think we had 2 or 3 who popped in and out). It was a strongly northern-themed game with lots of snow and ice and it culminated in the party battling a tremendous purple worm monster that killed one of the PCs in an epic moment. The materials I created for the campaign are still in my folders waiting for me to write the god damned follow-up modules Ur-Kak the Swine and Shrine of Worms. (I will write them, I tell you!)

After the Labyrinth Lord campaign we played DCC RPG, Star Frontiers, Bean!, The Black Hack, and others I cannot remember. The group plays on to this day, thankfully.

Labyrinth Lord is crack cocaine for someone like me who just really really wanted to write D&D stuff. Leading up to the time when I discovered the OSR scene, I was creating RPG materials in a vacuum and they were largely meant to satisfy my desire to make D&D stuff. In fact, in the year prior to 2012 (see here) I was writing a funny animals RPG that was explicitly riffing on the D&D tropes that we all know and love. Zyn Dweomer, which was a webcomic I was doing at the time, was the precursor to Rabbits & Rangers. It was talking D&D animals.

My first module!
Anyway, I wrote my first OSR module, Howler, as an OSRIC adventure first then converted it to Labyrinth Lord once I realized the truth. I was blown away by the amount of material that had already been created specifically for Labyrinth Lord. Some of it was brilliant, such as Barrowmaze (I'll get around to that soon). Some of it was just kinda OK. I won't call out specific books that were just OK (or worse), but they do exist. It's damn easy and fast to crank out a Labyrinth Lord adventure that has no sizzle. Just a few rooms on a crude map, some orc stat blocks, a treasure horde, give it a bit of Microsoft Word layout and call it done.

And yeah sure that's really all you need in order to run a fun little dungeon crawl. I totally get that. Hell you don't even need that. You can crank that shit out in a few minutes. But it is nice when someone else does the work. And let's face it... that's the nature of DIY publishing. Very little gatekeeping means you get the good and the bad...

Monday, November 11, 2019

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 3

One more DCC post. Short and sweet to finish this bastard up because I feel like I'm in the "long winded description of your game" territory. And nobody wants that.

The PCs had to deal with The Blue Queen. They found themselves back in their native village, 150 years later. And it was a winter hellscape. They fought some wicked ice witches, contended with a foul witch who gave them some guidance, and somehow ended up on X1: The Isle of Dread... but the island was caught in a time storm and all the dinosaurs were undead. The pirates they encountered (there were pirates) were the ones described in the DCC RPG rulebook... on flying boats. And of course they captured a flying boat and kept it for the next 2 or 3 game sessions.

After escaping the Isle of Dread, they finally confronted The Blue Queen and her 50' ape protector. The wheel of fortune from Hole in the Sky was back, which resulted in one PC becoming a cyborg and another PC becoming a monkey. Which he liked very much.

They killed The Blue Queen. They were now level 4 PCs. I then ran the DCC RPG adventure The Making of the Ghost Ring and we left the campaign as the PCs attained level 5. We have not revisited in over 2 years. Maybe we never will. I don't know. But the entire campaign left me with lots of great RP memories and some new friends. How can you go wrong when your campaign involves space-faring Viking ships, ninja monkeys, cyborgs with chainsaw-action battle axes, and undead T-Rex?

DCC RPG is fucking awesome. It was awesome for me particularly because it did exactly the thing Goodman advertised on the tin... it brought me back to a time when gaming was fun and imagination was king. I was ripe for it too. Like so many other people my age who played RPGs when we were young, this was a thing we badly wanted, and badly needed. It was a net good. DCC RPG told me it was OK to be wildly creative, mixing genres like peanut butter and chocolate, killing characters like a madman, and getting people excited at the table again. And like it or not, sometimes you really gotta be told that shit. It's not always enough to be neutral in game design. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Of course DCC isn't all good for me. I could nitpick and quibble about the system. While I love the many funky dice I also fucking hate them. I still can't quickly grab a d24 or d16 without carefully examining them. And one of the main reasons I never really got into designing stuff for DCC is because the god damn spell descriptions alone are a huge endeavor. Whereas I could write a B/X style spell in two sentences, you need a solid page or two to write a good DCC spell. And don't even think about patrons. I wrote one patron, which I handed out at Gary Con in the form of a little zine. Hella Nor was her name and I used her in my other DCC RPG campaign which I ran online in my Monday night sessions. It was a bit of a chore. I don't particularly enjoy that side of DCC and perhaps that is one reason the published materials are so popular? Someone else did the labor? I'm not sure.

Anyway. DCC RPG = big fun. 'Nuff said.

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 2

EDIT: Changed the title of this because it's kind of its own thing. I also know how to use "its" and "it's" correctly so blow me.

Continuing what I was saying earlier about my first DCC RPG campaign... no juicy bits here. Apparently I really really want to talk about my DCC game for a minute.

Peril on the Lost City!

The PCs had crashed their cool new Viking ship on a purple planet next to a big pyramid thing. I was only loosely using the content from Peril on the Purple Planet so I made the atmosphere outside absolutely toxic. They got out and realized very quickly that as the weirding sun faded, the air became less breathable. There was a realization that if they didn't find shelter soon they'd die. So they immediately made for the pyramid.

(Sneaky of me, right?)

