Tuesday 28 January 2014


I don't actually like having to type "YMMV" over and over again.  It actually ought to be assumed. However, I have recently read a dumb-ass discussion of what the term means, so let's take a quick look, shall we?

YMMV means "Your Mileage May Vary", a term originating in automobile commercials because people were concerned about gas prices, and the fuel efficiency of a purchased vehicle was of importance.  On the other hand, actual mileage varies on the basis of road conditions and the maintenance of your vehicle.  No one can guarantee you what your mileage will be outside of optimum conditions, and, if you live in a litiginous society, you might want to make sure that you are not falsely advertising your product.

Did this get used to lie about fuel efficiency?  I'm sure it did.  Does it get used by trolls today on the InterWebs?  I'm sure it does.  But neither of these facts take away from what it's meant to do:  Avoid bogging the auto manufacturer in lawsuits about small variations of gas mileage in the real world, and avoiding bogging the speaker down in minutia about each person's individual experience and/or nitpicking in the InterWebs.

It says, "The point I am making is valid whether or not your experience differs from mine."  It also says, "I am well aware that your experience is different than mine, and I am not trying to claim that I know the One True Way."  Because, as with the auto manufacturers knowing that they will be hit by lawsuits for minor differences in mileage, we know that all kinds of interesting conversations on the InterWebs get shut down over cries of "One True Wayism" and loops of logic where, given a proposition "If A, then B, and if not A, then not B", the only real responses are "Well, what if A?"  "Well, what if not A?" and "Well, then how come B sometimes doesn't occur when you don't have A?"

We have all seen it.  We all know it happens.  And, just as the YMMV in the auto commercial doesn't prevent all frivolous lawsuits, neither does YMMV on the InterWebs prevent all frivolous responses.  That's just too much to hope for from human beings.

Sometimes, true, YMMV might mean "Fuck your experience. I have MINE."....but to imagine that this is all it means is a little naive.  In this case, it surely also means "I think you're a fucking idiot. I think you're incapable of producing a meaningful argument. I think you're living in a bubble of self-love that deludes you. I don't think you matter."

See, here's the thing.  You take take a game as seriously as you like.  Some people are playing baseball in the Olympics, or are pros, or are in amateur leagues.  Some people are just tossing a ball around in the back yards with their kids.  Which is more important?  Only a jackass would think they know the answer for all people at all times.

Baseball is not any less respected because some kids play T-ball, or because some mom plays with her kids for fun.  It hasn't become any more serious, or any less serious as a result.  People who play it seriously, do so.  People who play it for fun, do so.  Even someone who wouldn't be a mild challenge for a serious chess player might keep a board and play over the course of his entire life, and, you know what?  It doesn't affect the game of chess for the serious players one whit.

I've seen some amazing things on the InterWebs.  Other GMs, other players, have come up with stuff that makes me salivate.  I think, "Damn, I wish I had come up with that" or "I wish I could play in that game"....but other than inspiration and camaraderie, I really don't care what you do in your game.  Like anything else in life, you get out what you put into it.  It therefore follows that what you put into it should yield what you want to get out of it.  And that might not be what I want.

The truth is, YMMV has meaning because it acknowledges a fundamental truth:  We do not all want the same performance out of our vehicles, we are not all driving the same model, and we can have real differences in the road surface, maintenance, and weather patterns.  If you studied psychology, you will understand that children, not adults, are the ones who fail to realize that other people have different mileage.  And it is usually children whose first response is, effectively, "Nah nah nah; I'm not listening".  Or, "Just shut the fuck up", if you prefer.

But, like the child who has to learn that he doesn't control the world, the poster discovers that the world doesn't simply go away, and the InterWebs are still full of contrary opinions.  Eventually, either the child grows up or he does not.  Worrying about people who want something different than you, unless it is in some way harmful, is a waste of time.  And I have yet to see a cogent argument about how the casual gamer hurts the game.

The guy who demands that The. Game. Must. Be. Serious. is just the flip side of the guy who says "It's all just playing elves in your parent's basement, anyway."  Both ignore the wide, wide spaces between, in which most of us play.

Of course, YMMV.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Amazon Grace

Well, I asked what you would like me to blog about, and the crickets were pretty damn loud.  Perhaps I should have taken the silence to mean that you wanted me to stop altogether, but (1) you aren't that lucky, and (2) I'm not that kind.

So, instead you get the news that Purple Duck is making the leap to Amazon, starting with Silent Nightfall, which you can now pick up here.

And, in other news, Crawl #9, containing The Arwich Grinder, is talked about here.

For those following the Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between controversy, Sean Connors posted on the Indiegogo site:  "People are receiving there books it is getting there it will happen."  This allows for at least some cautious optimism...although it begs the question what kind of post takes over three months to arrive.  For the record, I have received nothing as of this date.

If you want me to address some specific topic, or answer some specific question, please leave a comment.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Published Work for Dungeon Crawl Classics (Part IV)

Let's finish this up, then, shall we?

The Stars are Falling (Purple Duck Games):  This is a compilation of the first five Adventure Location modules published by Purple Duck Games.  I wrote three of the five adventures, with Paul Wolfe and David Pryzbyla writing the other two.  I also wrote a short introduction that frames the five as a single adventure path, and it is this extra bit that made me list this item separately.  If you need an example of how to turn a series of adventures into a campaign, this product will supply one.  It also combines five pretty good adventures at a reasonable price, in both print and pdf.

For some reason, this product doesn't come up in the Dungeon Crawl Classics section at RPG Now, which is likely to be hurting sales for Mark Gedak, but you can get it here.  If you were considering buying the adventures contained within, this is a really good deal.

The Stars are Falling contains Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror, Sepulcher of the Mountain God (by Paul Wolfe), Through the Cotillion of Hours (see below), The Waystation (by David Pryzbyla), and Stars in the Darkness.

