Saturday 26 December 2020

Kovacsian Wizard Snowman

Kovacsian Wizard Snowman: Init +4; Atk scratch +0 melee (1d3) or snowball +3 ranged (1d3 cold plus possible Stamina damage) or harmful spell; AC 12; HD 6d8; MV 20’; Act 2d20; SP snowballs, harmful spells, burst, immunity to cold, fire vulnerability, hat; SV Fort +5, Ref –3, Will +8; AL C.

These evil snowmen can hurl snowballs up to 30 feet away, which cause 1d3 points of damage due to intense cold. If the target does not make a DC 10 Fort save, he also suffers 1 point of Stamina damage due to cold. When a snowman is slain, its three snowballs burst into a spray of cold in a 10' radius which causes 1d3 points of temporary Agility damage unless a DC 10 Fort save succeeds.

A Kovacsian Wizard Snowman can also cast spells, and prefers this method of attack. Whenever a Kovacsian Wizard Snowman casts a spell, roll 1d7 to determine the result:

1.    The snowman creates a ball of green energy and hurls it at a foe with a +3 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 2d6 damage and the green energy turns blood red before dissipating (Fort DC 15 for half damage).

2.    A Green Whisp is summoned, and remains for 1d5 rounds before folding in upon itself and vanishing. Green Whisp: Init +4; Atk bite +2 melee (1d5); AC 8; HD 1d3; MV fly 40’; Act 1d20; SP immunity to heat and cold, immunity to non-magical weapons; SV Fort +0, Ref +4, Will +0; AL C.

3.    A Green Whisp is summoned (as above), but it continues to attack the snowman's enemies until slain or otherwise dealt with.

4.    The snowman creates a green portal field and hurls it at an enemy. The enemy must succeed in a DC 15 Reflex save or be captured by the portal and sent elsewhere. The judge may choose where the hapless adventurer is sent, or may roll 1d5: (1) The depths of space, (2) the Meat Planet, (3) Flammable Hospital, (4) on the track of Inferno Road, or (5) a lonely asteroid ruin in the midst of a Dog Storm!

5.    A barrage of 3d3 emerald icicles shoots forth, each of which can target a different foe! They are +3 to hit and do 1d3 damage on a successful strike. 

6.    A great wave of cold washes out from the snowman. All within 30' take 1d12 damage (Fort DC 15 for half).

7.    One target within 30' must succeed on a DC 20 Fort save or take 1d12 points of cold damage each round until the Kovacsian Wizard Snowman is slain. If the unfortunate target should fall to 0 hp before the snowman is defeated, they are transformed into a second Kovacsian Wizard Snowman, which immediately attacks their former allies!

Kovacsian Wiazard Snowmen are vulnerable to fire, taking twice the normal damage from heat-based attacks. A snowman who dies due to fire damage does not burst into a spray of cold, either.

The hat of a Kovacsian Wizard Snowman can be removed with a successful Mighty Deed. This causes the snowman to slow down (a cumulative –2 to initiative count each round), and its magic becomes less powerful (roll at -1d on the dice chain per round to determine spell effects, so 1d6 on the 1st round, 1d5 on the 2nd round, 1d4 on the 3rd round, and 1d3 on the 4th round; the snowman cannot thereafter cast spells unless it recovers its hat). The snowman ceases to be animated when its initiative count reaches 0, unless it can recover its hat. Placing the hat back upon its head restores the snowman to its original initiative count. A Kovacsian Wizard Snowman is not “slain” if it stops moving because of losing its hat, and does not burst.

(This creature is based off of the evil snowmen in The Perils of the Cinder Claws and the awesome artwork of the fantastic Doug Kovacs, which is used here with love but without permission.)

Friday 25 December 2020

Killer Christmas Tree


Killer Christmas Tree: Init +4; Atk spinning slam +5 melee (2d6); AC 14; HD 2d8; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP camouflage (surprise 2 in 3), festive music, can destroy intervening objects, construct (immune to poisons, mind-affecting, paralysis, etc.), vulnerability (x2 damage) to sonic attacks; SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +0; AL N.

Saturday 5 December 2020

Frodo, Bilbo, Conan, and Aragorn


A lot of the advice I write is for Game Masters, because I spend a considerable amount of my gaming time on that side of the screen. The other night, though, I was thinking about Sword & Sorcery characters, Appendix N, and the Fabulous Baggins Boys.

Frodo is a character fleeing from danger and into greater danger. He does take responsibility for his choices, but he is largely reactive to the greater forces acting on and around him. He loves to talk about adventure with his uncle, but his greatest achievement is his willingness to sacrifice himself. Interesting to read, yes. Interesting to play? Probably considerably less so. 

Conversely, Bilbo, while initially a reluctant adventurer, really takes to it once he has decided his course. He tries to pick the troll's pockets due to a sense of professional pride. Once he has escaped the goblins, he really does consider going back under the Misty Mountains to look for his party. And, of course, he ends up having plans of his own - eventually becoming the driving force of the narrative (at least until the Battle of Five Armies). If you don't know what I am talking about here, forget the movies and read the book.

