Friday, June 30, 2017

4th Wave OSR

I was slumming over at TheRPGpundit's blog and saw him writing about three distinct waves of the OSR here.

  • The first wave is devoted to retro-cloning original material from the 70's, 80's, and early 90's.  An example would be Swords & Wizardry.
  • The second wave is devoted to new RPG systems that incorporate large amounts of the original 70's, 80's, and early 90's material but take them in slightly new directions.  An example would be Dungeon Crawl Classics.
  • The third wave is devoted to taking that original 70's, 80's, and early 90's material (specifically the rules and game mechanics) into new settings, genres, and milieus.  Examples would be Raiders! of the Lost Artifacts, White Star, Apes Victorious, etc.

Well, I'm here to tell you about the OSR's 4th wave...

4th wave OSR incorporates the spirit, tone, objectives, aesthetics, play-style, rules philosophy, mechanical principles, and hobbyist attitude from the 70's, 80's, and early 90's into RPG material that does it's own thing.  Many consider these products neo-OSR, OSRish, OSR adjacent, or quasi-OSR because they've taken the next logical, evolutionary step away from original D&D, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, Ghostbusters, Toon, Vampire: the Masquerade, etc.

While Kort'thalis Publishing started out with third wave adventures and campaign settings like Liberation of the Demon Slayer, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, and Revelry in Torth, it soon went 4th wave with such titles as Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence, and Alpha Blue.  

Mechanically speaking, they feel old school (rules-light old school, not giant tomes with a rule for everything and everything having a rule without streamlined congruency old school), but they do not slavishly adhere to the d20 or systems that came before.  

While I doubt that 4th wave OSR will ever replace the first 3 waves, it is my belief that the 4th wave is necessary for continued innovation.  Even though I won't be basking in the popularity of core OSR, I have my place just outside where there's more room to breathe.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

First Blood - Blood Dark Thirst playtest

I had a "working lunch" with a couple of my friends and gaming buddies today.  I'm so strapped for face-to-face roleplaying time that I decided to combine roleplaying with having an extra long lunch at a nearby restaurant.

TL;DR:  Still early nights (see what I did there?), but in general the playtest went well and we all had an awesome time!

Though the Vampire: the Masquerade bones are evident, it takes many twists and turns, ultimately going in a totally different direction.

A few people have mentioned, including one of today's players, that my d6 system (used in Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence, and Alpha Blue) might be the way to go.  After all, it's an established, awesome system that has worked perfectly thus far.

While I wholeheartedly agree, there's something about the d6 that works for those genres / games, but I've got a kind of mental block when it comes to transferring d6s to a game about vampires.  I'm going to suggest something that probably sounds like pseudoscience - the d10 has formed neural pathways in my brain from years and years of playing V:tM in the 90's.  It just feels more right than any other die type.

Where d6 has a fun, free-wheeling, super rules-lite, pulpy gonzo feel, the d10 seems a bit more sophisticated, intricate, mysterious, and... dark, for lack of a better word.  That probably sounds crazy to non-gamers, but hopefully you guys in the gaming community understand where I'm coming from.

So, regardless of the sense it would make, I'm going to stick with the d10 system (VSd10?).

Keeping track of blood and willpower with glass beads worked great.  I was worried about all the bookkeeping.  As you many know about my design goals/aesthetics, I'm not a fan of crunch or accounting.  Blood Dark Thirst has a little bit of both, but not too much.  And I think having markers/tokens makes things easier - the playtesters agreed.  Plus, the GM can see at a glance how much blood and willpower a vampire has remaining.

In no particular order, let me list some of the things that came up during the session...

