Monday, December 30, 2013

Save versus Purple

The Purple-Haunted Putrescence isn't just part of my 2nd module's name... it also happens to be a gargantuan monstrosity spawned by the unholy union betwixt Yogsoggoth and the mother of all purple slimes!  Those unlucky enough to be caught beneath the massive, tentacled, open-mawed ooze as it wafts dreamily above the islands' surface must save vs. purple.

Save versus purple?!?  Why?  How?  Where?  What does it mean to be purpled by this godlike abomination?  Have you ever imagined a purpling effect happening to one of your characters?  And in what Lovecraftian universe?

Even though I have a pretty good idea [see the image above/right], I would love to see it through your artistic eyes... to understand it via your uncompromising description and philosophical musings.  I'm giving away two The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence PDFs, one for coolest art and the second for awesomest writing.

If a submission is used somewhere in the book, assuming permission is granted for me to include it, then credit will be given, as well as, a signed copy of the book.  Thanks for participating in this brain-tank-think-storming-group session!

Happy New Year,


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Purple kickstarter update

This kickstarter update will give you all the latest details!

To the right are rudimentary blocking sketches showing the various approaches and perspectives the new cover could take.  Have a favorite?  Let me know...



p.s.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

& It Was Advanced!

Hey guys,

Merry Christmas!  Just wanted to share another little interview (it never rains but it pours) where I talk more about gaming, Kort'thalis Publishing, and what's on the horizon.

Thanks for reading!


p.s.  Tonight, I finally got to watch the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons episode from the Community tv show.  Probably the best present I could have received.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Black Lotus Kult interviews VS

As some of you may already know, I didn't just awaken from a cryo-stasis chamber a year ago and immediately start scribbling weird sci-fantasy roleplaying stuff all over the internet.  Venger has a past.

This right here is an interview I did with the Black Lotus Kult to help promote The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence kickstarter.  Ariock, the guy who interviewed me, wanted me to discuss the Cthulhu Cult (an actual religion I founded back in 2004) and my recent OSR projects.

So, if you're interested in delving a little bit deeper into who I am and what I'm about, then delve away!  If not, that's ok, too.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Deflected by Flashing Steel

This idea came from an online conversation "Save versus Sword!!" at Original D&D Discussion here.  I'd like to thank snakeeyes and Azafuse for the initial idea.  deadDMwalking and Exploderwizard from TheRPGsite helped me work out the kinks.  Here's my submission...

If a fighter is wielding a magic sword, he's able to deflect an amount of damage equal to the sword's enhancement (count the sword's highest plus possible), in addition to, the fighter's level to reduce damage. 

This applies to only fighters or straight-up warriors, no ranger, cavalier, barbarian, or paladin fighter sub-class types.  GMs can decide how narrowly they want to define the word "sword" in their campaign.  

This special maneuver is usable once per day and in response to any weapon, attack, or act of god - an arrow shot from a bow to a red dragon's fiery breath... even falling rocks during a cave-in.  The only thing for which there would be no possible defense is direct contact with a sphere of annihilation. The fighter does not have to be aware of the threat or danger in order to make use of flashing steel deflection.  However, utilization must be announced before damage is rolled (or after the GM rolls but before the player knows the extent of his character's wound).

This is not an automatic ability.  A religious battle-ritual must be performed by the fighter while his magic sword is wrapped in a crimson sheet or blanket... frequently a blood-soaked shroud.  If the fighter does not currently worship a deity of war (combat, battle, crusades, etc.), then a quest must also be completed before the feat is bestowed upon him.  Henceforth, the character may be recognized as a Templar Knight.

If the fighter forges (or re-forges) his own sword, with specific runes of war worked into the blade, then he may also include his strength modifier (the larger number if there's a discrepancy) in the deflection, as long as, that particular sword is enchanted, infused with magic, or blessed / made sacred by a war-god worshiping cleric.

Note, when a fighter falls out of favor with the god(s) of war or a magical sword is brandished which has not been through the blood-shroud ceremony, the maneuver cannot be performed as intended.

For example, if a 6th level fighter, Carr, with a +1 bastard sword, +3 vs. dragons is about to be slashed in twain by a giant mutated claw, the PC can elect to (partially) deflect said blow by 9 points of damage [11 assuming the character forged his own rune-sword and his strength bonus was +2].  

"I use Espada Bastardo to impede the creature's claw attack."  

"Very well,"  says the GM as he rolls a few dice.  "The mutant crab is thwarted to a degree.  Carr would have taken 25 points of damage, but instead takes only 16."

It may not be much, and the Templar Knight in question might still die, but at least his extraordinary blade gives him a chance of survival.


p.s.  See this in its own slick PDF!  Give me feedback please.  Thanks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kickstarter update!

Thanks for your active interest and participation in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence!  I really appreciate the support.  You can bet that it'll be the adventure of a lifetime.

BTW, (the whole purpose of this post) I added a bunch of new stuff, more pages for the initial funding, a helpful FAQ with teaser content that explains a bit of what the module is about, and new rewards!  So, please take another look.  Also, share it with others who might be into weird-fantasy with scifi, gonzo, and Lovecraftian tones.

If you're interested in LotDS or the Baleful Sorcerer, then look to your right.  Click on the covers and you'll be whisked away to RPGNow.  Feel free to post reviews and/or tales of awesomeness and woe.


p.s.  The picture is from one of my primary motivations, the early 80's movie Heavy Metal.  If you've never seen it (or it's been a while) do yourself a favor and watch it.  The only film I can name that contains all 4 of Venger's major food groups:  scifi, fantasy, horror, and exploitation!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

The time has come...

Kickstarter + Kort'thalis Publishing = The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

Sounds like a fairly straightforward equation, right?  Well, I'm sure there will be bumps along the road.  Thanks in advance to those who take this journey with me.  If you have questions, please post them here.

