Sunday, 15 September 2019

Interview with Venger Satanis

Today we are sitting down with controversial rpg writer Venger Satanis about his newest release, Cha’alt and a few older releases. And yes, there is some talk about politics because our politics are pretty different and these days it has to be done. 

RCK:  So, before we talk about your latest project, there are a few things we should get out of the way. In some circles, you have a reputation for being…shall we say somewhat bombastic?

VS: Yes, I am outspoken and not shy about sharing my opinions… occasionally with dramatic flair. 

RCK: There is nothing wrong with a bit of drama. When running games, for instance, I reserve my biggest d20 for the baddest monsters. Also, nothing wrong with sharing opinions, so long as you have an open mind.

VS: I do try to have an open mind.  But I’m also at an age where no one can convince me that water isn’t wet, overly complex RPGs are more fun than simple ones, or that Socialism is worth trying one more time.

RCK: I’m in my 50s, and I am not old enough to remember FDR. Or to remember socialism in the United States, or anywhere in the world that the United States didn’t actively work against. I do know that socialist programs in the US include the military, public roads, schools, libraries, fire departments, and other things which I have benefitted from. I’ve worked for both the US Military (Legal Specialist) and the US Census Bureau (various positions, eventually the Finance department in Los Angeles). I’m not old enough not to have my mind changed, if the evidence points in a different direction. For instance, experiencing both the US and the Canadian health care systems, I know that the Canadian system is considerably better.

VS: In the United States, I’d call those social programs.  There are things that everyone in the country can use collectively, that we all have in common, such as roads and the military.  I just don’t want the government controlling companies or redistributing wealth or giving away free stuff and then taxing the middle and upper classes to the point where the rich (or their money) flee to the Cayman Islands.  I prefer freedom.

In the words of Joe Biden in the Democratic debate that just happened a couple days ago, “This is America.”  While our health care system is far from perfect, I’d rather have a procedure done here, where I know it’s going to be fast and performed by the best doctors with cutting-edge medical technology. 

Also, (I just Googled this) Canada’s population is approximately 35 million, and the population of the United States is about 290 million more than that.  Population makes a difference.

RCK: Well, you can do the research. American prices are substantially higher than in other parts of the world, and outcomes are generally worse. American exceptionalism isn’t supposed to mean that every other modern country can do it except America. And I certainly am no fan of Joe Biden!

But, ultimately, we can agree to disagree about this. I don’t expect to convince you in an interview about gaming.

I’ve seen at least one YouTube video you did where you drop the persona. You’re responding to criticism that one of your games isn’t OSR, which I’ll get to in the next question. You seem very relatable in that video, and here. I guess there is a balancing act deciding when to “put on the motley”?

VS: There isn’t that big a difference between the regular old me and Venger Satanis.  The latter can be larger than life, but so can the former.  I’m both relatable and a geeky weirdo, just depends on how far past the surface you want to go.

RCK: You are the person behind Alpha Blue as well. That, and some racy imagery in other products, contributes to a reputation as your being sort of a “soft porn” peddler. I’d like to ask you, first, how do you respond to that, and second, how prominently does sexual content feature in a game of Alpha Blue when you run it? Where do you fade to black?

VS: Ah, yes… Alpha Blue.  It’s one of the things I’m best known for and most proud of, but it also carries a stigma.  Alpha Blue triggers a lot of people.  20 years ago, it would have been the far-right that took offense to eroticism, sleaze, and soft-core porn in RPGs.  But now it’s the puritanical leftist types that condemn it because there aren’t any kid-friendly drag shows or power-bottom bear and twink action explicitly called out in examples. 

RCK: I’d just like to clarify that you are not using those terms in a derogatory manner.

VS: Correct, I wasn’t being derogatory with the gay slang I learned from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  But several gamers who’ve denounced Alpha Blue have done so because it’s not specifically LBGTQ+ enough.  If they actually wanted Alpha Blue to include more of that stuff, then ask me about licensing your adventure or something, don’t just pitch a fit and crap all over my game.

On the other hand, I would like to go out of my way to denounce and oppose activities that combine kids with drag queens.  I have no problem with any sexual activity between consenting adults.  But I’m totally against pedophilia, the sexualization of children, and normalizing deviant sexual behavior by exposing kids to it at an impressionable age. 

