Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2017 One Page Dungeon Entry

So with many thanks to +K Yani and +Luka Rejec, I present to you a mini adventure I wrote and posted to Google+ a few weeks ago, which Luka was kind enough to convert into a one page dungeon for me:

The Purple Road

Link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0JM-EYYc91tX0lIOXZuVVBiclE

Saturday, April 15, 2017

More Troika Goodness

I'm in a giving mood today.

As you should probably be aware, I'm a huge Troika! fan (what's that? See this interview I did a couple of days ago) -- I love the rules lite design, the descriptive and charming character backgrounds, just everything about it. Well, almost everything. I'm honestly not a fan of the character sheet included at the back of the book.

So I had my friend Jim Magnusson draw up some new ones:

I think they are absolutely fantastic!

I also have them stored in a Drive folder for easy access: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0JM-EYYc91td1VuU2pjRlNPQkU

But wait! There's more!

So check these out:

These are Troikan Initiative Bags, which are the best method for tracking initiative in Troika!. They are sold as a set of 30, 10mm dice of varying colors. To understand better, here are the initiative rules from the Troika! rulebook:


5.1 Assemble the Bag. During combat or at other times where it is important who goes first, you will need to assemble the Initiative Bag. To do this, get a container and a selection of coloured dice or other convenient markers. Each player will be assigned two dice of a single colour, while all enemies will share one colour of the number specified by their Initiative Rating or the GM’s whim, and a final single token of a distinct colour will be added to mark the end of a round when drawn (5.3).

5.2 Using the Bag. The GM will remove a token from the Bag at random, the colour of which will determine who holds the Initiative and takes a turn.

5.3 End of round. If the end of round token is drawn then all tokens, including the end of round token, are put back in the Bag. Resolve any per round or end of round activities such as magic effects, fire, poison or bleeding out, then draw another token and carry on.

5.4 Henchmen. If you have any hired help that are willing to fight for you, treat them as their own character that only gets 1 Initiative token in the Bag. 

5.5 Rationale. The random turn length adds a degree of uncertainty where you never know how much time you have left. When actions are not taking place it represents hesitation, panic or other incidental delays that can happen in a tense encounter where every second counts. The goblins have few dice because they are cowardly, not because they are slow; the dragon has many because it knows exactly what it wants, not because it is fast.

They're only £3.50 (plus shipping) for a bag...not, bad, right?

...but how about FREE instead?

So here's the deal: 

I'm going to give away (5) sets of Troikan Initiative Bags. How do you win one? Easy.

Create a new character profession and background for use with Troika!

Troika! features 36 original backgrounds, which are more than enough and cover a variety of options for use in the game, as well as providing details that paint the unique setting of Troika itself.

They mention things like the Million Spheres, Lost Corda, the Phoenix Throne, and fleets of golden ships...a lot of interesting details about a diverse range of places.

So lets add to the setting by providing new professions and backgrounds. Don't worry about details like skills and possessions (unless you really want to) -- all I'm really looking for are new background details to play around with.

Post them below in the comments and, when I have at least 10, I'll pick my favorite 5 and send the Troikan Initiative Bags, along with a bonus surprise, at absolutely no cost.

And, if we can get to 36, I'll have them fleshed out as full character profiles (with skills and possessions) and release it as a free supplement for use with Troika!.

Here's an example character background from the book:

Sorcerer of the Academy of Doors

As a student at Troika’s very own wizarding academy, pride of the city, experts in pan-dimensional mobility, you were able to penetrate the (2d6)th door. You are no master, certainly, but few outside your peers can claim to know more about the vagaries of skyward travel than you.

You are welcome to provide multiple entries, but I'll only pick one per person, so that five unique people can win a Troikan initiative bag.

And besides, who doesn't love having more dice?

Purchase a copy of Troika! here: http://melsonia.bigcartel.com/product/troika

Friday, April 14, 2017

Veins of the Earth Interview: Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess

Ahh, Veins of the Earth.

I don't have any delusions that people are stumbling across my blog not knowing what Veins of the Earth from Lamentations of the Flame Princess is, but briefly: it's Patrick Stuart's take on the underdark.

