Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Apologies to Trump

All of us.  Ok, many of us (myself included) owe President Donald Trump an apology for jumping to conclusions and believing the FAKE NEWS that went out of its way to spread falsehoods about Russian collusion on a daily basis.

I was taken in for a long while.  In fact, it wasn't until a few months ago that I realized we have one Hell of a President and things could be worse... a lot worse. 

Now that he's been vindicated, let's get back to ensuring the United States of America remains the greatest country in the world!

President Trump talks a lot of trash, can be a bastard, and gets things wrong just like everyone does, but now I see that he has America's best interests at heart.  He isn't the most terrible awful bad news individual portrayed by the media.  That's just Trump derangement syndrome.

Sorry for doubting you, hoss.  Carry on, Mr. President!


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Gamma Incel Cantina

Here's a Cha'alt playtest packet that veers on the border of Alpha Blue.

It's called Gamma Incel Cantina, inspired by a comment Prince of Nothing made on his blog.

What is it?  A sci-fi tavern not too far away from The Black Pyramid, filled with 69 NPCs.  Each NPC has between 3 - 7 descriptors to help the beleaguered GM roleplay interactions with PCs.

Phenomenal map provided by Glynn Seal of MonkeyBlood Design, based on my amateurish drawing (pictured).

I'm looking for feedback, but also extra funds to pay for additional Cha'alt artwork.  While adequate, the Kickstarter wasn't the smashing success many of us had hoped for. 

Oh yeah, there's also a d100 random table that will give you all 6 of the standard D&D ability scores in one roll.  3d6 in order... hours of rolling and recording results from myself and various family member.

It debuted at GaryCon and nearly made grown men cry at the table.  Yay!  ;)



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

D&D 5e on Roll20

I've been running my Cha'alt campaign on Roll20 during lunch hours and slow times at work.

Sometimes, I label or tag these playtest sessions Swords & Wizardry, sometimes old school D&D, or just D&D 5e... because close enough, right?

Well, a lot of drop-in gamers feel entitled to the official by-the-book, rules-as-written version of 5th edition.  Some have even dropped out as soon as they discovered that we weren't using character sheets for a one-hour game or that skill checks would be replaced by actual roleplaying.

While I can't totally blame them (I like what I like and have certain expectations, too), I feel they're missing out on a new (to them) D&D experience.

So, this blog post serves two purposes.  The first is to give GMs a glimpse at what I've been using for my Roll20 Cha'alt campaign.  The second is to alert potential players as to my interpretation of 5e via old school lens.

Let's face it, Roll20 isn't real roleplaying.  As Yoda would say, controversial do you find my words? Well, virtual gaming is a Hell of a lot different than the face-to-face variety.  So, without further ado...