Even “normal” sexual behavior should be kept away from children.  I’m not going to sit my kids down in front of a movie that’s graphically showing missionary sex between a man and a woman.  They’re kids!

RCK: I’m not sure how old you are, but I’m old enough to remember All in the Family in a fond way. All of the characters were flawed, but we loved them all despite that. Archie Bunker gave us a window into understanding bigotry, and it also gave us a window into how Archie could change for the better.

VS: I’ll be 45 in November, born the same year as D&D.  I’ve seen a few episodes of All in the Family, and I remember watching a lot of Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched as a kid, along with all the Saturday morning shows like Dungeons & Dragons, Thundarr, Scooby Doo, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Land of the Lost.

RCK: Sleestaks for the win! I watched a lot of those same shows, although G.I. Joe and Transformers never really caught my interest.

I don’t know where you stand politically, apart from the issue of health care, but I am somewhat to the Left of Bernie Sanders. We now live in an area where censoring people seems to belong to the “Left”. Which is weird, if you think about it. It’s like saying book burning is a progressive ideal.  It also leads to people self-censoring in case someone thinks that a person you talk to might be toxic, or some observation might be demonized. I think this has a tendency to create an echo chamber where everyone who is not “like us” is viewed as some kind of monster.

VS: Wait, to the “left” of Bernie Sanders?  What’s more leftist than an old school communist?  Pure anarchy?

RCK: The US political system has moved very far to the Right. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Sanders is pretty moderate. From a historical perspective, Sanders is a Centrist. Most of the people who claim to be Centrists – including most modern Democrats – would have been considered Right Wing in the 70s.

VS: And 70’s Democrats would be called alt-right white supremacists by today’s standards. 

RCK: Not sure I can agree with that. Certainly racism was a lot more prevalent in the 70s than it is today.  Or, more prevalent in the mainstream.

VS: The US has always been to the right, though right and left are relative terms.  The world has a lot of problems.  Even though America isn’t perfect, I believe it’s still the greatest country in the world. 

Bernie is only calling it “Democratic Socialism” because he knows that half his base would leave if he actually went full-throttle Communist before getting elected President.  Some prominent lefties have stated that Socialism is just progress towards Communism.  Only a matter of time, slippery slope, and all that.

RCK: Hard disagreement there. There is a pretty big difference between what Sanders is talking about and what the media portrays it as.

VS: I think the vast majority are fed up with “cancel culture.”  Those types of witch hunts, demonetizing, deplatforming, online outrage, endless protests, and boycotts are toxic.  I think they’re making everything worse.  But it’s a minority of keyboard warriors perpetrating all this nonsense…  the media, Antifa, radical politicians, activists, and left-leaning twitter people following a trend.

RCK: There we can agree, at least to a degree. That kind of thinking is itself toxic. It harms our ability to understand (and thereby influence) movements in the hobby and the world. It makes us weaker as a group. And it poisons us as individuals. That’s not really “Left”. That’s fascism creeping into the Left. But anti-fascism is not itself a problem, and following Twitter trends is a problem regardless of which "side" you are on.

VS: I don’t think fascism is restricted to any political group.  Human beings are both good and bad.  Sometimes, the bad outweighs the good.  Doesn’t matter if its left or right.  Authoritarianism is destructive to a free society.  Too tight a grip and the people are strangled, too loose and there’s disarray.  I find the same philosophy goes for Game Mastering.

RCK: Which seems reasonable to me. I find the PoliticalCompass model useful, which uses a Left/Right and an Authoritarian/Libertarian axis.

VS: Under normal circumstances, I’d be in the middle.  But I feel the left has gone too far over the edge, and that has forced me further right.

RCK: Well, suffice to say that there are a lot of places where we disagree on the political front. And it is hard to escape talking politics these days.

VS: Sorry for the tangent.

RCK: Not a problem.  I tend to think we are all better off if we talk about these things, even with people we disagree with. Maybe especially when we disagree!

