Friday, August 23, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Surprise

Today's topic is Surprise.

What is the most surprising thing you ever witnessed in a game?  I have to say it was a game my older son ran for my youngest son and the sheep.


It was so surprising because of how crazy it all was and how much noise we heard coming from the basement.

So it goes like this.  The party was supposed to get to the next town to get to a job.  The job was what the adventure was supposed to be about. Simple right?  So they all decide to take a short cut through a field and stay off the main road.  They ask what is in the field.  My oldest, not having planned this bit out (because why should he) rolled and said "Sheep".

The players freaked out.  They all wanted to have sheep as pets or animal companions.  So they spent a long time chasing sheep, trying to charm them or casting any spells they could think of.  By this time some of the players got tired of chasing sheep so they started killing them. Next thing the players they started try and raise the sheep from the dead, others wanted to bring them back as zombies.  Then the characters started attacking each other, the zombie sheep started to attack the characters.  By the end of the night, some four hours later, the sheep were all dead, the countryside was on fire, and at least three characters (out of six) were dead.

There was so much yelling and laughing and shouting.  We were laughing our asses off upstairs.

Every kid downstairs had to tell us their version of the story.

I know I am not doing the story any justice here. But it was so damn funny to hear them tell it.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Adventures in Hyperborea

Hat tip to Jason Vey for sharing these with me.

So if I know ANYTHING at all about Conan, likely it came from Jason Vey. In addition to being a top rate game designer, he is a Master's level scholar on Robert E. Howard.  So when he shares something related to Conan, or Howard or realted topics, I pay attention.

This week he shared this with me, Adventures of the Hyborian Age. This is an older site with adventures for the Mongoose d20 Conan game.  Jason is using this material for his OD&D-based Conan game which sounds fantastic.

He shared with me something he knew I would love. A Conan-flavored conversion of one of my favorite adventures of all time, S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

The new adventure has a more Hyborian feel to it and draws heavily from Conan lore, in particular, Red Nails.

HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron

The adventure is, at it's heart, the same as S4.  Save now it has been reskinned for the Hyborian Age and all the background has been changed.

Now maybe I have been reading a lot of Eric Fabiaschi of late (or always really) but this sounds like a PERFECT adventure for  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea!

Eric has had a LOT to say about AS&SH (most of his blog) and S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.  In fact he pulls in a lot of Jason Vey's own game, Amazing Adventures into the conversations too.

In fact, I am very curious to hear what Eric has to say about this adventure. (EDITED: I talked to Eric before this post went up. He has played it using AS&SH. He also pointed out my next point.)

Now AS&SH only takes us to level 12.  This adventure is right up against that level limit and might even be a bit more than a party can deal with. I would alter this by having a larger party to be honest or carefully scaling the encounters.

Outside of the Hyborian skin the biggest change is the Witch-Queen Xaltana.  She essentially combines the characters of Iggwilv and Drelzna into one.

So instead of this:


We get this:


It actually works out quite well. In fact, Xaltana is much more interesting than Drelzna ever was. (Sorry D!)

Appropriately the adventure takes on a more Clark Ashton Smith feel to it.  This plays so well into the sequel WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Which could in like fashion be reskinned as The Forgotten Temple of Thasaidon. Hmm. Maybe that is something to try; borrowing heavily from The Tomb-Spawn.

She would make a great Witch Queen!  More on that later.


#RPGaDAY2019: Lost

Today's topic is Lost.

One of my favorite things in RPGs is visiting or exploring lost lands.

I am currently re-reading Tolkien's The Silmarillion.  I didn't enjoy it as a kid, but when I re-read as an adult a few tears back I loved it.  Today I am getting a lot more out of it still.

One thing that bugged me back then that I adore now are these maps.

As a kid I was very familiar with this map:


I had this on my wall for years until I went to college.

But this map in the Silmarillion bugged me.


Obviously, these maps are related.  Reading the stories I knew these were the same worlds or at least related lands.

It wasn't till I noticed the only commonality between the two maps, on the far right of the Middle Earth map and the far left of the Beleriand map you can see the Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains.

It works better if you place the maps like this and sink the lands under water that Tolkien mentions.


Now, this map fills me with joy.  Look at all those lost lands!  If I ever do a Middle-Earth game there will be a way to visit these lands.

Even if I never do I want to know more about it.  What happened to these lands when the waters claimed them? Were there still people there?  Not just lost Gondolin, all the places.

It reminds me of Doggerland.  A lot more real and closer to home, but no less lost.


Think about it 8,000 BCE, lands to the east of England.  Walking from (what would be) London to (what would be) Copenhagen.

This is a Mesolithic (Middle to Late) period in human history.  We know so little about this time and the people that lived here.  Not just a lost land, a lost people, a lost time.

Sure we have some wonderful archeological finds from this time, but who were the people? What did they do? What sort of adventures would they have had?

Again, I might never get the chance to do anything with it, but I do love looking at these maps.

Back in the early days of AD&D 1st ed I took an immediate liking to the lost lands of the Suel Empire of the Greyhawk setting.

Like Middle Earth, I want to run a game set during the Invoked Devastation / Rain of Colorless Fire.  Something along the lines of the Doctor Who episode "The Time Monster" where the PCs get sent back in time to witness the destruction. I would have watched it around the same time I was playing AD&D 1.

I love lost lands, one day I might even get to visit them!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

In a time of Ancient Gods...

There were the ones that beseeched these gods for power and it was granted!

These are the witches of the Classical Traditions and their closely allied sisters the Amazon Tradition.



Coming soon for the BLUEHOLME Journeymanne and Prentice Rules.


Sumer. Egypt. Greece. Rome.
These are the foundations of civilization. Where mythology, religion and magic collide in a fertile land.
It is a time of Gods and Witches!