  • Instead of little modifiers, I use Advantage (roll 2d20 and take the highest) when circumstances are favorable and Disadvantage (roll 2d20 and take the lowest) when their unfavorable.
  • No character sheets!  
  • Whatever race you pick, you can have only one racial ability that helps your character (infra-vision, resistance to charm spells, superior hearing, whatever).
  • The 4 basic classes only - Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, and Thief.
  • Fighters can add their level to their to-hit roll and damage. Everyone else, you just roll a d20 and hope you roll your opponent's Armor Class or better. 
  • Damage is per weapon - simple weapons like dagger, sling, club, quarterstaff, whip, and a sharp rock all do 1d4.  Medium weapons like short sword, spear, spiked club, rapier, axe, mace, and all bows do 1d6.  Large weapons like greataxe, warhammer, trident, halberd, and all types of longswords do 1d10 damage.
  • Wizards are restricted to simple weapons or they're at a Disadvantage.  Clerics and thieves can use simple and medium weapons, but are at a disadvantage when trying to use large weapons.  Fighters can use any weapon they want without penalty.  
  • I'm still considering high-tech weapons like machines guns and lasers.
  • Natural 20 on an attack roll is a critical hit, resulting in double damage!
  • Alignment!  There are 4 to pick from.  If you choose Law, then you believe in order, justice, community, and most likely worship the New Gods, namely the Lords of Light. Those who choose Chaos believe in natural selection, revenge, and individualism up to and including self-deification. They are more likely to honor the Old Gods, such as K'tulu, Yog-Soggoth, and Uba-Sa'athla. Those of a Neutral alignment try to balance Law and Chaos within themselves and recognize both the Old Gods and the New Gods.  Unaligned means that you don't give a damn about Law, Chaos, or the Gods; you have your own unique philosophy or passion that guides you through the world.
  • Everyone gets 10 HP per level.
  • If you reach zero HP, up to negative your level, you're simply unconscious and will recover soon.  Once you go past that (-5 HP if your character is 4th level), you're character is dead.  Create another one and I'll try to get your new PC back in the game ASAP.
  • All HP refresh after a full 8 hours of rest (interruptions are fine, just make it up by sleeping-in a little longer). 
  • Levels only go up to 10.  At 10th level, the PC is at his adventuring peak.
  • Characters gain a level after every other adventure.
  • Wizards and clerics can use virtually any spell in the Player's Handbook that's equal to their character's level.
  • Every time you cast a spell, you take that spell's level worth of damage. For example, a 3rd level fireball drains the wizard of 3 HP each time it's cast.
  • Certain magic items, such as wands, only wizards can use.
  • Clerics are drained of vitality (HP) the same as wizards when casting - including healing!
  • A 1st level clerical spell can heal 1d6 HP; however, this "divine energy" can instead be used to harm demons, undead, and Lovecraftian abominations [clerical healing/harming goes up to 1d8 at 3rd level and 2d6 at 7th level].
  • Thieves can do all the usual thief abilities.  If it's simple like listening or checking for traps, it can be done easily without rolling, as long as, it's described.  Harder thief tasks should be rolled (see Skill Checks below), after the player describes what his PC is doing.  
  • Thieves gain advantage on their attack as many times per day as their level, as long as, the PC's sneaking, hiding, surprising, backstabbing, or looking for weak points is described.
  • At 5th and 10th level, PCs get to pick a feature, special ability, or feat (kool powerz) that relates to their class. Either something they pull from a book or make up on their own.
  • Armor Class starts at 10 and goes up to a maximum of 20.  Wizards cannot wear armor.  Thieves can add their level to AC if not wearing armor.  Leather is +2, shield is +2, helm is +1, chainmail is +4, scalemail is +5, platemail is +6.
  • Saving throws are determined by subtracting a character's level (or monster's HD) from 20.  You need that number or better on a d20 to save.  Natural 20 means you're completely unaffected.
  • Epic Feats of Awesome can be attempted instead of your standard attack.  Subtract your level from 30 and you need that number or better on a d30 to succeed.  The result is whatever the player described.
  • A short rest is somewhere between 45-60 minutes.  You get one of those per day, and it recharges your HP at Xd6, where "X" is your character's level.
  • One round is approximately one minute of game-time.  Combat is abstract, not granular.  So, when it's your PC's action, he can move, talk, and take one action (in any order).
  • Instead of rolling initiative, whichever side would logically strike first goes and then the opposition goes. If there's no clear victor, a tie goes to the PCs.
  • Instead of making a "skill check," just describe what your PC is doing.  Perception and interaction (among other things) will be roleplayed!  If there's a chance of failure, the GM will let you know when to roll.  You need to get a 15 or better on a d20, adding your level to the roll if you're attempting something related to the PC's class.

Did I forget anything?  Probably.  FYI, I just updated this post.  Thanks for your suggestions!

This will make my job easier.  I don't want to have to dig through the book. I don't want players dictating results based on what's written down in some edition or other.  I don't want optimized PC superheroes tearing through anything encountered without fear of death or dismemberment - old school gaming is about desperate adventurers trying to survive in a world gone mad... hoping to attain glory, riches, and power!

There's a good chance I'll eventually turn this into a Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 cheat-sheet PDF for anyone interested in simplistic O5R D&D, either using Roll20 or in-person gaming.



p.s. Want to see the fruits of my labor?  Here you go!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Stuck In The Middle

I read this Tenkar's Tavern post yesterday, but this is my first opportunity to respond.

Yeah, the middlemen get squeezed.  Those seeking neutral ground will eventually see themselves taking up less and less space.  And that's a shame.  Because politics shouldn't intrude on everything... especially a leisure pursuit like roleplaying games.

