Thursday, March 31, 2011

Archaic Dice - E-zine for SWCG

I sent out the first issue of Archaic Dice, the journal of the Swords & Wizardry Creative Guild, this morning. For some reason, not everyone got the text copy, so I sent a link to the pdf as a special notice.

There were a couple of omissions from the list of member blogs, so here are three more member links:
Carjacked Seraphim
The Yaqqothl Grimoire
Sword +1

Anyone wanting to join the SWCG, please email a request to: snwcreativeguild-subscribe@yahoogroups (DOT) com

New Review: Vengeance of the Long Serpent

Geordie of Haque in Black has done a great review of Vengeance of the Long Serpent (it's worth noting that Geordie only just added the RSS feed option to his blog, so unless you remove and then add it again to your blog list, his blog may sit at the bottom of your list even when it's been updated).

The review points out one minor weakness that I agree with - since it's a viking-themed adventure it doesn't instantly strike the reader with a lightning bolt when reading it, because it's more of a fantasy-Norse culture than something radically new to the reader. For me, as I read on, the fantastic side of the adventure didn't begin to grow until about halfway through, as it developed more, and at that point I started to see it as being like Conan's Black Coast adventures set in the arctic. But that didn't happen instantly.

As Geordie points out, it is extremely well designed for actual play at the gaming table. That's the other perception that for me began to develop only once I had gotten into the meat of the adventure. What appears that it's going to be somewhat linear in the first few pages of the module suddenly blasts wide open, but there's no real hint for the reader that the module will take a radical shift partway through.

I'm glad that Geordie was thinking about how the module will play out on the gaming table, because this is the stronger side of the module. It's the opposite of many of the modules produced by later-era TSR where they read fantastically well but fail as gaming modules.

Please read Geordie's review, but I'll leave you with this quote (emphasis added):
One of those module that didn't grip me on read-thru (esp. the long backstory) but it'd be cool to play through, having much more flavour than the vanilla fantasy stuff.

Chris, Serpents, and the Ides of April

The Ides of April: Advantages and Disadvantages
Although the ability to sign up for game tables at North Texas RPG Con still doesn't start until April 15th, it's time to start thinking about it since that date approaches fast (as USA taxpayers are uncomfortably aware - it's also the deadline for filing tax returns). Another note: it's the deadline for submitting articles for this issue of Knockspell Magazine, so it's going to be a busy day for American-conventioneer-author-tax procrastinators.

One of the things I'm going to do during the run-up to the convention is highlight a couple of the games being run at the convention (the OD&D and Swords & Wizardry games mainly, but some others of note as well).

Me Falling off a Chair, or, "Let Other People Do This Because I Would Die"
The first gaming table to highlight is that of Chris Cain, who will be running his table in the Saturday 8AM to 6PM slot. No, that isn't a typo - it's a marathon 10 hour session from what I can tell. The GMs aren't bound to run the entire length of their allotted sessions, so it might be a bit less, but still. Wow. I need to check and make sure that Mike and Doug didn't schedule me for anything that long, because I usually stand on a chair while running a game, and falling off in exhaustion would hurt.

Chris's Game Table
Ad Limina: What's A Nice Serpent Temple Doing In An Old Mine Like This?
(Sounds good already - what's not to like about serpents, temples, and abandoned mines?)

Game System : Swords & Wizardry
(I don't think Chris has decided yet whether he's using the WhiteBox, Core, or Complete Rules, but obviously that's a minor factor at a convention game - you'll know the rules even if you don't know the rules)

Basic Info: 4-8 players, characters level 3-5, use pregens or generate character at table.

World Setting: homebrew; a town called Limina (Latin for "Threshold") on the borders of a crumbling empire; several nearby dungeons full of mystery and treasure.
(It's nice that Chris provided the translation of "Limina" -- he's totally fluent in Latin, so don't try calling your levitate spell "wingardium leviosa" or your hold person spell "petrificus totalis.")

Short Description: Recent explorations by agents of the Merchants' Guild into The Old Mine, abandoned 10 years ago under mysterious circumstances, have turn led to rumors of fantastic wealth laying about for the taking. It's also produced evidence that an active, full-scale Temple of the Serpent Cult is in this "mine". The Serpent Cult was believed defeated over a millennium ago. What is going on here?

An old school dungeon crawl with plenty of monsters, mayhem, and mysteries to overcome. Come back to the threshold of adventure!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Note to all bloggers and other SWCG members

I have set up the Swords & Wizardry Creative Guild newsletter to be administered as a Yahoo group in order to ensure the privacy of members (the group is set up so that only I get responses, and email addresses of the members aren't shown to anyone).

However, this means that in order to get on the list, you need to accept an invitation to the group, which I have sent out. In the future, the way for a new member to join the group will be to email (I think that's how it works, anyway - if not, I'll revise this information).

If you e-mailed me with a subscription request and did NOT receive an invitation to the group from Yahoo, please try that email address above. Yahoo told me it had sent fewer invitations than I gave it on the invitation list, and I'm not sure why.

Publicity/Traffic Alert to Bloggers
The first newsletter, which I will send out in a day or so, when people have had a chance to accept the invitations to the group, will contain a list of member bloggers. If you have not joined (and your blog has a focus on OD&D, Holmes Basic, or S&W - or is entirely system-free), please make sure you send a subscription request so your blog can be on this initial list. Make sure you send me your blog's link in the email, so I can include it in the e-zine.


More Free Random Generation Tables

In addition to the free books of random generation tables from Courtney Campbell mentioned in my last post, I should also mention a couple of other excellent table-sites (all free):

Courtney's blog: Hack & Slash (you're looking for the DM1 and DM2 downloads on right hand side)
Tables for Fables
Kellri's netbook (scroll right-hand side looking for CDD #4 for the famous one)

If there are any other table-crafters out there, let me know, and I will edit this list.

With the help of the commenters, I am adding the following to the list:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I love random generation tables. Eventually FGG is going to publish the book of them that I compiled, but I just stumbled upon a really excellent book of tables by Courtney Campbell (fortunately not taking the same approach I did in mine, or I would have been totally scooped).

It's a free download - just go to hackslashmaster and scroll down, looking at the right hand side until you reach DM2: Tricks, Empty Rooms, & Basic Trap Design. It's a 30 page book of tables and commentary used to flesh out ... tricks, empty rooms, and traps, as advertised in the title.

There's a treasure book as well (less interesting to me than the other book because I can think up treasures all day long, but not traps or tricks). If you like treasure generation, though, grab it. It's also free, courtesy of Courtney.

I'm surprised that I haven't heard this book talked about more, because it's really a great resource.

Wow. (about page views - not substantive)

I just realized that I'm within, like, 17 page views of hitting 10K in the first month. I really made a lot of posts - I hope none of them turned out to be lame reading material. I've still got a tendency to think of this thing more like it's a message board.

Edit - so now I'm trapped here hitting "refresh" until it finally tops over and I'm set free. Which is lame, but at least honest.

...8 C'mon, Norway, you've got nothing. Kick it in. Czechoslovakia is ahead of you.
LOL still 3...
1 away!

10K page views!

Collector effect on S&W Tome of Horrors

Clark Peterson's announcement that he's starting his own company could create a market-cornering situation on those Tome of Horrors books (ie, if it's the last publication by Necro Games, collectors may have an abnormally large presence). I am going to talk to Bill about reserving some copies for SWCG members, although I don't know exactly how that would work in terms of details.

As far as I know, this isn't anywhere near approaching a risk level (I am NOT trying to stampede sales: I don't even think the size of the print run is established yet, so it could presumably be increased to meet an unusual demand if that surfaces), but I want to ensure as best I can that we don't have a situation where non-players crowd out the players.

I really don't want to repeat the situation where we sell out of something in 14 hours and leave a lot of actual gamers with no book. I'm not sure this is even necessary since it's not a limited edition (AFAIK) but I am still inexperienced enough with traditional publishing that I want to make double sure it's covered.

Requiem for Necromancer Games (?)

It looks like the Tome of Horrors Complete is probably going to be the last product to leave Necromancer Games. That's a conjecture from a phone call I had last night with Bill Webb; we were talking about Clark Peterson's decision to create a new company outside of Necromancer Games, and the absence of mention of Necromancer was very telling, even though Bill didn't outright say that the company was ceasing activity beyond selling the old pdfs. The lack of mention, though, echoed pretty loudly.