VS: Back to Alpha Blue… sex sells, controversy sells, and every so often good writing/design sells, too.  I love sex, exploitation movies, comedy, and sci-fi.  So, why not put them all together?  If that makes me a porn peddler, then fine by me.  About 15 years ago, I very nearly almost became a porn producer.  Like actual porn films.  Went to a weekend seminar to learn how and everything.  Thought I might get to meet Ron Jeremy, too, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Yes, sexual content of some kind almost always features in my Alpha Blue games.  Even if it’s a one-hour demo, I try to include something.  Maybe I’ll dangle a tantalizing cocktail waitress in front of the players or they’ll walk into an area of the space station where there’s a two-way mirror looking into the girls’ locker room.  Stuff you’d see in Porky’s, Police Academy, or Revenge of the Nerds, except it’s also science-fiction.

While I don’t detail every thrust and moan, it’s clear what’s going on.  There’s a beginning, middle, and end.  No fading to black.  Could be something like… you start rubbing WD-40 all over the sex-bot’s metallic body.  She’s getting turned on and opens her legs.  What are you doing?

Player: I want to start banging!

Ok, you penetrate her inviting soft-circuits.  You’re giving it to her good, it looks like she’s about to blow a gasket.  Eventually, you finish on her… [rolls dice]

RCK: To each his own.  I once had a player who wanted to make a “serious” D&D game about how his penis was like an elephant’s trunk. The game didn’t last that long.

VS: I can see where that might be an element of a D&D game, but the whole game?  Even something we can all agree on – like a dragon – how can the entire game be only about this dragon?  It needs other things.  I love hamburger, too, but an entire bowl of just cooked hamburger is hardly a satisfying meal.

RCK: He did, literally, want to keep bringing it up. Pun intended. It was an urban campaign, and the party couldn’t enter a bar without his describing how his dick grabbed peanuts from the bar.

VS: While I enjoy a good running gag, such things have their time and place.  Alpha Blue is that time and place, but probably not your everyday D&D campaign. 

RCK: I guess it makes a difference whether or not everyone at the table is into it.

VS: Right, we all have expectations.  That’s why there’s different games, each with their own flavor.

RCK: Last but not least – you exploded onto the scene around the same time I did, with the publication of Dungeon Crawl Classics. I can imagine that the material you were producing then didn’t hit the “family friendly” requirement for the DCC RPG logo. Can you tell us a little bit about your early experiences with the DCC community, as well as why and how you decided to go your own way?

VS: Yes, Dungeon Crawl Classics got me excited about the OSR and going back to old school gaming.  Up until then, it just seemed… kind of weird or crazy to just pick up the gaming materials we had from the early 80’s and start a campaign.

Mind you, I actually did run a Mentzer red box one-off way back in 1999 with some of my college buddies.  It was fun, but I don’t think anyone considered carrying on with it.  I guess we were playing it ironically, sort of.  But then I was a dumb-dumb in my mid-twenties and simply thought that new was always better… but it isn’t.  Progressive doesn’t equal progress. 

RCK: Not always, no.

VS: So, the OSR was a paradigm shift – a reaction to modern gaming culture ushered in by 3rd and 4th edition.  While DCC helped bridge the gap back to old school fundamentals, that game definitely has its own vibe.  Some stuff I like, but there are things I don’t care for.  And with hundreds of choices, plus the ability to craft your very own house-rules, I just didn’t see the need to follow DCC that closely.

RCK: Okay. That’s a lot of background out of the way! Now we can talk about Cha’alt.

I’m not certain if I am looking at something designed for use with a more typical fantasy rpg or something like Stars Without Number. There aren’t just science fiction elements in here – the setting is connected to other worlds. Where were you going with this, when you wrote it?

VS: It's supposed to be a hybrid of post-apocalyptic fantasy (like Dark Sun) and Stars Without Number, White Star, Star Wars, etc.  I re-use a lot of the same concepts when creating a new adventure or setting.  I’m never going to stop including tentacles, dark gods, evil sorcerers, crashed starships, robots, lasers, civilizations in ruin, and the like. 

If you like that about my stuff, great!  You get to see more of it in various shades, warped here and there so it’s fresh.  Another benefit is that most things connect, more or less.  You could use The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence and Liberation of the Demon Slayer with Cha’alt.  Or you could include elements in Cha’alt with Gamma Turquoise: Santa Fe Starport or Dead God Excavation.  Sky’s the limit!

RCK: The pdf includes Crimson Dragon Slayer, but the writing allows for almost any system to be used.

VS: Definitely.  I personally could use Cha’alt with every version of D&D or retro-clone, and pretty much any traditional rules-light system. 

