Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Necromentor's Lair

It occurred to me today that, with a recent increase in views of my blog, new people are checking this website out, and there are probably a lot of questions. Like what is this website about, what the heck is a "secret DM", and why should anyone care?

The biggest question however is probably, "Does this blog have any useful content?"

I'm going to answer that last question today, before I really get into answering the other questions, because I'm going to provide you with a dungeon that's ready for use with room descriptions, you just have to plug in the monsters and figure out traps and stuff.

So it's like a half-ready dungeon. Like that 1st dungeon in the DM's guide of Mentzer Red Box.

This is the Negative Zone Fortress of Necromentor.

Who is "Necromentor"?

Necromentor is that skeletal figure featured at the top of this page, in the blog banner. Normally he's a withered, fragile, undead priest named Verminion, but when he activates his soul gem, he transforms in the nigh-invincible Necromentor, Master of Worlds, and Lord of the Tribunal of Doom!

I can't go into too many details for legal reasons, but once we finalize those issues in court, I'll be able to go into more detail about what all of that means. Very few people remember LotSotDM, so discussing it before we sign all the court papers would probably be okay, but just to be safe, I'll leave it to what I can share.

And that includes a gameable map of Necromentor's Lair, created by the very talented Billy Longino, who based the design on what myself and a few other people were able to recall from memory about the original play set. The entire lair exists inside of a "bloat-swine", one of the last surviving horrostrities unleashed upon the world of Axiom in the War of Creation and Chaos.
Necromentor’s Lair

Maw of the Bloat-Swine Horrostrity (Entrance): Metal spikes jut up to a great height, forming a sheer cliff of metal spears, each coated in geodized pus that once spilled through the open wounds of the bloatswine's pierced jaw. That jaw has hardened and, left trapped and hanging open in the harsh winds of dust that spill out of the nearby Vortex of Chaos, been coated in a layer of rough stone. The beast's whole head is pulled back, but massive stalagmites and stalactites bare like hungry teeth, waiting to snap down on anyone who would dare dream to trespass here.

It's safe to enter here, at least in terms of getting eaten; there is no hope of release from this awful trap the bloatswine has been caught in, its limbs firmly entrenched in equal amounts of stone that have spewed this way for 1,000 years.

Murder Tunnel of the Agonizing Esophagus (Main Hallway): Here the stone-encrusted entrance gives way to the first hint that the bloatswine may still live beneath the massive trap it has been caught in for millennium; a baleful cry makes the walls vibrate, and the spongy floor buckles and throbs as people walk over it. Massive tentacle-cilia concealed in vertical recesses that run along each side strike out to grapple any intruders, mistaken by the dumb intelligence of the throat's survival instincts as something trapped that needs to be crushed and swallowed.

Orphan Heart Throne Room (Throne Room): One of the bloatswine's numerous detached, floating hearts is pinned here in a rusted cage that cuts and slices at the still-beating muscle whenever Necromentor moves on the seat he fashioned for himself out of the cage. He claims the slow beating calms him as he worries over the actions of Axiom's worthless heroes.

Note that the other floating hearts may still be somewhere in the dungeon, or possibly have all left and now float aimlessly in the world of Axiom. 

Or have been destroyed.

Vertebratorvator (Access Elevator to higher and lower levels): this platform moves up and down along a bony spinal column, constructed over the Wasting river that boils and swishes underneath, it's disgusting purple, green and yellow glow only outdone in cringe-worthiness by the awful stench that billows upward.

Devolvotron Chamber (Laboratory): Here local flora and fauna are mutated and experimented on to make twisted versions to assault the heroes that seek to thwart Necromentor's diabolical plans.

Megahexorator (Summoning Platform): as the Master of Worlds, Necromentor has a near infinite supply of monsters and Villains he can pull from other dimensions and planets, bringing them here for the ultimate battles against the heroes of Axiom!

The Occularium of Bending Dreams (Viewing Platform of the Megahexorator): The crystalline brain chamber where creative thoughts, once used to build worlds, are now forced to imagine and perceive alien dimensions, which Necromentor channels into his Megahexorator to pull dangerous and powerful allies in his quest to destroy the heroes and claim dominion over all of Axiom!

