Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Fan Expo 2014 Schedule

I am currently on the schedule for the following games:

Game Name: DCC: The Imperishable Sorceress
Game SystemDungeon Crawl Classics
Description: As the adventurers pass through a mundane door, they are startled to find themselves unexpectedly in a frozen landscape. A distant woman’s voice whispers a welcome, and the characters are thrust into a tale of spirits and ancient secrets.
Players: 3-5
Times: Friday 2-6

Game Name: DCC: The Arwich Grinder
Game System Dungeon Crawl Classics
Description: The Curwen Family have lived up among the pine woods on the outskirts of Arwich Village for as long as the oldest village gaffers can remember. The beautiful Bessie Curwen's bonnet is found in a strange creature's grasp. The village owes much to her family, so someone must go up into the dark pine-clad hills to make sure that the Curwens are all right. After all, the Curwens saved the village from starvation two winters ago. If you do not go, who will?

The Arwich Grinder is a Lovecraftean 0-level funnel for the DCC RPG written by Daniel J. Bishop and published in Crawl #9.
Players: 3-5
Times: Saturday 7-11

Game Name: DCC: The Thing in the Chimney
Game System Dungeon Crawl Classics
Description: At the waning of every year, as the sun grows closer to the horizon, and spends less time in the sky, there comes a time of terrible cold and deep snow to the lands of the north. The world waits with hushed breath for this, the longest night of the year, to be over. Soon, the sun will begin to climb higher each day, and the days grow longer. Although long stretches of cold weather are yet to come, this is the night in which winter’s back is broken. After tonight, the world turns slowly back to warmth and light.

But that is after tonight.

A 1st level DCC adventure with a holiday theme, published by Purple Duck Games and run by its author.
Players: 3-5
Times: Sunday 1-5

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Birthday Mathoms - Heads Up!

Although this picture has nothing to do with my
birthday, or with mathoms, it did get your attention!
On August 4th of this year, I am going to turn 48. 

As has become my custom, I am going to create some form of birthday "mathom" to give to folks via email. (If you don't know what a mathom is, read The Fellowship of the Ring or use Google.)  My birthday mathoms have been relatively trivial files to date, just some fun stuff for Dungeon Crawl Classics that you can get for free.  The patron I did last year became part of FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Wood, so there is no guarantee of exclusivity lasting forever.  These are just some fun things that you can get for free because sending them out helps me celebrate the passing of another solar rotation. And because the DCC community is great.

You can get this year's mathom by performing three simple actions:  

(1) Comment in the comments section of this post. I don't care what comment you make. 

(2) Send me an email address at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com, so I can send you the mathom.

(3) Open your email browser on August 4th and see what you get.

That's it.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Purple Duck Games Wazala Store is Open!

Negative Review!

Well, you can't win 'em all!

All reviews, good or bad, are welcome.  

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part III

And, at last, here we go. Again, the rules are simple: It has to be already published (at the time I started writing this, anyway), and it has to be something that I neither wrote nor converted to DCC.  Recognizing that there is a lot of material for DCC out there, and there are a ton of adventures, this is my way of trying to "catch up" at least a little bit on reviewing them.

Again, none of this should be taken as a condemnation of any adventure published for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I own them all, and I have never felt "ripped off" for anything that I purchased. There are products that I absolutely love for this game that did not make the list.

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 picks for DCC adventures:

5. The One Who Watches From Below (Jobe Bittman, Goodman Games):  This was the winning entry from the 2012 Goodman Games "Mystery Map" competition, so it should be no surprise that it appears in the top five.  The adventure does an excellent job of not only engaging the PCs, but engaging the players as well, by making what occurs at the table important to what occurs in the fictive space.

I don't want to give anything away about this module, so I am going to rely on someone else's review, and just add "laser harpies".

This is a contest winner that well deserves to win. I don't know anything about the other entrants. Some of them may have been just as deserving.  It would be cool to someday see a compilation of the top 25 runners-up, which individual judges could then mine for ideas.

4. Frozen in Time (Michael Curtis, Goodman Games):  My favourite published Michael Curtis romp to date. What do you get when a bunch of primitive yokels investigate a.....hush, spoilers. But there is a robot on the cover and here's a review.  Of course, when we are talking the Top 5, it isn't simply a matter of theme, but of execution. With a heavy Gardner Fox influence, and nods to such rarities of the Appendix N corpus as Jack Williamson's Legion of Time, the adventure is a treat to read. There are also pop culture references for players to recognize as they play through it, making it an equal treat from the other side of the screen.  The adventure is exactly the right length for con games, and contains some options for judges who want to spin the concepts out further. The proportion of encounter areas and events that drive the adventure also works exceedingly well.

This is a fantastic adventure that belongs in everyone's collection.

3. The Winter Home (S.A. Mathis, Land of Phantoms):  Originally published for Free RPG Day to promote the soon-to-be-released first Transylvanian Adventures volume, this adventure really delivers a dose of Hammer-style horror coupled with DCC-style ass-kicking. If this even sounds remotely like something you'd like, you should pick this up.

Even if it does not, you should pick this up to see how author Scott Mathis makes the relationships between the PCs as important as the monsters, and expresses a time limit in classic style.

Here. Read this review.

2. The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games): Trust Goodman Games to not only develop fantastic adventures, but to put Class A material in even their free products. This amazing adventure initially appeared in the Goodman Games Free RPG Day 2012 offering, and later was reprinted in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. This adventure is a heist in the noble tradition of REH's Rogues in the House and Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.  Things are not what they seem, of course, and author Harley Stroh is at his absolute creepiest with some of the encounters here. This adventure is great for mood, suspense, creepy opponents, and player choices that truly matter not only to the adventure's outcome, but even to the adventure's very beginning.  For my money, this one is even creepier than the ultra-creepy Bride of the Black Manse, and that is saying something! That it takes place in an urban setting is icing on the cake.