The Thing in the Chimney (Purple Duck Games):  I talked a little bit about how this came about in my last post, so I will try to avoid retreading that ground.

When I first decided to do a holiday module, I set it up as a free download with the permission of Joseph Goodman, but without the DCC RPG compatibility logo.  Eventually the free hosting service I was using gave the link address to something else, and The Thing in the Chimney was lost to those who wanted it. As a result, there are two versions of this adventure floating around the DCC community - the initial, free pdf with donated art by the talented bygrinstow, and the combined version with The Nexus of Yule in The Perils of the Cinder Claws, with art by Jacob Blackmon.

The Thing in the Chimney is reviewed here, here, at the Iron Tavern, and at Tenkar's Tavern (and, yes, that was the cover of the original free download you see at Tenkar's Tavern).  I am going to quote Patrick R. from the first review, for those of you who do not follow the links, because these are some of the kindest words imaginable:
I just finished running "The Thing in the Chimney" (the first of two adventures in this excellent product) as a Judge. Honestly among the most fun I've ever had in a fantasy RPG session and I've been playing for more than 30 years!
The Thing in the Chimney is available as part of The Perils of the Cinder Claws in pdf format here.

Through the Cotillion of Hours (Purple Duck Games):  The name of this module came from a poem I wrote about Internet dating, back in the days when the Internet was called "Bulletin Board Systems" and most computer screens had amber monitors with graphics that were no better than those used in Pong.

This adventure takes place in a dream world, but one that can have real consequences on the dreamer(s). Well aware that some players might balk at entering the cotillion, I had to ensure that there was a method to keep the waking characters from simply slaying or stealing from their deep-sleeping brethren.  In addition, parts of the module would have to be described by the judge so as to reflect the dreaming PC's actual adventures.

This was also the first module in which I created patron information for a being actually encountered in the module.  The idea of directly marrying patron to game events is pretty obvious, but it makes for more organic play, and it is an idea I revisited again in The Revelation of Mulmo, The Black Goat, The Perils of the Cinder Claws, and Prince Charming, Reanimator.  Harley Stroh does the same in his excellent Beyond the Black Gate, as does Paul Wolfe in Tomb of Curses, Forsaken Reavers of Praeder Peak (in D.A.M.N.! Issue #1) and his upcoming The God-Seed Awakens.  To my mind, this is entirely consistent with how patron-like entities are used by many Appendix N authors, such as A. Merritt, Philp Jose Farmer, and Andre Norton.

When I first ran this adventure, it instantly became the favourite of my older daughter, and remained in her #1 spot until I ran Michael Curtis' Frozen in Time at Wizard's Cache in Toronto as part of the 2013 DCC World Tour.  So, Kudos! to you, Mr. Curtis!  My daughter had the only character who survived the final event of that adventure.  Let us say that the PCs really went to the edge.

Reviews of Through the Cotillion of Hours can be found at the Iron Tavern, Tenkar's Tavern, Endzeitgeist, and by Megan R. here.  It can be purchased in pdf or print here, or as part of the larger The Stars are Falling collection here.

Tomb of the Squonk (Mystic Bull Games):  When I was first working on In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer with Mystic Bull Games, Paul Wolfe supplied me with two pictures and a challenge to write an adventure that made use of the artwork provided.  One of these pictures is on the cover of Pulp Weird Encounters #1: Tomb of the Squonk and the Silent Army, wherein you will find this adventure.  The adventure was simply too long to fit into the aforementioned book without significant chopping, and the chopping so drastically altered the adventure that I was unhappy with the result.  As a consequence, it was reserved for the time, and published later.

I am an aficionado of folklore and legend, so I well know the stories of the hodag, the hide-behind, the flitterbick, and the squonk.  With an illustration of a hideous swampy creature and the caption "just misunderstood", stories of the squonk - a hideous beast which, if captured, dissolved in its own tears - sprang instantly to mind.  But was the squonk really misunderstood?  Having recently read a lot of Philip Jose Farmer, I decided to make Tomb of the Squonk a tribute to his World of Tiers series, creating a group of Patricians to take the place of his Lords.  Of course, this is not the World of Tiers, and references to other Appendix N authors are also included.  If you miss the Fritz Leiber nod, you are not paying attention.

In the core rulebook, Joseph Goodman points out that there is no expected amount of treasure for any given encounter, and this adventure includes only the treasure that I decided would logically be present. Some judges may wish to up the value of what is there, but I do not recommend it.  If your players are like mine, they will figure out how the traps work, and then decide that the location is useful for their own purposes. Obviously, if the squonk succeeds in his last attempt, the PCs will be thrust into a new adventure elsewhere, but even if the squonk does not succeed, the wise judge will have a few strange adventures prepared in the event that the players themselves decide to pass through the gates provided.  When I ran this, the PCs ended up in Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, and called upon divine assistance to escape before they got to the main area of the adventure.  They were spooked by a big bear!  Well, that and the realization that the world they were in was, itself, actively hostile to them.

You can find a review here and at Tenkar's Tavern.  You can pick up the adventure in pdf format here.  This is another adventure that really deserves more attention than it has received.

Tower of the Black Pearl (Goodman Games):  This is actually the second Harley Stroh DCC adventure written for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 that I was lucky enough to convert to the DCC ruleset.  Apparently, Harley was going to convert it himself when he failed a Luck check and injured his arm.  As a result, I got the opportunity, along with some notes from Harley and Joseph Goodman about what they wanted done.