Take a look at the cover art I already purchased from Faustie (he did the LotDS cover, too)  I also plan on using Dyson for the dungeon cartography, Paul Allen for a lot of the interior illustrations, Ed Wedig for the layout, and lots of sword-and-sorcery pulp stories for inspiration.

This sophomore effort should be even weirder, if not better than Liberation of the Demon Slayer, and hopefully you're already enjoying the free, old school character class, The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha.  Ok, wish me luck!

*  *  *

What is this "Purple-Haunted Putrescence" of which you speak?

Here's a taste...
The Purple-Haunted Putrescence is a nebulous mass of tentacles, gaping orifices, and decay about 2 miles in breadth by 3 miles in width. It's a sentient being of dribbling, putrid, gelatinous, filth drifting between 30 - 50 feet above the islands like a malignant cloud of purple ooze; sometimes seeking victims to devour, other times attempting to communicate with inhabitants, or simply observing the life it may one day consume. Worshipers call it The Thing That Rots From They Sky.
Even inattentive adventurers will notice the purple-stained hands of cultists who worship The Thing That Rots From The Sky as god. The purple stain comes from squirming protoplasmic matter infrequently excreted from the putrescence itself. Cultists eagerly scoop up the translucent semi-fluid, its juice-secreting substance staining their bare hands. Cultists drop the excrement in the Pit of Yuzklatan in hopes of spawning a new Thing That Rots From The Sky in the next aeon.
A few choose to imbibe it. Most die; however, some become carriers of putrescent visions... prophets of the purple! All subservient to the Arch-Acolyte, of course. 

Arch-Acolyte Yiksha Saleece is the cult's spiritual leader. He's as old as he is cunning, having received revelations from the Thing generations ago when Yiksha was only a boy. Those prophecies were set down upon several scrolls by a long-forgotten scribe. Since those early years, Yiksha Saleece is recognized as messiah of the Purple-Haunted Putrescence. 

The prophecy of Yuzklatan, recorded upon purple juice-writ parchment and concealed within Yiksha's tent, speak of a time when The Thing That Rots From The Sky grows old and feeble, requiring an heir of its own ilk. When a purple spawn shall be created from small bits of the god itself, gathered at a time when it is healthy. In return for assisting the Thing's renewal, worshipers will eventually become part of this new, younger deity. The original, pre-translated word for this process of self-deification is "Yuzklatan". 

Various belief systems regarding the Purple-Haunted Putrescence 

1. Aeons ago, the Purple-Haunted Putrescence was flushed out of a space craft, drifted through a radioactive nebula, and landed in some kind of primordial ooze. 

2. It developed from a biological weapon, used on another planet to subdue a citizenry on the brink of revolution. 

3. The Purple-Haunted Putrescence is indeed divine, though a lesser god compared with Yazag-Thoth. 

4. This rotting monstrosity was conjured from the abyss by three sorcerers; they were promptly immolated as it shuddered and dripped from a gateway bathed in violet flame.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha

If you've ever wanted to play a swarthy, silk-clad sorcerer from a Clark Ashton Smith or Robert E. Howard story, then look no further... The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha is up on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow for FREE!!!

I wanted to thank everyone for purchasing Liberation of the Demon Slayer by making this new sorcerer class available to all those GMs and players searching for something a little different.  And a special thanks (as mentioned at the front of this brief tome) goes out to all those who furnished me with helpful tips and good advice.  I appreciated it.

Also, please post your feedback!


p.s.  If, for any reason, you'd like a larger file size of the cover image, shoot me an email.  Specify PDF or JPG.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Doctor Who Convention

Was thinking about titling this post: A Doctor I Barely Recognize or The Internet Did Not Break.  Who knows, I might still change it...

Before we go any further, know ye this: I'm a fan of the old series.  I'm a dinosaur, a grognard, and a 39 year old vintage relishing nostalgia whore.  I'd rather be watching The Talons of Weng-Chiang than doing practically anything.  I'm into "scifi gothic" from the 70's and 80's, don't you know.

Got back last night from the Chicago TARDIS Doctor Who convention.  Heard about it months ago through a local geek meetup website - those things are useful because there's a lot of stuff one doesn't hear or read about if they're living a semi-normal, occasional geek lifestyle.  Maybe I should have gotten a free subscription to Entertainment Weekly years ago?

Decided to make a short family vacation out of it.  I'm sure my wife pressuring me into taking her and the kids had almost nothing to do with it.  Not because she likes Doctor Who, of course (though she did pretend to enjoy Jon Pertwee running all over Peladon before getting pregnant with our first child), but because it meant a weekend out of the house, in a nice hotel, and why should I get to go off and have fun while she takes care of our two young children for three days.

The trip to Chicago (just outside, actually) from Madison (Sun Prairie, technically) wasn't too bad.  About two and a half hours.  Due to my wife's negotiating with the hotel manager - the art of badgering men with her constant barrage of demands (I'm mostly kidding) - we had a very nice, very large corner room for an extremely reasonable price.  I knew sleeping with both kids in the room was going to be tricky.  More on that later.

After check-in and registration (Nicola Bryant rushed past the line I was in at one point), I got to see a panel of Paul McGann and his companion from the 1996 made-for-TV movie.  So many people were fawning over the movie, saying how great it was, how it changed their lives, gave them hope, thought that he was their favorite Doctor, and so on.  Well, I finally decided to watch it with my wife the night before we left for the convention.  I had low expectations which is why I'd never seen it until then.