And the #1 spot goes to

1. The Wizardarium of Calabraxis (Claytonian, Kill It With Fire):  You keep fish in an aquarium; you keep spell-slingers in a wizardarium. Here, in a handful of pages, is an adventure that you will want to run again and again. And, luckily, the material suggests that you should, merely by opening up new areas of Calabraxis' wizardarium, using many of the supplied monsters and supplementing them with new ones of your own creation. And the odds are very good that, even if another instalment comes out, your work will not be invalidated.

Why did this get the #1 spot?

It's got creepy.  It's got funny.  It's got more than enough role-playing, problem-solving, and combat to make any group of players happy.  Depending upon player choices, the same encounter may be role-playing, problem-solving, or combat.  It has time travel, in a way that makes time travel fun, scary, and informative. It has psionics. It has ape-men. It has Vorbians. It has......well, enough spoilers, right?

Suffice it to say that The Wizardarium of Calabraxis is wrapped up in a neat package, giving you everything you need to run the adventure, and giving you lots of opportunities to make it your own.  The psionics system used is perfect for adding your own unique powers to a DCC game.

Look at it this way:  I come to DCC primarily as a writer and a game master.  All of these 15 Must-Have DCC adventures are ones that I would have been proud to have written.  This one, though, makes me wish I could go back in time, prevent myself from having read it, and find some way to a table where the author was running it.  It is that good.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part II

In which I announce adventures that I think surpass the last five, but are still not quite to the five after.

Again, this is not a condemnation of any adventure out there, and I might have made different picks at another time.  Again, not including anything I wrote or converted to DCC.

10. The God-Seed Awakens! (Paul Wolfe, Mystic Bull Games):  I think author Paul Wolfe's favourite Appendix N author must be Robert E. Howard, because there is always a bit of an REH vibe to anything that he writes. In this case, though, I am specifically reminded of Abram Merritt, because this is a dungeon crawl in which you will encounter weird creatures and alien cultures that you might well end up talking to rather than killing. Not that you will not end up fighting plenty of monsters - it's just that the monsters all have an understandable purpose, and that they do not all necessarily need to be fought. And, as in the best of the A. Merritt stories, the characters are drawn into a battle between powerful cosmic forces - potential patrons - that they may or may not understand.

Finally, this is not an adventure that needs to be played and then tossed away; it offers potentially persistent locations, and the action in the module could take place over many game sessions.  Although they are not made explicit, I can see a lot of potential hooks for patrons and deities sending their mortal associates into harm's way here. A wizard or elf could easily be forced to seek out the god-seed to find the last component of some spell she wishes to learn....

9. Intrigue at the Court of Chaos (Michael Curtis, Goodman Games):  A group of 1st level characters is summoned before the Court of Chaos to perform a small task. If that doesn't make you want to run (or play!) this adventure, then nothing else that I say will.  Suffice it to say that Michael Curtis was doomed to be on this list, and this is not the only time he will appear.

It's difficult to write about this adventure and not damage if by revealing spoilers. The best part of this module is created entirely by the actions of the players, and in setting up a situation in which the players (and their important decisions) get to become the clear focus, this adventure excels. If the location worked as well as the intrigue, this adventure would easily make it into the Top 5. And I do not mean that the location does not work; I just mean that it is not as strong as some of the works that follow...this may in fact be intentional on the part of the author, so as to not take focus away from those important player decisions I mentioned.

In any event, I had to really work to order the adventures, and had to make hard decisions about which is "better" than which.  Any criticism I have of any adventure that makes it to this list is mild indeed, and this is more to explain why this one did not place better.

There is a (probably unintentional) potential link between this adventure and my own The Falcate Idol, which I recommend exploiting for all its worth.

8. Bride of the Black Manse (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  Creepy, creepy, creepy. One of the best "horror" adventures ever written for a "Sword & Sorcery" type game. Harley Stroh's adventure is not, shall we say, for the faint of heart.  My players showed a surprising discretion, avoiding playing around with some of the moving parts (and lucky for them it was that they did so!), which prevented me from using some of the best material in this module. That's okay, though, because what they did get to was more than adequate.

This adventure, designed for convention games, uses a real-world time limit, which creates a sense of urgency in the players that a more leisurely crawl would never achieve. Also, there are two full-page illustrations herein that you should photocopy and use as player handouts. One handout, though, could use more explanation in the text. The judge would benefit from clear notes on how to deal with the personality traits listed on the family tree.This is a minor nitpick, but, again, I am forced to rely on minor nitpicks and slight variations in excellence in order to put these adventures into a list.

7. Doom of the Savage Kings (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games): The first mini-sandbox style adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics, Doom of the Savage Kings has a single major threat, but that threat takes the PCs to a cool dungeon and forces them to deal with the politics of a remote settlement. Along the way they will make allies and enemies, and things will spin out of control more than once as the players drive the action.  There are some very cool treasures to be won, and one which the owner may eventually wish that he had left alone.

Having to deal with the same foe, over and over again, allows dread and fear to build, especially as these are mere 1st level characters trying to defeat a foe that is well beyond them. Figuring out what tools they need and how to get them fills the PC's days, and dread of the Hound fills their nights.

I wrote a bit more about this adventure here.

6. Another Man's Treasure (Ken Jelinek, Mystic Bull Games):  Found in In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer, this is almost more of an encounter than a treasure, in that it can occur in conjunction with another adventure of any level as an added complication.  And a brutal complication it is. The adventure as written is short, but perfect, and writing more than this would damage the joy and consternation of your players.

I submitted two adventures to this compilation, but it is Ken Jelinek's submission here, of all that appears in the book, that I think is best.


Next time, my Top 5 picks!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

15 Must-Have DCC Adventures - Part I

In which I select 15 DCC adventures that I think everyone should have. I am not including anything that I wrote, or did the conversion work for - I leave that to someone else!  In addition, I am only including adventures that are available at the time of this writing.  Finally, not appearing on this list is in no way a condemnation of any other adventure!