Frodo is driven by the pressures of the narrative. Bilbo takes the pressures of the narrative, and bends them to meet his personal goals. The closest that Frodo comes to this is when he chooses to accept Golum's aid - and, in the movies, this is played as though Frodo is a patsy to the wily Smeagol, whereas in the novel, he knows exactly what he is doing.

It is completely okay to play a reluctant hero. Both Frodo and Bilbo are examples of that trope, but unless you want the GM to continually drive your character's decisions, it is better to model a PC off of Bilbo than Frodo. Don't allow the needs of the Valar to move you; allow your own goals and dreams to determine what you do. 

It is important to have goals. 

Robert E. Howard's Conan is a fantastic example of a character who drives his own fate. Even when others hire him, or attempt to manipulate him, Conan always has his own goals. There is more than one Conan story where a fundamental source of tension occurs because Conan's goals are not those the people around him want them to be - even is their coin is in his pocket!

It might not be obvious the first time one reads The Lord of the Rings - and they changed it in the movies! - but Aragorn is not a reluctant hero. He is, in fact, eager to sit on the throne of Gondor. Only when he is king can he wed Arwen, who he has loved for decades. The need to thwart Sauron is an impediment to his goals. Once he is able to finally act on them, he never loses sight of either the need to defeat Sauron or his hopes for the throne and marriage thereafter.

In game terms, a PC like Frodo is reacting to whatever the GM throws at him, whereas a Conan is actively forcing the GM to react to what he does. And an Aragorn or a Bilbo is actively trying to turn the narrative toward the direction he desires.

Have goals. It makes the game more interesting for everyone involved. And, if you have goals, the GM can use those goals as adventure hooks, making a game far more personal for your character (and, by extension, you). It doesn't even matter if your goals sometime conflict with those of your party members - that tension will add spice to the game so long as it remains in the game, and we all try to remember that everyone is there to have fun. 

If you want to make the game more fun, have goals. Be prepared to add goals. Be prepared to turn the game to meet your needs. Take possession of it. Just don't do so to make it worse for the other people at the table. And be prepared to meet a particularly grisly or heroic fate if your goals demand it.

"Quest For It" is the beating heart of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Really, it is the beating heart of role-playing games. Quest for something

Friday 27 November 2020

How to Read Your Character Sheet

I created a simple pdf for an event I am running on December 4th. It is intended to make a Purple Sorcerer Index-Card style 0-level character sheet comprehensible to someone who has never played DCC...or even a role-playing game...before.

Then I thought, "Hey! Someone else might be able to use this!"

So I put it here


Saturday 21 November 2020

DCC Choker, Darkmantle, and Roper

From a request on Reddit.


Choker: Init +4; Atk tentacle +6 melee (1d3+3); AC 17; HD 3d8; MV 20’ or climb 10'; Act 2d20; SP infravision 60', reach, hiding, throttle; SV Fort +2,Ref +5, Will +4; AL C.

This halfling-sized creature can reach creatures up to 10' away with their elastic tentacles. They tend to attack from hiding, often clinging to ceilings, gaining a +6 bonus to any stealth-based check. They are enormously strong (+3 bonus to opposed Strength checks), and can throttle creatures once they are successfully hit. Throttled creatures cannot speak, and take automatic damage each round unless they succeed in an opposed Strength check to get free.


Darkmantle: Init +2; Atk grab +3 melee (0); AC 15; HD 2d8+2; MV 20’ or fly 30'; Act 1d20; SP infravision 30', camoflage, cling, automatic bite (1d4+1); SV Fort +5,Ref +3, Will +0; AL N.

These creatures camouflage themselves among stalactites, gaining a +10 bonus to hide. Their initial attack is to cling to their victim's head, automatically blinding them. The tentacles of the darkmantle wrap around their victim, requiring a DC 20 Strength check to remove. Worse, the victim takes 1/2 damage from any successful attack targeting the darkmantle. While clinging to a victim, the darkmantle can automatically bite with its parrot-like beak for 1d4+1 damage each round (no attack roll is necessary).


Roper: Init +2; Atk tentacle +8 melee (2d6) or bite +10 melee (3d10); AC 20; HD 5d10+10; MV 10’; Act 6d20; SP infravision 120', reach, surprise, constrict, draw; SV Fort +10,Ref +3, Will +14; AL C.

These creatures can reach up to 50' away with their tentacles, surprising foes fully 50% of the time due to their stalagmite-like appearance (before they move). A creature so struck is held by the creature, who can use an Action Die to automatically cause constriction damage (2d6) or draw the victim 1d3 x 10' closer (opposed Strength check vs.+4 negates). The creature can only bite victims drawn adjacent to it. 

10% of ropers have a special ability. Roll 1d7: 

1. Stony Carapace: +4 bonus to AC.

2. Spellcasting: The roper has the spell abilities equal to a level 1d3 wizard.

3. Extendable Mouth: The roper can bite victims up to 10' away. If this is rolled again, the range is extended by +5'.

4. Better Camouflage: The roper has a +10% chance to surprise.

5. Stronger: The roper gains a +1d5 bonus to opposed Strength checks. Each of its attacks has its damage increased by the same amount.