This is one of those posts where it's clear that I'm a "comeback" old school gamer rather than someone who stuck with original or first edition D&D all the way through to the present day. This post will likely be of considerable interest to anyone who returned to old school gaming after a brush with 3e, but not so much, if at all, to the true diehards.

The reason I'm pretty sure this will be of interest to the comeback gamers is that almost by definition we were having problems with the way 3e was presented/played, etc, caused by the feeling that something was missing - what brought us back to the original rules in the first place. During the era of 3e, anyone who felt like the new style was missing something came together under the aegis of Necromancer Games.

Necromancer's motto was "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel," and although many of us have (again, by definition) decided that one might as well go with first edition rules as well, the Necromancer Games products offered a true alternative to the standard 3e approach if you were still playing 3e. Game balance was downplayed in Necro products, themes were often darker, and the "world" seen in the modules was far quirkier and less standardized - more swords & sorcery - than the world seen through the lens of the WotC modules. As such, Necromancer Games probably started several of us on the pathway back to the older rules themselves, and it definitely stood as a beacon (or perhaps a dark monolith) pointing the way somewhere else.

For a long time, Necromancer Games has been quiescent, following a blowup involving one of the two owners, Clark Peterson, at the time of the 4e release. Clark announced that Necromancer would make 4e modules, and was a strong apologist for the 4e rules, only to back off rapidly when he saw just what WotC expected third-party publishers to give up in exchange for the right to publish under the 4e regime. For a long time (measured in game company years, which are like dog years) Necromancer disappeared from the scene.

The first reappearance from the still silence was Bill Webb, developer and author of most of the Necromancer Games material (Clark was generally billed as the overall "producer," with Bill more in the creation side of things). Most of the people reading this blog are probably aware that Bill's Frog God Games is the producer of the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook and several Swords & Wizardry modules. Bill is actually one of the diehards who basically stuck with the original editions for his home gaming table, and the Necromancer 3e products he was involved with were translations of material produced originally for 1e.

Now, Clark Peterson is apparently returning to the publishing scene, announcing that he's going to be producing pdf modules for Pathfinder. It's not going to be a joint effort with Bill Webb; Clark's publishing business will be independent, which means that at this point, there's nobody really left in the Necromancer Games shop any more. Both the principals are devoting their efforts to other ventures.

For those of us who survived on Necromancer Games products before realizing that we actually needed to get back to basics, it's sort of the end of an era. I don't know for a fact that either Bill or Clark considers Necromancer Games to be truly dead, but that's the way it looks.

These are my conclusions only - Bill didn't specifically say that this was the case, and I imagine that there would still conceivably be a new project originated under that "recording label," as it were, but I don't see it happening. My opinion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wham vs Trampier: two paradigms

The above picture by Dave Trampier is one of the iconic images of Advanced D&D, along with many others of Trampier's illustrations. Without question, Dave Trampier's art was the defining imagery of fantasy gaming for me, and for many others. The dark shadows, gleaming gold, and rugged-looking adventurers in this picture come together to form an intensely powerful piece of art.

And then, marching bravely into the landscape ...

... come Tom Wham's adventurers, an equally avaricious-looking crew.

These two groups of adventurers represent two entirely different ways, I think, to perceive the game. On the one hand, Trampier's image is a brilliant portrayal of what happens INSIDE the fantasy world, seen from its own eyes.

On the other hand, Tom Wham's picture is an adventuring party seen from the outside, from the perspective of the gamer looking in. Because let's face it, most of our gaming sessions have plenty of Tom-Wham-adventurer moments in them. Quoting Monty Python? That's the Tom Wham guys. Dancing around the table when your roll for dexterity comes up triple 6's? That's the Tom Wham guys.

Trampier renders images of the fantasy that surrounds the gaming. Wham, however, does an equally fantastic job of rendering imagery of the gaming that surrounds the fantasy.

It's like the optical illusion of the vase and faces:

These two artists basically define two different perceptions of the same thing.

So remember, when you are looking at Dave Trampier's art, Tom Wham's art is looking at you.

Best picture from WotC: Caves of Chaos

Since I mentioned Dungeonpunk in a rather dismissive fashion in an earlier post (and I am seriously spamming my own blog today), I thought I would point out that even WotC hits the nail on the head sometimes. This piece by Michael Komarck (called "The Caves of Chaos") was done for the WotC Players Handbook II. While it obviously doesn't correspond to the map of the Caves of Chaos in terms of what's portrayed in the picture ... I'd frankly be willing to make the map correspond to the picture, which I think absolutely rocks. There's something about doors carved into walls, and deep crags, and not-quite-straight architecture that really kicks loose my sense of imagination.

Even the fighter and the elven magic-user are okay in terms of not being too punked-out, although the naugahyde halfling could definitely go.

New Monster: Cockasaurus

So I went over to Al's post at the Black Gate, where he provides a helpful list of what one should blog about today. It seemed like an odd list, but Al is an experienced blogger and no doubt knows what he's talking about, so I took out the dice and rolled a 7.

Hit Dice: 9
Armor Class: 4 [15]
Attacks: 1 bite (1d10)
Saving Throw: 6
Special: Crow
Move: 6
Alignment: Neutrality
Challenge Level/XP: 10/1400

The cockasaurus is a giant rooster almost the size of a cottage. It has scaled skin rather than feathers except for a ridge of plumage running down its back and ending in a rooster's typical tail (albeit a tail almost six feet in length). Although the creature has a deadly bite, it must be feared mainly for its ability to deafen and paralyze opponents by means of its unbelievably loud crowing. At the beginning of combat, the cockasaurus crows, causing everyone within a close hearing distance to make a saving throw or be paralyzed with pain for 2d6 combat rounds. Even those making the saving throw successfully will be unable to hear for the same 2d6 rounds.

The cockasaurus will only crow once, at the outset of combat; the monster is too stupid to use the ability in a tactical manner - the crowing is merely instinctive.

Cockasauri are occasionally found in the company of 1d4 chickehemoths.


This post isn't going to be a slam against the "dungeonpunk" style of the third edition books, although I must say I'm not a fan of it. It's just that something occurred to me, based on the realization that dungeonpunk effectively mimics a real-word fashion.

Here's the question: the 3e generation was handed a particular vision of the fantasy world based on a fashion that had occurred and largely retreated into obscurity before the publication of the game. What I started wondering is whether there's a correlation between the age of the artist (or creative director when there's a unified "look") and the aesthetic of a different generation.

In other words, guessing at a particular average age of a D&D player, the mainstream punk era probably took place sometime maybe 20 years before the player picks up a D&D book in 2000. That's just shy of one average generation. Not quite their parents.

Maybe it's the younger uncles and aunts, maybe it's what shocked their parents, maybe it's completely unrelated, maybe it's related to the age of the creative directors and not the audience. Still, it's an interesting question.

The new age aesthetic of the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance clearly didn't reach as far back for the aesthetics, in terms of generations, as 3e did. And I'm not sure you can really identify a unified aesthetic for AD&D, but there's a 70s vibe to some of it, at least (Otus and some Trampier), which would tag a generation that's the new players' older siblings, not a generational gap at all.

In other words, I can't spot any direct correlation, but it did strike me that in no case did the aesthetic of the fantasy world reach back to the age of one's parents. It always seems to be drawing NOT on what's going on right at the moment (4e is not "grunge D&D"), but not TOO far into the past. It's based on something that happened in between your generation and your parents'.

Just an offhand thought, signifying nothing and not even full of sound and fury, but I thought I'd mention it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Left Brain, Right Brain

Lots of people probably know that art is one of my favorite things about swords & sorcery and fantasy in general. I love it when bloggers post cool pictures from an artist I've never seen before. So I just wanted to mention that Josh Sherrer has put up some freaky weird paintings by an artist named Zdzislaw Beksinski.

Link to the Grimmhaus weird art post. It's safe for work and is not gory, but it is spoooooooooooooky.

Interestingly, because they don't come in the right order, Josh also describes a new monster here that could almost be the write-up for the thing in the third Beksinski painting (it's the second monster described in his post, the screamer). I'm curious whether Josh was looking at those images back when he wrote up the monster descriptions.