Doing my initial read-through, I discovered that this was the first appearance of Sezrekan the Elder! Moreover, somewhere in the process of writing the DCC rpg, Azi Dahaka had beaten him up and took some of his stuff.  Because Joseph wanted to make use of the original illustrations, I had to find a way to make the multi-headed draconic imagery work for Sezrekan without making him seem like Azi Dahaka, and include more Appendix N elements.  If you have both versions, and didn't notice the changes, I did my job.

Among the other changes was a desire to ensure that the magic items included in the text were DCC-ified, which is always a pleasure.

Here's a review from Tenkar's Tavern and a review from Megan R.  Although physical copies are sold out, you can still get it in pdf here.

Well of the Worm (Goodman Games):  This was the first Harley Stroh DCC adventure that I converted from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 to the DCC rules.  Challenges included turning a dwarf wizard in to a human wizard who had become dwarfish due to corruption, reducing the amount of treasure, and making the "common" monsters mysterious.  The original version of Well of the Worm was created with the assumptions of D&D 3.5, including the omni-presence of various demi-human races.  I wanted to make the version I turned in more "Appendix N", and that meant toning down the demi-humans considerably.  No more do dwarf armies march across the surface lands in this adventure, and feral elves are not used where humans villagers will suffice.

I would really enjoy the opportunity to convert other earlier Goodman Games materials, including some of the 4th Edition modules, to Dungeon Crawl Classics.  If you are a publisher with materials for any edition of any game system that you think would adapt well to DCC, please contact me.

If you are a DCC judge or player who would like to see this sort of product become a reality, please bring it up on the Goodman Games Forums, or with your publisher of choice!

Here is a review by Alexander Lucard and another by Bryce Lynch.  Although print copies are sold out, you can still get a pdf here.

END NOTE:  Well, that's it.  Apart from some spot illustrations, that's what I've done for Dungeon Crawl Classics to date.  I have a (perhaps insane) desire to place something with every company publishing materials for this most excellent game, so, if you are such a publisher, feel free to contact me.

Next post will be on to something else, and if you have any topics you would like me to address, now is the time to make your desires known!

Saturday 18 January 2014

Published Work for Dungeon Crawl Classics (Part III)

The Folk of Osmon (Purple Duck Games):  This is the culmination of a few factors.  One is the swamp map supplied by Tim Hartin of Paratime Design.  The second is an image supplied by Mark Gedak of Purple Duck Games, which ends up being used as the Avatar of Osmon itself.  Finally, there is a strong influence from Appendix N authors Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sterling Lanier.  Because of the environment, I thought that it would be a perfect fit for use with Jon Marr's Sunken City adventures, and was able to receive permission to say the same on the ad text.

Now, I have a confession to make.  Of all the CE Series modules so far, The Folk of Osmon is my favourite. I love the titular Folk, I am happy with the Avatar of Osmon, and I am very happy with the re-usability of the site.  The other monsters, I think, are both weird and evocative.  The swamp light faeries are one of the things I am happiest with.

While the ruined city of Osmon is something that I will probably revisit at some time, if there is interest, the text is all OGC, so I hope to see some of this material used by Purple Sorcerer's modules as well.  In any event, there is a dungeon delve or two to consider for the future.

You can find reviews of this module at the Iron Tavern, at Tenkar's Tavern, and at Endzeitgeist.  Or go here.  You can buy The Folk of Osmon in pdf format here

The Imperishable Sorceress (Goodman Games):  Enter Joseph Goodman.  I defy anyone  to have Joseph Goodman ask them if they are interested in pitching an adventure idea, and to say "No".  It simply cannot be done.  I feel sure you can understand that when Mr. Goodman asked me to pitch an idea for a short adventure, I was more than willing to do so.  At the time I had no idea where the adventure was going to appear; it is now part of the 2013 Free RPG Day offering from Goodman Games.

As I mentioned on Spellburn, Joseph accepted the first idea I pitched him.  However, things weren't necessarily as easy as that might sound.  My initial pitch had more encounters going up the side of the mountain, but some of this material was dropped for length, focus, and as a result of playtest comments.  I had imagined climbing the mountain somewhat like climbing Stardock in Fritz Leiber's story, "Stardock". At one point, I had devised a whole mountain-climbing mini-game.  Perhaps it will be useful for something else down the line.

My initial idea for the main adventure area didn't include doors (should Builders have doors like humans?), but Joseph wanted me to consider doors, secret doors, and more traps.  The result, I think, was better than the original doorless plan.  Joseph also urged me to consider how an Appendix N author like Philip Jose Farmer would get the PCs to the dungeon, and hence the coin was developed.  I had originally imagined something more like the "Stardock" story.

The whole idea of setting the adventure in a cold region surrounded by boreal forests was due to my partner. She said something like, "Joseph knows you live in Canada; give him something Canadian."  I assure you, however, that we don't have Builders beneath the Canadian Shield.  Really.  We don't.

You can find a review here, here, and here, and pick it up in pdf here.  It comes with an Xcrawl adventure by Brendan LaSalle.

The Mysterious Valley (Straycouches Press):  Found in D.A.M.N.! Issue #1, this is the result of editor Garett Oliver being a friend and regular player in my weekly DCC game.  Around the same time that D.A.M.N.! was being planned, I had done my tribute to the late Ray Harryhausen on my blog.  Garett asked me if I could do an adventure that was a tribute to the man.  Naturally, I had to say yes.

I decided to create a mini-sandbox rather than a full-on A-to-Z adventure.  Nonetheless, a lot of work went into devising The Mysterious Valley, because a lot of areas had to be fleshed out in general terms well enough that the judge could use the material "as is".  Of course, the real hope is that the mini-sandbox would inspire judges to add material of their own as well as flesh out what is there.  A great many adventures could take place within The Mysterious Valley.