Forgive me it you're one of the many (apparently) who love it, but I thought it was terrible.  Riddled with mistakes - from not bothering to get the audience involved with the minor characters before the action starts to... it's pretty much all bad.  However, I thought some of the acting was good.  Paul McGann did a fine job, and his companion was decent and pretty.  Anyways, I'm not surprised that Doctor Who didn't take off again after that sad pile of Gallifreyan fluff.

Beyond that, the moderator, audience, and McGann were talking about something called Night of the Doctor which apparently was six minutes of heaven for anyone who ever enjoyed scifi.  I had never heard of it until then, but a lot of conversation evolved around that mini-sode or however its categorized.

Onto the next!  Accidentally ran into Michael Jayston who played the Valeyard back in the Trial of a Timelord era.  We briefly talked about local restaurants before I recognized him.  My wife said his breath smelled of booze and both of us spotted him smoking a cigarette outside the hotel at multiple points in our 24 hour convention experience.  So, he aged quite a bit, and for good reason.  Shook his hand, and got a less than crystal clear picture with him.

There was a "Dalek Alley" which was pretty cool.  A lot of prop and replica Daleks for all to see.  A nice little photo-op which I took advantage of.  Also, got to have my voice Dalek-ized with a computer simulation of some modulation whatever.  It's been a long time since I spoke nerd or geek fluently.

I saw a fair amount of costumes.  And not just people dressed like Tom Baker.  I saw an old school Cyberman, Ice Warrior, the Master as played by Anthony Ainley, some dude walking around with a mobile K-9, and a bunch of stuff from McCoy on, of which I've never been much of a fan.

Sleeping was hell.  I went to bed extra early (probably around 8pm) because I knew that all four of us in one big room was going to be nightmarish.  Unfortunately, I missed out on a 50th anniversary party downstairs and probably some other cool stuff.  I felt bad about just leaving my wife to struggle with the kids while I went off to carouse.

Next morning came early, but was eventually filled with Briella going swimming with Mom while I wandered around the lobby with Illyria who just turned 1.  More pictures!  Also, my wife and I decided to cut the trip short and leave mid-afternoon, even though I bought tickets for the whole weekend.  The hotel was very accommodating and let us leave early without having to pay for Saturday night.

Listened to Dick Mills give his one millionth talk on making those classic Doctor Who sounds like the Tardis landing, ray guns firing, and the cloister bell.

Finally got to see Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sarah Sutton, and Nicola Bryant talk about various things.  Found out about a 30 or so minute 50th anniversary "film" which was (again!) news to me.  The Five-ish Doctors it's called.  Apparently, that was also mind blowing!

By now I am sick and tired of hearing that "the internet broke".  These moderators obviously don't know how niche this stuff is.  Even a casual fan like myself (20 years ago I would have classified myself as a super-fan) never even knew this stuff existed.

So, a lot of talk about that, some about the new series - of which I've only seen bits and pieces, except for the real BBC 50th anniversary special which was pretty awesome (I thought Tom Baker was dead) - and quite a bit about those "radio dramas".  Apparently, those are still going on.  Back when Doctor Who had been cancelled, I tried listening to those (twice!) but just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it.  Nevertheless, there were several applause breaks for Big Finish.

Before leaving for WI, I went back into the hotel to pee and get change for those god awful tolls.  On my way to the restroom, I walked by Sarah Sutton.  I smiled, said "Hey", and extended my arm.  She feigned a weak smile, knowing she was going to be forced to shake my hand (which she did), and then scampered off to who knows where as I relieved my bladder (in the men's room, not in the hallway as she was planning her escape).  Afterwards, I convinced myself that it was my own resemblance to the Master which made her uneasy.

You wouldn't think I'd be so happy to sleep in my own bed after just one night away... but I was.  We all were.  I'd never been to a Doctor Who convention.  As you can probably tell, I'm not really a convention kind of guy (fan, geek, whatever).  But, since it was the 50th, and happening less than three hours away, I felt it was something I should do at least once.

Next time, and my wife is in full agreement, I go alone.


p.s.  Oh yeah, I also bought a couple Dalek t-shirts and a pink My Little Pony patch for our 2 3/4 year old.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

D&D Ouija or RPG Witch-Board

I made this a week or two ago with a bass wood frame from Michael's, wood burner, "fruit wood" stain, and some satin sealer/varnish.  Oh yeah, last night I added some felt on the bottom (sticky on one side) so it wouldn't scratch my gaming table.

What the hell is it for?  Injecting additional random weirdness into my old school fantasy roleplaying!

How does it work?  Infrequently, the GM and players may roll in the dice tray full of infernal sigils.  If dice of a certain denomination, color, or resulting number lands on a particular symbol, then crazy stuff happen.

There's a sigil for sorcery, secrets, bloodshed, fortune, ruin, etc.  Kind of like Tarot cards... you never know exactly what you're going to get, if it's good or bad, or how that archetype/concept will be interpreted by the GM.  Of course, characters will probably have a unique reaction depending on contextual factors like environment, personality, history, class, level, etc.

As the video shows, I've only used it once, but that was enough to know that the D&D Ouija (or RPG Witch-Board, if you prefer) is an absolute game changer.  Folks on youtube have suggested using it for character creation as well.

Another picture...

Thanks for looking, reading, watching, and commenting.  I appreciate your feedback!


p.s.  These aren't too hard to replicate, but if you want your own custom D&D Ouija, let me know.  I make one for $70 plus shipping.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Carcosa Review

I didn't expect this to go live until next week, but here's my review of Carcosa published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

While not to everyone's taste, this splendiferous tome has a coveted place upon my gaming bookshelf.  I won't let players touch it, won't even allow them to gaze upon my precious for a moment...


p.s.  I found this Carcosa addendum which has some cool stuff like infernal pigment for Bone Men wanting to disguise themselves as other races!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea review

Here is my review of AS&SH.

