Thursday, June 22, 2017

I've been working with my friend / gaming buddy on a character generator and choose your own sexy space [text] adventure.  Here it is!

This is only the beta, but I think it's pretty swanky so far.  Go ahead and try it!

If you have any suggestions, please don't hesitate to comment.  We want to know what you think of the site.  ;)



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Last Straw

That's a fairly dramatic blog post title, I'll admit, but today I'm talking about the recently released Vampire: the Masquerade 5th edition pre-alpha open playtest packet scenario "The Last Night."  Yeah, that was a mouthful.

Up until this morning, I was focused on the rules portion of the open playtest.  Then I stumbled upon +Erik Tenkar's blog post here.

Besides being really long and Vampire: the Masquerade meets Zero Dark Thirty, it includes some pretty awful stuff.  Hey, this is Venger you're talking to.  I get it.  I'm all for edgy and pushing boundaries, but I personally find this objectionable in a way that just makes me not want to play.

There's a woman with a baby, a pregnant woman, dead teenagers, and a whole building full of refugee orphans.  All of them provided with notes for vampires to feed upon.

One of the pre-generated characters loves to feed off of and have sex with "the young," meaning young vampires.  Followed by, "Ventrue feeding restrictions: you only feed off children and very young teenagers."  Yeah, those are instructions on how to run the player-character, not just some debased NPC villain.

Wow, gross!  And this is an introductory playtest scenario... WTF?!?  Where do they go from here?  The PCs are expected to run a child sex trafficking operation in order to fund terrorism?  Dear God!

As Tenkar asserted, this might appeal to pedophiles and fucked up individuals who have no issues whatsoever with child endangerment and infanticide, but I'm definitely out.

This means that going forward, my vampire RPG design will have nothing to do with White Wolf, Vampire: the Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, and any and all World of Darkness products.  I want to differentiate what I'm doing with what they're doing in the strongest possible terms.

I currently have a couple items still on my plate, but come August I should have something to show you guys.

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

Sunday, June 18, 2017

O5R Dwimmermount session #2

June is a busy month, so I lost two players from last session and gained a new player (with whom I've gamed a lot over the years).

The PCs:  Sir-Yut the human ranger (female), Iron Fist the dwarven fighter, George the human druid, and Bel-Vadren the elven magic-user.

So much stuff happened that I'm going to give the highlights (in no particular order)...

  • Finally got to use The S'rulyan Vault map from last year's Kickstarter.  It really made the game come alive - without using a terrain map and miniatures that could disrupt our theater of the mind approach.
  • Before returning to Dwimmermount, the party acquired a new hireling in town - a 1st level human thief named Barret.  He mostly keeps to himself, usually stays out of battle, and charges 5 gold pieces per day.
  • I remembered to whip out the massive DCC tome in order to get the mercurial magic table for all spells cast.  There were a lot of interesting results!  The rat-like demons who crawl out of the wizard's sleeves to fight alongside him was possibly the best.
  • The PCs discovered several steel cylinders containing azoth - a rare and potent sorcerous liquid that can be used to enhance magical properties.  Instead of black, as Dwimmermount describes it, I went with a luminous yellowish-green, like Predator blood... and Mountain Dew (seemed appropriate).
  • I realize that more than ever, I should be rolling for the amount of noise being made in the next room, especially when characters are actively listening for it.  This is what I came up with.
  • They fought gnolls, goblins, humanoids wearing dead spider parts, crab-men, a hollow-man from the DCC bestiary, and a gelatinous green troll based on a normal troll but given a little gin-sequoia via the Monster-Palooza random table in How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss. The only death was at the end with the green slime troll - Barret was hit, failed his save, and melted into a pool of slime.
  • The PCs ransacked a forbidden library - all the books, save one, fell apart in their hands just like that scene in the original The Time Machine film.  The remaining book was magical and contained the spell Flaming Claw of the Demon!
  • A wand was discovered hidden under a lip of some marble altar the crab-men were using to sacrifice one of the spider-worshiping dudes.  "Tastes like crab, talks like people."  Wands are interesting because they expend charges in order to make magic.  This particular wand had three spell-like abilities and each one used up a different amount of charges.  The wand was almost dry, but Bel-Vadren had the idea of soaking it in the azoth - turns out he was right!  The wand was fully charged again.
  • One wooden door was carved with a triangle within a circle and that symbol had been glazed with azoth recently.  It was also trapped, as it happens.  Barret doesn't do so well with magical traps.  Luckily, George got in the habit of knocking on each door with his ten-foot pole after Barret's check.  It went from a ten-foot pole to a nine-foot and nine-inch pole as a sorcerous scythe swiped down and took three inches off it.
  • I used a really old homebrew gemstone random table.  Wanted to use my translucent green Kort'thalis Publishing dice with the demon/dragon logo in pace of the "6."  First time I rolled the percentile dice, it came up "100," that made one of the found gemstones a star stone (aka sorcerer's crystal) which effectively doubled the potency of a wizard's spell once per day.
  • Another time I rolled on the gem table one of the diamonds came up cursed.  To differentiate that diamond from the others, I had Harold roll on the color random table also from How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss.  The diamond had eggplant coloring with amethyst veins.  The cursed gem was simply bad luck.  Using the wand to remove its curse, the purple diamond became good luck, giving the owner a +1 to any roll he wished, once per day.
  • They also picked up a magic weapon - a short sword +1, +3 vs. wizards; it detects the presence of undead with a sparkling black jewel in the hilt's crosspiece - it glows unnaturally when undead are within 30'.
  • There was a dimly lit room where several robed cultists, chanting, sat around a feebly glowing shape set into a stone presentation area in the middle of the chamber.  It was faceted and semi-translucent, it's glow was faint because of all the caked-on dirt, grime, dust, and cobwebs covering it.  One of the cultists was about to pour a decanter of azoth upon the weird glass object.  The cultists were killed, with the pourer dying first.
  • Bel-Vadren attempted the same trick as the cultist pouring azoth.  The azoth trickled upon an ordinary spider which turned it monstrously large and mutated.  It bit the magic-user's face which made him nauseous (with vomiting), but also gave him 4 arms.  After the spider was killed, George decided to smash one of the facets with his nine-foot and nine-inch pole.  I rolled a saving throw for the ancient vessel of magic and rolled a "1."  Bye bye, demon containment unit!  Luminous steam rose from the glass-like object and a malevolent presence entered George.  They now share possession of George's body and soul.
  • In a circular chamber sat a large, hairy, corpulent demon upon a throne, attended by a variety of demonic humanoids.  There was wine and Iron Fist rolled a natural 20 to sneak up to the cask of wine and drink himself silly.  In exchange for a piece of jade found earlier, he let the adventurers pass through, after George negotiated with him in private, allowing them to head down the stairs to the next level of the dungeon, if they so wished (they did not).

If you're saying to yourself, "Hmm, this doesn't sound like the Dwimmermount I know," well... I've definitely made it my own.  There's a passing resemblance, but no other GM will mistake his Dwimmermount for mine.  It's been Vengerized!

We're all looking forward to next month's session #3.  Until then, I've got a bunch of exciting new content for this blog and Draconic Magazine.  Stay tuned.


p.s.  Want your own (possibly) giant old school dungeon map?  The S'rulyan Vault II kickstarter is still happening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Vampire 5e preview

This is going to be a brief first impression of the new pre-alpha Vampire: the Masquerade 5th edition playtest rules which I downloaded this morning.