To be clear, I'm also a moderate, a centrist, a classical liberal who'd rather not get involved in the culture wars of increasing polarization.  But it wasn't so long ago that free speech, rationality, the rule of law, and focusing on gaming were nonpartisan issues that everyone could agree on.

That is not what's happened over the last 3 or 4 years.  Social media is everything and everything has been influenced (corrupted?) by politics.  The more radical, the better... according to the loudest and least compromising among us.

Any clearheaded person can see that Erik Tenkar contributes to the RPG HIC (Hobby/Industry/Community).  And Pex, as Erik's mouthpiece, has every right to post links to whatever the Tavern is talking about at the moment.  Those SJWs over on Discord can believe what they want... because they're creating a reality all their own.

If Erik and Pex hadn't distanced themselves from me, I'd be there to fight alongside them.  But instead, they chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater and are now being ostracized within certain segments of the HIC because not enough babies were thrown.  Yes, also a subtle jab at post-birth abortions that's now part of mainstream Democrat policy!

Hoist on their own petard.  Sad, but not unexpected.  Live together or die alone, as Lost so eloquently stated.  Meanwhile, I'll be here patiently waiting for my apologies.  Fighting the good fight.  Designing games and doing my za'akier thing.

Good luck to everyone who wants to stay on the sidelines, where it's "safe," and go about their business without getting involved.  Eventually, you too will be swept up in the mob.  Wake up before you suddenly find your head upon the guillotine of social justice!


Thursday, March 14, 2019

GaryCon 2019 (part 2)

Ok, I'm going to primarily talk about the two sessions of Alpha Blue I ran at GaryCon this past weekend.

Even though I was excited to run Alpha Blue (as usual), I was noticeably less so this time around.  And even though I had a great time during the game, something felt a little off.

Part of the reason is that I neglected to bring the core rulebook with me.  I had a big box of Kort'thalis Publishing softcovers in the back of my car, but inexplicably, Alpha Blue was not among them.  And while I did manage to bring this drawing I made of a cantina containing 60+ spacer scum, I forgot to print out the key that would have allowed me to use it properly.  Son of the bitch!

Never wait until the last minute, kids.  And always triple-check your supplies!

Nevertheless, character creation proceeded smoothly using the three word/phrase method! Easy, quick, and flexible, I think that's definitely the way to go for something like a three-hour convention game.

But there was something else, too.  I think it might have been the idea that Alpha Blue has gone "mainstream."  The concept still isn't popular, soft-core sci-fi will always be niche.  Yet, a lot of the people have played it, and so the newness has worn off.  Players familiar with Alpha Blue know what's coming. No longer apprehensive, their illicit expectations guide their characters' behavior.

Take, for instance, the customs officer checking lifeforms over before they can enter Alpha Blue proper.  When he started to get handsy with a female droid PC, she was super eager to go into a little room and get banged.  Then they do that and it's over and... we're onto the next thing.  I guess the potential for conflict was missing and in-game sex seemed like going through the motions.

A similar thing happened with two female droids in the other game.  They hooked themselves up to the little shuttle transporting them to an Alpha Blue bar and had "robot sex" in an instant.  It was amusing and cool, bordering on "naughty," but even as it was happening I could feel the novelty wearing off.

It reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode where the guy thinks he's in heaven because all he does is succeed.  Anything he asks for, he gets.  If he gambles, he always wins.  In a very short time, he's miserable because it no longer feels like real life, soon discovering that he's actually in hell.

There's a few different ways of dealing with that issue.  But I didn't realize there was an issue until I was in the middle of these games.  So, my Cha'alt sessions felt slightly more successful than Alpha Blue, even though I'm pretty sure all 23 (or so) of my players had a great time.

So, how to deal?  Well, I wrote something up for Draconic Magazine.

Nevertheless, lots and lots of laughter reverberated through the aether as players kept trying to one-up each other to new heights of inappropriate degradation.  Below are some brief highlights...