Here's more about it, from the website:

At the deepest point of the dungeon, behind the throne, beyond the rooms where the battles took place, after everything is done and the enemy dead, there is a crack. A black empty space where the wall joins the stone floor, a foot and a half high and three wide. A breeze comes out. You’d never notice it. You could lie on your belly and fit inside.
You have existed, up to this point, on the illusion of a plane, bordered by mountains, rivers, seas or the politics of maps, and this life has been a lie. Its borders are made up, its seas are gateways, its mountains are cradles of deep life. There is no plane.

You can read the rest via the link above.

Like a lot of people I'm patiently waiting for my physical copy to arrive in the mail, so in the mean time I thought I'd reach out to both Patrick and the artist, Scrap Princess, and ask them a bit about Veins and its development while I wait to hold this massive tome.

The Secret DM: So Veins of the Earth has been on a long road to completion and its release date is finally here. Considering that, in a lot of ways VotE is your "first book", at what point did Scrap get involved in the process? What about James Raggi? How did VotE end up as a Lamentations release?

Patrick Stuart: Someone actually helped track down a G+ post that must be Scrap's earliest involvement in Veins:

So, February 9th 2013. I think this is about the first time Scrap became interested in my blog as well, so a lot of our relationship dates to around this point.

Initially several other people were going to do illustrations, and people like Logan Knight and Cédric Plante did illustrations for one or two monsters, but as the project developed it looked more and more like it was going to be difficult to get it published with a profit share system whilst also having multiple artists in the book, and Scrap and I had grown used to working with each other, so she ended up stepping up and doing everything.

I think I contacted James around the 2nd July 2014 with a first draft in electronic format, then sent a full test print on the 6th June. After he had read through that he agree'd to publish it. This was around the same time that Deep Carbon Observatory had come out and about a month after that was released James said he would like to publish Veins.

SDM: Scrap: your artwork that's been previewed looks deeper and more vibrant than previous works...is this just the result of a natural development of your style, or did James or Patrick make specific requests that pushed your art style in a different direction?

Scrap Princess: The drawings for the pariahs go back over 4 years so that definitely evolved with time. There's only 1-2 that I redid when I realized I could do better now. 

The rest of the art in the book happened closer together when it was going to be my art all the way through, which was only decided when Raggi confirmed as publisher.

The quality of writing made me want to push my haphazard abilities like I had never before. I really, really wanted to nail the look of an anti-phoenix or a cromagnogolem , and nail it as good as I felt the writing was. It's the first time I had something inspire me that hard and the first time I was determined to reach an external standard. Normally I'm not really a "give a shit" person. I make stuff that I enjoy, yes, but it's rare I accept any external frame of reference for quality on my own art. So this is what happens when there's a really cool monster I guess.

That's a good yardstick for art: does it have cool monsters y/n?

SDM: Patrick, did Scrap influence your writing in any way?

PS: Probably less than for any of the other stuff we have done together. She had some influence on DCO, Fire on the Velvet Horizon was a dual-creation where we both had a big effect. Broken Fire Regime, if that ever comes out, has a great deal of Scrap-influenced and Scrap-created content. The longer we have worked together the more our influences have interpenetrated with each thing we make but Veins is one of the first things I did. She still has bits and pieces of writing in there that were added in development though, so she is present in the text and her art ties the whole thing together.

SDM: What sort of obstacles and challenges did you face while working on it?

PS: It's huge and that caused delays. Most of the big central ideas were done by the middle of 2014, so the remaining 3 years are made up of being proof read twice, edits by James, Zak and I think anyone else who looked at the text. Most of that was done by around the summer of 2015 so the two years after that were waiting for Jez to become available and him laying out the book, becoming more frantic in the two or three months prior to completion as all the little problems were squeezed to the end of the toothpaste.

Nothing moves quickly in the OSR, the old saying is that things can be fast, cheap and high quality, but you can only ever have two of those. The OSR is poor, so it has to be cheap, everyone involved wanted it to be quality, that means that it's gonna take 4 years and 6 months to do.

Scrap: The biggest obstacle is I would feel I did some fantastic next level shit with an art piece and send it to Patrick and he would say, "yes this is nice" and I would plot his demise. The second biggest obstacle is my amazing ability to not read properly if it's on a computer screen and so having to redo a drawing because I had left something out. The 3rd obstacle is Jez doing things irrelevant to the project like other books, sleeping, and having a family. The 4th obstacle is my own haphazard artistic abilities and having to work around a lack of technical skill with "dynamic gestures" and pure mutantness.

