Resurrected from the Grave! A Mega-Sized Double Issue!

(Want to win some DriveThru RPG cash? Details on how in the "Contest" section at the bottom of this post!)

So I haven't blogged in awhile.

Obviously.

I haven't gamed at all either, because...well, to be honest, I was dealing with a deep depression.

I know that's an excuse that comes up quite a bit, especially among writers, artists, gamers, bloggers, etc., so I apologize for bringing that up. I'll talk more in a future post about what happened, but this post is more about acknowledging I'm back, and with a set of specific expectations I'm putting into place.

I also want to thank John Adamus, David Hill, Robert Schwalb, and Tracy Hurley for helping me deal with my depression, work through it, and come back to the gaming community. Especially Tracy, who reached out and checked in on me to see how I was doing. I'm so appreciative of the emotional support I received, and I'm elated to be interested in writing, running, and playing games again.

Now, enough of the depressing stuff: let's crack some skulls!

News, Project Updates, Yadda Yadda

First off, for anyone who has any inkling of knowledge about my conceptualized gaming-content magazine/living dungeon:

Unknown Adventures is dead.

At least, the goofy project I wanted to develop and publish and kick ass with, as it was originally envisioned, is "shelved", possibly indefinitely.

There were some VERY cool people involved: we had artwork by Gennifer Bone and Eric Quigley, contributions from the likes of Erik Jensen, Rafael Chandler, Reynaldo MadriƱan and many others.

It was a wonderful dream of an idea that I just couldn't commit realistically to; I'd love to revisit it one day, but for now I need to focus on other things. Things like this blog, which I've been neglecting.

Of course, in the midst of this, I've decided to launch a new project this week:

Waste



Waste is a D&D-ish setting I've been thinking about for awhile, but only seriously started developing this weekend. The setting is an apocalyptic-type landscape: the world is a rotting, hellish place that has become the dumping grounds for crazed gods who no longer care for life; no longer care about their worshippers. A world full of horrible things dreamed up by monstrous minds to torture and maim and infect and destroy. A hopeless place where the only reason to keep on living is because dying is so much worse, because the gates to the Netherrealm are barred and locked and no souls can escape this inhospitable world, instead lingering as ghastly, twisted manifestations of their former selves.

And so players take on archetypes, each more cruel and devious than the other, constantly undermining each other in an attempt to outlive everyone else (and profit at the expense of others) while forced to work together to survive the harsh and cruel things that crawl and swarm and devour the world around them.

And, inspired by Rafael Chandler's recent #Narcosa open-source project on Google+, #Waste will welcome input, design, and contributions from participants on Google+.

Which means this setting will be open, living, constantly evolving, and 100% free.

So hopefully you like what comes of this, if anything. Look for #Waste in posts on Google+, and feel free to contribute.

I'm also hoping to put together a product for Waste that could be a stand-alone product adaptable for use with any RPG, but I'll talk more about that later on on Google+.


That Gygax Project

A couple of years ago I ran a contest on my website in honor of the fact that Gary Gygax and I share a birthday. It was wild and fun and full of lofty ideals: the winner would have the adventure they submitted converted into a professional product, complete with professional artwork, professional layout, and available for download on sites like DriveThru RPG.

Well, we are (finally) nearing the end of that project, as Jez Gordon works on the layout and artists continue to turn in work for the project. I can't wait to see the final piece, which should be getting published soon.

I'm also very excited that the project will be sold with 100% of the sales going to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of my favorite charities.

I'll keep you updated on when the release is officially scheduled.

I need an Assistant (again)!



Awhile back I had a great deal of success working with an Assistant, who was able to help me focus on specific projects and tasks, and determine my priorities and zero in on deadlines. I'm once again looking for an Assistant, as I plan to ramp up my productivity (and eventually achieve my goal of launching a business).

I'll be posting more on this later this week, but any interested early birds can shoot me an e-mail at: thesecretdm@gmail.com.

It's a paying job, based on 1-3 hours of work/week, and rates are negotiable, depending on your experience.

Dwimmermount has been Released!

In news that has nothing to do with me, James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount has finally been published, thanks to Autarch Games (publishers of the Adventure Conquerer King System RPG). Te final product is a whopping 414 pages, and full of some fantastic art and some really great writing.