Narrowing the list down to fifteen was heart-rending, and some extremely good material didn't make the cut.  If I was writing this a month ago, or a month from now, my selections might change, and some of that material might be on the list. This list is only a snapshot of my thinking at this time!

Still, kudos to anyone who made it, and apologies to those writers whose adventures were culled from my initial short list of 25.

Even reaching that short list required brutal sacrifices of well-loved adventures.  Forgive me.  I cried too.

15. Sailors on the Starless Sea (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  I am sure that nobody had any doubt that this one would be on the list.  What's not to like? It's got a great set-up, with all sorts of hidden goodies that may (or may not) be found, depending upon what the players do. It has a definite "You Will Encounter Things Out of Your League" moment. It has a wonderful climax.

14. Street Kids of Ur-Hadad (Edgar Johnson, Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism): Found in Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1, this is not simply an urban funnel adventure - it is a toolkit to create a nearly unlimited number of urban funnel adventures.  And there is nothing in that toolkit that demands that you stop using it once your PCs have gained a few levels, either. It is the soul of the city of Ur-Hadad in a handful of pages. Some of the things going on in Kickassistan might seem a little too "metal" (or a little too weird) for some other campaign settings, but there is enough material here to set up your own "Street Kids" adventure in any major metropolitan area. Even if you never use the material as intended, there is a lot of inspiration toward setting up your own urban areas.

13. Fate's Fell Hand (Harley Stroh, Goodman Games):  Harley Stroh wrote fully 1/3rd of my top 15 picks. Consider what that means, and you will realize that anything with the "Strohdor" name on it is going to be worth picking up. Harley has a knack for setting up intriguing settings where the PCs get involved with various factions, needing to break a balance of power to succeed in their adventure. In Fate's Fell Hand, he does this in spades. It is part of the genius of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG that players don't have to wait for the "cool stuff" to happen at high levels; this one is a level 2 adventure.

12. The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk (Jon Marr, Purple Sorcerer Games):  To my mind, at least at this moment, this is the finest of the Purple Sorcerer funnels. That is not a knock on the others, but a compliment to how well this mixture of social interaction, wilderness trek, and "dungeon" crawl works. Parts of it are quite wacky, but at its heart is a mysterious Lovecraftian horror. The cool thing is that Jon Marr makes both these elements work, and the contrast between them works well. This adventure contains enough meat for several play sessions, introduces the Mist Men, and includes a bear with a fez. Fezzes are cool.

11. The Haunting of Larvik Island (Stephen Newton, Thick Skull Press):  This isn't just a dungeon plopped in the middle of a wilderness, this is a wilderness that sets the stage for the climactic dungeon. And the dungeon is cool. There is a giant albatross. There is a puzzle to figure out. There are un-dead, goblins, and ruffians. In a way, the adventure is Treasure Island meets Dungeons & Dragons meets Conan the Barbarian. There is something about the set-up, and the pay-off of the adventure that makes me imagine Conan involved in the escapades. Perhaps it is because there are things to talk to, someone to protect, a treasure to be lost or won, and plenty of things to kill. And at least one encounter that would make the burliest barbarian mutter "Crom!" when he faced it.

If you have read - or better yet, played! - any of these adventures, you know just how much fun they are. However, I think that there are ten adventures out there which are even better. I'll be getting to them anon.

Monday, 21 July 2014

7 Must-Have DCC Accessories

The Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game has some of the best adventures on the market. It is almost impossible to go wrong when selecting a DCC adventure. But DCC has a lot of non-adventure material as well, and in this post I am going to highlight some of it. Below are my Top Seven picks for non-adventure DCC materials.

I am excluding materials that I wrote, or otherwise played a significant role in the production of (although I am mentioned in or contributed artwork to some of these).  I have tried to rank these in terms of their general usefulness to the average DCC judge and players, but depending upon your campaign style and interests, YMMV considerably. I also decided to exclude any items that are not explicitly DCC, which is why James Raggi’s excellent Random Esoteric Creature Generator is not on the list (although you should own a copy!).

Please note also that, although some items did not make it onto this list, that by no means indicates that they are below par! I didn’t include Crawling Under a Broken Moon, for example, although I quite like it and think everyone should get it. On another day, it might have made the list.  This is a snapshot of what I am thinking makes the cut today.

Without further ado:

7.  Tales From the Fallen Empire (Chapter 13 Press)

This product offers a setting for DCC campaigns to take place in, new monsters, new classes, new patrons, and new spells.  It has very good rules for magic item creation and good rules for maritime adventuring.  Expanded equipment lists, ritual casting rules, and the rules for lucidity are also a real bonus, and could be used by a judge or players to great effect.

6.  Transylvanian Adventures (Land of Phantoms)

This product takes the DCC RPG and places it smack dab in the middle of a Hammer Horror film or a gothic novel, and then dials everything up to 11. The most obvious house rule that judges may steal from this to use in their non-Transylvanian DCC setting, but there are good rules here for character building and investigation as well. The Adversary Die is a rule well worth stealing, if you are working on an adventure that is not simply a dungeon crawl. Two more books are planned for this setting, and when they become available, I will be snagging them as well. Fantastic stuff! 

Also, critical and fumble tables for firearms.

5.  Critters, Creatures, & Denizens (Cognitions Pressworks)

This product offers a good range of monsters, including stats for the various animals that your PCs might acquire through their occupations, making it a valuable resource.  There is a lot of information here about the various creatures listed that most judges will never need, but there is also a very good discussion of how the creature statblocks were derived for those interested in creating their own. There is a good section on travel that the wily judge can use to her advantage. There are also some strange and fun creatures hidden on these pages – I have often glanced through the book and discovered something I had forgotten, which is a hallmark of a good resource.  The book also contains a critical hit table exclusive to Fey creatures, which I have recommended in my FT Series modules.