Some old school renaissance fantasy RPGs (at least the core rules) don't include a rich, evocative setting in which to place these fantastic adventures.  AS&SH succeeds on that front.

In fact, I had the opportunity to run a one-shot over the weekend.  I used Swords & Wizardry as the base for character creation and rules, Dungeon Crawl Classics for the mercurial magic (the artwork is also impressive), and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as the wintery, alien backdrop.  It worked very well.

I'll be writing/posting more OSR reviews in the near future as I believe they get less attention than deserved, living, as they do, in the shadow of Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, etc.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baleful Sorcerers for Fantasy RPGs

I'm familiar with 20th century sword and sorcery pulp, but there are many holes in my learning... and, alas, there are many stories I've only read once years ago.  Last night, I began a weird tale that gripped me like few others, keeping me in its rapacious grasp until the very end.  This short story was, "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith.  In all seriousness, it was one of the best dark fantasy stories I've ever read.

It also compelled me to re-think the traditional RPG wizard character class.  The following is what I came up with...

[Check out the finished product here.]

The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha character class

Relative to ordinary man, the baleful sorcerer of Tsathag’kha is extremely powerful… but his power comes at a terrible price!  Taught his wicked ways by those who worship the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, this sorcerer is familiar with the living dead, poison, certain edged weapons, and a concise selection of spells. 

His spells total nine.  They are listed from easiest to hardest in difficulty and potency.  At first level, the sorcerer knows spell #1.  At second level, he understands #2, and so on… each advancement bringing a new fragment of arcane lore.  For example, at 1st level a baleful sorcerer would only be able to cast discern magic.  Upon reaching 3rd level, he would have access to discern magic, sacrosanct, and deception.

Due to the particular nature of certain campaigns, the GM might want to swap the advancement of one spell for another.  For instance, the party’s survival could depend upon offensive magic.  If the baleful sorcerer is the sole magic-user, and of 4th level, the GM can choose to grant Ichorous Inferno to the character upon reaching 5th level, leaving Infernal Trafficking or Communion with Tsathag’kha to 7th.

The baleful sorcerer may attempt a higher level spell than he is currently capable of casting, but there is great risk involved.  Upon each and every pursuit, the sorcerer himself must roll a saving throw.  Failure means the caster takes the constitution drain himself, no matter who was selected for that fate, and is also whisked away by the batrachian servants of Tsathag’kha, whereupon the sorcerer is imperiled for a time (1d4 hours) as his infernal attendants acquire all that the sorcerer knows.  If he doesn’t reveal anything worthwhile, a blood-writ pact must be signed, obligating him to perform ghastly duties in the not too distant future.

Hit Die: D6

Proficiencies:  No armor may be worn.  Sorcerers may use daggers, short swords, sickles, and scimitars without penalty.  A baleful sorcerer may use poison as a thief of same level.

Progression:  Attack, saving throws, and all other progressions as the standard magic-user or wizard class.

Special Abilities:  The baleful sorcerer has the power to rebuke or command undead as a cleric of same level. 

Drawbacks and Other Considerations:  The sorcerer can never acquire a familiar,  nor can he multi-class.  Upon death, the baleful sorcerer’s soul is promised to Tsathag’kha.  Furthermore, there’s a 23% chance that the inert husk of a sorcerer-corpse assumes the semblance of life shortly after interment (1d4 days), rising of its own accord as a Lich.
Because a sorcerer is granted his dominion by the hideous grace of the toad god himself, spell books are unnecessary.  He doesn't forget his spells, and is able to cast and keep casting until physically spent.  This mitigates the drawback of spell limitation. 

Points of constitution drain/damage can either occur per spell level (1 point for a level one spell, 2 points for a level two spell, etc.) or as noted in each spell’s description, depending on the GM’s wishes.  The constitution drain affects a character's stamina, modifying his hit points.  However, this drain does not necessarily affect the sorcerer himself.  Either willing or unwilling victims may share the fatigue instead of, or in addition to, the baleful sorcerer, as long as, the victim is either physically touched at the time of casting or blood was drawn in preparation. 

Constitution recharges at a rate of 2 points per hour of uninterrupted rest and meditation; after six hours of such quietude, an individual’s constitution is fully restored.  However, those who fall between 1 - 3 points of constitution must roll a successful saving throw or they are instantly killed by the systemic shock.

Spell List

1.  Discern Magic - essentially detect magic, read magic, identify, and use magical device all rolled up into a single spell.  Constitution drain:  1 point.

2.  Sacrosanct - the culmination of mage armor, shield, and protection from arrows, spells, good, evil, etc.  Constitution drain:  1d3 points.

3.  Deception - for creating illusions and disguising the sorcerer or an intended subject.  Constitution drain:  1d4 points.  The observer must have familiar knowledge of a person, object, place, culture, and so forth in order to have a chance of seeing through the deception.

4.  Compel - command; forcing weak-willed individuals to do the sorcerer's bidding.  Constitution drain:  1d6 points.  Victim gets a saving throw to resist initially and then once per day to break free of the sorcerer’s will.

5.  Infernal Trafficking - communicating with, summoning, and binding all manner of Devils, Demons, and Outsiders.  Alternatively, the sorcerer may learn Communion with Tsathag’kha instead, which puts him into direct psychic contact with the hideous toad god, as well as, allowing the sorcerer to summon a spawn of Tsathag’kha.  Constitution drain:  1d8 points.

6.  Blackish Purple Tentacles of Abnon-Tha - horrid tendrils rise out of the ground and flail around, squeezing the life out of the sorcerer's foes.  Constitution drain:  2d4 points.  Each tentacle does 2d8 of constricting damage per round to those grasped (save each round to avoid).  Up to thirteen man-sized individuals within a 30’ radius are affected.

