Monday, 30 March 2020

Virtual Gary Con Virtual Recap

Well, I did it, and I survived. I have leapt into the world of online gaming. I had intended to do two more playtests at Gary Con, Beneath the Temple of Doubt and Journey to the Crypts of Orderly Death, but I didn't want to be trying to teach myself a new way to run games while dealing with all the complexities that higher-level characters bring. Indeed, I chickened out and just ran the same funnel adventure three times: Once Friday, once Saturday, and once Sunday.


The funnel I chose was 12,000 to 0, a funnel in which the PCs awake as convicts given a new life (and no memories of their old) on Sky Ark 079. Unfortunately, the Corrections Personnel abandoned the Sky Ark centuries ago. Equally unfortunately, the PCs are brought out of storage because aliens have come into contact with the hull.

The adventure runs like this:

(1) Wake up and have an hour to get your bearings. Random clues that something is happening occur every 10 minutes. You have no equipment or animals, just vouchers to obtain them.

(2) The aliens breach the hull and start ripping the Sky Ark apart...and killing people. Where is the breach? Determined randomly.

(3) Systems begin to fail. Which systems? Determined randomly.

(4) The Sky Ark begins to fall out of orbit. The aliens flee. Escape pods are unlocked. Rooms start breaking free from the space station. Good luck! 12,000 feet is how high you need to be to have a stable orbit. The adventure title refers to what is happening now. 0 feet is the ground.

For more details on this adventure, you can download the free pdf of the Gong Farmer's Almanac, Volume 2.

This is my story of the Virtual Con.

Friday Night

I ran the game for Tim White, Moogatronic D, Kleighton Smoniewski, Jason Smoniewski, and Christian Cotten-Dixon, all of whom were gracious with my fumbling around Roll20. Connections were actually pretty good. The game play highlight was probably when the pony and cow were created on the same teleportation-type pad, creating a dead Cronenburg-type monster. As the PCs were still unarmed, it was a good thing that the creature wasn't still alive.

That bit is always a hit. Thus far, whenever I've run the adventure, something like that always happens. For some reason, the idea that one animal should be removed from the pad before another forms is never considered before the unfortunate events occur (or fail to occur, see Sunday, below).

This group figured out that the Medical Bay could be used to potentially revive the dead, but didn't realize that the Correctional Refusal System could be used in conjunction with it, possibly creating a character with their original memories.

There was an after-game discussion, in which my love of Doctor Who came up. The "Space Beacon Nerva" feel of the adventure was commented on. The animals stored on micro-cellular slides, to be reconstituted as needed, is also a nod to Doctor Who. (That the link to The Ark in Space was from Ark 76 is coincidental.)


I ran the game for Mark Palmer, Dominic Cattarina, Sam Palmer, Kai Mote, and Rudy Randolph. One cool thing about having a virtual convention is that Mark and Sam Palmer would not have been able to make Gary Con XII, as they live in Scotland. Indeed, Sam Palmer played in the first playtest of Beneath the Temple of Doubt when I was running at Tabletop Scotland in Perth.

Connection was mostly good, but there was one part where my local DNS lost connection for about 3-5 minutes until I reset the modem. I felt very grateful that everyone was still there when I got back online! I was a bit better at using Roll20, and, with the good connection, we were able to play almost as though we would have in meatspace.

It was suggested that Roll20 could be used in conjunction with Discord for audio/video. I had chosen Roll20 because I thought it was the most widely used platform....and also Discord just gives me a black window. I will have to do some more research and planning, really, to determine which online platform is best. Someone anonymously donated a $30 credit to Roll20, though. I'm not sure who, but Thank You to whoever it was!

In this case, the Cronenberg monster was a goose and a hen, also dead. I believe it was this group which, thanks to a random malfunction, our cast was also able to get the transporter to invert a character before teleporting them to the cold of outer space. Good times, good times.

Saturday Night

Jen Brinkman kindly hosted the Saturday Night Social, which is, let's be honest, one of the most fun parts of meatspace Gary Con. You get to hang out with your peers, share the beverages of your people, and soak in the ambiance.

I wasn't able to stay online that long. Being at a Con and being at home are not quite the same thing. Home entails some level of real responsibilities.

Still, it was great to have a chance to chat with people, and just soak in the warmth. I missed those I was unable to see, and hope to see everyone at Gary Con next year!

Because Covid-19 interfered with my vacation, and I still intend on visiting family in Wisconsin this year if I can, I am considering Gamehole 2020 as an alternative. I will keep people posted.