Finally, Critters, Creatures, & Denizens has an explicit permission allowing you to use a few CCD creatures in your published DCC adventures. This permission is modeled after the permission appearing in Angels, Daemons & Beings Between as a direct result of this author talking to that author. I, personally, would like to see more of this sort of thing in DCC products.

4.  Crawljammer #3 (Moon Dice Games)

Although I am a fan of all of the DCC zines, not every zine or every issue can make it to the “top seven” list. Even if we exclude the “adventure issues” of Crawl!, we would have seven Crawl!s, three Crawljammers, two Crawling Under a Broken Moon, and one Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad. All of these are good, but Crawljammer #3 has the Psychic Knight, and deals with psionics. Many a DCC campaign can benefit from a cogent treatment of psionics.

(CrawlingUnder a Broken Moon #2  deals with mutants and mutations, and The Wizardarium of Calabraxis has some good alternative psionics rules, but the Wizardarium was excluded because it is an adventure, and I haven’t finished reading through the mutations in CUaBM #2, or it might have made this list.  There are also two “technology wizard” types available; one in Crawljammer #2 and the other in Crawling Under a Broken Moon #1. They are different enough that both might exist within the same game milieu.)

3.  Crawl! #8 (Straycouches Press)

The Firearms Issue. From Wheelock pistols to laser blasters, Crawl! has you covered.  But that is not all, because Rev. Dak Ultimak makes sure that you have some handy tables to use these weapons in your game, in the form of invaders from another world! Whether those invaders are aliens from a distant star, modern humans, or some Revolutionary Era American soldiers, you will be ready.  This issue includes some firearms rules from Transylvanian Adventures, but not all of them. It is definitely a handy at-table reference when you decide that you want the PCs to emulate the majority of Appendix N protagonists – for every Conan who may not have had a pistol, there are two Solomon Kanes who certainly did! – or when you want your PCs to head out into the wastelands of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels.

If you are running Crawljammer or Crawling Under a Broken Moon, you will find that Crawl! #8 is your friend.

2.  Crawl #2 (Straycouches Press)

The Loot Issue contains additional equipment lists that are referred to at my table all of the time.  If my copy of Crawl! #2 isn’t available, and the PCs have reached some safe location to recover and gain new supplies, dirty looks are shot in my direction.

There are some other cool things in this issue as well – articles on random treasure, lucky and legendary items, converting OSR treasure hoards, a personality from the Sunken City by Jon Marr, new weapons, and new rules for shields and helmets. But it is Colin Chapman’s extended equipment list that my players dive into again and again.

And the most used resource at my table, apart from the Core Rules themselves?

1.  Alternate Occupations (IDD Company)

Ever since it came out, every time a character is rolled up, this reference is requested.  First off, it extends the occupation lists considerably.  Secondly, it offers some definitions for the more esoteric occupations which have long since fallen by the wayside (or never existed in some cases). Finally, if you are making higher-level characters, if offers tables that link appropriate occupations to the desired class. This is useful both to players (when, say, creating higher-level PCs to die horrible deaths kick serious ass in some higher-level DCC module, or when bringing a new PC into a higher-level party), and the harried judge when creating NPCs.

Yes, yes, I know, NPCs are different. But sometimes, when you foresee the likelihood of serious ass kicking horrible deaths, you want a ready NPC or two to become PCs as needed.

And for $2.00, it’s a hell of a bargain.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Voting is Now Open

Voting is now open in the 2014 Ennie Awards.

Please consider voting for Prince Charming, Reanimator.

I would love to see Monsters of Porphyria and The Other Side win as well.

Related note: As happy as I am to see my writing nominated, reviews like this one really bring home how much the care and effort Purple Duck Games puts into packaging their products (illustrations, maps, layout, bookmarks, etc.), and how big of an impact that has on the final product.

If Prince Charming does not win, I am sure that whatever does will be excellent, and I will be happy to congratulate the winner! If Prince Charming does win, that is as much due to the efforts of Mark GedakLuigi CatellaniKristian Richards, Perry Fehr, and Jon Marr as it is due to mine.  Not to mention Joseph Goodman and the rest of the crew at Goodman Games for putting out such an inspiring product!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pocket Sized Encounters

I have been remiss in not mentioning the Iron Tavern's Pocket-Sized Encounter series, even though I have bought them all. So, this is my attempt to make up for it.

Disclaimer: Jeffrey Tadlock at The Iron Tavern has reviewed a number of my project favourably, and I like both the Tavern and its owner.

The Pocket-Sized Encounter series is written for Swords & Wizardry, but translating them in to Dungeon Crawl Classics is relatively simple to do. If you have any experience in conversions, you should be able to do this even while running the adventures. These adventures are designed to be "side quests" that can be played in a single session, allowing them to be used when the PCs go "off the map", or as a part of initial world building when devising the game milieu.

Swords & Wizardry is not as "gonzo" as Dungeon Crawl Classics, but these adventures are interesting for Swords & Wizardry, which means that you can easily use them with DCC.

Kajak's Kave:  Livestock disappearing from their pastures, children discovering large humanoid footprints along the creek, rumored sightings of a lumbering giant, and Shaerie the Huntress’ disappearance several weeks ago leave only one conclusion. An ogre has taken up residence too close to town! Are you the brave adventurers to help rid the town of this threat and discover the whereabouts of Shaerie?

The Hive:  Lord Oakensun was fascinated by insects, spending hours cataloging and classifying his collection. Discontent led the man to experiment with forces he did not fully comprehend. Now farms outside the village have been found abandoned. Lord Oakensun’s daughter is missing, last seen near rocky hills a short distance away. A local thief reports his partner was snatched away in the dark amidst sounds of buzzing and chittering. Has Lord Oakensun’s experiment gone wrong? What is behind the rash of disappearances from the village?