The latest incarnation of Crimson Dragon Slayer focuses on a D20 hybrid between OSR and 5th edition, which I like to call O5R.  That’s what I use running virtual games on Roll20.  It lets us actually play a 60- or 90-minute game and get pretty far.  If I worried about character sheets and all the rules, we’d never get past the very first encounter! 

Plus, I like GMing for noobs.  They respond well to minimal, basic systems without all the fiddly bits.  Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 is a good fit for me, and that’s what counts.

RCK: Absolutely.

I have to ask you – Gamma Incel Cantina? What’s that about?

VS: Prince of Nothing, who consulted on Cha’alt, reviewed Alpha Blue and we were joking back and forth in the comments.  He said gamma incel something or other and it made me laugh.  I needed a name for the Mos Eisley cantina rip-off in Cha’alt, and decided to name it Gamma Incel Cantina. 

Personally, I think “incel” is kind of a dumb insult.  Just me sitting here in my chair at my desk, I’m rather involuntarily celibate.  If I had my way, I’d be having sex right now.  Alas, that’s not my day job.


RCK: I guess this interview isn’t as stimulating as you’d like?

VS: Well, even if I was having sex three times a day, I’d still need to take breaks.  I do enjoy a good interview, such as this one, so can’t really complain.

RCK: Good to hear. My understanding is that “incel” isn’t meant to imply that you aren’t having sex right now. It’s supposed to be both that you aren’t able to get a sexual partner, and that you are blaming the other (or same?) gender because they don’t find you attractive. A combination of self-sabotage combined with an unwillingness to recognize your own responsibility.

VS: Well, I’m married… so my options are rather limited.

RCK: It does get thrown around as an ad hominem pretty frequently when certain people encounter arguments that they aren’t ready to counter. Not unlike the idea that anyone who refused to support Clinton must be a racist or a misogynist.

VS: Yeah. 

RCK: As you said earlier, a certain type of Authoritarian/fascism isn’t limited to the Left or the Right. But the idea that a person’s inability to get a date makes actual misogyny or rape okay is clearly wrong. As you said earlier – I strongly believe that what consenting adults do is no one else’s business.

VS: Obviously, I’m against actual rape.

RCK: I didn’t mean to imply otherwise! And now I have to apologize for pulling the discussion off on a tangent again. But I think that we can both agree that, sometimes, when dealing with controversial content it is important to make things like this clear. It is all too easy to find yourself on the wrong side of people who want to declare you a sexist, racist, or whatever. Sometimes that tar is applied with a really broad brush.

VS: Those are the times we live in.  We’re almost at a tipping point, I think. 

RCK: There we agree...we just hope that things tip in different directions. Anyway, I’m looking at the layout of Cha’alt, and I think it is fantastic. Information is easy to find, and there is a great use of text boxes and callouts. That page background, though, is going to be murder on my printer!

VS: Thanks!  Gold Ennie winner Glynn Seal did the layout and cartography.  I wanted it to be both gorgeous and easy to use.

Yes, it would be murder on your printer. 

I’m hoping everyone that likes the PDF will buy the fancy hardcover (you’ll get a discount based on the amount spent on the digital version) coming in October.  I went the way of independent boutique RPG creators and ordered a print run from Friesens, who did Maze of the Blue Medusa, Silent Titans, and a few others.  Super high quality!

RCK: There’s a lot of stuff in your Adventure Writing and Game Master books that I really like. I’ve talked about that here. When I’m running games, I also like to include the occasional dramatic flourish.

VS: Gaming should be fun.  If it’s a slog for the GM, how great can it be for the players?  Little interesting elements added to the game here and there make sessions more enjoyable. 

I ran a playtest of Cha’alt at Gary Con this past March.  It was the Beneath Kra’adumek dungeon.  I decided to use that d100 table of things the PCs have done in their past.  One result rolled at character creation literally changed the entire session.  That tiny detail went from central character motivation to running joke to the thing that saved the day at the end. 

So, the moral of that story is never game without How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss!

RCK: Care to expand on that? What happened?

VS: From memory, one of the PCs acquired a transparent cube.  He was fascinated by it and kept coming up with possible applications, like after the dungeon he’d go into business manufacturing and selling similar transparent cubes.  In one room of the Kra’adumek dungeon, there’s a way to subtly change reality.  The cube became a sphere.  There was a lot of inter-PC chatter about the sphere and what it might mean.  Eventually, it made sense that throwing the sphere into the purple demon-worm’s mouth could destroy it.

