Sunday, November 30, 2008

The full introduction for the Creature Generator is online!

SJG's E23 e-store has the Creature Generator here. Included on that page is a 3 page preview, with different pages from the Goodman Games' preview, and it includes the full introduction. Read it here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Impossible Task.

With The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra out and in stores, and Fantasy Fucking Vietnam having been crapped out, it's time to really settle on the next serious project. Insect Shrine is in the hands of the artist, so that's not something I can actively move towards completion myself. The State of the LotFP Union post had some ideas about where next to conquer, but my mind is swirling in other directions.

The Spell Comparisons post wasn't just done because I was bored. There are two things happening there. Number one, the "simulacra" are absolutely horrible at being publishing aids and guides. That's not their focus (especially now that OSRIC 2 is out). They're complete games, real D&D but with new branding (as opposed to fake D&D with the old branding). There isn't a comprehensive publishing guide that breaks down what terms and spells and monsters are OK for you to use in your own publishing. The 4th Edition SRD is absolutely the format that an oldschool "publishing guide" should take, and it can even be broken down by edition (of course not by name, even saying "Holmes" or "Moldvay" as identifiers may or may not be too much, but saying "1974" and "1977" and "1981" and "1983" would certainly work), and then published using just the OGL as being for "First Edition" or whatever. You still can't name the game you're actually publishing for if you're using the OGL, but you can write what you mean in the meat of your product with the OGL, without muddling the "brand" waters.

We know the score, but I really wonder if the gamer on the street knows what an OSRIC or a Labyrinth Lord are and what their relationship to each other and old D&D might be. But if you publish something just for "First Edition of the Leading Fantasy RPG" or whatever (hopefully something a little more elegant than that!), there is no confusion.

Not that this is a condemnation or criticism of the simulacra as
games. I run BFRPG myself, and that's a complete Frankenstein's monster of mixed up D&Disms. But as publishing guides? Fail! Fail! That's not what they're formatted to do! The products themselves mention it's allowed but don't show how. It's just "It's possible! Go do it!" And some enterprising individuals have, but there is still a lot of confusion about how it all works and I'm willing to bet there are a lot of creative people and good writers out there that would be contributing if some of these things would just show them explicitly how.

Maybe they could have separate "publisher guide" documents with the 4e SRD formatting. When publishing your own product, you just need the terms, not the details or the rules or the explanations. In fact, most of these terms are so standardized that it's just the spell descriptions that require the OGL. Hit Points, Armor Class, and many other terms became widespread in the gaming industry (look to the computer games of the 80s for many examples as well!). Monsters are easy to get around (mainly by not naming them!). I mean, there are probably a hundred ways to put a beholder (for one example) in a module without calling it a beholder or violating a copyright or the OGL - look how BFRPG has close-but-not-quite Carrion Crawlers and Displacer Beasts!

But it's the specific spell names that are difficult to identify in a precise manner this way. If you have a high level spellcaster in your product, you need to list the spells plainly without a lot of malarkey... otherwise, the spell listing is just going to be
pure compacted malarkey as you duck and dodge copyrights and such over one guy's stats. And thus, my little comparison spreadsheet as a start.

The other reason I did that is because I am beginning serious work on The Treatise of Ensorcelled and Occult Primeval Accoutrements for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games And Their Modern Simulacra, and organizing my work really does seem like an impossible task. How to create a random magic item generator in a way that's truly open-ended, putting the different elements of a magic item together much like the creature generator did for monsters, and yet not a complete unusable mess?

I thought a good second step (the first step was making a master list of physical forms the items could take) was to list out the spells and effects for all the versions of the game with which it would be used. See where things could be simplified (Control [Thing], Anti-[Thing] Shell, Resist [Form], that sort of deal) and and get an idea whether each magical item form should have its own unique list (with a compiled section at the end listing all effects) or whether there should be one Magical Effect List and each individual section merely offering guidelines on how they tailor each effect (a ring would probably operate differently than a magic rubber ducky, even with the same effect). I'll also be going through my HERO System books for inspiration... thank you UNTIL Superpowers Databases! And all those power advantages and disadvantages... that's like crack for the imagination.

So that's where I am with that right now. Hopefully in several months you'll all be making rolls and coming up with magical paintings that trap any viewer inside them and then fireball the shit out of them, but luckily you've got fingernail polish of switching places (in cases of entrapment) so it's actually the PC to your left that gets sucked in...

... and you'll never have to look at a Sword +1 again in your life.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"The 'reality' AD&D seeks to create through role playing...

... is that of the mythical heroes such as Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Kothar, Elric, and their ilk."

Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, page 90. Notable as much for what is stressed as for what is not.

Also some bits from Mr. Mornard here that calls back to some of my ranting here:

"Greyhawk didn't restock instantaneously, so areas you'd cleared out stayed clear. And, UNLIKE CONVENTION MODULES, there was a lot of EMPTY area, so you could, with caution, navigate around encounters with your only worry being wandering monsters.


Most modules were convention adventures.

Convention games must produce a 'winner'.

The easiest method of finding a winner is 'Whoever's body lands furthest from the entrance wins'. This makes your modules tend towards a linear kill zone design."

Two more Creature Generator reviews!

I've been away from blogoland for a few days, but here are a couple of new reviews here and here.

Actual content to come soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

D&D vs. the Simulacra Analysis - Spell Lists

First, here is an Excel format file that lists all the spells in OD&D, the Supplements, B/X, BECM, AD&D, Unearthed Arcana, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC 2, Swords & Wizardry, Microlite74, Basic Fantasy RPG, and Spellcraft & Swordplay.

Cross-referencing the spell lists, here's what we find... by game:

Spells Comparisons Between the Source and the Simulacra

(note that the exact spell name may not be identical - having "Darkvision" instead of "Infravision" is common, for example, and are not noted in the Excel sheet above. For example, Basic Fantasy as Flesh to Stone as an other example, where almost all the other games list Stone to Flesh. But they're all reversible... so it's really the same spell and is counted as such. Still, I may have missed combining certain spells that have different names but are really the same thing. Corrections are welcome and begged for.)