Skull Cave: Centuries ago nomads found a cave and felt drawn to perform their death rites to dark gods within its confines. Years of ritualistic offerings to malevolent forces has fed demons deep below the cave. The nomads have long since disappeared, but a recent earth tremor has freed the demon spawn from their prison deep below the surface. Seeking blood of victims to fuel their infernal fires they have moved closer to the surface and begun their hunt.

Zedkiel's Chapel:  Two brave adventurers rescued Zedkiel the scholar on his way home from the tavern. A large bat-like creature had attacked the man and certainly would have slain him had Ulad and Frango not intervened. A month later reports of another large bat-like creature surfaced as several townsfolk were killed one night under a full moon. Ulad and Frango grew suspicious and discovered something horrid had happened to Zedkiel. The man eluded them until the pair of adventurers discovered the strange abandoned chapel Zedkiel was using as a hideout. The characters have a choice to make - seek out and destroy Zedkiel or aid him against the vigilante townsfolk.

Check them out here!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Why it Matters

As you are aware, my adventure, FT 0: Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores: Prince Charming, Reanimator, was nominated for an Ennie as “Best Electronic Book”.  (

Now, I will grant you that I have been critical of EN World in the past (and still am, as the decisions I find offensive still remain in place), but I will also admit that I am pleased by the nomination. But whether or not I am pleased doesn’t matter. What matters is that any time anything wins an award – be it an Oscar, a Grammy, or an Ennie – its profile is boosted. This translates to more sales for the publisher (Purple Duck Games), and this translates to more interest in the system (Dungeon Crawl Classics).

Re: Purple Duck Games

Take a minute and look over all the PDG products for DCC. There are a lot of them. I wrote most of them. In the case of Prince Charming, Reanimator, the product is PWYW to support a kickstarter from Eggplant Productions ( that would provide quality fantasy literature for adults and children alike.

The product has been a success – it has paid for itself and then some – but when Mark Gedak at PDG agreed to take it on, he was paying out of his own pocket for cartography and art to help me help a third party which was not even rpg related. I can’t put into words how many kinds of awesome that is.

I hope you will consider investing in Purple Duck Games with your vote, not only for Prince Charming, Reanimator, but also for Monsters of Porphyra in the Best Monster/Adversary category.  I have been discussing with Mark the possibility of converting Porphyra materials to DCC (their Pathfinder versions would still be around!), and PDG doing well in the Ennies would encourage Mark to consider that route.

(I did the official conversions of Harley Stroh’s Well of the Worm and Tower of the Black Pearl for Goodman Games, as well as the DCC conversion for the upcoming edition of GM Gems, so I have some experience in doing this kind of work.)

Re: Dungeon Crawl Classics

I took a look at past Ennie winners, and with the exception of the phenomenal Crawlers’ Companion by Purple Sorcerer (surely the most deserving award winner of all time), I couldn’t find a single DCC product. Not one adventure. Not one.

I have absolute faith that Joseph Goodman’s business plan is not contingent on recognition from EN World.

But. Not. One.

How can The One Who Watches From Below, Bride of the Black Manse, Sailors on the Starless Sea, or Frozen in Time not be recognized?  Really?  How can they not be at least nominated? What about all the excellent third party products for DCC, like Jon Marr’s A Gathering of the Marked or Stephen Newton’s The Haunting of Larvik Island? Did I just miss them?

Friends, this has got to change. Not only does Purple Duck deserve a higher profile for its work with DCC, but Dungeon Crawl Classics itself needs a higher profile in the Ennies. And in any other fan-based award out there.

Re: Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores

The FT Series is intended as a series of 7 adventures, running from a 0-level funnel (Prince Charming, Reanimator) to a 6th level finale. This is not an “Adventure Path” – the nature of gaining levels in DCC ( means that the PCs will need to have other quests in and among the FT Series adventures.  Once you get past FT 2, which I am currently working on, you will likely need to include another adventure to reach the suggested level for FT 3. Likewise, another two adventures before you are ready for FT 4, etc.

Some of the CE Series modules will be usable in this regard – I am actually working on one with two goblin classes that is intended to potentially tie into the FT Series as well as any other campaign milieu. If I can get permission from their publishers, each FT Series module from FT 3 onward will list suggested adventures, and how to adapt them to the FT milieu.

FT 2 was originally going to be named The Little Mermaid of Innsmouth, and is now being called The Portsmouth Mermaid. Dagon, Cthulhu, and Hans Christian Anderson meet for an adventure within the town of Portsmouth. Needless to say, all is not sweetness and light. I hope to give someone nightmares with my version of the Sea Witch.

In just two modules, the FT Series has already given you two fully described patrons and a new character class, as well as the strangeness and danger that you expect. As the series goes on, the amount of world-building material will only increase. You have been warned.

The FT Series will eventually take you up the beanstalk and into the lands of the Desert Faerie. It may seem hard to ramp up adventures when is already dialed to “11” and you face a dragon at the start.  Don’t worry.  With six adventures in the series, FT 6 won’t be dialed to “17”; I am shooting for at least “20”!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Without Bothering to do the Math

Which you are welcome to do, if you want.

A troop of 800 orcs with a statistically average array of hit points attacks another group of orcs which is identical. Let us say that each orc in the melee has a 50% chance of hitting each round and each successful strike does an average of 4 hp damage each round.

The battle lasts 9 rounds.  At the end of the battle, how many orcs remain with 1 hp? How many remain with 8 hp? For the sake of clarity, these are 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons orcs armed with spears.

Alexis argues that he knows the answer, and that if you do not agree with him, you are really, really fucking stupid.

Well, Alexis' numbers look okay to me, I suppose, if we assume that the orcs all form a line and whack at each other until the weakest fall. But, then, what happens if the weaker orcs on both sides cower in the rear while the alpha males duke it out?  Do we have any reason to imagine that weaker orcs are shirkers who hang near the rear? Only the source material, where Frodo and Sam are mistaken for orc shirkers in Mordor.