6. Increased Hit Dice: The roper gains +1d3 Hit Dice. For every full 3 HD, it gains a +1 bonus to all attack rolls, a +1 bonus to Fort saves, a +2 bonus to Will saves, and a -2 penalty to Ref saves.

7. Roll twice and keep both results. This result can occur any number of times.

Sunday 8 November 2020

Animal Summoning and Monster Summoning

Okay, the first thing to notice about Animal Summoning and Monster Summoning is that the PC must have a bit of the creature to be summoned. What does that mean in practical terms? If the judge doesn't have stats, the creature cannot be summoned.

Having stats means that the judge knows what the HD type is. The player may not know how many HD a creature encountered is, and thus might either waste a casting or receive a weaker version of a creature, as the judge decides. I would, personally, go with a weaker version. Weaker versions might use a smaller Hit Die, have fewer attacks, have a smaller attack bonus, use a smaller die for damage, etc. They may, or may not, have the special abilities of the base creature.

(Example: Having shaved off the toenail of an elephant, our caster gains a 1 HD version of the same. This might be an elephant calf without tusks or the ability to trample that an adult has - or, if the judge is kind, it might be a "glass canon" adult with 5 hp!)

(Note that this can go the other way - a 5 HD chicken might be large enough to ride, with a devastating peck attack!)

When the player starts collecting animal/monster parts for these spells, the wise judge starts collecting these stats into a printable document to have at hand when the spells are cast.

As a player, be prepared to roll with what the judge tells you was summoned. Magic is unknowable, and there may be factors at play that you are not aware of. This is explicit in the judge's advice in the core rules - the judge is encouraged to have locations that skew the results of some or all spells.

As a judge, be prepared to expand on what the caster rolls. DCC monster stats are not difficult to modify - here is a post on understanding the stat block - and getting a giant chicken, a dog storm, or dozens of tiny hippos are all results that can be memorable in play. The goal is not to "gimp" the spell result, but to make the spell result fun for all involved, even when it fails. Maybe we see a spectral rhino that never quite manifests, or what looks like an inside-out lion appears like a transporter accident in Star Trek. You don't have to do that all the time, but once in a while is fun.

Best of luck!

Another cross-post from Reddit.

Making the World Dangerous and Mysterious

There are two parts to this - dangerous and mysterious.

Dangerous includes running into monsters - but it should also include running into people, dealing with the weather, natural hazards, and things like that. If you read any of the foundational literature from Appendix N, consider taking notes about things that happen when the characters travel. You can recast these as you need.

Mysterious includes special locations, such as standing stones that indicate a nexus of ley lines boosting certain types of magic, cavernous pits or chasms that lead who-knows-where, and lonely ruined castles on hilltops like rotting teeth. Basically, consider a lot of things that might be good or bad, and sprinkle them around. Each of these might lead into an adventure. Or they might be places the PCs return to at some point - the standing stones, for instance, when they want to cast some particular spell.

Both dangers and mysteries provide opportunities to create context for your players' decisions. If they are confronted by patrolling henchmen of the Evil Baron, that is both a danger, and something that allows them to learn about the Evil Baron. If they discover a waterfall into a vast chasm, which they have no reasonable means to descend, they might be able to link that to a river flowing out of a cavern later in their travels.

Remember, too, that an encounter need not mean combat. A cyclops might be waiting at a crossroads because it foresaw the party's arrival in a vision. It might offer to restore one of more PCs' lost Stamina once the recover some item it prizes from a nearby adventure location the cyclops is to large to fit into. Or, perhaps, the cyclops merely says "The Fates have decreed that you shall succeed in this endeavor, or no one."

And it doesn't mean they have to fight the cyclops if they say No. Who knows? Maybe the Fates decreed that they would succeed a year from now? Or ten years?

Also, there are other people in the world. Everyone the PCs meet knows stories of forest demons and hidden valleys where a fortune in jewels are to be had for the taking. Or stories of Elfland, both wondrous and grim. Some of these stories are true. Some have been distorted through long telling. Some are false. And some, whether or not the teller knows it, merely lead the gullible into a monster's gullet.

Give the players things to think about. Imply dangers that are not necessarily met...this time, at least. Let the occasional danger manifest. Suddenly, the world is both as dangerous and as mysterious as you could want!

Cross-posted from reddit.

Monday 19 October 2020

Looking Back at the Bride of Cyclops Con

After being a little slow on my AlbaCon write-ups, let me see if I can be less tardy with Bride of Cyclops Con. As with the previous convention, playing at home meant balancing the needs of my family with time to game, so I only ran 3 games on the weekend. If you compare that with my average of 6 games at Gary Con, you will see that I actually do try to achieve some sort of equilibrium. 

I cannot overstate how much I appreciate the opportunity to do these things. Not only do I appreciate the players and the organizers, but I appreciate my family for letting me take over the kitchen table for so much of the weekend!

It was wonderful to not only game, but to talk to so many other people in this pandemic year. I go to work, and I have to be physically present in my job. Compared to others, I have had it fairly easy. Nonetheless, 2020 has been a steady drain on energy, mood, and creativity - and everyone waiting for FT 3 knows that my creativity has been depressed for a few years now.