For the record, the original 1991 edition of Vampire: the Masquerade was a much-loved RPG for me and my friends.  I ran it a lot in the early 90's and played a fair amount, too.  The VSd6 engine that makes Kort'thalis Publishing games go is a hybrid of V:tM and Star Wars D6.

Right from the start, the text is readable which is good.  The opening defines this game as a storytelling game of personal and political horror.  I would not have chosen that word to describe the game.  Especially right now, that word "political" is so super-charged with a lot of things going on that you may as well throw in "Trump," "Obamacare," and "radical Muslim jihadist" as well.

There are some things I like, such as breaking down the 9 attributes into three: physical, social, and mental... with specialties.  Honorable mention - succeeding at a cost.

There are some things I dislike, such as removing the special properties of 1's and 10's, as well as, making all successes 6+.  I suppose it helps with "taking half" because it's 50/50 per die rolled, but scaling the difficulty higher or lower depending on circumstances was something I really loved about the original Vampire: the Masquerade.

There are some things I love, but already know I'm going to house-rule because I don't care for how they're presented - hunger, specifically "hunger dice."  Note to game designers: call it "The Hunger," whenever possible.  Not just "hunger."  Like anyone else that's human, I get hungry.  It happens.  I eat and it goes away.  What you're trying to convey is similar, but something altogether different.  A supernatural hunger - The Hunger!  Also, it's the name of a classic and evocative 80's vampire movie.

What's my beef with the presentation?  Too much bookkeeping.  When I get time, I'll outline how I would use those red hunger dice (yes, I agree... they must be red).

And there are things I'm not yet sure about, like combat, for instance.  I need to actually run a few encounters before getting a handle on how the mechanics shake out.  Also, no one loves random tables more than I do, but I'm just not sure Vampire is a random table sort of game.  The vibe seems wrong.

In conclusion, I've got to study this more and actually play the game.  If I had time, I'd love to run a Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle (if some RPG company was throwing money at me, I might be able to convince my wife that spending time/energy on RPG stuff was worthwhile).

But this version, even in its infancy, does feel like a later edition of V:tM.  And it's piqued my curiosity enough to delve deeper, so by that standard alone, I think it has accomplished one of its goals.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Printed out the first S'rulyan Vault map

I shall be buried with this giant bastard of an old school dungeon map.  Let this blog post serve as my final will and testament.

For those curious, after my 25% off coupon from FedEx Office, this 46" x 36" color printed and laminated sheet cost me about $90.  Yeah, I didn't have to go that big (see that diminutive blue thing on the right - that's a full-size set of Chessex dice).  No, I didn't have to laminate it.  Sure, it's a pretty penny, but this is my "forever dungeon."

The thing I love most about it?  The little cracks drawn into the dungeon floor.

It'll take up the majority of damn near any gaming table you set it on.  The thing is beautiful!  +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) did an amazing job.  This Saturday afternoon, I finally get a chance to try it out.

You see, my lame hand-drawn map of Dwimmermount sucked and even though the rooms and corridors are different shapes and configurations, I'll make it work for the monthly old school D&D dungeoncrawl.

I'm putting the whip to Glynn in order to make The S'rulyan Vault II even more badass, so definitely swing on by and back this Kickstarter.



Reviewing How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck (part 2)

This blog post is a continuation from here.

Having gone through the book at some length, I realize that there's actually 3 different goals going on under the purview of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck.  And these goals or avenues of advice aren't necessarily working in concert...

The book tries to advise 1) the GM who wants to write his own adventures, 2) the amateur module writer who wants to get published and/or hired as a freelancer, and 3) fans and casual readers who want to read stories from fantasy authors and adventure writing professionals with a history in the RPG industry.

I have a feeling that most readers will be interested in only one or two advice avenues - not all three.

Thankfully, there were a few redeeming features once I got further into the book.  The essay by Harley Stroh being one of them.  He talks about his GM failures which are more enlightening than almost anything else I've read in the book.  He goes on to talk about the advantages of not rolling the dice, but doesn't touch on the practice of "fudging."

I also enjoyed reading James M. Ward's essay on PC death.  The risk of dying needs to be there for a variety of reasons, but then he softens the blow by suggesting a dozen different ways of having your PC come back to life.  Not sure how I feel about that... it's like having a pet scorpion but taking the sting out of its tail.

This part in particular was cool, "When I played in Gary's game I didn't roll dice to see if I picked a lock or found a trap.  I role-played what I was doing to uncover that trap or open that difficult lock."  Yep, that's old school!

But there was still a load of crap I just didn't care about, like an essay on building a Lego dungeon.

There's an essay by Lester Smith that literally uses train-cars as a metaphor for adventure module construction.  He suggests that experienced GMs may add or remove cars, but still.  He goes further to say that improv-heavy GMs grow predictable over time.  I guess because they want to weave the disparate events into a cohesive story and you can rely on the GM to have things make sense?  While I understand his argument, he draws an odd conclusion and one that I disagree with.  There's a big difference between improvising moments (along with the occasional scene) and just making everything up on the fly without anything prepared.

Jim Wampler's essay amounts to don't make things too hard or too easy - also, don't mind a little natural selection... and play villains intelligently, borrowing epic things from books and movies that inspire you, and having players provide details through their own crowd-sourced speculation (an idea I've written about in How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss).

I find a grab-bag of unconnected ideas works fine in a book about adventure writing or GMing, but in the space of an essay, it seems too scattered.  And a lot of these essays are comprised of grab-bags of ideas that never really satisfy.

This may seem like nitpicking, but there are places where the layout is terrible.  One word - all by itself - appears at the top of the second column and after that word is a heading for a new section.  I'm looking at a heading at the very bottom of the first column on page 142.  That's all there is of that section, just the heading.  The actual body of the text starts at the top of the second column.  As a reader, publisher, and human being who looks at stuff... that kind of thing bothers me.

Overall, I'd give this 2 out of 5 stars.


p.s.  Yep, The S'rulyan Vault kickstarter is still going for a few more days.  Please consider backing this project and sharing it with others!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Convention season is upon us!

Yes, RPG conventions abound and I can't go to most of them.  5 young kids, a job, and sleep deprived wife will do that to you.

So, that means I'm looking for someone (possibly 2 or 3 someones) to represent Kort'thalis Publishing at several upcoming conventions.

What does this entail?  Mostly running Kort'thalis Publishing games, both systems and adventures, though not necessarily at the same time.  How many games should you run?  I'd say at least 8 scheduled hours, that's two 4-hour games, four 2-hour games, one 6-hour game and one 2-hour game, or some combination meeting the required minimum.

If you'd like to talk Kort'thalis Publishing up while you're hanging out with the gaming community, that would be great, too, but I'm not going to send in someone wearing a wire to prove it.  Although, if you have or contribute to an RPG blog (or enjoy posting on RPG forums), please spill some ink on all the spilt blood that took place.

Not sure what all I've come out with in the last four years?  check out the sidebar on the right or view my DriveThruRPG products here.

The reason I've waited this long is because I got burned my first time around.  Badly burned.  This guy lived not too far away from me in Wisconsin.  He asked me if he could run some of my games.  I enthusiastically replied yes, sent him PDFs, even invited him over to my house for a pizza & movie night with the guys and gave him a couple softcover books to use at the convention.

In the end, he flaked out on the entire convention.  He never showed, never ran any games, didn't really have much of an excuse, and never contacted me afterwards (though, I emailed him).  I had to find this out through the convention organizers at Game Hole Con.

Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes.  Nevertheless, I'm determined not to let that singular shitty experience stop me from finding one or more Kort'thalis Publishing convention representatives.

Here's what I'm offering in 2017 and 2018... your choice of either four Kort'thalis Publishing PDFs or $25 (this assumes you already own a few of my RPG products).  It's not much, but should help pay for convention attendance.  Note that this compensation is per convention.  That means if you represent Kort'thalis Publishing at three conventions, you could make $75.  Paypal automatically changes payment into whatever currency the receiver uses, so this offer is open to international gamers and RPG conventions, as well.

It should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway - any kind of support in the form of GMing advice is just an email away.  If you're reading something and want my opinion on different ways you could run it, I'm always here.

Obviously, know what you're getting into, if there's a chance you'll flake out, don't bother responding to this ad (emergency situations are understandable, just let me know ASAP).  If you're not willing to touch even PG-13 material (let alone "R"), then probably best if you pass this opportunity on by, as well.  Do you enjoy rule-heavy games with lots of crunch, tedious tactical simulations, and long boring parts devoid of sex, violence, and tentacles?  Move along, hoss.  This ain't for you!

Also, be familiar with who you're working with (I'd prefer to think of you as a co-fan, rather than employee).  Just as an example, 9 times out of 10, I'm a peach to be around, as many will attest... but that 1 time I'm like a caged tiger pimp with a bitch-slapping hand.  In other words, it takes a whole lot to make me angry (like the aforementioned douche bag who I'm not going to name).  When I get to that point, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

That's it!  If you know someone who might be interested, please share this blog post with them.


Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

p.s.  Like dungeons?  The S'rulyan Vault II kickstarter is happening right now!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The S'rulyan Vault II

It's not the Kickstarter project I planned on (Gamma Turquoise KS happening spring, 2018), but it's the one I'm doing right now.  I'll be moving sometime in December, and didn't want the time, energy, and stress of that to affect what I can do for my wonderful backers (Love you guys!).

Plus, it's just fucking time for more dungeoning, am I right?  Glynn's already got his dungeon thinking cap on and will get me some preliminary sketches next week.  I want this mega-map (each quadrant is like it's own dungeon - put them together and it becomes a mega-map) to be different - older, deeper, and stranger... also more dense.

And I've got some exciting ideas for the PDF of random tables and whatnot that will accompany the map files.  I want to help GMs quickly and easily make "normal" dungeons more exotic and special, allowing you to run an awesomely non-standard dungeoncrawl on the fly - without any more than a few minutes of preparation!

I set The S'rulyan Vault II Kickstarter for 15 days, so there's about 2 weeks left.  If this is something you might want, please help us make it a reality with your generous support!  Be sure to get the word out - share this news with your gaming friends.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reviewing How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck (part 1)

In my considerable time involved in the roleplaying game hobby and industry, I've both received and given a lot of advice.

I picked up the Goodman Games 160 page, 25 author, hardcover book at Gary Con earlier this year.  There was so much to see and do, I didn't spend an overly long period of time standing around booths, perusing various books that caught my fancy.

So, I picked up How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck without giving it too close a read.  Why bother, I thought, since the title alone summarized everything I wanted!

This blog post examines the first 30 pages of the book.  Hopefully, my analysis is both informative and entertaining...

The cover is weird, but I love it - part English 101 journal notebook and part High School doodling of weird and funny fantasy characters and creatures.  The interior cover pages (I can't remember the correct terminology for that area right now), are colorful and badass!  There's also a black ribbon attached to the book's spine - which is cool.

The Autograph section is cute and fairly useful (assuming you go to RPG conventions).  The introduction by James M. Ward is serviceable. The interior pages are lined like actual notebook paper, which I thought was a nice touch - though, the essays, from what I've read so far, aren't edgy, gonzo, or filled with the awkward passion of an amateur adventure writer.  So, there's a bit of disconnect between how the pages look and how they read.

The first essay is about adventure context, fluff, and crunch.  It's mostly a blog post about what the author, Jobe Bittman, thinks about the dichotomy and that some adventures give the GM just enough info to run an adventure while others give the GM quite a bit more.  He prefers the former.  And then the essay is over.  It's followed by a one-page adventure that has virtually nothing to recommend it.  It's about deep-sea diving and finding a lost ship.  It's so short that there's not much besides the meager setup and the encounters themselves.  It's pretty much worthless, and not an example of non-sucky adventure writing.

The second essay is by Mike Breault and I'm going to quote the first sentence which should give you a clue to what it's about, "For my money, nothing kills a gaming session faster than a game master who isn't dedicated to engaging and entertaining his or her players."  That sense of predictability and slight boredom you got from reading that sentence?  It continues throughout.

The essay points out "The Four Types of Gamers":  achievers, explorers, socializers, and killers (which the author got from another dude in the video game business).  It basically boils down to the following - not all gamers want the same things and the GM should provide a variety of encounters to suit everyone's tastes.  Good advice, but so obvious that in 2017 it just seems more annoying than bland.

The accompanying adventure (do they all have one?  Holy shit, they do!  Oh man, I have a feeling this is going to suck...) is a trek through the forest with very little payoff, aside from finding a castle with a couple undead encounters.  It's not impressive in the least.

The third and last essay I'm going to be talking about in this post is from Anne K. Brown.  Basically, she thinks that GMs should bore their players to death with voluminous descriptions about everything under the sun.  Ms. Brown literally takes a paragraph of flavor text and keeps telling her readers to elaborate until they've perfected their short story which can then be read aloud to players so that no actual adventuring gets in the way of story time!  I was literally screaming NOOOO! while reading the book last night because that's pretty much the opposite of my preferred style.  And I objectively believe her advice is going in the wrong direction.

Later, the essay switches to something more palatable - show, don't tell.  Again, super obvious.

But then, she talks about her stint at TSR and gives us a taste of freelancer submissions.  Ms. Brown points out two "miserable mistakes," two phrases that kept showing up over and over again - "impossibly huge" and "wicked-looking blade."  She slams these phrases for not being precise, because it makes people guess, rather than knowing exactly what the author meant.  But you know what?  It also forces the reader/listener to use their imagination, to create their own reference points, and deliberately vague phrasing is not only suggestive, but mythic.  What sounds better to you?  An impossibly huge dragon or a dragon that's 30' tall?

The essay ends with a plea for GMs to use all 5 senses.  Fair enough, but still within the realm of no-brainer.

The following adventure is for reals a short story, while Anne actually narrates what the PCs are saying and doing!  I shit you not!  Is this part of the reason why TSR began to suck so hard with the railroading and super-long flowery descriptions?  Jesus Christ!

Yeah, I need to stop here and take a break.  So far, this book is both boring and bad (from an advice standpoint).  Oh no!  I was just googling the title so I could find an image of the cover (all the ones I found were from the KS mock-up, which is actually far inferior to the actual cover that came to be) and saw that this was a Goodman Games Kickstarter!  And it made over $125,000.00!?!  Hopefully, I stumble over some worthwhile stuff the further I go...

Until the next installment, check out my own How To Game Master Like a Fucking Boss.  And if readers are interested, I'll do a series of blog posts delving into the fundamentals of adventure writing that doesn't suck - crafting a worthwhile scene!  So, please let me know in the comments if you'd like to see blog posts of that nature.