RCK: There is something magical about gaming that surprises everyone at the table, including the GM.

VS: Yes, the surprise or even possibility of surprise heightens the experience.  If I ran the exact same scenario the exact same way every time, I’d want to quit.

RCK: I could not agree more. There are some pretty off-the-wall things in Cha’alt that I imagine would be funny in play. The “fruities” in the Black Pyramid, for instance. As a father of three myself (two are now adults), I have seen enough kids’ programming to understand wanting the PCs to dice those things into little pieces!

VS: When I’m doing “gonzo work,” I try to find that balance between “normal” and totally batshit insane.  There are some dark things, fun things, off-the-wall things… a wide variety.  I dug deep, sifting and winnowing for as many references and influences as possible.  But I like to twist things around, cross-reference. 

RCK: Why should people buy Cha’alt? Give us your elevator pitch.

VS: I usually describe Cha’alt as eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, and post-apocalypse.  It’s both a campaign setting + megadungeon with lots in-between.  218 pages of delectable weirdness that will bludgeon your vanilla fantasy over the head like Negan, Glenn, and that barbed-wire baseball bat. 

RCK: You do Gary Con every year, I believe, but I don’t think we’ve run into each other yet. Maybe I could get in on one of your games next year?

VS: That would be awesome! 

My convention schedule is sporadic at best.  I try to hit up both Gary Con and Game Hole Con about every other year.  Five kids is no joke!  Due to a family vacation in March, I won’t be at the next Gary Con.  However, I’m planning on being there in 2021… with tentacles!

RCK: Well, 2021 then. It was a real pleasure talking to you!

VS: Thank you!  I enjoyed it.  And thanks to everyone who takes a chance on Kort’thalis Publishing.



Thursday, 12 September 2019

Tabletop Scotland

Looking down at the Open Play area on Saturday afternoon

I was in Scotland in the latter part of August. Because I was considering how cool it would be to run a Road Crew game while there, I contacted Bill Heron at TheMandragora.com, who I found by using a Google search for Edinburgh gamers. He put me in touch with David Wright, who is the Convention Director for Tabletop Scotland.

The convention ran from the 24th-25th of August in Perth. The convention was in its second year, but managed to pull in quite a crowd. People were there from all over the United Kingdom, from Europe, and (in at least my case) from Canada. The event was well organized, well attended, and there was definitely energy. Dave told me that attendance was about twice that of their inaugural year.

There was a large focus on board games, but there was good participation for role-playing games as well. A room was set aside for Dungeons & Dragons, and another room set aside for other systems. I ran a playtest of Beneath the Temple of Doubt for a fantastic group of six in the Other Systems room.

From what I could tell by passing between areas, the Other Systems area received more traffic/players than did Dungeons & Dragons, but that could just be a result of the times I was in each area.

Beneath the Temple of Doubt is a 3rd level adventure. I was asked at several points if I was going to run a funnel by diverse people. I have little doubt that, had I planned my schedule around it and given sufficient notice to the convention, I could have run 6 games over the weekend with strong attendance (5-6 players) at each.

Beneath the Temple of Doubt

Because I was on vacation, and I had a fairly full schedule with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, visiting the palace in Linlithgow, etc., I came by ScotRail to Perth on Saturday morning and had to leave fairly early on Sunday. This was poor planning on my part, because there was a lot going on at the convention which I wasn't able to get involved with.

Andy Meechan and myself; his photo
This was a great convention filled with wonderful people. If I could somehow defray the costs of airfare I would be happy to attend every year. If you are able to attend a future Tabletop Scotland, it gets my recommendation.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Testimony of the Ancients


Okay, this is another album cover requested by Doomsayer. Never let it be said that I don't respond to reader comments!

(Even if those responses are not always timely!)

At first glance, this appears rather static, with little to stat. Looking closer, we see some form of mummy-like cadavers in the niches...one must guess that there are 16 of them in the chamber. There are also what appear to be swarms of worms at various points. Finally, what is that armillary sphere doing floating over a hollow stone column?

Without further ado....

The High Citadel of VanDrunen is situated far up Mount Mameli, were a central shaft leads downward from the highest redoubt into an unknown dimension revealed to man only through realms unseen, where there is no light and light cannot be.