This book introduces the Classical Witch Tradition. Witches from the ancient time of myths and legends.
  •         The witch class and four new combination classes
  •         Guidelines for playing any species of witch
  •         Six witch covens of the Classical Tradition
  •         120 Spells and Rituals for witch characters
  •         24 Monsters to challenge or be allies
  •         29 magic items and six artifacts
  •         Three Non-player character witches from pages of mythology

Also fully compatible with Daughters of Darkness: Lilith and the Mara Tradition.



#RPGaDAY2019: Vast

Today's topic is Vast.

Vast. Seriously it is like it is too large of a word to tackle all at once.


To any PC in any sort of RPG the setting should feel vast.  For D&D it is can be the world or the known planes.  In sci-fi games, this can be the galaxy or even the universe.

But I don't write vast.  I write local.

Yes, there is a whole world out there, but how much of it are the PCs going to see? What do they really know about it?  Sure, there were people in the 13th century that had a pretty good idea what the world looked like, but did the peasants?

Let's look at Star Trek and by extension my BlackStar game. Because really, what is more vast than space?


That is a map of the Known Space of the Star Trek universe roughly at the end of the 24th Century.  My BlackStar game is likely to be set 50 years prior to this.
This is a LOT of territory.  The Sol system is where the larger yellow line is.  Click to see larger.

This is roughly 1,500 Light Years wide, of the Milky Way that is 105,000 Light Years wide, about 1%.

That's a lot of untold stories. 

I wish I had more time to do more!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Noble

Today's topic is Noble.

I have to admit. I don't really do a lot with nobles or nobility in my games. Unless of course, they are a plot device.  Either a backdrop ("The King has ordered...") or the big bad ("Count Dracula, I presume.").



Honestly, I really should do more.

Recently I received my PDF of Adventures Great and Glorious from Joseph Bloch's Kickstarter.  I have not read it all in detail but so far I like it.  Between it and some of the rules found in Adventurer Conqueror King, there is a lot to help me with a good system of kingdom creation and management.   Who knows, maybe it will give me some ideas for my upcoming "War of the Witch Queens" game.

The gold standard of this sort of game is naturally Pendragon.  A game I adore but never got to play much.  Another one that comes to mind is Birthright.

Birthright is an odd one for me.  Odd in the sense that I know nearly next to nothing about it.  It came out during TSR's dying days. In the Second Ed era I was firmly entrenched in Ravenloft,  but by 1997 I was giving up on D&D.  I had started to move on to other games already (this was the height of my Mage years) and I was generally very disappointed in D&D by then. I had even sold off large sections of my collection to where I was down to just a few dozen books.

At a Gen Con some years ago I got to play in a Birthright game.  It was fun, I played a Goblin archer (fighter), but in this game, goblins were a lot smarter. So more like an angry halfling.

I don't own any Birthright books, which is a crime really.  So I am thinking of picking up the core set.   From my understanding, it would convert well to 5e.

What are your favorite games or supplements for dealing with PCs becoming nobles and ruling the lands?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Goblin Men

“We must not look at goblin men, 
We must not buy their fruits: 
Who knows upon what soil they fed 
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
- Christina Rossetti, 1862

There are two artistic movements that have fueled my imagination for my games more than anything else I can think of; Tolkien and the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
They converge at Goblin Men.

In Rossetti's poem, the Goblin Men are found in the Goblin Market. Honestly, if this poem doesn't fill you with ideas for your games I don't know what will.  In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Goblin Men are essentially half-orcs. Both types are depicted as evil, or at the very least, desiring mischief to humankind.

The fact we don't have Goblin Men in D&D is a crime.

Since my theme this year is "Back to Basic", here are Goblin Men for my two current favorite Basic-era Games, Blueholme and Old-School Essentials.

In my worlds, goblins are closer to fey-creatures than they are to orcs.  Mostly evil, or at least mischievous creatures.  I might adopt some of what Pathfinder 2 is doing with them as well to make them more of playable race.    Goblin Men are born to human women that wander too close to lands where goblins dwell.  Not through sexual congress, but an intermixing of essences of the magics that surround goblins.  Often the goblin child is taken in the night by goblins and a stillborn changeling is left behind; opposite of what other faeries will do, taking a human child to leave behind a living changeling.

Goblin Men
(Blueholme Journeymanne Rules)
AC: 7 (leather armor)
HD: 1d8
Move: 25
Attacks: 1 weapon Damage: 1d6+2
Alignment: 3N : 1CE
Treasure: 12 (1)
XP: 10

Goblin Men
(Old-School Essentials)
Ugly humanoids with elongated lower tusks and glowing, orange, but intelligent eyes. Dwell in dark forsaken places.
AC 7 [12], HD 1 (5hp), Att 1 × weapon (1d6+2 or by weapon), THAC0 19 [0], MV 60’ (20’), SV D14 W14 P15 B16 S17 (NH), ML 8, AL Chaotic, XP 10, NA 1d4 (2d10), TT R (C)
Infravision: 60’.
Hoard: Only have treasure type C when encountered in the wilderness or in their lair.


Goblin-men appear as larger, fiercer versions of a goblin with an uncanny glint of human intelligence in their eyes,   Some Goblin-men are so akin to humans as to pass for an ugly human (15%).  Most are neutral in temperament with only a few being truly evil.  All though are mischievous creatures not above taking advantage of others when the opportunity presents itself.

Unlike goblins, goblin-men can withstand daylight and take no penalty for fighting in conditions of bright light.

Goblin-Men make a good substitute for the half-orc and provide an air of mystery to the creature.  Who was its mother? Did she stray too close to the Goblin Markets? Eat their fruits?



#RPGaDAY2019: Scary

Today's topic is Scary.

It is said that everyone loves a good scare.  But I LOVE them.


Spend any amount of time here and you will learn that I love horror movies, horror RPGs and adding elements of horror to my otherwise non-horror games.