All Spells from AD&D 1E PH are in OSRIC 2

None of the AD&D 1E UA spells are in OSRIC 2

Swords and Wizardry

All Spells from OD&D Box are in S&W

Spells in Greyhawk but not in S&W
  • Darkness 5' Radius (but see below)
  • Explosive Runes
  • Mind Blank
  • Phase Door
  • Prismatic Wall
  • Raise Dead Fully
  • Ventriloquism

(All but the Darkness 5' Radius are in the SRD...)

Spells in S&W but not in OD&D
  • Cacodaemon (from AD&D)
  • Darkness 15' Radius (from AD&D) (that 5' radius crap in GH... what is that?)
  • Enchant an Item (from AD&D)
  • Prismatic Sphere (from AD&D)

Labyrinth Lord

Spells in B/X that are not in LL
  • Create Food (but see below)
  • Create Water (but see below)

Spells in Labyrinth Lord but not in B/X
(these seem to be filling in high level cleric and magic-user spells, since B/X goes to level 14 and LL goes to level 20)
  • Animate Objects (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Antipathy/Sympathy (From AD&D)
  • Blade Barrier (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Clenched Fist (from AD&D)
  • Clone (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Conjure Animals (from Greyhawk)
  • Create Food & Water (from AD&D)
  • Crushing Hand (from AD&D)
  • Cure Critical Wounds (from AD&D/Mentzer)
  • Delayed Blast Fireball (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Detect Lie (from AD&D)
  • Duo-Dimension (from AD&D)
  • Earthquake (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Find the Path (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Flame Strike (from AD&D)
  • Glassteel (from AD&D)
  • Grasping Hand (from AD&D)
  • Heal (from AD&D)
  • Holy Word (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Imprisonment (from AD&D)
  • Incendiary Cloud (from AD&D)
  • Instant Summons (from AD&D)
  • Irresistible Dance (from AD&D)
  • Limited Wish (from Greyhawk)
  • Magic Sword (from SRD?)
  • Mass Charm (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Mass Invisibility (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Maze (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Meteor Swarm (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Mind Blank (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Phase Door (from Greyhawk)
  • Polymorph Any Object (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Power Word Kill (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Power Word Stun (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Prismatic Sphere (from AD&D)
  • Raise Dead Fully (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Regenerate (from AD&D)
  • Restoration (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Reverse Gravity (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Shape Change (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Simulacrum (from Greyhawk)
  • Statue (from AD&D/Mentzer)
  • Stone Tell (from AD&D)
  • Symbol (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Temporal Stasis (from AD&D)
  • Time Stop (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Trap the Soul (from AD&D)
  • True Sight (from AD&D/Mentzer)
  • Wind Walk (from Greyhawk)
  • Wish (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)
  • Word of Recall (from Greyhawk/Mentzer)


All Spells, and only spells, from OD&D Box are in Microlite74

Basic Fantasy RPG

Since this is a bit of an amalgam... let's see what we find.

Spells in both Mentzer and B/X not in BFRPG
  • Contact Higher Plane
  • Control Weather
  • Know Alignment
  • Move Earth
  • Read Magic
  • Snake Charm
Spells in Mentzer not in BFRPG
  • Aerial Servant
  • Animal Summoning I
  • Anti-Animal Shell
  • Anti-Plant Shell
  • Call Lightning
  • Charm Plants
  • Clone
  • Control Temperature 10’ Radius
  • Control Winds
  • Creeping Doom
  • Cure Critical Wounds
  • Delayed Blast Fireball
  • Earthquake
  • Gate
  • Heat Metal
  • Hold Animal
  • Holy Word
  • Legend Lore
  • Mass Charm
  • Mass Invisibility
  • Maze
  • Meteor Swarm
  • Mind Blank
  • Obscurement
  • Pass Plant
  • Permanent Spell
  • Plant Door
  • Polymorph Any Object
  • Power Word Blind
  • Power Word Kill
  • Power Word Stun
  • Predict Weather
  • Prismatic Wall
  • Produce Fire
  • Protection from Lightning
  • Reverse Gravity
  • Shape Change
  • Statue
  • Symbol
  • Time Stop
  • Transmute Metal to Wood
  • Transport via Plants
  • Turn Wood
  • Warp Wood
  • Weather Summoning
  • Wish
  • Raise Dead Fully
  • Contingency
  • Create Any Monster
  • Create Magical Monster
  • Create Normal Animals
  • Create Normal Animals
  • Cureall
  • Dance
  • Detect Danger
  • Dissolve
  • Explosive Cloud
  • Force Field
  • Immunity
  • Locate
  • Magic Door
  • Protection from Poison
  • Summon Object
  • Survival
  • Teleport Any Object
  • Travel
  • Wizardry

Spells in B/X not in BFRPG
  • Part Water
  • Transmute Rock to Mud
  • Wall of Ice

Spells in BFRPG not in either B/X or Mentzer
  • Heal (from AD&D)
  • Magic Mouth (from Greyhawk)
  • Regenerate (from AD&D)
  • Spiritual Hammer (from AD&D)
  • Charm Animal (from SRD)

Spellcraft and Swordplay

Spells from the Original Box but not in S&S
  • Death Spell
  • Lower Water
  • Read Magic (but is now class ability)

Spells in Greyhawk that are not in S&S
  • All except Magic Missile!

Spells in S&S that are not in OD&D or any of the Supplements
  • Circle of Death (from... ?)
  • Heal (from AD&D)
Here's some funny stuff... a lot of traditional guys, and surely people making Simulacra have to fall into that category, don't like Unearthed Arcana. Yet a good number of such people don't object to the spells found in there... at least some of them... right?

Spells from Unearthed Arcana that Appear Elsewhere Besides the SRD
  • Contingency (in Mentzer)

And that's it. Haha!