For all of that math to be relevant, it has to accurately model the variables of the scenario. Do you think that it does?

Okay, then, consider the possibilities of 1st level party consisting of a magic-user and 20 fighters. For fun, let's give them all maximum hit points per die, with no bonuses for Constitution. Which one of these fine PCs is going to die first? Should there ever be a 4 hp magic-user in a party? If we applied Alexis' math, and assumed that all 21 stood up toe-to-toe in a line with 21 equally NPCs, reason suggests that only the fighters remain. Of course, that's because PCs do not all stand up toe-to-toe in a line when fighting. Not if they want to live.

Likewise, I guess, we should consider thieves to be exceedingly rare in the campaign milieu. Monks, well, I can understand their rarity in a predominantly Western milieu, but they are another class that some players have managed to do quite well with despite their meagre hit points.

Wait! you say, that magic-user has spells! We must take that into account!

Sure. For one encounter. Then he is just a fighter without armour, with sub-optimal weapons and hit points.

There is nothing objectively "wrong" with Alexis' model, and you should use it if it feels "right" to you.  But if it does not feel "right" to you, there is no reason to agree with Rumson just because "he knows".

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Okay, some interesting (or not-so-interesting) things have happened recently.

(1) Goodman Games’ Perils of the Purple Planet kickstarter funded within 24 hours, and is now working on its stretch goals! Having been lucky enough to do some work on this product, I am confident in saying that people will not be disappointed. 

Harley Stroh’s work is always good, and this is an adventure that really delivers the goods.

(2) The Ennie Award nominations are out, and FT 0: Prince Charming, Reanimator, has been nominated. As some of you may know, I have been critical of some policy decisions at EN World in the past, so this came as a real surprise to me.  To those of those responsible for the nominations, and to those of you who have already sent their congratulations and well-wishes, thank you very much.

If you haven’t had a chance to read or play Prince Charming, Reanimator, you can get it on a “Pay What You Want” basis here. In addition, Purple Duck Games has graciously put CE 5 (Silent Nightfall) on sale for $2, HT 1 (The Perils of Cinder Claws) for $3, and FT 1 (Creeping Beauties of the Wood) for $4

Creeping Beauties does a lot of world-building for the Grimmswood, and includes a new character class (faerie animals) in keeping with the setting. As a bonus, there is a new patron as well as a more complete Doctor Chapman. Finally, as FT 1 details a good portion of the Grimmswood, if your PCs decide to bugger off during FT 0 and live their lives as outlaws in the woods, you can simply ignore the information on the Brides and have a ready-made starter sandbox to set your ongoing adventures in. All off these sales expire on the 21st of July.

If you feel like voting, I would appreciate it. Moreover, I know that Mark Gedak at Purple Duck Games would appreciate it, and he really does deserve a lot of credit for taking risk after risk with my material. Although not the only great guy in this business, Mark is among the best.

I am sure that he would not mind it if you also considered voting for Monsters of Porphyra!

(3) Alexis Smolensk’s book, How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games, is now out in both physical and electronic format. (Strangely, both formats seem to have the same price.) 

If you happen to purchase it, I would be interested in your serious critique. I have said it before, many times, but I will say it again: Although I do not always agree with Alexis, and I will take him to task when I think that he is both wrong and it is important or interesting enough to do so, he often does have good insights into the game.

I know that Alexis often brings it upon himself, but I will have to echo him here: I am only interested in serious critiques or links to the same. This is not an invitation to YDIS or other forms of mockery. At the same time, “serious critiques” means both good and bad here, and that is not an offer you will get on Tao.

I broke my own rule and wished him well in his blog comments, but as that is apparently not getting through his filter, I’ll repeat it here:  Good luck with your book, Alexis!

Upcoming blog posts will look at the Iron Tavern Press’ Pocket-Sized Adventures, as well as reviewing the “Must-Haves” for DCC, both adventures and non-adventure products.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Perils of the Purple Planet!

Goodman Games'  Perils of the Purple Planet kickstarter is live!

Send your fantasy adventurers to face alien perils in Harley Stroh’s long-awaited sword-and-planet epic! Having been one of the lucky few to be able to contribute, I've had a chance to take a look at the work in question, and it is well up to Harley's already high standards!

Summary of Kickstarter:

  • A Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure module of planetary scope – at level 4. The adventure flings your characters to adventures on a distant world dying slowly under a weirdling sun.
  • The basic pledge funds print+PDF copy of a boxed set containing Harley Stroh’s 32-page adventure module, plus a second 32-page campaign booklet – and possibly more depending on stretch goals.
  • The first softcover book is the adventure module Peril on the Purple Planet, which has two built-in special features. First, the cover art is oversized, and spreads across front and back cover in addition to wrapping around to front and back flaps. The flaps also double as player handouts when folded out to face the table. Second, the adventure map is a three-page-wide hex crawl, which folds out of the module center as a three-panel gatefold. Additionally, the adventure includes a number of B/W interior handouts to show the players what they face on the Purple Planet.
  • The second softcover book is a campaign booklet to expand your journey on the Purple Planet. At the basic pledge level, before any stretch goals, it includes three chapters: Lost Tombs of the Ancients, Bestiary of the Purple Planet, and Lost Tech of the Purple Planet, with contributions from Daniel J. Bishop, Tim Callahan, Edgar Johnson, and Terry Olson.
  • You can support this Kickstarter by adding on other adventure modules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics line, most of which are on sale for 25% off as part of this Kickstarter. You can also add on Purple Planet Player Guides at $5 each.
  • Stretch goals for this project will put even more items into the boxed set! These include the possibility of an ecology book, additional encounters, a book of handouts, a book of magic, a custom GM screen, and a guide to the Purple Underplanet!
  • The basic adventure module is complete and ready to print. All writing, art, and layout is complete. The additional writing for the campaign booklet is also complete. Art and layout for the campaign booklet will begin when this Kickstarter funds.
  • We expect PDF copy of the module to be available shortly before Gen Con, and print copy to be available at Gen Con or shipped soon after (depending on backer preference). If we have extra copies remaining at Gen Con after all Kickstarter pickups, they will be offered to the general public. 
Even if you don't support the kickstarter, you should drop by to see Doug Kovacs' amazing art!