I played my final game with Michael Jones, Jason Menard, Jonathan Perkel, Joan Troyer, and Michael Williams. For some reason, the Roll20 connections were terrible. This made it really hard to track who was speaking and where characters were, but it did force me to learn a little bit more about how Roll20 works.

In this game, we had a PC stuck on the Sky Ark as it crashed into the planet, instantly vaporizing the PC. We managed to get a couple of escape pods carrying two PCs, which resulted in further death. And we also got a few escape pods landing perilously close to where the Sky Ark 079 crashed into the planetary surface. One of these PCs survived....if this was on ongoing campaign, this is where I would have pulled out the Mutant Crawl Classics book!

In Summary

The whole world is going through a rough patch right now, but I feel blessed that we were at least able to get together in this way. "Social distancing" may mean physical isolation, but it doesn't have to mean social isolation. I mean, I was lucky enough to have players as far away as Scotland join in one of my games! If nothing else, that proves that this InterWebs thing offers gamers a niche that is worth exploring further.....

I cannot thank those of you who came stayed home and gamed with me enough. I hope to see you all again, either in real life or across a virtual tabletop of some kind. To the anonymous donor of Roll20 credit, again, Thank You!

See you at Cyclops Con!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

For the Love of Gnomes!

If you go way back to 2017, Yves Larochelle introduced a Gnome class in Crawl! Fanzine #6. Now, years later, there is an adventure which brings this class to your gaming table!

In addition, there are rules for Faerie Animals (first introduced in Creeping Beauties of the Wood) from the backwater bayou! Occupations for swampfolk? We've got that too!

The gnomes of Blackwater Bayou have lived in peace with the natural denizens of the surrounding swamps and marshy woodlands for many generations.  Now, something threatens that.  Weeks ago, a strange meteor fell into the bogs, its fall a streak of light across the night sky in a color not one of the gnomes could name. For days thereafter, parts of the swamp glowed with a weird phosphorescence in the same unknown hue, and some have seen the tree branches whispering in the dark sky when there is no breeze.  Somewhere in the heart of Blackwater Bayou, a malignancy grows.  If the balance is to be restored, the meteor at the center of the strangeness must be found and contained.

Humans live in Blackwater Bayou as well, but the gnomes have little to do with them, and try to avoid the backwards and clannish swampfolk whenever they can.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Virtual Gary Con!

Virtual GaryCon events now loaded. I am new to Roll20, so expect a few bumps....

Monday, 24 February 2020

The Lord of the Rings

Those who know me know that I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, a story which I have read countless times.

The Appendix N Book Club podcast did a series on the novel(s), which I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in. You may listen to the episodes using the links below. I highly recommend checking out other episodes of the podcast!

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

The original plan for the series was to have diverse voices for each of these books. Anna B. Meyer was a guest on a separate, and excellent, episode devoted to The Two Towers, which you can listen to here.

Finally, going way back to Episode 5 of the podcast, you can listen to a discussion of The Hobbit here.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Cowards in the Mist

So, you may have noticed an upswing in spam comments that I have been deleting, following my publication of an interview related to Vagabond Dog and Sometimes, Always Monsters.

You can, and should, read the interview here.

Basically, Vagabond Dog and its creator have been harassed by a coward trying to bring him down from the shadows, who has then tried the same with me when I deplatformed his comments on the blog.

As a consequence, I have changed the comments settings to prevent "anonymous" comments, and so that I can forward further incidents to the RCMP. I am fairly certain that this individual is someone who used to come to the store in the Golden City Comics days, and who simply has not grown any more mature since then.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Vol 6

Is live now!

Perhaps you are just embarking on your career as a DCC judge. Perhaps you are an old hand. Perhaps you are considering giving the game a try, but you aren’t sure if you should.

Once more, Daniel J. Bishop (i.e., Raven Crowking, i.e., me!) offers a slew of advice and options for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game! Herein you will find insight into topics such as setting DCs for saving throws, placing treasure, and putting your players in the driver's seat. You will find a few new options for your game, a new patron (sans patron spells), and several monsters both new and  old to use in your adventures!

Get it Here!

Friday, 14 February 2020

Sometimes, Always Monsters

Or, Vagabond Dog for Valentine's Day!

Hello. We are talking today with Justin Amirkhani, of Vagabond Dog. The trailer for their upcoming release, Sometimes Always Monsters, can be seen here. For full disclosure, Justin is a regular in my biweekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game, and was a player with my 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons game when I co-owned Golden City Comics.

RCK: Hi Justin. How are you?

JA: Today, I'm a little frantic because we're in the final stages before release. We've been working on this thing for about 6 years, and despite all that time, I find there's always more to do!

RCK: Hopefully youll still have time to make the game on Wenesday. We’ll be seeing if the dead can return to life....