7.  Ichorous Inferno - streams of liquid green fire spraying out in various directions, incinerating those in the sorcerer's way.  Constitution drain:  1d4 and 1d6 points.  Save to avoid being roasted alive for 5d6 damage in a cone up to 50’ from the sorcerer, 7d6 at tenth level.

8.  Necromancy - speak with dead, causing the dead to rise and do as the sorcerer instructs for one night (24 hour period) per level of sorcerer.  Constitution drain:  1d10 points. 

9.  Extinguish Life - the act of murder via sorcery.  Constitution drain:  1d12 points.  Save versus death; a successful saving throw means victim only takes 2d6 damage (unless a natural 20 is rolled whereupon no damage is taken).  Intended victim must be within 100’ of the sorcerer when the spell is cast.  


Special Thanks goes out to Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, Brendan S., Matt Finch, Michael Prescott, Anthony Emmel, Todd Rokely, Shane Ward, Christian Sturke, and Tristram Evans, Thorswulf for inspiration and helpful suggestions. 

The new image is a sketch of an upcoming full-color cover for the PDF by artist Paul Allen.  The sorcerer is modeled upon Zentar from LotDS.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Inalienable Rights & the Prison of Numbers

There's a lot of talk about old school on RPG blogs and forums.  What is it?  How is it defined?  Does it actually exist?  Can it be utilized today?  This post might just be more talking, I don't know... Hopefully, it's not too all over the place.

Old School D&D gives players the expectation that their character can do more than what is written on the character sheet.  A PC's rights are implied.  Modern D&D assumes (at least how the rules are written and the game is generally played) that a PC is only as resourceful as the paper his abilities are written on.

I'm not saying limit character optimization.  Optimize all you want, but not the paint-by-numbers kind of "balance fetishization" and "numberswank" (yes, the internet has taught me many wondrous things!) you might find in 3rd, 4th, and Pathfinder.  Instead of point buy/build or specialization kits which come with their own limitations, why not have each player describe his character - appearance, mannerisms, favorite sayings, personality, prior experiences, proficiencies, specialties, and whatever aesthetic considerations the player is going for.  Then, at long last, we could minimize the numbers which will inevitably strangle all the fun out of our game.

What Old School gamers realize is that the game is not the rules... the game is something far grander and deeper, containing all the nuanced complexities of a realistic fantasy world.  Imagine feats and prestige classes  without all those numbers attached to them.  There's a lot of cool stuff in there.  Of course, it's all too unnecessarily cumbersome and bloated for most OSR gamers.  But take away most of the numbers, and everything becomes possible.  Words alone are fine, but when they're combined with too many numbers, they become a prison.  Take cleave, for example.  A great idea.  Then add the prerequisites, 5' step, once per round, cleave as requirement for additional maneuvers, etc.  It's almost not worth bothering with.  What if you, as a gamer, stripped feats and niche classes of the superfluous?

When you have a 60 page rulebook, a lot of stuff has to be implied.  If a character wants to pin an Orc to a dungeon wall with his polearm or fire multiple arrows in one round but with less accuracy or cast a spell with increased intensity to the point where he's physically exhausted after the effort, they should be able to attempt it.  In fact, that sort of thing should be encouraged.  Imagination is key and must be communicated effectively.  Let the GM decide on a modifier, complication, or unexpected twist before a die is rolled.

Which brings me to my next point.  Dice decide general outcomes, GMs narrate the specifics!  The dice have a tale to tell, but it's a vague, big-picture, macro kind of story.  A GM has to interpret those dice depending on all sorts of relevant details... the character's class, race, ability scores, instrument used, spell components, momentum, darkness, emotional state, and what the GM knows about the antagonists.  He also has to mind the story's pacing, mood, difficulty, obviousness, etc.  His micro-vision, detail-oriented retelling is the game's reality.  What the GM says goes... and yet, players have the right to question or petition him for an alternative interpretation or ruling.


P.S.  Shane Ward's anecdote reminded me of something that happened to me last week...

If it seems straightforward, then just a simple d20 roll is good enough for me.  If it's really outside the box and seems like it might be a really cool long-shot, then I give the concept a 33% chance of success. 

There was a stalagmite creature in a cave below Clear Meadows (this is for Liberation of the Demon Slayer if anyone's curious).  The party was seven 1st level character's strong, so I made the whole cave full of these Roper-esque things.  The thief who was busy dislodging a luminous green crystal from a cavern wall got hit.  In LotDS all damage is exploding.  Also, these were brand new convention dice I purchased a half hour before the last LotDS game I was running at the Game Hole con.  I kept rolling natural 4's and ended up with something like 19 points of damage!  That player's ex-thief was impaled upon the creature. 

Earlier in the session, one of the wizards rolled an "age stone" mercurial magic effect when casting a certain spell a la Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Basically, it smoothed and weathered stone within a 20' radius of the wizard.  He banked on damaging the stalagmite creatures with the magical side-effects from that particular spell, so he cast it.

It sounded awesome as hell, but potentially inadequate unto the need.  I rolled my percentile dice (keep in mind that low is better).  I rolled a natural 01.  Hoody-hoo!

I told the player that all the stone things writhed in agony and then were eroded away to nothing.  Yes, he took them all out with an ingenious idea and a lucky roll of the dice.  That's the kind of unscripted, anything-can-happen, old school game I love.  It was a fantastic moment in the session, and one that we'll both remember for years to come.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Best RPG Descriptive Words & Phrases!

Roleplaying is essentially storytelling.  We imagine what's going on based upon verbal and non-verbal communication; the most important being verbal (feel free to argue that point, if you must).