Spoilers follow.

The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss

Saturday morning started with a delve into prehistory, very much inspired by Manly Wade Wellman's Hok the Mighty and Edgar Rice Burroughs' stories of Pellucidar. The PCs were cavefolk of the Tribe of Ogg, who venture into the Dread Forest in search of what Suss, the Sun God, threw to the earth.

This funnel has some potentially deadly encounters, including an early encounter with 6 hyenadons. The PCs decided to camp out without a guard, leading to a nighttime surprise that, due mostly to poor rolls on my part, ended in a near-complete victory for the Stone Age humans!

They encountered the Father of Pigs, but missed the space princess and the Gnarl-Gnarl cookout. That last was probably a good thing. Still, they had enough encounters - and rolled well enough - that a majority of the PCs survived to reach level 1 within the Gift of Suss.

Despite a high survival rate (which would turn out to be par for the course this convention) the players had fun exploring the Solar Bequest, and as the ship began to go through its dimensional shifts, an actual encounter with Cthulhu was a definite high point. You would think the monstrous nature of that encounter would have blasted at least a few minds, but where I roll low, they rolled high.

As the dimensional shifts increased (with automatic damage accruing with each shift) you would think that the ranks would thin. Nope. And, while they did go to the same world twice, they didn't go to the same world a third time (and thus cause a massive explosion, which would have killed them all). 

The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss can be picked up for free on the Mystic Bull website, here. The authorized sequel, by none other than Bob Brinkman, appeared in a free Sanctum Secorum Episode Companion

Many thanks to Bjorn Nelson, Matt Thompson, Jack Derricourt, Jason Menard, and Jesse Withrow for making running the game a blast! You may have survived more than you should have, but it was entertaining to see how it all played out! This game ran a little over, and I am thankful that all of you were willing to stay to the end!

Danger in the Deep!

When I set up this adventure, I decided to give every player a backup PC because I expected several deaths. There was not a one...but not for lack of trying!

This scenario includes some really serious hazards related to three-dimensional spaces and running water. Even entering the caves can be hazardous unless you have more than 100' of rope. Our party used 150', and still had rope enough left to meet some of the other dangers to come.

The party's greatest peril occurred when they met the Spinwoman, who nearly slew the group's halfling. A lucky crit with a crossbow brought her down...but by that point it also meant 4d6 damage for the halfling and 3d6 for two other party members as they were no longer being pulled aloft. Thankfully, the party included a cleric.

Part of the fun of role-playing games is the role-playing, and the snailtaur potion masters were a big hit. Charm person proved a powerful tool, due to good rolls, dealing with two major encounters. The second usage - against a gigantic spellcasting slug - triggered a spell duel, but I rolled so poorly with my counter that the players barely noticed.

There are a lot of ways to die in this adventure. Several are natural hazards. You can end up in a swiftly flowing cavern stream and sailing off down a waterfall, for instance. The biggest treasure - which the PCs never encountered, requires swimming or cleverness to get it. There are plenty of chances to die in combat or to fall to your doom. The players avoided making any decision that would lower the boom - or rolled well enough to avoid the consequences when they did - that they all survived.

The paranoia, though, was palpable. This is DCC, and you are careful what you touch! 

Many thanks to Gray Freeman, Wes Baker, Michael McMurray, Cristopher Messemore, and Ryan Bishop (no relation). 

The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn

On Sunday, I ran The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn and The Vault of Ash back to back. This is actually both parts of a two-part adventure, which I ran as a single event. It was 5th level, so rather than go the route of the awesome Purple Sorcerer generators, I decided to allow the players to choose from among 10 fictional characters I had given DCC stats.

The party consisted of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield, Conan the Cimmerian, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Severus Snape. We were expecting Tarzan of the Apes as well, but he was called to the lost city of Opar at the last minute. If you are curious about these characters or the others which were on offer, you can find them here. I claim no rights to the art or the characters; this is strictly personal use! The players did not get to see the write-ups before choosing.

I allotted six hours for the game. We ended up using just over 5 hours. With Captain Jack's compass, a willingness to risk the spires, and a dearth of random encounters, the PCs did very little actual exploration of Saturn. In truth, I sped up the magnetic flux a bit from how it is written, giving Bilbo the chance to encounter the ceiling when his mithral shirt was repulsed, and then encounter the floor a few rounds later. Bilbo broke both an arm and a leg.

The Vault of Zin is designed to eliminate PCs unlikely to restore the fallen sorcerer. There are rooms designed to specifically kill wizards and clerics, but the party contained no cleric and it was Captain Jack Sparrow who nearly killed himself in the wizard trap. There is also a room designed to slay those who are too clever - if it were not for a few lucky rolls, that room might have been the end of one or more PCs. It didn't help that I fumbled.

The party ended up taking the Red Metal Door to escape to Venus, and chose to avoid interacting with the idol, thus missing the three greatest dangers they could have faced. Even so, without a cleric, they were lucky to have the Hogwarts Potion Master in their ranks, because he had a few choice flasks at his disposal.