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

p.s.  Almost forgot - I just announced a brand new Kickstarter this morning for The S'rulyan Vault II.  Back it if you love dungeons!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

D&D on iZombie

Yes, another another mainstream TV show has featured Dungeons & Dragons!  The episode is titled "Twenty-Sided, Die."

For those who don't know anything about izombie, here's the gist: zombies are real and Liv Moore is one of them.  After she eats a brain, she gets visions from that person's life.  Usually, this helps her police detective friend with solving his homicide cases.

How does this episode measure-up against other episodes showcasing D&D?

The Good:  we get to see two different RPG sessions in progress.  Each had their own flair while presenting the usual trappings of character sheets, dice, DM screen, and other visual elements like miniatures and dungeon tiles.

The Bad:  this episode showed the annoying things that go into D&D (not all games, thankfully).  I'm talking about rolling to see if your character can successfully climb onto a horse and other easy and/or stupidly inconsequential things.  A line of dialog also alluded to character creation taking... I think it was two hours!  I've been out of the 3rd, 4th, and Pathfinder editions for many years (huzzah!) so can't quite remember the average time it takes for a table of 4 or 5 to generate characters, but I doubt it's that long.  Still, anything longer than an hour is bullshit as far as I'm concerned.  Did the writer(s) not have access to 5th edition?

The Ugly:  oh, the stereotypes!  Indeed, gamers are nerds and geeks.  All the guys wanted to get with the girl player.  There was a goth/vampire type, socially-awkward artist, girl into fantasy and cosplay, and a big, burly bearded dude.  The more I think about it, their portrayal wasn't half bad.  But when Liv ate the DM's brain, she was narrating scenes like it was a D&D encounter and rolling d20s to see if she... [shakes dice] follows the detective outside.  I get it. The series shows us victims' inner lives through Liv's external mannerisms, interests, and various idiosyncrasies.  The whole dice rolling in public thing just seemed a bit too heavy handed.

Interesting Bits:  I enjoyed the flashback game where the DM rolled all the characters' saves in secret behind his screen and they all failed... and died.  The players were yelling at the DM, calling bullshit, etc. While I'm all for GM's final arbitration, that seemed messed up - especially since those characters were really high level.

Detective Babineau just could not get over his surprise that actual adults played D&D... until he sat down and played for himself.  Then, he got so into it that everyone had to keep playing, even after Liv had her vision (which means they didn't have to continue the game).  And he was talking about his character after the game and wanting to play again - which are hallmarks of falling in love with RPGs.

So, a little hokey at times, but overall a worthy addition to the pop-cultural plethora of D&D.  Just when you think the hobby is dead it shows up in the damnedest places.  But do all these little appearances help people discover or re-discover the joy of roleplaying games?  Seriously, does anyone know?  I'd love to read some stories about people suddenly playing (again) because they saw D&D on Big Bang Theory, House of Lies, or wherever!


Monday, May 29, 2017

Three New Adventures!!!

Writing three books at once - even small ones - isn't easy.  There are a lot of details to keep track of.  Focusing, scattering that focus, and then undividing it again can give one either creative or logistic whiplash (sometimes both)!

There was a time, just before taking a break to surprise people with Guarding Galaxy XXX, where I considered the rough drafts of Stairway of V'dreenHigh Stakes Q'uay-Q'uar, and His Flesh Becomes My Key to be a hot mess.

Thankfully, a little patient effort and infernal inspiration honed each one into a many-faceted gem.  I'm biased, of course... my RPG books eventually feel like my babies.  Not that I need anymore of those!

Also, I'd be remiss for not mentioning the superior layout and graphic work of +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) and the various artists who illustrated each PDF.  Glynn will soon be working on a print-on-demand compilation of all three scenarios out this Fall.

These are OSR-ish adventures that are quite adaptable.  Really, the systems they were made for replaces the d20 with d6 dice pools.  That's the main difference.  So, customize away!

I love hearing feedback and war stories, so don't be shy.  Thanks!

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

p.s.  I forgot to talk about all the little extras - like the Q'uay-Q'uar board and rules that you can download/print yourself and start playing.  Then, there's the official Outer Presence character sheet... and the Alpha Blue campaign manager!

p.p.s.  This is a link to Zarono's original arachnosaur artwork.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

O5R Dwimmermount Campaign

I finally started a new fantasy RPG camapign - old school D&D; although, I'll be using modified Sword & Wizardry rules and the mercurial magic random table from Dungeon Crawl Classics.

One of the players was reading an extra S&W book on hand and was shocked to see that it was just like Dungeons & Dragons from the 80's.  How could they do that, he asked?  I told him about the open gaming license of WotC D&D, the OSR, etc.

Despite the hefty price tag $75, I've decided to run Dwimmermount based on everything I've read about it on Grognardia by +James Maliszewski.  But it will most assuredly be my Dwimmermount - I'm changing things up here and there.

My table had 5 players, all of them opting to begin play with 4 zero level characters.  That means 20 PCs began in Muntberg, chatted with some possible hirelings, one hedonistic cleric making plans for a debauched celebration upon his return, and then made their way - with "crank master" Karn, Muntberg's drawbridge operator, along for the ride.  One of the PCs actually convinced Karn to pay him 2 gold pieces in order to join the adventuring party.

They met some orcs with a metal detector, disabled a laser eye above the double iron door entrance to Dwimmermount, and many were burned in a second altercation with even more orcs who used alchemist's fire .  Oh yeah, one thief was dissolved from the inside by a green slime that fell from the ceiling.  And another's life was drained from him at the touch of a shrieking phantom coming through the wall.

Out of 20 PCs and 3 NPCs who set out on this journey, the party ended the session with 9 PCs and 2 NPCs.  So, pretty much 50%.  Here is the list of survivors...

  1. Nopers, Fighter, Dwarf
  2. Daycy, Fighter, Human
  3. Iron Fist, Fighter, Dwarf
  4. Cheye, Magic-User, Human
  5. Mabnezer, Druid, Half-Elf
  6. Dormud, Cleric, Dwarf
  7. Sir-Yut, Ranger, Human
  8. Kalbana, Cleric, Human
  9. George, Druid, Human
  1. Sage, Magic-User, Human
  2. Poncenbee, Figher, Human

It was fun to get back to old school D&D again and I enjoyed running something that I've never ran before.  I haven't used experience points to track levels in years, so that's a conscious decision I wanted to make.

I also wanted to keep advantage/disadvantage and inspiration (with modifications) from 5e.  Whenever a spell is cast for the first time, I have the player roll on Dungeon Crawl Classics' mercurial magic table to see how that spell will affect the world whenever it's cast by that particular magic-user.

Here's my favorite line of the session, in regards to interrogation:  "Nothing good in orc is ever said."

Someone picked up a magic sword that not only yielded a +1 bonus to hit and damage foes, but also protected its wielder from harm once per day (up to 5 points of non-magical damage). I intend all magic swords to be sentient with a personality all their own.  I'm rolling now (as I type this) on the tables in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence... 

(22) Foreign Speaking and (5) A sorcerer named Zar'toro created the sword; he wove spells into its steel, making sure it would be able to face the coming war between Law and Chaos.  Which makes sense, because after the sword was picked up I rolled its alignment as Neutral.  Now, should it speak French, Latin, or something else...

I plan to follow-up with session #2 in June.  I honestly can't wait - wish like Hell I could swing a weekly game, but with a sleep-deprived wife and 5 kids... it just ain't in the cards.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Design Goals

I'm seeking out reviewers because I like to see my RPG stuff talked about and critiqued.