I'll be publishing a two-part interview this week where I talk to not only James but also Tavis Allison of Autarch Games about the current release of Deimmermount as well as the upcoming ACKS version.

And Finally...a Contest!

So, this past weekend was some obscure gathering of gamers called GenCon that I guess was a hit and they might do one again next year.

Of course I didn't make it, and so I hate everyone who went (not really).

BUT...did you know this was going on this weekend too:


That's right; Jez Gordon helped organize an "Anti-GenCon" of online play via Google Hangouts for anyone who couldn't attend GenCon. Supposedly a lot of fun was had and it may possibly be repeated next year.

I didn't attend Anti-GenCon either.

HOWEVER...I would love to hear all about your Anti-GenCon experiences, and so I've decided to launch a contest to encourage people to share their stories with me.

That's right...I'm officially running an Anti-GeCon-test!

(Clever, right?)

So here's how it works:

In the comments below, share with me a story OF EPIC PROPORTIONS about the best experience you had playing in a game as part of Anti-GenCon. Be sure to name the GM/DM/Judge who was running the event.

At the start of next week, I'll pick my favorite, and that person will receive a $25 credit for use on DriveThru RPG!

AND, as an added bonus, the GM for that even will receive a $25 credit as well!

Submissions must be in by Saturday, August 23rd, Midnight, Eastern Standard Time.

Good luck, and thanks for sharing your stories with me! Hopefully I'll attend one of the conventions next year!

Tempus Fugit: A TimeWatch Play by Post Game



So yesterday I posted an interview with Kevin Kulp, the creator of TimeWatch, a new time travel RPG from Pelgrane Press that's currently being kickstarted (and "successful" doesn't even begin to describe how well the kickstarter is going, after funding in the first 35 minutes...).

I've decided to launch a play-by-post game on Google+ in honor of TimeWatch, although admittedly I just got my hands on the rules and still have a lot left to read (the "jurassic edition", which is available for immediate download when you pledge to the Kickstarter, is 265 pages...and that's just the alpha playtest!).

Despite this though, I'm very excited to dive into the subject material and get a game going.

So far, I know the story will feature a strange time traveler known as The Thin Man, as well as robotic octopi and several other elements I've already started tying together.

Some inspirational imagery:




These things will be important.

If you're interested in participating in the game, or just following along with the story as it develops, check out the community on Google+ here:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/115415655666664571826

See you in the timestream.

TimeWatch: an Interview with Kevin Kulp

Back in Time...

Wow...I've been away from this blog for some time. I hadn't realized just how long its been since my last post. To be honest, I've been caught up in a very involved project...one that is several years in development. It will be awhile before I'm finished and ready to share the product with everyone, but it suddenly occurred to me that there was one key moment in time I needed to addresss: the successful launch of TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp.

I'm getting ahead of myself, which tends to happen when timestreams are messed with.

Let me back up a bit here.

I've been very involved developing a role playing product that launches in 2016. I was so hard at work, in fact, that I completely neglected my blog. Not only did it fall by the wayside, but it completely fell off my radar, until one day when I was conversing with Kevin Kulp about his game TimeWatch, which is one of the most fun and widely loved role playing games of all time. Kevin had been thrilled with the results of the Kickstarter, and thanked me for taking the time to interview him before it launched.

"What interview?" I asked, and Kevin mentioned my blog. Sure enough, when I pulled up my website, there was this post.  That's right, this post you're reading right now. "I didn't write this," I said, and Kevin's eyebrows raised.

And that's when we both observed my copy of TimeWatch starting to fade.

"You have to go back!" he yelled, "You have to go back and write that post!"

"But-"

"Just go! We have to protect the time stream! Stop World War 3! Save the TimeWatch Kickstarter!"

So I jumped through the timestream, traveling all the way back to January 21st, 2014...one hour to go until the Kickstarter launches.

There's no time to waste! Here are some insights about the game and the kickstarter campaign from Kevin Kulp, author of TimeWatch!



SDM: Let's cut to the chase. What's the bottom line price to get the physical product?