Many thanks to Paul Paul, Steven Danielson, Squin Squin, John Dow, and Tim White for joining me on this voyage!

As with many other Cons, I produced some virtual swag, which you can find here.

The DCC RPG community - online and off - are a fantastic bunch of folks!

Thursday 15 October 2020

AlbaCon Debriefing!

Most of the times, in years past, I have done my Con recaps as quickly as I was able. This year, I am doing more conventions (online), but I paradoxically have less time for writing due to work and family commitments. And when my time isn't being spent making sure that something else is taken care of, I find my creative energies banked (at best) or completely MIA.

AlbaCon took place on 3-4 October of this year, and was a great success. I ran three games on Scottish time (the first started at 5 am locally!) using a combination of Discord for video/voice and Roll20 as a whiteboard. In truth, I barely used Roll20 - I think twice in three games, and never more than once in a single game. 

Needless to say, Spoilers Sweetie.

Fire in the Mountain

If I had prepared better, I could have had urisk PCs for the players. As it was, a good time was had by all, but the cautious exploration of the adventure resulted in (1) far fewer deaths than normal, and (2) a lot of the actual temple complex missed. I did make sure that the PCs had a chance to encounter the spiral staircase and brass wheel (for those familiar with the adventure) because it is the crux of the adventure. The PCs came up with a great solution to the giant fiery snake!

Silent Nightfall

Singularly the best experience I've had with the Grallistrax Elders. (Those are the owls, O' my players!) The PCs did free the demon, but the Elf PC managed to not only survive, but to bring the whispering stone to Elfland. It took 200 years, but that Elf was the only surviving PC!

The Imperishable Sorceress

Possibly the most brutal outcome this adventure has ever seen (when I was running it, at least) even though only on PC died. 

Many thanks to all who played! These include Steve B, Richard W, James W, Sam P, Ryan MMark P, Mikalye, James Q, Tabarkus, Martin S, and Bruce L. Because I am an idiot and waited to record the names off Roll20/Discord, several people have been left out to my chagrin.

As is my custom, I produced virtual swag for the convention. Interested readers can find it here. If you want/need more Scotland in your game (and why wouldn't you?), this might also be of interest!  Actually, so might this!

AlbaCon produced a number of videos to go with the convention. You can find them here.

Friday 21 August 2020

The Bride of Cyclops Con

Well, I've thrown my hat into the ring. I will be running two four-hour games and one six-hour game for Bride of Cyclops Con. Crom have mercy on my soul.

The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss is a funnel where the PCs are Old Stone Age cave men in a world reminiscent of the ERB Pellucidar stories, or the Manly Wade Wellman tales of Hok the Mighty. Players who play in this game are absolutely encouraged to also play in Danger in the Deep!, leveling their post-funnel cave folks to level 2. If you go this option, download the free Tribe of Ogg adventure here, but don't even open the file until you've had the chance to play it! The free download includes a new race-class, mercurial magic for cave dwellers, and information on the gods of prehistory.

Danger in the Deep! is a 2nd level adventure. You get to explore some caves, looking for a magic flower that can cure a deadly plague. Along the way, you may discover a connection between this adventure and Ogg.

The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn is a six hour romp on the planet Saturn, using the Crawljammer rules. It covers both parts of the two-part Saturn adventure I wrote for Moon Dice Games, and that six hour slot is a hard limit - you might end up trapped on Saturn forever! Because the adventure is for 5th level characters, I have decided to forego the usual Purple Sorcerer route and lovingly handcraft the PCs. But if you have a survivor from a previous adventure that you want to level up for the game, I am willing to go along with that. Just be aware that this adventure is perilous....

Hope to see you at Bride of Cyclops Con!

If you have not done so already, don't forget to also check out AlbaCon!

Monday 3 August 2020

D120 Treasures

I am working on trying to get myself writing again, so I threw this together and put it as only $2 on DriveThruRPG.

If you like it, let me know. If you hate it, let me know. If you want more D120 GM aids, let me know what you would like. Something like monsters or spel
ls are hard to do while remaining system-agnostic. 

But, basically, this is just to try to reprime the pumps and get me writing again.

Saturday 25 July 2020


As mentioned on Spellburn, AlbaCon charity focused RPG convention is taking place the 3rd and 4th of October.

At the moment, I am scheduled to run three games for the convention. Be aware that times are in the Western European Time Zone, as the virtual convention is hosted in Scotland.

I may also be involved in a seminar on creating RPG adventures - more on this as it unfolds.

The three events I will be running are:

Dungeon Crawl Classics – Fire in the Mountain
Saturday October 3rd at 10:00 - 14:00

Dungeon Crawl Classics – Silent Nightfall
Saturday October 3rd at 15:00 - 19:00

Dungeon Crawl Classics – The Imperishable Sorceress
Sunday October 4th at 15:00 - 19:00

Event booking opens 21 August 2020.

Monday 20 July 2020

Raven Wolf

Based on an illustration by Carl McIntyre. Used with permission.