Moving on to the left side of the brain, Beedo has posted an excellent analysis for the number-crunchers in the crowd, looking at what you can get from various classic modules (and a couple of new ones). This is really worth taking a look at.

Review of Jungle Ruins (Omote)

Duke Omote has reviewed The Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti over at Dragonsfoot! He has given in 8.5 stars out of 11. I must have sent him the Pathfinder version, which was an accident -- I meant to send the S&W version -- but his review doesn't address game details, so it applies to both versions of the module.

Omote's Review of Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frog God Games Releases Eclipse of the Hearth

This is a bit belated, but the release of Splinters of Faith 5, Eclipse of the Hearth, came right around the same time as the release of Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti, The Nameless City, Revenge of the Long Serpent, and the free release of Last Priest of Sebek. This module is #5 in the series of Splinters of Faith modules (a series, but each one is stand alone). This is one of my two favorites in that series (along with #3). It's very sword & sorcery, with a desert theme.

Description: The pyramid Seraph, once a holy temple, now lies under the sway of darkness. Breaking into the temple is hard enough, but braving the sinister twists awaiting in the dark catacombs will test the strongest PCs. Level 5-7.

Price: $8.99 for book and pdf (book is softcover).
$4.99 for the pdf alone, if you don't want the book.

Sorry for not posting anything yesterday - it has been a really busy couple of days in RL.

Friday, March 25, 2011

S&W Creative Guild - progress and update

Don't worry - this blog isn't going to turn into a house-organ for promoting the SWCG, but I wanted to do a quick follow-on post before moving more toward direct email contact with the guild members.

First, we have already gotten a membership of 24, which isn't at all shabby for day one.

A couple of questions that have been asked:
"Is this only for people who go to conventions?" Nope, it's for anyone who feels like it would be useful or fun to join, and doesn't mind the occasional email with information about conventions, blogs, etc.

"Can I be a member of this if I'm also in the Labyrinth Lord Society?"
Definitely. Many bloggers cover both, many people do convention games for both, etc. It's not at all intended to be exclusive. As mentioned above, it's for anyone who thinks it would be useful to join.

"Can I be a member of this if my blog covers only OD&D?" Yes, definitely. It's not intended to be exclusively for S&W; the goal is to promote OD&D just as much.

"Can I put the SWCG graphic on my blog?" Yes, that's what it's for; I just forgot to say so earlier. Sorry about that; oops.

Also, I added a page specifically for information about the Guild, for convenience.

That's all for now!
Again, if you want to join, just send me an email at mythmere at yahoo dot com.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Announcing S&W Creative Guild

The Swords & Wizardry Creative Guild is a resource organization for publishers, for bloggers, and for Referees who want to run convention or demo games for Swords & Wizardry and/or Original D&D. At first, the main benefit to joining will be a periodic e-zine with information about conventions, calls for playtesters from the various Swords & Wizardry publishers, and other resources for the production/promotion side of things that aren't purely about the gaming table. There will probably be some freebies, discounts, and other stuff involved at some point, too.

If you're interested in joining this group, please contact me at mythmere at yahoo dot com.

First actual event: I'm going to organize a meet-up at North Texas RPG Con for those interested in hoisting some beers and meeting face to face. More details on that as I get it better organized, with my exuberantly minimalist approach to what constitutes "organization."

NOTE - This is for OD&D as well as Swords & Wizardry. I will have a logo for for use by bloggers that mentions OD&D as well as S&W, because most S&W-related blogs actually cover both. [done]

In the meantime, if you're a blogger covering Swords & Wizardry, or a publisher of S&W materials, or if you want to run some public-type games, please join up!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

11 year old Matt writes dungeon map key

Still on the topic of my magnum opus megadungeon that I wrote at the age of 11 (the map is in this post):
I just don't think the pencil writing from the map key is going to reproduce well enough to read, so here are the first 5 entries (no fixing of grammar or anything):

2nd level

1. this large room has the air of a checkpoint. a small booth is next to the door, and inside are: a whistle, a sword, and an i.d. card.

2. 8 orcs hps 8,7,6,6,6,5,4,3 are playing cards in this room. The room is devoid of detail other than the table and 9 sleeping furs.
Every round the party is in the room, there is a 10% chance of another orc, hps 7 entering. He carries 4 dead sumatran rats. (food)
treasure - in a hole concealed by the rug is a ruby studded bracelet worth 1,500 gps.

3. this room is bare stone, but 3 normal arrows lie on the floor

4. as players [something is erased and written over here] enter the room, a bag drops from the roof, and bursts on the player first in the marching order. The bag contains 11 giant centipedes hps 2 each, +4 on save vs. poison
1,900 cps

5. Empty

My favorite room:

[handwriting changes a bit at room 34, so I must have continued writing the key a bit later - especially since I apparently had it mis-numbered: 34 is changed from 35, and 35 (an empty room) is squished in between lines.]

34. the first player to walk in this room will meet a nasty surprise! as he walks in, he will suddenly realize that he is surrounded by a sturdy cage. Before he, or any other character can react, the secret door closes & locks, as does the cage. Then the unfortunate spies an ogre grinning devilishly at him. The ogre pushes the cage, which is meshed - ie - no chopping at the ogre, away from the door, and presses another one in its pace. The ogre (hps [erased, but you can read that it was 18])begins to start a fire, and sharpen a butcher knife.
He owns 850 gps. in the lining of his clothing

Unfortunately nothing remains from my Greyhawk campaign that I ran in the early 80s, which had a large group playing in it. Goblinear Crag was basically a dungeon that I ran just with my best friend Jim, who had four characters that he ran as a whole party:
Glynn the Grey (Cleric)
Tyriene Redbark (elven FT/MU)
Aphsai the Monk
Morwin the Golden Crescent (thief)

This was all so long ago that I don't remember any stories from the adventuring in the dungeon except one - I do remember the tense situation in which every member of the party was unconscious except Morwin - and even Morwin was down to one hit point, so there must have been some truly epic battle. Anyway, I can remember the tension as Morwin would drag one of the other characters forward 120ft, go back, grab the next, and then once they were all moved forward, start over again 120ft at a time. All the while, wandering monster checks were being rolled, and if the wrong number came up, Morwin was going to head for the hills and leave Jim's other three beloved characters to get eaten. They must have survived, because we used those characters much later, even in a college game.

Goblinear Crag!

I present ... Goblinear Crag (second level). This was back from when I was 11 years old, discovered a few months ago in my parents' attic.
This is the second level of the dungeon - I realized that the first level is so small and lame because the party was headed directly for the second level, skipping the first. So, this level is actually a decent map. Obviously heavily influenced by B1. Later in the day, if I can make sure that a letter-sized graphic works on a blog, I'll post a scan of some of the key. The key is pretty funny, because it's so incredibly clear how much I was influenced by the Gygaxian writing style: "The room is devoid of detail other than the table and 9 sleeping furs."

From the comments to the earlier post, in which I asked others to list any other "when I was a kid" dungeons, here are other places to look:
Bobby's Dungeon
Alex Schroeder's Dungeon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tomorrow I'm Going To Embarrass Myself

Assuming I can dig it out, tomorrow I shall post scans of at least one level of my majestic megadungeon "Goblinear Crag" ... written when I was 11.

It sucks.

And it was also just about the most fun I've ever had in my whole life.

Which tells you, really, that for all the thinking you can do about tactics and backstory and other features of a dungeon, it really all comes down to whether you come into the game ready to have a blast.

It would be nice, when I get those scans up, to link to other people who have posted their "when I was a kid" dungeon plans. If you have done this, or know of any links with scans of people's "old dungeons," please comment so I can link up!


Ministry of Dice

I'm planning to build a "Society" for Swords & Wizardry (blogs, convention-referees, and third party publishers), and this is a draft idea for the basic logo.

Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Inside Scoop on Tome of Horrors

It's not really a news scoop, but it's a picture of some of the things that are going on behind the scenes with the Swords & Wizardry version of Necromancer Games forthcoming Tome of Horrors. A couple of days ago, John Stater mentioned (in a comment on this blog) that he was getting ready to work on some of the templates described in the Tome. When I heard this, I immediately emailed Bill Webb to discuss it, because I figured it was a bad idea to include templates.