From this high place, the Pestilent Ones perform ceremonies to summon gods from the Outer Dark to inhabit their bodies, burning them from within and without, but allowing them to take on forms that are immortal save injury or accident. When a Pestilent One has lived as long as they wish to live within a given body, another ceremony is held to conjure a demon to replace the god, making their bodies mortal - subject to disease, poison, and aging once more. The Pestilent One sacrifices themselves to the Shaft of Eternity, and is incarnated again in a new form. This process inevitably drives them mad.

The Pestilent Ones

The Pestilent Ones have the combines spellcasting abilities of a level 3 wizard and a level 3 cleric, but do not gain the ability to lay on hands, turn the unholy, or request divine aid. They cannot utilize spellburn. Most Pestilent Ones have the spells listed, but the judge may change spells in specific cases.

If a Pestilent One is reduced to 0 hp, it collapses into a Wormswarm of the Outer Dark (see below). If the wormswarm can make it to the Shaft of Eternity before being destroyed, the Pestilent One can be reincarnated.

Pestilent One: Init +0; Atk by weapon +3 melee (by weapon) or by spell; AC 10; HD 4d6+4; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP spellcasting (+4 bonus to spell checks), immortality, death throes, immune to mind-affecting; SV Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +4; AL C.
     Spells (cleric): Detect magic, holy sanctuary, paralysis, second sight, word of command, banish, binding, and neutralize poison or disease.
     Spells (wizard): Charm person, chill touch, choking cloud, magic shield, and ward portal.

The Sphere of Time

This appears to be an armillary sphere, similar to those used to track the motions of stars and planets, which is kept suspended over the Shaft of Eternity. In fact, it is a more complicated device than this, used to select worlds and times wherein those sacrificed to the Well of Eternity will incarnate anew.

Operating the Sphere of Time requires both an Intelligence check and a spell check. The Intelligence check determines the accuracy with which a being can select a past time period. The spell check (DC 15) arms the Sphere and allows the Shaft of Eternity to be used.

If a PC attempts to use the Sphere, the following results occur depending upon the value of the Intelligence check:

Value
Result
5 or less
Off by 1d7billion years. If you predate life, no reincarnation is possible. If you predate the planet, you may get lucky and coincide with some interstellar lifeform….
6 to 10
Off by 1d100 million years. Enjoy the serpent-men and the dinosaurs!
11 to 15
Off by 1d10 million years.  Now is a good time to dust off The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss!
16 to 17
Off by 1d30 centuries.
18 to 19
Off by 1d10 decades.
20 to 21
Off by 1d10 years.
22 to 23
Off by 1d12 months.
24 to 25
Off by 1d30 days.
26 to 27
Off by 1d24 hours.
28 to 29
Off by 2d30 minutes.
30 or better
On target!

Note that when a result is off, it always appears at an earlier time than intended. Note also that, if the Sphere of Time is removed, it could potentially be used in conjunction with planar step as a form of dangerous time travel.

The Shaft of Eternity

If a creature falls down the Shaft of Eternity, it is reincarnated (if possible) at whatever point the Sphere of Time last indicated. If the Sphere is removed, the falling creature is lost forever into the Void of Time. Climbing the Shaft is a DC 25 task, and a check must be made for every 15' climbed. If a climber passes out of sight, treat it as though they have fallen.

Guardians of VanDrunen

The 16 Guardians of VanDrunen protect the Shaft of Eternity from any who approach it, unless they are Pestilent Ones. On a successful strike, a Guardian infests its target with flesh-eating worms (Fort or Reflex DC 12 avoids). The target takes an additional 1d3 damage each round until the worms are removed, and multiple hits stack. These worms can be removed with 3 HD of clerical healing, of with the application of fire (causing 1d6 damage) and a successful DC 15 Intelligence check.

The Guardians are immune to mind-affecting attacks and cold, but take twice normal damage from fire. They are not truly alive, dead, or un-dead, being wholly outside the natural order, and can be Turned as Unholy by clerics of any alignment.

Guardian of VanDrunen: Init +0; Atk slam +5 melee (1d4+2 plus flesh-eating worms); AC 12; HD 5d12+5; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP flesh-eating worms, immune to mind-affecting and cold, double damage from fire, Unholy to all; SV Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +5; AL N.