Horror was always my thing, even when I was really little.  My mom loved horror and used to tell us the way scary and certainly not appropriate for children stories when we were little and we loved them.   A lot of the horror-themed material you see here has there roots in some of those stories.

My current purely horror game is "Star Trek meets Cthulhu" game in Black Star.
Stephen King once said that horror needs to start with what you know.  To truly feel horror you have to begin in a place of safety and comfort.  For me that is Trek.  Then you add in the horrors.

Doing a proper horror game is not always easy.  Think about Gothic Horror for a moment.  The reason it is as effective as it is it that the hero, or most often, a heroine, is powerless against the forces that she is dealing with.  The same is true for Cosmic Horror, the forces against humanity are so vast and so powerful that we become insignificant in the scope of it all.

Trek represents humanity at their best, their most powerful, their peak. To turn that setting into horror I am going to need something very powerful.  So in a way, it is an experiment for me to see if I can merge two of my favorite things.

Hope to do some more here soon.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Plenty

Today's topic is Plenty.

We live in a new Golden Age of Plenty in RPGS.


I was thinking about what is commonly thought of as the Golden Age; the Early 80s.  Sure there was a lot going on and everything was bright and new and the vistas seemed endless.

But I also remember a time when finding some books was difficult and unless you were in the know then you not only didn't have access to the books, you didn't even know they existed.   Plus lots of news of new games, books or whatever was regional.

I lived near the pipeline between Chicago and Carbondale (two places I would later live in) that had a steady stream of material partially thanks due to Tim Kask and his connections at Southern Illinois University (SIU, go Salukis!).  So I came to later learn that even though I lived in a highly religious small town, we had some good access to D&D products.  With Mayfair in the Chicago burbs and the University of Illinois all the North, things were not too bad.

BUT there was still a lot of stuff I never saw.  I understand there was a vibrant scene in California and other places that produced completely different material.  Material that the local took for granted.

Today.  Today things are different. We have the Internet and easy access to several thousands of books of gaming material.

Blogs and boards produce a Dragon's magazine worth of material every week, if not every day.
Sure some of you might claim there is a lot of noise and useless information.  Well, guess what? That has always been true.

There are so many good games out now.  Yesterday I talked about One game, but today I am talking about all of them.  We don't have to choose one game for forever and forever.

It's a Golden Age and we should enjoy it.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: One

Today's topic is One.

Every so often the topic comes up of what RPG would you choose if you could only choose one.

If I over-think it, it becomes hard. There are so many great RPGs out there.  So many that I love and have loved playing.  But if I could only choose one, forever, then the choice becomes clear and easy.

CJ Carella's WitchCraft RPG.


WitchCraft is, hands down, my favorite game.  Period.  Picking up a copy of this book back in 1999 was just like picking up a copy of the Monster Manual in 1979.  Everything I ever wanted in a game was right there.
Everything.

WitchCraft had such a profound effect on my gaming that I can draw a rather clean line between what came before and what came after it.  Granted a lot was going on in 1999/2000 both gaming-wise and personal that may have added to this effect, it was an effect all the same.

Back in 1999, I was really burned out on D&D.   I was working on my own Witch netbook and reading a bunch of different games when someone, I forget where, must have been the old RAVENLOFT-L that TSR/WotC used to run, told me I really need to check out WitchCraft.  At first, I balked.  I had tried Vampire a couple years ago and found I didn't like it (and I was very much out of my vampire phase then), but I was coming home from work and my FLGS was on the way, so I popped in and picked up a copy.  This must have been the early spring of 2000.

I can recall sitting in my office reading this book over and over. Everything was so new again, so different.  This was the world I had been trying, in vain, to create for D&D but never could.  The characters in this book were also all witches, something that pleased me to no end, it was more than just that.  Plus look at that fantastic cover art by George Vasilakos. That is one of my most favorite, is not my favorite, cover for a gamebook. I have it hanging in my game room now.

WitchCraft uses what is now called the "Classic" Unisystem system.  So there are 6 basic attributes, some secondary attributes (derived), skills and qualities and drawbacks.  Skills and attributes can be mixed and matched to suit a particular need.

WitchCraft uses a Point-Buy Metaphysics magic system, unlike Ghosts of Albion's levels of magic and spells system.  Think of each magical effect as a skill that must be learned and you have to learn easier skills before the harder ones first.    In D&D, for example, it is possible to learn Fireball and never have learned Produce Flame.  In WitchCraft you could not do that.  WitchCraft though is not about throwing around "vulgar magics".  WitchCraft is a survival game where the Gifted protect humanity from all sorts of nasty things, from forgotten Pagan gods, to demons, fallen angels and the Mad Gods; Cthulhoid like horrors from beyond.  WitchCraft takes nearly everything from horror and puts all together and makes it work.

The Eden Studios version was the Second Edition, I was later to find out.  The first one was from Myrmidon Press. I managed to find a copy of that one too and it was like reading the same book, from an alternate universe.  I prefer the Eden Edition far more for a number of reasons, but I am still happy to have both editions.

The central idea behind WitchCraft is the same as most other Modern Supernatural Horror games.  The world is like ours, but there are dark secrets, magic is real, monsters are real. You know the drill.  But WitchCraft is different.  There is a Reckoning coming, everyone feels it, but no one knows what it is.  Characters then take on the roles of various magic-using humans, supernaturals or even mundane humans and they fight the threats.  Another conceit of the game (and one I use a lot) is that supernatural occurrences are greater now than ever before.  Something's coming.  (dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria).

It is most often compared to World of Darkness, but there are things WitchCraft does that I just like better.  Unlike (old) Mage there is no war between the (good) Mages and the (evil) Technocracy.  There is a war certainly, but nothing so cut and dry.  Unlike new Mage, there are rarely clean divisions between the factions.  Yes, yes Mage players, I am being overly simple, but that is the point, on the simple levels new Mage dives everything into 5 because that is how the designers want it.  There are factions (Associations) and there are different metaphysics for each, but also overlap, and sometimes no clear and defined lines are to be found or given.  It feels very organic.