Putrescanence, the Wasting River (Natural/Organic Cave System): This "river" of acidic slime boils, swishes, and runs through a vast, heated, and splayed open organic cavern system that leads to a rarely-used (and forgotten) rear entryway into Necromentor's Lair.

Necromentor's Inner Sanctum (Treasure Room): Necromentor is a powerful and formidable foe who has lived for thousands of years in his endless quest to conquer and rule Axiom. However, even he is not beyond exhaustion, and so he must retire to his inner sanctum to restore his energy.

It is here that Necromentor releases the soul gem that gives him his powers and reverts back to his weak and feeble form, that of the undead priest Verminion.

Monday, August 29, 2016

On Pending Projects

If it isn't clear from my posts over the last few days, I'm [slowly] helping to put together a new game company.

It's still too early to discuss the company itself, but a lot of work has been under way over the past several months, and while I'm almost certain nothing will be ready for release until 2017, I'm quite happy with the number of projects that are already in the pipeline.

In the past I've hinted at them, and I tend to share quite a few things on G+, at irregular intervals.

You can find some things by searching key words; hints of concepts, like #Waste and #Acrossthestars. Pretty soon I guess #bagofastronauts, too. I tend to have a lot of ideas, but very little time to work on them myself. I'll get a couple of hours a week, at best, to write and share something, but there are times I can go months...sometimes up to a year...without doing anything creative.

Which is what led me to begin hiring writers to contribute to projects. Like +Ariana Ramos+Evey Lockhart, +Christopher Hopkins, and now +Andrew Shields. I'm pleased with the work I've seen them produce, and they are doing great things on projects I want to see get made. I'm really thrilled, actually, because I never thought I'd be at this point, where I was working with other writers to bring my ideas to life. I was certain I'd have to wait until I had made my own things, with all my own writing, to be taken seriously. But after recent conversations I've been having, and thinking back on what numerous friends of mine have said, I am finally starting to accept that my ideas have merit in their own right. That they are worth seriously developing and publishing, and that it's okay if I didn't write them exclusively. There are more talented people than me out there, who have already taken simple concepts I've had and built them up into massive dreamscapes, teenage angst-filled futures, bad ass bounty hunter businesses, and more. I've had artists create content with no guidance, fueling the creativity for myself and other writers, and for each other as well. Here are two examples, by +Anxious P., whose working on the dreamscape-like setting I currently call "Waste":
Dream Genie (and Shadow Worms) manifest from an abandoned oil can...

A tomb wagon rolls slowly through the dry stretches of the Golden Thirst...

And I'm very pleased to announce that +Andrew Walter joins Anxy and Evey as they work on developing the strange place built from the dreams of a dying god. Here is a sample illustration I pulled from Andrew's G+ wall:

Can you tell why I hired him?

Jeez does he do amazing work. You can find Andrew's art (and Anxious too and several other talented people's work) in the latest issue of The Undercroft (#10) (note: this is an affiliate link.) I can't wait to see what he comes up with for Waste, and also for my "Across the Stars" project I mentioned a couple of days ago.

Thankfully, I'm not alone on this journey. So far I've handled and set up some of the product concepts I want to see. But this isn't my company; I have a partner with me, who makes sure we stay on track to complete everything I've currently put into the pipeline. And she's fierce. I'm proud to have her as my CEO, while I handle the finances, making sure everyone we work with gets paid their fair share. Sure, we're a small company, of course, the way everyone starts out. We know there will be plenty of challenges for us to face, and lessons for us to learn. But we're committed to releasing high quality work that we can both be proud of. We want to embrace opportunities to create functional settings and game tools, and things that are fun, too. And we want to embrace what we're most passionate about: people playing games. 

We have a big heart. Just like the tag line of this blog: a big, soul stealing gem heart. And I promise, if you stick with us, if you let us steal your soul with our big gem heart, we won't let you down.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bag of Astronauts

Earlier today I wrote the following comment on a G+ post by +Cédric Plante, in which he mentioned a "bag of astronauts" (toy figures) he'd received as a gift:

I'd play a game called "Bag of Astronauts". Especially a LotFP adventure. Illustrated by +Cédric Plante, of course.
I'd hire +Evey Lockhart to write it. Maybe both her and you, +Andrew Shields.
Maybe set it in #Waste and make it LotFP compatible.

I haven't stopped thinking about it all day.