I don't write because I was bored or to make money, and even though I use the material I come up with, that's not why I self-publish everything.  The real reason I design RPG systems, campaign settings, and scenarios is because I want to share what's in my head with others who might like and want to use them.

So, if you're a blogger of minor renown or semi-professional reviewer, get in touch.  When I send out complimentary PDFs all I expect in return is an honest opinion (and for you to spell my name right).

What does this have to do with design goals?  Well, a prospective reviewer just asked if I had any specific goals written down anywhere because he intended to base his review upon what I was trying to achieve.  I can't remember ever hearing that before... but it's fucking brilliant!

Unfortunately, I didn't have specific criteria written down.  Sure, stray ideas and concepts of a nebulous fashion are strewn over hundreds of posts throughout the internet, but nothing codified, nothing in one place, nothing that can be periodically examined in order to determine if my work serves those goals.

Below is my attempt to summarize Kort'thalis Publishing's design goals.

1.  To provide enough information (setup, characters, action, etc.) so the GM can take the scene, room, or encounter and run with it.  That is, make it their own and propel the adventure forward in an interesting way.  I create the initial 85% and the GM (along with the players, to a lesser extent) supplies the last 15%.  Foundation + inspiration = the rest is up to you.

2.  To create a vibe, theme, mood, atmosphere, or aesthetic that includes the weird, dark, gonzo, sleazy, humorous and/or awesome.  Awesome is probably the most difficult to define, but let me put it this way - whatever I thought was really cool when I was 12... that's what I'm attempting to capture and present to the GM and players.

3.  To use a style of writing, artwork, and layout that presents the work in a clear, pleasing, and awesome way.  I want ideas to be understood by the GM so he can effectively use them.  Even though this is a part-time hobby, I want it to look professional.  And I also want the presentation to grab them by the balls and say, "look at this crazy shit over here!"

Many gamers will read the above and realize the obvious - Venger isn't making RPG stuff for me, he's got a different audience in mind.  If I could make everyone fall in love with everything I write, I would.  But I can't.  So, instead, I try to please myself.  Not because I'm an egotistical ass, but because I need to imagine what readers want and the best way to gauge what these theoretical gamers want is to find out what I want and extrapolate from there.

Those designing their own stuff?  I recommend you write down your goals.  Putting things down on paper will help.  And if it doesn't, then you should probably get out of the writing business.  ;)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Sound They Make

I frequently go back to the OSR well of wisdom that is Grognardia.  Sure, there are posts about stuff that means nothing to me and a few posts where I very much disagree with +James Maliszewski (to be expected as individuals and individualists vary), but more often than not I'm rewarded with a look back at vintage OSR.

In this blog post, I wanted to highlight a Grognardia blog post from October 30th, 2012 that I just discovered.  About halfway down, James describes an account from someone who attended Games Fair '83...

It's also reported that Gygax "horrified a few of the purists with one remark," namely that "a good referee only rolls the dice for the sound they make. He just decides what happens!" While that comment might have been surprising in 1983, it's pretty well known nowadays that Gary had a lot more of the "storytelling" style as a referee than many old schoolers would themselves countenance in their own games.

If you'll remember my fairly recent post about rule zero, Gygax's statement is about as zero-ish as it gets.  His advice does not hail from the halls of traditional play-styles nor story-gaming, in my view.  It is old school itself - that indefinable quality of roleplaying that's as primordial as it is inspirational, where the game runs on pure imagination and flows of its own accord, influenced by the player-characters and directed by the Game Master.

Dice are awesome and they have many uses - no one is disputing that.  However, it is the GM who ultimately makes the call, navigating the current, and slyly exercising his will.  As with dice rolled, players should have their input, too - just not at the expense of the singular presence in charge of the game.

While many still disagree, I believe the evidence suggests what master Game Masters have known all along - trust your instincts; don't be badgered into making an "authorized" ruling.  You are the rule of law!  To put it another way, use the force...

After all, 40 years ago today the original Star Wars debuted in theaters across the country.  Happy Birthday Episode IV: A New Hope, and many happy returns!


p.s.  I ran a quick one-shot of Alpha Blue today and will try to get a play report up in a day or two.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

O5R Player's Guide

It's been awhile since I've posted anything.  Sorry about that, I've been busy finishing up my trio of adventures for the Trinity of Awesome Returns Kickstarter.

Just got to look at the Crimson Dragon Slayer scenario, and I'm quite pleased with it.

Anyways, this post is for posing a question, specifically to the OSR crowd, though I'm more than happy to hear from D&D 5th edition gamers, as well as, those who enjoy fantasy roleplaying games without relying too much on bloated rules, complicated mechanical fiddly-bits, and anything that takes authority away from the Game Master.

While still adhering to the Old School Renaissance aesthetic/philosophy, what sorts of things would you want to see in a player's guide or player's handbook?  I'm talking about options, tools, features, anything that might improve the experience for a player.

Thanks in advance for answering!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

50 Shades of Vorpal review

"No one knows what offense the Taurian Empire gave to the Lich King, perhaps he was just being a dick."

I was not a part of the 50 sHAdes of VORpal kickstarter by Arthas Soulgazer (cool name), though I checked it after reading Tenkar's non-review last week.

Based on the kickstarter page and free preview on DriveThruRPG, I decided to give it a whirl.  Even if the whole thing is a pile of humorous excrement - at least it's funny!

Last night, I purchased the PDF for $5 and here is my impression...

Comparisons have been made with Encounter Critical.  While both games are comedic pranks on gamers, allowing readers to peek inside the fantasy heartbreaker minds of the authors, there are several differences.  Encounter Critical is a sophisticated, innovative, old school, labor of love by one or more slightly confused yet well-meaning amateurs.  It's meant to be a product of the mid-70's that reaches for the stars.

50 Shades of Vorpal comes from the mind of one or more contemporary dudes who purposefully set out to emulate something like old school Dungeons & Dragons, but way more juvenile, idiotic, and single-minded in its love of hack and slash.  It's like if HackMaster 4th edition were re-imagined by Beavis and Butthead.

While Encounter Critical and 50 Shades of Vorpal have similarities, they are completely different games with night and day approaches to the ultimate goal - making the awesomest parody game possible!  Although, this being 2016/2017, the latter not only wants to set down their idealized dreams of dark magic, deadly swords, and touching boobies in concrete, effectively cementing their glory in the halls of RPG fame and infamy - this is also clearly a way to make some cash.

Is there an actual system here, an actual RPG?  No, not really.  There's a bit of setting, a few monsters, loads of character classes and several races, but combat consists of adding a silly list of bonuses to a couple d30 rolls and comparing that with an opponent's ARMOR RANK.  If you hit, you do damage.  That's the core of the engine... pretty much the entire engine.  The rest is badly spelled window dressing like deth magic, preoccupation with loot, and sexism.

And that's part of the joke.  So many aspects of 50 Shades is phoned in that the game feels incomplete.  Various sections are blank, many earmarked with notations for adding future content - content that never actually made it into the book.  While that, too, is funny, after the first couple times, it loses something.

However, it is the attitude on display that provides the most humor.  Laser-focus on what makes an awesome character class and race shines a light on the worst gamer stereotypes.  But unlike the negative stereotypes which we, hopefully, don't embody, like living in our mom's basement well into our thirties and not showering regularly, 50 Shades brings up traits that are present, albeit in small quantities, in almost every gamer...