The workflow got wack towards the end with bad communication and a sense of urgency that meant I wound up not pushing as hard for things but, art exists external to the creator, so you have to accept that other people are going to like art of yours that you don't super like and they are not MAD.

This also meant that spaces for art opened up late in the project, and it would of sown deeper madness amongst the others if I had delayed things to make sure there was art I felt exactly right for them. Like every piece of art in there is something I would call "good" but not all are "exceptional"; 70% of the book is art I would describe as "exceptional".

SDM: Is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over?

SP: So if it was done over, knowing that I was doing all the art and how much art we could fit in, and still taking 4 years, then maybe it would be 100% "exceptional" art pieces to me. Though, again, there's pieces in there because other people like them so much, that I think are merely good, so it might not even seem that much of a better book to anyone else.

PS: I would make something shorter, sharper, tighter and lighter. That said, the draft zero for Broken Fire Regime is currently at 124,609 words so clearly I am insane. After that though, I am only going to work on short, sharp projects that can be easily lifted with one hand.

SDM: What were your inspirations for VotE?

PS: Briefly: geology, caving and speleobiology. Reading about geology gave me a powerful impression of "Deep Time" and the book of the earths history as written in its stone. A lot of this comes from the work of Richard Fortey but if you go into any geological subject in depth you are essentially trying to relate the human experience to a gulf of time which it can't really comprehend, but which is physically incarnated in the stone around it. The attempt to bring a sensation of deep time into the human experience also informed DCO, most of that adventure is about creating a sense of incredible depth and age in the minds of the players and Veins works the same way.

Reading about the actual history and nature of caving, as opposed to the cave as a cultural artifact on film and television. Blind Descent by James M. Tabor is a bit pulpy but was a good entry point to that, once you get past the initial public face of the thing and start reading the stories and analysis of actual cavers and the things they do, you realise what a unique thing it is. It really is a frontier of human exploration and understanding and a borderline to human power. There are rules on some caving expeditions that if you die underground you agree that your body will be left for long enough for it to be skeletonised so it can be safely retrieved because trying to lug a human corpse through some of those systems will just get more people killed.

The caving in Veins is still super-fictionalised, it would be utterly impossible with a D&D level of technology, even with magic helping out, but it goes back and draws directly from the real experience to create what is hopefully a more original and active lie than the standard rules. (NOT a criticism of The Dungeoneers Survival Guide by Douglas Niles; after trying to write a book that does a similar thing, I have a huge amount of respect for the man.)

And the study of life in caves and life underground is closely related to both geology and our developing understanding of life on earth. We have found life not just around volcano rims but inside rocks, eating gold. There are cells so slow that they might take centuries before they decide to grow. What we think of as 'normal' biology, even through it takes up a huge amount of the planet's biomass, is, genetically, a highly specialised offshoot of a much wider range of biological possibilities. It also relates to deep time both in its unveiling of the biological past and simply because one very common strategy for almost any kind of creature underground is simply to wait. Caves are full of creatures patiently waiting for something to happen and living a very long time to do so. When you extend this, and other underground adaptations to an intelligent creature, or a civilisation, it becomes quite interesting.

SDM: What are you hoping to see people get out of VotE? You described Veins starting as a "Vornheim for the Underdark"...and Maze of the Blue Medusa also had key layout decisions you were happy with that made it a functional book at the table...does VotE achieve the same kind of functionality? How much influence did you have on the layout?

PS: I'm worried that it doesn't. It's really huge and the text was locked pretty close in 2015. The monster descriptions have some really long passages and some of it is really good prose. That's not ideal for a usable monster entry but at every editing juncture no one wanted to loose the prose so it stayed in.

If Vornheim was a short, sharp punk song that did its job with economy and got off the stage, and MotBM is something like a classical symphony (pretentious I know, but I use the comparison to relate it to ideas of beauty and order combined) then VotE is a huge, decadent, sprawling 70's prog rock album and it has all the negative and positive attributes of that. All of the rule systems are usable and will work as a whole, but there is a LOT of it, and it sprawls.

As for layout I had relatively little influence, mainly reading and OK'ing what Jez did and that was late in the process.

SDM: Is there any content you had to cut from the book, and specifically, content you regret cutting?