One of the important things (to me) was the make the mini-sandbox useful through a wide range of levels.  As a result, you will find the seeds for many game sessions within the text.  There are a number of single-entry areas that beg to be expanded upon - I am torn between doing expansions on these areas for future issues and leaving them open so that no judge need fear that using any "official" expansion need undo her work.  The likelihood is that I will choose the second path, barring great demand that I follow the first.

If nothing else, The Mysterious Valley will supply the perspective judge with a lot of monster statistics to use as she will.  There are well over 30 creature types fully statted out in the adventure.  I am not aware of any reviews of the issue yet, but it can be picked up in pdf format here.  If you discover any reviews, please let me know!

The Nexus of Yule (Purple Duck Games):  In 2013, as American Thanksgiving approached (Canada's is in October), I posted some game stats for a giant mutated turkey and a primordial cranberry jelly on the Goodman Games forums.  If you go back and read that thread, you will discover that, as a result of finarvyn's response, I began to plan a one-off Christmas special, which became The Thing in the Chimney.  While I will be discussing that first Yuletide module in greater detail next post, The Nexus of Yule is a sequel to that adventure, published together with the original by Purple Duck Games as The Perils of the Cinder Claws.  This year, of course, I was competing with an official Goodman Games adventure, The Old God's Return, by Michael Curtis.

Allow me to take a moment here to suggest that The Old God's Return is a cool adventure, and you should definitely consider getting it.  It is available in pdf here.  Similarly, if you are looking for a Thanksgiving adventure, Edgar Johnson has made Revenge of the Gobbler available here (and this one is free!).

One of the problems with creating The Nexus of Yule is that I didn't want to simply rehash The Thing in the Chimney, and the first module had used a great number of Yuletide tropes.  Instead, this adventure allows the characters to enter the titular Nexus, whereby they can pass from one plane of existence to another, always arriving at Yuletide, and encountering different problems thereby.  At the end, of course, they are confronted by the Cinder Claws, who, having been defeated by them in the earlier adventure, is looking for powerful mortals that can keep Christmas in their hearts the year round....

You can find a review here or at the Iron Tavern.  The adventure is available as part of The Perils of the Cinder Claws in pdf format here.

The Perplexing Disappearances in Brambury (Brave Halfling Publishing):  I helped John Adams whip his baby into order, and he gave me a "with Daniel Bishop" writing credit.  This is an add-on 0-level funnel for the Appendix N Kickstarter, so I'll not say too much about it at the moment. First off, John did all the heavy lifting. Second, while I have seen the finished pdf, I am not certain that supporters have received their download links yet.  I think they have.

The Revelation of Mulmo (Dragon's Hoard):  Simply the largest DCC module to date, with 60 described areas, this was an add-on for the Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between Indiegogo project.  The new spell, Scrying, and the lunar creatures in the adventure, are listed as OGC in the module, and I hope others will make use of them.

I've already discussed the problems with Dragon's Hoard's non-delivery of physical product at length, and I am not going to retread that here, save to say that I dearly wanted to see this in print.  I paid for a good bit of the art out of my own pocket in order to ensure that the quality of presentation was high, and I did the layout as well.

What is The Revelation of Mulmo?  The PCs enter and examine a deserted elf howe. It is a "Quest For It" adventure, with a chance to rescue a fallen comrade from death. It is a "Mysterious Magic" adventure, where using magic within the elf howe may have unforeseen effects.  It is a patron-centric adventure, with new patrons supplied and where patrons both instigate and can affect the adventure that unfolds. But most of all, it is an adventure about elves in Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Within this module, you will find references (some obvious, and some hopefully not so obvious) to every Appendix N author's vision of elves, if they offered any such vision. You will therefore find nods to (among others) Poul Anderson, Lin CarterLord Dunsany, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, Margaret St. Clair, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Roger Zelazny.  My desire was to create an adventure that redefined elves from what Dungeons & Dragons has depicted as the "Tolkien norm" to something far closer to the source materials and the DCC vision.

Part of one room reads as follows:

This chamber was a laboratory once. The central area is filled with carved wooden tables, splattered with stains from blood and chemicals, while the curved northern wall contains five brass-bound wooden cabinets. One of these is open, revealing a plethora of scrolls and a shelf filled with glass vials, but the other four are closed. Dissected creatures are splayed on several of the tables – frogs, owls, cats…even a human woman.  Each of these is strapped or pinned to a table, cut well open, and their organs are extracted to lie on the table beside them.

The human woman is alive, and conscious. Her name is Hermia, and she made the mistake of coming her seeking to learn magic from the elves. A skilled healer might be able to put her back together (DC 25, Intelligence-based), but even so she is shattered, and can do nothing without at least a month of bed rest.

Divine healing will not help unless she is undissected, although direct divine intervention may. Afterwards, she is AC 9 and has 1 hp. Her interest in adventuring is completely shattered. A Lawful character that saves her gains a permanent +1d4 bonus to Luck. Any attempt takes 1d3 hours to perform.

Needless to say, these are not your frolicsome do-no-harm elves.  Even if you do not use the main hook, where there is a chance to restore life to a fallen comrade, there are plenty of reasons for an adventuring party to attempt to discover the howe's secrets.

You can find a review at Tenkar's Tavern, and a review at the Iron Tavern.  The module can be purchased in pdf format here.  This is actually one of the adventures I wrote which I am happiest with, and it makes me a little sad that more people have not bought it, read it, and played it (even though there is no money in my pocket if they do).

(For the curious, the other adventures that I am currently happiest with are, in no particular order, The Arwich Grinder; Stars in the Darkness; Prince Charming, Reanimator; The Imperishable Sorceress; The Folk of Osmon; and Icon of the Blood Goddess.  This is not to say that I am unhappy with the others, but if you wanted my "must have" list, there you have it.)