And now I'm seriously considering seeing if Evey, Andrew, and Cédric (or another artist) might want to work on a Waste/LotFP adventure called "Bag of Astronauts".

It would give me an excuse to use all of this amazing artwork I commissioned from Austin Sung, as well:

This project would also give me an excuse to commission watercolor spaceships. Which I think would look fantastic.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Across the Stars

So yesterday I mentioned my disappointment over Evil Hat's business announcement, their lack of diversity in their hiring practices, and how diverse I am when hiring for gaming projects.
But what gaming projects?

I actually haven't released anything yet, mostly due to poor time management, procrastination, loss of interest, and of course, imposter syndrome.

But over the last five years, I have hired a number of artists to create awesome content for me. I've collected art, writing, and maps to be used eventually, when I finally put everything together.
So this week, I started seriously thinking about an SF game. And I decided to dust off a bunch of art assets that I had made years ago, and see what I could make out of it.

It's nowhere near ready, but I'm doing my best to stay diligent this time. I've surrounded myself with some pretty great people to keep encouraging me to work on this, and I feel good about the direction it's moving in. Here's a brief summary of what "Across the Stars" should be:


In Across the Stars, players take on the roles of privateers, contracted by one of 13 member organizations of a massive merchant guild known as "The League of the Buyers". Their job is to travel into dangerous, unexplored regions of space and make discoveries: cataloging the mineral composition of stellar bodies, logging habitable worlds, and discovering new flora and fauna, bringing renown and prestige to the faction they work for.

At times the player characters will also encounter intelligent species, and while making first contact can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding.

This job isn't as easy as it sounds, though. The wild frontier is open for business, and many free agents are heeding the call, seeking fame, fortune, and glory. The competition is fierce; the player characters will have to contend with competing explorers, pirate clans, refugees and lost colonies, unknown threats inhabiting planets and star systems, and even rogue AI that fled after the end of the Great Age, in humanity's distant past.

But the need is genuine, despite the obvious motivations of profit driving the League to act in this new mission of exploration and colonization. Weird, planet-sized ships belonging to an unknown alien threat have begun to appear in the systems on the edge of the old imperium, the former human empire from which the League has risen to prominence, and these massive, star-powered vessels exert powerful gravitational forces on the systems they invade, shifting the delicate spatial balance of worlds and stars alike.

So new worlds are needed, and new sources of mineral deposits.
And there is plenty more to discover, in the vast unknown.


And here's a piece I wrote about the League's bizarre obsession with documenting everything and using paper forms:

A Garçon organizes appropriation documents for Hish, who is worried how much he'll pay in fines for the robot, a crashed starship, and insta-evac from the jungles of newly discovered Xanth.
Original Art by +Khairul Hisham.

On the League and its Insistence on Using Paper

Some question not only the League's seemingly endless streams of forms and contracts and reports required for filing, but also their bizarre requirement that all documentation be turned in on physical paper, a Byzantine method of acquiring and recording information.

Representatives of Central Banking state that it has to do with security; computer systems are, inevitably, prone to hacking. When it's pointed out that paper documents can be forged, the reps respond with a calm smile, as if they're in on the joke, and reply, "Who uses paper? Who could possibly forge anything that relies on such antiquated technology?"

Of course paper documents are easy to forge, especially when an entire governing body depends on their usage (word is the illicit Epson dot matrix business is booming, actually), but that isn't the point.
"Time" is what it's all about. Time and control. Relying on ancient printer formats that take forever to print forms, jam easily, and suffer various other malfunctions, slows any attempt to get anything done to an agonizing crawl, rendering all effort moot. This matters little to Central Banking and its parent organization, the League of the Buyers; they set the pace because time is money, and the longer a process takes, the more micro transactions of interest they can build up, to the point that sometimes, doing business with the League leaves an entrepreneur in insurmountable debt to the League, worse off than when negotiations began.

Of course the League is sympathetic to anyone harmed by the lengthy process, and offers a method of recouping lost monies through their official Complaint Board to resolve any disputes, for a small processing fee.

The wait to meet with an agent of the complaint board is currently just under five years, but that timeline is unfortunately lengthening rapidly, due in large part to the League's refusal to shift to an electronic system.