Verdict: The most faithful of the simulacra noted here, based on spell lists, are Microlite74, OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord. Swords & Wizardry and Spellcraft & Swordplay are real close. Basic Fantasy is other.

(I don't have Castles & Crusades to include them in this comparison)

(in the next few days... Monster List comparisons)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

State of the LotFP Union


Two releases out! The Goodman Games version of the Creature Generator... and Fantasy Fucking Vietnam.

I hope the Creature Generator finds its audience. It was specifically made for older versions of you-know-what, but it's being marketed as being for any fantasy RPG. I know that people have used it for all sorts of games, so hopefully the people that do buy it find it of great use, because it does do what it's supposed to do.

Fantasy Fucking Vietnam... is a real release! I've gotten some reactions from friends (who aren't RPG players, but find my rants amusing anyway) that the announcement the other day was a joke ad for a product that doesn't exist. Not so! But the announcement had to match the tone of the product itself. It's a combination (in spirit) of S1 and the EX series, with some, ahhh, topical content that's supposed to be a more lighthearted (or lightheaded, depending on your reaction to the 'jokes') tweak to the nose than a mean-spirited punch to the gut. I like this small format. It's the exact opposite of fancy, without artwork (save the map) or a cover. Just the adventure. I'm a no-frills guy in any event. FFV is the only thing mentioned here that's not 100% serious, by the way.

Of course I've got a pile of other things in various states of readiness:

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill... same as always. Waiting for art. Jalo has moved far, far north but that's not really an issue. She'll need to roll up those A3 sheets she's doing the art on so I can get them scanned (or she can do it up there and just send me the files)... when I was having FFV printed up I found out how much it costs to use the print shop's big scanner. Scanning the ten pieces is going to cost me 60€! Eek! I need to find someone who has one of those big boys at home. Still trying to find someone to do the color for the cover as well.

Deranged and Insane: The Lunatics of the Stone Hold Asylum has several issues. The basic writing is done (and was done since I opened my 2006 campaign with it), but two artists have been assigned and either dropped out or disappeared, the person filling out the journal entries never started, and because of all that I dragged my butt big-time working with the one person who was doing what they said they'd do - the mapmaker! ay ay ay. But I like the idea of this project just because of the journal prop. It was a big deal to my players when I handed it to them in play, and I want to give the same feeling to everyone that buys it. It will be a hand-assembled book, aged with special processes (that I hope don't attract bugs), and now possibly with hand-made leather covers freakily adorned.

Those two will be 'full' releases, with color covers and everything. The price may be a bit high, especially the Asylum adventure, because of the nature of the materials, but if I ever do anything that will be a collector's item, it would be that one. I wonder where I can find a supply of 200 squirrel skulls?

Duvan'Ku. My undead kingdom concept. I envision several releases: A series of undead-related short adventure anthologies that introduces the concept of Duvan'Ku. Evil stuff. I have a handful that I've run for my groups, so it's just a matter of reorganization and formatting for release. "Dreaming of Duvan'Ku" is the working title for this one. Then there would be some sort of "Magical Items and Spells of Duvan'Ku" release. Then, finally, the Duvan'Ku sourcebook itself, dealing with the damned and defiled city of Those Who Had Challenged the Gods... and Lost. I have encounters and rosters for that one but nothing coherent.

Then there's my home campaign, which has stalled the past few weeks do to real-life issues that really haven't been getting addressed, or at least addressed correctly. Need to get that back on track. And then OD&D hack I haven't looked at in a month. Of course the mega-dungeon I'm thinking about running with that could be prepared for release as mini-modules as well. A lot of the plans for this are completely random encounter matrices for large areas, with specific keyed "theme areas," with the random areas being made up of geomorphs rather than randomly generated dungeons. A lot of my previously-made dungeons for my home game can just be dropped into this thing. But what to call the thing? I have an idea that it reaches down to the fabled Lost Palace of the Flame Princess, sort of in opposition to the Duvan'Ku concept, but my twisted mind can't think of a title that doesn't sound like a sexual reference... and there will be enough of that in the primitive fertility cult area of the mega-dungeon.

Buccaneers of the Bahamas... is still an idea, but really, all I know about pirates comes from watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I fear it would suck for that reason. I just had the idea of a couple of pirate havens, rough details on a few settlements, a couple dungeons with "plot items" in them, and then a big old "random island generator." But would it have the right atmosphere? ehhh, I dunno. But unlike any other of the mentioned things, not a single bit of work (beyond "thinking") has been done on this one.

Then there's the Aino Challenge! I told her to come up with ten fantasy drawings, and I'd make an adventure (or anthology) built around those art pieces. We'll see how that develops.

Two things I want to bring up about releases...

First, I kind of feel guilty that I'm intertwining my "play" with "releases." But... ahhh... it seems really backwards and counterproductive to write and release things for release that I wouldn't sit down and want to run for myself. Writing something intended for release and then "playtesting it" with my group seems like I'm treating them as guinea pigs. But treating "potential releases" and "next week's game" as one and the same... well... shouldn't they be nearly the same thing anyway? While I'm going to make some of my future offerings fancy-looking, I certainly do not wish to be seen as "professional" in the way that it means in today's current market. I want to have things in print (without POD fulfillment) that I'm proud to have written, I want to recoup costs, and I want to have people tell me, "This is cool!" That's it. (I do find it interesting that there are so many professionals that tell us these days, "These are the trends, this is what fans today want," out of one side of their mouth, and, "The market is shrinking and gets smaller every year," out the other side. Am I the only one who sees this and thinks Something Is Very Wrong and It Doesn't Have to Be This Way?)

Second... you know what? I don't want to release anything under the banner of any specific simulacra, just because the things I'd write and release are made for an entire family of games. Sitting down and labeling something as being for "That one!" is madness, because that's not my intent. I don't even feel comfortable listing a darn armor class anymore. Go up or down? Start at 10 or 9 or 11? Shiiiittt... "AC: Plate + Shield" You can figure it out quite nicely yourself for your game.