There are two aspects to this - the first is the gaming value of templates, and the second is simply bad press. Addressing the second aspect, bad press, it might seem unfortunate that this is even a consideration, but the whole alliance between me and Frog God Games got off on the wrong foot with people when - after the announcement - several old schoolers took a look at the Frog God website and saw a comment from Bill that FGG wouldn't sell "crappy hand-drawn maps." Opinions rapidly circulated on message boards and in the blogosphere that this was a backhanded swipe at hobbyist publishers. As it turned out, Bill had intended it as a swipe against full-scale professional Pathfinder publishers who, he felt, were deliberately producing modules on the cheap. It's one thing to draw a map and present it based on aesthetics or based on a lack of money (eg, the hobbyists and/or the deliberate retro approach). It's another thing to have the money and make your decisions based on nothing but cutting costs. Remember, this was a comment on the Pathfinder market, where the expectations of cartography are different from ours.

Anyway, I'm off topic. I was talking about templates. The previous paragraph explains how we got off on the wrong foot, which, in turn, explains why we have to be careful, at least for now, about making another mis-step in terms of perceptions.

The material issue, however, is the whole concept of a template. A template is a series of instructions for changing a monster description, a little cookbook for how stats and skills are affected. This is an excellent tool for a highly complex game, because it does an end run around the long process of making a monster conform to these rules. Creating a monster from scratch in a complex game (at least, if you want to do it correctly) takes a long time.

For Swords & Wizardry, OD&D, AD&D, Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and all the other variations on pre-2000 D&D, the game is not complex when it comes to creating a monster description and stats. If you like an idea, write it down. If it ends up being more or less powerful than you need, adjust what it does. Done deal. You have a monster that perfectly fits your original idea.

Putting in a set of specific rules for combining a monster and a theme (like "wraith" or "mer-" or "manti-"), in the case of an old school game, is simply a restriction - a set of rules - that acts upon the DM. Or purports to act upon the DM. That's not the Swords & Wizardry approach. Our approach is to offer ideas and resources, not to create more things that sound like rules. We would have been creating, without really intending to, a splat book.

We decided not to include any templates from the original Tome, although the example monsters from the template descriptions will be in there as monsters in their own right.

Whew - post written, and I have to take my son to school!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Player Handout for Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti

On Jungle-Ruins of Madaro Shanti we've had a request for bigger pictures of one of the clues (four stone heads) that are shown too small in the module. I've uploaded a pdf with bigger pictures suitable for handing out to the players.

Hopefully this will be a useful tool for DMing the module. The pdf is free, of course.

The module itself is found at this product page on the Frog God Games website.

WhiteBox .RTF file available

For those who aren't familiar with WhiteBox, it's the S&W version that mimics the first three OD&D booklets, without adding anything from the later supplements. All hit dice are a d6, spells don't go to as high levels as they do in the supplements, etc. It has the most human-scaled "feel" of all the editions. This version is the third printing. Calling it the third printing actually collapses the two Brave Halfling printings, but it makes it clear that there are three phases - the original version on lulu, the Brave Halfling phase, and then the post-Brave-Halfling phase.

Part of the plan with Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox is that it's a framework for people to tinker with, so for their convenience of editing I post up a word processing document of the rules. This makes it easier for people to personalize and print their own adapted books for a gaming table if they want to.

I have uploaded the word-processing file for Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox onto the server, and it can be downloaded from HERE.

There's no art, obviously, since it could cause downloading difficulties for the file, but all the text is in here for you to use in personalizing your own WhiteBox rulebook. I did change the format into US letter size instead of the original 6x9 for convenience of printing.

I've been told that an rtf file is more generally usable than a Word file, so that's how I uploaded it. If anyone runs into a problem with it, please let me know either here or on the Swords & Wizardry message boards.

If you're a tinkerer and the White Box set is your thing, download away!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Awesome Review of Spire of Iron and Crystal

Beedo of Dreams in the Lich House has written an excellent review of the Spire of Iron and Crystal.

This took me completely by surprise - it wasn't a review I solicited at all, and the module has been out for quite a while. Although readers should hit the link above to see the whole review, I'll quote my favorite part:

I found this to be one of the strongest adventures that's been published by the OSR. A few of my favorites (that haven't been reviewed here yet) include Stonehell, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and Death Frost Doom; The Spire of Iron and Crystal is right up there in terms of creativity and scope and is a must-have.

Maybe I'll write up some of the stories about this module at some point, if I can manage to tell them well, because some of the things that have happened in the module (especially at the session run at the first NTRPGCon) were freaking hilarious.

The module's available in two places right at the moment, because it's awaiting an upgrade to its maps and art before coming out through Frog God Games. You can get the pdf at lulu or a softcover of the original at Frog God Games. I haven't loaded it onto RPGnow, at least not so far.

Free Module Update

Interestingly, Last Priest of Sebek has only been downloaded 34 times so far, which is a fairly low number, although it's slightly higher than I would have expected for a for-profit module over its first two days. I didn't hype the module directly on message boards, although I did place links to the blog entry on several boards, so I think it got roughly the same publicity as a regular module (there were lots of page views here).

I'm drawing a rough conclusion from this that people actually are following the honor system about donating to relief funds - in other words, since there's cash attached to it, even though it's indirect, it's operating roughly like it's a paid module.

I find it really heartening about our community that as far as I can tell, an honor system works. Kudos to everyone who has donated to Japan relief and gotten the module, and hopefully the module's downloads will continue apace. In general, module sales tend to remain pretty constant for a week or so before they drop off, so I have high hopes that this module will "sell" at least 60-75 copies before it starts to tail off.

Thanks again to those 34 people who have already shown their generosity!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reviewer bloggers - You Rock!

Geordie Racer has just started a blog for old school reviews!

This sort of thing is what we really need out there. Continued kudos to The Underdark Gazette for the same approach.

Send stuff to these guys, and link to their blogs - independent reviews are what we all need with the plethora of resources out there.

Who else has blogs that are dedicated to reviews?

One answer (provided by edit) is Dreams in the Lich House (excellent blog name).

(EDIT: James M at Grognardia does reviews, of course, too! I was thinking specifically of blogs that are overwhelmingly dedicated to reviews).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Free Module - Japan Relief

I am posting up a free module on, with the request that if you download it, you also donate at least $1 to disaster relief in Japan. This page on contains links to various organizations that can take donations. It's just on the honor system.

Back to the gaming side, though:
The module is by Alphonso Warden - I bought the manuscript from Alphonso together with the one for The Nameless City, and it is usable as a prequel to Nameless City. It's 17 pages long (10 text pages, title page, intro page, 3 map/handout pages, and 2 pages about Swords & Wizardry). The art is by John Bingham, as with The Nameless City, and I did the maps.


This is the link to the lulu store, then just scroll down.

Japan Relief(?)

RPGNow has put up a button to bring in donations to help with disaster relief in Japan (SEE HERE), but I haven't seen any sort of package into which publishers can donate products, the way they did for the New Zealand earthquake. Does anyone know if I am just missing that program somewhere, because I'd like to put in at least one pdf into the package if they are going to do it.

On the same topic, NobleKnight is giving a piece of their action between now and March 21 for disaster relief. Relevant text of the NKG email follows:

Text of Aaron's email re: NobleKnight:
Hello everyone,

I'm sure you've all heard by now about the challenges our many gamer friends in Japan are facing. News is circulating that donations are on the low end and NKG has decided to chip in. We'll be making a base $500 donation as well as contributing 10% of every sale made through our website from you through Monday 3/21! We're also offering a 5% off gift certificate, at checkout type NKGJAPAN into the gift certificate field to receive this discount (please note this is good during the donation period until end of day Monday only). The donation (10% of your purchase, before shipping) will be made to the Red Cross via Paypal. We'll report back the total amount in our next newsletter and forward the Paypal receipt to anyone who would like to see it. If you do not normally order via our website please email me (or ask over the phone, in store, etc) so we can make sure the donation and gift certificate is properly credited!

Necromancer Games Tome of Horrors (part 2)

Moving on to some of the more interesting production decisions:
My first instinct on hearing about the plans for the Compiled Tome of Horrors were that the Swords & Wizardry version should be compressed into 2-3 monsters per page, dropping the page count to 4 or 5 hundred pages, which would drop the total price by a certain degree (not by half, because page count isn't the main cost component of a book, but significantly).