Certain words have more impact than others.  A few are so impactful they can affect the potency of an encounter, if not the entire session.  These are the most stimulating and immersive.  They not only get the point across but add another layer or two of reality [no, not reality exactly, but some kind of hyper-stylized aesthetic which artfully replaces reality], expanding and deepening the story in a satisfactory way.  Those are the best descriptive words in a roleplaying context.

My point is that they should be used with greater frequency.  Of course, first they have to be identified.

Short words, long words, seldom-used words, compound words, and phrases.  They are the little bytes, puzzle pieces, moments which hold the entire story together, driving points home, building atmosphere, creating worlds!  Some have resonance because they are fresh or innovative or strange or classic with nostalgia or some combination of these.

Ideally, this blog post will be a list of 100 best RPG descriptive words and phrases.  However, I don't want to build it alone.  Suggest one and I'll put it down below.  Feel free to include your reasoning for why you think it's awesome... did you use it in one of your games, did you hear someone else use it, etc.? Or simply comment on words/phrases mentioned that you either love or hate.  Any feedback is cool.

I'll start...

1.  Sickly as in "sickly purple death ray".  Sickly alone is cool, and can be used in various ways.  Incidentally, "sickly purple death ray" is the name of an OSR blog, but it probably came from somewhere (anyone know the source?).  In fact, I like the whole phrase so much that I used it verbatim in tonight's LotDS game at the Game Hole convention.  I thought it had more pulp pizzazz than "lightning bolt".

2.  Eldritch

3.  Cyclopean

4.  Cosmic

5.  Gargantuan or colossal

6.  Antediluvian technology

7.  Batracian

8.  Resplendent

9.  Dweomer

10.  Ruinous or ruined

11.  Ravenous

12.  Ethereal

13.  Bestial

14.  Searing (as in searing light, pain or heat)

15.  Gibbous

16.  Rugose

17.  Abhorrent

18.  Sanguine

19.  Lurid

20.  Esoteric

21.  Membranous

22.  Blasphemous

23.  Iridescent (I would also include viridescent and nigrescent)

24.  Irascible

25.  Incandescent

26. Transcend and transcendent

27.  Stagnant

28.  Dripping with slime

29.  Holocaust

30.  Nameless citadels

31.  Gluttonous

32.  Baleful

33.  Dread (also dreadful or dread-filled and filled with dread... how about dread-infused?)

34.  Grimoire

35.  Preternatural

36.  Abattoir

37.  Swarthy

39.  Catacombs

40.  Grotto

41.  Labyrinth and labyrinthine

42.  Sepulcher

43.  Decrepitude

44.  Inconceivably precious tablets of star-quarried stone

45.  Venereal

46.  Don't worry about it. (From the GM)

47.  Vomitous

48.  Foulness beyond the black leprosies of hell

49.  Spanless gulfs of time

50.  Miasmal vapors of the tomb

51.  Noxious

52.  Permeating

53.  Gygaxian  (sure, why not?)

54.  Dank

55.  Bilious

56.  Tenebrous

57.  Mucilaginous or muculent

58.  Corpulent

59.  Putrescence

60.  Hecatomb

61.  Gloom

62.  Unctuous

63.  Otherworldly atmosphere

64.  Vile or villainous

65.  Writhing

66.  Glistening

67.  Seething

68.  Tumorous

69.  Streaming ooze of charnel pollution

70.  Deliquescent

71.  Pulsating

72.  Malodorous

73.  Mephitic

74.  Noisome

75.  Seething

76.  Ichorous

77.  Viscid, viscous, or slick

78.  Visceral

79.  Tentacular or tentacled

80.  Moist

81.  Mellifluous

82.  Unspeakable

83.  Tumescent

84.  Susurration

85.  Bloated, blood-drenched fiends

86.  Swollen, alien, egg-sacs

87.  Witch-haunted

88.  Melange

89.  Cronenbergian or Cronenberg-esque

90.  Lovecraftian (this one probably gets overused a lot, but still worthy of placing here)

91.  Ultra-telluric

92.  Atlantean

93.  Decadent

94.  Degenerate

95.  Under the scarlet light of a bloated, dying sun (that's from AS&SH)

96.  Disharmonious or harmonious

97.  Unrelenting

98.  Incongruent or congruent

99.  Crystaline

100.  Kaleidoscopic

I think we (as GMs) should consider tailoring our adventures to fit these transcendent words. What if those gaming sessions suddenly became more to our liking and individual aesthetic because we used blasphemous, lurid, and batracian?  Let those Lovecraftian words be our damnable guide!


p.s.  Thanks for the help, everyone!  Feel free to use this as your d100 random descriptive table.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writing an Adventure

The following is my 9 Step System of adventure writing...

Step 1:  Come up with an idea you like.  Example:  Orcs with bright purple mohawks.

Step 2:  Refine it.  Basically, add another layer or two of detail.  Example:  These are punk rock Orcs with mirror shades from a parallel universe; they wear black leather motorcycle jackets, carry knives and guns, etc.  They want to wreak havoc, tear down the establishment, etc.

Step 3:  Come up with a couple more ideas and refine those.  Example:  Elves with 80's hair cuts, bright blue, pink, and silver makeup wearing matching colored spandex who also want anarchy.  While the fashion is New Wave based, there's also high technology like cyberspace, electro-knives, laser pistols, etc.

Step 4:  Create a connection - how can these three ideas be used in conjunction with each other?  Example:  A future-tech mirror allows access between this parallel universe of nihilism and oppression and the D&Desque realm the players are familiar with.

Step 5:  Find the major conflict.  Example:  The Orcs are anarchists while the Elves want order - both are trying to create change, but the Orcs don't care who gets hurt or how violent their revolution becomes.  Elves temper their desires with diplomacy, empathy, compromise, etc... a slower means of change.  The PCs should help the Elves capture the Orcs and get both sides back to their own universe after spilling out in this one.  This dynamic reflects the greater conflict - the people versus an oppressive corporation.