Awkward phrasing, typos, and combining tired fantasy cliches with not-well-thought-out flashes of inspiration all in the pursuit of that ever elusive awesomeness.  I've chased that particular crimson dragon myself on a thousand occasions.  The only difference is that my unsightly excretions get edited over and over again, or should I say flushed down the toilet of bad ideas implemented poorly.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading these 64 pages - including several blank pages - and got my money's worth.  Before I go, let me showcase a few of my favorite things from 50 Shades of Vorpal...

  • It uses a d30 because that's 10 more than a d20, reminding me of the amp that goes all the way up to 11 in This is Spinal Tap.
  • It has weapon coolness ratings based on how awesome someone looks when wielding a certain weapon.  
  • The illustrations - right out of high school study hall.  Most are decent in a youthful amateur hand-made kind of way, though some are actually fairly badass!
  • The never-solved divide between warriors and wizards.  Both sides feel they need to escalate the cold war and so each struggles to become even more ridiculously awesome.
  • Going further than explaining the rules or giving helpful advice, the text pretty much tells you what to think and occasionally comes up with raw truthisms such as, "Bosses get to boss."
  • Diving into the dark recesses of this male-dominated hobby with both feet.  Here's an over-the-top offering, "Female characters retire after making babies, so don't get pregnant.  This is a fantasy game, so you can't just go making stuff up that you didn't get pregnant when you really did."

Well, that's all for my review.  While neither version of Crimson Dragon Slayer goes anywhere near this level of awesome/awful, I was inspired to create a d30 random table for only the most "deth knight" kind of fantasy roleplaying!  Also, this!!!


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Alpha Blue session report: Don't Take Candy From Spacers

A few sessions have transpired since the last time I blogged about my weekly Alpha Blue campaign on Roll20.

So, this is going to be a quick and dirty, bullet-point wrap-up of everything that's transpired thus far...

  • The PCs, Katya and Miles Artemis, found themselves back on Alpha Blue.  They wandered into a melee combat arena and decided to pass on the guy selling his hot nuts in favor of sitting down and watching a man get beaten by some alien thing with tentacles.
  • Miles was not content to merely watch - there was money being offered to the man who could hold his own versus the best melee combatant in the galaxy - Syresh Vos!
  • A series of lucky rolls, plus the crafty use of his telepathy gave Miles the upper hand.  He knocked Syresh Vos out.  He won a bunch of credits and a sexy, green-skinned arena girl named Kiwi congratulated Miles by fellating him in front of the entire crowd.
  • While all that was going on, Katya was talking to a black-robed human who wanted both the PCs to come with him to see Grabba the butt - the reason was not revealed.
  • On the way out of the arena, a drunk spacer thought it would be a good idea to challenge the exhausted Miles to a laser duel.  Drunk guy got his trigger-hand blasted.
  • The PCs met up with the mysterious employee of Grabba the butt, a human named Fructis New Zaelyn. Miles and Katya were passengers on Fructis' ship as he took them to Grabba's pleasure palace on the desert planet P'oon.
  • When questioned, Fructis New Zaelyn told Miles and Ace VanHendrix, a zedi technician, (this was the start of the next session - lost Katya's player and gained Ricky's) and Fructis told them that Grabba the butt had a long-standing feud with Syresh Vos.
  • Just before reaching planetary orbit, a droid enters the cockpit and offers everyone a drink.  Miles takes a can of Purple Prizm, opens it, and it fizzes all over his space khakis.  A beautiful, blue-skinned female takes Miles' pants so they can be washed.  
  • Upon landing on P'oon, some revolutionary forces attack the ship with lasers.  Fructis gets out with the intention of fighting them off, then realizes there's, like, a dozen of them.  He uses his jetback to get the fuck out of there, leaving the PCs on their own.
  • Miles and Ace surrender rather than face a dozen armed rebels.  The desert revolutionaries take the PCs to their base and offer them a deal - give this blue-colored elixir to Grabba and be free or refuse and die.
  • Obviously, they agree to present Grabba the butt with the elixir. Miles still doesn't have any pants on.
  • A pale, tentacled humanoid comes to the door when Miles and Ace knock on the pleasure palace door.  He shows them to Grabba's secretary who then takes them to Grabba's main audience chamber where a full-scale feast is going on.
  • Grabba the butt is pleased with the PCs.  They made Syresh Vos look the fool and seem capable of handling some illicit jobs that Grabba needs done.  Miles still isn't wearing any pants.
  • Ace pretends to take a swig from the elixir and then offers it to Grabba.  Cliffhanger!
  • New session with Ace VanHendrix, Katya is back, and total Alpha Blue noob Badger who is playing an evangelical robot who can't pass up vice.  The robot's name is Reverend Screw-Loose, but that seems like a lot of work, so I called him Mr. Robot for most of the session.
  • Ace rolled decent in trying to convince Grabba that it was perfectly safe to drink the elixir, so Grabba gave it to his royal taster before taking a drink himself.
  • Suddenly, the entire complex shook with the force of an earthquake - someone was shooting their laser cannons at Grabba's pleasure palace.  Luckily the defensive shields diminished the blast.
  • Syresh Vos came down in an attack ship, attempting to take out his crime lord rival.  It wasn't long before Vos and several of his underlings were inside the palace shooting people and looking for Grabba.
  • One of the PCs looked outside the window to see if there was a way out, but all they could see was a sarlacc moat encircling the entire palace.
  • There was a massive laser-fight between team Vos and team Grabba, since both had similar forces.  The PCs were in the middle - Mr. Robot hid, Ace was determined to take out Grabba, and Katya was shooting at Vos.  It was a glorious clusterfuck!
  • Grabba made his escape in a secret starship at the back of his pleasure palace.  The PCs jumped into the back of that ship just before the door closed.
  • There were two guards and no sign of Grabba (he was moved to a safer section of the ship).  
  • From a window, everyone watched as Grabba's palace went up in a huge explosion!
  • Then a couple of sexy alien girls came in and Ace decided to take out the guards single-handed.  He killed one and the second guard got him, knocking him unconscious and bleeding out.  That last guard was about to throw Ace's body out of the airlock when Mr. Robot intervened - throwing the guard out and saving Ace from certain death.  
  • Katya, being a medic, patched Ace up while Mr. Robot charmed the alien women.
  • The strange women took Mr. Robot to their cabin, offered him a seat on their translucent blue beanbags, and then asked if he wanted to have sex... but that's where we had to end the session.
These bullet-points get the job done of telling the story, but they leave out all the little details like Mr. Robot flirting with Katya and various side-jokes.  Oh well, for the full effect, you've really got to be there - and therein lies the entire point of roleplaying.  It's a personal, deep, intimate kind of game with layers and subtly that board, card, and computer games just can't match.

Before I go, just want to remind everyone that Guarding Galaxy XXX was just released.  This FREE scenario will introduce gamers to my sleazy scifi RPG Alpha Blue.  Just read all the stellar reviews... oh wait, there aren't any.  Hey, review that shit, hoss!  Much obliged.  ;)


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Guarding Galaxy XXX

Mmm mm - look at that sexy cover for Guarding Galaxy XXX!

Remember this?  Seems like only yesterday.  Consider the updated PDF a "volume 2" to what I erringly called Guardians of Galaxy XXX.

Guarding Galaxy XXX is better because this time I won't be locked in a Disney jail cell underneath Space Mountain.  So, buy it... wait, this thing is free.  Free, you say?  What the fuck?!?  And after I paid all that money for artwork... my wife is going to kill me.