JA: Joining the DCC game over this last year has actually been great for my schedule, sanity, and socialization. Like I said, we've been working on this for a long time and over that period there's been some points where those elements of my life have definitely suffered. Having a group that depends on my ability to stab monsters to death with my character's pitchfork (long story) is the sort of reliable break I need from the intense and isolating game development work I get steeped in.

RCK: I am not very well versed in video games or computer games, myself. Most of what I do is pure tabletop. Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you into the computer side of gaming?

JA: I grew up playing with polygons before polyhedrons, so it's moreso tabletop that drew me in over time than video games. My earliest roleplaying experiences were with the likes of Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights on PC. Ironically, at the time I had no idea all of their systems were based on D&D.

Eventually, I met people who explained their pen-and-paper counterparts, and I grew a fascination with the freedom and wider play space that traditional games offered.

RCK: I understand that started with the Golden City Comics game?

JA: Pretty much, yeah. There were attempts to play one-offs even before I knew the rules, but Golden was the first real campaign that I ever took part in. It was a rather revelatory experience that's informed a big part of how I view games and design.

You're a great DM, and I'm glad to have played under you; both then and now!

RCK: Flattery will get you nowhere!

How about Sometimes Always Monsters? What’s the elevator pitch for that?

JA: It's a game where you play as a recently married author. You're a best-seller, and life is going really well. Then you join a cross-country bus tour to try and promote your next novel, but start hearing some nasty rumors that claim you're a plagiarist.

There's a lot of choices to make within the game, and it's a cross between a narrative experience and a sort-of life simulator. We tried to make as many options as possible within the confines, and it's got a lot of variability depending on your decisions.

RCK: A long time ago, before computer graphics became good, there used to be quite a few text-based games. When you mean narrative, does that mean text?

JA: Yeah. Reading. Lots and lots of reading.

Between this game and its predecessor, there's easily over a million words of dialogue baked in its code. The only thing that separates it from a classic text-based adventure is that you can actually see your character walking around and doing stuff.

RCK: How do you keep players engaged with these non-action scenes?

JA: The quality of the setup, their investment in the characters, and a consistent feeling of agency is what keeps most people interested. Usually, when things are getting their wordiest, there's a heavy choice right around the corner.

RCK: I guess what I’m asking is for your theory of game design.

JA: Although I tend to follow my instinct more than anything, I do believe that giving players the right of refusal is incredibly powerful. Especially in a confined medium like video games, the power to simply decline a piece of content can feel very freeing in contrast to games that try to keep players on a railroad of good content.

Of course, this requires a ton of extra work to provide. Players can also sabotage their own experiences when given this power. For example, you can skip the entirety of SAM's main narrative if you simply don't go on the bus tour and make your character stay home watching TV. It's not exciting, but it's totally possible.

This philosophy leaves players somewhat responsible for their own entertainment, and forces designers to accept that large swathes of content may never be seen. However, there's no substitute for the feeling of agency this sort of design provides.

RCK: The trailer definitely promises something unusual. Most games try to get you to the point where this game begins.

JA: Well, it being the a sort of follow-up definitely helps. We managed to chew through most of the things first-time designers try to do in our previous game and took a lot of feedback to heart when starting this one. A lot of people complained about the chore-like grind and somewhat depressing tone of its predecessor, so Sometimes Always Monsters tries to be different by offering the desserts first.

RCK: I understand you have something of a dedicated fan base. Can you give them any insight into the team behind your games?

JA: Our team's really small. I handle all of the writing, design, and development. Jake makes sure everything still works, and solves trickier technical problems. Meanwhile, all of the art for the maps, characters, and everything else is handled by Emilio. We all work from home, and collaborate online through Discord.

We're nothing fancy, but our fans know we're dedicated. It takes a lot of patience to build the kind of games we've made, especially when you don't have a big studio.

RCK: There you have it. Sometimes Always Monsters is set to release on the 2nd of April. People can preorder it on your website here. And there's another interesting interview based on your previous release here.

Good luck! And thank you for talking with us!

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Ask Me Anything

Hi. I did this about a year ago, and why not do it again? New faces, new people, new questions, and here I am trying very hard to get back into the swing of writing every day!
I am Daniel J. Bishop, author of several Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures. My work includes Through the Dragonwall and The Dread God Al-Khazadar for Goodman Games, as well as third-party publisher products such as Bone Hoard of the Dancing HorrorThe Falcate Idol, and The Arwich Grinder. My blogs include Raven Crowking’s Nest, the DCC Trove of Treasures, and Toronto Crawl Classics.
I'll be taking questions for the next 48 hours or so.