Raven Wolf: Init +2; Atk beak +5 melee (1d6+2) or claw +3 melee (1d4+2); AC 13; HD 3d8+3; MV 45'; Act 2d20; SP track, leap, pack tactics, resistant to cold; SV Fort +2, Ref +3; Will +0; AL N.

The Raven Wolves of the cold north are huge creatures, the size of a pony, which combine the features of a raven and a great black wolf. They are intelligent for animals, although not as intelligent as most humanoids, and can be domesticated to some degree. Even giant Raven Wolf handlers know that the creatures can turn on them if hungry, frightened, or bored.

A Raven Wolf is a keen tracker, able to follow most creatures with a 5 in 6 chance of success (which may be reduced by precautions taken, the passage of time, or weather that obliterates tracks and scent). They are able to use an Action Die to leap up to 40’ in any direction, gaining two claw attacks using 1d16 each, as though charging. Regardless of success, a Raven Wolf can still use its other Action Die to stab with its beak.

When working together, Raven  Wolves can forgo their individual attacks to confuse prey. For every Raven Wolf that threatens, but does not use its Action Dice, each other Raven Wolf in the pack gains a +1 bonus to AC for each Action Die not used (to a maximum of +6). This bonus lasts until the Raven Wolves’ next initiative.

Finally, dwelling in the cold boreal wastes, Raven Wolves gain a +1d bonus on the dice chain to any save made against cold-based effects, and reduce damage from cold by 2 points per die.

Monday 15 June 2020

DCC Days Tales of Adventure

As I imagine anyone reading this blog knows, DCC Days Online Convention ran from Thursday, 11 June 2020 to Sunday, 14 June 2020. Having to work full time last week, and being ever-hopeful of being able to run games in meatspace, I signed up to run two games. Also, I'm running online games from my kitchen table, and there is a limit to how much forbearance I can ask my family for!

As might be obvious, there are going to be a few spoilers below.

On Friday I ran Goblins of the Faerie Wood for William Keller, Ken Kindler, Marlene Whitmer, and Kathy Heatherly. This is a funnel in which the PCs are playing goblins. It went pretty well, although after the goblin PCs beat up the hook-nosed gobbler and dealt with the greywhethers with minima losses, I was beginning to wonder if my jokes about "what could go wrong?" would turn out to be prophetic! Not to worry - when the goblins decided to gather reeds from the stream, things got deadly quickly. The giant spiders also took out their share of 0-levels.

The greywhethers are sheep which turn to stone by day (or if brought to 0 hp). They know the answers to many questions, but asking them a question makes you their lawful prey. Most of the time I run this adventure, this is the first "thinning the ranks" encounter. In this case, not so much. A couple of goblins did get eaten by the carnivorous immortal sheep, but the players actually came up with a clever solution to the problem the greywhethers pose. It is one I had not seen tried before, and had not considered when writing the, kudos!

(Solving the adventure requires gaining information that the greywhethers can provide.)

Also unusually, after the PCs acquired a powerful magical item, they decided to keep their earlier bargain and trade it for a charm to cure a toothache their tribal king was suffering from. It is not unusual for goblins to decide to flee their king's territory at this point, and make a new life for themselves as adventurers!

Altogether, a very fun evening.

I had no games to run, and The Sword & Board is postponing DCC Day events until things become a tad bit safer here in Toronto, so I didn't get to run anything Saturday. This is completely cool, and I am thankful that the store wants to keep us safe, even though I am jonesing to run something in person. I did get a chance to drop into the Social Hour (with help getting the link from some very astute members of the DCC RPG Rocks! Facebook group).

On Sunday I ran The Falcate Idol for Paul Pipeline, Sam Nicholson, Em Hogard, Iain T, and Jeff Kuzniewski. Most of the characters were pregens creating using Purple Sorcerer...and quite coincidentally more than one had an extremely low stat or two.

We almost didn't have a cleric, and I was ready to supply each PC with a potion of greater healing that heals 4d4 damage. This is physical prop made by one of my regular players. There are 4d4 on a resin base inside the bottle; I got to "roll" it several times during the adventure....because the first real encounter made me retcon to allow the potions. There was, very nearly, a TPK in the second room (first real encounter). For those who know the adventure, the PCs went down through the trapdoor.

Despite having a chance to heal and get powered up, and despite an awesome animal summoning spell effect (the PCs booked past the 100 HD of eagles fighting a truly horrific spider-monster, and so missed when it was reduced to 0 hp and exploded into a cloud of spores). If this was being played in a regular campaign, the eagles who failed their saves would certainly come up again.

Several characters dropped several times. The battle to escape the temple's guardians was brutal, and without divine intervention a PC or two would have ended their days as temple guardians themselves. The cleric of Bobugbubilz wound up with the emerald from the idol's forehead, and all that entails.

It was a fun adventure, but it created enough dangling threads that I would really have loved to pull them and see where they went. The CE Series is really designed for campaign play. The Falcate Idol would be especially fun, I think, in the DCC Lankhmar setting....something I may have to run at some point.

Altogether, DCC Days was definitely fun, but it made me want to run games in realspace even more! I wonder....If I got four card tables and spaced them 6 feet apart in some outdoor location......?