And lastly in our little update, I Hate Fun continues to be the most widely read, and most commented-on, article on this blog. I am linked from, which has gotten me mentioned on a few other blogs... so a lot of people lately are looking at that article... a lot... but I think people are just looking at what it's saying and not at all looking at its meaning. Now, there is the matter (that one of my players keeps telling me) that not so many people play for the challenge. But you'll never get me to believe that challenge isn't a valid method for delivering... hehe... wait for it... fun. "Set everything up so my enjoyment is guaranteed, or it's not good!" No way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now Released: Fantasy F****ing Vietnam

Fantasy Fucking Vietnam

Exploration, traps, and sudden death in a tropical hellhole dungeon defended by the Baby-raping, book-censoring cult of D'footia! Do battle to win the hearts and minds of the Erehps-Ogolb Tribe*!

Meet... celebrities like the sage Randorgiga and discover the power of his oracular dice! Learn... what Spike Pearls is figuring out next! Visit... locations like the Alehouse and Kokomosa! Discover... The Crypt of the Semi-Lich Karereca! Find out... if the Special Catapult of the trolls can protect their Castle from the Usurper Liga! Be informed... about why there are prison blocks labeled 3tards and 4ons! And much, much more in the more than 50 described encounter areas!

Fantasy Fucking Vietnam...

  • is for use with the original 1974 fantasy RPG that started it all**, and all compatible systems.
  • has no art!***
  • has not been playtested!****
  • has minimal profredding!
  • is 100% tasteless!*****
  • is 100% adventure!******
  • 12 a5-sized page pamphlet, saddle-stitched, hand-numbered and signed by the author: 3,81€ worldwide - includes postage and pdf version! Strictly limited to 100 copies!
  • 20+ letter-sized page pdf, with BIG TYPE for aging grognards with energy-drained eyeballs: 1,50€
How to Order

Send either 3,81€ or 1,50€ via Paypal to Remember this is euros, not dollars! The order will be manually processed and your pdf copy emailed to you when I see the order (the physical copy the next business day), which may or may not be immediately, because sometimes I do manage to have a life. So anywhere from "within 5 seconds because Jim is looking at internet porn so he sees your order immediately," to "in 24 hours because Jim's spending the night elsewhere and therefore doesn't need porn tonight." Important: If you want the pdf to be emailed to an address different than the email address you are sending the Paypal payment from, you need to include a note with the payment. I'm a genius, not a psychic.

(Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill pre-orderers will get a free print copy...)

* Who are we kidding? THIS... IS... OLD SCHOOL!, so the plot is flimsy and its application flimsier, and nobody running this adventure is going to use it as written anyway...
** OK, a couple of 1977 things may have slipped in. Sue me.
*** dungeon map is included!
**** like much of the material crapped out in the old school renaissance!
***** If enough publicity... er, controversy is generated, then LotFP: RPG will release Fantasy Tiddlywinking Vietnam: The Upholstered Edition on November 31, 2012
****** Publisher not responsible for permanent referee facial grinning or player Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome resulting from this most professional product.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Guide to Adventure Writing

One of the projects I was working on over the summer was a guide to adventure writing. Since finishing projects, instead of having 3284723949384 in various stages of development, is probably a good idea, I think I'm going to put this one to rest. But... here are some things I'd like to share from that work:

Success and Failure

The most important thing to remember when constructing an adventure is to not assume that the PCs will succeed at any point during the adventure.

As a referee, your job is to be completely impartial during game play. You have absolute power at the game table and can bequeath success or mandate failure at any time. Doing either of those things ruins the game, as both give no incentive to play well.

Do not fudge the dice. Ever. Luck is a part of the game, and the dice are there for a reason. Resist the temptation of sparing characters that fail or even die due to “bad luck” or a “stupid die roll.”

Would it be acceptable to tell a player that just rolled a stunning success that you’ve decided, just because it’s more fun, that the die roll doesn’t count and he instead failed? I don’t think so. So why would ignoring the dice in the players’ favor be acceptable?

Good game play will tip the scales of fortune and those that rely on pure luck deserve what they get – either way. At the same time, if an incredibly lucky roll derails the entire adventure and gives the players a quick victory, it should stand. It needs to work both ways. When the dice go badly for the players, they should be thinking of how to not let a roll of the die be the sole determiner of their fates. And when the dice go a little too well for the players, the referee should note what he needs to do to prevent a single die roll from determining the course of an entire adventure.

Traditional games are all about the players (and referee) learning to play better over time. The characters’ experience gains are secondary. Demand and reward player excellence and the game will be more challenging in the long run.

So what are the consequences of deciding to play this way?

The party is just lost and sitting around because they didn’t find the secret door that leads to the next section of the dungeon? Tough. It goes unexplored.

The party missed a vital clue and has no idea where to turn next in a murder investigation? Tough. The killer gets away.

There are too many options to choose from, and the players are disorganized and can’t agree on an option and look to the referee for guidance? Tough.

This only works if the referee is willing to realize that sometimes, all his work on an adventure is going to be wasted. The players are sometimes going to be unwilling or unable to see it all. The referee must contain his ego and resist the urge to introduce some way of being able to show all his work off. And the referee must not take the unused, unexplored parts of his adventure and plug them in elsewhere, as this negates the choices the players have made that led to them, intentionally or not, failing to explore the areas in this particular location.

Playing this way also means that the game can “stop” at any time because a battle wipes out the PCs, or some other disastrous result that means the mission will come to an abrupt end. Oh well. Of course success is always more fun than failure. But if failure is not an option, then the success is but an illusion, it’s fake, it’s a lie. And by taking the attitude that the end result determines the fun of the game, then suddenly the process of playing the game is not fun in and of itself.

I don’t need to say anything about how stupid that is, do I?

Deadly Situations

Every adventure must have situations that directly and truly threaten the lives of the characters participating. If there is no true threat, it is not an adventure, it’s a tour.