In my opinion, C. J. Carella may be one of the best game designers out there.  WitchCraft is a magnum opus that few achieve.  I took that game and I ran with it.  For 2000 - 2003 it was my game of choice above and beyond anything.  The Buffy RPG, built on the Cinematic Unisystem took over until I wrote Ghosts of Albion, which also use the Cinematic Unisystem.  I mix and match the systems as I need, but WitchCraft is still my favorite.

WitchCraft, in fact, is what got me into professional game design.

Back in the Spring/Summer of 2001, I started up a new game.  I had just purchased the WitchCraft RPG book about 16 months prior and I was looking for something new.  That something came to me in the guise of Willow and Tara.  I had been watching Buffy for a bit and I really enjoyed the character of Willow.  When she got together with fellow witch Tara I thought they were perfect.  I had become very involved in the online Willow/Tara fandom so I created a game, focusing on just them.

The game would focus on just these two, no one else from the show (which I would soon become an ex-fan of, but that is a different story).  Plus it gave me something to try out in a modern setting, something I have not done since my days with the Chill RPG.

The trickiest part of developing game stats of any fictional character that belongs to someone else is knowing how to strike a balance between the game's rules and the fictional portrayal. A lot of "artistic" license needs to be used in order to get a good fit. For example, how do you determine what some one's strength is when there is little to no on-screen evidence? What spells would the girls have?

In the end, I decided to play it a little loose, but I love where their stats ended up.  In many ways, this is who Willow and Tara are to me, not the characters on TV or comics, but the ones that were my characters since that day back in May 2001 that I decided they needed their own chance to shine.

After this, I went on to work on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.  It should be no surprise then that the Willow and Tara stats that appear there are not that much different than my own.  I can be quite vocal in playtests.  That got me the chance to write the Ghosts of Albion RPG. This also allowed me to meet, work with and remain friends with Christopher Golden and Amber Benson.

WitchCraft paved the way for so many other games for me, not just in terms of playing but in writing.  If it were not for WitchCraft then we would not have had Buffy, Angel or Army of Darkness.  Conspiracy X would have remained in its original system. There would be no Terra Primate or All Flesh Must Be Eaten and certainly, there would be no Ghosts of Albion.  The game means that much to me.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Eden Studios will let you have it, sans some art, for free.
http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_info.php?products_id=692&it=1&affiliate_id=10748

Download it.  If you have never played anything else other than D&D then you OWE it yourself to try this game out.

My thing is I wish it was more popular than it is.  I love the game. If I was told I could only play one game for the rest of my life then WitchCraft would be it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Kickstart Your Weekend: The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E

This one is easy to back.

The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/676918054/the-lost-city-of-gaxmoor-5e?ref=theotherside

From the Kickstarter Page:

The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E is a sandbox adventure we are converting to the 5th Edition of the world's most popular role playing game. Designed for characters that range from 1st to 10th level. It is the brain child of and written by Ernie and Luke Gygax, the sons of the legendary co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons Gary Gygax. If this campaign is successful, The Lost City of Gaxmoor 5E will be released in a Full Color, 128+ page book that includes a fold out map of the city that retails for $39.99.
I will admit I don't know the history behind Gaxmoor save that Ernie and Luke created it and it was one of the few times Gary was a player.  This, added to the long friendship between Gary and the Chenault brothers, gives this much more than a whiff of credibility.  This is the closest to something from the Old Master himself.

There is a lot going on in this Kickstarter.  Not sure what level I will pledge yet, but I know I will!

#RPGaDAY2019: Dream

Today's topic is Dream.

Dreams have been an important part of my RPG journey as a world creator.


I have detailed in the past my recurring nightmare of the "Very Haunted House".

The house was an old Victorian manor complete with spooky attic and sub-basements.
It was haunted by the ghost of an evil old woman that used to torture kids.

This house was based on a few things in real life.  The biggest was "Maplecrest Apartments" in my old home town.  It used to be an old tuberculosis hospital turned into low-income housing. I delivered newspapers back then and that was on my route.  Scary place.  The house took more form when I went with my dad to see the Dana Thomas House in Springfield, IL.   These nightmares plagued me forever, to be honest, and they were not the "whew that was a weird dream" nightmares these were the "oh my god I am going to die in this dream" sort where you wake up afraid and still full of terror.  I added details to dream with every movie I saw or book I read including a bathtub full of black water with a rotting corpse that I am sure I got from "Silence of the Lambs".

Oddly enough they stopped about 15 years ago. I had the dream and in it, my wife was standing in the dark attic only now it was bright. She held a mop and had her hair tied up, she looked at me and said "What? I cleaned it."  Cheesy as it sounds I think she helped get over whatever fears it represented.

I have since used this house in other adventures I have written.  I first used "Cotton Crest" in my Buffy RPG adventure "Under a Cajun Moon".  Years later "Oakcrest" made it's debut in "The Haunting of Oakcrest Manor" in the Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall Special Edition.
I am considering also doing it again, only this time Willow Crest.  Cotton Crest was haunted by demons, Oak Crest by ghosts and other undead.  Willow Crest?  Extra-dimensional aliens.  Sounds like a good Dark Places & Demogorgons adventure.

Other dreams have given me some great monsters and some other game ideas.

Looking forward to see what I dream up next.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Door

Today's topic is Door.

There are a lot of doors in D&D.  Which reminds of that old saying and my response to it.


D&D taught me that closed doors are supposed to be kicked open.

I feel the same way about "Gatekeepers".  This is a topic that has been coming up a lot lately.