  • The spicy cheesebread was amazing!  Actually, the entire meal was great.  And the gaming space was better than average.
  • While driving to the restaurant I thought of something - a way to emulate that scene in several vampire movies where the vamp sees blood spilled and has to resist his instincts taking over.  Didn't get to use that in the playtest, but wrote it down once I was at the table.
  • Explaining the origin of vampires to the players, +Tim Virnig and +Jacob Nelson, felt satisfying.  It could probably use some flair, but it got the message across (you'll have to wait to find out).
  • I came up with 20 skills, but think I can reduce those down to 10 or 12.
  • Since this was a 90 minute playtest, we left a few details blank.
  • Attaching blood lust dice to a vampire's blood supply worked out well.  Though, it wouldn't make sense for mental actions to trigger frenzy.  Hmm, let me do an occular pat-down on this guy coming into the bar [rolls dice, gets a red 1] DEAR GOD THE BEAST!!!  So, I'm going to reserve blood lust dice for physical and social actions only, at the GM's discretion, of course.
  • The mental ability score deals with noticing things, as well as, knowledge.  Pretty much anything that's not squarely physical or social will be mental, I suppose.
  • Combat seemed to work well.  Didn't notice any glaring deficiencies.  That's one of the downfalls of V:tM, in my view.
  • The red glass beads represent vampire blood and the larger black beads represent willpower. They worked better than expected.  It made both of those stats more... tangible, more real.  I can't remember doing that back in the day with V:tM, but it seems like a no-brainer.  Shading circles, erasing circles, and shading them in again was tedious and lacked immersion.
  • The adventure?  Not a lot happened - the PCs interrupted a bar fight and things got ugly.  Then another vampire appeared while the PCs were making their way back to their apartment with a couple of soon-to-be victims.  This new vampire watched them for awhile and attempted to intimidate them.
  • Overall, it felt like I was playing a vampire RPG in the early 90's, but in some alternate dimension or surreal dreamland where the rules were vaguely reminiscent of what I'd known but completely different.  
  • By the end of our session, even the waiter had to ask what we were doing and told us he wished he could have joined in.  

I'll be posting details about open playtesting of the beta this Friday.


p.s.  Both Tim and Jacob were vampire RPG virgins, so popping that particular cherry (twice!) was an unexpected treat.  ;)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

New Vampire RPG survey

I'm developing my own vampire RPG called Blood Dark Thirst. I'll be self-publishing it through Kort'thalis Publishing.

I've got some of the basics down and recently re-watched my primary influences - The Lost Boys, Near Dark, and Fright Night.

While I consider myself part of the game's audience, I don't want to be the only one.  So, this seems like a good time to engage the rest of you, getting valuable feedback while the concept is still malleable.  If you'll oblige me, I've got questions and would love to read your responses...

  1. Single purpose or general purpose?  By that I mean, would you prefer a game that focuses on one mode or playstyle or something open-ended that was more of a sandbox of design goals?
  2. Beta version first for people to try / playtest or would you prefer I release the game once it's more or less "done?"
  3. I've shared my big 3 vampire movies above, what are your top 3?
  4. Vampire origins?  Would you prefer an origin story that describes how/why vampires exist?  The downside to that is it demystifies the setting.  Or no origin setting?  Vampire: the Requiem tried to do multiple vampire origins, but I'm not sure how satisfying that was.
  5. What's something you'd like to see a new vampire RPG emphasize (one more than the others)- A) hunting, feeding, and dealing with mortals; B) squaring off against competing vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, demons, etc.  C) politics, backroom deals, manipulation, influence, etc.?
  6. Theme?  A) sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll - party it up; vampires as rebellious teenagers; B) angst, brooding, self-conscious, oh the curse of being undead! C) darkness, horror, eldritch Hellraiser shit.  Basically, edgelord without the child molestation and infanticide of 5th edition V:tM.
  7. Is there any familiar RPG mechanic, system, or sub-system that you'd like to see here, perhaps with a fresh coat of paint or tweaked for a vampire game?
  8. Presentation - color vs. b/w, softcover vs. hardcover, PDF vs. print?  Along with that... aesthetics?  What kind of overall look do you want?
  9. What are some characters, conflicts, settings, and stories that excite and inspire you when you think vampire RPG?
  10. Anything I've left out?  If I forgot to ask something, feel free to comment.

Thanks for taking the time to answer this questionnaire!  Expect an official announcement post next week.  Playtesting information will be included.


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... [part 2]

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.  Several gamers urged me to write my own forbidden tome on the art of crafting awesome scenarios - Here it is!!!

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!