Wormswarm of the Outer Dark

A wormswarm fills a 20 x 20 area, and attacks all creatures within that area. It can move, including withdrawing from combat, without provoking a free attack. The wormswarm will always attempt to escape to the Shaft of Eternity, inflicting as much damage as it can on the way. If a single worm escapes, the Pestilent One it is part of may be reincarnated.

A creature affected by the wormswarm's poison is slowly polluted by the Outer Dark. Such a being develops a new corruption every 1d3 months until the poison is neutralized. After each corruption, the victim is allowed a new save, but the DC increases by +1 for each minor corruption, +2 for each major corruption, and +5 for each greater corruption the being suffers. The spell check needed to neutralize the poison (through Lay on Hands or by spell) is increased by a like amount. For each new corruption, roll 1d7 modified by Luck: (1 or less) greater corruption, (2-4) major corruption, or (5 or greater) lesser corruption.

Note to Judges: If a wormswarm (or part of a wormswarm) escapes into the Shaft of Eternity, the reincarnated Pestilent One may immediately return, fully healed, to join the combat. For the PCs, but a moment has passed. For the Pestilent One, years, centuries, or even millennia may have gone by. Certainly the returning Pestilent One will know far more about the PCs than it previously did!

Wormswarm of the Outer Dark: Init +0; Atk swarming bite -1 melee (1 plus poison); AC 11; HD 2d8; MV 20’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, poison (Fort DC 5 negates); SV Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +6; AL C.

You can listen to the full album here.

Monday, 12 August 2019

The Lord of the Rings on Appendix N Bookclub

I was fortunate enough to be a guest, twice, on the Appendix N Book Club. The first time, we discussed J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. The second time, we discussed The Two Towers

For another take on The Two Towers, here is Anna B. Meyer on the Appendix N Book Club.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Advice For Beginning Judges


Things you should know when embarking on a career as a DCC judge:

  • There are a bunch of tables which actually add to the fun. Weird, but true. I have never seen a critical hit and fumble system that made the game better before this.

  • Start with a funnel. You can relax about learning the rules/killing PCs, and the players can relax about PCs dying. In the funnel, they operate several until you winnow them down.

  • The DCC ruleset is actually minimalist, but so is the official lore. This doesn't mean that you cannot use the lore from any game that you wish....but I would consider, strongly, creating your own vast lore through play. In DCC, players encounter the unknown. There is a lot of emphasis on how little the players know about adventure locations, creatures, and magic items going into the game. The GM (judge) is encouraged to Make Monsters Mysterious, so that even a lowly goblin might not be recognized by the PCs for what it is. Tools are given to help you in this.

  • The consequence is that, in an adventure, you can include anything you can think of. You do not have to do any complicated math to create monsters, either. There are several blogs with creatures you can use (Appendix M in particular, and my own blog). There are also several products to help you create monsters....and you can easily convert any monsters from other game systems. A breakdown of how to create monsters can be found here. It might sound complicated as I broke it down in the blog post, but it is pretty easy. By your third or fourth creature, it will be second nature.

  • Some things are left intentionally vague. This is so that you can make rulings, or use the rules you like from other RPGs. If you decide to roll 1d10 + modifiers for initiative, you are not doing it wrong. Page 312 of the core rulebook contains the most important rule of the game.....The rules bend to you, not the other way around.

  • PCs are going to die. Other PCs are going to become incredibly powerful. It is not your job to ameliorate either of these outcomes. The dice will, sooner or later, give that powerful PC a critical hit from a monster that brings him down a peg. Another character will rise to fill the vacuum.

  • Quest For It is the beating heart of DCC. There are no feats, for example, but if a character wants a special ability, you can make learning how to obtain it part of the treasure for one adventure, and then make actually obtaining it part of another adventure. Or you can just let the PC go learn it for a month, but then owe something to the legendary being who taught her. The game includes many ways where player actions and/or desires can drive the storyline of the game - use them!

  • Consider looking at some of the published adventures, both from Goodman Games and from third party publishers, to get an idea of how to design for this game. But, even more importantly, go back and read some of the early fantasy works listed in Appendix N, and use them as direct inspiration. Make your own stuff! And then share it with the community!

  • Speaking of which, this is a great community, and you will find people willing to help you with any problems you might encounter!


Wednesday, 31 July 2019

No One Ever Escapes, Do They?