Some groups are claiming that other groups are gatekeeping and those groups are claiming they are not.  I can't speak to any groups really, save my own.

Take the lessons we all learned in D&D. If you see a door, or a gate, kick it the fuck open.

Or better yet, say fuck you to those groups and do your own thing.  Someone says you can't play their way, kick in the door and take their shit.


I don't normally call out groups but I do want to mention what is going on in my back yard.

So a while back there was this new movement started to counter what they thought were some of the more regressive elements of the OSR scene.  They called their movement #SwordDream and I personally think they have some interesting ideas.  I am not 100% sure what they are doing will last, but I don't know.  I can't say though I could name a product that has been made yet under the SwordDream banner, BUT that has more to do with mether

Should the OSR be worried? No. In fact, they should be thrilled this is happening.  Competition should bring out the best in everyone and if one group wants to do things one way and another wants to do another thing then we should all be happy right?

Well...there is that whole gatekeeping thing.  SwordDream has mostly been met with derision among some old school stomping grounds and outright hostility in others.  Yeah I know, I have read the posts.  These are also the same people that will claim NOT to gatekeep. 

See the problem is that gatekeeping is not just telling people they can't play it's also telling them their way of play is wrong.  Or thinking their way of wanting to do things is wrong, or lesser, or stupid, or whatever.

Is the OSR full of regressive types? Full? maybe not. Are there a bunch of old fucks that don't want people to sit at their table? Yeah there is.  Are there good people in the OSR too?  Of course! Lots really.  I kinda wish that the critics of the OSR would see those people too.

What are you the new young gamer supposed to do?  Kick in their door.  Or better yet tell them you don't want to sit with them anyway.

Kick in that door. Do your thing. Do you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

OMG: Cthulhu Mythos

I am fresh off of Gen Con 2019 where I got the chance to play a lot of Cthulhu; Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Tech. We even checked out Cthulhu Wars.  I figure it is a good time to talk about the Cthulhu Mythos as they appear in the Deities & Demigods.


Of course, there are a few points that need to be cleared up.  Or rather, should be clear already.

There is a lot of talk about how TSR didn't have the rights to the Cthulhu myths and that Chaosium threatened lawsuits.

Well, here are the words right from the author, Jim Ward.


Ok that out of the way. Let's talk about the mythos in D&D.

It is not an exaggeration to say that for many gamers their first exposure to the Cthulhu mythos were the entries in the Deities & Demigods, published in 1980.  The Call of Cthulhu RPG came out in 1981.  Zenopus Archives has a nice rundown of what was going in D&D and TSR at the time.

One of the main purposes of One Man's God is to fit the gods and monsters into the likes of AD&D style demons.  It would be easy to do this with the various Cthulhu monsters.

I absolutely do not plan to do this.

The biggest thing about the Cthulhu mythos and Lovecraft's purpose is diametrically opposed to this. "This" meaning to lump the Cthulhu Mythos into the likes of demons, devils, werewolves, and vampires. 

In fact, D&D would later change to accommodate the Mythos with the addition of the Far Realm.

The Far Realm was introduced in the pages of the 2nd Edtion adventure The Gates of Firestorm Peak and later expanded in 3rd Edition's Manual of the Planes.  It is a bit of a Lovecraftian pastiche, but it still works nicely. It was expanded even more under 4th Edition where it became part of the core cosmology and in-game history.

Outside of the Deities & Demigods and the books mentioned above, Cthulhu and Friends would go on to make more appearances in D&D.

If 3rd Edition is still your jam, then you have the Call of Cthulhu d20 rules, the Pathfinder Bestiary 4 for monster stats, and Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos - Pathfinder, plus the aforementioned Manual of the Planes.

For the OSR crowd, we have Realms of Crawling Chaos and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

This only a fraction of the 2300+ entries on DriveThruRPG and even more elsewhere.



Of Gods and Monsters
Back to the present discourse, what does the D&DG have for us in terms of Cthulhu mythos?

In D&D terms we have our Gods: Cthulhu, Azathoth, Cthuga, Hastur, Ithaqua, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth. All of these gods are "Greater Gods" with the maximum 400 hp, save for Nyarlathotep who is a "Lesser God" at 200 hp and Ithaqua a "Demigod" at 250 hp.

The monsters include Byakhee, Cthuga's Flame Creature, Deep Ones, the Great Race, Mi-Go, Primordial Ones, and Shoggoths.

Most of these are not even what we could, or should, consider demonic.  Sure they are monstrous and even some are evil, but mostly they are another kind of life that is not really interested in humans.

With that, we will leave the Cthulhu myths and head on to other gods.

#RPGaDAY2019: Guide

Today's topic is Guide.

This is a topic that is likely to come up many times today.

Games work best with guides, not just books, but people and things to help show you the way.

I think my first real guide to D&D actually predates my D&D exposure.
I have mentioned in the past that my true introduction to what would become my D&D was d'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths this was nearly immediately followed by Tolkien's The Hobbit.


In between my reading of these two books was when I discovered D&D.  The line is pretty direct for me from Greek Myths to D&D and the Hobbit. These two sources were my guide to what D&D could be if not what it should be.  In fact it is not too much of a stretch to say my D&D then was very much Greek Myths + The Hobbit.

The next guide I picked up were D&D proper.


While Holmes Basic might have been my first set of D&D rules, it was the AD&D Monster Manual that was my first exposure to D&D.   But I have detailed these two books and their impact on me many times here.

From here my guides were less about books and more about people.  When I was learning to how to play and moving through my first few years of D&D I got to play in a lot of different groups and knew of several more.  Here other's experiences and their readings came to influence me.

While I had read many of the books on the infamous Appendix N, they were only a tertiary impact on me and my games.  Usually, either through someone else have read them and applying them to their games and what was in the RPG books. 