PS: I don't think so. If anything the book is over-stuffed. Cédric's and Logan's images were really good and I miss not having them in but it really wouldn't have worked with multiple artists.

SDM: This was a long time in the making...are you satisfied by what you've created?

PS: I don't know yet, I'm still in the backwash of making it. I'm pretty sure that everything in it is stuff that I like but as to whether it works as either an aesthetic or useful whole, we will have to wait a year or so to find out.

I do really like Scrap's art in here. It's an overwhelmingly beautiful object and I really want her to win an award for it but if she did she would immediately throw it away or melt it into some kind of sculpture. I care a lot more about the recognition of the overculture than she does, and I don't care that much. (She is probably in minus numbers for that.)

SP: Satisfaction? I will have to physically hold it my hands, at the moment it feels pretty abstract and the final rush to get it out was pretty punishing with everyone having to work together and not demand the book be exactly how they want it and still feeling the burn out of that. 

Feels pretty swell though.

I wish I could of had more trilobite knight pictures in there? There's barely 12 or so.

There's so much art in the book that I look at it and go "this is exactly how best I could have done this thing and to look at it exist surprises me and its form is beyond my imaginings of how I would do it". I know a drawing is good if it surprises me that I did that. There's a lot of those here. That's pretty fucking satisfying.

SDM: Patrick, do you have a favorite piece of art in the book?

PS: There's someone confronting something terrible on page 189, someone clinging to a stalactite on 211, the main Trilobite Knight image on 141 is iconic I think.

SDM: What about you Scrap? Is there a favorite piece of writing? Anything in particular you enjoyed illustrating the most?

SP: The easiest answer for favourite writing is the Pariahs . I love the phrase "Pariahs of Creation. That's what got me on board and was the beginning of a friendship with this tortured English loon. They were the most interestingly challenging to draw and are some of my favourite pieces of art that I've ever done. Other pieces that I find myself rereading for the pleasure of it are the introduction piece, the cultures (I keep calling things 'you Efreeti Fuck' in my head) , and the civilopede treasures.
The Derro is especially fun. The Derro is not fun.

The civilopede treasures is an interesting one because as I was writing this I was going to mention the desire to have to illustrate them but actually, letting the writing be the sole creator of the image for them is great. Like it means the DM can't just say "It looks like this"; they have to attempt to internalize the writing in some way and the writing's worth it. There's all kinds of ideas and insights there and it feels like it really has been curated from eons of cultures by an alien intelligence with a slightly dry and provocative sense of humour.

I find the concept of being in tight spaces underground horrible and this book makes me think about that constantly in a visceral way and that's great/awful.

I could've been happier if some of the cultures hinted at were expanded on, but hints are a good part of the deep crushed time of the thing. I went on a jag making up cultural specific weapons for the main groups like Derro "Feeling Knives" and "Sack Of Agony" and Olm "No Swallow Jaw". When the books out a while I might blog the drawings and ideas.

But yeah, more artifacts like that from cultural interactions, so tactics and specialist that they would involve to murder each other. Dvargir "inevitability teams" trained for countering knotsmen , Aelf poisons for making the darkness poisonous and tailored cultural nemesis weapons plucked out of a culture's worst nightmares, Derro "Repugnancy Amplifiers" to make Aelf just death-spasming with hate.

Some other emergent ideas like Aelf slave-overseers being a politely untouchable class in their society because they have to acknowledge the existence of other life on a constant basis and interact very closely and deeply with it, and they would be even more fucked up than the rest of them from the mental gymnastics they would need to live with themselves.

SDM: What's next for each of you?

PS: My current 'working on' folder has Broken Fire Regime, an ostensible sequel to DCO, then a "Secret Mystery Project" with a Rogue Group, which should be much smaller. Then after that all I have to do is Eclipse Knights with Zak. I plan to do that alongside writing Knights of the Snail, a volume of twenty short stories linked into my version of Mallory's Mort D'Arthur, White's Once and Future King or Spenser's Faerie Queen. A long time ago I promised Matthew Adams that I would do this and that he could illustrate it and I intend to get it done.

(I do have an extremely small mini-project that might be coming out with help from a friend, all the writing on that is done through.)

After those I imagine I will be sick as hell of Knights for a good long while.