The Seven Deadly Skills of Sir Amoral the Misbegotten (Purple Duck Games):  Imagine that you are writing a series of adventures intended to aid the poor judge whose players want to Quest For something.  It is pretty easy to write these things for wizards - drop a new spell, a patron, a magic item, a method to learn a spell, a way to remove corruption.  Wizards are easy to motivate.  A thief is going to be looking for a lost treasure or a big haul, a daring theft or a clever con. Clerics are a bit trickier because their Quests are likely to be tied into their specific religions, but by creating potential divine rivals to their own gods' power, you can create something that the canny judge can easily turn into a clerical Quest.

What about warriors?  You can throw them a magic weapon, or armour, but what else can you do?  What makes the dedicated fighting man salivate?

If you are anything like me, you played the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons when it came out, and, if you are like me, you discovered that feats were both a blessing and a curse.  They were a blessing because they allowed you to differentiate one character from another.  They were a curse because (1) there were too many of them, (2) the player had to sift through them to level his character, and (3) because you were only allowed to take a few, and many were suboptimal, the characters ended up looking a lot alike anyway.

How, then, would it work if you allowed all the benefits of feats but none of the drawbacks?  What if you could have any number of special talents, so long as you earned them in actual play?  What if feats became, not a thing you select from a menu, but a "treasure" you gained from an adventure?  Thus The Seven Deadly Skills of Sir Amoral the Misbegotten was conceived.

This is a good example of an adventure that I am very happy with, even if it is not on my "must have" list. Despite being intended as a warrior-centric Campaign Element, for me the well and the stone heads are the best bits. You can find a review at Tenkar's Tavern, the Iron Tavern, Endzeitgeist, the Hapless Henchman, here, or here.  You can purchase it in pdf here.

ENDNOTE:  I have seven more products to talk about in the next post, and then on to something more interesting.  I am way behind on some of the things I want to talk about, and I am considering trying to catch up on some things, like Appendix N authors and other people's DCC products, by grouping them together and talking about more than one at a time.

Currently Working On:  FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Wood and CE 6: The Crimson Void.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Published Work for Dungeon Crawl Classics (Part II)

Magic Wand Spell (Straycouches Press):  My version of a magic wand spell appears in Crawl! Fanzine issue #3 (The Magic Issue), which you can get here.  If you want, you can read my version of this DCC spell for free in this blog post, but the Crawl! issue has a lot of other good stuff in it, and is worth picking up.

Mermaids From Yuggoth (Mystic Bull Games):  So, Paul Wolfe had some artwork available, and he asked me if it was possible to write an adventure that made use of it.  This was the result.  You can find it in  In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer.  Mermaids is is an event-based adventure that is intended to be played amid and between other quests.  You can find reviews here.  The Iron TavernTenkar's Tavern, and Melan offer reviews.  You can get it in pdf here or in softcover print here.

Prince Charming, Reanimator (Purple Duck Games):  This is the first adventure for Faerie Tales From Unlit Shores, which is an idea I had some time back, but had shelved because I was busy doing other stuff. Basically, the idea is this:  What if you took a bunch of fairy tales, cross-linked them to Appendix N fiction, and then turned them loose on an unsuspecting world?  In addition, what if I created a series of linked adventures that ran from Level 0 to Level 6?  What if, at the same time, I could help a friend fund her kickstarter (Raechel Henderson's Eggplant Productions kickstarter for Spellbound & Spindles).

It is an ill-kept secret that I love working with Purple Duck Games. Mark Gedak has to be one of the nicest people in the industry, and someone I trust implicitly both to be fair and to make my words shine.  Why? Well, here is one example.  When I started this project, Mark offered to help me make Prince Charming, Reanimator both professional and available for free in pdf.  He paid for maps and art.  The deal was, I was going to do the work for free.  Well, that wasn't good enough for Mark, and he gave me a percentage of whatever folks donate via the Pay What You Want version.  If that is not class, nothing is.

You can get a softcover print version here, or as a "Pay What You Want" pdf here.  You can find a review here.

Silent Nightfall (Purple Duck Games):  Another reason why I love Purple Duck Games.  The basic idea for the CE Series was that I wanted to produce materials that could be used on the fly by a judge in need of (1) a short scenario, (2) something in case players wanted their characters to Quest For something, or to meet the needs of patron and divine quests, and (3) something that would be re-usable by the judge.  The idea was that the judge should get the most bang possible for his or her buck.

I was going to write these things anyway, because I needed them for my home game.  I contacted Paratime Design's Tim Hartin to create some maps for me.  I was thinking about eventually publishing, so I asked Mark Gedak for a rough estimate as to whether or not the map prices were right.  Not only did he agree that they were, but he offered to pay for them, and to publish the work.  Hence, the CE Series.

Silent Nightfall has the only map that I specifically suggested to Tim.  The actual adventure is more science-fantasy than pure fantasy, in line with the Changeling Earth saga by Fred Saberhagen and the Hiero books of Sterling Lanier.  It offers appendixes that give quick rules for learning languages, demi-patrons, simple tables for creating strangely aberrant creatures (as well as some examples), and an NPC organization. If the party is not careful, this could blow up in their face!

Here's another reason I love working with Purple Duck Games.....I am a big fan of the OGL, and treating the community like a community.  All of the writing in the products I have done for Purple Duck, including the appendixes, is OGC.  So, drop the language rules, the demi-patron text, the monsters, whatever, into your own product. So long as your OGL is correct, you are golden.  Planning a Swords & Wizardry monster book?  You can convert the dancing horror from AL 1, or the grallistrix from Silent Nightfall without any cost to you.  You don't even need to ask permission (although I would really appreciate hearing about it!).

You can find a review here, at the Iron Tavern, and at Tenkar's Tavern.  Buy Silent Nightfall in print or pdf here.