Anyway, take a chance on this raunchy scifi adventure for Alpha Blue, though easily adaptable to the RPG system of your choice.

If you've never tried sleazy, 70's scifi that's about as funny as a thermal detonator to the balls (hang about, that doesn't sound funny at all!) this will give you an idea of what it's about.


p.s.  I'd like to take a moment to thank Steve Wieck for his assistance in getting this better and less incarceration-y version of the PDF back onto DriveThruRPG.  If I was too harsh on One Book Shelf and/or Steve Wieck, let this post-script build space bridges and mend star fences.  I appreciate everyone's understanding and professionalism.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Guardians of Galaxy XXX

EDIT:  Guardians of Galaxy XXX is no longer available on DriveThruRPG.  Apparently, my faith in One Book Shelf was misplaced.  I emailed Steve Wieck to confirm that everything was OK, only to discover that he has no interest in protecting my rights as an artist, comedian, and peddler of RPG filth.

RE-EDIT:  Steve Wieck and I have worked out a compromise.  I'm drastically altering the cover and slightly changing the name to Guarding Galaxy XXX.  Should be back up on DriveThruRPG tomorrow.  

I wanted to do something special to celebrate the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 movie while also promoting my independent sleazy scifi RPG Alpha Blue.

Guardians of Galaxy XXX does both!  It's an homage to several established space opera franchises while also being a porn parody.  People have been making art directly inspired by popular media since the beginning of time, so I'm confident with the precedent that has been set.

Having said that, this title is suspiciously difficult to find on DriveThru.  There's nothing on the main page and even typing the full title into the search bar yields no results.  So, just in case I'm wrong - download your FREE Guardians of Galaxy XXX PDF before it gets expunged from the internets!

And here it is on Dropbox... cause you never know.

So, what is Guardians of Galaxy XXX?  It's a 10 page Alpha Blue adventure of high risk and high reward that lampoons quite a few recognizable scifi films - it's funny, dangerous, sexy, weird, and in bad taste.  What's not to love?

This is a freebie, so if you enjoy Guardians of Galaxy XXX, please do one or more of the following... review it, blog about it, chat about it, share it with friends, run games with it, and purchase other books from Kort'thalis Publishing.

Thank you,

Venger As'Nas Satanis
(Space) High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Let's play some Q'uay-Q'uar!

What started as a passing thought - wouldn't it be cool to have a totally made-up "space casino" game for gamblers in my sleazy scifi RPG Alpha Blue - has now become a reality.

It's called Q'uay-Q'uar; translated, it means "purple and yellow" in the Q'tari language.  Some play for fun, others for cold hard credits, and for a rare few... it's the difference between life and death.

Not totally happy with how it played (or looked) in the prototype stage, I asked +MonkeyBlood Design (Glynn Seal) to create an awesome looking board, and then I made up the rules to go with what he put in front of me.  It was a bit of a challenge, but I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

Q'uay-Q'uar will be available with the upcoming Alpha Blue scenario High Stakes Q'uay-Q'uar landing June 1st.

Below is a video of my eldest daughter and I playing a quick game.  We played quite a bit over the last couple days - my next eldest daughter, as well.  There's a surprising amount of latitude for such a simplistic diversion.

Thanks for reading and watching,


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rule Zero: Final Arbiter

I stirred up quite a bit of dust... and some mud, apparently, in last week's blog post about fudging.  That's ok, just means there was something there and some of it was wet.

Rule zero is related to "fudging," or occasionally nudging reality in certain directions (also known as magic).  If the ability to question and interpret results as the GM sees fit is the gun, then rule zero is the ammunition.

The dice are my co-pilots.  I like to have them around - I find them useful.  However, they don't own me.  Similarly, I can't GM without players; they are necessary.  But I won't be their bitch because I'm the fucking boss!  At the same time, players shouldn't be expected to bend the knee every time the GM opens his mouth.

Before we get into this article, what is rule zero?  From scouring the internet and being involved in the roleplaying hobby for 32 years, I believe it's a combination of the following three principles...

  • The Game Master is the final and absolute authority when it comes to running the game.
  • Roleplaying games are entertainment.  Your goal as a group is to make sure you have as much fun as possible.
  • The rules of any roleplaying game are simply the best guidelines the author(s) could come up with.  You bought the book, so it's your game now.  If you don't like a particular rule, change it.

Now, a few people don't cotton to the above.  They find it to be an affront to player liberties, fair play, game designer accountability, the concreteness of in-game reality, and probably a bunch of other stuff.

As you probably guessed, I'm with the majority on rule zero.  It's not only a good thing, it's required if one desires to consistently run good sessions.

Let's look at the first one.  The boss has to be given the opportunity to be the boss.  Whoever's in charge, he's got to have the authority to do what needs to be done, and is considered to be "the final arbiter of the rules," as Gary Gygax wrote.

To me, it would be like managing a store with the store's employees on equal footing, dictating store policy to the manager.  That's about as helpful to the manager as having the store's owner constantly over his shoulder, telling the manager what he can and can't do with his store.

Game Mastering is a lot of work.  It takes time, energy, and skill.  Granted, not everyone is awesome at it, but that doesn't mean that all GMs must submit to a particular style, constant debate, or decisions brought before some kind of player council and possibly overruled.  Personally, I will not run the game if I'm forced to GM a certain way - unless you're paying me, and even then, I can't say for sure.

Obviously, if the GM is either a total asshole or on a massive power trip, he doesn't deserve great players.  Flagrant abuse should not be tolerated.  You'll know it when you see it - the GM has to invoke rule zero several times per session, every session either because there's no consistency whatsoever or he has absolutely no interest in allowing the game to evolve organically.  Plus, you know, ego-maniacal jerk wad.

When it comes to house-rules, rule zero is not an excuse for game designers to be lazy or for a game's audience to accept a faulty system.  On the other hand, no RPG book is ever perfect enough to accommodate 100% of those using it to play the game.  Altered rules aren't an admission that a game is broken or the table isn't capable of understanding the designer's intent.

In fact, RPGs were made to change over time, to suit the idiosyncrasies and whims of those playing them.  The way an RPG is played depends on a dozen factors, and their open-ended nature is the best feature.  As a frequent GM, I like to be surprised, too.  And I like to surprise myself, the players, and those fucking dice.  That's why I allow myself the possibility for ignoring the dice.  Nothing is off the table.

Don't like how your GM is running the game?  Run your own game.  That's how many of us got started.  If you want to be hamstrung with red tape, bureaucracy, demanding players, and a lot of armchair theorizing on what constitutes acceptable GMing protocol, then by all means.  Have at it, hoss!

If you've got something more to say about "fudging," do it on the other blog post.  If you want to discuss rule zero, go right ahead.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Alpha Blue Campaign Manager

Remember when I was talking about keeping track of all those scifi references?

This here is a sheet of incredibly fancy paper that you can print out and take notes on.

Collect data regarding your campaign's name, key locations, prominent NPCs, influences and details... all that fun stuff!

It's FREE, so go ahead and download it from DriveThruRPG / RPGNow.

The "Alpha Blue Campaign Manager" will also be included in the upcoming scenario High Stakes Q'uay Q'uar, but now's your chance to get it early.

Have a good week,


Thursday, April 13, 2017

There's No Such Thing as Fudging

From time to time, I read articles, blog posts, and forum discussions on the topic of "fudging."

In RPGs, fudging is when you alter an outcome that has already been determined by the dice rolled.