I'll go so far as to say there should be situations designed specifically to kill characters. A monster that's way too tough. A trap that's going to claim a victim. Save or die. These sorts of things. Every. Single. Time. The key is to put these "expected death" situations in places where it isn't necessary to encounter them. The players must choose to engage in these areas and situations.

Teach them that the game world isn't scaled so they can kill everything.


Every adventure must have meaningful choices that the players must make, and these choices must significantly alter the flow of the adventure for them to have any meaning.

The absolute key to good gaming is the ability of players to choose their character’s actions. Any adventure which dictates what a character thinks or feels or does (barring magical enchantments, of course) is a terrible, terrible adventure.

The choices made must be real choices. “Floating locations” of the “Well, whichever inn they stop at will be where the adventure happens” sort is not a real choice, it’s a mere illusion. This is worse than railroading because it is dishonest in its methods.

Choices should not only be offered, but forced: Things are happening, and the players have to do something, and none of the options seem to be all good. Of course, if they choose to not do anything, they’ve still made their choice and the consequences should be different (and more severe!) than if they’d done something.


There are two standards that adventure rewards must meet: They must be enough, and they must be not enough.

Enough that everyone involved doesn't think that they've completely wasted their time... and not enough to leave anybody really satisfied with what they have. They need more! Where next to plunder?

Note that concealing the rewards well may wind with the players not finding it. Tough. As a referee, just make sure it's there. Don't help the players to actually find it.


A player-driven adventure challenges the now-common philosophies of good adventure pacing. Common wisdom today states that if the action has slowed and the players either don’t know what to do or don’t want to do anything, the referee should make something happen to give the players something to react to. I declare that this ruins the pro-active element in traditional gaming, causes the referee to be biased towards character action, and creates a disincentive for players to control their own destiny.

But what do you do if all the obstacles described in the Success and Failure chapter actually stop the party?

You do nothing.

If a player complains that he’s bored and that nothing is happening, look at him and say, “I agree. So are you going to do something or not?”

It is not the referee’s job during a session to provide excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters are taking no action and are not interacting with the setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The players are wasting his time.

Other common standards of pacing become obsolete when dealing with a player-driven adventure. Traditional games commonly feature a “retreat, rest, and recharge” element of play, and in fact almost demand such a thing. This creates a bit of difficulty in trying to structure an exciting adventure if the party is going back to rest after every fight of even slight challenge.

Don’t let the players turn the game into a series of “Scout out the next room, ambush the beasties, collect the loot, and then retreat back to camp and get all the spells back.” Or don’t let them complain of monotony and boredom if that is what they choose to do. There are a variety of ways to prevent this, although some may seem heavy-handed. Cave-in traps or other methods of blocking exits can be useful, once, before it becomes a crutch instead of an idea. Pit or slide traps that dump a party to a lower level and teleporters that move a party somewhere unfamiliar are old tricks that might be acceptable a time or two. Missions with time limits are another possibility, but the meticulous planning needed to make an adventure just challenging enough will tend to cause the referee to become too invested in the adventure outcome.

The first reliable way to control this is through the proper use of wandering monsters. Never skip a wandering monsters check, and never hand-waive the results. Do this for the area that the PCs decide to rest as well. If their recuperation is not just a matter of saying, “We go back to camp,” maybe the players won’t be so quick to do so.

Keep a strict record of time! This wisdom was presented in bold in a major publication and has been laughed at ever since. But it’s excellent advice. Endless searching for secret doors and traps takes but a second to roll for the players, but a good deal of time for the characters. How long does that torch burn? And that lantern? So many referees simply make sure that there’s a torch or lantern present (and if the referee is on the ball, he might make sure that somebody with a free hand is actually the one carrying it) and then ignore it. Players will pick up the pace if the torches and lanterns keep going out… and keeping close track of encumbrance means they can’t just buy a hundred flasks of oil, either. These oft-ignored rules aren’t there to be a pain the ass, they are there to push play along in a system that otherwise rewards characters moving at a snail’s pace.

But when the players go looking for adventure… you’d better have some for them to find.

Dungeon Design

You’ve been given a big pile of philosophy concerning adventure design, but now it’s time to put it together into a coherent adventuring environment. As a nod to this hobby’s traditions, this environment will be called a “dungeon” here, but this remains true if the environment is a dungeon or not.

The first thing to remember when creating an actual adventuring area is to forget the idea of “encounters.” The “encounter” has become known as the standard unit of “excitement” in an adventure. It’s an awful terminology, and it influences adventure design in an adverse way as referees stop to think of adventures as a flowing, natural sequence of events and more like a flowchart where players travel along boring lines in order to get to the “encounters.”

Never place a secret door that you intend to be found.

Never place a trap that you do not intend to be set off to its full effect.

An important factor in designing a dungeon is allowing for the fact that under the guidelines presented in this book, characters will die. Perhaps often. Replacement characters are often rolled up very quickly, but there needs to be an in-game explanation for how to introduce these replacements.

Create challenges for every primary class in the game, especially those that are not present in the player character group.

Spellcasters, particularly clerics, always have a number of spells available to them which they simply never prepare. This is due to referee laziness; off course they are never chosen if they are never used! Create situations where such spells easily solve the issue at hand. They’ll gripe and moan at first when they realize they have to come back to the situation the next day with the proper spells (and complain yet again that they are doing so at the expense of “useful” spells… you know, the type used in combat), but a referee being diligent in this course will remove the idea of “useless” spells from his campaign altogether.

Interaction versus Combat versus Traps versus Tricks

It is usually better to present an encounter with a greater number of enemies than it is to give the players one opponent at a time. It's attrition versus “The Big Fight.” Make smaller, less threatening opponents the order of the day, so that the decision to continue on or stop and rest is actually meaningful. If every encounter is a big one, then continuing on is stupid. This is advice that I really have trouble with in my home games. I can usually eyeball a Single Big Monster for suitability against my group. But there get to be a lot of dynamics when it comes to group encounters. It's a bit difficult with groups of creatures, because for all the "kill 'em all and sort the character sheets later," tone all this advice takes, the ultimate goal is to challenge, not annihilate, the players and their characters.