EDIT: Forgot to mention the Virtual Swag!

Monday 1 June 2020

Big Damn Heroes...

...Or, playing with 1-2 players

It happens sometimes that you only have one or two players available, and you want to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign. This isn't as crazy as it sounds. Plenty of Appendix N fiction follows the exploits of a single adventurer, or a duo.

The judge who wishes to run games for only one or two players can use this simple hack. Others have suggested means to deal with the funnel - see various articles in The Gong Farmer's Almanac for ideas. Herein I am only looking at what happens when a character gains 10 XP and gets to choose a class.

Allow the character to select two classes, and get all the benefits of both (hit points, hit dice, save modifiers, etc.). The character is still considered to be level 1, although they might be a warrior/thief (Conan, Fafhrd), a warrior/cleric (effectively a paladin), a warrior/wizard, etc. The cleric/wizard combo in particular offers something much closer to many of the sorcerous beings found in early fantasy fiction.

Demi-humans must choose their race-class as one of the two classes. Humans cannot choose to become elves, dwarves, or halflings. In the case of Deed Dice, just bump the character's Deed Die +1d up the dice chain. Halfing thieves gain a +1 bonus per Luck Die, but only grant +2 when they spend Luck for others.

When the characters hit level 2 (at 50 XP), they can add one level of either of their existing classes. And so it goes, up to level 10.

What if a player wants to take the same class twice? I.e., start as a warrior/warrior? Treat as a level 2 warrior with 10 XP, who is considered level 1, and who gains level 3 at 50 XP. By the time you reach level 10, the character might have to add another class, but the odds of reaching such heights in the short term are extremely slim.

There you have it. Nothing else is required, save the native wits of the players themselves.

And, these characters can join larger groups by considering their actual hit dice rather than their levels - at least for a short time. If the group gets larger, just start using normal XP progression from their hit dice. Suddenly, that 2nd level wizard/thief/thief is considered a 3rd level character!

The funny thing is, this might allow PCs to represent Appendix N protagonists more closely than the core rules do. It makes the PCs stronger and more versatile as well, allowing them to insinuate themselves into places where angels fear to tread.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

DCC Days Online

I have signed up to run two games online.

Hopefully, I will be able to run a new tournament funnel in person at the Sword & Board in Toronto on Saturday. With real prizes. I will keep you posted.

Saturday 16 May 2020

DCC Days

I am hoping to spend this time running games at The Sword & Board in Toronto. But, man, doubts assail me. What if the Covid-19 ban (or a spike in cases) prevents the store from participating? What if economics prevent the store from participating, after being forcibly closed for some time?

What if?

What if?

I have been in some talks, but I don't see the event on their calendar, and the Goodman Games site only lists American participating retailers so far.

So I am now officially looking for someone to partner with, who is willing to pick up items for me at a different store, and ship them to Canada. I do not mind paying for this service!


Meanwhile, if you are in or near Toronto, and want to participate in DCC Days, why not make sure that The Sword & Board knows about it?  There is contact info on their webpage (linked above), and every person who inquires makes it more likely that the owners are willing to take what is, following an enforced closure, what amounts to an expensive risk.

Help me, Hugh-Shanna-Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Tales From Cyclops Con

Last weekend was Cyclops Con, a virtual convention run by Goodman Games. I ran three events for the convention, using Roll20 and theater of the mind. Mostly things went well,  but I am definitely still learning how to shift from in-person gaming to online.

There are a lot of other things I am trying to juggle, which are taking up valuable mental real estate. This had an effect on my convention, as we shall see.

The Fence's Fortuitous Folly

I ran this game on Friday at 7:00 PM for Gary M. Soldati, Jack Derricourt, Stefan Surratt, Kleighton Smoniewski, Jordan McIntosh, and Stephen Barnett. The pregenerated characters I used were pointed out to me by Jen Brinkman, who may or may not also have been their creator. Among the characters was a Mingol wizard who was blind as the result of a curse, and who had to be naked in order to cast his charm person spell. This offered a particularly good example of how spell stipulations and dooms could affect the game in a greatly amusing way. Another character had a benison allowing him to attack with two weapons in the manner of a core-DCC halfling. Yet another character had a 1st level sidekick.

We started this game by reducing the Luck of PCs who wanted to risk a bit of carousing for the "full Lankhmar" effect, and then jumped into the game.

There is a big chase at the start of FFF, and it was well received. One of the players told me after the game that he had been involved in numerous chases using various systems, but the combination of rolls and encounters in the adventure allowed him to feel the tension of the chase all the way through. This pleased me enormously, because the adventure was written before DCC Lankhmar had any official chase rules. It also uses the d7, which is still my favorite die.

As a result of the choices made by the players, and the time constraints of a three-hour time slot, some possible encounters were missed. Everyone seemed to have a good time, though, and everyone survived.

After the adventure, I did a brief Q & A session, and then went into the virtual tavern to socialize a bit. The adventure was originally slated to run on the Goodman Games Twitch channel, but video resolution issues kept that from being viable.

Through the Dragonwall

Saturday morning at 11:00 AM I ran Through the Dragonwall for James Pozenel, Ophelia Pozenel, Tristan Pozenel, David Oswald, and David Rudisill.