Step 6:  Revise your ideas to fit the connection you've come up with according to the major conflict you've decided upon.  Example:  The PCs find a magic mirror in the dungeon they're exploring which links to the future-tech mirror in that other universe.  The weird, New Wave Orcs and Elves want to explore the fantasy world that opened because PCs tampered with the magic mirror.  Orcs start destroying everything while the Elves attempt to understand this new world and want to help the PCs, work within the system, etc.

Step 7:  Think of an exciting set-piece.  Each session should have a really cool encounter - a place, monster, NPC, item, etc. which sets off the adventure.  If your session was a film, what would the poster show, what would be in the trailer?  You need something awesome to showcase.  Example:  Cyberspace is full of information clusters, sentient numbers, letters, and giant Star Worms roaming through the blackness like multi-hued circuit boards, at the center of which floats a pulsating jewel powering the entire network and guarded by thirteen cybernetic demons.

Step 8:  Consider options - have a place for the adventure to go.  The GM should have a plan... what happens next?  Example:  The New Wave Elves see all the magical weaponry in this realm and decide to borrow some of it in order to challenge their oppressor: an all-powerful mega-corporation.  Towards the adventure's end, the PCs might go to that other world and fight against the mega-corporation's zombie soldiers.

Step 9:  Run the adventure, prepare to improvise.  Example:  After introducing both sides, the PCs decide to let the Orcs destroy the realm because of a bitter dispute with the King.  In this hypothetical scenario, the PCs also decide to capture the Elves for information and to keep them from hindering the Orcs' destruction.  How does a GM handle something like this?  Think about the different options available, but try not to force the adventure to go in a direction that doesn't work.

In summation, adventure writing takes awhile, so it's best to tackle things a little bit at a time.  Don't try to do everything at once, and don't let too many days or weeks go by without going over your notes with an eye for refining, adding layers of detail, fixing inconsistencies, making new connections, and smoothing edges.  I hope the 9 Step System makes your adventure writing easier.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols

I'm happy to announce issue #5 of the old school fantasy roleplaying zine Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols is available and includes an encounter by yours truly.  WMLP is a cool little homemade, DIY, punk rock kind of gaming aid for all those D&Desque GMs looking for something kind of weird.

In this particular issue, Alex Fotinakes continues his vast dungeon with "Part 5a: The Emerald Halls".  Each issue goes deeper and deeper beneath the ruins of Kihago.  Such a cool idea - a bi-monthly or quarterly dungeon that just keeps going.  I ran the first three parts for my group after they finished with LotDS, and everyone loved it.  "Beneath the Ruins" definitely kept the weird going!

Anyways, my piece was inspired by the cover of issue #3 (pictured at right).  It was so bizarre and silly that I immediately started to sketch an idea down on paper.  Get #3, #5, and all of them here!



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Game Knight Reviews tackles LotDS

Brian Fitzpatrick from Game Knight Reviews agreed to review Liberation of the Demon Slayer here.  I'm grateful and honored by such high praise.  All the positive feedback I've received this month has inspired me to start working on module #2.

Thanks, everyone!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

LotDS Errata

"Errata" means minor fuck-ups, right?

An observant soul brought a few inconsistencies to my attention.  While I knew there would be some mistakes, I'm surprised these got through.  But I'm sure every publisher says that.  Anyways, let's dive in...

Concerning O6, the description doesn't jive with the map.  Originally, I intended the open central area of Level 5 to be on the 6th level.

Why AA6 isn't on the map is also a mystery.  There are extra rooms on Level 6, so I advise GMs to put AA6 on the lower right corner of the map.

The letter "H" was skipped in the map's H5, and then a few more letters than necessary were added on the 5th Level map.  Again, I attribute this to switching the 5th and 6th levels around last minute.  While LotDS was playtested and shown to curious individuals beforehand, some of the the latter content was added or heavily revised afterwards.  Definitely a bad move on my part and one that I've learned from.

Well, there it is.  Even though the dungeon below Clear Meadows is a shrine for chaos and the gods who revel in such things, I apologize for the inconsistencies.  Let me assure you that all modules going forward will be triple checked - not only by me, but a few vigilant gamers who volunteer to preview and playtest the manuscript before the printing process.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shame On DCC

This is an open letter to Goodman Games policies and/or personnel, and not the DCC RPG community for which I still have much respect.

I was a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  Started reading about it a year ago, bought the book, ran the game using a home-made campaign which became Liberation of the Demon Slayer, joined the forum/google community, talked with people, traded gaming-related opinions, etc.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I encountered some resistance.  A mysterious force which made me feel like even more of an outsider than I normally do.  My posts were taken down, someone came out of the woodwork to hate on me and my religion (the Cult of Cthulhu) while admins/mods turned a blind eye, it took  me longer and longer to get my posts approved before they showed up, I started getting the cold shoulder from my fellow DCC fans.

Partly because of those experiences and partly because of game's nature, I began to gravitate towards Swords & Wizardry.  Definitely a friendlier bunch.

Now that I've self-published my own OSR module, Liberation of the Demon Slayer, I tried posting again.  Nothing.  Just silence from the admins.  My posts weren't getting through.  Finally, an acquaintance posted an announcement for me.  His post and several replies were deleted within 24 hours.  Similarly, a friend who posted the same thing on the DCC RPG google community had his post taken down and was given a warning not to do it again.

I have to wonder WTF is going on over at DCC central?!?  Is there a conspiracy against me?  I freely admit that back around 2006, I was a bit of a jerk sometimes on discussion boards.  I've got a big personality and don't always get along with people.  If someone attacks me, I reciprocated in kind.  Fortunately, over the years I've mellowed a bit.  I've become more diplomatic... cautious.