Make use of terrain and “set pieces” when coming up with encounter areas.

Kill Them and Take Their Stuff – Complicate it! Vary what the treasure is, hide its value, make it inconvenient to transport.

Random Encounters

Random encounters are a wonderful tool. They keep players from ever feeling secure about their position in an adventure location, they can turn tense situations into complete chaos, and they are just good all around fun. Never fail to create a random encounter table for your adventuring locales. While most of the random encounters should not be major battles, there should be at least one possible encounter that will be a roughly equal, major fight, and one entry which will probably be too much for the party to stand toe to toe with.

Note that many old modules poo-poo wandering monsters by advancing the idea if a random encounter depletes the party too much or detains them from their final goal, the encounter should be ignored. This sort of thinking is drenched in the notion that the game is somehow a failure if the characters do not reach the pre-scripted conclusion in just-so condition so that they can deliver a satisfying climax to the adventure the way they are supposed to. Isn’t that the sort of thinking this entire essay is trying to avoid and prevent?

Take care that the random charts make sense within the adventuring environment. These creatures roaming around will also be coming into contact with the placed creatures. Why aren’t they killing each other? If they’re random monsters, it’s a good bet their lair isn’t keyed on the map. Where do they live? How do they get from there to the dungeon? If the party is closing doors behind them as they go, many creatures won’t be able to “randomly” appear.

One solution is to make random monsters connected to a keyed area. This can happen in several ways. The first is to just assume that every (or most, or whatever’s appropriate) keyed area’s inhabitants have an extra member or two running around the environment.

Also, not every random encounter needs to be a battle. Adding in neutral or friendly encounters into the table can provide an unexpected twist. The encounter need not even be with anything living. A cave-in, flash flood, or other random event can easily fill a random encounter table slot.


Think before placing traps. Really, there is no quota for placing traps and they should never be thrown in there “just because.”

Three things must be thought through before placing any trap. First, what triggers it? Second, how do people who are supposed to be in the area avoid the trap? And third, why hasn’t the trap been triggered by all the wandering monsters (and regular nearby inhabitants)?

In instances such as a tomb or mad wizard’s lair or some such, these are easily answered. Nobody is supposed to be there, period, and it makes sense to booby-trap the living hell out of the place. Locations with living inhabitants, not so much. But each trap should have a clear purpose.

Be descriptive about placed traps. It should be possible to detect and disarm almost any trap without making a die roll. In fact, if the proper way of dealing with a trap is nothing more than a couple of thief skill rolls, then the trap is boring and no good. You can do better.

“Gotcha” traps keep players on their toes, but are also detrimental to game play. Merely entering an area shouldn’t be enough to trigger a trap. There should be some specific action that triggers it. Poison needle traps are a perfect example here. If a character does not attempt to open a chest or pick its lock, they have no problem. It’s only by taking a specific action that they put themselves in danger.

Not that this is a screed against pit traps and the like. They have their place – especially if nobody is bothering to use a ten foot pole anymore. The problem with such traps is that they are often in areas where many creatures travel. Not even the most diligently trained or fiendishly clever beast will walk amongst traps unless there is an ongoing siege or hostile information. Any “triggered just by standing or walking right there” trap that does more than sound an alarm is simply not going to be found in areas where people, or creatures, ever go.

Obvious, no-roll-needed-to-find-them traps are simply awesome. They dare the players.

The last consideration to make is whether this trap is effective. Too many referees place traps as “obstacles” in their adventures to be “overcome.” Traps should be placed with the full intention of being triggered. Whoever set the trap was certainly aiming to kill (or imprison, or immobilize, or whatever) whoever set it off, and certainly trying to keep people out of a specific area, so it must be able to do what it sets out to do or the whole thing’s worthless. If you’re going to place a death trap, set it up in a way that will kill, and count on a character dying from that trap during the adventure. When (if!) the traps are discovered and bypassed, it becomes a real accomplishment (even if it was dead easy and the players don’t understand what might have happened), and not just something that happened because it’s “supposed to” in these types of games.

(in addition to the comments below, there are a good deal of comments and discussion on this article at, ENWorld, and Dragonsfoot that may be of interest)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming imminently...

Just finished my next project. No, it's not Insect Shrine... it's far, far more... everything (except in page count and art...) than that. I've sent it to a couple people for a lookover, but when it's out (end of this week? beginning of next?), it will be the most controversial thing the traditional crowd has seen in a couple weeks!

So referees, get your Paypal ready (3,81€ for print + pdf copy, postage included, 1,50€ for just the pdf) for the announcement... you'll laugh, you'll groan, and your players will cry.

Insect Shriners will of course get a print copy at no further charge.

Random Esoteric Creature Generator... IS OUT!

Noble Knight lists it as In Stock... and that's cool. Noble Knight rules. It's my usual go-to store for RPG items... they're quick, don't overcharge for shipping, and they pack everything very adequately. Sometimes I think it's overkill, but nothing I've ever ordered from them has arrived damaged (and that's an overseas shipment) so what do I know?

FRP Games also lists it in stock (I've used them a time or two as well and have received great service).

Amazon lists it as a December 3 release, for those of you with Super Saver Shipping cravings.

So buy buy buy buy buy buy buy buy buy buy! :D

(and now I get to hover around my PO Box awaiting my author copies... oh the torture)

... and do drop me a line when you start to see it in your local stores, mmmkay?

(it's funny... when I got the offer from Goodman Games to release a retail version, I was pretty, ahh, casual with the whole thing. "Bah, I've been putting my own name in print for a decade!" I thought. But you know... it's damn cool to go to Amazon and see "your name" next to "Author:" heehee)

Update: Goodman Games has it available in their store as well!

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Fantasy Fiddlin' Vietnam"

And by that, I mean Fantasy Fucking Vietnam.