Beyond that are the two remaining volumes of what should end up being the 'Elemental Quartet': Littoral Storm Corsairs (pirates in the envelope of a Gas Giant) for Air, and Unconscious Oceanic Labyrinth (best guess at a title) for Water. Both of those should be dome with Scrap.

And after that? I would like to finally address Lanthanum Chromate, the doomed dwarven city slipping down a volcano rim into hell, maybe do a Nightmare Sea book, an Isles of the Imprisoned Moon book or a dErO book.

SDM: A 'dErO' book? What's that?

PS: "Detrimental Robots"; not mechanical beings, but robot-like due to their savage and unrelenting nature - the mutated and perverse descendants of an ancient race who retreated beneath the earth to escape the twisting effects of the suns coruscating rays. Now they inhabit the deep caverns first created by this once-noble prehistoric people and manipulate machines of terrifying power to warp the minds of all of the population of the earth. 'dErO' are briefly touched on in VotE but anyone wishing to know more should investigate the works of Richard Sharpe Shaver.

SDM: Ahh, wild stuff. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on VotE. And Scrap, what's next for you?

SP: That cyberpunk booklet you are paying me to do. More art for BFR and the DCO re-release. Then at some point my very own home brew D&D alchemist stone that is everything I want D&D to be. Also WIDE_ON_FOR_DESTRUCTION, an RPG system for playing out everything I wanted anime and 80's cartoons to be, but are actually in fact terrible.

Order a physical copy of Veins of the Earth here: http://www.lotfp.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=262

And here's a character sheet:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Troika! Interview: Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan

I hate doing reviews.

I worry that I'm not critical enough to do a review of a product justice; I tend to like a lot of things, and appreciate the effort people put into their work. Troika! is no different; I love everything about the game...from the rules-lite design to the setting bits drizzled throughout character backgrounds and spells and so forth. Nothing is laid out bare for the reader; you have to dig through each of the fascinating backgrounds of each profession to get a sense for the strangeness of the land this game is set in, and I find that to be absolutely wonderful.

So for a more detailed review, you can read what Scott Malthouse wrote over at the Trollish Delver: http://www.trollishdelver.com/2017/03/review-troika.html

You can also play around with a random character generator here: http://character.totalpartykill.ca/troika/

AND grab a copy of Troika! here: http://melsonia.bigcartel.com/product/troika

So, rather than reviewing the book (it's good, you should buy it), I went directly to Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan and asked them about their little game.

The Secret DM: So Troika! ...how did it get started?

Daniel Sell: It had multiple causes. Some time last year these happened:

I read all of Planescape. As a child with no money and two planescape box sets I had to settle for imagining what the rest of the game was like. Reading the actual books 20 years later, it came up short.


I went on a podcast called The Smart Party to talk about what I was doing at the time (D&D). They asked a very sensible question: Why do I write D&D material when I have very little love for the system?


I was re-reading my old copies of Dungeoneer and Blacksand. There's an uncommon life in those pages, one which you don't see often.


I made Troika! as a tribute to these things that don't exist.

SDM: What were some of your concerns or obstacles during the development of Troika!?

DS: My concern was making a game that could inflict the correct state on the reader, who would in turn generate the correct games. As a result it takes a long time to write anything for the system, with every background, enemy, spell, etc. being written over and over to the point of meaninglessness until eventually it comes through the other side and manages to surprise me again. If I read something and it doesn’t make me insufferably pleased that I wrote it, then it’s not finished.

The rules were drilled to death in the same way. What I was making wasn’t a clone or spiritual successor of Dungeoneer, it was a game that would do anything, kill any darling, to create a specific state of mind and play. It’s no longer the 80s and we are no longer children, even Dungeoneer can’t be Dungeoneer any more, too much has changed. To create it again takes more than updating the rules and slapping on a fresh coat of paint.

Otherwise the whole system is designed to mesh with how I work: I like short, discrete pieces of information I can manipulate and work on without having to make room elsewhere. Poetry vs. prose.

SDM: How much playtesting did you do? How much did the game change following playtesting?

DS: I ran two small campaigns, with the rules changing weekly. Since the rules were already solid it was mostly small things like how much rations heal, how much damage feels good, how to die etc. Some changes were larger, like the initiative system. The original initiative was too chaotic, D&D style I-go-You-go was dry and tasteless (and I was against letting anything of it get inside). Eventually I arrived at a chit-pull system, which turned out to be a perfect fit, completely capturing the flavour of the game.