Stars in the Darkness (Purple Duck Games):  A module in the Adventure Locale series, Stars in the Darkness pits your PCs against degenerated ancestral elves and the embodiment of a black hole.  Really.  If you are wondering how to make your elves less Tolkien and more like those of other Appendix N authors, this isn't a bad place to start.

"How do you get your ideas?" some ask.  Well, if you look at the maps in this adventure, which were already created, you might be able to see how the adventure was inspired by the cartography.  Those really do look like star/asteroid fields in the chasms indicated on the map.  The Stonehenge-like structure indicates a stellar observatory, but what kind of observatory is built below ground?

Coupled with this, the idea for the cosmic tree arose from a piece of artwork my friend Chris Heilmann created, which was re-imagined for the front cover of the adventure.  Other inspirations include the work of Fritz Leiber, Margaret St. Clair, Rider Haggard, and H.G. Wells.

You can find reviews at Endzeitgeist, Tenkar's Tavern, and the Iron Tavern.  You can buy it in print or in pdf, as a single adventure or as part of the larger The Stars are Falling product.

The Arwich Grinder (Straycouches Press):  Some time ago, I decided to write something for Crawl! Fanzine, mostly because I really enjoy reading Crawl! and I like Rev Dak.  Several issues passed between the time that I submitted this 0-level funnel and its actual publication, but it is out now and I am happy to be able to talk about it a little.  The first public mention was, I believe, on the Spellburn podcast back in October.

This is what happens when you try to write something that truly captures the feel of H.P. Lovecraft for the DCC game.  Those familiar with Mr. Lovecraft's work will recognize that Arwich is an amalgamation of Arkham and Dunwich.  Any who has read, run, or played through the adventure will, if he is familiar with the macabre works of the aforementioned writer, recognize many references.  Most of them are not horribly subtle.

When I first embarked on writing the Grinder, I went for as pure a Lovecraft mood as I could, and I had recently re-read about 50 of his stories.  There were times, writing this, when I had to walk away from the laptop because some of the ideas/set-up are a bit disturbing.

Two of the playtesters were my older daughter and a friend of hers, and as they discovered the secrets of the Grinder, their reactions became visibly more involved in the horror of the story.  From a certain standpoint, it worked as well or better than I hoped.

I later learned that they had talked about it with friends at school - a unique instance as far as I know - one of whom at least then decided that I was "cool" based on having come up with one of the encounters.......the one with the iridescent bubbles.

Right now, the Grinder is available here.

The Black Goat (Purple Duck Games):  I've already talked some about the Campaign Elements series, so I won't repeat that too much here.  In this case, Tim Hartin's map was of an inhabited mountain pass with caves.  What could I put there?  The back of the DCC core rulebook has some tables for "spicing up" humanoids, and I played around a little with those, which led to the two new humanoid groups in the module.  On top of that, the "Quest For It" mantra made me include the Black Goat herself, a new patron for DCC with plot hooks built in.

This was not simply a "left over" from Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between - I devised the Black Goat wholly for this module.  Practice may not make perfect, but it makes better, and I now have no hesitation whatsoever to include new patron materials in any project where they seem appropriate.  Having read all of the "required reading" from Appendix N, and quite a bit of the listed authors' additional work, I have come to believe that the game is best when patrons have at least some explicit goals within the game milieu.

You can find reviews of The Black Goat at Endzeitgeist, Tenkar's Tavern, and the Iron Tavern, as well as this delightful review by Megan R.  You can purchase it in pdf here.

The Falcate Idol (Purple Duck Games):  This was the first of the CE series.  In this case, the map was obviously of a temple or shrine, but there were two definite "streams" to explore - the main shrine and the hidden under-shrine.  I was able to put different end-point goals in each, so that the judge can re-use the material to allow for a second foray.  I also had to give a reasonable amount of material for the Cult of the Harrower, with the expectation that PCs may enter the area during services, or that judges may be open to PC clerics worshipping this deity.

You can find reviews at Endzeitgeist, the Iron Tavern, and Tenkar's Tavern.  The product is available for purchase in pdf here.


I have two more posts in this series to do before wrapping it up, largely because I wrote a bunch of stuff.  At this moment, with the exception of the "Pay What You Want" version of Prince Charming, Reanimator, I don't get any extra money if you pick these things up.  Yet, I do hope that you will consider picking them up, both to support the publishers who have been so kind as to make this stuff available, and because I think you will find it useful in your DCC campaigns.  Of course, that also means that said publishers are more likely to buy additional scenarios & materials I write, which does feed back into my pocketbook, so take it all with a grain of salt.

I have tried to make this interesting without revealing too much about the products.  I have heard "Where do you get your ideas from?" a few times, and I've tried to give some of that here.  What sorts of background info would you like to hear?  What would make the next couple of posts more interesting for you?

Friday 10 January 2014

Published Work For Dungeon Crawl Classics (Part I)

Looking back at it, I can't believe the amount of DCC material that I've written in a relatively short time.  Has it really only been two years?  Anyway, here is a short review for those who are interested, including links to help you obtain any products you may wish to.

I've included, where possible, links to reviews and links to purchase products.  I've also tried to include a little "behind the scenes" background information as to what inspired the product, or how the product came about.

A Lesson From Turtles (Brave Halfling):  An extra for the Appendix N Kickstarter packages, commissioned by John Adams.  The idea for the scenario came from playing around with James Raggi's excellent Random Esoteric Creature Generator (Goodman Games).  You can get it in the first Appendix N Adventures Bundle in game stores. By spring, they will be available from Amazon.com.

Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between (Dragon's Hoard):  This is actually the second DCC project that I became involved with after writing Bone Hoard (see below) for Purple Duck.  This is also a project that I threw myself into, because more examples of patrons is one of the things DCC can always use.  Since then, a plethora of patrons (with various levels of development) has appeared on the InterWebs and in published modules.