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Tao of Hit Points

Doctor Strangeorc
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Orcs

I should be an adult about this, and just look away, but....From this blog post we see
I'm sure some of the readers (particularly those who have sworn never, ever, to read this blog again, despite their knowledge of all its contents) would come up for wild justifications for why a 1st level orc fighter has 2 hit points while an ordinary grunt has 5, but it always bothered me
And in the comments section we learn exactly who might come up with such a "wild justification":
Two different 180 pound humanoids can have considerably different measures of health; the construction of their bodies will be different. The 260 lb. boxer with a 'glass jaw' for instance. Thus, while weight gives an approximate variable (d8 vs d6) the random element includes the possibility of not having been structured as compactly or healthily.
This is from the same blog post that concludes that a giant centipede cannot possibly have 2 hp because it lacks the body mass. As though nobody has ever stepped on an ordinary-sized centipede (or cockroach, for that matter) only to see it escape, injured but not slain.

I think any discussion of hit points needs to take Gary Gygax, in the original DMG, page 82, into account:
It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain!
Gary continues to describe other factors that hit points take into account - skill, a "sixth sense", sheer luck, and magical/divine protections.  As always, the DMG is worthwhile for inspiration and understanding. All things that people have attempted to point out in this discussion.

Now, we get to the meat of the issue. Ignore for a moment that Alexis likes to portray anyone who disagrees with him as irrational, a shark, or worse.  As I understand his post, Alexis proposes an allocation of hit points for mass, and an allocation of hit points for training. Alexis says,
Thus, a 2nd level orc fighter with a 15 constitution would have 5-8 hit points from mass, 2-20 hit points from habits developed through training and an additional 2 hit points gained from improved fitness.  I don't have to make a story about where the points come from.  They originate in the same way for every orc, in a quantifiable manner.
This reduces the odds of the ordinary grunt orc from having more hit points than the 1st level orc fighter (by this scheme the grunt could have 8 hp and the soldier 7, but it won't happen very often), so this is a good method to reach Alexis' stated goals. The problem is not that this system would not work - it manifestly would - but in the implication that it is necessary.

In AD&D 1st Edition, an ordinary orc has 1d8 hit points. You don't have to make a story about where the points came from. You can if you wish, just as Alexis has made a story about where the hit points in his method come from (mass, training, and improved fitness), and they are applied to every ordinary orc in the same way. Likewise, under both systems, you can adjust orcs by making them fighters, more powerful, or whathaveyou.

Nobody else was fretting over justifying that 1 hp orc; they exampled how it could be done to counter an argument that a 1 hp orc makes no sense or is not justifiable. Or, if you prefer, to counter a claim that orc hit points following a normal distribution from 1d8 is not justifiable. That's not a big enough change in the claim that it requires a substantially different response. "One in eight orcs has lived a very rough life, malnourished and often sick."  There. Done. No "wild justifications" are needed.

That the DM/GM/Judge can determine why a certain monster has lower (or higher) than average hit points does not mean that, in normal play, this needs to be done. Consider that the average sword strike does 5 hp damage (rounded up), the orc with but 1 hp and the orcs with 2, 3, 4, and 5 hp usually look the same to the players during game play. The orc with 8 hp might get chopped down in a single blow, and no player knows that the orc had 8 hp rather than 1 hp.

What 1d8 hit points means, in this context is simply "They could be chopped down in a single blow, but some might require two, or even three blows" - and that actually does a good job of describing the orcs encountered in the source material (JRRT's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). Likewise, 2 hp for a giant centipede means only "It will probably be killed in a single blow, but there is an outside chance that it may survive."

You can add up hit points according to mass, constitution, class levels (training), and Toughness, if that is what floats your boat. I tried that way. It was called 3rd Edition. The desire to originate every creature in the same, supposedly fair, quantifiable manner, turned out (for me, at least) to be far more effort than the meagre benefit created justified. To each his own, though.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

If You Have Nothing Nice to Say, Better to Say Nothing


Right now, with the advent of 5e, there is a lot of negativity on the Internet.

Actually, I've noticed a lot less negativity than when 4e came out. That doesn't surprise me; 5e is a much better game than 4e (IMHO), and is the best version of WotC-D&D to date (again, IMHO). There are some real problems with the free Basic PDF, though, in terms of what I want from a game. I would find these easy to fix, if other games did not make that unnecessary. Why, for the love of Crom, does WotC feel the need to spread two lines of information into a quarter-page stat block?

But please, please, please do not feel the need to "talk down" about the new edition because that is your "side".  And please, please, please, please do not feel the need to "talk up" (or be silent) about the new edition because some people don't want anything bad to be said. If you are going to review the new edition, please just try to be honest in your review. That's it.

I, for one, am interested in both what people like, and what people do not like, about the new well as about other games. I would bet good money that WotC is as interested in what people dislike as they are in what people like, too. If they were not, 5e would have looked a hell of a lot more like 4e.

I am not saying, "Yay! What we need is another Edition War!"

I am saying that, if all those people who were told to shut up when they criticised 4e had actually shut up, we wouldn't have this version of 5e. We would have had 4e Part III.

WotC has shown that they are listening. It is my understanding that they have declared that 5e is going to be a "living edition" that will continue to change and grow because WotC will continue to listen. So, yeah, if you think D&D needs hit points as a strategic resource that takes time to recover, bloody well beat your drum.