I initially had two problems with the idea of a 1000 page book with one monster per page. First: white space. The S&W monster descriptions are SHORT, even compared to 3e. They are really, really short compared to Pathfinder. I pointed out that you'd have a really ugly page, with a tiny monster description, big illustration, and empty space.

The second objection was based on maximizing sales, which might sound mercenary, but it's less so than it sounds. For me, S&W is intended as a way to introduce old-school type gaming back into the mainstream gaming audience. I don't see old-school gaming as intrinsically "better" or "worse" than the more rules-oriented later editions, but I think it is preferable or less-preferable for any particular gamer. Right now, this type of game simply isn't out there any more in any significant way. Therefore, maximizing sales is a major issue for me, because the more people who hear about it through the grapevine, the better we're doing at that goal. Also, it is an index of whether we are actually getting resources to the people who play the game, as well.

There are a couple of ways to maximize sales. Mine was based on "sticker shock." Many people will happily buy two books for $50 but shy away from a $90 book. It's simply that at a certain point, the number becomes so big that the potential buyer freaks out. I think that freak-out point tends to be lower among the generally older gamers than the younger ones, and the S&W market is likely 10 years older on average than the Pathfinder players. Hence, it made sense to cut the total cost, whether that meant compressing the monsters into more per page, or dividing it into two books. I preferred the former, because dividing it into two books would affect price less (you'd be paying the fixed cost of binding twice).

On the other hand, you can maximize sales by generating "buzz," and one way to do that is with an "epic" release. This book, at 1000 pages and with the Necromancer Games name behind it, will be an epic release. There's no question about that. Even if it were to have more of a sticker shock, it's possible (and Bill thinks likely) that the epic feel of it would make it attractive to more people. I still have the question of "which people?" but I think Bill has a much better sense of reaching out into gaming communities than I do.

The other big index of quality here was simply - are we providing value? The book has to offer lots of value to gamers, not just as shelf decoration. A big obstacle here for both the PF players and the S&W players was that some of these monsters have been seen before. The PF players mostly have copies of the original Necromancer tomes, and the monsters aren't totally portable to Pathfinder, but are fairly easily converted. Many of these guys have literally seen all these monsters before. The S&W players (except for a few) haven't seen the new monsters, but are familiar with the ones that came from the Fiend Folio. In this case, although there are many, many monsters that are totally new to these players, the FF ones are already known and need no conversion at all into S&W. There is zero value (except illustrations) for those monsters (we've fixed that with the lairs, but at this time I was very concerned about this).

So Bill came back to me on this with the idea of having a hex/lair description written by John Stater for each monster. Bill has been buying and reading Land of NOD longer than I have, and is a big fan. I reread my one Land of NOD issue in light of a possible author, bought a couple more, and agreed that John could write like a bandit. I still wasn't entirely sold on this idea, because my initial reaction was that no matter how good it might be, it would have all the risks of "filler material." Are we going to cut part of John's lair-description if that's needed to keep everything on one page?

It does, however, emphatically solve the problem of added value. It changes the book from a traditional encyclopedia of monsters into something very different - a monster resource with a different and more comprehensive feel to it. I have never been a fan of the way 2e added depth into monster descriptions by formalizing the description and providing material about ecology (which I think is limiting). However, this was a way to add richness to a monster without creating a limitation within the monster description. It adds ideas, not limits.

Once we juggled around those various options, I ended up agreeing that an epic release of an added-value book, even though there would likely be some people who avoided it due to sticker shock, was probably the best balance of the options. You can't create a book that pleases everyone - not even in terms of how people use the book, much less aesthetic considerations - but you can make (or fail to make) decisions that are optimal. I think we have done that, planning the best possible book to accomplish the goal of maximum new value per page while still reaching out to new audiences.

The next set of challenges is to produce the book we envision - meeting those goals with good writing, strong binding on the book, etc. For a book this size, the production of it will be as epic as the book itself. There will no doubt be crises, disagreements, and panics galore as well as triumphs -- it's going to be a wild ride.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Necromancer Games Tome of Horrors (part 1)

Probably a lot of people already know that Necromancer Games is going to be releasing a Swords & Wizardry Tome of Horrors. Some of the information about it is scattered here and there, so it's worth a recap/summary here. The official description and preorder page is HERE.

Quick Disclaimer: I've realized in re-reading this post that it might sound defensive, since I'm answering questions rather than hoo-rahing the book. I'll hoo-rah the book when I see it, but don't take this as defensive - I'm compiling answers to several questions that have been asked on the net so that they're all in one place.

First off, this is a Necromancer Games product - not Frog God Games, but the original Necromancer Games company. It will be distributed by Frog God Games, just as Necromancer Games products have generally been distributed by other companies in the past (White Wolf, Troll Lords, etc). This fact is largely irrelevant to gamers, but it does introduce a couple of variables that I'll discuss in the second part of this article.

The book is being released in one Pathfinder version and one Swords & Wizardry version. The production teams (other than layout and Bill's final editing) are completely different. The Swords & Wizardry adaptation of the monsters is being done primarily by John Stater (of the Land of Nod magazine).

The page count on the Swords & Wizardry version is, like the Pathfinder version, estimated at around 1000 pages; the book comprises the monsters from all three volumes of the 3e Tome of Horrors. The reason the Swords & Wizardry version will reach this page length is because of extra material: each monster will have an encounter lair or hex description with it. If this were being written by a Pathfinder author (no offense to PF guys, but the style is very different), I would be eyeballing this additional material with grave doubts. However, it's being done by a serious old-schooler who has already demonstrated awesome skills at doing this sort of thing.

Back to that page count question. One significant reason for keeping the monsters to roughly one-per-page is due to a layout issue - you can only digitally re-size illustrations a certain amount before they start to pixellate. All the illustrations were done to match with long monster descriptions (3e), so they'd require a lot of re-sizing and possibly cropping to fit them into a layout where there were three or more monsters per page. Result - pick between (a) short monster description, big illustration, and whitespace or (b) 3+ monsters per page, but pixellated illustrations with shapes that cause the text to dodge, bob and weave just to stay readable. Neither would be an attractive option. The third option that Necro invented is pretty good, in my opinion.

Given that issue with layout (need to keep illustrations fairly large), adding a lair-type description with each monster is a fairly elegant fix in terms of what to do with the remaining white-space. This is especially true since many of the monsters from Tome of Horrors I are re-treads from the AD&D books that will already be familiar to old-school readers (this isn't true of the ones from volumes II and III). For the re-tread monsters, the only added value here is the illustration and the lair description; the lair description alone, if John maintains the quality of what he's done for Land of Nod, will be worth the cost of that page.

If we just crammed in the monsters, the book would likely be shorter, but the only added value on several of the monsters would be the illustrations. Now, monsters from the original Fiend Folio or MMII are included for more than just completeness.

More in the next post.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

About Conventions (and NTRPGCon Thurs Schedule)

Earlier on I posted a series about the Commercialization of the Old School. One of the conclusions I reached was that, along with the positive effects of the surge in old school publishing since 2000, there have been some negative effects, one of which is the increased commercial communication within the community. That commercial speech isn’t going away, because publishers are a new and very durable part of the hobby’s landscape. However, in this post I’m going to talk about a part of the surge in communications that’s not only unambiguously positive but that offsets the “for profit” buzz generated by publishers such as myself.

That benefit is conventions such as North Texas RPG Con. Note: the only reason I have so much to say about NTRPGCon as opposed to GaryCon is that I can’t make it to GaryCon but I can make it to NTRPGCon. So NTRPGCon serves as my example for everything.

The conventions have a for-profit presence, but since it’s in a dealer room, and since there have always been commercial publishers at cons, and since the dealer room is actually an attraction at conventions, a convention is one place where the presence of new publishers doesn’t create any negative effects, and actually creates a very positive one. “Hey, there are new products here! And they’re old school! Woohoo!” Unlike the internet, where free materials are part of the landscape, you can’t download material at a convention. You didn’t go there expecting free adventure modules, so there’s no broken expectation when the modules aren’t free. If you know that your gaming budget doesn’t include purchases in the dealer room, you don’t feel slighted when things for sale are beyond your budget. Indeed, the low cost of the recently published material relative to the original, marked-up books is a nice thing. Maybe your low convention budget isn’t so much of a problem, and you can walk away with some stuff after all.