Just yesterday, I read another post about this particular practice.  Not only did the "feel bad about yourself" thing make me wince (don't ever feel bad about yourself when gaming), but I disagreed with the basic premise behind fudging.

I mean, fudge is supposed to be delicious.  You can combine it with nuts (as shown), peanut butter, and all kinds of yummy stuff.  So, if you want to keep referring to it as "fudging," then let it a positive thing, a force for good in the universe.

If I actually bothered to put people into circles, I'd put +Zak Sabbath in the same circle as RPGpundit aka +Kasimir Urbanski - people who I respect for their many contributions in the RPG industry, but radically diverge from their opinions on various subjects.  I have a lot in common with both, yet in many ways we're extremely different.

Anyways, this article is my own interpretation of fudging - that there's actually no such thing.  FYI, you can dive even deeper into my philosophy with How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss and Play Your Character Like A Fucking Boss.  Enjoy!

Nudge, Not Fudge

Like most gamers, I frequently use the result of dice rolls to gauge what occurs in a session that I'm running.  Dice are a very useful and obvious way to find out what's happening.  It's expected.  The players look to the GM and the GM looks to the dice.  Everyone wants to know - does that guy hit, does the other guy miss, will the trap take your character's hand off?

The dice are like an oracle.  They know things.  They even have the benefit of know things that I don't.  The dice reveal, inspire, obscure, and resolve.  In some ways, they are the Game Master's greatest assistant.  And yet, the dice occasionally fall short.  After all, even oracles make mistakes... usually, because they don't know the full story.

If I choose to, I'm perfectly happy allowing the dice to determine pretty much all the randomness within a game.  I liken it to putting a ship on autopilot.  Autopilot is capable of handling the normal procedures of take-off, landing, and getting from here to there.  Unless there's an issue, autopilot - or the dice, in this analogy - are just fine adjudicating all the important decisions.

If there's an asteroid field in the way, I'm not just going to sit idly by and let the ship's autopilot muddle through as best it can.  No, I'm going to grab the wheel and steer, maneuvering in whatever manner I see fit.  I believe that's what Game Mastering is all about.

Similarly, issues crops up throughout a campaign.  Maybe it's a problem with continuity, realism, story, pacing, etc.  The last three encounters all turned into fights for various reasons, and I roll the dice, coming up with a negative reaction roll.  Is it going to be yet another battle to the death?  Well, that's for me to decide, ultimately.  Same goes with little things in combat - when the dice are supposed to matter most... and they do.  Nevertheless, I have the final say.  The ogre may have too many hit points, those orcs might have too few, Percival misses his saving throw by one, and so on...

That's when I decide to intervene, putting my oar in the water... to shape the game's reality because it's going to make the game better or more in-tune with my personal vision.  Let me be clear, my unorthodox interpretation or undue influence (depending on your view) is not always to the players' advantage.  Sometimes, it goes against them.  I strike a balance between the two, when possible, nudging the narrative in certain directions.  Again, that's my prerogative as Game Master.

Amidst the aftermath, if the game was ho-hum and the players didn't have fun, I'm not going to sit there behind the screen and blame the dice.  Nope, if the game sucks, it's the Game Master's fault.  Even if it's not really his fault, that's the impression.  The buck stops here!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Alpha Blue session report: The Nuts on Zeta Minor

Want to make things happen?  Start small, do what you do (which is hopefully what you love), and keep at it, little by little.  Sustained effort.

That's how you build an audience, a player pool, a long-term campaign...

So, I ran five players through another 90 minute Alpha Blue session on Roll20.  To give you some idea, I've run probably a dozen sessions on Roll20, all Alpha Blue.  Once I had a single player and once I had three, the rest were all two-player games.

There's no way I can transcribe the chat log faithfully without it taking me hours and hours, so I'm just going to summarize, showcase bits here and there - the highlights!

The cast of characters...

  • Miles Artemis (male) - human telepathic space pirate
  • Dask Jorana (male) - human space pirate and mutant with ice powers and a love of brains (eating them)
  • Saga Vortau (female) - human performer and prostitute who wants to be famous
  • Lexina (female) - human gambler and mutant with snake DNA
  • Katya Vosdil (female) - human medic who gets lucky when she needs it

Opening Crawl

All of you were contacted by a temp agency calling itself Universal Exploits.  They need a few expendable spacers to investigate troubles on the planet Zeta Minor.  Universal Exploits doesn't believe in specifics and they pay triple for dead teammates... that's all you need to know.

You're currently flying in a starship called The Nuts on route to Zeta Minor.  

It's going to take a couple hours before you're in planetary orbit.

Settling In & Small Talk

Dask:  Who is piloting The Nuts?

GM:  It's on autopilot.

Lexina:  Do we have a holo-deck or some entertainment center?

Katya:  I will be in whatever passes for a lounge on the ship, checking medical kit and making sure no one is a cop.

Miles:  I'll be greeting my fellow companions while drinking from my flask and offering a swig to each one I greet.

GM:  There is entertainment aboard The Nuts.  Three-dimensional chess, miniature holographic creature battles, and your own private lounge called Moonglow & Stardust (it came with the ship when you bought it).

The ship came with its own droid, too.  He looks like C3-PO, except he's shiny and sparkly blue.  The droid is unpacking a crate in the lounge, something he found in the cargo hold.  "One of Captain Urez's leftovers from his tour of duty in the clone war."

Saga:  I'm going over to take a closer look at the contents.

GM:  There's a thousand little styrofoam peanuts all over the place; underneath is some kind of sexbot.

Proximity Warning

The Nuts' crew talks amongst themselves about the sexbot, gambling debts, seeking adventure, and Zeta Minor (it's rich in blue crystal) when suddenly the ship is on alert - something approaches!

It's a klingon warship.

Since Lexina speaks Klingon, she does her best to persuade the klingons to back off.  Nope, they want to board The Nuts and make sure the crew is who they say they are (on a mission from some high-up klingon that Lexina remembers hearing about).

Long story short, The Nuts tries to get the hell out of there - but not before Lexina grabs the weapon controls and starts firing.  She rolls a 19 on the ship-to-ship combat table found in Girls Gone Rogue.  The klingon ship is heavily damaged and the crew are dead.  

Time to loot the warship!  Just as they find some nifty body armor, small noises are heard.  Something is rummaging around the debris.  Face huggers!

Almost all of the alien organisms are destroyed, but one hugs onto Dask's face.  Everyone who went aboard the klingon ship races back to The Nuts, which promptly lands on Zeta Minor.


Miles lands their ship, but his controls are jammed with raspberry.  A couple of rough looking spacers are coming up the landing gantry with laser rifles.  They want everyone out so they can steal the ship.

Meanwhile, the face hugger has fallen off Dask's face and his stomach isn't feeling too good.  What bursts out is, in fact, space herpes!  Dask just barely makes his saving throw, which means he survives but is unconscious for awhile.

There's a shootout with the spacers trying to steal The Nuts.  Katya deals out the most damage, eventually killing the space thieves.  


That's about it.  Hope you enjoyed reading about the latest adventure in deep space!

There's a fine line between moving onto the next scene and wanting to preserve those little moments where characters are interacting with each other and the world.  

Squeeze too much and you're wasting time on spent fruit... squeeze too little and you may be throwing away the best parts.  Finding that balance is key.


p.s.  Just lowered the price on Alpha Blue softcovers - fancy, thick cream-colored paper.  But it here for a better deal!