Over the years I have had the chance to play with others who have helped guide me (and vice versa) through many RPGs.  Each time I take away something to aid me or push me on.

There were my high school games where I got the chance to play with a lot of different groups. The summer from college that I played in an OD&D campaign.  Games at college and striking out all on my own in 2nd Ed to recreate my own worlds.  Campaigns with other games like ShadowRun, Vampire, and eventually WitchCraft. Meeting people online and talking games with them discovering that even though we all did things in a different way there are common stories and share experiences.  To the message boards, blogs, and social media of today.

Even reading these posts today will help guide me in other directions. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Mystery

Today's topic is Mystery.

I think everyone loves a good mystery, especially in their RPGs.

Building a true sense of mystery though requires work and the subtle use of clues, hints, rumors, and innuendos.   I have found, more times than not, the best way to it is to involve the players right away.


Not in the way of getting them all to pitch in in some shared Game Mastering role.  That certainly works for some games, but not all.  No by this I mean take their speculations and let them run away with them. 

Here are some examples.

In my Come Endless Darkness 5e campaign, I am spreading te greater mystery over three different campaigns.  No one set of characters or players has the full picture.  At least not until I get them (or what's left of them) in a room once they reach 18th level or so.  The mystery right now is so vague as to not even be there. Yet.  Some of the players in the Order of the Platinum Dragon game are beginning to suspect.  Maybe some of the characters in the Second Campaign are as well.  But I know no one in the Into the Nentir Vale suspect the larger mystery.

Of course, each campaign has its own mysteries.
For the Order of the Platinum Dragon, it has been "what has happened to the Sun?" and then "who killed all the Sun Gods?"  And now it is, or soon will be, "there is no way Lolth could do this on her own!"
For the Second Campaign, the mystery has been "why are all these 'gods' of the lizard and scally folk rising up?"  A little less tangible, but it is getting them there.
And finally in Into the Nentir Vale it has been simply, "We know Orcus is rising as a power, but why?"

Clues in each one will add to the other.  Overly complicated?  Maybe.  Fun?  Definitely.

In fact, this is where my players came into it.  Originally I saw the Second Campaign's big mover and shaker to be the Mind Flayers.  THEY were going to be the ones behind the scenes.  BUT as the game went on and it became more distinct from the Order of the Platinum Dragon game and more and more lizardfolk, nagas and Yuan-ti showed up the players began to weave this huge conspiracy theory around them.   IT was so compelling and, really, so out there, that I had to reward them by altering my own plans to fit more of their elements.

I am NOT giving them everything, but I am giving them enough that their own enthusiasm is sending down a trail.  The ending will remain the same, the mystery still comes to the same conclusion, but now we go about it on a different path.

Other little tidbits that keep coming up.  On our "crazy board" above we still have listed "Where is Cynder".  Cynder was an elven elemental fire wizard that just stopped going with the group. We totally forgot about her, well at least I did.  Even though she was only one session of the Order of the Platinum Dragon, she will show up later in Into the Nentir Vale and maybe the Second Campaign.
There is something to her, I just don't know what yet!

Another hook I was going to use was the Ranger Elmo from T1.  He was going to show up in the Abyss when the Order got there (at Gen Con), but the players never really engaged with the guy.  HOWEVER they did engage a lot with this random elf woman that had been following them since the A Series.    They again decided she had to be important even if originally each of those encounters were with different elves.  My players decided she was the same person each time and figured she knew something.  A few quick jots in my notebook and Evelyn, the Princess Escalla was born!  She was an Elven Ranger/Enchanter and was key to the Elven resistance movement in the Underdark.

It has been a glorious set of mysteries and neither the characters nor the players have figured out the ultimate mystery.  That Tharizdûn, through Asmodeus, is manipulating the demons to get what he wants; his resurrection and freedom from his cage.

It's going to be great.



Monday, August 12, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Brass Golems

I am gearing up for a new release.  I am about two weeks behind schedule but hope to make it up here soon.  In the meantime here is one of the monsters that will appear in my new book,  Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition.

Here is a creature I think many of us know for the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules.

GOLEM, BRASS

Small Medium Large
AC: 7 5
HD: 2d8 6d8 10d8
Move: 40 30 20
Attacks: 1 bite 1 fist 1 bash
Damage: 2d4 2d6 2d8
XP: 80 460 1,800
Alignment:
Neutral
Treasure:
0 (0)


Golems are magically created automatons of great power. Constructing one involves the employment of mighty magic. As such, they are created by exceptionally powerful witches and magic-users. All golems are unaffected by ordinary weapons. In addition, golems have no true intelligence and are thus unaffected by hold, charm, or sleep spells. Since they are not truly alive, they are unaffected by poison or gases.


Brass Golem: Taught to her witches by Athena herself these intricately detailed golems are made of brass. They can come in a variety of sizes and shapes since brass is an easier metal to work with. 


Small Brass Golems tend to be animals or fantastic creatures.  They act like the animal they are fashioned after.  They are often given as gifts by Athena or other gods.


Medium Brass Golems are fashioned to appear as examples of human physical perfection.  Often modeled after Apollo, Aphrodite, or even Zeus their perfection gives them a sort of spontaneous life. 


Large Brass Golems can appear as large humans, animals or even monsters.


The secrets of making these golems have been lost but it is believed that artisans and artificers such as Pygmalion and Daedalus have recovered and recorded these secrets.  Others were created by the gods themselves.






#RPGaDAY2019: Friendship

Today's topic is Friendship.

This is a rather easy topic, to be honest, and a story I feel will be repeated many times today.

Some of my earliest and longest friendships have been around gaming.  Some of my current good friends I have met through gaming.



I met my first AD&D DM, outside of my brother and I, in my 7th grade band class.  We both played saxophones.  We are still friends and I just bought his son a whole collection of 1st AD&D books.