In any case, that’s a digression back to an original topic.

Let’s talk about some games.

We’re a little ahead of ourselves, because you can’t actually reserve seats until April 15. It might be that on April 14th I’ll revisit this topic to get everyone fired up for the con. Anyway, first I’ll take a look at Thursday evening’s games.

Probably the biggest event on Thursday evening is the Charity game being run by Jon Hershberger using the OD&D rules. By paying $2, you can watch the game: this might seem like total idiocy (pay to WATCH a game???) until you see who’s playing. The players are: Erol Otus, Rob Kuntz, Tim Kask, Dennis Sustare, Paul Jaquays, Steve Winter, Frank Mentzer, and Jim Ward. In other words, this is a star-studded adventuring party. We’ll see how good these guys really are, and how they do it. I predict high attendance for this event.

However, this isn’t the only show in town. The first heat for the Circvs Maximvs tournament takes place almost in the same time slot, although you can watch an hour of the charity game before tying the reins and stepping into your wheels to compete for the three Red Faction slots.

The first expedition into my “Ruins of Mythrus Tower” megadungeon also takes place on Thursday night, and fortunately this doesn’t roll around until the charity game is three hours in. I want to watch that game, and I’m glad not to miss all of it. In fact, if I were going to miss all of it, I’d be whining at Doug about the scheduling. But I can live with only missing an hour of the expo game.

There are plenty of other games in that time slot (after three hours of the expo game, missing only one hour of it). Basic D&D (Moldvay), AD&D, Paranoia, a game called Urutsk (not familiar with this) and …a Chainmail battle (Five Armies) run by Marshal Mahurin. Miniature wargaming!!!!!!

Thursday night is all I have time (or space) to cover in this post, but I’ll return to the convention’s playlist again to cover the later stuff!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North Texas RPG Con

This post is actually the first in a series of posts about conventions, and there’s kind of a twist to where I’m going with it. However, this one’s the intro post, and it’s just the lead-in to the twist. For those who are wondering, no, North Texas RPG Con is NOT run by drow. It’s run by Doug Rhea and Mike Badolato, who are both more insidious than drow (Mike) and more dangerous than drow (Doug packs “heat,” as they say).

North Texas RPG Con is home. Collectible card games aren’t allowed, and neither are 3e or 4e D&D. Okay, that last was waived one year for the kids of older attendees, but it basically still stands. What you get when you walk into this convention is pure, unadulterated old school awesomeness. Rob Kuntz lingers outside chain smoking, Frank Mentzer is listening patiently and intently to someone as he actually thinks about beer, Tim Kask is acting out the way he talked on the CB radio to get the TSR van across the ribbon of distant highway on the way to a convention. Erol Otus will be there. Dennis Sustare will be there running a Swords & Wizardry adventure. A bottle of Jack Daniels sits in front of the DM screen at Bill Barsh’s table. Want a copy of the original Tegel Manor, or Caverns of Thracia? It’s for sale here. It rocks.

Dates of the Convention: Thursday June 2, 2011 @ 1500 until Sunday June 5, 2011 @ 1800

Next post, unless I get derailed, is going to be about the various events and games on the convention schedule. We probably still won't get to the twist.

A Little Creativity Fart

Poison Gas is a staple of many dungeons.
There's not much to add in terms of WHAT a poison gas does: it might simply be save-or-die, it might lower an attribute score, it might cause paralysis, etc.

However, I was thinking about one particular style of the delivery of poison gas, which is more centered on how it operates in a game, as opposed to how it operates in terms of effect.

It has to do with the "puzzle," however it's posed (as a puzzle or just a thing to manipulate for right or wrong). Poison gas would in many circumstances be delivered by the combination of two chemicals, right?

Give the players the chance to do this themselves. In general, this would work best if some of the possible combinations are actually beneficial. I'm not going to go into possible beneficial results of an inhaled gas for the same reason that I'm not going to go into negative effects - you can probably generate that list in a few seconds. However, here are a few "scenarios" in which a combination of how the players could cause the release of a gas.

Pouring stuff from a kettle into the open top of an idol (second chemical is in the idol's belly. Picking the right thing to pour would affect which gas you get.

Two bars of a solid can be touched together (possibly with a machine that could allow you to combine different ones). When the solids touch, it causes a chemical reaction where they begin to sublimate into the gas when they touch.

Diverting a channel of one liquid into another channel (mechanisms to allow you to do so).

Opening more than one vent to release two gases that are individually harmless but combine into poison (or something good). I can see a room with several vents, and possibly combinations of 3 gases as well as just 2.

Potion bottles that in addition to containing potions release wafts of harmless gases that, as above, combine if they are in the same room.

Liquid that if poured onto an altar (which is smeared with a solid) causes a chemical reaction with that solid...

Another Great Review for Nameless City

James at the Underdark Gazette has delivered an excellent review of the Nameless City by Alphonso Warden, following up on the earlier five-star review on RPGNow.

The rpgnow page for Nameless City (Complete S&W or OSRIC): HERE
The rpgnow page for Nameless City (White Box):HERE
Lulu Storefront (pdf and printed copies of both versions are here): HERE

Monday, March 14, 2011

AD&D vs OD&D in Knockspell

I've noticed something quite interesting with the various submissions to Knockspell Magazine over the course of five issues. This is that despite the massively wider audience of AD&D, despite the fact that Fight On! is focused on OD&D, and despite the fact that there is not a corresponding AD&D magazine, the vast majority of articles I receive have been designed and/or statted for OD&D rather than AD&D.

I suspect that one reason for this is that I've done most of my author recruiting via the Swords & Wizardry message boards (OD&D), but I have also done an equal amount of recruiting offers at Dragonsfoot and Knights & Knaves.

I can't account for it. Feel free to discuss. :)
(as long as it doesn't turn into an edition war)

PS if anyone wants to contribute to Knockspell #6, either art or articles, contact me at mythmere (at) yahoo (dot) com. I'm bringing them in now - the deadline is April 15 (which is likely to slip a bit). Monsters, magic items and spells are all welcome, adventure modules are particularly welcome, and I'm also interested in getting a few reviews of recent publications or funny convention stories. Fiendish tricks and traps are also lots of fun.

RPGNow Review of Knockspell #5 (5 stars)

This short 5-star review was posted by featured reviewer Stuart Robertson at RPGNow for Knockspell Magazine Issue #5:

The Review:
This is a really fun periodical and I look forward to new issues being available. It reminds me of the D&D magazine I used to read back in the 80s and is filled with the same kind of material. Interesting articles, new monsters and spells, and a couple of neat adventures. I highly recommend spending the $5 for this PDF especially if you have an iPad or other E-book reader you can transfer your PDF to. Sitting with a cup of coffee and reading an old school gaming magazine is great.

[5 of 5 Stars!]

Available in both print or pdf at the Lulu store (
or at RPGnow as a pdf:

The table of contents:
2 Editor’s Note, Matt Finch
2 Adventuring at Conventions, Tim Kask
3 Teach Your Children, Bill Webb
6 Out of the Bag: Generating Encounters with Scrabble Tiles, Jim Pacek
9 Dark Gods, Al Krombach
12 WhiteBox Weaponry, Richard Lionheart
18 Where Dwells the Mountain God, Bill Silvey
28 Operation Unfathomable, Jason Sholtis
49 Weird Watery Magic of Vats and Pools, Richard Hart
53 Five Portable Rooms, Andrew Trent
56 Magic Items of the High Seas, James E. Bobb and Kim Nicholson
57 ‘Don’t Touch Anything’: Traps in Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Edition, Scott A. Murray
59 Sorcerous Servitors, Jason Sholtis
61 NPCs of Note, Rob Hewlett
62 The Bestiary, Matt Finch

Sunday, March 13, 2011

RPGNow Review of Nameless City

This review was just posted at RPGNow by one of the staff reviewers (assuming that's what "featured reviewer" means. Here is the link to the Core Rules version - scroll down for the review.

The Review:
Mythmere Games, who gave us Swords & Wizardry, have recently published a new adventure and I decided to download it. I am very happy I did.