KK: $40, which includes all PDFs. That's initially for a perfect-bound book, but if support is strong enough, everyone getting a physical copy will be upgraded to a hardback book instead for free.

SDM: What about the PDF?

All the PDFs (full rules, self-calculating character sheets, and any Kickstarter-related additions) cost $25. This includes access to the unfinished Alpha playtesting rules, the Player Guide PDF, and if we hit the stretch goal, a low-art tablet version of the rules. If you're a player and only want the PDF player rules with no GM advice/adversaries/mission seeds, the pledge level is $15.

SDM: And contributors get immediate access to the Alpha Playtest rules?

KK: Yes.

SDM: Other than just being GUMSHOE, what will fans of the GUMSHOE system enjoy with TimeWatch?

KK: I'm delighted by how flexible the rules are turning out to be. You can use these for everything from a gritty time cop drama like the TV show Continuum, to a Sliders-like parallel world setting, to the goofy joy of Bill & Ted. My personal favorite is Pulp: all the joy of classic time travel sci-fi, with alt-universe psychic velociraptors and raygun-blasting action. TimeWatch characters can be from any point in history, from cavemen to space marines, so there's lots of room to work with for good character ideas.
GUMSHOE fans will notice that the ability list is substantially compressed, making abilities self-explanatory and character generation quite quick. I think the most significant advance for GUMSHOE fans, though, is an action point system that allows players to decide for themselves when their ability pools refresh. I've also got a nifty stun mechanic, making "set your neural disruptor on Stun" fit seamlessly into both the rules and the fiction. I think it'll work well in other games for TASERs.

SDM: What about people who aren't fans of GUMSHOE, or have never played GUMSHOE. Is there something in this game for them?

KK: Most of the people I've run TimeWatch for hadn't played the system previously, and response has really been great. The rules tweaks do a good job of addressing concerns from folks who don't traditionally like the pool mechanic. Most importantly, this is a game designed to embrace everything I really love about time travel. Want your future-self to come back in time and help your past-self out in a fight? You can do that. Want to reach under a desk and pull out a stun grenade that your future self hid there? Built into the rules. I like to design games where I jettison any rule I can't remember in my head -- I don't particularly like pouring over rulebooks mid-game -- so the rules are fairly streamlined and play is fast-paced.

SDM: There aren't a lot of time travel RPGs. This probably has more to do with time travel's convoluted nature rather than there being little or no interest in time travel role-playing games. What challenges have you faced in designing this game? How have you over come these challenges?

KK: You know, I think the lack of time travel games is more due to game prep. Until a few years ago, any kind of time travel adventure involving actual history was a giant pain in the butt to build missions for. I remember Time Master, a fantastic game in the 1980s inspired by Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories (as is TimeWatch.) The flavor was great, but you'd literally have to go to the library and surround yourself in encyclopedias in order to prep adventures. Nowadays, half an hour on Wikipedia gives you everything you need. It's fantastically convenient and inspirational. Add alt-history web sites, history podcasts, and message boards, and you have a wealth of easily accessible plot hooks.
To design the game, of course, I had to address paradox. It's the big challenge. No one wants to tell players "no you can't do that, or your character will cease to exist," especially when in the source material time travelers encounter themselves all the freakin' time. In TimeWatch, we solve this problem with chronal stability. Similar to Health, chronal stability measures how attached you are to the universe. You lose it when time traveling and facing paradox; drop below 0, and you start to fade like Marty McFly.  Once I established that, I could include as much paradox as the players wanted, so long as it was balanced by chronal stability tests. Rules and scenario development got much easier at that point.
With paradox, what you already know can be dangerous. Learning an established fact locks it in and makes changing that fact through time travel trickier. Sure, you can find out who kidnapped and executed George Washington by time traveling forward 100 years and reading the alt-history's encyclopedia -- but now you've locked those facts in place, and changing them to save his life becomes more of a challenge. This encourages players not to learn an exhaustive amount about a historical problem, which means the GM doesn't have to be an expert on it either. It's a nice fit.

SDM: Does GUMSHOE lend itself to time travel, or did you have to drastically modify the underlying rules system?