I met my high school DM via our Theatre classes and working on the student newspaper.  We are still friends.

I met the guy who runs games for me and my oldest son sometimes through the same daycare our kids were in.  He recognized my name from my work at Eden Studios.  We are still good friends and our oldest boys are really great friends.

I have a bunch of friends I have met online that I like to see at Gen Con too.

It's funny that a game labeled as "anti-social" back it's golden age requires so much interaction with other people.

This is also a good time to remember the tale of Carlos the Dwarf.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Examine

Today's topic is Examine.

ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ"
"The unexamined life is not worth living"  - attributed to Socrates



Gen Con is a great time.  I get to run different kinds of games and I get to play different kinds of games.  But I also get a chance to reflect on my own style of Game Mastering.

I played in a Call of Cthulhu game that my son ran and I was really impressed on how he had come since the last time he had run a game for me.  Really, really impressed.  Now he is young and has more to master than a 50-year-old like me.  But I could not help but think how much he had improved his own game over how much I had, or had not, improved my own.

I also got the chance to play in Jess Ross' Blue Rose game.
Jess is an amazing GM and she also has an actual play podcast for Blue Rose at: http://bitchesandliches.com/

Jess also runs her games a little different than I do and it was also quite a lot of fun.

Both of these events got me thinking more and more about my own style and what I need to do to push it up a notch.

I have not quite figured it all yet, but I am certainly examining what I liked about these other play styles.  I think I want to go back to my notes of when I was running Ghosts of Albion all the time.  Those were some great games and I'd like to recapture some of that for my D&D games.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Zatannurday: Superhero Girls Ad Blockers

Lauren Faust's DC Super Hero Girls continues to entertain.

So when a new one comes out with Zatanna, well you know I am paying attention.

Zee and Oliver Queen have shows at different theaters the same night.  Yeah, that can't be good.


So I know I am not the target audience here, but I don't care. Lauren Faust is fantastic. This show is fun and I get a huge kick out of it.

#RPGaDAY2019: Focus

Today's topic is Focus.

Interestingly enough this is the topic that struggled with the most even though I knew roughly what I wanted to say.

Interesting because it is not "focus", but rather a lack of focus I want to talk about.

The actual view from my chair in my game room


Presently I have about dozen to dozen and a half on going Works In Progress (WIPs).
That's insane.

I really need to focus to get them done. I also have two exams I need to review and edit for a Social Justice in Social Work course I am working on that need to be done for my day job.

We joke and laugh and call it "Gamer ADHD", but there is a serious side effect to this.

One completed project gets more use than 20 incomplete ones.

My hobgoblin, my nemesis, is the constant flow of ideas, some good others not as good (ok bad), that I have to jot down.  I have "Children of the Gods" that is now about three weeks behind schedule to get to you all.  I am still picking at various game ideas. Oh and there are editors online reading this thinking "yeah that is great and all, but when are YOU getting ME the work you owe me??"

Meanwhile that Midterm and Final are staring at me and I have less than an hour to read them, edit them and have something intelligent to say in a meeting.

I have tried various project management techniques, but I then spend time on the process and not on the project.  So that's not ideal either.

--

On the flip side.  I also see how prepping for three weekly D&D games has improved my oldest son's focus.

He struggled in school but had topics he excelled in.  Now since he has been running D&D games and dealing with a wide variety of issues in those games I have noticed a sharp increase in his organizational skills and focus.  This has been reflected in his grades where he was asked to join an honor society his Freshman year in college.

--

Of course, Focus also makes me think of this.



Friday, August 9, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Critical

Today's topic is Critical.

Yes. Today I am going to talk about Critical Role.



For the one or two people out there that don't know, Critical Role is a Web-based show that covers a group of professional voice actors and TV actors as they play D&D.  The first season they played Pathfinder and now they play D&D 5th edition.

You can find them on the web here: https://critrole.com/

They have a HUGE fan base as evidenced by their ridiculously successful Kickstarter ($11.3 Million), 135k+ unique views on YouTube and Twitch and the winner of two Webby Awards.

Both of my sons watch it and nearly everyone in their various game groups do as well.

I know that many gamers around my age don't like it and have a lot of negative things to say about it.  To that I say.

Boo Fucking Hoo.

Obviously, they are not hurting for your lack of interest and understanding.  And for all the talk of how "that's not how D&D is supposed to be played" well no one died and made you the fucking Gestapo of D&D.  Even back in the day no two groups in my tiny ass, mid-west, deeply Christian town played it the same way and I know players today won't and don't give two shits about what a bunch old fuck Grognards have to say either.

Some people complain about the so-called "Mercer Effect" after Matt Mercer the DM for the group.  You know what Mercer Effect I see?  People coming to me and saying "Hey my kids listen/watch Critical Role and now they want to play D&D. What do I need to get them?"

That's the Mercer Effect.  Sorry, he has done more for the game than any 100 of us old fucks have done. Actually no. I am not sorry.  I am glad Matt is out there doing his thing and having a blast.

And obviously laughing all the way to the bank too.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Obscure

Today's topic is Obscure.

Again I am going with a different version of the word because this made me think of Pink Floyd's "Obscured by Clouds".  A very, very underrated album and one semi-central to my D&D playing years.



Obscured by Clouds was released in 1972, a year before their landmark album Dark Side of the Moon.  Now I could write a dissertation on Dark Side, and many have.  But that is not today's post.

ObC was a softer album, but in it are the seeds of what the "new" Pink Floyd became planted in the very fertile ground of the older psychedelic Pink Floyd.

My first DM, the guy that ran me through so many adventures of D&D Expert combined with AD&D, turned me on to this album.  We were both huge Pink Floyd fans and Dark Side was my favorite album. I would go over to his house to play D&D but before we would play, like so many kids in the 80s, we went out on our bikes first.