The Nameless City is built in the same vein of the old TSR S-Series, the same that gave us Tomb of Horrors and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. The adventure is for higher level characters, 7 to 10, and the adventure is certainly a deadly one.

The adventure itself is something of a cross between a dungeon crawl and an H.P. Lovecraft story (the Nameless City in fact). There are plenty of degenerate lizard men, a cult to a forgotten god ala Lair of the White Worm, undead galore and of course dinosaurs and crazy snake-people cultists.

While there is nothing per se new here, it is all put together in a rather interesting and fun way. Yes this adventure is dangerous. The first room is enough to kill most parties and they have not even gotten into the city yet.
There is a bit of "old school ecology" here, ie monsters seem to be here for the sole purpose to be killed, but that is fine really and the adventure does give reasons why everything is in the place it is in.
The maps are nice, but I like mine a bit larger, but that's fine.
The plot is thin, but more robust than most of the old school modules it emulates and it does, I think, exactly what it was setting out to do.

What do I like about this?
Well the obvious and acknowledged nod to both Lovecraft and the dungeon crawls of old are nice.
Killing undead is always a plus in my book.
Loved the desert setting. Investigating pyramids is always a blast.
Snake-People as secretive cultist like bad guys pretty much moves anything to the top of my list.

So this adventure succeeds for me on many levels.

I would have liked some more art sure, but what is there is very useful and the rest I guess is up to me and m players. Again, bigger maps would have been nice.

The Nameless City comes in two flavors, S&W Complete or Core Rules/OSRIC version and a S&W White Box Version. The rules are the same, except where needed and the monster stat blocks differ. Of course either version should work well with any version of D&D or it's clones you desire. Heck even with a very, very minor amount of tweaking I bet it would work well with 4th Edition, Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds or even Ghosts of Albion. If I were Mythmere games I'd be looking into a CoC version myself.

The Nameless City is fun adventure and one that can be run in an afternoon or so. And for the price it is a steal.

[5 of 5 Stars!]

Giant aardvark illo

Most likely, I won't have a substantive post today, because I'll be busy doing family stuff. Thus, I leave you with a giant aardvark. (click to enlarge).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Darker Side of D&D

I wrote in my last post about the fact that the majority of people currently in the old school community are adults who have reached the age where we have kids, and have, as a result, made some decisions about how (and whether) to extend the game to the kids or to keep it as an adult preserve. The reason for keeping it as an adult preserve, if one has chosen to do so, is probably because the adult gaming table doesn't have to worry about things like swearing in front of kids, stopping to explain rules ... and generally to let the adults play the game without having to be parental or deal with being a "grownup" in front of someone else's kid. Having a no-kids gaming table allows the players to cut loose with whatever. To have the same sort of freedoms to game balls-out at the age of 15 ... provided your parents weren't around to hear the swearing or the adult themes that they still wanted to protect you from without realizing that you're quite familiar with them from exposure at school, in the news, whatever.

That's the lead-in to this post.

Now. Let's look at swords & sorcery fiction of the golden age (or whatever - when Howard and Leiber were contributing short stories to pulp magazines). If I'm wrong about the "age," whether it's silver or whatever, that's unimportant. You know the body of fiction I'm talking about. These authors didn't at all shy away from having their villains be real villains. We're not talking about mustache-twirling Saurons with intentions to take over the world. We're talking about people (or things) that are personally sociopaths or have sexual quirks, or various other tendencies that accompanied a more supernatural aspect. They might also be trying to take over the world, or serve a dark god, or engage in other more generalized villainy that corresponds to the behavior of a high-fantasy villain. But the swords & sorcery authors often provided glimpses of the villain -- off camera at that time -- that established a personal level of evil.

I'm thinking of a Howard story in which the villain takes a whip to a scantily-clad dancing girl, or the Leiber story in which a lesbian couple amusingly and brilliantly outwits Fafhyrd and the Grey Mouser. Here we're seeing themes that weren't common topics of polite conversation, although the vast majority of adults knew they were out there.

Gaming is escapism, like fiction. There's an interesting question of what we escape into. A world where adult themes might lurk - whether they're amusing, such as the Leiber story, or whether they are present in the background or foreground because villains are evil and everyone around the table is adult enough not to flip out about finding bondage-leather in the side-room of the villain's bedchamber.

Humankind has plenty of wells of darkness in pretty much everyone. We evolved in a tough world, and there is a lot of aggression and freak hardwired into our gene pool. That stuff is in there because it is the raw material for being combined, here and there, into specialty-humans who will improve the chances of the general population to succeed and flourish. Humans are just about the only animal (ants being virtually our only kindred in this) that wages war. Both species also take slaves. Lesbian seagulls (many species exhibit lesbianism in the gene pool) have a much higher rate of surviving offspring than heterosexual gulls. Rape is endemic in chimpanzee and gibbon populations (I don't know about other primates, but chimps are our closest genetic cousins). Basically, the gene pool of humankind is vicious and contains raw material that can - in the rarer double-or-triple combinations, generate some very, very nasty folks. Sociopaths, child molesters, etc. Our genetic development has decisively won the macrobiological niche for big critters. We didn't get there by being nice. We did it by keeping the potential for murder, rape, genocide and slavery just under the surface of our normal specimen. We all carry the latent genes for that, although in many cases the merely latent gene has no influence whatsoever. But in some cases it does.

Genocide? Here's an example close to home: mentally it's just a heck of a lot of fun to have those unambiguously evil orcs to wipe out. Or wipe out aliens in a video game. Unusual sexual behaviors are out there in force in society: mainly harmless and consensual stuff, but you can see that there's a darker source down there.

I'm not suggesting that D&D has any more connection to the darker side of our gene pool than, say, American football. American football is a shadow of gladiatorial games; it's a formalized combat. It has its own shadows of the violent side of human nature.

But I am suggesting that the nature of our escapism can have a very different tone if (a) you're playing with kids at the table, and (b) whether you prefer to keep the demons abstract, as in high fantasy, or - on the other hand - whether you choose to vicariously fight those demons in closer quarters.

No doubt a lot of what I've expressed here will have come across the wrong way, and will piss off people who decide that I'm making moral judgments aimed at their hearts, or that I'm suggesting weird connotations behind the D&D hobby. Not so.

Anyway, that's my post. If you're offended, you probably took it in a way that's not intended unless you believe that humankind is universally quite nice. In which case, I respectfully disagree. :)

Kids vs Adults in D&D

I think - and this is more true of the for-profit publishers but it might also apply to those who are producing free resources - that there is a general split within our community. This one isn't a split that causes acrimony, or at least, it only causes acrimony at the far ends of the spectrum.

The split is between those who are thinking of the game in terms of what younger kids - let's say middle school age - will or would see when introduced to the game, or the retro-clones, or the community, or the modules currently being produced. Many people who are playing Swords & Wizardry are using it as a game to play with their kids. I imagine the same is true of Labyrinth Lord. By contrast, OSRIC is a fairly overwhelming book, and obviously LotFP is simply not designed as an intro game for middle schoolers ... even though middle schoolers could probably handle the currently existing contents of Jim Raggi's products without too much trouble. Look at what's on the video games they play, and you see plenty of stuff that's over the top of what Raggi has done. I think Jim plans to get further out there than that, but I'm talking about his rulebook and the modules that have been published so far. But I don't think the material is aimed at kids.

So there are two different target audiences in operation. Most of the people playing right now are the generation between 35 and maybe 45. There are plenty of people in their fifties, and plenty of college students, so it's more diverse than that, but those are the far ends of the bell curve. This majority has kids that are roughly between 10 and 20, as a general estimate. And the dads (and moms, perhaps) are either playing with the kids or they aren't.

Which creates a big mental split in terms of what they want "the OSR" to look like. The ones who game purely as adults are perfectly willing to have material that shows a big more dark to it - we know what the actual world has and had in store for us. There's still the limiting factor of good taste, but the mental scope of escapism is fairly broad.

On the other hand, the parent-gamers don't want to see too much of that reach in the resources and games that they're looking at. It doesn't need to be "kiddie D&D," but there's a whole realm of fantasy that's rich and compelling without delving too deeply into villainy as it was portrayed in the sword & sorcery fiction. Let's be clear - even though most of the evil happened off screen, the suggestions of what was going on back there could get pretty rough, raunchy, or both.