If anyone tells you to shut up, or that WotC isn't listening, point to the free 5e PDF and let them know that WotC certainly is.  And, WotC? You might want to consider saying the same, because it would do you a world of good with the nay-sayers.

Now, about that licensing........

Saturday, 5 July 2014

V is for Vhat An Idiot

So here I am, deciding to pick up the old Alphabetic Blog Posts again, and what do I do?  I post stats for the DCC Vargouille, the Wampler, the Xorn, an alternative Yeti, and both Zarias and Zombies, when I am at the end of the alphabet. And I do not make use of the format to help fill those letters.


In other news, I have decided to honour Vanguard's request (note another V) with not only a goblin class, but two goblin classes, based on the monster write-ups I had done for RCFG. This is going to be part of a product, but I am going to ensure that Vanguard gets a free copy because (1) he requested the class, and (2) apart from that request, all I got was the chirping of crickets when I asked what people would like me to address. So, Vanguard gets all the XP and levels up.

Meanwhile, I suppose I should do a better "V is for...." than this rambling.  How about

V is For Vagabond Villains

Are your PCs rootless wanderers, who murder people in the middle of the night and then abscond with their stuff?  Well, the rootless vagabond has a history in Appendix N, most notably in the wanderings of Robert E. Howard's Conan and Solomon Kane.

Even so, most of the protagonists of Appendix N fiction do have a home, even if it is only a squalid apartment over a tavern in Lankhmar.  I have discovered that my players like to have home bases for their characters, even if those characters are going to travel far. One group uses the Old Silverjohn Place in Mermaids From Yuggoth (found in In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer), while another group has recently cleaned out much of The Mysterious Tower (DCCified) for their own use.

Even if you are not going to "play out" romances at the table, it is nice that the DCC system of character creation has prompted my players to think about who their characters were before they became adventurers. Some characters even once had family before they were displaced in time by entering an elven howe.

Wandering far afield is great, and I strongly encourage it in my games. Having a home to come back to, though, makes the characters a little more than vagabond villains, the so-called "murder hobos" that the game sometimes inspires. Connections to a "home" imply a larger world, though, and a consistent one at that.

Which reminds me of projects that I should be working on right now.  So I had better wrap this up.


* Don't write a series of posts starting with V, W, X, Y, and Z, and then decide to continue writing alphabetic blog posts picking up at U.

* I have writing projects right now to carry me through into autumn, but if you want me to talk about something here on the blog, or if you want me to work on some specific product that you would like, you should let me know.

* Even Conan settled down in Aquilonia. Your PCs can have homes, and those homes need not prevent them from adventuring. The vast majority of Appendix N protagonists are not rootless vagabonds. They just need the opportunity to set down roots. You may find that ties to community enrich their (and your) experience.

* Although a threat to the PCs' home is a real motivator, do not overuse this! That will simply mean that the PCs never establish ties to anything, anywhere. The vast majority of associations with a home base should be safety, comfort, and opportunity. The estate sale at the end of The Hobbit was not a major plot point, and served only to show that the world "back home" kept moving, and to drain a bit of Bilbo's treasure. The Shire only had to be Scoured once. Overuse this at your peril.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Some Thoughts on the Release of 5e

Well, the day has come, as we all knew it would, and the first look at 5e Basic is here.

And it doesn't suck.

In fact, it exceeds my expectations, which were admittedly not all that high after the debacle that was the 4e release. The release of 5e heralds a reverse of some of the disastrous trends that began to emerge in the later 3e era, and certainly seems to be the most playable (and most entertaining to read) WotC-D&D to date. There are definitely some things here I like, and the things that I dislike are easily fixed, or at least seem to be easily fix-able on a light read-through. It does seem like WotC listened and learned. Congratulations to all the designers!

I, for one, will not be switching. This is not because the product you've put out isn't good - all indications are that it is much better than 3e or 4e - but my read-through didn't indicate a game that was better than Dungeon Crawl Classics, or even close to it. I'll be going over it with a finer-toothed comb later to see if there are materials I can cull to improve my DCC game. The table of cool objects immediately popped out, and I am sure that I can use that to spur some creativity. Or reward the odd 0-level PC heading into his first adventure.....? Something to think about.

Anyway, here is my unsolicited advice for WotC:

It is absolutely okay to reference the shared fictional space that D&D has created over the years - it's probably a great idea, in that it helps to build a sense of community. But I suggest that you take a page from DCC, and consider grounding your adventures in something other than pure "D&D fantasy". Stretch the game; take it new places. That way, at least you can sell me adventures. Seriously. For all the angst that leaping away from D&D's roots in format that came with 4e, some of the ideas in adventure content were a breath of fresh air for the very same reason.

Try to avoid making your adventures too linear. That trend started in 3e, eventually became the "Delve Format", and means that I won't be buying. Even an adventure that is narrow in its focus, and has a definite beginning, midpoint, and end, can be far from linear if the PCs have a lot of choices along the way with real impact to how the narrative unfolds. Examine Bride of the Black Manse or Sailors on the Starless Sea, by Harley Stroh, if you don't know what I mean.

Finally, answer questions about licensing sooner rather than later. Really. The 4e GSL left a sour taste in some of our mouths, and while we are fairly certain that WotC will never be going back to the OGL, making what you are doing clear as soon as possible is the best way to either (1) quell suspicion that the licensing is going to suck, or (2) if those suspicions prove true, provide an opportunity to decide whether or not the taste of the licensing is worth the medicine of using it. 

I get a lot of great materials for my game by talented third party publishers. If I was to play your game, I would have a vested interest in your licensing.

Overall, Kudos to WotC for producing something worth looking at, even if it is not going to supplant my current game. I am not seeking change for the sake of change, and even if I was, this wouldn't be my "go-to" game as it currently stands, but I think WotC has begun to steer the ship in a better direction. 

There will be people playing this game, and loving it, and that is good.