If the admins of DCC believe my posts and LotDS are anathema to them, then I wish they would email me directly instead of deleting announcements and warning those who dare speak of my old school module.  I still like the Dungeon Crawl Classics game (although, not as much as I used to); however the way I've been treated is downright shameful.  This hobby of ours doesn't need censorship, nor alienation.  A small part of me still hopes that there's been some terrible misunderstanding and all this can be forgiven and forgotten.  However, that small hope dwindles.

What say you, Lords of DCC?


Monday, October 14, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

LotDS on Amazon!

Liberation of the Demon Slayer is now available on!  Sweet.  That's pretty much all this blog post is about.  Just wanted to announce the Amazon release.  :)

I hope some of you are getting ready to read, play, run, blog about, or even review my old school, Lovecraftian, science-fantasy adventure and campaign guide because I would love to know your experiences... Just the thought of warriors, sorcerers, clerics, Elves, and thieves crawling through the dungeons I created (and Dyson Logos rendered) is a tantalizing thrill.

LotDS was spawned (according to the hellish and depraved sacraments of the K'tulu priesthood) so that like-minded gamers could have an incredibly dark and wild ride, reminiscent of the classic modules we all remember.  Yes, it's meant for D&Desque RPGs of zero - 3rd level PCs, but I think LotDS is adaptable to a wide variety of systems and levels.

By His loathsome tentacles,


Sunday, October 6, 2013

LotDS Success!

Some news... a fellow OSR gamer blogged about Liberation of the Demon Slayer's apparent success:  Johua De Santo's blog

Knowing that my work resonated with all kinds of fantasy RPGers is extremely gratifying.  Print versions should be available in two or three days.  Thanks for your patience.


p.s.  If you've read through it and liked what you saw, then please feel free to post a short review on either DriveThruRPG or RPGNow.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

LotDS on DriveThru & Amazon

A gonzo, Lovecraftian, science fantasy quest through the devil-haunted Nether Realms!  Or you could just go back to farming your stinking land...

This has been a long time coming.  My old school fantasy RPG adventure and campaign guide is up on DriveThruRPG as a PDF for a special introductory price of $7:

The print version should be available in a week.  At that time, the PDF alone will go back up to its regular price of $9... but will be $7 for the PDF + print version of $19.

The print (and I believe a PDF) version will also be available on Amazon in about a week as well.

I'll make another announcement when those go live.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Unique V:tM character sheet

Mr. Gone generously created a custom Vampire: the Masquerade character sheet for me.  I needed a sheet with blood potency instead of generation, limited to 5 dots in attributes, abilities, disciplines, backgrounds, etc.  And I also wanted to mess around with the health levels.  Even though I grew up with the standard Bruised, Hurt, and so forth... I always wondered what it would be like to have one or two additional health levels included.  Well, I came up with Impaired between Wounded and Mauled.

Without further ado, here it is...

Mr. Gone's chronicle VS character sheet

Let me and Mr. Gone know what you think of this custom character sheet for V:tM, and if you use it, then definitely tell us!  Here's his website:


Thursday, September 26, 2013

An Empire Strikes Back Session

Just wondering "aloud" about something... Empire Strikes Back [ESB] sessions.  I'm talking about those nights at the game table where things go really bad for the characters.  Like, a lot of terrible things in a row.  Also not unlike The Long Good Friday (thank Dread Cthulhu they haven't remade that film yet) or that point in Game of Thrones where pretty much everyone gets their throat slit open (I think it's called The Red Wedding).

An ESB session is about the antagonists.  Their plans, their struggle, their story.  How they got the upper hand - if only for a short while.  Things can't always go easy for the PCs.  Sometimes, they just have to pay... dearly.

The players should be thrilled, engaged, and possibly stressed about what's going on with their characters during one of these soul-searching nights of pain, loss, and confusion.  Yes, things are dark, but the actual game play is not awful - everyone should still be having fun.  On the other hand, there might be some residual depression and darkness carried over from the characters to the players.  Depends on the people, system, and expectations.  Call of Cthulhu?  Yeah, PCs should expect it.  D&D?  PCs should expect to almost die every few sessions or so.  Vampire: the Masquerade?  Well, it is a storytelling game of personal horror.

After all, we identify with characters in tv shows, movies, books, etc.  And we also like to see them in tough scrapes, tight spots, and squirming on the hook a bit.  Shouldn't players relish the idea of their favorite characters being thrown into the meat-grinder?  Does the personal nature of player characters make the peril too personal sometimes?

More questions!  Do GMs plan for ESB sessions?  Do they prepare for it?  Do they even know its coming before it hits?  Are there unconscious ESB sessions where GMs don't even realize they're shitting all over the PCs?  How far can a GM go?  How much is too much?  Is foreshadowing warranted?  After the ESB session, do the PCs deserve a light at the end of the tunnel?  In what form: more experience, miscellaneous bonus, acquiring a magic item, old spooky house, or a dangerous secret?  Now that those questions have been asked, a few more things...

As long as it's a temporary state, I think it's fine for GMs to run an ESB session every now and again.  Of course, the fallout from such a night of gaming has repercussions throughout the rest of the campaign.  For instance, if an NPC ally dies, then he's still dead next session.  The paranoia a GM stirs in his players, via endangering their characters, will probably continue for several sessions - even after the present danger has subsided... because, yeah, there could be a new danger right around the corner!

Assuming it is only temporary, should the PCs know it's temporary or should they be led to believe that this nightmare might go on and on and on...?  Do GMs sometimes experience player backlash for the bleakness or is it generally well received (or at least understood)?

I'd be glad to hear from my fellow gamers on this front.  Feel free to elaborate with stories from your own table.  Let's hear the horror stories and epic wins of actual play!