This leads to two different approaches. One of the comments I made during the process of producing Swords & Wizardry Complete was that I wanted a 9 year old girl to be able to identify with it, and that I wasn't - in the rulebooks, going to cater to the darker side of a 13 year old boy.

That's in the rulebooks, not the modules - I have a much more flexible standard for the modules. Those are either getting bought by parent-DMs or by kids that are familiar with what the x-box programmers are dishing out to them.

In any case, this is something that I don't think many people have really identified as being a tectonic plate in our community. It's far less contentious, but it's an interesting way of noting that there are many "divisions" in our community that aren't the source of internet battles. We have many, many subgroups in the community that are perfectly healthy ones to have.

South Beyond

There's not an actual story behind South Beyond - I just drew it from scratch last night. It's very relaxing to grab pen and paper and zone out. The mental influences operating were Mu Pan and Clark Ashton Smith (as always). I tried to downplay the Asian side of it enough to leave it as a Sword & Sorcery feel that's more ahistorical.

Dharmatown had the influence of "Dharma Bums," so I had in mind a city or town that's got a fair amount of dilapidation and crime, but still vibrant in its culture and trade - just an underbelly of seediness and violence.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Map of South Beyond


I was drawing, and this is what emerged.

Swords & Wizardry Hardbacks Received

I've just been delivered the Swords & Wizardry hardcovers (the limited editions ones) for me to sign and send on to Bill for delivery to everyone.

They look awesome - the covers are much more of a matte appearance than the glossier ones that were rejected for flaws in the cover boards. The ink is also not quite as heavily laid on, either, so pictures with lots of black in them don't look shiny from the ink. Good looking stuff.

I've put in a phone call to Bill to make sure there aren't any special ways you're supposed to sign books (blue ink?). It's the first time I've done this, so I want to check.

Also, the shipping boxes say "Keep Frozen." I like that.

Artist Gig

Dennis Sustare is writing an adventure for his game table at North Texas RPG Con; the convention prints out copies (I think 25) of the big-name guys' adventures to sell from the convention's booth. Either Frog God Games or I will then do editing and layout on the adventure and publish it in the shaped-up form.

Dennis emailed me yesterday to see if there was anyone who would be willing to do some illustrations for the module before his deadline for the convention (which is April 15). This would be a paid gig (paid by me or Frog God, not Dennis), since the module will eventually be published.

I'd be looking for 2-4 interior illustrations, and Dennis has given me descriptions of a set of scenes he'd like. Pen-and-ink or greyscales that don't show computer enhancement are what we're looking for. So if those are your media and you're interested, please contact me at mythmere at yahoo (dot) com.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Commercialization Part 5: Actual Suggestions

At this point, I'm starting to wrap up the series of posts on the Commercialization of the Old School, moving from observations to suggestions.
Just to recap the earlier posts, which are here at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4:
(1) For-profit publishing isn't going away, because the money, even though it doesn't provide much of a financial reward, provides a psychological reward for publishing. Publishing resources is addictive and is an independent hobby for those who like to do it. Since they (including me) are going to publish anyway, they (we) will gravitate toward the methods that provide the most psychological reward.
(2) For-profit publishing is not going to drive out free publishing efforts. Many people don't fit the profile described in (1) above, because their source of psychological reward comes more from the giving than from the feedback. Moreover, there's still a "competitive" or "free market" incentive, whatever you want to call it, for a for-profit publisher to give away free material.
(3) Overall, for-profit publishing has increased the quantity of resources available. However, even though the resources are generally inexpensive, the amount of resource available to any given gamer is now limited by a budget since the additional material isn't free. There are more choices, but the benefit of the additional for-profit material varies in accordance with the gamer's budget. For someone with a gaming budget of zero, the available resources have (a) probably decreased somewhat, and (b) carry an unjustified stigma that it might now be only the lower quality resources that are available for free.
(4) For-profit publishing has changed the tenor of a lot of our discussions, even if it's just a matter of seeing a lot of publisher threads on the messageboards and blogs.

What sort of action is practical?
First off, the scope of desired change is limited: for-profit publishing provides a benefit, and isn't going away, so what we're looking for here is only the "win-win" types of changes which would snap things into a better situation. It's completely impractical to make sweeping calls for change, or generate manifestos, or propose any sort of plan for cooperative action that isn't (a) easy and (b) free. The further you move away from easy and free, the fewer people who will adopt the idea. If it's easy and free, and provides some benefit, you can start to gain traction.

Secondly, how do you figure out what to look at?
We identified the problems, which are (1) the poorer you are, the more pissed you are about the changes; (2) there's so much brand-management going on here that it doesn't feel as much like a community; (3) with more products out there, and not being able to page through them in a gaming store, it's very hard to identify what's good - and even some good resources might turn out to be something that doesn't match what you wanted, or what your style of gaming might be.

One exists right now, which is snarking at publishers like me. It's not very efficient in terms of hitting the right target, and since it's really directed at driving publishers away, it's not going to fully achieve the goal (see above, that people will keep publishing anyway). Nevertheless, let's be totally clear, it's about the only option available as a "protest" at this time.

A more productive alternative would be to create a message board dedicated to developing and offering free material. This already exists as a part of Dragonsfoot, and the commercial publishers are relatively well segregated there as well, so I think Dragonsfoot serves this idea with about 95% quality already. This indicates that the success of a splinter board wouldn't be likely, because most of the people working on free materials won't see a reason to splinter off from a board that already does a good job of this. So the bad news is that a splinter board is probably doomed - the good news is that it's doomed because one already exists. People tend, I think, to forget about the archives at Dragonsfoot because of all the for-profit noise, but it's there and it's active.

One good solution to the atmosphere of brand-identification would be to create an umbrella name brand that would indicate the broad compatibility of all these for-profit products. This wouldn't reduce all the commercial-type language of branding and trademarks and so on, but it would keep it from looking so much like a splintered community and make it feel more like a general project. Chad Thorson has offered one possibility on his blog Maximum Rock & Roleplaying.

I'm not convinced about the details of Chad's "OSR" logo, even though it's a really witty play on the old TSR logo. The reason I'm not convinced is that I think the focus of a logo like this needs to be on compatibility rather than on "revival" or "renaissance." If the logo were "old school compatible" I would adopt it in a heartbeat. I'd be happy to use one logo showing the broader-level compatibility of my modules (the "OSR" or "OSC" one) side-by-side with a second one that shows the more specific compatibility (i.e., with Swords & Wizardry and OD&D74). I'm not wild, on the other hand, about identifying with the "OSR." I don't have any issues with the term "OSR" to describe a time period or the general surging in resources, but I don't really see it as something that means anything if it's used to label an actual product. And I'm absolutely not criticizing Chad or anyone who is already using this logo - I'm just saying that I'm dithering on it for the time being because OSR, to me, doesn't say a darn thing as a description of a project. Am I an OSR publisher? Definitely. Are my products "OSR?" Yes. Does that say anything about the actual product? Not really. Have I got a better idea? Yes: calling it "Old School Compatible," but that's not much of an improvement in terms of what bothers me about the whole "community logo" idea, and in the broad scope of things it's like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

So, for the time being, I'm sitting on the fence as far as the idea of a community logo. I do think it would help matters some, BUT I also think that many people will just see it as a cynical profit-gambit or a rah-rah clubhouse attitude by whoever uses it. Indicating broad compatibility is one thing that's pretty unobjectionable, but claiming membership in a trend is somehow different. I can't put my finger on it, but something about it makes me uncomfortable.

More ideas and thoughts in a later installment...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Review of Jungle Ruins

... and I'll take this opportunity to mention that I support reviews even when they aren't ranting and raving about how wonderful a module is - Fire in the Jungle's review doesn't give the module a score of any kind, but it's obvious that he's not wowed by it.

His review is of excellent quality, in the sense that one can discern why he doesn't like something about the module and get a feel for whether his preferences match or don't match with your own. For example, he points out that two larger scale maps cover areas without filling in details other than the adventure focus areas - some people will like the flexibility given by that elbow room, others won't. He's in the latter category, unfortunately. :)

So even though I certainly would have liked the first review to have been madly crazy about the module, I am glad that the first review is a well crafted job, even if the reviewer's conclusions aren't totally positive.