I am often asked which materials I did for this project.  The most brilliant piece, the Arm of Vendel Re'yune, and pretty much anything I didn't write, was written by Paul Wolfe.  Paul also wrote Tomb of Curses for the project, and heads Mystic Bull Games.

I wrote the introduction; Enzazza, Queen of the Hive; Hecate, Goddess of Witches; Hhaaashh-Lusss, Lord Duke of Reptiles; Lavarial, Angel Of The Temple; Logos, the Perfect Form; Ptah-Ungurath, Opener of the Way; Radu, King of Rabbits; Set-Utekh the Destroyer; Umwansh, Father of the Waves; and Yan Oshoth, Revered Ancestor.  I also made sure that there was text to allow others to use these patrons, free of charge and without requiring permissions, to a limited (but reasonable) extent.  If you are a publisher, please make use of this clause, as it is intended to make these patrons more valuable for those with the book.

Despite some problems with the publisher not responding to communications, and physical product not appearing (as of this date, I have received nothing personally, and I know that I am not alone), the book is still worth purchasing for its content.  Sadly, it is only available in pdf format.  You can find a mini review at Tenkar's Tavern here,

Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror (Purple Duck Games):  This was actually the first thing I wrote for DCC (I had previously published two adventures for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Dragon Roots Magazine), and it makes use of a lot of advice Joseph Goodman gave in the core rulebook.  You can find it as a pdf here, or you can get it in print or pdf as part of the "The Stars are Falling" compilation. You can find reviews here, at the Iron Tavern, at Tenkar's Tavern, and at Game Knight Reviews.

One interesting thing about this project (to me, anyway) is that the map was provided by the publisher, who was looking for someone to determine what was there.  In many ways, this was an inspiring method of working, and one I have re-used on several projects with Purple Duck.  For instance, all of my AL series modules were maps provided by Purple Duck, and the maps for the CE series were created by Tim Hartin of Paratime Design Cartography to meet a specific project size.  I find that it sometimes spurs creativity to have to work within the design parameters devised by other people.  In any event, the maps suggest game elements in a really cool way, although not always in the way that the map maker imagined!

Another note about Dragon Roots Magazine.  It is really, really easy to convert 3rd Edition adventures to DCC, so you might consider picking up (at the very least) Issue 1 (Temple of the Ape) and Issue 3 (Balmorphos).  Editor Chris Rocco and I have discussed converting these to DCC, and doing the final two instalments of Balmorphos in the same way, but time, tide, life, and other projects have gotten in the way so far.  I believe that I have something in every issue published, and much of it is either directly useful, or can be easily converted for use, by a DCC judge.

But He Sure Had Guts (Straycouches Press):  Back when editor Rev. Dak was planning Issue #5 of Crawl! Fanzine (the monster issue), he had requested some short encounters in case he needed to fill space. Well, Issue #5 had plenty of stuff to pack in, and so the two encounters I wrote went into the "pending" bin. This is the first of those to see print, and it appears as an addendum in Issue #9 (The Arwich Grinder). The other short encounter, The Urchin Gambit, has yet to see print.  This issue can be ordered here.

Converting Material to Dungeon Crawl Classics (Straycouches Press):  A short article on converting materials from other systems to the DCC RPG, appearing in DCC RPG .Adventure Magazine and News (aka D.A.M.N!) Issue #1.  Editor Garett Oliver is part of my weekly DCC gaming group, and was able to call in a favour to get this article written.  You can pick up the issue here.

Gifts of the Only (Brave Halfling):  Another add-on for the Appendix N Kickstarter, that comes with the first Appendix N Adventures Bundle in game stores. By spring, they will be available from Amazon.com. The difficulty with short encounters like this is that you cannot discuss sources and inspirations without giving too much away.

Icon of the Blood Goddess (Mystic Bull Games):  One of two pieces I wrote for In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer, this is an event-based adventure that can be played amid and between other quests.  You can find reviews here.  The Iron Tavern, Tenkar's Tavern, and Melan offer reviews.  You can get it in pdf here or in softcover print here.

Like I mentioned earlier, Mystic Bull Games is Paul Wolfe's baby, and it is interesting to note that, although he attempted to fund this product using Indiegogo, and the attempt was unsuccessful, not only did the book come out on time, but so too did a follow-up project (Pulp Weird Encounters #1), with another product (The God-Seed Awakens) on its way.

This was, I think, the third or fourth DCC project that I was involved with, and it always surprises me that it doesn't get more recognition than it does.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

What Is Dungeon Crawl Classics?

Dungeon Crawl Classics:  The game where you fight unknown monsters, speak with alien gods, and find ancient magicks......and then you reach level 1.

I had one made for each member of my gaming group this year for Christmas.....

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Using the Table to Your Advantage

When designing an adventure for a role-playing game, it is sometimes useful to consider not only what is happening in the fictive milieu, but also what is happening at the table.  By this I mean that the adventure designer should not only consider what the player characters are likely to do, but also what the players themselves are likely to do.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but bear with me.

From the standpoint of the players, they are assembled not only to take on the roles of fictional persons in a fantasy milieu, but also to play (and win) a game.  And, make no mistake, even if role-playing games have no preset “win conditions”, each player at the table has some idea at the end of any session whether or not he has done well or done poorly.  Players in role-playing games set their own win conditions.

In order to meet these win conditions, players develop meta-strategies.  By this I mean that, in addition to the strategies employed by the characters themselves, based upon the fictive milieu, players employ strategies based upon the meta-knowledge that the fictive milieu is a game.  This is both expected and encouraged by every “player advice” section of every game book ever written.  As a Game Master, you should not actively discourage this.  However, you should play with it and make it part of the game.