(wow, I controlled myself so people won't have FUCK plastered all over their blog rolls... no such courtesy once you're here though!)

What are your thoughts on this FFV phrase?

Is there an example of it being used, in its various guises, before this example?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Readers! Talk to me!


I listen to my readers when it comes to the format of this blog, so...

I'm curious to know how useful you find the stuff on the column to the right. Or, what order do you think it should be in?

My thoughts on each of the elements:

Best of LotFP: RPG Blog. I want this here, just because I don't know if so many people really browse through to catch really good old posts. I select what's here based on how many comments an article generates as well as the plugs to my available (or soon to be) projects. Any comments on this?

About Me. I guess it's only fair to let people know a little bit about who's writing all this stuff.

Links of Traditional Interest. Does anybody use these? One single person? Let me know. I'm horrible at updating them mostly because working on something that I'm not sure is being used... not a priority, you know?

Blog Archive. I'd think it has to be here (I use this feature all the time on other blogs), but should it be further up or down the list?

My Blog List. This is my primary method of discovering when other blogs have been updated so it's not going away... but do any of you guys use it? Should it be further up the screen?

Then there's all the "keep track of meeeee" wankery at the bottom, and I figure that's where it'll stay.

Any other "blog features" you figure should be in there?

In Praise Of...

Central Casting: Dungeons (by Robert L. Sassone) is the best random dungeon generator I have ever seen. Its many features attempts to create a dungeon that really does allow a referee to sit back, roll dice, and come up with a keyed dungeon, and not just a map.

That's the real key to this one. When a room is called for, the room type is determined first, then features like size, additional entrances, and possible creatures and treasure are mentioned. With around 75 different room types, with many of those types having a variety of possible features, the dungeons really do practically build themselves.

Possible encounters and treasure are given in generic difficulty levels ("there is a 75% chance of an Encounter Level A in this room") so correlating that to dungeon level is a breeze. It is a generic supplement so it doesn't conform to D&D type formats for the treasure, but what I do is ignore its treasure recommendations (although I do listen to when it says an unguaded treasure should be there) and use the creatures' normal treasure instead.

The intriguing thing is its potential for expansion. It has three general dungeon "types" that it covers: Tombs, Fortresses, and "generic dungeon." Coming up with a new basic type (say, start with the assumption it's a natural cavern system) is easy. Just alter the original "What type of dungeon is it?" chart, and make a new 'possible rooms' chart to sit next to the "Dungeon/Tomb/Fortress" set... and that's it! Want to add a new room type (say, you saw that a couple of room types from here aren't in this product), it's easy. Write up the features of that sort of room, stick it in the back of this book, and alter the random room type tables to account for it. And that part's easy. Think too many bedrooms, or guardrooms, are showing up as per the standard CC:D tables? Shave a few points off of their possibilities for your new room!

Yeah, this thing is awesome. The only complaint I have is that certain tables are in constant use, so I just made a two-page "cheat sheet" of these tables so I never have to flip to them (they are spread over about 15 early pages in the book itself).

But yeah. Good stuff.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hello. My name is ddduuurrrrr...

So I just moved all my stuff out of storage into the place I'm currently staying, but it's not a permanent residence so it stays in boxes.

When I got everything here, I rearranged stuff so it fits into less boxes.

In a box I found a copy of the RPG I wrote in 2003-4. It was a copy of the manuscript I sent out to about 20 playtesters worldwide. This was before I thought to just play old D&D like I really wanted to.

For some reason, that's the only copy of those rules that I own. I don't have a copy on my computer. I don't think I have more than that one hardcopy. It's just this one... and whatever copies the playtesters didn't throw out... which can't be many, since only three of them even so much as acknowledged receiving it.

Of interest was the GM and Players Responsibilities pages, which really showed where I have and have not changed gaming-wise over the past few years.

So after I'd organized this room a bit, I was going to sit down, scan a few pages, and post them as a truly fascinating and remarkable blog entry.

But I can't find it. I do believe I've re-packed it somewhere in this pile of a dozen and a half boxes to my right.

duurr dduuuu duuurrrrr...

And no, I haven't gotten any further with that "D&D as horror game" thing I had started. Didn't you know it was doomed from the start when I told you when it would be done? Actually, between this moving thing and the Super Secret Project I'll be unveiling at [specific time deleted] that I haven't had time to work on either because of the moving thing, it is now a *poof* of a project.

How's that for some quality blogging?

Carcosa: The Final Word.

Grognardia comes through, as it often does, as the voice of reason and it has examined Carcosa in-depth, and more importantly, rationally. No agendas.

Here are the four parts of the review:





And here are the quotes I find most important:

What it says to me is that the old school community is, at this time, too insular and inbred for its long term health... I'm not sure the old school community really is interested in doing much more than rehashing the past, forever plowing the same creative fields.


I know that future posts to this blog, as well as future old school projects of mine, will benefit from ideas sparked in thinking about and critiquing Carcosa. Few products can say that -- even fewer published in the last 10 years.

And with that, I think there's been enough Carcosa coverage on the LotFP: RPG blog (barring extraordinary developments or additional releases to review, of course) for the time being. Two final notes though...

... there should be a Carcosa adventure anthology, or something, released. I can look at Carcosa and think I can grasp all the "big picture" stuff, but I can't figure out how I would start a fresh new campaign with first level characters on that world. Just putting Keep on the Borderlands in some random hex and playing normal D&D in Carcosa seems to miss the point of having such a rich, different setting.

... Grognardia gave Carcosa 3.5/5... but the Creature Generator got 4.5/5. Neener neener, I win. ;)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking Back the Night

Hmm, it feels interesting to have a point to make without going into the "writing zone." (I'm completely phased out when writing most of my more colorful rants... and I read them back later and think, "Wow, I agree with everything this guy is saying... but he's completely out of his mind," as if it's a completely different person that wrote it...)