This was a necessarily condensed version of the adventure, just to get the major story elements into play. TTD includes an opening mini-dungeon, a maze that PCs will probably have to thread at least three times, political intrigue, and enough optional encounters to easily provide 3-4 sessions of material. We managed to not only play through the salient points in three hours, but I discovered at the end that I had not gone wildly over (which I had thought) but slightly under.

As the cover indicates, this adventure includes a dragon. In most instances, PCs are going to end up fighting that dragon. In a 3rd level adventure, unless the PCs are both cunning and lucky, this could result in a TPK. In our Saturday session, it resulted instead in half the party lying dead beneath the now-visible sky while the remainder fled to escape the Valley of Two Lands.

Again, I had time for a brief Q & A after the game. Yes, this adventure uses elements from the two Harley Stroh adventures I had converted from 4e, to make a sort of unofficial "Caldwell Cover" trilogoy of level 1, 2, and 3 adventures. These are Dragora's Dungeon and The Curse of the Kingspire. Links to Abraham Merritt stories were also discussed.

The Dread God Al-Khazadar

And then, as it so often does, disaster struck. I was scheduled to run The Dread God Al-Khazadar on Saturday at 3:00 PM, but for some reason I had it stuck in my head that I was running it on Sunday. As a result, I was half an hour late to the game. I apologized profusely, and ran the game over time to make up for it, wrapping things up only when folks had to leave to play other games.

Compounding this error, two players had been given the same pregen character, and one had been given a 3rd level elf I had generated for Through the Dragonwall!

My sincerest thanks to Tim White, Joe Cirillo, Stefan Surratt, Laura Pirkola Williams, Clayton Williams, and Matt Carr for sticking around and making the game enjoyable nevertheless!

When I ran this adventure last year at Gary Con, I had selected a 5-hour slot, and went for nearly 6 hours. Part of the set-up is that the judge is trying to slow the players down, while the players experience an ever-increasing time pressure to resolve the adventure before they all die. There was a lot of material that had to be condensed to make the adventure fit into a roughly 3-hour frame.

Despite the aging-brain generated problems I accidentally created, the group seemed to have fun.

Virtual Swag

Not being at the convention in person to hand out swag, I created some with the help of artist Elias Scorsone, the author and illustrator of Wrath of the Frost Queen.

You deserve a piece of virtual swag for reading this far. You can find it here!

Sunday 12 April 2020

What To Do With The Cowards?

This came about as a response to this post on Facebook. What do you do if you have some PCs who keep hiding whenever there is a fight, and don't do their fair share?


Your job is to present the world, and the consequences in the world that arise naturally from the choices that the players make. Dealing with PCs that cause problems is something that the players should deal with. Let THEM hold back a share of the treasure. Let THEM replace the problem PCs with new party members (which can even be run by the same players).

Be blunt if you have to, or if the players complain:

"They are your characters. This is your problem. Deal with it."

That said, there may be occasions that the consequences for these kinds of choices are brutal.

Intelligent enemies don't necessarily want to face the strongest members of a group. If you watch nature documentaries, you can see how wolves will try to cut off a weaker member of a group. Foes can do the same. It is easy to imagine slavers intentionally drawing the braver PCs out while sending others to collect those cowering in the back. Doppelgangers might employ similar tactics.

The point is, you are not trying to punish players for how they approach the game, but rather consider how the game world would react to the approaches they are using.

At the same time, you want to ensure that situations and opponents vary enough that no one tactic is always the right one. Sometimes, the brave PCs who leap into the fray discover that their opponents are illusory, but the covered pit is not.

In short, it is always useful to consider how your players might respond to the encounters you devise, but it isn't useful - at all - to make encounters that are dependent upon the PCs responding on one particular way. That will be the one encounter where the players confound your expectations. Not always, but often enough that you are doing yourself no favors by planning encounters that way in the first place.

My advice is to let the dice fall where they may, and discover if cowardice is a good tactic or a poor one together at the gaming table. The dynamics of the players within the party isn't your concern. Don't let them make it your problem.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Cyclops Con

Here are the events I am running at Cyclops Con.

Hope to see you there! Tickets go on sale April 10th.

Monday 30 March 2020

Virtual Gary Con Virtual Recap

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


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

The adventure runs like this:

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

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

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

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

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

This is my story of the Virtual Con.

Friday Night

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday Night

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

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

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

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


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

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

In Summary

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

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

See you at Cyclops Con!

Thursday 26 March 2020

For the Love of Gnomes!

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

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

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

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

Friday 20 March 2020

Virtual Gary Con!

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

Monday 24 February 2020

The Lord of the Rings

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

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

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

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

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

Saturday 22 February 2020

Cowards in the Mist

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

You can, and should, read the interview here.

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

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

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Vol 6

Is live now!

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

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

Get it Here!

Friday 14 February 2020

Sometimes, Always Monsters

Or, Vagabond Dog for Valentine's Day!

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

RCK: Hi Justin. How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCK: Flattery will get you nowhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck! And thank you for talking with us!