They ascended to the summit looking for a way in and found it. A trap door. They entered the pyramid and I used the map from B4: The Lost City for the remainder of the adventure. I only vaguely used the contents of B4, allowing the room contents to guide me in certain directions. They were searching for one of the Blue Queen's generals, a demon whose name I cannot remember. They found him locked in a bird cage in the pyramid. Between fighting some kith and dealing with the machinations of the demon in the cage, they eventually set the thing free (something they also did in Hole in the Sky). It didn't help matters.

I don't recall all the events but the culmination of the adventure had them facing a cult of sorcerers devoted to the green stones and the death orms. The green stones, it turns out, were the crystals used to power the Viking ship. But more importantly, the great death orm mother was being summoned in a ritual and, with some clever use of green stones, the PCs were able to sort of take control of the orm (after slaying the entire cult) and took it on a magic carpet ride across the cosmos back to their own home world.

Naturally they crash landed the great, dying death orm in a fury of exploding bits. Plot twist: Their long distance adventure resulted in a huge time lensing effect. They arrived back home after merely 3 days as they experienced it but some 150 years per home time. The Blue Queen had taken over the entire world and was turning it into an ice planet. It was the PCs' actions that allowed her to do this.

Of course they vowed to depose her and stop the madness.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 1

EDIT: Changed the name of this DCC RPG sub-thread.

These posts are going to be all over the fucking place, so pardon me ahead of time. This is an act of stream-of-consciousness commentary to summarize/explore my experiences in the gaming community since 2012 (and maybe before). This time it seems that I'm writing mostly about DCC RPG, my entry point to the old school scene. This post has little or no juicy "terrible things about the OSR" bits. If you're here for the controversies all you'll find is my gushing on and on about my first DCC RPG campaign. Maybe next time I'll bitch.

In 2012 I distinctly remember being super-duper inspired to get a local gaming group together and play some DCC RPG. I didn't buy the book until I listened to a couple of episodes of Spellburn, then I pulled that trigger pretty fast. I got the wizard cover because it's the most badass.

It was totally the enthusiasm of Judges Jen, Jeffrey, Jim, and Jobe that got me to buy that book. It was a $50 investment, after all. And I had never held it in my hands. But their description of the rules compelled me. I was all in.

As soon as the book arrived I started pouring over it and I got a group together to play. The first game I ran was with 3 players at my house and the very first die roll of the night killed a zero level character. I think everyone at the table fell in love immediately. It was Portal Under the Stars, the zero level adventure that was in the original printings of the book. It's a solid adventure that you can run in a few hours so I highly recommend it as a starter.

After that we got together relatively regularly with 4-7 players each night. I ran a campaign that got it's start initially with Portal, then with Sailors on the Starless Sea when others joined in. Of course that adventure was memorable and one of my players still to this day mentions his poor little female halfling who was yanked off the ship into the deep where the leviathan waited. He had high hopes for her.

We went from Sailors to Hole in the Sky... this was shortly after I got back from my trip to Gary Con (was it V? I can't remember!). Hole in the Sky had just been published and I snagged it at the con. It was a huge hit with the group and a huge blast to run. By this time our core group was fairly well established and we had a nice party of level 1 PCs.

From that point I started mixing it up with old TSR modules as well as Goodman Games adventures and some homebrewed ones as well. During this time I was creating and publishing materials for Labyrinth Lord more than anything, and playing that game online. But locally, face-to-face, it was mostly DCC RPG. I allowed
myself to just play and have fun with DCC rather than worrying about creating publishable materials.

I used certain items and ideas from those funnel adventures to form the basis for the entire campaign. The key NPC from Hole in the Sky became The Blue Queen, the chief villain of the game. The PCs "worked" for her several times (whose gonna say no?) and eventually became her mortal enemies. I went from Hole in the Sky to the classic D&D module B4: The Lost City... which I mashed up with DCC's Peril on the Purple Planet box set. I had snagged that lovely treasure via the Kickstarter and was eager to give it a spin.

I mean come on. Have you seen Peril on the Purple Planet? It's lovely. So much gamable stuff in that box, so I gamed some of it. Not all of it, not by a stretch. But enough.

I know you're going to ask me, so here is how I mashed it up. If you weren't going to ask and don't care, just fuck right off for a minute while I spew my fanboyish gamer squelchies.

The PCs got the boat from Sailors but didn't get to keep it for some reason. I cannot remember why. Anyway, after Hole they found the boat again or another boat. Again, I'm old and I take shitty notes. The point is they found a Viking style ship. There were some undead monsters too. They had been set on a task by The Blue Queen to find one of her warlords, a demon who had been locked up someplace far away. They had a clue about the location of the ship, which would help them find him.

So they find the ship and it's got this funky crystal-based control panel at the helm instead of a wheel. One of the part members, perhaps Nando the Thief, was able to ascertain its usage. There was a helmet he put on and was shown a vast panoramic view of the cosmos. He made some nice saves and was not driven insane and was in fact able to activate the ship which proceeded to propel them through space at warp speed. It was an epic little session and I remember being quite proud of how I described this event and the players seemed to be hugely into it.

Nando wasn't a good pilot and didn't land very smoothly. The party crash landed on a purple world near a large purple ziggurat. This was, in fact, the pyramid from B4.

Here's Part 1 of this meandering series if you're a completist.