Of course, there's always the indentured employment option, where citizens in debt to the League or one of its members can complete work to pay off loans or excessive fees they've incurred while waiting for paperwork to process. The Ministry of Diligence and Aptitude is able to expedite processing in a way that baffles the employees at the complaint board.


There's a lot more in development, including a character advancement system built around incentives, attributes that focus on social interactions, deceit, etc. to survive and succeed, and a "vice" system to complicate encounters.

I look forward to sharing more about the project. I discuss a lot of it openly on Google+, so follow me there to keep up to date. I also have a private community set up to develop the game rules and setting, and everyone is welcome to join.

I'll share more details soon, I promise!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Diversity in Gaming

Evil Hat made a big announcement yesterday. They have decided it's time to act like a professional game company. This means they are switching from the method they used to follow to do business...a feast or famine format of releasing product and then ramping up over a couple of years to another big launch...and instead focusing on steady publications. They have hired employees in full time positions. They are getting serious about spending money.

I wish them the best on this new, more complicated journey they are about to begin.

But I can't help but feel disappointed. This "pivot" was not the announcement I was expecting.

Certainly it's a big deal for them; it's a huge step to expand one's frame of mind from "this is a hobby business" to "this is a professional business", and I commend them for that kind of mental shift. I personally am a huge advocate for professionalism in the games industry; I support the "fuck you, that's why" attitude of the DIY crowd, of course, but I also believe that people deserve fair wages. To be paid for the contributions they make to a project. To be recognized. Sometimes corporations and corporate policies can suck, but they can also put in place certain protections for employees, even freelance ones, to make sure that everyone is protected, and that as much diversity is represented as possible.

And this is where Fred Hick's "pivot" fell short for me. His blog post points to the promotion of several people, or highlights key roles several people have played for the company, and how those roles will either continue or expand. And here's the part that was a let down: as far as I can tell, everyone he's hired, promoted, or referenced in a continuing employment role, is white.

Where is the diversity? I see there are two women listed as employees, which is great news, but isn't Evil Hat supposed to be a kind of beacon in the gaming industry for diversity in games? Shouldn't there be some kind of alarm sounding that, once again*, Evil Hat has shown a shortsightedness, another unfortunate missed opportunity to embrace diversity? Here we are, at a pivotal point in the growth of a company, the shifting of the mindset of one of its founders, and they couldn't find a single person who wasn't white to fill the roles they needed?

(*Mark Diaz Truman, in his controversial post "Two Minutes Hate", linked to this page of Fate products and referenced it, saying," of the industry leaders publishes an entire line of supplements authored almost entirely by straight, white men.")

I don't have a problem with straight, white men getting work; I'm a straight, white male myself. That alone neither makes it right or wrong. My issue is that I see people chastising, sometimes vaguely and sometimes directly, the lack of diversity in the gaming industry, or saying things like " sucks being a female publisher...that suckitude is driving women out of publishing...", and yet I haven't seen anyone calling bullshit or pointing fingers at Evil Hat.

I am constantly in a process of developing game content, mostly for my own personal use, but also to hopefully release some day as a number of products for people to use in their own games.

And on each one of those projects, I have reached out and partnered with and hired from a diverse group of people. I have hired Hispanics, Blacks, Filipino, Asian, Homosexual, Transgender, and a couple of straight, white males. I sought them out, not because of the color of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation, but because of their talent. And all it took was me sending them a message and asking, "Hey, can I commission you for some work?"

I ask how much they charge, and I accept what they tell me. I rarely negotiate for lower rates, because I believe in paying people what they feel they are worth. And sometimes, I want to pay people more than they value themselves, because sometimes people don't feel they deserve a fair amount. Or they are afraid to ask for too much because they may not get hired. I understand this fear, and it's important, as a business person, to face this kind of challenge head on, to reassure people, and let them know that they will be paid fairly. No one should be paid differently because they are a woman, and no one should get a job just because they are a straight, white male and that's "all the people you know".

If you're having a hard time finding more diverse talent, just ask me, and I'll point you in the right direction. I will put you in touch with +Ariana Ramos+Gennifer Bone+Evey Lockhart+Khairul Hisham+Juan Ochoa+Alex Mayo+Christopher Hopkins, +Kiel Chenier, Austin Sung, and others.

Expand your circles. The gaming community is full of diversity. Go out and find it.

My gaming group is VERY diverse. Original artwork by Gennifer Bone.