A long time ago, in response to this post, I said

These are good examples of exactly what I said in the other thread. Thanks!
For example, in a "fiction-first" system, the sorcerer's attempt to intimidate would tend to work against the wizard's and ranger's attempt to soothe. In a "rules-first" system, one ignores the dichotomy.
EDIT: Also, in a "fiction-first" system, the players could attempt to avoid a combat because that offered their best chance of success. If you design the challenge of avoiding said combat "To keep the XP and pacing about the same as I'd planned", then you undo the value of that choice. 
RC
It has been pointed out to me that, about a year ago, EnWorld user pemerton has been taking that out of context, to suggest, as victim did at the time, that a "single, correct choice" damages player agency. This is victim's post, which pemerton excerpts from:

I strongly disagree. Wide variance in difficulty or rewards based on player strategy doesn't preserve the value and meaning of player choice, it destroys that value - essentially, you create a single correct choice.
In a sort of in combat sense, think of 3e giants. They have pretty good stuff in general, especially in melee combat (and doubly so if specced to use combat maneuvers like Disarm or Sunder), and then really awful Will saves. Even if your wizard doesn't emphasize enchantments - let's say we're talking about an evoker - using Will based spells (Confusion, Slow, etc) is still the way to go even if your normal Spell Focuses don't apply. What the player/character would prefer to do; what they've chosen to be good at doesn't really matter, because taking advantage of giant's weakness provides such an overwhelming advantage.
Similarly, if a diplomatic approach is just as hard as a fight, whether or not the PCs have good CHA, skill trainings, etc means something. The fact that the characters chose a non violent means of resolving the problem even if it wasn't any easier tells us something about their values. If talking is easy, then PCs can get through without strong social skills, and all that their choice tells us about the characters is that they're expedient. 
When one choice is obviously superior, going for it is a pretty trivial decision.
Now, one might note that there is a world of difference between "the players could attempt to avoid a combat because that offered their best chance of success" and one choice being "obviously superior" or the DM sets up a "single correct choice". What the "best chance of success" is need not even be static - in most role-playing games, players can use up resources that change the strategies they use to meet challenges. When you are low on hit points, a fight that you could easily have won earlier may no longer be worthwhile.

The situation is set up by the DM; the strategy is determined by the players. It is not the DM who determines how the players should meet a challenge, it is the players.

It may be true that "The fact that the characters chose a non violent means of resolving the problem even if it wasn't any easier tells us something about their values", but it also might mean that they built their hammer to hit the nail in a particular way.

Victim says, "What the player/character would prefer to do; what they've chosen to be good at doesn't really matter, because taking advantage of giant's weakness provides such an overwhelming advantage." But this is really an argument that what the player has decided should determine what works best. If I am an evoker, evocation should be as successful against giants as enchantments.

Meh.

When the players have a chosen manner of dealing with problems, be it hitting them with an axe or with charm person, you learn more about them when their chosen solution isn't optimal than when it is. This is because the players must actually engage with the game, and seek out new solutions. And if their solutions are clever enough to make an encounter easier, the GM should not inflate the encounter to meet their predetermined difficulty level. And if their solutions make the problem worse, the GM should not shrink the difficulty to compensate.

If the outcome is the same no matter what choices are made, the choices do not matter to the outcome. This should be blindingly obvious.

Moreover, the context of the post is the idea of a skill challenge where one person attempts to intimidate a bear, while two people attempt to soothe it, and there is no consequence for choosing this paradoxical approach because game mechanics trump the fiction of the game.

I refer you now to this post, where it is clear that pemerton not only understood the context, but agreed to at least some degree with the edit. He also ignores this post, which answers his objections.

I hope that the point I was trying to make was clear: If the GM determines that the encounter will be of X difficulty no matter how the players decide to approach it, then the GM has stripped the players of their agency in the encounter. 

Anyway, that sort of misrepresentation was not unusual on EnWorld when I was active there, and it should not surprise me that it is still ongoing. I thought I was completely out, but no one ever really escapes, do they?

If you are interested, see here, here, here, and here.

And I suppose none of that really matters, but I disliked it when I was on EnWorld, and I still dislike it today. And it is still the same people pulling the same BS.

Cheers to having found a better community!

Related Posts: Difficulty in RPG Scenarios and Difficulty: Not Just For Players.