  • Brokeback asteroid.
  • Defibrillating ass-chaps (ass-less chaps)
  • Treasure chest full of gold, vibrating, diamond-crusted cock-rings.
  • Extra-crotchless panties.
  • PCs' starship named "The Green Fairy."
  • That leaky breathing slot in the forehead I'll never be able to erase from my memory banks. 

What else?  I bought some cool "diffusion" style dice in a variety of colors.  All the numbering is plain white... boring vanilla white.  So, I'm in the process of re-coloring the dice numbers.  It's... not going well.  In hopes of making it permanent, I decided to use oil-paint pens.  That was a big mistake.  Even the fine-point ones made a big mess.

Cleaning the dice off with turpentine (paint-thinner) proved time consuming while also wearing off the paint within the numbers - even though I did three coats.  And even after trying to start from scratch with a turpentine bath, the dice still feel a little tacky.

So, tomorrow I'm going to try starting over again with an acrylic pen.  Tentacles crossed!

Will I be back next year?  Not sure; I had to pull a lot of strings to attend this GaryCon XI.  It'll most likely be 2021 before I return.


Monday, March 11, 2019

GaryCon 2019 (part 1)

What a weekend!

Yes, I got back from GaryCon in one piece.  Was there all Thursday and Friday, but had to leave about 1pm on Saturday, after my last game.

There's almost too much to say, so I'm going to keep this kind of brief and condense it all into one blog post.  Wish me luck!  [edit: Nope, just couldn't do it.  This is going to be in two parts.  First, Cha'alt, and then Alpha Blue.]

Session 4

The final session of Cha'alt concerned exploring and looting the frozen insides of the gargantuan purple demon-worm Kra'adumek.  My family and I pre-rolled nearly 100 ability scores (strength, dexterity, etc.), all 3d6 in order, ahead of time.  That's going to come in real handy in the years to come... and will appear in Cha'alt.

As that game was "D&D 5e," there were numerous expectations.  When I told everyone that I wanted to keep it standard races, only one racial ability per character, just the main 4 classes, and you roll a % and what your ability scores turn out to be is what they are, save vs. death... well, some jaws dropped. 

The players were more than a little dismayed (one player's suggestion of pre-gens was solid and I probably should have done that, but also wanted to use my d100 ability score table), but kept their composure (no table flipping), which I appreciated.  After all, if a PC died, he could simply roll up a new one and keep going.  With this method, it wouldn't have taken more than 5 minutes to come up with a whole new character.

We played it old school - distance, movement, and perception checks were all but hand-waved.  And sure enough, just as I told them, once the adventure got underway, how strong or wise their characters were didn't matter as much as thinking things through, tactics, diplomacy, knowing when to step on the gas and when to break, and, of course, luck.

I didn't open any D&D books the entire game... in fact, I neglected to bring any D&D books to the convention - aside from my own scenarios and guidebooks.  To me, that's a sign of a qualified old school GM who's comfortable with his rulings.

This being a con game, they came up with an overarching desire (kill the demon-worm), and I presented them with a way to achieve that... the unexploded photon torpedo.

Several party members almost died, but no one actually bit the big one.  Some nice treasure was had, NPCs interacted with, weirdness encountered, and juicy combat to get the blood pumping... as well as spilling out all over the demon-worm floor.

By the game's end, everyone thanked me for the experience.  I appreciated their indulgence of my old school ways, and a few of them said they were glad that I stuck to my guns.  Overall, I think everyone had been temporarily transported to another world.  That kind of immersion is all the thanks I'll ever need. 

Session 2

The second session of GaryCon was Beneath Kra'adumek.  Since I designated that particular game Swords & Wizardry, the occasional shitty ability scores didn't raise an eyebrow.  This crowd was primed for vintage D&D escapades. 

While I unfortunately forgot to bring my copy of How To Game Master like a Fucking Boss to session 4, I had it with me during session 2.  So, each player rolled % to see what past experience they had. 

The wildest result was a gnome (complete with ridiculous hat) trying to get the PC and others to invest in some financial scheme, offering a transparent cube as some sort of proof-of-concept. 