He lived near the Capitol Records plant so we would rummage around the loading doc and always find a cassette or two that never made it on to the trucks.  Mostly things like Kenny Rogers, but every so often a gem like Iron Maiden or Kraftwerk (Capitol was EMI's American counterpart).  If we were REALLY lucky we would score a Pink Floyd cassette.  Especially since Floyd had left Capitol/EMI for Columbia/CBS Records in the mid 70s.

Obscured by Clouds was a soundtrack of sorts to the film La Vallée (The Valley).  But to my young and unsophisticated ears, it was the soundtrack of an older adventurer.  Someone that had adventured,  loved, lost and now lay dying only with his regrets.

Nothing characterized that better for me than the song Free Four.  Sure it is about the recording industry and Roger Waters singing (again) about his dead dad.  But in the early 80s it was more than that to me.


Floyd would continue to be an inspiration to me when playing although I can't draw a direct line from them to anything I have created like I can with Stevie Nicks or the Police or Led Zeppelin.

Still. To this day, listening to Floyd makes me think of D&D games gone by.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Familiar

Today's topic is Familiar.

Again, I think I'll make a hard turn here and talk about Familiars; as in animal familiars, not something that is familiar.


I have talked a lot about familiars here. Books on familiars, spells for familiars, and what familiars could do for witches and wizards.

Sometimes I have pondered doing a book on just familiars. An OSR books for both witches and magic-users/wizards.  I'd include animal companions for druids as well.

But there are already good books out there for that and most of what I have wanted to add have been already added to my various witch books.  So maybe there is no need.

Still. It could be fun.

What do you all think?  Would this be something anyone is interested in?  I wouldn't do it if I didn't add a bunch of new material.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Ancient

Today's topic is Ancient.

I have to admit my first thought when hearing this is not Ancient tomes or civilizations, but the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, also known as The KLF.



This post is not about The KLF per se, but it is about what made them work.

Take their song, Justified and Ancient (Stand By The JAMs).  What do we have in this? Electronica of the early 90s. Singing, some rapping, and right in the middle of it all?  Tammy Wynette, credited as "The First Lady of County" and not all looking out of place.

What?

Seriously though, have a look.



WHY do I bring this up?

Simple.  Sometimes things work that should never work on paper.  So combine things in your game that may or may not make any sense.  Sure sometimes you get Peanut Butter and Ketchup (or Peanut Butter and Furniture Polish) other times you get Peanut Butter and Chocolate.

And like the KLF slap a thin veneer of "ancient" on it.  Like claiming to have been in contact with the ancient Masters of Mu.

Essentially isn't this a plot point in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum? (something that should be assigned reading for anyone writing a modern horror or conspiracy theory game.)

Don't be afraid to mix it up.  Add new stuff. Add old stuff. Add really weird stuff.
Be like the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.

Monday, August 5, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Space

Today's topic is Space.

Space can mean a lot of things.  I was originally going to go with Space as in Outer Space. Space the Final Frontier Space. But instead, I would rather talk about my gaming space.

I have shared "shelfies" in the past because they are kind of fun, but I do really love my gaming space.


This didn't happen overnight or even in a few years. It happed with careful collecting and of course getting two Ph.D.s and a job where I can afford a house for this and the custom shelves.

Growing up this was my dream. To have my own library or study where I can sit with my books. I have everything I need to read and research my games here. Comfortable chairs and wicked fast internet speeds.  I love a place where I can play and have a dedicated room to do it.

My kids have their friends over all the time and there are anywhere from 3 to 4 games being run in my house every week!  It means though they are living the stereotype of gaming in their parent's basement!

Not to bad really. Of course, I work all the time and only get to enjoy it a little myself!

Next project for my game space?  I am going to tear out all the old lighting and replace them with LEDs.  Also get my HD projector mounted on a swivel arm for either projecting on the walls or on the table for maps.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Back from Gen Con!

I just got back from Gen Con 2019!

Took the whole family and we had a great time.  In fact, it was one of the best Gen Cons in recent memory.  We played a lot of D&D 5 and Call of Cthulhu 7th ed.  I got in a game of Blue Rose and a public playtest of Cthulhu Tech 2.0.





More details later. Tired and needing some Chicago style pizza.  Indy is great, but their pizza sucks.

#RPGaDAY2019: Share

Today's topic is Share.

One of the reasons I have a blog is my desire to share what I do with others.
This hobby has given me a lot of joy and despite the occasional bad actor out there I still consider it a largely positive endeavor.

You sit around a table telling each other stories about a shared construction.  We all contribute.  I don't care if you don't consider yourself a "Story gamer" or not.  We are participating in something that is ancient, primal even. We each tell our stories, whether that is around a table with dice or around a fire at night in some far forgotten age and place.

We share with each other and I want to share with you.

So I post stuff here. Sometimes good, sometimes...well sometimes some ideas need more work.
I am not going to do a Patreon site, because that is not what I am about.
I'll still sell books because that allows me to pay for art and buy more books to share with you all.

And really. Isn't the point of all of this to share some fun?



Saturday, August 3, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Engage

Today's topic is Engage.

How do you engage your players?


When I am running a new game with new people I will often drop them into the middle of combat.  This is a trick I learned when I was writing and promoting Ghosts of Albion.   To get the players used to the new system I would put them into a situation where they didn't need to worry about character, they could get a handle on the rules fast and combat in Ghosts is easy.

In other games, I try to focus on the strengths of the game. For example, Mage (either one) is less about reality-warping magic and more the people that have this power.  So here I want to get the players to think about what makes their characters do what they want.  In D&D similarily, why do these characters what to leave the comforts of home and go out on an adventure?  In Call of Cthulhu what makes the characters want to investigate these horrors they know will likely get them killed?

Engagement is the key. Getting people to the table is part of the task, but keeping them there is the difficult part. Keeping them coming back for more, that's the work of a master.




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