It's a fantastic and simple match, especially for the underlying premise of "someone has sabotaged time, and it's up to you to investigate and set things to right." Along with simplifying abilities and streamlining rules, turning the traditional sanity-measuring Stability into Chronal Stability turned out to be a good fit. The ability to spend Investigative points for an advantage is another example of time travel synergy. For instance, need a rear exit to a building? Spend a point of Architecture, and your future self can go back in time and alter the building plans to make sure one exists. Want a remote and ancient island tribe to worship you as a God? Spend a point of Anthropology. I'm finding that players now infiltrate organizations not by being charming to the guard, but by going back in time six months and getting a job there as a guard themselves, just so they can be on duty to let in their friends. Already-established GUMSHOE rules make that easy.

SDM: How would you rate the learning curve for new players to pick up the system?



KK: I can explain the entire idea behind GUMSHOE on one page; google "GUMSHOE 101" for an example. It usually takes me 20 minutes to walk through the TimeWatch rules with new players. I think the most challenging piece is reminding players that they can, and should, use time tricks to get the job done. Leave yourself a vague note; travel backwards to lay a trap or subvert your presumed foes. Use time.
The best example of this was one where the PCs showed up to talk to Genghis Khan, but were ambushed by mongols who screamed, "the prophet spoke true! Witches have appeared; kill them!" They barely escaped. "How did our enemy know we were coming?" asked one player, "Now we'll never convince the Khan that we're prophets he should listen to." "Wait," said another player. "Why don't we travel back, tell him WE'RE prophets, and as proof tell him that a bunch of witches will appear at that same time and date? We already know we survive the ambush, and this way our enemy still don't know we're coming because we ratted on ourselves." Brilliant, and a complete success.



SDM: Who's involved in the project?

KK: I'm writing, with suggestions and help from a number of friends and historians (many of whom I'm hoping will get to write bonus missions via Kickstarter stretch goals.) Rich Longmore is my artist, Michael Chaney is handling layout, and Cat Tobin is editing -- the same team I was lucky to have for Owl Hoot Trail. And of course, GUMSHOE rules are originally by Robin D. Laws, with many superb additions by Kenneth Hite.

SDM: What types of rewards do you have planned?

KK: If you're a time traveler, you should be able to send back postcards! We're taking the best of the TW art and turning it into postcards. There's opportunities to contribute to the book (everything from suggesting your favorite alt-history scenario as a mission, to pitching an iconic character), to gaming with me at cons or in person, to having your own character illustrated by Rich. If we reach the hardback upgrade, we'll also offer super-snazzy special editions.

SDM: What is your Kickstarter goal?

KK: Relatively low, $4000. TimeWatch would get printed eventually no matter what, but Kickstarting it lets us add art, missions, additional campaign frames, and upgrade the book to hardback instead of softcover. Most importantly, the Kickstarter means it gets moved forward on Pelgrane's production schedule.

SDM: What is your first stretch goal, and what sort of bonus will that unlock?

$5000 produces digital wallpaper for all pledgers. From there the next few are producing a low-art tablet edition -- I love having game PDFs on my iPad, but not when the gorgeous art causes the PDF to load slowly at the game table -- creating self-calculating PDF character sheets like the ones we made for Night's Black Agents, and adding new rules for playing variant races like alt-history psychic velociraptors and android replicants.

SDM: Any other details you would like to share?

KK: I'm really excited about stretch goals that add new missions and new campaign frames. How about a setting where you slide between parallel universes, or one where you're a rebel and TimeWatch are the bad guys?

SDM: Other than Kickstarter, where can fans go to learn more about you or this product?

KK: I'm blogging about it on my Google+ page at www.google.com/+TimeWatchRPG . You can follow @timewatchrpg on Twitter as well.

SDM: What if people want to get in touch with you? Where is the best place for them to connect with you?

KK: timewatchrpg@gmail.com is great for email, and Twitter works well. To be notified when the Kickstarter goes live, click http://bit.ly/1hSd99K 

SDM: Thank you so much Kevin for taking the...err...time.

Thanks for the interest!