That could have just been a throw-away idea forgotten as soon as it was said, but no.  The player who rolled that proudly talked about his cube and attempted to seek investors in his uncanny enterprise.  After swapping realities with a nearly identical party, that player decided his cube was now a sphere... and the roleplaying began anew.  By the session's end, his business' tagline was "It never ends."  Appropriate.  ;)

As has usually been the case, the PCs decided to convince several of the purple priests to join a new faction - one instituted by the PCs themselves.  After killing the Ipsissimus and mid-wife-ing a newly hatched demon-worm spawn, it wasn't too difficult to persuade some drugged-out cultists to worship Kra'adumek in an entirely new way. 

They played around with the fissure in time and space, experimented with mutated xoth, ate 67 omelets, and foiled the priest's plans to sacrifice a trio of virgins. 

Due to the freewheeling nature of this dungeon, the loose rules of early D&D, and player personalities, a lot of jokes were told and the table erupted in laughter about a dozen times in those 3 hours of weird retro-escapism. 

There was even a woman among the players, so of course I had to make my own saving throw to avoid chanting, "Old enough to bleed; old enough to play a human barbarian!"  Thankfully, I just made it when the die ricocheted off my slimy green tentacle, and old school grognards were saved having to excuse my toxic masculine diversions. 

Some great and/or hilarious quotes from that session...

  • The New God's name is "wormy"... it's a work in progress.
  • "He who slithers through our minds.  Praise be!"
  • Purple priest playboy mag stuck behind the library books.
  • "Spicy sriracha worms."
  • "May the violet be with you... always."
  • "GnomeSphere... it never ends [TM]."
  • "Obey the slither!"

All in all, both groups were fantastic!  I had a blast GMing for everyone, and I hope the memories of Cha'alt will live long and prosper in our collective imaginations.

Ok, part 2 should come tomorrow.


p.s. I managed to move all 4 sessions to a less noisy, less distracting area of the hotel so we could all enjoy the game without shouting, wondering if we actually heard the other person correctly, or daydreaming about the guy at the next table dressed as Gandalf being bludgeoned into unconsciousness with his own Dwarven Forge terrain.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What's the opposite of humble?

I had intended to stay quiet about everything I know, but this post here on Tenkar's Tavern was, I suppose, the straw that broke the camel's back.

Or maybe because it's almost St. Paddy's Day and the Irish in me just won't let it go.

As much as anything, this blog post is a warning against centralized power, its corrupting nature, cults of personality, and the slippery slope of authoritarianism (yet I hope to keep this apolitical).

Now that I re-read this, it's really long, but I wanted to provide as much as possible so people wouldn't respond with "But, but sour grapes and stuff..."  Yes, some of my interactions left me with bitter feelings, but this is not retaliation for a few slights.  Rather, I want to shine a light on a very public figure before he becomes "too big to fail."  This is to open discussion while it's still feasible to critique the Tenkar Empire without disastrous reprisal.

A little backstory, I've known Erik Tenkar for years, since I started blogging and writing OSR stuff back in 2014.  He was a prolific and well known blogger in those days and his power and recognition has steadily grown since then.

For awhile, Erik and I didn't get along.  But then we kind of got over that and became the kind of friends that's really more like online acquaintances.  He helped me out with promoting various projects, and I tried to show him the same consideration and loyalty (like defending him against Facebook attacks from Stacey and company).

There were isolated moments, like when someone would mention Erik's name in a g+ thread, saying it would be nice if he'd blog about whatever they were kickstarting or selling, but didn't tag him, and he'd find out about it and angrily blog about people who think they're owed.

Looking back, that kind of thing was a trademark of Zak S.  You'd mention his name in passing, and if it was anything but a glowing endorsement, he'd find out about it and criticize you or defend himself by clutching his "tavern keeper beyond reproach" pearls. 

Or when I commented on his blog post with less than complimentary remarks, like Frog God Games virtually giving their old Pathfinder compatible stock away at a convention... those comments either never made their way to his blog or were deleted without comment.

Not too long ago, I asked if I could guest post on his blog, which he regularly encouraged.  He said sure, but when I sent him the content, there was zero response and it never appeared.  That I can sort of understand, because it was a little risque, having to do with Alpha Blue and legalized brothels in Nevada.  Nevertheless, an email saying, "Sorry, that's too much." would have been nice.