At what stage in the development did you know you wanted Jeremy Duncan involved?

DS: From the beginning. He gets it.

Jeremy Duncan: I can't remember if it was Daniel contacting me, or me frantically waving my hand in the air. I could probably go back and find the exact moment, but I kind of like the uncertainty and I think I'll leave it alone.

So far, it's been one of the easiest projects I've worked on, at least in terms of concept -- execution's always a challenge. I generally just react to Daniel's writing and turn in the result. I've been fortunate so far in the projects I've done in that I haven't come across a lot of editorial push-back. I turned in a cover with full frontal male & female nudity and he didn't bat an eye, which I'm pretty sure you can't get away with when working for WotC, etc.

As far as I know, I haven't had any direct influence on the setting. Daniel can correct me if I'm wrong. For what it's worth, I think I'm drawing from some of the same obsessions and influences as Daniel is when he's writing the text, or at least broadly compatible ones. Like Daniel, I loved Planescape when I was growing up, but didn't have the cash to drop on the supplements, so a lot of the Planes were filled in with my daydreams, or whatever it was I was reading or watching or listening to at the time. I still love it, but not as much as I want to love it. I remember him doing some Troika posts with a Gnostic angle right as I happened to be reading about the Early Church, so I think a lot of it is just lucky coincidences like that.

SDM: Is there more planned for Troika!, or now that it's released are you moving on to other things?

DS: For the foreseeable future, Troika! is all I'm going to write.

I've considered the possibility of making several cosmology maps, all contradicting each other. One of my major issues with Planescape was how mundane the arrangement of the cosmos was. You can communicate the details of the multiverse in a few pages, whereas the Gnostics dedicated volumes to the shape of things and still couldn't make much sense of it. The confusion is important to making it interesting.

Regarding Jeremy having influence: It's a bit like an exquisite corpse, each passing it blind to each other. In the moment there isn't much influence, but at the end it becomes an equal part of the whole.

SDM: So what's next for Troika!?

DS: Empires of Foliage.

SDM: Will there be Troika! adventures?

DS: It’s distinctly possible. I have some vague plans in that regard but it’s going to be a while until they happen.

SDM: Troika! is open to 3rd party licensing...is there anything in particular you're hoping to see people do with that license?

DS: Not especially. I’m curious to see what Troika! does for people, if anything, and I want to leave the option for them to go their own way if they don’t like mine.

How has the response to Troika! been so far, and has having the free no-art version been a benefit?

DS: Although I like to think I’m a publisher, I’m no good at marketing. Troika! has a very limited circulation, but people who have read it generally seem to like it. I think it suffers from not having an easily definable “hook” to sell the book, but I’m ok with that. It’s in no danger of becoming the next hotness.

As for the artless edition, I’m not sure. I know a lot of people have downloaded it, but I imagine almost as many haven’t looked at it beyond seeing something for free. Which is fine. It’ll sit there like a mind-worm, ready to act.

SDM: What do you most want to see/hear from the community of Troika! fans?

DS: I want to hear it being played and to know it’s doing what it was designed to do. Beyond that I hope they take ownership of it and run with it. If it somehow becomes a financial success and secure its future in the meantime, that would be great.

SDM: Jeremy, was visualizing Troika! a challenge in any way? The cover is beautiful, but was it your first attempt at the cover?

JD: I did a few practice sketches and a quick watercolor that ended up being the basis for the final cover.

SDM: Is there more you'd like to do, from an artistic standpoint, with Troika!, and if so, what might that be?

JD: I'm hoping to make the most of the freedom I've been given with this project, however long it takes. I have a lot of persnickety, pigheaded, annoyingly contrary opinions about fantasy art and this is my chance to put them all into practice while I'm lucky enough to work with someone willing to inflict it all on decent people.

SDM Is there anything else either of you would like to add or discuss?

DS: I’m not very good at talking about my own work and I’m not an artist who is able or willing to sell themselves to money-men. Because of this it will be down to other people if this succeeds. I’ll keep making it on a knife-edge as long as I am able; just me, my little publishing house, my choice of editorial staff, and Jeremy. My hope is we become something like Palladium Books, a crazy person and his chums forging a strange and stubborn niche.