------------------------------------------------------------------------

This interview was really a lot of fun to be a part of, and I'm really looking forward to seeing this Kickstarter develop over the next 30 days. Time Travel can be a difficult subject to incorporate into a role playing game, but Kevin has put a lot of work into creating something that is easy to grasp, use, and have fun with.

Below are some links to other news, information, and resources related to the TimeWatch project, which I'll update as new resources become available.

Additional Links:

TimeWatch on KickStarter
Time for a Kick: a blog post by +Paul Baldowski about TimeWatch (and the Kickstarter)

Happy Birthday Gary Gygax

A year ago, I launched a contest to honor the fact that I happen to share a birthday with Gary Gygax (you know, one of the guys who created Dungeons & Dragons). You can read the original post here, but the basic idea involved submitting an original adventure with an old school feel, with the winner's entry being turned into a professional quality adventure with the help of some cool people who work in the industry.

The contest was a big hit and a lot of fun to host, but we haven't quite finished putting together the final winning entries. So, this year, I will not be hosting a contest. When the winning pieces are completed and released for download, I might revisit hosting a contest like this, but for the time being, I'll honor Gary in another way.

So how about a collection of all the entries that didn't win?

+John Hazen, who took second place in the contest, was kind enough to compile all of the non-winning entries into one PDF. As you'll see from the quality of these adventures, selecting a winner was really difficult (hence why we ended up with two 1st place winners!), and hopefully you'll have as much fun playing these as I did reading them.



You can download the file here.

(Note: the cover John put together features a "Secret DM" image drawn by +Brian Patterson)

Many thanks again to everyone who participated: +Michael Gibbons+Mike Miller+Gabriel Perez Gallardi+Patrick Henry Downs+Andrew Shields, Andrew Schwartz and +Doug Marrs+Stefanos Patelis+Mark Chance, and +William Cohen!


And of course, the 1st place winners +Erik Jensen and +Jason Paul McCartan, as well as the judges and participants in creating content for the winners.

I look forward to sharing the finished winning adventures in the near future!

Happy birthday, Gary!

An Art Sample of Issyka: Scene and Logo by Khairul Hisham


One of the projects I'm working on this year is my Issyka campaign setting. Issyka has been in the works behind the scenes for over a year; it's a post-apocalyptic dreamscape, like The Road Warrior meets Inception meets The Neverending Story.

Sort of. I'll get into more details in future posts, but basically it's a godless world of erosion, decay, and suffering where travelers fear sleep because their dreams come to life as nightmarish creatures stalking the open, empty plains.

It's D&D based, although I'm still hacking/cobbling the exact rules together. It features non-standard playable races, and some new mechanics I'm looking forward to testing.

One of those non-standard races is featured in the attached image by Khairul Hisham: an illadon Wayfarer, far from his home in the Silk Kingdoms of the; Living Forest (which is the last great wilderness of the world, growing on the back of a megaturtle as it slowly walks through the Vapor Canyons, where the worlds great oceans once lay before they all evaporated...you get the idea), caught in surprise by two human warriors.
But who is afraid of whom here? The illadon is a creature unlike any the humans have ever seen, and this world is full of monstrous beasts pulled from the dreams of careless travelers.

But to the illadon, these humans are just as frightening, the young female warrior brandishing her weaopon, ready to kill to save her and her helpless companion.

Just how will this encounter end?

I'm planning to commission a follow-up piece to answer that question.

This concept was a lot of fun to see brought to life, and the initial idea went through various changes, which itself affected the very nature of the illadon themselves. Originally, these were earth burrowing carrion-crawler cousins:


...but they turned out to be too monstrous in that design, and it was Khairul's artistic style that made that clear to me. Khairul was gracious enough to rework the picture though, eventually creating the more timid, traveler-centipede featured in the final drawing.

This was an important design change, because the whole point for me of having playable centipedes was to challenge the traditional aesthetics of "monstrous".

Issyka is a setting about adaptability, facing the unknown, and dealing with and managing alien situations in new and interesting ways.

Before you comment...

Remember what Bill and Ted told the citizens of the future? "Be excellent to each other".  Comments are always welcome, as long as we treat each other with respect and avoid getting flamey, snarky, spammy, or trolly. Be cool, have fun, and most importantly, be excellent to each other, okay?