And then there's the proposed OSR answer to the ENnies. Erik brought me into discussion and even asked me to be one of three judges.  It was going to be Erik, one of the Spahn guys (I think) and myself.  The OSR was going to have its own annual award.  After several back and forth emails, it was suddenly dropped.  I have no idea why.  I asked, and got no reply.  I assume it was because several OSR products were actually up for an ENnie award that year and a separate OSR award would seem redundant, but I'm still in the dark about those details.

As many of you know, Erik expanded his empire from blogging to podcasting and becoming a Discord fan.  He and his helper, Pex, asked me to join.  They created a channel or sub-section or whatever for Kort'thalis Publishing even before I could say yes.  That kind of reminded me of the whole U2 and itunes debacle, but I didn't want to make a fuss.  Ok, fine, I said.

Pex in particular would gently remind me on a regular basis to keep posting into the Discord void, so I did, even though it seemed no one was listening and I just didn't like the Discord format.  In fact, I was so impressed with Pex's constant encouragement (eventually, it probably would have seemed like nagging, but maybe that's because I've been married for 7 years), that I asked if he'd be interested in working for Kort'thalis Publishing.  He said yes after we negotiated compensation.

A short while later, I released my transhumanist blog post.  It was a day or two before I could respond to anything because of my usual busy family life. 

Basically, I was booted from Tenkar's Discord machine and Pex told me he wanted nothing more to do with me.

I received an email from Tenkar. The subject line was "Man did you step in it."  In the email he states that he wasn't sure what my intent was, but that "flames were spreading" and there was a decision made to remove my publisher's channel."

Despite a few people coming to my defense and calling Erik "transphobic," I attempted to inform Erik on what was going on, why I posted it, etc.

He derisively responded with "Thanks for your concern. If I have something to say, You know where to read it".

I mentioned what had been happening on Twitter, and again one of Erik's spies reported the news back to him where he passive-aggressively responded in an email the following...

Twice on Twitter you claimed you were "kicked off" or expelled from The Tavern's Discord Server. Both times you were incorrect. Your Publisher's Channel was removed (as you were informed of) but you were still a member of the server. Since you desire to be removed from the server (based upon your own claims) we have now removed your membership from the server as you have indirectly requested.

Erik Tenkar

I responded by asking why I'd want to stay somewhere I was clearly unwelcome?  And that he was effectively exiling me from the Tenkar Empire.  I haven't spoken to him since (but seeing him at GaryCon might be awkward).

Before the whole transhuman blog post, Tenkar had mentioned his support of my upcoming Cha'alt project.  Said that he looked forward to seeing more and talking about it on the various places where he discusses RPG matters.

I never bothered to ask for his support when the kickstarter went live, weeks after the za'akier post.  Partly because I was confident he'd refuse, but also because I didn't want the backing of someone like that, someone who turns his back on a friend because of some ruffled internet feathers, someone who purports to be an ivory pillar of virtue and integrity, but when it really comes down to it is no better or worse than the rest of us. 

Erik, if you had taken money in exchange for mentioning products, that would be a lot less shady than what I've seen from you thus far. 

At least I admit that I'm just an old school smut-peddler who's just as easy to corrupt as the next guy. Sure, I can be a dick sometimes.  I also like to poke fun at sacred cows.  Hell, that's why I've taken Satanis as part of my name.  I'm down here in the dirt - below the dirt, actually; where the dungeons are... bedrock.  Hell itself!  I don't fire back at gamers with "How dare you, sir? I'm a humble bartender and have the utmost reputation!" pretentious twaddle. 

Erik, get over yourself.  The majority of people who've claimed that you have harassed them, most likely deserve it (deadbeat KS people, Stacey, etc.).  But also know that you're presence is intimidating to regular folks, too.  I, myself, hesitated before writing this because of who you are (OSR Emperor, Frog God representative, ex-cop, etc.), but I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I stayed silent.

To Erik's audience, I say this: Be careful of idolatry.  The neutral ground of today may become the golden calf of tomorrow...


p.s.  If anyone wants to get something off their chest or get sensitive information into the right hands, feel free to email me.  If you'd prefer to remain off the record, I have no problem quoting you anonymously.