But yesterday, I read one of Grognardia's pieces that twisted me the wrong way a little bit. I agreed with most of it. Yes, we're a niche, and no, we're not going to make any money at this. But the statement, "Barring some utterly unpredictable turn of events, the old school renaissance simply won't have much impact beyond those of us who are already involved in it," really struck me as... defeat. The sense of resignation was probably made worse by the fact that the post was the subject of a several day build-up that had me hitting "refresh" quite frequently in anticipation. (and don't you love my linking to posts over there as if there's one single person that reads me but not him...)

I can't agree with the quoted statement. It doesn't make any sense, at least in terms of a renaissance.

First of all, it would make the simulacra games completely pointless. If us "old-schoolers" are all the people being reached by these things... why are we setting aside the real things to play the almost-but-not-quite-the-same recreations?

If the "old school" style is completely irrelevant and out of focus and completely unfeasible in the marketplace, why have companies like Goodman Games and Necromancer Games marketed their primary product lines as having that "old school" feel?

If the "old school" style is completely irrelevant and out of focus and completely unfeasible in the marketplace, why is it so? Why couldn't that be fixed?

I believe there are several barriers keeping the classic games from being truly part of the contemporary RPG scene.

The first, and most important, is that there is a rather large corporation backing and promoting a game called "Dungeons and Dragons" that has a vested interest in making sure that their version of Dungeons and Dragons is the version of Dungeons and Dragons. If 4e had merely been a clean-up and reorganization of 1E (or Mentzer, or oE, or whatever), it still would have been the runaway biggest seller in RPGs, and it still would have been the subject of mass complaints of "This isn't what I want in D&D," and there'd still be this Pathfinder thing in development and... and... and. It was a conscious decision to pull in a different direction.

The market for traditional releases is completely unproven. All we've had so far are essentially hobby releases available through mail order, with the few exceptions not exactly having the marketing budget of champions. Nobody that's an influential and visible player in the market will take the plunge and publish OSRIC, or even a straight OGL "1E" product as anything more than a convention curiosity. But nobody wants to stick their neck out and be the first "legitimate" player to "legitimize" this clone stuff.

But if we can take an example from the music industry (since it too is subject to a ridiculous swing in trends), we have a situation where Iron Maiden is a bigger name now than they have ever been, in terms of chart placement for their new albums as well as concert ticket sales, without changing anything to become modern or in-fashion. In fact, their darkest period after they became famous was when they were more with-the-times, and today fashion has come back around for them. Metallica (somehow) managed to never fall off the face of the Earth despite wild stylistic swings, but their new album, as much a throwback to the classic days as one could really hope for from them, dominates the charts worldwide. Now obviously these bands both have a long and storied history (not as long as D&D), and are backed by major corporations (which D&D has had for what, only the most recent 25% of its history?).

But the groundwork for all their new success wasn't just laid by their past glories. Their new success is merely the igniting of the flame kept burning by the faithful during the dead years. The ones who didn't accept where the "industry" was going. The ones that made their own records and formed their bedroom record labels and distribution networks and crowded five+gear into a van and toured around. They built an infrastructure that worked, and when Iron Maiden "got the band back together," the table was perfectly set for the feast to come, by people who had nothing to do with Iron Maiden or the companies that promote and sponsor them. So now, when you go see Iron Maiden in a packed-out arena (or stadium, here in Europe), you're not just seeing the aging old guard, you're not just seeing the kids who are showing up because it's the cool thing. You're seeing thousands that are into the whole culture, that like Iron Maiden but also a laundry list of bands and songs that virtually nobody else has heard of, or will ever hear of, because there's too many petitioners and only so much time available in the sun. I hate "scenes" because my allegiance and respect and sympathies are usually with these struggling entities and it's often blind luck or commercial factors having no relation to actual talent or creativity that determines who "advances," but the infrastructure that a scene provides is the key to publicity and influence and making a difference in your chosen creative outlet.

So no, time can't turn back but fortunes can reverse and tides can turn and we don't have to be resigned to any fate or niche at all. The stage is being set for greater things, but we're moving along slowly. It started with the websites and the sharing of free material. If the Grognardia commentary linked above had been written in and for those times, then I could agree. But we've moved on.

Things moved to the next step with the introduction of actual printed products in the past two and a half years and people investing in their work and asking other people to invest in it as well. Remember that the simulacrum raison d'être in the first place was the enabling of these publishing efforts. And now this has been bubbling around and now one of these "clones" has made headway into distribution and products still trickle out from different quarters at a steady pace.

But we are struggling to reach that next step. I think there is much we can learn from the Forge and/or Storygames communities as far as organizations go. In many ways their games are the antithesis of what the traditional community strives to achieve, but their methods are no doubt a success. It's possible (but not bloody likely) for a release from that scene to sell in the thousands. Their presence and jargon has influenced (some may say degenerated) online conversation to the point where it is ubiquitous. They built their own methodologies and co-ops and distribution and publicity methods and now they're increasing available out in the "real" business world of retail.

We can do the same thing. Just because "Dungeons and Dragons the way it used to be," isn't likely to ever going to dominate gaming again (which may be a good thing considering how many of us didn't quite "get it" back in the day), doesn't mean we should be satisfied to stay in our nostalgia/throwback ghetto. There is more to do, more that is possible. Maybe the current crew involved isn't interested in doing that legwork (I know I'm not the guy to lead this thing, and I'm sure a few of you are stifling a few giggles at the very thought), but there is someone out there with the interest in traditional gaming, the knowledge of "real world" business, a little money to burn, and the savvy to start making a dent. All it takes is that one person to show that yes, it is possible to do this and be viable, and others like him will follow. Those of us that want to be uninvolved and just sit in our caves and play our games will still be perfectly free to do so, and we might just have a few more people to play with to boot.

"Castle Zagyg, OSRIC Edition" would be a fine trigger. Or even "WotC Presents: Castle Greyhawk, Collector's Classic D&D Edition." But nobody's going to give us the spark that gets this engine rolling. It won't come from on high.

All the noise we're making down here in the underground is growing, and it can soon be a roar... we needn't fear the light.