My most lofty goal is to earn enough through this to actually employ someone. That would be mind-blowing.

JD: "My hope is we become something like Palladium Books, a crazy person and his chums forging a strange and stubborn niche."

I'm already working on a blank template for cease and desist orders.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dealer of Poisons

Artwork by Sean Andrew Murray. Source: http://seanandrewmurray.com

Nobody trusts the poison dealer, but his is a necessary evil in the city of Murder.

The streets of Murder are all narrow alleyways that intersect at odd angles; there are no main roads here, although there are names for them. Meetings occur in the alley behind the west wall complex past Dagger's shop and in between the Halls of Minotaur and Blade, all of which line Murder Row, which is a street that no one knows how to find but every shop owner claims to know how to get to.

The poison dealer is no different, as he offers what he calls his "canticles", the liquid verses of death.

I'd offer a random table of poisons, but there are so many of them out there. My personal favorite is +David McGrogan's:

...which you can get more details on here:


What poison tables do you use?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Swordfish Islands Kickstarter

Last post I briefly mentioned +Jacob Hurst's Swordfish Islands Kickstarter campaign.

The campaign offers a lot of really great content, but you can find out about it by going to the kickstarter page itself.

I'm going to talk about something completely different.

I've started reading A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island, which is intended to be an in-game resource for players. It includes a fascinating story from one group of explorers as they traversed Hot Springs Island, and what they found there (or rather what found them). It also has sections describing native flora and fauna that are found on the island, including the muttering serpent:

        No one knows what the head of this large serpent, covered in mirror like scales, actually looks like as it always appears as the observer's head, even in death.

Muttering Serpent
I don't want to give away too much information, but I can describe A Field Guide... as over 200 pages of inspiring content. I can see how it could be useful in player's hands, but as a DM, it's particularly useful to me. Reading the introductory story segments help paint a picture for this strange island, and the suggestions presented of the creatures that are found there get the gears turning for new things to throw at my players.

This book is getting an upgraded reprint as part of the new kickstarter, but the second book is the really interesting one: The Dark of Hot Springs Island. This book is the DM's guide to everything crawling on and around Hot Springs Island, arming the DM with a plethora of new content that makes running a hex crawl on Hot Springs possible. It's the book I'm most looking forward to getting. In fact I almost passed on getting the Field Guide reprint, but it's only $25 more to have both books beautifully rendered so...why not?

If you enjoy hex crawls and campaigns of exploration, I highly recommend making the decision to back this project. There is a ton of beautiful artwork inside, and Jacob is a person who is very interested in producing high quality content. The decision to print these books the way he's pursuing is a great example of that.

Thinking about Harpies

Source: http://guthrieartwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Harpy-BRGuthrie.jpg
I'm thinking about harpies right now.

The thought process starts here with this +Dunkey Halton blog post/adventure site:

It's an old post but it's fantastic. From there I asked on Google+ what sort of other monsters pair well with harpies, and +Gus L wrote this little passage:

I think that harpies are a monospeices biome destroyer. Like it's when an island has harpies - that's it, a screaming guano producing throng of harpies and maybe beneath the water at the fringes there are the sad revenants of drowned sailors. Clambering up onto anything that floats, sinking it if its small and terrifying if it's not. They aren't aggressive, just terrible and destructive. 50 waterlogged corpses making the deck creak, while trying to get at your rigging to turn the ship around, messing up as the ensorcelled sailors fight them to get to harpy land. This is how shipwrecks happen!

Curse his brilliance. So between the two ideas of a harpy shaft site-based adventure and a shipwreck-pending island hunting adventure, I'm thinking about an adventure. I'm also thinking about +Jacob Hurst's Hot Springs Island, which is currently on Kickstarter (I'm in at the $100 level and you should be too).

And I'm thinking a lot about Troika! by +Daniel Sell and +Jeremy Duncan.

How do these things all converge?

I'm still trying to figure all that out. I'm open to suggestions. I don't want to overwhelm players with harpies, because that can get boring, hence why I'm thinking of other monsters to feature with the harpies. But Gus makes a good point of harpies being monospecies biome destroyers.

Really I'm just itching to run something, and I think harpies are a good place to start.

So I'll commission some harpy art, and probably a map, and toss something together. I'll have a better idea of what I'm going for in the morning.