Every example hereafter is going to contain SPOILERS for one or more published adventures, so if you are a player, do yourself a favour and quit reading now.
Okay, still here?  Let’s take a look at some expectations that tabletop players have.  To wit:

(1) Players tend to expect that open communication amongst themselves is always possible.

(2) Players tend to expect that characters are interchangeable.

(3) Players tend to expect that they can accept or reject additions made by the GM to their backstories.

(4) Players tend to expect that seating arrangements at the table don’t matter.

(5) Players tend to expect that they are working together towards a common goal.

(6) Players tend to expect that they know the rules under which they are operating.

I am sure that you can think of more without trying all that hard.  In fact, if you examine the earliest adventure modules available from the hobby, you will see that adventure writers began confounding some of these expectations early on.

(1) Players tend to expect that open communication amongst themselves is always possible.

Gary Gygax’s excellent The Keep on the Borderlands suggested that the DM assume that the characters say anything said by the players, and to react accordingly.  That is not practical for many people’s tables.  But what if an adventure forces the characters to remain silent?  What if transmitting certain information is dangerous, as in James Raggi’s also excellent Death Frost Doom?  Limiting inter-player communication – and, as a result, inter-character communication – forces the players to sit up and take notice.

(2) Players tend to expect that characters are interchangeable.

There is an expectation that the character class and/or race chosen (or other criteria in other games) will not matter…the GM will simply make it work.  But what if a particular location adds undue hardships to some characters, but not to others?  What if it grants some characters bonuses?  What if a traditional power that a particular character class relies upon is all but useless?  What if an area exploits a character type’s weaknesses?

Note that you want to even this out; if you make combat less viable in one scenario, you should even it out by making combat more viable in another.  This is what some of the so-called “gotcha” monsters were all about – a fighter could not typically rely upon brute strength when facing a rust monster, and casting spells at some jellies is just asking for trouble.

For example, both The Arwich Grinder and Silent Nightfall make use of the Dungeon Crawl Classics elf’s vulnerability to iron.  The Folk of Osmon turns a dwarf’s ability to smell gold into a problem. 

Another way to deal with this assumption is to grant treasures that cannot be passed on; they become intrinsic to the character.  This idea is used in different ways in Prince Charming, Reanimator and The Seven Deadly Skills of Sir Amoral the Misbegotten

(3) Players tend to expect that they can accept or reject additions made by the GM to their backstories.

And they should be able to do so…but you, as the GM, should also consider what happens when they reject a backstory element.  The results should not always be so pleasant as accepting it.  An example of this occurs in The Arwich Grinder, which is a 0-level funnel for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game appearing in Crawl! Fanzine issue #9.  Especially in the initial portions of a campaign, it is important that the players have agency to disagree with the GM about their characters’ pasts…but this does not come without limitation. 

(4) Players tend to expect that seating arrangements at the table don’t matter.

James Raggi’s Death Frost Doom gives the best example of where seating arrangements matter.  Certain events in the module instruct the GM to go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the table from a triggering character’s player until a saving throw is failed.  Sit close enough to Johnny-Pulls-the-Levers and you might find yourself wanting to change seats.

(5) Players tend to expect that they are working together towards a common goal.

You can subvert this in a couple of obvious ways.  One is to set a win condition that not all the characters can meet.  In an adventure in the DCC core rulebook, a living being must be left in the dungeon when the others depart.  If you killed all of the monsters, it will have to be one of you.

Another way is to forcibly split the party, even for a single encounter.  A wall drops in the middle of the room as monsters come in from both sides – suddenly the party cannot use its usual tactics.  An example of another way to forcibly split the party appears in the addendum in Crawl! #9.

(6) Players tend to expect that they know the rules under which they are operating.

The 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide gives advice on adventuring on other planes of existence.  The Dungeon Crawl Classics core rulebook suggests making magic work differently within the context of different locations.  Many classic modules include areas where some spells do not work, or the characters cannot act as they normally would…the floor is frictionless, gravity is reversed, etc.

The adventure designer should remember that, in addition to the PCs encountering a dungeon (or whatever), the players are encountering a game.  Just as the dungeon (or whatever) should afford unexpected elements, so too should the game.  By playing with what is occurring at the table, on the game level, the GM can make events far more memorable than yet another excursion to kill things and take their stuff.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Happy New Year: Crawl! #9!

If you are hankering for something special to toss at your players this month, Crawl! Fanzine #9 will be available a little later in January.  If you are a subscriber, you may already have it.

This issue contains a 0-level funnel I wrote, The Arwich Grinder, which is singularly the most Lovecraftian and most gruesome adventure I have ever written.  Think Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror or Mermaids from Yuggoth on steroids.

To be quite honest, I think that you should pick up everything I write, but I have to say that I am very, very, very happy with how this adventure turned out, how the art and layout came together, and how Rev Dak through an older submission of mine in as an encounter at the end.

Hope you put some coin in Dak's coffers, hope you read it, and I really hope to hear how it played out in your home game.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Purple Duck Games rings in 2014 with AL 1-5 The Stars are Falling.

Forgotten tombs, ancient laboratories, the decadent palace of the God of Dreams, plundered and dusty dwarven holdfasts, and the ferociously defended territories of the Herders and Hounds of the Stars themselves!

There are mysteries to be solved within these pages, crafty and horrific enemies to defeat, and treasures both monetary and magical to claim for your own.  Pray to your gods, strap on your shield, and sharpen your knives: The Stars are Falling, and it is up to you to stop them-and make a little coin on the way...

Purple Duck Games' Adventure Locales One through Five for Dungeon Crawl Classics are here packaged with an intriguing framework story to take you on a story arc of wonder and fun for characters levels 1 to 3.

Dare you stop the stars from falling?