Further Thoughts on Harpies

Harpies are ugly and feral. They eat and shit, and probably fuck. Their squawk sounds guttural in a fashion like their throat is full of fish. They smell worse than that. Their skin is dingy, their feathers molted. They are terrible things that hate the world around them. They are territorial. They breed incessantly, destroying ecosystems. They are a blight upon the world.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Look at: Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo!

So I recently stumbled across this curious title on rpgnow.com: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/134672/Grandpappy-Cromdars-Whizbang-Zoo

...and I decided what the heck, why not check it out, it's by my friend D.L. Johnson and I've always loved his artwork (plus I'm really excited for his upcoming release from DIY Productions, "Gathox Vertical Slum", which you can find out more about here: http://mutantsofgathox.blogspot.com/).

I was NOT disappointed.

GC's Whizbang Zoo! is 50 pages full of weird, original monsters, a sprawling, 3 level zoo complex, and tons of wild things to engage your players with, including ziplines, volcano incinerators, submersible pods...there's a lot packed into this product to make use of.

Of course, my favorite elements are the monsters and their artwork. Here are two creatures pulled from the book (reprinted with permission):

Fisherman, Gongwarped

HD: 2+3
AC: 5/+4
Attack: 1 blade or 1 bite
Dmg: 1d8 or 1d6+1
MV: 45' walk /90' swim
XP: 240

As Big As: Andre the Giant.
Smells Like: Dried manure sprinkled with fish sauce and served on a tarnished brass plate.
Sounds Like: A conniving 3rd Reich pseudoscientist.
Favorite Pastime: A toss-up between vivisection and testing new mixtures of herbal remedies.
Turnoffs: Heat waves, being proven wrong.

Gongwarped Fishermen are said to be the unholy bi-product of scientific hubris and deep sea terrors. They have developed a culture of pseudo-scientific pursuits, and love the challenge of stitching together the parts of disparate species into unwholesome new creatures. They are also particularly skilled at breeding, raising, and tending to aquatic fauna, and occasionally receive gainful employment to those ends. A typical clatch of Fisherman will be attended by 2d6 mutant freaks, ready to do the bidding of their masters. Fishermen are utterly immune to mind-altering magic, psionics, and chemicals.

Fleet Petal

HD: 1
AC: 6/+3
Attack: 2 kicks
Dmg: 1d4+1/1d4+1
MV: 150'
XP: 25

As Big As: A healthy mule.
Smells Like: Grandma's favorite perennials.
Sounds Like: The pitter-patter of too many little feet.
Favorite Pastime: Photosynthesis for breakfast and lunch, some sensible carnivory for dinner.
Turnoffs: Swathers, scythes, pressed flower collections.

Fleet Petals spend the majority of their days standing utterly still (surprise on a rol l of 1-2 on 1d6) amidst other flora, soaking up sunlight and absorbing nutrients from the earth through their many toes. In the evening, however, their attention turns to pumping blood, seeking out easy mammalian prey. A well l hidden proboscis can extrude from the center of their flower heads, ready to suck up the tasty juices of a trampled foe. Larger varieties have been known to target humanoids. Small l bands of 2 to 6 Fleet Petals have been known to migrate together up to a mile a day.

And that's not all you'll find! The Whizbang Zoo promises:

4 new minigames, from base-jumping to alien lacrosse.
22 new beasties, from readily edible Sleemaks to 3rd Reich Gongwarped Fishermen.
126 dungeon rooms, from septic tanks to animatronic museums.

I'm very happy with my acquisition of this book and look forward to springing some of these elements on my players. I might even run them through the full, zany dungeon!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I'm on Patreon!

I'm on Patreon!

Actually, I'm not really on it...just managing a Patreon that's been set up to promote a mini product being created by D.L. Johnson, Evey Lockhart, and now Jim Magnusson as well.

Here's how it works:

Evey comes up with three weird words, then Dave creates an illustration based on that inspiration, then turns it back over to Evey, who writes up an encounter or some other gameable scene based on it, then that get turned over to Jim who sketches a map to coincide with it, and then the whole thing gets put together by Evey and released, with the plan to publish each release on rpgnow.com.

Eventually we'll set up a dropbox where the collection is stored, but in the mean time, you can snag a copy of the first product release, dubbed "Ice, Terror, Contentment", here.

Enjoy...more updates are coming soon!